The B-36: The plane 'so good it never dropped a bomb in anger' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

There was a plane designed during World War II and completed just after cessation of hostilities that served for 13 years but was never called upon to fly an operational mission: the B-36. According to some, this is a sign that it was so successful at deterrence that no foreign adversary wanted to tussle with it. But it’s not that clear cut.


The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

The first B-36A sits next to a B-50 SuperFortress at Carswell Air Force Base, New Mexico.

(U.S. Air Force)

The B-36 Peacemaker was massive, weighing in at 278,000 pounds without bombs or fuel, but could tip the scales at 410,000 pounds when it had its 86,000 pounds of bombs and a full fuel load. And those 86,000 pounds of bombs could be made up of conventional or nuclear weapons.

The design phase for the aircraft began in 1941 when American leaders asked for a plane that could take off in the states, fly into Germany and bomb Berlin, and then fly back home. But the first B-36 prototype rolled out of a hangar six days after the Japanese forces surrendered, ending World War II. Its maiden flight didn’t take place until August 8, 1946, almost a year after the end of the war.

The final design had a wing span of 230 feet and featured six engines and propellers. These propellers were mounted on the back of the wing, pushing the aircraft through the sky instead of pulling it. At that point in history, it was one of the largest planes to ever fly.

The U.S. built 384 of them and the plane ushered in the era of strategic bombing deterrence, the idea that you could threaten an enemy with such wholesale destruction that they would instead opt to just not fight you. And, while it can’t be directly tied to this one aircraft, the B-36 did fly over a period of tense peace. It never once dropped a bomb in anger, possibly because it could carry large nuclear bombs and it could fly from Maine to Leningrad and back without refueling.

But it did drop bombs — both in training exercises and on accident. In February, 1950, a B-36 crew was forced to jettison their nuclear bomb near British Columbia after flames were sighted in three of their engines. There is a chance that the weapon was a dumb bomb used for practice runs, but it was unarmed either way.

In 1957, a B-36 crew accidentally dropped their Mark 17 nuclear bomb near Albuquerque, New Mexico. The conventional explosives in the weapon did explode, but the nuclear material, thankfully, did not.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

The NB-36 with a nuclear reactor onboard flies near a B-50 bomber. The NB-36 was a testbed plane created to one-day fly using nuclear power, but it used conventional fuel for all of its 47 flights.

(U.S. Air Force)

But the craziest part of the B-36’s career with nuclear material arguably came during planned experiments rather than an accident in flight. In 1942, one of the Manhattan Program scientists spitballed the idea of a nuclear-powered aircraft, one with a nuclear reactor instead of huge gas tanks.

Over the following 16 years, the Army and then the Air Force devoted increasing amounts of time and money to studying and then experimenting with the concept. In 1951, they selected the B-36 Peacemaker, the only aircraft large enough to hold the test reactor and the necessary cockpit modifications to protect the crew.

One B-36 was modified into the NB-36, the nuclear-powered bomber. While it flew 47 test flights and had a powered reactor for most of them, it only ever flew using conventional fuel as scientists and engineers studied how the reactor worked in flight. Advances in conventional aircraft design made a nuclear-powered bomber largely irrelevant, and the program was shelved in 1958.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

A YRF-84F fighter in flight with its parent B-36 Peacemaker.

(U.S. Air Force)

The bomber was big enough and strong enough to take part in the short-lived “parasitic fighter” concept wherein a massive bomber could take a fighter escort with it into combat.

The larger plane would head towards its target and, if it was spotted by enemy radar or fighters, would release a fighter from its belly. The fighter pilot would engage the enemy forces, breaking them up or destroying them before returning to its parent bomber.

The B-36 would then receive the fighter into its belly again and continue toward the target. The advent of mid-air refueling made the concept obsolete, and it also ended the necessity of larger bombers with larger fuel tanks like the B-36. After all, a smaller bomber with more conservative tanks could take off, top up on fuel just outside of the enemy air defense ring, and then pierce the airspace.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

A B-47B takes off using rockets to assist in generating the necessary thrust.

(U.S. Air Force)

So, the B-36 had a long and fairly storied career without once going on an operational mission against an enemy force. It gets a lot of credit for that, but it’s not actually the only aircraft to carry that distinction. The B-47 Stratojet and the B-58 Hustler were jet-powered aircraft with a similar mission to the piston-powered B-36.

They were all designed to fly from U.S. bases, drop big bomb loads, and then fly home. They were all nuclear-capable and they all went their entire careers without dropping a bomb on an enemy — but that alone doesn’t necessarily mean that they were or weren’t successful bombers.

While their strategic deterrence mission was important, they were unsuitable for a conventional bombing mission because they all had handling or speed issues that made leaders worried they would be too susceptible to being shot down. So, it’s not really that they were too good to need to drop bombs, it’s that they were too specialized for a specific deterrence to complete the operational missions.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

A U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer assigned to the 345th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, takes off during exercise Trojan Footprint at RAF Fairford, England, June 1, 2018.

(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Emily Copeland)

The modern B-1 and B-2 stealth bombers, on the other hand, have both served as nuclear-deterrent bombers but had the handling, speed, and stealth necessary to survive while dropping bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

In fact, the U.S. will likely turn to these modern successors to the B-36 in case of war with China, Russia, or North Korean, not for their nuclear payloads but for their value at dropping conventional bombs (the B-1 has been modified to remove its nuclear capability to comply with treaties).

So, toast the success of the B-36 and its peers — but don’t forget the modern bombers that rose above the forebears.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This insane law would force everyone who wanted a war to go fight it

In 1916, the people of the United States were not feeling good about the rest of the world. President Woodrow Wilson easily won re-election on the slogan, “He kept us out of war” as World War I raged on in Europe and elsewhere. The Mexican Revolution threatened to pull the United States back into conflict in the American Southwest. On top of all that, the U.S. military was a conscripted, third-rate power; a far cry from the professional, all-volunteer force that we enjoy today.

But it was almost an Army comprised only of those who wanted to go to war in the first place.


The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

Five months after his inauguration, we were at war. Just sayin’.

The Constitution of the United States says only that the U.S. Congress can declare a state of war. There are no formal rules for how and when the Congress can do so, only that they can. In one instance, the President signed the legislation for war, and in others, it simply passed as a resolution. In 1916, the Congress had only declared war three times: against Britain in 1812, Mexico in 1848, and against Spain in 1898. The American people were not looking forward to a potential war in Europe, no matter who was on the other side.

Especially a concerned group of citizens from Nebraska, who created legislation that would change how the United States declared war – and who would fight it.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

“Get in, loser. We’re going to liberate Belgium.”

This proposed amendment to the Constitution outlined the process of declaring war as a national referendum, a direct vote by American citizens, where the majority would decide if the country was going to war or not. If the war referendum passed, all those who voted in favor of the war would be enlisted to fight that war.

Folks in Nebraska were surprised by how much popular support their proposed amendment received. The petition to submit the amendment to Congress had so many signatures, scraps of paper had to be added after the fact to ensure they all ended up on the document. While deciding who fights a war is very important, declaring a state of war comes with many automatic legal triggers, many of which have likely kept Congress from declaring war in the past few decades. An official state of war has not been declared since World War II.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

That face you make when you can still use the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to bomb Southeast Asia.

While the rules for how the United States conducts itself in a declared war versus an undeclared use of military force vary greatly, the rules for who fights the wars do not. All American male citizens are required to register for Selective Service at age 18, but the draft has not been used as a means of military recruiting since 1973, and was finally ended by President Gerald Ford in 1975. Ever since, the U.S military has been an all-volunteer force.

The question that has come out of the formation of an all-volunteer military in the past few years is one of disproportionate representation. If only certain segments of the American population have to fight the wars of the future, is it easier for a political class to launch unnecessary wars if they don’t have to be personally affected by its manpower needs? Those Nebraskans might have had a good point.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Jeep: The necessity of innovation

Long before the development of JEEP prototypes, soldiers nicknamed a tractor that hauled guns as a JEEP because that’s all they had available to move equipment and soldiers. As the U.S. prepared to enter WWII, we were faced with a super slow logistics issue – mules, horses, and traditional battlefield movements were just too slow for the modern battlefield. Since U.S. military planners knew that eventually, the U.S. was going to have to get involved with WWII, they quickly realized that the only way to ensure a victory would be to revisit their approach to troop and equipment movement.


We had no guns or equipment 

The Army was ill-equipped to handle entering a global conflict, thanks in part to neglect, budget constrictions and typical Washington bureaucracy. Remember that for our role in WWI, we had to borrow howitzers from the French because we were so underfunded and had no arsenal or weapons stockpiles. It was just about the same setting for WWII, only with a greater sense of impending doom.

Horses and mules were just too slow 

Just like planners in WWI recognized that light infantry fire wasn’t going to win a trench war, planners in WWII quickly saw that the reliance on horses and mules to transport equipment was antiquated and slow.

WWI showed strategists that four-wheel trucks and motorized transports were not only faster at moving across the battlefield but could move troops and weaponry in and out with greater consistency. This not only could save lives, but it could save morale, too. After all, who wants to be stranded in the middle of a field somewhere?

A committee is formed

In true Army fashion, a committee was formed to study the “need” for light motorized transport vehicles that could support infantry and cavalry troops. The Army concluded that there were no vehicles available on the civilian market that could hold up in combat – nothing was durable and rugged enough to handle the terrain or the weight load of the equipment that needed to be moved.

The Army hoped to find a small go-anywhere recon scout car that might help deliver battlefield messages, transmit orders, and function as a weapons carrier. But the commission failed to locate a vehicle that could support the needs of the Army, so they turned to the civilian sector to see if any American companies could design this kind of vehicle from scratch.

In June 1940, 134 bid invitations were sent to companies that might be able to design the kind of vehicle that would suit the Army’s needs. The bid was on a short deadline, though, since we were fighting a war, and gave the companies just one month to come up with something. That’s tough even by today’s standards but almost impossible in 1940 before the computerization of draft work. Because of the short deadline, just two companies responded to the Army’s call – American Bantam and Willys-Overland. These were the only two companies still selling four-cylinder vehicles, and they both specialized in selling cars smaller than the (then) American standard size car. Both companies were relatively small and on the brink of bankruptcy, proving the old adage, “Necessity breeds innovation.”

Bantam gets the contract for a few weeks 

The drawings submitted by Willys-Overland weren’t nearly as comprehensive as the plans provided by Bantam Car Company. So Bantam was awarded the contract, and an order for 70 vehicles was placed. However, Bantam was such a small company that the Army worried it wouldn’t be able to meet the military’s needs once the war effort ramped up. So, while they loved the concept that Bantam presented, the Army ultimately sought out Ford Motor Company and reinvented Willys-Overland to rejoin the mission.

Both companies, Ford and Willy-Overland, watched the Bantam car’s testing and were allowed to examine the vehicle and the blueprints. Then, both designed their own vehicle based on Bantam’s designs.

Testing took forever but one company emerged 

All three companies submitted new designs, and their vehicles were tested over and over, with little tweaks made along the way. By the end of the trials, each company has a finalized design to submit for bidding. Ford called its vehicle the GP, Willys-Overland called theirs the Willys MA, and Bantam came up with the very original name of the BRC-40 and the MK II. In all, thousands of prototypes were built, tested, and discarded.

The prototypes shared the same military designations for a truck, ¼ ton, 4×4. No one knows precisely where the word “JEEP” comes from, but since all of the Army vehicles are General Purpose, and since soldiers love a good acronym, it’s more than likely that someone along the way slurred the GP into what we now know as JEEP.

In 1941, on being interviewed by a journalist about the type of vehicle he was driving, a soldier replied that it was a JEEP and the name stuck. Willys-Overland, whose vehicle the soldier happened to be driving, quickly trademarked the name. During the war, JEEPS were modified to operate in desert conditions, plow snow, and function as a fire truck, ambulance, and tractor. They were capable of laying cable, operating as generators, and could be reconfigured to become a small railroad engine. JEEPS were small enough to be loaded onto aircraft, could fit in gliders, and were a significant part of the D-Day invasion.

As we know them now, JEEPS are as much a part of military culture as they are part of regular driving vehicles. Who knew that their predecessors could have been reconfigured to be so useful for wartime battlefield operations?

Articles

The ‘Nightfighters’ attacked Nazis with empty rifles and grenades

In the final six months of World War II, the 104th Division — “The Frontier Division” — launched a series of night attacks against German troops while equipped with only empty rifles, bayonets, and grenades, slicing and exploding their way through enemy lines on the drive to Berlin.


The 104th Division was stood up in Oregon on Sep. 15, 1942, around the same time that its future commander, Maj. Gen. Terry “Terrible Terry” Allen, was loading the 1st Inf. Division into ships for the invasion of North Africa.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’
A 1st Infantry Division tank in Germany in world War II. Maj. Gen. Terry Allen left the 1st Inf. Div. to command the 104th Inf. Div., a unit which quickly proved itself after arriving in France in 1944. (Photo: U.S. Army Tech. Sgt. Murray Shub)

One of Allen’s big takeaways from commanding the 1st in Tunisia was that night attacks were generally less costly than daytime assaults, especially against fortifications and massed guns. So, when he handed the 1st over to Maj. Gen. Clarence R. Huebner and was sent to take over the 104th, he insisted that the Frontier Division learn to fight at night.

According to a 1946 news article about the Division, Allen required the men to train 30-35 hours a week at night, well above the Army standard of eight to 12 hours.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’
American troops march in the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. Tunisia was a formative experience for Maj. Gen. Terry Allen who took lessons from the battlefield there to the 104th Infantry Division. (Dept. of Defense photo)

After training in the U.S. and England, the 104th finally landed in France in September 1944 and was sent to Antwerp a month later to help capture the port there. In two weeks of bloody fighting that included multiple night assaults, the Timberwolves worked with the Canadians and British to eliminate Nazi defenses.

And some of those night assaults were conducted with only cold steel bayonets and the explosive fire of hand grenades.

Even when the “Nightfighters” had rifle ammunition and permission to use it, they seemed to prefer their bayonets and explosives, likely in a bid to reduce tell-tale muzzle flashes that would give away their position.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’
The bayonet has served the U.S. from the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan, but was especially useful in World War I. (Photo: U.S. Defense Visual Information Center)

During the Battle of the Dykes near Antwerp, then-1st Lt. Cecil Bolton tried to use mortars to knock out enemy machine gun positions raining fire on his unit. After being knocked unconscious by German artillery, he awoke and led a two-man volunteer bazooka team against the German lines by sneaking through chest-deep, nearly frozen water in the canals to the enemy positions.

The three men took out one position with grenades and an artillery position with the rockets, only using rifle fire to take out a sniper and machine gun position who spotted them before they could attack. Bolton was wounded a second time while returning to U.S. lines and was later awarded the Medal of Honor.

The night attacks were usually reserved for positions in relatively open terrain, but were sometimes conducted against cities. The city of Eschweiler was captured in November thanks to a pre-dawn insertion of troops into the city center. Those men raised hell inside German lines at sunrise while the rest of their unit attacked from the outside.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’
104th Infantry Division soldiers drive a captured German tank in 1944 after painting it with U.S. markings. (Photo: U.S. Army)

A midnight attack on Lucherbourg went south when the Americans were spotted immediately after crossing a river, but the men pressed on anyways, seizing four houses at the edge of town and holding them against enemy counterattacks, including armored assaults, all night and the following day.

Then-Maj. Gen. Joseph “Lightning Joe” Collins praised the men for their daring and success during the campaign:

The second phase, involving the crossing of the Inde River and the advance to the Roer, was even more difficult, but with characteristic skill and dash, in a series of brilliant night attacks, the 104th Division forced a crossing of the Inde, and in a few days had cleared its entire sector to the Roer River.  I regard the operation which involved the seizure of Lamersdorf-Inden-Luchererg as one of the finest single pieces of work accomplished by any unit of the 7th Corps since D Day.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’
German mortars fire towards American positions during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. (Photo: German Army Archives)

On Oct. 23, 1944, the division deployed to the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, the longest single battle in which America ever fought.

The 104th later took part in Operation Grenade, the late-February 1945 crossing of the Roer River and the drive into the heart of Germany as well as the March 22 crossing of the Rhine. Over the following week, they captured important strategic points like airfields and created blocking positions to stop the escape of Nazi units.

On April 11, the division arrived at Nordhausen, Germany, and found a German concentration camp with 6,000 survivors and 5,000 corpses. The inmates of the camp had been forced to manufacture V-2 bombs until the American approach forced the Germans to withdraw.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’
This is the underground facility in Germany where prisoners of the concentration camp near Nordhausen were forced to create V-2 rockets for German use against the Allies. (Photo: German Federal Archives)

On April 26, the 104th met up with Russian troops that had been pushing the Germans west from Moscow. The Allied forces continued to hunt German units until May 5 when they ran out of Nazis to fight. Thus ended 195 days and nights of continuous combat, some of it conducted at night against machinegun nests and artillery positions by attackers armed only with blades and grenades.

The Timberwolves were scheduled to take part in the invasions of the Japanese home islands as part of Operations Olympic and Coronet. The operations were made unnecessary by Japan’s surrender on Sep. 2, 1945.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’
A memorial plaque for the 104th Infantry Division in Arlington National Cemetery. (Photo: Tim1965 CC BY-SA 3.0)

The 104th is now a training unit in the Army Reserve. It still proudly carries the names “Timberwolves” and “Nightfighters.”

Articles

Who would win a dogfight between a Flogger and a Phantom?

Sure, we all know about the F-16 Falcon, the F-15 Eagle, the Su-27 Flanker, the MiG-29 Fulcrum… all those modern planes.


But in the 1970s and the early 1980s, the mainstays of the tactical air forces on both sides of the Iron Curtain were the Phantom in the west and the Flogger in the east.

The F-4 Phantom was arguably a “Joint Strike Fighter” before JSFs were cool. The United States Air Force, United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm, West German Air Force, and numerous other countries bought the F-4.

According to Globalsecurity.org, the F-4 could carry four AIM-7 Sparrows, four AIM-9 Sidewinders, and the F-4E had an internal cannon. The plane could carry over 12,000 pounds of ordnance.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’
Photo: Wikimedia

Like the F-4, the MiG-23 was widely exported — and not just to Warsaw Pact militaries. It was also sold to Soviet allies across the world — from Cuba to North Korea. It could carry two AA-7 radar-guided missiles, four AA-8 infra-red guided missiles, and had a twin 23mm cannon.

Globalsecurity.org notes that the Flogger can carry up to 4,400 pounds of ordnance (other sources credit the Flogger with up to 6,600 pounds of ordnance).

Both planes have seen a lot of combat over their careers. That said, the MiG-23’s record has been a bit more spotty.

According to the Air Combat Information Group, at least 33 MiG-23s of the Syrian Air Force were shot down by the Israeli Air Force since the end of 1973. Of that total, 25 took place in the five-day air battle known as the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. The total number of confirmed kills for the MiG-23s in service with the Syrian Air Force against the Israelis in that time period is five.

ACIG tallied six air-to-air kills by Israeli F-4s in that same timeframe (Joe Baugher noted 116 total air-to-air kills by the Israelis in the Phantom), with four confirmed air-to-air losses to the Syrians. That said, it should be noted that by the late 1970s, the F-4 had been shifted to ground-attack missions, as Israel had acquired F-15s and F-16s.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’
An air-to-air right side view of a Soviet MiG-23 Flogger-G aircraft with an AA-7 Apex air-to-air missile attached to the outer wing pylon and an AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missile on the inner wing pylon. (From Soviet Military Power 1985)

There is one other measure to judge the relative merits of the F-4 versus the MiG-23. The F-4 beats the MiG-23 in versatility. The MiG-23 primarily specialized in air-to-air combat. They had to create another version — the MiG-23BN and later the MiG-27 — to handle ground-attack missions.

In sharp contrast to the specialization of various Flogger designs, the F-4 handled air-to-air and ground-attack missions – often on the same sortie. To give one example, acepilots.com notes that before  Randy “Duke” Cunningham engaged in the aerial action that resulted in three kills on May 10, 1972 – and for which he was awarded the Navy Cross – he dropped six Rockeye cluster bombs on warehouses near the Hai Dong rail yards.

In short, if the Cold War had turned hot during the 1970s, the F-4 Phantom would have probably proven itself to be the better airplane than the MiG-23 Flogger. If anything shows, it is the fact that hundreds of Phantoms still flew in front-line service in the early 21st Century.

Even though the F-4 had retired in 1996, it still flew unmanned missions until this month.

The MiG-23 just can’t match the Phantom.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was Israel’s plan to go to war with Iran in 2011

For Israel, a simple threat was all the provocation necessary to prepare for war — even if that meant a first strike. After all, Israel did it to great success in the 1967 Six-Day War with Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Times were a lot more tense at this point for Iranian-Israeli relations (if you can picture that). The President of Iran, at the time, was the fiercely anti-Israel Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who infamously associated with the idea of Israel “being wiped off the map” and later described the Holocaust as a “myth.”

Israel doesn’t take kindly to this kind of talk.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’
Also, Ahmadinejad has the world’s most punchable face.

According to old Israeli spymaster Tamir Pardo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Israel Defence Forces to be ready to launch an attack on Iran with as little as 15 days’ notice. Pardo knew there were only two reasons to give such an order: to actually attack or to make someone take notice that your forces are mobilizing.

“So, if the prime minister tells you to start the countdown, you understand he’s not playing games,” Pardo told Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan.


The attack would have featured a large air force component, as evidenced by the fact that IDF fighter bombers engaged in a massive air exercise shortly after the anticipated order failed to come in. The Israelis would also have used its Jericho missile systems, a “bunker buster” that can be fired from Israel and hit targets throughout the Islamic Republic.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’
(IDF)

In the end, the Israelis didn’t go through with the attack because Mossad wasn’t 100 percent certain the attack would be legal – or that Netanyahu had the authority to take Israel to war without the approval of Israel’s security cabinet. This wasn’t the first time Netanyahu tried to take Israel on the offensive against Iran under his tenure. The previous head of Mossad and IDF Chief of Staff were also given the same order by Netanyahu.

They also pushed back against pressure from the Prime Minister, convinced he was trying to ignore Israeli law.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This woman landed under fire at Inchon with the Marines

Marguerite Higgins was a legend of the news media who went ashore with the Marines in the fifth wave at Red Beach at Inchon, South Korea, earning her the respect of ground-pounders and a Pulitzer Prize while allowing the general public to understand what troops were doing for America overseas.


The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

Marguerite Higgins, a war correspondent who landed with Marines at Red Beach.

(YouTube/womenshistory)

Higgins’ journalism career started when she traveled to New York with her portfolio from college, asked a newsstand guy where the closest newspaper office was, and stormed in with the demand that she be made a reporter.

That was in 1941. America was quickly dragged into the wars in Europe and the Pacific, and Higgins got herself sent to Europe where she wrote some of her most haunting work, describing the liberation of concentration camps during the fall of Nazi Germany. She braved shellfire in battle and wrote about what the soldiers around her suffered.

In fact, when she rushed to cover the liberation of the concentration camp at Dachau, she arrived with a Stars and Stripes reporter before the Army did. The German commander and guards at the southern end of the camp turned themselves over to the journalists, and those journalists had to let the prisoners know they’d been freed.

Her work in World War II was appreciated, but she hadn’t been sent overseas until 1944. When the Korean War began, Higgins was based out of Japan as the bureau chief of the New York Tribune’s Far East Office, and she immediately sent herself to the front.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

Prisoners are marched past an M26 Pershing tank in the streets of Seoul, South Korea in 1950.

(Department of the Navy)

She was there when Seoul fell to North Korea, but then the Tribune sent another war reporter and ordered Higgins back to Japan. Instead of leaving, she kept reporting from the front in competition with other journalists — including the other Tribune journalist: Homer Bigart.

Yup, she competed against other employees of her own newspaper. Though, in her defense, that just meant the New York Tribune was getting a steady stream of articles from two of the top war correspondents in the world.

Well, it was, anyway, until the U.S. passed a new rule banning female reporters from their front lines. Higgins protested, which did nothing. Then, she protested directly to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was then the commander of all U.S. forces in Korea. This proved to be much more successful.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

Newspaper article announces that ban on women war correspondents in Korea has been lifted.

(YouTube/womenshistory)

MacArthur sent a telegram to the Tribune saying, “Ban on women correspondents in Korea has been lifted. Marguerite Higgins is held in highest professional esteem by everyone.”

And that was great for Higgins, because her Pulitzer moment came a couple months later. Higgins got herself onto one of the largest operations of the war: The Army and Marine Corps landing at Inchon. The strategic idea was to threaten the interior supply lines of the Communists and to relieve pressure on troops that were barely holding the southern edge of the peninsula. She opened her article with:

Heavily laden U.S. Marines, in one of the most technically difficult amphibious landings in history, stormed at sunset today over a ten-foot sea wall in the heart of the port of Inchon and within an hour had taken three commanding hills in the city.

A little later in the article, she writes:

Despite a deadly and steady pounding from naval guns and airplanes, enough North Koreans remained alive close to the beach to harass us with small-arms and mortar fire. They even hurled hand grenades down at us as we crouched in trenches which unfortunately ran behind the sea wall in the inland side.

It was far from the “virtually unopposed” landing for which the troops had hoped after hearing the quick capture of Wolmi Island in the morning by an earlier Marine assault.
The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

Marines clamber over obstacles at Inchon, South Korea, during the amphibious assault there. Marguerite Higgins landed with the fifth wave of Marines.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

Higgins landed with the fifth wave of Marines. Her coverage highlighted the bravery of troops under fire, but was also critical of those who had sent forces in under-prepared or -equipped. In 1951, she wrote in War in Korea: A Woman Combat Correspondent:

So long as our government requires the backing of an aroused and informed public opinion it is necessary to tell the hard bruising truth. It is best to tell graphically the moments of desperation and horror endured by an unprepared army, so that the American public will demand that it does not happen again.

After Korea, she continued to search out chances to cover troops in combat. In 1953, she went to Vietnam to cover French forces and covered the defeat at Dien Bein Phu where her photographer was killed by a land mine. She got a pass to report from both sides of the Iron Curtain and covered the Cold War tensions as they rose in the early 1960s.

Unfortunately, her dangerous work eventually caught up with her. She returned to Vietnam to cover American operations there and, in 1965, she contracted leishmaniasis. She was sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the U.S. for treatment, but died on January 3, 1966, from the disease.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Confederate ship was one of the most successful of the war

While most of the Confederate Navy in the states was either penned up or quickly defeated during the Civil War, the Confederacy poured resources into blockade runners and commerce raiders that were successful, and few could even touch the CSS Alabama.


The Alabama was built in England, nominally as a merchant ship. British shipyards were allowed to build warships for the Confederacy early in the war as long as the ship buyers said they were for peaceful purposes and as long as no weapons were present when it was shipped.

But it was clear the Alabama was built for a fight. It had plenty of sails, like a warship or a merchant vessel would, but it also had a steam-powered paddle wheel. Merchant vessels had little use for these paddle wheels, but they allowed combatants to maneuver much better in a fight.

The Laird Brothers of Birkenhead launched the Alabama right as British forces cracked down on the illegal trade under threats of war from then President Abraham Lincoln. But as British troops rushed to seize the Alabama, it slipped up the coast in 1862, and the crew took on weapons before heading to the Azores to pick up Confederate Navy Capt. Raphael Semmes.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

Capt. Raphael Semmes, in the foreground, poses on his ship’s 110-pound rifled gun, its most powerful cannon.

(U.S. Naval Historical Center)

Once it was armed and properly crewed, the ship was a modern and lethal cruiser with eight cannons including a 100-pounder and a 68-pounder on pivot carriages so they could fire to either side. It also had a copper-plated hull, but copper plating, unlike “iron sides,” is more about protecting the ship from fouling and corrosion than from enemy shells.

The crew was composed primarily of men from the Southern states and England, but it had members from other European countries and even a few from Northern states. And once it got into the water, it started racking up kills and captures.

It started in the North Atlantic where it attacked Union shipments of agricultural goods headed to Europe, and then it headed south to prey in the West Indies. But then it slipped up to the Gulf of Mexico and directly threatened the Texas coast. When the USS Hatteras came out of Galveston, the Alabama captured the ship and crew.

Over two years of raiding, it sank and captured around 68 ships. But two years of sailing and combat had taken its toll on the ship. While the copper plating helped prevent some corrosion and fouling of the hull, it didn’t prevent all damage. And the engine needed maintenance and the ship needed resupply.

So, on June 11, 1864, the Alabama sailed into Cherbourg, France, for docking and overhaul. But the Union had dispatched ships to hunt it, and other commerce raiders, and the USS Kearsarge got wind that the Alabama was in Cherbourg.

On June 19, when the Alabama sailed out, the Kearsarge was waiting. And the French people came out to watch this little battle of the American Civil War play out on their coasts. In order to ensure French neutrality and safety, that nation’s government sent out an ironclad to make sure the fight stayed in international waters.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

A map shows the circular path of the Kearsarge and Alabama during their battle in 1864.

(Robert Knox Sneden via Picryl)

The Alabama fired the first shots, but the Kearsarge had chain armor, and the Alabama’s weapons and powder were degraded from seawater damage. The powder could not propel the shells as hard as it should have, and the shells were basically bouncing off the Kearsarge.

The two ships maneuvered on one another. The Kearsarge waited until the Alabama reached 1,000 yards before firing, and then the ships traded blows while trying to cross each other’s T in order to launch a broadside against the enemy’s bow.

This resulted in the ships basically sailing in a circle shooting at each other. The Alabama fired about 150 shots while the Kearsarge got off only about 100 shells. Still, with better powder and chain armor, the Kearsarge was able to quickly defeat the Confederate raider, sinking it in about an hour with a shot through the hull at the waterline.

The Kearsarge picked up most of the survivors, but Semmes and about 40 other sailors were picked up by a British ship and sat out the rest of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only Marine Corps Commandant without a portrait

The house of the Commandant of the Marine Corps is one of the oldest continuously-occupied buildings in the capital of the United States. Steeped in American history, the house was spared the torch when the British captured and burned Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. All but the first two Commandants have lived in the 15,000 square-foot house and, since 1916, all the historical occupants of the house were honored with portraits by order of then-Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

All but one, that is. There have been 37 Commandants of the Marine Corps but the house holds just 36 portraits.


The conspicuously missing spot belongs to Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, the fourth Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was the only Commandant ever to be fired from the position and the one with the fewest surviving records. No one knows what he looked like or even knows the location of his final resting place.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

This is not Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, this is Archibald Henderson, his successor.

Luckily for us, it’s not so much of a mystery anymore. The Marine Corps Association and Foundation’s Robert T. Jordan did an exhaustive work on the life of Lt. Col. Gale. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, around 1782 and his tenure as Commandant lasted from March 1819 until October 1820. In the decades that followed, Gale fell off the map. He’s seldom-mentioned in the annals of USMC history because the events surrounding his dismissal were said to have brought “embarrassment” upon himself and the United States Marine Corps. And so, he was pretty much lost to history entirely.

Until 1966, that is. General Wallace M. Greene Jr., the 23rd Commandant of the Marine Corps set up an investigation into the history of the Marine who fell from grace.

What was learned, however, was still very little. Anthony Gale arrived in the nascent United States in 1793. When President John Adams rebooted the Marine Corps (which was disbanded after the American Revolution), Gale was among the first to sign up as an officer. He commanded Marines guarding French prisoners of the quasi-War in Philadelphia and took to sea aboard the USS Ganges, where he fought Barbary Pirates and British sailors alike.

Gale cared deeply for his Marines and when a Naval officer, Lieutenant Allan MacKensie, arrested one of them aboard ship, Gale slapped the officer and challenged him to a duel — the duel that killed MacKensie. That’s not what got him the boot from the Corps, though. Superiors in Washington believed the duel would force Navy officers to treat Marines with respect.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

This is also not Gale. This is Maj. Gen. Charles Heywood, 9th Commandant and Medal of Honor Recipient.

His career continued, and soon he was married and saw service aboard the USS President and USS Constitution. By 1804, Gale was brevet Major Anthony Gale and his duties became focused on the recruitment and training of Marines. But soon, there was a new sheriff in town: Commandant Lt. Col. Frank Wharton took over for Commandant William Ward Burrows and Burrows looked at Gale with a much sharper eye than his predecessors.

Gale’s once squeaky-clean reputation soon became tainted by notes of alcoholism, sloppy management of the Marine Corps Barracks, and allegations that Gale used Marine Corps funds to renovate his personal home. Wharton took Gale to trial, but Gale was cleared of any wrongdoing. Still, Wharton sent Gale to the then-backwater of New Orleans – perhaps not the best place for a potential alcoholic, even in the early 19th Century. Still, when Wharton died in 1818, Anthony Gale was the most senior Marine Corps officer.

That did not mean he was promoted instantly.

No one forgot the charges filed against Gale, whether he was cleared or not. Others tried to have him removed from consideration to become the next Commandant. Gale was less concerned with the succession crisis and more concerned with keeping his head down and retaining his command. Even though he was not trying to be Commandant, that’s exactly what happened. He was promoted to Lt. Col. Commandant of the Marine Corps on March 3, 1819.

Gale had trouble with the position immediately. The Marine Corps became disorganized and undisciplined in the six months since Wharton died and he found himself spending more time fighting to re-organize it while the Navy Secretary and President Monroe would frequently counter his orders whenever it suited them — at the request of Gale’s subordinates. Overwhelmed and frustrated, Gale turned again to booze.

His mental state deteriorated as he became a drunkard, a womanizer, and verbally abusive toward his subordinates. Eventually, he was accused of drunkenness, conduct unbecoming an officer, signing false documents, and leaving his quarters without permission and was placed under house arrest. He was court-martialed and plead mental instability during the inquisition.

The court still found Gale guilty and removed him as the Commandant on Oct. 16, 1820, less than two years into his tenure.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

This is Maj. Gen. Ben Hebard Fuller, the 15th Commandant, who is both not Gale and consolidated the Fleet Marine Force Concept.

After being helped out of the service, Gale moved to his home in Philadelphia, but found no peace there. He eventually moved his family to a log cabin in Kentucky where he found that being a farmer was not in his blood, either. He turned back to his old friend, alcohol. He fought to be granted a pension for his instability, earning one 15 years later in what might be one of the earliest veteran disability claim suits.

According to Kentucky records found by the Marine Corps, Gale died of Lung Cancer in 1843 in Kentucky. A number of his sons also joined the Marine Corps, some of whom served in the Civil War. They apparently had no idea he served as Commandant, believing he was a quartermaster in the Corps. But Gale’s sons are also lost to history, so even if a supposed burial site is ever found, there’s no way to definitively prove it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A British Naval Officer captured Guam by getting the governor drunk, then lost it

John Anderson was many things: a skilled seaman, a ship’s surgeon and charming drinking buddy. All three of these qualities would help him seize control of the island of Guam, briefly, before ceding it back to the Spanish governor. 

He found himself on Guam after being convicted of breach of trust while serving aboard a ship in the Royal Navy. He escaped to the island, where he started a new life.

Once there, his only real behavioral issues came when in the port with fellow Englishmen. They would tip a few glasses and get proper drunk. He first first came to Guam in 1819 and liked it so much, he decided he would stay.

He eventually got married, had several children and began to work in the port of the Spanish-held island. One day he decided that maybe Spain shouldn’t control the island – maybe he could do a better job. 

Anderson and his fellow Englishmen there hatched a scheme that would leave them in charge of Guam. He would simply get the governor stinking drunk and take it by force. 

The plan began with ingratiating themselves to the ruling class of the island. Now going by the name Juan Anderson, he integrated himself and his colleagues into the inner circles of Guam’s most important people, eventually meeting the governor and earning his trust. 

By 1831, Don Francisco Villalobos, Spanish Governor of the Mariana Islands, appointed Juan Anderson as the Port’s Adjutant, acting with full authority of the Captain of the Port. He was also granted the honorific title of “Don” himself. 

The Mariana Islands are circled in red. (Wikipedia)

One night, they sat to have drinks with the Spanish Governor of Guam, Pablo Perez. After getting Perez “as drunk as a boiled owl,” the English took control of the palace, along with all the weapons and ammunition on the island. With possession of the island in their hands they began to celebrate.

They also had to decide who would rule as the new governor, a decision to which no one could agree. So the English did what good Englishmen do, and had a drinking contest. The last man standing sober would win the governor’s palace. The winner was Anderson, the expert-level drinker. 

But even Anderson was so drunk he couldn’t stand. With the Englismen passed out drunk, the Spanish calmly took back control of the situation, the palace, and the island. The English were subsequently tied up and arraigned for their treason, then sentenced to be placed on a raft and cast away at sea. 

Once convicted, their sentence was carried out right away and the men drifted around the Pacific Ocean for several days before coming ashore at Tinian island. They made the best of their new home on Tinian, but longed to return to Guam. 

The conspirators wrote a letter to the once-deposed Spanish governor pleading for forgiveness and expressing their regret for what they’d done. Governor Perez pardoned them with the condition that they swear allegiance to the Spanish government and the island of Guam and spend the rest of their lives as loyal citizens. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The surprising and resourceful ways people caught in the middle of World War II reused US military parachutes

Parachutes, manufactured and packed en masse during World War II to accompany Allied aviators on missions, had a very important job to do: open.

Lucky for me, my grandfather’s did. He was a 23-year-old US Army Air Corps pilot shot down over France a month before D-Day. He bailed out over central France, after his seven crewmates and moments before their B-24 Liberator exploded in the sky.


[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90add015ea4b4861024215%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=449&h=7ba71d3c80fa880cc60c5d5bdb034f49f3b56fac82857a5777d77877263ebc24&size=980x&c=3488510449 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90add015ea4b4861024215%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D449%26h%3D7ba71d3c80fa880cc60c5d5bdb034f49f3b56fac82857a5777d77877263ebc24%26size%3D980x%26c%3D3488510449%22%7D” expand=1]

Chest packs like the above were among the most common American parachutes.

Leo Kerns Collection/National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

They all hit the ground on better terms than their plane, thanks to their parachutes (and, in a longer story, they all survived their respective journeys through occupied France, thanks largely to French patriots and resistants who helped them).

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90add0b3b09269d37b0037%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=13&h=db9ae3923f8cbb515d13c69ab77881bcae54971ef8a4374016cd69357378cbb1&size=980x&c=1561412075 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90add0b3b09269d37b0037%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D13%26h%3Ddb9ae3923f8cbb515d13c69ab77881bcae54971ef8a4374016cd69357378cbb1%26size%3D980x%26c%3D1561412075%22%7D” expand=1]

The author’s grandfather, then-2nd Lt. Murray Simon, top right, and his crew.

801st/492nd Bomb Group/Carpetbagger Association

I never met my grandfather, but I have his “Caterpillar Club” membership and the packing log of the parachute that saved his life.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90add015ea4b48735607c8%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=532&h=debd8bd5aedf35b94104478b807693bc398306b46ace1c7cd955b742659cf4d9&size=980x&c=959347433 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90add015ea4b48735607c8%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D532%26h%3Ddebd8bd5aedf35b94104478b807693bc398306b46ace1c7cd955b742659cf4d9%26size%3D980x%26c%3D959347433%22%7D” expand=1]

Katie Sanders

And last May, I traveled to his crash site in Mably, France, for a beautiful 75th anniversary commemoration event. A Frenchman came up to me and explained that he’d been a baby in a village near the crash site during the war, and that his mother recovered one of the airman’s parachutes and made it into a swaddle and carrier for him.

He recalled converting the material into a hammock — a swing he played in even after the war, when shortages and hardship from the devastation of the battles, air raids, and Nazi occupation persisted throughout Europe. This is one of many examples of how people made use of the life-saving silk, canvas, and nylon canopy contraptions falling from the sky during World War II everywhere from France and Yugoslavia to Japan and the Philippines.

Here are more ways parachutes’ function and form extended beyond the time they hit the ground.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b18b0b3c9b54482529d3%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=229&h=e139a51ca63c4b2fd6a6d99014123c498f918043874e51f208a66021ebf44b48&size=980x&c=4089553157 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b18b0b3c9b54482529d3%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D229%26h%3De139a51ca63c4b2fd6a6d99014123c498f918043874e51f208a66021ebf44b48%26size%3D980x%26c%3D4089553157%22%7D” expand=1]

This nightgown, or “peignoir” — is made from parachute silk.

National WWII Museum

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b18b92e8ba646f07f844%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=620&h=19c4358ccf08f2bb9c6cbd4d3b239ed58b86aee7dced5c9b022921ccd683c376&size=980x&c=1744354423 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b18b92e8ba646f07f844%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D620%26h%3D19c4358ccf08f2bb9c6cbd4d3b239ed58b86aee7dced5c9b022921ccd683c376%26size%3D980x%26c%3D1744354423%22%7D” expand=1]

A silk shirt embroidered with dragon and floral designs.

National WWII Museum

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b18b15ea4b4a4245f34e%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=803&h=e66d7668e818a9328acea2d26b9fb01d90ba15b87b30567ab3a6786f70952f5e&size=980x&c=2180179455 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b18b15ea4b4a4245f34e%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D803%26h%3De66d7668e818a9328acea2d26b9fb01d90ba15b87b30567ab3a6786f70952f5e%26size%3D980x%26c%3D2180179455%22%7D” expand=1]

A woven purse made from US Navy parachute material in the Pacific.

National WWII Museum

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b18bb3b0926c3001a3c7%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=592&h=b6de609a6e5873424503321368da8ba88b2f5ec481a0616c85e21fbbdac7a74e&size=980x&c=1219595084 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b18bb3b0926c3001a3c7%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D592%26h%3Db6de609a6e5873424503321368da8ba88b2f5ec481a0616c85e21fbbdac7a74e%26size%3D980x%26c%3D1219595084%22%7D” expand=1]

A woven purse made from US Navy parachute material in the Pacific.

National WWII Museum

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b18bc023205cd71cdf64%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=176&h=98213b1b420d97d169de25755357e0a866392bca9b0b2dadff6a14f1d9230e36&size=980x&c=3906704242 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b18bc023205cd71cdf64%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D176%26h%3D98213b1b420d97d169de25755357e0a866392bca9b0b2dadff6a14f1d9230e36%26size%3D980x%26c%3D3906704242%22%7D” expand=1]

A woven skirt made from parachute material from the US Navy.

National WWII Museum

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b2120b3c9b544e6cd7ac%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=890&h=e9064f7324fd821033c7051287a793acaf857be9e0b55ecfd1239ac04fa00a38&size=980x&c=2467669507 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b2120b3c9b544e6cd7ac%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D890%26h%3De9064f7324fd821033c7051287a793acaf857be9e0b55ecfd1239ac04fa00a38%26size%3D980x%26c%3D2467669507%22%7D” expand=1]

This parachute silk became a light and airy quilt, with knots of yarn knitted throughout.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b53d8427e95d11712c12%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=34&h=c6fb73280d4d63f82a95195e4fa216c925aa372cc52a8720d94185b86d8f6a1b&size=980x&c=4137711426 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b53d8427e95d11712c12%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D34%26h%3Dc6fb73280d4d63f82a95195e4fa216c925aa372cc52a8720d94185b86d8f6a1b%26size%3D980x%26c%3D4137711426%22%7D” expand=1]

This silk camouflage parachute pajama sets came from the 17th Airborne Division.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b53dc0232060a608cf43%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=366&h=9de3deda73b309a326c36dc7a1a0479cde6f0454be7f4debac09bf2ad5467127&size=980x&c=2311443640 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b53dc0232060a608cf43%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D366%26h%3D9de3deda73b309a326c36dc7a1a0479cde6f0454be7f4debac09bf2ad5467127%26size%3D980x%26c%3D2311443640%22%7D” expand=1]

These silk camouflage parachute boxer shorts came from the 17th Airborne Division.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b53dc02320609e5eb384%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=434&h=669dfffa62f59e0c42652550a76fada596f856a61e76d3b1d1b0ab0f7ec23794&size=980x&c=111009151 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b53dc02320609e5eb384%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D434%26h%3D669dfffa62f59e0c42652550a76fada596f856a61e76d3b1d1b0ab0f7ec23794%26size%3D980x%26c%3D111009151%22%7D” expand=1]

Hilda Galloway and Robert Ellsworth Wickham at their wedding on October 14, 1945. Ellsworth Wickham flew 22 missions, including one bail out over France in January 1945. He gave pieces of his parachute to the doctors and nurses who helped him after he jumped.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b53d8427e95d13101232%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=633&h=ea8dd1b8263662f7adc8dbd57ab117c7760940017a4f1bd5b01304b098695d60&size=980x&c=173441280 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b53d8427e95d13101232%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D633%26h%3Dea8dd1b8263662f7adc8dbd57ab117c7760940017a4f1bd5b01304b098695d60%26size%3D980x%26c%3D173441280%22%7D” expand=1]

Galloway’s wedding dress.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b53d29d6d9651e6df0a2%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=613&h=be0da6917e3a28426d4d593c25dc3f5c6f331d3c636475258da0fc9e65b5798d&size=980x&c=1150158399 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b53d29d6d9651e6df0a2%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D613%26h%3Dbe0da6917e3a28426d4d593c25dc3f5c6f331d3c636475258da0fc9e65b5798d%26size%3D980x%26c%3D1150158399%22%7D” expand=1]

An American sergeant in the China-India-Burma Theater sent a white US reserve parachute to his mother, who sewed the nylon into a communion dress for his younger sister in 1944.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b53d0b3c9b56cb59cec5%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=545&h=5167f03a4fd9e4b2b729bcf2fabd3e8d64608f249c01b128329edb553a481dc9&size=980x&c=895470034 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b53d0b3c9b56cb59cec5%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D545%26h%3D5167f03a4fd9e4b2b729bcf2fabd3e8d64608f249c01b128329edb553a481dc9%26size%3D980x%26c%3D895470034%22%7D” expand=1]

Albert Williamson was a radio operator/gunner with the 384th BG/545th Bomb Squadron. On December 15, 1945 he married his longtime sweetheart, Ruth Glendinning, who walked down the aisle in this gown her cousin sewed using a parachute Williamson brought home.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2F5e90b5b9c0232060b311d410%3Fwidth%3D700%26format%3Djpeg%26auto%3Dwebp&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.insider.com&s=768&h=dbc9e0d7578c73820e7099196811941f94b99f36a2d924663f82ae3178859f63&size=980x&c=599988225 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252F5e90b5b9c0232060b311d410%253Fwidth%253D700%2526format%253Djpeg%2526auto%253Dwebp%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.insider.com%26s%3D768%26h%3Ddbc9e0d7578c73820e7099196811941f94b99f36a2d924663f82ae3178859f63%26size%3D980x%26c%3D599988225%22%7D” expand=1]

i.insider.com

So began a wave of wedding wear constructed from chutes brought back from war, including ones that fellow American women and men had sewn on the homefront and that had saved their and their enemies’ lives.

There was the commodity in and of itself, along with the meaning and specialness behind it. Used and surplus World War II parachutes were “a wonderful gift to pass along,” Kiser says.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

See the uniforms and kit that armies took to war in 1914

When World War I broke out in 1914, European armies rushed to war with the armies they had, not the armies they wanted to have. Some soldiers, lucky enough to serve in forces that had recently seen combat, were well equipped for an industrial war with camouflaged uniforms and modern weaponry.

Others shipped out wearing parade gear.


Historian Dan Snow made a video with the BBC that shows the common kit of British, French, and German forces at the start of the war. These are the items most of the forces wore during the chaotic first days of the war, from the Battle of Liege to the Taxis of the Marne to the first diggings of the trenches that would characterize World War I.

Germany, which had fought six wars of varying sizes from 1899 to 1914, was well served with modern weapons and uniforms, though Snow points out that their pointed helmets provided easy targets for enemy marksmen. Britain, similarly, had fought in the Boxer Rebellion and the Venezuelan Crisis, and their troops were wearing brown uniforms and modern kit.

The British even carried multiple bandages into battle, allowing them to quickly provide first aid for themselves and others on the battlefield.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

Historian Dan Snow models a German army uniform from World War I in a BBC segment.

(YouTube/BBC)

France, though, had been involved in only the Boxer Rebellion in the years leading up to the war, and their troops started the conflict in bright red pants and deep blue jackets, colors which likely added to the stunning number of French dead in the Battle of the Frontiers. France’s bloodiest day came during that battle as 27,000 soldiers died on August 22.

They were still wearing those uniforms when Germany nearly captured Paris and the French command was forced to commandeer taxis to ferry troops to the fighting during the Battle of the Marne. The French troops likely looked dashing riding the taxis to the fighting, but they still would’ve been better served with colors that provided camouflage.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

Historian Dan Snow models a French army uniform from early World War I in a BBC segment.

(YouTube/BBC)

As the war progressed, the uniforms changed. France was the first to add helmets, and they adopted a uniform cloth that would incorporate red, white, and blue threads. A lack of red dye — it was manufactured in Germany — made the resulting fabric light blue instead of purplish-brown.

Britain followed suit on helmets, using them to replace the cloth caps used at the start of the war. Germany began the wear with leather helmets, but the leather was typically imported from South America, and the British blockade forced the military to turn to other materials. In 1916, steel was adopted, a better material for stopping the shrapnel from exploding artillery and mortar shells.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

A model stands in a replica World War I U.S. Army “Doughboy” uniform.

(YouTube/LionHeart FilmWorks)

When the U.S. joined the war, it changed the color and simplified the cuts of its uniforms, allowing them to be produced more quickly and without the olive-drab dye which had been purchased from Germany until 1917. It also adopted British steel helmets as producing them in America ran into manufacturing slowdowns.

World War I was also when the U.S. adopted division shoulder-sleeve insignias, the unit patches nearly all soldiers wear today. Only three divisions — the 81st, 5th, and 26th divisions — made wide use of them during the war. Most other units only adopted them for general use after the armistice.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This battle in North Africa was Germany’s Dunkirk miracle

When German and Italian forces began to collapse in Sicily in World War II, it became clear that they could either fight to the last man or could evacuate the 100,000 men and gear to Italy to man a series of defensive lines that would cost the Allies years to conquer. They launched a massive evacuation as armored generals George Patton and Bernard Montgomery raced for their blood.


The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

The Liberty Ship Robert Rowan explodes after suffering multiple bomb hits during Operation Husky. The ship had been filled with vital ammunition that, when burning, was also volatile.

(U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, was not without its flaws and screw-ups, but the Allied troops tore open a gap on the beaches and then pressed themselves against the Axis lines, driving back German and Italian troops.

U.S. Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. and British Gen. Bernard L. Montgomery raced at the head of armored columns toward the port city of Messina on the island of Sicily’s east coast. Messina sat only two miles from the Italian mainland. If Germany had enough time there, it could ferry many of the 100,000 survivors to safety to fight again.

Germany had lost about 250,000 to capture in North Africa. It couldn’t afford six figures again, especially with the growing weakness of Italy as an ally. Mussolini was killed by crowds at home, and it was clear that Italian troops wouldn’t necessarily remain.

For weeks, German and Italian troops dug into the mountains, fighting delaying actions. On August 8, with the eventual collapse clear, Germany began secretly ferrying 60,000 Italian troops and about 40,000 Germans across to Italy.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

German troops and their British prisoners of war wait for the return of a ferry that would take them from Sicily to mainland Italy in August 1943.

(Bild Bundesarchiv)

The Allies knew by the next day that some sort of evacuation was underway. But just like how the Nazis failed to capitalize on the Dunkirk evacuation, so too did the Allies fail at Messina. Allied leaders remained focused on the ground fight. No ships closed the Strait of Messina, no planes took out the ports in Messina or mainland Italy.

This failure would come under scrutiny at the time and in the decades since.

Germany not only got approximately 100,000 Axis troops across, they were able to recover 2,000 tons of ammunition, 47 tanks, 94 heavy artillery pieces, and almost 10,000 vehicles, a massive success of sealift capability.

The B-36: The plane ‘so good it never dropped a bomb in anger’

Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., speaks with Lt. Col. Lyle Bernard near the city of Brolo on Sicily. As the sign in the back indicates, Messina is nearby.

(U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Of course, this made liberating Messina much easier than it otherwise would have been for Patton and Montgomery. But just like the evacuation at Dunkirk meant that Germany would have to face those troops later, the evacuation at Messina allowed Germany to reinforce itself in Italy.

This not only meant there were more German troops to kill in the defensive lines, but there were more German troops to hold Italy in the Tripartite Pact even as regular Italians wanted out.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information