Few military leaders in history are as iconic as General Douglas MacArthur. He was a bigger-than-life figure who rose to five-star rank and grew to believe in his own myth so much that he thought he was above the Constitution and ultimately had to be brought down by the President of the United States.
Here are 8 amazing facts about the general known as the “American Caesar”:
1. His parents were on different sides of the Civil War
MacArthur’s father, Douglas Jr., was a Union general, and his mother was from a prominent Confederate family. Two of her brothers refused to attend the wedding.
2. His father and he are both recipients of the Medal of Honor
Douglas MacArthur, Jr. was bestowed the Medal of Honor for actions at the Battle of Missionary Ridge in 1863. His son received the Medal of Honor from President Roosevelt in 1942 for defending the Philippines.
3. His mom lived at a hotel on the West Point grounds the entire time he was a cadet
MacArthur’s mom told him he had to be great like his dad or Robert E. Lee, and she made sure he stayed focused by living on campus near him. The semi-weird strategy worked in that he was number one in his class by far. His performance record was only bested in history by two other cadets, one from the Class of 1884 and Robert E. Lee himself.
4. He puked on the White House steps
During a heated defense budget discussion with FDR in 1934, MacArthur lost his temper and told the Commander-in-chief that “when we lost the next war, and an American boy, lying in the mud with an enemy bayonet through his belly and an enemy foot on his dying throat, spat out his last curse, I wanted the name not to be MacArthur, but Roosevelt.” He tried to resign on the spot but Roosevelt refused it. MacArthur was so physically upset by the exchange that he threw up on the White House steps on the way out.
5. He wanted to be president
Although he was still on active duty in 1944 he was drafted by a wing of the Republican Party to run against FDR. He even won the Illinois Primary before the party went with Dewey. He tried again in ’48 but quit after getting crushed in the Wisconsin Primary. His last attempt was in ’52 but the Republicans bypassed him for a less controversial (and more likeable) war hero, Dwight D. Eisenhower.
6. He didn’t return to the United States for six years after World War II
Because he was in charge of ensuring post-war Japan didn’t fall into chaos (and became a democracy) and then in command of the Korean War effort, MacArthur didn’t return to the U.S. between 1945 and 1951.
7. He got a ticker tape parade in NYC after he was fired by Truman
MacArthur was defiant in carrying out President Truman’s plan to end the Korean War, and the general carried out a campaign in Congress to authorize the complete takeover of North Korea. Truman was convinced that would result in World War III, and when MacArthur refused to back down the President had no choice but to remove him from command. Although disgraced, MacArthur was so popular he was treated like a hero on his way out, including having a ticker tape parade thrown in his honor down the streets of Manhattan.
8. He designed his signature look
His cover, shades, and corncob pipe were all part of a look MacArthur cultivated himself. The pipe company, Missouri Meerschaum, continues to craft replicas of the general’s customized pipe, and Ray-Ban named a sunglass line after him in 1987.
Col. Joseph Duckworth was one of the Air Force’s most skilled pilots. Although a flyer during World War II, he never saw combat behind the stick of any aircraft. Despite that lack of combat experience, he would go on to be one of the USAF’s most legendary pilots.
The reason for his fame stemmed from his technical knowledge, knowledge that allowed him to become the first person to fly into a hurricane, all the way to the eye, in a single-engine plane and live to tell about it. He did it all on a bet.
In 1941, flying in bad weather was hard. A lot of pilots died because they couldn’t actually use the instrument panel in the cockpit. This may sound insane by today’s standards, but according to Duckworth himself, even pilot trainers didn’t know the instruments.
Col. Duckworth joined the Army Air Corps in 1927 and became a civilian pilot shortly afterward. In 1940, he was recalled to active duty. He was immediately surprised and appalled at how new pilots were being trained before going off to war. It was almost suicidal.
“The first shock I received was the almost total ignorance of instrument flying throughout the Air Corps,” Duckworth said after the war. “Cadets were being given flight training as if there were no instruments and then directed to fly an aircraft across the Atlantic at night. Losses in combat were less than those sustained from ignorance of instrument flying alone.”
Duckworth, upon taking over training the Army Air Forces, implemented a system to train pilots on all instruments. Estimates say this training saved the lives of thousands of Air Force pilots worldwide and earned Duckworth the honorific title of “father of modern-day Air Force instrument flying.”
In 1943, Duckworth entered the world history books when he flew an AT-6 single-engine training aircraft into a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Without permission from his superior officers on base, he took off from Bryant Field in Texas and flew right toward the eye of a category-1 hurricane.
The bet came on the morning of July 27, 1943 over coffee in the mess hall at Bryant Field. It turned out to be more of a bar bet. With a surprise hurricane on the way, the U.S. Army wanted to move its aircraft out of the storm’s path.
A visiting group of British pilots stationed at the base and taking instrument flying classes scoffed at the idea. The weather back home was often bad. Back in England, they flew in storms and their planes weathered the rains all the time. They laughed at the fragility of the American air forces in the face of the oncoming storm.
Then-Lt. Col. Duckworth took exception to their comments, so he bet the British aviators that he could take a single-engine trainer up, fly through the hurricane and come home with no issues. As the commander of Bryant Field, he knew he would be able to get a plane up, so long as no one above him knew what he was doing.
He got a navigator, Lt. Ralph O’Hair, and immediately took off toward the hurricane. As they flew through sheets of rain, Lt. O’Hair thought about what it might be like to parachute from an aircraft in the middle of a hurricane.
But Duckworth was as skilled as everyone thought, whether he could see out of the cockpit or not. Before they knew it, they were in the calm of the storm’s 10-mile-wide eye. After flying around for a while, they punched back into the storm itself and headed home.
When he came back to Bryant Field, he went right back up into the storm, taking a meteorologist with him, making history twice in the same day.
Back in the ’80s – before 9/11 when the U.S. military’s focus shifted completely to the Middle East – aircraft carriers used to spend entire deployments in the Mediterranean Sea playing cat-and-mouse with the Soviet Navy, doing bi-lateral exercises with NATO allies, and pulling great liberty in ports like Cannes and Malta. During that time there was also a persistent pain-in-the-ass named Muammar Gaddafi who was the Libyan dictator.
A few decades before Gaddafi met his untimely demise at the hands of rebels, he made a sport out of provoking the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet assets, primarily by claiming that the entire Gulf of Sidra was territorial Libyan water. He called the line along the northernmost part of the gulf the “Line of Death” and warned that any American ships or airplanes that crossed it would be met with the full force of the Libyan military.
Fighters from the aircraft carrier’s air wing would routinely fly inside the “Line of Death” as part of the American Navy’s “freedom of navigation” operations (aka “FON ops”) designed to prove a commitment to the conventions of international admiralty law that said that the Gulf of Sidra was, in fact, a gulf so therefore the only territorial waters that Libya could claim were those that extended 12 miles off the coastline.
FON ops were generally boring in that the Libyan military didn’t respond at all in spite of Gaddafi’s bluster. Fighters would spend hours on combat air patrol stations drilling holes in the sky without a single vector from the controllers in the early warning aircraft whose radar screens remained blip-free.
But that wasn’t the case on January 4, 1989 when two F-14A Tomcats assigned to “The Swordsmen” of VF-32 got the call to investigate two contacts that had launched out of Tobruk – a dream scenario for Cold War-era aviators, but one that also had a few dubious moments, particularly for the pilot and his radar intercept officer (RIO) in the lead aircraft.
The rules of engagement at that time were more lenient than previous Sixth Fleet rules had been in that a Libyan aircraft didn’t have to fire at an American to be declared hostile but simply if it had turned toward an American aircraft that had attempted to turn away three times.
Analysis of the lead Tomcat’s mission recorder reveals the following (with video time stamp in parenthesis):
(0:11) – The lead RIO transmits “Bogeys have jinked back at me for the fifth time . . .” (Contacts on the F-14’s AWG-9 radar system had a tendency to “windshield wiper” when the aircraft maneuvered, showing erroneous heading changes, but at this point the RIO believes the ROE has been met to declare the Libyans “hostile.”)
(0:19) – Lead RIO transmits “Inside of 20 miles, master arm on,” telling the pilot to flip the switch in the front cockpit. The pilot responds with “good light,” which means the missiles are now ready to fire.
(0:41) – After an exchange between the lead RIO and the wing pilot regarding the bogey’s “angels” (altitude) the lead pilot is less convinced than his RIO that the ROE has been met. He transmits “Alpha Bravo from 207” – an attempt to speak to the admiral on the carrier to get a ruling – but gets no response.
(0:50) – Lead RIO transmits “13 miles . . . Fox-1!” as he pushes the launch button in the rear cockpit and fires an AIM-7M Sparrow missile. His pilot responds by muttering “ah, Jesus” over the intercom, an indication that he’s not entirely comfortable with his backseater’s zeal.
(1:00) – Lead RIO’s excitement gets the best of him, and he shoots a second Sparrow before the first one has time to make it to the target, which prevents either missile from guiding accurately.
(1:13) – Lead RIO calls “six miles” as the wing pilot transmits “tally two” and then says “turning into me.” The crews now know for sure that they’re engaged with MiG-23 “Floggers.”
(1:25) – Lead pilot says, “Okay, he’s got a missile off” over the intercom, referring to the fact his wingman just shot a Sparrow (a forward quarter shot from about 5 miles away).
(1:33) – Lead pilot transmits, “Good hit, good hit on one,” as the wingman’s Sparrow hits one of the MiGs.
(1:39) – Lead pilot says, “I’ve got the other one” as they merge and start a hard turn to get behind the second Flogger. His RIO directs him to “select Fox-2,” meaning he needs to switch the weapons firing control from the radar-guided Sparrow missile to the heat-seeking Sidewinder missile.
(1:48) – Lead RIO says, “shoot ’em!” over the intercom, and the pilot responds with “I don’t got a tone,” which refers to the aural cue that a Sidewinder missile gives the pilot when the seeker senses a heat source. But at this point the pilot doesn’t have a tone because he still has “Sparrow” selected (not “Sidewinder”) on his control stick.
(2:01) – Lead pilot requests that his RIO “lock him up” with the radar – an unnecessary step in Sidewinder firing logic, and the RIO responds with “I can’t. Shoot him, Fox-2!” The pilot, in turn, says, “I can’t. I don’t have a fucking tone.”
(2:04) – RIO starts to command pilot to select the right missile once again, but now the pilot has figured it out. (Fortunately for the American crew the Libyan pilot wasn’t skilled enough to use the American pilot’s “switchology” mistake to his advantage.) The pilot selects “Sidewinder” and the aural tone blares in his headset, indicating the missile is ready to be launched.
(2:06) – Lead pilot transmits “Fox-2” as he fires a Sidewinder missile from about two miles behind the MiG.
(2:09) – Lead pilot transmits “Good kill! Good kill!” as the heads up display shows the second MiG exploding.
While the crews earned the title of “MiG killers,” which makes them part of a rare breed in modern warfare, instructors at the Navy Fighter Weapons School summarized the lead aircraft’s performance as “professionally embarrassing.” (One senior member of the Top Gun staff characterized the shoot down as “punching kids coming off the short bus.”)
It’s also telltale that Fighter Pilot of the Year honors that year did not go to the lead pilot – who also happened to be the squadron’s commanding officer – but instead went to the wingman, who was only a first-tour lieutenant at the time.
A private in the Army’s 34th Company of the Philippine Scouts, he became severely wounded while fighting off rebel forces in the Philippine Islands in 1911. With only one hand, he fought the enemy until they retreated, saving the many lives of those with whom he served.
Nísperos was the first Filipino to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroics in battle.
2. Telesforo Trinidad
In January 1915, a boiler exploded aboard the USS San Diego, violently knocking Trinidad backward and forcing him to abandon the ship. He gathered himself and returned to save two of his fellow men, despite suffering from his own burns.
The Navy awarded Trinidad the Medal of Honor and a $100 gratuity.
3. Kurt Chew-Een Lee
Lt. Lee was the first Asian-American Marine Officer in American military history and a freaking hero.
On the night of Nov. 2, 1950, Lee saved thousands of men during an attack while serving in the Korean War. He ventured out on a single man reconnaissance mission to locate the enemy and eventually confused them using a weapon none of his other Marines possessed — the ability to speak Mandarin.
Former slave and Civil War veteran Reddy Gray died on Sep. 4, 1922, when he was 79 years old. He was buried in Baltimore’s Loudon Park National Cemetery — the first VA burial site included in the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom.
Gray’s experience is representative of African Americans who risked travel through the Underground Railroad to find freedom, but his story is significant for the wealth of information gleaned from public records. His life is a reminder of the fight for civil rights that began in the 1860s to continues today.
Deed of Manumission and Release of Service,” 1865.
Gray went by Reddy, short for Redmond, Redman or Reverdy. Born at Loch Raven, Maryland, to John and Lydia Talbott Gray, he was enslaved by the Thomas Cradock Risteau family in Baltimore County from birth to until the middle of the Civil War. Likely a field worker or carriage driver, he resisted servitude by escaping in March 1863. It is not clear what happened, but Gray’s “Deed of Manumission and Release of Service” retroactively corresponds with his enlistment. President Abraham Lincoln had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and the U.S. Army was recruiting black soldiers.
U.S. Army, Gray Muster-Out record, 1865.
Gray enlisted in the U.S. Colored Troops at Baltimore City on March 23, 1864. His Company B, 39th U.S. Colored Infantry, fought in Virginia at the Sieges of Petersburg and Richmond, and in the expeditions and capture of Fort Fisher and Wilmington in North Carolina. Reddy mustered out in Wilmington on Dec. 4, 1865, and that record remarks, “slave when enlisted.”
His life after the Civil War shows personal accomplishment and community involvement. He learned to read and write. He returned to Baltimore and had four children, including son Redmond, with second wife Susan Gray, who worked as a laundress. In the army he suffered from rheumatism, for which he received a disability pension in 1890; however, he worked as a manual laborer doing light work like trimming lawns or gathering rags and as a carriage driver.
Reddy Gray Burial Site Certificate of Acceptance, NPS 2018.
As “Redmond” Gray, he appears in the Baltimore Sun, Sep. 15, 1894, as judge for a running race at the “Colored People’s Fair” in Timonium, Maryland; and a few years later as a member of the Colored-Odd Fellows. Reddy (also Reverdy) Gray is honored with his name on the African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. Other black soldiers who found their freedom through the Underground Railroad are buried at Loudon Park National Cemetery along with Gray, but their stories are not so easily documented.
The Network to Freedom program is managed by the National Park Service, per the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Act of 1998. Loudon Park National Cemetery was one of the 14 original national cemeteries established under the National Cemetery Act of July 17, 1862; it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.
The Americas were not “discovered.” We all know this by now. However the natives arrived in the “New World,” the very fact that there were natives here means the idea of “discovery” is absurd. They had well developed societies and one of the largest cities in the world. the American wilderness was full of Giant Chestnut trees, millions of Native Americans, and Bison. It was ripe for the plucking.
Many in the “Old World” would attempt to do the plucking. Many would fail. Some would themselves be plucked by the New World, like a bizarre “Twilight Zone” episode. It’s alright, though… all’s well that ends well.
Long before Christopher Columbus was even born, Viking sailors set sail Westward on boats with a single sail. The expedition’s leader, Leif Eriksson, came from a long line of Vikings who were thrown out of their homelands to found new ones. Eriksson’s father, Erik the Red, founded the settlements on Greenland after being thrown out of Iceland. His grandfather was similarly thrown out of Norway. You have to be a pretty rowdy bunch to be thrown out of settlements whose youth games included horsefighting.
Eriksson’s expedition eventually landed in what is believed today to be Canada’s Newfoundland province. They spent the Winter there because only Vikings would Winter in Canada. They took timber and grapes back to Greenland, and returned a number of times. They never settled permanently because of the hostility of the natives in the area. That would have had to be one angry bunch of natives to scare Vikings away.
The Knights Templar
A Canadian author who claims to be descended from Templars, presents a lot of evidence in his book The Knights Templar in the New Worldthat a Scottish prince associated with the Templar religious order sailed to the Americas a century before Columbus. The idea was to preserve the Templar order from the persecution at the hands of the French king that was underway in the Old World. Using indigenous accounts, some excavation evidence and the evidence of architecture in both Nova Scotia and in Minnesota, William F. Mann attempts to make a case for a medieval settlement of the New World, but the evidence is all anecdotal.
New Netherland was a series of trading posts up and down what is today the U.S. Atlantic Coast. From Kingston, New York (originally Wiltwyck) in the North, Albany, New York (originally Fort Orange) in the West, and down to New York City (New Amsterdam) in the South, the Dutch experience in the New World was a quick sixty or so years, notable for its profitability and a few of the great Dutch leaders who led the colony. It was also the first time people got conned out of a potential fortune in Manhattan.
The main reason the French never really had staying power in the Americas can be summed up in two words: The British. The French held on for quite a while, though. Their influence can be seen all over North America and the Caribbean. St. Louis, Detroit, Green Bay, and New Orleans are all based on French influence.
The French would eventually cede most of their holdings in North America to the British and the Americans, though they would hold it for a very long time. Unlike the Spanish and English, the French embraced the native, even declaring converted Natives “natural Frenchmen,” and embracing their culture.
“Ce succès, que le froid de la glace/Michelle Pfeiffer, que l’or blanc.”
Frankly, its a good thing the French were here, because what would the New World be if the Marquis de Lafayette had never been to the Americas? Answer: it would be British.
The colonists with the most staying power, the British were never really expelled from the Americas, but they sure lost an important chunk of it, didn’t they?
Though Canada is a pretty great lasting legacy to leave behind, the Brits didn’t really have it so easy. There were many failed attempts by British colonists to establish a permanent settlement in the New World before the Jamestown colony of 1607. In the 1580s, colonists at Roanoke Island “mysteriously disappeared,” which is a nice way of saying “went to go bang the local tribe.”
The colony at Jamestown seemed due to failure in much the same way, except this time, the locals were more apt to slaughter the colonists, until John Smith, took the hit for the colonists and married into the local tribe, via the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas. The colony thrived when they started selling tobacco to the natives in exchange for food, and a horrible precedent was set, ensuring the survival of the British experience in America.
After a century, World War I is finally getting the treatment in American cinema it so richly deserves. While some of the best war movies were World War I movies, Paths of Glory, All Quiet on the Western Front, and Lawrence of Arabia, there were also many misses. What’s surprising is that there are relatively few WWI movies, when compared to those depicting other wars.
No longer. 1917 is a new movie based on the Great War, coming in December. And it looks like it could be the definitive WWI movie.
The film takes place during the Third Battle of Ypres, where a British contingent of 1,600 men is due to walk into a German trap. Two Tommies are given the assignment to proceed on foot to warn the unit about their orders – the ones that take them directly into an ambush. Their mission takes them across the Ypres battlefields and through the deadly trench warfare that is now synonymous with the Great War.
What’s more remarkable about 1917 is that it’s based on a true story, one told to director Sam Mendes by his own grandfather, Alfred. Alfred Mendes received the Military Medal for “acts of gallantry and devotion to duty under fire” during the war. The Military Medal was replaced by the Military Cross in the UK armed forces in 1993, and would be the fifth-highest medal awarded by the United Kingdom today.
Relentless rain, mud, and death marked the Battle of Ypres.
The elder Mendes ran through snipers, trenches, moving artillery barrages, and machine-gun fire to deliver messages for two full days during the Battle of Poelcappelle. Mendes’ grandfather was raised on the Caribbean island of Trinidad but left to join the fight against Germany, joining the British Army in 1916, at the age of 19. He saw action at the WWI Battles of Passchendaele (Ypres) and Poelcappelle. He was sent to go find survivors of a failed attack during Poelcappelle. It was a dangerous assignment, one his commander said he might not return from.
Despite encountering all of World War I’s signature death traps, he still managed to find survivors while surviving himself. He made it back to his company’s shell hole intact.
“In spite of the snipers, the machine-gunners and the shells, I arrived back at C Company’s shell hole without a scratch but with a series of hair-raising experiences that would keep my grand and great-grandchildren enthralled for nights on end,” he would later write in his autobiography.
1917 is based on Medes’ experiences on this mission. The film is set to release on Dec. 25, 2019.
Prior to World War I, Germany was looking for an edge. They couldn’t take on England’s Grand Fleet in a straight fight – especially with a full naval blockade that was in place at the start of the war.
The submarine really made its mark on Sept. 22, 1914, when the U-9, an older U-boat, sank three British cruisers in about an hour in the North Sea.
The most common of the U-boats in German service was the UB III coastal submarine. According to U-Boat.net, that submarine had a range of over 9,000 miles on the surface, and a top speed of 13.6 knots. When submerged, it could go 55 miles and had a top speed of 8 knots. It had four torpedo tubes in the bow, and one in the stern, and carried ten torpedoes with a crew of 34 men.
U-Boat.net notes that Germany built 375 U-boats of all types during World War I. Of those 375, 202 were lost in action during World War I. The German U-boats were quite successful, though, hitting over 7,500 ships. That said, it is arguable that German submarines also hurt Germany in the war overall, as opinion in the United States turned against Germany after the sinking of the Lusitania, and Germany’s use of unrestricted submarine warfare brought The U.S. into the war.
Ultimately the U-boats were neutralized by the convoy system starting in June, 1917. At the end of World War I, 172 U-boats — some of which were completed after the war — were surrendered to the Allies.
The video below from the History Channel discusses Germany’s World War I U-boats, and how they changed the shape of naval warfare.
For over 75 years, USDA scientists have been developing ways to protect the U.S. military around the world from powerful adversaries — mosquitoes and other biting arthropods that cause disease. Their work began in 1942 in a small USDA field laboratory in Orlando, where scientists made key discoveries about new chemicals for controlling these pests. At the time, the most effective repellents lasted only 2 hours, and the U.S. military needed a repellent that could protect for 10 hours. In 1952, testing in Orlando confirmed DEET was an effective repellent; it was soon adopted for use by the U.S. Army, became commercially available by 1957 — and is still used widely today.
Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s chief in-house research agency, have continued their search for better repellents ever since. They used the USDA database of 30,000 compounds to develop a model that used chemical structure data for predicting how long a repellent would keep pests away. This model predicted that some compounds would be more effective than DEET, and subsequent research confirmed some compounds did indeed repel pests more than three times longer than DEET.
In 2004, the Department of Defense initiated a partnership with USDA and others as part of the Deployed War-Fighter Protection (DWFP) program. Its’ mission: to develop and test management tools for pest and vector species that transmit diseases to deployed U.S. troops. ARS scientists in Gainesville, Florida; Beltsville, Maryland; and Oxford, Mississippi, have contributed discoveries about repellent as part of the DWFP research and accomplishments. ARS has also collaborated with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center since 2003 to optimize the arthropod bite protection of factory-produced permethrin-treated uniforms. Treating uniforms became standard practice in the 1950s, first with a miticide, and starting in 1991 with permethrin.
ARS National Program Leader Uli Bernier has been responsible for developing protocols to evaluate uniform protection against mosquitoes, and in 2015 conducted a study that led to the registration of etofenprox as an alternative clothing repellent. He recently staffed an ARS information table at the 5th USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo, where he said visitors wanted to learn more about a new pest-resistant tropical lightweight uniform on display. Visitors were also fascinated by a cage of mosquitoes used for research — but unlike USDA researchers, they were reluctant to place their hand in a cage full of mosquitoes!
This Military Appreciation Month, we pay special tribute to the efforts of our servicemen and women. USDA honors our military and will continue to support their work.
From a faith-based U.S. Army unit to an entire “ghost” army, take a look at the four most unusual military units of all time.
An inflatable tank, styled after the M4 Sherman (Wikimedia Commons)
The Ghost Army
Inspired by a trick that the British pulled in North Africa, the summer of 1944 found soldiers of the U.S. Army undertaking a very unusual task – building a phantom army. To achieve this goal, the Army gathered artists, designers and sound effects experts to encourage confusion behind enemy lines. The 23rd Headquarters Special Troops is better known as the Ghost Army because it used inflatable rubber tanks and jeeps, along with sound effects and subterfuge to deceive Germans during WWII.
The 23rd took part in more than 20 missions, many of which used illusion and artistry that rivals any Hollywood set. Painters and illustrators worked collaboratively to design uniforms and create dummy vehicles. Sound engineers helped by broadcasting phony radio traffic and mimicked the sounds of an army on the move. There were even actors hired to spread misinformation that would hopefully get picked up by Nazi spies.
The Germans fell for it, and the ruse worked. With the Ghost Army in place, Germany had no clear idea of the US forces’ actual size. The Ghost Army was so convincing that they were even plugged a hole in General Patton’s lines for several days without being discovered. It wasn’t until 1996 that the Ghost Army’s contribution became public knowledge, and by then, many of its members had gone on to illustrious careers in art and design.
The Monuments Men
This particular unit was tasked with attempting to preserve Europe’s cultural heritage during WWII. The Monuments, Fine Arts and Archies unit included handpicked art historians, museum curators and academics who skirted the front lines of combat to prevent historically essential buildings and art from being destroyed.
Members from the unit created special maps for the Allies to ensure that culturally significant structures weren’t inadvertently destroyed as the Allies pushed deeper into Europe. To do this, the unit drew plans that showed aircraft pilots where to avoid on bombing runs. While the war was in full swing, the Monuments Men even set about restoring landmarks that were already damaged.
As the war wound down, the unit shifted its focus from preservation to rescue. It tracked down and recovered sculptures and paintings looted by the Nazis. As the Nazi regime crumbled, Monuments Men found thousands of pieces of art stolen from Jewish families and museums. Most of these pieces of art were placed deep in salt mines and castles to avoid detection. The Monuments Men did their part in finding the pieces, and then after the war, the artwork was returned to its original owners.
The Mormon Battalion
Composed entirely of Latter Day Saints service members, the Mormon Battalion has the unique and unusual honor of being the only faith-based battalion in all of U.S. Army history. When negotiations between Brigham Young’s church leaders and the US military reached an impasse, it was suggested that a battalion be formed made up of all Mormons. The Mormons hoped their unit might pave the way for their planned exodus to the American West by providing training, equipment and pay. But President Polk saw it as a way to make allies of the Latter Day Saints.
The 500-person battalion never saw any combat, but it became one of the most well-traveled units in all of American history. The service members marked the start of their service by making a grueling might from Iowa through indigenous lands all the way to Santa Fe. From there, they marched on through the untamed lands of Arizona and then to southern California. Once in SoCal, the battalion performed garrison duty in both San Diego and Los Angeles.
Just two years after being formed, the battalion was retired in July 1847. Most of its members headed back north to the Utah Territory to join the rest of their religious pioneers.
King Frederick William I (Wikimedia Commons)
The Potsdam Giants
Everyone always wants to have the biggest army, but for King Frederick William I of Prussia, the idea of having the strongest soldiers in the world was an obsession. At the start of the 18th Century, the monarch tried to gather the tallest troops he could find in all of Europe and create an elite regiment called the “Potsdam Giants.” Records indicate that several of the service members were over seven feet tall.
To entice this elite unit, King Willian spent a fortune hiring tall soldiers from other militaries in the world. He even instructed his own covert agents to conscript unusually tall civilians into the unit. At one point, William tried to encourage his tallest soldiers to marry tall women. The unit eventually disbanded, but not before William managed to spend a significant amount of money.
From a ghost army to a unit dedicated to preserving history, these four units prove that there’s a lot more to being part of a military than just standing in formation.
A little bit of charm goes a long way. Nowhere was that more apparent than when British General Cuthbert Lucas literally used a charm offensive to escape captivity and save his own life.
After being captured by Irish Republicans during the 1919-1921 Irish War of Independence, a British officer’s life expectancy could drop rapidly, if they weren’t careful.
Ireland had been trying to rule itself for decades before the outbreak of Ireland’s independence war. Originally, the Irish advocated volunteering to fight with the British in World War I. But as the war in Europe ground on, support for that split and Irish Republicans revolted in 1916. The British response to the revolt was so brutal it caused a full-on rebellion in 1919.
For a quick recap, watch the video below:
British General Cuthbert Lucas was sent to Ireland to command a brigade of infantry. A lifelong veteran of the British Army, Cuthbert had seen action in the Second Boer War and in World War I, notably at the Somme and at Gallipoli.
In June of 1920, Lucas became the highest-ranking British soldier to be captured by the Irish Republican Army. He was fishing in a river near his command in County Cork, Ireland along with two other officers. The junior officers attempted to escape but were injured in the process. The IRA let those two go and took Lucas to a hidden location in West Limerick.
If the general was frightened for his life, it was hard to tell. He demanded what was due to him as an officer and a prisoner of war, which included a bottle of whiskey every day. On top of his daily ration, the BBC says the general played cards with his captors, lots and lots of cards. In fact, the general was said to have cleaned out the Irishmen.
While Lucas played cards, his pregnant wife worried. When she learned he was captured, the grief sent her into labor. After the baby was born, she wrote to the general to inform him of the birth, by simply addressing it “To the IRA.” Thanks to sympathetic postmen on both sides, the couple were able to exchange letters.
Those letters ended up in the hands of their descendants, which ended up on an episode of Antiques Roadshow. After comparing the literal notes left by their grandparents, the grandchildren of both the general and his captors learned they were all having a great time together, something both sides of the incident would tell their families.
General Lucas’ love of drinking and poker likely saved his life because the IRA couldn’t get enough of him. But they also had trouble fighting the war.
With all the publicity surrounding Lucas’ capture, the IRA couldn’t operate in West Limerick anymore. So after a little longer than a month in captivity, Gen. Lucas was moved to County Clare, and on to East Limerick where the IRA completely relaxed his security detail, allowing him to escape.
American and Soviet pilots pose in front of a Bell P-39 Airacobra, supplied to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program. Photo: Museum of the U.S. Air Force (Courtesy Photo)
On February 24, 1943, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft with serial number 42-32892 rolled out of a factory in Long Beach, California, and was handed over to the U.S. Air Force.
On March 12, 1943, the plane was given to the Soviet Air Force in Fairbanks, Alaska, and given the registration USSR-N238. From there, it flew 5,650 kilometers to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, one of some 14,000 aircraft sent by the United States to the Soviet Union during World War II under the massive Lend-Lease program.
This particular C-47 was sent to the Far North and spent the war conducting reconnaissance and weather-monitoring missions over the Kara Sea. After the war, it was transferred to civilian aviation, carrying passengers over the frozen tundra above the Arctic Circle. On April 23, 1947, it was forced to make an emergency landing with 36 people on board near the village of Volochanka on the Taimyr Peninsula.
On May 11, 1947, 27 people were rescued, having spent nearly three weeks in the icebound wreck. The captain, two crew members, and six passengers had left earlier in an ill-fated effort to get help. The body of the captain, Maksim Tyurikov, was found by local hunters about 120 kilometers from the wreck in 1953. The others were never found.
The plane spent 69 years on the tundra before a Russian Geographical Society expedition rescued it in 2016 and returned the wreckage to Krasnoyarsk.
“I knew that its place was in a museum,” Vyacheslav Filippov, a colonel in the Russian Air Force reserve who has written extensively about the Lend-Lease program’s Siberian connection, told RFE/RL at the time. “It was not just some piece of scrap metal. It is our living history. This Douglas is the only Lend-Lease aircraft that remains in Russia.”
An estimated 25 million Soviet citizens perished in the titanic conflict with Nazi Germany between June 1941 and May 1945. Overcoming massive defeats and colossal losses over the first 18 months of the war, the Red Army was able to reorganize and rebuild to form a juggernaut that marched all the way to Berlin. But the Soviet Union was never alone: Months before the United States formally entered the war, it had already begun providing massive military and economic assistance to its Soviet ally through the Lend-Lease program.
From the depths of the Cold War to the present day, many Soviet and Russian politicians have ignored or downplayed the impact of American assistance to the Soviets, as well as the impact of the entire U.S.-British war against the Nazis.
A Soviet report by Politburo member Nikolai Voznesensky in 1948 asserted that the United States, described as “the head of the antidemocratic camp and the warrior of imperialist expansion around the world,” contributed materiel during the war that amounted to just 4.8 percent of the Soviet Union’s own wartime production.
A map of lend-lease shipments from the United States to the U.S.S.R. from 1941-45.
The Short History Of The Great Patriotic War, also from 1948, acknowledged the Lend-Lease shipments, but concluded: “Overall this assistance was not significant enough to in any way exert a decisive influence over the course of the Great Patriotic War.”
Nikolai Ryzhkov, the last head of the government of the Soviet Union, wrote in 2015 that “it can be confidently stated that [Lend-Lease assistance] did not play a decisive role in the Great Victory.”
Such assessments, however, are contradicted by the opinions of Soviet war participants. Most famously, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin raised a toast to the Lend-Lease program at the November 1943 Tehran conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.
“I want to tell you what, from the Russian point of view, the president and the United States have done for victory in this war,” Stalin said. “The most important things in this war are the machines…. The United States is a country of machines. Without the machines we received through Lend-Lease, we would have lost the war.”
Nikita Khrushchev offered the same opinion.
“If the United States had not helped us, we would not have won the war,” he wrote in his memoirs. “One-on-one against Hitler’s Germany, we would not have withstood its onslaught and would have lost the war. No one talks about this officially, and Stalin never, I think, left any written traces of his opinion, but I can say that he expressed this view several times in conversations with me.”
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease Act on March 11, 1941.
The Lend-Lease act was enacted in March 1941 and authorized the United States to provide weapons, provisions, and raw materials to strategically important countries fighting Germany and Japan — primarily, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China. In all, the United States shipped billion (8 billion in 2020 money) worth of materiel under the program, including .3 billion to the Soviet Union. In addition, much of the billion worth of aid sent to the United Kingdom was also passed on to the Soviet Union via convoys through the Barents Sea to Murmansk.
Most visibly, the United States provided the Soviet Union with more than 400,000 jeeps and trucks, 14,000 aircraft, 8,000 tractors and construction vehicles, and 13,000 battle tanks.
However, the real significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet war effort was that it covered the “sensitive points” of Soviet production — gasoline, explosives, aluminum, nonferrous metals, radio communications, and so on, says historian Boris Sokolov.
“In a hypothetical battle one-on-one between the U.S.S.R and Germany, without the help of Lend-Lease and without the diversion of significant forces of the Luftwaffe and the German Navy and the diversion of more than one-quarter of its land forces in the fight against Britain and the United States, Stalin could hardly have beaten Hitler,” Sokolov wrote in an essay for RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
British Matilda tanks are loaded onto a ship for transportation to the U.S.S.R. as part of the Lend-Lease program.
Under Lend-Lease, the United States provided more than one-third of all the explosives used by the Soviet Union during the war. The United States and the British Commonwealth provided 55 percent of all the aluminum the Soviet Union used during the war and more than 80 percent of the copper.
Lend-Lease also sent aviation fuel equivalent to 57 percent of what the Soviet Union itself produced. Much of the American fuel was added to lower-grade Soviet fuel to produce the high-octane fuel needed by modern military aircraft.
The Lend-Lease program also provided more than 35,000 radio sets and 32,000 motorcycles. When the war ended, almost 33 percent of all the Red Army’s vehicles had been provided through Lend-Lease. More than 20,000 Katyusha mobile multiple-rocket launchers were mounted on the chassis of American Studebaker trucks.
In addition, the Lend-Lease program propped up the Soviet railway system, which played a fundamental role in moving and supplying troops. The program sent nearly 2,000 locomotives and innumerable boxcars to the Soviet Union. In addition, almost half of all the rails used by the Soviet Union during the war came through Lend-Lease.
A monument in Fairbanks, Alaska, to the American pilots who flew almost 8,000 U.S. planes to Alaska and to the Soviet pilots who flew them on to Siberia as part of Lend-Lease.
“It should be remembered that during World War I, the transportation crisis in Russia in 1916-17 that did a lot to facilitate the February Revolution [which lead to the abdication of the tsar] was caused by a shortage in the production of railway rails, engines, and freight cars because industrial production had been diverted to munitions,” Sokolov wrote. “During World War II, only the supplies brought in by Lend-Lease prevented the paralysis of rail transport in the Soviet Union.”
The Lend-Lease program also sent tons of factory equipment and machine tools to the Soviet Union, including more than 38,000 lathes and other metal-working tools. Such machines were of higher quality than analogues produced in the Soviet Union, which made a significant contribution to boosting Soviet industrial production.
American aid also provided 4.5 million tons of food, 1.5 million blankets, and 15 million pairs of boots.
“In order to really assess the significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet victory, you only have to imagine how the Soviet Union would have had to fight if there had been no Lend-Lease aid,” Sokolov wrote. “Without Lend-Lease, the Red Army would not have had about one-third of its ammunition, half of its aircraft, or half of its tanks. In addition, there would have been constant shortages of transportation and fuel. The railroads would have periodically come to a halt. And Soviet forces would have been much more poorly coordinated with a constant lack of radio equipment. And they would have been perpetually hungry without American canned meat and fats.”
In 1963, KGB monitoring recorded Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov saying: “People say that the allies didn’t help us. But it cannot be denied that the Americans sent us materiel without which we could not have formed our reserves or continued the war. The Americans provided vital explosives and gunpowder. And how much steel! Could we really have set up the production of our tanks without American steel? And now they are saying that we had plenty of everything on our own.”
Some planes have long had a reputation for being deadly in air-to-air combat. That is an arena built for the fast and evasive — and planes get faster and more evasive all the time. But what do we do about the older fighters? Retirement or being passed on, second-hand, to other countries happens to some models, and some of these designs are so good, they last for decades (the P-51 served in a military role until 1985). Other planes, however, undergo a little role change and start dropping bombs instead.
In fact, when you look at the most prominent fighters from World War II (the P-51, the F6F Hellcat, the F4U Corsair, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and the P-38 Lightning), they were all multi-role fighters. The jet age was no different — many planes designed for air-to-air became very good at dropping bombs on the enemy on the ground. Here are some of the most prominent.
1. North American F-86 Sabre
The F-86 Sabre dominated the skies during the Korean War, but as the war went on, this plane also had a significant impact as a fighter-bomber. This plane did so well dropping ordnance that the Air Force eventually bought the F-86H, a dedicated fighter-bomber version of the F-86, which served until 1972.
2. North American F-100 Super Sabre
Like the F-86, the F-100 was initially intended for air-to-air combat. But the F-100A had its teething problems, and it never saw much combat as a fighter. The F-100D version, however, became a very reliable fighter-bomber. In fact, a later model, the F-100F operational trainer model, was among the first of the Wild Weasels — Vietnam-era bombers that were responsible for taking out enemy air defenses. The F-100 fighter-bombers stuck around until 1979.
3. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom
The Navy’s version of the Phantom, the F-4B, was an all-weather interceptor. The Air Force was the first branch to use this airframe as a tactical fighter, and the others quickly followed suit. As F-14s and F-15s emerged into service, F-4s took on more ground-attack missions. Today, those still in service with Turkey and other countries are primarily used for bombing.
4. Grumman F-14 Tomcat
Lessons learned from Vietnam and the development of new Soviet bombers spurred the development of the F-14 as a pure fighter. It had quite the long reach, too. With the end of the Cold War, though, the Tomcat quickly ran thin on targets in the air and was quickly retooled to attack ground targets. Sadly, it also saw its production ended shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union and was retired in 2004. It leaves us to wonder just what could have been for carrier air wings.
5. McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle
While the Navy replaced its F-4s with the F-14, the Air Force chose to replace them in the air-to-air role with the F-15. The F-15 dominated as an air-superiority fighter (it still hasn’t lost a for-real dogfight). Then, the Air Force sought to replace the F-4 for the ground-attack missions – and the F-15 was selected. Today, the F-15E is still going strong, bringing the fight to ground forces.
The fact is, an air-superiority fighter need not despair when newer jets come along. It can earn a second lease on life by dropping bombs on the bad guys. It might not be as thrilling as a dogfight, but it’s plenty effective.