The tragic disappearance of Amelia Earhart in 1937 remains among the most pervasive mysteries in American culture. Earhart, a groundbreaking female aviator and celebrity in her own time, knew her goal of circumnavigating the globe in her Lockheed Electra was a dangerous one, but she and the American public seemed assured that she would be successful, just as she had been so many times before.
Of course, from our perspective on this side of history, we know her trip was destined for failure, but beyond that, the disappearance of Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan remains shrouded in mystery.
The thing is… maybe it shouldn’t be. The mystery surrounding Earhart’s disappearance may have actually been solved as soon as three years after her plane went down, but because of what seems like the incompetence of one doctor, we’ll likely never know for sure.
Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan with their Lockheed Electra.
In 1940, just three years after Earhart and Noonan disappeared, a British expedition arrived on the Pacific island of Nikumaroro and set about scouting the landmass for settlement. As they scouted the island, they came across some rather unusual objects: a human skull and other bones, along with a woman’s shoe, a box made to hold a Brandis Navy Surveying Sextant (for use in navigation) that had been manufactured around 1918, and a bottle of Benedictine — which was an herbal-based liquor.
The small stature of the bones along with the other items discovered and the island’s location in the Pacific made it seem entirely feasible that the team had actually discovered the lost remains of the famed aviator. A theory began to form: Earhart may have seen the island in the distance and attempted to make it there as her fuel finally ran out. Based on the bones and other items found ashore, it even seemed possible that Earhart may have survived the sea-landing and made it to the island, only to eventually succumb to starvation, dehydration, or her injuries.
The skull and a dozen or so other bones were gathered from the site and shipped to Fiji, and the following year Doctor D.W. Hoodless of Fiji’s Central Medical School buckled down to study them. There was just one problem: forensic osteology, or the study of bones for these sorts of purposes, was far from the robust and mature science it is today.
Amelia Earhart in the cockpit of her Lockheed Electra.
Hoodless examined the thirteen bones and took a series of measurements that he recorded in his notes, before coming to a controversial conclusion. According to the doctor, the bones discovered on Nikumaroro didn’t belong to Earhart. Instead, he posited that they belonged to “middle-aged stocky male about 5’5.5″ in height.” It seemed, at least according to Hoodless’ assessment, that the Earhart mystery had not been solved.
Despite the woman’s shoe, herbal liquor Earhart was known to drink, and the box that held navigation equipment, Hoodless’ determination was enough to convince the world that the legendary pilot’s final resting place remained a mystery.
In fact, the world was so convinced that the bones didn’t belong to Earhart that they simply lost track of the bones from there. They’ve now been lost for decades, making a thorough and modern analysis of the remains impossible.
But that’s not the end of the story. A study published last year by Professor Richard Jantz from the University of Tennessee contests Hoodless’ findings using the very figures the doctor recorded in his notes back in 1940. Using modern forensics and a computer program designed to aid in determining age and gender from bone measurements, Jantz came to a very different conclusion than Hoodless.
“The fact remains that if the bones are those of a stocky male, he would have had bone lengths very similar to Amelia Earhart’s, which is a low-probability event,” Jantz wrote. In fact, he went on to write that, “This analysis reveals that Earhart is more similar to the Nikumaroro bones than 99% of individuals in a large reference sample.”
Sadly, without the bones to further the analysis, it’s impossible to state conclusively that these bones did indeed belong to Earhart, but based on Jantz assessment, it seems more likely than not that Earhart really did make it to Nikumaroro Island. That conclusion may solve one mystery, but it would create a few more: how long did Earhart survive? What were her final days like?
Unfortunately, it seems likely that we’ll never know.
Mines are some of the most dangerous weapons used on the battlefield. They are the unseen enemy that can totally wreck an army or a navy. While still destructive, land mines are often stuck in one place, easily found, removed, or bypassed once made aware of their presence. Naval mines have come a long way in a short time, and are able to count the number of enemy ships that pass before attacking and can even swarm oncoming warships.
How they take down warships starts with a bang.
A Polish Mina Morska naval mine used between 1908-1939.
The damage a ship takes depends on the power of the mine and its initial explosiveness versus how far away from the ship’s hull the mine is when it explodes. The closer to the ship the mine is, the more direct damage the ship will take. But the direct damage isn’t the only type of damage a mine does to a ship. Other types of damage occur from the bubble created by the underwater explosion as well as the resulting shock wave from the explosives themselves.
Direct damage can be exacted by using more and more high explosives in mines. This will also affect the bubble jet and shock wave. The bubble jet removes water from the area of the explosion temporarily, but when the water comes rushing back in under the surface, it does so at such high velocity that it can penetrate a ship’s hull. The shock wave from a naval mine is enough to tear out the engines from a ship, toss around the crew, and kill divers.
Each kind of damage can do incredibly grievous harm to the ship and its crew. Results from mine detonations can be seen in incidents around the world. When the USS Samuel B. Roberts hit a mine, for example, the U.S. Navy stunned Iran with its response.
Modern mines are simple devices that are designed much like bombs. There is an explosive case surrounding an arming device and explosive train that will detonate the mine when it’s supposed to go off. When mines are deployed, the arming device activates the mine. When the train is aligned with the arming device, the target detecting device activates. This is the trigger that senses when it should go off. There are many kinds of detection devices: magnetic, seismic, acoustic, and pressure mines.
Different kinds of ships generate a different response from different mines, and the mine is smart enough to know when to explode. When it does, the resulting explosion, bubble jet, and shock wave can literally tear a ship in two.
A Marine M1 Abrams in Fallujah, 10 Dec 2004 (USMC)
In July 2020, the Marine Corps’ three tank battalions began the process of deactivation as their M1 Abrams main battle tanks were hauled away. The 1st Tank Battalion at 29 Palms, 2nd Tank Battalion at Camp Lejeune and 4th Tank Battalion at Camp Pendleton are slated to be deactivated as part of an aggressive restructuring of the Corps called Force Design 2030. The plan calls for a more flexible force that can more effectively serve as the nation’s naval expeditionary force-in-readiness. The departure of the M1s marks the end of an era of Marine tankers.
Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, tanks have played a key role in supporting the Marine Corps infantryman in the fight. Let’s take a look at some of the less famous tanks that were crewed by Devil Dogs. Please note that this list is about tanks. Marine vehicles like the M50 Ontos self-propelled gun and the LVT-5 amphibious armored fighting vehicle, which are not tanks, will not be included.
M1917s lined up for inspection in China (USMC)
1. M1917 Light Tank
Originally referred to as the “Six-ton Special Tractor”, the M1917 was America’s first mass-produced tank. Built under license as a near-copy of the French Renault FT-17, the tank was meant to accompany the American Expeditionary Force to France in WWI. However, production was not fast enough and the first tanks arrived in Europe just days before the armistice.
Armed with either a Browning .30-caliber machine gun or a French 37mm Puteaux one-pounder infantry cannon, the tanks were crewed by the Light Tank Platoon USMC out of Quantico. After extensive training with the tanks in the states, the platoon was sent to China for a tour of duty in 1927.
Officially assigned to protect the Peking-Tientsin railway, the Marine tankers saw no action in China. Instead, they performed limited maneuvers, went on good-will shows and publicity parades, and stood inspections. However, despite limited employment, the M1917 did set the foundation for the Marine Corps’ future amphibious armor doctrine that would be so crucial in the Pacific islands during WWII.
A Satan on Saipan (USMC)
2. M3A1 “Satan” Flame Tank
Japanese concrete bunkers proved to be imposing obstacles to Marines in the Pacific during WWII. Though flamethrowers were effective at neutralizing the bunkers, the short range of the weapon system meant that the operator had to get as close as possible to his target. As a result, the average life expectancy of a flamethrower operator on the battlefield was just five minutes.
Rather than expose Marines wearing what was essentially a bomb on their backs, the Corps began to experiment with the concept of flamethrowers mounted in armored vehicles in 1943. The first iteration saw the flamethrower mounted in the pistol port of an M3 Light Tank. However, this gave the flamethrower a limited field of fire and the weapon was placed in the bow turret instead.
Still based on the M3 Stuart Light Tank, the Satan was one of the first flamethrower tanks in the Marine Corps arsenal. With the flamethrower in the bow turret, the gunner held the fuel tanks between his knees. While it wasn’t exactly a comfort to have such a volatile piece of equipment in such a sensitive area, the operator was at least behind the armor of a tank, albeit light. Satan Flame Tanks saw action with the Marine Corps on Saipan and Tinian.
A ramped up M48 Patton tank in Vietnam (Jack Butcher)
3. Artillery Tanks
Improvise, adapt and overcome; Marines make do. The hard-chargers of the United States Marine Corps are famed for their ability to create clever solutions to otherwise impossible problems on the battlefield, and the tankers are no exception. In Korea and Vietnam, when dedicated indirect fire assets like mortars or artillery guns weren’t available, Marines moved earth and ramped their tanks up to rain fire down on their enemies.
The tanks were driven into the ramped pits on a sharp incline and their guns were raised so that they could fire longer distances between enemy lines. Of course, this method of fire delivery wasn’t terribly accurate. Rather, the tank artillery was used more fore area effect harassing fire. Still, the unconventional use of equipment by the Marines highlights their ingenuity.
That is a point that those who lament the loss of Marine Corps tanks can hold on to. Impressive as they are, the tanks are just equipment. The warfighter, the Marine, is the true lethal tool that makes America’s enemies reconsider a violent course of action. Tanks or no tanks, no one in their right mind wants to be in a fight with a United States Marine.
A pinnacle of wartime technology, the HMS Trident was supposed to patrol the Atlantic, doing submarine things. Maybe sink a ship or two, enforce the blockade, and smuggle a reindeer from Russia to England. If that last part sounds more like the plot of a Nickelodeon cartoon than a World War II mission, then you clearly don’t understand diplomacy.
Our stage is World War II, 1941. America is the Arsenal of Democracy but is not yet formally part of the war. Russia and England are the bookends to a powerful and super-evil Nazi Germany, and Germany is busily invading the latter while trying to contain the former.
Britain and Russia were not natural allies. Britain had interceded in the Russian Civil War in 1918 on the losing side, and many veterans of that war were still kicking in 1941. Some were resentful. Some, certainly, would’ve cheered if Germany had invaded the British Isles in 1940 and conquered it.
But Hitler made strange bedfellows. And so a Russian bear cuddled up to the British crown, and much canoodling was had by all. But young romances rely on careful gestures, and one side cannot spurn the gift of another. Which brings us to the strange events of the HMS Trident in 1941.
Again: This was the international diplomacy equivalent of a new high school romance. If the cute girl passes you a photo of her, even if it also shows her disapproving grandpa and some unsightly dental headgear, you give the photo a kiss, smile at the girl, and then tuck the photo into the door of your locker.
And so the British set sail for another six weeks of wartime patrol. Pollyanna often slept in the captain’s cabin next to his bunk. And, according to the BBC, she would trot to the control room and wait for the hatch to open when fresh air was allowed in. The moss eventually ran out, and the crew fed Pollyanna scraps from their meals.
When the sub returned to England, it took a bit of work to get Pollyanna back out. The moss and the table scraps had taken their toll, and the young reindeer was too large to make it back out of the torpedo tube. Instead, she was winched out through the top.
Polly went to the zoo and was reportedly happy, though she did have a few quirks from her submarine service. George Malcolmson, a Royal Navy Submarine Museum Archivist, said, “It was rumoured that she never forgot her submarine career, for whenever she heard bells or a sound like a submarine tannoy, she would lower her head as though preparing for diving stations.”
Pollyanna died at the zoo five years later, the same week that the HMS Trident was sent to the breakers yard to be reduced for scrap.
Ahhhh! Fall is officially here — even for you stationed in the South, still sweating away the Autumn months. Even if in theory, it’s a time for longer sleeves and cooler weather, and a season where we’re hopeful for regularly scheduled football games. So breathe it in, that crisp fall air, and take a look at some of our favorite fall-centric memes that the military has to offer.
“We will never tolerate threats from anybody. Rule of law is for everyone; no exception,” he wrote.
Trump’s comments come an hour after Vice President Mike Pence issued a similar threat, warning of “significant sanctions” against Ankara.
“To President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and the Turkish government, I have a message on behalf of the president of the United States of America: Release Pastor Andrew Brunson now or be prepared to face the consequences,” Pence said, speaking at a State Department event in Washington to advance religious freedom.
Brunson, who has worked in Turkey for more than 20 years, was jailed in 2016 and was indicted a year later on terrorism and espionage charges, accused of aiding groups Ankara alleges were behind a failed military coup in 2016.
Brunson was held in custody until July 25, 2018, when he was transferred to house arrest.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the move to house arrest was “not enough” and that he should be allowed to leave Turkey.
Featured image: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu
In World War II, the British needed a special group of men to tip the scales in North Africa and they came up with the Special Air Service.
The SAS, originally put together as L Detachment of the Special Air Services Brigade in an effort to mislead the Germans and Italians as to the size of the unit, was tasked with conducting desert raids behind enemy lines.
The paratroopers of the SAS failed in their first mission but were stunningly successful in their second when they destroyed 60 enemy aircraft on the ground with no casualties.
CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — For more than four decades, the amphibious assault vehicle has been key to getting Marines ashore and into the fight.
US Marine Corps AAVs are large, tracked vehicles capable of operating in the water and on land that are essential for getting Marines onto the beach in an assault, and Insider recently had the opportunity to climb inside.
The AAV replaced the older Landing Vehicle, Tracked (LVT) and is expected to eventually be replaced by the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), but for now, the AAV is the go-to vehicle for amphibious assaults.
Over the past month, the Marines at Camp Pendleton in California have been training with their Japanese partners to execute an amphibious assault in the latest iteration of Iron Fist.
“AAVs bring a lot to that fight,” 2nd Lt. Nicholas Pierret, an officer in charge on a live-fire range, told Insider as the gunners practiced putting fire down range.
An AAV is a lightly-armored, fully-tracked amphibious landing vehicle specifically designed to get troops from ship to shore, as well as take troops inland to continue the fight.
Although Marine Corps AAVs are more than 40 years old, these 30-ton tracked vehicles are still the “the number one vehicle” to perform the amphibious assault task, Pierret told Insider.
These heavy “amphibious tractors” are commonly called “amtracs” or “tracks” by Marines.
Each AAV can carry around two dozen Marines and their gear.
The standard operating procedure for these vehicles is three operators — the crew chief, the driver, and the rear crewman — and 21 infantry.
It is currently the only operational Marine Corps vehicle capable of operating on land and in the water.
AAVs can run at a maximum speed of around 45 mph on land but only about 8 mph in the water, where they maintain an exceptionally low profile with over 75 percent of this amphibious armored personnel carrier submerged.
The AAV has a V-8 diesel engine that powers two water jets that propel it through water. In combat, it can push through waves up to 10 feet high. The ride can be rough, and there are no seat belts. It’s not uncommon for people to throw up.
AAVs are armed with significantly more firepower than the infantry units they carry ashore.
The amtracs, as the Marine’s call them, are equipped with a Mk 19 40mm grenade launcher and M2HB .50-caliber machine gun, weapons operated by the crew chief.
“Those are heavy firepower assets. Infantry has nothing that compares,” Pierret explained.
AAVs can be outfitted with additional weaponry as needed.
For example, the Marines have AAVs outfitted with Mk 154 Mine Clearing Line Charges (MICLICs) that can fire a rocket-propelled explosive line charge filled with C4 to eliminate mines and improvised explosive devices.
These AAVs can clear an entire lane out to a distance of about 100 yards.
In addition to these assets, the Marines inside all have their service weapons.
Each of the infantrymen riding in the AAV will dismount with their M4 service rifle.
Besides bringing extra firepower to the fight, another thing AAVs are really good for is logistics.
“They can carry supplies, ammo, MREs,” Pierret told Insider, referring to the sealed Meals Ready to Eat that troops eat in the field. “An AAV is also a very good casualty evacuation platform.”
On land, additional gear can be stored externally.
Marines can also live inside an AAV if necessary.
An amphibious assault vehicle is big enough to serve as an armored battle camper when necessary. Some Marines are said to call it a battle RV.
Sgt. Juan Torres Jr., a section leader, told Insider that he once lived out of an AAV for almost a month and a half. “You’re out in the field,” he said, “This is your home.”
Marines can even shower in them.
Theoretically, there is supposed to be air circulating inside the vehicle, but when it’s packed with Marines and the engine is running, it gets really hot, one Marine told Insider.
“A couple days in the field, and we’re smelly,” they said.
AAV crews can shower in their tracks using five gallon jugs filled with water carried onboard or stored in the hull. The AAV can hold up to 171 gallons of any liquid.
It takes a ton of maintenance to keep these old amtracs operational.
A few hours of training can require as much as four times as much prep work and maintenance, Torres told Insider.
“The four hours of cool stuff we get to do adds up to about 16 hours of hard work and preparation if not more,” he said.
On Dec. 16, 1944, the German army launched a massive surprise offensive into the Ardennes forest in Belgium which became known as “The Battle of the Bulge.” The battle, launched 70 years ago, would become the largest American engagement of the war — and the bloodiest — resulting in nearly 20,000 U.S. troops killed over five weeks.
[Clifford] VanAuken, then a 19-year-old combat medic, was sleeping on the kitchen floor of a farmhouse near Nancy, France, when he was woken up at 2 a.m. to travel to Belgium.
“We thought the war was about over and then the Germans launched this horrendous attack,” he said. “It was a battle that surprised all ally commanders.”
In a must-see documentary about the members of Easy Co., 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the survivors talk at length about the battle, the bitter cold, and the intense artillery fire that they had to endure.
“There was on top of this hill there was a ridge, a treeline,” said one veteran, who was there at Bastogne. “We were dug in on that ridge. The Germans knew right where we were, and they really gave us a shellacking.”
The incredible bravery of American troops, with support to come later by Lt. Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, ultimately led to an allied victory. But it came at a heavy price, with the U.S. Army suffering over 100,000 casualties, according to The History Channel.
“When a man was wounded, we felt glad for them. We felt happy for them,” Capt. Richard Winters later recounted. “He had a ticket to get out of there, and maybe a ticket to go home. And when we had a man who was killed, we found that he was at peace and he looked so peaceful. And we’re glad that he found peace.”
Watch some of the men who survived the battle tell their stories:
By the beginning of the 19th Century, it was already well established that indeed the Earth was round instead of flat. But the study of modern geology was still in its infancy and prompted many to established some hair brained ideas about how the Earth was actually made.
One of those came from Army Capt. John C. Symmes, Jr., who theorized that the center of the Earth was hollow and filled with productive farms that created cheap vegetables.
He believed this so fervently that he dedicated much of his life to organizing an expedition to look for an entrance for explorers to establish trade relations with the people who lived inside the planet.
Symmes began his military career in 1802 and served well during the War of 1812, rising in the infantry to the rank of captain. When the war ended, he left active duty to start a trading business on the American frontier. It was there that he began really expanding upon his theory of a hollow Earth.
His theory was simple. According to a 2004 paper by Duane A. Griffin from Bucknell Univeristy, Symmes believed that all planets formed in layers with gaps in between. Part of this theory went that Saturn’s rings were a collapsed layer of that planet which had partially broken away, leaving trails of dust.
The Appalachian mountains were supposedly the remnants of similar rings that used to orbit the Earth but which crashed to the planet’s surface over time.
Symmes believed that the hole in the Arctic would reveal a warm interior. Venturing into the ice in the Autumn is a huge gamble. For some reason, Symmes was unable to find 100 people to roll the dice with him.
In the late 1820s, Symmes worked with Jeremiah N. Reynolds to lobby Congress and President John Adams for the Navy to fund the expedition. While Congress was firmly against the idea, Adams eventually approved it.
The president helped search for a way to make the expedition happen with limited support from Congress. But, Adams was politically unpopular and could not get the resources together before the 1828 election when he was bested by Andrew Jackson. Jackson shut down the expedition.
Sickness claimed Symmes in 1829, so he died before he could see his claims debunked.
One of the best places to learn more about Symmes and his effect on modern science and literature is in Griffin’s full essay on that topic published by Bucknell University.
With the Cold War raging and the Soviets securing victory after victory in the Space Race, America’s CIA wasn’t sitting on the sidelines. The Soviet Union’s space technology was beating America’s in just about every appreciable way, and America’s intelligence agencies were working overtime to monitor and decipher data spilling out of Soviet rockets as they poured into the sky. It was a time of uncertainty–and perhaps even a bit of desperation–for the burgeoning superpower that was America in the 1950s. So, when a Soviet Lunar satellite was sent out on a global tour to parade their successes before the world, it offered a unique opportunity for the CIA to hijack the satellite for a bit of research while it was still firmly planted on the ground.
From our vantage point in the 21st century, we have a habit of looking back on the Space Race as though America’s ultimate victory was a sure thing. After all, in the decades that followed World War II, America was uniquely positioned to help rebuild the Western world, gaining diplomatic, economic, and military leverage around the globe and rapidly ascending to the lofty position of the planet’s only remaining superpower by the close of the century.
But the truth is, to paraphrase famed Marine general James Mattis, America had no pre-ordained right to victory in the Cold War, and perhaps least of all in the Space Race that ran in parallel to the America-Soviet military arms race of the day. The Soviet Union didn’t just beat America and the rest of the world into orbit with Sputnik in 1957, they proceeded to pummel the United States’ space efforts without mercy for years to come.
The Sputnik Crisis and Soviet space supremacy
Let there be no mistake, the importance of Sputnik in terms of how it framed America’s contemporary perception of the Soviet threat, both military and ideological, can’t be overstated. Immediately following Sputnik’s beeping transmissions from low earth orbit, the United States, and indeed much of the Western world, plummeted into what has since come to be known as the “Sputnik Crisis.”
In no uncertain terms, early Soviet space victories were seen by many around the globe as a clear argument in favor of the efficacy of the Soviet communist model of government and societal structure. With each subsequent win at the technological forefront of human reach, the Soviet Union wasn’t just proving what could be done through their approach to economics and policy, they were also demonstrating what America’s capitalism couldn’t do… or at least, couldn’t do as quickly.
That overarching fear that the communists were not only winning in terms of nuts and bolts but also in terms of hearts and minds directly led to the establishment of NASA, the reshuffling of resources toward rocket and orbital sciences, and of course, a flood of funding into both defense and prestige programs meant to offset the Soviet advantages that were becoming manifest on multiple fronts. In the New York Times alone, Sputnik 1 was mentioned in articles an average of 11 times a day between October 6 and October 31 of 1957, so pronounced was America’s general fear regarding the Soviets in space.
It didn’t get better from there. In November of 1957, the Soviet Union became the first nation to put a living animal in orbit with Sputnik 2 carrying Laika the dog. The following month, America made its first attempt to put a satellite into orbit with the Naval Research Laboratory’s Vanguard TV3 (Test Vehicle 3). The rocket made it approximately four feet off the launch platform before collapsing back down onto itself and exploding.
The following month, however, America would make it into space with Explorer 1, and later that year, NASA would replace the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) and help to steer the nation toward its eventual space supremacy–but that supremacy wasn’t to come for some time yet. In 1959, the technically failed Soviet Luna 1 rocket flew further than any platform before it, escaping the moon’s orbit and finally settling into orbit around the sun. Later that same year, the Soviets claimed yet another first with Luna 2; the first spacecraft ever to reach the surface of the moon.
Soon, Luna 3 would send back images of the moon’s surface from orbit and by 1960, the Soviets were the first to send animals (two dogs, Belka and Strelka) and plants into space and bring them back alive. Within just another year, they would secure their crowning achievement to that point: Putting an actual human being in space with Yuri Gagarin.
There was no doubt, no debate, and no uncertainty. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Soviet Union wasn’t just leading the Space Race, it was dominating it. If America wanted to turn the tables on the Reds, they’d need a closer look at what they were packing under the hoods of their rockets.
How to plan a spacecraft heist
In 1959, the Soviet Union decided to leverage their recent technological victories for a little PR, choosing a number of technologies, vehicles, and equipment that represented the very cutting edge of Soviet advances for a traveling exhibit. You might expect that the Soviet Union would know better than to send their actual top-tier tech for what amounted to little more than a bit of show-and-tell, and the CIA thought so too… but with the Soviets continuing to extend their lead in space, the opportunity to take a closer look at the crown jewel of the exhibition, a Lunic spacecraft very similar to Luna 2, housed within a modified rocket upper stage, was simply too great.
After a few plain-clothes agents got as close as they could without drawing any suspicion, they were surprised to see that the spacecraft tucked away behind glass-covered cutaways in the rocket housing appeared to be the real deal. Declassified reports have a habit of sucking the humanity out of a situation, but one has to assume this revelation came with some open mouths, raised eyebrows, and perhaps even a bit of covert intelligence officer hand-wringing within the CIA when word reached Langley.
Immediately, plans began to form to get an even closer look at Lunic, but the Soviet’s seeming naivety in parading a real satellite around didn’t extend to the security at their exhibitions. Soldiers guarded the satellite at all times while on display, including during off-hours when the museums and exhibition halls housing it were closed. It seemed clear that accessing Lunic while it was on display would be practically impossible, so the CIA turned their attention to how it was transported from exhibition to exhibition.
While all of the items were transported from city to city by rail car (with accompanying guard), the CIA identified some vulnerability in the way each item was transported from each exhibition to that rail car. The items were simply placed in unassuming crates and loaded into trucks that would drive them to the train station for loading. This transition was not heavily monitored by Soviet security, with items arriving at the train at random intervals and little coordination between drivers and the train personnel to speak of. In fact, the guards at the rail depots weren’t even provided with a list of what deliveries to expect, perhaps as a part of compartmentalizing information, but it was this specific shortcoming in the Soviet security strategy most of all that granted the CIA the opportunity they needed.
Hijacking a rocket is easier from the highway
Intelligence operatives are often thought of as superhuman, as though it takes a unique biology to be a truly successful spy. The truth, as history so often reveals, is that spies are most often regular people like the rest of us; superhuman not in capability, but arguably perhaps, in audacity.
When the night came to enact the CIA’s plan, the agents responsible were hopelessly lacking in James Bond-esque gadgets to assure victory. It began, quite simply, with agents in plain clothes following the crate containing Lunic out of an exhibition, looking intently for signs of supplemental Soviet security. Surprisingly, despite their air-tight security during showings, no guards manifested and it soon became clear that the unassuming box truck carrying a nondescript crate full of Soviet state secrets would be making its short trip to the train station utterly unaccompanied.
So as the truck approached its turn off toward the train station, the CIA simply pulled the vehicle over and escorted the driver to a nearby hotel. From there, an agent hopped in the driver’s seat and guided the truck into a nearby salvage yard that had been chosen specifically for the high walls intended to hide the interior scrap from the rest of the neighborhood. It was one of the most daring espionage capers of the Cold War, and certainly had the potential to ignite a conflict between the planet’s two nuclear powers… But at the point of execution, the best the CIA could muster was little more than a carjacking and a local junkyard. Sometimes, it really is audacity that makes all the difference.
For thirty long minutes, CIA agents hovered in the shadows surrounding their freshly stolen truck, waiting for some sign that the Soviets had noticed Lunic’s absence. Once it seemed the coast was sufficiently clear, they descended upon the truck, and the 20 foot long, 11 foot wide, and 14 foot-deep crate housed inside. For their plan to work, it wasn’t enough to get to the satellite, disassemble it, and photograph what they could–they also had to re-assemble it, tuck it back inside its crate, and deliver it to the train station before morning, to keep the Soviets from knowing anything had even taken place.
Take off your shoes and hop in the rocket
To their relief, the crate itself had been re-used a number of times, making it fairly easy to open without leaving any clear signs of tampering. However, with no means to pull the rocket stage out of the crate, the team soon realized they’d have no choice but to do their work inside the wooden box. Agents took off their shoes and split into teams, climbing to the bottom of the crate using rope ladders they’d brought specifically for the job, and delicately removing hardware and panels to gain access to the secrets held within.
Soon, their plan hit a snag, however. The Lunic spacecraft wouldn’t be hard to access through the rocket stage it was housed in, but as they attempted to make entry, the CIA agents found a small, plastic seal with a Soviet logo emblazoned on it. In order to get to the spacecraft, the seal would have. to be broken, but doing so would almost certainly reveal their meddling to Soviet authorities. Quickly, calls were made to CIA assets in the area, who assessed that they could replicate the seal and get their replacement to the salvage yard in time to re-assemble and return the rocket by morning.
Although the engine had been removed, its mounts, as well as tanks for both fuel and the oxidizer remained, granting the CIA enough information to extrapolate the rocket’s engine size and payload capabilities. With the seal removed, Lunic itself was pulled out, prodded, disassembled, and photographed extensively. Information gleaned wasn’t only valuable from a design perspective, it also offered important context regarding the Soviet rocket program. Having measurements and weights recorded for a Luna 2-esque payload, the CIA would be able to make more sense of telemetry data they were gathering around each Soviet launch. It was a significant intelligence victory for the United States, and would go on to shape plans and policy regarding America’s own space efforts for years to come.
But getting the information was only part of the job. Getting it back unnoticed would require a similar degree of good luck and proper planning.
With the moonlight waning, CIA operatives working with hand tools and clad in their socks feverishly re-assembled Lunic and its rocket housing, adding the replica seal, removing their rope ladders, and re-securing the top of the crate. By 5 a.m., the original driver was reunited with his truck and payload, and he delivered it to the train station in time to beat the first guard’s arrival at 7 a.m.
The information gleaned from the operation gave America a fuller understanding of what the Soviets were capable of, which allowed them to plan their own efforts accordingly. No longer was America operating under the looming anxiety of the Sputnik Crisis without the real data they needed to make an honest assessment of the situation. And one could argue, it was in that newfound knowledge that America’s future space dominance would begin to sprout. In order to beat the enemy, you have to know where they are and what they can do… and the CIA learned more about that in the back of a stolen truck, with their shoes off and their flashlights on, than they had through the rest of their combined efforts to that point.
Less than ten years later, the United States would declare victory in the Space Race when Apollo 11 landed on the moon right before a Soviet lander crashed into the other side. A bit more than twenty years after that, the Soviet Union would collapse, and the Cold War would officially come to an end.
WWI was an interesting time for the military. Our force was still new to being centralized, and converting state-led militias into one cohesive force took time and money. At the start of WWI, the Army had a scant 127,000 soldiers with 181,000 National Guard service members. What we needed were millions of soldiers to help the forces in France and England defeat Germany. In addition to needing qualified troops for ground movements, the US needed to find a way to offset its paltry military artillery units with the latest and greatest fighting technology.
But what is a howitzer, anyway?
If you don’t have a Red Leg in your family, you might not know the difference between artillery equipment. Never fear! We’re here to help. Here’s a quick primer on the difference between a howitzer compared with cannons.
Let’s take it way back to the early 1830s when the Army realized they needed a smaller, lighter, and more versatile cannon that could still have almost the same range as a regular cannon. Their answer to this problem was to shorten the barrel and change the shape to be more funnel-shaped instead of cylindrical.
The result was what we now know as a howitzer, a name taken from the Prussian word Haubitze, which means sling or basket.
Cannons can be direct fires weapons or indirect fires weapons, whereas a howitzer is strictly used for indirect fire – incredibly useful when the terrain of a battlefield is challenging to navigate. Howitzers can hit targets by arching rounds over objects, whereas cannons are directly aimed at a target and fired.
In full swing production since the 1830s, howitzers in all their forms have proved to be incredibly useful as part of the war effort … when they’re available.
There weren’t enough regiments
Before the US involvement in WWI, the Army only had nine authorized artillery regiments. By comparison, the Army currently has 27 active duty artillery regiments and 42 Reserve components. To say that we needed to grow our force quickly at the onset of WWI. But in lieu of a well-trained and combat-ready force, military leaders looked to other types of ways to bridge the gap. This is the story of the 155mm Howitzer of WWI and how it helped win the war.
Shortly after entering the war, the US formed 12 additional artillery units, bringing the total up to a rounding 21 regiments. These units helped supplement the National Guard and organized reserve artillery regiments, but it wasn’t nearly enough to stand up to German forces.
Regiments are great, but they weren’t enough
Sure, 21 units were better than nine, but it wasn’t enough since we didn’t have experienced personnel to arm the guns. In addition to needing soldiers, the Army also didn’t have enough guns or ammunition. The simplest solution for the WWI Army was to supply our forces with guns from France since there were plenty of qualified French artillery instructors and more than enough guns and ammunition.
Light artillery wasn’t the best choice
As the US entered the war, we only had a handful of 3-inch guns and 6-inch howitzers. The French forces replaced those with 75mm guns, 155mm, and 240mm howitzers. However, Army leaders held onto the idea that light artillery was more suitable for the current conditions. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
The changing face of battle
In fact, WWI’s trench warfare increased the need for heavy artillery like the 155mm howitzer and decreased the need for light field guns, like those in our arsenal. Howitzers have a greater range and are far more powerful, better suited for destroying fortified enemy targets, and reaching rear areas of the battlefield.
Without the use of the 155m howitzer, it’s possible that the conclusion of WWI would have looked very different. And, if it weren’t for the French, who were willing to share their artillery, ammunition, and knowledge with us, the US involvement in the war might have been incredibly altered, as well.
Colonel Paris Davis is one of the first Black officers to earn the coveted Green Beret of U.S. Special Forces. In the 1960s, America underwent the trials of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, both of which Davis took head on. “I said, ‘Look, you can call me Captain Davis, but you can’t call me a n****r,'” he said of his experience as a Black officer. In spite of the discrimination that he faced, Davis was a bonafide hero.
On May 13, 1965, Davis earned the Soldier’s Medal for actions at Bong San. An aviation fuel truck jackknifed and rolled on its side, pinning the driver against the steering wheel. He reacted quickly and ordered his men to stay clear of the truck. With complete disregard for his own safety, Davis ran to free the driver from the now burning truck. Despite the driver’s pleas to abandon him, Davis refused to leave a man behind. His citation reads, “Major Davis worked his comrade loose and then carried him away from the truck just as it exploded.” The award was presented in 1968, by which time Davis had been promoted to Major. Davis is a real-life action hero and his story only get better.
The month after his heroic rescue of the fuel truck driver, Davis commanded what would become a 19-hour raid and a fight for survival. On June 18, Davis led an A-Team of 90 men to hit what they thought was a Viet Cong camp. However, it turned out to be a group of 4,000 North Vietnam regulars. In 1965, it was rare for U.S. troops to come across conventional soldiers. Still, Davis and his men hit and hit hard. “We were stacking bodies the way you do canned goods in a grocery store,” Davis said of the raid. Absolute badass. However, things soon went wrong for the A-Team.
During the raid, Davis was wounded by enemy gunfire and grenade shrapnel. He wasn’t the only one who got hit. Two of his men, Billy Waugh and Robert Brown were gravely wounded. Waugh was hit in the knee, foot, ankle, and head, and so was Brown. “I could actually see his brain pulsating. It was that big,” Davis recalled of Brown’s wound. “He said, ‘Am I gonna die?’ And I said, ‘Not before me.'” With the raiders under heavy fire, Davis was ordered to withdraw. “Sir, I’m just not gonna leave. I still have an American out there,” was Davis’ reply. Refusing to abandon his men, Davis disobeyed the order. Another Green Beret on the raid, Ron Deis, recalled Davis’ commitment to his men. “Captain Davis refused and said, ‘No, I’m not leaving while I still have men out on the field,'” he emotionally recalled.
During the fighting, Waugh became separated from the team and lost consciousness. He was stripped naked and left for dead by the Vietnamese soldiers. Davis, with the help of a Sgt. First Class John Reinburg, carried Waugh to a hill where they could be extracted by helicopter. As Reinburg crested the hill above Davis and Waugh, he stood up to catch his breath. As soon as he did, he was shot twice and fell. With Reinberg dead, the wounded Davis carried Waugh by himself on his shoulders to the Huey and got him out of there.
For his actions during the raid, Davis was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his commander, Billy Cole. However, the paperwork vanished. An army review in 1969 revealed no such file for Davis. The recommendation was resubmitted following the review. However, army records still showed no paperwork for Davis’ Medal of Honor. In an effort to recognize Davis’ heroism, many of the soldiers who served under him lobbied Congress. Waugh, who went on to serve in special forces and the CIA until Operation Enduring Freedom, submitted a statement in 1981. “I only have to close my eyes to vividly recall the gallantry of this individual,” he wrote.
Davis’ heroism in Vietnam cannot be overstated. His dedication to the mission and his men embodies everything that the army and the Green Berets stand for. “When you’re out there fighting, and things are going on like that, everybody’s your friend, and you’re everybody’s friend,” Davis said of combat. “The bullets have no color, no names.” An expedited review of Davis’ twice-lost Medal of Honor nomination has been submitted. When asked what it would mean to him to receive the medal, Davis said, “It would mean all the things that I haven’t been able to dream about.”