What could've happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

The most intense period of the Cold War came during the Cuban Missile Crisis on Oct. 27, 1962, but it could have been much worse had it escalated into a shooting war. Here is how it may have gone down.


After months of building tensions, the discovery of ballistic missile sites on Cuba on Oct. 14 forced a confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

 

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
A CIA map showing the range of the medium range ballistic missiles successfully deployed to Cuba in Oct. 1962. The intermediate range ballistic missiles with their range shown by the larger arrow never arrived in Cuba. Photo: Wikipedia/James H. Hansen

On Oct. 27, multiple events nearly triggered a war. Perhaps the most dangerous moment was when the Soviet B-59 submarine deployed to Cuba was “signaled” by the USS Beale and USS Cony through the use of sonar, practice depth charges, and hand grenades. The Soviet submarine was carrying a 15-ton nuclear torpedo but was ordered to use it only if American forces blew a hole in the hull or orders came down from Moscow.

Despite the orders limiting use of the torpedo, submarine commander Capt. Vitali Savistky was urged by his political officer to fire. It was only through the urging of Capt. Vasili Arkhipov that it wasn’t fired. If it had, the Cuban Missile Crisis could have easily erupted into all-out nuclear war.

The most obvious target for the torpedo would have been the aircraft carrier USS Randolph that was part of the force shadowing the B-59. With a 15-kiloton warhead, the torpedo would have sank the Randolph and likely other nearby ships.

For comparison, an 8-kiloton explosion looks like this:

Just the loss of the Randolph would have meant over 3,000 sailors and Marines were dead. The fact that the B-59 would have also been destroyed would be little solace and America would be forced to respond. Since a U-2 had already been shot down and the pilot killed over Cuba, the most likely retaliation route for the Americans would have been the bombing of Soviet missile sites in Cuba.

The Air Force had a plan for this, but it expected hundreds of sorties would be needed to wipe out 90 percent of the missiles. With only a few sorties available before a Soviet response, at least one-third of the 24 sites and 36 medium-range ballistic missiles would survive.

To prevent those missiles from being used, America could have ordered an amphibious invasion, an airborne assault, and an overland push from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
The proposed invasion of Cuba would have been over four times the size of the landings at Inchon, Korea in 1950. These massed troops would’ve been easy targets for Soviet tactical nuclear missiles. Photo: US Navy

This would’ve likely triggered a massacre of American troops.

The U.S. plans for an invasion of Cuba projected 18,500 casualties in the first 10 days of fighting to take the island. But they estimated Soviet forces on the island at 10,000 to 12,000 with no tactical nuclear weapons.

In reality, the Soviets had 40,000 troops and 92 tactical nukes. 12 Luna missiles carried 2-kiloton warheads to a maximum range of 17 nautical miles. 80 Sopka-variant cruise missiles with a range of 40 nautical miles carried 12-kiloton warheads.

With tactical nuclear weapons on the island, America would have actually lost nearly all of the 180,000 troops in the invasion as well as all the Marines still on Guantanamo Bay. Luckily, the family members had already been evacuated.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Guantanamo Bay would’ve quickly fallen to tactical nukes. Photo: Department of Defense

At this point, both sides would be forced into full nuclear war. Russia would have to attempt a pre-emptive strike to limit the number of nukes coming at them. America would try to limit the Soviet attack as well as punish Russia for its losses in Cuba.

More: This is what the Air Force thought nuclear war would look like in 1960

The surviving missile launchers in Cuba would be the first to fire. Air Force strikes that made it through during the attempted invasion and bombing would have wiped out at least 16 launchers and 24 missiles. But the surviving eight launchers would begin preparations to fire as soon as the first sites were struck.

They would get off their first wave of missiles with a 1-megaton warhead on each. Two would be sent to Washington D.C. and the other six to major U.S. bases and cities in the American Southeast. The launchers, and nearly all of Cuba, would be wiped out before the remaining four missiles could be prepared for launch.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Photo: US Air Force

This is because the Strategic Air Command bombers around the U.S. and NATO countries would take off and begin striking targets in Russia and Warsaw Pact countries. The force consisted of 1,306 bombers with 2,962 nuclear bombs.

Brand new Minuteman-I missiles as well as older Atlas missiles would fly from U.S. silos while Thor and Jupiter missiles would take off from Italy, Britain, and Turkey. These 308 ballistic missiles were capable of delivering 761 megatons of devastation to targets across the Soviet Union.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Photo: US Navy

 

Seven American nuclear missile submarines, dispatched to staging points in the oceans since Oct. 22, carried 112 Polaris A-1 and A-2 submarine launched ballistic missiles. Each missile carried a 1-megaton nuclear warhead.

Facing off against this force was the relatively modest Soviet arsenal: 36 intercontinental ballistic missiles carried a combined yield of 108-204 megatons. Only 138 bombers were available. A mere 30 submarines carried about 84 missiles with a combined yield of less than 100 megatons.

The exchange would go wildly in America’s favor, but vast swaths of Europe, China, and North America would lay in ruins alongside the deceased Soviet Union. The American military would count losses in the hundreds of thousands in a single day of fighting.

Fortunately, none of this ended up happening. Through secret back-channel negotiations, U.S. President Kennedy and Soviet Secretary Nikita Kruschev worked out a deal that removed Russian missiles from Cuba, as long as the U.S. removed its missiles from Turkey and Italy.

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Check out the awesome planning documents for D-Day

It’s easy now to think of Operation Overlord as fated, like it was the armies of Middle Earth hitting Mordor. The good guys would attack, they would win, and the war would end. But it actually fell to a cadre of hundreds of officers to make it happen and make it successful, or else more than 150,000 men would die for nothing.


What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

But the planners of Operation Neptune and Operation Overlord had an insane number of factors to look at as weather, moon and starlight, and troops movements from London to Paris would affect the state of play when the first Allied ships were spotted by Axis planes and lookouts. Planners wanted as many factors on their side as possible when the first German cry went out.

The map above allowed the planners to get a look at what sort of artillery emplacements troops would face at each beach, both during their approaches and landings and once they were on the soil of France.

Looking at all the overlapping arcs, it’s easy to see why they asked the Rangers to conduct the dangerous climbs at Point Du Hoc, why they sent paratroopers like the Band of Brothers against inland guns, and why they had hoped for much more successful bombing runs against the guns than they ultimately got.

Instead, paratroopers and other ground troops would have to break many of the enemy guns one at a time with infantry assaults and counter-artillery missions.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

Speaking of those bombers, this is one of the maps they used to plan aircraft sorties. The arcs across southern England indicate distances from Bayeux, France, a town just south of the boundary between Omaha and Gold beaches. The numbers in England indicated the locations of airfields and how many fighter squadrons could be based at each.

These fighter squadrons would escort the bombers over the channel and perform strafing missions against ground targets. Bayeux was a good single point to measure from, as nearly all troops would be landing within 30 miles of that city.

But planners were also desperate to make Germany believe that another, larger attacking force was coming elsewhere, so planes not in range of the actual beaches were sent far and wide to bomb a multitude of other targets, as seen below.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(U.S. Military Academy)

Diversion attacks were launched toward troops based near Calais, the deepwater port that was the target in numerous deception operations. But the bulk of bomber and fighter support went right to the beaches where troops were landing.

Bombings conducted in the months ahead of D-Day had reduced Germany’s industrial output and weakened some troop concentrations, but the bulk of German forces were still ready to fight. Luckily, the Allies had a huge advantage in terms of weather forecasting against the Axis, and many German troops thought the elements would keep them safe from attack in early June, that is until paratroopers were landing all around them.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

This map shows additional beaches between the Somme and the Seine Rivers of France along with the length of each beach. These beaches are all to the northeast of the targets of D-Day, and troops never assaulted them from the sea like they did on Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword beaches.

But these beaches, liberated by maneuvering forces that landed at the D-Day beaches, would provide additional landing places for supplies until deepwater ports could be taken and held.

But all of that relied on actually taking and holding the first five beaches, something which actually hinged quite a bit on weather forecasting, as hinted above. In fact, this next two-page document is all about meetings on June 4-5, 1944, detailing weather discussions taking place between all of the most senior officers taking part in the invasion, all two-stars or above.

(Maj. Gen. H.R. Bull, the memo author, uses days of the week extensively in the memo. D-Day, June 6, 1944, was the Tuesday he was referring to. “Monday” was the June 5 original invasion date. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were D-Day+1, +2, and +3.)

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)
What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(U.S. Army Heritage Education Center)

This might seem like a lot of military brainpower to dedicate to whether or not it was raining, but the winds, waves, and clouds affected towing operations, the landing boats, fighter and bomber cover, and the soil the troops would fight on.

The fate of France could’ve been won or lost in a few inches of precipitation, a few waves large enough to swamp the low-lying landing craft, or even low cloud cover that would throw off even more bombs and paratroopers. So, yeah, they held early morning and late night meetings about the weather.

Thank God.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

In 1981, the United States accused the Soviet Union of providing chemical weapons to Communist countries in Southeast Asia to test a new kind of toxin for use in the ongoing arms race. Hmong tribesmen who fought with the US and South Vietnamese before the end of the Vietnam War described a kind of “yellow rain” pouring down on them from the skies.

The truth was a relief to both the villagers and the bees – and was actually kind of worse, in some ways.


What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

Today is the day you readers learn that bees poop.

Refugees fleeing the reprisals from the Communist governments of Laos and North Vietnam reported to their American allies that low-flying helicopters had dumped an oily yellow liquid on them en masse. Those hit by the liquid claimed to have suffered from seizures, headaches, and blindness, as well as some internal bleeding. The United States didn’t know exactly what the substance was, but they believed it was a chemical agent the Soviets were testing on these unwitting refugees.

President Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig accused the Soviet Union of doing as much in 1981:

For some time now, the international community has been alarmed by continuing reports that the Soviet Union and its allies have been using lethal chemical weapons in Laos, Kampuchea, and Afghanistan. … We have now found physical evidence from Southeast Asia which has been analyzed and found to contain abnormally high levels of three potent mycotoxins—poisonous substances not indigenous to the region and which are highly toxic to man and animals.
What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

We’ll give him partial credit.

The Soviets, of course, denied every word of this. They would have denied it even if it was true. And you can’t blame Haig, this totally sounds like something the Soviet Union would do. But to get the international community behind the accusation, the United States needed to prove it – that would prove to be a huge problem.

The refugees were inconsistent with their stories, and the so-called samples of the agent proved inconclusive in laboratory testing. Furthermore, the sufferers of the effects of the “toxin” were actually suffering from fungal infections in their skin. No one knew exactly what was happening until a Harvard researcher decided to check it out once and for all. Biologist Matthew Meselson traveled to the affected areas to do his own legwork, separate from the official investigation. Traveling to Laos, he recreated the events surrounding the alleged attack and found that it wasn’t a strange chemical substance. It wasn’t even strange. In fact, it was fairly common.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

Because everybody poops.

Meselson’s team found the yellow raindrops clinging to leaves in northern Laos. Once they concluded that this is what the refugees were describing, they conducted a test on the matter and found many kinds of pollen grains in it, typical of those digested by bees. It was, in fact, bee poop. Huge clouds of bee poop fell on those people.

When his study went up for peer review, it was found that villages in China had the same experience, only instead of chemical weapons, the villagers thought the yellow rain foretold a dangerous earthquake.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you didn’t know about the Berlin Wall

This week in history, East German soldiers closed the borders between East and West Berlin. What started as a makeshift wall in 1961, pieced together with barbed wire, soldiers and tanks, eventually morphed into a 15-foot high symbol of division that blotted the landscape. However, the citizens of Berlin proved time and again where there’s a will, there’s a way. In its 28-year history, over 5,000 people risked life and limb to successfully across the border. For today’s history lesson, let’s take a look at a few more things you probably didn’t know about the Berlin Wall.


The wall was built to keep people in 

At the height of the Cold War, Germany was politically divided. East Germany represented life under Communism, and West Germany held the promise of democracy. Consequently, between 1949 and 1961, over 2 million East Germans fled from East to West.

By August 1961, it is estimated that East Germany was losing approximately 2,000 of its citizens every day. Many of whom were skilled laborers in professionals, and their exodus was wreaking havoc on East Germany’s economy. To stop the bleeding, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev advised East Germany to cut off access between the two sides. So, on August 13, 1961, East Germany closed the border between East and West Berlin.

The streets were torn up to build the wall

Initially, a hasty perimeter was set up, and the wall in the city center was made of men and armored vehicles. On the morning of August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) soldiers laid down barbed wire and ripped up the street known as Friedrich-Ebert Strasse, to build a makeshift wall. More armed guards kept watch, ready to shoot anyone who tried to cross as the wall was erected.

Over time the Berlin wall was shored up, reaching up to 15 feet high in some spots, and barbed wire and pipes perched atop the wall made climbing over impossible.

Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous checkpoint, but do you know why?

Along the Berlin Wall, there were a few checkpoints where those with the proper documentation were able to cross between sides. Among them was Checkpoint Friedrichstrasse — more commonly known as Checkpoint Charlie. The U.S. Army maintained Checkpoint Charlie, and it was the only checkpoint where foreigners and allied forces were allowed to cross into East Germany.

Checkpoint Charlie also gained notoriety because it was the preferred crossing for prisoner swaps. The most notable prisoner swap occurred in 1962, on Glienicke Bridge, which stood only a short distance from Checkpoint Charlie. During this exchange American U-2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers was traded for Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy convicted of espionage.

Checkpoint Charlie has often been depicted in film and books as well, perhaps most notably in the James Bond classic Octopussy and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carré.

You can own a piece of the wall

On November 9, 1989, East Germany announced relaxed travel restrictions to West Germany, and thousands gathered to demand passage. As East German guards opened the borders, the demonstrations reached a fever pitch. Berliners climbed the wall, defaced it with graffiti, and began chipping away at it, some keeping fragments as souvenirs. While East German guards began dismantling the wall on August 10, 1989, Germany was not officially united until 1990.

Today pieces of the Berlin Wall are available for sale on eBay. You can own a piece of history for .99 plus shipping and handling.

More than 100 people died trying to cross the wall

According to the Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam and the Berlin Wall Foundation, more than 140 people were killed or died at the wall between 1961 – 1989. While many were shot by armed guards, many more perished in an assortment of suicides after failed attempts, freak accidents, and drownings. Perhaps the most bizarre death was the last one to be recorded on August 3, 1989, when Winfried Freudenberg died in a failed attempt to cross the border in a hot air balloon.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An Army astronaut may be first prosecuted for space crime

The legal community is getting geared up for what might be the first trial involving criminal activity in space as a decorated Army officer and astronaut faces accusations of identity theft after she accessed a bank account belonging to her former spouse while on the International Space Station. If formal charges are filed, it would be the first prosecution of a space crime.

(Yeah, we were hoping that the first space crime would include theft of a rocket or mounting a laser on the Moon, too. But this is the world we live in.)


The World’s First Space Crime? IN SPACE! (Real Law Review)

www.youtube.com

First, a quick rundown of the facts: Lt. Col. Anne McClain acknowledges that she used the login credentials of her former spouse, fellow Army veteran Summer Worden, to access their shared finances from the ISS. Technically, that act could constitute identity theft, but McClain says her actions were a continuation of how the couple managed finances while married.

The two women are going through a divorce that also includes a contentious custody dispute.

You may know McClain’s name from the planned all-female spacewalk in March 2019 that was canceled because there was only one spacesuit that would fit the two women scheduled for the spacewalk. Fellow astronaut Nick Hague took McClain’s place on the spacewalk, and Saturday Night Live did a fake interview with McClain the same week.

When it comes to the law that pertains to McClain in space, it does get a little murky. According to attorney Devin Stone, a practicing lawyer who runs the YouTube channel LegalEagle took a look at what laws could be brought to bear on McClain if it’s deemed that she committed a crime.

Well, for that, Stone points to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of 1967. (It’s more commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.)

Article VI of that treaty says that governments are responsible for ensuring that all activities undertaken by their representatives or nationals conform to the rules of the treaty. The treaty also charges national bodies with creating the laws necessary for controlling their nationals’ conduct in space.

And Article VIII of the same treaty says that each state that is a party to the treaty will retain jurisdiction and control of any object that state launches into space as well as any personnel it sends into space.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

(NASA/Roscosmos)

And, as Stone points out in the video above, the ISS is controlled by another agreement signed in 1998 that further defines criminal jurisdiction aboard the ISS. Basically, Article 22 of that agreement states that any governments that are part of the ISS program retain criminal jurisdiction of their nationals while that national is aboard the ISS.

So, those articles together mean that McClain was subject to all applicable U.S. laws while in orbit. And presenting the digital credentials of another person in order to gain access to their financial information is identity theft.

If a U.S. attorney brings charges against McClain, it would be under Title 18 U.S. Code § 1028 Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information. The maximum punishment for a single offense under that law is 30 years, but McClain’s actions, as reported in the press, would constitute a relatively minor offense under the code.

If McClain did not remove any money and only presented one set of false identifying documents—if she just logged in with Worden’s username and password, but didn’t create a false signature or present other false credentials—then the maximum punishment for each false login would be five years imprisonment.

And even then, the law allows for judges to assign a lower sentence, especially if there are mitigating factors or if the defendant has no prior criminal history.

But there are still some potential hiccups in a potential prosecution of McClain. As Stone discusses in his video, a murder investigation in Antartica was derailed after competing investigations and jurisdictional claims prevented a proper inquiry into the crime. The rules governing space jurisdiction has a strong parallel in the treaties and laws governing conduct in Antartic research stations.

Hopefully, for McClain and the Army’s reputation, no charges are filed. But if charges are filed, someone gets to become the first space lawyer to argue a space crime in space court. (Okay, it would just be normal federal court, but still.)

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These 18 photos show the bravery of US troops during the Battle of the Bulge

On Dec. 16, 1944, Nazi Germany launched a counteroffensive against the Allied powers. The sneak attack began with a massive assault of over 200,000 troops and 1,000 tanks, aimed to divide and conquer the Allied forces. Some English-speaking Germans dressed in American uniforms to slip past the defenses.


After just one day of fighting, the Germans managed to isolate the American 101st Airborne Division and capture a series of key bridges and communication lines. Over the next two days, Patton’s Third Army would batter through miles of German tanks and infantry to reach the trapped paratroopers.

The fighting continued through the beginning of Jan. 1945 when Hitler finally agreed with his generals to pull back the German forces.

Here are 18 photos from the historic battle that show what life was like in the winter Hell.

1. American and German troops battled viciously for Belgian villages that were destroyed by artillery, tank fire, and bombs.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
3rd Armored Division infantrymen advance under artillery fire at Pont-Le-Ban, Belgium on Jan. 15, 1945. Photo: US Army

2. The battle was fought across a massive front featuring forests, towns, and large plains.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

3. With deep snow covering much of the ground, medics relied on sleds to help evacuate the wounded.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Medics remove an American casualty from the wood near Berle, Lusxembourg on Jan. 12, 1945

4. Troops lucky enough to get winter camouflage blended in well with the snow.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Two elements of the 84th Division meet up at an abandoned mill near River L’Ourt, Belgium on Jan. 15, 1945

5. Troops who weren’t so lucky stood out in stark contrast to the white ground during the Battle of the Bulge.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
American infantrymen of the 290th Regiment fight in fresh snowfall near Amonines, Belgium on Jan. 4, 1945.

6. Troops were often separated from their units due to the chaotic nature of the battle. They would usually find their way back on foot.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
101st Airborne Division paratroopers Pfc. M.L. Dickens of East Omaha, Nebraska, Pvt. Sunny Sundquist of Bremerton, Washington, and Sgt. Francis H. McCann of Middleton, Conn., set out to rejoin their unit near Bastogne on Jan. 11, 1945.

7. Each side lost about 1,000 tanks in the battle and the burned out wrecks littered the countryside.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Infantry supporting engineers pass a knocked out German tank on their way to the front at Compogne, Belgium on Jan. 15, 1945.

8. In towns, Luftwaffe bombing killed many soldiers and civilians while destroying the buildings and equipment everywhere.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

9. Medics would evacuate the wounded from these areas to safer hospitals when possible.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

10. In caves and bomb shelters, Allied doctors and medics treated the civilians wounded by battle or sick from exposure to the elements.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Captain Charles S. Quinn (right) of Louisville, Kentucky, bandages the gangrene-infected foot of Belgian refugee child in a cellar in Ottre, Belgium on Jan. 11, 1945. Captain Quinn was a battalion surgeon with the 83rd Division, First Army.

11. The soldiers could also fall prey to the elements. The extreme cold and sometimes rugged terrain posed challenges for the defenders.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Two paratroopers advance through a snow-covered, wooded section of the battlefield near Henumont, Belgium on Jan. 14, 1945.

12. Many of the forces holding the line were tank and airborne units.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Photo: US Army

13. Camouflage was used to protect equipment when possible.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Soldiers use bedsheets donated by the locals to hide military equipment from Luftwaffe bombers and German army artillery.

14. Until the Third Army was able to open a land corridor through the siege of Bastogne, 101st Airborne Division paratroopers relied on air drops for resupply.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Photo: US Army Signal Corps

15. The Luftwaffe and U.S. fighters fought overhead, each attempting to gain air dominance.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

16. Though the Allies would eventually win in the air and on the ground, a number of aircraft were lost.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
A crashed plane lies in the snow near Remagne, Belgium on Jan. 13, 1945.

17. As more Allied troops were sent to reclaim the lost territory in Jan. 1945, they were forced to pass the remains of those already killed.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

18. Troops held memorial services for their fallen comrades whenever possible.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
Engineers fire in a memorial service during the Battle of the Bulge. Photo: US Army

MIGHTY HISTORY

75th Anniversary: 10 things you don’t know about the Battle of Iwo Jima

The Marines will be the first to tell you they have “fought in every clime and place” from the “halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.” The history of the Corps is steeped in legendary heroism and ferocious battles. From Chapultepec to Belleau Wood to Fallujah, the Marines have made a name for themselves throughout our country’s history.

But there is one battle that stands out.

Iwo Jima.


Ask any Marine about Iwo Jima, and you will see instant reverence in their eyes. “Uncommon valor was a common virtue” was the phrase used to describe the spirit of the men that fought that battle.

The landing on Iwo Jima took place 75 years ago today. Located about 750 miles from mainland Japan, Iwo Jima was a volcanic rock that both sides viewed as an important objective of the American’s island-hopping campaign. For the Americans, the airfields there meant both easier and shorter routes to mainland Japan as well as helping clear the air of fighters that would intercept such bombers.

The Japanese simply knew that the capture of Iwo put the Americans one step closer to their homeland.

What followed next was one of the most ferocious battles man has ever waged.

Much has been written about the battle and its effect on history. Here are some of the more interesting things about the battle of Iwo Jima.

Iwo Jima was first discovered by Spanish explorers. 

In 1543, a ship located the island and landed to explore the newly found land. They gave it the name “Sulphur Island.” When translated roughly to Japanese, it was called Io To, or Iwo Jima. The Japanese didn’t arrive at the island until the end of the 16th century.

The Japanese knew they were going to lose the battle. 

As historians poured over Japanese war records after the war was over, they found that the Japanese knew the battle was a sure loss. The Japanese Imperial Navy was all but vanquished in the Pacific. The Japanese Air Force was almost obliterated as well. The Japanese had lost quite a few planes and had to keep as many as close to their mainland as possible. Even worse than the lack of planes was a shortage of pilots. The Americans would send experienced pilots back home to train more pilots. The Japanese didn’t do that. They kept their experienced pilots out, and as they suffered heavy losses, there was a shortfall in experience and numbers.

As a result, the Japanese changed the strategy of the defense of the island to be one of attrition. They figured the Americans would win. They just wanted to make them pay dearly for it. Hideki Tojo, the Prime Minister of Japan, summoned Lieutenant General Tadamichi Kuribayashi to his office and told him to defend Iwo Jima to the last man as a means to buy time. Kuribayashi, who came from a Samurai family, accepted the mission and set off for the island to set up a unique defense that the Americans had not seen yet.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

The Japanese wanted to dissuade the Americans from attacking the mainland.

Kuribayashi changed the way the island would be defended. Instead of fighting the Americans on the beaches, he would allow them to land uncontested on the island. He knew the black volcanic sand, which had dunes up to 15 feet tall, could bog down the Americans, so he figured to let them all on before opening fire. He had the beach zeroed in by artillery and mortars to the last inch. On the island’s interior, he set up defensive positions in a new way. The fortifications and tunnels allowed the Japanese soldiers to retake positions that had already been overrun. On an island that was just eight square miles, there were over 11 miles of tunnels the Japanese could use.

The intended effect was to inflict as much damage as possible to the American forces. By dragging out this conflict and inflicting casualties, the Japanese hoped that the carnage would dissuade the U.S. from attacking the Japanese mainland.

The US thought the battle would last only a week.

It’s not that the Americans thought less of the Japanese. It was at this point they thought they knew what they were going to do. After victories through the South Pacific from Guadalcanal to the Philippines, the U.S. military thought they had a winning plan. Start with a devastating naval bombardment, get the men on the beach, provide them with close air support, and take the airfields quickly. They did that but realized way too soon that the naval bombardment didn’t do much damage, the Japanese actually wanted the Americans to land, and that they had to fight for every square inch of the island. The initial weeklong projection turned out to be five weeks of some of the worst fighting the Americans had seen to that point.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

The beach was hell on earth.

After taking the naval and air bombardment, the Japanese allowed the Marines to congregate on the beach. Many thought that the Japanese were killed in the immense bombardment, but unfortunately, they were wrong. Kuribayashi told his troops to wait one hour before opening fire. When the Marines were massed on the beach and started to move forward slowly through the volcanic ash, they were shocked to learn the hard way that the Japanese had every inch of the beach sighted in and had to race off the beach while under intense artillery, mortar, and machine gun fire.

One account from the beach …

Within a minute a mortar shell exploded among the group … his left foot and ankle hung from his leg, held on by a ribbon of flesh … Within minutes a second round landed near him and fragments tore into his other leg. For nearly an hour he wondered where the next shell would land. He was soon to find out as a shell burst almost on top of him, wounding him for the third time in the shoulder. Almost at once another explosion bounced him several feet into the air and hot shards ripped into both thighs … as he lifted his arm to look at his watch a mortar shell exploded only feet away and blasted the watch from his wrist and tore a large jagged hole in his forearm: “I was beginning to know what it must be like to be crucified,” he was later to say.

By the end of the first day, over 30,000 Marines had landed, and the island was cut into two. However, upon seeing the initial casualty lists from the day’s carnage, General Howlin’ Mad Smith remarked, “I don’t know who he is, but the Japanese general running this show is one smart bastard.”

For the only time in the war, the Marines had more casualties than the Japanese.

The Marines went into Iwo Jima with a 3:1 advantage in terms of troops. At the end of the five-week battle, they would have 26,000 casualties versus 18,000 for the Japanese. One of the men killed on the beach was Gunnery Sergeant John Basilone. Basilone was a hero on Guadalcanal who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions there. As the intense bombardment came down, Basilone was last seen yelling for men to move off the beach. He was among the many killed that day. By the end of the battle, many more would die. While the Marines had more casualties than the Japanese, they had about one third less killed. Of the 18,000 Japanese soldiers who fought on the island, only 221 were captured. Most of the captured were either knocked unconscious or incapacitated.

There were few banzai charges so the Americans improvised.

The Americans factored in banzai or human wave attacks when they did their initial estimate of the length of the battle. In fact, the Japanese general prohibited such attacks as he knew that they didn’t work. He wanted his men to fight to the death, but he wanted to take as many Americans out as they could.

The Americans wouldn’t deal with that. Realizing quickly that firearms and close air support weren’t cutting it, the Marines adapted on the fly as they have throughout their history. They started using flamethrowers, (badass men as well as on modified tanks) to eradicate the Japanese. Once they realized the tunnel system allowed the enemy to reoccupy positions that had been overtaken, they just started flame-throwing everything that they saw… over and over again.

It worked. The Japanese tunnel system ended up becoming the graves of countless Japanese soldiers. Only toward the end, when food and supplies were low, did Kuribayashi allow banzai charges so his men would die “with honor.”

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

Americans at home thought the battle was over fast.

The iconic photo by Joe Rosenthal, which showed Marines hoisting the flag on Mt. Suribachi, was the American people’s first view of the battle. It was taken on February 23, four days after the initial assault. The picture was released by the AP two days later, where it was published by virtually every newspaper in the free world. In an age, before social media, television, and satellite feeds, many assumed the battle was over based on the picture. It wasn’t.

As the battle raged on and the casualties mounted, Americans at home wondered why so many boys had to die for a small piece of rock.

How important was Iwo Jima and the effect of the battle?

Even before the battle’s conclusion, the U.S. military started using the airfields on Iwo Jima for bombing runs on Japan. Planes that were damaged during their runs now had a shorter trip to base, so they had a better chance of surviving. Fighters could now use the base to refuel, and accompany their bombers to Japan. However, people wondered if the same things could have happened had the Americans attacked elsewhere. The Americans also found out that the radar used by the Japanese on Iwo was not really beneficial as the Japanese already had other radar installations that did the same job. The battle’s need was a contentious matter as early as the end of hostilities on Iwo Jima.

One effect the battle did have was on the end of the war. After Iwo Jima, another horrible battle took place on Okinawa. By this point, the Japanese realized that Kuribayashi’s strategy worked. They could inflict major losses on the Americans and turn public opinion against the war. The Americans learned too and proceeded to unleash longer more devastating bombardments on Okinawa in the lead-up and more aggressive use of flamethrowers and incendiary devices on Japanese soldiers and civilians caught in the crossfire, to horrific results.

When the final obstacle to the Japanese mainland fell, Americans looked at other ways to end the war and avoid the bloodbath that Iwo Jima and Okinawa wrought.

They found it in recently developed atomic weapons.

Uncommon valor was a common virtue.

Regardless of if Iwo Jima was strategically worth it, the Marines still viewed the battle as a badge of honor. They were not part of the planning or strategy but were told to take the island. They did.

They asked for a 10-day bombardment and got three. They adapted to a terrible situation and came out ahead. They looked death in the face and, as Marines usually do, didn’t even get fazed.

Eighty-two Medals of Honor were awarded to Marines during World War II. Twenty-two of them (28%) were earned on Iwo Jima alone. There is only one awardee alive today, Woody Williams, who earned the medal for using his flamethrower to wipe out numerous enemy emplacements.

On this 75th anniversary, to those who fought in that terrible battle and to the families left behind, We Are the Mighty salutes you.

Semper Fidelis

MIGHTY HISTORY

Old Guard marks 70 years of ‘Flags In’ to honor Memorial Day

Almost seven years ago, Spc. Dakota Williams lost more than his stepbrother. He lost his hero.

His stepbrother, Spc. Dylan Johnson, had been deployed in Iraq’s Diyala Province just north of Baghdad for less than a month when a bomb detonated next to his vehicle. The explosion killed him.


Inspired by his service to the country, Williams later joined the Army to follow in his footsteps.

On May 24, 2018, he personally honored his stepbrother when he placed an American flag at his headstone in Section 60 of the Arlington National Cemetery during the annual Flags In event.

“He’s not here, but he’s here,” said Williams, 23, of Salina, Oklahoma. “He’s still such an important part of my life.”

All Soldiers, including Williams, in the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard,” participated in some way in 2018’s Flags In. The regiment has conducted the event before every Memorial Day since 1948. It was then when the regiment was designated as the Army’s official ceremonial unit.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)

Over a course of four hours, more than 234,000 small flags were laid in front of headstones across the 624-acre cemetery. Flags were also placed inside the Columbarium as well, where the cremated remains of service members reside. In all, enough flags were placed to account for the more than 400,000 interred or inurned within the cemetery. Regiment Soldiers also placed about 11,500 flags at the nearby Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery.

“It’s a great commitment by these Soldiers to do this, to place them at the hundreds of thousands of graves here,” said Secretary of the Army Mark T. Esper. “What it does is it pays respect and homage to those who served before them, going all the way back to the Civil War and signals the importance of their service and that they will never be forgotten for what they did. So that they know, these young Soldiers today, much as I knew when I was in uniform, that should I have to pay that ultimate price, I would not be forgotten either in America’s hearts and minds.”

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)

Col. Jason Garkey, the regiment commander, said Flags In is also a time of reflection for the Soldiers who participate.

“For every one of those headstones where we put a flag at, we have the solemn honor to put that flag in for a family member who can’t be here to do it themselves,” he said. “That’s a privilege.”

Each Soldier who took part in the event had the opportunity to place hundreds of flags into the ground, about 1 foot centered in front of every headstone.

When doing so, Garkey encouraged his Soldiers to read the name engraved onto the headstone.

“I tell them that the cemetery is alive,” Garkey said. “If you pay attention, it will tell you things.”

Buried throughout the cemetery are Medal of Honor recipients, young service members who were killed in war, retirees and spouses — all with a story to share.

Garkey, who took part in his sixth Flags In, recalled one time seeing two graves next to each other with the same last name. From the dates on the headstones, he believed they belonged to a father who had served much of his adult life in the military and his son who had died in combat years before him.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)

“There’s no worst thing than for a parent to bury their child,” he said. “But they ended up there for eternity.”

When his Soldiers recognize those sacrifices, he said, it helps put things into perspective while they perform their ceremonial duties.

“You realize there are many stories in the cemetery and that brings the cemetery to something more than just a place where we go to work,” the colonel said. “It makes it a living, breathing entity where we honor our fallen.”

For Sgt. Kevin Roman, who serves with Williams in the regiment’s Presidential Salute Battery that is responsible for firing blank howitzer rounds during ceremonies, Flags In gives him the chance to appreciate those who came before him.

“Memorial Day is a day to pay your respects to the [service members] who have made the ultimate sacrifice or who have served honorably,” said Roman, 23, of Bronx, New York. “For some people, it’s just a holiday and the unofficial start of summer.”

Before he participated in his fourth Flags In, he said every time he gets to place flags it is still meaningful to him.

“When you get out there and start reading tombstones, you gain that respect back that you may have lost during those hard days in the cemetery,” he said. “Everything comes flooding into you and you get that sense of proudness and that American spirit.”

Some gravesites are even more significant to other Soldiers in the regiment, whether they belong to a family member or a service member they once served with.

Garkey places a flag at the headstone of retired Lt. Col. Toby Runyon, a Vietnam War veteran and a family friend who died two years ago.

“I’ll take a photo and send it to his spouse just to say that we were thinking of Toby today,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said, the regiment’s sentinels who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier will stop at the gravesites of former sentinels.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(U.S. Army photo by Spc. Lane Hiser)

“Everybody has got their specific places that they go to,” Garkey said. “There’s a healing aspect that goes into it for us. It’s more than just a task, it’s an experience.”

Esper also placed flags at gravesites in the cemetery. A former Soldier himself, he said, he knows comrades in arms who have died in service to their country.

“On a day like this, I think about also my West Point classmates,” Esper said. “I know one for sure who passed away during my war, Desert Shield/Desert Storm. I had another one who was killed when the Twin Towers were felled on 9/11. And another one killed in Afghanistan. And I think about them as well, because they are peers, and like me, I can relate more to their point in life, where they got married or had children, or maybe never had the opportunity to do either. I think about them especially.”

Over Memorial Day weekend, Esper said, he hopes that Soldiers, family members, and Americans across the country will be thinking about those who fought for and died to secure freedom for the United States.

“Hopefully they will all reflect upon the great sacrifices that America’s Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines make in defense of our country and in defense of our liberties,” Esper said. “Particularly those fallen heroes that are here in Arlington National Cemetery.”

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @usarmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The hero who gave her life protecting others during hijacking

On Sept. 5, 1986, New York-bound Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked by armed terrorists at Karachi airport in Pakistan in what would become one of the bloodiest hijackings of the 80s.

During the 17-hour ordeal, Neerja Bhanot would help the cockpit crew escape and ground the plane, hide the passports of passengers to protect their identities and nationalities, and open the emergency door to help others escape.

Bhanot would give her life saving and protecting the passengers on board that day. She was just shy of 23 years old.


Just after 0600, four gunmen sped onto the tarmac in an airport security van and entered the plane, firing their weapons. Flight attendant Sherene Pavan hailed the cockpit crew and pressed the hijack code as the hijackers grabbed Bhanot and held a gun to her head, demanding to be taken to the captain.

Upon arrival in the cockpit, they saw that the crew received the warning and evacuated by means of a safety hatch in the cockpit.

Inside the plane, 29 year-old American Rajesh Kumar was pulled out of his seat, shot, and kicked out of the plane.

“This changed everything. It showed they were ruthless killers,” said Sunshine Vesuwala, a surviving flight attendant.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

Passenger and plane details.

(Wikipedia)

The hijackers wanted a pilot to fly the plane to where other members of their militant group were imprisoned. As negotiators communicated with them from outside the aircraft, the terrorists began looking for more Americans on board.

This is when Bhanot and the other flight attendants began hiding the passports of the travelers to protect their identities. As the hours dragged on, the power of the aircraft began to dwindle. When the lights finally went out, the terrorists began to fire into the aircraft, killing the on-board mechanic Meherjee Kharas.

Bhanot and other members of the crew took the opportunity to open at least three doors and help passengers escape.

Bhanot was shot helping the hostages out of the plane and was evacuated by her colleagues, but she died at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital.

22 people were killed in the attack, including two Americans, and another 150 were injured. The combined efforts of the 16 flight attendants likely saved hundreds of lives that day, and for two more days after the attack, the crew continued to care for minor passengers until they could be reunited with their families.

Articles

This American tractor became the world’s first-ever tank

Benjamin Holt was a proud industrialist creating tractors and other farming equipment when World War I broke out. While he prided himself on innovation, he stuck to creating better and better farming equipment rather than trying to create arms for the war effort.


But it turns out his farming equipment was actually destined to become one of the greatest innovations of war to emerge from that conflict.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
The original Caterpillar Tractor from Holt. (Photo: HoltCat.com)

That’s because Holt had developed a new tractor design in 1904, the “Caterpillar,” which used treads instead of wheels, allowing it to stay above the mud of the San Joaquin River Delta near Sacramento, California.

Holt replaced the steam engines of his original design with gasoline power ones in 1908, and the design took off. When World War I opened, horses butchered in front line fighting were slowly replaced with tractors, including Holt’s.

His design was actually a favorite on the front lines because the amazing grip of his caterpillar treads allowed the tractor to operate in heavy mud and to pull itself out of shell craters.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
An early Caterpillar Tractor from Holt pulls artillery in World War I. (Photo: HoltCat.com)

So there was little surprise when the British government placed an order for about 1,000 Holt Caterpillar tractors.

But when those same tractors rolled onto the battlefield, there was plenty of reason for German soldiers to sh-t their pants.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(Newspaper: Evening Public Ledger/Library of Congress)

That’s because those tractors had undergone the “Mad Max” treatment courtesy of the Royal Navy, who covered them in thick metal plates, packed them with machine guns and cannon, and sent them crawling across the battlefield at a whopping 4 mph.

And that’s how the first-ever tank was born.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
(Photo: Public Domain/British Government)

The British Mark I Tanks, built on the Holt Caterpillar tractor, were custom-made to end the stalemate of trench warfare. Their long bodies and treads allowed them to roll over many trenches and barbed wire obstacles like they weren’t there while their guns wiped out enemy defenses and infantry.

Behind them, infantrymen poured through the gaps created by the tanks and quickly seized German trenches and territory.

While the first attack at Flers Courcellette had its issues — mostly that the tanks broke down and were too slow to reposition themselves after the advance to prepare for the German counterattack — their rapid drive toward the objective served as their proof of concept.

British Gen. Douglas Haig, the commander of Allied forces at the Somme, requested hundreds more of the makeshift tanks, and armored warfare quickly became a new standard.

Better French and British tank designs soon followed the Mark 1, but it was an American tractor that carried the first tanks to fight in war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A British Naval Officer captured Guam by getting the governor drunk, then lost it

John Anderson was many things: a skilled seaman, a ship’s surgeon and charming drinking buddy. All three of these qualities would help him seize control of the island of Guam, briefly, before ceding it back to the Spanish governor. 

He found himself on Guam after being convicted of breach of trust while serving aboard a ship in the Royal Navy. He escaped to the island, where he started a new life.

Once there, his only real behavioral issues came when in the port with fellow Englishmen. They would tip a few glasses and get proper drunk. He first first came to Guam in 1819 and liked it so much, he decided he would stay.

He eventually got married, had several children and began to work in the port of the Spanish-held island. One day he decided that maybe Spain shouldn’t control the island – maybe he could do a better job. 

Anderson and his fellow Englishmen there hatched a scheme that would leave them in charge of Guam. He would simply get the governor stinking drunk and take it by force. 

The plan began with ingratiating themselves to the ruling class of the island. Now going by the name Juan Anderson, he integrated himself and his colleagues into the inner circles of Guam’s most important people, eventually meeting the governor and earning his trust. 

By 1831, Don Francisco Villalobos, Spanish Governor of the Mariana Islands, appointed Juan Anderson as the Port’s Adjutant, acting with full authority of the Captain of the Port. He was also granted the honorific title of “Don” himself. 

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war
The Mariana Islands are circled in red. (Wikipedia)

One night, they sat to have drinks with the Spanish Governor of Guam, Pablo Perez. After getting Perez “as drunk as a boiled owl,” the English took control of the palace, along with all the weapons and ammunition on the island. With possession of the island in their hands they began to celebrate.

They also had to decide who would rule as the new governor, a decision to which no one could agree. So the English did what good Englishmen do, and had a drinking contest. The last man standing sober would win the governor’s palace. The winner was Anderson, the expert-level drinker. 

But even Anderson was so drunk he couldn’t stand. With the Englismen passed out drunk, the Spanish calmly took back control of the situation, the palace, and the island. The English were subsequently tied up and arraigned for their treason, then sentenced to be placed on a raft and cast away at sea. 

Once convicted, their sentence was carried out right away and the men drifted around the Pacific Ocean for several days before coming ashore at Tinian island. They made the best of their new home on Tinian, but longed to return to Guam. 

The conspirators wrote a letter to the once-deposed Spanish governor pleading for forgiveness and expressing their regret for what they’d done. Governor Perez pardoned them with the condition that they swear allegiance to the Spanish government and the island of Guam and spend the rest of their lives as loyal citizens. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

75 years ago, US soldiers fought ‘the other Battle of the Bulge’

Troy, New York — In the earliest days of 1945, the infantrymen of the 42nd Infantry Division, now a part of the New York Army National Guard, spent their first days in desperate combat against German tanks and paratroopers during Hitler’s final offensive in Western Europe.

Operation Nordwind, sometimes called “the other Battle of the Bulge” kicked off on New Year’s Eve 1944 in the Alsace region of France. The American and French armies fought desperately to halt the attack and hold onto the city of Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace.


Three regiments of 42nd Infantry Division soldiers, who had been hurried to France without the rest of their divisional support units, had arrived in Strasbourg, France just before Christmas 1944. They expected to spend time in a quiet sector to learn the ropes of combat.

They could not have been more wrong.

The 42nd Infantry Division had been made up of National Guard troops during World War I and nicknamed “the Rainbow Division” because it contained elements from 26 states.

In World War II the division was reactivated but filled with draftee soldiers. With a desperate need for infantry troops in Europe, the soldiers of the 222nd, 232nd, and 242nd Infantry Regiments had been pulled out of training in the United States and shipped to southern France.

The three regiments were named Task Force Linden, because they were commanded by the division’s deputy commander Brig. Gen. Henning Linden. They were committed to battle without the artillery, armor, engineers and logistics support the rest of the division would normally provide.

The attack came as a shock to the newly arrived infantrymen, explained Capt. William Corson in a letter to a 42nd Division reunion gathering in 1995. Corson commanded Company A in the 1st Battalion, 242nd Infantry.

“The green, inexperienced troops would occupy a small town named Hatten since the Germans had nothing more than small patrols in the area. At least that was the information given at a briefing, but someone forgot to tell the enemy,” he wrote.

German paratroops and panzer forces with tanks and self-propelled guns crossed the Rhine River 12 miles north of Strasbourg and clashed with the thinly stretched Rainbow Division infantry at Gambsheim on January 5.

For the next three weeks, the three regiments defended, retreated, counterattacked and finally stopped the Germans.

The first week of was a frenzied effort to halt the German advance, with companies and battalions moved around the front like firefighters plugging gaps, Corson said. The fighting was so desperate that the 42nd Division even threw individual rifle companies into the fight whenever they became available.

“Officers knew little more than the GI,” Corson said. “One morning my company moved to a barren, frozen hillside with orders to dig defensive positions covering an area about three times larger than we were capable of adequately defending. After four hours of chipping away at the frozen ground, we were told that this position would not be defended, so we moved to another frozen spot about ten miles away and started digging again.”

At Gambsheim the odds were too great for the American infantry. The majority of its defenders from the 232nd Infantry Regiment were captured or killed.

In a failed January 5-7 counterattack at Gambsheim, units from all three regiments were combined in a patchwork force that was ultimately repulsed.

Dan Bearse, a rifleman with the 242nd Infantry in the counterattack, recounted the events in an oral history.

“They had tanks and heavy artillery, endless infantry troops,” Bearse recalled. “We were outnumbered two or three to one. So we were quickly repulsed. Lost lots of people, killed, wounded and captured. And we were thrown back immediately,” he said of the January 6 battle. “We were badly mauled and it was very demoralizing. That was our baptism of fire. And it was a loser.”

At Hatten, on January 10, 1945, the 242nd Infantry Regiment and a battalion from the 79th Division tried to stop the German tanks and paratroopers again. The defenders were overrun.

Capt. Corson was wounded and captured with dozens of his Soldiers.

But one soldier from the 242nd Infantry, Master Sgt. Vito Bertoldo decided to stay. Bertoldo, who was attached from Corson’s Company A to the battalion headquarters, volunteered to hold off the Germans while other soldiers retreated.

Bertoldo drove back repeated German attacks for 48 hours. He was exposed to enemy machine gun, small arms and even tank fire.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

US Army soldiers of the 42nd Infantry Division’s Task Force Linden prepare a defensive position at their log and dirt bunker near Kauffenheim, France, January 8, 1945.

(Courtesy photo)

Moving among buildings in Hatten to fire his machine gun, at one point Bertoldo strapped it to a table for stability. He fired on approaching German tanks and panzer grenadiers, repeatedly defeating the German attacks and killing 40 of the enemy. For his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

“On the close approach of enemy soldiers, he left the protection of the building he defended and set up his gun in the street,” his Medal of Honor citation states, “There to remain for almost 12 hours driving back attacks while in full view of his adversaries and completely exposed to 88-millimeter, machine gun and small arms fire.”

“All I did was try to protect some other American soldiers from being killed,” Bertoldo would tell newspapers back home after the war. “At no time did I have in mind that I was trying to win something.”

The 1st Battalion, 242nd Infantry paid a heavy price for its defense of Hatten. At the beginning of the battle there were 33 officers and 748 enlisted men in the battalion. Three days later there were 11 officers and 253 enlisted men reporting for duty.

The Germans launched their final assault just seven miles from the fight at Hatten on January 24, looking to cut American supply lines back to Strasbourg in the town of Haguenau.

They attacked straight into the 42nd Division.

Troops of the 222nd Infantry were dug in inside the nearby Ohlugen Forest, with thick foliage and dense fog concealing both American and German positions.

The regiment had two battalions in the defense, covering a frontage of 7,500 yards, three times the normal frontage for a regiment in defense, according to the “42nd “Rainbow” Infantry Division Combat History of WWII.”

Facing the Americans were elements of a German tank division, a paratroop division and an infantry division.

During the fighting, 1st Lt. Carlyle Woelfer, commanding Company K in the 3rd Battalion, 222nd Infantry, captured a German officer with maps detailing the German attack. The officer and another prisoner were put on an M8 Greyhound armored car for transport to the rear. But the German officer signaled for other Germans to come to their aid.

Three Germans moved on the vehicle, killing one American Soldier, but were then killed in turn by Woelfer.

The back and forth fighting continued through the rest of the night as the 222nd fought to contain the German breakthrough towards Haguenau. The regiment earned a Presidential Unit Citation for its actions.

The 232nd Regiment was brought up from reserve to help in the defense. The defense had held as reinforcements from the divisions which had been fighting in the Battle of the Bulge arrived to push the Germans back.

By mid-February 1945 the rest of the 42nd Infantry Division arrived in France and the infantry regiments were rebuilt. The division then went on the attack against German units that had been severely ground down by the Nordwind attack.

For the Rainbow Division, their attack would lead into Germany and capture the cities of Wurzburg, Schweinfurt, Furth, Nuremberg, Dachau and Munich before the war ended in May of 1945.

This article originally appeared on National Guard. Follow @USNationalGuard on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Navy might know what sank its only major warship lost in WWI

When America joined the Great War, the British Fleet was holding most of the German Navy in the North Sea, meaning that American warships and troop ships rarely faced severe opposition. But one ship did fall prey to an unknown assailant: The USS San Diego, sank off the U.S. East Coast due to a massive explosion from an unknown source.


What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

The USS San Diego in March 1916.

(U.S. Navy)

But the ship is now a fish sanctuary, and researchers looking at the wreck and at historical documents think they’ve figured out what happened all those years ago.

On July 19, 1918, the armored cruiser was sailing from Portsmouth Naval Yard to New York with a full load of coal in preparation to strike out across the Atlantic. But, as it was coming up the coast, an explosion well beneath the waterline suddenly tore through the ship, hitting so hard that it warped the hull and prevented the closure of a watertight door.

The crew was already positioned throughout the ship in case of trouble, and damage control jumped into action to try to save the ship. Meanwhile, the captain ordered his men to fire the ships massive guns at anything that even looked like a periscope.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

USS San Diego sinks in this 1920 painting by Francis Muller.

(Naval History and Heritage Command)

His working theory was that they had been hit by a German torpedo, and he wanted to both kill the bastard who had shot his ship and save the vessel. Unfortunately, he could do neither. The ship sank in 30 minutes into water 110 feet deep, and the crew never spotted the vessel that attacked them.

Six sailors died in the incident. They were Engineman Second Class Thomas E. Davis, Engineman 2nd Class James F. Rochet, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Frazier O. Thomas, Seaman 2nd Class Paul J. Harris, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Andrew Munson, and Fireman 1st Class Clyde C. Blaine.

It was a naval mystery for years, but there was a theory competing against the torpedo one: The ship might have struck a mine placed there by a submarine that was long gone when the San Diego arrived.

What could’ve happened if the Cuban missile crisis had turned into all-out nuclear war

The proud USS San Diego, also known as Armored Cruiser 6.

(U.S. Navy)

Researchers created a 3-D map of the wreck, and found damage that was most similar to the larger explosive load of a torpedo, but could have been caused by a large mine. And so they turned to naval records handed over by Germany after World War I.

In those records, they found reports from the U-156, a German submarine that did operate on the East Coast that month. But it wasn’t concentrating on finding ships to torpedo. She was carrying mines.

The first thing she did was to lay a string of mines right here, because this was the main convoy route. Most of the convoy routes were coming out of New York City, heading for Europe,” Retired Rear Adm. Sam Cox said in July during a ceremony to honor the six sailors lost in the sinking. “We believe those mines were what the San Diego hit.”

The mine explosion took place well below the waterline and against relatively thin plating. The mine detonated against a half inch of steel. If it had contacted at the armored band, it would’ve done paltry damage against the ship’s 5-inch thick armor belt.

Because of the limited ships the Central Powers could put to sea in the later years of World War I, the Navy concentrated on protecting and conducting logistics operations rather than chasing elusive fleet action. The Navy delivered more than 2 million soldiers to Europe without losing any soldiers to U-boats.

In World War II, it would be forced to conduct fleet actions while also delivering troops and supplies across the Pacific, Europe, and Africa.

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