11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

History has shown that all American spies are not created equal in terms of the damage their efforts have done to military readiness. Here are 11 of the worst:


1. Julius Rosenberg gave Russia plans for nuclear bombs.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were arrested in 1950 for espionage thought to date back to 1940. They were most famous for giving the Soviet Union atomic secrets, specifically the design for the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki. The spy ring Julius operated was also responsible for giving the Soviets proximity fuses and radar tubes, two technologies key to effective air defenses which would have played a large part if the Cold War had ever turned hot.

Documents from the Venona Project have shown that Ethel may not have been involved. Her brother, who was caught before the Rosenbergs and testified against both of them, later said that Ethel was not part of the ring. Julius and Ethel were both executed in 1953 after a controversial trial. The trial was called a sham, especially the case against Ethel Rosenberg. It was so hotly contested, it soured America’s relationship with France.

2. Noshir Gowadia gave B-2 Stealth technology to China.

 

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military
Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Cecilio Ricardo

 

Noshir Gowadia is an Indian-American who was an engineer on early stages of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber. Though Gowadia was paid $45,000 for his work, he was angry that he wasn’t kept on the project for future phases that were worth much more money. Gowadia wrote to a relative about his dissatisfaction and started his own consulting company.

In 2005, federal investigators arrived at his Maui, Hawaii home to collect evidence that he had knowledge of an effort to help China develop stealth technology for their cruise missiles. Gowadia admitted to many of the accusations, though he claimed he had only used declassified materials. A jury disagreed, and he was sentenced to 32 years in prison, disappointing prosecutors who had sought life imprisonment.

China is too closed off to know for sure which stealth designs use information from Gowadia, but China now has a stealth fighter and multiple cruise missiles that are hard to detect on infrared.

3. Chi Mak’s betrayal put modern sailors in jeopardy.

 

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military
Photo: US Navy Photographer’s Mate Airman Ron Reeves

 

Chi Mak’s activities are hard to get exact, since much of his espionage career is still unknown. The FBI began investigating him in 2004, and the case went to trial in 2007. Mak had worked on Navy engines as an engineer for a defense contractor and had collected sensitive information from other engineers before sending collections of it to China.

When the FBI raided Mak’s home, first in secret and later after arresting Mak and his wife, they found stacks and stacks of classified information relating to naval technology, much of it still going into new Navy ships. The exact nature of what was released has not been made public since the technologies are still classified.

Mak is serving a nearly 24-year, six-month prison sentence after his conviction in 2007. The other spies who worked with Mak plead guilty, receiving shorter prison sentences and deportation orders.

4. Ana Montes deliberately misled the joint chiefs while leaking secrets to Cuba.

 

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military
Photo: Defense Intelligence Agency

 

From 1984 to 2001, Ana Montes was slipping classified information to Cuba. Hers was a case of spycraft straight out of a novel. She’d don disguises to slip into Cuba, listen in South Florida to shortwave radio broadcasts from Cuba, and slip packages to handlers. And, she did all of it with two FBI siblings and another FBI agent as a sister-in-law. Ana’s sister was a hero of an FBI crackdown in southern Florida that netted other members of Ana’s spy ring, including her handler.

Montes operated by memorizing documents at her desk, first in the Department of Justice and later in the Defense Intelligence Agency, and then typing them on her personal computer at night. She received medals from both the U.S. and Cuba for her activities, though only Cuba gave her a contracted lover. Before she was caught, she had become a regular briefer for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Security Council. When she was finally arrested, she was pending a promotion to the CIA Security Council. She is currently serving a 25-year sentence.

5. Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames dimed out every American spy they could name.

 

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military
Photos: FBI

 

Though they’re combined on this list because their main damage to the U.S. military was in exposing an American spy in Soviet Russia, Robert Hanssen and Aldrich Ames were two of the most damaging spies in U.S. history. Ames only operated from 1985 to 1993, while Hanssen spied from 1979 to 2001.

Together, their leaks resulted in the exposure of hundreds of U.S. assets in the Soviet Union, but their most direct damage to the U.S. military was from exposing one high-level asset. Gen. Dmitri Polyakov was the head of Soviet intelligence and a major spy for the U.S., providing information on Soviet anti-armored missile technology, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and China. That fountain of military intelligence shut down when Polykav was revealed by Ames and Hanssen, leading to Polykav’s execution in 1988.

6. John Anthony Walker told the Russians where all the U.S. subs were during the Cold War.

 

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

 

John Walker was a Navy Warrant Officer who made some bad investments and found himself strapped for cash. So, in late 1967 he copied a document from the Atlantic Fleet Submarine Force Headquarters in Norfolk, Va. and carried it home. The next morning, he took it to the Soviet Embassy in Washington where he leaked it.

For the next 18 years, Walker would leak the locations and encryption codes for U.S. assets as well as operational plans and other documents. He even recruited his son into the operation and tried to recruit his daughter who served in the Army, but she was pregnant and separating from the service. There are even claims that the sinking of the nuclear armed USS Scorpion was due to Walker’s espionage.

Walker and his son were finally caught after Walker’s ex-wife told everything to the FBI. Former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger said the Soviet Union gained, “access to weapons and sensor data and naval tactics, terrorist threats, and surface, submarine, and airborne training, readiness and tactics” as a result of Walker’s spying. It’s thought that some advances in Russian naval technology were given to them by Walker. He died in prison last year.

7. Larry Chin may have made the Korean War go on much longer.

Larry Wu-Tai Chin was a translator for the U.S. Army during World War II. After the war, he became a translator for the CIA until his arrest in 1985. During this time, Chin passed many documents and photographs along to his Chinese handlers.

Some experts claim Chin’s actions during the Korean War, when he gave the Chinese government the name of prisoners he interrogated, made the Korean War last longer. Chin told the Chinese government everything that was revealed during the interrogations. He was arrested in 1985 and convicted of all charges, but he killed himself before he was sentenced.

8. James Nicholson sold the intelligence team roster to Moscow.

Harold James Nicholson’s espionage weakened U.S. observation of the Russian Federation during the mid-’90s. Nicholson was the head of CIA officer training program for two years, and he is believed to have sold the identities of all new officers trained during his tenure. In addition, he sold the assignment information for new officers headed on their first assignment.

In an affidavit discussing the case against Nicholson, the lead investigator pointed to two ways that Nicholson directly compromised military operations. First, he gave away the identity of a CIA operative heading to Moscow to collect information on the Russian military. Second, he gave the Russians the exact staffing requirements for the Moscow CIA bureau, allowing them to better prevent leaks to the U.S. of classified military information.

Nicholson was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to 25 years. From prison, he doubled down on espionage by teaching his son spy tradecraft, telling him state secrets, and then having his son meet up with old Russian contacts to collect money. He confessed to this second round of espionage in 2010.

9. James Hall III sold top-secret signal programs to the Soviets.

U.S. Army signal intelligence warrant officer James Hall was assigned to a crucial listening post in West Berlin from 1982 to 1985. While he was there, he was feeding information on key programs to his Soviet handlers. Hall released tons of documents, intercepts, and encryption codes, exposing many operations to Soviet eyes.

Arguably his most damaging action was letting the Soviets know about Project Trojan. Trojan would have allowed, in the case of war, the U.S. and its allies to target Russian armored vehicles, missiles, and planes by tracking their communication signals. Since Russia had the clear advantage in armored warfare at this point, the success or failure of Trojan could have decided who won the start of a war.

Hall had more limited access to crucial information when he was reassigned to the United States. In 1988, he bragged about his 6 years of spying to an undercover FBI agent. Hall was tried and sentenced, serving his sentence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas until his release in 2011.

10. Col. George Trofimoff gave it all to the KGB through his brother the archbishop.

When George Trofimoff was finally arrested in 2000, he was just a bag boy. As a retired Army Reserve colonel though, he is the highest-ranking American ever convicted of espionage. Trofimoff spied for the Soviet Union from 1969 to 1994, a 25-year career.

The worst of the damage was done while Trofimoff was the chief of the U.S. Army’s operations at a NATO safe house where Soviet defectors were debriefed. The safe house had copies of nearly all U.S. intelligence estimates on Soviet military strength. Most weekends, Trofimoff would takes bags of documents home from the safe house, photograph them, and return them to the office before giving the photos to his brother, a Russian Orthodox priest who would go on to become the Archbishop of Vienna.

Trofimoff was arrested at his home at 1427 Patriot Drive and tried for espionage in 2000. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

11. Benedict Arnold tried to abort America.

 

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military
Portrait: Thomas Hart

 

A traitor who almost strangled America in her crib, Gen. Benedict Arnold is so infamous that his name is used to mean treachery. He was once a hero of the revolution though, attaining multiple victories through brilliance of maneuver. His greatest feat was his victory at the Battle of Saratoga, which convinced France that it was worth it to come out in support of American independence.

Arnold lost his wife during the war and found himself the target of personal and professional attacks from politicians. Convinced that the war would fail and harboring deep resentment of the American political system, Arnold handed over the plans to West Point and agreed to surrender the defenses in exchange for 20,000 British pounds (approximately $3 million today).

But the plans were intercepted and Arnold fled to England. The Revolutionary Army was shaken by the loss of a major hero while they were still fighting against the better equipped and trained British Forces. Arnold would live out his life in England as a rich man, but forever be known as a traitor.

Bonus: Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden

While not technically spies since they didn’t work for a foreign government, the classified intelligence revealed by Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are the two most famous leaks in recent memory. Both released tons of documents embarrassing to the U.S. and damaging for foreign relations.

Manning stole documents from his work in Army intelligence by storing them on an SD card and sending the files to Wikileaks. The leak included state department cables, detailed event logs from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a video of an Apache mistakenly engaging Reuters journalists.

Snowden’s leak was the more damaging. Roughly 200,000 thousand stolen documents were given to journalists, some leading to the compromise of U.S. intelligence operations abroad. Approximately 1.7 million documents were stolen, though Snowden has given conflicting reports on whether they’ve been destroyed or are stored.

Manning is serving a 35-year prison sentence while Snowden is living in Russia to avoid prosecution in the U.S.

Read more: John Oliver just exposed a very big lie surrounding Edward Snowden

Or: This top secret green beret unit quietly won the Cold War

MIGHTY HISTORY

A massive Nazi wolfpack slaughtered a convoy for 7 days

Atlantic convoy operations could be terrifying for any Merchant Mariners and Navy sailors assigned to cross the treacherous waters, but the desperation of SC 107 in 1942 is on a whole other order of magnitude. The 42 ships were spotted Oct. 30, 1942, and spent the next week struggling to survive as half their number were consumed by 16 U-boats.


11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

The HMS Edinburgh survives extreme torpedo damage from a German sub attack.

(Imperial War Museum)

SC 107 was filled with ships sailing from the Canadian city of Sydney in Nova Scotia to the United Kingdom. It was a slow convoy, filled with ships thought capable of sustaining 7 knots but incapable of holding the 9 knots of faster convoys on the same route.

These would normally be heavily guarded, but Canada and America had shifted as many ships as possible to North Africa to support landings there. So the convoy was lightly guarded with just a destroyer and three corvettes assigned to travel all the way across with it. On October 30, U-boat pack Violet, Veilchen, spotted the juicy, underdefended target.

The pack was deployed in a patrol line with 13 boats ready for combat, and those boats were able to summon three more that would join the hunt from the west. These 16 German combatants prepared to slaughter their way through the Allied convoy.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

Allied bombers helped sink two German U-boats at the start of the fight over SC 107, but the convoy soon moved out of their range.

(U.S. Air Force)

The German radio traffic tipped off the convoy that it was about to come under attack, and its escort deployed to protect it. Luckily, this first contact came within range of the Western Local Escort, ships assigned to protect convoys near the Canadian and American coasts as the convoys were still forming and starting east.

So the thin escort was buttressed by the British destroyer HMS Walker and Canadian destroyer HMS Columbia. This made for three destroyers and a few smaller escorts. They worked together with land-based planes and bombers to smack the submarines down, hard. Two German U-boats were sunk, and another sub attack was interrupted. On October 31, two submarines were driven off.

But, by November 1, the Western Local ships were at the edge of their range and had to turn back. The convoy was, so far, unharmed. But it was 42 ships protected by only five ships, only one of which was a destroyer. And 13 German boats were out for blood.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

German submarines were equipped with deck guns that allowed them to slaughter undefended convoys, but they used their massive torpedoes to kill convoys when surface combatants were in the water.

(Imperial War Museums)

The escorts spent the first hours performing desperate passes around the convoy to keep the U-boats at bay, but after midnight the subs made their move. They attacked the escort ships. One U-boat made it past the escorts and hit a ship with a torpedo. First blood opened the floodgates. After the first ship was finished off, another seven were hit and destroyed by simultaneous attacks from multiple U-boats.

Four submarines succeeded in sinking enemy ships that first night, and three others had taken shots. The next day, November 2, a new escort corvette joined the convoy, but it couldn’t stop the sinking of a ninth convoy ship. Another destroyer was added to the bleeding convoy.

On November 3, 10 submarines made attempted attacks, resulting in the sinking of one tanker. As night fell, the subs hit four more ships and sank them, including the “commodore ship,” where the top merchant mariner of the fleet sailed and commanded.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

The USS Schenck was one of the destroyers sent to protect SC 107 from further attacks on November 4.

(U.S. Navy)

One of the ships hit was a large ammo ship filled with munitions. Approximately 30 minutes after it was attacked, the fires resulted in a massive explosion that shook the waters, damaged nearby ships, and likely sank the German boat U-132.

Now near Iceland, ships laden with rescued survivors broke north for Iceland to disembark those still alive while the rest of the convoy continued east. The U.S. Navy dispatched two destroyers to guard the convoy, but SC 107 would lose one more ship in the closing hours of November 4.

The next day, November 5, the convoy reached the range of anti-submarine planes and those, combined with the increased naval escort, finally drove off the German vessels. But 15 ships were already sunk and more damaged. Even counting the probable loss of U-132, Germany sacrificed three submarines in this pursuit.

The tables were, slowly, shifting in the Atlantic, though. The technological and industrial might of the U.S. was allowing more and more vessels to hit the waters with radar and sonar that would find the U-boats wherever they hid. Six months after SC 107, the naval clashes of Black May would signal the fall of the wolfpacks.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This European city has been destroyed by invaders 44 times

“War ends only when it has carved its way across cities and villages, bringing death and destruction in its wake,” Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev wrote President John F. Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Americans are pretty lucky when it comes to where they are on the map. Only a handful of times in the country’s history has war ever come home to its cities and villages.

The Revolution, the British burning Washington, DC, the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, and 9/11 are just a few attacks on American soil that come to mind — luckily, the Cuban Missile Crisis ended without that kind of a conflict. The aforementioned attacks are also spread out across the nation’s nearly 250-year history.

Other nations aren’t so lucky.


11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

Here’s an ink drawing from the 1600s.

Belgrade, the capital and largest city in Serbia (the former Yugoslavia), is one of those who has not enjoyed such luck. Its location on the crossroads of the Sava and Danube Rivers and its fertile valleys means it will always be an attractive area to any potential invader.

But it’s also right on the path from European Turkey into the heart of Western Europe. You can’t invade the Middle East from Europe without going through Belgrade and, as logic would have it, you can’t invade Europe from the Middle East without passing Belgrade either. All told, the city has been completely destroyed and rebuilt 44 times and has seen 115 different wars.

It’s amazing just how many different art styles throughout the years depict the destruction of Belgrade.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

Here’s an Ottoman miniature of another Siege of Belgrade.

Flashback to pre-historical times: As mentioned, a land so well suited for growing crops is going to be settled rather quickly by the early Slavic farmers of Europe. The area’s inhabitants were first known as Thracians and Dacians before the area was conquered by Celts, who ruled for more than 200 years.

Until Belgrade was captured by Rome.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

To be fair, Attila razed cities like it was his job. Because it was.

Rome held the city for some 400-plus years until the Roman Empire was split in two. Roman Dacia was on the edge of the Eastern Roman Empire and they could not protect it properly. In 441, the city we call Belgrade was captured and razed by Huns, who sold its population off into slavery.

The Huns held the city for more than ten years before the Romans could come recapture it, but it was soon taken again, this time by Ostrogoths. It was quickly captured and retaken in succession by the Eastern Romans, Avars, and later, Attila the Hun.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

“Here they come… Shit, there goes the city. Again.”

After Attila, the Romans (now called Byzantines) wrestled for control over the city with Avars, Gepids, Hungarians, and Bulgarians for some 400-plus years. The city saw armies of the first, second, and third crusades march through it as the Serbian Empire began to establish itself in the area. That empire was relatively short-lived, however, and Belgrade was firmly in Hungarian hands.

Until it wasn’t. The site became a focal point for the ongoing Ottoman-Christian struggle in the Balkans. Eventually, the Ottomans captured the city, destroyed it, and sent its Christian population to Istanbul in chains. But it thrived under Turkish rule and became an appetizing target for the rising Hapsburg Empire based in Austria.

The two powers fought over the city of Belgrade all the way through the First World War, even though Serbia was an independent kingdom for much of the time.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

Who not only mine the streets, but also spray paint the old buildings. Good work, a-hole.

After World War I, Serbia becomes part of the greater Yugoslavia, which was great for Belgrade until Yugoslavia joined the Axis pact. The citizens rebelled and declared the twenty-something (and anti-Axis) Peter II the rightful king and the one calling the shots on Yugoslavia’s foreign relations. The only answer the Axis had was to bomb the sh*t out of Belgrade and invade with literally every Axis power available.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

“Leave us alone, literally everyone ever!”

Of course, this means the city had to be retaken by the Allies, who decided to bomb the city into oblivion… on Easter. It was then captured by the Red Army and Communist Partisans under Josip Broz Tito. The city (and Yugoslavia) remained firmly in Tito’s good hands until the Balkan Conflicts of the 1990s, where it was bombed by NATO forces.

And the locals have not forgotten.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the infamous glider regiments quietly fizzled out of history

The United States Military has always prided itself on its legacy. That’s why the historical accomplishments of a unit are almost always passed down from the old-timers to the young bloods. And if a great troop does a heroic deed, you can bet the installation where they were once stationed will have a street named after them.

The history books of the United States Military are extensive and cherished — but you won’t often see mention of the glider regiments. Outside of randomly finding their insignia on “Badges of the United States Army” posters that line the training room, you won’t ever hear anyone sing the tales of the gliders.

That’s mostly because the history of the gliders is a bit… awkward, let’s say.


11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

Still though. There was a need that the gliders filled and they got the job done… some times…

(National Archives)

Since their inception, gliders have been at odds with the paratroopers. Instead of having an infantryman jump from an aircraft and float down individually, the gliders would be filled to the brim with infantrymen that could all exit the glider at the same time and location. Gliders could also be filled with heavy equipment or vehicles and moved into the battlefield, remaining fairly silent as it glided to the ground.

And that about does it for the list of benefits to using gliders.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

Earlier anti-glider poles had explosives, but the Axis found it a bit of overkill, as the inertia alone did the trick.

(National Archives)

The thing is, all of the functions of the glider were better (and more safely) served by the helicopter. But even before helicopters were ready to take on a primary role, the Army had long abandoned gliders.

There were simply too many problems in the operating of gliders. First, gliders had to be towed by a much larger aircraft. When the time came, the glider would release the line and, as the name implies, glide to its intended destination. It didn’t have its own engine or any completely reliable means of piloting it.

Accidents were frequent. After all, there’s a reason they were unaffectionately called “flying coffins.” The glider needed to remain light (despite the heavy load in the back), so it had barely any kind of protection. The glider was literally made of honeycombed plywood and canvas, meaning air pockets or 40-mph winds could start shredding the exterior.

If the glider did manage to hold together throughout its journey, it was most left to its own devices after the departure of the towing plane. There were no brakes and steering was difficult. The only safe bet was to find a clearing, which were difficult to spot, seeing as the gliders cut the line while still miles away from their destination.

It also didn’t help that the Axis knew about the gliders’ biggest weakness: randomly placed ten-foot poles in giant clearings.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

Farewell, gliders. You won’t be missed.

(442nd Fighter Wing Archive photo)

Gliders, in the eyes of the public, were doomed from the very beginning. In August, 1943, the gliders were given their first public demonstration in front for 10,000 spectators in St. Louis. A single bolt came undone and the glider fell like a sack of bricks right in front of the grand stand. Everyone onboard, including the mayor of St. Louis, was instantly killed.

The gliders did land properly more often than not and they played an instrumental role in major Allied invasions, but the fact that a staggering eleven percent of all troops who rode in them would die (and thirty percent were wounded upon landing) was something that the military just wanted to forget about.

Articles

This is what it’s like to be a secret service sniper

With a distinguished history dating back to the end of American Civil War, the men and women of the elite Secret Service take on one of the world’s toughest tasks — protecting the U.S. president and other government officials from assassination attempts.


Related: The top 10 deadliest snipers of all time

Originally designated to control the issue of combating US currency counterfeiting, it wasn’t until after the assassination of former President William McKinley when the Service Secret was assigned to protect the POTUS in 1901.

The Secret Service’s mission is to prevent life-threatening incidents well before they occur. They scope out meeting locations days before their clients show up and map out vantage points and escape routes if the situation goes pear shaped.

In the sniper world, the mission is the same. Highly-trained sharpshooters are always on the alert, completely focused and ready to strike at all times.

Working in teams of two, you can usually spot them posted on the White House’s rooftop examining your every move.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military
A Secret Service sniper team sets in position keeping a close eye out on the nearby tourists. (Source: zerohedge)

Usually armed with high-powered rifles, each team is equipped with a shooter and a spotter. These snipers go through intense training learning how to react to any situation that they may face.

Remarkably, no sniper team has ever had to fire a shot since the unit was formed in 1971.

Also Read: The 5 most legendary snipers of all time

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fE2jY1rBU7U
(Pig Mine 5, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Hiroshima and Nagasaki are safe, but Chernobyl isn’t

On Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, U.S. airmen dropped the nuclear bombs Little Boy and Fat Man on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On April 26, 1986, the number four reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine exploded.

Today, over 1.6 million people live and seem to be thriving in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet the Chernobyl exclusion zone, a 30 square kilometer area surrounding the plant, remains relatively uninhabited. Here’s why.


Fat Man and Little Boy

Dropped by the Enola Gay on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, Little Boy was a uranium-fueled bomb about 10 feet long and just over two feet across, that held 140 pounds of uranium and weighed nearly 10,000 pounds.

When he exploded as planned nearly 2000 feet above Hiroshima, about two pounds of uranium underwent nuclear fission as it released nearly 16 kilotons of explosive force. Since Hiroshima was on a plain, Little Boy caused immense damage. Estimates vary but it is believed that approximately 70,000 people were killed and an equal number were injured on that day, and nearly 70% of the city’s buildings were destroyed. Since then, approximately 1,900 people, or about 0.5% of the post-bombing population, are believed to have died from cancers attributable to Little Boy’s radiation release.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

A mock-up of the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima.

Little Boy

Squat and round, Fat Man, so named for its resemblance to Kasper Gutman from The Maltese Falcon, was dropped three days later on the city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. About two pounds of Fat Man’s 14 pounds of plutonium fissioned when it detonated about 1,650 feet above Nagasaki, releasing 21 kilotons of explosive force. Because the bomb exploded in a valley, much of the city was protected from the blast. Nonetheless, it is estimated that between 45,000 and 70,000 died immediately, and another 75,000 were injured. No data on subsequent cancer deaths attributable to radiation exposure from the bomb is readily available.

Chernobyl

Sadly, Chernobyl was likely preventable and, like other nuclear plant accidents, the result of decision-makers’ hubris and bad policy that encouraged shoddy practice.

The design of the reactors at Chernobyl was significantly flawed. First, it had a “built-in instability.” When it came, this instability created a vicious cycle, where the coolant would decrease while the reactions (and heat) increased; with less and less coolant, it became increasingly difficult to control the reactions. Second, rather than having a top-notch containment structure consisting of a steel liner plate and post-tensioning and conventional steel reinforced concrete, at Chernobyl they only used heavy concrete.

On April 26, 1986, engineers wanted to run a test of how long electrical turbines powered by the reactor would continue operating when the reactor was no longer producing power. To get the experiment to work, they had to disable many of the reactor’s safety systems. This included turning off most automatic safety controls and removing ever more control rods (which absorb neutrons and limit the reaction). In fact by the end of the test, only 6 of the reactor’s 205 control rods remained in the fuel.

As they ran the experiment, less cooling water entered the reactor, and what was there began to turn to steam. As less coolant was available, the reaction increased to dangerous levels. To counteract this, the operators tried to reinsert the remaining control rods. Sadly, the rods also had a design flaw in the graphite tips. This resulted in the displacement of the coolant before the reaction could be brought under control. In a nutshell, as these tips displaced the coolant, within seconds the reaction actually increased drastically due to the heat, creating even more steam, and thus getting rid of more coolant.

This might have not been so bad had the control rods been able to be inserted fully to perform their function of absorbing neutrons and thus slowing the reaction, except the heat became so intense, that some of the graphite rods fractured, jamming the rods at about one third of the way in.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

A mockup of the Fat Man nuclear device.

Fat Man

So, in the end, when the nearly 200 graphite tips were inserted into the fuel, reactivity increased rapidly, rather than slowed as was supposed to happen, and the whole thing blew up. It is estimated that about seven to ten tons of nuclear fuel were released and at least 28 people died directly as a result of the explosion.

It is further estimated that over 90,000 square miles of land was seriously contaminated with the worst effects being felt in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. However, radiation quickly spread in the wind and affected wide swaths of the northern hemisphere and Europe, including England, Scotland and Wales.

Hard data on the number of people who died as a result of the radioactive release are difficult to find. It is known that of the 100 people exposed to super high radiation levels immediately after the accident, 47 are now deceased. Additionally, it has been reported that thyroid disease skyrocketed in those countries closest to Chernobyl; by 2005, 7,000 cases of thyroid cancer were recorded in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

Radiation contamination

Most experts agree that the areas in the 30 kilometer Chernobyl exclusion zone are terribly contaminated with radioactive isotopes like caesium-137, strontium-90 and iodine-131, and, therefore, are unsafe for human habitation. Yet neither Nagasaki nor Hiroshima suffer these conditions. This difference is attributable to three factors: (1) the Chernobyl reactor had a lot more nuclear fuel; (2) that was much more efficiently used in reactions; and (3) the whole mess exploded at ground level. Consider:

Amount

Little Boy had around 140 pounds of uranium, Fat Man contained about 14 pounds of plutonium and reactor number four had about 180 tons of nuclear fuel.

Reaction efficiency

Only about two pounds of Little Boy’s uranium actually reacted. Likewise only about two pounds Fat Man’s plutonium underwent nuclear fission. However, at Chernobyl, at least seven tons of nuclear fuel escaped into the atmosphere; in addition, because the nuclear fuel melted, volatile radioisotopes were released including 100% of its xenon and krypton, 50% of its radioactive iodine and between 20-40% of its cesium.

Location

Both Fat Man and Little Boy were detonated in mid-air, hundreds of feet above the Earth’s surface. As a result, the radioactive debris was taken aloft and dispersed by the mushroom cloud rather than being drilled into the earth. On the other hand, when reactor number four melted down at ground level, the soil underwent neutron activation, where the already active neutrons in the burning fuel reacted with the soil causing it to become radioactive.

Uncertain future

Lately, some weird reports have been coming from the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone – wild animals have returned, and, for the most part, they seem fine. Moose, deer, beaver, wild boar, otter, badger, horses, elk, ducks, swans, storks and more are now being hunted by bears, lynx and packs of wolves, all of which look physically normal (but test high for radioactive contamination). In fact, even early effects of mutations in plants, including malformations and even glowing are now mostly limited to the five most-contaminated places.

Although not everyone is ready to agree that Chernobyl is proof that nature can heal herself, scientists agree that studying the unique ecosystem, and how certain species appear to be thriving, has produced data that will ultimately help our understanding of long term radiation effects. For example, wheat seeds taken from the site shortly after the accident produced mutations that continue to this day, yet soybeans grown near the reactor in 2009 seem to have adapted to the higher radiation. Similarly, migrant birds, like barn swallows, seem to struggle more with the radiation in the zone than resident species. As one expert explained, they’re studying the zone’s flora and fauna to learn the answer to a simple question: “Are we more like barn swallows or soybeans?

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Austria gave the Ottoman Turks the greatest taunt of all time

Simply put, the 1529 Siege of Vienna did not go the way the Ottoman Empire hoped it would. Sultan Suleiman I, the Magnificent, was coming off a fresh string of victories in Europe and elsewhere when he decided that the road to an Ottoman Europe had to be paved through the legendary city of Vienna. He boasted that he would be having breakfast in Vienna’s cathedral within two weeks of the start of his siege.


When the day came and went, the Austrians sent the Sultan a letter, telling him his breakfast was getting cold.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

When you drop sick taunts, you must then drop sick beats.

The Sultan had a reason to be cocky going into the Siege of Vienna. He had just brought down the Hungarians, the longtime first line of defense for European Christendom. Hungary lost its king and fell into a disastrous civil war which the Ottomans intervened in. The Habsburgs, who controlled half of Hungary and all of Austria at this time, weren’t having any of it and Hungary was split for a century after. For the time being, however, the Ottomans and their Hungarian allies were going head-to-head with Austrian Archduke Ferdinand I, pushing the Austrians all the way back to Vienna in less than a year.

But Europe’s Christian powers were not going to let Austria fall without a fight and so sent help to the besieged city. That help came in the form of German Landsknechts, Spanish Musketeers, and Italian Mercenaries. It was the furthest the Islamic armies had ever penetrated Europe’s heartland. But Suleiman would fail to take the city.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

Look, if you want to have breakfast in church, most Christians will happily oblige you.

(Woodridge Congregational United Church of Christ)

The torrential rains started almost immediately, meaning the Turkish armies had to abandon its powerful cannons, along with horses and camels who were unaccustomed to the amount of mud they had to trudge through. Even so, they still came with 300 cannons and outnumbered the defenders five-to-one. The allied troops inside the city held their own against the Turkish onslaught as the rain continued.

Sickness, rain, and wounds hounded the Ottoman armies until snowfall took the place of the rain. The Ottomans were forced to retreat, leaving 15,000 men killed in action behind.

The Sultan would never get his breakfast in the cathedral. No sultan would ever get breakfast in an Ottoman Vienna.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an F-22 pilot told the Iranian Air Force to go home

The opening few minutes of the movie Top Gun make for, arguably, one of the coolest aerial scenes ever caught on film. There’s a reason it’s the enduring air power movie of the 1980s. Too bad for the Air Force that Top Gun featured the Navy.

Except Air Force pilots do that sh*t in real life.


In 2013, two Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantoms moved to intercept an MQ-1 drone flying in international airspace near the Iranian border. The two IRIAF fighters were quickly shooed away by two F-22 Raptors who were flying in escort.

Except, they didn’t just get a warning message, they were Maverick-ed. That’s what I’m calling it now.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

How an F-22 Raptor intercepts a Russian-built bomber.

The two F-22 Raptors were escorting the drone because of an incident the previous year in which two Iranian Air Force Sukhoi Su-25 close air support craft attempted to shoot down a different Air Force MQ-1. In the Nov. 1, 2012, incident, the drone was 16 miles from Iran, but still in international airspace. Iran scrambled the two Su-25s to intercept the drone, which they did, using their onboard guns.

The fighters missed the drone, which captured the whole incident with its cameras. The drone returned to base, completely unharmed. Not surprising, considering the Su-25 isn’t designed for air-to-air combat.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

Iranian Air Force F-4 Phantom fighters.

The following year, another drone was being intercepted by Iranian aircraft. This time, however, it had serious firepower backing it up. The Iranians came at the drone with actual fighters, capable of downing an aircraft in mid-flight. The F-4 Phantom could bring what was considered serious firepower when it was first introduced – in the year 1960. These days, it’s a museum piece for the United States and most of its Western allies. Not so for the Iranians, who still have more than 40 of them in service. When the F-4s came up against the MQ-1, they probably expected an easy target. That didn’t happen.

One of the F-22 Raptor pilots flying escort for the drone flew up underneath the Iranian Phantoms. According to then-Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, the Raptor pilot checked out the armaments the Iranian planes were carrying, then pulled up on their left wing and radioed them.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

It wasn’t like this, but it could have been.

“He [the Raptor pilot] flew under their aircraft [the F-4s] to check out their weapons load without them knowing that he was there, and then pulled up on their left wing and then called them and said ‘you really ought to go home’,” Welsh said.

They did.

Featured

Welcoming home Vietnam War veterans 45 years later

In March of 1965, the first U.S. troops entered the jungle-filled country of Vietnam. This would begin America’s involvement in one of the most controversial wars in the nation’s history. While the service members were facing new dangers around every turn, the environment back home was growing increasingly hostile. As more of the population grew to protest the war, it became evident that the military members fighting in the jungles of Vietnam were quickly becoming public enemy number one.


By March of 1973, with the war coming to an end, demonstrations in the States began to die down. However, disillusionment with the war was as widespread as ever. The troops were withdrawing from Vietnam, but there was no warm welcome and appreciation waiting for them as they arrived home. The World War II era of celebration as troops returned to U.S. soil had passed, and the troops of the Vietnam era were met with nothing more than disdain, anger and protest.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

These war veterans were thrown back into “normal” life without ceremony and with little to no assistance to help them adjust to life after war. This combined with the anger of the American people led many of these service members to turn to addiction and worse to cope with their inability to adjust back to civilian life. Others adjusted well enough, but went on to live their lives without the pride of their fellow veterans, always knowing deep down that their service was seen with disdain as opposed to gratitude. Even decades later, those who served in Vietnam were ignored or seen with the same contempt they were met with when they arrived home.

It wasn’t until 2007 when the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War was being observed that the movement to give Vietnam Veterans the acknowledgment they deserve truly took form. It was then that Congress authorized a program to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. However, it wasn’t until 2017 that Vietnam Veterans Day was officially established to be celebrated every year on March 29. This enactment states that the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War should be commemorated through 2025, thus ensuring that Vietnam Veterans Day will be observed at least through that time.

Along with establishing a specific day to acknowledge these veterans, there has been a movement across the country to give Vietnam Veterans the welcome home they never received 45 years ago. This movement encourages Americans to thank a Vietnam Veteran, shake their hand, and tell them, ‘Welcome home,’ when they meet them. Each of these veterans sacrificed something in those jungles many decades ago. Many sacrificed everything — while over there, or after they returned home. It is long overdue that those men are given the welcome home and the gratitude they deserve.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

They didn’t choose to enter that war, or trek through those jungles. Many of them didn’t even choose to be in the military in the first place, their choice was taken away from them when they were drafted. However, they did their duty. They fought the war. And they faced contempt when they arrived home, living with it for decades since.

This Vietnam Veterans Day, and every day, take the time to thank a Vietnam Veteran. Take a moment to shake their hand, thank them for their service and welcome them home. It’s a small gesture, but to them it means more than anyone could possibly know. For them, 45 years later, they are finally gaining the acknowledgement and gratitude they should have received the day they stepped foot back on U.S. soil.

To each and every Vietnam Veteran: Welcome Home.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Union troops changed the words to ‘Dixie’ to make fun of the South

Making fun of the enemy is nothing new, especially for American troops. When U.S. troops like something, they’ll probably still come up with their own term for it. Even if they respect an enemy, they will still come up with a short, probably derogatory name for them. For American troops in the Civil War, many of which took the war very seriously (and rightly so), they would take any opportunity to denigrate the “Southern Way of Life.”

That started with the pop song “Dixie,” which became a de facto national anthem for the Confederates.


11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

But even Abe Lincoln loved the song. Why? It was written in New York for use in traveling shows.

“Dixie” was actually written by an Ohioan, destined for use among blackface performers in traveling minstrel shows throughout the United States. These shows were wildly popular before, during, and after the Civil War everywhere in the United States, and were usually based on the premise of showing African-Americans as slow, dumb, and sometimes prolifically horny. It’s supposed to be sung by black people who are depicted as preferring life in the South, rather than as free men in the North.

“Dixie” is one of the most enduring relics of these shows, still retaining popularity today, although without the connection to the minstrel shows of the time. It’s safe to say almost every Confederate troop knew the words to “Dixie,” as the song depicts an idyllic view of what life in the American South was like in the 1850s, around the time the song was written, with lyrics like:

Oh, I wish I was in the land of cotton
Old times there are not forgotten
Look away! Look away!
Look away! Dixie Land!

Union troops who were dead-set on killing Confederates, eventually came up with some new lyrics for the song. Like a group of murderous Weird Al fans, the Northerners wanted to poke fun at their deadly enemy in the best way they knew how – a diss track. The Union lyrics are harsh and the tune to the song just as catchy.

“Away down South in the land of traitors
Rattlesnakes and alligators…
… Where cotton’s king and men are chattels,
Union boys will win the battles…
Each Dixie boy must understand
that he must mind his Uncle Sam…”

The Union version of “Dixie” rates somewhere between “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” on the list of All-Time Greatest Civil War Songs That Make You Want to March on Richmond.

MIGHTY HISTORY

In 1866, 80 men went to war — this is why 81 came home

Today, Liechtenstein is a small country – the fourth smallest state in Europe and sixth smallest in the world. It rests on the banks of the Rhine between Switzerland and Austria. It was named after the Princes of Lichtenstein, who united the County of Vaduz and the lands of Schellenberg in 1719, forming their small but charming Principality of Liechtenstein.

They managed to remain neutral (and thus largely avoid) both world wars. In 1943, the principality went so far as to ban the Nazi party. By this time, indeed, they didn’t even have an army, having disbanded it completely in 1868.

And yet their final deployment in 1866 remains notorious for two reasons: first, they lost no battles and suffered zero casualties (having avoided all fighting). Second, they left with a force of 80 men — and returned home with 81.

Or so the legend goes…


11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

During the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Liechtenstein sent an army of 80 strong to guard the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy while a reserve of 20 men stayed behind. While the deployed force was there to defend the territory against any attack from the Prussian-allied Italians, according to War History Online, “there was really nothing to do but sit in the beautiful mountains, drink wine and beer, smoke a pipe and take it easy.”

In the main theater of the war, the Battle of Königgrätz would earn Prussia a victory, decisively ending the war.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

The Battle of Königgrätz by Georg Bleibtreu

So the men of Liechtenstein marched home. When they returned, however, their numbers had grown to 81.

But who was the extra man?

According to The World at War, an Austrian liaison officer joined them. Lonely Planet seems to share a version naming the newcomer an “Italian friend” — other sources have suggested that he was a defector.

None of the stories seem to be substantiated — but no one has debunked them either.

Meanwhile, Liechtenstein remains a thriving and successful country — that still has no army to this day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: Billy Mitchell proves planes could sink battleships

After World War I, there was a consensus that the airplane had a place in warfare, but the different missions they would be used for was still a matter of debate. Colonel Billy Mitchell, a World War I air commander, believed that control of the air would matter a lot in future warfare.


According to a biography at the website of the National Museum of the Air Force, Mitchell spent time after the war arguing his case – often alienating many senior officers in the process. So, despite the fact that Mitchell had led over 1,400 planes during the Battle of St. Mihiel, won control of the air, and devastated German forces, not many people were willing to listen to the air warrior.

 

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military
Billy Mitchell as a brigadier general. (US Army photo)

In one case, Mitchell considered the effect air power could have on the huge, lumbering ships of enemy navies. Many higher ups blocked his proposed tests to prove his theory but he got the chance to show what air power could do to ships partially due to the Washington Naval Treaty of 1921, which called for the United States to scrap or otherwise dispose of large portions of the United States Navy.

The Navy had tried to block Mitchell with a rigged test involving the old battleship USS Indiana (BB 1), but Congress found out about the way the Navy rigged it, and ordered new tests.

So the Navy agreed to let planes drop bombs on the obsolete battleships USS Virginia (BB 13), USS New Jersey (BB 16), USS Alabama (BB 8), and Ostfriesland.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military

The first of these ships to face Mitchell’s bombers was the Ostfriesland on July 20, 1921. According to an official U.S. Navy history, Mitchell’s planes dropped a number of smaller bombs – scoring some hits. The real damage was being done by near-misses, which started flooding. The next day, further attacks were made with bigger bombs, and the Osfriesland sank after a number of near-misses.

The next attack was on the old battleship USS Alabama on September 25, 1921. A series of bombs scored hits, but while one 1,000 pound bomb and one 2,000 pound bomb did a lot of damage, the real killing effect came from five near-misses, which caused Alabama to sink. On Sept. 5, 1923, Mitchell’s bombers would sink the battleships USS Virginia and USS New Jersey.

11 American spies who did the worst damage to the US military
A 2,000-pound bomb scores a near miss on the Ostfriesland. (US Navy photo)

The results, though, didn’t completely sway high-ranking officials. When Mitchell made intemperate remarks after the loss of the Navy dirigible Shenandoah, he was court-martialed and dismissed from the Army. He would die in 1936, five years before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Below is video from Mitchell’s 1921 and 1923 tests. Take a look and see a preview of what planes would do to ships in World War II.

WATCH

WATCH: Where do retired aircraft end up?

Ever wonder where planes go to die? After their last mission, Air Force aircraft doesn’t just disappear. They retire to Arizona. And, if they’re salvageable, the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) makes sure they get recycled. If you were to fly over the Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona, know what you’d see? The resting place of thousands of retired aircraft. Davis is nicknamed “The Boneyard” for good reason – the base houses nearly 2,600 acres of aircraft, many of them retired and disassembled.

Why Arizona?

AMARG Air Force Graveyard’s location in Arizona has very good reasons. The desert climate is perfect for storing this vast quantity of aircraft. The risk of corrosion or other damage from the elements is low.

Parked at The Boneyard are more than 4,000 aircraft. If they were still in use, this number of planes would make up the second-largest air force in the world. Pretty wild to think that they’re all just sitting at the Boneyard, aging gracefully. Some of the aircraft are full-on retired, ceremony and all. But the rest are in storage. Sometimes those aircraft get repurposed for training and other uses.

Retired Aircraft Save Taxpayers Money

The US Air Force, along with most other US government agencies, sends their retired aircraft to this Arizona location to be “recycled.” They are either disassembled for parts to use in other aircraft or sold as scrap metal.

The goal of this program is to save taxpayers money. We’ve been doing it this way since WWII. For every dollar that is spent on AMARG’s mission, almost $11 is returned to the national treasury. That’s a pretty solid return.

The Boneyard is Full of Military History

Not long after WWII ended, the surplus of aircraft around the globe was astounding. Some of them still had use for parts or scrap, while others, entire fleets even, became obsolete. Then there are also the planes that simply needed regeneration and storage until their next use. The problem was, there was nowhere to put all these aircraft. That’s when they started ferrying them over to Arizona.

Since 1962, Davis Monthan AFB has been the complete storage facility for all government aircraft. This includes Coast Guard, NASA, Border Patrol, Marine, and Navy aircraft, plus Reserve and National Guard units.

For the aircraft historian, Davis presents a bounty unlike anything else. The variety, age, and rarity of aircraft calling the Boneyard home is astounding. So many a budding historian will eventually find themselves walking the lanes, exploring the aircraft.

These days, our aircraft production isn’t nearly what it used to be. So fewer types of aircraft are produced. At some point, the Boneyard might not exist, – all the more reason for aircraft and military history buffs to get their fill in now.

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