On Aug. 10, 2020, a video surfaced on the internet of Indian Army troops using various tools to smash Chinese military vehicles made by state-owned manufacturer Dongfeng Motor Corporation.
The video was released on the internet at the height of tensions between China and India in the Ladakh region in June 2020.
A Chinese internet user alleged the vehicles produced by Dongfeng, which are one of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s version of humvees, are practically useless for military purposes. Dongfeng is the PLA’s largest vehicle supplier.
In the Galwan Valley, the site of skirmishes between Chinese and Indian troops that led to the deaths of 63 soldiers between both armies, the rumors say the Dongfeng vehicles failed to protect the lives of Chinese soldiers.
To South Asia’s World Is One News, the representatives from the Chinese military say the reports are “rubbish” and that they forced the video leaker to apologize. According to a story on an official Chinese military website, the allegation all stem from a WeChat post from user Zhou Liying. He was arrested and reportedly confessed his whistleblowing “crime.”
Zhou’s handwritten letter of apology was published on the same website while India’s news media called the Dongfeng “fragile.”
The rumors of the vehicles’ low quality persisted on the Chinese internet, along with stories about corruption in the corporation and investigations into wrongdoing from the government in Beijing. Another rumor says a Dongfeng official was arrested for “violating Party discipline.”
A Hong Kong newspaper backed the claim, saying that low quality steel could have been used to build the vehicles. The owner of that newspaper was soon arrested under the new state security law implemented by the Chinese government. That law says “crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces” are punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison.
WIO News’ Palki Sharma says the Dongfeng vehicle represents everything that is wrong with China and the Chinese government.
“First, this military vehicle is a copy of the Hummer,” the journalist says. “The second reason is Dongfeng has faced corruption charges before… in 2015 a Dongfeng executive was under investigation for what? For severe violation of discipline.”
Aside from the internet allegations and newspaper reports, there is no proof of the vehicles’ inferior quality. In the leaked video featuring the destruction of a Dongfeng vehicle, however, Indian soldiers are seen cracking the windshields using only a helmet.
The video reportedly caused widespread uproar in China. The Chinese government won’t acknowledge the authenticity of the video or if it was related to the border skirmishes, though India says it’s unrelated.
Dongfeng’s Chinese military vehicles are used by Chinese border troops in the Ladakh region and were used in the Jun. 15, 2020 clashes that saw Chinese and Indian troops fight each other with makeshift clubs.
As a young boy, Henry Reeve served in the Union Army as a drummer during the American Civil War. By the time of his death in 1876, he was 26 years old and fought in more than 400 battles over seven years – against the Spanish.
In 1868, Cuban landowner Carlos Manuel de Céspedes led an uprising against Spanish rule over Cuba. From his estate on the Eastern part of the island, Céspedes freed his slaves and raised an army. He led a resistance against the Spanish Empire that would last ten years and cost Céspedes his life. But the uprising attracted its fair share of foreign volunteers, one of those was a New Yorker named Henry Reeve.
Reeve’s Civil War service left him a virulent abolitionist and the Spanish in Cuba were the most determined abusers of slaves left in the Western Hemisphere. When he heard about the anti-slavery, anti-Spanish uprising, he immediately left for Cuba. He arrived in 1869 but was quickly captured by the Spanish Army, who tried to execute Reeve and his group of volunteers. Reeve escaped and went on to be an integral part of an otherwise-failed uprising that came to be known as Cuba’s First War of Independence.
His units routinely outmatched the Spanish, often overcoming superior Spanish numbers with the boldness and dedication that an American combat veteran brings to any fight. By the time he jumped over an enemy artillery battery to end a battle, he earned a promotion to Brigadier General and was wounded more than 10 times. Reeve soon became known as “Enrique El Americano” and “El Inglesito” — the Little Englishman — and was placed among legendary Cuban freedom fighters Máximo Gómez and Ignacio Agramonte.
Reeve also participated in daring raids, most famously to rescue Cuban freedom fighter and Major General Julio Sanguilly from the Spanish. That battle pitted 36 Cuban riders against more than 120 Spanish troops. Reeve also led exploration columns into the jungle wilderness of Cuba and led vanguards of the rebel army’s 2nd division.
Like Cuba’s version of Baron Wilhelm Von Steuben, Reeve wore his U.S. Army uniform the entire time.
In 1876, Reeve and his staff were ambushed by the Spanish during their fateful invasion of the Western half of the island. He was unable to escape and, rather than being captured and tortured, he took his own life. It would take more than 20 years before Cuba saw independence from Spain, and even then, it required the help of the United States to unhook Spain from its cash cow.
Leaving the sights and sounds of modern day Saigon, we began our journey to the Central Highlands of Vietnam. As we left the city that I had come to feel comfortable in and approached the outlying rural areas, I felt a heightened sense of awareness.
Even though I knew this was 2017 and the war was far behind, my head was on a swivel and my eyes were constantly searching for threats. Intellectually, I understood that the jungles and hills of Vietnam held no threats, but my emotional side equally felt the need to be aware.
The pungent smells of the countryside – logs and vegetation burning to clear land, outdoor cooking alongside the road, and unrestricted vehicle exhaust were the same smells I had encountered years before and brought back a familiar feeling and sense of nostalgia. The remembered rubber plantations from my previous years in Vietnam have given way to rolling fields of coffee, but the same farmers living at the edges of the fields are the same people, just doing what needs to be done to provide for their families.
The brown soil of the areas around Saigon turned to red clay as we moved into the plateaus of the Central Highlands and the lowland farmers begin to turn in to descendants of the Montagnard tribes that I had worked with years ago.
Passing through Gia Nghia I think of an old friend, Martha Raye – comedienne, nurse, Army Reserve Officer and teammate of many Green Berets.
Stopping at a truck stop for a lunch of Pho, Jason’s favorite dish, I can look west across a valley and in the distance can see what I’m pretty sure is Cambodia. I spent a lot of time there and it feels surreal to see it in such a serene setting.
Driving into the lowering night and through a heavy rain storm, I feel my gut tightening as we approach the city of Buon Ma Thuot. It’s almost a physical action to push down the emotions that are starting to well up inside me as we get closer and closer to the city.
These days, Richard Marcinko is a business instructor, author, and motivational speaker. In his earlier years, “Demo Dick” was the United States’ premier counterterrorism operator. Marcinko enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1958 and eventually worked his way up to the rank of commander, graduated with degrees in international relations and political science, and earned 34 medals and citations, including a Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, and four Bronze Stars. But that’s just his military resume.
Even among the ranks of American special operators, Marcinko, his record, and his reputation are all exceptional — and it’s easy to see why. At 77, he is still training business executives as well as U.S. and foreign hostage rescue teams. He even worked as a consultant on the FOX television show 24. His memoir, Rogue Warrior, is a New York Times bestseller.
“I’m good at war,” Marcinko once told People Magazine. “Even in Vietnam, the system kept me from hunting and killing as many of the enemy as I would have liked.”
1. North Vietnam had a bounty on his head
As a platoon leader in Vietnam, Marcinko and his SEALs were so successful, the North Vietnamese Army took notice. His assault on Ilo Ilo Island was called the most successful SEAL operation in the Mekong Delta. During his second tour, Marcinko and SEAL Team Two teamed up with Army Special Forces during the Tet Offensive at Chau Doc. The SEALs rescued hospital personnel caught in the crossfire as an all-out urban brawl raged around them.
Because of Marcinko’s daring and success, the NVA placed a 50,000 piastre bounty on his head, payable to anyone who could prove they killed the SEAL leader. Obviously, they never paid out that bounty.
2. He was rejected by the Marine Corps
Marcinko joined the military at 18 but, surprisingly (to some), he didn’t first opt to join the Navy. His first stop was the Marine Corps, who rejected him outright because he did not graduate from high school. So Marcinko, who would leave as a Commander, enlisted in the Navy. He later became an officer after graduating from the Navy’s postgraduate school, earning his commission in 1965.
3. He designed the Navy’s counterterrorism operation
You know you’ve made it when they make a video game about your life story.
After the tragic failure of Operation Eagle Claw, the U.S. attempt to free hostages being held by students in Iran, the U.S. Navy and its special operations structure decided that they needed an overhaul. Marcinko was one of those who helped design the new system. His answer was the creation of SEAL Team Six.
4. He numbered his SEAL Team “Six” to fool the Russians
When he was creating the newest SEAL Team, the United States and Soviet Union were locked in the Cold War — and spies were everywhere. Not trusting that anyone would keep the creation of his new unit a secret, he numbered it SEAL Team Six in order fool the KGB into believing there were three more SEAL Teams they didn’t know about.
5. His job was to infiltrate bases — American bases
The Navy needed to know where their operational sensitivities were — where they were weakest. Even in the areas where security was thought tightest, the Navy was desperate to know if they could be infiltrated. So, Vice Admiral James Lyons tasked Marcinko to create another unit.
Marcinko created Naval Security Coordination Team OP-06D, also known as Red Cell, a unit of 13 men. Twelve came from SEAL Team Six and the other from Marine Force Recon. They were to break into secure areas, nuclear submarines, Navy ships, and even Air Force One. Red Cell was able to infiltrate and leave without any notice. The reason? Military personnel on duty were replaced by civilian contractor security guards.
6. He spent 15 months in jail
Toward the end of his career, he was embroiled in what the Navy termed a “kickback scandal,” alleging that Marcinko conspired with an Arizona arms dealer to receive $100,000 for securing a government contract for hand grenades. Marcinko maintained that this charge was the result of a witch hunt, blowback for exposing so many vulnerabilities and embarrassing the Navy’s highest ranking officers. He served 15 months of a 21-month sentence.
In 1952, the Green Bay Packers drafted “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith from the University of Georgia. But seeing as how the Korean War was already in its second year, Chargin’ Charlie declined the offer for a different green uniform.
Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, Charles Beckwith served a few years on the Korean Peninsula, in war and later peacetime. It was after Korea that he joined the 82d Airborne, and later, U.S. Army Special Forces.
Beckwith’s first mission was to train the Royal Lao Army in 1960 but his mission to deploy with British SAS to Malaysia as they fought a Communist insurgency is one that forever changed military history.
It was there that Beckwith came down with a mean case of Leptospirosis — a bacterial infection that causes kidney failure and pulmonary hemorrhaging. Doctors did not expect Beckwith to survive.
He survived the infection and his time with the Special Air Service inspired him to develop the American Army’s version of such an elite unit. In 1963, he formed the specialty unit code-name Project Delta, personally selecting the men best suited to conduct long-range recon operations in Vietnam.
But his time in Delta — and on Earth — was nearly cut short in Vietnam in 1966. Beckwith was shot in his abdomen with a .50-caliber round. He was taped up, but essentially left for dead.
But death still didn’t come.
Beckwith not only recovered, he continued with his military career, fighting in a series of battles from the Tet Offensive in 1968 until the end of the war in 1973.
It was in the mid-70s that Beckwith’s elite unit idea finally became a full reality. He was given the authority and formed the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta in 1977. The new elite unit focused on anti-terror and hostage recovery ops, based on the model of the British SAS.
Unfortunately for Beckwith and Delta, their first mission was Operation Eagle Claw, the doomed hostage rescue of Americans held in Iran. After the catastrophic failure of Eagle Claw, Beckwith retired from the Army.
By 1967, the United States was firmly committed to the war in Vietnam. That year saw 485,600 American troops in country. That’s like arming the entire population of Kansas City and moving them into another country.
So yeah, they were invested.
But from the start, the Vietnam War was unlike the previous American wars. There was no real front, the enemy could be anywhere, and most importantly, they didn’t always fight like a conventional army in the mountains, jungles, or rice paddies.
Hackworth was tasked with creating an elite commando unit from the already elite Special Forces long range reconnaissance patrol units. The mission of what he would call Tiger Force was more than just intelligence gathering. As he put it, he wanted to “out-guerrilla the guerrillas.”
In 1967, Hackworth was out of the unit, and it was assigned to Vietnam’s Central Highlands, where it conducted a six-month long terror campaign in the Song Ve Valley and as part of Operation Wheeler. The mission was so brutal and so deep in enemy territory, members of the Tiger Force did not expect to survive.
In a war where the U.S. military relied on body counts as a measure of success, Tiger Force was ready to do its part. Hackworth once noted, “You got your card punched by the numbers of bodies you counted.”
Tiger Force went into villages the Viet Cong relied on for support and shelter in the Spring and Fall of 1967 and drove the villagers out of their homes using brute force. They allegedly used some disturbing methods to achieve those ends.
The Toledo Blade’s Michael D. Sallah, Mitch Weiss, and Joe Mahr (right) won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for their eight months of investigation and reporting on the alleged war crimes committed by Tiger Force.
“Women and children were intentionally blown up in underground bunkers. Elderly farmers were shot as they toiled in the fields. Prisoners were tortured and executed — their ears and scalps severed for souvenirs. One soldier kicked out the teeth of executed civilians for their gold fillings.”
The three journalists say the Army commandos, far from friendly areas and left without support, routinely violated the laws of armed conflict, killed unarmed civilians, dropped grenades on women and children, and covered up the incidents during the official Army investigations.
Some members of the Tiger Force today aren’t even disputing the allegations. Doyle, along with others, claims to have lost count of how many people they killed.
”I’ve seen atrocities in Vietnam that make Tiger Force look like Sunday school,” Doyle told the New York Times. “Everybody I killed, I killed to survive. They make Tiger Force out to be an atrocity. Well, that’s almost a compliment. Because nobody will understand the evil I’ve seen.”
The Army investigated the allegations for four and a half years but no charges were ever filed and the men of tiger Force became some of the most decorated in the Vietnam War. They were even awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.
For its part, the Army told the Toledo Blade that, barring any new evidence coming to light, the investigations would remain closed, even after comparing the newspaper’s information with their official records.
Modern Americans can join the military and go to war without too much fuss, since the U.S. still needs people for ongoing fights in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hotspots around the world.
But our forefathers didn’t always have a place to go if they got the martial itch. Sometimes, they really wanted to join a war that the American people didn’t want to get involved in.
That’s when truly bold Americans would just join another country’s military and get to work.
1. Polish 7th Air Escadrille
As a victor of World War I, Poland grew in size, gained a border with Russia, and quickly found itself at war with the communist Bolsheviks. American volunteers were allowed to form the Polish 7th Air Escadrille and the aviation unit engaged in fierce ground attacks against Russian cavalry from 1919 to 1920.
2. The gendarmeries and national guards of Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua
U.S. Marines holding the Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto César Sandino’s Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)
In the early 1900s, Marines were sent to Caribbean nations to protect American business interests and to help shore up governments friendly to the U.S. The Marines who were dispatched to the islands often ended up holding ranks in both the U.S. military and the local forces at once. For instance, then Maj. Smedley Butler was the commandant of the Haitian Gendarmerie and then Cpl. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller was a second lieutenant in the Gendarmerie.
3. Eagle Squadrons
Americans who wanted to take the fight to Nazi Germany before Pearl Harbor had few legal options, but some lied about their citizenship and risked exile from America to join the Royal Air Force in 1939 and 1940. Eight Americans took part in the 1940 Battle of Britain that saw the RAF narrowly defeat attempts by Luftwaffe to open the British Isles to invasion.
Dozens more Americans arrived after the Battle of Britain and helped the U.K. hold the line until America’s entry into the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Unfortunately, the fighting went badly for the American volunteers. Nearly one-third of them died in Spain and the Republic was overthrown by Fascist Gen. Francisco Franco.
5. The Flying Tigers
The Flying Tigers of World War II were a group of American pilots and ground crew who President Franklin D. Roosevelt secretly authorized to go to China and help that country fight the Japanese invasion. Despite the presidential authorization, the Americans had to resign their military positions and travel under assumed identities.
On December 7, 1941, there were less than 1,000 women in the Army Nurse Corps. Eighty two of those women were stationed at Pearl Harbor. What was supposed to be an easy assignment turned into the surprise attack that arose a sleeping giant into World War II… and the role and number of women had just begun on that fateful day in December.
One woman who unexpectedly found herself on the front lines of war was a reporter for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. A week after the bombing, Betty McIntosh wrote her account of the attack of Pearl Harbor. But, because of its graphic nature, it went unpublished for 71 years. The article was directed at Hawaiian women and McIntosh solely wanted to share what she had seen on December 7. The days following the attack changed everything about their lives and she hoped her words would help them prepare for what lay ahead. But it wasn’t to be.
In her article, she talked of the fear that gripped her and diving for cover hoping to survive, and then being assigned to cover the emergency room of the hospital. She talked of death. The fear in the faces, and the blood. She said the doctors continued to work calmly in the chaos. She then called for the women of Hawaii to step up and help.
Alongside those doctors, she mentioned there were nurses aiding in the trauma of the makeshift emergency rooms. The stories of these women are sometimes forgotten. But they should be remembered as they were the catalyst that inspired women to serve.
1st Lt Annie Fox, a 47-year-old woman and 23 year veteran of the Army was the first woman to be awarded a Purple Heart (changed to a Bronze Star in 1944 as the requirement for sustaining injuries changed). Fox was the head nurse of the Station Hospital. In addition, she administered anesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment, assisted with dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressing and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency.
Four other women were also recognized for their performance during the attack. Captain Helena Clearwater, First Lieutenant Elizabeth A. Pesut, Second Lieutenant Elma L. Asson and Second Lieutenant Rosalie L Swenson. Each received the Legion of Merit “for extraordinary fidelity and essential service.”
Captain Helena Clearwater spoke of her Pearl Harbor experience in a newspaper clipping. In her recollection, she talked about being on duty when the first bomb dropped. She heard the noise but didn’t realize what was happening until she saw the planes flying low with the golden sun. She then knew they were under attack and soon enough the dead and injured started to arrive at the hospital. They worked through the night without relief. Hawaii immediately became “a total blackout from sunset to sundown.” And it was a good thing, because at 9:30 PM the Japanese planes flew over Honolulu again.
Ann Danyo Willgrube
Ann Danyo Willgrube joined the Navy Nurse Corps in 1940 and was so excited to have landed a dream assignment at Pearl Harbor, arriving in October of 1941. She was awoken at 7:55 am when she thought a boiler had exploded. She looked out her porthole in her room and saw smoke pouring out of the USS Arizona. The next minute the chief nurse burst into the room and told her to get dressed and report to the quarter deck for duty; they were under attack from Japan.
The nurses worked round the clock to care for the wounded patients, mostly burn victims. They were too busy to worry about the war going around them. The roar of the guns, the shaking ship, they had too much to do to stop and pay attention. She said, “We were so thankful the Japanese did not realize how they crippled us, because they could have taken over the island had they known the truth.”
2nd Lieutenant Harriet Moore stayed out late Saturday night dancing and was woken by her supervisor just after 7:55 am. He told her that the base was under attack. She thought he was kidding. But after quickly getting dressed and running outside, she could see the smoke from Pearl Harbor. A Japanese pilot flew by and waved. They were so thankful he wasn’t going to bomb the hospital. The first few patients she saw were all burn victims and quickly died after they arrived. She continued to work and do what she could to save as many lives as she could.
Her friend and roommate, Marguerite Oberson was engaged to a pilot. Sometime during the day, she was informed his plane had been shot down and he was killed. Moore recalled her friend being clearly shaken by the news, but continued to work to help the patients as they continued to arrive.
These are a few of the stories of the women of Pearl Harbor. Their courage and commitment changed how women were viewed and their role in war. Before Pearl Harbor, there was great pushback for women to serve in the military. But four days after the attack, the Bureau of Budget stopped objecting to the expansion of the female military division and began plans to create a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps picked up speed. In the end, over 350,00 women served in uniform in World War II.
Lee was a veteran of World War I when he was sent with other American troops to Nicaragua in 1927 to assist the Nicaraguan National Guard in a long-running fight against a leftist rebellion.
The Marines, including Lee, took command of small groups of local soldiers, trained them, and led them in combat.
In 1930, Lee was a gunnery sergeant who led the Nicaraguans against superior enemy forces six times between Mar. 20 and Aug. 19, forcing the enemy to retreat each time. Lee’s men were thought to have killed at least 10 enemy fighters and wounded many more over the span of the ten battles. Lee was awarded his first Navy Cross for his leadership and valor.
In December of the same year, Lee led a 10-day patrol through the jungle and engaged in three heavy fights with the rebels. His men defeated the rebels in each of the firefights, twice while fighting against rebel forces with superior numbers. This action netted Lee his second Navy Cross.
Automatic weapons fire rained down on the Marines and Nicaraguans as rebels fired their rifles and threw grenades. Lee was hit in the arm and head almost immediately at the start of the fight. Puller led the Nicaraguans against the enemy to achieve fire superiority without knowing if Lee was alive or dead.
Luckily for them all, Lee was only unconscious and awoke approximately 15 minutes later as the battle continued. Despite his grievous wounds, he clawed his way to the Nicaraguans’ machine gun, moved it to a good firing position, and started raining hell on the rebels. He then returned to the main element and resumed his duties as the second in command on the final attack.
U.S. Marines holding the Nicaraguan rebel leader Augusto César Sandino’s Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Marine Corps photo)
The Marines and Nicaraguans then conducting a fighting withdrawal back to their base, engaging the enemy multiple times and defeating more ambushes.
Lee would go on to fight in China during the lead up to World War II. Soon after the war broke out, he and his men were captured by Japanese forces and taken as prisoners of war and tortured. Lee survived the ordeal and continued serving in the Marine Corps until his retirement in 1950. He died of cancer in 1998.
Sir Douglas Bader was a Royal Air Force hero in World War II, downing 23 German aircraft, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Distinguished Service Order, and being named the 5th deadliest fighter ace in the RAF.
Making his feats even more impressive was the fact that he did these things without legs.
Bader was known for being an athletic kid. His family faced money problems after his father died of injuries sustained in World War I. Bader had to earn athletic scholarships to attend school. His prowess on the field also helped him get a cadetship to the Cranwell Air Force Academy in 1928 where he earned a reputation for skill in the cockpit.
Two years later, Bader graduated and began flying in aerobatic displays for the RAF. In a 1931 show, he attempted a low-level display and crashed into the ground, sustaining severe injuries. Doctors decided they would have to amputate both of his legs beneath the knees to save him.
Bader was forced out of the RAF by the injury but was promised that he could come back if war was declared. He spent the next few years learning to play sports with his tin prosthetics.
In 1939, he got his chance to re-enter the service and took it. He attended a pilot refresher course and was sent to Duxford, England in 1940. At Duxford, he was introduced to the Spitfire which he described as “the aeroplane of one’s dreams.”
Soon, he was flying combat missions. He participated in the evacuation at Dunkirk where he scored his first victory over a German aircraft.
With the English kicked out of Europe, Hitler quickly began laying the groundwork for an invasion of the kingdom and Bader was called on to help keep the Germans out of England. In Jul. 1940, the Battle of Britain was on. Bader and his commander, Trafford Leigh-Mallory, pioneered the Big Wing strategy that summer which envisioned squadrons of fighters descending on German bombers and their fighter escorts.
It was credited at the time with forcing the Germans to cease daytime bombing missions and postponing the potential invasion of Britain from 1940 to 1941. RAF pilots were heralded as heroes, Bader especially. Bader had racked up a stunning 23 aircraft kills, counting the one at Dunkirk. This made him the 5th most lethal pilot in the RAF.
Unfortunately for Bader, his luck ran out Aug. 9 when he was hit over northern France and forced to bail out. At the time, Bader thought it was due to a collision with a Messerschmitt 109, but historical research decades later pointed to the possibility that another British pilot may have shot him down on accident.
Regardless, Bader found himself in a plane going down but was stuck in the cockpit because a prosthetic had become trapped under the rudder pedal. Bader made it out of the plane, but his right prosthetic was torn off in the process.
When he hit the ground, he was quickly captured by a group of Germans. In the United Kingdom, the Battle of Britain pilots had become famous and the double amputee/wing commander/fighter ace was one of the best-known pilots on the Allied side. The Germans quickly realized who they had captured and attempted to give Bader a pretty easy run of it. They recovered his wrecked leg and repaired it as best as they could.
Bader immediately attempted to escape on the repaired leg, climbing down a rope made of blankets and running away. He was soon recaptured.
Despite Bader’s escape attempt, the Germans offered safe passage for a British bomber to drop a replacement prosthetic for the damaged leg, but the RAF knew that the Germans would use it for publicity. Instead, they sent the leg on a bombing mission and had a Blenheim bomber drop the leg onto the camp during an otherwise normal bombing mission.
Bader again attempted to escape once he got his new leg. The pilot was transferred from one camp to another, attempting to escape whenever he could until the Hitler finally sent him to Colditz Castle, a prison that was considered inescapable.
There, Bader’s attempts to escape slowed but he found ways to make life miserable for the guards. One day, he refused to go to the formation to be counted. When the guards arrived at his room to order him out, he engaged in a shouting match with the guards and eventually told them, “My feet would get cold in the snow. If you want to count me, come to my room and do it.”
The guard then drew his pistol on Bader who immediately changed his tact and infuriated the guard further. “Well, of course I’ll go if you really want me to,” Bader said before picking up a stool, dragging it out to formation, and sitting on it to be counted.
Bader continued his hijinks for the rest of the war. The RAF promoted him to group captain and Bader led a 300-aircraft victory formation over London after the Axis forces surrendered.
In 1946 he turned to a civilian career. He was knighted in 1973 for his work to help other amputees before dying in 1982 of a heart attack. His story was featured in the 1956 movie, “Reach for the Sky.”
Most of what is lying around in the dusty expanse of the aircraft graveyards around Tucson, Arizona is readily identifiable and not entirely remarkable.
Ejection seats from old F-4 Phantoms. An old CH-53 helicopter hulk. An interesting find over there is a fuselage section of a Soviet-era MiG-23 Flogger. No idea how it got here. Other than that, it’s just long rows of old, broken, silent airplanes inside high fences surrounded by cactus, dust, sand and more sand. An errant aileron on a dead wing clunks quietly against the hot afternoon breeze as if willing itself back into the air. But like everything here, its days of flying are over.
But there… What is that strange, manta-ray shaped, dusty black thing lying at an angle just on the other side of that fence? It may be an old airfield wind vane or radar test model. But it also may be…
(U.S. Air Force photo)
I had only read about it and seen grainy photos of it. I know it’s impossible. The project was so secret not much information exists about the details even today. But I stand there gawking through the chain link fence as the ruins of the other planes bear silent witness. It’ like the corpses of the other airplanes are urging me to look closer. To not leave. Their silent dignity begs me to tell this story.
After nearly a minute of studying it through the fence I realize; I am right. It is right before my eyes. Ten feet away. Despite the 100-degree heat I get goosebumps. And I start running.
I quickly locate a spot where the entire fence line opens up. I skirt the fence and in a couple minutes running around the sandy airplane corpses I’m inside. There, sitting right in front of me on its decrepit transport cart and dusted with windblown sand, abandoned in the Sonoran Desert, is one of Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich’s most ambitious classified projects from the fabled Lockheed Skunk Works.
(Lockheed Martin photo)
I just found the CIA’s ultra-secret Mach 3.3+ D-21 long-range reconnaissance drone. The D-21 was so weird, so ambitious, so unlikely it remains one of the most improbable concepts in the history of the often-bizarre world of ultra-secret “black” aviation projects. And now it lies discarded in the desert. The story behind it is so bizarre it is difficult to believe, but it is true.
July 30, 1966: Flight Level 920 (92,000 ft.), Mach 3.25, Above Point Mugu Naval Air Missile Test Center, Off Oxnard, California.
Only an SR-71 Blackbird is fast enough and can fly high enough to photograph this, the most classified of national security tests. Traveling faster than a rifle bullet at 91,000 feet, near inner-space altitude, one of the most ambitious and bizarre contraptions in the history of mankind is about to be tested.
“Tagboard” is its codename. Because of the catastrophic May, 1960 shoot-down of Francis Gary Powers’ Lockheed U-2 high altitude spy plane over the Soviet Union the CIA and is in desperate need of another way to spy on the rising threat of communist nuclear tests. Even worse, the other “Red Menace”, the Chinese, are testing massive hydrogen bombs in a remote location of the Gobi Desert near the Mongolian/Chinese border. It would be easier to observe the tests if the Chinese did them on the moon.
The goal is simple, but the problem is titanic. Get photos of the top-secret Red Chinese hydrogen bomb tests near the Mongolian border deep inside Asia, then get them back, without being detected.
Lockheed Skunkworks boss Kelly Johnson and an elite, ultra-classified small team of aerospace engineers have built an aircraft so far ahead of its time that even a vivid imagination has difficulty envisioning it.
Flat, triangular, black, featureless except for its odd plan form as viewed from above, like a demon’s cloak, it has a sharply pointed nose recessed into a forward-facing orifice. That’s it. No canopy, no cockpit, no weapons. Nothing attached to the outside. Even more so than a rifle bullet its shape is smooth and simple. This is the ultra-secret D-21 drone.
(U.S. Air Force photo)
The D-21 is truly a “drone”, not a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA). Its flight plan is programmed into a guidance system. It is launched from a mothership launch aircraft at speed and altitude. It flies a predetermined spy mission from 17 miles above the ground and flashes over at three times the speed of sound. It photographs massive swaths of land with incredible detail and resolution. And because of its remarkably stealthy shape, no one will ever know it was there.
Today the D-21 rides on the back of a Lockheed M-21, a specialized variant of the SR-71 Blackbird, the famous Mach 3+ high altitude spy plane. The M-21 version of the SR-71 carries the D-21 drone on its back up to launch speed and altitude. The it ignites the D-21’s unique RJ43-MA20S-4 ramjet engine and releases it on its pre-programmed flight.
Chasing the M-21 and D-21 combination today is a Lockheed SR-71, the only thing that can keep up with this combination of aircraft. It is the SR-71’s job to photograph and film the test launch of the D-21 drone from the M-21 launch aircraft.
There have been three successful launch separations of the D-21 from the M-21 launch aircraft so far. In each of these flights, even though the launch was successful, the D-21 drone fell victim to some minor mechanical failure that destroyed the drone, because, at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, there really are no “minor” failures.
Today Bill Park and Ray Torick are the flight crew on board the M-21 launch aircraft. They sit inside the M-21 launch aircraft dressed in pressurized high altitude flight suits that resemble space suits.
Once at predetermined launch speed and altitude the M-21/D-21 combination flies next to the SR-71 camera plane. Keith Beswick is filming the launch test from the SR-71 camera plane. Ray Torick, the drone launch controller sitting in the back seat of the tandem M-21, launches the D-21 from its position on top of the M-21’s fuselage between the massive engines.
Something goes wrong.
The D-21 drone separates and rolls slightly to its left side. It strikes the left vertical stabilizer of the M-21 mother ship. Then it caroms back into the M-21’s upper fuselage, exerting massive triple supersonic forces downward on the M-21 aircraft. The M-21 begins to pitch up and physics takes over as Bill Park and Ray Torick make the split-second transition from test pilots to helpless passengers to crash victims.
The triple supersonic forces rip both aircraft apart in the thin, freezing air. Shards of titanium and shrapnel from engine parts trail smoke and frozen vapor as they disintegrate in the upper atmosphere. There is no such thing as a minor accident at Mach 3+ and 92,000 feet.
Miraculously, both Bill Park and Ray Torick eject from the shattered M-21 mother ship. Even more remarkably, they actually survive the ejection. The pair splash down in the Pacific 150 miles off the California coast. Bill Park successfully deploys the small life raft attached to his ejection seat. Ray Torick lands in the ocean but opens the visor on his spacesuit-like helmet attached to his pressurized flight suit. The suit floods through the face opening in his helmet. Torick drowns before he can be rescued. Keith Beswick, the pilot filming the accident from the SR-71 chase plane, has to go to the mortuary to cut Ray Torick’s body out of the pressurized high-altitude flight suit before he can be buried.
The ultra-secret test program to launch a D-21 drone from the top of an M-21 launch aircraft at over Mach 3 and 90,000 feet, is cancelled.
The D-21 program does move forward on its own. Now the drone is dropped from a lumbering B-52 mothership. The D-21 is then boosted to high altitude and Mach 3+ with a rocket booster. Once at speed and altitude the booster unit drops off and the D-21 drone begins its spy mission.
After more than a year of test launches from the B-52 mothership the D-21 drone was ready for its first operational missions over Red China. President Nixon approved the first reconnaissance flight for November 9, 1969. The mission was launched from Beale AFB in California.
Despite a successful launch the D-21 drone was lost. In the middle of 1972, after four attempts at overflying Red China with the D-21 drone and four mission failures, the program was cancelled. It was imaginative. It was innovative. It was ingenious. But it was impossible.
So ended one of the most ambitious and outrageous espionage projects in history.
1604 Hrs. December 20, 2009. In the Back Storage Yard of the Pima Air Space Museum Outside Tucson, Arizona.
I pet airplanes when I can. I’m not exactly sure why, maybe to be able to say I did. Maybe to try to gain some tactile sense of their history. Maybe to absorb something from them, if such a thing is possible. Maybe so that, when I am old and dying, I can reflect back on what it felt like to stand next to them and touch them. I don’t know why I touch them and stroke them, but I do.
The fully restored Lockheed D-21 drone at the Pima Air Space Museum outside Tucson, Arizona.
(Pima Air Space Museum photo)
The D-21 is dusty and warm in the late afternoon Arizona sun. Its titanium skin is hard, not slightly forgiving like an aluminum airplane. It gives away nothing. Silent. Brooding. After I touch it my hand came away with some of the dust from it. I don’t wipe it off.
Sometime later in the coming years, the D-21B drone, number 90-0533, is brought inside the vast restoration facility at the Pima Air Space Museum and beautifully restored. Now it lies in state, on display inside the museum.
But when I first found it sitting abandoned in the storage yard, dusty and baking in the Sonoran Desert sun, it felt like its warm titanium skin still had some secret life left in it.
This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.
But it wasn’t always this way. During the Cold War, Airborne forces relied on the M551 Sheridan, an Airborne-capable light tank first fielded in 1969.
The Sheridan was a replacement for the World War II-era Mk. VII Tetrarch tank and the M22 Locust Airborne tank. The Tetrarch was a British glider-capable light tank and the M22 was an American tank custom-built for glider insertion.
The M551, unlike its predecessors, was airdrop-capable, meaning it could be inserted using parachutes instead of gliders. The tank was also used with the Low-Altitude Parachute Extraction System, an airdrop system that allowed the U.S. to drop the tanks from a few feet to a few dozen feet off the ground.
The tank used an experimental 152mm gun that could fire missiles or tank rounds. Even its tank rounds were experimental, though — they used a combustible casing instead of the standard brass casings.
The Sheridan served well in Vietnam and Panama. During Operation Just Cause, it was even airdropped into combat, allowing paratroopers to bring their own fire support to the battlefield.
The tank’s main gun could inflict serious damage at distances of up to 2,000 feet, allowing it to punch out enemy bunkers from outside the range of many enemy guns.
Unfortunately, the light armor of the Sheridan posed serious issues. Some Sheridans were pierced by enemy infantry’s heavy machine guns, meaning crews had to be careful even when there was no enemy armor or anti-armor on the field. Worse, the main gun started to develop a reputation as being unreliable.
Firing the main gun knocked out the electronics for the longer-range missile, meaning that a tank firing on bunkers or enemy armor at close range would usually lose their ability to punch targets at long range. And there was no way to avoid this issue as the Shillelagh missile couldn’t hit targets at less than 2,400 feet.
The only way for an M551 to punch at close range was to give up its capability at long ranges.
By 1980, most cavalry units were moving to the M60 Patton Main Battle Tank, which was actually introduced before the Sheridan. The Patton featured heavier armor, more power, and a more reliable gun. It had also just been upgraded with new “Reliability Improved Selected Equipment,” or “RISE.”
The airborne forces would keep the Sheridan through 1996, partially because they had no other options. A number of potential replacements were canceled and modern airborne forces just make do without true armored support.