This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

Beginning on June 30, 1943, American soldiers, marines and sailors would endure three months of hard fighting to retake the New Georgia Islands from the Japanese in the Pacific. While the ground troops slugged their way through the thick jungles, the pilots above provided air support and tangled with Japanese fighters, keeping them at bay. And they needed a British aircraft carrier to help.

Beginning two days earlier and 300 miles offshore in the Coral Sea, aircraft carrier-based fighter planes flew combat air patrols from the USS Robin in order to intercept any Japanese carrier groups that might oppose the landings. After 28 days of constant air operations, launching 614 sorties and steaming 12,233 miles at an average of 18.1 knots, Robin returned to port to rest her crew and resupply—a record for a Royal Navy carrier.


After the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, the U.S. Navy was in a poor fighting state. USS Wasp had been sunk earlier at Guadalcanal and at Santa Cruz, USS Hornet was sunk and USS Enterprise was taken out of action to repair the damage she sustained during the battle. This left USS Saratoga as the only operational carrier to keep the Japanese and their four carriers at bay in the Pacific. In order to augment their strength, the U.S. Navy received a loan from Great Britain. In December 1942, at the highest possible level of negotiation, an agreement was made between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt. To bolster their ally, the British Admiralty would loan the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious to the U.S. Navy to operate in the Pacific.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
USS Wasp burns and lists after being torpedoed. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

Victorious arrived at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in January 1943 and was refitted for service with the U.S. Navy and operations in the Pacific theater. Now under American control, she was given the codename USS Robin. In dry dock, she was given new communications systems, surface and air radars, and an aircraft homing system to allow interoperability with the U.S. fleet. Her stern was also extended by 10 feet with an added gallery of twenty 20mm anti-aircraft guns to better counter the threat of Japanese air attack.

The Fleet Air Arm Fairey Albacore Torpedo-Bombers that she carried were replaced with TBM Avengers. The new planes were registered as American and bore U.S. Navy markings—however, they were crewed by Brits. Her Grumman Martlets (the British name for the F4F Wildcat) were also given U.S. Navy markings. The U.S. Navy sent aviators to train the British pilots on American procedures and tactics, and even sent American uniforms (though the crew is still pictured wearing their Royal Navy tropical uniform shorts).

USS Robin crewed by British sailors carrying USN Avengers. (U.S. Navy photo edited by Joseph Tremain/Pulled from ArmchairGeneral.com)

 

After transiting the Panama Canal on February 14, Robin joined the U.S. Pacific Fleet and arrived at Pearl Harbor in March 1943. She underwent shakedown operations which revealed that her arrestor wires were not sufficient to stop the heavy Avengers. Heavier arrestor wires were fitted along with even more AA guns. At Pearl, she was also repainted in U.S. Navy blue grey to further disguise the British involvement with the U.S. Navy from the Axis Powers and prevent her from being mistaken as a Japanese ship. On May 8, she departed Pearl Harbor and sailed for the South Pacific where she joined up with USS Saratoga and formed Carrier Division 1 on May 17.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
The solid paint scheme of USS Robin (top and center) versus the disruptive camouflage of HMS Victorious (bottom) (Illustration from British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WWII, Volume 2, Battleships and Aircraft Carriers by Malcolm Wright)

 

While conducting air operations in the Coral Sea in support of the New Georgia campaign, it was noticed that Robin handled her fighter wings well, but still had issues with the heavier Avengers. Commanding the carrier division, Rear Admiral DeWitt Ramsey transferred the Avengers of 832 Squadron FAA to the Saratoga and the F4F Wildcats of U.S. Carrier Air Group 3 to Robin. Neither carrier saw any engagement with the Japanese and the division returned to Nouméa on July 25. With the two newest Essex-class carriers, USS Essex and USS Lexington, arriving in Pearl Harbor and the Japanese withholding their carriers, Robin was returned to British control and recalled home.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
USS Robin carrying FAA Avengers, FAA Martlets, and USN Wildcats all bearing USN markings but different paint schemes. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

She left her Avengers in Nouméa as replacements for the Saratoga and departed for Pearl Harbor on July 31. She sailed with the battleship USS Indiana and carried aboard a handful of U.S. pilots who had finished their tours and two Japanese POWs. Victorious made a brief stop in San Diego and sailed through the Panama Canal on August 26. She arrived in Norfolk on September 1 where her specialized U.S. equipment was removed. On September 26, she arrived at Greenock, Scotland and began refit for her return to Royal Navy service.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
USN Wildcat pilots of VF-3 pose aboard USS Robin. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

Victorious would finish the rest of the war with the Royal Navy. She participated in an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz, sister ship to the infamous Bismarck, with the British Home Fleet. In June 1944, she joined the Eastern Fleet and attacked Japanese installations in Sumatra. Victorious continued to conduct air operations in the Indian Ocean until February 1945 when she joined Task Force 113 at Sydney in preparation for the invasion of Okinawa.

TF113 joined the U.S. 5th Fleet at Ulithi in the Caroline Islands on March 25 as Task Force 57. Victorious conducted airstrikes against Japanese airfields on the Sakishima Islands and Formosa in support of the invasion until May 25. During these operations, she was hit by two kamikaze planes. However, unlike the wooden decks of her American counterparts, Victorious‘ armored flight deck resisted the worst of the impacts. She would go on to attack Japanese shipping and even seriously damaged the Japanese escort carrier Kaiyo before the end of the war.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
FAA Avenger pilots pose aboard USS Saratoga. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

After the war, Victorious was refitted and modernized with an angled flight deck. She continued her service in the Royal Navy until a fire broke out aboard in 1967. Although the damage was minor, the Defense Ministry was cutting its budget and the Royal Navy was facing a shortage of manpower, and Victorious would not be recommissioned. She was sold for scrap in 1969.

Though her time with the U.S. Navy saw no action, Victorious played an important role in bolstering the American air arm in the Pacific. Her sailors and airmen showed their American counterparts that they could do their job just as well and filled a critical shortage at a crucial point of the war.

Feature image: U.S. Navy

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how Army divers excavate underwater tombs

Full of sediment from the bottom of the sea, a gray metal basket slowly rose out of the turquoise water. While it appeared to only contain muck, it offered hope to the U.S. military divers waiting to inspect its contents.

The divers — mainly from the Army’s 7th Engineer Dive Detachment — were archaeologists of sorts. As they sifted through the mud the consistency of wet cement, the divers searched for personal effects or aircraft wreckage to prove they were on the right path.


The ultimate discovery, though, would be the remains of the six Soldiers who went missing after their Chinook helicopter crashed off the coast here during the Vietnam War.

Each year, the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency oversees more than 70 joint missions around the world in search of the remains of American service members at former combat zones. In Vietnam, there are still over 1,200 service members who have not yet been found.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Spc. Douglas Adams, a diver with the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, puts on his diving helmet before he heads 80 feet below the surface as part of an underwater recovery mission near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 19, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)


Some of those operations are underwater recovery missions, which rely heavily on the Army’s small diving force.

“Everybody in the military signs up to go to war. We fight the nation’s battles. That’s what we do,” said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Kratsas, the agency’s only master diver. “But I know if I ever got killed in battle somewhere, I would want my remains brought home to my family and I know they would want the same.”

Zero visibility

As the most senior diver on the recent 45-day mission near Nha Trang in southern Vietnam, Kratsas helped ensure the safety of the divers who plunged 80 feet into the dark waters.

Depending on the weather, four two-man teams from the dive detachment spent about an hour each day on the sea floor. While hidden beneath the waves, they used 8-inch vacuum systems to dredge sediment within specified grids of the archaeological site.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Staff Sgts. Thomas Hunnicutt, center, and John Huff, monitor two divers in a decompression chamber following their dive as part of an underwater recovery mission near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

At times, the divers stood on the sea floor buried in thick silt up to their shoulders. Divers sucked out the silt until they reached the hard-packed seabed, where pieces of the helicopter had been resting for decades.

The next day, much of the silt had to be dredged out again due to the sea currents that brought in more.

The painstaking efforts of these underwater missions, especially in the murky waters off the coast of Vietnam, are repeated daily in hopes to reunite those lost in war with their loved ones.

“We do exactly what the land team does,” said Kratsas, 46, of Lordstown, Ohio. “We dig a hole in the earth, we put it in a bucket and we screen it. The same exact process that they do, except ours is at 80 feet and we can’t see it.”

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
A floating barge where Army and Navy divers worked from as they searched for the remains of Soldiers lost in a Chinook helicopter crash during the Vietnam War near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 19, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

Side-scan sonar and magnetometer work helps pinpoint metal objects on the sea floor to better focus diving operations. But sites can often cover a vast area, particularly if an aircraft or ship has broken into pieces.

A site’s depth can also limit how long a diver can safely stay under the water. At 80 feet below, the Army divers only had 55 minutes to work during each dive. Once back on the floating barge, they were rushed into a pressurized chamber to ward off chances of a decompression illness by gradually returning them to normal air pressure.

“Bottom time is definitely a premium,” said Spc. Lamar Fidel, a diver with the detachment, which falls under the 8th Theater Sustainment Command in Hawaii. “That’s where we make our money.”

In a previous mission, Fidel said they were able to dive for about six hours at a time. That site, which was in search of two pilots from an F-4 Phantom fighter jet that crashed in the Gulf of Tonkin near northern Vietnam, was only about 20 feet deep.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
A Navy diver dredges with a venturi vacuum system during an underwater recovery mission in search of missing American service members from World War II near Palau, Jan. 24, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)


It was also Fidel’s most memorable diving mission so far.

For 14 years, he said, the agency had gone to the site unable to recover any human remains. Then last year, using the work of past missions, his team discovered a bone that led to the identification of one of the missing pilots.

“As soon as you see that, that hits you right in the heart,” said Fidel, 28, of Atlanta. “It makes you realize what you did … wasn’t all for nothing.”

Exclusive group

While DPAA depends on Army divers for many of its missions, there are only about 150 of them across the service.

The small, elite career field has a high failure rate of roughly 60 to 80 percent for those training to become a diver. Much of the reasoning behind the tough entry course is that lives are always at stake during missions.

“Every time we get in the water, you have a chance of having a diving-related casualty,” said Staff Sgt. Les Schiltz, a diving supervisor assigned to the agency.

The deeper a person dives, the more at risk they are to suffer from a decompression illness. The two main problems divers face are decompression sickness, or the “bends,” and an arterial gas embolism. While the “bends” results from bubbles growing in tissue and causing local damage, the latter can have bubbles travel through the arteries and block blood flow. It can eventually lead to death.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Staff Sgt. John Huff, a diving supervisor with the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, briefs fellow divers before they dive 80 feet to the sea floor to collect sediment in search of the remains of American Soldiers near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 19, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

Divers also need to watch out for sharks, jellyfish and other dangerous marine life.

“There are a lot of things in the water that can hurt you,” Schiltz said. “You plan accordingly, you look ahead to where you’re going to be, and you try to mitigate all those risks as much as you can.”

The thrill of diving often outweighs the dangers for many of the Soldiers. When under the water, Schiltz, 28, of Vernal, Utah, says it is like being in a different world.

“It’s probably the same reason someone will explain to you why they skydive or why they snowboard off cliffs,” he said. “There’s always a danger to it and that just makes it even better.”

Army divers are tasked to do a variety of missions that can have them repairing ships and ports or conducting underwater surveys. For many divers, though, the recovery missions have the most impact on them.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
A pair of Army divers from the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment jump into the water during an underwater recovery mission near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

“It takes you to a more emotional point in your life,” Schiltz said.

While every diver wants to be the one who discovers the remains of a service member, the master diver describes the somber event as a shared win whenever it happens.

“Everybody’s out here to do one job and just because you happen to be the one diver on the job when you find something, it’s not you that found it,” Kratsas said. “It was a team effort.”

When not diving, Soldiers have several side jobs to keep operations afloat. They monitor oxygen levels and depth of fellow divers or serve as back-up divers to assist in an emergency. They also tend to umbilical cords that connect divers to the barge or help run a water pump for the suction hose.

When a basket is brought up to the barge, they all scoop out the sediment into buckets and screen it.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Spc. Timothy Sparks, a diver with the 7th Engineer Dive Detachment, monitors the air levels of two divers during an underwater recovery mission near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

Some divers are surprised by the condition of some items pulled from the water. Even if items are buried at sea for a long time, salt water can sometimes preserve them better than at land sites where the acidity of soil breaks them down faster.

“A lot of times the wreckage is in such good condition, you can still read serial numbers,” said Capt. Ezra Swanson, who served as the team leader for the recent mission.

Pieces of an aircraft can also put things into perspective for the divers when they hold them in their hands.

“The last time someone was with that, it was the aircrew when they were going down,” said Swanson, 30, of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. “It’s like a connection between you and that crew.”

Archaeological site

Decades of sediment often buries human remains in an underwater tomb. To unearth them, dig sites are properly logged with historical data from previous missions.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Members of a joint team, the majority of whom were Army divers, screen sediment from the sea floor as they search for the remains of American Soldiers from the Vietnam War near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

Dive teams may pick up where they left off before or continue another team’s work at a site. An underwater archaeologist will direct a team where to dredge using grids, typically 2 by 4 meters wide, which are marked off on the seabed.

Similar to the guessing game of “Battleship,” if a certain grid has a successful hit with evidence being dredged up from it, divers will concentrate on nearby grids.

Even one fragment, such as a bone or tooth, could solve a case if it can be identified by laboratory staff back at the DPAA headquarters on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
A member of the underwater recovery team inspects a 7.62 mm cartridge, which was found while screening sediment from the sea floor near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)

“Sometimes you only find small fragments, but with today’s technology and with DNA [testing], we can still get a lot of information even from tiny little bits,” said Piotr Bojakowski, an underwater archaeologist with the agency.

Personal effects, such as rings, wallets or dog tags, can also produce a strong case for identification.

Since the recovery process can be slow and methodical, Bojakowski will remind divers to stay patient to ensure no evidence is overlooked.

“Take your time, don’t rush the process,” he tells them. “It’s more important that you do screening properly and find this small piece than to rush it through. Because once you lose it, we will never find it again.”

If years of careful research do not provide clues of human remains at a site, the agency may be forced to redirect efforts elsewhere.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Pieces of possible wreckage from a Chinook helicopter crash site are inspected by members of a joint team during an underwater recovery mission near Nha Trang, Vietnam, March 20, 2018.
(U.S. Army photo by Sean Kimmons)


“It’s a difficult, difficult decision to make,” Bojakowski said. “The ideal situation is to find the remains and material evidence. But providing an answer that the remains are not at the site is also an answer to some degree. Sometimes that’s the only answer we can get.”

Despite the long, hot days that had baskets come up empty during their recent mission, the Soldiers still kept at it for weeks. And when the time comes again, they will likely return to the same spot to do the same work.

To them, the mission is bigger than themselves.

“They know the cost and the sacrifice and have a very high appreciation for the guys who lost their lives,” said Swanson, the team leader. “They’re willing to push through the challenges and make sure they do everything they can to bring those guys home.”


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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The UK’s ‘Unknown Warrior’ lies among the most historic kings of Britain

The United Kingdom’s Unknown Warrior, much like the United States’ Unknown Soldier, arose from a movement to honor the unknown war dead who perished on the battlefields of World War I. When he was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, he was surrounded by a throng of women whose only uniting thread was that they had lost their husbands and all their sons in the Great War.


When the British Empire decided to bury its war dead with France, the Commissioner for the Imperial War Graves encountered a shoddy battlefield grave. On its hastily-constructed wooden cross were just the words, “An Unknown British Soldier,” crudely written in pencil. The Commissioner took it upon himself to take the matter of unknown war dead first to the Prime Minister and later, King George V himself. He wanted to create a national memorial to the scores of unknown war dead killed in the service of their country.

As the Empire’s new Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was born, other countries began to honor their unknown dead with symbolic tombs of their own. France followed suit, as did the United States, and a number of other countries. In England, the Unknown Warrior was buried in one of the most revered places in British history.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

Westminster Abbey is more than just a church, it is the burial site of more than 3,300 famous Britishers – from Prime Minister and Royals to artists and scientists – and has been the site of every coronation for the English throne since William the Conqueror captured the country in 1066. It also houses hundreds of priceless works of art and historical documents.

It is truly “Britain’s Valhalla.”

The Abbey also houses Britain’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, who was entombed here on Nov. 20, 1920, at the same time as his French counterpart was entombed at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. After being chosen from four possible Unknown Warrior candidates, the current Unknown Warrior was guarded by the French 8th Infantry throughout the night. King George chose a Medieval Crusader sword to affix to the lid of the specially-made casket, along with an iron shield bearing the words: “A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914–1918 for King and Country.”

The next day, a military procession a mile long escorted the warrior to the harbor, where it was loaded aboard the HMS Verdun and set sail for London.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

“Burial of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.” 1920.

After landing at Dover, the remains were carried by rail to London, where its new, British military parade received a Field Marshal’s salute in front of an otherwise silent crowd. Eventually, the funeral procession was met by the King at Whitehall, who, along with the Royal Family and other government ministers, walked with the procession to Westminster. There, it was protected by an honor guard of 100 Victoria Cross recipients. After a ceremony, the body was interred in the floors and covered with a black marble slab.

To this day, it’s the only part of the floor visitors cannot walk over.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This corporal recruited Nazi scientists for the space program

Once, a friend asked if I’d ever heard of Operation Paperclip. This was the secret program started at the end of World War II that allowed German rocket scientists, including some highly placed Nazis, to enter the United States and work for our military. Its name was derived from the secret practice of putting a paperclip on the first page of an individual’s visa as a signal to U.S. immigration officials to let them through, no questions asked. These former adversaries became the foundation of America’s space program and helped NASA put us on the moon.


I’d written about Paperclip in several books, so I was surprised when my friend told me that his grandfather had worked on a similar Army program that was even more secret.

This is how I got to meet Bob Jamison, my friend’s father. He’d just written a family memoir about his father, Jim Jamison, and the extraordinary adventures he had during World War II — and beyond.

Also read: The 9 best nonfiction history audiobooks you can get right now

Mack Maloney: Without really trying, your father found himself at several pivotal moments in history. For instance, he was the first person to ever fire a bazooka.

Bob Jamison: He worked at the famous Aberdeen Proving Ground, the place where the U.S. Army designs and tests a lot of its weapons even today. He started there in 1941 as a carpenter, but his ability to do just about any job caught the attention of the higher-ups, and he was recruited by the Ordnance Department to do ballistic testing. That’s how he got to fire the first bazooka. He also worked on the proximity fuse, which is still in use.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Jim Jamison (in bow-tie) showing an invention to a General.

Then he was drafted into the military?

Yes. It was December 1943, and America needed fresh recruits. He went into the Army and suffered the same snafus as any soldier – for example, they lost his basic training file and made him take basic over again. He also had a very uncomfortable flight to Europe once he deployed. He caught a ride with some paratroopers and the plane was tossed around so badly, even the airborne guys were getting sick.

Then one of the plane’s engines began smoking. The pilot announced that they would probably have to ditch in the North Atlantic, a virtual death sentence. But – and here’s a good example of what kind of a guy my father was – he helped the crew hook up a light so they could look out at the engine and keep an eye on its condition during the long night. Then he took a nap. The plane landed safely and all ended well. But I’ll tell you, my dad was a very cool customer.

Related: The real ‘GI Joe’ is one of four living WWII Medal of Honor recipients

He was eventually made a corporal and assigned to a top-secret unit known only as V-2.

Yes. It was a program to surreptitiously seek out German rocket scientists and bring them over to our side without anyone knowing about it, including our closest allies. It was May 1945. The Germans had surrendered and Werner Von Braun, Germany’s top rocket scientist, had already contacted U.S. Army Intelligence. My father’s team was to find the rest of the scientists who’d worked with Von Braun, and do it before the Russians did. Sometimes his unit worked in two-man teams – one officer, one enlisted man – but later on they sent the enlisted men out alone. Army Intelligence would give them the names and locations of key scientists with orders to bring back anyone willing to come to America and work for us.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Jim Jamison and his wife, Jean.

Your father was carrying orders signed by Eisenhower himself. Extraordinary for a corporal.

His best story about that happened when he was traveling alone. He was close to the Russian sector, hoping to connect with another German scientist, when he stopped at an American outpost to get directions. When he went back outside, he was stopped by a captain who had a colonel standing behind him. The captain told my dad the colonel’s Jeep had broken down and he was going to confiscate my father’s. But my father told the captain he couldn’t have his Jeep. The colonel stepped forward and said, “You better have a damn good reason why, soldier!” My dad pulled out his orders signed by Ike, giving him priority over anything else happening in the war zone. The officers read the orders, knew my father was right, and walked away, grumbling. It was an enlisted man’s dream come true!

Up next: This documentary alleges the US purchased its space program from Yugoslavia

One day your dad went out looking for rocket scientists and ran into someone totally unexpected.

My father and a captain were driving through Munich following up on a lead when they came upon a convoy of signal corps troops, the same outfit my father’s brother was serving in. My dad mentioned it to the captain, who told him to pull over. While the captain talked to the officer in charge, my father asked some of the soldiers if they knew Lester “Leck” Jamison. Leck overheard his name being mentioned and came around the truck and, to his amazement, saw my father.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Jim Jamison and his brother, Leck.

Talk about a chance meeting.

Well, it was two brothers seeing a friendly face in a very unfriendly place. But it was one of a few really amazing situations my dad found himself in.

As you said, even though the war with Germany was over, your father was in a very hostile place.

There were still live land mines buried everywhere, including on the roadways. There were Nazi snipers hiding in outlying villages who didn’t realize Germany had surrendered. Even some German civilians – even children – believed they should fight to the very last. But not the least, the Russians desperately wanted the very same scientists my father and his V-2 team members were looking for. If he’d been caught with one, well – let’s just say the Russians liked to shoot first and seek forgiveness later.

It was the beginning moments of the next war – the Cold War.

Right. We were more or less inviting these scientists to America, and the Russians were forcing them at gunpoint back to Russia. The Russians were technically our allies, but at the same time, some very dangerous people.

Your dad had at least one face-to-face encounter with the Russians, and it led to yet another amazing happenstance.

He was given an assignment to find a German scientist Army Intelligence had heard was being kept against his will by the Russians. My father arrived at his destination, an old rural village that was split in two. The U.S had a small outpost at one end of town and the Russians had one at the other. On seeing my father’s orders, the captain of the American outpost was ready to assist in any way. My father told him he needed an interpreter to explain to the scientist why he was here, since he didn’t speak enough German to get the point across.

The captain sent for his interpreter, and when the man walked into the room, my father couldn’t believe his eyes. He was an old friend of his from back home named Jerome Porkorney. His family had fled Germany and eventually immigrated to America. He could speak Czech, Polish, German, Russian, and English.

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Jerome confirmed that the scientist was on the Russian side of town awaiting a detail to transport him back to Russia. But Jerome had a plan. He inconspicuously made his way behind the houses and spoke to the German scientist, explaining that this was his one and only opportunity to escape and go to America. Then Jerome instructed my father to hide his wristwatch and wedding ring, because if the Russians saw any jewelry, they would take it. They would also be very suspicious if they saw my dad’s Tommy gun, so he was going into this unarmed.

While my dad stood casually in front of the American outpost and smoked a cigarette, Jerome took some schnapps to the two armed Russian soldiers at the other end of the street. On a subtle signal from Jerome, my father got in his Jeep and casually drove away. But once out of sight of the Russians, he doubled back and headed for the rear of the scientist’s house.

My dad knew this was a mortally dangerous affair. If he or Jerome were caught, they could be summarily shot. Even worse, if he wasn’t able to destroy his orders in time and the Russians figured out his mission, it would endanger the V-2 operation and, ultimately, America’s position in the coming space race.

He reached the back door of the scientist’s house not knowing what would happen next. But the man quickly jumped into the Jeep and they sped away. They’d pulled it off.

Your father’s unusual life didn’t end after he left the service.

He went back to work at Aberdeen after the war and continued to have a high profile. He worked on many secret cases for which he tested weapons and issued reports. One day in late 1963, two FBI agents arrived at Aberdeen, one with a rifle handcuffed to his wrist. They met with the post commander, who directed them to the branch chief, who sent them to the section chief, who sent them to my father. The agent un-handcuffed the rifle and gave it to my dad for testing but never let it out of his sight. When the tests were completed, the agent re-handcuffed the rifle to his wrist, and he and the other agent left. That rifle was believed to be the one used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.

 

Mack Maloney is the author of numerous fiction series, including WingmanChopperOpsStarhawk, and Pirate Hunters, as well as the non-fiction UFOs in Wartime.
A native Bostonian, Maloney received a bachelor of science degree in journalism at Suffolk University and a master of arts degree in film at Emerson College. He is the host of a national radio show, Mack Maloney’s Military X-Files.
To learn more about Jim Jamison, please visit Clan Jamison Heroes Stories.
MIGHTY HISTORY

This isn’t the Guard’s first pandemic response

The last time that the United States faced a national health crisis as deadly as the COVID-19 pandemic, antibiotics did not exist. 

Neither did the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When the first case of the Spanish flu arrived in the United States at an Army camp in Fort Riley, Kansas, in the spring of 1918, World War I dominated the headlines. 

That pandemic resulted in roughly 50 million deaths worldwide in 1918-19, and about 500 million people were infected. Approximately 675,000 Americans died.  

“The flu was a disaster,’’ said Carol Byerly, author of “Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I.’’ “It killed more people in the military than the war did, and so they tried to understand it. They didn’t understand viruses at the time.’’ 

More than 1,400 National Guard Medical Services personnel were sent overseas, leaving only 222 NGMS officers at home to assist with controlling the spread of influenza and pneumonia, according to the National Guard Bureau. (By comparison, a high of 47,000 National Guard members supported the COVID-19 response in May.) In 1918, most of the National Guard’s members — more than 12,000 officers and nearly 367,000 soldiers — served in World War I. 

“[In] 1918, the pandemic hit, and most of the medical services were deployed overseas,’’ said Dr. Richard Clark, historian of the National Guard Bureau. “The National Guard mobilized its medical forces to augment stateside military forces to help with the military bases.’’ 

The National Guard previously had not assisted with such a widespread health emergency. For more than three months, beginning in September 1858, the New York National Guard helped alleviate a disturbance during a yellow-fever quarantine on Staten Island. In late 1910 and early 1911, the Michigan National Guard enforced a quarantine of smallpox patients at a state asylum. Those missions did not provide medical support, though.  

The thought of using [the National Guard] in a medical capacity to respond domestically had not really been thought about until that point,’’ Clark said. 

The military’s role in spreading the Spanish flu is undeniable. As soldiers moved between camps in the U.S. or were deployed to France, the number of infections increased. Some Army camps, such as Camp Devens near Boston, were particularly hard-hit. When ships carrying troops returned from overseas, more soldiers got sick.  

War-bond parades left citizens susceptible to infection, too, including one in Philadelphia, attended by 200,000 people, that resulted in a spike of cases. Despite the rising totals, the pandemic was downplayed. 

“Every day, you read the newspaper, and a couple of cases were developed in the city, and officers were saying, ‘It’s no big deal,’’’ Dr. Alex Navarro, the assistant director for the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan. “[Then] there would be hundreds and hundreds of cases, and this is something very serious. Very rapidly, they had to deal with the threat. 

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

The one major issue was that there was a shortage of doctors and nurses, as well as some medical supplies like surgical gauze and masks, so the war effort definitely hindered that medical response.’’ 

Some preventive measures, including social distancing and mask laws, were put into place. The military tried quarantining camps and limiting troop mobilizations, but those restrictions were not sustainable during wartime, Navarro said. They even stopped the draft in October, a month before World War I ended, Byerly said.  

“They didn’t want to stop the draft,’’ Byerly said. “They didn’t want to reduce crowding on the ships and in the training camps. They didn’t want to send more nurses and doctors to the soldiers, but that is what you have to do in order to take care of your personnel.’’ 

A total of 43,000 U.S. service members died because of the pandemic. More than a quarter of the Army’s soldiers, about 1 million men, became infected, and at least 106,000 Navy sailors were hospitalized, according to Byerly. The National Guard has no records of how many of its members died or were infected. 

While the National Guard’s role in combating the Spanish flu a century ago was minimal, a valuable lesson came out of that pandemic, Clark said. Officials began preparing to offer more support during national health emergencies. The wisdom of that decision is being felt a century later. 

“We’re not going through something new,’’ Clark said.  

“History doesn’t necessarily repeat itself, but it rhymes, so the lessons of the past should not be taken as a one-for-one example or a guide to what we need to do today. Many of the details, much of the context is very, very different, but what you can use the past as a guide for is for critical thinking about the situation. … What is the same, and what is different?’’ 

This article originally appeared on Reserve + National Guard Magazine. Follow @ReserveGuardMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How battleship salvos worked in sea combat

There are no battleships left in active service. But they were once the kings of the seas, essentially sea dragons that could literally breathe fire. But these behemoths didn’t take shots in combat willy-nilly. They typically fired in salvos or partial salvos, with all or most of their guns firing at once. How come?


Salvo (Military Tactic)
www.youtube.com

Well, there are actually a lot of good reasons why battleships and other large artillery platforms typically fire all of their guns or a lot of them at once. This practice, known as a salvo, has different uses.

The most common and obvious reasons to fire all the guns at once is to knock out the enemy’s ability to make war as quickly as possible. Battleships are mobile platforms. That means that they are out of range of the enemy until, suddenly, they’re not. And if the ships are still closing or if the enemy has better range, then the battleship is in as much danger as the enemy.

But if the battleship fires all of its guns at once and manages to land a couple hits home, then the enemy ship will be forced to fight while crippled. Crucial manpower will be diverted to damage control, some guns could be knocked completely out of service, and there’s a chance that the engine or the bridge or another essential area could be destroyed.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
The USS Missouri fires a broadside.
(U.S. Navy)

If the battleship isn’t sure of exactly how far away the enemy ship is, it might fire partial salvos instead. This is when the ship fires a third or half of its guns at once to find the enemy range. While this can technically be done with single shots, it’s easy for the fire control officers to miss a round or two hitting the water in the chaos of combat. But if five or ten shells hit the water at once, the officer can definitely tell if the rounds landed far or short.

And salvos typically create a tighter spread of impacts than individually fired guns, so partial salvos to find range can be more accurate than firing individual guns.

But best of all against enemy ships, a salvo could be fired with guns aimed at different points, dropping shells both at the spot where the commanding officer thought the enemy ship would be as well as the point where it would most likely be if it attempted to maneuver away from the impacts. So, even if the rival ship attempts to escape, it’s still catching multiple shells in its decks.

But even against shore targets, firing in salvos can be good. That’s because taking out a bunker takes a near or direct hit, but bunkers have much less exposed area than an enemy ship does. Firing more guns gives a better chance of busting the bunker in one pass.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy way British pilots took out incoming V-1 missiles

One week after D-Day, Germany began launching a new, secret weapon at London. The distinctive roar of V-1 flying bombs would slowly fill the air and then suddenly cut out, followed shortly by the massive explosion as a warhead went off. Dozens would fall in the first week, and the Royal Air Force had to scramble to stop them.


This led some pilots to, after expending all of their ammunition, take more drastic measures to stop the bombs: flying wingtip to wingtip until they either crashed or tipped the bomb off course.

The V-1s had pulsejet engines, and prop-driven planes couldn’t keep up with them. But, if a pilot flew to high altitude and then dove toward a passing V-1, the speed from the descent would allow them to keep up.

The first intercept took place on June 15, 1944, the third day of V-1 attacks. A Mosquito pilot was able to shoot one down with his guns, and others soon followed.

But the pilots had limited ammunition, and it was tough to hit the fast-flying V-1s. And each bomb could kill multiple Londoners if it wasn’t intercepted.

So some pilots began to experiment with a risky but valuable alternative. If a plane flew close enough to a V-1, the wind off the plane’s wings could nudge the flying bomb off course. And if the disturbance was enough to flip the V-1 over, known as “turtling,” then it would often fail to explode.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

A Spitfire nudges a V-1 missile off course during World War II.

(Public domain)

But this had obvious risks. If the pilot accidentally bumped the V-1, they could crash into the ground alongside the bomb. A soft bump was obviously no big deal. It would just help the pilot tip the bomb over. But a harder strike was essentially a midair crash, likely clipping or breaking the pilot’s own wingtip.

Despite the risks, the work of pilots and gunners on the ground saved London from much of the devastation. 1,000 of the bombs were shot down or nudged off course in flight. And, the bombs were famously inaccurate, which was lucky for Britain. Of the approximately 10,000 flying bombs fired at the city, around 7,000 missed, 1,000 were shot down, and about 2,000 actually hit the city and other targets.

Eventually, this would result in about 6,000 fatalities and 16,000 other casualties.

In October 1944, Allied troops captured the V-1 sites targeting London and were able to stop the threat there. Unfortunately, that was right as the Germans got the V-2 program up and running, The faster, rocket-powered V-2s were essentially unstoppable with anything but radar-controlled guns.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

An American JB-2 Loon based on the German V-1 missile.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum)

After the war, Allied powers experimented with the weapons and some, including America, made their own knockoffs. Some were shot down as flying targets for pilots, but others were held in arsenals in case they were needed against enemy forces. Eventually, the invention of modern cruise missiles made the V-1s and V-2s obsolete.

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.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
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.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
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.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
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 CULTURE

This is the history for each branch’s battle cry

It’s a general call to action. The formation snaps to attention and the unit shouts out their branch’s battle cry. It gets used as a general stand-in for regular words and the listener can often pick up context clues to infer what the word replaces. Soldiers can respond to most things with a simple “hooah” and their leader can assume they’re saying either “yes,” “no,” “I don’t really want to, but whatever,” or “screw you,” all from a single, guttural grunt.

Though each branch’s battle cry sounds similar, they different meanings and vastly different origins. Because there are no official records of the exact moment a word was first uttered, many of these have multiple origins. What follows are the most agreed upon.


Before we dive in, you’ll probably notice that the Air Force doesn’t really have one. Some civilian sites say that airmen use the Army’s “Hooah” and most vets will joke that it’s actually something silly like, “hip-hip-hooray!” To be honest, for all intents and purposes, the Air Force doesn’t really need one. Besides, they’ve always been the ones to side-step military tradition in favor of modelling themselves after the civilian workforce.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

And now it’s the name of an energy bar…

​(Photo by Beatrice Murch)

“Hooah” — U.S. Army

There are many conflicting accounts of the origins of “Hooah.” Some say that it originates from the Second Seminole War in 1841 when the peace agreement was made between the 2nd Dragoons and the Seminole Chief. The chief, who spoke little English, offered them a toast and said “Hough” — which was misinterpreted to mean “How d’ye do.”

The term also has roots in the jump just before D-Day when General Cota, the 29th Division’s commander, asked a 2nd Bat. Ranger where their commanding officer was. In response, the confused ranger shouted, “Who? Us?” The general could only hear “Hooah” through all the loud wind buzzing past them. Cota thought it was some cool Ranger saying and it kind of stuck.

But the most accepted origin is that it’s simply the acronym for “Heard, Understood, Acknowledged.”

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

The term was solidified when the late, great Gunny Ermey used it and it became a pop culture staple of the Marine Corps.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

“Oorah” — U.S. Marine Corps

Again, people offer all kinds of origin stories for the word, “oorah.” Some say it’s a butchering of the 16th century German word for “hurry.” Other say it’s an adaptation of the Turkish word for “kill.” Others say it comes from WWII, when injured Marines were treated in northern Australia. There, they’d spend a lot of time around the locals as they healed. That part of Australia used, “Ohh, rah.” as slang for “goodbye.”

However, according to Marine Corps lore, it is credited to Former Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps John Massaro who imitated a submarine’s dive siren of “Aarugha.” He later became a drill instructor and used it with his recruits who then passed it on to the rest of the Corps.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

Even today, it’s only really Naval officers who unabashedly use it.

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lenny LaCrosse)

“Hooyah” — U.S. Navy

The Navy’s “hooyah” is the onomatopoeia for a siren going off. It’s that loud, obnoxious “gaHooyuh” that sailors would hear before manning battle stations.

As much as conventional sailors have tried to hijack the saying in the 90s, it actually belonged to the SEALs, Navy EOD, and deep-sea divers at first — but mostly the SEALs. This still leads to some awkwardness from regular sailors who aren’t sure if they’re allowed to shout it or not.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

“Hoorah” really is filled more symbolism befitting the seabees’ and corpsmen’s role to the Marine Corps.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Owen Kimbrel)

“Hoorah” — U.S. Navy Corpsman, Master-at-Arms, Seabees (and, occasionally, Marines)

Despite how most soldiers, airmen, and the occasional Marine think, “Hoorah” is more of a green-side Navy thing and not exactly a Marine thing — note the distinctive lack of an “H,” as found in the standard Marines’ version.

It’s a mix of the Marine’s “Oorah” and the sailor’s “Hooyah” all rolled into one. It’s a fitting battle cry seeing as how Seabees and Corpsman spend most of their time working side-by-side with Marines, but are still sailors. Some say it’s an acronym for “heard, understood, recognized, and acknowledged,” but this could also be a backronym, modeled after the Army’s version.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Emu War wasn’t as silly as folks make it out to be

It’s always brought up as a fun fact that, at one point in history, Australia sent troops on an “all-out” assault against emus that were destroying the Western Australian Outback. A while later, it was decided that the humans wouldn’t win and the history books marked a big ‘L’ for the Aussies in the Great Emu War of 1932.

When it’s put like that, it’s funny and makes a great fun fact that can be brought up whenever Australia’s military might is in question. But the thing is, Australia’s military kicks ass — and saying, “Australia lost a war against a bunch of flightless birds,” while sort of true, doesn’t really do what actually happened justice.


This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

If there’s anyone who could actually be blamed for the perceived failure of the Great Emu War, it’s this guy, Sir George Pearce. The man who decided to set up the Australian Army for a lifetime of jokes.

The Australian government didn’t just decide to go on a mass Emu-killing spree out of the blue. It was in response to the destruction of farms caused by emus in their search for food and water. After WWI, Australia rewarded its returning veterans with farmland to call their own. The only stipulation was that this farmland was basically barren Outback that was plagued with native animals. The terrible soil didn’t leave farmers with many options in terms of crops, but wheat grew fairly well given the conditions. Unfortunately, wheat also attracted emus.

Of the nearly 5000 veterans who participated in the program, very few were able to grow crops without having them destroyed by hungry birds. Even fewer could afford to build fences to keep the emus at bay. The government, not willing to address the problem of terrible land quality, decided that the emu was entirely at fault for crops not growing.

It was declared by Western Australian Senator, Sir George Pearce, that veterans and troops should tackle the problem head-on and hunt the birds.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

Good luck fighting an enemy too stupid to know it’s been shot four times with only enough ammo to take out half the population even if your aim is perfect.

The biggest misconception about the Emu War is that it was a massive assault staged by the Australian military. It wasn’t. It was literally just three men, a pick-up truck, two Lewis machine guns, and 10,000 rounds. There were veteran farmers who also took up arms, but only Major G.P.W. Meredith and his two gunners were officially at war.

That’s three men versus 20,000 massive birds.

Emus aren’t just large turkeys. They stand at an average height of six feet four inches, can run up to 31 mph, have the strongest legs of any animal, and can easily shred apart metal fences with their talons. As the three Aussie hunters found out, emus can take roughly five bullets before realizing they’ve been shot and ten rounds before they finally die.

Emus naturally flock in hordes of hundreds, which means that any time the hunters unloaded into the horde, the birds would quickly disperse into smaller mobs that scattered in different directions. With only so many guns, the hunters could only focus on those smaller mobs while the rest took off running.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

If they aren’t in mobs, you’ll be searching for hours just to find one.

In that respect, the hunters were technically efficient. They managed to gun down a confirmed 986 emus over the span of a few weeks. Of the 9,900 rounds they used, they averaged out about one kill per ten or so rounds — the estimated number required to kill an emu. The three men also faced constant backlash from the news and local farmers during their hunt.

The media laughed at them for the absurdity of it all and dubbed it the “Great Emu War” to make light of the situation. It give readers a moment of levity during the otherwise-grim Great Depression. While the general population thought it was silly to send any troops after birds, the farmers were upset that the government sent only three guys to go solve a problem spanning an Australian state that’s twice the size of Alaska.

The hunters tried to give up several times because they knew how pointless it was — but each time, they were pushed back into hunting emus. Eventually, they gave up on December 9th, 1932, and everyone laughed at the three men for failing to do the impossible.

The only logical way to deal with the emus was what happened eventually. The government placed a bounty on the emus and let the farmers handle it — which they did very well. Over time, the farmers would collect a bounty on over 57,000 emus and the farms turned profitable again. It should also be noted that some farmers were smart enough to breed emus and collect a bounty on the birds they’d raised, but that was bound to happen.

All in all, the Aussies would eventually prevail over the emus. It just took more than three guys in a pick-up truck to do it.

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Real versus reel: Four ways ‘Braveheart’ was different in real life

In 1995, Mel Gibson starred in and directed the war epic Braveheart, which follows the story of one of Scotland’s greatest national heroes, Sir William Wallace. Wallace almost single-handedly inspired his fellow Scotsmen to stand against their English oppressors, which earned him a permanent spot in the history books.

Among critics, the film cleaned house. It went on to win best picture, best director, best cinematography, and a few others at the 1996 Academy Awards. Although the film has received its fair share of acclaim, historians don’t always share the same enthusiasm. The movie steers away from what really occurred several times.


Victorian depiction of the Battle of Stirling Bridge (public domain/ Wikimedia Commons)
Battle of Stirling… Fields?

After a few quick, murderous scenes, Wallace joins a small group of his countrymen, ready to ward off a massive force of English troops that are spread across a vast field. In real life, this clash of warriors didn’t happen on some open plains — it occurred on a narrow bridge.

The battle took place in September of 1297, nearly 17 years after the film. Wallace and Andrew de Moray (who isn’t mentioned in the movie) showed up to the bridge and positioned themselves on the side north of the river, where the bridge was constructed.

The Brits were caught off guard, as Wallace and his men waited until about a third of the English’s total force crossed before attacking. The Scotsmen used clever tactics, packing men on the bridge shoulder-to-shoulder, mitigating their numerical disadvantage.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Wallace took all the credit… (Paramount Pictures)
Wallace being knighted

After the Battle of Stirling Bridge, both Wallace and Andrew de Moray were both granted Knighthood and labeled as Joint Guardians of Scotland.

Andrew de Moray died about a month later from wounds sustained during the battle. Despite his heroics, Andrew de Moray gets zero credit in the film.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Think about that for a moment… (Paramount Pictures)
Wallace’s affair with Princess Isabelle of France

In the film, Wallace sleeps with Princess Isabella of France (as played by Sophie Marceau), the wife of Edward II of England. According to several sources, the couple was married in January of 1308, which is two years and five months after Wallace was put to death in August 1305, according to the film.

The movie showed Edward II and the princess getting married during Wallace’s lifetime. Now, if Scottish warrior had truly knocked up the French princess before his death in 1305, that would have made her around 10 years old, as she was born in 1295.

Something doesn’t add up.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
“We’re busted!” (Paramount Pictures)
Edward I dies before Wallace?

Who could forget the film’s dramatic ending? Wallace is stretched, pulled by horses, and screams, “freedom!” as his entrails are removed — powerful stuff. In the film, Edward I (as played by Patrick McGoohan) takes his last breath before the editor takes us back to Wallace’s final moment.

According to history, Edward I died around the year 1307. As moving as it was to watch the two deaths happen, it couldn’t have happened.


-Feature image courtesy of Paramount Pictures

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 unusual weapons from the Civil War

In 1861, President-elect Abraham Lincoln escaped the Baltimore Plot with the help of his bodyguard Ward Hill Lamon and detective Allan Pinkerton, eluding assassins. Lincoln’s tough guy had an assortment of weapons, according to the June 1895 edition of McClure’s Magazine, including a pair of heavy revolvers, brass knuckles, a Bowie knife, and a slung-shot. The slung-shot was a crude weapon with a weight tied to a wrist strap, popular among street gangs of the era.

The man responsible for protecting the life of the president carried some peculiar weapons, and the American Civil War that followed featured some unusual weapons as well.

The Arkansas Toothpick

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Pvt. John L. Wood, Company D, 3rd North Carolina Volunteers Regiment, showing an “Arkansas Toothpick,” a weapon similar to the Bowie knife, and sheath with initials J.L.W. Photo by Charles Rees, 1861, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Arkansas Toothpick, similar to the Bowie knife, was a heavy dagger with a pointed and straight blade ranging from 12 to 20 inches long. It was versatile, used in service for throwing, thrusting, and slashing. The large-bladed weapon was carried in a holster across the back. It was said to be heavy enough for chopping wood and sharp enough for shaving and combat.

Ketchum Grenade

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Though deadly in its time, the Ketchum hand grenade might remind kids today of a Nerf foam football. Photo courtesy of the civilwarvirtualmuseum.org.

The Ketchum grenade has a strong resemblance to the Nerf foam footballs that wail through the air when thrown. Only, when these hit the ground, they explode — or at least, that was the idea. Patented in 1861 by New York inventor William F. Ketchum, the grenade was used by the Union Army. These Ketchum grenades, however, were largely ineffective. If the nose of the grenade didn’t strike the ground, it didn’t detonate. Confederate soldiers even used blankets to catch them.  

Calcium Floodlights

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Equipped with calcium lights, the Union Navy was able to keep up the bombardment of Fort Sumter around the clock. Photo courtesy of the Hampton Roads Naval Museum.

First appearing in lighthouses and theaters in the 1830s, calcium floodlights were repurposed during the Civil War in 1863 in an operation to retake Charleston Harbor. Using the lights, Gen. Quincy Adams Gillmore bombarded the Confederate stronghold at Fort Wagner around the clock. The calcium lights, or “limelights,” were chemical lamps that used superheated balls of lime, or calcium oxide, to create an incandescent glow and turn the night into day. The Union engineers not only illuminated their artillery targets but also blinded the Confederate gunners and riflemen. The limelights also spotted Confederate warships, blockade runners, and ironclad fleets.

Coal Torpedo

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Weapons of the Civil War included the coal torpedo. This example was prepared as a model, with a partial coal dust coating and the plug left out. It was found in Jefferson Davis’ office by Union Gen. Edward Ripley when Union forces captured Richmond in April 1865. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The coal torpedo was an improvised explosive device (IED) developed by Confederate spy Thomas Edgeworth Courtenay to carry out acts of sabotage. These nasty little bombs appeared to be ordinary clumps of coal. The hollowed-out iron artillery shells were loaded with several ounces of gunpowder, sealed with beeswax, and covered in coal dust. Dozens of saboteurs were given orders to place them in Union coal stockpiles in hopes they would be brought aboard Union steam-powered warships. 

Rear Adm. David Dixon Porter, a commander of the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron, recalled the havoc a coal torpedo could create aboard a ship. “When the torpedo was thrown into the furnace with the coal, it soon burst, blowing the furnace-doors open and throwing the burning mass into the fire-room, where it [began to burn] the wood-work,” he wrote.

The concept for coal torpedos as weapons didn’t end with the Civil War. Eddie Chapman, a double agent working for the British during World War II, was provided an explosive device by his German handlers. It was, as the coal torpedoes were, disguised as coal. He was ordered to get it into the coal bunker of a ship. Instead, Chapman turned it over to authorities.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

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This is why sailors wear neckerchiefs with their dress uniform

Any enlisted Navy sailor can tell you that their dress uniform wouldn’t be as famous today without one of its most iconic pieces — the historic neckerchief.


Reportedly, the neckerchief made its first appearance in the 16th century and was primarily worn as a sweat rag and to protect the sailor’s neck from rubbing raw against their stiff collared shirts.

In some cases, the 36-square-inch silk fabric could also be used as a battle dressing or tourniquet in a life saving situation.

The color black was picked to hide any dirt or residue that built up during wear.

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
The iconic Navy dress blue uniformed with a neckerchief being steamed before a uniform inspection.

In 1817, the Navy wanted each one of its sailors to tie their neckerchief the same way, so it introduce the square knot. The square knot was hand-picked because it was commonly used on ships to secure its cargo.

The knot was later added to the dress blue uniform to represent the hardworking Navy tradition, and it remains that way today.

How to tie a square knot:

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy
Step-by-step instructions for the tradition square knot. (Source: Navy.mil)

During the inspection, each sailor is carefully examined by a senior at least twice a year. While under observation, the sailor must display a properly tied square knot which needs to hang at the bottom of the jumper’s V-neck opening, and the ends of the neckerchief must appear even as shown above.

Do you remember your first uniform inspection? Comment below.

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