The bloodiest day in British military history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The bloodiest day in British military history

World War I is not the bloodiest war in the history of war, but rapid advances in technology as well as the failure of military leaders to adjust their tactics resulted in possibly the bloodiest day in British military history when the nation lost almost 20,000 troops on July 1, 1916.


The roots of the bloodshed of July 1 date back before the war even started as the Gatling Gun gave way to true machine guns, originally known as “gunpowder engines,” and advances in mortars, artillery, and even the standard rifle made soldiers of all types much more lethal.

The bloodiest day in British military history
Members of the British Border Regiment rest in dugouts during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
(Imperial War Museums)

But, importantly, many of these breakthroughs favored static defenses. Soldiers could march forward with machine guns, but they would struggle to quickly emplace them and get them into operation. Defenders, meanwhile, could build fortifications around their machine guns and mow down enemy forces with near impunity.

After the war started in 1914, Germany managed to quickly move into France before getting bogged down in a line that eventually stretched across Europe. A German attack at Verdun in early 1916 became a black hole for French troops. The attack was designed to bleed France dry and force it out of the war.

The Germans expected Britain to launch its own attack against German lines to relieve the pressure from France. And Britain did have a plan for an attack, but it would prove to be a failure.

The bloodiest day in British military history
General Sir Sam Hughes watches a British attack at the Battle of the Somme, October 1917.
(BiblioArchives, CC BY 2.0)

A joint British-Franco assault was scheduled for the summer. The main thrust was to come along a narrow stretch of the River Somme and the first day would see approximately 100,000 British troops rushing German lines in what was hoped to be a quick advance.

The date was eventually set for July 1, 1916, and the British initiated a massive artillery bombardment for a week before the assault. But the Germans were able to move most of their troops into fortifications in the trenches, and relatively few troops were lost in the week before the British attacked.

The bloodiest day in British military history
Staged film frame from The Battle of the Somme, a propaganda film that was likely filmed before the battle.
(Imperial War Museum)
 

When the artillery suddenly stopped on the morning of July 1, German machine gunners moved back to their positions and looked up to see thousands of British troops marching towards them.

The machine gunners opened up, artillery spotters started calling for fires, hell rained down on British troops.

The day wore on, and British troops kept marching across. Entire units took losses of 90 percent, basically wiping them out. British forces took 60 percent casualties wounded, missing, and killed. Approximately 19,240 of which were fatalities. They had taken three square miles territory.

The bloodiest day in British military history
Soldiers with the Royal Irish Rifles sit in a communication trench on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
(Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Since France suffered 190,000 casualties during the fight in the Somme, even that is a dubious success.

But the battle wasn’t over. While small changes in tactics and the later introduction of the tank reduced the number of casualties that Britain took, the battle would wage on for five months and the combatants eventually inflicted over 1,000,000 casualties on one another.

While Britain failed to take most of its planned objectives despite throwing hundreds of thousands of men into the grinder, one part was successful. German forces were forced to move some artillery and troops from the attack on Verdun to the Somme, relieving pressure on the French defenders.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How American soldiers turned the tide of World War I

By March 1918, it appeared that Germany was gaining the upper hand in its fight against allied forces during World War I.

The Russian army on the Eastern Front had collapsed, allowing about a million soldiers from Germany and other Central Powers nations who had been engaged there to move against British, French, Canadian, and a small contingent of U.S. forces on the Western Front.

The German Spring Offensive, March through June 1918, was designed to win the war before U.S. troops arrived in substantial numbers, said Air Force Lt. Col. Mark E. Grotelueschen.


And the Germans nearly succeeded, said Grotelueschen, who authored the U.S. Army Center of Military History World War I pamphlet “Into the Fight: April-June 1918.”

By April 1, the Germans had 26 percent more soldiers than all the allied force, and had captured more territory than they had since the war started in 1914. By May 27, they came within 35 miles of Paris. More than a million people fled the French capital and the British contemplated an evacuation of the continent.

The bloodiest day in British military history
The third battle for Aisne took place May 27 – June 6, 1918 and is one of the U.S. Army’s campaign streamers. However, most of the combatants were French, British and German.
(U.S. Army photo by Travis Burcham)

When the Spring Offensive began March 21, there was just one American division, the 1st Infantry Division, at the line of trenches that marked the front line. The other divisions — the 2nd, 42nd and 26th — were still in their final phase of training by the French in a quiet sector away from the front.

In May and June, around 460,000 U.S. soldiers and Marines poured into France to bolster the war effort, he said.

Battle for Cantigny

On April 17, the 1st Infantry Division marched toward Cantigny, in northern France. Before their march, Gen. John Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, gave them a pep talk that left a lasting impression, Grotelueschen said.

Pershing said in part: “You are the finest soldiers in Europe today. … Our people today are hanging upon your deeds. The future is hanging upon your action in this conflict.”

Among those soldiers listening intently to Pershing was Lt. Col. George C. Marshall, the future Army chief of staff, who would later lead the Army through World War II, Grotelueschen said.

During the division’s first few weeks, there were no German infantry attacks, Grotelueschen said. But that didn’t mean it was a safe zone.

The artillery fire was nearly continuous and often included mustard gas, he said. Enemy aircraft adjusted artillery fire and occasionally bombed and strafed the American positions.

The bloodiest day in British military history
Battle of Cantigny



The battle for Cantigny lasted from May 28-30. It was the first American attack ever to use airplanes, tanks and flamethrowers, in addition to mortars and artillery — what is today referred to as combined arms warfare.

It was also the first American-led battle of the war, with the other participants being French troops, Grotelueschen said.

The bulk of the fighting was done by soldiers of the 28th Infantry Regiment. They suffered 941 killed or wounded, while the German toll was around 1,500.

“In the gruesome calculus of an attritional war, the fledgling AEF had done what it needed to do. It had killed and wounded more of the enemy than it had lost,” Grotelueschen noted, adding that it “showed friend and foe alike that Americans will both fight and stick.”

The Cantigny battle would become a theme for the months to follow until the end of the war, Nov. 11, 2018, he said. “The inexperienced Americans helped stop German attacks with tenacious defense; proved able to push the Germans back at various points along the line; and, with rare exceptions, held on to whatever terrain they seized.”

Defense of Chateau-Thierry

The bloodiest day in British military history
The battle for Lys took place April 9 – 27, 1918 and is one of the U.S. Army’s campaign streamers. However, most of the combatants were French, British and German.
(U.S. Army photo by Travis Burcham)

On May 31, elements of the 3rd Infantry Division began arriving in the vicinity of the Chateau-Thierry in northern France.

House-to-house fighting ensued. At one point, the French thought that the Germans would capture the city, so they blew up the main bridge across the Marne River, leaving some American forces stranded on the other side.

The U.S. soldiers put up a brave counterattack, making a “critical contribution to the massive French effort to stop the Germans,” who were now within artillery shelling distance of Paris, Grotelueschen said.

Philippe Petain, commander of the French army, wrote a special citation for the U.S. 7th Machine-Gun Battalion, he said. It read in part: “In the course of violent combat, particularly the 31st of May and the 1st of June, 1918, it disputed foot by foot with the Germans the northern outskirts of Château-Thierry, covered itself with glory, thanks to its valor and its skill, costing the enemy sanguinary losses.”

Joint operations

While the 1st and 3rd Infantry Divisions were engaged in battle, the 2nd Infantry Division, made up of a conglomeration of Army and Marine regiments, was arriving in the vicinity of Lucy-le-Bocage, also in northern France.

Some of the most brutal fighting of the war was done by U.S. Marines in a forest known as Belleau Wood June 6-26.

“The allies were desperate not merely for good news, but especially for reassurances to the tired French and British forces that the Americans had entered the fight at last,” Grotelueschen said. “For their part, the Germans could not ignore the fact that in those battles the rookie 2nd Infantry Division (had) severely damaged regiments from four experienced German divisions. The tide was turning.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Marine Corps ensured Union victory in the Civil War

Before World War I, the U.S. Marine Corps wasn’t the true expeditionary warfighting branch that it is today. It was frequently neglected, underfunded, and at one point entirely disbanded.


The Civil War Marine Corps usually had just a little over 3,000 men but manned the guns at vital points in the Union war machine, helping usher in the victory.

The bloodiest day in British military history
A group of U.S. Marines guards the Washington Naval Yard. (Photo: Library of Congress)

First, in the immediate aftermath of the Articles of Secession, Marine detachments were sent to reinforce federal garrisons in seceding states, including Fort Sumter. While the Marines were unable to reach Sumter, they did reinforce Fort Pickens in Florida which, though threatened by Florida secessionists throughout the war, never fell from Union control.

The bloodiest day in British military history
A group of 348 Marines took part in the first battle of Bull Run as support for a Union artillery battery. (Image: Library of Congress)

But the Marines didn’t just defend backwater outposts. A battalion of 348 Marines under the command of Maj. John Reynolds fought at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. The Marines were credited for brave action through most of the day but were routed with the rest of the Union forces in the afternoon.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Marines to the war effort was their manning guns on Navy ships and guarding Union positions on America’s rivers, helping ensure the success of the Anaconda Plan, which called for the Confederacy to be split in two and starved for supplies.

The bloodiest day in British military history
The Monitor fighting the CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads. Marines were manning guns on many of the wooden ships seen in the background. (Image: National Archives)

One of the most stunning naval battles the Marines took part in was the Battle of Hampton Roads, the first clash of iron vessels in the history of naval warfare. The Marines manned guns on the Union Navy ships USS Cumberland, USS Congress, USS Minnesota and others.

The Cumberland fought bravely against the ironside CSS Virginia, pumping cannon rounds through open portholes on the Virginia, destroying two cannons and killing 19 of the crew. But the Cumberland was eventually doomed by a ram strike from the Virginia. The USS Monitor, also an ironside, arrived and drove off the Virginia from the other wooden-hulled ships.

The bloodiest day in British military history
Vice Adm. David Farragut’s naval attacks at New Orleans were facilitated with Marines at some of the guns. The attack eventually closed the important port to Confederate supplies. (Painting: Mauritz de Haas/Public Domain)

The next month, Marines took part in Navy Capt. David Farragut’s attack on New Orleans. On April 24, 1862, Farragut led his flotilla through a gauntlet of Confederate guns and gunships and captured the city. At one point in the naval battle, Marines stabbed Confederate sailors through the gunports on two ships jammed together and exchanging cannon fire.

Marines later stood guard as the state banner in New Orleans was cut down and the American flag raised.

The bloodiest day in British military history
Cpl Mackie aboard the USS Galena at Drewry’s Bluff. (Painting: U.S. Marine Corps)

On May 15, 1862, Marine Cpl. John Mackie took the first actions for which a Marine would be awarded the Medal of Honor. He was on the USS Galena at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff. When Confederate fire from the shore damaged the ship and knocked an important gun out of action, Mackie got it back into service and led the crew in its operation.

The Marines under Farragut’s command distinguished themselves again when then-Vice Adm. Farragut sent his ships past Confederate torpedoes and Fort Morgan to threaten Mobil Bay, Alabama. It was in this battle, with Marines firing their muskets into enemy portholes, that Farragut uttered his famous curse, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” The attack was ultimately successful.

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(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps flickr)

Finally, the Marines helped close the Confederacy’s last major port through which it received supplies from blockade runners. Fort Fisher held open the port at Wilmington, North Carolina. In January 1865, a naval brigade of sailors and 400 Marines assaulted the fort under heavy fire. While their attack was easily beaten back, it served as a diversion for a second attack by the Army.

The Army was able to take the fort in large part due to the sacrifice of the Marines and sailors. The fall of Fort Fisher closed Wilmington’s port and shut down the last major supply route into the Confederacy. The surrender of Confederate units came faster after this loss of supplies and Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Virginia at Appomatox Court House only three months later.

Articles

This is how German submarines changed the world during World War I

Prior to World War I, Germany was looking for an edge. They couldn’t take on England’s Grand Fleet in a straight fight – especially with a full naval blockade that was in place at the start of the war.


The submarine really made its mark on Sept. 22, 1914, when the U-9, an older U-boat, sank three British cruisers in about an hour in the North Sea.

The most common of the U-boats in German service was the UB III coastal submarine. According to U-Boat.net, that submarine had a range of over 9,000 miles on the surface, and a top speed of 13.6 knots. When submerged, it could go 55 miles and had a top speed of 8 knots. It had four torpedo tubes in the bow, and one in the stern, and carried ten torpedoes with a crew of 34 men.

The bloodiest day in British military history
German U-boats in Kiel. U-20, which sank the Lusitania, is second from the left in the front row. (Library of Congress photo)

U-Boat.net notes that Germany built 375 U-boats of all types during World War I. Of those 375, 202 were lost in action during World War I. The German U-boats were quite successful, though, hitting over 7,500 ships. That said, it is arguable that German submarines also hurt Germany in the war overall, as opinion in the United States turned against Germany after the sinking of the Lusitania, and Germany’s use of unrestricted submarine warfare brought The U.S. into the war.

Ultimately the U-boats were neutralized by the convoy system starting in June, 1917. At the end of World War I, 172 U-boats — some of which were completed after the war — were surrendered to the Allies.

The video below from the History Channel discusses Germany’s World War I U-boats, and how they changed the shape of naval warfare.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is Russia’s airborne combat armored vehicle

Paratroopers are a force to be reckoned with. They can slip far behind enemy lines and wreak havoc against an enemy’s support units, making life easier for those in the main assault and striking fear into those who assumed they were safely behind defenses. What’s worse (for the enemy), after the initial airborne assault, you’re left with the famous “little groups of paratroopers” — small pockets of young men brave enough to jump out of an airplane, all armed to the teeth, ready to defend themselves, and devoid of supervision.

But for as daring and lethal as paratroopers are, they’re still, essentially, light infantry once they hit the ground. Light infantry can do a lot of things, but when they’re tasked with hitting prepared positions or facing off against enemy tanks, they tend to take heavy casualties.

So, how do you reinforce troops that drop from the sky? You drop armor out of the sky, too.


The bloodiest day in British military history

The BMD-1 was the Soviets’ answer to the question of bringing armored support to their paratroopers.

(DOD)

In 1965, the Russians began designing an infantry fighting vehicle that could be air-dropped. Eventually, this came to be known as the BMD-1. BMD stands for Boyevaya Mashina Desanta or, in English, “airborne combat vehicle.”

The BMD-1 packs some impressive firepower: it uses the same turret as the BMP-1, packing a 73mm gun, a launcher for the AT-3 Sagger missile, a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun, and a bow-mounted 7.62mm machine gun. This vehicle has a crew of two and carries five infantry. It has a top speed of 40 miles per hour and can go a little over 370 miles on a tank of gas.

The bloodiest day in British military history

The BMD-1 was widely exported. Saddam Hussein’s regime was one of the purchasers.

(USMC photo by LCPL Andrew P. Roufs)

Unlike its American contemporary, the M551 Sheridan, a vehicle designed to support American paratroopers in similar ways, the BMD was exported to a number of Soviet clients. The BMD saw action in the Angolan Civil War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq War, Desert Storm, and fought in the Second Chechen War and the 2008 Russo-Georgian War.

Learn more about this 7.5-ton hunk of metal that’s designed to be dropped from the sky in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiWi5ChNAxg

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Vito Bertoldo fought as a one-man army for two days

Vito Bertoldo almost didn’t make it into the Army. A former coal miner, he was exempt from the World War II draft due to his bad eyesight. Approved for limited duty after enlisting, he had to get special permission to join the infantry. It’s a good thing he did. 

vito bertoldo

In December 1944, Germany launched Operation Northwind, what would become its last offensive in Western Europe. It was designed to destroy the U.S. 7th Army, whose supply lines were stretched after the Battle of the Bulge. That offensive would meet some major resistance in Hatten, France, specifically at the hands of Vito Bertoldo.

Bertoldo was assigned to protect the movement of a vital command post during a German attack. It was in good hands. As German infantry and armor advanced and the American lines began to crumble, Bertoldo moved outside of the building that housed the command post and set up a machine gun in the street. 

For 12 hours, he held the entire street in full view of the advancing German infantry and tanks. Under fire from the tanks’ 88mm guns and small arms, he fought on, eventually moving back into the building. Once inside, he set his gun up on a table and fired through a window, blasting an entire group of German infantry.

As armored personnel carriers and more tanks approached, he waited for them to dismount before mowing them all down, even taking a tank shell in his position for his trouble. He simply got back up and got back to work. When the command post got a new position, he volunteered to stay behind and cover its withdrawal, staying in the building all night.  

In the morning, he moved into another building and started another daylong defense, fighting off self-propelled howitzers, infantrymen, and tanks. He was hit by another 88mm round but survived. Before the Germans could finish him off, an American bazooka took out the vehicle. 

Bertoldo went back to his gun, yet again, mowing down Germans as they tried to retreat. The command post was evacuated once more, this time under cover of darkness. But the Germans tried to assault the building before the evacuation could begin. This time, Bertoldo lobbed white phosphorous grenades into the massed enemy infantrymen until they broke and withdrew from the attack. 

Once more a German tank round hit the room where Bertoldo was holed up, knocking him to the ground in a daze from 50 yards away. The only difference was this time, Bertoldo’s machine gun was destroyed. So he picked up his rifle and began to singlehandedly cover the movement of the command post to its new location. 

This army of one secured his unit’s command post and all its movement against superior forces for a full two days without rest or relief, killing at least 40 Germans and holding back an entire enemy advance. 

The bloodiest day in British military history

In the end, it wasn’t a Nazi bullet or tank round that would get Vito Bertoldo. He served through the entire war and died of cancer in 1966. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why General William T. Sherman’s battle flag was never used in combat

Battle flags were a big thing during the American Civil War. Perhaps the most famous (and now most notorious) is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Often mistaken for the official flag of the Confederate States of America, the crossed stars and bars flag was flown for Robert E. Lee’s Army – and grew more popular than the actual Confederate flag.

The Union had its own battle flags as well. In fact every general, it seems, had their own battle flag, with some more popular than others. The Army of the Potomac’s battle flag was a swallow-tailed flag featuring a golden eagle and wreath on a magenta background. 

Custer had one. Sheridan had one. So did Burnside, Breckinridge and Cumming. Even the most famous Civil War general (or notorious, depending one which side of the Mason-Dixon line you’re on) had one. Except William Tecumseh Sherman’s flag never saw any fighting. In fact he created his flag as a symbol of peace.

To quickly recap, the Civil War career of Gen. Sherman, he had a nervous breakdown early on in the war. After being relieved of military command of Kentucky, he went home to Ohio to recover. He returned to duty that same year and was eventually placed under the command of his good friend, Ulysses S. Grant.  

This proved to be the entire South’s undoing. Not just the Confederate Army and not just the Confederate States or America: for the entire South, Sherman’s return to duty was the beginning of the end. As Sherman saw successes  on the battlefields of the south, he rose in rank. When Grant took command of the Union Army, he promoted Sherman to his old job.

battle flag
General Sherman’s 23rd Corps’ battle flag, created out of shredded confederate flags (Reddit)

It was this renewed Gen. Sherman who said such famous lines like: 

  • “War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.”
  • “War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”
  • “You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end.”
  • “I am satisfied, and have been all the time, that the problem of this war consists in the awful fact that the present class of men who rule the South must be killed outright rather than in the conquest of territory.”
  • “I regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash — and it may be well that we become so hardened.”
  • and finally: “I will make Georgia howl.”

Sherman was basically the last guy anyone would want invading their country at the almost 100,000 angry Union troops, but that’s exactly what Georgia got. He proceeded to burn down large areas of the rebel state.

Sherman’s flag wasn’t created in the Civil War, though. He commissioned it in 1880, 15 years after the war’s end when he was General of the U.S. Army. His original flags was made of blue silk and was full of symbolism meant to represent the unity between states.

It featured a flying golden eagle with a white head in the center of the flag, it’s head turned toward the olive branch in its talons, a symbol of peace between states. Above the eagle were 13 stars, representing the original 13 colonies, along with a shield covered by 13 stripes. It was a look back at the days when the country had unity of purpose. 

General Sherman died in 1891, and his flag was placed in the care of his daughter, Mary Elizabeth. She donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1918, folded in an envelope and warning the museum that it was in pretty rough shape. It stayed in the envelope until 2013, waiting for the right expert to restore it. 

This is the Smithsonian Institution, so of course they eventually found the right person for the job. Visit their website to see just how badly deteriorated it was and to see how the restoration effort preserved this part of American history.

popular

The creator of ‘Amazing Grace’ was a sailor with a foul mouth

John Newton was not what you’d call a lucky man. One day, he went off to visit some friends in London and was caught up along the way by a press gang – Royal Navy troops sent just to force people into serving aboard the king’s ships. He found himself a midshipman on the HMS Harwich, a position he of course tried to desert immediately. But he was found out, flogged in front of the ship’s company and even attempted suicide.

But the hard luck doesn’t end there. The man who penned the hymn “Amazing Grace” sure lived a life that would inspire such work.


The bloodiest day in British military history
If you ever have a bad day, remember John Newton through his autobiographical writing. (The Cowper and Newton Museum/ Wikimedia Commons)

John Newton’s luck was bad even before his impressment. He was practically an orphan; his mother died of tuberculosis when he was six and he was forced to live with a cold, unfeeling relative. After joining the Navy, Newton renounced his faith and plotted to kill his shipmates. He was so difficult to work with, the crew of the Harwich decided to transfer him to the HMS Pegasus en route to India. The Pegasus was a slave trader, but the change in ships did not suit Newton’s temper. The Pegasus decided to leave him in West Africa during one of its slaving missions.

Not quite marooned but not far from it, Newton connected with an actual slaver. He joined the crew of a slave ship and openly challenged the captain by creating catchy songs about him filled with curses and language unlike anything anyone had ever heard. Sailors were known for their foul mouths, but Newton’s was so bad the slaver’s captain almost starved him to death for it.

That’s when a large storm hit their ship.

The bloodiest day in British military history
Life aboard a British slaver in the mid-1700s. (public domain)

The storm nearly sunk the ship, but Newton and another crewman tied themselves to the ship’s pumps and began to work for 11 hours to keep it from capsizing. After their miraculous escape, Newton saw the storm as a message from God. He began to work harder, eventually commanding his own slaving ship and sailing between ports in Africa and North America. Eventually, the man collapsed from overwork. He returned to England and never sailed again.

It was in his adopted home of Olney where he wrote a series of autobiographical hymnals, including the well-known “Amazing Grace” as we call it today. In this work, Newton learned how he was a “wretch” due to his participation in the North Atlantic Slave Trade. In life, he set out to help abolish it in England. Newton new connected with William Wilberforce, the British Parliamentarian who led the charge against slavery in Britain and ended it in the Empire in 1807.

MIGHTY CULTURE

April Fools’ in the Military: The Best Pranks Among the Ranks

Come April 1st, it’s time to keep your ears opened and your eyes peeled, ready for whatever mischief might come your way. It’s a day where folks of all cultures plan and perform their best tricks, service members from all branches included. From physical pranks, to things that are somehow out of place, to flat-out destructive jokes, April Fools’ Day is known for mischief. There are even historical events, including elaborate and heart-stopping examples of how soldiers took advantage of this day of lighthearted fun.

Take a look at these fun pranks among the military community for a good laugh and possibly some ideas for weeks to come.


The bloodiest day in British military history

German Camp, 1915

On this day in 1915, the Geneva Tribune reported a French plane dropped a large object over a German camp. From a distance, the object appeared to be a huge bomb. Upon seeing it, soldiers ran for cover, though no explosion took place. Eventually, they approached the object, which was actually a giant football. On it was a tag that read, “April fool!”

Europe, 1943, the 30-Day Furlough

In a newspaper article in Stars and Stripes, a European publication for overseas soldiers, readers learned of a 30-day furlough available for overseas service members. They were said to be brought home by the newly refurbished ship, Normanie, which would be manned by Women’s Army Corps. What’s more is it stated on-ship entertainment provided by Gypsy Rose Lee and Betty Grable, two big names at the time.

The bloodiest day in British military history

Britain, 1980

Did you know that Irish bearskin helmets grow hair, so much so that it became a problem wherein they needed trimming? Specially requested by the staff of Buckingham Palace. That was the subject of an April Fools’ article in Soldier, a British magazine published in 1980. They even included scientific evidence on how the hair was able to grow once removed from the animal.

Mediterranean, 1986

While members on the USS Kennedy suspected nothing more than a delivery of mail during a six month deployment in the Mediterranean, jokesters had other intentions. Navy members planned a surprise drop off on April Fools’ Day in 1986. The helicopter landed and released three greased piglets — each painted red, white and blue — who ran across the deck. The event was even filmed for future generations to see!

The bloodiest day in British military history

Old Guard Virginia, 2013

There are working dogs in the military, so why not working cats? Back in 2013 an announcement was made via the U.S. Army that they were launching a trained cat program, wherein felines would help the military moving forward. Specifically, their duties were to help Military Police track narcotics and catch criminals in their tracks.

Okinawa, Japan 2019

In perhaps one of the most widespread pranks in history, on April Fools’ Day, 2019, the Marine Corps base in Okinawa announced via social media that service members could grow facial hair openly … and have pets in their barracks rooms. Putting safety first, the post even mentioned that pets would need to wear reflective belts to ensure their visibility, likely during early morning hours of PT. Funny enough, right? The problem is people believed it! Some went as far as to throw out razors or take on pets, not realizing the whole announcement was a joke.

Traditionally, April Fools’ Day has been a time to bring in jokes and laughter, often with creative pranks. It’s a look back at how military members still saw the bright side of things, whether in time of war, deployment or simply in everyday situations.

Do you have a favorite military-related April Fools’ Day prank? Let us know about it!

Articles

6 of the biggest cocaine busts in Coast Guard history

The Coast Guard, unlike the other military branches, is a law enforcement agency — meaning that it gets wrapped up in all sorts of operations that the Department of Defense generally is barred from by law.


One of the operations commonly undertaken by the Coast Guard is catching drug smugglers and their illicit cargos, and the Coast Guard gives special attention to the lucrative cocaine trade which has given them some of the largest maritime drug busts in history.

Here, in order of size, are six of the largest:

(All dollar values are converted to 2017 values.)

1. 43,000 pounds cocaine

The bloodiest day in British military history
Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton crew stand next to approximately 26.5 tons of cocaine Dec. 15, 2016 aboard the cutter at Port Everglades Cruiseport in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Eric Woodall)

In March 2007, the Coast Guard Cutters Hamilton and Sherman stopped and investigated the Panamanian container ship Gatun and found two containers filled with 43,000 pounds of cocaine which had an estimated wholesale value of $350 million and a potential street value of $880 million.

2. 26,931 pounds cocaine

The bloodiest day in British military history
Cocaine sits inside a hidden compartment on a vessel found by a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment. (Photo: courtesy US Coast Guard)

A U.S. Customs Service plane spotted the fishing trawler Svesda Maru sailing around without functioning fishing equipment in April 2001 and the Customs Service obviously found that suspicious. When a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment arrived, it had to search for five days before they found the secret space below the fishing hold.

In that space, they found 26,931 pounds of cocaine.

3. 24,000 pounds/$143 million

The bloodiest day in British military history
A Coast Guard law enforcement detachment searches a vessel suspected of piracy. (Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Cassandra Thompson)

A Coast Guard boarding team serving onboard a Navy cruiser was sent to investigate a suspected smuggling ship in 1995 and set the then world record for largest maritime drug seizure ever.

In two waste oil tanks they found over 12 tons of cocaine worth the equivalent of $230 million today.

4. 18,000 pounds/$200 million

The bloodiest day in British military history
A U.S. Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules aircraft prepares to drop supplies aboard the national security cutter USCGC Bertholf in the Arctic Ocean Sept. 14, 2012, during a patrol in support of Arctic Shield 2012. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard Public Affairs Specialist 1st Class Timothy Tamargo)

A surveillance aircraft flying off of Central America spotted a possible submarine in the water in 2015 and the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf went to find it.

Surprise: Homemade submarines are usually filled with drugs. This particular sub was filled with almost 18,000 pounds of cocaine, about $205 million worth.

5. 16,000 pounds of cocaine

Just a few months before the Bertholf captured the narco sub with 18,000 pounds of cocaine, the Stratton captured another submarine with an estimated 16,000 pounds of cocaine.

The Coast Guard never found out for certain how much cocaine was onboard because homemade submarines aren’t exactly seaworthy and the vessel sank after 12,000 pounds were offloaded. Congrats, whales.

6. 12,000 pounds

The Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf made another 12,000-pound cocaine bust in March 2016 off the coast of Panama after spotting yet another submersible.

Had to feel like deja vu for the cutter.

Articles

This Komet was the fastest combat plane of World War II

The P-51 may have been the plane that won the skies over Europe, and the Me-262 and Gloster Meteor may have been the first operational jet fighters on the sides of the Axis and Allies.


But those planes weren’t the fastest. That honor goes to the Me 163 “Komet.”

The Me 163 was short (about 19.5 feet long), with a wingspan of about 30 feet and looks like a miniature version of the B-2 Spirit. It was armed with two Mk 108 30mm cannon intended to rip apart Allied planes and it had a top speed of almost 600 miles per hour.

The bloodiest day in British military history
Me 163 at the Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So, why isn’t it more well-known? Well, for starters, the way the plane got its speed — by using a rocket engine — tended to burn up a lot of fuel. That gave it a little over seven minutes of powered flight. The short flight time meant the Me 163 really didn’t have much range — about 25 miles.

After the fuel ran out, the Me 163 was an armed, fast glider. When it landed, it had to be towed. That meant it was a sitting duck until help arrived, and Allied pilots would just wait for the plane to start gliding down before putting a burst into it.

The bloodiest day in British military history
A P-47’s gun-camera footage shows a Me 163 just prior to being shot down. (USAF photo)

According to MilitaryFactory.com, despite operating for about 10 months, the Me 163 just didn’t get a lot of kills – anywhere from nine to 16, depending on the estimate. That’s less than one pera month. Furthermore, only one fighter group ever operated the plane, which was also hobbled by a shortage of rocket fuel.

AcePilots.com notes that the Me 163 was also dangerous to fly. The rocket fuel ingredients were very nasty – and when they leaked through the suit, it did bad things to the pilot. It wasn’t unheard of for Me 163s to just explode on landing as residual amounts of fuel would mix.

The bloodiest day in British military history
This Me 163 in Australian hands shows what a Komet looked like after landing. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

For all intents and purposes, the Me 163 was a manned, reusable surface-to-air missile that could make two attacks. Eventually, the Nazis decided to just use an expendable rocket instead of a manned plane for these types of missions.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A fighter pilot shot his own fuel tanks mid-flight over Korea

In 1952, Lt. Col. A.J. D’Amario took off from an airstrip at Suwon, Korea in a F-80 Shooting Star jet fighter. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. He wasn’t going into combat and his plane was – he thought – in perfect working condition. He was wrong. 

D’Amario’s seemingly inconsequential flight was soon turned into a mid-air fight for his life that would see him turn his sidearm on his own plane before he could land safely. 

Writing on TailSpinTales, an aviation enthusiast blog, the then-retired Lt. Col. D’Amario recalled his 1952 flight at the height of the Korean War. He wasn’t going to see the enemy and his mission, as he put it, was “have fun boring holes in the sky for about an hour and a half.”

But almost immediately after takeoff, he could feel there was something wrong with his F-80 Shooting Star. The F-80 was the United States first operational jet fighter aircraft. It saw some action over Italy during World War II, but didn’t see extensive combat until years later in the Korean War. 

D’Amario writes that his F-80 felt heavy in the left wing and he quickly surmised that the left fuel tank was not feeding into the engine. Since he could neither land with the fuel (as prohibited by the tower) nor use the fuel, he was told to fly over to a bomber training field and drop the tank there before landing. 

U.S. Air Force P-80 Shooting Stars with drop tanks.
U.S. Air Force P-80 Shooting Stars with drop tanks.
(Lockheed)

So the pilot flew to the assigned bomber training field. But when the time came to drop the tank in a simulated bomb run, nothing happened. So D’Amario made another simulated bombing run. This time nothing still happened when he pressed the release button. So the pilot decided to give the bomb run one last shot.

This time, he was going to use the manual release for the drop tank. Nothing. On his fourth and final attempt to rid himself of the jammed fuel tank, he pressed what he called “the panic button.” This button was supposed to release everything attached to the wings of the airframe. It almost worked as advertised.

To D’Amario’s dismay, he did drop everything hanging off the Shooting Star’s fuselage. Except that left wing external fuel tank was still holding on strong. When he told the control tower that his tank wasn’t coming off, they advised him to give his coordinated, eject and wait for a rescue party. 

Fighter pilot D'Amario
D’Amario retired from the Air Force as a Lt. Col.
(U.S. Air Force)

“Well, pilots really hate to punch out of a perfectly flyable airplane and I figured I still had one option worth trying,” he wrote. 

Dropping to the lowest possible speed he could for an F-80, he opened his canopy at 220 miles per hour and drew his .45 sidearm. Knowing the fuel would not burn in its liquid form, he aimed his issued Colt 1911 pistol at an area of the tank where he knew the fuel would be liquified.

He fired the pistol at least four times in a desperate attempt to shoot himself down. He had a few solid hits, large enough to watch the liquid pouring out of the errant fuel tank. The airman at the stick of the Shooting Star decided to flay in a manner that would drain the excess fuel from his fuel tank.

With three solid holes and some fancy flying, the American drained the fuel as fast as they could. He flew in a series of so-called “fancy” maneuvers that would help drain the fuel out as fast as possible for another 30 minutes. 

That’s exactly what happened. He was finally cleared to land.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This American admiral planned the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1932

An American admiral launched an almost perfect carrier attack on Pearl Harbor during an exercise in 1932, but the military failed to learn its lesson, allowing the Japanese to launch almost exactly the same attack 9 years later.


Rear Adm. Harry E. Yarnell was an early proponent of aircraft carriers, but his displays of air power were discounted by the most of the admiralty.

The aircraft was invented in 1903 and, almost immediately, the military started to look at how to use the technology in combat. But different military branches from different nations moved at different speeds, and many navies considered planes an observation platform and nothing more.

 

The bloodiest day in British military history

In World War I, pilots bombed enemy targets by throwing munitions from their planes, but aerial bombing was still considered a stunt by many, and the U.S. Navy brass was convinced that airplanes weren’t a threat to their capital ships.

Between the wars, aviation pioneers tried to get the Navy and Army to understand how important planes would be in the next war. Army Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell had some success in 1921 when his men sank the captured German battleship Ostrfriesland in a test.

Eleven years later, Yarnell was given command of the attacking force in an annual exercise to test the U.S. defenses at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The defenders were certain that he, like all of his predecessors, would launch his attack using his battleships and cruisers.

Instead, he turned to his carriers.

The bloodiest day in British military history

Yarnell ordered his cruisers to remain near San Diego in complete radio silence while his two carriers, the USS Lexington and USS Saratoga, proceeded to Pearl Harbor with three destroyer escorts inside a massive rainstorm that hid them from enemy observers and radar.

On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 7, 1932, the attacking fleet was in position and Battleship Row was essentially asleep, just like Dec. 7, 1941. And, except for Japan’s use of modified torpedoes and the size of the respective fleets, the attacks were nearly mirrors of one another.

The bloodiest day in British military history

 

The fighters took off first, F-4Bs. They launched strafing runs against the defenders’ fighters, barracks, and other assets, keeping them from taking off. Behind them, flights of BM-1 dive bombers dropped flares and bags of flour that simulated bombs, “destroying” every single battleship and many of the other vessels.

Like the Japanese, Yarnell attacked from the northeast and, like the Japanese, he attacked in the wee hours of a Sunday morning.

 

The bloodiest day in British military history

The referees of the exercise declared Yarnell the clear winner, but later reversed their decision when Pearl Harbor admirals and generals complained that Yarnell acted in an unfair manner.

Their complaints included that Sunday morning was an “inappropriate” time for an attack and that “everyone knew that Asians lacked sufficient hand-eye coordination to engage in that kind of precision bombing,” according to Military.com.

The bloodiest day in British military history

Good ole, racism, stopping military preparedness. The Japanese, meanwhile, had naval officers at their consulate on Oahu who witnessed the exercise and read the press coverage that followed, allowing them to report on it to their superiors almost 10 years before Japan launched its own attack.

The bulk of the U.S. military refused to accept the result, just like many of them refused to accept the result of Mitchell’s bombing of the German battleship. In 1941, average sailors and soldiers paid the price for their hubris.

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