This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

From November 1947 to December 1948, Camp Pine, which would evolve into Fort Drum, hosted the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division for Exercise Snowdrop. The exercise was the largest over-snow airborne maneuver that the Army had undergone at the time and was designed to validate equipment, logistics and tactics for airborne operations in a sub-zero combat environment like the one that the paratroopers would experience if the United States were to go to war with the Soviet Union. Sadly, not all of the soldiers that participated saw the exercise through to its end.

During Snowdrop, building T-2278, a two-story wooden building, served as an officer barracks. The building housed many WWII veterans like Lt. Robert Manly, Lt. Wallace Swilley, Lt. Rudolph Feres and Capt. Francis Turner. Swilley had earned two Purple Hearts during the war, and Feres and Turner each earned three Bronze Stars.

In the early morning hours of December 10, 1947, the officers in building T-2278 were awoken by thick smoke and loud shouts from the second-floor hallway. The shouts came from Turner, who was first alerted to the fire by the smoke at approximately 0230 hrs. “Turner could have escaped at that point, having done his duty to warn his fellow Soldiers, but he did not,” said Col. Gary A. Rosenberg, Fort Drum Garrison Commander. “Ignoring his own safety, Capt. Turner chose to remain in the building to ensure each officer heard his alarm and to help the wounded among them to escape. Only after every wounded man was out of the building — which by this time was completely engulfed in flames — did he turn his attention to his own safety.”

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
The burned-out of building T-2278 after the fire (U.S. Army)

Survivor accounts lead Army historians to believe that, after Turner ran through the building to alert his comrades of the danger, he attempted to jump to safety from a second-story window. Tragically, his wedding ring got caught on a nail in the window and Turner was left hanging amidst the searing flames. He was eventually rescued by Pine Camp firefighters, but was left with severe burns; nearly 90 percent of his body had suffered third-degree burns.

Thanks to Turner, six officers escaped the flames unharmed. In addition to Turner, four other officers were injured but managed to escape. Capt. Robert Dodge, Lt. Robert Manly, Lt. Wallace Swilley, and Lt. Rudolph Feres died in the building. While the other injured officers were treated and sent home, Turner had been so badly burned that he remained at Pine Camp hospital for treatment. After 18 days, he succumbed to his wounds.

Many factors contributed to the tragedy of the Pine Camp barracks fire. First, the roving fire watchman saw smoke but believed that the fire was in a different building. Second, the fire department took about 45 minutes to arrive on site. Third, two-thirds of the firefighters had less than three months of experience. Fourth, the barracks fire was determined to be a quick and violent “flash-fire” that burned rapidly and with very little notice. It took three hours, three fire engines, and 1,950 feet of water line to extinguish the blaze.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
The death toll would have been much higher if not for Turner (U.S. Army)

The cause of the fire remains a mystery. Duane Quates, an archaeologist with the Fort Drum Cultural Resources Branch, speculates that the fire could have been started by a faulty boiler or a careless cigarette. “This fire is the only structural fire on Fort Drum that had fatalities,” Quates said. “Every other structural fire may have had injuries, but they never had fatalities.” He also noted that the fire was a catalyst for modern fire safety measures like self-closing doors, permanent escape ladders, and heat raiser alarms.

On August 19, 1948, the four widows of the Pine Camp barracks fire sued the United States, claiming that their husbands’ deaths were the result of negligence due to a faulty heater. Their cases were dismissed by a Northern New York District Court judge who stated that the government was not liable for injuries that service members sustain while on active duty under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

The next year, Lt. Feres’ widow, Bernice Feres, brought her case before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Again, the case was dismissed. Feres persisted and, the next year, she appealed to the United States Supreme Court. The rulings of the previous courts were upheld and her case was dismissed again. This series of cases led to the controversial Feres Doctrine, which prevents service members from collecting damages for injuries sustained while on active duty and prohibits family members from filing wrongful death suits in the case of a service member’s death. To this day, service members and their families continue to challenge the Feres Doctrine.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Col. Rosenberg unveils the historic marker with Carolyn Leps and Elizabeth Barbee, Turner’s two surviving daughters (U.S. Army)

On August 27, 2013, Fort Drum dedicated a historic marker to the memory of the men killed in the Pine Camp barracks fire. Still, knowledge of the fire and Turner’s heroic actions are largely unknown. Years of historical research into the event continues today. Joseph “Sepp” Scanlin, the Fort Drum Museum director, says that the museum remains dedicated to its efforts for Turner to receive a military award for his actions during the fire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Christopher Lee: Film Legend and World War II Hero

Christopher Lee cemented himself as an icon of the silver screen. During his long and prestigious acting career he was in hundreds of films. His most notable roles were Dracula and later the Wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings. However, long before his acting career began, Lee had a lesser known, but just as impressive, career in the British Royal Air Force (RAF) and the British Army during World War II.


Lee enlisted in the RAF in 1940. He worked as an intelligence officer and specialized in decoding German cyphers. In 1943 Lee was seconded to the Army in an officer swap scheme. After this swap he served with the Gurkhas of the 8th Indian Infantry Division during the Battle of Monte Cassino.

There is little known about much of Lee’s time in service, as his records remain classified and he was “reluctant” to discuss anything to do with his service. Between the time he enlisted in the RAF and he was seconded to the Army, Lee was attached to the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), which was the precursor to the Special Air Service (SAS). When pressed about his time serving with the SAS Lee said, “I was attached to the SAS from time to time, but we are forbidden – former, present, or future – to discuss any specific operations. Let’s just say I was in Special Forces and leave it at that. People can read into that what they like.”

After his time with the LRDG, Lee was assigned to the Special Operations Executive (SOE). During his time with the SOE, he conducted espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance in the Axis occupied Europe. During his final few months of service Lee, who was fluent in several languages including French and German, was tasked with tracking down Nazi war criminals alongside the Central Registry of War Criminals.

When Lee described his time with the organization he stated, “We were given dossiers of what they’d done, and told to find them, interrogate them as much as we could and hand them over to the appropriate authority.” Lee retired from the RAF in 1946 as a Flight Lieutenant. Post retirement he was decorated for battlefield bravery by the Czech, Yugoslav, British, and Polish governments.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Flying Officer C. F. C. Lee in Vatican City, 1944, soon after the Liberation of Rome. (Wikimedia Commons.)

Not long after his retirement from the RAF, Lee began his film career. It wasn’t long before he proved himself as a true legend of the film industry. This legendary icon of the silver screen, Sir Christopher Lee, passed away in June of 2015 after a lengthy battle with heart problems. His loss was greatly mourned by those who knew him, and those who loved him through his prolific work on screen.

Sir Christopher Lee will always be remembered for his iconic roles in major motion pictures, it can be said that he was one of, if not the, most prolific actors in motion picture history. However, the life he led before his film career is one that should be remembered and celebrated as well. Though details remain unknown and classified, and he never truly spoke of them, his service during World War II was nothing short of heroic. The world will never know what men like Christopher Lee did during the war, but they are heroes nonetheless.

In an interview with a somewhat eager reporter, Lee showed his cheeky yet firm stance on the discussion of his time with the SAS during the war. He leaned forward and whispered to the reporter, “Can you keep a secret?” The interviewer replied with an excited, “Yes!” Lee smiled and leaned back in his chair as he replied, “So can I.”


MIGHTY HISTORY

This Islander helped recover the bodies of fallen Marines he’d hidden from the Japanese 60 years earlier

On August 18, 1942, U.S. Marine Corps Raiders assaulted Japanese positions on Makin Island (today known as Butaritari). The Raiders were a WWII-era elite unit trained for special amphibious light infantry combat. Their mission was to destroy Japanese installations and gather intelligence as well as divert attention from the landings on Guadalcanal. This small raid on a Japanese seaplane base was among the first American offensive operations of the Pacific War. It didn’t end well, and many of their bodies weren’t found for years.


 

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

 

The Raiders met strong resistance but killed a number of Japanese defenders, destroyed two ships, and took out two planes attempting to land in a nearby lagoon. All went well until it came time to be extracted via submarine. Mechanical problems and an unexpectedly strong surf kept 11 of the 18 extraction boats from beating the surf. Eventually, more would make it to the submarine but the raid would end with 18 Marines killed in action and 12 more missing. The raid failed to return any meaningful intel but it was a successful test of coastal raider tactics.

The Americans had to leave in such a hurry they were unable to take the bodies of the dead with them. They asked the Butaritari men on the island to bury the bodies of the dead so the Japanese couldn’t find them. Locals wound up burying the Marines after the U.S. withdrawal.

In 2000, U.S. Department of Defense search teams came looking for the bodies of the Marines because they received a tip from one of the then-teenagers who found the bodies on a coral island so long ago. Now an old man, he showed the search team where to look.

Survivors from the raid. Bodies of many others weren't recovered for years

Fifty-eight years after the last living Marines were extracted from the atoll by submarine, the graves of the fallen were found. The graves were dug with respect and were intact according to the burial customs of the Butaritari. They were still clothed, complete with helmets, rifles, grenades, and dog tags. Marines in full dress blues arrived via C-130 and carried the flag-draped coffins from an island airstrip to accompany the remains as they were repatriated to the United States.

 

As the Marines carried the 19 Raiders aboard, the old Butaritari man who pointed out the gravesite began to sing the Marine Corps Hymn. The man didn’t speak English or even understand what he was saying, but the Marines taught him the song as a boy and he remembered it 60 years later.

 

The first enlisted Marine to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II was Clyde Thomason, who was killed at Makin Island. Thomason was repatriated with the others in 2000 while 11 of his fellow Marines remain missing.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

MIGHTY HISTORY

The military origin of ‘turning a blind eye’ to something

There’s something to be said for aggressively pursuing the job you want. For British Admiral Horatio, Lord Nelson, that opportunity came at the Battle of Copenhagen when the famous admiral disobeyed the orders of a less-famous, less successful one in the funniest way possible.


Lord Nelson was arguably England’s most famous military mind, and without a doubt, one of its most famous admirals. By the time the British engaged the Danes at Copenhagen, Nelson had been commanding ships for more than 20 years and had been in command as an Admiral for nearly as long. But Nelson wasn’t in overall command of the British at Copenhagen. That honor fell to Britain’s Sir Hyde Parker, but Sir Hyde wasn’t as aggressive as Lord Nelson, certainly not aggressive enough for Nelson’s taste.

Until the Battle of Copenhagen, Parker was considered a very good commander, commanding Royal Navy ships for some 40 years in fights from Jamaica to Gibraltar. But Hyde was more of an administrator than a battlefield leader, sticking close to the rules of naval combat. This wasn’t a problem for anyone until 1801, when he ordered the Royal Navy at Copenhagen to disengage.

Nelson wasn’t having it.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Unlike Parker, Nelson was known to flaunt the doctrine of naval warfare at the time. He is famous for saying, “forget the maneuvers, just go straight at them.” Nelson was aggressive without being careless and had a sixth sense for the way a battle was flowing. From his ship closer to the fight, he could tell that the attack needed to be pressed. Parker was further away from the fighting, in a ship too heavy for the shallower water closer to Copenhagen. So when he was ready to disengage – as doctrine would have him do – he raised the flag signal.

Nelson is said to have put his telescope up to his blind eye, turned in the direction of Parker’s flagship, and allegedly said:

“I have a right to be blind sometimes. I really do not see the signal.”
This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Nelson knew the battle would go his way, and even though some of his ships did obey the disengage order, most of the frigates did not. The battle began to turn heavily in favor of the British, with most of the Danish ships’ guns too heavily damaged to return fire. Denmark would be forced into an alliance with the British against Napoleonic France and received protection from Russia. For his actions, Nelson was made a viscount, and Parker was recalled to England, where he was stripped of his Baltic Sea command.

MIGHTY HISTORY

76 years after WWII battle of Tarawa, the fallen are still returning home

The 18,000 Marines and sailors who landed on the island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll in the Pacific Ocean early on Nov. 20, 1943, waded into what one combat correspondent called “the toughest battle in Marine Corps history.”

After 76 hours of fighting, the battle for Betio was over on November 23. More than 1,000 Marines and sailors were killed and nearly 2,300 wounded. Four Marines received the Medal of Honor for their actions — three posthumously.

Of roughly 4,800 Japanese troops defending the island, about 97% were killed. All but 17 of the 146 prisoners captured were Korean laborers.


“Betio would be more habitable if the Marines could leave for a few days and send a million buzzards in,” Robert Sherrod, a correspondent for Time, wrote after the fighting.

The victory at Tarawa “knocked down the front door to the Japanese defenses in the Central Pacific,” Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander in chief of the Pacific fleet, said afterward.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Four Marines carry a wounded Marine along the cluttered beach to a dressing station for treatment after fighting on Tarawa eased.

(US Marine Corps Photo)

Hundreds were left unidentified and unaccounted for

Because of environmental conditions, remains were quickly buried in trenches or individual graves on Betio, which is about a half-square-mile in size and, at the time of the battle, only about 10 feet above sea level at its highest point.

Navy construction sailors also removed some grave markers as they hurriedly built runways and other infrastructure to help push farther across the Pacific toward Japan.

The US Army Graves Registration Service came after the war to exhume remains and return them to the US, but its teams could not find more than 500 servicemen, and in 1949, the Army Quartermaster General’s Office declared those remains “unrecoverable,” telling families that those troops were buried at sea or in Hawaii as “unknowns.”

Over the past 16 years, however, Betio, now part of Kiribati, has yielded some of the largest recoveries of remains of US service members.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

(Public domain)

That work has been led by History Flight, a Virginia-based nonprofit and Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency partner that’s dedicated to finding and recovering missing US service members.

“History Flight was started in 2003, and we’ve been researching the case history of Tarawa since 2003, but we started working out there 2008,” Katherine Rasdorf, a researcher at History Flight, told Business Insider on Thursday. “We had to do all the research and analysis first before we went out there.”

The first individual was found in 2012. That was followed by a lost cemetery in 2015 and two more large burial sites in 2017 and 2019, Rasdorf said.

In 2015, History Flight found 35 sets of remains at one site, including those of US Marine 1st Lt. Alexander Bonnyman, Jr., who received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle.

In July 2017, the organization turned over 24 sets of remains to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for identification.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Osteologists with History Flight excavate a grave site from the battle of Tarawa at Republic of Kiribati, July 15, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Melanye Martinez)

This summer, the graves of what were thought to be more than 30 Marines and sailors killed during the last day of fighting were found on Betio.

Those are the largest recoveries of missing US service personnel since the Korean War.

Using remote sensing, cartography, aerial photography, and archaeology, History Flight has recovered the remains of 309 service members from Tarawa, where the organization maintains an office and a year-round presence, Mark Noah, president of History Flight, told a House Committee on Oversight and Reform in a hearing on November 19.

Seventy-nine of those discoveries were made during the 2019 fiscal year, Noah said, adding that History Flight’s recoveries are 20% of the DoD’s annual identifications.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Archaeologists with History Flight excavate a grave site from the battle of Tarawa, in the Republic of Kiribati, July 15, 2019.

(US Marine Corps photo Sgt. Melanye Martinez)

“Many of them were underneath buildings, underneath roads, and houses,” Noah told lawmakers of remains on Betio, noting that they are often discarded, covered up, and accidentally disinterred — the first two Marines his organization recovered on Tarawa in April 2010 were displayed on a battlefield tour guide’s front porch.

Today, 429 servicemen killed at Betio remain unaccounted for, Rear Adm. Jon Kreitz, deputy director of the DPAA, said when at least 22 servicemen returned to the US in July.

Hero’s welcome for those returned home

Those discoveries have allowed the sailors and Marines who died at Tarawa to finally return home.

Joseph Livermore, a 21-year-old Marine private when he was killed by a Japanese bayonet on November 22, 1943, was given a hero’s welcome in his hometown of Bakersfield, California, where his remains were buried on November 15.

A thousand people lined the streets for Livermore’s return, Noah said.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Service members with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency fold flags on transfer cases on a C-17 Globemaster, in Tarawa, Kiribati, Sept. 27, 2019.

Pvt. Channing Whitaker, an 18-year-old from Iowa killed in a Japanese banzai attack on the second day of the battle, was buried with full military honors in Des Moines on November 22. His remains returned to the US in July.

Other Marines killed at Tarawa who were recovered after the battle have also been identified in recent months.

In History Flight’s experience, more than 50% of those recovered had living brothers, sisters, and children at their funerals, Noah told lawmakers this week.

“The recovery of America’s missing servicemen is a vital endeavor for their families and for our country. What we are accomplishing in recovering the missing is putting a little bit of America back into America,” Noah said.

An island nation ‘facing annihilation’

While hundreds of servicemen likely remain on Betio, environmental conditions there may soon make finding them even harder.

Kiribati, one of the most isolated countries in the world, is also one of many Pacific Island nations likely to be unlivable in a few decades due to the effects of climate change.

More than half of Kiribati’s nearly 120,000 residents live on South Tarawa, just east of Betio. Rising sea levels are a particular threat to densely populated country. Exceptionally high tides and sea-water incursions threaten the fresh water under the atolls.

Many of the graves located by History Flight are below the water table, meaning workers had to pump water from the sites each day to excavate.

“When it’s rainy season, it’s very difficult to do archeology, because the locations fill with water and we have to come up with drainage solutions that are not impacting the highly populated areas and … reroute [the water] to places where it’s not infringing on their clean drinking water,” Rasdorf said.

On the whole, History Flight’s day-to-day work has not been greatly affected by changing environmental conditions, Rasdorf said, but others in Kiribati have called for drastic action in response to the threat of climate change.

Anote Tong, Kiribati’s president from 2003 to 2016, bought nearly 8 square miles of land to potentially relocate to in Fiji, about 1,200 miles away from Kiribati, for nearly million in 2014.

His purchase was decried by some as a boondoggle and alarmist, and his successor took office in 2016 planning to shift priorities and making no plans for people to leave. But Tong continues to sound the alarm.

“The Republic of Kiribati,” Tong said in an op-ed he coauthored last year, “is facing annihilation.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the ‘Oscar’ was overshadowed by the Japanese ‘Zero’ in WW2

The Mitsubishi A6M Zero is one of the great warplanes of all time. It certainly got a lot of press as the primary fighter the Americans faced in the great carrier battles in the Pacific Theater.


That being said, it wasn’t Japan’s only fighter. In fact, the Japanese Army had its own front-line fighter.

The Nakajima Ki-43 Oscar first took to the skies in 1941, about six months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was intended to replace the Nakajima Ki-27 Nate, an earlier monoplane fighter.

 

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
A Nakajima Ki-43-IIa Oscar. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

In some respects, the Japanese Army was much smarter with the Oscar than the Japanese Navy was with the Zero. MilitaryFactory.com notes that the Ki-43 was continually improved during the war. The Ki-43-Ia started out with two 7.7mm machine guns, but by the time the Ki-43-Ic emerged, that had changed to two 12.7mm machine guns.

Later versions, like the Ki-43-II and Ki-43-III, were constantly improved with things like self-sealing fuel tanks and armor to protect the pilot. The Zero never saw those improvements until it was far too late to affect the outcome of battles like the Marianas Turkey Shoot.

 

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
A Nakajima Ki-43-III-Ko Oscar takes off as young girls wave. The plane was sent on a kamikaze mission against the American fleet off Okinawa. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

Ultimately, over 5,900 Ki-43s were produced. After World War II, they saw action with the Chinese, French forces in Indochina, North Korean forces, and even with Indonesian rebels. The plane turned out to be a solid ground-attack plane, capable of carrying two 250 kilogram bombs.

Below is a Japanese newsreel showing Ki-43 Oscars in action.

Articles

Why this Green Beret was nominated for three Medals of Honor but only got one

Robert Howard may have spent more time in Vietnam than any other soldier and he has the wounds to prove it. For an astonishing 54 full months, the Special Forces soldier slugged it out with any number of North Vietnam’s finest, receiving 14 wounds.

He also received a battlefield commission, eight Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star and four Bronze Stars. To top it all off, he also received the Medal of Honor. Robert Howard was the most decorated soldier since Audie Murphy in World War II.

He should have topped Murphy by becoming the first-ever three-time Medal of Honor recipient, but it could never have been. Some say he really is the most decorated soldier ever produced by the Army. The problem is that most of Howard’s war was classified. 

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Then Sgt. 1st Class Robert L. Howard carries a North Vietnamese Army prisoner of war (U.S. Army)

Howard spent 36 years in the United States Army, first enlisting in 1956. He arrived in Vietnam in 1967, and his first 13 months were a doozy. It was this initial time period that Howard was nominated for the Medal of Honor three times. 

It’s easy to realize why he was put in a position to earn the Medal of Honor three times. As a member of Army Special Forces, he was assigned to the top secret Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG). The classified command participated in the war’s most important and prominent operations.

It also participated in the war’s least prominent operations, especially those conducted in Laos and Cambodia. The top secret operations that put Howard in the position of being nominated for three Medals of Honor would be the reason two of them were downgraded to a Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross, respectively.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Then-Capt. Robert Howard is awarded the Medal of Honor by Pres. Richard M. Nixon, during a March 2, 1971, ceremony at the White House. (U.S. Army)

While leading a mission of American and South Vietnamese soldiers looking for the missing soldier Robert Scherdin, his platoon was attacked by two companies of enemy troops. Howard was unable to walk and his weapon had been destroyed by a grenade. He still managed to crawl through a hail of gunfire to rescue his platoon leader.

He dragged the downed officer back to the American-South Vietnamese unit and reorganized it to put up a stiff defense against an overwhelming enemy. Unable to fight, he still directed the unit and crawled around administering first aid to the wounded. Under his direct leadership, they were able to fight until rescue helicopters could land. 

Howard was the last person to get aboard the helicopters and was awarded the Medal of Honor. He learned about his award via radio on his way back from another mission in Cambodia. Since his other two medal recommendations were based on classified missions into Cambodia, which is the reason many believe they were downgraded. 

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Then-Maj. Robert Howard was present in 1982 at the dedication of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C. (U.S. Army)

If it bothered Howard that his two other medal recommendations were downgraded, you’d never know it. He spent four and a half years fighting in Vietnam and 36 total years in the U.S. Army in some form. After retiring from the Army in 1992 (as Col. Robert L. Howard), he continued working with veterans and would even visit American troops stationed in Iraq until his death in 2009. 

Robert L. Howard died of pancreatic cancer and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Fellow Soldiers pay their respects to Medal of Honor recipient Col. Robert L. Howard, who was buried Feb 22, 2010 in Section 7A of Arlington National Cemetery. (U.S. Army)
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time infantry captured a Nazi train filled with lingerie

In August 1944, the successes of D-Day were in the rear-view mirror and American troops were engaged in the long slog to Berlin. One group of American soldiers got a surprise when, while chasing German soldiers east, they captured a military train only to find that sections of it were filled with lingerie, perfume, and other treats.


This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

(Chris Tingom, CC BY 2.0)

After Allied troops took the beachheads at D-Day, there were optimistic predictions that they could take Berlin by Christmas. But it wasn’t to be. It took weeks just to fight through the hedgerows of Normandy, and Germany stiffened its resistance everywhere possible.

Free French forces, resistance members, and British and American units maneuvered east, trying to keep as much pressure on German troops as they could.

As the line shifted east, German troops would burn supplies they were abandoning, but tried to keep vehicles, especially tanks, in good working order, so they could use them to kill American and other Allied soldiers. So the attackers quickly learned to seize as much as they could whenever possible.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

German armored troops roll through Denmark in April 1940.

(Danish Ministry of Defence)

As June ground into July and then August, the push east accelerated. Paris was liberated and, on August 26, Free French General Charles de Gaulle led a parade into the city.

About that time, the 3rd Armored Division was pushing to Soissons, a city 55 miles northeast of Paris. German soldiers pulling back were using railroads to quickly move equipment but, according to a story in Stephen E. Ambrose’s book Citizen Soldiers, one unit had overestimated how long it had to load onto the train and get going.

When U.S. troops arrived, they saw a train preparing to roll out with tanks and armored vehicles loaded onto it. Every armored vehicle that escaped would need to be killed in eastern France, Belgium, or Germany. The train had to be stopped.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

U.S. troops fire their machine gun during battle in Aachen, Germany.

(U.S. Army)

U.S. tanks and half-tracks opened fire as machine gunners and mortarmen rushed into position. Most of their rounds were bouncing off the German armor, but the sheer volume of fire was keeping German drivers and crew out of their vehicles, allowing American troops to keep the upper hand.

Most of the Germans who stayed to fight were killed or captured, and those who escaped into the woods were rounded up by the French resistance. The Germans had dallied too long, and now the train belonged to the U.S. troops.

When they began assessing their find, they were surprised to find little ammunition, medical supplies, or food, all materiel that they needed. Instead, the Germans had loaded the train with candy, women’s lingerie, and lipstick.

It appeared that the German soldiers had raided French shops and, when it came time to run, had prioritized gifts for girlfriends and family over packing or destroying their own supplies, getting a faster exit to save the vehicles, or even just absconding with their lives and arms.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

A woman writes a message on a U.S. tank in Belgium

(U.S. Army)

Their mistake was U.S. gain. The 3rd Armored took the vehicles, other U.S. troops seized millions of pounds of beef, grain, flour, coal, and more. Many items were given to the French public to alleviate shortages caused by Nazi occupation, but other items were pressed into the war effort to keep American troops moving.

Ambrose doesn’t reveal what happened to the love train’s more romantic contents, but it’s likely that some of it made it back to the states in reverse care packages, but most of it probably stayed right there in France, consumed by the people lucky enough to get their hands on it.

Articles

This famous pilot flew 50 combat missions as a civilian

Charles Lindbergh, America’s most famous pilot at the time, went on a tour of Pacific aviation bases during World War II and secretly flew approximately 50 combat missions where he actively engaged Japanese planes and was almost shot down despite the fact that he was civilian with no active military affiliation.


Lindbergh had become a pilot in a roundabout way. He took flying lessons in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1922 but didn’t progress to solo flight. Instead, he joined a barnstorming show that summer and worked as an aerial daredevil, walking on plane wings and parachuting off.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Cadet Charles Lindbergh graduates from the Army Aviation Cadet Program.He later rose to the rank of colonel in the Army Reserve. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The next April, he bought a surplus Curtiss JN-4 biplane still in the box, put it together, and tried to fly it. He nearly crashed it soon after takeoff and damaged the wing while landing a moment later. An experienced pilot saw his struggle and offered him a few quick lessons. That afternoon, Lindbergh made a safe solo flight.

He progressed quickly and became an Army Air Reserve pilot and a U.S. Mail Service pilot.

Then, in 1927, Lindbergh took the flight that made him famous. He took off from New York City in a specially modified monoplane and flew for 33.5 hours to Le Bourget Field near Paris in the first solo transatlantic flight.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis in the first solo flight across the Atlantic. (Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum)

From that day, Lindbergh was known as the “Lone Eagle.” He was awarded the Medal of Honor and the first Distinguished Flying Cross and went on a 48-state tour of America (Alaska and Hawaii were not yet states).

Lindbergh was, unsurprisingly, well-liked in the Army Reserve and promoted, reaching the rank of colonel by the 1930s. But he became friendly with the leaders of Nazi Germany, accepting a Service Cross of the German Eagle from Hermann Goering and championing an “America First” policy that would have seen the U.S. sign a neutrality pact with Adolph Hitler.

In the public fallout that followed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt attacked Lindbergh in the press and Lindbergh resigned his commission in the Army Reserve in 1941. He came to regret the decision that December when he was barred from re-entering the service for World War II.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
The Pearl Harbor attacks propelled America into World War II. Charles Lindbergh was not allowed to return to military service because of enduring questions about his loyalty to the U.S.  (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Unable to fly as a military pilot, Lindbergh got himself a job working for Chance Vought Aircraft, touring Pacific bases and suggesting ways that military pilots could get the most out of their machines, especially when it came to conserving fuel for long flights.

It was during this tour of the Pacific that Lindbergh began suggesting to the services that he be allowed to participate in combat.

The Marines took him up on the offer first and Lindbergh went on a combat patrol, escorting bombers to Rabaul, Papa New Guinea, in a Corsair fighter. Lindbergh did everything the Marine normally in his spot would have done, including strafing Japanese ground targets.

He flew another 13 missions with the Marines before heading to an Army air unit that flew P-38 Lightings.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
The P-38 Lightning was the premiere twin-engine American fighter in World War II. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum)

The parent company of Chance Vought was looking to produce a twin-engined fighter and the P-38 was the premiere twin-engine of the day. Lindbergh pitched that flying with the squadron would allow him to suggest fuel-saving measures and he would be able to evaluate the P-38 design.

He joined the 475th Fighter Group on June 27 and flew five missions before the brass got wind of his presence.

Army Gen. George C. Kenney initially protested Lindbergh’s presence and was considering expelling him until Lindbergh suggested that he could get the P-38’s combat radius from 570 miles to approximately 700 miles while maintaining a 1-hour time on target.

Kenney relented with the stipulation that Lindbergh not fire his guns. Lindbergh promptly ignored the rule but did work on how to best milk every possible mile out of the P-38’s tank without risking the engine.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh with Maj. Thomas B. McGuire. (Photo: U.S. Air Force archives)

On July 28, 1944, Lindbergh scored his only aerial victory, downing a Japanese fighter in head-to-head flight during a bomber escort mission. The next week, Lindbergh found himself in the crosshairs as a Japanese Zero nearly shot him before one of the American aces in his group killed the Japanese plane with a machine gun burst.

Kenney heard of both Lindbergh’s kill and his near miss and ordered him grounded. Lindbergh left the 475th, but its pilots had already learned his lessons and were able to extend their combat radius to 700 miles, allowing them to protect more American bombers.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
The Corsair was predominantly used as an aerial fighter in World War II and was armed with machine guns. But work by Charles Lindbergh and others allowed it to carry a wider array of munitions, including rockets and bombs, as the war continued. It would later see service in Korea. (Photo: U.S. Air and Space Museum.)

On his way home, Lindbergh detoured to visit Marine Corsair units and helped them devise the best way of carrying bombs on the Corsair. He began with a single 1,000-pound bomb but worked his way up to a 2,000-pounder under the fuselage and a 1,000-pound bomb under each wing.

On at least some of these trials, Lindbergh dropped the bombs on Japanese forces bypassed by the American island-hopping strategy. So Charles Lindbergh, a civilian, flew dozens of flights as a bomber, a fighter escort, and in a ground attack role in just a few months, April to September 1944.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch this: First nuclear reactor explosion took 4 milliseconds

The SL-1, short for Stationary Low-Power Reactor Number One, was a nuclear power reactor located about 40 miles from Idaho Falls, Idaho. SL-1 was just one of many experimental nuclear power plants the Army built. Most of the reactors were off in the middle of nowhere, away from people. Not the SL-1. In fact, it was just forty miles from a major town, Idaho Falls. A steam explosion and meltdown of the SL-1 tragically killed three of the plant operations. It’s the only nuclear reactor accident in the US to cause immediate fatalities. It ended so badly but it started out with high hopes. The first fatal nuclear reactor accident in America took just four milliseconds to happen.

How the SL-1 began

Shortly after the end of WWII, we started looking for ways to make more weapons (of course). We also started looking at ways nuclear reactors could help fuel the country. Everyone was doing it and Russia and the UK were leading the way. So we needed to catch up – and fast. The Army quickly assemlbed teams and we constructing nuclear power plants all over the place.

At the time, Arctic nuclear reactors used diesel generators for power. But the Army thought they had a more effective and efficient alternative. So, the idea was to create a low-power reactor that was simple, reliable, easy to build. Oh, and it also needed to be functional in the harsh climate of the Arctic.

Enter the SL-1.

On December 2, 1958, the plant officially opened. A protective 15-meter-high quarter-inch steel cylinder housed the reactor. Just to be safe, it was embedded in gravel at the ground-level.

Inside of a nuclear reactor without fuel
The inside of a nuclear reactor just *looks* dangerous.

Not all things nuclear follow with disaster, but some do…

Here’s the thing to keep in mind. The SL-1 was built as an experiment. It was supposed to be a prototype for America’s introduction to nuclear power. And it was also supposed to serve remove military facilities in cold weather conditions.

For a few years, everything went great. SL-1 hummed along, worked well, and even powered the town.

That all changed when it was shut down for routine maintenance on December 21, 1960.

Then, on January 3, 1961, a group of three operators, two Army Specialists and a Navy CB, prepared the nuclear reactor for its return to operation.

Well, we all know that anything involving nuclear power has the potential for disaster, and unfortunately, disaster struck that day. One of the Army Specialists withdrew the central control rod of the nuclear reactor much too far, resulting in a steam explosion that caused the reactor to lift over two meters into the air. The explosion impaled the supervising Navy CB to the ceiling, and a high-pressure spray of radioactive stream water hit the other two men. The impaled Navy CB and one Army Specialist were killed instantly, while the other died not long after.

This all happened within a matter of seconds after the withdrawal of the central control rod. Thankfully, the remote location of the nuclear reactor in the high desert of Idaho saved the accident from having a lot more serious radioactive consequences on surrounding communities.

The true cause of the accident will forever remain a mystery

While some suspected suicide or even suicide-murder because of possible bad blood between two crew members, the most likely cause of the disaster was much less dramatic. The reactor was known to have sticky control rods, so it is reasonable to assume the Army Specialist accidentally pulled the rod out too far, immediately triggering the explosion. These are just theories, however. The true cause we’ll never know.

After analyzing the incident, the Army made two very wise decisions. One was to abandon the reactor’s design. The other was to ensure that one small error with a control rod would not leave a nuclear reactor in critical condition ever again.

Related: This is why there’s no Cold War Medal

MIGHTY HISTORY

How women served in the Navy and Marines during WWII

The United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was authorized by Congress and signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on July 30, 1942. Like their female counterparts servicing in other branches of the military, the primary function of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was to release men for combat duty. The jobs available to them were also very similar. Members served in occupations classified as professional, semi-professional, clerical, skilled trades, services, and sales. While over 200 job categories were made available to members of the Women’s Reserve, over half of members worked in clerical positions. Only Caucasian and Native American Women were accepted into service, the Marine Corps barred African American and Japanese American women from its ranks.


At its height, the Women’s Reserve had recruited more than 17,000 members. As was discussed in Part I, the military used a variety of tactics to recruit female members. Films such as Lady Marines, were used to provide a look at the life of a female military recruit in an effort to make new recruits more comfortable with the process. The film, shot at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, follows a class of recruits from their arrival, to graduation, highlighting their training and job opportunities.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

The United States Navy also recognized the importance of allowing females to serve in their ranks. The United States Naval Reserve (WAVES), was established and signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on July 30, 1942, the same day the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Women were accepted into the WAVES as commissioned officers as well as at the enlisted level in order to release men for sea duty. They served at 900 shore stations in the United States and included over 85,000 members. While primarily comprised of white women, 74 African-American women were allowed to serve during the program’s existence.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

The color film, WAVES at Work, highlights the variety of jobs made available to members of the WAVES. Women wanting to serve in the medical, clerical, communication, and culinary fields were able to do so as a member of the WAVES. One of the most interesting jobs highlighted in the film is that of the Air Controlman. Those serving in this capacity would direct planes and ground crews from a control tower at naval air stations.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy

Both films, Lady Marines and WAVES at Work, touch on the values discussed in Part I femininity, benefits of joining the military, and the importance of the work needing done. These films also make it a point to highlight the opportunities made available to women in the military. Female recruits were provided with job training in non-traditional areas, training that was not widely available to their civilian counterparts . You can view both films in their entirety below.

This article originally appeared on The National Archives. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Marine division never set foot in the United States

When American military units are established or disestablished, it’s usually done on American soil. There are exceptions, but, for the most part, it is done in the United States. But one Marine division has the distinction of never setting foot in the United States for the duration its service.


During World War II, the Marine Corps underwent a massive expansion. The 1st Marine Division was established in February of 1941. Eventually, the Marines grew to six infantry divisions (today, there are four – three active and one reserve). Five were formed in the United States, but the 6th Marine Division was formed on the Pacific island where Marine legends, like John Basilone, made their mark on history – Guadalcanal – on September 7, 1944, a little over two years after the invasion of that island.

 

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Marines from the 6th Marine Division on a patrol during the Battle of Okinawa. (USMC photo)

The division trained until it was sent to help take the island of Okinawa from Japan. The Japanese troops on that island didn’t give up easily. The battle spanned almost three months, leaving 12,520 Americans dead, including Lieutenant General Simon Buckner. Over 110,000 Japanese troops and at least 40,000 civilians were killed during the fighting.

During the fight for Okinawa, five Marines and one sailor with the 6th Marine Division were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions. The entire division was recognized with the Presidential Unit Citation. After Okinawa, the division was pulled back to Guam in order to prepare for the invasion of Japan — on an American territory, but not in the United States. Soon thereafter, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and forced Japan’s surrender. The division was instead sent to Tsingtao, China, where it was disestablished in 1946.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
With the captured capital of Naha in the background, Marine Maj. Gen. Lemuel Shepherd, commanding general of the 6th Marine Division, relaxes on an Okinawan ridge long enough to consult a map of the terrain. (Marine Corps)

 

Today, the 6th Marine Division remains inactive. To learn more about what their courageous actions on Okinawa, watch the video below.

Articles

This Wild Weasel didn’t want Desert Storm to be like Vietnam

Long before the first bombs fell on Baghdad Jan. 16, 1991, the man who would be in charge of one of the most effective air campaigns in history was hearing whispers from another war.


Then-Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner, who, as a young captain, flew Wild Weasel missions attacking radar sites during two tours in the Vietnam War, was determined to avoid the same strategic mistakes in the Persian Gulf that plagued the U.S. military in Southeast Asia. Fortunately, his boss – Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf – and other military leaders executing Operation Desert Storm had Vietnam, and the hard lessons learned there, in their memories, as well.

An oil storage tank at a refinery that was attacked by coalition aircraft during Operation Desert Storm continues to burn days after the air strike. The refinery is located approximately seven miles west of the Kuwaiti border. An oil storage tank at a refinery that was attacked by coalition aircraft during Operation Desert Storm continues to burn days after the air strike. The refinery is located approximately seven miles west of the Kuwaiti border.

Twenty-five years later, Horner, now a retired four-star general residing in northwest Florida, looks back on the Air Force that struck Saddam Hussein’s forces in Kuwait and Iraq during Desert Storm as perhaps the best-trained force to date. Five days after Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2, 1990, a U.S.-led coalition of about 30 nations placed more than 900,000 troops in the Arabian Peninsula in what became known as Operation Desert Shield, the campaign to prevent Iraqi incursions into Saudi Arabia, and build up forces to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait should diplomacy fail to secure a peaceful solution. When the United Nations Security Council for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait came and went the following January, Desert Storm kicked off with an air campaign that would become the largest employment of U.S. airpower since the war in Vietnam.

Related: “How the bravery of the Wild Weasels cleared enemy skies”

“When I think back on the past 25 years after Desert Storm, I see the immense impact that particular war had on how we planned to fight in the future and the kind of equipment we would need,” Horner said. “But most of all, I think about the spirit and attitude of our young warriors who were going to be faced with the next battle.

“I’m so proud of the way we performed in Desert Storm because of the leadership we had from Schwarzkopf and (Gen. Wilbur L. “Bill” Creech, former Tactical Air Command commander), and the way we had equipment that worked. We had all of the advantages the world had not seen before Desert Storm.”

A framed photo on a bookshelf, of then Colonel, and now retired Gen. Charles A. Horner and his wife Mary Jo, A framed photo on a bookshelf, of then Colonel, and now retired Gen. Charles A. Horner and his wife Mary Jo, in front of his F-15 at Luke AFB, where he was wing commander in March of 1981. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

Lessons learned

One of Horner’s first priorities, while planning the air strategy as Schwarzkopf’s joint force air component commander, was to avoid making what he considered the main mistake from Vietnam. He didn’t want bombing target selection to come from the president or defense secretary. As the architect of the air campaign against Iraq, Horner wanted targeting decisions to be made by commanders directly involved in the area of operations. “Washington was not the place to plan a war,” he had said. “If people there wanted to fight, let them come to the theater (of combat).

“That is the lesson of Vietnam,” Horner said in “Airpower Advantage: Planning the Gulf War Campaign 1989-1991,” a book by Diane Putney for the Air Force History and Museums Program. “Remember our great president (Lyndon B. Johnson) saying, ‘They don’t bomb a shit house in North Vietnam if I don’t approve it.’

“Well, I was the guy bombing the shit houses, and I was never going to let that happen if I ever got in charge because it is not right. If you want to know whether war is going to be successful or not, just ask where the targets are being picked. If they say, ‘We picked them in Washington,’ get out of the country. Go to Canada until the war is over because it is a loser.”

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner had a major role in the air power strategy of the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Horner commanded U.S. and Allied airpower during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He had previously served as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam where he was awarded a Silver Star. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

The day Horner, then the commander of 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, received the call that eventually launched Desert Storm, he was flying his F-16 Fighting Falcon on an air-to-air training mission near the North Carolina coast with two F-15 Eagles from Langley AFB, Virginia.

He’d expected the call from Schwarzkopf since the invasion of Kuwait. But once the call came from the Federal Aviation Administration to notify him to return to Shaw AFB, he instantly knew what it meant. He and his staff had to prepare the air portion of a CENTCOM briefing for President George H.W. Bush at Camp David, Maryland, the next morning.

Kuwait invasion

After the invasion of Kuwait, the coalition’s first priority was protecting Saudi Arabia. Horner developed friendships with the Saudis earlier in his career during Operation Earnest Will in 1987-88 and other exercises and remained in Saudi Arabia after he and Schwarzkopf went there a few days after the invasion of Kuwait. The coalition organized for Desert Shield and Storm gave the U.S. military an opportunity to work closely with each other, as well as with forces from other nations, as they would later do during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.

A massive prepositioning of equipment, supplies, munitions and fuels around the Persian Gulf, begun by the Joint Rapid Deployment Force in the 1980s, expedited preparations to conduct military operations in the area of responsibility, Horner said.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
Military trucks are unloaded from the nose ramp of a C-5A Galaxy transport aircraft of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, Military Airlift Command, in support of Operation Desert Shield.

“When our aircraft landed in the Gulf airfields, they were met with spares, fuel, munitions, living facilities and all the other things they would need to survive and fight,” he wrote in “Desert Storm: A View From the Front.” “This material had been stored on ships anchored in theater and in leased warehouses throughout the AOR.”

Well before the crisis in the Gulf began, the military had trained for an eventual showdown with Iraq. A month before the invasion, a CENTCOM war game used a scenario of a “Country Orange” attacking Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from the north. When Schwarzkopf, who died in 2012, accepted command of CENTCOM in November 1989, he told his military leaders that since a war with Russia wasn’t likely to happen, “we have to find a new enemy or go out of business,” Horner said.

At the time Iraq invaded Kuwait, it fielded the world’s fifth-largest army at a million soldiers; larger than the U.S. Army and Marine Corps combined, according to a Los Angeles Times article on Aug. 13, 1990. The weaknesses coalition military planners hoped to exploit included an incompetent senior staff chosen for their devotion to Hussein rather than their military prowess, and only about one-third of its soldiers were experienced combat troops, according to U.S. officials quoted in the article.

After its eight-year war with Iran, Iraq owed a huge debt to Kuwait and many other Arab nations, which funded Iraq’s purchase of high-tech weapons, according to an American Patriot Friends Network article published in 2004. Kuwait’s oil made it one of the richest countries in the world and cash-strapped Iraq wanted it.

Courtesy Photo Pilot gazes out into the wild blue yonder.

“When General Schwarzkopf took command of (CENTCOM), he said we have to plan for an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia because Iraq came out of the Iran-Iraq War very powerful militarily,” Horner said. “So, of course, they were sitting right next to the Fort Knox in the Middle East. So when it happened, I wasn’t surprised. We’d anticipated it was going to happen, but the speed with which we had to react was surprising.”

A United Nations Security Council deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait passed on Jan. 15, 1991, with no action from Iraq, so at 2 a.m. Jan. 17 (Baghdad time), coalition forces began a five-week bombardment of Iraqi command and control targets, beginning with eight Army AH-64 Apache helicopters led by two Air Force MH-53 Pave Hawks that destroyed radar sites near the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border, according to Putney. About an hour later, 10 Air Force F-117 Nighthawk stealth bombers, protected by three EF-111 Aardvarks, and Navy BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles struck targets in Baghdad. The initial attacks allowed the coalition to gain control of the air for its fighter aircraft.

At the cessation of hostilities, coalition forces had destroyed 3,700 of Iraq’s 4,280 tanks and 2,400 of its 2,870 armored vehicles. The bomb tonnage dropped by U.S. planes per day equaled the average tonnage dropped on Germany and Japan during the entirety of World War II, according to the “White Paper – Air Force Performance in Desert Storm, Department of the Air Force,” published in April 1991.”

“The things that guided our strategy was to be unrelenting and to bring such a powerful force, so quickly and so thoroughly on the enemy, that they would be forced to leave Kuwait,” Horner said. “It was not going to be piecemeal. It was not going to be to play Mr. Nice Guy. It was going to be as vicious as possible, and that drove the strategy. The second part of our strategy was to get control of the air first and foremost, which we did not do in Vietnam.”

Civilian and military officials pose for a group photograph prior to discussing U.S. military intervention in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield. Dignitaries include, from left: P. D. Wolfowitz, under sec. of defense for policy; Gen. C. Powell, chrm., Joint Chiefs of Staff; R. Cheney, sec. of defense; Gen. N. Schwarzkopf, cmdr-in-chief, USCENTCOM; Lt. Gen. C. Waller, dep. chief of staff, USCENTCOM; and Maj. Gen. R. Johnston. Back row: Lt. Gen. C. Horner, cmdr., 9th AF, TAC; Lt. Gen. J. Yeosock, cmdr., 3rd Army; Vice-Adm. S. Arthur, cmdr., Seventh Flt. and Col. Johnson. Civilian and military officials pose for a group photograph prior to discussing U.S. military intervention in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield. Dignitaries include, from left: P. D. Wolfowitz, under sec. of defense for policy; Gen. C. Powell, chrm., Joint Chiefs of Staff; R. Cheney, sec. of defense; Gen. N. Schwarzkopf, cmdr-in-chief, USCENTCOM; Lt. Gen. C. Waller, dep. chief of staff, USCENTCOM; and Maj. Gen. R. Johnston. Back row: Lt. Gen. C. Horner, cmdr., 9th AF, TAC; Lt. Gen. J. Yeosock, cmdr., 3rd Army; Vice-Adm. S. Arthur, cmdr., Seventh Flt. and Col. Johnson.

The result was a prolonged air campaign that set up a short but decisive ground campaign. As the air war kicked off the first night of Desert Storm, Horner watched from the tactical air control center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as coalition aircraft flew north. At first, he wasn’t completely confident about how successful the attack would be or the cost it would take in aircraft and personnel.

However, Horner knew it was going well when he saw CNN’s live feed from Baghdad disappear. As CNN’s television satellite transmission equipment was not allowed entry into the highly controlled, secretive, authoritarian state, they had to transmit through antennas atop the ATT building in downtown Baghdad. It was the same building that housed Iraq’s air defense operations and from which communications emanated from Iraq’s air command control system. It was the target of one of the first bombs dropped from U.S. planes. When CNN reporter Peter Arnett went off the air at the precise moment the strike was scheduled, cheers went through the air operations center, Horner said. If CNN was off the air, so was Iraq’s air defense system.

Also read: “How Desert Storm changed modern aerial warfare”

“So as the sun came up the next morning and all of our airplanes were coming home except one, we became aware that this was going to go a lot better than even the best critics thought it might,” Horner said.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
The remains of an Iraqi air base, May 12, 2003. After Desert Storm the base was not used for flight operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dave Buttner) (Released)

Ground war

By Feb. 23, the air campaign was mostly complete and coalition ground forces swiftly drove the Republican Guard from Kuwait and advanced into Iraq, forcing a ceasefire within 100 hours. Desert Storm was won at a much lower cost than even in the most optimistic prognostications, with 148 Americans killed in action and another 145 non-battle deaths. The Defense Intelligence Agency numbered the Iraqi casualties at about 100,000, although later the figure was disputed to be more in the 20,000 to 40,000 range.

Horner said bombing campaign proved most productive attacking Republican Guard and armor units because Hussein depended on them to retain power. The attacks to gain control of the air, coupled with medium-altitude operations, air-to-air excellence and defense suppression attacks were also effective, he said.

This barracks fire resulted in both heroism and controversy
1,400 soldiers of the 440th Iraqi Brigade surrender to the U. S. Marines of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit Special Operations Capable on Failaka Island, Kuwait Mar 03, 1991. (Official U. S. Marine Corp photograph by SSgt Angel Arroyo 13th MEU SOC Combat Camera/Released)

“When the ground war started, I expected rapid gains given the fact that we had reduced the Iraqi ground units to a level of ‘not combat ready,’ using our Army’s definition,” Horner said. “What surprised most of us was the surrender rate. That was beyond our expectations. Once I became certain, early in the war, that our losses were manageable, I knew the ground war would go well, but I underestimated how well.”

Horner, who co-wrote his account of the air war with the late Tom Clancy in “Every Man a Tiger,” gives much of the credit for the training of the force he led during Desert Storm to Creech and Marine Corps Gen. George B. Crist, Schwarzkopf’s predecessor as CENTCOM commander-in-chief, who both placed great importance on making training as close to real world as possible. They led the push for more realistic exercises, an emphasis on aircraft maintenance, bomb scores, and the right tactics, which all came together during Desert Storm.

A close-up view of M-117 750-pound bombs loaded onto the pylon of a B-52G Stratofortress aircraft prior to a bombing mission against Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm. A close-up view of M-117 750-pound bombs loaded onto the pylon of a B-52G Stratofortress aircraft prior to a bombing mission against Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm.

Another lesson from Crist that played into Horner’s strategy was to force decisions down to the lowest level and hold those people responsible. Horner saw the benefits of that policy during a meeting with a munitions technical sergeant. Horner was visiting the bomb dock where munitions were built and saw the NCO sitting on a dust-covered wooden crate, and he asked him how things were going and if he was running into any problems.

“He said, ‘Well, those dumb guys in Riyadh, (Saudi Arabia), meaning me, told me one day to load 2,000-pound bombs on each F-16,” Horner said, smiling. “Those dummies didn’t know that I didn’t have any 2,000-pound bombs, so I went ahead and put four 1,000-pound bombs on each of the airplanes, and the mission flew. If he had not been empowered, all he had to do was say I don’t have two 2,000-pound bombs, and we would have never gotten those two planes off. It was empowerment that made the difference, and that was one of the secrets we saw in Desert Storm.”

F-16A, F-15C and F-15E flying during Desert Storm. (U.S. Air Force photo) F-16A, F-15C and F-15E flying during Desert Storm. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Iraq’s air force was almost non-existent during Desert Storm. Hussein hoped to wait out the coalition bombardment, which he didn’t expect would last more than four or five days. As a result, gaining control of the air almost immediately allowed the coalition forces to interdict supply lines and degrade command and control links, according to a GlobalSecurity.org article. Air supremacy also drastically destroyed the will of the Iraqi army; they surrendered in droves when the ground war began 38 days later.

Photo gallery: Airman Magazine — Whispers of Another War

Aside from the superior training that was on display during Desert Shield and Storm, Horner believes another legacy of the first war in the Gulf was the technological advances it put on display for the Air Force.

Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner had a major role in the air power strategy of the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Horner commanded U.S. and Allied airpower during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He had previously served as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam where he was awarded a Silver Star. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee) Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner had a major role in the air power strategy of the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Horner commanded U.S. and Allied airpower during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He had previously served as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam where he was awarded a Silver Star. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)

“I think the American public and the world were amazed at the technology that was exposed by Desert Storm,” he said. “The stealth of the F-117 and its ability to go anywhere in heavily defended areas of the world and carry out its mission with absolute precision, the training of our air-to-air combat people and the ability to defeat a very sophisticated surface-to-air missile threat all came into play, and they weren’t appreciated because of our experiences in previous wars such as Vietnam. It served us very well and created an illusion that we were more successful than we really were. But I’ll accept that.”

Do Not Sell My Personal Information