The English Electric Canberra is a classic Cold War bomber. Its service with the United Kingdom and a host of other countries began less than five years after World War II, and it stuck around until 2006 with the Royal Air Force, while India flew them until 2007.
But less well-known is the American version of the Canberra, the Martin B-57, which has had the distinction of supporting combat troops almost 40 years after it was retired.
Here’s the scoop on this plane. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the Korean War showed the United States that it would need a replacement for the A-26/B-26 Invader in the role of a night intruder.
The Air Force looked at the North American B-45 and A2J Savage, both of which were already in service, but found them wanting. Then, the Air Force looked abroad, and considered the CF-100 from Canada before deciding to license-build the English Electric Canberra.
What won them over was endurance: The Canberra could hang around a target 780 miles away for over two hours. The B-57 could carry up to 7,300 pounds of bombs, could mount eight .50-caliber machine guns or four 20mm cannon, and had a top speed of 597 miles per hour, according to MilitaryFactory.com.
The Air Force liked that long reach, and eventually 403 B-57s were built. The plane served as a bomber in the Vietnam War and some were modified to carry laser-guided 500-pound bombs and called the B-57G under a program called Tropic Moon III. One of the B-57Gs was even equipped with a M61 Vulcan and 4,000 rounds (which is a lot of BRRRRRT!). However, the United States soon realized that the Canberra’s true calling was as a high-altitude reconnaissance bird.
The definitive reconnaissance version, the RB-57F, could reach an altitude of 65,000 feet. This gave it a very high perch that many fighters in the 1960s could not reach. Even one of today’s best interceptors, the Su-27 Flanker, can only reach a little over 62,000 feet, according to MilitaryFactory.com. Some of the RB-57Fs later were designated WB-57Fs to reflect their use as weather reconnaissance planes.
The Air Force retired the B-57s in 1974. However, a number of the WB-57F planes found their way to NASA, where they were used for research. This included monitoring for signs of nuclear tests.
At least two of the NASA birds, though, are reported to have served over Afghanistan in the War on Terror. Spyflight reported one of the NASA birds flew sorties from Kandahar in 2008, officially as a “geological survey” for Afghanistan. Wired.com reported in 2012 that two NASA planes have alternated flying out of Kandahar to help relay data, alongside modified RQ-4 Global Hawk drones and versions of the Bombardier business jet known as the E-11A.
This means that nearly four decades after officially retiring from service, these B-57s have been serving in wartime – while under NASA’s flag. Not bad for a plane that first took flight in 1949!
There’s one Army-Navy Game tradition that might seem a bit surprising for institutions that preach honor, loyalty and dignity: the mascot heist. Somehow, over the decades, the ritual of stealing your opponent’s mascot has become a beloved prank that’s part of the rivalry’s tradition.
Army cadets seem to be more focused on stealing their generation’s version of Bill the Goat than Navy midshipmen are committed to mule theft. Of course, goats are much more compact creatures, something that makes them easier to transport and leaves far less of a mess to clean afterward.
To be fair, mascot pranks have a long history at our country’s elite colleges, though they didn’t surface at the service academies until after World War II because rank has its privileges. Even so, the academies signed a nonaggression pact in 1992 that supposedly put a stop to these shenanigans.
Here are 4 classic Army-Navy mascot heists
In 1953, Army cadets somehow thought they could corral a goat in a cardboard box.
(United States Military Academy Library)
1. 1953 — the tradition begins
West Point cadets used chloroform to gas Billy the Goat and spirit him away from Annapolis in the back of a convertible. After Bill’s return, Superintendent of the Naval Academy Vice Adm. C. Turner Joy told The New York Times that the goat had not, in fact, been “kid-naped” by the Army but had merely visited West Point as a guide for the “‘pathetic’ group of Army cadets who, like Yale’s ‘poor little sheep,’ had lost their way.”
2. 1965 — The Golden Fleece
West Point cadet Tom Carhart wrote an entire book called “The Golden Fleece: High-Risk Adventure at West Point” about the successful mission that he and five of his classmates pulled off in 1965. Sick of losing their goat, the Navy started keeping Bill on a naval base between appearances, a location with far greater security than the relatively open campus in Annapolis.
Dressed in black, the commandos cut through wire fences and completed their goat theft while their girlfriends distracted the Marine Corps guards with a story about being lost after getting stood up on a blind date.
These modern-day mules are not the same ones stolen in 1991. But they may be related.
3. 1991 — crimes committed in pursuit of a higher good
Navy midshipmen on a mission to steal West Point’s mules cut phone lines, tied up members of Army staff and went on the run from police. Facing felony charges, they instead got off with the “Order of the Mule,” a made-up award from the Navy commandant that declared their actions “in the highest traditions of the naval service.” Two of the raiders rose to become top leaders in the Navy SEALs.
Lead From The Front: An Army/Navy Short Film 2017 [4K]
West Point commandant Brig. Gen. Steven Gilland got in on the action last year as the star of a 10-minute Army spirit video that celebrated the tradition and plays out like a Hollywood Heist movie. Gilland plays the role of airborne commando in an elaborate raid on Annapolis.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
Joshua T. asks: What were all those metal things you see on the beaches in pictures of the Omaha landing?
The Normandy Invasions represented one of the single largest military maneuvers in history. Beginning on June 6, 1944, the invasion was the largest amphibious assault of all time and involved what basically amounted to the collective might of a large percentage of the nations in the industrialized world working in tandem to defeat the Nazi war machine. One of the most iconic images of the invasion was that of a French beach covered in oppressive-looking metal crosses. As it turns out, those crosses were merely a small part of an expansive network of sophisticated defences the Allies managed to somehow circumvent in mere hours.
Dubbed “the Atlantic Wall” and constructed under the direct orders of Adolf Hitler himself in his Directive 40, the formidable defences stretched and astounding 2000 miles of the European coast. Intended to ward off an Allied invasion, the Atlantic Wall consisted of endless batteries of guns, an estimated five million mines (of both the sea and land variety) and many thousands of soldiers who occupied heavily fortified bunkers and fortresses along its length.
German soldiers placing landing craft obstructions.
The wall has been described as a “three-tier system of fortifications” where the most valuable and vulnerable locations were the most heavily fortified while positions of lesser importance became known as “resistance points” that were more lightly defended but would still pose an imposing obstacle to any invasion force.
In the rush to create defences, gun batteries were haphazardly thrown together, consisting of basically whatever the Nazis could get their hands on. As a result, everything from heavy machine guns to massive cannons cut from captured French warships were utilized in the construction of fortresses and bunkers. Though they looked threatening, this “confusing mixture of sizes and calibres” proved to be an issue for the Nazis when they couldn’t scrape together the ammunition to arm them all. Still, the guns, in combination with the several other layers of defences, were believed to make the coast of Europe “impregnable”.
The largest of these guns represented the first line of defence of the Atlantic Wall and the Germans spent countless hours practise shelling “designated killing zones” experts predicted Allied ships would most likely use to invade. After this were expansive submarine nets and magnetic mines chained to the ocean floor to deter submarines and ships. In shallower water, the Nazis attached mines to sticks and buried large logs deep in the sand pointed outwards towards the ocean — the idea being boats would either be taken out by the mines or have their bows broken against the poles.
After this was a defensive emplacement known as the Belgian gate which were large heavy fences attached to steel rollers which could be positioned in the shallows. Following this were millions of mines lying just beneath the sands waiting for soldiers who managed to make it ashore.
Along with all of this, there were also those metal cross thingies — or to give them their proper name, Czech hedgehogs.
As the name suggests, the Czech hedgehog was invented in Czechoslovakia and was mostly designed to serve as a deterrent for tanks and other armoured vehicles, as well as in this particular case if the tide was right, approaching ships attempting to land on shore.
Originally designed to sit along the Czechoslovakia-Germany border as part of a massive fortification effort conducted in the 1930s, the hedgehogs never ended up serving their original purpose when the region was annexed by Germany in 1938.
It’s reported that the Czechs originally wanted to build a large wall between the two countries, but a cheaper solution was found in the form of these hedgehogs, which could be mass-produced by simply bolting together beams of steel.
So what purpose did they serve? Put simply, if a tank or other such vehicle tried to drive over one, the result was inevitably it becoming stuck on the thing, and even in some cases having the bottom of the tank pieced by the hedgehog. When used on a beach like this, as previously alluded to, they also had the potential to pierce the hulls of ships approaching the shores if the tide was high at the time.
On top of that, particularly the anchored variety of hedgehogs proved difficult to move quickly as even massive explosions didn’t really do much of anything to them.
Speaking of anchored hedgehogs, it isn’t strictly necessary for the hedgehogs to be anchored to anything normally. It turns out that tanks trying to drive over the unanchored ones had a good chance of getting themselves stuck just the same. In these cases what would usually happen was the hedgehog would roll slightly as the tank tried to power its way over, with then the weight of the tank often causing the steel I-beams to pierce the bottom of the tank, completely immobilizing it. In fact, in testing, unanchored hedgehogs proved slightly more effective than their anchored variety against heavy vehicles.
However, because of the tide issue in this case, to keep the hedgehogs in place, those closest to the water did have thick concrete bases anchoring them in the sand.
Using about a million tons of steel and about 17 million cubic meters of concrete, the broken wall these Czech Hedghogs created was a much more viable option than trying to create a solid wall over such a span, while also not giving the enemy forces too much cover, as a more solid wall would have done.
That said, while initially a deterrent, the hedgehogs ended up helping the Allies after the beaches were secured, as they proved to be a valuable source of steel and concrete that was repurposed for the war effort. For example, almost immediately some of the steel beams were welded to tanks, turning them into very effective mobile battering rams.
Yes you read that correctly — the Allies cut up dedicated anti-tank fortifications and welded them to their tanks to make them even more badass of weapons.
The Soviets also made extensive use of Czech hedgehogs, often using the concrete to literally cement them in place in cities and along bridges to halt German armored divisions in their tracks. As you can imagine, just one of these in a narrow street proved to be an extremely effective barrier that also left the enemy trying to get rid of it open to weapon fire.
While some Czech hedgehogs were constructed to specific factory specifications, which stipulated exact measurements (usually 1.4 meters in height) and materials (anything sturdy enough to survive around 500 tonnes of force), most were made of scavenged materials.
In the end, the hedgehogs along with the countless other fortifications proved to be a formidable, but not impassable obstacle for the Allies. In fact, thanks to a massive, concerted bombardment effort from the naval and air-based forces of the Allies, strategic commando strikes, and the bravery of the hundreds of thousands of troops who physically stormed the beaches all those years ago, all of the defences were bypassed in a matter of hours, though at the cost of several thousand lives on D-Day alone.
Czech hedgehogs are near identical in design (save for their massive size) to caltrops — a tiny metal device designed to always land with a jagged spike pointed straight into the air used extensively throughout history to hinder advancing enemy, particularly effective against horses, camels, and elephants, but also foot soldiers.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Most people associate astronauts and rockets with places like Houston and the east coast of Florida. After all, NASA’s current headquarters is in Houston, and Florida houses both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. But the US has another important, yet much lesser-known “Rocket City” that you probably never heard of!
In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed off on the country’s first space program: NASA. NASA’s first home was not in Houston, though. It was just outside of Huntsville, Alabama, at Redstone Arsenal, a former military base which they renamed Marshall Space Center. Because no astronaut has ever uttered, “Huntsville, we have a problem,” this rocket city has largely stayed under the radar.
Operation Paperclip Goes to Alabama
Immediately following World War II in 1945, the US government secretly brought a group of about 1,600 German scientists into the country so that Russia could not get their hands on them. This top-secret program, called Operation Paperclip, helped put the US space program ahead of the rest of the world.
Perhaps the most important of the German scientists in the group was Dr. Wernher von Braun. He worked directly with Hitler to develop rockets for Germany before Operation Paperclip moved him to “Rocket City,” Alabama. His expertise as an aerospace engineer was exactly what the US government wanted for its space program. They had their eyes on the prize of leading the world in all things outer space, so they conveniently set aside the fact that von Braun was a Nazi sympathizer.
Neil Armstrong Can Thank Smuggled German Scientists for His Fame
A team of both American and German scientists worked under von Braun’s leadership at Redstone Arsenal, later NASA’s Marshall Space Center. Together, they developed a rocket that would eventually bring humans into outer space. In the late 1960s, the team had tested a whopping 32 of their Saturn launch vehicle designs. Not a single one failed, which meant it didn’t take long before one of them was ready for takeoff.
On July 16, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins took off in a Saturn V rocket headed for the moon, where they arrived 240,000 miles and four days later. Armstrong and Aldrin made history by being the first humans to walk on the moon’s surface, while Collins stayed patiently in orbit, waiting for his moon-walking peers. This was all thanks to von Braun and his brilliant team of scientists’ work at the Marshall Space Center. Good thinking by the US government to smuggle those Germans over, after all.
“Rocket City” is Also Alabama’s Claim to Fame
No big deal, but the Saturn V remains the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. No wonder Huntsville, Alabama, got the nickname “Rocket City.” There are only three Saturn V’s in existence today, and one of them still towers over Huntsville at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. Tons of high-tech companies also call Huntsville home, including Boeing, Siemens, and many other firms working in the field of aerospace technology.
The USS North Carolina was what they called a “fast” battleship, designed for long range shooting matches with other ships of war. She was faster than any other ship in the U.S. fleet when she was built.
“I was 17 when I came aboard this thing,” says James Bowen, a World War II veteran and USS North Carolina sailor. “I saw that thing and said ‘Nothing can hurt me on that thing.’ So I think of this as my second mother.”
“It brings back a lot of memories, if you walk around the ventilators,” says Louis Popovich, another USS North Carolina veteran. “It’s amazing how you can be reminded of an area by breathing some of the air.”
By the end of WWII, submarine warfare and aircraft carriers made the more expensive heavy gun warships like North Carolina all but obsolete. The last use of a battleship in combat was in Desert Storm, but by then they were firing Tomahawk missiles. Slowly over the next 50 years, the battleships of WWII were decommissioned one by one.
The North Carolina was opened to the public in 1963 and is now moored at Wilmington, N.C, where those interested in hearing more stories from the men who fought aboard her can visit.
While the ship will be there for the foreseeable future, the veterans’ firsthand stories will not. An estimated 430 WWII veterans die every day and by 2036, they will all be gone — but not forgotten.
The Crew of the ARLIGH BURKE-class USS COLE (DDG 67), escort their wounded ship aboard Navy tug vessel, USNS CATAWBA, to a staging point in the Yemeni harbor of Aden awaiting transportation by the Norwegian-owned semi-submersible heavy lift ship MV BLUE MARLIN back to their homeport, during Operation DETERMINED RESPONSE, on October 29, 2000. (Photo by: SGT DON L. MAES, USMC)
The US Navy released a powerful video Monday of retired sailors and a Gold Star mother recounting the deadly bombing of the destroyer USS Cole twenty years ago today.
In one heartbreaking scene, retired Master Chief Paul Abney breaks into tears as he remembers the loss of fellow sailor Operation Specialist 2nd Class Timothy Saunders. Abney said he stood watch with Saunders every day.
“Both of his legs were busted up so bad,” he recalled. “They were out of shape, they were all twisted on the Stokes stretcher they were carrying him on.”
Tears fill his eyes as he continues. “Still the same cheery personality, he gives me two thumbs up and says, ‘They’re taking care of me, master chief,’ as they were carrying him off on a Stoke stretcher.”
“He was the only shipmate who made it off and to the hospital that passed away over there,” he said. “Every other one that we got off the ship and triaged to get off soon enough they made it. The rest of them died before we ever got them off the ship.”
USS Cole was attacked by suicide bombers in a boat packed with explosives while in port in Yemen on October 12, 2000. The explosion tore a hole in the ship so large the crew spent several days containing the flooding that endangered the ship. “We almost lost her,” retired Command Master Chief James Parlier said in the video.
“The pressure of it knocked me back in my chair,” Abney said. “Along with it, all the lights went out. The next thing that I can really recall from the blast was this putrid, kind of acrid smoke. It was kind of hard to breathe. Everybody was choking from the smoke.”
Seventeen sailors were killed, and another 39 others were injured in the attack.
Among the deceased was James McDaniels. His mother, Dianne McDaniels, learned about the attack on the news. That evening, she was informed that her son was gone. “I’m glad he did what he did as far as serving because that’s what he wanted to do,” she said.
“These were young men and women that you knew personally. We had a crew of 275,” Parlier said. “Respectfully, to put them in a body bag is the worst thing I can ever think of.”
The attack was attributed to al Qaeda, which carried out attacks in the US a little over a year later on September 11, 2001.
It took a little over a year to repair USS Cole and return her to sea. Parlier said that when the ship was finally fixed and sailing again, he felt pride “because we told them son of a b——s that we were not defeated and that we were coming back.”
Remembering the Terrorist Attack on USS Cole (DDG 67), Oct. 12, 2000
There’s something romantic about being a knight — and no, we don’t mean sweep-a-fair-lady-off-her-feet kind of romantic. Between the tall tales of heroic deeds and depictions of gleaming, glorious suits of armor, the life of a knight has been made into something grander than it actually was.
The desire to take up sword and shield and live the life of a knight immediately goes out the window once you learn a little more about what that life was actually like. While your the experience of knighthood varied greatly between kingdoms, no matter which banner you bore, they all shared one common quality: life flat-out sucked.
14 years of training and you’re just given a nice pat on the back and maybe a piece of land — not a castle, though, because those are expensive.
Your journey usually began at as young as seven years old
It wasn’t entirely impossible for a peasant-turned-warrior to be recognized for greatness and rise in status, but that was exceedingly rare (for reasons we’ll get into shortly). For the most part, knights were generally are born into the role. If your father was a knight or if you were of noble birth but far from the line of succession, knighthood was for you.
This meant that, for the most part, from the moment of your birth, you’d be expected to become a knight and fight for your lord. The process typically began at age seven. You’d be given off to a noble to learn as much as you could. The quality of this childhood hinged entirely on the whims of said noble. Then, at age 14, you’d become a squire.
Squires were, essentially, interns for proper knights who’d do all of the unpleasant or mundane tasks. Be a knight’s errand boy for seven more years, and you’ll finally earn your knighthood.
At least the jousting would be fun…
You’re do far more than just fighting — and none of it was fun.
Being a knight meant far more than just showing up to do battle whenever summoned by your liege. At times of war, or if their number didn’t get called to go fight in some battle, they were expected to be local leaders among the large peasant society.
So, take all those years of learning to fight and throw ’em out the window, because you’re now the lead farmer until someone decides to raid your village. Occasionally, you’d do police duty and, more often, you’d be the mediator of local disputes, but that’s about it until it’s crusading time.
Still the best break down for how stupid chivalry actually was, read Don Quixote and remember that it was written intentionally to be a satire.
You had to follow a strict code of “chivalry”
The word “chivalry” derives from the Old French word, “chevalerie” which meant “horseman.” Over time, the gallant knights, typically astride horses, took on their own code of ethics. The word “chivalry,” over the years, then became synonymous with “gentlemanly,” but it meant much more than just treating ladies right (and, in this case, “ladies” refers exclusively to women of noble birth).
This code dictated much of your life. How strict was it? Well, knights were almost always godly men. So, if you were to skip church for one day, you may find yourself stripped of your knighthood entirely — but, of course, it’d all depend on if you come from noble status or not.
You could basically rob or kill anyone of a lesser status and no one would blame you. Tough break.
(Photo by Christopher Favero)
Your compatriots were usually always snobby nobles who rarely followed the code
The honorable few that earned their way into knighthood would be held to a much different standard than the knights who got their position from being the king’s second cousin’s kid.
Knights who got their position from a noble birth could do whatever they felt, facing little-to-no consequences. Even if the kingdom was very religious, noble-born knights could attack members of the clergy and get away with it if they had a good-enough excuse. You? The guy who earned it? There’s no way you’d be able to talk yourself out of that.
On the bright side, the more ornate the armor, the more likely it was that the person had no idea how to actually fight.
(Photo by Patrick Lordan)
You had to buy your own gear
The biggest barrier to entry for those warriors-turned-knights was the absurdly high cost of equipment. Remember, this was centuries before governments decided to arm their troops for combat. Since being a knight meant that you were paid in land ownership (or sometimes just the “glory of your lord”), you probably didn’t even get paid actual money.
So, any armor or weapons you needed had to be purchased on the side — with money you were never given. It was no problem for the knights of noble birth, but other knights would have to work the land and sell goods to earn enough just to fight.
Then again, being a knight is so easy that a penguin could do it.
Your title meant little after gunpowder was introduced
From the days of Charlemagne onward, knights were highly respected and highly revered across the lands. Then, this fancy new gadget called the “firearm” showed up and made your skill in battle immediately and entirely pointless.
During the Tudor period, armies learned that firearms and cannons could shred through a knight’s heavy plate armor with ease. All of that hard work, dedication, and money put toward becoming a knight was rendered meaningless by whoever had a bullet handy. As everyone focused on using firearms, the need for a literal knight in shining armor quickly dwindled.
That’s not to say that the title of being a knight is entirely worthless. It’s just more of an honorary title that’s given to great people who bring credit to their homeland — not just skilled fighters.
During the Civil War, the Medal of Honor didn’t carry the same weight it does among US troops these days. When it was first conceived in 1861, American troops getting medals for any reason was a new thing, even if it was for “personal valor.” More than 1,500 were awarded throughout the war. By 1917, however, the Medal of Honor achieved the status it was intended to carry in the first place, and 910 of those were rescinded to officially elevate the award. Since then, individual medals have been awarded, often long after the action for which they were won.
That’s how Alonzo Cushing was awarded his Medal of Honor for bravery before the enemy at the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. It was presented to him by President Obama in 2014.
Every photo of Cushing looks like he is ready to personally end some Confederate lives.
Major Alonzo Cushing was a Union artillery officer who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point just a few short weeks after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. By the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, Cushing was still a lieutenant in experience, but earned the rank of brevet major for his role at the recent Battle of Chancellorsville, in Virginia. The heavy toll the Union took during that battle must have weighed heavily on Cushing because he gave no ground to the enemy as long as he could still stand. He was also a veteran of Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. By then, he knew how important his role was.
On the last day of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, the artillery battery commander was wounded three separate times. First, shrapnel from an exploding shell tore through his shoulder. This was not enough to deter Cushing. Even after his second wound, which cut through his lower abdomen and literally spilled his guts, he stayed at his post, holding them in. It was the third injury that would silence him forever. He was ordered to fall to the rear. Instead, he ordered his guns to move closer and moved with them.
The Gettysburg Cyclorama, 1883.
(Paul Dominique Philippoteaux)
Cushing defied orders to abandon his position on Cemetery Ridge at the critical point in the battle. The massive bombardment of Cemetery Ridge that cut into Alonzo Cushing preceded a full frontal infantry assault that came to be known as “Pickett’s Charge.” The Confederate attack on the Union position at Cemetery Ridge was as close as the Confederate Army would ever get to defeating the Union, losing more than half the men who made the charge.
Also killed was Brevet Maj. Cushing. Because of his previous wounds, Cushing could no longer yell loud enough to be heard by the men under his command. His First Sergeant literally picked him up and repeated his orders to the men. As he gave orders, the 22-year-old Cushing was hit in the mouth by an enemy bullet and was killed. His gallantry in combat earned him the permanent rank of Lt. Col. and a burial at his beloved West Point’s cemetery.
If looks could kill, Cushing’s is an 1841 Howitzer.
Just as Cushing’s First Sergeant wrote to his family about his bravery in battle, the Wisconsin native became the subject of a letter-writing campaign more than 100-plus years later. Residents of Wisconsin were more concerned with recognizing one of their favorite sons for his valor. It wasn’t until 2014 that Congress was finally able to act and the President was able to concur.
“His part of our larger American story — one that continues today,” the President said. “The spirit, the courage, the determination that he demonstrated lives on in our brave men and women in uniform who this very day are serving and making sure that they are defending the freedoms that Alonzo helped to preserve. And it’s incumbent on all of us as Americans to uphold the values that they fight for, and to continue to honor their service long after they leave the battlefield – for decades, even centuries to come.”
President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to 1st Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing for his gallantry during combat at Gettysburg July 3, 1863. Receiving the medal at the White House ceremony, Nov. 6, 2014, is Helen Loring Ensign, Cushing’s first cousin, twice removed.
Accepting Cushing’s Medal of Honor was a distant first cousin of the young officer. Also present was Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and 94-year-old historian Margaret Zerwekh. It was Zerwekh’s constant lobbying that made Cushing’s award a reality.
At 151 years, it was the longest wait of any Medal of Honor Recipient to receive the award.
In the years after World War II, the biggest fights were not between the United States and the Soviet Union. They were between the various armed services of the United States military — and things were getting ugly.
The Air Force and Army went through a messy divorce after World War II — mostly due to festering issues that cropped before the war. These issues were largely due to a controversial figure in Colonel Billy Mitchell. Mitchell, a long-time airpower advocate, had rubbed many people the wrong way, even though his experiments did highlight the fact that battleships were vulnerable to planes. His heavy-handed advocacy for airpower angered many in the Army while those who agreed with him felt the Army was shortsighted. He wouldn’t live to see WWII, but the debate he started would live on.
So, in 1948, the top officers of the Army, Air Force, and Navy took a trip to Key West, Florida — but this was no spring break. The three services were there to hash out and define the responsibilities of each branch. The result was a “treaty” of sorts that became known as the Key West Agreement.
The is how the agreement broke things down: The Air Force would handle combat in the air and air transport but also promised to provide close-air support for the Army. The Navy and Marine Corps were to handle naval combat – including amphibious assault. The Army was tasked with fighting on land. What was interesting was that the Army was also allowed “such aviation and water transport” that was organic to providing support to combat units.
Now, the Key West Agreement was not a complete success. The Air Force tried to assert its nuclear bombers could do everything – and convinced the then-Secretary of Defense to cancel a supercarrier under construction. That triggered the Revolt of the Admirals, which didn’t quite stop major cuts in naval forces.
The Korean War, though, forced the services to get their act together. Ultimately, the Key West Agreement has largely worked for over 70 years.
If there were any one weapons manufacturer that was worthy of being called the “Arsenal of Democracy,” it would be the Springfield Armory. The armory was founded by George Washington in 1777, meaning it’s nearly as old as the country itself. The Springfield, Mass. institution was the nation’s first depot for its weapons of war and has supplied the United States in every war from the War of 1812 to Vietnam.
Today, the nation’s first federal armory is a national historic site, run by the National Parks Service and housing the largest collection of American firearms in the world. Until 1968, however, it was an innovative firearms manufacturer, producing the weapons that won wars for the United States. From the get-go, the site of the Springfield Armory was of critical defensive importance to the young United States. It was the site where New England colonists trained to defend the colony from nearby native tribes. When the time came for revolution, Gen. Washington and his artillery chief, Henry Knox, chose the site for its defensive terrain.
After the revolution, the armory was critical to the defense of the young republic. In putting down Shay’s Rebellion, the defenders of the arsenal proved the United States was capable of maintaining its own stability and security. Later, it produced arms for the War of 1812, despite resistance to the war in the New England states, and it may have been one of the deciding factors in the Union victory in the Civil War.
Union troops with Springfield Armory 1861 rifles.
(National Parks Service)
The mass production techniques used by the armory at Springfield were so advanced for the time that from the start of the war to the end of the war, production increased 25 fold to more than a quarter-million rifles every year. That far outpaced what the Confederates could produce. By the end of the war, the armory wasn’t just a producer, it was designing and testing new arms for the future. It was experimenting with concepts that wouldn’t become widespread for another half-century, including interchangeable parts and even an early assembly line.
Some of the most iconic small arms ever produced by the United States to serve on the foreign battlefields of the 20th Century were produced at the Springfield Armory. The Springfield Model 1903 rifle, the M1917 Enfield Rifle, and Springfield is where John Garand developed the first practical semi-automatic rifle for military use – a weapon Gen. George S. Patton called “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
You may have heard of the M1 Garand.
(Library of Congress)
The last weapon the armory developed and produced was the M14, a version of the M1, but eventually, the M1 family was replaced by the M16 family of rifles as the U.S. military’s standard-issue infantry weapon in 1964. By 1968, the legendary facility would be shuttered despite producing other arms for use in the Vietnam War. When the armory refused to build the new M16, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara had the armory closed.
In the years that followed, the buildings of the Springfield Armory complex were restored and the place was turned into a museum, run by the Parks Service.
A Rasmussen poll released at the end of June 2018 revealed a fear among voters that political violence is on the rise, with one in three concerned a second US Civil War is on the horizon. The poll was conducted among likely American voters who were asked via telephone and online survey how likely that war would be.
The poll also revealed that 59 percent of voters are fearful that those opposed to President Trump will resort to violence to advance their cause and another 33 percent were very concerned. A similar poll was conducted in the second year of Barack Obama’s presidency that revealed similar fears in similar numbers.
The difference this time around lies in the recent public confrontations of Trump Administration officials, something neither Obama nor Bush officials faced during their Presidents’ tenures. Media outlets posture that the public pressure is backlash from this administration’s “Zero Tolerance” policy that pulled migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.
By no means did civility rule the day for Obama officials. By this time in President Obama’s presidency, South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson interrupted the President’s speech to a joint session of Congress with a shout of, “You lie!” The heretofore unheard of interruption earned him a public rebuke in the House, and also led to his constituents chanting the same at him less than a decade later.
Obama’s first two years as President dealt largely with the global financial crisis of 2008, automaker bailouts, and financial regulations. As the Brookings Institution points out, no one in power thrives when the economy suffers and the Democrats lost their Congressional majority in the 2010 midterms.
A Second American Civil War would not be as clean cut as the pro-slavery vs. anti-slavery arguments or the federal authority vs. states’ rights arguments of the actual Civil War. The United States is now almost three times the size it was in the 1860s and belief systems and population are very different than they were back then. The issues facing the country are also much different, separated by more than 150 years.
The solution to this is to simply let your vote speak for your beliefs instead of your fists, or worse, a weapon. The peaceful transition of power ensures American democracy will endure, no matter who wins in 2020. The only Civil War sequel America needs is another Captain America movie.
(Writer’s note: This article contains descriptions of real-world violence and there is a video embedded that shows attack helicopters firing on insurgents on the burning outpost. Obviously, viewer/reader discretion is advised.)
View of the 120mm mortar at COP Kahler days before the Battle of Wanat.
(U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jesse Queck)
The attack on the U.S. forces near Wanat in Afghanistan centered on Kahler, a combat outpost in the area. COP Kahler was a strong position, but it faced a number of defensive weaknesses. First, it wasn’t the high ground in the valley. That’s a compromise military leaders sometimes have to make, but you really don’t want to have to defend a position where an enemy can fire on it from above.
Another problem was that civilian buildings came close to the outpost. This included a mosque that the attackers would misuse as a fortress to get an advantageous position against the defenders.
Finally, and probably most importantly, COP Kahler was not yet done. Engineers had been working for weeks to prepare for construction, but the actual building only began on July 9, four days before the attack would come. And a number of important defensive measures wouldn’t be complete for weeks or potentially months.
Some of the defensive positions on July 13 were still just concertina wire and guns, though some positions were protected by boulders, HESCOs, or hasty earthworks. The task force had planned for the possibility that an attack would come early, while the outpost was still vulnerable. But the intelligence estimates did not anticipate an attack by hundreds, and the assets at the base didn’t either.
But Chosen Company of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was holding and building Kahler, and they had prepared well for an attack with what they had.
The defenders’ TOW missile launcher was mounted on a HMMWV that could be driven around the site, but a platform was quickly built to give it better fields of view and fire. And there were two mortars, a 120mm and a 60mm, to provide additional muscle.
And the Americans had built observation posts in the territory around the outpost. These would allow American forces to inflict casualties from higher ground, but it would also deny the enemy a chance to occupy those three positions, meaning that was three fewer positions the insurgents could attack from.
And the engineers were busy from July 9 to 13, filling as many HESCOs and digging out as many fighting positions as they could. They were able to provide significant protection to the 120mm and many fighting positions before the attacks came. The 60mm mortar had a pit and a few sandbags, providing some protection. (Some of the defenses and fighting can be seen in this video.)
There were signs in the buildup to the attack that it was coming. Men in the nearby bazaar were seen watching the Americans and seemingly doing pace counts to figure out distances. The number of children in the village slowly dropped, and Afghan contractors refused to bid on some services for the base.
So when Capt. Matthew Myer saw five shepherds traveling together near the base he immediately prepared for a complex attack, using his TOW and mortars to hit the men shifting around the base. Five shepherds will rarely travel together because that many shepherds signals that there are either too many shepherds or too many goats in one area for normal grazing.
But before Myer could give the order to attack, two bursts of machine gun fire signaled the enemy forces, and then a rain of rockets came onto the U.S. warriors. The Battle of Wanat was on, and the enemy had seized the initiative.
A Army graphic shows the defenses at COP Kahler during the Battle of Wanat. Notice OP Topside which is physically separated from the rest of the defenses. The hotel and mosque were key buildings controlled by insurgents during the battle.
(U.S. Army Combat Studies Institute)
That first volley came in the first hours of July 13, and it contained a very large amount of RPGs. While the Army history of the battle gives no official number to the rockets that hit the base, quotes from the men who fought in the battle described an absolute rain of rockets that left dozens and dozens of tail fins on the ground around the Americans. A radiotelephone operator later said that the “RPG fire was like machine gun fire.”
The insurgent forces had sneaked up close to the outpost and unleashed hell, and the volume of fire indicated that there had either been a major buildup of rockets at these positions or else runners were keeping the shooters well supplied. This rain of explosions took the TOW launcher out of the fight and suppressed a mortar and some machine guns and grenade launchers.
Myers and his men were suddenly struggling to achieve fire superiority. The mortar crew got at least four high-explosive rounds off despite the incoming fire, but were driven back from the weapon by the RPGs and machine gun fire. Rounds were flying in from buildings and trees near the outpost, and the fire was concentrated on the mortarmen.
But they weren’t the only ones in trouble. Another main objective of the enemy force was cutting one of the observation posts, OP Topside, off from the main force. While the OPs provided protection to the COP, they would also be vulnerable to enemy attack until the engineers were done clearing vegetation from the fields of fire.
A mortar crewman was injured by an RPG, and then another was hurt while dragging the first casualty to safety at the command post. The TOW launcher and HMMWV exploded, and it injured an Afghan soldier, knocked out some American communications equipment, and dropped two unexploded but unstable missiles back onto the defenders.
The artillery assets supporting the outpost sent death back at the attackers whenever they could, but they were firing 155mm howitzers at high angle. Danger close starts at just over 700 yards, and anything closer than 600 yards in rough terrain is simply too risky to fire. The automatic grenade launchers on the base had a similar problem.
Defenders at Kahler the day before the Battle of Wanat.
(U.S. Army soldiers)
The weapons that were available were fired at such a high rate that many of them began to overheat, and then the only .50-cal went down after an enemy round struck it in the feed tray cover.
But the worst of the fighting for the Americans took place at OP Topside. Only nine Americans were there at the start of the fighting, and the insurgent activity made reinforcing them a dangerous and tricky task, though the paratroopers would do so successfully multiple times.
The OP had its own artillery observer, but he was wounded in that first RPG volley. A paratrooper at Topside was killed in that same volley, and another died just moments later while attempting to throw a grenade. Another was wounded so badly that he could not fight.
The six men able to fight, including the forward observer, were forced to work through their own injuries and beat back the attack. Fortunately, the observer had sent a list of pre-planned targets back to the gun lines days before, and so artillery was able to send some assistance despite the fact that the observer could not conduct the calls for fire.
The defenders attempted to get the upper hand, but their own crew-served weapons went down from overheating or ammo shortages, and then one gunner was killed while firing his M4.
Finally, reinforcements from the main COP moved out. But the three-man team lost one soldier en route to a wound in the arm. Soon after they arrived, the enemy made it through the wire.
The attack was repulsed, but the two reinforcements were killed, and so was another soldier. A short time later, a sergeant moved forward to suppress fighters in a nearby building and was killed. Only one soldier was left in fighting shape with another three seriously wounded.
The defender managed to take out an enemy position with a light anti-tank weapon, giving most of the survivors just enough time to fall back to another position. But in their haste, they missed that the forward observer was severely wounded but still alive.
This artilleryman grabbed a grenade launcher and fired every round he had and threw every hand grenade he could reach. Just before he was forced to make a last stand at the OP, four men from the COP reinforced him, and Topside remained in American hands.
But a new attack, once again led by RPGs, strained this control. Every paratrooper on the OP was wounded, and one would die soon after. A platoon sergeant gathered a new force of seven paratroopers and two Marines and once again reinforced the OP, arriving shortly before the Apache attack helicopters.
Gun runs by the helicopters with their 30mm cannons finally drove the attackers back and allowed this larger force to protect the OP. Another platoon from Chosen Company arrived to help out their brothers-in-arms. This force brought multiple machine guns and two automatic grenade launchers with them on HMMWVs as well as multiple anti-tank rocket launchers.
The quick reaction force assaulted into the bazaar, driving the enemy from nearby buildings while suppressing other positions with the trucks. QRF fighters threw out smoke to mark insurgent positions and the Apaches eliminated them. Slowly, the volley of RPG fire lessened and, four hours after the attack began, the terrorist forces finally began to retreat.
Medical evacuation crews landed under fire to get the wounded out, in at least one case evacuating a casualty while an Apache made a gun run just 30 yards away. This limited American losses to the nine paratroopers already killed. A massive surge in U.S. and Afghan forces occurred July 13 with Afghan commandos coming in to clear the nearby village house-to-house and gain intelligence.
The biggest surprise for the Afghan commandos came when they searched the Afghan National Police station near the compound. A massive cache of weapons was there with most of them having been recently fired. But the evidence was that they had fired in support of the insurgents, not against them. The police chief and others were arrested.
Over the following days, American air assets pummeled insurgent positions, and future Chief of Staff of the Army Mark Milley set up operations in Wanat. An estimated 20-50 enemy fighters were killed in the fighting.
Despite the hard-won tactical success, senior leaders decided that holding Wanat was simply too costly and drained resources from more fruitful fights elsewhere. Chosen Company was pulled out.
Israeli Col. Giora Epstein, one of the world’s greatest fighter aces of the jet era, was leading a flight of four planes during the Yom Kippur War when his team spotted two Egyptian MiG-21s. Epstein pursued the pair and quickly shot down the trail plane.
But that’s when the Israelis got a surprise. The pair of MiG-21s were bait. While the four Israeli planes were pursuing the surviving MiG they could see, approximately 20 more MiG-21s suddenly hit them with an ambush.
What followed was one of the most lopsided victories in modern aerial combat. The four Israeli Neshers fought the approximately 21 MiGs, calling out to each other to help them avoid Egyptian MiGs or to chase down vulnerable enemies.
During the fight, Epstein’s partner shot down a MiG but got missile exhaust into his own engine, causing a stall. Epstein walked him through a restart and sent him home. Another Israeli pilot chased a MiG out of the battle area, and the third headed home due to a lack of fuel.
Epstein found himself alone with 11 enemy MiGs. What followed was minutes of insane aerial combat as Epstein’s main target pulled off a maneuver thought impossible in a MiG-21: a split S at approximately 3,000 feet. It’s a move that should have caused him to crash into the ground.
But the MiG succeeded, barely. It got so close to the ground that it created a cloud of dust against the desert ground, but then escaped the cloud and flew back toward the sky. Epstein managed to get a burst of machine gun fire out before the MiG could escape, destroying the Egyptian jet. Epstein was left in the fight with 10 MiG-21s out for vengeance for their lost comrades.
The MiGs flew in pairs against Epstein, firing bursts of machine gun fire and missiles at the Israeli ace. Epstein outmaneuvered them, killing two with 30mm cannon fire and forcing the rest to bug out.
The entire battle had taken 10 minutes. See how Epstein did it in the video below: