Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

Pacific theater, late 1944. Allied forces have been gradually uprooting the Japanese forces and pushing them back to Japan.

As its foothold in the Pacific shrinks by the day, the Imperial Japanese Army is getting desperate. Already the Japanese have shown a willingness to fight to the last man, an echo of the country’s ancient martial tradition.

However interesting to the outsider the Japanese warfighting culture might be, it bellies a darker side; a side full of disdain and often unfathomable brutality against a defeated foe, regardless of if it’s a civilian or a prisoner of war.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Rangers who participated in the Cabanatuan Raid (Wikimedia.org).

In December 1944, Japanese troops burn alive and shoot 139 Allied prisoners of wars, many of whom were survivors of the Bataan Death March and the desperate fight at the Corregidor, in the Philippines’ Palawan province.

A handful of Americans manage to escape and join the Filipino guerillas. Through them, they succeed in getting the word about the massacre to the approaching American forces. The intelligence makes Allied commanders realize that Allied prisoners of war in several other camps in the region face imminent execution.

They decide to rescue them.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
American commandos who participated in the Cabanatuan Raid (Wikimedia.org).

A daring raid of the Cabanatuan Prison Camp

Cabanatuan Prison Camp, January 30, 1945.

Cabanatuan is the largest internment camp in the region, housing over 5,000 prisoners of war at its peak. By January 1945, there are approximately 500 Allied troops held there.

The hostage rescue force is comprised of approximately 120 Rangers and Alamo Scouts, a special operations unit, and about 200 Filipino guerillas. To get to the camp, the rescue force will have to march 30 miles through enemy lines, no small feat considering the size of the force. The Filipinos’ knowledge of the area and the friendly local population somewhat simplify the logistics of the movement.

Led by Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci, commander of the 6th Ranger Battalion, the raid force is divided into two elements. With 90 men, the assault element will storm the camp through the main, kill any Japanese who resist, and rescue the prisoners. The 30 men of the support element will flank the camp from the east and destroy several guard towers and provide fire support where needed.

Two additional elements, primarily comprised of Filipino guerrillas with some American commands to help, set up blocking positions to the east and west of the camp to hold off any attempt by the Japanese to interfere with the rescue.

A P-61 Black Widow aircraft, which is designed for nighttime operations, will signal the attack with an overpass of the camp in order to distract the Japanese guards.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
American commandos and Filipino guerrillas after the Cabanatuan Raid (Wikimedia.org).

At exactly 1945, the raid begins.

The largest hostage rescue in American history

The P-61 succeeds in distracting the Japanese guards, allowing the rescue force to approach the camp without getting detected. In a matter of minutes, the American commands overwhelm the Japanese guards and rescue the prisoners, many of who can’t walk following years of forced labor, scant rations, and brutal punishments.

The two blocking positions stop several Japanese relief attempts, killing numerous enemies and destroying several tanks, before collapsing to the camp, where the rescue force has evacuated anyone they could find.

Rescuers and rescued make their way back through enemy lines, using several wagons and stretchers to carry those who can’t walk. After a dangerous and soul-draining forced march, the whole force arrives in friendly lines the next morning. Mission success.

In the Cabanatuan Raid, the American commandos rescued 489 prisoners of war and 33 civilians, while suffering four Americans killed in action (two commandos and two prisoners) and four wounded.

The Cabanatuan Raid is the largest rescue in American history. In the following three weeks, American commandos conduct two similar operations, in the Santo Tomas Internment Camp and Los Banos, rescuing more Allied prisoners of war.   

Among the Rangers who took part in the raid was an officer named Arthur “Bull” Simons, who was the executive officer of the 6th Ranger Battalion. Simons would go on the become a legend in the US special operations community and play a key part in the Son Tay hostage rescue during the Vietnam War. Today, the US Special Operations Command recognizes one of its members every year with the Bull Simons Award.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How WWII propaganda is still convincing kids to eat carrots

Here in the modern world, many of us are more aware than ever of how the media can shape our perceptions of reality. While most debate about “perception management” these days is relegated to the arena of political mudslinging, the truth is, there has always been a concerted media effort to shape how we see the world in the form of advertising. And as many national governments learned early on, the same media infrastructure built to sell us products can also be used to sell us on ideas.

If you’re looking for a good example of how government initiatives can shape our idea of reality, you need to look no further than the air campaigns of World War II — because if you’re one of the millions of people that think eating carrots can help improve your vision, you’ve been duped by half-century-old wartime propaganda.


Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

Not the wartime propaganda posters you were expecting?

(World Carrot Museum)

British (and eventually American) pilots defending the U.K. from Nazi bombers were among the first aviators in history ever to be tasked with night-time combat operations. Less than four decades after the Wright Brothers first took to the sky, Allied pilots were fighting for their lives in pitch darkness over the European theater.

At the time, aviators had to rely on their senses, rather than on the suite of technological gadgets we use for intercepts in modern combat aircraft, but it wasn’t long before the advent of onboard Airborne Interception radar (AI) gave the Brits the edge they needed over inbound Nazi bombers. The British also knew that announcing their new technological advantage would put the Nazi’s to work on finding ways to counter it, so instead, they chose a very different track.

As Allied fighters started closing with and destroying Nazi bombers in increasing numbers despite the difficult to manage night sky, the English Ministry of Information launched a propaganda campaign aimed at convincing the world that their pilots had impeccable Nazi-hunting night vision thanks to a steady diet of — you guessed it — carrots.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

Technically speaking, they’re not wrong. A serious Vitamin A deficiency could make you go blind.

(US National Archive)

Like any good misinformation campaign, they needed to find a basis in fact to use as the bedrock for their campaign, and carrots are known to be a good source of Vitamin A. Technically speaking, eating more vitamin A won’t do anything for an otherwise healthy person’s vision, but not getting enough of it can cause vision problems. Because of this, it was easy for the Brits to twist the story away from eating carrots to avoid a Vitamin A deficiency, and instead toward the idea that eating enough carrots could actually make you see better at night.

The decision to use carrots was also informed by the nation’s sugar rations limiting snack options for the U.K. populace. Carrots were a great snack for school kids to munch on and the nation had plenty of them to spare — so selling the public on the idea that eating more carrots could turn your kid into a hawk-eyed fighter pilot benefited the war effort in ways beyond German perceptions.

It wasn’t long before the idea of carrots improving one’s night vision simply became carrots improving vision altogether. Soon, no one remembered where they first heard about carrots being so important to eye health and just started accepting it as the truth.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

Amazing what a few posters can do.

(Bryan Ledgard on WikiMedia Commons)

Even today, mothers and fathers all over the world continue to tell their kids to eat their carrots because they’re good for their eyes. This isn’t because there’s a great deal of Vitamin A deficiencies in the modern world, but rather, because we’re still operating off of the familiar wisdom we gleaned from propaganda posters printed while Hitler was touring Paris.

Propaganda, it pays to remember, is little more than advertising paid for by governments, rather than corporations. We all know and accept the idea that advertising works (to the tune of 3 billion in the United States last year alone). Whether we like it or not, it seems that propaganda does too.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what different berets mean in the Army and Air Force

Spend any amount of time on or around an Army or Air Force post and you’ll be sure to find a number of beret-wearing service members around you.


Hell, you’re going to be greeted by a blue beret each and every time you get to an Air Force gate (SecFo HUA!) and, if you were on any Army post between 2001 and 2011, you saw black berets everywhere you went, as they were a part of standard Army uniform.

Got it — but what about the less commonly seen berets? The green, the tan, and the maroon?

This is what berets of all colors mean in the Army and Air Force.

Black — U.S. Army

A black beret is worn by all soldiers in service dress unless they are otherwise authorized to wear a different, distinctive beret.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
The black beret is authorized for wear in service dress for the entire Army. (DOD Photo by Karlheinz Wedhorn)

Black — U.S. Air Force Tactical Air Control Party

A black beret is the official headgear of the Air Force TACP. They’re about as operator as you get in the Air Force without becoming pararescue or combat control.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Black berets look good in Air Force Blue, too. (USAF photo by Staff Sgt. Ryan Crane)

Blue — U.S. Air Force Security Forces

The most common beret across all branches of service as of writing. Security Forces (the Air Force’s version of Military Police) wear the blue beret with every uniform whenever not deployed or in certain training.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
The second most common beret on this list: Security Forces HUA! (Image from Paul Davis).

Green — U.S. Army Special Forces

This is the cream of the crop of the U.S. Army. The green beret is the single most recognizable sign of a badass.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
They could still probably kick your ass… (Image via Reddit).

Grey — U.S. Air Force Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape

These guys teach most of the other badasses on this list how to survive in the worst conditions. That definitely qualifies them for their own beret.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
A new wave of survival specialists. (USAF photo by Airman 1st. Class Melissa L. Barnett).

Maroon — U.S. Army Airborne

Aside from the Army’s green beret, the maroon beret of Army airborne is one of the easiest to recognize.

These guys drop into any situation with complete operational capability.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Oh, just a bunch of badasses in the midst of random badassery… (Image from Wikimedia Commons).

Maroon — U.S. Air Force Pararescue

In the Air Force, the maroon beret means something completely different. While being Army Airborne is an amazing distinction, the Air Force Pararescuemen are truly elite.

The introductory course has one of the highest failure rates of all military schools and the ones that do complete it go on to become the kind of guy that you do not want to fight in a bar.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Ever see a wave of kick*ss? (Image by Stew Smith)

Pewter Grey — U.S. Air Force Special Operations Weather

These guys do weather in the most undesirable conditions. I know that may not sound very operator, but just take a quick look at the training they endure and the types of operations they conduct and you won’t ever question their beret again.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
A surprising badass, Air Force Special Operations Weather. (Image from Combat Survival Magazine).

Tan — U.S. Army Rangers

The Army Rangers began wearing tan berets in 2001 when the Army made the black beret the standard headgear for the entire Army.

Prior to that, they owned the black beret.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
It’s safe to say the tan beret has grown on us all. (Image from 75th Ranger Regiment Public Affairs Office)

Scarlet — U.S. Air Force Combat Control

The scarlet beret is the headgear of the U.S. Combat Controller. Their beret is one you’ll rarely see because they’re always on the go, doing what they were trained to do… which is classified.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
A Combat Controller salute. (USAF photo by Dawn Hart)

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Iraqi soldiers surrendered to a hovering Apache

The Apache helicopter was a maligned weapon system in early 1991 as low readiness rates, and worse than expected performance in small conflicts made people wonder if the aircraft’s huge costs were worth it. But the system excelled in the tough environment of the Persian Gulf War, chewing up Iraqi armor, bunkers, and ground troops.


In fact, one Apache crew even accepted the surrender of an Iraqi officer and his driver after the men decided they couldn’t escape the helicopter in their vehicle.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

Soldiers receive an escort from AH-64 Apache helicopters in 2004.

(U.S. Army Sgt. Kimberly Snow)

Warrant Officer John Ely was one of the pilots on the attack helicopter, and he would later describe the Iraqis’ actions as a seemingly obvious decision. Ely had been part of a team hunting targets in the desert, and they had already erased a few enemy positions.

Ely had his eye on a Toyota when the driver suddenly stopped the vehicle and hopped out. He opened the door for “a fat Iraqi officer” who exited the vehicle with his hands up and a briefcase raised.

Now, even with the man attempting to surrender, this was a tricky situation. Typically, surrenders are given to “maneuver” forces like infantry or cavalry on the ground, but engineers, artillery, and plenty of other ground troops are quite capable of accepting an enemy surrender.

But Apache crews have a severe weakness in this area. While the helicopter’s lethality is a great reason for enemy troops to throw their hands in the air, how does a four-man team in two helicopters; a common battlefield deployment for the attack helicopters, take custody of prisoners?

How do they search them for intel and weapons? How do they transport them back to a base? Apaches have good armor and redundant systems, but they’re vulnerable if they land. And they have no real passenger space even if they landed.

But as reported in the Chicago Tribune in 1991, Ely figured out a solution.

Look, [if you`re an Iraqi and] you see a guy in this machine hovering 200 feet in front of you, with a gun turret that moves with the nodding and turn of my head . . . I point south, they move south. They`ve just seen their buddies blown away. What would you do?
Enemy Surrenders to Apache

www.military.com

So, yeah, Ely just sent the dudes to some friendly forces so someone on the ground could search and secure them. In a similar situation, Apaches flying with OH-58s had a comparable experience on the “Highway of Death” where Iraqi tank crews surrendered as soon as they saw the helicopters coming in for an attack.

Another event took place in Iraq after Apaches took out artillery positions. The insurgents manning the weapons went to the middle of the field and held their hands up while the Apaches took out the large weapons, and then ground troops moved in to take possession of the prisoners.

But, tragically, that’s not always an option. The 227th Aviation Regiment’s 1st Battalion saw those flags of surrender from Iraqi tankers on the Highway of Death and didn’t engage them, allowing U.S. ground troops to accept the Iraqi surrender in 1991. But in 2007, two Iraqi men jumped out of their truck and attempted to surrender to a 1-227th Apache crew.

The crew held off on attacking, but wasn’t sure what to do. The Iraqis had been firing mortars from the truck, so the unit asked an undisclosed military lawyer for a legal review. His advice was that the Apache crew could not effectively receive the surrender, and so the mortar crew was still a legal target. (This advice has proved controversial since then.)

Meanwhile, the mortar crew jumped back into the truck and drove off with its mortar tube. So it was no longer clear whether they still wanted to surrender. The Apaches re-engaged, but failed to destroy the truck in the next attack. The men abandoned the truck and took shelter in a nearby shack, and the Apaches killed them there with a 30mm gun run.

So, if you ever find yourself trying to surrender to an Apache crew, maybe look around and see if you can find some ground troops to surrender to instead.

MIGHTY HISTORY

3 of the stupidest wars ever fought in world history

There are a lot of good reasons humans have gone to war in the past few centuries, believe it or not. Halting or preventing genocides, declaring independence to give oppressed people a homeland, and of course, defending ones homeland from an invader would all be good reasons to take up arms against another country.

These wars were none of those things, and are presented in no particular order.


Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

It is, admittedly, a nice bucket.

The War of the Oaken Bucket

While the War of the Oaken Bucket sounds more like a college gameday rivalry, it was really a 1325 war between two Italian states, Bologna and Modena, that killed 2,000 people. It was really a proxy war between supporters of the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy and before I get too far into the details here, what you really need to know is that it was started because some Modenese soldiers took the bucket from Bologna’s town well.

Even dumber is lopsided victory the Modenese won in defending that bucket. At the Battle of Zappolino, some 32,000 Bolognese marched on 7,000 Modenese – and were chased from the battlefield.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

Surprisingly unrelated to the ongoing debate over Canadian bacon being real bacon.

The Pig War

This is a war that could have devolved into a much larger conflict, which makes it even stupider than it sounds. On San Juan Island, between the mainland United States and Canada’s Vancouver Island, was shared by both American settlers and British employees of the Hudson Bay Company. While the island was “shared” in practice, both countries had a claim to the northwestern island and it created a lot of tensions in the region. Those tensions boiled over in June 1859 when an American farmer shot a British boar for tearing up his potato crop. Arguments ensued and the farmer was almost arrested by the British.

The U.S. Army got wind of the situation and sent Capt. George Pickett (later of Pickett’s Charge fame) with a company of soldiers, who promptly declared the island American property. Of course the British responded by sending in its trump card, the Royal Navy. For weeks, it appeared the standoff would spark a greater war between the two powers, but cooler heads prevailed and the sides took joint custody of the island.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

Adwarable.

War of the Stray Dog

Another war that is exactly what it sounds like, except this one really did cause a number of deaths, as well as a 1925 fight that saw 20,000 Greeks meet 10,000 Bulgarians on the battlefield. The catalyst was a dog that had gotten away from a Greek soldier. The soldier chased after the dog, even though it ran across the Greek border with Bulgaria. Bulgarian border guards, seeing a Greek soldier running through their territory, of course shot him.

The Greeks then began an invasion of Bulgaria, occupying border towns and preparing to shell and take the city off Petrich before the League of Nations intervened, negotiating a cease fire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Sebastian Stan stars as US official who risked his career to honor a fallen hero in ‘The Last Full Measure’

Airman 1st Class William “Pits” Pitsenbarger was a Pararescueman during the Vietnam War. Less than a year after receiving orders, he would go on to fly nearly 300 rescue missions and save over 60 men before sacrificing himself to aid others during one of the most brutal battles of an already harsh war. When offered the chance to escape on the last helicopter out of the combat zone, Pits stayed behind to protect the lives of others and was later killed by Viet Cong snipers.

The Last Full Measure is the long-awaited story of how the men he saved would try to procure him the Medal of Honor — and the dark reason why the American government resisted.

Check out the final trailer, released today:


“The sacrifices of the fallen will never be forgotten,” intones Christopher Plummer, who plays the father of William Pitsenbarger. The Last Full Measure, written and directed by Todd Robinson, also stars Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.

“Todd Robinson’s riveting drama chronicles one man’s sacrifice and valor on the battlefield, and we believe it also highlights an aspect of American patriotism overdue for recognition. Everyone should know about William Pitsenbarger’s bravery and life, and it’s a privilege to bring this film to theaters where it should be seen,” said Roadside’s Howard Cohen and Eric d’Arbeloff, as reported by Deadline.

Pits was initially posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, becoming the first enlisted Airman to receive it, before it was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

William “Pits” Pitsenbarger

(U.S. Air Force photo)

Medal of Honor Citation

“Airman First Class Pitsenbarger distinguished himself by extreme valor on April 11, 1966 near Cam My, Republic of Vietnam, while assigned as a Pararescue Crew Member, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. On that date, Airman Pitsenbarger was aboard a rescue helicopter responding to a call for evacuation of casualties incurred in an on-going firefight between elements of the United States Army’s 1st Infantry Division and a sizable enemy force approximately 35 miles east of Saigon. With complete disregard for personal safety, Airman Pitsenbarger volunteered to ride a hoist more than one hundred feet through the jungle, to the ground.

On the ground, he organized and coordinated rescue efforts, cared for the wounded, prepared casualties for evacuation, and insured that the recovery operation continued in a smooth and orderly fashion. Through his personal efforts, the evacuation of the wounded was greatly expedited. As each of the nine casualties evacuated that day were recovered, Pitsenbarger refused evacuation in order to get one more wounded soldier to safety. After several pick-ups, one of the two rescue helicopters involved in the evacuation was struck by heavy enemy ground fire and was forced to leave the scene for an emergency landing. Airman Pitsenbarger stayed behind, on the ground, to perform medical duties.

Shortly thereafter, the area came under sniper and mortar fire. During a subsequent attempt to evacuate the site, American forces came under heavy assault by a large Viet Cong force. When the enemy launched the assault, the evacuation was called off and Airman Pitsenbarger took up arms with the besieged infantrymen. He courageously resisted the enemy, braving intense gunfire to gather and distribute vital ammunition to American defenders. As the battle raged on, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to care for the wounded, pull them out of the line of fire, and return fire whenever he could, during which time, he was wounded three times. Despite his wounds, he valiantly fought on, simultaneously treating as many wounded as possible.

In the vicious fighting which followed, the American forces suffered 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached, and airman Pitsenbarger was finally fatally wounded. Airman Pitsenbarger exposed himself to almost certain death by staying on the ground, and perished while saving the lives of wounded infantrymen. His bravery and determination exemplify the highest professional standards and traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Air Force.”

He was also posthumously awarded the rank of Staff Sergeant. Other awards and medals include the Air Force Cross, the Airman’s Medal, and two Purple Hearts. His name can be found on Panel 06E Line 102 of the Vietnam Wall.

Following the battle, Pitsenbarger’s fellow PJ’s and soldiers who he saved in combat embarked on an over 30 year effort to upgrade his Air Force Cross to a Medal of Honor. In the trailer, William Hurt, who plays a fellow PJ, describes the situation as “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

Finally, in 2000, Pitsenbarger received the Medal of Honor in a cermony attended by his parents, fellow veterans and the Secretary of the Air Force. The Last Full Measure will release in theaters on January 24th, 2020.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how Vietnam almost became a protectorate of the US

It’s no secret by now that Ho Chi Minh really admired the founding principles of the United States. He even quoted Thomas Jefferson from the American Declaration of Independence in his declaration of independence for Vietnam.


Many academics say, he was really into self-determination and appreciated America’s history.

 

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Until the early 1960s. Probably.

And he was right to trust the World War II-era United States to ensure a free Vietnam after WWII. Except he wasn’t dealing with the same America after that war ended. Instead, the high-minded anti-colonial Roosevelt administration was gone, replaced by the anti-communist Truman administration.

As World War II came to a close, Uncle Ho was an agent of the U.S. Office of Strategic Services. As the OSS man in Vietnam, he was the chief organizer of anti-Japanese resistance. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies, ending WWII, he moved to ensure the French didn’t return. And history shows, the French weren’t exactly the kindest of colonizers.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Maybe if they fought in Paris as hard as they fought in Algeria the French wouldn’t have lost Vietnam in the first place.

 

It turns out Ho Chi Minh sent a number of telegrams to President Truman after the end of WWII. At the same time, he urged the Vietnamese people to rise up, capture arms and rice stocks, and keep the French from replacing the Japanese as their imperial masters. Truman never read any of the telegrams – there isn’t even evidence that the President received Ho’s messages.

One of the telegrams, written in 1945, asked Truman to make Vietnam an overseas protectorate of the United States, on par with Puerto Rico’s relationship with America. He was willing to trade complete independence of his country for American democracy – better than British, French, or Japanese Imperialism… at least it was in Ho’s mind.

 

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Until the early 1960s. Probably.

Protectorates are officially “insular areas of the United States.” They are administered by the federal government, but are not part of a state or federal district. Many of the U.S.-occupied islands in the Pacific would become American protectorates after World War II, so the idea isn’t as outlandish as it seems today.

The Marshall Islands, Samoa, Guam, and the Marianas all have protectorate status.

It might have actually been a good plan for the long term. If Truman accepted Ho’s idea, there have been many examples of U.S. protectorates that gained full independence after a while. The Philippines and Cuba are a couple of examples of this kind of self-determination. They weren’t examples of clean history and not a clean break, but still a break.

On Oct. 16, 1945, just a few weeks after the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri, Japanese and British planes bombed French positions in a coordinated attack to promote the French position there. Ho Chi Minh got his answer from the West. France broke its promise to Franklin Roosevelt, who demanded the French give up its colonies in Indochina.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Japanese sentries salute French officers in Saigon, 1945.

 

Not all of America was behind supporting the French. General Douglas MacArthur, for example, was livid.

“If there’s anything that makes my blood boil,” MacArthur said, “it is to see our allies in Indochina deploy Japanese troops to reconquer those little people we promised to liberate.”

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How legendary battleships could come back, and why they won’t

The battleships of yore maintain a special place in the hearts of Navy enthusiasts — and it’s easy to see why. Imagine the massive broadside salvos from the USS Iowa, each hurling 15 shells against an enemy force, smacking Communists with 18 tons of steel and explosives with each volley from as far as 20 miles away. Every few years, there’s a new call to bring these behemoths back. Today, the Navy could, but they won’t.

Why?


First, let’s look at the role battleships were intended to play in naval warfare. These ships were floating fortresses, equipped with massive, long-barreled naval artillery. The idea was that these ships would form “battle lines” at sea. Battleships would line up, present their broadsides, and overwhelm an enemy force with firepower.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, battleships proved this strategy could work. The side that typically won a fight during that war was the one that got their battleships properly lined up against the enemy’s formation first. The best success comes when one fleet can “cross the T,” sailing their line of ships perpendicular to the front of the enemy line so they can fire all broadsides while only a few enemy ships can fire from forward turrets.

Japanese success added fuel to an arms race already playing out across the world’s shipyards. The British launched the HMS Dreadnought in 1906, only a year after construction began. It was the most powerful weapon of war at the time and could fire 4-foot-tall shells at ranges of up to 10 miles.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
HMS Dreadnought underway (US Navy)

It redefined naval warfare. All the powerful nations of the world began building copycats, leading to these ships taking on a huge role in World War I.

Except fights between battleships were actually fairly rare in World War I. This was partially because they cost so much to build that it was considered foolhardy to risk them when victory wasn’t essential. Instead, battleships were often used to support operations on shore or to secure trade and supply lines.

But there were clashes between battleships, the largest of which was the Battle of Jutland in 1916 — by some metrics, the largest naval battle ever fought. Over 250 ships participated, including 50 battleships. The British had more and better ships, but suffered from poor gunnery and debatably poor tactics. Germany won the tactical exchange but Britain was victorious strategically.

It was the golden hour of battleships, still the kings of the ocean. But during World War I, a new weapon was introduced that would change naval warfare: the carrier. It would take decades for bombers to be effective weapons against capital ships, but the change was already underway by the time Germany invaded Poland, and arguably complete by the time Pearl Harbor was attacked.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
After landing a Royal Navy Grumman Martlet of 888 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm is seen taxiing along the flight deck of HMS Formidable (67) to the forward hangar.

Once naval aviation was capable of delivering repeated torpedo and bomb attacks hundreds of miles from their ship, the battleships’ maximum ranges,, which hovered around 20 miles, made them too vulnerable for front-line fighting. Even super battleships, like the Yamoto, and their support vessels were forced to turn back when they thought they were facing even a single carrier fleet.

In fact, the Yamoto only fired its guns against a surface target in one battle before it was sunk in 1945. It was sunk by… let me check my notes here… carrier-based aircraft. But its sister ship, the Musashi… oh, that also saw minimal fighting before sinking due to damage sustained from carrier-based aircraft.

Instead, battleships took on a role supporting amphibious landings, raining steel on enemy positions as Marines and soldiers pressed ashore.

And that’s the role battleships filled for decades, supporting landings in Korea, Vietnam, and even a fake amphibious attack in Iraq in 1991.

So, what role would a re-commissioned or newly built battleship play today? Not much of one. The Navy could re-commission a battleship, but they require tons of fuel and manpower — often needing over 1,500 crewmembers. And the best conventional naval guns still only shoot about 20 miles.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
The Office of Naval Research-sponsored Electromagnetic Railgun at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. (US Navy photo by John F. Williams)

There is one game-changing technology that could resuscitate naval artillery: railguns. They can provide massive firepower at ranges of over 100 miles and speeds of over mach 7, all without conventional explosives that increase the risk of catastrophic damage during a fight.

It’s not too hard to imagine a nuclear battleship with multiple railguns powered by the reactor and massive capacitor banks. But even then, the battleship wouldn’t have the range to hit Chinese shore installations without venturing deep into the defender’s anti-ship missile range.

So, the future is likely to lie in extended range missiles, carrier drones, and aircraft, all still capable of attacking targets hundreds of miles further out than even a battleship with a railgun could.

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This battleship went from Pearl Harbor to D-Day to nuclear tests

The D-Day landings featured an immense fleet – including seven battleships.


One, HMS Rodney, was notable for being the only battleship to torpedo another battleship. However, one of the American battleships came to Normandy via Pearl Harbor, where she was run aground.

That ship was the battleship USS Nevada (BB 36). The Nevada was the lead ship in her class, the other being USS Oklahoma (BB 37). According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, when she was built, she had ten 14-inch guns (two triple turrets, two double turrets), 21 five-inch guns (many in casemates), and four 21-inch torpedo tubes.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
USS Nevada (BB 36) shortly after she was built. (U.S. Navy photo)

The Nevada did not see much action at all (although nine sailors died from the influenza pandemic that hit in 1918) in World War I. In the 1920s and 1930s, she carried out normal peacetime operations.

On Dec. 7, 1941, she was moored alone on Battleship Row. When Kido Butai launched the sneak attack on Oahu, the battleship was hit by a torpedo, but her crew managed to get her engines running, and she made a break for the open ocean.

As she did so, the second wave from the six Japanese carriers arrived. The Nevada took anywhere from six to ten bomb hits, and the decision was made to run her aground.

The Nevada suffered 50 dead and over 100 wounded, but Pearl Harbor would claim two more casualties. In “Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal,” it was reported that two men were killed by hydrogen sulfide on Feb. 7, 1942, while working to salvage the Nevada.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Damage to USS Nevada after the attack on Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy photo)

Nevada would return to Puget Sound for permanent repairs and refitting, gaining a new dual-purpose batter of eight twin five-inch gun mounts. She took part in operations to re-take the Aleutian Islands of Attu and Kiska from the Japanese, then she went to the Atlantic.

On June 6, 1944, she was part of the armada that took part in Operation Overlord, and continued to provide fire support until American troops moved further inland. In August of that year, she took part in Operation Dragoon, the landings in southern France.

She then returned to the Pacific, taking part in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Off Okinawa, she suffered damage from a kamikaze and from Japanese shore batteries.

The ship remained mission-capable, and she would later return to Pearl Harbor for repairs before re-joining the fleet to prepare for the invasion of Japan, stopping to pay a visit to a bypassed Japanese-held island.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
USS Nevada fires on Nazi positions during D-Day. (U.S. Navy photo)

After Japan surrendered, the Nevada was sent back to the West Coast, and prepared for Operation Crossroads. Painted a bright orange color to serve as an aiming point for the B-29 crew assigned to drop an atomic bomb, she got lucky.

According to the book “Final Voyages,” the B-29 crew missed her by about a mile — and she survived both the Able and Baker tests. She was later used as a target and sunk, with the final blow being an aerial torpedo according to the Naval Vessel Register.

Articles

4 reasons the Aardvark and Switchblade could still kick ass today

In this day and age, the F-111 Aardvark and its larger variant, the FB-111 Switchblade, are often forgotten. That shouldn’t be the case. Here are four reasons that these planes could still kick a lot of ass.


1. Speed

The F-111 was fast – with a top speed of Mach 2.5, according to GlobalSecurity.org. The FB-111 was also capable of going fast, according to aviation historian Joe Baugher. Not just at high altitudes, but also on the deck. In fact, these planes were designed to deliver a knockout punch at treetop level.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
A General Dynamics FB-111A Aardvark on display at the Barksdale Global Power Museum at Barksdale Air Force Base. This plane could fly over twice the speed of sound – and deliver 35,500 pounds of bombs. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. Payload

The B-2, B-1B, and B-52 get a lot of press for their huge payloads — anywhere from 51 to 84 Mk 82 500-pound bombs. But the F-111 and FB-111 could each carry 36 Mk 82s. That is nothing to sneeze at. During the Vietnam War, Baugher noted that four F-111s were delivering as many bombs as 20 F-4s.

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A left side view of an F-111A dropping 24 Mark 82 low-drag bombs in-flight over a range on May 1, 1980. The aircraft was assigned to the 391st Tactical Fighter Squadron, 366th Tactical Fighter Wing. (USAF photo)

3. Range

Baugher notes that the FB-111 could fly over 2,500 miles with four AGM-69 Short-Range Attack Missiles and internal fuel. That is a long reach – without tying up tankers like the KC-135, KC-46, or KC-10. While the AGM-69 is no longer in service, imagine what sort of distant targets could be hit by a squadron of FB-111s carrying AGM-158 JASSMs based at Aviano Air Base in Italy.

The F-111F demonstrated this range in an operational context during Operation El Dorado Canyon, when 18 planes from the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing flew from bases in England around Spain to hit targets around Tripoli. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that the mission was about 6,400 miles — the longest fighter mission in history.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Ground crew prepares an F-111F of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing for a retaliatory air strike on Libya. (USAF photo)

4. Accuracy

The F-111 was very capable with laser-guided bombs, but the planes could also deliver unguided bombs accurately. During Desert Storm, that the F-111Es from the 20th Fighter Wing carried out attacks with conventional “dumb” bombs — and suffered no combat losses doing so.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
A U.S. Air Force General Dynamics F-111F aircraft, equipped with an AN/AVQ-26 Pave Tack laser target designator, banking to the left over Loch Ness (UK). (USAF photo)

In short, the Aardvark and the Switchblade had a lot of life left when they were sent to the boneyard in the 1990s. One could imagine that with upgrades to carry JDAMs, AGM-154 JSOWs, and even the AGM-84H/K SLAM-ER systems, that these planes would certainly be a huge assets in today’s global hotspots.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The origins of the moon’s ‘sunburn’

Every object, planet or person traveling through space has to contend with the Sun’s damaging radiation — and the Moon has the scars to prove it.

Research using data from NASA’s ARTEMIS mission — short for Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun — suggests how the solar wind and the Moon’s crustal magnetic fields work together to give the Moon a distinctive pattern of darker and lighter swirls.


The Sun releases a continuous outflow of particles and radiation called the solar wind. The solar wind washes over the planets, moons and other bodies in our solar system, filling a bubble of space — called the heliosphere — that extends far past the orbit of Pluto.

Magnetic Bubbles on the Moon Reveal Evidence of “Sunburn”

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Here on Earth, we’re largely protected from the damaging effects of the solar wind: Because the solar wind is magnetized, Earth’s natural magnetic field deflects the solar wind particles around our planet so that only a small fraction of them reach our planet’s atmosphere.

But unlike Earth, the Moon has no global magnetic field. However, magnetized rocks near the lunar surface do create small, localized spots of magnetic field that extend anywhere from hundreds of yards to hundreds of miles. This is the kind of information that needs to be well understood to better protect astronauts on the Moon from the effects of radiation. The magnetic field bubbles by themselves aren’t robust enough to protect humans from that harsh radiation environment, but studying their structure could help develop techniques to protect our future explorers.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

Research using data from NASA’s ARTEMIS mission suggests that lunar swirls, like the Reiner Gamma lunar swirl imaged here by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, could be the result of solar wind interactions with the Moon’s isolated pockets of magnetic field.

(NASA LRO WAC science team)

“The magnetic fields in some regions are locally acting as this magnetic sunscreen,” said Andrew Poppe, a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who researches the Moon’s crustal magnetic fields using data from NASA’s ARTEMIS mission along with simulations of the Moon’s magnetic environment.

These small bubbles of magnetic “sunscreen” can also deflect solar wind particles — but on a much smaller scale than Earth’s magnetic field. While they aren’t enough to protect astronauts by themselves, they do have a fundamental effect on the Moon’s appearance. Under these miniature magnetic umbrellas, the material that makes up the Moon’s surface, called regolith, is shielded from the Sun’s particles. As those particles flow toward the Moon, they are deflected to the areas just around the magnetic bubbles, where chemical reactions with the regolith darken the surface. This creates the distinctive swirls of darker and lighter material that are so prominent they can be seen from Earth — one more piece of the puzzle to help us understand the neighbor NASA plans to re-visit within the next decade.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 times the US was attacked at home during WWII (besides Pearl Harbor)

For decades before 9/11, Americans talked about how they hadn’t been attacked at home since Pearl Harbor, but that actually wasn’t true.


The California coast was attacked less than three months later, and two additional attacks were launched in 1942 alone. Here are five times that America was attacked at home in World War II after Pearl Harbor:

1. Japanese submarines shell California oil refinery

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Japanese submarine I-19. (Photo: Public Domain)

 

In February 1942, Japan landed its first attack on the American mainland. Submarine I-17 surfaced off the coast of California and proceeded to shell oil processing facilities in Ellwood, a city north of Santa Barbara. The Ellwood attack was believed to have been intentionally timed to take place during one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats.

The attack did little real damage. An oil derrick and a pump house were both hit but no personnel were injured or killed and refining operations continued throughout the war.

2. Nazi commandos land in New York and Florida

 

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
The German sabotage ring commandos assigned to attack New York and the surrounding area. (Photos: FBI)

The following June, the Axis powers struck again as specially trained Nazi commandos were delivered by submarine to beaches in New York and Florida. They came heavily armed with crates of explosives and lists of targets including aluminum plants and power production.

Luckily for America, the commandos had been recruited from the civilian population and the Nazi party and they were inept. One of the team leaders had slept through much of the 18 days of special training.

The first team was spotted by the Coast Guard while burying their supplies on the New York beach. They got away, but both teams were hunted down by the FBI before they launched any successful operations.

3. A Japanese submarine shells military defenses in Oregon

An I-25 submarine ordered to patrol the American coast surfaced during the night of June 21, 1942, and shelled the coastal defenses at Fort Stevens, Oregon. Most of the rounds buried themselves in the sand on the shore and the damage to the U.S. was mostly on morale.

4. A Japanese plane drops bombs on a logging town

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
(Photo: Public Domain)

In September 1942, the submarine I-25 tried again, this time with a plane equipped with incendiary bombs. Many submarines at the time carried a single float plane used to search for targets or collect battle damage assessments.

The pilot assigned to I-25, Nobuo Fujita, had proposed that these planes could be used in an offensive capacity.

The Imperial Navy brass agreed to the plan and he was allowed to drop incendiary bombs deep in the forests of southern Oregon. The attack was launched on Sept. 9, 1942, and the early stages were successful. The pilot delivered two incendiary bombs that detonated and spread small fires across hundreds of square yards.

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Nobuo Fujita stands with his E14Y plane, the same model he used to bomb Oregon. (Photo: Public Domain)

Unfortunately for the Japanese, they had little knowledge of the weather conditions in their target area. The woods had been unseasonably wet from recent rains and thick fogs, so the fires failed to spread.

Still, the FBI and the U.S. Army worried that another attack would be more successful.

The Japanese did indeed try again on Sept. 25, but the fires failed to spread once again.

Fujita was hailed as a hero at home and served out the war training kamikaze pilots. Oddly enough in 1962, the town of Brookings, Oregon, invited Fujita to the city he tried to destroy. This resulted in a friendship that lasted the rest of the man’s life.

He gave his family’s ceremonial sword to the city and, after his death, some of his ashes were spread at the bomb crater.

5. Almost ten thousand fire balloons are floated across the Pacific

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
An aerial attack at home on US soil.

This was the first intercontinental weapon in military history — the fūsen bakudan, or fire balloon. Japan produced 9,300 of them. (Youtube Screenshot)

In Operation Fu-Go in 1944, the Japanese military tried to set America aflame by floating 9,300 incendiary bombs across the Pacific Ocean. The bombs were expected to travel on the wind for three days and then drop, setting large fires.

Only 350 bombs actually made it to the states and spread far and wide, hitting states like Michigan, Iowa, and Kansas. Most failed to start large fires. The only known fatalities from the weapon was when a pregnant woman and her five children came across an unexploded bomb in Oregon.

It exploded while the family was looking at it, killing all six.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was America’s first operational supersonic strategic bomber

America has seen some supersonic strategic bombers serve. Notable among these is the FB-111A Switchblade and the B-1B Lancer. But one bomber blazed the trail for these speedsters with a pretty huge payload.


The Convair B-58 Hustler was the first operational supersonic strategic bomber in American service. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that Strategic Air Command was looking for a high-performance bomber.

 

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Convair B-58 Hustler at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

 

The B-58 made its first flight in 1956, but didn’t enter service with the Strategic Air Command until 1960, due to a number of hiccups, and wasn’t ready to stand alert until 1962. However, when the supersonic strategic bomber entered service with the 43rd Bomb Wing, it was soon proving it had a lot of capability.

However, in 1961 and 1962, even as it dealt with the teething problems, it set numerous aeronautical records. The plane had a top speed of Mach 2.2 at high altitude, a maximum range of 4100 nautical miles, could carry five nuclear bombs (it never had a conventional weapons capability), and reached an altitude of 85,360 feet.

It also had a M61 Vulcan cannon in the tail with 1,200 rounds of awesome.

 

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history

 

A 1981 Air University Review article outlined that the Hustler had a lot of problems. To load the weapons, the plane actually needed to be de-fueled and then re-fueled. And before the loading, the ground crews would need to hand a four-ton weight on the Hustler’s nose. Forget that step, and the plane would tilt back onto its tail.

Maintenance crews also came to dislike the plane, due to the complexities the plane’s high technology imposed on them.

The plane’s teething problems, the development of surface-to-air missiles like the SA-2 Guideline, and the increasing costs killed hopes for newer versions, especially since the B-58 was optimized for high-altitude operations.

One of the proposed new versions, the B-58B, was to add significant conventional capabilities to the Hustler. Proposed passenger/cargo versions never took off, either, and a planned export sale to Australia didn’t happen (the Australians did eventually get the F-111).

 

Cabanatuan Raid: The largest rescue in American history
Hustler memorial plaque in Memorial Park at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Ultimately, the B-58 was retired, and replaced by the FB-111A. The FB-111A not only was supersonic, but it was able to operate at low altitudes and carry conventional bombs – addressing the B-58’s two shortcomings.

Most B-58s went to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where they entered the boneyard and were eventually scrapped.

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