How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

On April 24, 1980, America’s best attempted the unthinkable — the rescue of 52 American hostages from inside revolutionary Tehran.

On November 4, 1979, Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took 66 Americans hostage. (Several had been released by the time the rescue was attempted.)

Furious at the US’s decision to not extradite Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — the former king of Iran who had been ousted by an Islamic revolution in January and was receiving medical care in America — the Iranian students sought to use American hostages as bargaining chips with the blessing of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s new leader.

A 444-day ordeal for the hostages had just begun.

A complex plan

Repainted RH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters aboard USS Nimitz, April 24, 1980. US Defense Department

Less than a month later, the US military began training for a daring rescue. As the military’s premier hostage-rescue unit, the Army’s newly established Delta Force would spearhead the operation’s ground part.

But it was a complicated affair. Surrounded by deserts and mountains, Tehran was challenging to reach in force. The CIA flew out an Air Force commando who surveyed and approved a forward staging location about 50 miles from the Iranian capital. The site was dubbed Desert One.

Moreover, despite some intrepid close-target intelligence gathered by individual commandos inside Tehran, there was inadequate information for the operation — Delta had to rely on Iranian national TV for much of its intelligence.

Task force personnel arriving at Masirah, Oman. Courtesy Photo

The task force couldn’t pinpoint the exact location of all the hostages. Aside from the embassy — a sprawling 26-acre compound that in its prime housed 1,000 Americans — reports suggested the Iranians were holding some hostages at the Foreign Ministry.

The CIA couldn’t provide actionable intelligence since its operations in Iran were limited by President Jimmy Carter in response to the agency’s past actions.

In addition, all four US military branches wanted a piece of the action, leading to a confusing compromise: The Air Force would provide the fixed-wing aircraft (three MC-130E Combat Talons and three EC-130E Hercules) and a Special Tactics team. The Navy would furnish eight RH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters from nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. The Marine Corps would contribute pilots for the helicopters; and finally, the Army would supply the Rangers, Delta Force, and Special Forces operators responsible for rescuing the hostages.

Operation Eagle Claw, as it was officially known, called for the MC-130E and EC-130E to fly the task force and necessary supplies 1,000 miles from Oman to Desert One. The eight RH-53 would fly 600 miles from USS Nimitz and meet them there.

Army Gen. James B. Vaught, the task force commander, and Col. Charlie Beckwith, the founder and commander of Delta Force, at Masirah, Oman. Courtesy Photo

After refueling, the helicopters would fly the 132 Army commandos to a hideout 50 miles from Tehran. Meanwhile, the transport aircraft would fly back to Oman.

The next night, the Delta operators and Rangers would use vehicles obtained by the Army and CIA to get to their targets.

Once the assault force had freed the hostages, the helicopter would fly them to an abandoned airbase, which a company of Rangers would have captured, 50 miles from Tehran. They would then destroy the helicopters and fly to Saudi Arabia via C-141 Starlifters.

Three AC-130 gunships would destroy any Iranian fighter jets at Tehran airport and provide close air support if the Iranians counterattacked. In all, 44 aircraft would directly or indirectly participate in the mission.

Operation Eagle Claw

Task force personnel praying the day of the mission. Courtesy Photo

From the start, the operation was plagued by misfortune. Upon landing at Desert One, the Delta operators encountered a bus full of Iranian civilians, whom they had to detain, and a fuel truck, which they had to destroy because it didn’t stop. The driver, however, managed to escape in another vehicle.

Meanwhile, two RH-53s had to be abandoned and another had to return to the ship because of mechanical failures and bad weather. The mission had to be aborted, as a minimum of six helicopters was necessary to ferry the commandos.

As the task force was preparing to depart and try again another day, disaster struck. One of the helicopters collided with an EC-130E. In the ensuing inferno, five airmen and three Marines were killed and eight aircraft destroyed.

“Some say we failed,” wrote Army Gen. James Vaught, commander of task force, after Desert One was evacuated.

“Others say it was a fiasco. It was none of that. It was the best effort try by a team of brave volunteers to accomplish a difficult and dangerous mission. Never have I seen more determined Americans try so hard to do the right thing … Those we lost did not die in vain. We will set our people free.”

Outcome

Senior Iranian officials look over burned-out equipment left by US forces after their failed rescue mission, April 27, 1980. AP Photo

As Carter took responsibility for the mission, the military was already trying to prepare for a second operation. The Iranians, however, spread out the hostages to prevent that.

An after-action report by a commission of flag officers found several issues. To begin with, the task force was a hodgepodge of units, which didn’t train together and never conducted a full dress rehearsal.

“We went out and found bits and pieces, people and equipment, brought them together occasionally, and then asked them to perform a highly complex mission. The parts all performed, but they didn’t necessarily perform as a team,” Col. Charlie Beckwith, the founder and commander of Delta Force, said at a Senate hearing.

A serviceman burned in the failed rescue of hostages in Iran arrives for treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, April 26, 1980. AP Photo/Ted Powers

The panel of officers also recommended that the military needed a dedicated counterterrorism joint task force and a special operations command, leading to the creation of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), its subordinate service commands, and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which brought Delta Force and SEAL Team 6 together.

The military also created the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, also known as the “Night Stalkers,” to ensure the helicopter issues that occurred during Operation Eagle Claw never happened again.

From the ashes of disaster, America’s current special operations might was born.

A few days after the failed operation, two British airmen delivered a case of beer to their American brethren. Scribbled across the box were the words, “To you all, from us all, for having the guts to try.”

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

WATCH

WATCH: Where do retired aircraft end up?

Ever wonder where planes go to die? After their last mission, Air Force aircraft doesn’t just disappear. They retire to Arizona. And, if they’re salvageable, the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG) makes sure they get recycled. If you were to fly over the Davis Monthan AFB in Arizona, know what you’d see? The resting place of thousands of retired aircraft. Davis is nicknamed “The Boneyard” for good reason – the base houses nearly 2,600 acres of aircraft, many of them retired and disassembled.

Why Arizona?

AMARG Air Force Graveyard’s location in Arizona has very good reasons. The desert climate is perfect for storing this vast quantity of aircraft. The risk of corrosion or other damage from the elements is low.

Parked at The Boneyard are more than 4,000 aircraft. If they were still in use, this number of planes would make up the second-largest air force in the world. Pretty wild to think that they’re all just sitting at the Boneyard, aging gracefully. Some of the aircraft are full-on retired, ceremony and all. But the rest are in storage. Sometimes those aircraft get repurposed for training and other uses.

Retired Aircraft Save Taxpayers Money

The US Air Force, along with most other US government agencies, sends their retired aircraft to this Arizona location to be “recycled.” They are either disassembled for parts to use in other aircraft or sold as scrap metal.

The goal of this program is to save taxpayers money. We’ve been doing it this way since WWII. For every dollar that is spent on AMARG’s mission, almost $11 is returned to the national treasury. That’s a pretty solid return.

The Boneyard is Full of Military History

Not long after WWII ended, the surplus of aircraft around the globe was astounding. Some of them still had use for parts or scrap, while others, entire fleets even, became obsolete. Then there are also the planes that simply needed regeneration and storage until their next use. The problem was, there was nowhere to put all these aircraft. That’s when they started ferrying them over to Arizona.

Since 1962, Davis Monthan AFB has been the complete storage facility for all government aircraft. This includes Coast Guard, NASA, Border Patrol, Marine, and Navy aircraft, plus Reserve and National Guard units.

For the aircraft historian, Davis presents a bounty unlike anything else. The variety, age, and rarity of aircraft calling the Boneyard home is astounding. So many a budding historian will eventually find themselves walking the lanes, exploring the aircraft.

These days, our aircraft production isn’t nearly what it used to be. So fewer types of aircraft are produced. At some point, the Boneyard might not exist, – all the more reason for aircraft and military history buffs to get their fill in now.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the military challenge coin came to be

Challenge coins mean different things to different troops. Senior enlisted and officers tend to place them on a desk to gloat to peers and the more junior troops slam them on the bar to see who’s buying the next round. How you earn the coin also ranges widely, from “pleasure to meet you, have a coin” to “you made a great cup of coffee, have a coin” to even “you did something worthy of an award, but nah — have a coin.”


Throughout history, warriors have carried coins, going as far back as the ancient Greeks and, eventually, the Romans. Coins carried by warriors were seen as the payment for the ferryman, Charon, to be exchanged for passage into the afterlife. They served as a memento mori, which roughly translates from Latin to mean, “remember that you will die.” This is also the root of the English word ‘memento.’ Even back in the Civil War, troops from both armies carried coins with them as a cheap reminder of being back home.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

The legend of the challenge coins, as we know them, started with WWI pilots. A young and rich lieutenant felt the need to flaunt his wealth to his new peers, so he spent his own money to buy solid bronze medallions of his unit insignia for his peers. Another pilot accepted it as a nice gift and wore it in a small leather pouch around his neck. Shortly after, he would be shot down behind enemy lines. He was captured by Germans, who stripped him over everything, but overlooked his medallion.

Related: These are some of the best military challenge coins

He escaped in civilian attire, crossed no man’s land undetected, and stumbled into a French outpost. Unfortunately, the French didn’t understand English nor his American accent and thought he was a German saboteur. The Germans took every bit of personal identification from the American pilot, so the only proof he had to show the French to not shoot him was the bronze unit medallion his rich peer gave him.

One French captor recognized the insignia and delayed his execution until they could confirm if he was American or not. Instead of a bullet to the head, the French gave him a bottle of wine and sent him on his way. When the pilot returned and told everyone of what happened, carrying those medallions became immediately important among all pilots. This also started the joke punishment of having to buy the next round if you’re not carrying your coin.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight
So, if you’re wondering, nearly every tradition the military dates back to WWI. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Another lower enlisted tradition began in post-WWII Germany as assigned U.S. troops would carry West German money with them. The exchange rate was so bad that the One Pfennig coin was hardly worth a fraction of a penny and had nearly zero value to American troops. So, only the poorest of the poor would bother saving them — until troops gathered to drink. If someone would shout, “Pfennig check!” everyone would empty their pockets to see who was poor (if you had the near-worthless coin) and who wasn’t (if you were above keeping them). If you were “rich” enough to not need to carry a worthless coin, you were rich enough to buy your brother-in-arms a drink. This soon shifted to include challenge coins, which also had no monetary value.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These important tools are made from sunken warships

Let’s say you need to make a very sensitive tool to detect radiation. Maybe you need to use it for medical purposes, detecting specific isotopes as they move through a human body. Or perhaps it’s for the tools to detect radiation to prevent dirty bombs and nuclear smuggling. Wherever your radiation is, if you want super accurate measurements of it, you have to make your tools out of low-background steel, and that’s hard to get.


How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

U.S. Navy divers extract oil from the World War II German cruiser Prinz Eugen to prevent it leaking into the environment. The steel of the hull would be worth billions for use in scientific experiments and medical instruments.

(U.S. Navy)

Here’s the problem with new steel: It’s made in a radioactive environment. The very air we breathe contains little molecules leftover from the approximately 2,000 nuclear tests conducted since 1945. Irradiated coral from Bikini Atoll tests, snow melted by the Tsar Bomba, and air particles in the wrong spots during the development of the Genie air-to-air rocket are all still radioactive.

It’s not enough to be a big threat to life around the world, but disasters like those at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island have created background radiation in the atmosphere that will last for centuries. And making steel requires that air is passed through molten steel. If that air has any radioactive molecules in it, which it often does, then the steel will be slightly radioactive.

That doesn’t make it useless for detecting radiation. But any radiation in the steel makes the resulting device less sensitive. It’s like if you’re trying to listen for a distant sound while a band plays. The louder and closer the band is, the harder it will be for you to hear a distant or faint sound. A radiation detection device with radioactive steel in it will never be able to detect radiation that’s beneath the threshold its own components put out.

But steel can last. And any steel manufactured before the first nuclear tests in July 1945 is filled with low-background radiation steel. Basically, since it has much fewer radioactive particles in it, it can detect radiation at much lower levels. So, if you need to run a radioactive dye through a medical patient, you can use a much lower level of radiation if the detector is made with low-background steel.

Same with scientific and law enforcement instruments.

But how to get low-background steel today? If you mine ore now, melt it down, and mix it with limestone, you’ll be most of the way through making low-background steel. But you also have to pass air through it. And the only air available has radiation in it.

So, instead, you could go find steel manufactured before 1945. Preferably steel that wasn’t exposed to the air during the testing or in the years immediately afterward.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

Medical scanners often require low-background steel, a material most easily obtained through World War II and earlier salvage.

(U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Miles Wilson)

You read the headline. You know where this is going.

Sunken warships have literally tens of thousands of tons of steel in them, and the water has shielded them from radiation for decades.

So, with the consent of governments, some warships have their steel removed. It’s done carefully both to prevent contaminating the metal as well as to avoid disturbing the dead. And it’s not just steel. A British warship from before the Revolution had a large amount of lead that is now maintained by the University of Chicago.

There’s even speculation that the Voyager 1 or Explorer 1 satellites may contain World War I German warship steel.

It’s even been suggested that some illegal salvage efforts were conducted by black market outfits looking to make millions by stealing entire ships off the ocean floor. And at least two British ships lost in World War II have disappeared, though some researchers think it was more likely straight steel salvage. It doesn’t appear the thieves had the wherewithal to properly protect the salvage from modern radiation, so it was probably sold as normal scrap.

So the thieves disturbed the grave of thousands of sailors and contaminated tens of thousands of tons of rare low-background steel.

And some artifacts from long before World War II are now being used for scientific experiments. Historians and scientists have a tense tug of war when it comes to lead from ancient Chinese and Roman sites and wrecks.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 incredible photos of Navy ships barely fitting through the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is a man-made 52-mile-long waterway through Panama that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. When it opened in 1914, about 1,000 vessels transited the canal. By 2012, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through. In 2016, the waterway was expanded to allow larger vessels with more cargo. Here are five impressive pictures of massive U.S. naval vessels passing through the Panama Canal.

1. USS Saratoga (CV-3)

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight
USS Saratoga (CV-3) transits the canal during the inter-war period (U.S. Navy)

2. USS Lexington (CV-2)

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight
USS Lexington (CV-2) in one of the Panama Canal’s locks in March 1928 (U.S. Navy)

3. USS Boxer (CVS-21)

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight
USS Boxer (CVS-21) passes through the canal in 1958 before she was redesignated as an experimental amphibious assault ship (LPH-4) in 1959. Note the personal vehicles carried on her flight deck (U.S. Navy)

3. USS Valley Forge (CV-45)

ship in panama canal
USS Valley Forge (CV-45) was one of the last aircraft carriers to transit the Panama Canal (U.S. Navy)

4. USS Missouri (BB-63)

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight
USS Missouri (BB-63) had just 8 inches of clearance on either side (U.S. Navy)

5. USS New Jersey (BB-62)

ship in panama canal
USS New Jersey (BB-62) transits the Panama Canal in 1984 (USS New Jersey)

6. USNS Comfort (T-AH-20)

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight
USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) passes through the Miraflores Lock (U.S. Navy)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Army sent soldiers to Vietnam to be ‘combat artists’

For decades, photography has been the primary means of recording war. The medium began its rise to prominence during the American Civil War, thanks to Mathew Brady, a pioneer of photography, and his mobile darkroom. By World War I, photography had completely taken over as the de facto means of documenting war. Today, some form of photography, either still or motion, is still used to capture the iconic moments of a conflict.

But believe it or not, painting has hung on.

During the Vietnam War, the United States Army’s Center for Military History ran a unique program, selecting soldiers for temporary duty in the Vietnam Combat Artists Program. One such soldier was James R. Pollock, who served on Combat Artist Team IV from August 15, 1967, to December 31, 1967.


According to a 2009 essay written by Pollock, these artists followed various units around in the field for anywhere from one to four days. Equipped with a sketchbook and an M1911, they would share the dangers that those troops faced — if they went on patrol, the combat artists went on patrol, too.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

The combat artists followed Army troops everywhere, capturing humanitarian missions like this one.

(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by Samuel E. Alexander)

Pollock’s team had orders to spend 60 days in Vietnam assigned to the Command Historian, Headquarters, US Army, Vietnam, followed by another 75 in Hawaii with a Special Services Officer. In Vietnam, they were to make sketches, capturing powerful moments that would be turned into completed paintings while in Hawaii.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

Photography took a prominent role among historians, but paintings can still vividly capture combat.

(U.S. Army Combat Art Program by Burdell Moody)

The combat artists weren’t very high-ranking: Pollock’s team had three Specialist 4s, one Specialist 5, and one sergeant, and was supervised by a lieutenant. The artists also had “open Category Z Air and Military Travel orders” — which basically gave them free reign to hitchhike anywhere.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

James Pollock was one of the artists who was on a Combat Art Team during Vietnam, and later became a famous painter who has documented the Vietnam Combat Artists Program.

(U.S. Army Combat Art Program painting by James Pollock)

Today, combat artwork is still done as part of the United States Army Artist Program, but the Army isn’t alone – the Air Force has one of these programs, too!

Learn more about some of the Vietnam combat artists in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4gO_xeUKp5I

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a teenager tried to assassinate the Queen

The Queen is likely one of the single best protected people on the entire planet. But on June 13, 1981, a 17 year old young man who held a marksman’s badge from the Air Training Corps somehow managed to circumvent the endless layers of security put in place to protect the Queen and fired a revolver at her from about 10 feet or 3 meters away. In the process, he managed to get not just one shot off, but a half a dozen, completely emptying his gun. So how is the queen still alive today? Well, thanks to strict gun laws in the UK, the young man, one Marcus Sarjeant, could only get his hands on a gun that shot blanks…

So why did he do it? According to Sarjeant, he was inspired to try and kill the Queen thanks to the deaths of John Lennon, JFK, and the attempts on the life of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. In particular, Sarjeant was intrigued by the subsequent notoriety and fame Mark David Chapman achieved after shooting Lennon and endeavoured to do something similarly shocking so that he’d be remembered as well. Not unique in this, humans have been doing this sort of thing seemingly since humans have been humaning, with perhaps the most notable ancient example being about two thousand years ago when Herostratus destroyed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World just so history would remember him.


How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

A modern model of the Temple of Artemis.

Going back to Sarjeant, prior to trying to shoot the Queen, he had received military training, reportedly joining and then quickly quitting both the Royal Marines and Army after 3 months and 2 days respectively. In the former case, he claims he couldn’t take the bullying from his superiors. It’s not clear why he left the Army. After this, Sarjeant tried and failed to become both a police officer and firefighter before working briefly at a zoo — a job he quit after just a few months reportedly because, as with seemingly all teens, he didn’t like being told what to do.

After deciding that shooting the Queen was his ticket into the history books, Sarjeant wrote in his journal, “I am going to stun and mystify the world with nothing more than a gun… I will become the most famous teenager in the world.”

Decision made, Sarjeant set about trying to get a hold of a gun with which to accomplish the task. Fortunately for the Queen, he was unable to do this thanks to strict UK laws related to gun ownership and the sale of live ammunition. Thus, he was both unable to acquire bullets for his father’s revolver and unable to acquire one of his own, even after successfully joining a gun club. Eventually, he did manage to purchase a Colt Python replica, which was modified to fire only blanks.

Despite the unmistakable handicap of not having a working gun, Sarjeant charged ahead with his plan to assassinate the Queen anyway, posing for pictures with his newly acquired firearm, as well as his father’s that he had no bullets for. He then sent these to a couple magazines along with a letter about what he was going to do. He also reportedly sent a letter to the Queen stating, “Your Majesty. Don’t go to the trooping of the color today because there is an assassin waiting outside to kill you”. This is a letter we should note didn’t arrive until 3 days after Sarjeant tried to shoot the Queen.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

Photograph of Queen Elizabeth II riding to trooping the colour in July 1986.

As for the day of the Trooping the Colour ceremony, Sarjeant waited patiently for the Queen who he knew would be vulnerable due to the fact that she would be riding a horse in the open, and not in her usual well-guarded carriage. As soon as Sarjeant spotted her Majesty, he rushed forward and fired all 6 blanks his gun held at her, something that understandable startled the Queen’s 19-year-old horse, Burmese.

The Queen, showing why she is often considered an ambassador for British stoicism, didn’t really react much other than calming her horse and then continuing on all smiles as if nothing had happened.

If you watch the live news reporting of the event, the BBC broadcaster likewise exhibits this same stereotypical British reaction, directly after the shots were fired calming saying, “Hello, some little disturbance in the approach road… Burmese receiving a reassuring pat from her Majesty Queen, but he’s a very experienced, wise old fellow…” And then, much as the Queen had done, continuing on as if nothing significant had just happened.

Prince Charles reflects on Trooping The Colour in 1981 – Elizabeth at 90 – A Family Tribute – BBC

www.youtube.com

Of course, seconds after the shots were fired, the Queen’s personal guard tackled Sarjeant and began treating him as you might expect her guard would a man who had just seemingly tried to kill their charge. Sarjeant reportedly later told the guards his reasoning for the assassination attempt: “I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be a somebody.”

Sarjeant was ultimately taken to jail where he had to be held in solitary confinement for his own protection, as apparently even British prisoners don’t take kindly to someone taking pot shots at the queen.

When it came to the trial, because Sarjeant’s gun only held blanks, he couldn’t technically be tried for attempted assassination. As a result, Sarjeant was instead tried under Section 2 of the Treason Act of 1842, for “wilfully discharging at the person of Her Majesty the Queen a cartridge pistol, with intent to alarm her”.

Funny enough, this act came about in the first place because of people taking pot shots at Queen Victoria, most notably when one John Francis on May 29, 1842 chose to point a gun at the Queen, but not fire. The next day, he did the same thing, but this time discharging his weapon, but without apparent attempt to actually hit her, at which point he was arrested and tried for treason. A mere two days later, another individual, John William Bean, did the same thing, except, again, there was no risk to the queen. In this case, Bean had loaded the weapon with paper and tobacco.

The problem here was that, while neither of these instances were individuals actually trying to kill the queen, they nonetheless were being charged with treason, a conviction of which meant death. This was something Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, thought was too harsh, which ultimately led to the passage of the Treason Act of 1842. This had lesser penalties for discharging a fire arm near the monarch with intent to startle said monarch, rather than kill. As for the sentence if convicted, this included a flogging and a maximum prison sentence of 7 years.

Going back to Sarjeant, said Lord Chief Justice Geoffrey Lane to Sarjeant during the trial,

I have little doubt that if you had been able to obtain a live gun or live ammunition for your father’s gun you would have tried to murder her majesty. You tried to get a license. You tried to get a gun. You were not able to obtain either. Therefore, for reasons which are not easy to understand, you chose to indulge in what was a fantasy assassination…. You must be punished for the wicked thing you did.

Or to put it another way, Sarjeant won’t be remembered by history as the guy who tried to kill the Queen, but the guy who tried (and utterly failed) to mildly startle her.

In the end, while Sarjeant did apologize for what he’d done in court and would later write a letter to the queen apologizing directly, he was nonetheless sentenced to five years in prison, though at least got out of the flogging part of the possible punishment. Sarjeant ultimately only had to serve three years, the majority of which was spent at Grendon Psychiatric Prison in Buckinghamshire.

After he got out of prison in October of 1984, he changed his name and very deliberately disappeared from the public eye, his desire for fame evidently having been quashed during his time being held at Her Majesty’s leisure

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things that surprised the German army on D-Day

Believe it or not, the Germans were not surprised that the Allies were ready to invade Fortress Europe as a means of bringing World War II to an end. As a matter of fact, in much of Europe, the Nazis were ready for whatever the Allied troops were going to throw their way. The Nazis knew about the military build-up in England, and even the lowest-ranking Wehrmacht trooper knew the invasion would come at some point.

Luckily, the Allied powers still had a few tricks up their sleeves.


How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

The Pas-de-Calais defenses in 1944.

They didn’t think Normandy would be the target.

The ideal point of an invasion of Europe from England, Nazi planners determined, would come at Calais. There were many reasons for this, but the simplest explanation is that Calais is the closest landing point from England. The English Channel is a tough, choppy sea with inclement weather – a more distant location could put a substantial invasion force at risk, so the troops manning the Atlantic Wall were reasonably sure Normandy was safe.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

U.S. troops of Japanese descent fighting in the 442d Regimental Combat Team, one of the most storied units of the war.

No one expected it in June 1944.

Most experienced German troops and planners believed the Allies would not open a second invasion of Europe from the West until the Invasion of Italy was complete. Most thought another invasion of Allied forces would come only after the Italian Campaign reached the Alps or even crossed over them. This, coupled with the fact they thought the landings would come at Calais meant the Germans manning defenses at Normandy were not the best troops for the job. Those troops were hundreds of miles away.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

American troops fighting in the hedgerows of the French countryside.

The advance was much faster than expected

German troops marveled at the speed with which American, British, and Canadian forces were able to move their men and materiel, not only in crossing the English Channel on D-Day and the days after, but in the weeks following June 6. The formation of a firm beachhead and the rapid advance through the French countryside astonished the Germans, who had made the same lightning advance across the territory just a few years prior.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

German sailors of the Kriegsmarine.

How much the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine failed them

During the D-Day landings, the presence of the German Air Force or Navy was minimal where it existed at all. The Wehrmacht was the only real resistance to the Allied landings. Were it not for the Channel’s infamous choppiness and bad weather, the landings would have made it across the water entirely unabated. With no air cover or protection from the water, the army was essentially left out to dry.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

The coordination of the Maquis

The Germans largely despised the resistance movements in France and other occupied countries and looked down on them with disdain. In practice, however, the close coordination between French resistance cells and the Allied command created a situation where German troops, transports, and heavy weapons that might have thrown the Allies back into the English Channel were instead tied up and slowed down for hours, leaving only the defenses sitting on the Atlantic Wall to try and stem the tide.

MIGHTY HISTORY

From K9 handler in Vietnam to VA volunteer

Marion Bales was a high school senior the day a Marine Corps vehicle pulled up in front of his parents’ house. His mother immediately broke down in anguish, imagining the worst about his older brother, who was serving in Vietnam.

“He had been wounded in the shoulder and it was pretty serious,” Bales said. “They flew him straight out of Vietnam to the Naval hospital in Great Lakes, Illinois. After about two weeks we learned that he was going to be okay. However, it was a very traumatic experience for my mother, and really, for all of us.”

Two years later, in December 1969, Bales was a 20-year-old electronic and mechanical equipment installer when he received his notice to report for an armed forces physical examination. For the young men of Bales’ generation, the country’s last military draft meant one thing – more personnel for the war effort in Vietnam.

“Within a week, I was on my way to Fort Leonard Wood for basic training,” Bales said. “I don’t remember a lot about that experience other than the rifle range and that they worked us hard, running us all day and sometimes at night.”

Bales with Vietnamese family he fondly remembers as one he “adopted.”

Next stop, Danang

From there, Bales went through Advanced Infantry Training at Fort Ord, California, followed by dog handler training at Fort Benning, Georgia. His next stop was Danang, South Vietnam.

“I flew over to Vietnam and they had me complete a two-week course on short-range canine patrols in Danang.”

For most of his tour, Bales and his black Labrador “Orange” (pictured above) were on-call for specialized patrols that required them to walk “point” ahead of the unit. Alone and more exposed because of his position, Bales and Orange were always inserted into these areas by UH-1 “Huey” helicopters.

“The pilots never set down because the units I was called in to assist usually were still in a firefight,” Bales said. “I’d have to jump with Orange in my arms, along with all my gear, from heights that could be 20 feet or more.”

When asked how he could make such jumps without injury, Bales explained, “There usually was several feet of elephant grass or something else that offered some padding. Otherwise you learned how to roll once you hit the ground and then you kept on going.”

Bales (right) and fellow Vietnam War Veteran Rick Rice (center) assist a Veteran at Truman VA.

And because people want to know how a black lab got the name Orange, Bales explains: “Orange came from a litter where each puppy was given a name that started with the letter O. There were eight dogs in this litter. I did eventually meet Orange’s sister Opal, who also was a war dog.”

“Truman VA is the best hospital I’ve ever seen”

Bales eventually finished his tour in Vietnam and, once discharged, resumed work as an electronic and mechanical equipment installer. He married, had six children, and eventually settled in his wife’s hometown of Salisbury, Missouri.

“After I retired, I volunteered at our local food bank. One day, Cindy Stivers, a Marine Corps Veteran and the Women Veterans Coordinator at Truman VA, came in and we talked about VA health care. That’s when I began to really think about VA.

“I’ve been receiving my care there for some time now and I think VA is tremendous. In my opinion, Truman VA is the best hospital I’ve ever seen and I’ve worked in a lot of them over the years installing equipment.”

After interacting with other Veterans, Bales began volunteering at the hospital. As an escort and ambassador, he has been part of Truman VA’s Voluntary Service program for the past ten years.

“I served as a Veteran and now I serve Veterans,” Bales said. “I encourage anyone who is interested in giving back to Veterans to contact their local VA’s Voluntary Service.”

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

1,000 bombers took part in largest World War II bombing raid

The largest bombing raid of World War II was the British attack on Cologne, Germany, on May 30, 1942, when over 1,000 bombers were sent to destroy chemical and machine tool facilities there in a single-night attack.


GIGANTIC 1,000 BOMBER RAID –

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The bombing raid took place before American forces had built up large concentrations of forces in Europe. Britain in 1942 was benefiting from American industry, but its bomber strength was still limited from the lingering effects of the Battle of Britain as well as the toll of regular combat sorties over German-held territory.

So the English forces had only 416 first-line bombers ready for missions. Air Marshal A.T. Harris, the Royal Air Force’s top officer for strategic bombing, had to decide how to use these bombers to best effect. Every mission launched resulted in lost planes Britain was struggling to replace, but every mission canceled allowed Germany to produce more of its own arms, including bombers and fighters.

Harris came up with a plan for getting more bombs on target while, hopefully, sacrificing fewer bombers. He reasoned that there were a fixed number of defenders at each target and a relatively fixed number of German interceptors that could reach a site during a bombing raid. He could trickle out his bombers over multiple missions at one target, limiting the number of bombs he would have to drop on each target, but that would allow the defenders to focus on fewer planes at once.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

A view of a power station in Cologne, Germany, during a daylight bombing raid in 1941. The city largely survived these daylight raids, leading to a massive night attack in May 1942.

(Royal Air Force)

Or, he could change bomber doctrine and send an overwhelming number of bombers at once. Sure, this would draw the fire of every interceptor and every air defense crew within range, but they would have a limited time in which to attack the bombers. So, instead of German defenders having to fend off a few dozen or even a couple hundred planes, getting to rest and refit, and then doing it again, the defenders would have to defend against many hundreds of planes all at once.

He put together a plan to send not only the 416 first-line bombers, but also all available second-line and even training bombers, to Cologne, Germany, where workers made industrial goods and chemicals. Together, these units would send 1,046 bombers against the target in just 90 minutes. Prime Minister Winston Churchill approved the mission.

And so, on May 30, 1942, Operation Millennium was launched, and the over 1,000 planes dropped almost 1,500 tons of bombs on the target, damaging 600 acres of the city and crippling industrial output from Cologne. A bomb burst, on average, every two seconds. Britain lost 40 bombers, meaning that over 1,000 bombers made it back from Operation Millennium.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

The German city of Cologne in 1945. The city suffered the largest single bombing raid in World War II with over 1,000 bombers hitting it in one night.

(U.S. Department of Defense)

But the raid was not without criticism then or now. Strategic bombing in early-World War II was not accurate, and night raids had to be launched against cities, not against pinpoint targets. Many British bombers in 1942 were still using the Course Setting Bomb Sight from World War I, and even those with Britain’s Mark XIV bomb sight could not target an individual building.

Approximately 45,000 Germans were made homeless by the bombing raid, and 469 were killed. But, for Allied leaders, the juice was worth the squeeze. After all, Britain had suffered similar losses in single-night bombing raids against London in 1941, so they weren’t about to cry themselves to sleep over dead German civilians. And, even better for Britain, those 40 planes lost in the raid amounted to 4 percent casualties.

Royal Air Force bombing missions over Germany would, over the course of the war, result in an average of 5 percent losses per mission, so suffering 4 percent losses while wiping out the target in a single mission was an intriguing prospect. As Churchill telegraphed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “I hope you were pleased with our mass air attack… there is plenty more to come.”

No other single attack would have as many bombers as the attack on Cologne, but raids against targets like Dresden in 1945 would feature over 700 bombers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 women earned Silver Stars in this WWII battle

The U.S. military in World War II kept women out of many of the front line areas of World War II, limiting much of their contributions to ferrying planes or sorting the mail. But women often rose to the occasion when they were called to serve within range of the enemy guns, possibly none more so than the four women recognized for valor at the Anzio beachhead.


The American advance in Italy stalled out in late 1943, and U.S. planners needed a way to draw off German forces from the Gustav Line or lance their way into Rome directly. The proposed solution: land troops at Anzio and Nettuno, just 35 miles from Rome. The bold amphibious assault didn’t initially go well.

The Army quickly took a beachhead, and the corps commander wanted to take a hill that would allow the soldiers to sever German supply lines. He didn’t have the troops to protect his own logistics lines if he took the hills, though, so he just held the area around his beachheads.

This did threaten German lines and drew off their forces, but not enough to allow the other allied forces to break through the Gustav Line. Instead, the troops at Anzio were confined to a small area and subject to constant artillery and air bombardment. Their field hospital included plenty of female nurses and, obviously, the German fire didn’t pay much attention to the nurses’ noncombatant status.

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

Troops unload tanks and other gear from Navy ships at the Anzio Beachhead.

(U.S. Army)

Enter First Lt. Mary Roberts and Second Lts. Elaine Roe, Virginia Rourke, and Ellen Ainsworth. In February 1944, as the Germans built up their forces to contain and then pierce the American bubble, they rendered aid to wounded soldiers even as shells rained upon them.

There were rumors that the Germans were using the Red Cross on the hospital as an aiming marker, even though it should’ve marked it as a non-target. There were rumors that the counter assault was coming any day, that the hospital was going to be evacuated, that the hospital would never be evacuated because the damage to morale would be too great.

The Allies suffered 19,000 casualties.

The nurses kept as many of the men alive as they could. On Feb. 10, Roberts was running the operating room when the surgical tent took a direct hit. Two corpsmen were wounded, and equipment was destroyed, but she rallied the medical staff and kept the surgeries going so the wounded could keep receiving treatment.

Ainsworth was working in the surgical ward that same night and moved the patients to the floor, continuing to render aid as the explosions rocked the tent. She was hit in the chest and died six days later of her wounds.

Meanwhile, Roe and Rourke were working at another field hospital on the beachhead where they continued patient care without electricity, their calm demeanors soothing the fears of the wounded. When ordered to evacuate the wounded, they organized the troops and got their 42 patients out safely despite the threat.

Ainsworth received her medal posthumously, and the other three got their medals in a combined ceremony.

And if you’re curious what happened next for the larger Anzio battle, Hitler got impatient. He ordered his generals to get rid of the American presence at Anzio. But, while the Americans didn’t have the forces to threaten and hold the German lines, they had been building up their defenses.

The defenses were so well built that, when the German assault began in the middle of February, it was a slaughter. German assaults broke, one after another, against the British and American defenses. Allied losses were high, 7,000 were killed and another 36,000 wounded or missing. But as the German losses mounted, it eventually made it possible for the Allies to break out.

On May 23, 1944, American forces were back on the march, and Italy would soon be knocked out of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The story of Thomas Norris, a forgotten Navy SEAL

On March 30, 1972, 14 North Vietnamese Army divisions crossed over the DMZ. The attacks would later be known as the Easter Offensive. Three days later, on Sunday, April 2, a US Air Force EB-66 radar-jamming aircraft was shot down just south of the DMZ in enemy-controlled territory. The crash killed five crewmen. The one lone survivor, Lt. Col. Iceal B. Hambleton, parachuted out of the aircraft into an area thick with NVA troops. 

Bat 21, as Lt. Col. Hambleton was known by his call sign, was immediately part of an Army helicopter rescue attempt near the Cam Lo bridge over the Mieu Giang River. But that helicopter was also shot down, and all four personnel aboard died. So the Army tried again, but once more, the chopper was shot. This time, it was so badly damaged that it had to crash land after escaping heavy NVA fire. 

The next morning, April 3, Air Force pilots circled about Bat 21’s presumed location to drop mines and keep the enemy from swarming him. Conditions were dire, and there were growing concerns that a rescue attempt might not be successful. Two more Air Force search and rescue helicopters were so badly damaged by enemy fire that both had to withdraw.

Not prepared to give up, the Air Force sent out an OV-10 Bronco spotter plane to assist with the rescue, but that too was shot down. Capt. William Henderson and 1st Lt. Mark Clark both parachuted to the ground near the river.

Three more rescue attempts failed, and by nightfall on April 3, Capt. Henderson was captured. He would spend a total of 369 days as a prisoner of war. During the course of the next seven days, Lt. Col. Hambleton and 1st Lt. Clark would become the focus of the most intense and costly rescue efforts of the entire war.

The following day, eight fighter planes sustained battle damage, and one was completely destroyed. Two days later, on April 6, 52 sorties (attacks made by troops coming out from a position of defense) and four B-52 bombers obliterated the area. Helicopters flew around in an attempt to locate Hambleton and Clark for rescue. 

The helicopter was struck by enemy fire, and all six aboard were killed. One day later, another AF OV-10 circled the area but again, was shot down, and both airmen were lost. By the 9th of April, it was clear that Hambleton and Clark couldn’t be rescued by air. 

Enter Navy SEAL LtJG Thomas R. Norris. Norris was assigned to lead a team of five SVA navy commandos in a ground rescue. Norris was a veteran of Vietnam and had been in-country for over a year. 

Nightfall, April 10: Norris takes his team out in search of Clark. He’d planned to swim upriver, but the current was too strong. So Norris advised Clark to float down to them. Clark did so, and Norris was able to retrieve him and take him to safety.

Three days later, Norris and a member of his team went upriver to a bombed-out village and found a sampan. In complete darkness, they went in search of Hambleton. The sailors found the airman and hid him in the bottom of the boat, hoping they might look like fishermen. But then they came under heavy NVA fire and pulled to the shore to call for air support. Smoke cover and friendly fire allowed the men to return to the river and reach a safe position, all the while carrying Hambleton, who could no longer walk.

In October, Norris was nearly killed when he was shot in the head during an intelligence-gathering mission. The actions of fellow SEAL Michael E. Thornton saved his life. For those gallant efforts, Thornton was awarded the Medal of Honor. After three years of hospitalization, Norris was also awarded the Medal of Honor. However, in broad reviews of the conflict, his name is not widely discussed or known.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Jedburghs’ were the best anti-Nazi commandos of WWII

In World War II, months before D-Day, a loudspeaker on military bases played a short recruitment message. The few men who answered it would become heroes after tackling one of the deadliest and most complicated missions of D-Day.


How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

Jedburghs train on an obstacle course in World War II.

(Office of Strategic Services)

The loudspeaker message went:

Wanted: Volunteers for immediate overseas assignment. Knowledge of French or another European language preferred; Willingness and ability to qualify as a parachutist necessary; Likelihood of a dangerous mission guaranteed.

Men who volunteered had a chance to be selected for a Jedburgh Team. The teams typically featured a mix of Canadian, British, French, and American troops, but they were tiny, typically with two to four members. So, obviously, there was just one man of each nationality in each team.

So, that was one reason that knowledge of European languages was preferred, the other was that these tiny teams would fight directly alongside resistance forces in Nazi-occupied Europe, mostly in France but also in the Netherlands and Belgium. Their motto summed up the mission well: “Surprise, kill, and vanish.”

How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

Jedburgh team members in World War II.

(via CIA.gov)

Very few people were selected. A post-war accounting put the number at 276 of which 83 were Americans. There were also 90 British and 103 French troops. The most typical team size was three, but all teams were required to have at least a commander and a radio operator.

The most common third member was an officer from the country in which the team was deployed. So, French members rounded out teams in France, Dutch in the Netherlands, and Belgian in Belgium.

The Jedburghs trained hard and wanted to go into Europe two to six weeks before the D-Day invasion, but Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower restricted the Jedburgh insertions until June 5, 1944—the night before D-Day—so the sudden presence of international troops wouldn’t clue in the Nazis to the coming invasion.

So, on June 5, the teams began their insertions, and these few hundred men brought lots of extra weapons with them and rallied the resistance fighters of Europe. The Jedburghs and their allies fought far ahead of the invasion forces, in some cases taking and holding key infrastructure that the rest of the Allied forces wouldn’t reach for weeks.

The Jedburghs severed Nazi supply and reinforcement lines, and they protected key infrastructure like bridges that would be needed by the tanks and trucks of the invasion force. As volume two of the OSS War Report says:

Will well-trained, capable radio operators, the Jedburghs represented, wherever they were, a strong radio link between FFI (French Forces of the Interior) leaders and other Allied groups in the field, such as the SAS (Special Air Services) and headquarters in London … Besides the all-important task of making available … arms and supplies to the resistance and preparing landing and dropping fields, they acted as translators and interpreters, assisting in surrender arrangements, helped lead sabotage and ambush operations, provided intelligence on resistance and enemy strength and other information as well, and worked to coordinate separate resistance forces under a unified command.
How a disastrous mission in Iran 40 years ago changed the way US special operators fight

Members of the Jedburgh teams prepare to insert via parachute in World War II.

(US Army Signal Corps via CIA.gov)

And yes, the rest of the Allied forces saw and appreciated these efforts. While the Jedburghs complained after the invasion that they wished they were allowed to insert earlier and do more, Allied commanders were just grateful that so many resistance members were well-armed and organized, breaking up Nazi forces and tying up German units, and that so much infrastructure survived the Wehrmacht’s destruction efforts.

The Jedburghs were broken up, but some special operation units are spiritual successors to the Jedburghs. For instance, the Army’s first operation Special Forces group, the 10th Special Forces Group, was commanded by Col. Aaron Bank, a former Jedburgh. And one of the Special Forces’ primary missions is to deploy overseas, train up and help arm indigenous forces, and then fight alongside them.

But at least ODAs typically have 12 members. Jedburghs were running around in a Three’s Company configuration, slaughtering Nazis with just their closest friends to rely on.

Fun side note: The name Jedburgh was selected because it was the name of a town near where the men trained and where Scots had conducted guerilla operations against England in the 1100s.

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