The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

Can you imagine having found one of the most famous shipwrecks in history and not being able to talk about it? Robert Ballard can. Ballard was the lead oceanographer for a fact-finding, top-secret Navy mission in 1985 and he helped discover the Titanic. 

But how did the Navy find it? And why did it take so long for anyone to talk about it?

Well, the answer to the second question is simple. No one talked about it because the mission was top-secret. Scant details managed to make their way to the surface in the mid-1990s, but the Navy neither confirmed nor denied. So there wasn’t anything concrete to go on, and most people chalked up the idea that the Navy discovered the Titanic as a conspiracy theory.

Then James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic hit the silver screen, and there was a renewed interest in what kind of role the Navy played in the shipwreck’s discovery. Despite the renewed interest, the Navy kept a tight lid on any PR about the shipwreck.  

Mum’s the word

The year was 1985, and America was deeply entrenched in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. A secret investigation was launched to explore two wrecked nuclear subs. The Navy wanted to get a closer look at the technology left aboard the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion. Rumor had it that the USS Scorpion had been shot down by the Soviets, and part of the mission was to find out if that was true or not. Equally concerning was the fact that both of the ships were powered by nuclear reactors, and the Navy wanted to make sure there was no impact on the marine environment. 

Ballard had a suspicion that the Titanic might be near the wrecked nuclear subs, so he asked the Navy for something unusual. He wanted to look for the ill-fated 1912 vessel while he and his crew were exploring the submarines. 

Initially, the Navy said no way but then changed their minds, only if Ballard completed the Navy mission first. If there was “still time left over,” then Ballard could look for the Titanic.

Good thing there was some extra time, otherwise, the shipwreck might never have been discovered. Naturally, Ballard was super excited about his find – until the Navy said that he couldn’t say anything. Big Brass got nervous about the publicity around the shipwreck. So they clammed up and didn’t say anything about their big find for twenty years. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The sweeping legacy of First Lady Barbara Bush

Former First Lady Barbara Bush, wife of 41st President George H. W. Bush, passed away in Houston, Texas, on April 17, 2018. The mother of 6 and grandmother of 17 was 92.

Only two women in American history have both served as First Lady and raised a son who would become president. The first was Abigail Adams, First Lady to President John Adams and the mother of John Quincy Adams. The second was Mrs. Bush, whose son George W. Bush would serve two terms as Commander in Chief beginning just 8 years after his father left office.


Yet Mrs. Bush’s legacy extends far beyond her role as the matriarch of one of America’s most consequential political families. She served as a close and trusted adviser to her husband during the first Bush Administration, and she tirelessly championed the cause of literacy throughout her life. The New York Times reports that Mrs. Bush attended more than 500 events related to literacy just counting her husband’s time as Vice President in the Reagan Administration alone.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
President Bush, Mrs. Bush, and Millie leave Marine One.
(George H.W. Bush Library photo)

“Amongst [Mrs. Bush’s] greatest achievements was recognizing the importance of literacy as a fundamental family value that requires nurturing and protection,” President Donald J. Trump said in a statement. “She will be long remembered for her strong devotion to country and family, both of which she served unfailingly well.”

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
Easter at the White House.
(George H.W. Bush Library photo)

The outpouring of deeply personal remembrances in the hours following Mrs. Bush’s death is a testament to both her force as a public figure and her warmth as a friend. “When I first met Barbara Bush in 1988 as she entertained spouses of congressional candidates at the @VP Residence, her sage advice and words of encouragement touched my life in a profound way,” Second Lady Karen Pence wrote on Twitter. “Since becoming Second Lady, she has become a trusted friend. I will miss her.”

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
Mrs. Bush takes Millie’s puppies out for a walk in the Rose Garden of the White House.
(George H.W. Bush Library photo)

Those sentiments weren’t limited to public officials. “You were a beautiful light in this world and I am forever thankful for your friendship,” Houston Texans defensive end J. J. Watt wrote.

Remembering Barbara Bush

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
Mrs. Bush reads to children in the White House Library.
(George H.W. Bush Library photo)

Mrs. Bush’s far-reaching work and plainspoken style made her a bipartisan symbol for women’s empowerment. She also embraced the value of accessibility in a First Lady. When she famously wore fake pearls to her husband’s Presidential Inauguration and throughout her time in the White House, her deputy press secretary quipped it was because “she just really likes them.”

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
(Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

Acutely aware of the public spotlight cast on First Ladies, Mrs. Bush served as America’s first hostess “with respect but without fuss or frippery,” Vanessa Friedman writes in The New York Times.


The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
(Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

The Bush family shared personal tributes of their own. “Barbara Bush was a fabulous First Lady and a woman unlike any other who brought levity, love, and literacy to millions,” former President George W. Bush wrote. “To us, she was so much more. Mom kept us on our toes and kept us laughing until the end. I’m a lucky man that Barbara Bush was my mother.”

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
President-elect andu00a0Mrs. Bush and Vice President-elect and Mrs. Quayle visit President and Mrs. Reagan at the White House the day after the election.
(George H.W. Bush Library photo)

First Lady Melania Trump will attend Mrs. Bush’s funeral in Texas on April 21, 2018. President Trump has ordered that all U.S. flags at Federal locations fly at half-staff until sunset of that day.

“Throughout her life, she put family and country above all else,” Mrs. Trump said in a statement. “She was a woman of strength and we will always remember her for her most important roles of wife, mother, and First Lady of the United States.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The game-changing Swedish warship that sank in its first battle

In 1563 and 1564, Sweden built a massive warship that was the pinnacle of naval technology at the time.

Its creation ushered in a sea change in naval combat — despite the fact that the ship sank early in its first battle.


King Eric XIV of Sweden ordered that the ship Mars be constructed to put Sweden at the forefront of naval artillery. It was a five-deck ship with two decks dedicated to artillery, mostly cannons. Even the crow’s nests had guns.

All this came at a time when naval engagements were decided by seamanship and armed boardings —where a group of sailors from one ship crossed to the deck of an enemy ship and fought with swords and pistols.

Naval artillery in the early and mid-1500s was focused on killing enemy personnel or causing structural damage to the enemy ship, but no one had ever sunk a ship that way. Ships were usually sank by fire, sabotage by boarding crews, or by ramming.

But Eric XIV had a vision of the future and ordered his admiral to take the Mars as part of a huge fleet aimed at Denmark and Lubeck (part of modern Germany) and sink ships using its naval artillery.

And the admiral delivered… probably. A Danish chaplain said that the Mars cast a somber shadow over the whole Danish and German fleet when it arrived. He also said it later sank the Longbark, one of the largest ships in the enemy fleet, with naval gunnery.

If accurate, it was likely the first time a ship was sunk by naval artillery.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

The 64-gun warship Vasa sits in museum. The ship was built in the tradition of the Mars, but wasn’t as well designed and floundered during its first voyage in 1628.

(Jorge Lascar, CC-BY 2.0)

But the Mars cast too large a shadow and, as a consequence, drew too many attackers. On the second day of the battle, enemy ships sent massive amounts of fireballs onto the Mars and disabled it before sending boarding parties onto it.

What happened next is unsure. A fire definitely occurred in the Mars‘ gunpowder stores, and that might have set the loaded cannons off. Regardless, the ship was destroyed in the following hours, left to sink in approximately 250 feet of water.

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Luckily for archaeologists, it was 250 feet of the Baltic Sea, which lacks the large populations of shipworms that destroy wrecks in the rest of the world. And the cold water is relatively still, reducing erosion. According to researchers who spoke to National Geographic, the wreck might be the best preserved vessel of its kind.

The concept behind the Mars was proven in the years following its loss as navy after navy, including those of Denmark and Lubeck, constructed large ships reminiscent of the cannon-toting behemoth.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How spies use radio stations to communicate secrets

While spies typically try to hide as much of their communication as possible, there is one method of intelligence communication that is literally broadcasted so that everyone for thousands of miles around can listen in to the messages, but no one else can understand the message.


The Secret Radio Stations Used to Communicate with Spies

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These were known as “numbers stations,” an apt name since they exist solely to broadcast number sequences to spies operating in the area. Governments dispatch their spies with books of codes, and then the numbers broadcasted are used with these books to assemble messages years after the spy was dispatched.

These are typically done with “one-time pad” encryption where the message cannot be cracked without the book of numbers. The list of numbers is compared to a single line of numbers in the book, and comparing the numbers will give the spy the message intended for them. But, importantly, each line in the book is used a single time.

So, someone listening in cannot piece together messages through careful listening or tracking, only through stealing the book, if they can find it. So, governments can broadcast their numbers in the clear, usually from a radio station bordering the country they are spying in, without worry.

America has suffered spies that listened to these stations, like Ana B. Montes, one of the highest ranked spies in U.S. history. But we’ve also used the method ourselves especially during the Cold War. Our allies in Britain had done so, running a station in Cyprus for years.

Some spies during the Cold War, including some from the U.S. and Britain, were captured with their code books intact. America had its own numbers coup in the 1980s when it turned a source in the Soviet Government that fed them the codes used to instruct communists in the U.S. at the time.

To listen in yourself, you need to live in range of a broadcasting station and to have a “shortwave” radio, a receiver that listens to high-frequency signals. Few places still track the broadcasts.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 craziest ways you could fight in the World Wars

The two World Wars were some of the first true industrial wars, forcing leaders to innovate so they would lose fewer troops and have a chance at victory. While some were slow to change, some leaders figured out truly novel ways of using everything from bicycles to railroads to artists. Here are just seven of the crazy jobs that were created:


The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

German bicycle troops in World War I.

Bicycle troops

Believe it or not, bicycles were a huge part of World War I. France and Britain has about 250,000 troops in bicycle units by the end of the war, and most major combatants had at least a couple thousand. This included bicycle couriers, reconnaissance cyclists, and bicycle infantry, all of which were exactly what they sounded like.

But there were also more surprising applications. Some bicycles were welded into tandem, side-by-side configurations that allowed cyclists to create silent, mobile machine gun platforms, ambulances, and even vehicles with which to tow small artillery.

American motorcycle Corps Train

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Motorcycle tank repairman

Want to work on two wheels but don’t want to pedal so much? Fair enough, maybe the motorcycle corps was for you. Motorcycles were used for everything that bicycles were, and occasionally even pressed into service as anti-tank weapons. But the craziest way to use motorcycles was definitely tank recovery.

See, before a random tank operator thought to convert some tanks into recovery vehicles, the Army used motorcyclists to deliver tools and spare parts to tanks under fire on the battlefield. While this was fast, it meant that a motorcycle rider had to tear through No Man’s Land under fire that had just crippled or bogged down a tank.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

A fake M4 Sherman, an inflatable decor, sits on the ground in World War II.

(U.S. Army)

Fake Army/city creator

On both sides of World War II, artists were put to work creating decoy forces or, in the case of Britain, decoy cities to draw away attackers and waste the enemy’s resources. The most famous of this is likely America’s “Ghost Army,” a collection of mostly inflatable military hardware complete with fake radio traffic that caused the Germans to overestimate the enemy they were facing and even got them to think D-Day was a feint.

But perhaps the most ambitious program was in England where engineers created entire fake cities and landing strips, complete with lights, ammo and fuel dumps, and planes. They were able to convince German bomber crews at night that they had reached their targets, resulting in thousands of tons of bombs dropping on fake targets.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

British Chindits, guerrilla fighters from Britain who fought in Burma, discuss operations in a captured town.​

(Imperial War Museum)

Guerrilla warfare fighter/trainer

For major combatants with lots of territory to fight over, it’s always easier if you can put a small number of troops or trainers into position and force a much larger enemy force to remain there to fight them. That’s what America achieved with guerrilla trainers like Detachment 101 and the British achieved with guerrilla units like the Chindits.

In both cases, sending in a couple dozen or a couple thousand men tied down entire Japanese divisions and inflicted heavy losses. The situation was similar in Europe. A Marine guerrilla warfare unit of just six men provided support to French resistance fighters and killed so many Nazis that the Germans assumed they were an entire battalion. And they achieved this despite losing two Marines on the jump into France.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

“Mad” Jack Churchill leads his troops off the boats during a training exercise while preparing for D-Day. He’s the one with the sword at far right.

(Imperial War Museum)

Bagpiper/swordsman/bowman

Granted, these jobs only came up under one commander: Jack “Mad Jack” Churchill, a British officer who led his men onto the beaches of Normandy while carrying a claybeg (basically a smaller claymore) and a longbow. And he did use the weapons in combat, at one point riding through France on a bicycle with his quiver hanging from the frame.

And, on D-Day, British soldier Bill Millin, a personal piper to Lord Movat, was ordered to play his bagpipes as his unit hit the sands of Normandy. The Millin wasn’t shot and asked a group of Nazi prisoners of war why no one hit him since he was such an obvious target. The German commander said “We thought you were a ‘Dummkopf,’ or off your head. Why waste bullets on a Dummkopf?

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

Poison gasses float across a battlefield in World War I.

(Public domain)

Chemical warfare operator

The first large-scale deployment of chemical weapons came at Ypres, Belgium, in 1915, but, luckily, was largely outdated by changes in international law before World War II, so there were just a couple of years in history where offensive chemical warfare operators were a real thing.

That first attack required hundreds of German soldiers to bury 6,000 steel cylinders over a period of weeks, but allowed them to break French lines across an almost 4-mile front. But it was hard to exploit gaps from chemical attacks since, you know, the affected areas were filled with poison.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

U.S. sailors fire a 14-inch railway gun in France during World War I.

(U.S. Navy)

Railway gun operator

If you’ve never seen one of the railway guns from World War I and II, then just take a look at the picture. These weapons were massive with 14-inch or larger caliber guns mounted on railway carriages. When the U.S. joined the war, they immediately sent five naval railway guns across the Atlantic.

Railway artillerymen were usually outside of the range of enemy fire, so it was relatively safe. But expect some serious hearing loss and even brain damage. Massive amounts of propellant were required to launch these huge shells.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a heroic Navy SEAL helped lead the largest search & rescue mission during the Vietnam War

Navy SEAL Lt. Thomas “Tommy” Norris and South Vietnamese naval commando Nguyễn Văn Kiệt pushed off from the shore in an abandoned sampan while dressed as Vietnamese fishermen. The pair were on an impossible mission to find Iceal “Gene” Hambleton, a US Air Force navigator who was shot down over Quang Tri Province and had been on the run from more than 30,000 North Vietnamese soldiers.

All previous rescue attempts had been failures — eight aircraft were shot down, 14 Americans killed, two of the rescue team captured, and two more missing in action. The largest search and rescue effort of the entire Vietnam War had dwindled down to the efforts of a handful of Navy commandos.


Two nights prior to their risky undercover paddle, Norris led a five-man patrol to rescue Lt. Mark Clark, a forward air controller who was shot down while searching for Hambleton.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

Lt. Thomas Norris stands in the background at center as Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton (on stretcher) is taken to a waiting M113 armored personnel carrier to be evacuated. Photo courtesy of the US Department of Defense.

Clark had received a cryptic message that instructed him to float down the Cam Lo River: “When the moon goes over the mountains, make like Esther Williams and get in the Snake and float to Boston.” He needed to go to the river and head east.

As Norris moved toward the riverbank, he heard Clark’s heavy breathing before he spotted the downed pilot floating in the river. However, a North Vietnamese Army patrol was crossing the same area, forcing Norris to maintain cover and helplessly watch Clark float by. For the next two hours Norris searched the water for any signs of the missing aviator. At dawn — and 2,000 meters behind enemy lines — Norris and his team rendezvoused with the American pilot and brought him safely back to a forward operating base. That protection lasted only hours as they were hit with mortars and rockets that decimated their South Vietnamese partners, cutting down the force by nearly half.

Hambelton had called airstrikes on NVA supply lines from his emergency radio while simultaneously evading capture. Hambelton’s health was fading fast after more than a week’s time on the run with little food and contaminated water in his stomach. After a forward air controller informed Norris that Hambelton was not hitting his calls on a time schedule and when he did he barely could talk, Norris asked for volunteers. The only other commando that would join him on the one-way rescue mission was Kiệt. They were determined to not let Hambleton fall into the enemy’s hands.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

Lt. Thomas R. Norris in Vietnam with Nguyen Van Kiet, the Vietnamese Sea Commando who accompanied him on the rescues of Clark and Hambleton. Kiet was awarded the Navy Cross for his role in this operation, the highest award the Navy can give to a foreign national. Photo courtesy of achievement.org.

Hambleton, a navigator by trade, was an avid golfer and could envision the layouts of golf courses in his mind. Knowing the NVA were monitoring their radios, the rescue planners ingeniously relayed cryptic messages as they had with Clark, but used navigation points of Hambleton’s favorite golf courses this time.

“You’re going to play 18 holes and you’re going to get in the Suwannee and make like Esther Williams and Charlie the Tuna,” Hambelton said in an interview. “The round starts on No. 1 at Tucson National.”

The No. 1 at Tucson National is 408 yards southeast, information only he would know, and he traveled that distance through enemy minefields to the river. Seeing the precise locations of the the water hazards or the fairways of his favorite golf courses in his mind acted as a mental compass through the jungles of Vietnam — and led him to a banana tree grove that provided some sustenance to his malnourished body.

Hambleton hugged the bank of the river for three long days and nights. Clinging to life, Hambleton saw two men paddling quietly up the river, both carrying AK-47s and dressed as fishermen. As the most-wanted man in the region, his first thought was to be afraid. And then his delirious focus noticed Norris’ eyes — an American. After 11 days on the run, Hambleton was helped into the bottom of the sampan and was covered in bamboo with instructions to lay motionless. Norris and Kiệt feared waiting until nightfall would worsen his condition, so they returned back the way they came.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

Officials dedicated a 10-foot statue depicting Lt. Thornton carrying Lt. Norris on his shoulders during the facility’s 28th annual Muster reunion at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Florida. The sculptor is Paul Moore of Norman, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy of achievement.org.

They passed numerous NVA positions, tilting their heads away from the enemy’s menacing glares. When a suspected enemy machine gun position opened up on their boat, Kiệt pulled the sampan to the shore to conceal it behind some vegetation. Norris called in close air support, hoping to pin down the enemy and allow to get the rest of the way back to the FOB. The plan worked.

Norris had successfully rescued both Clark and Hambleton and was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions between April 10 and April 13, 1972. Kiệt was one of two South Vietnamese soldiers to be awarded the Navy Cross during the war. The rescue even garnered Hollywood’s attention, and Gene Hackman took the role starring as Hambleton in the movie Bat*21.

Norris continued his military service in Vietnam and participated in a historic reconnaissance operation where he was shot in the head and eventually lost an eye while providing suppressive fire while his SEAL element retreated to the water for exfiltration. When Norris became too wounded to escape the ambush, another Navy SEAL named Mike Thornton, who later became a founding member of SEAL Team 6, charged through the onslaught of enemy fire back to Norris’s position and rescued him. This was only the third time in US military history that a Medal of Honor recipient rescued another Medal of Honor recipient.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

How these paratroopers came to be called ‘The Rock Regiment’

The 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment is unique in the annals of airborne history. It was one of only two parachute regiments to fight in the Pacific during World War II and the only one still active today.


 

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

Paratroopers from The Rock Regiment land on Corregidor, 1945. (Photo from U.S. Army Signal Corps)

Throughout the war in the Pacific, the 503rd fought independently, first as a regiment and then as a regimental combat team.

After arriving in the Pacific in December 1942, the 503rd conducted the first combat jump in the Pacific in New Guinea on Sept. 5, 1943. A second jump occurred on the island of Noemfoor in July 1944.

The 503rd then joined in the effort to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese landing on the island of Leyte.

A combat jump onto the island of Mindoro was called off due to inadequate launch-capable airfields. Instead, the 503rd conducted an amphibious assault landing alongside the 19th Infantry Regiment. After two days of fighting, the small island was secured.

The 503rd then moved on to prepare for their next challenge: the assault of the fortress island of Corregidor.

The island of Corregidor, known as “The Rock” to the Americans, posed serious challenges for an assaulting force.

For one, the island had formidable defenses and a strong garrison. While the Americans had intimate knowledge of the layout of the island (they did build it, after all), they knew how difficult it would be to overtake.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
Corregidor, a formidable target. (Image from U.S. Army)

Second, the island was rather small and the only suitable area for a parachute drop was on a portion known as “Topside.” This meant that the paratroopers of the 503rd would literally be landing right on top of the Japanese. To make matters worse, any misdrops – a common occurrence among World War II combat jumps – would put the paratroopers right in the ocean.

With all this in mind, the men of the 503rd Regimental Combat Team boarded aircraft early on the morning of Feb. 16, 1945 and headed towards The Rock.

Also heading towards Corregidor was the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment that would conduct a simultaneous, amphibious assault of the island in coordination with the airborne operation.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
Paratroopers from the 503rd Regimental Combat Team jump from 317th Troop Carrier Group C-47s during the recapture of Corregidor Island, Philippines. (Photo from USAF)

At 0830, after several hours or naval and aerial bombardment, the first paratroopers exited aircraft over the two drop zones.

Due to the exceedingly small and narrow drop zones, the aircraft were unable to drop a full stick at one time and had to fly in two single-file columns. This meant that the aircraft had to wheel around and make multiple passes in order to successfully put their loads of paratroopers on The Rock.

To make matters worse, high winds over the drop zone blew the descending paratroopers off course and over the cliffs of the island. PT boats patrolling the area would later rescue nine paratroopers stranded on the island’s cliffs.

Eventually, the jumpmasters discovered that only at a height of 400 feet and with a five second delay upon entering the drop zone, could they successfully land the stick on target.

Once they were on target however, their problems had just begun.

Thanks to the bombardment, the Japanese took shelter in the caves and the element of surprise was retained. However, several paratroopers were killed when they landed right on top of Japanese positions.

Further complicating things, the plan called for three lifts to get all of the Regimental Combat Team onto the island. Multiple lifts over such small drop zones meant the second lift was jumping into already crowded areas. Some troopers reported that they were more likely to be hit by a fellow jumper or door bundle coming in than by the Japanese.

Although the landings were relatively unopposed, the action soon picked up, especially around an area known as Wheeler Point.

Shortly after landing in the area, Pvt. Lloyd McCarter conducted the first of three heroic actions on The Rock which would earn him the Medal of Honor.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
Lloyd McCarter, Medal of Honor recipient.

When his unit came under fire from a Japanese machine gun, McCarter single-handedly rushed 30 yards across the bullet-swept area and destroyed the emplacement with hand grenades.

Two days later, he killed six snipers by himself.

On the night of Feb. 18, McCarter was once again in the thick of the action. In what would come to be known as the Battle of Banzai Point, McCarter attacked the Japanese by himself.

With his unit dealing with a full-on frontal assault by a Japanese Special Landing Force, McCarter noticed a force attempting to flank his position. He moved to an exposed position and engaged them. When his Thompson became unserviceable, he returned to friendly lines to retrieve a BAR. When that became too hot, he discarded it for an M1 Garand. He fired that weapon until the operating rod broke.

As dawn broke and the attack was dissipating, McCarter was shot through the chest. His comrades retrieved him and he was evacuated from the island, credited with killing over 30 Japanese during the attack.

The battle for The Rock would last another eight days before the island was declared secure. With the help of the 34th Infantry, the 503rd was able to seal off or expel the Japanese from the complex of caves and tunnels running throughout Corregidor.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
General MacArthur and members of his staffat a ceremony of the American flag being raised once again on the island of Corregidor. (Photo from National Archives)

The 503rd suffered some 169 men killed in action and another 531 wounded. The 34th suffered 38 killed and 153 wounded. The combined force, known as The Rock Force, inflicted well over 6,000 casualties on the Japanese defenders.

For their daring assault on the island, the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation and has henceforth been known as “The Rock Regiment.”

General Douglas MacArthur returned to the island on March 7 and ordered the American flag hoisted over the island.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Army designed divisions to fight a nuclear war

The advent of nuclear weapons on the battlefield left the Army very worried. It’s understandable; a bomb that could take out an entire city was rightly seen as a game-changer.


Over the years, the Army has shifted its divisional formations, from the “square” formation in World War I (two brigades each with two regiments) to a “triangle” formation (three regiments). But everything changed when the United States Army designed nukes for use on the battlefield, as they presumed the Soviets were going to eventually develop their own.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
A chart showing the organization of the 3rd Infantry Division. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The solution was a new, pentomic divisional organization. Instead of regiments and battalions, each infantry and airborne division would have five battlegroups, each with five companies of infantry, a mortar battery, and a headquarters unit. Furthermore, each division had two battalions of artillery. Looking at it mathematically, the “triangular” infantry division had three regiments, each with three battalions that had three infantry companies, making for a total of 27 infantry companies. The pentomic structure had 25 infantry companies.

The first unit to adopt this structure was the 101st Airborne Division. As Time Magazine reported in 1957, the Army planned to re-organize 19 infantry and airborne divisions along the pentomic structure.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
The pentomic divisional structure was meant to fight on atomic battlefields. (US Army photo)

However, the Army soon found some problems with this structure. The first was that there was a long gap between command tours. The companies were commanded by captains, but you had to be a full colonel to get a “battlegroup.” Keeping the same person in charge for so long means command skills will get rusty. It also caused consternation among those concerned with tradition. The “battlegroup” concept placed the storied histories of regiments at risk.

Ultimately, the pentomic structure failed to take hold as growing arsenals made a nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact unlikely. The Army ended up going back to a triangular structure that used brigades instead of regiments — just in time for the Vietnam War. In the 2000s, the Army shifted to modular brigade combat teams and put four to a division, before dropping that number to three per division in the 2010s.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These 5 Navy rates that are extinct

Unlike in other services, sailors are referred to by their actual jobs. An E-5 in the Army could be an infantryman or a food service specialist, but you would still call them Sergeant. You might be able to distinguish an infantryman by a Combat Infantry Badge or Expert Infantry Badge, but they’re still a Sergeant. In the navy, although an E-5 is a Petty Officer 2nd Class, they could be identified as a Yeoman 2nd Class, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class, or even Legalman 2nd Class. Of course, as jobs are eliminated and new ones are made, the list of titles based on rates changes. Here are some odd Navy rates that have gone the way of the dodo.

1. Loblolly Boy

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
A surgeon and loblolly boy attend to a patient (Public Domain)

The early days of the American Navy were not pretty. Pay was poor, work conditions were rough, and amputation was prescribed like water, motrin and changing your socks are today. As such, it was the duty of loblolly boys to assist the ship’s surgeon in collecting the amputated limbs. They also hauled the buckets of tar that were used to cauterize the bloody stumps and spread sand to absorb the spilled blood. On top of their gruesome duties, the boys were also responsible for spoon feeding the patients a thick porridge called “loblolly” from which their name was derived. Loblolly boys remained in the Navy’s books until 1861. After going through several name changes and evolutions, loblolly boys are known today as hospital corpsmen.

2. Pigeoneer

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
Pigeoneer 2nd Class Marcelle Whiteman holding a carrier pigeon (U.S. Navy)

Before the radio took off in the 1920s, carrier pigeons were a common communication method in the military. Their natural homing ability, fast speed, and high flying altitude made them a valuable asset when telegraph lines were not or could not be established. It was the job of pigeoneers to develop and care for the birds. Despite the introduction and rapid advancement of radio technology, the Navy retained the carrier pigeon trainer rate until 1961 as a last-ditch form of communication.

3. Aviation Carpenter’s Mate

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
Early planes were not tough birds (U.S. Navy)

This one might take a minute to figure out. However, it bears remembering that early airplanes were made of wood and canvas. Modern aircraft take enough of a beating when they land on aircraft carriers, so you can imagine what sort of punishment the Navy’s early kites took when they touched down on the deck. Additionally, storing a wooden aircraft on a ship will inevitably lead to rot. It was the job of aviation carpenter’s mates to skillfully repair and maintain the damaged planes. The rate is one of the shortest-lived, being introduced in 1931 and being disestablished in 1941. The introduction of metal planes gave rise to the aviation metalsmith which evolved into the modern aviation structural mechanic.

4. Steward

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
Filipino stewards aboard the USS Seattle during WWII (U.S. Navy)

The distinction between officers, non-commissioned officers, and junior enlisted sailors is very distinct in the Navy. The officers’ mess and the chief goat locker are prime examples of this. Stewards were responsible for preparing and serving the officers’ meals, maintaining their quarters, and caring for their uniforms. Due to the nature of the work, the majority of stewards were minorities like African-Americans and Filipinos. It’s worth noting that, until 1971, Filipino sailors were restricted to the steward rating. In 1975, the steward rate merged with the commissaryman rate to create the mess management specialist. This rating lasted until 2004 when it was changed to culinary specialist.

5. International Business Machine Operator

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
All of that just to calculate the interest on a 1939 Ford (U.S. Navy)

This one sounds completely made up until you recall what IBM stands for. During WWII, the Navy saw the need for more precise and expedient calculations for things like gun trajectories, accurate accounting, and formulating logistics. Enter IBM and their calculators. In order to operate the complex machines, the Navy created the international business machine operator rate. Likely the only rate to be named after a private corporation, it only lasted for about a year before it was renamed to punched-card accounting machine operator. The rating has undergone many evolutions, but it is known today as the information systems technician.

popular

US aircraft carriers are almost unsinkable giants of the ocean

The USS America was a Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier first built in the 1960s and served through the Vietnam War, Cold War clashes and on into Desert Storm. Decommissioned in 1996, the Navy decided the ship’s best post-service use was as a target. America would help design the newest fleet of supercarriers to be even less vulnerable to enemy fire than she was.

The America did not go down easy. For four weeks the Navy hit the ship with everything they could muster, short of a nuclear weapon.


Even today, the wreck lies in one piece at the bottom of the ocean near Cape Hatteras. Despite the Navy’s best efforts, they just could not sink the indefatigable carrier. The last time any carrier was lost to battle damage in combat was in World War II, where 12 such ships were sent to the bottom after heavy fighting. The America didn’t engage in combat, but the attacking forces were out to hit her as if she had. The sinking of America was a test run for vulnerabilities in American aircraft carrier designs.

The good news is that China is going to have a really hard time doing it, even if they use an intercontinental ballistic missile. The bad news is that it’s somehow possible to sink these floating behemoths, and if done could kill up to 6,000 American sailors. Still, good luck getting close.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
The wake left by America following her use as a live-fire target in 2005; the ship was used as a platform to test how the hull of large aircraft carriers would hold up against underwater attacks. Following the tests, America was scuttled, serving as a further test of the sinking of a large aircraft carrier.
(U.S. Navy photo)

 

Carriers traverse the waves with an entourage of submarines, cruisers and other support craft, as well as potentially dozens of fighter and electronic warfare aircraft that would make even getting close to the carrier a nearly suicidal feat. Once in close, actually hitting the ship with any kind of accuracy is just as hard – and if you do, the chances of striking a death blow are virtually nil.

For the America, teams of scientists and military engineers targeted the ship repeatedly for a full month, both above and below the waterline using anti-ship missiles, torpedoes and almost anything else they could think to throw at the old girl and still, she persisted. It wasn’t until a team of dedicated explosives experts boarded the ship and purposefully destroyed it that it gave way and sank to the bottom.

But even the Vietcong tried that move – and the USS Card was back up and fighting in no time. So maybe it’s just best to avoid a fight with an American carrier.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 6 wildest conspiracy theories about Osama Bin Laden’s death

In a daring, well-documented nighttime raid, 23 Navy SEALs landed in an al-Qaida compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. They were there to kill or capture the world’s most wanted man. The entire operation lasted only 40 minutes and ended with the death of Osama bin Laden.

Or did it? That’s what the deep state, reptile aliens or any number of conspiracy theory boogeymen would want you to believe, sheeple. The truth is out there.


Imagine instead believing that the bin Laden raid wasn’t a result of years of research, intelligence work and training. Since there were no photos released to the public, some believe the government isn’t telling the whole truth about the “alleged” death of bin Laden in 2011.

The U.S. government’s reluctance to release the photos of his body and the immediate burial at sea didn’t help quash these theories, either.

You don’t have to go far on the Internet to find alternate theories about bin Laden’s death. And if this author is mysteriously killed in the coming weeks, you can be sure one of these is true. Definitely.

Osama bin Laden died in December 2001

Some say the world’s most wanted terrorist was suffering from Marfan Syndrome, a genetic mutation that affects the proteins keeping the body’s tissue together. bin Laden, according to former State Department official Dr. Steve R. Pieczenik, looked like a textbook case of the disorder. His tall frame, long limbs and long face all displayed classic symptoms.

The disease affects one in about 5,000 people and can cause sudden death and there is no definitive DNA test for it. Instead, doctors begin with judging the outward appearance of a suspected “Marfanoid” person — someone thin and often lanky, sometimes with spidery fingers and curved spines. Pieczenik claimed CIA doctors had treated OBL for Marfan, and the al-Qaida leader died just months after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Other claims say he died at the same time, but of renal failure, not Marfan Syndrome.

He didn’t die — he got a vacation.

Like all great conspiracy theories, this one is fact mixed with a healthy dose of fiction — but the facts make it just believable enough to catch on. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the CIA flew Soviet-built weapons from Saudi Arabia to the Afghan Mujahideen during Operation Cyclone.

The conspiracy theory alleges that bin Laden became a CIA asset at this time. The CIA, partnering with Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence Agency, worked to build the mythos surrounding Osama bin Laden, so that fanatical terrorists would come to Afghanistan. Funded through the heroin trade, tacitly permitted by Pakistan, the CIA created a means to fight Islamic fundamentalism in one place.

The raid that killed bin Laden the terrorist was allegedly a means to let bin Laden the CIA asset retire. This is a theory backed by the Iranian regime.

Pakistan Captured bin Laden in 2006

This one comes from legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh. Hersh alleges that Pakistan’s ISI captured the terrorist in 2006 and used him as leverage to operate in Afghanistan. The ISI then sold bin Laden to the U.S., but forced them to stage the raid that killed him.

According to Hersh, when Navy SEALs arrived in Abbottabad, they were met by an ISI officer who casually walked them to bin Laden’s bedroom. The SEALs then riddled him with bullets, tore his body apart, and dispersed them throughout the Hindu Kush, just because.

Hersh’s sources for this story are both dubious and anonymous.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

Pictured: No Arabs. Definitely no Arabs here.

Bin Laden Didn’t Even Live In Abbottabad

In the London Telegraph, Abbottabad resident Bashir Qureshi dismissed the idea that bin Laden and his family lived in the area. Though the raid blew out the windows on his house, he still dismissed the idea, saying “Nobody believes it. We’ve never seen any Arabs around here, he was not here.”

The Pakistani press didn’t help. Newspapers in the country allege the raid was set up so U.S. forces would have an excuse to enter Pakistan. Former ISI officials seconded that idea in Western media, noting that someone was killed and removed by the U.S. forces during the raid, but it wasn’t bin Laden. The real bin Laden was already dead, they said, and the U.S. knew it … they just didn’t know where he died.

The U.S. Captured bin Laden Well Before 2011

Another theory promoted by the Iranian regime says that the U.S. captured and held bin Laden for years before finally killing him. Fearful that forcing the world’s most wanted terrorist to face trial in the U.S. could result in a hung jury or worse, an acquittal, the United States decided to execute him and stage his death as an elaborate raid.

This theory alleges that killing Osama bin Laden was a stunt by the Obama Administration in order to secure an election victory — even though the presidential election was more than a year away at the time.

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

Science!

Bin Laden Was Literally Kept on Ice

In keeping with the “bin Laden was already dead, the United States just confirmed it” line of thinking, this theory states that the United States had either captured bin Laden after the raid on Tora Bora or that he died of renal failure well before 2011. The U.S. then allegedly froze his body in liquid nitrogen to wait for an expedient time to announce the “victory.”

The expedient times listed by proponents of this conspiracy include not clashing with the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton and knocking an episode of “Celebrity Apprentice” off the air so President Obama could thumb his nose at Donald Trump.

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

Articles

How green troops became professional warriors during Vietnam

For most soldiers in the Vietnam-era, the time between getting drafted or volunteering and their heading to war was short. The Army had each draftee for only two years. After they were shipped to basic, trained, shipped overseas, plus the time needed to ship home and use their two months of accrued leave, each draftee could expect a year of deployed time preceded by 4-6 months of training.


The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic
Paratroopers with the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team fighting on Hill 823 during the Battle of Dak To. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Volunteers, especially officers, had it a little better. They may train for up to a year before deploying — attending advanced training like Ranger School after basic and job training.

Either way, they were expected to grow from boys to men quickly. For the three men in this video, that growth would be harder than most. The veterans fought at the Battle of Dak To, one of the bloodiest American battles of the war. Hill 875, the single costliest terrain feature of the war, was captured there.

A recently recovered film of the Battle of Dak To shows two hours of fighting in and around Hill 724, another tough terrain feature captured. Bob Walkoviak, one of the veterans in the discussion above, fought on the hill and helped find the lost footage.
MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: That time North Dakota almost experienced its own Chernobyl

Grand Forks Air Force Base near Grand Forks, North Dakota began operation in 1957. It was one of the bases that housed B-52s during the Cold War. The most central role of B-52s throughout military history has been as a strategic bomber. Since its creation, it’s been a part of our country’s nuclear arsenal. As the Cold War continued for decades, Grand Forks Air Force Base and its B-52 fleet remained active and alert, always at the ready to protect the US from a potential Soviet attack. Bombers were always kept fueled, armed, and ready to take off at a moment’s notice. 

Fire on a B-52 atomic bomber plane? NBD!

On September 16, 1980, Grand Forks AFB made history when a B-52 bomber caught fire. Its crew was preparing for takeoff, and fortunately the crew managed to exit the plane unharmed. But the fire wasn’t so easy to put out, thanks to all that jet fuel in its wing tank. The blowtorch-like fire ended up taking almost three hours to put out. 

In the meantime, North Dakota officials didn’t know what to do. Air Force policy did not allow the release of information about whether or not nuclear weapons were on board the aircraft. But they couldn’t just ignore the raging fire. They didn’t even know if they were supposed to evacuate, sound the emergency broadcast system, or pretend like nothing was happening. Mums the word when it comes to nukes, of course.

Mums the word

It’s no surprise that it took almost a decade for ND officials and the public to get the read story. Eight years after the fire, congressional testimony revealed that the plane did in fact have nukes onboard. Not just one either. Testimony showed that there were a dozen bombs on the plane. Each one of them was 10 times more powerful than the bomb dropped in Hiroshima. That same testimony also revealed even more horrific details. Before that, based on the information that had been released, everyone thought the risk of a nuclear accident had been low.

However, the truth eventually came out. While the fire wouldn’t have caused the bombs to detonate, it would have absolutely exploded the warheads had it reached the fuselage. That would have then caused the plutonium cores of those warheads to explode into microscopic bits and disperse downwind, contaminating around 60 square miles of North Dakota and Minnesota and impacted roughly 75,000 people. 

Had that happened, and it was dangerously close to happening, the end result would have been worse than Chernobyl. Aside from all the death and health issues, the soil would have remained radioactive for 24,000 years. The fact that this massive nuclear accident didn’t occur was thanks to only one thing: the wind.

When fate is up to the weather

The 26-mile-per-hour wind that was blowing at the time happened to be blowing away from the fuselage and therefore away from the missiles. Had that B-52 been in a different parking space where the wind would have blown the fire toward the missiles, a nuclear accident to the likes of Chernobyl would have definitely occurred. As a result, 1990 Defense Secretary Dick Cheney had that particular type of missile removed from US aircraft to prevent the deadly risks it posed in the case of an accident.

Related: These are the punishments for convicted War Criminals

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