That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first satellite into an elliptical, low-Earth orbit. It was only 184lbs with a 23″ diameter and managed to stay in orbit for 21 days before the battery powering the transmitter ran out. It burned up in the atmosphere three months later. This marked the beginning of what would be known as the “Space Race” between the Soviets and the U.S. However, according to legend, America may have accidentally beaten the Soviets at launching something into space — a manhole cover.


In the summer of 1957, during Operation Plumbob, American scientists were testing the capabilities of nuclear explosions in all fashions at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. They tested different alloys, various yield sizes, and, controversially, how troops react to exposure, but this story’s all about using a nuclear explosion as a propellant.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

During the Pascal-A test on July 26, scientists tested a nuclear warhead underneath the surface of the Earth, marking the first U.S. underground nuclear test. The test yield was 50,000 times greater than expected and the blast spewed out of the 500-foot, deep-cased hole. It destroyed the five feet of concrete that was used to cap the explosion.

Like every good scientist, they tried it again on Aug. 27 to test “safety.” Instead of the 55-ton yield of the previous test, they used 300 tons and placed a 2-ton concrete cap just above the bomb. Sitting atop the hole was the destined-for-greatness manhole cover. Scientists expected the concrete plug to vaporize, but when the vapors expanded, the pressure was forced up the shaft and blew the 4-in thick, 500lb, steel manhole into the air. The only high-speed camera, capturing one frame per millisecond, was only able to capture the manhole cover in a single frame.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
Fun Fact: Many tourists came from Las Vegas to witness the nuclear blasts. Probably not the best idea. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

When asked about the manhole cover, Dr. Robert Brownlee, the designer of the experiment, said that there was no way to account for all the variables at play and determine the fate of the steel cover. When pressed by a supervisor, he said that it must have reached six times the escape velocity of Earth (which is 11.2km/sec). A more modern estimate puts the speed of the steel cap at around 56 km/sec. For comparison, the speed of sound in air is 0.33 km/sec — or if you need a more veteran-friendly comparison, the muzzle velocity of an M4 is 0.9km/sec. The fastest man-made thing is the Helios 2, which travels 70.2km/sec.

There was no way to verify any of this, as the manhole cover was never found, but if the math was right and the manhole cover survived the extreme pressure and heat, Dr. Brownlee may have made it to space first, created the fastest object while in Earth’s atmosphere, and the third-fastest object known to man.

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The British actually had an effective plan in 1776

One of the biggest questions of the Revolutionary War is this: How did the British of 1776, with immense advantages in troops and ships and an effective plan, manage to lose the war? 


When you look at the material state of affairs, the 13 colonies really didn’t stand a chance. So, how did the British lose the war despite all of their advantages?

 

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
British troops marching in Concord. (Engraving by Amos Doolittle)

 

The reason was not a lack of strategy. After the battles of Lexington and Concord, the British assumed that the American uprising was a number of local rebellions. It wasn’t until 1776 that they realized that they were dealing with a uniform rebellion across all 13 colonies. Granted, some states were more rebellious than others (Massachusetts being the most notable), but they had a big problem due to the sheer size of East Coast.

Like this? Read: Rarely seen illustrations of the Revolutionary War

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

At the Battle of Long Island, the actions of the Delaware Regiment kept the American defeat from becoming a disaster. Fighting alongside the 1st Maryland Regiment, the soldiers from Delaware may well have prevented the capture of the majority of Washington’s army — an event that might have ended the colonial rebellion. (Image courtesy of DoD)

So, they came up with a strategy.  The British plan was to first seize New York City to use as a forward base. Next, they’d move one force north while a second force, from Canada, moved south. The goal was to meet somewhere near Albany in 1777. This would cut New England off from the rest of the colonies and, hopefully, strangle the rebellion.

This was not a bad strategy. The problem was, after coming up with the plan, they flubbed the execution. They seized New York and, in fact, George Washington had a close call trying to escape the British. But then, Washington, with a successful Christmas strike on Trenton and beating Hessian mercenaries at the Battle of Princeton, drew the attention of General Howe. Instead of going north, Howe chased after Washington’s army and the Continental Congress, completely discarding the strategy. There was no on-scene commander-in-chief to reign him in.

 

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
This 1777 mezzotint shows General William Howe, who would blow up the British strategy by chasing after Washington and the Continental Congress in Pennsylvania. (Image from Brown University Military History Collection)

The British force moving south from Canada was eventually defeated at the Battle of Saratoga and forced to surrender. Meanwhile, Howe managed to seize Philadelphia but didn’t get the Continental Congress. Meanwhile, Washington’s army battled well at the Battle of Germantown. The combination of defeats at Saratoga and Germantown doomed the British strategy. The French and Spanish, now convinced the colonists had a chance, joined in and forced Britain into a multi-front war.

Watch the video below to see a rundown of how British strategy evolved during the Revolutionary War.

 

(Civil War Trust | YouTube)

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This converted airliner was death for Allied convoys in the Atlantic

One of Nazi Germany’s most deadly weapons wasn’t really a weapon at all – at least not when it first took flight. However, it did eventually became a deadly foe; not for what it could drop, but for what it could see. It also set the pattern for two iconic planes of the Cold War.


The Focke-Wolf Fw 200 Condor began its life as an airliner for Lufthansa, according to aircraftaces.com. As a civilian transport, it generated some export orders to Denmark and Brazil. As an airliner, the Fw 200 held 26 passengers, and was able to fly from Berlin to New York non-stop.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
Fw 200 as an airliner. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
Fw 200 as a maritime patrol plane. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In World War II, the airliner versions were used as military transports by the Germans. But the real impact would come because the prototype for a reconnaissance version requested by the Imperial Japanese Navy. According to uboat.net, the Luftwaffe looked at the prototype, and requested that designer Kurt Tank make some changes.

What emerged was a plane that could fly for 14 hours, and carry 2,000 pounds of bombs. By February 1941 they were responsible for putting 363,000 tons of merchant shipping on the bottom of the Atlantic. That is the rough equivalent of four Nimitz-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
Two Fw 200 Condors parked. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

But the Condor’s real lethality wasn’t from what it dropped, it was from what it told the Germans — namely the locations of Allied convoys necessary to keep England in the war. That allowed Karl Donitz to vector in U-boat “wolfpacks” to attack the convoys some more.

Ultimately, when the British began to field catapult-armed merchantmen and eventually escort carriers, the Germans had the Condors avoid combat and just report the positions. By 1943, though, the Condor had been shifted to transport missions.

At the end of the war, the Fw 200 returned to the maritime strike role, carrying Hs 293 anti-ship missiles.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
The ultimate legacy of the Fw 200 Condor: P-8A Poseidon aircraft No. 760 takes off from a Boeing facility in Seattle, Wash., for delivery to fleet operators in Jacksonville, Fla., marking the 20th overall production P-8A aircraft for the U.S. Navy.  (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Boeing Defense)

The Fw 200, even though it was on the losing side of World War II, was a ground-breaking concept. In the Cold War, two major maritime patrol aircraft used by Germany’s World War II enemies — the Lockheed P-3 Orion and the British Aerospace Nimrod — were based on airliners themselves (the Lockheed Electra and the de Havilland Comet). The Boeing P-8 Poseidon, replacing the Orion and Nimrod, is based on the Boeing 737.

The Condor has a long legacy – one that continues to this day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are Frank Capra’s best World War II film works

Legendary director Frank Capra is perhaps best known for timeless classics, It’s A Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But his other signature work — done during World War II — was the series of Why We Fight films. These seven films, commissioned by the United States government, explained to American troops just why they were involved in World War II.

While only Prelude to War, the first in this seven-film series, ever won an Oscar, most of the other films in the “Why We Fight” series were positively received and remain classics to date (The Battle for Russia did omit the evils committed by the Soviet Union).

But Capra was responsible for making more than that seven-film series during World War II.


According to IMDb.com, Capra directed or produced several other documentaries for GIs and the American people. Among the other documentaries Capra did were Tunisian Victory, which covered the fighting in North Africa, Here is Germany, about how Germany came to fall under the Nazis, and Know your Enemy: Japan, which tried to explain how Japan ended up starting the global conflict.

Though some of these documentaries haven’t aged gracefully, others are seen as ahead of their time.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

Frank Capra received the Legion of Merit in 1943.

(US Army)

For instance, The Negro Soldier, a film intended to recruit African-Americans into the armed forces, didn’t just receive positive reviews. It was a progressive film that showcased the heroics deeds of black soldiers in war. It broke a number of cinematic stereotypes that were popular at the time and instead portrayed African-American service members as dignified troops. By 1944, this film became a mandatory watch for all soldiers in American replacement centers.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

Capra directed or produced over a dozen films for the military during World War II.

(US Army)

Other films didn’t fare quite as well. Know Your Enemy: Japan, for example, was mired in a form of “development hell” — the initial director was fired by Capra after submitting his rough draft. The reason for the firing was that the director, Joris Ivens, was too tough on Hirohito. This wasn’t the first time America pulled punches with regards to the emperor.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

Capra received the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945, even though some of his documentaries were misses.

(US Army)

Ultimately, Capra received both the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal for his service during World War II.

His World War II documentaries are available for download via the Internet Archive, and some stream on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Check out the Oscar-winning Prelude to War below:

www.youtube.com

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This is the ‘greatest rifle ever made’ according to R. Lee Ermey

EDITOR’S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the operating system and capacity of the M1. It is a gas operated rifle that has an eight-round capacity.


This is his rifle. There are many like it, but “Ginger Dinger” is his.

That was the name ‘Gunny’ R. Lee Ermey gave his beloved M1 Garand rifle. It’s been heralded by General George S. Patton as “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”

In an era of lever-action or bolt-action rifles, nothing can compare the speed and accuracy of a semi-automatic that uses the high-pressured gas from the cartridge being fired to do all the work for you. All troops had to do was just pull the trigger, the spent shell is ejected, the next round is chambered, and you’re ready to fire again. At the time of it’s creation in 1936, this was an absolute game changer.

Once you pop in a eight round en-bloc clip of .30-06, the M1 Garand becomes one of the most reliable weapons any service member has been issued. It was issued to the U.S. Army in 1938 and has seen service in World War II, Korean War, and selectively used in a sniper variation for the Vietnam War.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
Firearms designer John C. Garand and his M1 (Photo via Wikimedia)

Currently, it is still available for civilian ownership and is widely praised by collectors and marksmanship competitors.

The U.S. Military still uses the M1 Garand for ceremonial purposes by drill teams. It’s said that they are also very well balanced, spin easily, and present well.

Also, both pronunciations are widely accepted. As in it’s either “Gahr-rund,” as if it rhymed with ‘errand,’ or “gur-rand,” as if Tony the Tiger was trying to say ‘grand.’

Check out the video down below if you want to watch R. Lee Ermey sh*t talk during a shooting competition with British Rifle Expert Gary Archer in his show “Lock ‘N Load with R. Lee Ermey.”

Related: This is the military branch R. Lee Ermey says Marines made fun of the most

*Writer’s Note: At first I mistakenly attributed the M1 Garand as a recoil operated rifle with a five round clip. This is not the case and I own up to my mistakes. Thank you to everyone in the comment section.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w16pXWL2B2k

(YouTube| Epic History)

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

Military history is full of battles fought against unbelievable odds. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. The story of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae is likely the most famous outnumbered fighters. Poland’s cavalry charge against Nazi armor at Krojanty is famed for its technological disadvantage. 

But whatever success the Poles and Spartans saw against their formidable foes came because of sheer will and determination, not because of any equalizing circumstances. Sometimes, that’s just what it takes. Sometimes, success means never giving up. With a little bit of luck, even the most unprepared, obsolete or foolhardy fighter can win the day.

Some of today’s most powerful weapons might make that kind of winning more difficult, but it can still be done. A North Korean discovered the power of dumb luck while flying over a United Nations base on a night raid. 

North Korea’s air force isn’t known for its technological superiority and it never has been. Even today, more people know the Korean People’s Air Force more for training with the power of imagination rather than anything else. 

Read: The 7 worst air forces in the world

Even when they’re fighting a real war with real enemies, they are still a couple of decades behind technological advancement. During the 1950-1953 Korean War, North Korea was still flying Polikarpov PO-2 biplanes to make bombing runs. This is a plane that was built in the 1920s and was used by the Soviet Union as a trainer until World War II.

biplane from korean war
The instructor Semeon Lykin and a group of pilots pose in front of a Polikarpov U-2 (or Po-2). (Franco Folini, Wikipedia)

During World War II, the Soviets began to use it for reconnaissance, resupply missions, and the occasional night bombing. It was one of the planes used by the all-women Soviet fighter group nicknamed the “Night Witches,” who would bomb German barracks with their engines shut off. 

The Soviet Union didn’t use it after World War II, because by then the world had moved on from biplanes and propellers to aluminum and jet engines. But North Korea found a use for them. It was on one of these night raids that a PO-2 Polikarpov managed to down a jet fighter over North Korea. 

Except the Polikarpov didn’t so much shoot down the jet fighter. The aging biplane was the instrument of the plane’s destruction, though. 

After one of the Polikarpovs’ feared night raids, an advanced Lockheed F-94 Starfire was dispatched with the mission of taking down the raiders. The Starfire was an all-weather, day and night interceptor fighter that was so advanced, it wasn’t even allowed to fly in North Korea, because the U.S. was worried one might get shot down and captured by the communist forces.

It was more dumb luck that allowed this Polikarpov to beat the Starfire. With a top speed of 94 miles per hour, the wood and canvas “fighter” was flying much too slow for the jet fighter, with a top speed of 640 miles per hour. 

Unable to lock onto the target with radar (either due to its slow speed or the fact that plywood doesn’t bounce back radar waves), the jet fighter had to slow down enough to hit the North Korean, which proved to be the Starfire’s undoing. 

The Starfire slowed to 100 miles per hour, which was lower than its stall speed. Once it dipped below that speed, its engine sputtered and stalled, causing the plane to crash. 

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This whiskey is a WWII victory, distilled

…I was goin’ over the Cork and Kerry Mountains…

Musha rain dum a doo, dum a da…
There’s whiskey in the jar, oh
— Thin Lizzy, Whiskey in the Jar

Whiskey is a mountain spirit. After a cold day on the slopes, are you thirsting for a Cosmo? A margarita? Nope. And we’re not even offering rum as an option. In the mountains, you long for an end-of-day bourbon, scotch, or rye to light your insides on fire. It’s tradition and it’s awesome.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
You… ( Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
…complete me. ( Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

In Vail, Colo, there’s another mountain spirit that has to be reckoned with and unlike whiskey, it’s 100 percent military. It’s the legacy of the Army’s venerable 10th Mountain Division, the special alpine tactical force that trained at nearby Camp Hale during WWII.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
Men of the 10th Mountain Division. Not a cocktail in sight.

Spirits, however, are made to blend. It’s tradition and it’s awesome.

Now, almost 75 years after 10th Mountain defeated the Germans in Italy, a Vail whiskey distillery is honoring the Division by taking its name. In the tradition of service, 10th Mountain Whiskey & Spirits Co. is distinguishing itself as an ardent supporter of area veterans.

Sensing the makings of a 90-proof military food story, Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl made the trek out to the Colorado mountains to meet the founders of the 10th Mountain Whiskey over two fingers of their best bourbon.

The distillery was founded by Christian Avignon, the grandson of an 86th Mountain Infantry Regiment medic, and his friend and fellow Colorado ski obsessive, Ryan Thompson. Together, they made it their mission to honor the 10th, whose veterans are responsible not only for key victories against the Nazis, but also for the establishment and leadership of so many of America’s great mountain institutions.

The Northern Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), the Sierra Club, the Peace Corps chapter in Nepal, even the famous ski resorts at Vail and Aspen, all count 10th Mountain Division vets among their founding leadership. A storied fighting force inspires a whiskey maker determined to give back. It’s a potent cocktail of tradition, patriotism, and mountaineering that will absolutely warm your insides on a cold day.

Watch more Meals Ready To Eat:

Army food will make you feel the feels

This is what happens when you run your kitchen like a platoon

This is what it means to be American in Guam

MIGHTY HISTORY

The deadliest sniper ever averaged 5 kills per day

Few soldiers are as legendary as Finland’s Simo Häyhä. Known as the deadliest sniper in history, Häyhä served for just under 100 days during the 1939-1940 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union.

In that short time, he is credited with killing over 500 men.

At long range Häyhä was lethal; his M28/30 sniper rifle (the Finnish version of Russia’s legendary Mosin-Nagant) accounted for half his estimated 500-542 kills. At close quarters, he was equally deadly with his Suomi KP-31 sub-machine gun, with some 250 Soviets falling victim to it. Not surprisingly, Soviet troops soon assigned Häyhä an appropriately sinister nickname: White Death.


Häyhä’s transformation into history’s most accomplished sniper traces back to 1925, when at twenty years old he served his mandatory year in Finland’s Army and afterward joined Finland’s volunteer militia known as the White Guard. Häyhä’s time with the militia sharpened what were already remarkable shooting abilities; a farmer and hunter, he was a natural marksman who regularly collected trophies at local shooting competitions.

When the Winter War broke out on November 30, 1939, Häyhä was nearly 34 years old. By the war’s end on March 13, 1940, he would become a legend. While most snipers used telescopic sights, Häyhä did without. Using a scope forced a sniper to lift their head a few inches higher than ordinary sights, making them an easier target for enemy snipers. Telescopic sights were also vulnerable to extreme cold. Häyhä’s solution was simple: Even in the poor light of a Finnish winter, he would rely on iron sights and the naked eye.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
Simo Hu00e4yhu00e4

As the Soviets soon realized, the dim lighting didn’t affect his aim.

Finnish Army documents (as cited on Wikipedia) reveal just how deadly Häyhä was as a soldier. The war began on November 30, 1939. According to these documents, Häyhä had racked up his first 138 kills by December 22–only 22 days for 138 kills. The entry for January 26, 1940 ups his count to 199, an extra 61 in 35 days. By February 17, he was up to 219. In the 18 days after that, Häyhä killed another 40 enemy soldiers.

These stats reflect his sniping kills. Häyhä was just as deadly up close. His sub-machine gun accounted for another 250 kills. By March of 1940, he’d racked up an astonishing 500+ kills. Yet on March 6, his military career came to a sudden and near-fatal end.

Häyhä was a primary target of the Red Army; Soviets were keen to eliminate this seemingly unstoppable soldier who had spread so much fear, injury, and death among their ranks.

They’d tried everything, pummeling Häyhä’s presumed locations with artillery fire. Soviets also employed counter-sniping, flooding an area with snipers whose primary mission was to kill the White Death.

On March 6, 1940, the Red Army nearly succeeded. A Soviet sniper spotted Häyhä and shot at him with an explosive bullet, striking him in his lower left jaw.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
Hu00e4yhu00e4 in the 1940s, with visible damage to his left cheek after his 1940 wound

The shot should have killed him. Häyhä, though severely wounded, somehow survived. Found by Finnish troops, he was brought into a field hospital. He wasn’t a pretty sight. One of the soldiers who brought him in bluntly described his injuries, saying “half his face was missing”. But once again, Häyhä had beaten the odds: permanently disfigured, but alive nonetheless.

Häyhä was lucky. Only days after he was shot, the Winter War ended on March 13, 1940 — the same day Häyhä regained consciousness. Finland honored the soldier for his service. Starting as a private in 1925, he’d only made ‘Alikersantti’ (corporal) when the Winter War started. After it ended, Corporal Häyhä was commissioned, becoming a “Vanrikki” (second lieutenant) with multiple decorations. He would spend the next few years recovering from the shot to his head, but Häyhä would eventually regain his health.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
Retiredu00a0Simo Hu00e4yhu00e4

After the war, he became a successful moose hunter and dog breeder. Against him, the moose stood no chance. Finland’s President Urho Kekkinen was also a keen hunter and Häyhä, once a nobody from the Finnish border country, became one of the President’s regular hunting partners.

Entering a veteran’s nursing home in Hamina in his old age, Häyhä spent his remaining years quietly. He died on April 1, 2002 aged 96, a national hero in his native Finland and a legend in military history. Asked how he’d been so successful he answered simply: “Practice.”

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time pancakes helped fight the Japanese in WWII

America’s clandestine operators developed some pretty diabolical weapons to help inflict death and destruction behind enemy lines in World War II. And in the fight against the Japanese occupation of China, the plans got downright dastardly.


In 1942, the Office of Strategic Services began working with Ukraine-born George Kistiakowsky who was a physical chemistry professor at Harvard University and developed an innovated explosive powder designed specifically for guerrilla warfare.

Related: WW2 vet dies while visiting country from which he fought 71 years earlier

Kistiakowsky secretly created “HMX” powder, or “nitroamine high-explosive” that could be mixed in with regular baking flour and make various inconspicuous-looking baked goods.

Kistiakowsky managed to perfectly combine the HMX compound with a popular pancake mix and package the new weapon into ordinary flour bags that could be smuggled through the numerous Japanese checkpoints and delivered right into the Chinese fighters’ hands.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
Ah, the power of good old fashioned pancakes.

The explosive looked no different than regular pancake mix and if a suspicious Japanese soldier forced the smuggle to whip up a batch and eat them, there would be no ill effects except for a bit of a stomach ache.

Once the weaponized flour was in the hands of the Chinese allied fighters, muffins were baked from the Aunt Jemima pancake mix and a blasting cap was added to complete the destructive war device.

It’s reported that approximately 15 tons of pancake mix was imported and was never detected by Japanese forces.

Also Read: The USS England was a Japanese sub’s worst nightmare during World War II

MIGHTY HISTORY

The man who saved North Carolina from nukes speaks out

Jack ReVelle, an Air Force munitions expert during the Cold War, recently went to a sound booth to record an interview with his daughter where the pair discussed one of the most harrowing moments of Jack’s life: That time he was called to North Carolina to defuse two hydrogen bombs that had plummeted to earth with a combined potential explosive power equivalent to 500 Hiroshima bombs.


That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

A Mark 39 nuclear bomb rests with its nose buried in the mud near Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1961 after a B-52 broke up in mid-air.

(U.S. Air Force)

In 1961, a B-52 bomber was flying over the great state of North Carolina when it began to break apart. Its entire right wing failed and the plane began falling towards earth. The order was given to abandon the plane, and eight crewmembers attempted to escape. Five survived.

But two other objects joined the crew in the air with parachutes. Two Mark 39 nuclear bombs, one with a successfully deployed parachute and one with a failed chute, fell from the sky. The Air Force sent a team out relatively quietly to find and defuse the nukes. Jack ReVelle told his daughter about getting the mission:

“One night, I get a phone call from my squadron commander. And instead of using all the code words that we had rehearsed, he says, ‘Jack, I got a real one for you.’ You don’t often have two hydrogen bombs falling out of aircraft onto U.S. property.”
That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

Air Force technicians dig through the mud near Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1961 after a B-52 broke up in mid-air.

(U.S. Air Force)

There was precious little preparation done for such an insane mission, and the airmen found themselves scrambling to get everything they needed to do the mission:

“Ten – we call them the Terrible 10. I knew all of them very well. But nobody was cracking jokes like they usually did. And the first couple of days there, they didn’t even have food for us – nothing. It was snowing. It was raining. It was frozen. That’s why we worked in shifts, sometimes on our hands and knees.”

The first bomb was quickly found hanging from a tree. The parachute had kept its descent reasonable, and it had stuck vertically in the ground, buried only partially in the dirt. The team found that three of its four safeguards had either failed or triggered. Only one safety, the actual safe/arm switch, had prevented a nuclear explosion.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians remove components of a Mark 39 nuclear bomb from the deep hole that the bomb buried itself in.

(U.S. Air Force)

But the second bomb, the one with an improperly deployed parachute, had hit the ground at 700 mph and plunged 18 feet into the ground. It was Jack and his men’s job to dig in, find as many of the 92 detonators as they could, and recover the warhead.

Most of the detonators were found and recovered, one at a time. But the team got a horrendous surprise when they found the safe/arm switch:

“And as we started digging down, trying to find the second bomb, one of my sergeants says, “hey, Lieutenant, I found the arm safe switch.” And I said, “great.” He says, “no, not great. It’s on arm.” But we all knew what we were there for and the hazards that we were facing. So, we pulled it up out of the mud and brought it up over this wooden rickety ladder that we had, to the surface of the ground, in a safe condition.”

Yeah, the switch had been the only thing that prevented the first bomb from detonating. It had failed on the second bomb. As they recovered the rest of it, they found no safeguards that had properly survived. The bomb should’ve exploded. Engineers wrote in a classified report in 1969 that a single electrical jolt could’ve triggered a weapon. The lead on the study, Parker F. Jones, recommended that Mark 39 bombs no longer be used in an airborne role since they almost gave us Goldsboro Bay.

But Jack and his team were able, through painstaking work, to recover most of the bomb, including the nuclear core. If even one of them had gone off, it could have killed approximately 28,000 people. 60,000 live there today and would, obviously, not be able to live there if the bombs had irradiated the whole area in 1961.

Jack ReVelle’s interview is available on StoryCorps and NPR.

(This article was updated on Feb. 4, 2019. The article originally stated that seven of the eight steps needed to detonate a Mark 39 bomb had been taken and cited a Stanford paper from 2018. But the Stanford paper cites a Guardian article for that claim, and the Guardian article only supports that three of the four major safeguards had failed. This post was changed to reflect this more solid information.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

What it’s like to survive an atomic bomb

On September 2, 1945, World War II was officially over. Many celebrated August 15th as the end of the war when Japanese Emperor Hirohito announced Imperial Japan’s surrender, but it took two more weeks before the surrender was formally signed. This is long enough for younger generations to have no memory of the catastrophic war, but there are still people alive today who experienced it firsthand.

On August 6, 1945, the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Just three days later, a second detonated over Nagasaki. In total, more than 200,000 people were killed by the explosions, with thousands more experiencing long-term effects. Those who survived will never forget the experience. So what is it really like to be hit by a nuclear weapon and live? Let’s find out.


It starts out with a flash.

When an atomic bomb detonates, it goes through predictable stages. Nuclear bombs work by setting off a rapid chain reaction. Uranium undergoes the process of fission, which releases an almost incomprehensible amount of energy. About 35% of this energy is released as thermal radiation. Because thermal radiation travels at roughly the speed of light, a bright flash is the first thing one experiences after a nuclear bomb is dropped. We’re talking blinding. The initial flash is so bright, it can cause temporary blindness. Even closing your eyes isn’t complete protection. Larger nuclear weapons, which do exist in present-day, could cause flash blindness in people over 50 miles away.

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space
Effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. View from the top of the Red Cross Hospital looking northwest. Frame buildings recently erected. 1945. (Wikimedia Commons)

The blinding light is accompanied by intense heat.

It’s not called thermal radiation for nothing. After the blinding flash, there’s a blast of intense heat. At the direct site of the explosion, the temperature can hit over 300K degrees C, visible as a massive fireball. At this temperature, which is about 300 times hotter than the temperature used for cremation, humans are instantaneously turned from people into basic elements. Just about everything within a 1-mile radius of the city of Hiroshima was completely flattened. The farther you are from the blast, the more likely you are to survive, but you’re unlikely to escape completely unscathed. First-degree burns can occur up to 6.8 miles away. Get just 2 miles closer and you’re at risk for life-threatening third-degree burns.

Wearing white might reduce effects.

Donning a wedding dress won’t save you if you’re in the middle of the blast, but it might help if you’re a few miles away. White clothing reflects some of the thermal energy while dark clothes absorb it, so you may be a little better off if you’re wearing light-colored clothing than if charcoal is your favorite color.

If you’re further away, pressure waves can still get you.

When a nuclear bomb explodes, it releases light and heat energy, but it also pushes air away from the initial explosion site with a tremendous amount of force. This creates a change in air pressure so intense that the wind can collapse buildings and crush most objects in its path. Within a half-mile of the blast, wind speeds can get as high as 470 mph. While you could potentially survive the force itself, the buildings around you most likely would not.

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Atomic bombing of Hiroshima (left) and Nagasaki (right). (Wikimedia Commons)

The world around you will resemble a scene from a horror film.

Shockingly, survival close to ground zero is possible. When Hiroshima and Nagasaki were dropped, some people were sheltered by the sturdy walls of banks or basements. The reports of those who did survive paint a very dark picture. Your hair is likely to be literally fried, and your clothes charred to rags. The people who were outside at the time of the blast are either severely burned or dead- with some of the deceased catching fire in the streets. Farther from the explosion, more people will lie injured or dead from glass and other projectiles. Human shadows are marked permanently on the ground and any walls left standing.

If you survive, you may feel the side-effects for the rest of your life.

Radiation poisoning caused a significant number of deaths in the weeks following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The effects of radiation are varied, ranging from milder symptoms like gastrointestinal distress, fever, headaches, and hair loss to death. Because radiation can cause a drop in the number of blood cells produced, wounds heal more slowly than normal. Even after you recover, your risk of cancer and other illnesses usually associated with age will be heightened.

A terrifying image, but an important lesson.

While the end of a war is always a reason to rejoice, the hundreds of thousands of lives lost at the hands of fellow mankind was an atrocity. The survivors have memories darker than most of us can imagine. Disturbingly, we now have the power to create an explosion larger than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. The largest bomb ever tested was the 50 megaton Tsar bomb, which released the equivalent energy of over 3,300 Hiroshima bombs.

Fortunately, our international agreements should prevent such catastrophic warfare from ever taking place. To learn more about what it was really like to experience a nuclear explosion, Time interviewed survivors who can tell you the real story.

 

Articles

This is what made ancient Roman gladiators so fierce

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  The sport of gladiator fighting in the arenas of ancient Rome was just as popular as boxing and MMA are today. Gladiator combat was slightly more gangsta, though, seeing as how those warriors fought to the death during brutal tournaments.

Some historians believe the gladiator games started as ceremonial offerings for the funerals of wealthy aristocrats. At the height of the sport, the fighters were mostly made up of prisoners of war, slaves, and sentenced criminals, but they could even be pitted against animals like tigers or crocodiles.

The Coliseum in Rome was even home to aquatic battles, when the arena was flooded and fighters attacked from boats.

They lived in privately-owned schools that doubled as their training and prison grounds. Reportedly, after Spartacus led an uprising in 73 B.C., the empire began to regulate the gladiator schools to prevent further rebellions.

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Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic.

During the games, each gladiator fought with various weapons and levels of armor.

A “Secutor” was a heavily armored fighter who competed using a short sword. A “Retiarius” battled his foes wearing light armor, a trident, and occasionally a weighted net. The “Vremea” wore a helmet with a stylized fish on the crest.

The gladiators ate a high energy diet consisting of barley, beans, oatmeal, dry fruit, and ash, which was believed to fortify the body. Very few of them fought in more than 10 battles or made it past the age of 30 before getting killed.

The Roman empire housed more than 400-arenas and displayed over 8,000 gladiator deaths per year. Learn more about their fighting in the video at the top.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This general is the reason why working girls are called Hookers

In American history, good men have answered the call of duty to march in defense of freedom. They sacrifice privacy, comfort, and intimacy for months and sometimes even years. Troops find ways to relieve stress by working out and by communicating with loved ones. However, during the Civil War, it wasn’t as easy as calling your love via long distance and paying the charges.

Union and Confederate armies were followed from camp to camp by ladies of the night. Yet, one General was so enthusiastic about keeping the morale of his men high that he became a legend. He supported this kind of capitalistic free market to the point that it cemented the nickname for these entrepreneurs with his namesake. You’ve partied, yes, but you’ll never party like General Hooker.


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Battle of Chancellorsville

Public Domain

General Joseph “fighting Joe” Hooker

Joseph Hooker was a Union Army officer that served as major general during the Civil War. On June 17, 1863, he moved the entire Army of the Potomac north through Loudoun. His army was to prepare to battle Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Where his massive army went, so did a large number of Soiled Doves that became known “Hooker’s Brigade.”

The Battle of Chancellorsville lasted from April 30 to May 6, 1863. General Hooker was not a decisive leader and took his time issuing orders, because of this, General Lee was able to make a risky decision and divide his smaller army in two. General Lee was able to outmaneuver and defeat a larger force due to this dichotomy of personalities. This loss followed General Hooker like a recurring VD.

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(Public Domain)

The legend of General Hooker’s “hookers” became a slang term for a prostitute, and is derived from his last name but also due to the lack of military discipline at his headquarters near Washington, D.C. He would throw parties like the world was going to end and kept the parties going with him wherever he went.

Early in 1863, a new commander of the Army of the Potomac encouraged prostitutes to visit the troops as a morale measure, and reportedly used their services liberally himself. His name has been associated with the profession, he was General Joseph Hooker. – AN ANALYSIS OF THE MEDICAL PROBLEMS OF THE CIVIL WAR, ALFRED JAY BOLLET
Futurama: Blackjack and hookers

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Etymology

Hooker (n.) “one who or that which hooks” in any sense, agent noun from hook (v.). Meaning “prostitute” (by 1845) often is traced to the disreputable morals of the Army of the Potomac (American Civil War) under the tenure of Gen. “Fighting Joe” Hooker (early 1863), and the word might have been popularized by this association at that time. – etymonline.com

Now, there will be some people who will say that the word ‘hooker’ was in the Oxford English Dictionary since 1567, which they are correct; It meant to pickpocket, swipe, or steal. However, the invention of the word is not what is in question here, it is the fact that this General partied so hard that he changed what the word meant.

Futurama: Blackjack and hookers

youtu.be

Legacy

In the end, General Hooker’s embarrassing loss to General Lee is overshadowed by the legacy of his parties and dedication to troop welfare, although, symbolically because they did get a lot of STDs. Actual troop welfare was terrible.

“People will think I am a highwayman or a bandit.” – “Hooker’s Comments on Chancellorsville,” Battles and Leaders, General Hooker
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