Aircraft carriers are the largest warships on the sea, and the U.S. Navy’s carriers are considered the world’s most elite. They’re so big they have their own ZIP code, and their reach and technological sophistication are unrivaled across the world.
On this date 96 years ago, the first aircraft carrier – the USS Langley – was commissioned in Norfolk, Virginia. The carrier had been converted from the collier USS Jupiter, which was the Navy’s first surface ship propelled by electric motors.
The Wright connection
Cmdr. Kenneth Whiting was the Langley’s executive officer. He was a submarine commander turned aviator who was one of the last to take personal training from famed aviator Orville Wright, one of the two brothers credited with inventing, building, and flying the world’s first airplane.
The Langley was named for Samuel Pierpont Langley, a former U.S. Naval Academy assistant professor who eventually became secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He was also a massive aviation enthusiast. Ironically, Langley had the same spirit as the famed Wright brothers, but never quite had their success. He built his own airplane that he tried on several occasions to launch off ships.
While he didn’t succeed, he did inspire the Navy’s desire to launch and land aircraft from ships at sea. Sailors took up where he left off.
USS Langley’s career
The Langley was built primarily for testing and experimentation for seaborne aviation in the Pacific. It became the test platform for developing carrier operation techniques and tactics, notably helping the Navy learn to better land and launch aircraft more quickly.
Fifteen years after its commissioning, in 1937, the Langley was reclassified as a seaplane tender because newer aircraft carriers were available. It stayed stationed in the Pacific to support seaplane patrols and aircraft transportation services during the early months of World War II.
On Feb. 27, 1942, the Langley was transporting U.S. Army P-40s off the coast of Indonesia when it was attacked by nine Japanese dive bombers. The escorting destroyers surrounding the carrier tried their best to help, but it wasn’t enough. The Langley’s crew was ordered to abandon ship, and the escort destroyers eventually torpedoed the Langley so it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands.
More fun facts
• Despite being an aircraft carrier, the Langley didn’t have a control tower – now known as “the island” – as the modern-day carriers do.
• It was nicknamed the “covered wagon” because its flight deck, which covered the entire ship, resembled a giant canopy.
• The first plane launch from the flight deck of the Langley was Oct. 17, 1922. The first landing was nine days later.
The loss of the nuclear attack submarine USS Scorpion (SSN 589) was the last peacetime loss of a Navy vessel until the Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessel USS Guardian ran aground off the Philippines. Unlike the case of the Guardian, 99 sailors lost their lives when USS Scorpion sank after an explosion of undetermined origin.
For the time, America’s Skipjack-class submarines were very fast. According to the “13th Edition of Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet,” these 3,075-ton submarines had a top speed of over 30 knots. Armed with six 21-inch torpedo tubes capable of firing anything from World War II-vintage Mk 14 torpedoes to the early versions of the multi-role Mk 48, this sub was as lethal as they come.
The USS Scorpion was the second of the six vessels to be completed and was commissioned in 1960. According to GlobalSecurity.org, she carried out a number of patrols between then and 1967 before being slated for an overhaul. However, this overhaul was cut short by operational needs. The Scorpion was sent out on Feb. 15, 1968, for what would become her last patrol.
After operating in the Mediterranean Sea, she began her return voyage, diverting briefly to monitor a Soviet naval force. The last anyone heard from the sub was on May 21, 1968. Six days later the Scorpion failed to arrive at Norfolk, where families of the crew were waiting.
The Navy would declare her to be “overdue and presumed lost,” the first time such an announcement had been made since World War II. The sub would not be found until October of that year.
The Navy would look into the disaster, but the official court of inquiry said the cause of the loss could not be determined with certainty. But there are several theories on what might have happened.
One centered around a malfunction of a torpedo. But others suspect poor maintenance may have been the culprit, citing the rushed overhaul.
Check out this video about what it was like to be on the Scorpion.
The names Elmer Keith, Jeff Cooper, and Jack O’Connor are legend in the shooting world. If you Google “famous gun writers,” they’re among the top results. If you scroll a good ways, you’ll come to a fella named Ed McGivern. The only thing he ever wrote of note is a tough-to-find book called Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting, published in 1938. However, a lot of police officers and federal agents across the US back in the 1930s knew McGivern well from the training they received from this one-time trick shooter and legendary pistol expert.
When it came to pistol shooting, especially revolvers, there were few who wielded a hand cannon with more speed and skill than McGivern. His shooting feats were nothing short of superhuman: The man clearly had eyesight and reflexes that were far keener than the average person’s. The fantastical shooting and quick-draw abilities of fictional pistoleers were present in the very real-life McGivern, though he didn’t exactly cut the typical figure of a gunslinger. At just 5-foot-6, he was a small, barrel-shaped man who was the fastest gun on the planet during the years between the two world wars.
A traveling trick shooter
McGivern bolstered his income performing as a trick shooter in the 1920s and ’30s, traveling all over the United States to put on astonishing displays for giddy crowds. He routinely shot at an assortment of stationary and airborne targets, like clay pigeons and lead disks the size of a quarter. You want to really understand how good McGivern was? Go to a safe shooting area, throw a tin can in the air, and see if you can draw and hit it before it lands on the ground. Unless you’re Jerry Miculek or Julie Golob, you probably didn’t even get close.
McGivern could hit the can six times before it hit the dirt, on the draw. He could also throw playing cards in the air and cut them in two, edgewise, with a bullet. He could hit two aerial targets with two revolvers at the same time. Like I said, he was superhuman.
He set a revolver world record while on tour in 1932 that remains unbroken to this day and got him into the Guinness Book of World Records, until Guinness removed all shooting records a few years ago. McGivern fired two consecutive, five-shot groups from a revolver at a distance of 15 feet that “could be covered by a half-dollar piece” in a blinding 0.45 seconds (as clocked by shot timer). The diameter of a half-dollar was a hair over 1.2 inches.
But this pistol prodigy went largely unnoticed for much of his life, working primarily as a sign painter in the small Montana town where he lived for 30 years.
Unfortunately, arthritis eventually put an end to McGivern’s trick shooting career in his late 50s, so he decided to travel around and spread his knowledge instead of entertaining folks.
He worked with law enforcement personnel all over the country. He taught marksmanship to police officers and federal agents from various LE agencies, including at the FBI’s training headquarters in Quantico, translating his exhibition-shooting experience into practical skills that focused on putting a lot of rounds on a target, accurately and quickly, under varying circumstances. At the time, most law enforcement in the US were still carrying double-action revolvers, McGivern’s specialty.
When it came to training law enforcement, McGivern taught them how to shoot fast and accurately at close targets, but he was a firm believer that a .357 Magnum revolver, with proper technique, could be used to effectively engage man-sized targets with repeatable accuracy at distances of 600 yards. He preferred to use a gun outfitted with a small-diameter rear aperture sight with a gold bead front sight for this kind of shooting, though he experimented with various peep sights and telescopic scopes.
In fact, McGivern was friends with Elmer Keith and was instrumental in creating the earliest magnum revolver cartridges. While Keith was (most likely) integral to the creation of the .357 Magnum, he ultimately went on to deride it when he developed the .44 Special into what would become the .44 Remington Magnum, a superior cartridge in his mind. McGivern, on the other hand, believed the .357 Mag was the ultimate revolver cartridge and devoted a whole lot of his time and effort to pushing the round to its limits with what would have been considered a service revolver at the time, both in terms of speed and close- and long-range accuracy.
Time has proved that McGivern may have ultimately been correct in his assessment of the .357 Magnum. Despite Keith’s proselytizing, the .44 Mag was always considered too overpowered for law enforcement use, while many departments and agencies adopted .357 wheelguns as replacements for or as an alternate option to .38 Special revolvers.
Today, despite a foray into use of the more powerful .40 S&W for semi-autos, the 9 mm chambering, with modern ammunition, reigns supreme in the LE and military worlds—and the characteristics of a 9 mm +P cartridge are more similar to a .357 load than they are to a .44 Mag. Perhaps McGivern was more on the money because he focused on volume of fire and LE applications, whereas Keith was more hunting focused.
Here’s a quick list of some of McGivern’s most famous shots with a double-action revolver. Think you could pull off any of them?
Hang a target, like a clay pigeon or lead quarter, from a string. Cut the string with the first shot, and hit the falling target with a second before it hits the ground.
String up three clays, one stationary, and set the other two swinging back and forth so they cross in front of the stationary target. Break all three clays with a single shot.
Drop a coin from shoulder height, and with the same hand, draw and fire as many shots as possible before the coin lands. (McGivern could fire two to three shots.)
Lay 10 revolvers on a bench with five rounds loaded in each. Proceed to shoot them in succession in double action for a total of 50 rounds in less than 21 seconds, with no misses on the target. McGivern could also do this with 20 guns, 100 shots, and 47 seconds.
McGivern did this reaction-time display with real guns and blanks, but if you want to try it,definitely use airsoft guns, safety glasses, and protective clothing. Face an opponent who is holding an aimed, cocked airsoft revolver at about 5 yards. Draw and fire from a regulation holster before your opponent can pull the trigger.
Balance two clays on top of each other with their edges facing the shooter. Break the bottom clay with the first shot, and break the top one with the second before it hits the bench.
Throw a target in the air, have a friend toss you a pistol, and hit the target before it hits the ground.
Shoot a 5-inch bull’s-eye pasted on a 24-inch square of plywood that’s tossed in the air at distances of 25 to 50 yards.
Draw, fire, and score a lethal hit on a man-sized target 15 to 18 feet away in 0.4 seconds or less. McGivern set a one-time record with this often repeated mainstay.
McGivern died on Dec. 12, 1957, at the age of 83 in Butte, Montana.
Jerry Miculek is one of the most remarkable competition shooters of our day, and it’s a privilege to see him shoot in person, as I imagine it must have been to see McGivern put on one of his trick-shooting displays.
Miculek has broken several of McGivern’s long-standing records, but there’s one he can’t beat. When Miculek tried to top the record of 10 shots in 0.45 seconds, he couldn’t score a better time than 0.57 seconds. McGivern set that record back in 1932 when he was 57 years old — and if Miculek can’t beat it, I don’t know who can.
Belgium’s Fort Eben-Emael was the crown jewel of the country’s defense from invasion, boasting huge gun emplacements, defensive ditches and canals, and hundreds of artillery troops, all to protect the heartland and capital.
And the whole thing fell to 87 German paratroopers after barely a day of fighting from May 10-11, 1940.
The fort was built in the early 1930s to prevent the exact situation it faced in 1940: an invasion of the country from the east. It had large guns to sweep fire across three key bridges that would be vital to an invasion. The bridges were also wired for demolition in case the defenders and the fort couldn’t keep the enemy from them.
Defensive canals, barbed wire, and anti-tank ditches made a land assault nearly suicidal, especially since the thick steel and concrete walls could shrug off most munitions launched by artillery or tanks of the day.
A few anti-aircraft guns were present on top of the fort and cupolas — guns with large domes to protect the crews — could fire across the top and kill any attackers who landed there.
But the fort was vulnerable to airborne assault. It had been constructed by digging into an existing large hill, and the miles of tunnels and thick walls made it tough to assault on foot, but did almost nothing to protect it from the sky.
Three assault forces would hit the bridges and attempt to take them from the defenders while a fourth would hit the fort and prevent the guns from firing on the others. The assault force hitting the fort was carrying a new weapon of war to cut through the defenses, shaped charges.
But, the highly trained and well-armed commandos at the fort would be outnumbered nearly 10 to 1.
The Germans landed on the fort in gliders specially modified to stop in the short space, and German paratroopers rushed out to hit the defenders. Belgian gun crews, who knew a probable assault was coming, quickly opened fire — but they didn’t have the canister shot that could quickly decimate the paratroopers.
Instead, the paratroopers were able to rush improperly maintained machine guns as they misfired and other gun crews as they reloaded. One of the defensive guns was taken out when a paratrooper threw a stick of dynamite through a small opening. Two others were destroyed by the special shaped-charge explosives. One crew was killed by a flamethrower.
And there were less defenders than there should have been. The fort relied on conscripts to flesh out its ranks, and many had finished their period or been pulled away to positions in the Belgian Army. Other troops were sick or on leave.
Within the first 10 minutes, the paratroopers had taken out nine defensive positions and forced many of the defenders to go underground behind barriers. Within 15 minutes, the Germans had neutralized the major defenses that threatened the fort attackers, as well as many of the guns that could hit the bridges.
The Belgians didn’t accept this laying down, of course. Soon after the attack began, the fort commander ordered nearby artillery to fire on the fort, killing some of the German attackers.
But the Germans sheltered in the wrecked cupolas and other positions and rode out the worst of the artillery.
As the Luftwaffe sent planes to silence the Belgian guns, the paratroopers used their shaped charges and other weapons to seal off exits from the fort and to wreck the few remaining positions that could fire outside.
And the bridge crews had successfully captured two bridges intact and one more that was damaged but repairable. Only 28 hours after the start of the attack, the road into Belgium was open.
The paratroopers had suffered six dead and 15 wounded by the time that the Belgian troops began surrendering.
The attackers all received high awards for valor and Hitler captured the country soon after.
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.
While “salvage operations” aren’t usually stories of perseverance and ingenuity, the actions of brave sailors and officers after the Pearl Harbor attacks formed a miracle that is legitimately surprising. While the battleships Utah, Arizona, and Oklahoma were permanently lost after the Pearl Harbor attacks, seven combat ships that were sunk in the raid went on to fight Japanese and German forces around the world, and at least three non-combat ships saw further service in the war.
In all, 21 ships were labeled damaged or sunk after the attack. Nine of them were still afloat and were either quickly repaired for frontline duty or sent to the U.S. West Coast for repairs and new equipment. But another 12 were sunk, and some of those were even declared lost. Before the war closed, seven of the sunken ships would see combat, and another three served in peacetime roles.
The USS West Virginia burns on December 7 thanks to Japanese attacks. It would go on to punish the Japanese forces across the Pacific.
USS West Virginia was declared lost three years before entering Tokyo Bay
The USS West Virginia was one of the worst hit in the raid. The “Weevie,” as it was called, had been hit by up to seven torpedoes, but no one could be certain exactly how many torpedoes hit it, really, because the damage was so severe. At least two torpedoes flowed through holes in the hull and exploded inside against the lower decks.
Salvage crews were forced to create large patches that were held in place with underwater concrete. As seawater was pumped out, it was expected that the ship’s electric drive would be unusable or would need extensive repairs but, surprisingly, it turned out that seawater hadn’t reached the main propulsion plant. The alternators and motors were repaired, and the ship headed for Puget Sound Navy Yard.
The ship received much better anti-aircraft armament and defensive armor and headed back into the fight in the Pacific. At the Battle of the Surigao Strait, Weevie fired ninety-three rounds into the Japanese fleet. It later hit Japanese forces ashore on Leyte, served at Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, and was the first of the older battleships to sail into Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s surrender in 1945.
The USS Shaw explodes at Pearl Harbor on December 7. It later fought across the Pacific.
USS Shaw attacked Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Philippines
The destroyer USS Shaw was only 6-years old when the Pearl Harbor attack began, but the modern warship was in overhaul on Dec. 7, 1941, and had all of its ammo stored below decks. So it was unable to protect itself as dive bombers struck it, shredding the deck near gun number 1, severing the bow, and rupturing the fuel oil tanks. All this damage led to a massive fire in the forward magazines which then blew up.
The Shaw was declared a total loss, but the Navy found that much of its machinery was still good. Damaged sections were cut off, a false bow was fitted, and the ship steamed to Mare Island in California for permanent repairs just two months after the attack.
The overhauled USS Shaw fired on Japanese forces at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Southern Philippines. It served out the war before being decommissioned in October 1945.
The USS Nevada fires its guns at the Normandy shore during D-Day in June 1944, about 30 months after the ship sunk at Pearl Harbor.
USS Nevada shelled Normandy
The USS Nevada was one of the few ships in the harbor that was ready to fight on December 7, and its official reports indicated that the crew first opened fire at 8:02, about 60 seconds after the attack started. It was able to down between two and five enemy planes, but still took one torpedo and six bomb hits that doomed the ship. An admiral ordered the ship to beach itself to protect the channel and the ship from further damage.
While Adm. Chester E. Nimitz was pessimistic as to the Nevada’s chances, salvage leaders were quite hopeful. Most of the holes were small enough to patch with wood instead of steel. It took extensive work to get the ship capable of sailing to the West Coast. When it arrived at Puget, it received new anti-aircraft guns and a full overhaul.
The battleship USS California sits in drydock in 1942 as crews prepare to begin major repair operations.
USS California slammed a Japanese Fuso-class battleship with shells
The California crew was able to get into fighting position as Japanese bombers closed in, but that just left officers in perfect position to watch the track of the torpedo that hit the ship in the opening minutes. As damage control got underway, a second torpedo hit the ship followed by a single bomb. All this was made worse when the crew had to abandon ship as the fires from the USS Arizona floated around the California.
But the crew came back and kept the ship afloat for three days before it finally sank into the mud. Salvage operators had to build cofferdams to begin repairs so that crews could access previously flooded areas. As the ship emerged from the water, caustic solutions were used to remove corrosion and seawater. It sailed for the West Coast in October 1942.
By the time the California left the Puget Sound Navy Yard in late 1943, it had nearly all new parts, from the engine to many weapons. It used these to fight at the Marianas, bombard Saipan and Guam, and then slam a Fuso-class battleship at Surigao Strait with over 90,000 pounds of munitions.
The USS Downes on left and USS Cassin, capsized on right, sit on the partially flooded floor of Drydock No. 1 on Dec. 7, 1941, after suffering multiple bomb hits and internal explosions.
The destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes were in drydock on December 7. So they were essentially impossible to damage with torpedoes, but were highly susceptible to bombs. Guess what Japan hit them with? Bombs passed entirely through the Cassin and exploded on the drydock floor, and both ships were set on fire and struck by tons of fragments. Cassin even toppled off its blocks and struck the drydock floor.
The USS Cassin’s keel and hull were warped by the damage, and the hull was filled with holes. The shell plating was wrinkled. Crews disassembled the ship and sent most everything but the hull to Mare Island where they were installed in a new shell. Despite the entirely new hull, the Navy considered the resulting ship to still be the USS Cassin.
The Cassin was sent against Marcus Island, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Palau, and the Philippine Islands. Yeah, it had a pretty busy war for a ship “lost” on December 7.
The USS Downes sails away from Mare Island to serve against Japan in World War II on Dec. 8, 1943, almost exactly a year after the Pearl Harbor attack.
The Downes arguably suffered worst than the Cassin in drydock as the fires caused sympathetic detonations in the Downes‘ torpedoes and other weapons. It was also twisted by damage, and it had massive holes from the explosions. Downes had aluminum plating on its deckhouse that was completely destroyed.
Like the Cassin, the Downes had its hull scrapped and most of its innards installed in another hull in the shipyard on Mare Island.
This new and improved USS Downes fought at Saipan, Marcus Island, and Luzon. Like the Cassin, it had been declared lost after the Pearl Harbor damage.
The USS Oglala is visible in the foreground, mostly submerged on its side as other ships burned in the background on December 7 at Pearl Harbor.
The minelayer Oglala technically didn’t suffer a hit on December 7, but a torpedo passed under it and hit the USS Helena. The blast from that crippled the old Oglala which had been built as a civilian vessel in 1906. The crewmembers took their guns to the Navy Yard Dock and set them up to provide more defenses. They also set up a first aid station that saved the lives of West Virginia crewmembers.
The ship suffered horribly, eventually capsizing and sinking until just a few feet of the ship’s starboard side remained above water. It was declared lost, and the Navy even considered blowing it up with dynamite to clear the dock it had sunk next to. But the decision was made that it could destroy the dock, so the Navy had to refloat it. At that point, it made sense to drydock and repair it.
After repair and refit at Mare Island Navy Yard, the Oglala was re-launched as a repair ship and served across the west Pacific. It actually joined the Maritime Reserve Fleet after the war and wasn’t scrapped until 1965, almost 60 years after its construction as a civilian passenger liner.
(Author’s note: Most of the information for this article came from The Navy Department Library’s online copy of Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal by Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin. It can be found online here.)
Sure, we all know about the F-16 Falcon, the F-15 Eagle, the Su-27 Flanker, the MiG-29 Fulcrum… all those modern planes.
But in the 1970s and the early 1980s, the mainstays of the tactical air forces on both sides of the Iron Curtain were the Phantom in the west and the Flogger in the east.
The F-4 Phantom was arguably a “Joint Strike Fighter” before JSFs were cool. The United States Air Force, United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm, West German Air Force, and numerous other countries bought the F-4.
According to Globalsecurity.org, the F-4 could carry four AIM-7 Sparrows, four AIM-9 Sidewinders, and the F-4E had an internal cannon. The plane could carry over 12,000 pounds of ordnance.
Like the F-4, the MiG-23 was widely exported — and not just to Warsaw Pact militaries. It was also sold to Soviet allies across the world — from Cuba to North Korea. It could carry two AA-7 radar-guided missiles, four AA-8 infra-red guided missiles, and had a twin 23mm cannon.
Globalsecurity.org notes that the Flogger can carry up to 4,400 pounds of ordnance (other sources credit the Flogger with up to 6,600 pounds of ordnance).
Both planes have seen a lot of combat over their careers. That said, the MiG-23’s record has been a bit more spotty.
According to the Air Combat Information Group, at least 33 MiG-23s of the Syrian Air Force were shot down by the Israeli Air Force since the end of 1973. Of that total, 25 took place in the five-day air battle known as the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. The total number of confirmed kills for the MiG-23s in service with the Syrian Air Force against the Israelis in that time period is five.
ACIG tallied six air-to-air kills by Israeli F-4s in that same timeframe (Joe Baugher noted 116 total air-to-air kills by the Israelis in the Phantom), with four confirmed air-to-air losses to the Syrians. That said, it should be noted that by the late 1970s, the F-4 had been shifted to ground-attack missions, as Israel had acquired F-15s and F-16s.
There is one other measure to judge the relative merits of the F-4 versus the MiG-23. The F-4 beats the MiG-23 in versatility. The MiG-23 primarily specialized in air-to-air combat. They had to create another version — the MiG-23BN and later the MiG-27 — to handle ground-attack missions.
In sharp contrast to the specialization of various Flogger designs, the F-4 handled air-to-air and ground-attack missions – often on the same sortie. To give one example, acepilots.com notes that before Randy “Duke” Cunningham engaged in the aerial action that resulted in three kills on May 10, 1972 – and for which he was awarded the Navy Cross – he dropped six Rockeye cluster bombs on warehouses near the Hai Dong rail yards.
In short, if the Cold War had turned hot during the 1970s, the F-4 Phantom would have probably proven itself to be the better airplane than the MiG-23 Flogger. If anything shows, it is the fact that hundreds of Phantoms still flew in front-line service in the early 21st Century.
As seen from space, the planet Earth is a peaceful, cloud-covered ball of blue and brown and green. When the sun sets beyond the horizon, the lights of humanity wink on across the globe. The serenity of the astronaut’s eye-view belies the ballistic fire and brimstone that made that view possible.
No shuttle pierces the atmosphere, no satellite orbits the globe, no man sets foot on the moon, no space station fosters international scientific cooperation, none of it is possible, if not for World War 2 and the fury of the Nazi war machine. None of it happens without the graduate work of a young German physicist named Wernher von Braun and the fruits of his youthful labors, the V-2 ballistic rocket.
At the time that von Braun was concluding his doctorate thesis, “Construction, Theoretical, and Experimental Solution to the Problem of the Liquid Propellant Rocket,” the Nazi Party was completing its rise to power under Adolf Hitler. Von Braun’s work caught the eye of Walter Dornberger, Assistant Examiner to the Ballistics Council of the German Army Weapons Department. Dornberger was tasked with the secret development of a liquid-fueled rocket, one that was ideally both producible on a mass scale and effective at a range that surpassed the standard artillery of the day.
As of the mid-1930’s, remote bombardment of military targets was only possible by either shelling them with large-caliber artillery from relatively close range, or by dropping bombs on them from airplanes. Both methods were fraught with difficulty. Artillery batteries were themselves vulnerable to air bombardment since they were fixed in place, and bombers were vulnerable to anti-aircraft artillery since safe altitudes made bombing less accurate. It was a bit of a mechanized warfare stalemate and there was much interest in breaking new technological ground ahead of the enemy. In the spring of 1932, the hot topic at the Weapons Department was the self-piloted rocket, theoretically capable of launching from a safe distance and guiding itself toward the destruction of a precision target.
Dornberger brought von Braun into the Nazi fold and, though the young man’s true passion was the entirely hypothetical concept of manned space travel, Dornberger put him straight to work building the world’s first liquid-fueled ballistic missile. It took him over a decade, but by late 1941, von Braun and company had perfected the four key technologies necessary to produce a viable, long-range rocket. Called the A-4, the rocket combined a large, liquid-fueled engine, supersonic aerodynamics, a gyroscopic guidance system and graphite rudders that could control the rocket’s ascent from within the jet stream. Together these elements allowed the rocket to ascend to a height of 50 miles before the engine quit, after which the rocket would descend toward its target in ballistic free fall, delivering 2000 lbs. of explosive warhead unto the enemies of the Third Reich.
The first successful test flight of the A-4 was on Oct. 3, 1942 and though the technology was far from maturity, Hitler signed the rocket into immediate mass production. By that time, Germany’s military might was beginning to bog down and the Allies, now bolstered by the United States, were challenging Nazi dominance on all fronts. Hitler was in dire need of a “wonder weapon” to boost morale. To that end, the A-4 was renamed the Vergeltungswaffe2, translating roughly as “Vengeance Weapon 2.” Fabrication of the V-2 fell to the prisoners of the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. Thousands of slave laborers died pushing V-2 rockets through accelerated production.
But when the V-2 offensive finally began in Sept. 1944, the rocket, though technologically intimidating, proved only marginally effective in the field. Early barrages suffered from accuracy issues due to underdeveloped guidance systems, not to mention canny misdirection by British intelligence officers who sowed false information about where the rockets were striking relative to London. Accuracy improved through early 1945 with a new radio guide beam system and a total of 3,172 V-2 rockets were fired at various targets, mainly in the UK and Antwerp, but casualties remained relatively low. Germany’s surrender to the Allied Forces ended the V-2 program before upgrades could be implemented sufficient for it to live up to its promise as Germany’s miracle weapon.
Ultimately, Hitler’s Vengeance Weapons program cost Nazi Germany far more than it delivered. In Reichsmarks, it cost the equivalent of $40 billion (2015 USD). In material resources, it tied up over a third of Germany’s entire production. And in the factories at Mittelbau-Dora, the slave labor that pushed 6,048 V-2 rockets off the assembly line, contributed heavily to the deaths of 12,000 to 20,000 prisoners. In the end, “more people died manufacturing the V-2 than were killed by its deployment.”
But in the coming decades, during the geopolitical reorganization that ensued, von Braun’s foundational work with the V-2 rocket would lead to Cold War proliferation of intercontinental ballistic missiles and to the Space Race. He would contribute to both programs directly from his new home in the United States. As much as World War 2 redirected the course of history, it was the V-2 that would most profoundly redefine life on Earth in the second millennium A.D. The advent of the V-2 helped create the state of mutually assured nuclear destruction through which the world now plots its careful course. But, perhaps most poignantly, the V-2 also made it possible for humanity to get a heaven’s-eye view of the planet we all keep fighting over.
Air Force Col. Leo K. Thorsness, an F-105 pilot awarded the Medal of Honor for multiple feats of bravery in an aerial engagement who was later shot down and held as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton for six years, died May 2 at the age of 85.
His death was announced by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which did not disclose the cause of death.
The two-man crew was able to eject, but the pair was descending into hostile territory. Thorsness flew circles so that he could pinpoint where they landed to facilitate a rescue, but spotted an enemy MiG as he maneuvered.
Thorsness and his EWO were on their own when they initiated the attack against the four MiGs. Thorsness quickly downed one and engaged the other three in aerial combat for 50 minutes, outnumbered and low on ammo but flying fiercely enough to drive them off.
Thorsness spent six years in the prison, three of them under nearly constant and brutal torture before international pressure relieved the conditions somewhat. His Medal of Honor was approved during that time, but it wasn’t announced until after his 1973 release for fear that the North Vietnamese would torture him worse if they knew about the medal.
Today, plastic explosives are a given. But 50 years ago, they were the latest in demolition technology. One of the most notable, of course, is C4.
Officially, it is called the M118 demolition charge, and was called Flex-X back then. Prior to the introduction of Flex-X, explosives had to be secured to what the engineers wanted to blow up.
C4, though, was more like Play-Doh or used chewing gum in that it could be stuck to whatever needs to go away.
The explosive had some other advantages as well. It could be used underwater, which means that divers could plant it on a pier without having to surface and risk being seen.
The explosive was also very insensitive. The video below shows troops dropping a weight on the Flex-X to no effect. It wouldn’t even go off when shot by multiple rounds from a M14 service rifle or when tossed into a campfire.
It also took much less time to set up – almost 60 percent less – when compared to earlier explosives, thanks to that Play-Doh/chewing gum consistency. That would save the lives of the engineers, who would spend less time away from cover.
Cold weather had little effect on the explosive’s ability to stick to whatever needed to be blown up. Other explosives needed to be taped or otherwise secured to the target.
The SS Meredith Victory might be the luckiest and most important ship of the entire Korean War. The Merchant Marine vessel carried men and materiel that saved US troops in the Pusan Perimeter, protected the supplies around Inchon harbor, and pulled off the “Christmas Miracle” – the largest single ship rescue evacuation of refugees in history.
Merchant Mariners might be history’s biggest unsung heroes. The Korean War in 1950 was not going well for the United Nations forces. American troops were relegated to a small corner of the Korean Peninsula, barely holding off the Communist onslaught as North Korea fought to push them into the sea and out of the war. In what came to be known as the Pusan Perimeter, American and South Korean forces held the line until the Americans could relieve them.
In true joint force action, the Army and Marines, supported by the Navy and Air Force, planned a landing at Inchon, behind the North Korean lines. The enemy around Pusan practically dissipated as the Army broke out of the Pusan Perimeter while Marines were landing at Inchon. Within two weeks, the UN forces had partially retaken Seoul and cut off the enemy’s supply and communications ability.
The unsung heroes of the Merchant Marine were part of the Inchon Landing force as well. If it weren’t for them, the whole thing might have fallen to the bottom of the ocean. The day before the landings at Inchon, a massive typhoon hit the coast of the Korean Peninsula, just off of which lay the United Nations invasion fleet. Hurricane-force winds slammed the boats supporting the invasion. Among them was the SS Meredith Victory, a merchant marine ship carrying men and supplies for the landing. Were it not for the ship’s crew’s skill at saving the ship, the entire invasion might never have happened.
The UN fleet off the coast of Inchon, Korea.
But that’s not the last time history called the Meredith Victory. By the end of 1950, the Chinese had intervened in the war and were pushing UN forces back to the south. Along with those retreating troops came thousands of North Korean refugees fleeing the repressive Communist regime. By the time the Meredith Victory arrived in Hungnam Harbor, the docks were packed with refugees and soldiers fleeing the Chinese.
“The Koreans on the dock, to me, that’s what we were there for, that was our job. The problem was how we [were] going to get them aboard,” remembered Burley Smith, a Merchant Mariner, the third mate aboard the Meredith Victory. “There were too many people and not enough time to get them all loaded. It looked like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.”
North Korean refugees crowd the harbor at Hungnam, December 1950.
By this time, the Army had already left, and the Chinese were being held back by Naval gunfire. The crew of the Meredith Victory began loading passengers aboard this ship meant to house 59 people. The crew worked around the clock, loading the masses of people on to her decks. They managed to get all 14,000 onto the ship and safely away from the harbor before the Army blew the port facilities.
The ship traversed the coast of Korea, on the lookout for mines, enemy submarines, and North Korean fighter planes. By the time the ship got to Geoje Island, every single refugee was alive – and five more were born along the way. It was a Christmas miracle.
In 1972, Ho Van Thanh was a soldier stationed near his hometown in North Vietnam. After American bombs hit his home and killed his mother and two sons, he grabbed his one-year-old son and ran off into the jungle. He stayed put there, found by neither side of the war, until 2013.
Thanh was in his early 80s when he was convinced to come back from his self-imposed seclusion. His son was in his 40s.
The younger son of Ho Van Thanh, who ran away from Vietnam to live in the jungle 40 years ago.
Their home was a small, roughly seven square foot thatched roof hut at the base of a large tree on A Pon Mountain. Their only visitor was Ho Van Tri, a man Thanh didn’t realize was also his son. For decades, Tri was their only visitor as he carried supplies of salt, kerosene, and knives to his relatives. He implored them to come home, but his father never believed it was safe enough to return. Even as the young baby became a boy and then a man, the two stayed put. Tri was the only visitor they trusted.
Other villagers tried to bring them supplies, but the two men only hid. The supplies they brought were hidden in the hut, never used. For food, the men foraged in the jungles but also planted crops they took from fields on the outlying edges of the jungles. The two wild men also captured small animals for meat, mostly mice, and stored the dried meat in the hut throughout the winter months. They wouldn’t spend the rest of their lives in the jungle, however.
Their original hut in the jungle.
The two men were finally coaxed to return to society in August 2013, some 40 years after Thanh ran into the jungles during the Vietnam War. The government put them in a new home and gave them preferential treatment due to his status as a Vietnam War veteran. Despite the comfort of their new lives, the two never really felt at home in the concrete jungle. They often missed the hut by the tree that afforded them protection for so long.
Thanh would often go to the jungle for hours at a time, no matter what the weather was like. Doctors said he suffered from a mental illness. His son would also visit the forest for hours, even restarting his farm after feeling as though the two men had become a burden to their family. He didn’t know what to do with his newfound free time anyway, so growing rice and cassava seemed like a good use of his time.
The younger man working his fields at his new home.
Eventually, the younger wild man moved out of the new house and back to a hut near his crops. He never got accustomed to the life of a modern Vietnamese man. He thought about starting a family but determined that no woman would want him in the state the forest left him. His father suffers a wide range of health problems aside from his mental illness. He lost an eye in the jungles and suffers from a few age-related diseases.
The younger son now lives in a newer hut, away from the conveniences of modern life. He still grows his own crops and survives off the land, but he doesn’t shun visitors or help – he’s just not the “wild man” he used to be.
The next time you are browsing the aisles at Walmart, just think to yourself that the son of Sam Walton, the founder of the retail giant, was involved in special operations during the Vietnam War. Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group — or MACV-SOG — is a name so bland that it shielded the true nature of their top-secret work into deniable areas like Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. How did the 11th richest man in the world intertwine his legacy into one of the most notorious special operations units in U.S. military history?
John Thomas Walton was born in Newport, Arkansas, the second of three sons, and excelled at athletics. He was a standout football star on their public high school football team and was more of a student of life than academics. His father, Sam, opened Walton’s 5&10 in Bentonville, a small business in a small town known for its variety of hunting seasons. Walton had a modest upbringing and after only two years of college he dropped out to enlist in the U.S. Army. “When I was at Wooster [The College of Wooster in Ohio], there were a lot of people talking about the war in the dorm rooms, but I didn’t think they understood it,” Walton said.
Walton enlisted in the Army and became a Green Beret (Army Special Forces). “I figured if you’re going to do something, you should do it the best you can,” he said during an interview with Andy Serwer for Fortune magazine. Assigned to MACV-SOG after the Tet Offensive in 1968, Walton was stationed at FOB 1 in Phu Bai where members of Strike Team Louisiana conducted deep penetration reconnaissance missions. John Stryker Meyer, a teammate and friend of Walton’s, wrote, “In August of ’68, on one such mission, Walton’s six-man recon team was surrounded and overrun by enemy soldiers.” The firefight became so intense that the team leader, William “Pete” Boggs, called an airstrike (napalm) directly on their own position to break contact.
Extracted from page 119 of “On The Ground” by John Stryker Meyer and John E. Peters.
“That strike killed one team member, wounded the team leader and severed the right leg of the Green Beret radio operator Tom Cunningham Jr., of Durham, N.H. Another team member was wounded four times by AK-47 gunfire by an enemy soldier whom Walton killed,” Meyer wrote. As the team’s medic, Walton was responsible in setting up a triage point to tend to the casualties. He applied a tourniquet to Cunningham’s leg that had begun to hemorrhage. The tourniquet ultimately saved his life, but he later lost his leg. Facing hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers (NVA) and completely surrounded, Walton called in two extraction helicopters.
The first helicopter, piloted by South Vietnamese Captain Thinh Dinh, touched down and picked up members of the team, some of whom Walton personally carried. The enemy soldiers were now sprinting to prevent their escape. Bullets clanged off the chopper and whizzed by their bodies. A second helicopter was needed to get them all out, but realizing how dire the situation had turned, the first helicopter sat back down and picked up the entire team. Their weight was too much, and they barely managed to climb over the treetops. Walton’s determination to get his teammates out of harm’s way earned him the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor.
During a poker game on the night they returned to base, one of his teammates noticed that the skin on Walton’s wrist was burnt. It was evidence of just how accurate the NVA gunfire was. Walton, Meyer, and his teammates enjoyed poker, Scrabble, and other games that require thought. They spoke about their goals and the dreams they hoped to accomplish when they returned home. Walton’s was a life of adventure.
Meyer shares how Walton had inspirations to travel domestically on a motorcycle and to Mexico, Central, and South America by plane. He earned his pilot’s license and started his own business crop-dusting cotton fields in Texas and Arizona. Crop-dusting provided Walton a new challenge that helped his transition after Vietnam. His aerial theatrics featured ingenuity, too — Walton co-founded the company Satloc in 1999, which pioneered the use of GPS applications in agricultural crop-dusting. He also served as a company pilot for his family business.
John Walton, far right, is shown in uniform.
(Photo courtesy of John Stryker Meyer.)
It seemed Walton was always searching for his next greatest thrill. He briefly owned a sailing company called Marine Corsair in San Diego, and he regularly traveled to Durango, Colorado, for outdoor activities such as mountain biking, skiing, and skydiving. As Walmart’s success climbed, so too did Walton’s wealth. At one point, he was the 11th richest man in the world, with an estimated .2 billion net worth. However, despite the amount of money he made, he always stayed true to his modest roots. Meyer recalled a breakfast the pair had in Oceanside, California, and Walton arrived in a small Toyota hybrid.
John T. Walton died on June 27, 2005, when his custom-built CGS Aviation Hawk Arrow plane crashed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. He was 58 years old. An investigation determined that loose flight control components were the cause of the fatal accident. Walton left behind a wife, Christy, and son, Lukas.
Though Walton’s name will always be immediately recognized as the heir to the Walmart empire, his legacy is also inextricably tied to MACV-SOG. Two years before his untimely death, Walton chartered his private jet to pick up the family of Thinh Dinh, the South Vietnamese pilot with whom he served decades prior. They reunited in Las Vegas, never forgetting the lasting bonds forged in war.
Embedded With Special Forces in Afghanistan | Part 2