The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

During the Cold War, an Army Special Forces unit was tasked with sabotaging Soviet infrastructure and crippling an invasion force to buy NATO time should war break out. The mission was so secret that the entire thing was almost forgotten — until a few veterans of the unit stepped forward.

We spoke to two of these veterans to find out what it was like serving as clandestine soldiers in an occupied city on what was likely a suicide mission if the seemingly-imminent war ever started


The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

U.S. and Soviet forces standoff across Checkpoint Charlie in 1961, one of the many Cold War flare-ups that occurred in occupied Berlin after World War II.

(U.S. Army)

Master Sgt. Robert Charest is a veteran of Detachment A who has started the push for recording the unit’s history. Chief Warrant Officer 4 James Stejskal is the man who literally wrote the book on Detachment A.

The specific mission of Detachment A changed over the years, but the overarching goal was always preparing to counter and stall a Soviet invasion.

“If the Soviets decided to come across Checkpoint Charlie, we would just try to slow them down so that the rest of the folks, they’d get out of Berlin and all that stuff,” said Charest while describing the mission.

This meant that Charest, Stejskal, and others assigned to the unit — which had about 90 people in it for most of its existence — had to know what infrastructure to hit and how best to reach it. They also had to maintain all of the materials and weapons needed to complete their mission.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Berlin was criss-crossed by a network of trains, like this train for travelers on the U-Bahn. Another railway ran around the outside of the city carrying heavy freight, and Detachment A members were prepared to blow up train engines on the railway in case of war.

Some of the targets were obvious, like the railroad that ran around divided Berlin.

“Around Berlin, there was a railway network, basically called the Berliner Ring,” said Stejskal. “It was that railway network that would carry the majority of the Russian forces from east to west. So, you got the guys that are on the ground already and then you got all these troops that are going to be coming from Poland and the Czech Republic and then you’re heading for the Fulda Gap.”

Shutting down the railroad would slow the Soviet advance, but the teams that made up Detachment A needed a way to do it without getting caught. The more stuff they could break before getting captured and killed, the better chance NATO forces would have in building a defensive line and eventually launching a counter attack.

So, they rigged up pieces of coal, filled with explosives. Were these ever loaded into a train, the engineer would eventually blow up his own engine, blocking the rail line with a shattered train until authorities could clean up the mess, drastically slowing reinforcements.

Other targets included factories and other centers of manufacturing, transportation, and command and control.

To supply these missions, Detachment A relied on a series of spy-like gadgets and hidden caches of conventional weapons buried deep all over West Berlin. But the targets were in East Berlin, and Detachment A had to plan on how to strike across the city and, later in the war, across the Berlin Wall, to hit targets.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Special Forces sergeant Robert Charest while assigned to operation in Berlin, clearly rocking a different grooming standard than most soldiers in the Cold War.

(Photo courtesy of Bob Charest)

This required missions deep into Soviet-held Berlin. While Detachment A members usually enjoyed relaxed grooming standards and wore civilian clothes, spying across the wall was done in uniform surprisingly often.

“You put on a uniform, shaved your hair, got in the military vehicles, went through Checkpoint Charlie, and you had access to East Berlin,” Charest said, “Alexanderplatz and stuff like this. You drove around and that was your cover story. The Russians would do the same thing in West Berlin. They had their little system. That was how we conducted surveillance of our targets.”

The men had a huge advantage when spying on the East, though. Thanks to the 1950 Lodge Act, foreign nationals could obtain U.S. citizenship after a five-year stint in the military. This allowed Detachment A to recruit people from the neighborhoods and areas where their targets were without rousing suspicions. These recruits and leaders proved invaluable.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Soviet workers build the Berlin Wall, breaking up the city and reducing Detachment A’s ability to surveil its targets.

(U.S. National Archives)

“Our commander was great,” said Stejskal. “Our commander was Czech Officer who had served in the Resistance during World War II. Our Sergeant Major was a German who had served in the German Army, sort of, at the end of World War II. Just, nothing like you could imagine.”

“… several of the guys that reconned these targets were the actual Lodge Act people that lived in Berlin and had come from Berlin,” said Charest. “They knew where these targets were and the intel, G2 and above, knew what targets would be best to slow the Soviets down if they decided to come across.”

Detachment A practiced crossing the wall, swimming through deep canals with SCUBA gear, or making their way through sewer and water pipes under the city. One recon of the sewer pipes even got a senior officer in trouble.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Allied troops in West Berlin were deep behind Soviet lines. When the Soviets attempted to cut off re-supply to those troops, America launched the massive “Berlin Airlift” to keep them alive. The airlift was a success, but it drove home for many just how vulnerable West Berlin was.

(U.S. Air Force)

“He, along with somebody else, went into the sewer system to check the situation out for crossing points, okay,” Charest said. “Well, little did he know that the CIA had these things monitored with all kinds of stuff. They triggered the alarms.”

While the plans were well laid, they still relied on brave men willing to take on huge risks to make the mission a success. After all, West Berlin was still deep inside East Germany.

“It’s a strange feeling,” said Stejskal. “We were 110 miles behind the East German border, about 12,000 allied troops inside West Berlin surrounded by close to a million Russian and Warsaw Pact soldiers. Oddly enough, I think most of us were very energized to be where we were.”

And the men had a good idea of how dangerous that situation was.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Soviet forces prepare to leave Hungary. If the Cold War had gone hot, Detachment A members, like the rest of the allied troops in Berlin, would have been outnumbered and outgunned over 100 miles from friendly forces.

(RIA Novosti Archive, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

“Well, it was basically a suicide mission,” Charest said. “If we got in and hit anything and then we had to face escape and evasion, all right? You were on your own. There was nothing set up, formally, for escape and evasion, yet. You were on your own. That’s why you spoke the language, that’s why you were familiar with the countryside. You knew, essentially, you had to get to the coast or wherever NATO withdrew to and stuff like this. But, you had nothing formal, you were on your own.”

“I think we would’ve been hard-pressed to survive more than 72 hours, but you never can tell,” Stejskal said. “How did the OSS agents feel when they parachuted France or into Yugoslavia during World War II? Same kind of feeling. You’re anticipating that you’re going in to a very bad situation, but you got the best tools, the best cover, and everything else.”

Luckily, Detachment A never had to slow a Soviet invasion, despite flare-ups, like the tank standoff at Checkpoint Charlie. Instead, they spent their time training and conducting surveillance, preparing to save American forces in a war that never came and quietly saving American lives while building the framework and doctrine for units that followed them, like SEAL Team 6 and Delta Force.

Articles

3 stories you won’t see in the Dunkirk movie

The story of Dunkirk is often relayed as an evacuation that saved the British army from complete disaster. Christopher Nolan’s new movie portrays just that — the herculean effort and incredible fear of those on the beach, at sea, and in the air.


The original hope for the evacuation at Dunkirk was to get some 40,000 men off the beach and back to England to regroup for a possible German invasion. In the end, the British were able to evacuate over 300,000 soldiers from multiple countries.

That would not have been possible if brave men hadn’t held their positions to defend the perimeter, holding off the German onslaught to allow their brothers to escape.

These are the men that stayed behind and made the evacuation possible:

1. Capt. Marcus Ervine-Andrews

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Ervine-Andrews was leading a company of the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, defending 1,000 yards of line along the Canal de Bergues in front of Dunkirk. Positioned directly in front of the German onslaught of his comrades on the beaches, Ervine-Andrews endeavored to hold them off.

As the Germans crossed the canal, the defenses began to break so he moved to the front line and ordered troops into the gaps. He then climbed atop a straw-roofed barn and, under withering fire, began engaging the enemy. Ervine-Andrews “personally accounted for seventeen of the enemy with his rifle, and for many more with a Bren gun.”

Unfortunately, even Ervine-Andrews’ daring was not enough to hold back the Germans. With his company decimated, he ordered the wounded to the rear in the last available vehicle while he and his remaining eight men covered the retreat.

Related: This forgotten soldier survived 4-months in Dunkirk by himself

He then led his men safely back to friendly lines, often times swimming or wading through neck-deep water to get there, before once again taking up position on the lines with the rearguard.

Ervine-Andrews and the rest of the rearguard were evacuated the night of June 2, the last British troops to leave. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery.

2. 2nd Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
Probably location of the massacre. (Photo by wiki user Mattyness)

As the evacuations began, the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, along with the rest of the British 2nd Infantry Division, were ordered to hold the line along the La Bassée Canal. Their prospects for retreat, rescue, or evacuation were grim.

On May 27, the Royal Norfolks holding the line at the village of Le Paradis were attacked by the German 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf (Death’s head). As the Germans closed in, the Brits gave them hell, even killing the commanding officer of the attacking regiment. However, at 1130 that morning, the Royal Norfolks received their last orders: “Do the best you can.”

Gallantly they fought on. After the farmhouse they were using as a headquarters and shelter was destroyed, they took up positions in a cowshed. At 1715 that evening, the remaining 99 men had run out of ammunition. They had no choice but to surrender.

Also read: This is the Dunkirk hero who deserted then changed his name to rejoin the army

Unfortunately, the British surrendered to the sadistic SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) Fritz Knöchlein and his company. The British were stripped of their weapons and marched to another barn where they were machine-gunned to death.

Two men managed to survive by playing dead and later testified against Knöchlein, who was hanged for his crimes.

The sacrifice of the Royal Norfolks held up the German advance for an entire day, allowing the evacuations to begin.

3. French 12th Motorized Infantry Division

While the initial prospects for the British soldiers were grim, the “miracle at Dunkirk” had allowed nearly all remaining personnel of the British Expeditionary Force to escape back to England. The same would not be true of their French counterparts.

While some French units were able to cross the channel, many took up the positions of the retreating British rearguard. After engaging in a fighting retreat to the Dunkirk perimeter, the men of the 12th Division, now numbering less than 8,000, made their way to the Fort des Dunes on the eastern end of the line on June 1.

For four days, the French endured bombings from the Luftwaffe and attacks against their defenses. Their commanding officer, Gen. Gaston Janssen, was killed on June 2.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

They made their way to the evacuation beaches on June 4, the final day of the withdrawal; however, they were too late and had missed their opportunity.

The men of the 12th Motorized Infantry Division were taken prisoner on the beaches they had defended so that 338,000 of their comrades might live to fight another day.

There is an apt epitaph on the Kohima War Memorial in India where the 2nd Infantry Division made another valiant stand, which seems to apply to the forgotten defenders of Dunkirk as well:

When you go home, tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow, we gave our today.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The 13 funniest military memes for the week of June 14th

The higher-ups at the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson instituted a new ban on the sale of alcohol past 2200. It’s going to be put in place on Monday, June 17, so this will be the last weekend troops there can buy liquor through AAFES until 0800.

On one hand, I totally understand the frustration. Which soldier hasn’t run out of beer at midnight and needed to stumble to the Class Six to pick up another six-pack? That’s part of the whole “Lower Enlisted” experience. On the other hand, I get why. It’s a reactionary step that the chain of command took in response to the rise in alcohol-related incidents while not outright banning alcohol in the first place.

There’s an easy workaround, and it’s probably one the chain of command might already know and actually prefer. Just stockpile all the booze in the barracks room. Think about it. If all the booze is in one place, there’s no safer place for a young soldier to get sh*tfaced drunk. A few steps away from their bed, there’s an NCO within shouting distance at the CQ desk, usually the unit medic is nearby, and any alcohol-related issues can be handled within house.


So if you’re stationed at Carson, here are some memes while you stockpile booze like it’s the apocalypse.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Infantry Follow Me)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Team Non-Rec)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Not CID)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Victor Alpha Clothing)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Coast Guard Memes)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Air Force amn/nco/snco)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via ASMDSS)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Air Force Nation Humor)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Weapons of Meme Destruction)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Uniform Humor)

Featured

Taking pictures of animals in your house is the greatest quarantine activity ever

If you have a smart phone and Google, you can take photos of various animals in your house and it’s basically the greatest thing that’s ever happened in quarantine (and if we’re being honest, maybe outside of that, too).

Using Google’s AR (augmented reality) technology, kids and adults alike can spend an unbelievable amount of time seeing animals up close and personal, and, the best part? To scale. There’s nothing like seeing a Great White take up your backyard to understand how large these creatures are. With a few clicks on your phone, your Tiger King selfie is mere moments away.


To get started, open Google on your smart phone’s browser. Type in any one of the animals currently featured (they continue to add, so if your favorite isn’t listed, keep checking back!). Currently, they have:

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Once you’ve googled the animal, scroll down a tiny bit until you see “Meet a life-sized (animal) up close.” Click on the “View in 3D.”

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Once you click the view in 3D, you’ll have the option for AR or Object. The object will just be the animal. AR is where it’s at. Move your phone around until you see the animal’s shadow and then touch it until it appears. Then, enjoy having your children pose with an interactive, 3D, life-size animal in your house. Quarantine just got a million times better. Thanks, Google.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
MIGHTY TRENDING

The trial of ‘El Chapo’ is even more crazy than we thought

Among many revelations during the trial of Mexican cartel kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman are some that shed light on his daring escapes.

Late January 2019, Damaso Lopez Nuñez took the stand. Like Guzman, Lopez is from Sinaloa state. The son of a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ran Mexico for most of the 20th century, Lopez was first a security official in Sinaloa before he became deputy security director at Puente Grande prison in southwest Mexico.


On Jan. 23, 2019, Lopez told the court he met Guzman at Puente Grande in 1999. He said he resigned in late 2000, deciding to leave when the government launched a corruption probe at the prison. Guzman contacted him soon after, Lopez said, seeking help to maintain the privileges he had gotten through bribery and other inducements.

It long been suspected that Lopez aided the escape, and it is widely believed that Guzman was snuck out in a laundry cart, though others dispute that account. On the stand, Lopez denied involvement in the January 2001 escape but said a laundry cart was involved.

Senior “Chapo” Guzman lieutenant Damaso Lopez arrested in Mexico

www.youtube.com

Guzman “told me the only person responsible for that escape had been Chito, who was employed in the laundry,” Lopez testified, according to Vice reporter Keegan Hamilton.

Chito, a laundry room worker at the prison, “had taken [Guzman] inside a laundry cart that was picking up dirty laundry and transported him to the parking lot … he put him in the trunk of his car,” Lopez said.

Lopez said that Guzman revealed more about the escape months later, in the mountains of Nayarit, a state near Sinaloa in northwest Mexico.

“He told me that really the plan for his escape was spontaneous,” Lopez testified, according to Hamilton. “This was because some of his friends in the federal government had notified him that an extradition order had been issued.”

After that, Guzman offered Lopez a job, and over the next decade and a half Lopez became deeply involved in the cartel’s operations — including efforts to spring Guzman from prison in 2015.

Lopez said he met with Guzman’s wife, Emma Coronel Aispuro, and his sons in mid-2014, just a few months after Guzman was recaptured.

During that meeting, he said, they discussed buying land near the high-security Altiplano federal penitentiary, west of the capital in Mexico state, where Guzman was held and that Coronel told Lopez that Guzman had asked for him to buy weapons and an armored vehicle to use in the breakout.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Emma Coronel Aispuro

(Telemundo)

It took months to dig a mile-long tunnel under the prison, and Guzman could reportedly hear the excavation in his cell — so loud that other inmates complained. (Footage from Guzman’s cell the night of the escape also picked up sounds of his henchmen smashing through the floor of his shower.)

During that time, Coronel was a major player in the plot, Lopez said, carrying messages to and from Guzman.

Coronel has never been charged with a crime, but her role as intermediary for Guzman and his associates during the 2015 escape may explain the tight restrictions the US has put on her contact with her husband while he’s been in US custody. In November 2018, as the trial was starting, the judge in the case denied a request to allow Guzman to hug her.

The audacious escape through a mile-long, ventilated tunnel on a motorcycle rigged on rails garnered international attention. Lopez added more detail to the account, saying that one of Coronel’s brothers was driving the motorcycle, which had been towed through the tunnel.

Upon exiting the tunnel, Guzman was spirited to a warehouse and then boarded a plane that flew him to neighboring Queretaro state and then to his hometown of La Tuna, in western Sinaloa state.

Lopez said that, like the 2001 escape, his involvement was limited. “I never knew, not even about one shovel of earth that was removed there,” he said. “His sons were doing that.”

In early 2016, Mexican newspaper Reforma reported that Mexican officials allowed a private company to connect a geolocation-monitoring bracelet to Guzman while he was at Altiplano, but Reforma was unable to find definitive answers about who authorized the device, rising concern it was part of the kingpin’s escape plan.

“Some high officials in the federal government consider that, because of the grade of precision in the digging and the excavation,” Reforma reported at the time, “the tunnel through which ‘El Chapo’ escaped could not have been constructed without the help of geolocation device.”

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

President Enrique Peña Nieto, accompanied by Cabinet members, holds a press conference in the Palacio Nacional announcing the capture of Joaquín Guzmán.

Lopez said the excavation was in fact aided by a GPS watch smuggled into the prison for Guzman to wear. (A Mexican official who talked to Guzman after he was recaptured in 2016 said Guzman told investigators that his henchmen dug two tunnels under the prison, the second coming after they arrived at the wrong cell.)

Guzman remained on the run for 13 years after his 2001 jailbreak, but his freedom after the second escape was short-lived. Mexican authorities caught up with him in northwest Sinaloa state in January 2016.

After his capture he was returned to Altiplano, which holds many high-profile criminals. While there, Guzman sent a message through his wife that he wanted to mount an escape again, Lopez said. To carry that out, Lopez said the Sinaloa cartel paid a million bribe to the head of Mexico’s prison system.

But that escape never came to fruition. Guzman was transferred to a prison near Ciudad Juarez in May 2016, where he was held until his extradition to the US in January 2017.

Lopez’s freedom after Guzman’s recapture was also brief.

After the kingpin’s arrest in January 2016, a factional struggle emerged within the cartel, pitting Lopez and his son, Damaso Lopez Serrano, against Guzman’s sons, who were allied with Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, a cartel figure on the same level as Guzman and who Guzman’s lawyers have tried to cast as the true leader of the cartel. (Guzman’s brother Aureliano was also believed to be vying for control of the organization at that time.)

The Lopezes were on the losing side, however. The elder Lopez, 52, was arrested in Mexico City in May 2017; two months later, his son crossed the border into California and surrendered to US authorities in Calexico.

Lopez Nuñez is now serving a life sentence in the US for drug trafficking; he has said he’s cooperating with US prosecutors in hope of getting a lighter sentence.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

7 ‘Carls’ that every unit has to deal with

D-mnit Carl!


Everyone hates “Carl.” He’s that guy who won’t shut up during operations, or pushes buttons just to figure out what they do, or sometimes is just too eager to do stupid crap.

Unfortunately for everyone else, every unit has some version of Carl. Here are seven types that everyone runs into sooner or later:

1. The Carl who messes up a perfect thing

Oh, that Carl. Everyone is doing the right thing and nailing it, except for him. For instance, a daring commando raid in March 1941 landed in German-occupied Norway and managed to take prisoners, recruit new fighters, and damage infrastructure with only a single injury. That injury came from a man accidentally shooting himself in the thigh with a revolver. If his name wasn’t Carl, it should’ve been.

2. The Carl who always wants to screw around

 

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Pop smoke)

Everyone else is mission focused, but Carl is over there talking about fishing. Or wearing a funny prop. Or maybe even doing an accent while wearing a fake mustache. It would be hilarious back in the barracks. But since the squad is four steps away from a closed door and the fatal funnel, everyone really wishes he would focus up.

3. The Carl who won’t stop talking

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
(Meme via Decelerate Your Life)

Maybe it’s nerves, or maybe he was raised by overattentive parents, but this guy seems to think every moment is made better with his singing, sound effects, or commentary. Sure, some of his one-liners are pretty great, but it would seriously be better if he shut the f-ck up. For once.

4. The Carl who can’t get anything right

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via God D-mmit Carl)

The whole unit can go through four briefings and dozens of rehearsals, but it’s pretty much guaranteed that when push comes to shove, Spc. Carl is going to hit the trigger while trying to engage the safety.

5. The Carl who randomly plays with dangerous equipment

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
(Meme via Damnit, Carl)

Of course, that’s why he shouldn’t be touching anything dangerous. Unfortunately, this is the military and keeping Pfc. Carl safe near an armory is like trying to keep “that” uncle sober during a distillery tour. You’re going to fail, someone is getting burned, and the locals aren’t going to want to see you again.

6. The Carl who is an expert in everything but his job

This Carl is at least moderately useful. They could be an expert in physical fitness or maybe they’re a “good” barracks lawyer (actually knows more than 25 percent of the regulations they try to quote!). But still, they know jack and/or crap about their actual job. Need someone to actually purify some water? Don’t ask Carl, he’ll reach for the hand sanitizer and eye drops.

7. The Carl who always has somewhere to be (usually the smoke pit)

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Meme via Shut Up, Carl)

Call for an extra mag or grenade during combat and you’ll understand why this Carl is the worst. You reach back for some extra firepower only to hear from one of the Joes that Carl is actually in the Humvee checking his Facebook messages or in the smoke pit puffing on a clove cigarette (yeah, he’s that guy). Hope you can still achieve fire superiority.

MIGHTY TRENDING

This bomber made the B-52 look puny

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress has the nickname “Big Ugly Fat F***er” — or just the BUFF — but is it the biggest bomber that ever served? Believe it or not, that answer is, “No.”


There was a much bigger bomber in the fleet — and while it never dropped a bomb in anger, it was the backbone of Strategic Air Command in its early years. That plane was the Convair B-36 Peacemaker.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
A prototype B-52 next to a B-36 Peacemaker. (U.S. Air Force photo)

 

The Peacemaker was immense, according to a fact sheet from the National Museum of the Air Force: Its wingspan was 230 feet (compared to 185 feet for a B-52), the B-36 was 162 feet long (compared to just over 159 feet for the B-52), and it could carry up to 86,000 pounds of bombs, according to aviation historian Joe Baugher. The B-52’s maximum bomb load is 70,000 pounds, per an Air Force fact sheet.

How did you get such an immense craft off the ground? Very carefully.

The B-36 had six Pratt and Whitney R-4360 engines in a pusher configuration and four General Electric J47 jet engines. These were able to lift a fully-loaded B-36 off the ground and propel it to a top speed of 435 miles per hour.

 

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
The immense scale of the B-36 is apparent by looking at the one on exhibit at the National Museum of the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Depending on the model, the B-36 had up to 16 20mm cannon in twin turrets. The B-36 entered service in 1948 – and it gave SAC 11 years of superb service, being replaced by the B-52. Five planes survive, all of which are on display.

Below, this clip from the 1955 movie “Strategic Air Command” shows how this plane took flight. Jimmy Stewart plays a major league baseball player called back into Air Force service (Stewart was famously a bomber pilot who saw action in World War II and the Vietnam War).

Also recognizable in this clip is the flight engineer, played by Harry Morgan, famous for playing Sherman Potter on “MASH” and as Detective Rich Gannon in the 1960s edition of “Dragnet.”

Military Life

4 most annoying regulations for women in the military

It might seem that women would have it easy when it comes to regulations in the military — I mean, how hard is it to stick your hair in a bun, slip on your boots, and head out the door?


It’s actually pretty restricting once you realize how many regulations are placed on women in the military.

Granted, regulations are nothing new, and everyone has to follow them, but let’s take a look at a few that women in all branches of service have to abide by on a daily basis.

4. Hair

Women’s hair must be professional and steer clear of unnatural colors and eccentric styles. Yes, this means no fad hairstyles, no blinged out barrettes and bobby pins, which makes sense, to an extent. This regulation might be the hardest for women to comply with because the description is so broad and is ultimately up to the interpretation of supervisors to potentially escalate a breach of regulation (“No sir, my hair is not red — it’s Auburn”).

Heck, sometimes it might just be easier to chop it all off like GI Jane (newsflash that’s against regs too, no buzz cuts for women!). Looks like a bun it is!

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

3. Nails

Nails might seem like a menial regulation to gripe about, but it becomes tedious when supervisors are out to get you for anything that they can. Regulations call for natural nail polish, and the length must be no longer than ¼ of an inch. Imagine being called into a supervisor’s office for your nails being too long or wearing too pink of a polish. It happens to women in the military more often than you would think.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
I like where your head’s at, but it’s still a no. (Photo via MarineLP)

2. Makeup

Women must not wear makeup that isn’t flattering to their skin tone or unnatural. Again, this regulation is so broad that it allows for misinterpretation or someone to deem others choice in makeup “unnatural.” Everyone has his or her own opinion of what natural and unnatural makeup looks like, and it’s hard to pin this one down.

Of course, there’s no blue eye shadow or purple eyeliner (duh), but there are many shades that are open to interpretation. Women usually adapt and figure out that no makeup, or close to no makeup, is the best way to stay out of trouble in this area.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
Go with this look to play it safe.

1. Nametag/ Ribbon Rack Alignment

Nametag and ribbon rack alignment might be one of the most annoying regulations of them all. Men have pockets on their formal shirts to align their nametag and ribbon rack perfectly. Women don’t get pockets on their formal button-down shirts, and it makes it almost impossible to align because of the nuisance of, well, boobs.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
Everyone should just wear flight suits.

Every woman has them and some more than others, which makes uniform wear, and abiding by small details frustrating. Women usually go to the lengths of sewing dots onto their shirts once they find the perfect alignment, because who knows if they’ll ever find that sweet spot again!

Props to all the women in the military who put up with these regulations and don’t let the details impede on their work performance, even though they might want to say shove it to their supervisors when they get called out for their eyelash extensions or the length of their fingernails.

MIGHTY CULTURE

DOD survey finds that most spouses are satisfied with military life

The latest survey of active-duty and reserve-component service members’ spouses shows the spouses are, by and large, happy with the military lifestyles they lead.

Defense Department officials briefed reporters at the Pentagon Feb. 21, 2019, on the results of the surveys, which were conducted in 2017.

The survey of active-duty spouses and a similar survey of National Guard and Reserve spouses showed similar results, they said. Among active-duty spouses, 60 percent claimed they are “satisfied” with their military way of life. Among the reserve components, 61 percent were satisfied.


While both surveys showed a slight decrease from the last previous survey, conducted in 2015, the 2015 and 2017 results both were higher than results from the same question on the 2008 survey, officials noted.

James N. Stewart, performing the duties of the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told reporters the surveys cover areas including satisfaction with military life, spouse employment, deployment and reintegration. Questions also touch on issues such as finances and the impact of deployments on families and military children.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

A soldier from the Florida Army National Guard’s 806th Military Police Company greets his family.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa)

Survey results inform decisions

Results are used to inform decisions about how the U.S. military provides services to families, he said.

“These surveys allow us to identify areas of concern and understand what’s working, and more importantly, what’s not,” Stewart said. “This information also helps our internal leaders evaluate programs, address issues and gaps, and determine the need for new services.”

Paul Rosenfeld, the director for DOD’s Center for Retention and Readiness, said positive results of the surveys included general spouse support for military members continuing to serve. Among reserve component spouses, for instance, 81 percent support continued service for their spouse.

Regarding financial matters, 71 percent of active-duty spouses report being comfortable with their financial situation, while 68 percent of reserve-component spouses say the same thing.

Of concern, Rosenfeld said, is that among active-duty spouses, 61 percent support continued military service for their spouse — that’s a drop from 68 percent in 2012. “Spouse support for service members staying on duty predicts actual member retention,” Rosenfeld said.

Other points of concern revealed by the surveys are high levels of “loneliness” reported by spouses when military members are deployed and unemployment rates for active-duty military spouses. Among active-duty spouses, Rosenfeld said, unemployment sits at 24 percent. Among the spouses of junior enlisted members in the E-1 through E-4 pay grades, he said, that number sits at 29 percent.

It’s all about the kids

When it comes to military spouses, Rosenfeld said, family is most important, and children top the list.

“Child care continues to be a key need for active-duty families,” he said, adding that 42 percent of active-duty spouses with children under age 6 report regularly using child care. It’s 63 percent for spouses who are employed.

Carolyn S. Stevens, director of DOD’s Office of Military Family Readiness Policy, said some 40 percent of military members have children. Of those children, she said, about 38 percent are under the age of 6.

Past survey results showed that availability of child care — in particular, hours of operation — had been an issue for military families, Stevens said. Where hours of operation for child care may have affected service members’ ability to do their mission, hours were expanded, she added.

Subsequent survey results show that now, among those who don’t make use of child care on installations, only 2 percent say it’s due to hours of operation, she said.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Sinead Politz kisses her daughter, Lorelai, at the return of Lance Cpl. Ryan L. Politz.

“We believe, then, that those responses are a confirmation that we’ve listened to a concern, that we’ve responded to that concern, and that in fact we’ve hit the mark,” she said.

Also of concern when it comes to child care is cost and availability. About 45 percent of respondents on the survey say cost of child care is a problem for military families, Stevens said. She noted that in some situations, appropriated funds can be used to lower the cost of child care for families who use installation child care. And for some families, she said, fee assistance programs can be used to lower costs for those who use community-based child care.

Still, Stevens acknowledged, that’s not possible for every family who needs it, and more work needs to be done. “We are unable to provide fee assistance to all of our families, and we continue to see this as an issue that requires more attention and focus as we try to find solutions for families,” she said.

Next survey: 2019

For the 2017 survey, about 45,000 active-duty spouses were asked to participate, and about 17 percent of those responded. Among reserve-component spouses, 55,000 were invited to participate, with a response rate of 18 percent.

Invitations to participate in the 2019 survey went out to reserve component spouses in January 2019. An invitation will be sent to active-duty spouses in May 2019.

A.T. Johnston, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for military community and family policy, said the results from the 2017 survey, and the now ongoing 2019 survey, will continue to be used to improve quality of life for military families.

“The research information we receive guides me and my team to ensure we provide the tools, information and services that military families need to be successful, fulfilled, and able to manage the challenges they may encounter during military service,” Johnston said.

Articles

You had to bet your life to graduate from the Vietnam-era Recondo school

When Maj. Gen. William Westmoreland took command of the 101st Airborne in 1958, he noticed a severe lack of proficiency in small-unit tactics and patrolling.


So he immediately created a school to fix the problem.

When he took command of all American forces in the Vietnam War, he once again created a school to teach long-range patrolling and small unit tactics with a Ranger-qualified cadre of instructors from the 5th Special Forces Group. To graduate from this school, you had to bet your life on it.

Dubbed “Recondo” school, Westmoreland claimed it was an amalgamation of Reconnaissance, Commando, and Doughboy. Recondo training emphasized both reconnaissance and standard infantry skills at the small unit level.

In 1960, Army Magazine described the Recondo tactics as “dedicated to the domination of certain areas of the battlefield by small aggressive roving patrols of opportunity which have not been assigned a definite reconnaissance or combat mission.” From these graduates, the 101st developed the Recondo Patrol.

This patrol type was meant to allow a Recondo to create as much havoc as possible in their area of operations. The patrol could be used against a disorganized enemy, as a screen for retrograde operations, to develop a situation or conduct a feint ahead of an advancing force, or to eliminate guerrilla activity.

It was the last ability that Recondos would put to great use in Vietnam.

The Recondo school was set up at Nha Trang and was inspired but the highly successful Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol training conducted by detachment B-52 from 5th Special Forces. This program, known as Project Delta, was originally intended to train Special Forces and their Vietnamese counterparts in guerrilla-like ambushes.

The course became so popular that within two years over half of the students were from regular Army units. Westmoreland expanded the school to teach Recondo tactics to as many LRRPs as possible.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
Two 1st Cav LRRP teams in July 1968. All team leaders were Recondo grads.

In order to qualify for the MACV Recondo school, participants had to be in-country at least one month and have at least six months remaining on their tour upon completion. Students also had to have a combat arms MOS and an actual or pending assignment to an LRRP unit. Finally, they had to be in excellent physical shape and be proficient in general military knowledge.

The school was open to soldiers and marines of the Free World Military Assistance Forces, including the South Vietnamese, Koreans, Australians, and Filipinos. Many U.S. Marines also attended the training.

The curriculum of the school included improving students’ skills in the areas of map reading, intelligence gathering, weapons training, and communications. Weapons training included a variety of American weapons as well as weapons used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese army. Particular attention was also given to mines and booby-traps. Communications covered the use of several different radios, field expedient antennas, and proper message writing techniques.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
Recondo School trainees in the harsh rigors of long-range patrolling.

The school also gave advanced training in medical treatment, including the use of Ringer’s lactate solution and intravenous and intramuscular injections. Schooling also focused on air operations – especially the use of the UH-1 Huey helicopter for insertions and extractions. Forward Air Controller techniques were taught with students calling in live ordnance on a target.

Most importantly, the school taught patrolling.

Students learned different patrolling techniques, preparation, and organization. Proper patrol security was taught along with intelligence-gathering techniques. The students trained heavily in immediate action drills to react to or initiate enemy contact.

After over 300 hours of training, averaging over 12 hours per day, it was time for the students to take the final exam: an actual combat patrol.

In the early days of the program, the area the prospective graduates patrolled was relatively secure and quiet. As the war progressed, however, contact with the enemy became a given. This led to students saying “you bet your life” to graduate from Recondo School.

At least two students died in Recondo training with many others wounded. An unknown number of Viet Cong were also killed in the skirmishes during the “you bet your life” patrol. This led to the school itself receiving a nickname of its own: “the deadliest school on earth”.

In just over four years of operation, over 5,600 students attended Recondo school. Just 3,515 men graduated, not quite two-thirds of all who tried. Each student who graduated was awarded a Recondo patch, worn on the right breast pocket, and an individual Recondo number that was recorded in their 201 personnel file. The Honor Graduate from each class was also given a specially engraved Recondo knife.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion
A Recondo graduate is presented with medals ca 1968.

Despite the school and its graduates’ success, Westmoreland’s successor, Gen. Creighton Abrams, officially closed the school on December 19, 1970. The Recondo name and training lived on, as some divisions continued to host their own Recondo schools until they were eventually closed too.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Here’s what the Coast Guard is cutting back on during the shutdown

While the Coast Guard is not slowing down in its most important national security operations as the U.S. enters its fifth week of a government shutdown, some activities have been halted or curtailed, and many newly minted Coasties find themselves stuck at recruit training, without funding to head to their first duty stations.

Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride, a Coast Guard spokesman, told Military.com that recruits whose new units are not well suited to support them during the shutdown or lack the means to return home in the interim “will remain attached to the Training Center [in Cape May, New Jersey] for the duration of the lapse.”


“There have been no immediate operational impacts related to recruit training; however, it is difficult to project the impact that the lapse in appropriations will have on mission readiness months or years from now,” he said Jan. 23, 2019.

There are currently 395 recruits in training. Seventy-six new Coasties graduated Jan. 18, 2019, he said.

Those who have the option to return home may receive a stipend from the government even as the shutdown continues.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Coast Guard cutter Bertholf on a counterdrug patrol in the eastern Pacific Ocean, March 11, 2018.

(Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Trees)

“While the partial government shutdown prevents our ability to provide advance payment of reimbursable transfer expenses, it does not prevent us from issuing plane tickets for recruits to travel directly to units with the capacity to support them during the shutdown,” McBride said.

Often, recruits have the opportunity to return home for leave before reporting to their first assigned unit.

“In these cases, we have been able to coordinate temporary hometown recruiting assignments that allow graduates to make their desired trip home for leave, assist the workforce recruiting effort and temporarily defer execution of their permanent transfer and associated costs,” McBride said. “For those who choose this option, there may be out-of-pocket costs, if the cost of a ticket home exceeds the cost allowance of government transportation to their new unit.”

The Coast Guard will continue to monitor the situation but said that it does not plan on letting recruits leave Cape May without an approved transfer plan with appropriately allocated resources.

Elsewhere in the Coast Guard, the shutdown is also taking a toll on operations.

Boardings for safety checks, the issuance or renewals of merchant documentation and licensing, fisheries enforcement patrols and routine maintenance of aids to navigation have been delayed or downsized, McBride said.

Other modified operations include administrative functions, training, and maintenance for surface and aviation fleets, he said in an email.

“The Coast Guard will continue operations required by law that provide for national security or that protect life and property,” he said, including monitoring coast lines, ports, harbors and inland waterways, as well as maritime intercept and environmental defense operations.

But for the men and women conducting these high-stress operations or deploying, the pressure is mounting as they go without paychecks, not knowing how they can provide for their families back home, said Steven Cantrell, who served as the 12th master chief petty officer for the service.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Family and friends reunite with crew members on Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf’s flight deck upon the cutter’s after a 90-day deployment, Sept. 4, 2018.

(Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi)

“They still have to go out and do their job and focus on the mission when sometimes it’s a very unforgiving environment,” he said in an interview with Military.com on Jan. 23, 2019. He retired from the position in 2018.

“I wouldn’t presume to think that anybody wouldn’t give it 100 percent,” Cantrell said, adding that the current situation does “weigh on people.”

Members of the Coast Guard, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, missed their first paychecks Jan. 15, 2019. If the shutdown continues, they will miss their second at the end of the month.

While shutdowns have occurred before, support services for members and families “will have to expand if it goes any longer,” Cantrell said.

Coasties have been relying on donations, loans and even food pantries to sustain their families as they take on necessary duties such as search-and-rescue operations.

“It’s one thing to sit back and go, ‘Wow, why would I want to do that?’ Because they don’t have the option to say, ‘Well, I’m just going to go home.’ They’ve been deemed essential,” Cantrell said, adding that morale is “probably low” in places around the country.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

(Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Frank Iannazzo-Simmons)

Cantrell said he is hopeful the next generation of service members’ desire to serve will outweigh the current problems.

“People know it’s not the Coast Guard that’s doing this. And I’m 100 percent sure [leaders] have prepped the battlespace for those recruits to know what’s going on in the service. And they do a really good job… at the Training Center … [to get them] excited about the Coast Guard,” he said.

While frustrations remain, Cantrell said he thinks it’s unlikely there will be a significant or long-term national security impact, given the service has seen fluctuating or dwindling budgets before and was still able to press on.

But “it’s a bitter pill to swallow even as a retiree, and I just can’t imagine the young folks out there worrying about things that they shouldn’t have to worry about,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These soldiers built 3 tanks in a night to face the entire Nazi ‘bulge’

On Dec. 18, 1944, Pfc. Harry Miller was cold, exhausted, and covered with grease. His hands were numb from the cold and he was bone tired after working all night. He and his fellow Soldiers from the 740th Tank Battalion had toiled around the clock to piece together three American tanks from an ordnance depot in Belgium.


With only the three refurbished tanks, Miller and the 740th was asked to stop the 1st SS Panzer Division, the German spearhead in the Battle of the Bulge.

Related video:

Even before the Germans launched their surprise Ardennes offensive that December, Miller was not thinking about Christmas. His only thought was on keeping warm, he said. Northern Europe had been gripped by record-breaking cold.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

When the German tank columns first approached, Miller and his fellow Soldiers were in Neufchateau, Belgium, but they had no tanks. At the beginning of the battle, the 740th was ordered to proceed to an ordnance depot in nearby Sprimont. Miller was hopeful, as he believed tanks would be issued at the depot. However, upon arrival, there were no functional tanks.

Depot personnel had left town in a hurry, leaving all of their equipment and tools behind. Miller and the 740th worked throughout the night and by morning, three tanks and a tank destroyer rolled out the gate. They were ordered to Stoumont to stop the German advance.

Also read: This is the massive Nazi sneak attack at the Battle of the Bulge

The 740th’s three tanks faced the lead element of Battle Group Peiper and the 1st SS Panzer Division. One M-1 Sherman tank fired and destroyed a German Panther. A second Sherman destroyed a second German tank. A third tank, a restored M-36, destroyed a third German tank. With the three German tanks out of action, and the narrow road blocked, the attacking German column retreated. Thus, a few restored tanks within their first one-half hour of combat had turned the tide of the German attack.

Miller was part of a specialized unit. A few days later he crewed one of six Sherman tanks that formed the Assault Gun Platoon. His tank had a 105mm gun.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

During much of the Battle of the Bulge his unit supported the 82nd Airborne Division.

Miller remembers the snowfall was especially heavy. Members of 82nd were cold and exhausted. Marching through four feet of snow was laborious. A few lucky Soldiers from the 82nd jumped on his tank to hitch a ride to avoid walking in the deep snow. Suddenly the tank took on enemy fire. When they heard audible dings from enemy bullets hitting the tank, the 82nd Soldiers scrambled off to take defensive positions.

The Battle of the Bulge lasted from Dec. 16, 1944 to Jan. 25, 1945. It was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. For the Americans, out of 610,000 troops involved in the battle, 89,000 were casualties. It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by U.S. troops in World War II.

The 740th Tank Battalion was formed at Fort Knox, Kentucky, on March 1, 1943. It had mostly men from Texas and Oklahoma. They trained at Knox and at the Desert Training Center in Bouse, Arizona.

Leaders: 8 amazing facts about General Douglas MacArthur

Miller is a veteran of 22 years in the Army and Air Force. The Columbus, Ohio-native had always wanted to serve in the Army and enlisted at the age of 15 in 1944. Besides being a veteran of World War ll, he served in the Korean War with Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters, in the communications center.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Miller later served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War with the Strategic Air Command. He was in charge of codes and cryptology used for command missions, including bombing runs in Vietnam. He retired from the Air Force in January 1966 as a senior master sergeant and a communications operations superintendent.

Upon retirement, Miller worked as a private investigator, director of security and safety at St. Vincent Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and as a safety inspector at the University of Texas in Arlington, Texas, where he again retired in January 1989. He took up jazz and swing drumming lessons at age 69 to play with Seattle, Washington bands.

Miller, 89, resides at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. He laments that out of 800 Soldiers from the 740th, only six were able to attend this year’s reunion on Labor Day.

Miller said he is proud of all of his military service and wishes he could do it all over again. He advises Soldiers who are serving today to stay in and retire.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The slave who stole a confederate ship and sailed his way to freedom

On May 12, 1862, a gentleman named Robert Smalls was aboard a Confederate transport ship pretending to be doing his normal duties. In reality, he was preparing to take a risk that could cost him his life.


Smalls was a pilot for the Confederate Navy’s military transport, CSS Planter, and picked up four captured Union guns, over 200 rounds of ammunition, and other supplies. The Planter was a lightly armed ship that skirted up and down the coast and down rivers and allowed the Confederate military to move troops, supplies, and ammunition while staying away from the Union blockade that was set up a few miles out to sea. It also laid mines to keep the Union fleet away from the harbor.

When the ship got back to its dock, the three officers on board left Smalls in charge and went to their homes to sleep. They had no reason to think that Smalls or the crew would do anything crazy.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Around 3 a.m. that night, Robert and the crew cast off. Instead of heading for their intended destination, they had to backtrack into the harbor. They made one stop where they onboarded several women and children and started off again. The Planter wasn’t exactly quiet. Literally anyone standing watch would hear and see her coasting along the harbor. Robert knew this from his years of experience piloting the boat.

He put on his captain’s spare uniform and a straw hat that was made to look like his captain’s. Along the way, the Planter passed by several Confederate lookout posts. As they approached each one, Robert would give the passcode and salute in the same mannerism as his captain. By 4:30 a.m., the ship was passing Fort Sumter. The old Union Fort was the site of the beginning of the war and full of Confederate soldiers guarding the harbor against the United States Navy.

As they passed the imposing walls of the Fort, Smalls being as cool as a cucumber, took off his hat and waved it. At the same time, he sounded the ships whistle with the correct number of blows.

A Confederate sentry yelled, “Blow the damned Yankees to hell, or bring one of them in.” Robert simply replied, “Aye Aye” and continued on.

As if the night wasn’t already stressful enough, Robert now headed straight to a Union blockade in a ship flying both the Confederate Stars and Bars as well as the South Carolina State Flag.

He ordered the flags lowered and a white flag raised. But there were two problems. It was still too dark to clearly see, and the morning fog came in pretty thick. It would be a tragedy to come all this way just to be blown out of the water. The Planter headed toward the USS Onward, which by now had taken sight of the ship and prepared its guns to sink it, at first assuming it was trying to attack the blockade.

As the Union shouted warnings at the Planter, they noticed the white flag and its occupants celebrating on the deck while gesturing furiously and cursing at Ft. Sumter.

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

As the Planter pulled alongside the Onward, the Union captain started looking for the presumed Confederate captain. A man in a Confederate captain uniform came forward, took off his hat, and proclaimed, “Good morning, sir! I’ve brought you some of the old United States guns, sir! That were for Fort Sumter, sir!” Shock registered across the Union sailors’ faces as they finally cast eyes on the Planters “captain.”

Robert Smalls was a slave.

His entire crew was also slaves, and their families were aboard too. A bunch of slaves had just escaped from bondage by stealing a Confederate Naval vessel, and sailing right passed the Rebel’s own eyes!

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

The Union realized that not only did they get a ship and its cargo, but a trove of valuable intelligence. On board was a book with all the Confederate passcodes as well as a map detailing the layout of mines in Charleston harbor, and Smalls own detailed knowledge of which forts were manned, gunned and their supplies.

As news spread Northward, the press took the story and ran with it. Smalls was an instant celebrity in the North. In the South, there was considerable embarrassment that a slave would be able to steal a naval vessel. Slaves had previously escaped by using hand made canoes and rafts as a means to get to the Union blockade. But to have slaves steal a ship of the Confederate Navy was too much. The three officers who left the ship were court-martialed. They claimed they wanted to spend time with their families, although many suspected they never fathomed that slaves would be smart enough to steal the ship.

They obviously didn’t know their pilot very well.

Robert Smalls was born in Beaufort, South Carolina to a slave mother and her owner. When he was 12, he was loaned out to work in the shipyards of Charleston. The practice was that slaves would work in urban areas in skilled positions, and the master would collect the wages for himself. Slaves in this position would be able to move around the city from their lodging to their place of work. Some even were able to save money on their own. Smalls worked his way up from a longshoreman to being a pilot of boats that traveled up and down the coast. From age 12 to 23, Smalls mastered the art of piloting ships and absorbed everything around him; the harbor, fortifications, passcodes, whistle codes, and when the war started, all the military intelligence he would learn.

When he was 17, Smalls married a slave that worked in a local hotel. By the time of his escape at 23, he had a family that he was worried about. He was conscripted into the Confederate Navy, but he knew with the war going the way it was at the time there was a chance the Rebels could win. He also was under constant duress that his wife and kids would be sold at a whim, never to be seen again. He knew at some point he had to do something, and on the morning of May 13, he sailed his way into history.

You would think at this point, with his family and his freedom that Smalls would be content to just relax and enjoy his celebrity status.

Robert Smalls had only just begun to fight.

Smalls traveled to D.C. as part of an effort to convince Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, and through him, President Abraham Lincoln, of the need to allow blacks to serve in the United States military. Smalls own daring escape was one of the examples used, and soon after, Lincoln allowed units to be formed consisting of escaped slaves and freedmen.

Smalls then became a civilian contractor in the Navy. The captured Planter was valuable because of its shallow draft and his combination of pilot skills and knowledge of mine placements made Smalls a valuable commodity. He later was transferred to the Army when ships like the Planter were deemed more suitable for Army operations. He ended up seeing action in 17 Civil War engagements.

In one engagement, the Planter came under heavy Confederate fire. The Captain of the ship ran from the pilothouse down to the coal room expecting the ship to be captured. Smalls, knowing that black crew members would be killed if captured, decided that surrender wasn’t exactly in his best interest. He took control of the ship and piloted the Planter through a heavy barrage and into safety. For this action, General Quincy Adams Gilmore gave him the rank of captain, making him the first African American to command a U.S. ship. (After the war, the military contested the rank saying it wasn’t a true military rank. Smalls fought them on this, and eventually earned the pension of a Navy captain).

In 1864, Smalls was then picked to be one of the freedmen delegates to the Republican National Convention. It was to be held in Philadelphia that year. While in Philadelphia, an incident happened that would motivate Robert Smalls for the rest of his life. While on a trolley car, he was ordered to give up his seat to a white man and move. He instead got off and protested his treatment as a war hero. The city was embarrassed, and local politicians began a concentrated effort to desegregate public transportation in Philadelphia. They succeeded in 1867.

After the war, Smalls returned to Beaufort. He purchased the home of his old master, which was seized during the war. He allowed his old masters family to live on the premises while he started out on his new life. One of the first things he did was learn to read and write. Intelligence had already been seen in Smalls, but he knew he could do more.

And he did.

He opened a store, started a railway, and began a newspaper. He also invested heavily in economic development projects in Charleston. Smalls spoke with a Gullah accent, and this made his extremely popular with local African Americans as he was one of them but had become very successful. Smalls took the opportunity to get involved in politics.

Smalls was a die-hard Republican once saying it was…”the party of Lincoln…which unshackled the necks of four million human beings” and “I ask that every colored man in the North who has a vote to cast would cast that vote for the regular Republican Party and thus bury the Democratic Party so deep that there will not be seen even a bubble coming from the spot where the burial took place.”

The top-secret plan to cripple Berlin during a Soviet invasion

Smalls knew that post-war, newly freed slaves would bear the wrath of Southern Democrats and got heavily involved in politics. He first served in the South Carolina State Legislature from 1868 to 1874.

In 1874, he took his talents to Washington D.C. as a newly elected member of the House of Representatives. He served until 1887. Along the way, his career was hampered by Southern Democrats’ furious efforts to gerrymander districts, stop African Americans from voting, remove Federal troops from the South, and personal assaults. His career effectively came to an end when he was accused by Democrats of taking a bribe (a charge he was later pardoned for).

After his national career was over, Smalls remained active as a community leader. He most famously stopped two African American men from being lynched. He died in 1915 at the age of 75.

On his tombstone was a quote from his political career.

“My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be the equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”

Do Not Sell My Personal Information