Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge. (CP / National Archives of Canada/William Ivor Castle ).
Here in the United States, we often like to joke about our kind-hearted affable neighbors to the north. Often we see them as gregarious and fun, never threatening. But those of us who read history books or have fought alongside our Canadian brothers and sisters know a different side of Canadian Forces.
That side is not to be trifled with.
When the United Kingdom declared war on Germany during World War I, Canada came along with it, whether it wanted to or not. That’s just how the Canadian government worked in tandem with the British Crown back then.
Britain was lucky to have the Canadians on its side and nowhere was that more apparent than at the Battle of Vimy Ridge.
In April 1917, three German divisions met 4 divisions of the Canadian Corps in the Pas-De-Calais region of northern France. The Canadians were trying to draw the Germans away from a larger French offensive further south down the front lines.
Their main target was Vimy Ridge, high ground that would protect other elements of Entente forces from taking heavy enfilading fire. The Germans would put up a stiff resistance but what they didn’t know was about to hurt them: this was the first time that all four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were fighting together with one objective.
The ridge itself was a heavily fortified, seven kilometer (4.3 miles for you American types) ridge that held what the Candians called a “commanding view” of the British and Canadian forces. To take it required weeks of specialized training, not just in attacking the high ground, but also in special roles required by individual troops.
Artillery pounded the German defenders for a full week before the battle was launched on Apr. 9, and 1,000 pieces of artillery would provide a moving blanket of fire to keep the Germans under cover.
Over three days, 15,000 Canadians overwhelmed the Germans in the face of trenchworks, dugouts, and machine gun nests. They rolled the Germans back further than they’d ever been since the start of the war in 1914. The Canadians captured more prisoners and more artillery guns than any allied offensive in the war up until that point.
One Canadian General at Vimy Ridge called the battle “a birth of a nation.”
Today, the site of the battle is memorialized forever, as France gave the land to the government of Canada. On that land stands a tall, white marble monument to the more than 3,500 Canadians who died there and the 7,000 who were wounded.
The surrounding lawn, well-manicured, still carries a taste of the terrible dangers posed by unexploded bombs and mines leftover from the war, even 100 years later.
One of the first-ever Special Forces underwater operations wasn’t targeted against an enemy. Rather, it was to assist in the search and recovery of 26 Americans who had perished in a freak aircraft collision.
On March 7, 1958, a United States Marine Corps (USMC) R4Q (C-119) “Flying Boxcar” transport and a United States Navy (USN) AD-6 Skyraider fighter were returning to Okinawa-Naha Air Force Base (AFB) after a mission in the Philippines. As they prepared for their final approach to the base, the weather suddenly turned to rain, seriously limiting visibility. The pilots, thus, decided to make an instrument landing. At that crucial moment, however, the Navy Skyraider lost its communication with both the USMC transport and with the control tower. The Marine pilots frantically tried to reach their Navy colleague on the radio, to no avail. Moments later, the Skyraider smashed into the fuselage of the R4Q, turning both aircraft into a fireball of debris and human flesh.
After the aircraft were lost from the radar, the call went out to the standby Search-and-Rescue (SAR) crews. SAR planes and helicopters from Naha AFB and other bases scrambled into action and scoured the cold Pacific Ocean for traces of the wreckage with hopes of finding survivors. After days of futilely combing the ocean, the search was called off.
In the end, the wreckage of both aircraft was discovered on the floor of the Pacific about three miles offshore. Faced with a delicate and complex recovery effort, the Marine Corps and Navy turned to the Green Berets of the 1st Special Forces Group (SFG). Dive operational detachments were then assigned to the task. In the end, after Herculean efforts, they managed to recover all 26 bodies.
In the wake of their success, the Commanding General of the IX Corps sent a letter to the 1st SFG. “In times of such tragedy and sorrow, it is most gratifying to know that local military personnel and organizations, as exemplified by the First Special Forces Group (Airborne), may be relied upon to render promptly such outstanding professional assistance,” he wrote. “I am confident that the parents, wives and loved ones of the deceased share my deep appreciation and sincere thanks for [your] outstanding contribution…to the successful accomplishment of the search and salvage operation.”
Tragically, a number of the Green Berets who participated in the recovery operations would be killed in action in Vietnam a few years later.
The year 1958 was a bad one for the C-119. In total, an astounding five aircraft were lost due to accidents, with a total loss of life of 34 service members. But the venerable Flying Boxcar continues to serve in numerous capacities in the U.S. military.
America’s highest honor for military service, the Medal of Honor, has been awarded to Canadian-born service members 61 times — but only four times since 1900. These four Canadians saved American lives in battles from the Occupation of Veracruz to the Vietnam War.
1. Specialist Peter C. Lemon
Then-Spc. Peter C. Lemon helped beat back a Vietnamese assault that broke into his fire base. (Photo: U.S. Army).
Army Spc. Peter C. Lemon was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1950 but moved to America as a child and later joined the Army. When he was 19, he was serving as an assistant machine gunner at a fire support base in Vietnam near the border with Cambodia.
During the Battle of the Bulge, the 71st Infantry Regiment, 44th Infantry Division was one of the units hard pressed by German forces. After the death of the company commander, some soldiers began talking of surrender. That’s when Sgt. Charles MacGillivary assumed command and slipped off into the forest on his own.
Once again, he snuck up on a machine gun nest and took it out with a single grenade. He then grabbed a submachine gun from the ground and crept close to a third nest, killing the attackers as they tried to swing their own gun onto him. Finally, he hit a fourth machine gun nest and took it out with a grenade and close fighting. He lost his left arm in this final engagement, but survived the war.
3. Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro
The only Coast Guardsman to receive the Medal of Honor, Signalman 1st Class Douglas A. Munro was part of the task force that assaulted Guadalcanal during World War II. On Sept. 27, 1942, he commanded a group of landing craft that carried Marines from one section of the island to another in order to bypass a Japanese defensive line.
Munro dropped the Marines without incident and returned to base only to learn that, soon after the boats left, the Marines were ambushed. They had fought their way back to the base, but were under heavy assault and needed evacuation.
The P-38 Lighting was a superb long-range fighter in all theaters of the war. The plane is best known for the “Zero Dark Thirty” operation of the Pacific Theater – the shoot-down of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto by Capt. Tom Lanphier.
But the P-38 didn’t get there right away.
In fact, given its ground-breaking design, it was going through a lot of teething problems.
According to AcePilots.com, one of the biggest problems was compressibility. The P-38 was one of the first planes to deal with it due to its high speed (up to 420 miles per hour), especially when they dove.
What would happen is a shock wave of compressed air would form, keeping the plane’s elevators from working. The P-38s would be caught in a dive, and unable to pull out until they got to lower altitudes.
As a result, German fighters knew that diving was a way to escape. One pilot who had a close call was Air Force legend Robin Olds, who described his incident in an episode of “Dogfights.”
After a lot of work, Lockheed designed some flaps that would help address the issue by changing the airflow enough so the elevators would be able to function.
A number of kits were put together to be installed on P-38s in the field, but those destined to go to England never got there, hamstringing the P-38s there.
A Royal Air Force pilot mistook the United States Army Air Force Douglas C-54 Skymaster cargo plane carrying the kits for a Luftwaffe Fw 200 Condor maritime patrol plane. Given the Condor’s reputation, they were prime targets. The C-54 was shot down, and the kits were lost.
As a result, the P-38s went into combat unable to pursue a German fighter diving to escape the “Fork Tailed Devil” and fight another day.
The Civil Irregular Defense Group compound at Loc Ninh. The airstrip is to the right of the photo.
The small town and airbase were important for two reasons. First, the airbase was a logistical hub for military and espionage operations conducted by the U.S.; something communist forces were keen to excise. But the town was also the district capital. With a new president awaiting inauguration in Vietnam, the North Vietnamese wanted to embarrass him before he took office.
And North Vietnam was looking for a tasty target. A new commander and staff needed to try out the 9th Division in the field and build up its combat proficiency ahead of larger, corps-level offensives. So, in late 1967, North Vietnamese Senior Col. Hoang Cam, gave orders to get his regiments in position and supplied for an attack on the base at Loc Ninh.
One of his key units ran into an immediate problem, though. U.S. forces were working to secure a hey highway and clear out communist forces that could threaten it, and they swept through an area where Cam’s top regiment was hiding. That regiment was able to set an ambush just in time and killed 56 Americans, but they also suffered heavy losses and fled to Cambodia.
So Cam was down a regiment before the battle started. Still, his men were facing 11 Special Forces soldiers, 400 Civilian Irregular Defense Group soldiers, and about 200 South Vietnamese regulars. The largest weapons on the base were a few mortars and machine guns.
But the North Vietnamese forces failed to hide their buildup. South Vietnamese and U.S. forces intercepted radio traffic, discovered a field hospital under construction, and discovered elements of a specific unit typically employed in major offensives, the 84A Artillery Regiment.
U.S. Gen. William Westmoreland was too savvy to overlook all this evidence of a coming attack. He suspended some operations and ordered his subordinate to plan for a major defensive operation in that part of Vietnam, especially the district capitals at Loc Ninh and Song Be.
U.S. Special Forces soldiers and South Vietnamese troops in September 1968.
On Oct. 27, 1967, just five days after Westmoreland issued his warning to subordinates, Cam launched the North Vietnamese attack on Song Be. His division attacked a South Korean division but was rebuffed, partially thanks to American artillery and air power. Before South Vietnamese Rangers and American infantry joined the fight the next day, Cam pulled his men back.
As the Rangers looked for the enemy near Song Be, Cam launched a new attack. This time, he struck at Loc Ninh and fully committed to the fight.
Rockets and mortars flew into the base with no warning. The town itself caught on fire, and the South Vietnamese soldiers, with their Special Forces allies, rushed to send their own mortar rounds out.
Before reinforcements could arrive, North Vietnamese sappers blew through a wire obstacle and forced the defenders into the southern part of the compound. With the American and South Vietnamese defense collapsing, the Army rushed in UH-1Bs with machine guns mounted, and the Air Force sent in an AC-47 Spooky gunship that rained metal into the jungle.
The helicopters were able to put some fire on the attackers within the compound, but the AC-47 couldn’t strike there without threatening the defenders. Eventually, that became beside the point, though, as the South Vietnamese called artillery strikes onto the compound. He specifically called for proximity fuses, detonating the rounds a little above the surface to maximize shrapnel damage.
That’s the call you make to shred humans behind light cover. Many of the defenders were in bunkers that would hold back the shrapnel, but the Viet Cong in the open were shredded. The Viet Cong in the jungle finally withdrew under aerial bombing, but attackers remained in the conquered bunkers of the northern part of the compound.
The South Vietnamese were forced to clear these bunkers one-by-one with LAWs, light anti-tank weapons.
The allies found 135 North Vietnamese bodies. They had suffered eight dead and 33 wounded.
But the U.S. knew it had nearly lost the district that night, and it wasn’t willing to go round two with the same setup. So it not only watched the South Vietnamese clear those bunkers, it flew in two artillery batteries and another infantry battalion. Those infantrymen dug into the jungle and established light bunkers.
The U.S. and South Vietnamese alliance struck hard, rooting out platoons in the rubber plantations. In one case, an impatient South Vietnamese soldier grabbed a U.S. officer’s pistol from him and used it to attack a North Vietnamese machine gunner. When he couldn’t chamber a round in the pistol, he used it to pistol-whip the machine gunner instead.
This back and forth continued for days. On Oct. 30, the North Vietnamese sent additional forces to threaten other cities and positions, potentially trying to draw away some of the American defenders. But the allies knew the fight for Loc Ninh wasn’t over and sent other forces to protect Song Be and other locations.
Just after midnight on Oct. 31, another rain of mortars and rockets flew into Loc Ninh. But this time, the fire was more accurate, and North Vietnamese forces used anti-aircraft fire the moment the helicopters and AC-47 showed up. But proximity fuses were again used to slaughter North Vietnamese attackers.
At least 110 North Vietnamese were killed while the allies lost nine killed and 59 wounded.
The next night, artillery and machine gun fire rained onto the air base, but then the main thrust came at the new infantry base in the jungle. Observers posted in the jungle detonated claymores to blunt the attack but then had to melt away as the attackers continued their assault. The U.S. infantry pushed the attack back in just 30 minutes of concentrated machine gun fire and claymore use.
One U.S. soldier had been killed and eight wounded. Over 260 bodies were found, and there were signs that even more had been lost.
Additional forces were flown in, and the U.S. commanders were finally able to go on the attack. The attacks did not go perfectly, however. On Nov. 7, a U.S. battalion moving down a dirt road moved into the jungle and came under a furious assault. An RPG took out most of the U.S. battalion command team, including the commander.
One soldier in that fight was Spc. Robert Stryker who stopped one attack with a well-aimed M79 grenade launcher shot, but then died after diving on a grenade to save others. He’s one of the two Medal of Honor recipients for whom the Stryker vehicle is named.
But the 9th Division finally withdrew, ending the Battle of Loc Ninh. The U.S. had lost 50 dead and hundreds wounded, but the North Vietnamese lost somewhere over 850 dead and failed in its objectives to take either Loc Ninh or Song Be. But the Tet Offensive was on the horizon.
(Most of the information for this article came from an official Army history from the Center of Military History, Combat Operations: Staying the Course, October 1967 to September 1968 by Erik B. Villard. It is available here.)
American and Soviet pilots pose in front of a Bell P-39 Airacobra, supplied to the Soviet Union under the Lend-Lease program. Photo: Museum of the U.S. Air Force (Courtesy Photo)
On February 24, 1943, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft with serial number 42-32892 rolled out of a factory in Long Beach, California, and was handed over to the U.S. Air Force.
On March 12, 1943, the plane was given to the Soviet Air Force in Fairbanks, Alaska, and given the registration USSR-N238. From there, it flew 5,650 kilometers to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, one of some 14,000 aircraft sent by the United States to the Soviet Union during World War II under the massive Lend-Lease program.
This particular C-47 was sent to the Far North and spent the war conducting reconnaissance and weather-monitoring missions over the Kara Sea. After the war, it was transferred to civilian aviation, carrying passengers over the frozen tundra above the Arctic Circle. On April 23, 1947, it was forced to make an emergency landing with 36 people on board near the village of Volochanka on the Taimyr Peninsula.
On May 11, 1947, 27 people were rescued, having spent nearly three weeks in the icebound wreck. The captain, two crew members, and six passengers had left earlier in an ill-fated effort to get help. The body of the captain, Maksim Tyurikov, was found by local hunters about 120 kilometers from the wreck in 1953. The others were never found.
The plane spent 69 years on the tundra before a Russian Geographical Society expedition rescued it in 2016 and returned the wreckage to Krasnoyarsk.
“I knew that its place was in a museum,” Vyacheslav Filippov, a colonel in the Russian Air Force reserve who has written extensively about the Lend-Lease program’s Siberian connection, told RFE/RL at the time. “It was not just some piece of scrap metal. It is our living history. This Douglas is the only Lend-Lease aircraft that remains in Russia.”
An estimated 25 million Soviet citizens perished in the titanic conflict with Nazi Germany between June 1941 and May 1945. Overcoming massive defeats and colossal losses over the first 18 months of the war, the Red Army was able to reorganize and rebuild to form a juggernaut that marched all the way to Berlin. But the Soviet Union was never alone: Months before the United States formally entered the war, it had already begun providing massive military and economic assistance to its Soviet ally through the Lend-Lease program.
From the depths of the Cold War to the present day, many Soviet and Russian politicians have ignored or downplayed the impact of American assistance to the Soviets, as well as the impact of the entire U.S.-British war against the Nazis.
A Soviet report by Politburo member Nikolai Voznesensky in 1948 asserted that the United States, described as “the head of the antidemocratic camp and the warrior of imperialist expansion around the world,” contributed materiel during the war that amounted to just 4.8 percent of the Soviet Union’s own wartime production.
A map of lend-lease shipments from the United States to the U.S.S.R. from 1941-45.
The Short History Of The Great Patriotic War, also from 1948, acknowledged the Lend-Lease shipments, but concluded: “Overall this assistance was not significant enough to in any way exert a decisive influence over the course of the Great Patriotic War.”
Nikolai Ryzhkov, the last head of the government of the Soviet Union, wrote in 2015 that “it can be confidently stated that [Lend-Lease assistance] did not play a decisive role in the Great Victory.”
Such assessments, however, are contradicted by the opinions of Soviet war participants. Most famously, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin raised a toast to the Lend-Lease program at the November 1943 Tehran conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.
“I want to tell you what, from the Russian point of view, the president and the United States have done for victory in this war,” Stalin said. “The most important things in this war are the machines…. The United States is a country of machines. Without the machines we received through Lend-Lease, we would have lost the war.”
Nikita Khrushchev offered the same opinion.
“If the United States had not helped us, we would not have won the war,” he wrote in his memoirs. “One-on-one against Hitler’s Germany, we would not have withstood its onslaught and would have lost the war. No one talks about this officially, and Stalin never, I think, left any written traces of his opinion, but I can say that he expressed this view several times in conversations with me.”
U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease Act on March 11, 1941.
The Lend-Lease act was enacted in March 1941 and authorized the United States to provide weapons, provisions, and raw materials to strategically important countries fighting Germany and Japan — primarily, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China. In all, the United States shipped billion (8 billion in 2020 money) worth of materiel under the program, including .3 billion to the Soviet Union. In addition, much of the billion worth of aid sent to the United Kingdom was also passed on to the Soviet Union via convoys through the Barents Sea to Murmansk.
Most visibly, the United States provided the Soviet Union with more than 400,000 jeeps and trucks, 14,000 aircraft, 8,000 tractors and construction vehicles, and 13,000 battle tanks.
However, the real significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet war effort was that it covered the “sensitive points” of Soviet production — gasoline, explosives, aluminum, nonferrous metals, radio communications, and so on, says historian Boris Sokolov.
“In a hypothetical battle one-on-one between the U.S.S.R and Germany, without the help of Lend-Lease and without the diversion of significant forces of the Luftwaffe and the German Navy and the diversion of more than one-quarter of its land forces in the fight against Britain and the United States, Stalin could hardly have beaten Hitler,” Sokolov wrote in an essay for RFE/RL’s Russian Service.
British Matilda tanks are loaded onto a ship for transportation to the U.S.S.R. as part of the Lend-Lease program.
Under Lend-Lease, the United States provided more than one-third of all the explosives used by the Soviet Union during the war. The United States and the British Commonwealth provided 55 percent of all the aluminum the Soviet Union used during the war and more than 80 percent of the copper.
Lend-Lease also sent aviation fuel equivalent to 57 percent of what the Soviet Union itself produced. Much of the American fuel was added to lower-grade Soviet fuel to produce the high-octane fuel needed by modern military aircraft.
The Lend-Lease program also provided more than 35,000 radio sets and 32,000 motorcycles. When the war ended, almost 33 percent of all the Red Army’s vehicles had been provided through Lend-Lease. More than 20,000 Katyusha mobile multiple-rocket launchers were mounted on the chassis of American Studebaker trucks.
In addition, the Lend-Lease program propped up the Soviet railway system, which played a fundamental role in moving and supplying troops. The program sent nearly 2,000 locomotives and innumerable boxcars to the Soviet Union. In addition, almost half of all the rails used by the Soviet Union during the war came through Lend-Lease.
A monument in Fairbanks, Alaska, to the American pilots who flew almost 8,000 U.S. planes to Alaska and to the Soviet pilots who flew them on to Siberia as part of Lend-Lease.
“It should be remembered that during World War I, the transportation crisis in Russia in 1916-17 that did a lot to facilitate the February Revolution [which lead to the abdication of the tsar] was caused by a shortage in the production of railway rails, engines, and freight cars because industrial production had been diverted to munitions,” Sokolov wrote. “During World War II, only the supplies brought in by Lend-Lease prevented the paralysis of rail transport in the Soviet Union.”
The Lend-Lease program also sent tons of factory equipment and machine tools to the Soviet Union, including more than 38,000 lathes and other metal-working tools. Such machines were of higher quality than analogues produced in the Soviet Union, which made a significant contribution to boosting Soviet industrial production.
American aid also provided 4.5 million tons of food, 1.5 million blankets, and 15 million pairs of boots.
“In order to really assess the significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet victory, you only have to imagine how the Soviet Union would have had to fight if there had been no Lend-Lease aid,” Sokolov wrote. “Without Lend-Lease, the Red Army would not have had about one-third of its ammunition, half of its aircraft, or half of its tanks. In addition, there would have been constant shortages of transportation and fuel. The railroads would have periodically come to a halt. And Soviet forces would have been much more poorly coordinated with a constant lack of radio equipment. And they would have been perpetually hungry without American canned meat and fats.”
In 1963, KGB monitoring recorded Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov saying: “People say that the allies didn’t help us. But it cannot be denied that the Americans sent us materiel without which we could not have formed our reserves or continued the war. The Americans provided vital explosives and gunpowder. And how much steel! Could we really have set up the production of our tanks without American steel? And now they are saying that we had plenty of everything on our own.”
There are very few accomplishments in existence more highly regarded than the Medal of Honor. Actually, I’m not 100% sure that there is anything that would impress me or other former service members more than a Medal of Honor.
Although the recognition is typically bestowed following a singular, overwhelmingly courageous deed, there is a precedent for receiving a Medal of Honor for lifetime achievements. But what exactly needs to happen to receive the highest honor in the land, not for punctuating heroism but for extended, meritorious service?
Throughout American history, there have been approximately 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients. 19 of those are dual recipients and a little under a third of all recipients were awarded posthumously. When compared to the millions of men and women who have served, those numbers are absolutely minuscule.
Even rarer a feat than being a double Medal of Honor recipient is receiving a Medal of Honor for lifetime achievement — there have only been two such recipients ever! Those two recipients are Sergeant Major Frederick William Gerber and Major General Adolphus Greely.
Frederick William Gerber
Gerber was the very first Sergeant Major from the Army Corps of Engineers in history. He enlisted in the regular Army before the Mexican-American War and is credited with saving the life of then-Second Lieutenant George B. McClellan, who would go on to be General-in-Chief of the Union Army during the Civil War.
Gerber received the Medal of Honor in 1871, making him the first to receive the citation for accumulative service.
Greely enlisted in the volunteer Army during the American Civil War and worked his way up to the rank of First Sergeant after about two years. He went on to receive a commission and work his way up to the rank of Major before being mustered out of the volunteer Army and almost immediately into the regular Army.
He would eventually achieve the rank of Major General just before retiring in 1908 at the mandatory retirement age of 64. His career highlight is the infamous Greely Expedition. The expedition yielded many invaluable meteorological, magnetic, biological, and oceanographic records, and ultimately ended with all but six of his crew members dead.
Greely was awarded the Medal of Honor for a career that began in the mid-19th century and lasted until the early 20th. It took nearly 30 years post-retirement for Greely to get his citation — just a few months before he passed in 1935.
Will there be others?
The rules for the Medal of Honor have changed since the early 20th century and they are no longer authorized for non-combat actions. So, the simple answer is: no.
Since 1963, the prerequisite actions for a Medal of Honor have been redefined as someone having “distinguished himself conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.” By virtue of this very definition, the chance that we see a modern service member — or any of our brethren from yesteryear — receive a Medal of Honor for lifetime achievement is slim.
Believe it or not, some of the greatest pioneers in the use of military helicopters were Coast Guardsmen. These early breakthroughs took place during World War II when the Navy was too busy expanding traditional carrier operations to focus on rotary wing, and the Army had largely sequestered helicopters to an air commando group. The Coast Guard, meanwhile, was working on what would be the first-ever helicopter carrier.
USCGC Governor Cobb underway after its conversion into a helicopter carrier.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
Obviously, we’re talking about a ship that carries helicopters, not an aircraft carrier that flies like a helicopter. The Avengers aren’t real (yet).
The potential advantages of helicopters in military operations were clear to many of the military leaders who witnessed demonstrations in the early 1940s. Igor Sikorsky had made the first practical helicopter flight in 1939, and the value of an aircraft that could hover over an enemy submarine or take off and land in windy or stormy weather was obvious.
But the first helicopters were not really up to the most demanding missions. For starters, they simply didn’t have the power to carry heavy ordnance. And it would take years to build up a cadre of pilots to plan operations, conduct staff work, and actually fly the missions.
The Army was officially given lead on testing helicopters and developing them for wartime use, but they were predominantly interested in using it for reconnaissance with a secondary interest in rescuing personnel in areas where liaison planes couldn’t reach.
So, the Coast Guard, which wanted to develop the helicopter for rescues at sea and for their own portion of the anti-submarine fight, saw a potential opening. They could pursue the maritime uses of helicopters if they could just get a sign off from the Navy and some money and/or helicopters.
The commandant of the Coast Guard, Vice Adm. Russell R. Waesche, officially approved Coast Guard helicopter development in June 1942. In February 1943, he convinced Chief of Naval Operations Navy Adm. Ernest King to direct that the Coast Guard had the lead on maritime helicopter development. Suddenly, almost every U.S. Navy helicopter was controlled by the Coast Guard.
A joint Navy-Coast Guard board began looking into the possibilities with a focus on anti-submarine warfare per King’s wishes. They eventually settled on adapting helicopters to detect submarines, using their limited carrying capacity for sensors instead of depth charges or a large crew. They envisioned helicopters that operated from merchant ships and protected convoys across the Atlantic and Pacific.
The Coast Guard quickly overhauled the steam-powered passenger ship named Governor Cobb into CGC Governor Cobb, the first helicopter carrier. The Coast Guard added armor, a flight deck, 10 guns of various calibers, and depth charges. Work was completed in May 1943, and the first detachment of pilots was trained and certified that July.
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Frank A. Erickson stands beside an HNS-1 Hoverfly and his co-pilot Lt. Walter Bolton sits within.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
The early tests showed that the HNS-1 helicopters were under-powered for rough weather and anti-submarine operations, but were exceedingly valuable in rescue operations. This was proven in January 1944 when a destroyer exploded between New Jersey and New York. Severe weather grounded fixed-wing aircraft, but Coast Guard pilot Lt. Cmdr. Frank A. Erickson took off in an HNS-1s.
He strapped two cases of plasma to the helicopter and took off in winds up to 25 knots and sleet, flew between tall buildings to the hospital and dropped off the goods in just 14 minutes. Because the only suitable pick-up point was surrounded by large trees, Erickson had to fly backward in the high winds to get back into the air.
According to a Coast Guard history:
“Weather conditions were such that this flight could not have been made by any other type of aircraft,” Erickson stated. He added that the flight was “routine for the helicopter.” The New York Times lauded the historic flight stating: It was indeed routine for the strange rotary-winded machine which Igor Sikorsky has brought to practical flight, but it shows in striking fashion how the helicopter can make use of tiny landing areas in conditions of visibility which make other types of flying impossible….Nothing can dim the future of a machine which can take in its stride weather conditions such as those which prevailed in New York on Monday.
Still, it was clear by the end of 1944 that a capable anti-submarine helicopter would not make it into the fight in time for World War II, so the Navy slashed its order for 210 helicopters down to 36, just enough to satisfy patrol tasks and the Coast Guard’s early rescue requirements.
This made the helicopter carrier Governor Cobb surplus to requirements. It was decommissioned in January 1946. The helicopter wouldn’t see serious deployment with the Navy’s fleet until Sikorsky sent civilian pilots in 1947 to a Navy fleet exercise and successfully rescued four downed pilots in four events.
But the experiment proved that the helicopters could operate from conventional carriers, no need for a dedicated ship. Today, helicopters can fly from ships as small as destroyers and serve in roles from search and rescue to anti-submarine and anti-air to cargo transportation.
When the North Vietnamese attacked on Jan. 21, 1968, it quickly became clear that the preparations weren’t enough. The 6,000 troops were attacked by an enemy force that would eventually grow to an estimated 20,000 to 40,000 enemies, and the carefully hoarded supply of artillery and mortar rounds were 90 percent destroyed by an enemy artillery attack that hit the ammo dump.
Westmoreland convinced President Lyndon B. Johnson that the base should be held at all costs, triggering a 77-day siege that required planes to constantly land supplies on the improved airfield.
The Marines and other troops on the base sought continuously to knock the North Vietnamese off balance and to relieve the pressure on the base. The February 25 patrol aimed to find North Vietnamese and either kill them or take them captive to collect intelligence.
It was led by an inexperienced lieutenant who, after his men spotted three enemy fighters who quickly fled, ordered a full-speed chase to capture or kill them despite advice to the contrary from others.
The Marines fought valiantly, but they were taking machine gun and other small arms fire from three sides mere moments after the fight began. Grenades rained down on their position as they sought cover, concealment, and fire superiority.
Under increasing fire, Ridgeway and another Marine attempted to break contact and return to the base, but they came across a wounded Marine on their way. Unwilling to leave an injured brother, they stopped to render aid and carry him out.
As they stopped, bursts of machine gun fire hit the three Marines, wounding all three. One was killed by a grenade moments later, another died of wounds that night, and only Ridgeway survived despite the enemy shooting him in the helmet and shoulder. He was later captured when a Vietnamese soldier tried to steal his wristwatch and realized the body was still breathing.
That September, his family was part of a ceremony to bury unidentified remains from the battle and memorialize the nine Marines presumed dead whose bodies were only partially recovered.
But for five years after the battle, Ridgeway was an unidentified resident of the Hanoi Hilton, undergoing regular torture at the hands of his captors.
It wasn’t until the North Vietnamese agreed to a prisoner transfer as part of the peace process in 1973 that they released his name to American authorities, leading to Ridgeway’s mother getting an alert that her son was alive.
Five years after the battle and four years after his burial, Ridgeway returned to America and was reunited with his family. He later visited the grave and mourned the eight Marines whose names shared the list with his. A new memorial was later raised with Ridgeway’s name removed.
Throughout World War II, Winston Churchill gave a number of speeches that galvanized the British public in the face of extreme hardship and convinced them to keep fighting that good fight against Adolf and his cronies.
Perhaps the most famous speech Churchill ever gave was the one he spent the longest time agonising over — “This was their finest hour,” where he stated in part,
What General Weygand has called the Battle of France is over … the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
The speech was delivered just a month after Churchill became Prime Minister and at a time when the UK was reeling from the news that France had fallen (effectively leaving the British Empire to fight the Nazi war machine alone, until Hitler turned on the Soviet Union in 1941 and the Yanks joined in about six months after that). The speech had to somehow rally the entire country during what Churchill would eventually come to call “The Darkest Hour.” This is a goal the speech is generally accepted as having accomplished and then some, with Churchill’s words deeply resonating with the British public. In particular, Churchill’s sentiments about the British Isles standing strong in the face of what appeared to be impossible odds.
THEIR FINEST HOUR speech by Winston Churchill [BEST SOUND]
The speech, which lasted around 36 minutes, was first given in private to Parliament on June 18, 1940, and later to the British public via radio and it’s noted that Churchill was making revisions to it until quite literally the last possible moment. For example, when the Churchill Archives Centre dug up the very same copy of the speech Churchill used when he addressed Parliament, they found that it was covered in random annotations, some of which appear to have been made leading right up to just before he gave the speech.
Impressively, some of these literal last minutes additions ended up being amongst the most memorable lines from it. For example, the line “All shall be restored” which was noted as inspiring many a Britain to do their bit for the greater good of Europe, was a line Churchill scribbled in the margins of the speech when he sat on a bench in the House of Commons waiting to be called to speak.
It’s also noted that Churchill simply winged it at some points, making up some of the lines in the speech on the fly. This was something that was facilitated by Churchill’s insistence on printing the speech in blank verse format, which some experts believe allowed Churchill to read and visualise the speech as a piece of poetry, allowing him to better improvise and more comfortably find a natural rhythm when speaking.
Of course, no matter how good something is, even in the days before internet comments there’s always someone to criticize and, despite “This was their finest hour” being considered one of the finest oratory performances ever given, Churchill’s own secretary, Sir Jock Colville, was wildly unimpressed. Among other things, he noted in his diary that the speech was too long and that Churchill sounded tired when he read it. Given that the speech is often ranked alongside things like the Gettysburg Address, Sir Colville’s opinion evidently wasn’t one shared by many others, however.
Finally, because we kind of have to mention this, when Churchill delivered the speech to the British public via radio, he reportedly did so while smoking a comically large cigar which he kept burning in his mouth for virtually the entire time he was speaking…
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
There’s been a lot of attention on the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro in recent days — are they an aggressive people? Are they any more or less aggressive than any other people? What’s the metric to use for aggression? That equation changes when you combine Serbia with Montenegro, like the rest of the world did until 2006.
But there is one story in Montenegro’s military history that stands out above all others. In 1767, a man dressed in the rags of the monastery in which he lived arrived in the country’s capital of Cetinje, claiming to be the long-thought-dead Tsar Peter III of Russia. And everyone believed it.
Today, no one knows who he really was before he became the absolute ruler of Montenegro and no one knows his real name. All we know is that the little country was in a full-on war with the Ottoman Empire, then a major world power, who was not thrilled to have a Russian Tsar next door. The tiny, mostly Eastern Orthodox Christian country sought support from mighty Orthodox Russia for its rescue from an Islamic invasion, but Russia was not about to lend help to this pretender to the Montenegrin throne.
They knew Tsar Peter was dead. In his place, Catherine II ascended to the throne. She would later be honored as Catherine the Great and her first step toward greatness was having her husband Peter murdered.
Catherine the Great pictured with all the f*cks she gives.
While most people might think a homeless, religious nut taking control of their country and immediately getting invaded by their larger neighbor would be an absolute disaster, Montenegrins’ fears were put to rest in a hurry. It turns out Stephen was really, really good at this whole “Tsar” thing.
With 50,000 Turkish soldiers marching into a country the size of the greater Los Angeles area in 2018, Stephen managed to silence his naysayers (one bishop who had actually met Tsar Peter III tried to sound the alarm, but no one listened), use his natural charm to win the support of the country’s religious establishment, and then unite the country’s tribes for the first time in centuries.
He’s like a Montenegrin Ronald Reagan.
“Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem… specifically, every government but me.”
The first thing Stephen did was send the Turks packing. With his outdated and outnumbered Montenegrin forces, he routed the Turks just south of Montenegro’s capital and took to the internal matters of his small but new job.
By this time, Catherine sent a delegation of Russians to Montenegro to out the impostor as a fake or kill him, but one of the things she didn’t know about Stephen (which was actually a lot) is that he was really, really likable. So likable, in fact, that when the Montenegrins learned he wasn’t actually Tsar Peter III (for real, though), they shrugged and declared him Tsar Šćepan. Most importantly, no one killed him — they enjoyed his company instead.
The Russians now accepted that there was no getting rid of Stephen and that his strict control of the country actually reduced instability there. And so, they began to help him. They sent the supplies and cash he needed to upgrade his military.
Just in time to fend off another invasion of Montenegro. This time, 10,000 Venetians landed in Montenegro to avenge their Ottoman allies’ crushing defeat, only to be defeated themselves near Kotor. Venice was forced to retreat, taking heavier casualties, having to pay Stephen for permission to leave, and being forced to leave their weapons behind.
Montenegrins don’t take kindly to sucker punches, as it turns out.
This particular victory was so great, even Catherine sent Stephen a medal, a Lieutenant General’s rank, and the uniform to go along with it.
But Montenegro’s glory was short-lived. The Tsar was murdered in his sleep by his barber, whose family was taken hostage by the Ottoman Turks. The Ottomans threatened horrible things unless the Greek barber did their bidding. Sadly for his country, the peace enforced among its tribes by their Little Tsar quickly fell apart without him. The Turks invaded again while they were distracted by infighting.
At some point while growing up, every kid is issued a stern warning from their parents to not touch the hot stove when it’s on. Most kids take that advice at face value and never risk it. But then there are the other kids; the ones who repeatedly try to poke at the red hot coils. Eventually, there comes a time where the curious kids get burnt. This is basically what happened to the ill-fated and infamous Donner Party in 1847. History often paints the pioneers as unfortunate travelers, but it also often glosses over the fact that they were issued repeated warnings by the United States Army, who told them to stay away.
Spoiler alert: They didn’t stay away and it didn’t end well for thirty-nine of them — and if they were petty enough, the Army could’ve issued the survivors a “so, what did we learn?“
This information in important to the rest of the story.
(“Battle of Churubusco,” John Cameron, lithograph, 1846)
Manifest Destiny was in full force during the 1840s and countless pioneers moved out west in search of greener pastures. When Mexico saw the influx of new settlers coming into and setting up shop in disputed territory, their army attacked American troops in March, 1846, along the Rio Grande River, beginning the Mexican-American War.
The Army knew full well that the coming battles could stretch across the West and into places where settlers were building new lives. So, they issued a warning to pioneers, advising them to either wait for the war before venturing into the southwest or to proceed with extreme caution. After all, the soldiers had a war to fight; they couldn’t dote on individual settlers.
Just take a wild guess who they listened to: the grizzled Ranger or the sketchy salesman?
(“Advice on the Prairie,” William Ranney, painting, 1857)
That warning didn’t stop George Donner and James Reed from saddling up the wagons to make their way along the Oregon Trail and find new homes in California. The path was well-traveled and would take them through Wyoming, Idaho, and, eventually, down the California Trail near Ft. Hall, Idaho. This was the prescribed route made by the Army for all travelers. The route was generally pleasant, had several Army posts along the way, was seldom ambushed by Natives, and took about four to six months to traverse.
But they caught wind of a faster route that saved time by cutting through Utah. This information came from a writer/salesman, Lansford Hastings, who’d never actually been on his so-called Hastings Cutoff. This new route cut about 300 miles from the trip. Accounting for an average speed of about 12 miles per day, that would theoretically save them about a month of travel. It was important to make it to California before the winter, because as the Army told them, the winter would be deadly.
On their travels, the party randomly met James Clyman, an old Army Ranger turned mountain man. He strongly advised against this alternate route. Clyman had traveled all across the United States and her territories — he even wrote about Hugh Glass (you know, the guy from The Revenant) because he was there with him. There wasn’t a human being alive more suited to give counsel about these lands. He was very serious about them turning around and taking the established route.
Let this be a lesson for you. If a bunch of people with years of experience tell you something… maybe listen.
(“Encampment,” Daniel A. Jenks, watercolors, 1858)
You know this story doesn’t have a happy ending, so you know which advice they followed. The shortcut, turns out, was absolutely horrible and added months to their journey. Instead of making it to the Pacific Ocean by early September, they found themselves in Truckee Meadows (near present-day Reno, Nevada) by late October.
One of the party’s scouts, William Bryant, had taken the regular route ahead and made it safely to the Army’s Fort Sutter. He heard about their new route and the soldiers sent a dire warning. The warning implored them stay in Reno for the winter and to not even think about crossing the Sierra Nevada in this weather.
Truckee Meadows was beautiful. It had bountiful food, sturdy trees, flowing water in the winter. In a word, it was perfect! They could have as easily made their new lives there. They could’ve been happy. But wintering in Reno would have made too much sense, so they decided to try and push through the terrible wintry mountains — in spite of all of the warnings.
Now, it’s hard to say if they actually had to resort to cannibalism or not — some survivors suggested they did, others said they didn’t, and historical evidence is inconclusive — but it was still the definition of a sh*tshow. It took the Army months to find them (since they were kind of busy with the aforementioned war) but at least forty-eight people made it out.
There has been no friendly fire incident in the history of the world like the 1788 Battle of Karansebes. The Austrian Army had been at war with the Ottoman Turks for more than a year when another contingent of Austrian soldiers stumbled upon another part of their army. What should have been a general misunderstanding turned into a full-on battle with more than ten thousand killed or wounded and the Ottoman capture of Karansebes anyway.
The story starts with a band of gypsies.
As every good story should.
It’s necessary to know that the Austrians of this time weren’t simply Austrian, they were fighting for the Hapsburg Empire, and their fighting force was comprised of several different languages, with no real common means of communicating between units. Still, units made up of these single language-speakers would regularly patrol by themselves, rather than joining other units to learn multiple languages or having a common tongue.
It was one of these units, a cavalry patrol, that was out looking for any signs of enemy Ottomans around. They didn’t find any Turks, but what they found was a group of Romani Gypsies who were just settling in for the night. The Gypsies offered the Austrians a good time with dancing and drinking, which the grateful cavalrymen eagerly took. Then, more Austrians showed up, but these were a group of infantry, and the cavalrymen refused to share.
Anyone who’s ever known infantrymen can probably guess what’s about to happen.
This started a fistfight, of course. As the rival groups started fighting over the booze, shots rang out from across the nearby river. All the fighting Hapsburg men stopped fighting and took cover, quickly making it back to their camp to warn the others that Turks were shooting from the other side of the river. The camp exploded in a frenzy of men who thought Turks were overrunning their camp. When the German officers tried to get their fleeing men to calm down and come back, they shouted “halt,” which in a German accent, was mistaken for “Allah.” part of the Ottoman’s battle cry.
All the sides fought one another until the camp commander believed he was being overrun, at which point he ordered the artillery to pound his own men.
Imagine this but with cannon fire landing everywhere around them.
When the Turkish Army did arrive to take the town two days later, it was completely deserted by the opposition. They rolled into the city immediately, and the Austrians didn’t talk about Karansebes for another forty years.