A hunt for a death ray gave us radar - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

One of the most useful and game-changing weapons of World War II was radar, a technology that allowed Allied pilots to know when and where to fly in order to intercept incoming German bombers, but Britain was actually hunting for a super weapon: A death ray.


How War Made Flying Safer

www.youtube.com

In 1935, World War II had essentially not started yet. Japan was conducting limited, intermittent fighting with China, but Europe was technically at peace. Except war was clearly bubbling up. Germany was re-building its military in violation of the Peace Treaty of Versailles, and Italy launched a successful invasion of Ethiopia.

Britain knew, sooner or later, it would get dragged into a fight. Either Italy would attack colonial possessions in Africa that belonged to it or its allies, or Germany would attempt to conquer Europe. And there was a rumor that Germany had developed a weapon that could wipe out entire towns.

(This may have been a result of early nuclear research. German scientists made some of the critical first breakthroughs in what would later result in nuclear bombs.)

So British leaders asked Robert Watson-Watt if his research, using electromagnetic radiation to detect clouds, could be used to kill enemy pilots.

Yes, they wanted a death ray. But Watson-Watts quickly realized that he couldn’t get that much energy into the clouds. His work, which would lead to modern day weather radar, used a magnetron to send microwave radiation into the sky. But it wasn’t a focused beam of energy, and there simply wasn’t enough juice to kill or even seriously distract an enemy pilot.

To get an idea of how the death ray would’ve had to work, imagine a microwave that could cook a human in less than a minute while they were still miles away. That would be a huge, power-sucking microwave and essentially technically impossible to build.

But Watson-Watts came back with an alternative proposal. The death ray was dead in the water, but the magnetrons could be used to detect planes just like clouds, but even more effectively. And the early math around the idea revealed that the device could see enemy planes for miles and miles, eventually 100 miles out.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

British troops guard a downed German Messerschmitt Bf 109 in August 1940. Radar helped British pilots hold off German advances despite a shortage of pilots and planes.

(Imperial War Museums)

This was game-changing for British pilots when war did break out and reach British shores. Germany quickly conquered France and then began attacking England in the Battle of Britain, using the Luftwaffe to bomb British targets and take on British fighters. The British were outnumbered, and so they needed to make each flight hour of each pilot count for as much as possible.

Radar made this possible. If Britain could only spot incoming German forces with human eyeballs, it would need a large number of spotters on the ground and pilots in the air at all times. But with radar looking out a hundred miles, the Royal Air Force could fly fewer patrols and keep most pilots resting on the ground until needed, instead.

When radar detected incoming planes, the in-air patrols could fly to intercept as additional forces scrambled into the sky as necessary. The network of radar stations would become the “Chain Home” system, and it watched Britain to the north, east, and south.

Germany developed its own radar and deployed it operationally in 1940.

Britain never got its death ray, but Japan did experiment with making a death ray like Watson-Watts considered. They used magnetrons to create microwave radiation in an experimental design that did kill at least one rabbit targeted during tests. But killing the rabbit required that it stay still for 10 minutes, not exactly useful in combat. A groundhog took 20 minutes.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Veterans tell stories of Berlin Airlift for 70th anniversary

The trio shuffled into the small room with canes and walkers to record their testimonies of the first confrontations of the Cold War and how the allies prevailed without firing a shot, saving a former enemy from oppression.

The Royal Air Force Museum American Foundation celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of Berlin Airlift at their annual “Spirit of the Battle of Britain” banquet October 2019 to honor these veterans for their contributions to the alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom.

The trio retold their stories of using soft air power to deter Soviet aggression in post-World War II Berlin, and current U.S. Air Force and RAF airmen were honored for continuing to further the partnership between the two nations.

Prior to the dinner, the trio transported family, listeners and caregivers back to 1940s Germany.


“I remember the war,” said Mercedes Wild, who was seven years old at the start of the Berlin Airlift. “They (Allied bombers) destroyed Berlin. It was a hard time for the kids in West Berlin. Berlin is a destroyed city. We will never forget the sound of the bombers.”

After WWII, the German capital was divided with Soviet Russia controlling East Berlin and British, French and American Allies responsible for the west. The city was located more than 100 miles inside the Russian controlled portion of Germany. On June 24, 1948, the Russians implemented a blockade of West Berlin to prevent food and supplies, such as coal, from entering the town. The effort attempted to break the spirit of the West Berlin people to reject democracy and embrace communism.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

A C-54 Skymaster piloted by retired Col. Gail Halvorsen drops candy with attached parachutes to children during the Berlin Airlift. Halvorsen earned the nickname “Candy Bomber” for his operation Little Vittles candy drops. Note the parachutes below the tail of the C-54.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

Enter, veterans and the Berlin Airlift.

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Gail Halvorsen, widely known as the “Candy Bomber,” described volunteering for the mission that changed his life and the lives of millions in West Berlin. Halvorsen, a 28-year-old lieutenant at the time, grew up on a farm in Utah, where helping a neighbor in need was a way of life.

“My dad was an example to me,” he said. “He had plenty to do himself, but when a neighbor, a farmer, needed help and couldn’t get enough help, my dad would drop some of the things that weren’t so important on our farm to help the next-door neighbor.”

Halvorsen saw his first aircraft flying overhead on the farm while he was working the fields. He was hooked and signed up for a non-college pilot training program. Soon he received his flight training and was flying cargo aircraft in Mobile, Alabama. When the word came of the attempts by Russia to stomp out freedom in West Berlin by starving its residents, there was no doubt of his next step.

“I volunteered to fly supplies in early,” Halvorsen recalled.

At first, the citizens of West Berlin didn’t know what to think of hearing heavy aircraft over their heads again.

“The noise of the airplanes during the airlift in the beginning I feared, because it was the same noise while bombing Berlin,” Wild said.

They would soon learn the aircraft were not carrying bombs but food and supplies to keep them alive. The logistics of flying 2.3 million tons of goods and equipment was not without risks. In total, 101 airmen from around the world perished in the Berlin Airlift.

“Two hundred meters from our house, there was the first airlift airplane crash in the night,” Wild remembered. “The next morning I went with my mother. It was destroyed. The two pilots were dead. The people were very sorry about this … They feared that the west allies would now stop the airlift.”

A hard winter already made food in short supply, Wild explained. The only meal she might get would come from school and she would sneak part of this food to her mother, who was sick. She also took care of the family chickens, whose eggs she would trade on the black market for meat or shoes. Still, none of these hardships compared to the fear of the Russians returning to West Berlin as they had done in the final days of the war.

“The normal West Berliner did not want to become Soviet,” she said. “The Soviet regime was near the same as Nazi time and they feared the Russians. They remembered the Russian soldiers.”

As Halvorsen flew food and coal into the city of Berlin, a 19-year-old RAF pilot flew gasoline into Berlin.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

Then-Lt. Gail S. Halvorsen.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

“The Halifax aircraft was a converted bomber,” said Dereck Hermiston. “The bomb racks had been taken and we flew, I think it was 40 or 41, 45-gallon tanks of gasoline. They had wooden beams, and they (used them) to roll these drums up. Quite unstable, and it stank to high hell.”

The son of a WWI pilot, Hermiston was among the youngest airmen to participate in flying the airlift. Yet, even as a teenager, the reversal of roles did not escape him.

“I realized, as a British officer, that we had bombed, and bombed, and bombed Berlin with the Americans, and it was a reversal,” he said. “We were now trying to save the Berliners from what was quite an oppressive regime from the Russians. I met a few Russian officers, and they were very sure they wanted to stop Germany from growing ever again.”

There was always worry of an international incident turning the Cold War operation hot, as Hermiston told.

“We were buzzed by a Russian MiG-9 one morning,” Hermiston, very much still a kid at heart, said with a chuckle. “I think it was about 4 o’clock in the morning. It was just getting daylight. There was this great shudder, and this fighter aircraft flew underneath us … and looped around us. As he came down, I had no room to maneuver. I suppose he missed us by about 200 to 300 feet. It was enough to make the aircraft shudder. Little things like that I remember because I was frightened.”

Despite the harsh weather conditions and aero acrobatic antics of the Soviets, the Allies continued to do what was needed to feed and fuel a city. In some cases this involved evacuating Berliners in need of medical attention.

“I flew out something like 220 people in my aircraft from Berlin that were sick or were children needing operations,” Hermiston said. “My aircraft was a tanker aircraft, so they had to sit on these wooden beams that were going up the fuselage in stinking conditions. It stank of petrol oil from all the gasoline. Yet, they were all so very grateful — very, very grateful. I found the people extremely grateful.”

The British pilot was not the only person struck by the grateful nature of the people of Berlin. In a previous interview, Halvorsen recalled how he became known as the “Candy Bomber” after a trip to Berlin, seeing children line up along the fence line outside the flightline of the Templehof airport.

“I had been to other countries where the kids had chocolate,” he said, recalling that moment nearly 70 years later. “When George Washington visited his troops, he had little hard candies in his pocket for the kids. That was nothing new. But these kids had not had chocolate for a couple of years. Not one out of the 30 broke ranks and said, ‘do you got candy?’ When I realized that, it just hit me like a ton of bricks — black and white. I just could not believe that quality of character called gratitude. They were so grateful. They were thankful for their freedom. When I realized that, I thought I got to do something. I reached in my pocket, and all I had was two sticks of gum.”

Convinced that everyone deserved a treat or no one did, Halvorsen took about three more steps and the little voice came clear as a bell directing him back to the fence.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

Lt. Gail Halvorsen, “The Candy Bomber,” greets children of isolated West Berlin after dropping candy bars from the air on tiny parachutes.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

“Boy, when I stopped and started back, those kids came to attention,” he said. “I pulled out two sticks of gum and broke them in half and passed it to the kids doing the translating. I couldn’t believe what I saw. The other kids didn’t push or shove or try to grab it. The kids that got half a piece of stick of gum tore off the wrapper and passed it. The kids that got a strip of paper, put it up to their noses, smelled it and their eyes got big. They were dumbfounded. They clutched it in their hands to go home and show their parents, if they had any.”

An idea came to Halvorsen — return the next day.

“I will be flying overhead, and I will drop enough chocolate for all of you,” he announced to the children. “When that translated to everybody, there was a celebration going on.”

Halvorsen made one demand of the children. They must share the candy. They agreed, but another question arose. With planes arriving every few seconds, how would the children know which one was Halvorsen’s?

“When I would fly over the farm (back home), I would wiggle the wings back and forth. So I said, ‘kids, you watch the airplane. When I come over the center of Tempelhof, if it is clear, I will wiggle the wings.’ That is how it began.”

The “Candy Bomber,” with his parachutes of chocolate, was born, and the act would soon be named operation Little Vittles.

One little girl never caught one of the treats — the 7-year-old Wild.

“I was never quick enough,” she said.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

Crews unload planes at Tempelhof Airport during the Berlin Airlift.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

To make matters worse, the chickens whose eggs brought a fortune on the black market had stopped laying because of the noise from the aircraft landing every few seconds over head.

“Therefore, I decided to write a letter because I was so sad about the situation, and I cried,” she said. “My grandmother told me don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t weep, do something. I decided to write a letter.”

The letter was addressed to her “Chocolate Uncle,” and she asked him to aim his parachute for the garden with the white chickens.

No parachute ever came, despite nearly 20 tons of candy being dropped from the C-54 Skymasters flown by the Americans.

A letter from her “Chocolate Uncle” did come, with two special treats — a lollipop and peppermint-flavored stick of gum. Between the war and the blockade, the smell of peppermint was unknown to the child.

“I exchanged it on the black market, this peppermint gum, for a glass marble; I have this glass marble,” Wild said, pulling the smooth glass toy from her pocket and placing it on the table with as much pride as any seven-year-old. “This is the same glass marble.”

The lollipop was saved for a Christmas treat, but the greatest gift that day was not the candy.

“The most important was the letter; the letter changed my whole life,” she said.

Offered a chance to join an aunt in Switzerland where food and supplies were not held hostage by the Soviets, Wild turned it down with the hopes of one day meeting her “Chocolate Uncle.”

Around-the-clock supplies continued flying into Berlin as British and American pilots made three round trips a day. After nearly a year, the Soviets lifted the blockade, reopening the transportation routes on the ground.

“The Soviets gave up,” Halvorsen said. “They said we can’t compete with that. They got red-faced and backed off. The airlift was the reason they had to do that; it broke the blockade. I was proud to be a part of that.”

With the blockade lifted in May 1949, British and American aircraft continued to fly supplies into Berlin to rebuild the stocks. On Sept. 23, 1949, the last RAF aircraft landed in Berlin with supplies.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Gail S. Halvorsen, known commonly as the “Berlin Candy Bomber” stands in front of C-54 Skymaster.

(Photo by Bennie J. Davis III)

Time passed, and in 1970, Halvorsen returned to Germany, now as a colonel and the commander of Tempelhof. A now grown and married Wild decided now was the time to meet her “Chocolate Uncle.”

“First, we went to airport Templehof, and I took the letter with me,” Wild said. “Then I invited him to our home for dinner with the family.”

The two families have remained close all these years.

Seventy years later, these veterans of the Berlin Airlift travel the world telling the story of how the gratitude of the Berlin Airlift shaped their lives and the world.

“We must give the good spirit to the kids to have good society and future…” Wild said. “This was a very good thing that Colonel Halvorsen decided to have those candy droppings because I think he is the best ambassador for mankind–for humanity. It is not only Col. Halvorsen, but the other pilots and the people of Great Britain, South Africa, Canada and USA. The people were standing behind the airlift.”

This article originally appeared on United States Air Force. Follow @USAF on Twitter.

Articles

ALS is attacking military veterans in increasing numbers

There’s increased incidence of ALS — also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease — among veterans of all wars, from the Vietnam War to the Gulf War to Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

This week, Marine Corps veteran Roger Brannon reached the two-year anniversary of a life-altering amyotrophic lateral sclerosis diagnosis, a milestone that many in his position will not live to see. ALS is an incurable, neurodegenerative disease that progresses rapidly.


A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
Roger Brannon deployed as part ofu00a0Operation Enduring Freedom. He now suffers from ALS.
(Courtesy of the Brannon Family)

Over 80 percent of those diagnosed die within two to five years. Military veterans are two times more likely to develop ALS than those who’ve never served. It was once thought that increased incidence of ALS was limited to veterans of Vietnam and the first Gulf War, but it’s now striking Enduring Freedom vets who served in Afghanistan at the same rates. Despite this, there’s a surprisingly low amount of awareness of the disease among the veteran community.

Roger Brannon and his wife Pam are on a mission to change this. Up to to 95 percent of veterans who develop the disease are diagnosed with sporadic ALS — which means there is no family history of the disease and doctors unable to precisely pinpoint a cause.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
(Courtest of the Brannon Family)

“They can’t tell us why we have it, what we did to get it, and that’s very unnerving because you can’t tell any other veteran or friend what to do to not get ALS,” Roger says.

What Roger and Pam are doing is sharing what they know: resources, coping strategies, and VA benefits. Veterans actually have far greater available to them than the average ALS patient in America. For example, Radicava, the first drug treatment specifically for ALS approved since 1995, was made available to VA hospitals before more widespread distribution – and the Department of Veterans Affairs has automatically assumed, since 2008, that a veteran’s ALS is service-connected.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
(Courtesy of the Brannon Family)

ALS is a terminal disease but early diagnosis can slow its progression and knowing about it increases the likelihood of identifying it quickly. All veterans and their families can do is arm themselves with the best information on how to deal with what lies ahead. With a pre-teen and teen at home, the hardest thing for Pam Brannon is not knowing if they will ever live out the family’s dreams.

“Will there be a next birthday? A next anniversary? Will Roger live to see a graduation?” Pam asks. “At the end of the day, there’s no book for when you’re diagnosed with a terminal disease.”

Articles

Taliban capture of US vehicles is the latest in a long history of gear falling into enemy hands

Over 200 vehicles provided to the Afghan government by the United States have fallen into the hands of the Taliban in Badakhshan province. That shocking claim comes from a former Afghan intelligence chief who claims that the vehicles include High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles.


“We lost 200 Humvees and Rangers in two or three months as the result of incompetence. Imagine what has happened to the people in those two or three months,” Rahmatullah Nabi told TOLO News. Faisal Bigzad, the governor of Badakhshan province, has urged that NATO assist the Afghan government by destroying the stolen vehicles.

The story might sound familiar for another reason. Humvees and other vehicles provided to the Iraqi government were captured by ISIS when the terrorist group seized control of portions of Iraq. American air strikes have since destroyed some of that equipment. However, ISIS and the Taliban aren’t the first American enemies to get their dirty mitts on American military gear.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
Artists rendering of the capture of the USS Chesapeake. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Way back in the War of 1812, several American vessels, including the frigates USS Essex, USS Chesapeake, and USS President were among those captured by the British in the fighting. The U.S. Navy, of course, captured or sank a number of British ships as well.

At the end of the Age of Sail, the Civil War saw some American ships captured. Most famous was the USS Merrimac, which was repurposed into the ironclad CSS Virginia. But the USS United States, one of the original six frigates ordered in 1797, was also captured by the Confederacy and briefly used until it was scuttled.

In World War II, Japan captured the four-stack destroyer USS Stewart (DD 224). The Stewart had fought in the Dutch East Indies campaign in January and February 1942 before being damaged. As Japanese forces neared, Allied personnel used demolition charges to try to scuttle her.

Despite the scuttling attempt and a hit from a Japanese bomber, the Stewart’s wreck was captured and the Japanese fixed her up and put her into service as Patrol Boat 102. The ship would be notable for assisting the sub chaser CD 22 in sinking the USS Harder (SS 257). After Japan surrendered, the old USS Stewart was recovered, although the name had already been assigned to an Edsall-class destroyer escort, DE 238. The ship was eventually sunk as a target.

Germany, though, takes the prize for its acquisition of American gear. Perhaps its most notable coup was the way the Luftwaffe was able to either capture or cobble together as many as 40 B-17 Flying Fortresses.

The captured planes were often used by Kampfgeschwader 200, sometimes for inserting agents or for reconnaissance. But some were used to infiltrate Allied bomber formations.

Even after World War II, American gear fell into enemy hands far too often. In 1975, a lot of American equipment fell into Communist hands when South Vietnam fell, including F-5E Tiger IIs, C-130 Hercules and C-123 Provider transports, and A-37 Dragonfly attack planes.

In 2005, Hugo Chavez threatened to give China and Cuba F-16 Falcons that the United States had sold to Venezuela in the 1980s. The Soviet Union acquired an F-14 Tomcat from an Iranian defector. In 2006, Marines in Iraq killed a sniper team of two insurgence who were trying to carry out a sniper attack, and recovered a M40A1 sniper rifle that had been lost in a 2004 ambush.

American gear falling into enemy hands is not new — there has been a long history of that happening in the past. Infuriatingly, it will happen in the future, despite the best efforts of American military personnel.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Remembrance: Marines and Navy Medicine at Korea’s Chosin Reservoir

Arlington, Va. —

Seventy years ago the 1st Marine Division was fighting in the mountains around Korea’s Chosin Reservoir. It was a brutal winter – by some reports the coldest on record – and Marines were facing subzero temperatures, frostbite, hypothermia, and dehydration. The temperatures were so unbearable that Marines who served at the reservoir said the cold “would sink right to your bones.”

It was so cold that weapons were malfunctioning and at times Marines were fighting hand-to-hand, using rifle butts, their teeth and anything they could get their hands on to fend off the relentless attacks.   

Against all odds those Marines did what Marines do – they fought. Despite being surrounded by eight determined enemy divisions, the Marines broke through in one of the most epic acts of survival and determination in history. 

As TMO, I take considerable pride in the fact that embedded with those units at Chosin were Navy physicians, dentists and hospital corpsmen who embodied that eternal bond Navy Medicine has with the Marine Corps and the fundamental values of Honor, Courage and Commitment.

Honor:

In the Chosin Campaign, Navy Medical personnel could be found serving with honor at forward hospitals at Hagaru, clearing stations at Chinhung-ni and Koto-ri, as part of forward deployed surgical teams, and embedded within the 5th and 7th Regiments of the 1st Marine Division. Often medical care was performed within 200 yards of the frontlines and under the constant barrage of rifle and mortar fire.

 “Let us be humble in the knowledge of the sacrifice those men made in their unselfish, co-operative efforts to save the lives of their comrades.”

U.S. Navy Capt. Eugene Hering, 1st Marine Division Surgeon

When the Marines reached the Hamhung-Hungnam area on 11 December, medical personnel could be found operating the division hospital and offshore aboard hospital ships like Consolation which was used to transport survivors to Naval Hospital Yokosuka where definitive and long-term care was available.

Across mountainous terrain, through heavy snow and under constant attack, it was the job of Navy Medicine to perform first aid, frontline surgical care, attend to high rates of frostbite and immersion foot, manage aeromedical evacuation, and transport casualties to safety. This was a job conducted around the clock until the very end of the campaign.  

By the time the 1st Marine Division arrived in the Hamhung-Hungnam area, Navy medical personnel had treated more than 7,350 casualties – many suffering cold weather injuries and some requiring emergency amputations. 

Courage:

Courage was not in short supply among the Navy medical personnel at Chosin and can be seen in the story of HM3 James Waller, a corpsmen attached to the Marine Infantry Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division.  

While facing the enemy near Yudam-ni on 29 November, Parker moved through a hail of fire to aid six Marines critically wounded by a mortar barrage.  Although the ridge was devoid of cover, Parker treated the casualties and supervised their evacuation to positions of comparative safety. Despite a face wound, working in near-total darkness and in sub-zero temperatures with frostbitten hands he continued to administer to the casualties, even fighting off six enemy attacks in the process. Until the last casualty was evacuated Parker gallantly refused any medical aid even though incurring a second serious wound.  Chosin Reservoir Photo by Katie Lange DownloadDetailsShare

In the days and months after being evacuated, those Marines saved by Parker spoke of his bravery and his words of encouragement.  Through his daring initiative, fortitude and selfless efforts on behalf of his comrades, Parker served to inspire all who observed him and aided immeasurably in the saving of many lives. For his efforts this young corpsman was later awarded the Navy Cross.

Other Navy medical personnel who served in the Chosin Campaign were later recipients of Silver Stars and Bronze Stars with Valor.

Commitment:

It has been said of Chosin’s medical personnel that their devotion to duty and untiring efforts saved many lives. More than anything, they were committed to the safety and survival of thousands of Marines. This was not an easy job under the conditions.

Lt. Henry Litvin, a physician attached to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, later described just how difficult practicing medicine at Chosin could be:

“If you were treating a wound, you’d cut through the clothing to where the wound was, or you’d put a battle dressing over the clothes and make sure the wound wasn’t leaking blood,” he said. “It seemed that the intense cold inhibited bleeding. The wounds we saw had already been wrapped by corpsmen in the companies. If the battle dressing was in place, even over their clothing, and there was no leaking blood, we just checked the battle dressing and left the wounds alone.”

In recalling the dedication of corpsmen and regimental and battalion medical officers at Chosin, Navy Capt. Eugene Hering, 1st Marine Division Surgeon wrote: “Let us be humble in the knowledge of the sacrifice those men made in their unselfish, co-operative efforts to save the lives of their comrades.”

As we look back and honor the “Chosin Few,” let us remember that our military physicians, dentists, nurses, administrators, and, of course, our hospital corpsmen continue to ensure the safety, health and care of our Marine brethren. Navy Medicine remains steadfast in its commitment to provide medical power for naval superiority and ensure the Marine Corps is always ready for the fight. 

MIGHTY TRENDING

ISIS is making a comeback on all fronts

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an alarming announcement on Aug. 20, 2019 – the Islamic State terrorist group is showing signs of resurgence in almost every place it still operates. While there are some caveats to go along with that statement, the “caliphate” that was all but squashed out just four years ago is making a dramatic comeback.


“It’s complicated. There are certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago,” said Secretary Pompeo. While making that grim assessment on CBS “This Morning,” the Secretary of State also reminded viewers that the territory once held by the terror group has been recaptured and that making attacks in those areas would be terribly difficult for Islamic State fighters.

But guerrilla attacks have increased in Iraq and Syria in recent days, as ISIS retools its finances and recruits new followers from refugee tent cities across both countries. The statement came days after an Islamic State attack on a wedding in the Afghan capital of Kabul which killed 63 and wounded 182 others.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

Pompeo was a guest on CBS This Morning when he acknowledged the resurgence of ISIS.

After President Trump declared a total victory over the Islamic State, the Pentagon has cut the number of U.S. troops supporting the fight against the “caliphate” by more than half, leaving the allies in the region to do the bulk of the fighting. As they departed, ISIS sleeper cells and other units began sniper attacks, ambushes, kidnappings, and assassinations against security forces and returning community leadership. The group even has an estimated 0 million in unaccounted for funds that it could use as a war chest.

Its main source of new recruits comes from a tent city run by allied nations that houses an estimated 73,000 people in poor, cramped conditions. The camp, called Al Hol – or “swampland”– houses refugees from 43 different nations, all crammed in together. It is said to have become a hotbed of ISIS ideology, a breeding ground for terrorists that CENTCOM and the United Nations both say will soon be a huge problem if not dealt with soon.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

An estimated 10,000 fighters are in Afghanistan already.

But the ISIS resurgence isn’t limited to Iraq and Syria. From Afghanistan to West Africa, the terror group is reminding the world that theirs is a global movement that has killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians alike. ISIS may have as many as 18,000 fighters still ready to go to work in Iraq and Syria, along with untold others elsewhere around the world. So far in 2019, ISIS and ISIS-supported attacks have targeted Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt, Mali, Tunisia, and have even inspired attacks like the Easter bombing in Sri Lanka.

Articles

The iconic Jeep may see frontline combat again

The Jeep was first introduced on Jul. 15, 1941. It became an icon in World War II and evolutions of the design saw combat in Korea, Vietnam, and the Persian Gulf War.


A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
Gen. Dight D. Eisenhower rides in a Jeep in Normandy during World War II. Photo: US Army Signal Corps

The U.S. phased the Jeep out of the arsenal starting in 1984 when it adopted the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, also known as the HMMWV or Humvee. But the Jeep may be headed for a comeback.

According to a report in Stars and Stripes, the Army is looking for an inexpensive, lightweight, unarmored, all-terrain vehicle for ferrying troops and supplies. It would bridge a gap between the Army’s upcoming, heavily armored JLTV and the light MRZRs.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
The JLTV is a heavily armored vehicle replacing the M-ATV and MRAP, while the MRZR is a light vehicle in service with special operations and Airborne units. Photos: US Army

One company, Hendrick Dynamics, thinks that sounds a lot like the original Jeep and they’re submitting modified Jeep Wranglers to the competition. From Stars and Stripes:

Hendrick starts with a diesel-equipped Wrangler Rubicon, converts the electrical system to 24 volts, adds additional safety features and military-spec equipment, upgrades the suspension and brakes for higher payload capacities and modifies the vehicle so it can be transported within an aircraft cargo hold.

While Jeep, now owned by Fiat Chrysler, has been out of the defense contracting game for a long time, Hendrick Dynamics has a bit of experience modifying Wranglers for combat duty. They currently offer three versions of their “Commando” vehicle to government agencies and commercial clients.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
Photo: Commando USA gallery

The Commando 2, Commando 4, and Commando S are clearly aimed at light units like Airborne and Air Assault formations, the same units that are the most likely beneficiaries of the Army’s vehicle proposal.

Commandos are certified for loading on CH-47s and can be slung under UH-60 helicopters. The website advertises that the vehicles are strong enough to tow 105mm howitzers.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
The Commando S is basically a rugged pickup that can carry different mission pallets. Photo: Commando USA gallery

All three models run on JP-8, the jet fuel also used in most military vehicles, tanks, and generators. The Commando S model even has a “Mission Pallet System” that allows it to be quickly configured for carrying heavy weapons, combat engineering, route clearance, or other tasks.

If Hendrick Dynamics gets wins the Army contract, vehicles similar to the current Commando and the World War II Jeep could be the preferred ride of future warfighters.

Articles

The ‘Hatchet Brigade’ rode into battle with some awesome blades

Union Army Col. John T. Wilder was a unique American officer, noted during the Civil War for his innovations that were initially considered strange but often proved to be revolutionary as well.


A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
Soldiers in Col. John T. Wilder’s brigade all carried long-handled hatchets. The dual use of as both a cutting tool and hammer served the soldiers well in camp and on the trail. (Photo: Amazon/Cold Steel)

For instance, Wilder’s brigade was one of the first Army units to carry Spencer Repeating Rifles, and it was the first to carry them into a major battle when they attacked Confederate forces in Hoover’s Gap on June 24, 1863, winning a huge Union victory.

When these Union infantrymen rode into Hoover’s Gap, they were carrying another unconventional weapon for infantry at the time, long-handled hatchets.

Wilder was given wide latitude in equipping his brigade, and he selected the rifles they carried, pushed for the horses they rode, and procured the hatchets.

The weapons were meant for use in battle. The 2-foot handles would let the soldiers reach enemy infantry from the saddle when necessary, allowing the men to cut their way through enemy lines.

At Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the appearance of so many hatchets made a strong impression on other Union forces and the unit picked up the nickname “The Hatchet Brigade.”

The nickname may have been derogatory, though. Cavalry units carried sabers and dragoons, which, prior to the 18th Century, operated as a sort of mounted infantry and had also preferred sabers. Wilder’s men, untrained in saber use and cavalry operations, may have received the hatchets because of their inexperience.

But the brigade proved itself in its first engagement, scattering Confederate forces in their wild dash through Hoover’s Gap and their subsequent defense of the gap. The brigade’s success despite being wildly outnumbered led to a second nickname: “The Lightning Brigade.”

As exciting as the sudden appearance of thousands of hatchets at the front was, it’s not clear that they were actually used violently. The mounted infantrymen carried them into battle, but the weapons’ main contribution to the war effort seems to have been logistical.

The plethora of hatchets allowed the men to build their own supply wagons, cutting the necessary wood and parts from destroyed wagons found on roads. Since hatchets also have a “striking head” on their reverse side, they could be pressed into service as a hammer when necessary.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
Union Col. John T. Wilder outfitted his men with the Spencer Repeating Rifle after the War Department refused to do so. (Photo: Library of Congress)

It’s unlikely that the unit would have found much use for the hatchets in combat. Each man could fire seven shots between reloads, making it unlikely that enemy forces could march into range of the hatchets. And the men rarely rode their horses during the actual fighting. Instead, they would ride quickly to the battlefield, dismount, and send the horses to the rear.

In that way, the mounted infantrymen really were the predecessors to mechanized infantry and air assault infantry rather than cousins to the cavalry.

And if they had been cavalry, they probably would have been saddled with those common sabers instead of their awesome, namesake hatchets.

MIGHTY MOVIES

The ‘Business of Drugs’ is a business you need to see

Looking for a great show to watch that will challenge the way you look at things?

Netflix has just released “The Business of Drugs,” a documentary series that goes deep within the drug trade around the world. Now, I know what you are thinking: You have seen “Narcos,” Narcos Mexico,” “Cocaine Cowboys” and other shows and documentaries on the illicit drug trade.

“The Business of Drugs” aims to be a bit more eye opening than the rest.
The Business of Drugs | Official Trailer | Netflix

www.youtube.com

Created by U.S. Navy SEAL and Executive Producer Kaj Larsen, and hosted by former CIA Officer Amaryllis Fox, the series will examine the illicit drug trade from around the world to here at home.

The series looks deep into the drug trade from where they originate and the pathways that are used to get them to their final destination. The Business of Drugs will trace the path of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, marijuana, and various other drugs and will reveal the business, violence and fallout along the way.

The series will also look at both the economics of drug trafficking and the economic impact of the trade.

Who makes the money and who loses big in a multi-billion dollar global enterprise?

Larsen hopes that by understanding narcotrafficking through the lens of business, the series will show that modern drug cartels operate as highly organized multinational corporations.

Fox embeds with traffickers in Colombia, DEA agents in Chicago, mules in Kenya and consumers right here in the States – in Los Angeles – and tells us the human story of a multi-billion dollar criminal industry. The former spy uses her formidable intelligence-gathering skills to finally expose the economics of exploitation and power that fuel the global war on drugs and who it affects.

Did you know:

  • Since 1971, the war on drugs has cost the United States an estimated id=”listicle-2646417222″ trillion.
  • Every 25 seconds someone in America is arrested for drug possession.
  • Almost 80% of people serving time for a federal drug offense are Black or Latino.
  • In the federal system, the average Black defendant convicted of a drug offense will serve nearly the same amount of time (58.7 months) as a white defendant would for a violent crime (61.7 months)

Despite studies showing that Black and white Americans use drugs at the same rate, convictions rates and sentencing lengths for Blacks is substantially higher. Republican Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, even referenced this when he spoke out against mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses.

This documentary is especially poignant now while Americans take a hard look at how the law is enforced among us. We learn that the War on Drugs is the single largest factor in the incarceration of

Black and brown people in the United States. Prosecuted as a strategic tool by governments and security services for over 30 years, the War on Drugs has put more people of color in prison than any other single policy.

“The Business of Drugs” brings these policies to our attention and makes us question if the “War” we are fighting is actually working or if we are wasting taxpayers’ money, costing lives and making things worse. Watch the series and decide for yourself.

MIGHTY TRENDING

That time Army Night Stalkers stole an advanced Russian helicopter

Back in the 1980s, when it still existed, the Soviet Union maintained a number of “friendly” relationships with a variety of African and Asian nations, mostly for the purposes of selling military hardware to counter the West.


One such nation was Libya, which opted to arm and equip its military with a variety of Soviet products, including MiG and Sukhoi fighters for its air force.

At the time, the USSR was also in the process of shopping around its Mil Mi-25 Hind-D, the export variant of the Mi-24 Hind helicopter. The Hind was a fairly unique vehicle at the time, as it was built from the ground up as a heavily-armed attack gunship with the ability to accommodate a maximum of eight fully-armed soldiers in an extremely cramped bay directly behind the cockpit. The Hind could therefore deliver special forces teams to the battlefield and remain in the area of operations for air support, or function solely as a very well-armed gunship, akin to the role the two-seater AH-1 Cobra played for American ground forces during the Vietnam conflict.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
The abandoned Hind.

In contrast, the U.S. primarily used helicopters like the UH-1 Huey to deliver (and extract) troops from the battlefield, and they were moderately armed at best (in comparison to the Hind) with door-mounted machine guns serving as defensive weaponry more so than in the offensive role.

Now, around the time of the Hind’s introduction into service in the late 70s, the Central Intelligence Agency, along with British intelligence services, sought to learn more about this big Soviet helicopter. Interest heightened when word broke that Ethiopia pressed an export Hind into combat successfully. The Hind then quickly made an appearance in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union’s controversial involvement there, operating to great effect against mujaheddin fighters towards the beginning of the conflict.

Western intelligence needed to get a better look at the Hind and its heavily-armored airframe, especially for the purposes of determining whether or not an American equivalent needed to be designed, built, and fielded as a counter to the Hind’s capabilities.

An opportunity for such a look finally presented itself in the form of the discovery of a Libyan Mi-25 left behind in Chadian territory in 1987.

Historically, Libya and Chad weren’t exactly on the best of terms. Their strained relationship was mostly the result of repeated attempts from Libyan-backed rebel groups to usurp the Chadian government. Constant Libyan attempts to occupy sovereign territory belonging to the Republic of Chad didn’t do much to help their situation either.

Also Read: This deadly Russian attack helicopter is known as ‘the flying tank’

When Chadian troops were finally able to fully expel Libyan forces from their borders in 1987, the retreating Libyans abandoned a considerable amount military hardware that would have otherwise bogged down and hindered their egress. Among the treasure trove of armored vehicles, guns, and light artillery stranded in the desert was a Hind-D in relatively good condition, parked on an old airfield ramp at Ouadi Doum.

The CIA, after confirming that such a helicopter did indeed exist at that particular location, quickly set its sights on recovering the helicopter, or at least as much of it as possible, before the Libyans knew about their missing gunship.

All this would have to be done through a covert operation. After negotiating with (and eventually gaining permission from) the Chadian government through diplomatic channels, the CIA enlisted the Department of Defense’s help, and both began planning the extraction of the abandoned helicopter to American-controlled facilities, where it would be taken apart and analyzed in details.

There’s a saying in the military that goes along the lines of: “Gear adrift is a gift”. Christmas was about to come very early for a bunch of CIA analysts and military technical experts.

Mount Hope III was the name bestowed upon the operation. The very first order of business was wrangling up a group of pilots skilled (and crazy) enough to perform the mission to perfection.

Who better to ask than the aviators of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Group, the legendary Night Stalkers?

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
A crew member from the C/4-160th SOAR (Night Stalkers) collects a rappel rope used by the Airmen of the 142nd Fighter Wing, 125th Special Tactics Squadron in Alternate Insertion Extraction training from a UH-60 Blackhawk, March 19, 2017, Portland Air National Guard Base, Ore. US Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. John Hughel.

The preparation phase, creatively code-named Mount Hope II, began in April of 1987 in New Mexico. The dry, desert conditions would add a layer of realism to the training. CH-47 Chinooks from the 160th’s Echo Company were modified to bear the weight of the Hind-D, judged to be somewhere in the ballpark range of 17,000 to 18,000 pounds.

Chinooks are already able to sling-load different pieces of military equipment, including the Humvee utility vehicle. But there’s a huge difference between a four-wheeled Humvee and an oversized Mil-25. Load-bearing hooks needed to be reinforced, the engines and transmissions needed to be checked and tuned, and the relatively ideal placement of the carcass of the Hind underneath the Chinook needed to be determined.

Practice commenced in dark, low-light conditions. Six large blivets of water weighing roughly the same as the Hind were strapped to the underside of a Chinook. The Night Stalkers flying the Chinook were then supposed to fly to a “Forward Support Base” (or FSB for short) after stopping twice to refuel.

Also Read: The definitive guide to US special ops

The first dry run went off without a hitch, so the next test was to strap an actual airframe similar to that of the Hind in terms of size and weight and perform the test run once again under the same conditions. The Night Stalkers once again proved themselves and their aircraft and in good time, Mount Hope II was completed, meeting or exceeding the expectations of the CIA and Department of Defense’s overseeing officers.

They were now ready for the real thing.

On May 21, the order to execute Mount Hope III was handed down from the Oval Office, and the Night Stalkers immediately geared up, loading two Chinooks aboard a C-5 Galaxy heavy airlift jet, departing for Germany first, and later on to the Ndjamena airfield in southern Chad.

The Army was to temporarily deploy an ADVON (advanced echelon) scouting and reconnaissance team to the location for around two weeks to keep an eye out for enemy forces, who weren’t all that far away from the airfield.

The French government added their support to the mission by sending over a contingent of soldiers to cover the operation on the ground and a set of Mirage F.1 fighter jets to provide top cover for all aircraft involved. A C-130 Hercules tactical airlifter would land at one of the Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) to provide fuel for the Chinooks on their way back to the FSB during the mission.

After arriving at Ndjamena on June 10, Night Stalker pilots and crew unloaded their Chinooks from the gargantuan Galaxy.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jeff Sherman)

On June 11th, they proceeded with the mission as they had previously planned. The mission would see the Night Stalkers fly over 500 nautical miles under the cover of darkness, and would then pick up the abandoned Hind right at daybreak. An advance team (Chalk 1) flew to Ouadi Doum to ensure that the site was relatively secured for the incoming Chalk 2 Chinook and to prep the Hind for removal.

As I mentioned earlier, a large element of Libyan military forces were still highly active in the area, even after most had been expelled from Chad’s borders during the previous year’s conflict.

The slightest hint of military action nearby would have likely sparked a firefight and a subsequent international incident if it was discovered that the United States was actively trying to remove Libyan military hardware from the desert, even though the Hind was abandoned in Chadian sovereign territory.

The ADVON team had reported back with a detailed threat analysis, highlighting the fact that the Libyans were definitely still in the region.

Chalk 1, having been inserted at Ouadi Doum, cleared the location and quickly rigged the Hind for extraction while the Chalk 2 Chinook hovered close above, allowing for the team to sling-load the airframe to the waiting helicopter. Chalk 2 then left the area to return to Ndjamena. After covering Chalk 2’s extraction, Chalk 1 loaded up and got the hell out of Dodge.

The Libyans were totally clueless of what was happening just miles away from their positions.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
A Chinook helicopter unloading from a C-5 Galaxy. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Chalk 2 stopped twice to refuel, at one point on a French Foreign Legion airfield, rendezvousing with the Air Force C-130s at each location.

However, not long after stopping at FARP 2, the mission hit a slight snag in the form of an unanticipated 3000 ft sand storm. The Chinook bearing the weight of the Hind was now only 45 minutes out of home base.

Hauling ass, Chalk 2 reached Ndjamena just ahead of the storm, flying through near-zero visibility and setting down with little time to spare. Waiting a little over 20 minutes in their helicopters for the storm to move onward, the Night Stalkers finally loaded their aircraft and their newly-acquired prize into the Galaxy they arrived in, and within 36 hours were back on American soil.

After 67 hours in-country, the mission was completed; an unmitigated success. Mount Hope III was also the very first major operation where the Night Stalkers used their CH-47s.

youtu.be

MIGHTY TRENDING

The Mars close-ups of Opportunity’s last panorama are crazy

Over 29 days in spring 2018, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity documented this 360-degree panorama from multiple images taken at what would become its final resting spot in Perseverance Valley. Located on the inner slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater, Perseverance Valley is a system of shallow troughs descending eastward about the length of two football fields from the crest of Endeavour’s rim to its floor.


A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

“This final panorama embodies what made our Opportunity rover such a remarkable mission of exploration and discovery,” said Opportunity project manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “To the right of center you can see the rim of Endeavor Crater rising in the distance. Just to the left of that, rover tracks begin their descent from over the horizon and weave their way down to geologic features that our scientists wanted to examine up close. And to the far right and left are the bottom of Perseverance Valley and the floor of Endeavour crater, pristine and unexplored, waiting for visits from future explorers.”

The trailblazing mission ended after nearly 15 years of exploring the surface of Mars, but its legacy will live on. Opportunity’s scientific discoveries contributed to our unprecedented understanding of the planet’s geology and environment, laying the groundwork for future robotic and human missions to the Red Planet.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

Visit Nasa to interact with the image.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

This image is an edited version of the last 360-degree panorama taken by the Opportunity rover’s Pancam from May 13 through June 10, 2018. The version of the scene is presented in approximate true color.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU)

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

This image is a cropped version of the last 360-degree panorama taken by the Opportunity rover’s Pancam from May 13 through June 10, 2018. The panorama appears in 3D when seen through blue-red glasses with the red lens on the left.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU)

The panorama is composed of 354 individual images provided by the rover’s Panoramic Camera (Pancam) from May 13 through June 10, or sols (Martian days) 5,084 through 5,111. This view combines images taken through three different Pancam filters. The filters admit light centered on wavelengths of 753 nanometers (near-infrared), 535 nanometers (green) and 432 nanometers (violet).

A few frames remain black and white, as the solar-powered rover did not have the time to record those locations using the green and violet filters before a severe Mars-wide dust storm swept in on June 2018.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

Taken on June 10, 2018 (the 5,111th Martian day, or sol, of the mission) this “noisy,” incomplete image was the last data NASA’s Opportunity rover sent back from Mars. Click here for full image and caption.

The gallery includes the last images Opportunity obtained during its mission (black-and-white thumbnail images from the Pancam that were used to determine how opaque the sky was on its last day) and also the last piece of data the rover transmitted (a “noisy,” incomplete full-frame image of a darkened sky).

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

These two thumbnail images, with the ghostly dot of a faint Sun near the middle of each, are the last images NASA’s Opportunity rover took on Mars. Click here for full image and caption.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU)

After eight months of effort and sending more than a thousand commands in an attempt to restore contact with the rover, NASA declared Opportunity’s mission complete on Feb. 13, 2019.

JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, managed the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about Opportunity, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/rovers and https://mars.nasa.gov/mer/.

For more information about the agency’s Mars Exploration program, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/mars

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Confederate spy got away with treason

Throughout history women have had an invisible hand in shaping the course of history through intrigue and espionage. Largely due to being marginalized by laws and cultural restrictions, women at the time could not participate in combat outright. The confederacy employed a wide array of individuals as spies — and that’s the point. Spies should not look like spies and during the Civil War, Maria Isabella ‘Belle’ Boyd was infamous in her success to disrupt the advance of the Yankee Army by feigning weakness.

Belle was born in May 1844 in Martinsburg, West Virginia, to an influential family of the south. According to her memoirs, her first taste of the war came to her doorstep when a drunken union soldier harassed her and her mother until she had had enough and shot him dead. After a formal investigation into her actions concluded that she acted in self defense she was acquitted. 

This is when she realized she could do things others could not and get away with it. She notoriously weaponized the discrimination against women and became a spy at the age of 17.

“She could act with more daring than a man ever could, as Union soldiers did not consider a teenage girl was capable of being such an effective spy.” – Highlight History

Against the lady-like customs of the day, she was a messenger for Generals Jackson and Pierre Beauregard. She had vested interest in aiding General Jackson because her forty-five year-old father enlisted under Jackson. 

She ran her father’s hotel and seduced union soldiers and officers and gathered information. When it was safe to do so, she would give messages to her slave Eliza Hopewell, who would carry them in a hollowed-out watch case. 

The most notable contribution to the war effort came when she was visiting relatives in Front Royal. She, supposedly, listened to through a keyhole on the Union War Council discussing that Major Banks’ had been ordered to advance on General Jackson at the battle of Winchester.

“Learning that Union Major General Nathaniel Banks’ forces had been ordered to march, she rode fifteen miles to inform Confederate Major General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson who was nearby in the Shenandoah Valley. She returned home under cover of darkness. Several weeks later, on May 23, when she realized Jackson was about to attack Front Royal, she ran onto the battlefield to provide the General with last minute information about the Union troop dispositions.” – battlefields.org

This information was used by General Jackson to recapture her hometown of Front Royal. Would anyone suspect that a bonnet wearing teenager riding away from the sounds of gun fire was in fact a rebel spy? Plausible.

In her memoirs she writes that it was a daring escape, filled with union soldiers firing at her and ripping holes in her skirt as she rushed towards her father’s General. However, historians agree that her memoirs are exaggerated but entertaining to read. Her memoirs also sold really well after the war.

By 1862 she was famous, and her likeness and activities were mentioned in the New York Tribune. She would boldly walk into Union Camps, gather information, and leave as a ‘courier’. By this point in her spy career she had been arrested six times, imprisoned three times, and exiled twice — and got away with it. The following year on August 29, 1863 she was, again, arrested for spying. The following year after that she was captured on the blockade runner, Greyhound, by the Union. Easily she was identified and arrested for the usual charges of spying.

In August 1865 she escaped to England and published her memoirs detailing her information gathering skills. Personally I’m impressed by the audacity that she refused to be tied down by social norms and risked life and limb to take on that role and thrive.

If anybody accused female spies of espionage during the war the standard response was:

“How dare you!? Accuse me of such things is beneath the conduct of an officer and a gentleman. I am a defenseless woman.” Belle superbly used her enemy’s sexism against them, committed treason, and got away with it scot-free.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The terrifying surgeries to remove grenades from soldiers

At first thought, the idea of a human being hit by some kind of large explosive that not only doesn’t detonate and kill the person, but then somehow becomes lodged inside their body necessitating its removal via surgery seems like the invention of some hack Hollywood writer somewhere. However, while rare, the scenario is something that has happened a surprising number of times.

Now, as you may have already guessed, cases of unexploded ordnance becoming lodged inside of human beings are limited almost exclusively to military personnel. In fact, according to a 1999 study of 36 instances of this exact trauma, it is described as a uniquely “military injury” with it being additionally noted that there were — at the time the paper was written — no known cases of something similar occurring in reviewed civilian literature. This said, during our own research, we did find a handful of cases of non-military personnel sustaining an injury that resulted in an explosive becoming lodged inside their body.


A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

The M79 grenade launcher.

(USAF)

Going back to the military though, by far the most common weapon to cause such an injury is the M79 grenade-launcher, which according to the aforementioned study was responsible for 18 of the 36 injuries discussed therein.

Further, according to the fittingly titled paper, “Stratification of risk to the surgical team in removal of small arms ammunition implanted in the craniofacial region,” small munitions, such as certain types of armor piercing and tracer rounds, can occasionally ricochet and become lodged inside a person without the explosive innards going off. Even in a case such as this, removal of the round is of paramount importance and the surgery team is noted as being in extreme peril in doing it. (And, note here, contrary to popular belief and Hollywood depictions, in most cases, it’s safer to leave regular bullets and the like in the body than try to get them out. Of course, if the thing inside the body is explosive, that’s a whole different matter.)

Going back to grenades and the like, amazingly, while you’d think something like having a large live explosive lodged somewhere in your body would be a surefire recipe for an untimely and rather messy death, fatalities from this particular kind of injury are surprisingly rare.

For example, according to the first study quoted in this piece, of the 36 known cases from WWII to the modern day, there were only 4 fatalities (about 11%). Even more important here is that all 4 died before surgery could even be attempted owing to the injuries being especially severe, with half being hit in the face and the other two being struck by rocket launchers. Which, any way you slice it, is not the kind of injury you’d expect a person to be able to walk off, whether the explosive went off or not.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

Retired Gen. William Kernan shakes hands with Pfc. Channing Moss after presenting him the Purple Heart at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

Nevertheless, stories of soldiers surviving even these kind of injuries exist. For example, consider the case of one Pvt Channing Moss who was hit by a “baseball bat-sized” rocket propelled grenade that buried itself in his abdomen almost completely through from one side to the other, with part of the device still sticking out. He survived.

Then you have the story of Jose Luna, a Colombian soldier who was accidentally shot in the face by a grenade launcher and was up and walking around after several rounds of surgery to remove it and repair the damage as best as possible.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the literature we consulted is that in every case where a patient with unexploded munitions inside their body was able to make it to surgery, the surgical team were able to remove the explosive without it exploding and they further went on to survive. In fact, according to the aforementioned study covering the 36 known cases, there wasn’t a single one where the explosive in question detonated “during transportation, preparation, or removal.”

A fact that almost certainly influences this statistic is that Explosive Ordnance Disposal experts are often on hand to offer advice before and during surgery. On top of this, from the moment a foreign object inside of a person’s body is identified as an explosive, multiple steps are taken to reduce the likelihood of it detonating. These measures include things like keeping the patient as still as possible and limiting the use of electronic or heating devices during surgery.

In addition, to protect the surgical team and others should the worst happen, the surgery to remove an explosive is usually (if time and circumstances allow it) conducted away from people in an area designed to absorb the damage from the explosion.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar
(US Navy)

Surgeons are often also given protective equipment, though some choose to forgo this as it can impede their fine motor skills, which particularly need to be on form when removing undetonated explosives and operating on individuals who are severely wounded to boot. We can only assume these surgeons are already heavily encumbered by the size and density of the balls or ovaries they presumably have given their willingness to operate on a patient who might explode at any second.

On a related note, official US Army policy states that any soldier suspected of having unexploded ordnance in their body are not supposed to be transported for medical treatment, as the risk of the ordinance exploding and killing other soldiers is considered too great. However, this rule is seemingly universally ignored in the rare event such a scenario occurs.

As one Staff Sgt Dan Brown so eloquently put it when discussing the aforementioned case of Pvt Channing Moss who had an explosive in him powerful enough to kill anything within 30 feet of him,

“He was American, he was a solider, he was a brother and he was one of us. And there was nothing gonna stop us from doing what we knew we had to do…”

Thus, the soldiers involved carefully bandaged his giant wound and chose not to inform their superiors of his exact condition in case they’d order them to follow the aforementioned rule. Instead, they just reported he had a severe shrapnel injury. The soldiers then carried him to an extraction point while under heavy fire for part of the time. The crew that then airlifted the soldiers were made aware of the situation and likewise agreed they weren’t going to leave Channing behind as the rules stated should be done, even though it would have meant all their deaths if the device had exploded mid-flight.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

Role players take part in a simulated unexploded ordnance victim scenario during Exercise Beverly Herd 17-1 at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, March 2, 2017. During this scenario the surgeon was required to remove the UXO and safely hand it over to the 51st Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal team for further disposal.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Gwendalyn Smith)

Once back at base, there was no time to setup an isolated medical station to get Channing away from the rest of the wounded, as he was in critical condition as it was. So they just operated right away, including at one point having to deal with the fact that his heart stopped mid-surgery and they were limited on their options to get it going again given the explosive embedded in his body. In the end, it all worked out and Channing got to go home to his six month pregnant wife and eventually met his daughter, Yuliana, when she was born a few months later.

In any event, as discussed at the start of this piece, there are also rare cases of civilians accidentally getting explosive devices stuck inside their bodies, though in all cases much less heroic than the military based events. For example, consider the case of a 44 year old Texas man who had an unexploded large firework mortar lodge itself inside his right leg after he approached the tube containing the firework, thinking it was a dud, only to have it violently shoot off and embed itself in said appendage. Luckily for him, it did not then explode as it was designed to do. The good news was that all went well from there on, with the main precautions taken simply not using any electrical or heat applying device during the removal stage of the surgery.

So yes, to answer the question posed at the start of this article, someone having an explosive device surgically removed from their body is not just a Hollywood invention, but does occasionally happen in real life. Although we couldn’t find any known incidences of megalomaniacal crime lords embedding explosive devices in their underlings to ensure loyalty and obedience. So that one’s on Hollywood I guess.

Further, while the occasional terrorist will shove some explosive in one of their orifices, to date these have generally been pretty ineffective, even in one case where the device, stuck up the suicide bomber’s rectum, went off when the bomber was standing right next to the intended target — Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. Nayef sustained only minor injuries while the suicide bomber had his midsection blown to pieces. Naturally, he didn’t survive.

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayef looking happy about not being blown up.

It should also be noted that the often depicted scenario of surgically implanting explosives in such cases, at least thus far, hasn’t really been a thing according to the various counter terrorism agencies out there who’ve mentioned it as a possibility. This is despite many a media report implying such does happen.

In the end, as a Terrorism Research Center report noted, the procedure involved in surgically embedding in a human body an explosive large enough to do real damage is extremely complex, requiring extensive medical support and expertise with high risk to the patient surviving the procedure and being then fit enough to execute the mission. They also note that even then it takes too much time to be worth it when considering planning and recuperation time after. Thus, at least to date, terrorist organizations have stuck with more conventional methods of suicide bombing. For these reasons, while security experts are attempting to plan for this possibility, to date it’s noted not to be “on the radar” yet.

That said, one case of a device embedded in humans that sometimes explodes and causes damage is the case of pacemakers. It turns out that, while rare, these sometimes explode during cremation of a body that has one. While usually the damage is minimal, in 3% of the cases looked at in the paper Pacemaker Explosions in Crematoria: Problems and Possible Solutions, published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the cremator oven structure was destroyed beyond repair by the explosion, including in one case also causing injury to a worker. However, it would appear this is still a pretty rare event, and in most cases the worst that happens is a loud bang startling crematoria employees.

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

Do Not Sell My Personal Information