Jimmy Doolittle – the man who bombed Tokyo just 5 months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – called Bob Hoover “the greatest stick-and-rudder man that ever lived.” Hoover had only been flying for five years by the time World War II broke out.
Hoover was captured by the Nazis after being shot down on his 59th mission over Europe.
The ace wasn’t about to spend the war in a prison camp, though. After 16 months as a POW, he was determined to get out and get back to the action. He staged a fight between fellow prisoners, jumped over the Stalag’s barb wire fence, and stole an unguarded Focke-Wulf 190 from the nearby airfield. He then flew it to newly-liberated Holland.
After the war, Hoover had an illustrious aviation career. He became a test pilot and Air Force legend, even backing up Chuck Yeager when he broke the sound barrier in his Bell X-1 in 1947.
A “pilot’s pilot,” Hoover continued to fly in air shows until 2000.
Sadly, Hoover died on October 25, 2016, but was fondly remembered by his admirers and friends in the aviation community, including Buzz Aldrin, who tweeted:
Military history is full of blunders. Even the best among history’s greatest leaders made mistakes in their careers, often at critical times. Napoleon took too long to invade Russia. The Crusader kingdoms decided to march their army in full armor across a burning desert to attack Saladin on his own ground, heck President Truman even called Douglas MacArthur a “dumb son-of-a b*tch.”
During the American Civil War, any ill-timed loss or setback could have been catastrophic for either side. So winning when it mattered was vitally important. Too bad no one told these guys.
There’s no better example of poor execution ruining an excellent plan than the Battle of Fredericksburg. When the Union Army under Ambrose Burnside wanted to invade Virginia across the Rappahannock River, all went exactly as planned… until it came time to actually cross it. Gen. Henry Halleck, who was an excellent administrator but a terrible field commander, didn’t get the bridges downriver in time for the Union to keep the initiative. By the time they actually crossed the river, the Confederates were ready for them. But even so, the Federals could have been better – and that’s Burnside’s fault.
Burnside wasn’t exactly acting with military precision when he ordered his subordinates to attack the rebels with “at least a division” when the original plan called for some 60,000 troops. His underlings, following their orders, threw a thousand men in single waves at the reinforced enemy lines. Outnumbered by a lot, the rebels repelled the Federal Army, who retreated across the Rappahannock.
At Shiloh, the Confederates boldly placed their camp near Sherman’s headquarters, achieving complete tactical surprise on the morning of the battle, a fight Sherman wanted to avoid. Eventually, the unprepared Union troops were forced into a fight by the approaching enemy army. But the Confederates weren’t able to press this advantage because Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston left P.G.T. Beauregard in command of the army from the rear, and then ran off to lead the fight from the front. Beauregard’s coordination led to the whole confederate Army getting mixed up in the fight. Later in the day, Johnston was killed after spending too many lives trying to take a fortified Union position called the “Hornet’s Nest” – an unnecessary venture.
The next day, the Confederates were down to half-strength, and the lull in the previous day’s fighting had allowed the Union to get reinforcements. Without knowing he was outnumbered by more than two-to-one, Beauregard remained in the battle and was himself surprised by a Union counterattack the next morning. The Confederates were later forced to retreat, having completely lost the initiative.
Cold Harbor could have won the war for the Union in 1864. Instead, it’s a lesson learned. During the Overland Campaign, Grant and the Union Army ground at Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia for nearly two months with some 120,000 troops, outnumbering Lee two-to-one. The culmination of the campaign was an attack on the Confederate defenses at Cold Harbor, where Grant gambled that Lee’s decimated army would be so exhausted it would fall to a Union onslaught. Grant was right, and the defenses fell, and then he went onto Richmond, and the war was over.
Of course, that’s not what happened. What happened is the same thing that happens when any army throws thousands of men at reinforced defenses manned by veteran troops: wholesale slaughter. Grant massed his men in front of the Confederate defenses, and the rebels just fired shot after shot of canister into the throngs. Grant lost nearly 10 percent of his army, more than 12,000 men – and the war dragged on.
At the Siege of Petersburg, Va., an engagement that lasted nearly a full year, Union engineers dug a mineshaft underneath the Confederate defenses. It was a brilliant plan to destroy the Confederate defenses from below instead of attacking them head-on (Grant had learned a little lesson from Cold Harbor, so at least there’s that). There was a special division that had been drilling and training for the assault on the rebel lines immediately after the mine was blown up. They would roll up the rebels through the hole created in the defenses, and everyone could go home. The only problem was that that division happened to be an all-black U.S. Colored Troops unit, so at the last minute, Gen. George G. Meade swapped them out with a bunch of untrained rabble and put the world’s worst officer in charge of the attack.
The mine blew as planned and created a giant crater on the battlefield. The officer in command, Gen. James Ledlie, didn’t brief his men that they would be attacking around a crater and then got drunk during the battle. Instead of going around the crater and attacking, the Union troops ran into it, found it was too deep to get out of, and just stayed there while the rebels killed them.
Antietam (hear me out…)
While Antietam isn’t technically a loss, it should have been a slam dunk for the Union Army. Instead, it was a gross loss of life. They outnumbered the rebels three-to-one, Lee had divided his forces into three different parts to facilitate its movement, oh, and George B. McClellan actually had Lee’s entire battle plan the whole time. It was found by two Union soldiers and delivered to the Union commander who waited a whole 18 hours to do anything about it. After squandering his foreknowledge of Lee’s plans, McClellan then dithered further, allowing Lee’s forces to mass near Sharpsburg, Md.
Once the armies were all set, the battle began, and the slaughter commenced. What should have been an easy rout for the Union turned out to be the bloodiest day in American history up until that point. After barely managing a win, McClellan allowed Lee’s army to escape without further harassment. McClellan’s lack of aggression was so apparent that President Lincoln fired him for it.
You’ve probably suspected it from WATM’s coverage of the “Kuznetsov Follies,” but let’s just go out and say it: Russia’s navy is a basket case. A floating disaster of aging, decrepit ships and not that many of them – which is a far cry from what the Soviet Navy was in the Cold War.
To get a sense of how far the Russian Navy has fallen, in 1991, the Soviet Union had seven carriers — two Moskva-class helicopter carriers, four Kiev-class vessels, and one Kuznetsov-class ship, with two more (another Kuznetsov and a nuclear-powered design) under construction.
Today, there’s just the Kuznetsov, with her then-under-construction sister now serving with China, and a highly-remodeled Kiev serving with India.
How did this happen? A big part was the fact that after the fall of the Soviet Union, the ship-building industry collapsed, and the projects that fueled it. Not only that, many of the Soviet Navy’s naval engines were built in what was then the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Now, the Ukraine is an independent country, and the two countries aren’t exactly on friendly terms. Russia is reportedly looking to import naval engines from China. Even if that happens, new ships are a long way off.
Rumors persist that plans to modernize two of the four Kirov-class nuclear-powered battle cruisers were scrapped, and the Admiral Ushakov, formerly the Kirov, has been idle for nearly two decades after an accident. Russia has been developing and building smaller vessels, including the Gorshkov and Grigorovoch classes of frigate and the Karakurt and Derzky classes of corvette. These ships are heavily armed and superior to the American littoral combat ships.
You can see a video below, further explaining how the Russian Navy sank so far from its status as a blue-water threat in the Cold War.
“If you are qualified, fate has a way of getting you to the right place at the right time – tho’ sometimes it appears to be a long, long wait,” professed Marine Col. Dave Shoup.
Fate was certainly on Shoup’s side at Tarawa Atoll, and he didn’t shrink from the occasion.
The 38-year-old Indiana native was one of the four Marines awarded the Medal of Honor for their deeds at Tarawa Atoll in November 1943, one of the most brutal engagements fought in the Pacific during WWII.
Shoup was the only recipient to survive the battle and receive this honor in person.
The battle as a whole was plagued by bad planning and poor decision making, but individual acts of heroism and the sheer willpower of the troops engaged in combat won the day for the Americans.
Shoup was born in December 1904 on a farm in Battle Ground, Indiana, near the site of General William H. Harrison’s victory at Tippecanoe in 1811. Shoup would mirror the same bold leadership qualities of the leader of that battle fought in his backyard 90 years before.
Upon completing high school, Shoup desired to attend college and not remain as an “Indiana plowboy” for the remainder of his life. He attended DePauw University as an ROTC student and successfully graduated in 1926. He transferred to the Marines in the same year after spending only one month in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant.
Leading up to 1943, Shoup spent time on a number of assignments in the United States, China, and Iceland. He slowly climbed up the ranks in his 15 years of service leading up to WWII, when he was promoted to colonel.
He had a reputation of being a straightforward officer, earning the praise of the men under his command for sharing in their hardships on and off the battlefield. One correspondent described him as “a squat red-faced man, with a bull neck,” known by those who surrounded him as a “profane shouter of orders.”
The greatest trial of Shoup’s life came during the invasion of the Japanese-held Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands.
Tarawa Atoll consisted of a series of islands surrounded by a large coral reef stretching up to 1,100 yards from the shoreline. The Japanese occupied Tarawa Atoll in December 1941 and spent two years leading up to the battle turning it into a formidable obstacle. They fortified the islands with barbed wire and a network of trenches and built an airfield.
The Japanese garrison consisted of about 5,000 men, all willing to die to the last man. Occupation of the island was critical for the U.S. to establish forward operating bases in the Pacific, and the Japanese continued to fortify it up to the day of the invasion.
Shoup was one of the 20,000 Marines of the 2nd Marine Division to land at Tarawa Atoll on November 20, 1943. The Marine division — meshed with veterans of Guadalcanal and raw recruits — made their way to the beach transported by amtracs and landing craft.
The small perimeter of the beachhead became cluttered with bodies and debris as parties of Marines attempted to gain a foothold and power their way inland, while exposed to a barrage of Japanese machine gun and mortar fire. Chaos reigned supreme as the some of the vehicles loaded with reinforcements became bogged down on the reef.
For a time, it appeared the attack on Tarawa Atoll would falter, as many men were pinned down in the shallow water near the reef, either unable or unwilling to move to reinforce the beachhead.
Shoup ordered his men to advance forward from the reef to the beachhead as Japanese artillery, machine gun barrages, and rifle fire rained down on them. Suddenly, a Japanese mortar round exploded nearby, flinging shrapnel into his legs.
He refused to be evacuated despite the severity of the debilitating wound.
At one point, the defiant colonel shouted to his men, “Are there any of you cowardly sons of bitches got the guts to follow a colonel of the Marines?” The Marines were inspired by his valor and selflessness, and followed him forward.
Shoup assumed command of all land troops upon reaching the beachhead. He ignored the agony of his wounds, and marched up and down the line with his pistol unholstered, coolly directing the advance of Marines further inland.
Success was measured in yards, and the Marines methodically overcame the Japanese defenses.
By the time the battle ended, less than 200 of the original 4,000-man Japanese garrison remained to surrender. They had inflicted a staggering 3,000 casualties on the Second Marine Division. Shoup remained on his feet directing the fight for about 50 hours, finally relinquishing command to be treated for his wounds only when most of Tarawa Atoll was in Americans hands.
Without Shoup’s direction and valor, Tarawa Atoll may well have been a catastrophic defeat. Shoup lived for another 40 years until his death in 1983 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
After the pair met, they maneuvered into a vertical scissor, followed by other aerial dogfight maneuvers when things took a turn for the worse as Foust found himself in a left-hand turn flat spin.
For several moments, Foust remained in the deadly spin as he attempted to recover using his training and emergency procedures but was unsuccessful in pulling out of the dive. Lowe instructed his wingman to eject which he did 8,000 feet above the ground.
After the ejection, the Delta Dart nose dived recovering itself from the flat spin and landed a few miles away in a wheat field next to a small town named Big Sandy. The jet skidded a few hundred yards in 6 inches of snow while in idle until running out of fuel as Foust parachuted to the ground safely.
With no major structural damage, the aircraft was transported to McClellan Air Force Base to receive repairs and returned to service. Nine years after the incident, Foust was reassigned to pilot the “Cornfield Bomber” once again.
The Convair F-106 Delta Dart now calls the United States Air Force National Museum home.
Fighter aces — those pilots responsible for taking down at least five other aircraft — are almost as old as aviation itself. Since World War I, young men have been willing to risk death to earn glory and become “knights of the air” or the “cavalry of the clouds.” There have been thousands of pilots who achieved ace status, many whom have racked up far more than five downings. None, however, have ever managed the singular feat of becoming a fighter ace on both sides in the same war.
That is, none except one…
Pierre Le Gloan was from Brittany, born in the Breton town of Kergrist-Moelou on June 1, 1913. He joined the French Armee de l’Air in 1931 as soon as he was old enough to enlist. Before his death in 1943, he achieved ace status in both the French Air Force and under the collaborationist Vichy regime after the fall of France in 1940. With 18 kills to his name and as France’s fourth-highest-scoring ace of World War II, he remains the only pilot in history to become an ace on both sides of the same conflict.
When war came, he was flying a Morane-Saulnier MS.406. On Nov. 23, 1939 he claimed his first kill, a Dornier DO.17 reconnaissance aircraft. Another DO.17 fell to his guns on March 2, 1940.
Pierre Le Gloan with his famous D.520.
All pilots in Le Gloan’s squadron were then re-equipped with the newer and better Dewoitine D.520. Le Gloan lost no time in taking full advantage of the use of a better fighter. During the Battle of France in the summer of 1940 he had a hot streak. In June he shot down four German and Italian bombers: two Heinkel 111 planes and two Fiat BR.20 bombers.
It didn’t end there. The highlight of Le Gloan’s career was to come on June 15. His squadron met a squadron of Italian CR.42 fighters. Attacking with enthusiasm, he shot down no less than three of them. Encountering another CR.42 and a BR.20 on his way back to base, Le Gloan attacked and shot down both of them.
Taking down five aircraft in one day has seldom been achieved by even the highest-scoring fighter aces, and Le Gloan was justly rewarded. His five-kill streak brought him up to 11 kills, well above the five required for ace status. He was also promoted to 2nd Lieutenant to acknowledge his remarkable feat.
On June 20, his squadron was transferred to Algeria, then a French colony. With the fall of France and the installation of Marshal Petain’s Vichy puppet government, the French forces in North Africa were under Vichy command. To Le Gloan, it made no difference. He’d flown, fought, and killed for France. Now, he would do the same for Vichy.
His second fighting streak came in June and July of 1941. Fighting for Vichy and taking on Britain’s Royal Air Force, Le Gloan shot down five of the RAF’s Hurricane fighters, a Gloster Gladiator, and another aircraft that remains unidentified. He’d taken down 11 for France and had added another seven for Vichy. At the war’s end, only Jean Demozay (21 kills), Marcel Albert (23 and two probables), and Pierre Clostermann (33 kills) ranked higher among French aces. Le Gloan’s career would not, however, last much longer.
Neither would his life.
The Allies launched Operation Torch in November 1942. With Allied forces liberating North Africa and Field-Marhsal Montgomery’s famous ‘Desert Rats’ pushing westward after the victory at El Alamein, the Vichy regime’s days were numbered. So were Pierre Le Gloan’s.
Soon, all former Vichy forces were siding with the Allies, including Le Gloan’s fighter squadron. Reequipped in May 1943 with the American P-39 Airacobra, a new fighter might have given the newly promoted Capitaine Le Gloan another winning streak. Might have, if not for a design feature on the Airacobra that wasn’t on the Morane-Saulnier or the Dewoitine: an external fuel tank mounted under the belly meant to be jettisoned when empty or if about to enter a dogfight.
Le Gloan had never flown a fighter with a drop tank. Over the sea on a routine patrol on September 11, 1943 he began to experience mechanical problems. As the Airacobra was not the finest fighter ever built — this wasn’t unusual for pilots who had to fly them. Comparing the Airacobra to the legendary Supermarine Spitfire or P-51 Mustang was like comparing a rent-a-wreck with a Ferrari. With smoke streaming from his aircraft, Le Gloan decided to return to base and land, forgetting to jettison the drop tank. It was a fatal mistake.
Le Gloan, in the midst of severe mechanical difficulties, might have been safer bailing out than trying to land, even if he had remembered to jettison the extra tank. As it was, he attempted to land. It would have been a difficult landing at the best of times in a malfunctioning aircraft and, his mind on other things, Le Gloan forgot to drop the tank. As he touched the ground, the undercarriage collapsed.
The drop tank, still full, ruptured instantly. As the Airacobra screeched along the runway, the mixture of aviation fuel and sparks caused the plane to erupt into a fireball. Pierre Le Gloan, 18-kill ace, only pilot ever to become an ace on both sides in the same war, was burned alive.
Today, his name is largely forgotten except to history buffs, aviation enthusiasts, and the townsfolk of Kergrist-Moelou. Deciding to either forget or gloss over his having flown, fought, and killed in the service of Vichy, the residents of Le Gloan’s hometown named a street after him. Even so, as time passes, fewer people who use it remember either the man or his remarkable place in military history.
They watched for bubbles to surface as the man with a crude scuba mask swam across the basement pool of a prominent Washington hotel 75 years ago this week.
That top-secret World War II-era experiment, seeking to develop the sabotage skills of America’s first elite swimmer-commandos, was the critical opening chapter in the evolving history of the U.S. Navy SEALs.
That afternoon, covert operatives watching Christian Lambertsen’s underwater swim were focused more on whether the air bubbles would break the surface and betray his mission. Nobody saw any.
Last week, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel above Rock Creek Park, in the same room that once housed the pool, a crowd gathered to commemorate that fateful event.
They included some prominent former SEALs — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Joseph Kernan, and Rep. Scott Taylor, Virginia Republican — in addition to veterans of the fabled World War II espionage unit and predecessor to the CIA, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Society, which sponsored the affair.
Combat historian and best-selling author Patrick K. O’Donnell discussed Lambertsen’s newly revealed story. In his 2015 book, “First SEALs: The Untold Story of the Forging of America’s Most Elite Unit,” Mr. O’Donnell explored what triggered Washington’s scramble for swimmer-commandos and traced it back to an incident in the waters off the coast of Egypt less than two weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
On the night of Dec. 19, 1941, the British navy suffered a devastating sabotage attack. A tanker and two battleships were sunk in Alexandria Harbor, the home of the British navy’s eastern Mediterranean fleet.
Perplexed British intelligence officers soon determined who did it: Six Italian swim commandos, or “frogmen,” using underwater breathing devices, had covertly infiltrated the harbor. The news rattled the British and U.S. governments.
“As a result of [the Italians’] daring attack, the balance of maritime power in that part of the world shifted, setting off an underwater arms race,” Mr. O’Donnell wrote.
Because America had no special operations units in 1942, officials turned to the OSS to create them.
Launched by the legendary Gen. William Donovan, whose statue now stands outside CIA headquarters, the OSS in its heyday deployed more than 13,000 operatives, a third of them women, in addition to four future CIA directors.
Pioneers of intelligence collection and unconventional warfare, OSS agents were, in Gen. Donovan’s words, “glorious amateurs” who undertook “some of the bravest acts of the war.” Agents quickly dove into developing underwater combat swim technology for its Maritime Unit, or MU.
Finding that the Navy lacked equipment, the OSS enlisted Mr. Lambertsen. At the time, he was a young civilian medical student at the University of Pennsylvania who had developed what he called an underwater “rebreather,” cobbled together from an old World War I gas mask, a bicycle pump, and other parts.
Mr. O’Donnell said the early secret tests on the rebreather were dicey. Once, OSS scientists filled an airtight chamber with poisonous gas, a dog, a canary, and Mr. Lambertsen.
“First the canary and then the dog fell over, as expected (they were not wearing rebreathers), but when Lambertsen leaned over to check the animals, he fell over too,” Mr. O’Donnell writes. “Fortunately, Lambertsen survived, and development of the device continued.”
Experiments continued at the Shoreham hotel because its basement pool was one of the largest in the city at the time.
Soon, the OSS and Mr. Lambertsen were supervising the manufacture of America’s first rebreather for military use, in addition to wetsuits, swim fins, face masks, motorized surfboards, floating mattresses, and even one-man submarines.
The OSS MU then kicked into high gear, recruiting a motley, street-smart, distinguished crew of lifeguards, doctors, Olympic-caliber swimmers, and surfers, a roster that included future San Francisco 49ers receiver and kicker Gordon Soltau and Marine Sterling Hayden, who went on to Hollywood fame in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” as the paranoid, nuclear-war-starting Gen. Jack D. Ripper and as Capt. McCluskey in “The Godfather.”
The unit conducted some of the war’s most perilous missions across Europe and Asia, conducting sabotage, gathering intelligence, supplying resistance movements, capturing high-value targets, and infiltrating enemy coastlines using floating mattresses.
The SEALs, which stands for “sea, air, land,” were formally established by President Kennedy in 1962. Today, they rank as some of the world’s most elite troops partaking some of the riskiest missions.
But the role of the OSS is not forgotten. The Maritime Unit that got its start in a Washington hotel pool began to formulate the capabilities of today’s SEAL teams, according to naval historians.
As for Mr. Lambertsen, he would become known as the “Father of American Combat Swimming” after coining the term “scuba.”
“The OSS Maritime Unit is a case study in innovation and American exceptionalism,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “A small group of men with hardly any funding but a lot of courage took an idea and forged a reality that lives on today.”
In 2016, after years of lobbying by the OSS Society, Congress awarded OSS veterans the Congressional Gold Medal. The society is now fundraising to build a National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations in Northern Virginia. Charles Pinck, the society’s president, said the museum’s purpose will be to “honor Americans who served at ‘the tip of the spear’ and inspire future generations of Americans to serve their country.
Where should you turn if you want to bring down the man? If you want to destroy the pillars of an oppressive society, one of the best places you could turn is, ironically, the U.S. military. It has a guide on how to make land mines, mortar tubes, and even propellants for rockets right at home. TM 31-210 can help you become a full-on anarchist or, as the government would prefer, a resistance fighter in another country.
Joint special operations teams do lots of cool stuff like this, but they also train guerrilla warriors to build rockets. Which, now that we come to think of it, is also cool.
(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Clayton Cupit)
TM 31-120, the Improvised Munitions Handbook, was originally an annex for a Special Forces manual, and it was always aimed at helping resistance fighters fight against leaders that American administrations didn’t like.
Special Forces soldiers and the occasional CIA spook would show up in foreign countries and help train up locals to conduct operations against enemy regimes, and sometimes they could even drop a few hundred crates of weapons and ammunition.
But U.S. logistics and purchases have serious limitations and drawbacks when it comes to guerrilla operations, especially when the U.S. doesn’t want to get caught helping. If American C-130s are constantly flying over the Cuban countryside dropping crates, then the Castros are going to know just who to blame for any uprisings.
As the handbook says:
In Unconventional Warfare operations it may be possible or unwise to use conventional military munitions as tools in the conduct of certain missions. It may be necessary instead to fabricate the required munitions from locally available or unassuming materials.
So Special Forces soldiers left copies of this handbook. Resistance forces could use any weapons and munitions the Americans dropped off, and then they could make their own landmines out of tin cans. Yeah, the Army published a guide, in 1969, that explained how to make IEDs.
I would say it’s weird that MREs are heated against a “rock or something” while nitric acid instructions specify “rock or can,” but a mistake while making nitric acid could be deadly.
(U.S. Army TM 31-120)
Take the instructions for “PIPE PISTOL FOR 9 MM AMMUNITION”
All you need is a 4-inch length of 1/4-inch steel pipe, a pipe plug, two couplings, a metal strap, two rubber bands, a flat head nail, two wood screws, a piece of wood, a drill, and an 8-inch long rod.
Yup, that’s 14 items. And it only takes 11 steps to modify and assemble them. The pipe becomes a barrel with a little drilling. Slip the nail in as a firing pin, tape the barrel to the wood and cut it into a stock, then use the rubber bands and a nail to turn the metal strap into a cocking hammer.
The guide does caution that you should test the pistol five times with a string from behind a wall before carrying it into a fight.
And many of the schematics and instructions in the book assume that you’ll have some sort of access to actual modern weapons.
For instance, the tin-can landmine is reliant on a fragmentation grenade, same with the shotgun grenade launcher. But the ten recipes for “GELLED FLAME FUELS,” basically a poor man’s napalm, are made almost exclusively from household materials.
The whole handbook is interesting from an engineering, MacGyver, or historical perspective. But, and we shouldn’t have to say this, you should never try any of this at home. First of all, it’s super dangerous. The book is literally a bunch of dangerous chemical experiments complete with explosives. But also, making any of this stuff is a great way to get arrested on suspicion of domestic terrorism.
Carrying troops into combat, or at least close enough that they can walk to it, was a fairly basic art for thousands of years. Horses or boats did the job until motorized vehicles started to be used in large numbers in the beginning of the 20th century.
During World War II, airborne and glider troops made mass assaults with thousands of troops possible at long ranges. While this was a huge leap forward, airborne operations came with some major liabilities. As seen during the D-Day landings, the accuracy of these drops was lacking, and troops could end up far from their intended drop zones. Just as importantly, parachutes and gliders were both one-way trips, and troops were largely on their own until their leg counterparts could catch up.
Helicopters promised to change all that. Which helicopter was officially “first” is subject to some dispute, but vertical flight was largely a novelty for many years. Toward the end of World War II, some primitive rotary-wing aircraft saw limited action in the Pacific doing rescue missions, but they were far from a decisive arm.
After World War II, the Marine Corps first saw the utility of helicopters in an air assault role. As the service contemplated how amphibious assaults would remain viable in the Atomic Age, it concluded that the ability to cover much greater distances would be necessary. The Corps stood up Marine Helicopter Squadron One, HMX-1, and experimented with employing helicopters in amphibious warfare, developing the first doctrine on the subject.
The Korean War launched the helicopter from infancy to adolescence. The Marine Corps performed the first mass resupply via helicopter on Sept. 13, 1951. Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161 (HMR-161) used HRS-1 helicopters to deliver 74 Marines and more than 18,000 pounds of supplies to an area known as the Punchbowl. A week later, they performed the first combat troop lift, delivering 224 Marines to a hilltop in the area.
It took nearly two more years for the Army to perform its first helicopter assault, but true to form, it was bigger than the Marines’. On July 13, 1953, Army H-19 helicopters of the 1st Transportation Helicopter Battalion lifted more than 800 Republic of Korea troops.
The Kennedy administration’s focus on “brushfire wars” and shift to a doctrine of “flexible response” contrasted with Eisenhower’s “massive retaliation” and gave birth to what the Army would call “air assault.” Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara insisted on increasing the tactical mobility of the US Army. Under Lt. Gen. Hamilton Howse, the Army conducted a series of experiments at Fort Bragg in the early 1960s, leading to the formation of the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning, which soon became the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
The “1st Air Cav” became one of the most storied units of the Vietnam War, which became known as the “helicopter war.” Given the terrain and the enemy insurgency in that conflict, helicopters — usually the UH-1 “Huey” — gave US forces a tactical advantage. Large insertions of troops into “hot” landing zones would become a trademark of the conflict, and ultimately, more than 5,000 of the roughly 12,000 helicopters used during that war were lost.
After Vietnam, the Marines returned to their traditional focus on amphibious assault and using helicopters accordingly. The Army returned to focusing on Europe and deterring the Soviet bloc. Helicopters, now mostly the UH-60 Black Hawk instead of the Huey, formed the most mobile element first in “Active Defense” and later in “AirLand Battle.”
Fortunately, Europe never needed American helicopter assaults to save it, but 1991 gave those aircraft a chance to shine. The 101st Air Assault Division mounted a brigade-sized lift to envelop the northern flank of Iraqi troops defending Kuwait as part of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s famous “left hook” attack. The operation validated the utility of helicopter-borne forces in maneuver warfare, as opposed to the counterinsurgency role they served in Vietnam.
In almost a “back to the future” moment, after 9/11, helicopters once again became the preferred tool to maneuver quickly against enemy insurgents, first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. While generally on a smaller scale than the largest assaults of the Vietnam era, tactical movement by helicopter has been essential throughout what became known as the Global War on Terror.
Modern helicopter insertions look different from those in Vietnam. Insertions into hot landing zones are rare, and losses are less common. This can be attributed to improvements in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) technology, as well as tactics. While there have been some failures, such as Operation Anaconda, by and large, helicopters have been key to major successes, including the raid that killed Usama bin Laden in 2011.
As the military exits Iraq and Afghanistan and shifts toward potential threats in the Pacific, the role of the helicopter will undoubtedly change once again. The mobility helicopters provided in the geographical constraints of Vietnam and Afghanistan seems limited in comparison with the vastness of the Pacific.
Vietnam-era Hueys could fly around 120 knots for about 275 miles. The Black Hawks that succeeded them in the US Army can reach 150 and about 300 miles in a basic configuration. A big leap in performance will be necessary if rotary-wing aircraft are to remain a part of future war plans.
The Marine Corps, with its amphibious mission, had to face this problem much sooner. The Marines invested in the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, which cruises nearly twice as fast and flies twice as far as traditional helicopters. The Marines first deployed the Osprey in 2007 and replaced the last of its CH-46 helicopters with it in 2017.
The Army will have to invest in a similar capability to prepare for the type of conflict envisioned in the National Defense Strategy. It is moving ahead with the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program, which aims to produce an aircraft with the necessary speed and range to fight in tomorrow’s battlefields. Both Bell and a joint Sikorsky-Boeing team are competing, but whichever wins, it’s a certainty that air assault will continue to have a long future.
During World War II, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were responsible for leading their nations to victory and jointly planned strategies for the cooperation and eventual success of the Allied armed forces. Roosevelt and Churchill had already agreed early in the war that Germany must be stopped first if success was to be attained in the Pacific. They were repeatedly urged by Stalin to open a “second front” that would alleviate the enormous pressure that Germany’s military was exerting on Russia. Large amounts of Soviet territory had been seized by the Germans, and the Soviet population had suffered terrible casualties from the relentless drive towards Moscow. Roosevelt and Churchill promised to invade Europe, but they could not deliver on their promise until many hurdles were overcome.
Initially, the United States had far too few soldiers in England for the Allies to mount a successful cross-channel operation. Additionally, invading Europe from more than one point would make it harder for Hitler to resupply and reinforce his divisions. In July 1942 Churchill and Roosevelt decided on the goal of occupying North Africa as a springboard to a European invasion from the south.
In addition to the troops, supplies, ships, and planes were also gathered. One photograph shows some of the equipment that was stockpiled in this manner. Countless details about weather, topography, and the German forces in France had to be learned before Overlord could be launched in 1944. In November American and British forces under the command of U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower landed at three ports in French Morocco and Algeria. This surprise seizure of Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers came less than a week after the decisive British victory at El Alamein. The stage was set for the expulsion of the Germans from Tunisia in May 1943, the Allied invasion of Sicily and Italy later that summer, and the main assault on France the following year.
Because of this success, Eisenhower was named commander of all Allied forces in Europe in 1943. When in February 1944 he was ordered to invade the continent, planning for “Operation Overlord” had been under way for about a year. Hundreds of thousands of troops from the United States, Great Britain, France,Canada, and other nations were assembled in southern England and intensively trained for the complicated amphibious action against Normandy.
General Eisenhower’s experience and the Allied troops’ preparations were finally put to the test on the morning of June 6, 1944. An invasion force of 4,000 ships, 11,000 planes, and nearly three million soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors was assembled in England for the assault. Eisenhower’s doubts about success in the face of a highly-defended and well-prepared enemy led him to consider what would happen if the invasion of Normandy failed. If the Allies did not secure a strong foothold on D-Day, they would be ordered into a full retreat, and he would be forced to make public the message he drafted for such an occasion. View a large version of the letter here.
Here’s what it says: “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
As the attack began, Allied troops did confront formidable obstacles. Germany had thousands of soldiers dug into bunkers, defended by artillery, mines, tangled barbed wire, machine guns, and other hazards to prevent landing craft from coming ashore. Document 3 featured with this lesson shows some of the ferocity of the attack they faced. About 4,900 U.S. troops were killed on D-Day, but by the end of the day 155,000 Allied troops were ashore and in control of 80 square miles of the French coast. Eisenhower’s letter was not needed, because D-Day was a success, opening Europe to the Allies and a German surrender less than a year later.
This article originally appeared on National Archives. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter.
Fleet-sized aircraft carriers, such as the USS Enterprise and USS Midway, captured the public’s attention during the air battles of World War II.
But the majority of the US Navy’s aircraft carriers during the war were actually smaller, lesser known vessels: Escort carriers.
There were five different classes of escort carriers, all of which varied slightly. But in general, they were about half the size of fleet-sized carriers.
The Casablanca-class, which had the largest number built with 50 hulls, typically carried 28 aircraft, including 12 Grumman TBF Avengers torpedo bombers and 16 F4F Wildcats fighters, Timothy Bostic, a reference librarian at the Navy Department Library, told Business Insider.
Referred to as “Jeep carriers” or “baby flap tops” by the press, escort carriers were slow, lightly armored and had few defensive weapons.
But they were also expert at hunting and killing enemy submarines, and exacted a heavy toll on Germany’s U-boats.
Here’s how they did it.
The USS Long Island underway in May 1943.
When German U-boats began sinking convoy ships in the beginning of the war, Great Britain asked the US for help, which responded by building escort carriers. The first escort carrier was the USS Long Island, which was built from an old freighter and launched in January 1940.
The USS Chenango (CVE-28) off Mare Island Navy Yard, California on 22 September 1943.
The US then built four more from oiler hulls, including the Chenango, which were sent to help with landings in North Africa, where they proved extremely successful in anti-submarine warfare. This led to the building of dozens more and deployments to the Pacific.
In total, the US built and launched 78 escort carriers between 1941-1945.
The USS Bogue (CVE-9) underway near Norfolk in June 1943.
In May 1943, the USS Bogue scored the first escort carrier kill of a German U-boat after spotting the surfaced U-231 and sent a Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber after it, which released four depth bombs and took it out as it tried to submerge.
A US Navy landing signal officer guides a Grumman TBF-1 Avenger on board the USS Card.
The USS Core (CVE-13) in 1943 or 1944.
But what led to the escort carriers’ eventual success over the German U-boats was the Allies code-breaking U-boat radio traffic in 1943, providing escort carriers with accurate locations of enemy submarines.
Long before the outbreak of what would be known as World War II, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was set on reviving the old Roman Empire. To do that, he needed complete control of the Mediterranean Sea to be able to resupply Italian and Axis forces fighting in North Africa.
Unfortunately for him, the only power standing in his way as World War II fully erupted in Europe was the mighty British Navy, whose reputation as a sea power was bolstered by the efficient use of any aircraft at its disposal. In the end, even a modern, powerful Navy like Fascist Italy’s was no match for British air power – even if the planes they used were 20 years old.
Like any major power who wanted to stay relevant with changing times, the British Royal Navy began planning to fight any adversary who might challenge its dominance during wartime. For the British, this meant planning to fight Italy’s Regia Marina right after World War I, when Italy was still an ally.
By 1935, when Italy’s expansionist plans became apparent, the Royal Navy increased their effort tenfold. It was a good plan. When Italy began operations in North Africa, the Mediterranean became its primary supply line, and an important battlefield for giving Axis forces the boot from North Africa.
The British had another good reason for taking control of the middle sea. It needed to supply its own forces fighting in North Africa as well as resupplying its troops based in the Middle East and elsewhere. But the Italians weren’t planning on giving the Royal navy the decisive seaborne engagement they needed to make the Regia Marina irrelevant.
The Italian Navy’s policy was to keep its ships in port, rather than risk them on the open seas. They figured if they weren’t out in the open like sitting ducks, they would be protected by coastal defenses. But ducks can sit anywhere, as they soon found out at Taranto in 1940.
After the fall of France and the destruction of the French Fleet, the only two forces left standing in the Mediterranean were the Italian and British Navies. The consequences for success and failure began to rise at a rapid pace.
The fleet stationed at the port of Taranto was a considerable target, and a powerful enemy to face. The British soon planned Operation Judgement, a nighttime assault on the fleet using the only naval forces they could spare: four destroyers, three heavy cruisers and four squadrons of Fairey Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers from the carrier HMS Illustrious.
Plans for the attack were so secret that no written records of Judgement were ever kept. In the end, half of the Swordfish planes were equipped with torpedoes and the other half were equipped with aerial bombs. They were going up against a well-defended harbor, complete with anti-aircraft guns, barrage balloons, and torpedo nets, all designed to keep the British from doing what they were about to do.
On Nov. 11, 1940, after confirming the Italian fleet was at Taranto, the British launched Operation Judgement at just before 9pm local time. When they arrived, the Italians were totally unprepared to defend the fleet. Only a quarter of the barrage balloons were in place and only a third of torpedo nets were in place. They were sitting ducks.
Two waves of Swordfish bombers, totaling 20, hit the fleet at Taranto. In just a few hours, the Italian Navy lost half of its capital ships and moved the rest to a port far from British sea lanes. The Italian Navy wasn’t completely destroyed, but it was seriously wounded and its ability to hamper British efforts in the Mediterranean was seriously limited.
With the loss of just two aircraft, and four airmen killed or captured, the British Royal Navy victory at Taranto ensured the British could support its troops in North Africa, and Hitler began to rethink his reliance on Mussolini to control the Mediterranean.
Members of the Kremlin Regiment on horseback dressed in the uniforms of the cavalry corps. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cavalry_corps_(Soviet_Union).
In terms of technological advancement on the battlefield, World War II oversaw a complete transition from the fighting of the 19th century to the advanced mechanized warfare of the future. By the end of the war, the world would reach the atomic age. At the war’s start, however, the armies of Europe and Asia were still using cavalry and horses.
That doesn’t mean the horse-mounted units weren’t effective. The opposite is actually true, and the most efficient uses of cavalry came on World War II’s Eastern Front, in Poland and later the Soviet Union.
After launching Operation Barabarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the Germans made sweeping advances into Soviet territory, inflicting havey damage on the Red Army and capturing hundreds of thousands of Soviet troops.
Then, the German soldiers brutalized those prisoners of war. The advance also took a heavy toll on Soviet civilians. When the Germans were defeated at Stalingrad in 1943 and forced to fall back, the Red Army made sure the German soldiers paid a heavy price for all of their transgressions.
A trademark of the German invasion was the constant encirclement, capture or defeat of entire Soviet divisions. When it came time to make an envelopment of their own, the communist troops would give Hitler’s soldiers a taste of their own medicine.
By Fall 1943, the German Army was pushed all the way back to what is today Ukraine, after coming within 100 miles of taking the Soviet capital of Moscow. German Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s Army Group South fell back to the Dnieper River, where the Germans were supposed to have constructed a series of fortifications in case the invasion failed.
These fortifications were supposed to have been built for the situation they now found themselves in. Except the fortifications had never been built. The Germans were forced back further and the Soviets were coming right for them.
The German 8th Army reformed a 62-mile front, with the town of Korsun in its center. The Germans were low on supplies, ammunition, and pretty much anything else needed to fight a war. The Russians, on the other hand, were flush with fresh troops and American-made equipment and vehicles.
By early February, Russian Field Marshal Georgy Zhukov decided he would use the same tactic he used to crush the German 6th Army at Stalingrad, a double envelopment. Just four days after the attack began, the envelopment of the German 8th began to form around Korsun. The move was much worse than the Germans originally thought – the Red Army had formed a double envelopment, the Korsun Pocket.
Relief to the pocket was hampered by both the weather and by German dictator Adolf HItler. Hitler ordered German forces outside the pocket to try to encircle the Red Army instead of helping the pocket simply break out. Then the weather turned unseasonably warm, turning the roads from frozen dirt to mud.
The Germans were barely able to move and the Korsun Pocket was soon whittled down to just seven square miles. The Wehrmacht had to break out or be destroyed and without orders from Hitler, made the attempt on Feb. 16, three weeks into the battle.
But the Soviets were ready for the attempt, and brought every tank and gun they could to stem the German breakout. As the Germans advanced, the Soviet brought T-34 tanks into their formation, driving over hundreds of infantrymen. Then, the Cossacks attacked.
Horse-mounted cavalry armed with sabers poured into the German defenders, and as they broke and ran for the safety of nearby hills and streams, they were literally cut down by the Cossack cavalry. Those who tried to surrender with their hands raised in the air found their hands lopped off.
For three hours, the heavy horsemen hunted the Germans. 20,000 were killed in the Korsun Pocket fighting and 8,000 were eventually taken prisoner.