It’s not bravado, it’s not some Hollywood publicity stunt, and it sure as hell isn’t special effects. Arnold Schwarzenegger not only owns a tank, he knows how to drive it and operate it in every possible way. It wouldn’t have done him much good in the Army if he didn’t know how to use its weapons. But the tank he has is a special one – to him, anyway.
The Terminator’s tank is the same one he used to learn his tank skills while serving in the Austrian Army.
Schwarzenegger (left, duh) in his Army days.
Austria is one of few countries in Europe to have mandatory civil or military service upon graduating from high school at age 18. A young Arnold Schwarzenegger, never one to shirk his duties, did what he had to do. He joined up and became a tanker in the Austrian National Army in 1965. His tank is a 1951 M-47 Patton tank, designed for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps to take the place of the Pershing tank in the early days of the Cold War.
He’s owned his tank since 1991, paying ,000 to have it shipped from Austria.
The 50-ton behemoth uses a V-12 Chrysler twin turbo gas engine and cranks out 810 horsepower for a max speed of 30 miles per hour and a whopping 2.3 miles per gallon. But Schwarzenegger doesn’t use it to get around the streets of Southern California.
He uses it to keep kids in school.
Disadvantaged or at-risk students come to Schwarzenegger’s home to check out the tank and have fun with him in a series of after-school programs. The ones who stay in school get to drive the tank. With Arnold. And maybe even driving it over a few cars.
He even put a day in the tank up as an Omaze reward, offering donors to The After-School All-Stars Program the chance to crush stuff and “blow sh*t up” with him. Before that, the tank was housed at the Motts Military Museum in Ohio. In 2008, the then-Governor of California decided his role would soon include driving over a few jalopies to support youth enrollment. The program has been ongoing ever since.
“Going to the war zones and visiting the troops . . . and being able to pat them on the back and support them . . . has been a great joy, a great personal reward because you can see that you’re providing a service for somebody who’s providing a service for us, and it’s lifting them us in some way,” Gary Sinise says. “I make my living as an actor and all of this is simply something I do with the resources . . . and time that I have.”
Sinise started working with working with wounded warriors primarily as a function of his portrayal of Lt. Dan in the movie “Forrest Gump,” a vet who lost both legs during the Vietnam War. “That movie came out in ’92,” Sinise explains. “Then we had September 11, that terrible event, and we started responding to that in Iraq and Afghanistan — deploying to those places — and our people started getting hurt. And we had this whole new generation of Lt. Dans coming back from those wars. I wanted to very much get behind them and support them in some way.”
That desire wound up manifesting itself in myriad ways including the Gary Sinise Foundation and the Lt. Dan Band, which got its name from the fact all the troops were calling Sinise “Lt. Dan” when he’d visit them in theater.
Sinise pushes back on the idea that he’s living out some sort of rock n’ roll fantasy at midlife by playing bass guitar in a touring rock band, pointing out that he was a rocker in high school, which is, ironically, the thing that got him into acting. “I was standing in a hallway with the band members and we were looking kind of raggedy, sort of grubby band guys, you know. And the drama teacher walked by, and she told us to audition for ‘West Side Story’ because we looked like gang members. Two of us ended up going, and I got in the play.”
The Sinise family has military heritage, most notably that of his uncle Jack who was a navigator aboard a B-17 in World War II. Sinise arranged for Jack to have a ride in a vintage B-17 almost 70 years after his final war sortie in 1945, and the event was made into a short documentary that premiered at the GI Film Festival a few years ago.
Watch Gary Sinese talk to actor and Navy veteran Jamie Kaler about his support of wounded vets and the Lt. Dan Band:
Don’t miss Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band as they kick off the 10th annual GI Film Festival in Washington DC on May 21. Check out more information and get your tickets here.
Once in a lifetime, there comes a motion picture which changes the whole history of motion pictures. A picture so stunning in its effect, so vast in its impact, that it profoundly affects the lives of all who see it. One such film is, yes, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And while I lifted that copy (which was originally intended to be tongue-in-cheek) straight from the trailer, the film’s legacy has proven the trailer correct.
Even those who don’t think they’ve heard some of the most memorable lines from the movie likely have, whether they smell of elderberries or they’ve heard of the knights who say “ni.” Perhaps the most memorable scene, however, is the one where Arthur is forced to fight the Black Knight guarding a small footbridge, one who refuses to accept defeat.
The story that exposes all of the historical narratives and false legends about the chivalry and bravery of Medieval knights through vicious mockery turned history on its head even further in the encounter with the Black Knight. On the Wired podcast “Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy” Monty Python member John Cleese spoke about the inspiration for the Black Knight scene in a memory of his time at school, where he was taught by a two-time World War veteran.
“There was a lovely guy named ‘Jumper’ Gee who died at the age of 101, and who managed to fight in both World Wars—I never came across anyone else who did that. He was a good teacher of English and I liked him enormously, and he would go off on these wonderful excursions where they were nothing to do with the subject he was teaching, and he told this story about a wrestling match that had taken place in ancient Rome. … There was a particularly tough contest in progress, and one of the wrestlers, his arm broke—the difficulty of the embrace was so great that his arm broke under the pressure—and he submitted because of the appalling pain he was in. And the referee sort of disentangled them and said to the other guy, ‘You won,’ and the other guy was rather unresponsive, and the referee realized the other guy was dead. And this was an example to ‘Jumper’ Gee of the fact that if you didn’t give up you couldn’t lose, and I always thought this was a very dodgy conclusion…”
Pictured: The Eleans crowned and proclaimed victor the corpse of Arrhachion.
The story “Jumper” was trying to relate is that of Arrachion of Phigalia, an athlete in ancient Greece who was skilled at the pankration event. Pankration was an event similar to today’s Ultimate Fighting Championship, where the winner must force his opponent to submit, through some kind of brute force. Arrachion was fighting for the championship. One ancient historian described the hold that not only killed Arrachion but caused his opponent to submit to the then-deceased Arrachion’s own hold.
It seems Arrachion’s opponent choked the life from the great wrestler as Arrachion wrapped part of his body around his opponent’s foot. Arrachion yanked the man’s ankle from his leg as the undefeated wrestler died in his opponent’s chokehold, and his opponent was forced to tap out from the pain. Arrachion, now dead, remained undefeated.
He got a statue for his efforts, the stupid bastard.
The fighting in the South Pacific during World War II was vicious. One of the big reasons was how evenly-matched the two sides were. One plane called the Black Cat, though, helped the Allies gain a big advantage – and was an omen of ill fortune for the Japanese navy.
According to the Pacific War Encyclopedia, that plane was a modified version of the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. This flying boat was a well-proven maritime patrol aircraft – sighting the German battleship Bismarck in time for the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal to launch the strikes that crippled the Nazi vessel in May, 1941.
The PBY had also detected the Japanese fleets at the Battle of Midway.
The Catalina had one very big asset: long range. It could fly over 3,000 miles, and was also capable of carrying two torpedoes or up to 4,000 pounds of bombs. The PBY drew first blood at Midway, putting a torpedo in the side of the tanker Akebono Maru. But the long legs came with a price in performance. The PBYs had a top speed of just under 200 mph – making them easy prey if a Japanese A6M Zero saw them.
The planes also were lightly armed, with three .30-caliber machine guns and two .50-caliber machine guns. In “Incredible Victory,” Walter Lord related about how two PBYs were shot up in the space of an hour during the run-up to the Battle of Midway by a Japanese patrol plane. One “sea story” related by Morison had it that one PBY once radioed, “Sighted enemy carrier. Please notify next of kin.”
Planner found, however, that flying PBY missions at night helped keep them alive. During the the Guadalcanal campaign, the first PBY-5As equipped with radar arrived and the first full squadron of “Black Cats” intended for night operations arrived later that year. According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s “The Struggle For Guadalcanal,” the “Black Cats” were a game-changer.
These Black Cats did a little bit of everything. They could carry bombs – often set for a delay so as to create a “mining” effect. In essence, it would be using the shockwave of the bomb to cause flooding and to damage equipment on the enemy vessel. They also attacked airfields, carried torpedoes, spotted naval gunfire during night-time bombardment raids, and of course, searched for enemy ships.
Morison wrote about how the crews of the “Black Cats” would have a tradition of gradually filling out the drawing of a cat. The second mission would add eyes, then following missions would add whiskers and other features.
Japan would try to catch the Black Cats – knowing that they not only packed a punch, but could bring in other Allied planes. Often, the planes, painted black, would fly at extremely low level, thwarting the Zeros sent to find them.
In 1989, Joseph Szecsei was charged by three elephants at the same time. He survived, but afterward, he decided the usual weapons for defense against giant animal attacks just weren’t sufficient. Szecsei sought out to make the perfect large-game animal stopper: The Szecsei & Fuchs “Mokume” bolt action double rifle.
Of course, Szecsei had a lot of firearm types and designs to choose from in creating the show-stopper. He could have chosen a larger round to shoot from a regular bolt action rifle. He could have created a semi-automatic rifle. There were a few factors (other than how to kill a large animal running at him at full speed) to consider.
First, he couldn’t create a semi-automatic weapon because they’re actually illegal in many of the places in which one might safari or otherwise hunt. Africa isn’t a completely lawless land of civil wars and corruption, no matter what television and movies would have you believe. Secondly, he needed a weapon that wouldn’t jam up at the crucial moment. Defense is the entire reason for the weapon, after all. So a bolt-action was necessary, but Szecsei still wanted the extra oomph of another shot.
Another shot of a round that could stop a charging elephant, that is. And large-caliber rounds just aren’t something a semi-automatic can do for a civilian. Taking a .50-cal out on safari might be frowned upon by the locals, so Szecsei returned to the idea of a large-caliber double-barrel bolt action rifle. And the Szecsei Fuchs “Mokume” rifle was born out of that idea.
The weapon is made of titanium to keep the weight down, along with titanium for its unique double magazine. The weapon fires anything from a .470-caliber round to the U.S. 30.06 – a rifle you can buy for whatever animal might be ready to gore down on your guts. It has two triggers, one for each barrel. With just one movement of the bolt, both rounds are expelled, and new ones are loaded into the chamber.
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the next three elephants to come for Joseph Szecsei are in for a huge surprise. Please don’t hunt the most dangerous game with this rifle.
During the peak of WWII, being a member of a heavy bomber crew meant you were incredibly brave, and you put your country over yourself — it was that dangerous.
Many considered the occupation to be a death sentence. Nearly 71 percent of the bomber’s crew were either killed or labeled as missing in action, which accounts for approximately 100,000 service members.
One of Germany’s primary defenses against allied bombers was their massive array of anti-aircraft guns. The German ground forces commonly fired at the passing bombers even if they didn’t have a clear line of sight due to overcast conditions.
Typically, the bombers had to fly right through the multiple volleys of gunfire, but it was the “waist-gunners” who absorbed the majority of the shrapnel, as they were positioned near an open window in the rear of the plane.
Damage to the “waist-gunner” area of the bomber accounted 21.6 percent of all the hits the plane took.
The image below shows what areas the heavy bomber was most likely to be hit by the enemies’ air-defense systems according to World War Wings’ video.
Locked up at home, finding some seriously creative ways to keep busy — this is your new normal. Perhaps you’re homeschooling kids or dealing with training events that are taking place strictly in the field. Whatever the case, you’re learning to take on the pandemic — and its subsequent isolation — in stride.
But that’s not all you’re doing. In all of the craziness at hand, chances are you’re learning some new skills along the way. Take a look at these hard-earned abilities that you didn’t realize you were adding to your resume!
Cooking and/or baking
Eating out is still possible, but for the most part, we’re eating at home. This means trying new recipes (with new ingredients) out of both necessity and boredom. Without even realizing it, you’ve tacked new recipes to your repertoire. Good job!
Appreciating the simple things
When activities were limitless, it was hard to feel settled with the smallest of activities. Now, however, that feeling has gone out the window. Kids are having a blast in their own yard, with simple toys. Adults are making due with what they have at home, and everyone is enjoying life at a slower pace.
That yardwork you’ve been putting off? Those home repairs that you didn’t want a professional in your home to complete? All of these repairs and more have taught you new skills you didn’t know you could accomplish. Pat yourself on the back and remember these abilities at each base’s home in years ahead.
How to do 10 things at once
Home schooling, working from home, cooking three times a day, keeping the house somewhat clean, keeping kids occupied — you’re doing more in a single day then we ever thought was humanly possible. Congrats on juggling all the important tasks at once!
How to do without
Whether due to necessity or safety reasons, there are so many things we’re just skimping on this year. Birthday parties, non-essential appointments, that last-minute ingredient from the store — we’re skipping it all and saying, “Ehh, no big deal!” When the stakes are high, we’ve found creative fixes instead. This skill can be used in the future to help us appreciate the small things and avoid what’s in excess.
What’s your best skill that you’ve learned in the pandemic?
Moments of levity are a must. It’s those little moments of relaxation that give our nation’s war fighters the rest they need operate at peak efficiency. That, and everyone would rather spend their downtime drunk than sitting at battalion staff duty on their day off.
Nobody wants to get a call informing them that their weekend plans have officially gone to sh*t. We know you don’t want to do it, but we’re going to advise against going AWOL, getting locked up, ending up in the hospital, or flat-out telling your superior to f*ck off. There are a few ethical ways to wiggle your way back into doing nothing productive until Monday.
“Nope… I don’t see that ’09 Mustang bought at 39% interest rate… he must be gone already.”
(Photo by Sgt. Melissa Bright)
Park somewhere else
Form habits. Let everyone know your routine.
If you park your car in the exact same place, day in and day out, pretty soon, that’ll become the go-to indicator of your presence. If, one day, you happen to park your car in the other parking lot, they’ll take a quick glance and assume you’re not there. Now just be sure to keep your phone on silent and never answer your door.
“I’m so sorry, I’d love to help, but I got this thing. Yes. That totally legit thing.”
(Photo by Airmen 1st Class Dana Cable)
Someone has pull staff duty or charge of quarters (CQ). The goal here isn’t to screw over the unit, it’s to hot potato that responsibility onto someone else.
If you let your superior know that you’ve got responsibilities that you can’t or “can’t” wiggle out of, like “helping someone in your unit move,” they’ll probably pick that other guy.
Bonus points if you tell them you’ll be somewhere without service and you just turn your phone off.
(Photo by Airmen 1st Class Frank Rohrig)
Be out of town
Let everyone know you’ve got big plans. Be obnoxious about it. Everyone from the lowest private to the battalion commander should know that your ass has tickets to whatever.
If you plan on having fun, whoever is coming to ruin your weekend should know well in advance that you’re not going to be anywhere near.
If they do take the time to go check the paperwork and you were bullshitting, then plausible deniability is your only way out…
(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Brian Morales)
Put in a 4-day pass (or say you did)
Having a piece of paperwork that says the commander has approved you to do nothing all weekend is great. Take a photo of it with your phone and send it along any time someone asks you what you’re doing.
Or, if the NCO is out on the prowl, trying to find some lower-enlisted to pull CQ and you feel like your poker face is good enough, go ahead and say your 4-day pass is up at battalion and hope they don’t call your bluff.
Just keep one by the door, if you have to.
(Photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua)
Be drunk or “drunk”
If there’s any tried-and-true method that every member of the E-4 Mafia and LCpl Underground know too well, it’s this one: Never answer your door without a bottle of beer in your hands.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve actually been drinking; it doesn’t matter if it’s 0900. There’s no way you can go to some BS duty if you might be intoxicated. Always keep that in mind.
If you’re anything like me and had a subscription to Civil War Times Illustrated when you were ten years old, the first time you saw Colonel Sanders (of KFC fame), you probably thought to yourself: “That’s not a colonel! I’ve seen colonels before in Civil War Times Illustrated and they definitely don’t dress like that. What gives?”
Ten-year-old me wasn’t wrong, but Colonel Harland Sanders was a colonel – a Kentucky Colonel – and the distinction is less about military service and more about service. Specifically to the State of Kentucky.
Get this man some bourbon.
The Kentucky Colonels are a voluntary but exclusive philanthropic organization, and the only way to receive a commission as a Kentucky Colonel is to be nominated by the Governor of Kentucky. The Colonels offer grants, scholarships, and more in the form of charitable donations from its membership. The goal is to give back for the betterment of the people of the state while doing the most good with the money they have.
They enjoy the occasional party now and then too.
In order to become a Colonel of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, you’ll need first to be nominated to the Governor or the Secretary of State. The Colonels are, after all, designated representatives of the governor of Kentucky and the “aides-de-camp” of the commonwealth’s chief executive. That’s all due to the history of the organization.
The title of Kentucky Colonel began as a way to bestow respect on elder generations who fought the British in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, as the Kentucky Militias were particularly feared and/or respected by British troops. The governor, Isaac Shelby, personally led Kentucky troops in the War of 1812. When there was no war left to fight, the militias were disbanded – but the governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky still required an aide-de-camp, so he hired one. That was Col. Charles Stewart Todd. After a while, the role of the governor’s aide-de-camp became more ceremonial and, eventually, honorary.
Nowadays, being designated a Kentucky Colonel still means assisting the governor, but the Colonels exist as envoys of the governor and state, those who preserve Kentucky heritage and history, while improving the lives and living conditions for those who live there. Previous Colonels include boxer Muhammad Ali, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl, actress Betty White, Pope Benedict XVI, and the past seven U.S. Presidents, just to name a few.
So while the uniform and rank may be ceremonial, the duties and expectations of the Kentucky Colonels are very real.
In October 1983 the Caribbean nation of Grenada experienced a series of bloody coups over the course of a week, threatening U.S. interests as well as U.S. citizens on the island. In a controversial move, President Reagan decided to launch Operation Urgent Fury, an invasion of the island nation (and the first real-world test of the all-volunteer force in combat).
The Grenadian forces were bolstered by Communist troops from the Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, and Bulgaria. The U.S. rapid deployment force was more or less an all-star team of the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions, the 82nd Airborne, U.S. Marines, Delta Force, and Navy SEALs. Despite the strength of the invasion force, planning, intelligence, communication and coordination issues plagued their interoperability (and led to Congress reorganizing the entire Department of Defense). Army helicopters couldn’t refuel on Navy ships. There was zero intelligence information coming from the CIA. Army Rangers were landed on the island in the middle of the day.
The list of Urgent Fury mistakes is a long one, but one snafu was so huge it became legend. The basic story is that a unit on the island was pinned down by Communist forces. Interoperability and communications were so bad, they were unable to call for support from anywhere. A member of the unit pulled out his credit card and made a long-distance call by commercial phone lines to their home base, which patched it through to the Urgent Fury command, who passed the order down to the requested support.
The devil is in the details. The Navy SEALs Museum says the caller was from a group of Navy SEALs in the governor’s mansion. He called Fort Bragg for support from an AC-130 gunship overhead. The gunship’s support allowed the SEALs to stay in position until relieved by a force of Recon Marines the next day. Some on the ground with the SEALs in Grenada said it was for naval fire support from nearby ships.
The story is recounted in Mark Adkins’ Urgent Fury: the Battle for Grenada. Another report says it was a U.S. Army “trooper” (presumably meaning “paratrooper”) who called his wife to request air support from the Navy. Screenwriter and Vietnam veteran James Carabatsos incorporated the event into his script for “Heartbreak Ridge” after reading about an account from members of the 82nd Airborne. In that version, paratroopers used a payphone and calling card to call Fort Bragg to request fire support.
“An army officer who had needed artillery support… could look out to sea and see naval vessels on the horizon, but he had no way to talk to them. So he used his personal credit card in a payphone, placed a call to Fort Bragg, asked Bragg to contact the Pentagon, had the Pentagon contact the Navy, who in turn told the commander off the coast to get this poor guy some artillery support. Clearly a new system was needed.”
The story has a happy ending from an American POV. These days, the U.S. invasion is remembered by the Grenadian people as an overwhelmingly good thing, as bloody Communist revolutions ended with the elections following the invasion. Grenada marks the anniversary of the U.S. intervention with a national holiday, its own Thanksgiving Day.
But UTC Aerospace Systems, manufacturer of the bomber’s ACES II ejection seat, wants to be clear: The seat itself is not the problem.
Whether you’re talking about a fighter jet or a bomber, the ejection seat is a complicated system that propels a pilot out of the aircraft in an emergency, John Fyfe, director of Air Force programs for UTC, said in a recent interview with Military.com. “There’s an electronic sequencing system, especially if you have multiple seats,” as in the B-1 bomber.
After coordinating with the Air Force, UTC believes “there’s an issue with the sequencing system,” he said.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein told reporters in July 2018, “What we’ve learned from the investigation is there are actually two pathways to fire the seat, and there was one particular part that had gotten crimped, so that — when he pulled the handles — the signal to the ejection seat didn’t flow.”
But Fyfe said the issue has been oversimplified in media reports. It’s been implied “that the ejection seat didn’t fire, when in fact the ejection seat was never given the command to fire,” he said.
While UTC also makes entire ejection systems, on “this particular B-1, [the sequence system] was not ours,” he said, adding that there are multiple vendors for the sequencing systems.
B-1B Lancers sit on the flightline at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Desiree N. Palacios)
There’s also a hatch removal system, which blows each hatch above the four seats in the bomber, Fyfe said. “That sequences the order that the seats go out of the cockpit and has an inherent delay so that whatever’s above you, whether it’s a canopy … or hatches … those blow and there’s an opening. And then the seats fire.”
The service in June 2018 grounded its B-1B bomber fleet over safety concerns related to the ejection seat problem. The stand-down was a direct result of the emergency landing the Lancer made May 1, 2018, at Midland Airport in Texas. It was reported at the time that the B-1B, from Dyess Air Force Base, was not carrying weapons when it requested to land because of an engine fire.
The back ceiling hatch, which hovers over either the offensive or defensive weapons systems officer (WSO) depending on mission set, was open, although all four crew members were shown sitting on the Midland flight line in photos after landing the aircraft.
Air Force leaders have said the issue has not affected overseas operations and that maintenance crews have prioritized fixes on the faulty systems for bombers carrying out missions across the globe.
“I got an update here recently on the delivery schedule for the last lot to make sure those seats are healthy,” Gen. Timothy Ray, head of Air Force Global Strike Command, told reporters at the annual Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber conference outside Washington, D.C., in September 2018.
“What you’ll do is you’ll use the good airplanes a lot more,” he said then. “And we give the commanders some latitude as to what they will fly and what they will and won’t fly in terms of risk. But in the end, we’re not going to put anyone in a position where they’re not safe.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
June 6, 2019, marks 75 years since D-Day, when Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy during World War II.
On June 6, 1944, roughly 160,000 troops landed in Normandy, France, on five beaches with the code names Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword.
D-Day involved astonishing coordination between Allied forces. Over 13,000 paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines before daybreak. At approximately 6:30 am, the first wave of assault troops hit the beach.
It was one of the most important moments in the war and represented the largest amphibious invasion in world history. D-Day marked a turning point in the fight against Nazi Germany, which would surrender less than a year later in May 1945.
But it was by no means an easy victory, and cost many lives along the way: roughly 22,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded on June 6 alone.
On that day, and in the seven and half decades since, world leaders have delivered legendary speeches about D-Day — including on the blood-stained beaches where it occurred.
Here are five of the most powerful speeches on D-Day.
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Edward “Iceberg” Smith was the only American military officer invited on a bold, new expedition in the late 1920s: An 8,000-mile journey over the Arctic in the Graf Zeppelin, one of the premier airships at the time.
Lt. Cmdr. Edward “Iceberg” Smith, an Arctic expert, World War I veteran, and Coast Guardsman invited to take part in the 1931 Aeroarctic Expedition.
(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)
Smith was one of the top experts on icebergs at the time, an interest he discovered after his service in World War I. The young Coast Guard officer had been assigned to convoy duties during the war, but was assigned to the international ice patrol soon after.
This scientific zeal drew the attention of Arctic explorers planning in the late 1920s to fly an airship to the North Pole while a submarine simultaneously made the same journey under the ice. The submarine would then bore its way to the surface, and the two crews would meet for handshakes and an exchange of mail before departing.
The trip went through a number of redesigns as the death of its leader, mechanical problems with the submarine, and funding issues all challenged elements of the plan.
But, in 1931, the plans were finalized for the Graf Zeppelin to meet up with a Russian icebreaker near the North Pole and exchange mail before collecting a large amount of scientific data and returning to Berlin — all within a single week. As Smith wrote in his notes following the trip, earlier expeditions along a similar route, conducted on foot, had taken almost a year to go one direction.
The Graf Zeppelin in Berlin.
(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)
The zeppelin took off on July 24, 1931, and proceeded to Berlin and then Leningrad for additional fuel and hydrogen before setting off north for the Pole. They crossed into the Arctic Circle at 7 p.m., July 26.
While the trip was certainly easier than a traditional Arctic expedition, it was still very dangerous. The men on board had limited emergency gear and food if the zeppelin was forced down by bad weather or mechanical failure. But, as long as the ship held up, it was reported as actually being quite pleasant despite how cold it was.
The Arctic ice sheets that proved treacherous for explorers on foot were quite beautiful from the sky by all accounts. And Russians, excited about their men meeting up with the zeppelin in the historic journey, had sent the airborne expedition off with crates of prime caviar.
A photo of the Arctic ice fields in 1931. The shadow on the ice is from the Graf Zeppelin.
(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)
The zeppelin usually flew between 200 and 500 meters off the surface, and scientists, including Smith, took measurements of the temperature, wind speeds, and other data while photographing areas about which little was previously known.
On July 27, the crew made radio contact with the Soviet icebreaker Malygin and was able to meetup with it a few hours later. The zeppelin was sent down to hover just over the surface of the sea with anchors fashioned from canvas buckets — and the icebreaker had been specially decorated for the occasion.
Despite the festive air, the exchange of mail was conducted quickly because floating ice packs were drifting dangerously close to the zeppelin and leaders were worried the engines could be damaged.
During the night of July 28th, the men dropped packages of mail and potatoes down to a Soviet station on the route before continuing north. This was the zeppelin’s last mail mission during the trip — all that was left was collecting additional scientific observations as it finished its loop back to Berlin.
The Graf Zeppelin’s 8,000-mile route through the Arctic Circle to the North Pole and back.
(U.S. Coast Guard Compass)
Smith helped capture the exact geography of the area over which the airship transited, and he published his findings later that year in an article titled “The Aeroarctic Expedition,” in The Geographical Review.
His notes called into doubt the existence of previously observed islands and confirmed that one island was, in fact, just a peninsula of a larger one.
The men of the expedition were greeted as heroes in Berlin, and crowds thronged to hear tales of their dangerous exploits. But, since they had suffered none of the mechanical failures of previous airship attempts, they had nothing to report except for 8,000 miles of beautiful views and dutifully collected scientific data.
The Graf Zeppelin was returned to its normal transatlantic route until the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 nearly ended zeppelin travel. For the next few decades, the only real zeppelin program to speak of was managed by the Goodyear Company as only America had the required helium reserves to conduct lighter-than-air travel safely.
American zeppelins would go on to serve in World War II, but not under the care of Coast Guard officers like Smith. Instead, they belonged to the Navy and were used primarily for anti-submarine duties.
All photos are courtesy of the Coast Guard Compass which published an article and accompanying photos about Smith and the Aeroarctic Expedition in 2015. To learn more about Smith and the Coast Guard’s role in exploration, you can read their article here.