How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

Military history is full of battles fought against unbelievable odds. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. The story of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae is likely the most famous outnumbered fighters. Poland’s cavalry charge against Nazi armor at Krojanty is famed for its technological disadvantage. 

But whatever success the Poles and Spartans saw against their formidable foes came because of sheer will and determination, not because of any equalizing circumstances. Sometimes, that’s just what it takes. Sometimes, success means never giving up. With a little bit of luck, even the most unprepared, obsolete or foolhardy fighter can win the day.

Some of today’s most powerful weapons might make that kind of winning more difficult, but it can still be done. A North Korean discovered the power of dumb luck while flying over a United Nations base on a night raid. 

North Korea’s air force isn’t known for its technological superiority and it never has been. Even today, more people know the Korean People’s Air Force more for training with the power of imagination rather than anything else. 

Read: The 7 worst air forces in the world

Even when they’re fighting a real war with real enemies, they are still a couple of decades behind technological advancement. During the 1950-1953 Korean War, North Korea was still flying Polikarpov PO-2 biplanes to make bombing runs. This is a plane that was built in the 1920s and was used by the Soviet Union as a trainer until World War II.

biplane from korean war
The instructor Semeon Lykin and a group of pilots pose in front of a Polikarpov U-2 (or Po-2). (Franco Folini, Wikipedia)

During World War II, the Soviets began to use it for reconnaissance, resupply missions, and the occasional night bombing. It was one of the planes used by the all-women Soviet fighter group nicknamed the “Night Witches,” who would bomb German barracks with their engines shut off. 

The Soviet Union didn’t use it after World War II, because by then the world had moved on from biplanes and propellers to aluminum and jet engines. But North Korea found a use for them. It was on one of these night raids that a PO-2 Polikarpov managed to down a jet fighter over North Korea. 

Except the Polikarpov didn’t so much shoot down the jet fighter. The aging biplane was the instrument of the plane’s destruction, though. 

After one of the Polikarpovs’ feared night raids, an advanced Lockheed F-94 Starfire was dispatched with the mission of taking down the raiders. The Starfire was an all-weather, day and night interceptor fighter that was so advanced, it wasn’t even allowed to fly in North Korea, because the U.S. was worried one might get shot down and captured by the communist forces.

It was more dumb luck that allowed this Polikarpov to beat the Starfire. With a top speed of 94 miles per hour, the wood and canvas “fighter” was flying much too slow for the jet fighter, with a top speed of 640 miles per hour. 

Unable to lock onto the target with radar (either due to its slow speed or the fact that plywood doesn’t bounce back radar waves), the jet fighter had to slow down enough to hit the North Korean, which proved to be the Starfire’s undoing. 

The Starfire slowed to 100 miles per hour, which was lower than its stall speed. Once it dipped below that speed, its engine sputtered and stalled, causing the plane to crash. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The third Revolutionary ‘midnight ride’ you never heard about

The British are coming, the British are coming!” This cry likely brings to mind the name of Paul Revere, immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poetry. Students learn about the legendary ride as early as elementary school, but Revere’s younger, female counterpart is rarely mentioned: Sybil Ludington.

On April 26, 1777, when she was just 16 years old, Sybil rode from Putnam County, New York to Danbury, Connecticut to warn of advancing British troops. Her ride took place in the dead of night, lasting from 9:00 P.M. to dawn the next morning. She rode her horse, Star, over 40 miles to warn 400 militiamen that the British troops were planning to attack Danbury, where the Continental Army held a supply of food and weapons.


The militiamen were able to move their supplies and warn the residents of Danbury. The afternoon following her warning, British troops burned down several buildings and homes, but few people were killed. It was considered a wild success by the militiamen. Sybil was heralded as a hero by her friends, neighbors, and reportedly even General George Washington.

Her ride is similar to those of William Dawes and Paul Revere in 1775 in Massachusetts, and Jack Jouett in 1781 in Virginia. However, Sybil rode more than twice the distance of these midnight riders and was far younger. You may ask why Sybil was the one to take on this ride: Her father, Henry Ludington, was a colonel and the head of the local militia.

Sybil had long moved from town to town with her father and previously saved his life from a royalist assassination attempt. It’s not known if Sybil volunteered for her ride or if her father requested her assistance in a moment of need. In any case, her brave contribution undoubtedly saved the lives of many men, women, and children.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
(Alchetron photo)

After the war, at 23, Sybil married a man named Edmond Ogden. Together they had one child, and settled on a farm in Catskill, New York. Here, they lived and worked until her death in 1839. She was 77 years old. Sybil was buried near her father in the Patterson Presbyterian Cemetery in Patterson, New York.

Although remembered in Putnam county and the surrounding area, Sybil Ludington was largely lost to the annals of American history. It wasn’t until after her death that her story gained traction. The tale of her ride was first shared among her family and eventually documented by her grandson. In 1880, a New York historian named Martha Lamb published an account of Sybil Ludington’s famed ride in a book about the New York City area, documenting Sybil’s life after her ride as well.

In 1935, New York State commissioned a series of historical markers along Sybil’s route. A statue of the young woman was erected near Carmel, New York in 1961 and smaller statues can be found stretching from the Daughters of the American Revolution Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to Murrells Inlet, South Carolina.

Sybil made an appearance on a postage stamp as part of the “Contributors to the Cause” United States Bicentennial series in 1975. Since 1979, every year in April a 50K ultramarathon is put on in honor of Sybil’s legendary ride. The hilly course covers roughly the same grounds as Sybil’s route, and finishes near her statue on the shore of Lake Gleneida, Carmel, New York.

sybil ludington


It’s worth noting that not every historian is convinced of the veracity of Sybil Ludington’s midnight ride. Paula D. Hunt published a paper in The New England Quarterly arguing that there’s no reliable historical evidence to prove Ludington indeed made the trip from New York to Connecticut. The New York Times also examined the issue in a 1995 article about the Sybil Ludington statue in Carmel.

Of course, numerous outlets, authors, and organizations stand by Sybil Ludington’s midnight ride—from the United States Postal Service and the National Women’s History Museum to the New England Historical Society and American historian Carol Berkin in her book Revolutionary Mothers.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The bizarre history of the Naval Academy’s mascot, ‘Bill the Goat’

Every sports team needs their very own cartoony mascot to get the fans going. Sure, it’s a goofy tradition, but it gets the people cheering and those cheers spur the players on to victory, so no one ever questions it. Military academies are no different.

The Air Force Academy sports the high-flying falcon because it’s the apex predator across much of America’s sky. West Point is represented by the mule because it’s a hardy beast of burden that has carried the Army’s gear into many wars. The Naval Academy, in what seems like a lapse of logic, decided long ago that the best representation of the Navy and Marine Corps’ spirit is a goat.

The use of a goat as their mascot began in 1893 with El Cid the Goat, named after the famed Castilian general. Eventually, they settled on the name “Bill” because, you know, billy goats… And it just gets weirder from there.


How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

From 1847 to 1851, the Naval Academy used a cat as their mascot, which we can presume would’ve hated being paraded in front of large crowds.

(National Archives)

In the Navy’s defense, goats actually served a purpose on Navy vessels back in the days of fully rigged ships. Unlike most livestock that required specialized food, a goat can eat just about any kind of scraps, which is handy on a long voyage. And, once it fulfilled its purpose as a walking garbage disposal, as grim as it sounds, it provided the cooks with a fresh source of meat.

Yet, when the U.S. Naval Academy was founded in 1845, then-Secretary of the Navy George Bancroft chose his favorite animal to be the official mascot of his newly established military academy: the monkey. This didn’t last long because the logo was actually of a gorilla and, as most people know, gorilla’s aren’t monkeys. The next idea was a cat (which actually have a place in Naval history), then a bulldog (before the times of Chesty Puller), and then a carrier pigeon.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

Ever since, sailors have enjoyed a long tradition of giving their goats the clever name of ‘Bill.’

​(U.S. Navy Historical Center)

There are two different versions of the story of how the Navy finally got the goat.

The first of those version is simple: The previously mentioned El Cid the Goat appeared at the 1893 Army-Navy football game and its presence, supposedly, helped carry the team to victory. The Navy continued to bounce back and forth between mascots until officially sticking with the goat in 1904. Said goat was re-branded as “Bill,” named after the Commandant of Midshipmen, Commander Colby M. Chester’s pet goat, and the rest is history.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

The biggest takeaway from the legend is the difference between becoming a legend and getting a Captain’s Mast is whether or not you can attribute a Navy victory over West Point on your actions.

(U.S. Navy photo by Joaquin Murietta)

The other version is steeped in legend — and is entirely bizarre. As the story goes, a ship’s beloved pet goat had met its untimely end. Two ensigns were tasked with heading ashore to bring the goat to a taxidermist so that its legacy could live on. The ensigns got lost on their way to the taxidermist, as most butter bars do, and wound up at the Army-Navy game.

The legend never specifies who, exactly, came up with this brilliant idea, but one of them apparently thought, “you know what? f*ck it” and wore the goat’s skin like a cape. During halftime, one ensign ran across the sidelines (because sporting arena security wasn’t a thing then) donning the goat skin and was met with thunderous applause.

Instead of reprimanding the two idiots for clearly doing the exact opposite of what their captain had asked of them, the Naval Academy rolled with it and attributed their victory over the Army to the goat.

This version is kind of suspect because El Cid the Goat was at the fourth game so the goat-skin midshipman would have had to been at one of the three games prior. The first and third games were held at West Point (which is clearly far away from any wandering ensigns) and second Army/Navy game was a victory for Army. But hey! It’s all in good fun.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This command post flew 24 hours a day for 29 years

We’ve all seen the movie where a well-funded group of terrorists makes a threat against the U.S. government then all hell breaks loose until one man or woman steps up and saves the day by defeating the bad guys. These films often make our defensive capabilities appear powerless versus these fictional villains.

Although these storylines are entertaining, our government’s ability to protect us goes well beyond some smart computer hacker, especially in the event of a nuclear war.

The nuclear war strategy of the U.S. relies upon its capacity to communicate with and control its nuclear forces under the most hazardous of conditions. For close to 30 years, this vital defense plan was laid in the hands of 11 different converted EC-135Cs code-named “Looking Glass.”


 

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

 

 

Operation Looking Glass was introduced by the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Command on Feb. 3, 1961. It was prepared to take over all operational control of nuclear forces if the ground-based command centers were destroyed or rendered unusable.

If that devastating nuclear event occurred, the general officer serving as the Airborne Emergency Action Officer (AEAO) aboard the “Looking Glass” would be required by law to assume the authority of the National Command Authority and directly command execution during a nuclear attack.

 

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

To avoid any potential enemy threat from jamming the unique aircraft’s signal, the specialized planes came equipped with high-frequency antennas located on the wings. Along with the AEAO, a crew consisting of approximately 15-20 airmen would man their solitary post for several hours a day.

Since its maiden flight in 1961, there has always been a “Looking Glass” plane flying somewhere above the United States in case of an emergency, 24-hours a day.

On June 1, 1992, Operation Looking Glass was grounded from service and replaced.

Check out the video below to witness just how special this flying beast was to national security.

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 things you didn’t know about the Solomons campaign

After the fighting around Guadalcanal, which was the stage for several epic naval battles, clashes continued in the South Pacific. These battles don’t get as much coverage today, but they were just as important. In fact, it was the Allied move up the Solomon Islands that arguably broke Japan’s back in the Pacific.

The Battle of Midway is justifiably celebrated as a decisive Allied victory that turned the tide of the war. Guadalcanal is known as a slugging match that, although bloody for both sides, put the initiative in Allied hands. It was through the Solomon Islands campaign, however, that put the Allies eventually into a position where they could neutralize the Japanese base at Rabaul and make General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines happen.


Here are a few things you might not have known about this crucial campaign:

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

What ultimately emerged as the Allied plan for dealing with Rabaul: Surrounding it, then bombing the hell out of it.

(US Army)

The original plan called for taking Rabaul

MacArthur originally wanted to take Rabaul, which was a superb harbor (the reason why Japan had taken it in early 1942). It had proven extremely useful as a forward base for the Japanese, and MacArthur figured it could work just as well for Allied forces. But heavy fighting at Guadalcanal and the “Europe-first” strategy led to bypassing Rabaul as part of the “island hopping” campaign.

Bypassing worked out pretty well, don’t you think?

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

A Vought F4U Corsair from Marine Fighter Squadron 215 (VMF-215) lands at Munda Point.

(USMC)

The New Georgia invasion cost Japan in the skies

The Japanese had built an airfield at Munda Point on the New Georgia Islands. This became an important objective in the campaign to the neutralize the Pacific. It took about three and a half months to take the islands, and cost the Allies almost 1,200 personnel — about 15 percent of the losses suffered at Guadalcanal. Japan lost 1,671 personnel, but the real discrepancy was in the air: 356 Japanese planes were downed compared to only 93 Allied losses.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

New Zealand Coastwatcher Donald G. Kennedy with a Marine officer.

The invasion of New Georgia was launched nine days early to save one man

According to Volume VI of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, after Japan took the Solomon Islands, a coastwatcher from New Zealand, Donald G. Kennedy, courageously went from village to village, vowing that the Allies would return. During the Guadalcanal campaign, he sent warnings of air raids to the Marines. After he was wounded in a firefight with a Japanese patrol boat, the 4th Marine Raider Battalion went in to protect his outpost while the invasion started. Kennedy later received the Navy Cross for his actions.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

USS Helena (CL 50) firing on Japanese ships during the Battle of Kula Gulf.

(US Navy)

Two naval battles early in the campaign came out roughly even

In the Battle of Kula Gulf, the U.S. Navy lost a light cruiser, but sank two destroyers. At the Battle of Kolombangara, the Japanese lost a light cruiser and the Allies lost a destroyer and had three light cruisers damaged in what was a tactical victory for Japan.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

Future President John F. Kennedy and the crew of PT-109.

(US Navy)

John F. Kennedy earned his heroic reputation in this campaign

John F. Kennedy’s heroism in the wake of the loss of PT 109 came during the fighting around the New Georgia Islands. His PT boat was with others in the Blackett Strait in August, about two months after the invasion started. His boat was rammed by HIJMS Amagiri, and the rest was history.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on April 18, 1943 – hours before he was shot down by Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr.

(Imperial Japanese Navy)

The Pacific Theater’s “Zero Dark Thirty” mission took place just before the Solomons campaign

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was carrying out an inspection tour in April, 1943, when his place was intercepted by P-38 Lightnings. Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier would shoot down Yamamoto’s Mitsubishi G4M Betty while Rex Barber downed another that was carrying members of Yamamoto’s staff. The Japanese Navy didn’t have a new Commander-in-Chief Combined Fleet until a month before the invasion of New Georgia.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

Australian troops patrolling on Bougainville in January, 1945. Japanese troops on the island held out until August 21 of that year.

(Australian War Memorial)

The Solomons Campaign technically lasted throughout the war

The northernmost of the Solomon Islands, Bougainville, wasn’t fully under Allied control until the Japanese forces there surrendered on August 21, 1945. The United States pulled out in 1944, handing the fighting over to Australian troops, who carried out operations for about a year and a half.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) is named for an escort carrier that was named after a battle of the Solomons campaign.

(US Navy)

Several Navy ships get their names from the Solomon Islands campaign

During World War II, a number of escort carriers — the Casablanca-class vessels USS Lunga Point (CVE 94), USS Bougainville (CVE 100), USS Munda (CVE 104) and the Commencement Bay-class ships USS Kula Gulf (CVE 108), USS Vella Gulf (CVE 111), USS Rendova (CVE 114), and USS Bairoko (CVE 115) were all named after battles in the Solomons campaign. Two other ships, the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Solomons (CVE 67) and the Commencement Bay-class USS Rabaul (CVE 121), were named for the campaign and the ultimate objective, respectively.

Today, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) carries on the name of one of those escort carriers, and an America-class amphibious assault ship will be named USS Bougainville (LHA 8).

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the US Army had a Camel Corps

Camels have been used as beasts of burden for millennia and the creature is, in many ways, vastly more suited to the task than even the sturdiest of equids. For example, a typical camel can carry in excess of 300 kilos (661 lbs) of supplies without issue, more than twice the weight an average horse or mule could carry with similar distances/speeds. In addition, camels are also largely indifferent to relatively extreme heat, can go for days without needing to take in additional water, and can happily chow down on many desert plants horses and mules wouldn’t eat if they were starving (meaning more of what they can carry can be cargo instead of food for the animals). When not under heavy load, camels can also run as fast as 40 mph in short bursts as well as sustain a speed of around 25 mph for even as much as an hour. They are also extremely sure footed and can travel in weather conditions that would make wagon use impractical.


For this reason a small, but nonetheless dedicated group within the American military in the mid 19th century was positively obsessed with the idea of using camels as pack animals, and even potentially as cavalry.

It’s noted that the largest proponent of camel power at the time was the then Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis — yes, THAT, Jefferson Davis. Davis particularly thought the camel would be useful in southern states where the army was having trouble transporting supplies owing to the desert-like conditions in some of the regions.

To solve the problem, Davis continually pushed for importing camels, including in a report to congress he wrote in 1854 where he stated, “I again invite attention to the advantages to be anticipated from the use of camels… for military and other purposes, and for reasons set forth in my last annual report, recommend that an appropriation be made to introduce a small number of the several varieties of this animal, to test their adaptation to our country…”

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
Camel at Drum Barracks, San Pedro, California (1863 or earlier)

Finally, in early 1855, Congress listened, setting a $30,000 (about $800,000 today) budget for just such an experiment. One Major Henry C. Wayne was then tasked with travelling all the way across the world to buy several dozen camels to bring back to America, with Wayne setting out on this trip on June 4, 1855.

Besides going to places like Egypt and other such regions known for their camel stock, Wayne also took a detour through Europe where he grilled various camel aficionados and zoological experts on how to best take care of the animal.

After several months, Wayne returned to America with a few dozen camels and a fair amount of arrogance about his new endeavor. On that note, only about four months after taking a crash course in camel care, Wayne proudly boasted that Americans would “manage camels not only as well, but better than Arabs as they will do it with more humanity and with far greater intelligence.” Of course, when initial efforts on that front demonstrated a little more experience was needed, various Arab immigrants who had experience managing the beasts were hired to head up the task.

The newly formed United States Camel Corps quickly proved its worth, such as early on managing to carry supplies from San Antonio, Texas to Camp Verde, Arizona during a severe rainstorm that made using wagons practically impossible. In another expedition, the man in charge of the trip, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, afterwards reported back that just one camel was worth four of the best mules on that trip.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
Gwinn Heap’s illustration for Jefferson Davis’ (at that time Secretary of War) report to the U.S. Congress in 1857. The drawingu00a0illustrated the journey of the camels to the United States.

Robert E. Lee would later state after another expedition where conditions saw some of the mules die along the journey, the camels “endurance, docility and sagacity will not fail to attract attention of the Secretary of War, and but for whose reliable services the reconnaissance would have failed.”

Despite the glowing reviews, there were various complaints such as the camel’s legendary reputation for stubbornness and frequent temper tantrums and that horses were nervous around them. Of course, horses could be trained to put up with camels. The real issue seems to have been the human factor- soldiers just preferred to deal with more familiar horses and mules, despite the disadvantages compared to camels in certain situations. As Gen. David Twigg matter of factly stated: “I prefer mules for packing.”

Later, just as big of an issue was the fact that it was Jefferson Davis who championed the idea in the first place. As you might imagine, during and after the Civil War, ideas he’d previously prominently pushed for were not always viewed in the best light in the North.

Unsurprisingly from all this, the Camel Corps idea was quietly dropped within a year of the end of the Civil War and later, largely forgotten by history. However, some of the imported camels, including thousands imported by businesses around this same time that were rendered mostly useless with the establishment of the transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s, were simply set free, with sightings of wild camel still a thing in the South going all the way up to around the mid-20th century.

Bonus Facts:

  • Male Arabian camels begin courtship via more or less inflating a portion of his soft palate called a dulla with air to the point that it protrudes up to a foot out of his mouth. The result is something that looks somewhat akin to an inflated scrotum hanging out of its mouth. On top of this, they use their spit to then make a low gurgling sound, with the result being the camel also appearing to foam at the mouth at the same time. If this isn’t sexy enough for the lady camels, they also rub their necks (where they have poll glands that produce a foul, brown goo) anywhere they can and even pee on their own tails to increase their lady-attracting stench.
  • Even though today Camels can only naturally be found in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, Camels are actually thought to have originated in the Americas around 40 million years ago. It’s thought that they migrated to Asia shortly before the last Ice Age, though there were still Camels in North America as recently as 15,000 years ago.
  • America isn’t the only place that imported camels. Australia also imported up to 20,000 camels from India in the 19th century to help with exploring the country, much of which is desert. Ultimately many camels were set free and, unlike in the US, the camel population in Australia flourished. Today, Australia is estimated to have one of the largest feral camel populations in the world (estimated at 750,000 camels in 2009), which has since been deemed something of an environmental problem. As such, the government has set up a program to cull the camels, with around a couple hundred thousand being killed in the last several years in an attempt to control the population.

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

Articles

Israel recently buried Ran Ronen, an ace few ever heard of

Early last month, Israel buried an ace who had seven kills — more than twice as many as John Glenn — and hundreds of operational missions under his belt. He was known as Ran Ronen.


According to a report by the Jerusalem Post, Ronen, whose real name was Ran Pekker, was buried on Dec. 4, 2016, following his death after a long struggle with blood cancer. Ronen was best known for flying the Mirage III and F-4 Phantom during the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
An Israeli Mirage III at a museum. Giora Epstein scored the first of his 17 kills, a Su-7, in a Mirage III. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Ronen notably gained publicity from the History Channel series Dogfights, providing interviews in two episodes, “Dogfights of the Middle East” and “Desert Aces.” In the former, he described his involvement in both escorting a defecting MiG-21 to Israel and his involvement in the attack on Ghardaka Air Base in Egypt. The latter episode, best known for relating Giora Epstein’s legendary 1-vs.-11 fight, featured Ronen’s encounter with a Jordanian Hawker Hunter.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
A U.S. Air Force McDonnell Douglas EF-4C Phantom II aircraft (s/n 63-7474) of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 18th Tactical Fighter Wing over North Vietnam in December 1972. | U.S. Air Force photo

Ronen later became a diplomat and founded the Zahala project for youth, according to a web site outlining the reasons he received the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism in 2008.

Below are the Dogfights episodes Ronen appears in. His missions are discussed from 13:12 to 32:12 in the first video, and in the first 12:30 in the second video.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how close we came to killing off our national bird

The bald eagle is a North American national treasure and the symbol of United States. Before the ink had dried on the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress issued the order to create an official seal for the nation.


How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
Well, since you asked…

This task of creating a suitable design was entrusted to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and (in true congressional fashion), two other subsequent committees. Their work was judged and ratified by Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Congress at the time. A final decision wouldn’t come for years.

Thomson selected the best elements from several drafts and combined them. One draft of the seal featured a small, white eagle as designed by William Barton. Thomson switched out the small bird with the American bald eagle we know today and the result officially became our National Symbol on June 20th, 1782.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

But the eagle that came to symbolize the American Dream almost died out before its time.

It was identified after World War II runoff from farms treated with pesticides were poisoning the environment. A colorless, tasteless, and almost-odorless chemical pesticide known as DDT seeped into waters and contaminated local fish. Tainting the food source of the bald eagle lead to the laying of eggs with weakened shells. The shells were so fragile that they would break if the parent attempted to incubate them.

Amendments to the 1940 Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act were made protect the bald eagle from anyone possessing (dead or alive), taking, transporting, killing, harming, or even bothering one. Any interaction required a strict permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

If a freedom bird bald eagle decides to build a nest on your property, it is illegal to motivate it to move. Disturbing the nest in any capacity — even when empty — is also illegal. The only thing you’re allowed to do with a bald eagle is take a picture. That’s not a joke.

For your first offense, expect a fine of $100,000 to $200,000, a one-year imprisonment, or both. The second offense is a felony with increasing penalties.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

The eagle’s astounding population recovery is a legislative success story. Over the last several decades, the bald eagle has endured challenges with determination and persevered. Here’s a short timeline:

1960: There were an estimated 400 mating pairs.

1972: The Environmental Protection Agency outlaws the use of DDT as a pesticide after studies determined it was weakening bald eagle eggshells.

1973: The bald eagle is added to the endangered species list.

1995: The bald eagle’s status is elevated from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened.’

2007: The bald eagle is removed from the list entirely and thrives.

Present day: Bald eagle population is estimated at 70,000 strong.

There you have it. The story of how the bald eagle became the national bird… and how close we came to losing it.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

MIGHTY HISTORY

How US troops responded to liberating the Dachau Concentration Camp

On April 28, 1945, just 25 days after the United States Army discovered Hitler’s terrible secret, the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp. The 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, commanded by Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, came upon a similar camp.

This camp was near the Bavarian city of Dachau, and and human feces. 

Unlike at Ohrdruf, the American GIs were going to make sure some of the surviving Nazi SS camp guards paid a price for what they did there. 

When the Americans first arrived, the SS guards were still firing at them in short bursts. The 45th was soon joined by the 42 Infantry Division under the command of Brig. Gen. Henning Linden. The Nazi garrison was substantial but no match for both Infantry Divisions. Most of the prison complex’s SS garrison and leadership had already fled. 

A Swiss representative of the International Red Cross was called in to negotiate the camp’s surrender. 

dachau
Prisoners of Dachau cheering on American soldiers.

On April 29th, SS Lieutenant Heinrich Wicker surrendered to Gen. Linden and the Americans began to secure the main camp. Once inside, the U.S. troops were horrified and enraged by the scene. There were hundreds of corpses strewn throughout the prison complex, along with rooms full of stacked, emaciated bodies. 

They took 100 SS guards prisoner amid a growing typhus infection among the camps inmate population, which numbered as many as 32,000. But not all of the SS soldiers had surrendered. Those who were still fighting were manning the guard towers. Sparks left some of the Nazi POWs under the watchful eyes of a machine gun team and began to make his way toward the fighting. 

Almost as soon as he’d begun to walk away, he heard a young private shout that the SS guards were trying to get away, before an eruption of machine gun fire split the silence. Returning to the scene, he found a dozen or more SS prisoners gunned down by the team. Elsewhere in the camp, U.S. troops were looking the other way when former inmates began to assault the camp guards.

Some SS troops attempted to get away, but were chased down by the former prisoners and severely beaten or killed. 

In all, Sparks estimates that around 30-50 SS camp guards were either killed by American troops or allowed to be killed by former Dachau inmates. The rumor about Americans killing all the SS guard was later spread, but Sparks disagrees with the rumor. 

“The regimental records of the 157th Field Artillery Regiment for that date indicate that over a thousand German prisoners were brought to the regimental collecting point. Since my task force was leading the regimental attack, almost all the prisoners were taken by the task force, including several hundred from Dachau,” he wrote.

An Army investigation of the incident alleged 21 deaths were perpetrated by U.S. troops, with another 25 attributed to the former prisoners. General George S. Patton, as military governor of Bavaria, received the report and the charges of Sparks being complicit in the reprisal but tore up the charges.

For his part, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had personally witnessed the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp liberation along with Patton, simply cabled Washington that the camp had been taken by Americans and that 300 SS guards were “neutralized.” 

Sparks noted that the “good citizens” of the nearby city of Dachau were forced to assist with burying the remains of the murdered prisoners. The 45th Infantry Division was soon on its way to Munich, the capital of Bavaria, and was fighting in the streets the next day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a modern battalion of Army Rangers would perform in Civil War combat

U.S. Army Rangers are some of the most storied warriors in history. The 75th Ranger Regiment traces its lineage back to World War II where it served with distinction in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Modern Rangers are masters of warfare, using advanced technology and their extensive training to overwhelm their enemies.


But how would a battalion of 600 modern killers do in the Civil War? We started thinking of what this might be like, inspired by the Reddit user who wrote about a battle between the Roman Empire and modern-day Marines. Ironically enough, some of the world’s best infantrymen would make the biggest difference in the Civil War by becoming cavalry, artillery, and doctors.

The Cavalry Ranger on the Civil War battlefield

 

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Angela Stafford

Rangers who suddenly found themselves at the start of a Civil War battlefield would be able to choose a side and then straight up murder enemy skirmishers. Most Civil War battles opened with small groups of skirmishers taking careful, aimed shots at one another. Rangers equipped with SCAR rifles that can effectively fire up to 800 meters or M4s that are effective past 600 meters would have a greater range than most of their enemies. And the Rangers’ ability to fire dozens of rounds per minute vs. the enemy’s four rounds would be decisive.

But, their enemy would be firing using black powder. Once the artillery and infantry opened up, everything near the front line would quickly be covered in too much smoke for the Rangers to sight targets. Also, the huge disadvantage the Rangers faced in terms of numbers is unavoidable. Attempting to kill each enemy infantryman would quickly eat away at the Rangers’ irreplaceable ammo. So, the Ranger infantry couldn’t fight for long as infantry. Their skills as shock troops would still be invaluable.

The Rangers could jump in their vehicles and begin maneuvering like ultra-fast, mounted cavalry. Riding in Ranger Special Operation Vehicles or Humvees, the Rangers would quickly breach enemy lines and fire on reserve troop formations, communications lines, and unit leaders. The Rangers heavy and light machine guns and automatic grenade launchers would decimate grouped soldiers. Riflemen could dismount and begin engaging the tattered remnants that remained.

Enemy command posts would be especially vulnerable to this assault, giving the Rangers the ability to cut the head off the snake early in the battle.

Alternatively, they could simply wait out the first day and attack at night, sneaking up to the enemy camp on foot using their night vision and then assaulting through to the enemy commanders. This would conserve needed fuel and ammo, but it would increase the chances of a Ranger being shot.

Rangers and indirect-fire

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
Photo: US Army Pfc. Nathaniel Newkirk

 

Mortarmen in the Rangers would quickly become a terrorizing force for enemy artillery batteries. Civil War artillery was moved with horses, fired with smoke-creating black powder, and fired only a few rounds per minute. Depending on the artillery piece, their range was anywhere from 500 to 5,000 meters. But, relatively rare rifled cannons could reach over 9 kilometers.

The Ranger mortars would have maximum ranges between 3,500 meters for the 60mm and 7,200 meters for the 120mm mortars. They would have a slight range disadvantage against some guns, but they would have a huge advantage in volume of fire, stealth, and mobility. The mortars could be mostly hidden in wooded areas or behind cover and fired safely, as long as the overhead area remained clear. Since modern mortars create much less smoke, enemy artillery batteries would be unlikely to see them. If the enemy were able to find and engage the mortarmen, the mortars could rush to another firing position and begin engaging the artillery battery again. In a fight of Ranger mortars vs. any single battery, the Rangers would quickly win.

But, the Rangers would be at a huge numerical disadvantage. By doctrine, Ranger battalions are assigned four 120mm mortar systems, four 81mm systems, and 12 60mm for a total of 20 mortars. Meanwhile, 393 guns faced off against each other Gettysburg. The Rangers would have to rely on mobility to stay alive and concentrate their fire when it was needed by friendly infantry.

After the ammo and fuel runs out

 

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
Photo: US Air Force Justin Connaher

Of course, a modern Ranger battalion eats through ammunition, fuel, and batteries. The Rangers would dominate a couple of battles before their vehicles would need to be parked for the duration of the war. The ammunition could run out in a single battle if the men weren’t careful to conserve.

When the rifles and vehicles ran dry, the Rangers would still be useful. First, their personal armor would give them an advantage even if they had to capture repeating rifles to keep fighting. Also, all Rangers go through Ranger First Responder training, an advanced first aid for combat. Ranger medics go through even more training, acquiring a lot of skills that are typically done by physician’s assistants. This means any Ranger would be a great medical asset for a Civil War-era army, and Ranger Medics would outperform many doctors of the day. Just their modern knowledge of germs and the need for sterilization would have made a huge difference in cutting deaths due to infection.

Even without supply lines, 600 modern Rangers would have been extremely valuable to a Civil War general. They’d have single-handedly won early battles and remained strategically and tactically valuable for the duration of the war.

But would Rangers ultimately change the outcome of the Civil War? Unless you have a time machine, we’ll just have to settle for debating that in the comments section.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 heroes who emerged from the grounding of the Guardian

There are a lot of badasses in military service. Many have proven themselves in combat, but there are some who manage real heroics without facing the enemy. Even in peacetime, some very bad accidents happen.


In January of 2013, the Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessel USS Guardian (MCM 5) hit a reef off the Philippines and was well and truly stuck. The ship was eventually dismantled in place and her commanding officer and other top personnel were relieved. There were no serious injuries among the 80 crewmen of the ship, but it wasn’t blind luck that kept everyone safe — sailors demonstrated some real heroism that day.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
Heavy waves crash against the grounded mine countermeasure ship USS Guardian (MCM 5), which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea on Jan. 17. The grounding and subsequent heavy waves constantly hitting Guardian have caused severe damage, leading the Navy to determine the 23-year old ship is beyond economical repair and is a complete loss. (U.S. Navy photo)

Damage Controlman 1st Class Jeffrey Macatangay was one of those sailors. He, joined by Damage Controlman 2nd Class (SW) Jean Isidore and Mineman 3rd Class (SW) Matthew Pekarcik, went into a bilge where five gallons of water flooded the ship each minute. He had all of 18 inches of clearance and was in a very confined space. Despite this, he managed to shore up an air-conditioning unit, keeping the ship from losing electrical power. That bought time for the crew to get off the vessel.

One other sailor, a search-and-rescue swimmer, Mineman 3rd Class Travis Kirckof, would perform an even more amazing feat. On the day the Guardian ran aground, some of the ship’s life rafts drifted away after the furious seas snapped the lines holding them to the ship. After one sailor helped keep the remaining rafts from drifting off, Kirckof would help 46 sailors reach safety, spending five hours in the water to do so.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
Travis Kirckof, pictured here receiving a Good Conduct Medal, spent hours in the water helping 46 of his shipmates to safety. (US Navy photo)

His actions were credited with saving at least two lives.

All four sailors received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for their actions. They may have never faced an enemy in combat, but they proved they were badass sailors when the chips were down.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Today in military history: US forces land at Inchon

On Sep. 15 1950, U.S. Marines under United Nations Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur land at Inchon on the west coast of Korea, dividing the Northern forces in two.

The Korean War began a few months before when 90,000 North Korean troops swept across the 38th parallel and pushed South Korean forces into a hasty retreat. By September, it was not going well for the United Nations forces. American troops were relegated to a small corner of the Korean Peninsula, barely holding off the Communist onslaught as North Korea fought to push them into the sea and out of the war. In what came to be known as the Pusan Perimeter, American and South Korean forces held the line until the Americans could relieve them.

In true joint force action, the Army and Marines, supported by the Navy and Air Force, planned a landing at Inchon, behind the North Korean lines. The enemy around Pusan practically dissipated as the Army broke out of the Pusan Perimeter while Marines were landing at Inchon. Within two weeks, the UN forces had partially retaken Seoul and cut off the enemy’s supply and communications ability.

Codenamed “Operation Chromite,” the U.S. Marines’ amphibious invasion at Inchon was extremely risky, but its success allowed the U.S. to recapture Seoul, the capital of South Korea. 

Unfortunately, the intervention of the Chinese military stalled the U.S. and South Korean advances, preventing them from achieving a decisive victory in the war, which would continue for another brutal three years. 

Featured Image: The UN fleet off the coast of Inchon, Korea.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient saved 18 Marines from an enemy minefield

After enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1966, Raymond Clausen was trained as a helicopter mechanic and had already completed a tour of duty before heading back to the jungles of Vietnam — against his mother’s wishes.


Continuing his military service was something Clausen felt like he had to do.

On Jan. 31, 1970, Clausen would go above and beyond his call of duty as his helicopter deployed to the enemy-infested area near Da Nang in South Vietnam.

Clausen’s crew’s mission was to search for enemy activity in the area when, suddenly, they noticed some concealed bunkers near the tree line.

Directed by higher command, Clausen and his crew landed in a nearby grassy field. Once the troops dismounted from the cargo bay, the helicopters lifted out and patrolled in circles, approximately 1,500 feet above the LZ.

Shortly after, the enemy engaged the ground troops, causing them to disperse, fanning outward. As they separated, Marines stepped on the various landmines in the area.

Clausen knew he had to help the troops below, so he leaned out of the helicopter’s window and directed his pilot as he landed the bird in a safe area to retrieve the wounded Marines.

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War
Troops unload from CH-47 helicopter at Landing Zone Quick to begin a search and destroy mission in the Cay Giep Mountains, 29-30 Oct 1967. (Photo from U.S. Army)

 

Once they landed, Clausen leaped from the aircraft with a stretcher and ran through the minefield and helped carry the wounded Marines back to his helicopter.

Clausen knowingly made six separate trips across a minefield and is credited with saving 18 Marines that day. Once he knew all the men were accounted for, he signaled to the pilot to take off, taking the men to safety.

In total, Clausen has logged more than 3,000 hours of flight time as a crew chief and earned 98 air medals during his career.

President Nixon awarded Marine veteran Raymond Clausen the Medal of Honor on Jun. 15, 1971

Check of Medal of Honor Book‘s video below to hear one Marine’s heroic tale of sacrifice and determination:

(Medal of Honor Book | YouTube)

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