The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China

Arthur Tien Chin was born in Portland, Oregon in 1913. He would die there in 1997, but not before being recognized for the incredible life he led. 

The man would spend much of his life as an everyday postal worker started his adult life as a skilled fighter pilot and the first American ace of what would become known as World War II – he would even be recognized for his contributions.

Chin was born to Cantonese parents who immigrated to Oregon from Taishan, in China’s Guangdong Province. When the Japanese Empire invaded Manchuria in 1931, Chinese-Americans were shocked and outraged. From the safety of their new country, they decided something had to be done.

Chin began flight school with a class of  around a dozen other Americans of Chinese descent, paid for by the Chinese expatriate community in Oregon. The only stipulation was that the students return to their homeland to fly against Japanese aggression. 

He returned to  Guangdong and joined the provincial air forces, as much of China was ruled by warlords at the time and many provinces had their own armies.  He soon defected to the Kuomintang central government’s air force and was selected for advanced fighter training, from the Nazi German Luftwaffe

Before the Axis Pact split the world into Axis and Allies with Germany and China on opposite sides, China was a major buyer of German weapons, especially aircraft. Upon his return to China, he was training other pilots in the use of the planes China actually had, outdated as they may be. 

Chinese pilots were still fighting with fabric-covered Curtiss biplanes with open cockpits and rifle-sized machine guns in 1937. That’s the year Japan began a full-scale war with China. Chin and his fellow Americans went to work, despite the technological disadvantage of fighting against modern bombers and fighters.

A plane similar to the one used by Arthur Tien Chin
A Curtiss biplane similar to the one used by Chin.

His first kill came that year when he took down a Japanese Mitsubishi G3M2 twin-engine bomber, on his first day at an airfield near Nanjing. But the plane he was flying took heavy damage and he was forced to the ground. His second kill against the same bomber came the very next month, September 1937.

By February 1938, Chin and company were flying British Gloster Gladiator fighters, which were still biplanes but not cloth covered. Chinese fighter pilots were able to down significant Japanese Imperial planes at first, but when the Zero, the Mitsubishi A6M, was introduced to the skies over China, the Gladiator’s days were numbered. Despite the Gladiator’s shortcomings, Chin would score 6.5 kills in its cockpit.

Chin himself would be shot down by intercepting Zeros while flying an escort mission in Guangxi. Outnumbered and outgunned, he rammed his biplane into one of the Japanese fighters, taking it down. He flew his failing plane back to friendly territory and landed in a rice paddy. His face now badly burned from the incident, he waited until friendly troops came by to return to base.

He and his family were bombed shortly after, as Chin recovered from injuries sustained during his shootdown incident. When his Liuzhou home was bombed by the Japanese, his wife was killed as she covered his body to protect him from shrapnel and debris. He was moved to Hong Kong to recuperate.

But no rest came. It wasn’t long before Japan came for Hong Kong too. He was evacuated and moved to New York City for skin grafts. He left the Chinese military after he recovered in 1945. After a stint promoting the purchase of war bonds, he was sent back to China, this time as a civilian aviator. His mission to fly supplies over “the hump” – an air route over the Himalayas from India into China. 

At the time, it was one of the most dangerous air routes in the whole war. But when the war ended in 1945, he returned to the US. Since he couldn’t find work as a pilot back in his home state of Oregon, so he became a postal officer. 

In 1995, the United States recognized Chin as a veteran of World War II, awarding him the Distinguished Service Cross and the Air Medal for his service. A month after his 1997, he was inducted into the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame of the Commemorative Air Force Airpower Museum for his 8.5 kills, making him America’s first fighter ace of World War II.

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6 reasons why being a Roman Legionnaire would suck

The Roman Empire stretched from modern-day Syria to modern-day Spain. To maintain that amount of real estate, you have to have an amazing military to protect it. The Roman Legion was one such force.

But every military that has made its mark on history was notorious for rigorous training and extremely harsh conditions that make today’s toughest Special Operations training look like Air Force boot camp. Here’s why, in reality, being a Roman Legionnaire would’ve sucked.


The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
Suddenly, Sergeant Major doesn’t seem so far away.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Judith L. Harter)

 

Minimum enlistment requirement

It was 25 years. These days, when you sign the dotted line, you’re in for a minimum of four years and you have the option to stay longer to earn a pension and retirement benefits. The average Roman Legionnaire was expected to serve 25 years — no exceptions.

The retirement benefits, however, involved getting a nice piece of land within the empire to spend the rest of your days — If you don’t die first, that is.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
It doesn’t make this suck any less, right?
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brennon A. Taylor)

 

Long, forced marches… Every day.

If you think the 20-kilometer hike you just did last Wednesday, the 25 kilometers you had to do the night before Christmas leave, or the 30-mile hike you did in Korea sucked, just think about what you’d have to do as a Roman Legionnaire. These guys had to carry their entire kit 90 miles, every day.

This kit included their armor, weapons, shield, and a backpack, which contained the equipment needed to help build camps. Additionally, they had to carry their rations and cooking gear.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
Remember this? It would be more regular as a Roman Legionnaire.
(Photo by Lance Cpl. Carlin Warren)

 

Marching cadence

Remember those 90-mile forced marches we mentioned? Imagine your company commander calling cadence the whole time. Well, that’s what Centurions did for their Centuries. They would call, “right, left,” the whole time, starting with the right, of course, because the left was seen as wrong or evil.

That’s why issued rifles are made for right-handed war heroes.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
The amount of training probably saved a lot of lives…
(History Answers)
 

Weapons training

In the Roman Legion, you wake up in the morning and eat breakfast with your seven tent mates and then you do a little weapons training. By a little, we mean a lot. You’re training every morning with your gear and wooden weapons and shields that weigh twice as much as your regular gear, constantly going against your friends to become a much better warrior.

This is a good thing, but you know you complain about three-day field ops. Yes, you do.

The pay was salt

And you thought your steady income and clothing allowance was bad. Granted, the Roman Legion did pay their soldiers but, at the time, salt was worth quite a bit. So, a soldier would get paid in salt.

Gunny Hartman would’ve had a great time, though.

The hazing was terrible

If you think your seniors duct-taping a mattress to you and having you take a leap of faith from the third story of your barracks was bad — it was so much worse the Roman Legion.

Remember those annoying Centurions from the marches? They carried a vine branch to whip the disobedient and it was totally okay for them to do so. Getting whipped for stepping out of line is pretty mild considering your friends could stone you to death for being a coward or trying to desert — and that’s only barely scratching the surface of Roman Legion punishments.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you should know about ‘Anchors Aweigh’

Today’s U.S. Navy can trace its origins to the Continental Navy of the Revolutionary War. It boasts the largest, most capable fleet in history, proudly serving its mission of “…winning wars, deterring aggression, and maintaining freedom of the seas.” America’s sailors are the finest in the world, and their rousing song — born in victory — suits them well.


Also read: The complete hater’s guide to the US Navy


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Even if you can’t sing along, you’ve probably heard the familiar tune, but here are five things you might not know about “Anchors Aweigh:”

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1. It was written at the U.S. Naval Academy

Bandmaster Lt. Charles A. Zimmerman served as director of the U.S. Naval Academy Band from 1887 until his death in 1916, and he wrote a march for each graduating class. But it was “Anchors Aweigh” would be the one ultimately adopted by the U.S. Navy as its official song.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China

The Navy Midshipmen take the field in the 2012 Army-Navy game.

U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad Runge)

2. It helped shut out the Army

By 1906, Navy had not beaten Army on the football field since 1900. Midshipman First Class Alfred Hart Miles approached Zimmerman with a request for a new march — one that would lift spirits and “live forever.” According to legend, Miles and Zimmerman got to work at the Academy’s chapel organ. Later that month, the band and brigade performed the song and the Navy swept the Army in a 10-0 victory.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China

Sailors secure a line to the capstan while hoisting the anchor chain.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Finley)

3. It’s chock full of naval jargon, starting with the title

An anchor is “aweigh” when it is hoisted from the bottom, freeing the vessel. This event is duly noted in the ship’s log.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China

Nimitz Carrier Strike Group conducts an underway.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael D. Cole)

4. It evolved over time

It wasn’t until 1997 that the lyrics were finally revised (by the 8th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, John Hagan) to be a little less college football and a little more domination of the high seas.

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5. It boasts ancient lore — like 2300 BC ancient

The revised lyrics include some naval lore, such as a reference to Davy Jones, whose locker on the ocean floor is home to drowned sailors and shipwrecks, and the “seven seas,” an ancient phrase for all the world’s oceans.

Here are the proud lyrics (both original and revised):

Original Lyrics

[Verse 1]

Stand Navy down the field, sails set to the sky.

We’ll never change our course, so Army you steer shy-y-y-y.

Roll up the score, Navy, Anchors Aweigh.

Sail Navy down the field and sink the Army, sink the Army Grey.

[Verse 2]

Get underway, Navy, Decks cleared for the fray,

We’ll hoist true Navy Blue So Army down your Grey-y-y-y.

Full speed ahead, Navy; Army heave to,

Furl Black and Grey and Gold and hoist the Navy, hoist the Navy Blue

[Verse 3]

Blue of the Seven Seas; Gold of God’s great sun

Let these our colors be Till all of time be done-n-n-ne,

By Severn shore we learn Navy’s stern call:

Faith, courage, service true With honor over, honor over all.

Revised Lyrics

(It is verse 2 that is most widely sung)

[Verse 1]

Stand Navy out to sea,

Fight our battle cry;

We’ll never change our course,

So vicious foe steer shy-y-y-y.

Roll out the TNT,

Anchors Aweigh.

Sail on to victory

And sink their bones to Davy Jones, hooray!

[Verse 2]

Anchors Aweigh, my boys,

Anchors Aweigh.

Farewell to foreign shores,

We sail at break of day-ay-ay-ay.

Through our last night ashore,

Drink to the foam,

Until we meet once more.

Here’s wishing you a happy voyage home.

[Verse 3]

Blue of the mighty deep:

Gold of God’s great sun.

Let these our colors be

Till all of time be done, done, done, done.

On seven seas we learn

Navy’s stern call:

Faith, courage, service true,

With honor, over honor, over all.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Epic tale of Rhodesian Commandos gets a reprint

It has been 32 years ever since Chris Cocks first published his acclaimed book narrating his experiences with the elite Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI). Now, five editions later, he is reprinting his masterpiece.

But it’s not just a reprint. Cocks has gone in and re-wrote the book to make it even better.


“Over the last three decades, the book has undergone around five editions with various publishers, some good, some not so good,” said Cocks “I decided, therefore, to re-write the book and take out a lot of fluff and waffle, and then self-publish.”

The Rhodesian Bush War (1964-1980) was a small but intense Cold War conflict. The Rhodesian government was faced by a Communist insurgency that had shrewdly sold itself in the international community as a liberation front aiming to end White-rule in the Southern African country.

Formed in 1961, the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) was an airborne all-white unit focused on direct action operations. (Most units in the Rhodesian military were mixed, usually Black soldiers led by White officers; the RLI and the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) were some of the few all-White outfits.) Three years later, in 1964, the unit was retitled to 3 Commando, The Rhodesian Light Infantry, to better reflect its Special Operations role.

The unit was broken down to four Commandos of 100 men each and a headquarters company. The majority of the RLI troopers were Rhodesian regulars or reserves. There was, however, a significant foreign presence (Americans, French, Germans, British, Australians, New Zealanders).

“As a 20-year-old lance-corporal, I found myself in command of a troop (a platoon),” he recalls. “As a junior NCO, I never lost a man in combat, but I think that was luck. But I’m still proud of that.”

The airborne capabilities of the unit paired with its lethality made the RLI the bane of the communist insurgents. It is estimated that as part of Fire Force missions, which were introduced in 1974, the RLI killed 12,000 insurgents. At some point during the Bush War, the operational tempo was so high, that RLI troopers were conducting three combat jumps a day. Rapid deployment of troops was key to the Fire Force concept. Jumps, thus, were made at 300-500 feet without reserve parachutes. Indeed, they were flying so low that as the last jumper of the stick exited the aircraft, the first hit the ground. To this day, an RLI trooper holds the world record for most operational jumps with an astounding 73.

Chris Cocks’ book provides an original account of the Rhodesian Bush War. Several pictures breathe life into the men and their feats. The illustrations on the Fire Force are elucidating. Perhaps what sets Cocks’ book apart from similar narratives is its dual nature: a lover of narrative history will gain as much as a student of military history. (I’ve personally used Cocks’ book as a primary source for a paper that was published in the West Point’s military history journal.)

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China

The cover of the latest edition.

Dr. Paul L. Moorcraft, a British journalist and academic who has written extensively on the Rhodesian Bush War, said that “Cocks’s work is one of the very few books which adequately describes the horrors of war in Africa … Fire Force is the best book on the Rhodesian War that I have read… it is a remarkable account that bears comparison with other classics on war … a tour de force.”

Cocks first wrote the book in the mid-1980s. He sought to understand why so many had died (over 50,000 dead on both sides) and why Zimbabwe had fallen to Communism. “Essentially, we lost not only the war, but our country,” said Cocks. “For what? I needed to record that, somehow. To be honest, I just started writing, with no particular end point in mind. It all came tumbling out.”

This is a book worth reading. You can purchase it on Amazon.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

This general’s legendary sword was found in a pawnshop

Not too often do you find something good in a pawn shop. It’s usually cheap crap that was probably stolen or someone couldn’t get out of hock. Occasionally, you find something perfect or useful. But it’s rare you’d ever expect to find a legendary sword. 


Sometimes though, fate has its way of showing up. Every now and then someone finds the jackpot item — such as the legendary Mameluke sword of Lt. Gen. Homer L. Litzenberg Jr., Commander of the 7th Marine Regiment during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.

Related: Why the ‘Frozen Chosin’ is the defining battle of the modern Marine Corps

Lt. Gen. Homer L. Litzenberg Jr. led his men from the Battle of Inchon to Yalu and through 17 of the most brutal days of combat during at the “Frozen Chosin.” He led alongside Marine Corps legend Lt. Gen. “Chesty” Puller who commanded the 1st Marine Regiment.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
Then-Col. Litzenberg addressing his Marines on Christmas day.

Chris Anderson, Anne Arundel County police officer and prior service Marine, and his fellow Marines were about to celebrate the Marine Corps birthday at an Annapolis saloon. Anderson noted that they were missing the traditional Mameluke sword of a Marine Corps officer to cut the cake. He did what every Marine would do: he looked for one on eBay.

Searching for a sword on eBay

He found one but it was inscribed with the name “Homer L. Litzenberg Jr.” on the blade. He knew that this blade couldn’t go to some private collector, so he snagged the sword at $255 because of wear and tear. The authenticity hasn’t been determined yet, since the pawnshop can’t disclose prior owner information. However, the pawnshop did say that with its proximity to Aberdeen Proving Ground, it’s extremely common for them to receive military items so this might just be the legendary sword after all. 

Check out this blade

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
$255 for a legendary sword? Deal! (Screen-cap via eBay)

Anderson has since made it his personal crusade to get the sword verified and put into the National Museum of the Marine Corps. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

How German beer kept Afghanistan out of World War I

The First World War brought a level of destruction that the world had never seen before. At the start of the war, only the French, Russians, English, and Italians stood against the Germans, Austro-Hungarians, and the Ottomans with their respective territories/colonies/provinces each filing in under their protectorate states. Every corner of the world was forced to take sides, officially or otherwise.

Neutral nations would be asked politically at first, but were quickly strong-armed into supporting one side or the other. This same fate could have befallen Afghans — who were distrusting of British India to the East and the Allied Russians to the north — if the negotiations hadn’t gone spectacularly wrong.


The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China

Too easy, right? This is only the “Graveyard of Empires” we’re talking about here.

In September, 1915, the Germans saw in opportunity in exploiting the Afghan tribes’ strategic advantage against the Allied troops that had left British India to fight in Europe. Persia had been officially neutral, but swung sides depending on who was more in control (Note: This was before the Turkish Invasion of Persia, which would eventually solidify their anti-Ottoman stance). If Afghanistan would join the Ottomans, the Persians would certainly follow. After all, the Afghan people hated the British and most of the ruling parties. All that stood in the way of a Central Powers-controlled Middle East and a wide-open causeway through India was a hesitant Amir Habibullah Khan, then the leader of Afghanistan.

The Ottomans leveraged much religious control over their fellow Muslim nations. Grassroots protests ran rampant in British-controlled India. Things were at a tipping point and all it would take was some sweet talking by a Bavarian officer, Oscar Niedermayer, on official orders from the Kaiser to go win them over. On paper, the plan was flawless.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
Mahendra Pratap, centre, with (left to right) Maulavi Barkatullah, Werner Otto von Hentig, Kazim Bey, and Walter Röhr. Kabul, 1916

Don’t worry. Niedermayer maybe won’t screw things up just yet.

Niedermayer and his team traveled to Constantinople to meet up with their Turkish counterparts. Despite being in friendly territory, the mission was to be highly covert — one that, if compromised, could end in death for everyone involved. Yet, when the Turks showed up to the Pera Palace Hotel, they found the Germans sh*tfaced drunk, openly telling everyone that they’re going on an Afghanistan Expedition. Understandably, the Turks said, “f*ck it” and left, unwilling to be part of a botched mission that would have them executed if gone poorly due to the actions of some drunken idiots.

After the disaster in Constantinople, Berlin sent in Prussian diplomat, Werner-Otto von Hentig, to join in. Von Hentig was a consummate professional and had brought with him Raja Mahendra Pratap, an Indian royal who wanted to take control back from the British, to aid in negotiations. Niedermayer took great offense to this and constantly butted heads with von Hentig.

The combined teams finally reached Kabul to start negotiations anew.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
(U.S. Navy)

And celebrate they did. In only the truest of German manners.

Von Hentig and Pratap made friends with the Afghan ruler. Meanwhile, Afghan print media started stirring up anti-British sentiment. Months went by and negotiations continued. The war had started to cripple the Allies and Russia was on the verge of collapse after the “Great Retreat.”

In December, Amir Habibullah Khan ordered the drafting of treaty of friendship to establish an agreement between Afghanistan and Germany. By April 1916, things were looking good for the Central Powers. The enemy was getting weaker and they were inches away from gaining a strategic ally. They would, of course, celebrate.

The details of the event are still hazy, but it’s widely assumed that they got sh*tfaced once again — this time, in a Muslim country that strictly forbade alcohol. This turned into strong condemnation from Afghan leadership — even those who once supported their cause.

The Niedermayer–von Hentig Expedition was sent packing. Soon after, Persia was invaded by the Turks, which gave rise to a hard-line hatred of the Central Powers. As history shows, the Central Powers lost WWI. Amir Habibullah Khan was assassinated after the war’s conclusion by an anti-British coup that lead into the Third Anglo-Afghan War — which was lost in spectacular fashion.

All of history as we know it may have been rewritten were it not for one fateful night.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Japanese bombers attacked targets with rocket-propelled people

Kamikaze attacks — known as “special attacks” by Japan — were an infamous tactic designed to not only destroy American ships but also strike fear in the Allied navies.


But two months before the first kamikaze attacks were carried out at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in Oct. 1944, a Japanese transport pilot pitched the idea of a kamikaze super weapon, the Oka “Cherry Blossom” Type 11 plane.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
Photo: Wikipedia/Jarek Tuszynski

While the Oka was technically a plane, it was more like a pilot-guided missile. It was a 4,700-pound aircraft that contained 2,600 pounds of high explosives. That left only 2,100 pounds for the body, armor-piercing nose cone, and three rocket engines.

The Oka was carried by a mother plane — usually a Betty medium-bomber — to a launch point within 23 miles of its target. The Oka pilot would then squeeze into the craft and strap himself in while a crew member on the bomber would lock the cockpit closed.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
Photo: Wikipedia

After it was released, the Oka glided most of the way to its target from high-altitude. Once the Oka got close to a naval ship, it would ignite the engines and race at its target.

Hitting the enemy ship at up to 576 mph, it punched right through most armor and detonated its 2,600-pound payload inside the ship.

While those 2,600 pounds of explosives gave the kamikaze a big boom when it hit its target, the small control surfaces and extreme speed made it very hard to aim.

The Oka’s commonly made it past enemy defenses and outran pursuing fighters, but they sometimes missed their target entirely.

Also, the bombers carrying the Oka were susceptible to attack. While carrying the massive weapon, the planes lost maneuverability, range, and speed. The first thing a Betty with an Oka was supposed to do if it came under attack was drop the Oka and attempt to evade the fighters.

This led to another problem for the Oka pilots. When the bomber crews felt a route was too dangerous, they’d often order the Oka pilot into the suicide plane early and launch it.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
Photo: Wikipedia

The pilot would be left sitting in the cockpit, piloting his coffin into the ocean with no chance at destroying a target.

In the end, the more than 850 Oka 11s produced sank only one ship and damaged six others. Longer range variants were produced that could fly up to 81 miles. They would have been a serious threat to Navy ships during an invasion, but none ever saw combat.

Today, a number of Oka survive in museums. One Oka type 22, the longer range model, still exists and is housed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

MIGHTY TRENDING

How losing Vietnam was actually a victory for 5 other countries

On Jan. 27, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords, formally ending U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. On Apr. 30, 1975, the country of South Vietnam formally came to an end as North Vietnamese tanks rolled across bases and airfields and into the southern capital of Saigon.

While many look back and see the war as a waste of money, manpower and materiel given the outcome, there are more than 475 million people who would disagree.


The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China

The foundation of that figure of 475 million is the current population of Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It doesn’t mention the relatives of those populations who are no longer alive and didn’t live under the constant threat of global Communism because of the line in the sand drawn by American forces in Vietnam.

World War II-era Navy veteran, Georgetown University professor, and former member of the National Security Council under four presidential administrations, William Lloyd Stearman, wrote about the accomplishments of the United States in the Vietnam War in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece. In it, he argues that the Vietnam War was not only winnable, the North Vietnamese were constantly surprised that the Americans didn’t cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail by invading Laos – a move the NVA thought was inevitable – and thus, win the war for the South.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
The U.S. didn’t want to widen the war, but if the NVA was already in Laos. It was already wider.

While the 96-year-old Stearman spends much of the article rehashing the causes for the outcome of the Vietnam War, the important aspects he adds to the discussion are what the United States and her allies actually achieved through their involvement there, rather than dwelling on what we lost. He argues that without the intervention of the U.S. in Vietnam, the West would have been forced into harder choices in more difficult areas as Communist insurgencies rocked other countries in the region. Quoting Singapore’s visionary leader Lee Kuan Yew, who wrote about this subject in his memoirs:

In 1965, when the U.S. military moved massively into South Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines faced internal threats from armed insurgencies and the communist underground was still active in Singapore. Indonesia [was] in the throes of a failed communist coup. America’s action enabled noncommunist Southeast Asia to put their own houses in order. By 1975, they were in better shape to stand up to the communists. Had there been no U.S. intervention, the will of these countries to resist them would have melted and Southeast Asia would most likely gone communist.”

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
Lee Kuan Yew is famous for taking Singapore “from third world to first world” in a single generation.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. troop buildup in South Vietnam in 1965 spurred Britain to reinforce Malaysia. That same year, Indonesian forces were inspired by anti-Communist action and troop build-ups in the region and successfully fought off a Chinese-led Communist insurgency there. If the insurgency in Indonesia were successful, it would have spread to the Philippines and forced the U.S. to come to the Philippines to fight the Communists, rather than in North Vietnam.

That situation, Stearman argues, would have been far worse and far more costly than the fighting in Vietnam.

Feature image: U.S. Army

Articles

This World War I battle footage lets you go ‘over the top’

The 1916 Battle of the Ancre was a weeklong British offensive against German positions on the Ancre River in France. It was part of the first Battle of the Somme, and it was one of the first times a tank was filmed in battle.


That’s because the Battle of the Ancre from Nov. 13-19, 1916, was one of the better-documented fights in the war. A film crew was on hand for much of the fighting and put together an over hour-long movie of their footage.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China

The filmmakers captured everything from a tank crew taking their cat mascot into the steel belly with them to horses drawing artillery into position to men going over the top to attack enemy trenches.

This footage later made it into theaters around the world, allowing Americans to see conditions on the front months before the U.S. entry into the war in 1917.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China

Unfortunately for the film crew and worse for the British soldiers, the rainy conditions made the terrain too muddy for the tanks and slowed down assaults by infantry, giving a huge advantage to the German defenders.

The British and French troops were able to inflict heavy losses on the Germans, but they failed to take their terrain objectives before Winter weather forced the end to the offensive on Nov. 19.

An excerpt from the film is available below. Amazon Prime members can watch a 62-minute version of the film here.

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This is why it’s actually illegal to shoot at pilots who’ve bailed out

Okay, you’re relieving some stress by playing some video games and you just downed an enemy plane.


The pilot bails out.

You’ve got him in your sights — one less bad guy to deal with later, right?

Wrong.

According to the law of war, it is a crime to gun down a pilot who’s bailed out of his plane. While the video game world might give some allowances on this, in the real world it’s a major no-no.

Field Manual 27-10, “The Law Of Land Warfare,” says that a pilot who has bailed out of his plane is a non-combatant. That’s different from a paratrooper who’s notionally armed on his way down and is technically engaged in combat while under canopy.

 

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
Don’t do it Fritz! (Photo from Wikimedia Commons).

 

Here is the exact quote: “The law of war does not prohibit firing upon paratroops or other persons who are or appear to be bound upon hostile missions while such persons are descending by parachute. Persons other than those mentioned in the preceding sentence who are descending by parachute from disabled aircraft may not be fired upon.”

This was formalized in 1977, in Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions.

But even before all that legalese was codified in the Geneva Conventions, some militaries had already adopted a similar code of conduct. During World War II, the Nazis — whose crimes against humanity were legion — generally forbade its pilots from shooting downed enemy airmen.

One German commander, famously told his pilots, “You are fighter pilots first, last, always. If I ever hear of any of you shooting at someone in a parachute, I’ll shoot you myself.” Even Hermann Goering found potential orders from Hitler to carry out such acts as distasteful, approving of Adolf Galland’s characterization of such an act as “murder.”

On the American side, General Dwight D. Eisenhower issued orders that shooting at enemy aircrew who had bailed out as forbidden.

 

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
These guys are fair game. (Photo by Elena Baladelli/US Army)

Pilots on the Japanese side had no such hesitation, partially stemming from a code that viewed surrender as dishonorable. Many Allied airmen in the Pacific found that bailing out from a crippled plane was sometimes like going from the frying pan into the fire.

One airman, though, was able to shoot a Japanese pilot trying to machine gun him with his M1911!

In short, if you’re even playing a video game and you’re tempted to shoot at the folks who bailed out, don’t do it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how America got revenge for Pearl Harbor

After the Japanese surprise attack on December 7, 1941, America’s rallying cry in WWII was “Remember Pearl Harbor”. The American people didn’t forget it and the U.S. military certainly didn’t forget the mastermind behind the attack. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was public enemy number 1 in the Pacific.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
Yamamoto salutes his pilots at Rabaul before he takes off on his April 18 inspection tour (Public Domain)

By early 1943, the war in the Pacific was starting to turn. The Japanese had been repelled at Midway and been cleared from Guadalcanal. In fact, Japanese morale was so low that Yamamoto planned an inspection tour of the Solomon Islands and New Guinea in order to oversee an aerial counter-offensive and boost the confidence of his troops. On April 14, U.S. Naval Intelligence intercepted and decrypted Yamamoto’s itinerary, as well as the number and types of planes that would execute the inspection tour.

Yamamoto was scheduled to fly from Rabaul to Balalae Airfield near Bougainville in the Solomon Islands on April 18. He and his staff would fly in two Mitsubishi G4M Betty medium bombers. Escorted by six Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters, the bombers would take off from Rabaul at 0600 and land at Balalae at 0800 Tokyo time. The decision to attack Yamamoto in the air needed to be made at the highest level.

Although no official kill order from President Roosevelt is known to exist, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox left the decision up to Admiral Chester Nimitz. After consulting with Admiral William Halsey, Jr., Nimitz authorized the mission on April 17. Operation Vengeance was a go.

The interception would require a 1,000-mile roundtrip from Guadalcanal. With extra fuel required for combat, the mission was beyond the capabilities of the Navy and Marine Corps Grumman F4F Wildcat and Vought F4U Corsair fighters. Therefore, the mission was given to the 339th Fighter Squadron, 347th Fighter Group. Their Lockheed P-38G Lightning fighters, equipped with drop tanks, were the only ones able to make the intercept.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
P-38 was nicknamed the “fork-tailed devil” by the Germans and “two planes, one pilot” by the Japanese (U.S. Air Force)

18 P-38s were assigned to Operation Vengeance. The mission was led by the 339th Squadron Commander and ace pilot Major John Mitchell. Four pilots, Capt. Thomas Lanphier, Jr., Lt. Rex Barber, Lt. Jim McLanahan, and Lt. Joe Moore, were designated as the “killer” flight. The rest of the pilots served as a reserve and provided cover against the Japanese escort fighters. In order to keep the Navy’s codebreaking ability secret, a cover story was briefed to the pilots stating that the intelligence for the mission came from Australian coastwatchers who had spotted a high-ranking Japanese officer board a plane at Rabaul.

At 0725, the first of the P-38s took off from Guadalcanal. At first, the mission seemed troubled. McLanahan experienced a flat tire during takeoff and Moore’s drop tanks wouldn’t feed fuel. Both killer flight pilots were forced to drop out of the mission. Lt. Besby Holmes and Lt. Raymond Hine covered down on the killer flight and the 16 remaining aircraft set off across the south Pacific.

Flying at low altitude to avoid Japanese radar, Mitchell struggled to stave off boredom and drowsiness. However, he managed to navigate to the intercept point successfully. At 0934, one minute early, the P-38s spotted Yamamoto’s flight high above them at 6,500 feet. The American planes jettisoned their drop tanks and entered a full-power climb after their target. The Zeros, spotting the ambush, dropped their own drop tanks and dove at the P-38s. Mitchell ordered Lanphier and Barber to engage the bombers as he went head-on with the fighters himself.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
All five guns were located in the nose which made the P-38 exceptionally accurate and deadly (Public Domain)

Barber got behind one of the Betty’s and poured .50-caliber and 20mm fire into its right engine, rear fuselage, and tail. When Barber hit the left engine, the Betty started to spew heavy black smoke. The Betty rolled violently to the left, nearly colliding with Barber, and crashed into the Bougainville jungle. Although the Betty was carrying Yamamoto, Barber had no way of knowing it. He quickly scanned for the second bomber and spotted it low over the water trying to avoid an attack by Holmes and Hine.

Holmes managed to land some hits on the second Betty, but he and Hine flew too fast and overshot it. Barber dived in on the action and began his own attack. His hits on the Betty caused bits of metal to fly off which damaged his own aircraft as he flew past. The Betty, which turned out to be carrying Chief of Staff Vice Admiral Matome Ugaki and the rest of Yamamoto’s staff, rapidly lost altitude and crashed into the water.

Although the reserve P-38s were fighting hard to fend off the Japanese escorts, Barber, Holmes, and Hine were attacked by Zeros from above. During the counterattack, Barber’s aircraft took 104 hits. He and Holmes lost track of Hine in the melee, presumably shot down and crashed into the water. With their mission accomplished and fuel at a premium, the remaining 15 P-38s broke contact and flew for home. As they approached Guadalcanal, Lanphier radioed the flight director, “That son of a bitch will not be dictating any peace terms in the White House.”

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
The wreckage of Yamamoto’s Betty on Bougainville (Public Domain)

The next day, a Japanese search-and-rescue party located the Betty’s crash site in the jungle and recovered Yamamoto’s body. They noted that his body had been thrown clear from the wreckage, still clutching the hilt of his sheathed katana. Despite Lanphier’s claim to the kill, a Japanese autopsy later revealed that Yamamoto was killed by bullet strikes from behind. This was consistent with Barber’s account of an attack from the Betty’s 6 o’clock versus Lanphier’s account of an attack from the 3 o’clock.

Barber, who had been given half credit along with Lanphier for the kill, petitioned the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records for whole credit. In September 1991, the Air Force History Office advised that enough uncertainty existed for both Lanphier and Barber’s claims to be accepted. The board was split and the decision went to Secretary of the Air Force Donald Rice who ruled that the shared credit would stand. Both Lanphier and Barber argued their cases until their deaths in 1987 and 2001 respectively. “Historians, fighter pilots and all of us who have studied the record of this extraordinary mission will forever speculate as to the exact events of that day in 1943,” Secretary Rice said in 1993. “There is glory for the whole team.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The SMS Wien sunk twice — during both World Wars

There’s a such thing as bad luck and then there’s defying the odds. When looking at the SMS Wien, its luck was so considerably horrible, so tragically unthinkable, it seemingly defied the odds. The ship that was sunk not in one world war, but in both of them. Resurrected and put back into commission, only to sink to the bottom of the ocean once more.

Here’s how it all went down:

SMS Wien in WWI

The SMS Wien, His Majesty’s Ship Vienna, originated as an Austrian ship in the 1890s. (At the time, Austria was a large territory with ample coastline.) It served the Austro-Hungarian Navy as one of three Monarch-class coastal defense ships. The ship fought in the Greco-Turkish War in 1897, made multiple trips in the Mediterranean Sea, and was retired as newer style battleships were built and cycled into the local Navy. (There are historical discrepancies, some citing the ship being built on different dates.) 

SMS Wien
SMS Wien

However, at the start of WWI, the SS Wien was recommissioned, along with its two sisters, to work within the 5th Division AKA the German Empire. 

From 1914-1917, she was sent to modern-day Montenegro to fight French forces. Then, in August of 1917, Wien traveled to Northern Italy, where it was hit with two torpedoes in a sneak attack. She sunk in less than five minutes, after a 34-foot hole was blown into its boiler room. All of the ship’s 46 crew members were killed. 

The boat is salvaged

An initial rescue mission was planned by the Austrians 1918, but stopped by court orders. The boat was ultimately salvated by Italians in 1921 — after the war had ended.

Raised and renamed to Vienna, it was refurbished; little is known about its stint in peaceful times. 

But then in 1935, the ship was renamed once more to Po and converted to a hospital ship for WWI. (Some accounts say it was also a hospital ship as Wien, before converted for living quarters.) More than 200 passengers boarded the vessel at a time, being sent to various locations and offering a nursing staff at-the-ready.

Po was attacked once more, and was sunk on March 14, 1941 after being hit by a British torpedo. (It’s safe to say, torpedoes are not this ship’s friend). Hit at night, British pilots said they could not tell they were aiming for a hospital ship. Italian sources agree that, because lights were partially turned off, it would have not been recognized as a hospital ship. 

On board, 21 inhabitants were killed, with survivors making their way to shore. Among them included Mussolini’s daughter, Edda Ciano, who was a nurse with the Red Cross. She was rescued by another ship and went on to continue with the Red Cross until the fall of her father’s rule and the fascist regime in 1943. 

The fate of the ship

The second sinking proved to be the ship’s last. It still remains underwater near Albania, 35 meters deep. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what it took to be a U-boat ace in World War II

We’ve all heard of fighter aces. We’re talking legends like Robin Olds, Duke Cunningham, Pappy Boyington, James Howard, Jimmy Thach, and Swede Vejtasa. Germany had their own aces, and while Erich Hartmann and Adolf Galland are just some who attained immortality with their feats in the skies, others, like Otto Kretschmer and Gunther Prien, were renowned for what they did under the sea.


Kretschmer and Prien were both considered “U-boat aces,” and according to uboat.net, they were part of an elite group. Out of 498 men in World War I, and 1,401 in World War II who commanded U-boats, only a total of 71 men sank more than 100,000 tons of enemy shipping. The tonnage totals are eye-popping in comparison to American commanders, many of whom were rotated out of front-line duty to train new crewmen, similar to the policy used for ace fighter pilots like Thach.

America’s top sub skippers, like Eli Reich or Joe Enright, earned their notoriety on single missions. Reich sank the only battleship to be sunk by American submarines during the war, avenging fallen shipmates, while Enright holds the distinction of sinking the Shinano, the largest vessel ever sink by a submarine.

Germany’s U-boat aces pulled some incredible feats, themselves. Prien, for instance, earned his fame by sneaking into the British naval base of Scapa Flow and sinking the battleship HMS Royal Oak. 825 British sailors died when the Revenge-class battleship was hit by three torpedoes.

The first fighter ace of World War II was a Chinese-American flying for China
U-995, the only surviving Type VII U-boat in the world. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Kretschmer was the top-ranking U-boat ace of World War II, sinking 46 ships totaling over 274,000 tons of displacement. Compare that to the JANAC total credited to USS Tang (SS 306), Medal of Honor recipient Richard O’Kane’s command, which sank 24 ships totaling 93,824 tons of displacement.

The German U-boat aces were also survivors. All five of their top aces lived through the war, but one was accidentally killed by a sentry five days after the war, and another died in 1950, and of their top ten skippers, only Gunther Prien was killed in action during the war.

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