The M4/M16 family of rifles has been in service with the U.S. military and many of its allies since 1964. Since then, many programs have attempted to replace the rifle, the most recent being the Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon program. However, the past few decades have seen a number of militaries and agencies adopt rifles that use elements of a later rifle from the mind of Eugene Stoner.
While working for the ArmaLite/Fairchild Aircraft Company, Stoner designed a battle rifle chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO to replace the U.S. military’s M1 Garand service rifle. However, Stoner’s AR-10 tested poorly during the Springfield Armory trials and was passed on by the U.S. Although the AR-10 was purchased by other countries like West Germany, Italy, and Sudan, Stoner and ArmaLite pursued a U.S. government contract.
When the Army requested a rifle with a smaller caliber to replace the M14, Stoner got to work. He scaled down the AR-10 to make the AR-15 and chambered it in .223 Remington per the Army’s request. The new rifle allowed soldiers to carry three times the ammunition compared to the M14 and was tested to be three times as reliable. However, Army Chief of Staff General Maxwell Taylor vetoed Eugene Stoner’s design to retain the M14.
In 1959, finding little success with their AR-10 and AR-15 and facing financial difficulties, ArmaLite sold the weapon design rights to Colt. With a few redesigns to make the rifles more user-friendly and easier to mass produce, Colt managed to sell their new Colt ArmaLite AR-15 Model 01 to the U.S. military in 1960. The new rifle, first adopted by the Air Force and Army Special Forces before it became standard issue, was designated Rifle, Caliber 5.56 mm, M16 and the rest is history.
ArmaLite lost out on the profits of Stoner’s AR-15 design. Moreover, they had sold off his direct-impingement operating system. This forced the company to use the more conventional short-stroke gas piston operating system in the 7.62x51mm chambered AR-16. The rifle, Stoner’s last design for ArmaLite, was made of stamped sheet metal and targeted smaller countries that didn’t have the industrial capacity to produce the more elaborate forged aluminum AR-10 or AR-15.
Following Eugene Stoner’s departure in 1961, ArmaLite assigned chief designer Arthur Miller to continue Stoner’s work on the AR-16. Miller redesigned the rifle for the .223 Remington cartridge and created the AR-18. With its gas piston system, the AR-18 was more reliable than the direct-impingement AR-15. The new rifle was accurate up to 500 yards and its simple construction made it cheap to manufacture. However, this came at the cost of a rough appearance compared to the sleek lines of the AR-15 and the rifle garnered few sales. Small numbers were sold to the militaries and police of countries like Botswana, Haiti, and Malaysia. A civilian version, the AR-180, was produced but also found little success.
Although the AR-16 and AR-18 did not have the commercial success of the AR-10 and AR-15, their designs did inspire many rifles which were used concurrently with the M4/M16. The British SA80, Singaporean SAR-80, Belgian FN F2000, Japanese Howa Type 89, and German H&K G36 were all inspired to some degree by the dual captured recoil spring of the AR-16 and AR-18.
The new SIG MCX from Sig Sauer is a 21st century weapon system that is also heavily inspired by the AR-18. Thanks to the AR-18-style recoil system, the MCX is extremely modular and can be configured to suit a wide range of mission requirements. For this reason, it is currently used by special police units in Germany and the UK as well as military special forces like the Danish Frogman Corps and USSOCOM.
Although Stoner’s AR-16 design and its AR-18 derivative were not nearly as successful as his previous AR-10 and AR-15 designs, they influenced many service rifles throughout the 20th century and continue to influence firearm design today.
At first glance, it might seem obvious why Japan would choose to take on a country like the United States. While Americans were still struggling with the Great Depression, Japan’s economy was growing and hot. Japan had hundreds of thousands of men in uniform and a string of military victories under its belt. The U.S. was a third-rate military power whose day had come and gone in World War I – and Americans weren’t thrilled about another war.
But the Japanese seriously underestimated one important factor: The American Worker.
Up yours, Japanese Empire.
Judging the United States’ capacity for war during the 1930s was Japan’s fatal mistake. Sure, we’d had a little too much fun at the speakeasy during the 1920s, but we were poised for the most incredible puke and rally the world had ever known, and anyone looking for it would have been able to see it. Unfortunately, the Japanese were a little high on their own supply at the time. Convinced of Japanese superiority, they thought themselves nigh-invincible and that the U.S. would crumble if it needed to unify or die.
In reality, things were much different. The U.S. had twice the population of Japan and 17 times more tax revenues. Americans produced five times more steel, seven times more coal, and could outproduce the Japanese automobile industry by a factor of 80:1. The American worker had the highest per capita output of any worker in the world.
What’s more, is we were one of very few countries willing to let women work in our very modern factories.
So don’t f*ck with the Arsenal of Democracy.
Even before the war, U.S. industrial capacity was greater than all of the Axis countries combined. As a matter of fact, the United States’ output was almost greater than all the other major powers involved in the war. And that was before the U.S. declaration of war allowed the President to take control of American industry. By the time the U.S. entered the war, the Lend-Lease Act had already pulled America out of its depression and was basically supplying the Allied powers with American-built equipment and vehicles as it had for years.
All we had to do was start using them ourselves.
As time went on, the U.S. economy was growing by 15 percent annually, while every other belligerent saw a plateau in growth or the destruction of their economies altogether. By the end of the war, American industrial output wasn’t even close to overheating – we were just getting started.
In 1918, World War I was in its fourth year. Imperial Russia had succumbed to the Communist Revolution and capitulated to Imperial Germany. In the West, a race against time was on. The Allies of Great Britain and France were watching with mounting concern as German armies from the Eastern Front began reinforcing those on the Western Front. Their armies, having been bled white and wracked by mutiny after three horrific years of trench warfare, were at the breaking point. The last hope for Allied victory was the United States. It had entered the war in April 1917, and its troops began arriving in France later that year.
The American forces were hastily trained for the demands of total warfare in the European model, and for the most part were equipped with a hodge-podge of weapons supplied by their allies. The question on both sides of the trenches was not if the growing number of American units would fight, but rather how well? Only combat would answer that question. Field Marshal Paul von Hindenberg and Gen. Erich Ludendorff of Germany were determined to shatter Allied resolve and achieve victory with an offensive launched before the full weight of the U.S. Army could be felt.
On May 27, 1918, specially trained “shock units” led a three-pronged offensive that smashed into the British and French lines. At Aisne, the French lines bent, then broke. In less than two days, the German army was at the Marne River at Chateau Thierry. Once again, the German army had victory within its grasp, and once again, the road to Paris, about 50 miles away, was wide open. In 1914, France, and the Allied cause, was saved by a sudden influx of troops delivered to the front by Parisian taxis – the “Miracle of the Marne.”
This time France had no miracles of her own remaining. Allied Commander-in-Chief Gen. Ferdinand Foch turned to Gen. John Pershing, commanding general of the American Expeditionary Force. Previously, Pershing had resisted releasing units piecemeal to reinforce depleted British and French divisions. He stated that when Americans fought, they would do so as a unified army.
But Pershing recognized that the present crisis overrode national considerations and temporarily released his five divisions to Foch’s command. The American 2nd Division, containing the 4th, 5th, and 6th Marine Brigades, was assigned to Gen. Joseph Degoutte’s French 6th Army, located along the Marne Front. Not since the Civil War had American troops been involved in a conflict of such magnitude. And it had been more than 100 years, at the battles of Bladensburg and New Orleans during the War of 1812, since the Marine Corps had faced an armed foe at the professional level as it did now against the 461st Imperial German Infantry regiment.
Though Pershing, an Army general, harbored little love for the Marines, he did not allow service parochialism to blind him to the Marines’ capability. Shortly after Ludendorff’s offensive began, when the 4th Marine Brigade’s commander, Brig. Gen. Charles Doyen, had to return to the States due to a terminal illness, Pershing assigned command of the brigade to his chief of staff, Army Brig. Gen. James Harbord, telling him, “Young man, I’m giving you the best brigade in France – if anything goes wrong, I’ll know whom to blame.”
It was not without some concern that Harbord assumed his new command. He was replacing a respected and loved commander; he was a National Guard cavalry officer, a temporary brigadier general; and his two regimental commanders were Col. Albertus Catlin and Col. Wendell “Whispering Buck” Neville, both recipients of the Medal of Honor. He worked hard at his new command and earned the respect of the Marines. Harbord would retire a major general and later write of his experience, “They never failed me. I look back on my service with the Marines Brigade with more pride and satisfaction than on any other equal period in my long Army career.”
The fighting ended, exhausted and seriously depleted ranks of the 6th Marines gather outside Belleau Wood before moving on.
(USMC History and Museums Division)
The 4th Marine Brigade was ordered to shore up defenses and assume a blocking position north of the important east-west Paris- Metz highway. They dug into position along a line just above the village of Lucy-Le-Bocage. Immediately in front of the Marine line was a large wheat field, and beyond that was a mile square game preserve. The French called it Bois de Belleau. To the Marines and America, it would be immortalized as Belleau Wood. The Marines had barely gotten into position, digging shallow individual trenches they called “foxholes,” when the German army renewed its offensive on June 2. Demoralized French troops in the forest began falling back. One French officer, as he passed through the Marine lines, advised the Americans to join in the retreat. Capt. Lloyd Williams responded, “Retreat, hell! We just got here!” The French officer and the other French troops continued on. Soon the Marines were alone.
The rest of the day and the following morning were quiet. The heat of the early June sun parched the throats of the Marines as they waited for the enemy to appear. Finally, in the early afternoon, movement was seen at the southern edge of the forest, and the distinct shapes of German soldiers in their feldgrau began to emerge. Long line after long line of soldiers, slightly crouched and weapons low, began trotting through the ripening wheat. Veteran Marines of the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion in China, and the Veracruz Expedition lay side by side with unblooded men whose memories of the profane injunctions of their drill instructors were still fresh. The Germans confidently advanced. What they did not know was that no longer before them was a demoralized French foe. Instead, they were marching toward a fresh enemy with high morale that took pride in training its men in how to shoot. The Germans also did not realize they were already within range of the Marines’ shoulder arm, the .30-06 Springfield M1903 rifle.
The accepted combat range of rifles during World War I was a maximum of 250 yards. The Springfield ’03 was rated with an effective range of 600 yards. In the hands of an expert marksman, it could be deadly at ranges well beyond that. The line of gray-clad troops advancing through an open field presented the Marines with a shooting gallery. At 800 yards, the order was given, and sustained fire commenced. German soldiers spun, collapsed, and fell as bullets from the first volley tore into them. The German advance wavered, then astonished survivors fell to the ground seeking cover. Their officers ran through their ranks, shouting for them to get up and continue the advance. The troops rose and were hit with another volley fired at long range. A third attempt to advance was met by a third deadly volley that was also accompanied by machine gun fire. The stunned survivors retreated into the woods to take up defensive positions and plan their next move.
The commander of the German 28th Division facing opposite the American 2nd Division confidently told his men, “We are not fighting for ground – for this ridge or that hill. It will be decided here whether or not the American Army will be equal to our own troops.” It was a prescient statement. Unfortunately, for him, not in the way he expected.
After receiving news that the German attack had been blunted at Belleau Wood, Degoutte ordered the 2nd Division to counterattack the following day, June 6. The attack began with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines launching a dawn attack on the German-held Hill 142 on the division’s left flank. German machine guns raked the Marine ranks during the half-mile advance. The Marines succeeded in capturing the hill at about noon. But doing so had cost the battalion 410 casualties. It was a foretaste of what was to come.
Meanwhile, two battalions of the 6th Marines and one battalion of the 5th Marines were preparing for the main attack on Belleau Wood. The attack was launched at 5 p.m., and the Marines advanced in a formation and at a fast pace taught by the veteran French officers who had rounded out their training shortly after the Marines arrived in France. It was the same formation that had doomed thousands of French poilus during the disastrous offensives of 1914 and 1915. It achieved the same results on the Marines. As the Marines began crossing the battle-scarred wheat field, it was the German machine gunners’ turn. The lead troops were quickly cut down. Surviving Marines dove for the ground and continued the advance crawling on all fours, pausing and, like pop-up targets, taking aim and quickly firing back before dropping down for cover in the wheat stalks. Even so, the advance slowed dangerously, with the German machine gun fire continuing seemingly unabated. It appeared that the attack would fail just 50 yards before the Marines reached the German lines.
Reporter Floyd Gibbons was with the Marines during the attack and lay terrified among the dead and wounded in the wheat field. Not far from him was Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Daly, a double Medal of Honor recipient for heroism in the Boxer Rebellion and Haiti. In a report he later filed, Gibbons wrote, “The sergeant swung his bayoneted rifle over his head with a forward sweep, yelling at his men, ‘Come on, you sons-of-bitches, do you want to live forever?'” The Marines with him stood up, and with a roar, charged. By the end of the day, the first line of German defenders was overrun and taken. But the cost of the attack was severe. On that day, the 4th Marine Brigade had suffered 1,087 casualties, making it the bloodiest day in Marine Corps history up to that point. More Marines had fallen on June 6, 1918, than in the entire 143-year history of the Marine Corps.
The Battle for Belleau Wood would continue to almost the end of June and was fought in a series of savage actions. It was during this battle that, according to legend, the 461st Imperial German Infantry gave the Marines the nickname “Teufelhunden” – “Devil Dogs.” Finally, on June 26, Maj. Maurice Shearer of the 5th Marines sent to headquarters the message: “Woods now U.S. Marine Corps entirely.”
Convinced that the Marines had saved Paris, the French government renamed the game preserve Bois de la Brigade de Marine. And, more importantly, this action, as well as American success at Cantigny and Ch’teau-Thierry, Pershing later wrote, “… gave an indication of what trained American troops would do.” But the German high command was not finished. A final German offensive was launched on July 15. This time, the 2nd Division and its Marines joined the French XX Corps and repulsed the German attack at Soissons, sustaining another 2,000 casualties. When the German offensive was stopped, the initiative shifted to the Allies. They responded with the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
On July 29, 1918, Pershing made Gen. John A. Lejeune commander of the 2nd Division. His first assignment was to reduce the dangerous German salient at St. Mihiel. After four days of fierce fighting by the combined Marine and Army units, the salient was eliminated. The 2nd Division then was assigned offensive operations in support of the French Fourth Army, commanded by Gen. Henri Gourand. But German defenses along the Meuse River succeeded in slowing the French advance until it was stopped before Blanc Mont, or White Mountain, a ridge that dominated the region for miles. The Germans had held Blanc Mont since 1914 and had heavily fortified the ridge. To restart his stalled attack, Gourand wanted Lejeune to break up his division and disperse it into depleted French units. Lejeune’s reaction was quick and hot. Following Pershing’s example, he was not about to have his division broken up, particularly since there was no dire crisis now confronting the Allies. The Marine general told Gourand, “Keep the division intact and let us take [Blanc Mont].”
U.S. Marines in Belleau Wood (1918) by Georges Scott.
Gourand looked at Lejeune skeptically, then nodded his assent. Lejeune’s plan was to assault the German position with lead attacks from both flanks and, when they had closed to pinch out and isolate the center, the rest of his troops would advance and overwhelm the defenders. In what Pershing would later call “a brilliant maneuver against heavy machine gun resistance,” the attack kicked off on Oct. 3 with a short, five-minute artillery barrage of 200 guns. As soon as the cannon fire stopped, the 3rd Infantry Brigade launched its attack on the German right flank. Simultaneously, the 4th Marine Brigade attacked the German left. This was followed by an advance by the 6th Marines. Supporting the overall attack were French tanks. By noon, the 6th Marines had seized the crest and were clearing the heights. Additional troops from the 5th Marines moved up to add overwhelming power to the 2nd Division’s punch. On the left flank was a heavily fortified position known as the Essen Hook that was assigned to French units who were temporarily held in reserve. As the battle progressed, the French troops were released to seize the Essen Hook. When the French proved unable to do so, a company of Marines from the 5th Regiment led by Capt. Leroy P. Hunt was ordered to help. Hunt’s company succeeded in throwing out the Germans, and the Marines then handed over the Essen Hook to the French. The Germans returned and quickly overwhelmed the French defenders at Essen Hook, whereupon the 5th Regiment was forced to drive the Germans out a second time. This time they secured the position for good. When the day was over, Blanc Mont was in the hands of the 2nd Division.
Lejeune followed up the capture of Blanc Mont with an advance on the nearby village of St. Etienne on Oct. 4. The 5th Marines, who were leading the attack, literally ran into the Germans’ counterattack designed to retake Blanc Mont. Unfortunately, the Marines’ advance in the offensive had outpaced the French units beside them, causing them to form a salient that left them exposed to enemy fire from both flanks as well as their front. Despite the murderous fire falling on them, the Marines grimly kept the pressure on. After four days of intense fighting in which the Marines suffered more than 2,500 casualties, including the seemingly indestructible Daly, who was wounded, St. Etienne was liberated and, by Oct. 10, the Germans were in full retreat.
Not long after the battle, the grateful French government awarded the 5th and 6th Marines and the 6th Machine Gun Battalion their third citation of the Croix de Guerre for gallantry. As a result, the members of those outfits were now entitled to wear the scarlet and green fourragère. Field Marshal Henri Petain, the hero of Verdun, would add his own accolade, stating that, “The taking of Blanc Mont Ridge is the greatest single achievement in the 1918 campaign.”
Of the Marine Corps contribution in World War I, Col. Joseph H. Alexander, USMC (Ret.) wrote in his book, A Fellowship of Valor, “Less than 32,000 Marines served in France. More than 12,000 of those given the opportunity to fight in France became casualties; 3,284 died. The survivors had given their country and their Corps a legacy of courage, esprit, and ferocity which would remain the standard of combat excellence for the remainder of the violent century.”
This article originally appeared on Argunners. Follow @ArgunnersMag on Twitter.
In leaked documents, newly published by The Washington Post and ZDF, the CIA describes how it pulled off “the intelligence coup of the century:” for decades, a company that sold encryption devices to more than 120 countries was secretly owned and operated by the CIA itself.
The company, Crypto AG, was acquired by the CIA at the height of the Cold War. Through a classified partnership with West Germany’s spy agency, the CIA designed Crypto AG’s encryption devices in a way that let the agency easily decrypt and read all messages sent by the company’s clients.
Some details of Crypto AG’s coordination with US intelligence agencies had been previously reported — a 1995 investigation by The Baltimore Sun revealed that the National Security Agency reached an agreement with Crypto AG executives to secretly rig encryption devices. However, the newly-published CIA report unveils the full extent of the US’ operation of Crypto AG.
For decades, Crypto AG was the leading provider of encryption services. It boasted hundreds of clients ranging from the Vatican to Iran, generating millions of dollars in profits. The CIA maintained control over the company until at least 2008, when the agency’s confidential report obtained by The Post was drafted.
Crypto AG was liquidated in 2018, and its assets were purchased by two other companies: CyOne Security and Crypto International. Both have denied any current connection to the CIA, and Crypto International chairman Andreas Linde told The Post that he “feels betrayed” by the revelation.
“Crypto International and Crypto AG are two completely separate companies without any relationship,” a spokesperson for Crypto International said in a statement to Business Insider. “Crypto International is a Swedish owned company that in 2018 acquired the brand name and other assets from Crypto AG … We have no connections to the CIA or the BND and we never had.”
A representative for CyOne Security did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s requests for comment.
In a statement to Business Insider, CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett declined to confirm or deny the report, saying the agency is “aware of press reporting about an alleged U.S. government program and do not have any guidance.”
Crypto AG began selling encryption devices in 1940, marketing a mechanical device that was powered by a crank. The CIA reportedly purchased the company with a handshake deal in 1951, which was renewed with a secretive “licensing agreement” in 1960.
In the decades that followed, the CIA oversaw technical advances in Crypto AG’s devices, shifting to electronic devices. The company reportedly contracted with Siemens and Motorola to modernize its gadgets.
The CIA’s surveillance continued through the 1990s and 2000s, even as Crypto AG’s revenue began to dwindle. It was ultimately dissolved in 2018 and sold for between million and million, according to anonymous current and former officials quoted by The Post.
Read the full report by The Washington Post and ZDF here.
The humble fleet oiler doesn’t get a lot of attention. Today’s version of this vessel, the Henry J. Kaiser-class replenishment oiler, is still relatively slow (capable of reaching a top speed of 20 knots), but it is huge (displacing over 40,000 tons). It makes sense that the ship responsible for hauling gas enough to fuel an entire carrier strike group — both ships and planes — would be a lumbering sea giant.
During the Battle of the Coral Sea, however, one humble oiler did more than provide fuel for the ships in the fight.
That oiler, the USS Neosho (AO 23), saved the American carriers. The Neosho was a Cimarron-class vessel that joined the fleet in 1939. She wasn’t as big (displacing 7,500 tons) or fast (capping out at 18 knots) as today’s oilers, but she was still able to top off the fleet’s tanks.
USS Neosho (AO 23) refuels the carrier USS Yorktown (CV 5) before the Battle of the Coral Sea.
According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Neosho fulfilled her primary mission prior to the Battle of the Coral Sea, refueling USS Yorktown (CV 5) and USS Astoria (CA 34) afterplanes had carried out strikes against Japanese-occupied Tulagi. It was on the first day of the coming battle, however, that she would do much more than provide fuel.
At the time, the Navy was so short on hulls that she had only one escort, USS Sims (DD 409). A Japanese plane found the Neosho and her lone escort on May 7. The enemy pilot mistook the ship for a carrier. So, the Japanese carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku, sent their air groups after the oiler. The Sims was quickly sunk and Neosho took seven bomb hits and had a Japanese plane crash into her.
USS Neosho (AO 23) pictured while taking the Japanese attack meant for the carriers USS Lexington (CV 2) and USS Yorktown (CV 5).
The vessel stayed afloat for four days when Allied search planes finally found her. The destroyer USS Henley (DD 391) arrived on the 11th. The 123 survivors that were taken off of the oiler then learned that the United States Navy had turned back the Japanese — in no small part because the Neosho took a strike intended for Lexington and Yorktown.
The Neosho was scuttled, but two other fleet oilers have since borne the name.
In the early months of 1943, the USS Wahoo was on its third war patrol when the sub and its crew found themselves under the new leadership of Lt. Commander Dudley Morton after relieving Marvin Kennedy from his duty.
After serving in the Asiatic Fleet, the Kentucky native and Naval Academy graduate recognized that many of the submarine skippers weren’t as aggressive as he felt they needed for certain victory.
Highly motivated to prove his worth, Morton sailed his crew to New Guinea’s Wewak Harbor to attack a Japanese Destroyer. After firing five torpedoes at the enemy vessel and missing, the Japanese ship began to charge the Wahoo at full-speed.
Morton prepared his sailors and instructed them to remain calm. Once the enemy destroyer was within an 800-meter range, Morton once again ordered his crew to fire a torpedo, which resulted in a direct hit.
The Wahoo would sink four additional ships before heading back to home base, Pearl Harbor.
After a brief period back at Pearl Harbor to reload, the Wahoo set sail for the Sea of Japan and sank four other ships in the first week of October — bringing the tally up to 19.
It’s reported that on Oct. 11th, the Wahoo was hit by Japanese depth charges and aerial bombs, which damaged Morton’s submarine and caused her to sink near the near La Pérouse Strait — killing everyone on board.
Morton was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy Cross for his work as USS Wahoo’s skipper.
The 2005 film Yamato, released by the Japanese entertainment company Toei, is one most Americans haven’t heard of. In fact, the movie’s production company is best known in America as the source of material for the various incarnations of “Power Rangers” — including a film that comes out in March.
Similarly, not many Americans know much about the battleship Yamato outside of those who follow World War II. Perhaps the biggest following outside those interested in World War II are anime fans, due to the connection with the 1980s cartoon series “Star Blazers” (A re-dub of “Space Battleship Yamato”) and a 2010 live-action-reboot of the Japanese source material.
A 2006 review of the film in Variety, though, may make it worth watching. The reviewer described the film as a cross between “Pearl Harbor” and “Titanic”, and compared the depiction of the air attacks that sank the Japanese super-battleship to the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan” According to CombinedFleet.com, it took less than two hours for the battleship, the world’s largest ever constructed, to be sunk by over 390 U.S. Navy carrier planes.
The DVD of the film is available on Amazon.com, if you are interested in buying it. For those who want to get a taste of this film, watch below.
At a young age, Carlos Norman Hathcock II would go into the woods with his dog and the Mauser his father brought back from World War II to pretend to be a soldier. Hathcock dreamed of being a Marine throughout his childhood, and on May 20, 1959, at the age of 17, he enlisted.
In 1966, Hathcock started his deployment in South Vietnam. He initially served as a military policeman and later, owing to his reputation as a skilled marksman, served as a sniper.
The Hathcock brothers and a friend, shooting as children.
During the Vietnam War, Hathcock had 93 confirmed kills of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong personnel. However, kills had to be confirmed by an acting third party, who had to be an officer, besides the sniper’s spotter. Hathcock estimated that he actually killed between 300 and 400 enemy soldiers.
In one instance, Hathcock saw a glint reflecting off an enemy sniper’s scope. He fired at it, sending a round through the enemy’s own rifle scope, hitting him in the eye and killing him.
Hathcock’s notoriety grew among the Viet Cong and NVA, who reportedly referred to him Du kích Lông Trắng (“White Feather Sniper”) because of the white feather he kept tucked in a band on his bush hat. The enemy placed a bounty on his head. After a platoon of Vietnamese snipers tried to hunt him down, many Marines donned white feathers to deceive the enemy. Hathcock successfully fought off numerous enemy snipers during the remainder of his deployment.
Hathcock did once remove the white feather from his bush hat during a volunteer mission. The mission was so risky he was not informed of its details until he accepted it. Transported to a field by helicopter, Hathcock crawled over 1,500 yards in a span of four days and three nights, without sleep, to assassinate an NVA general. At times, Hathcock was only a few feet away from patrolling enemy soldiers. He was also nearly bitten by a snake. Once in position, Hathcock waited for the general to exit his encampment before shooting. After completing this mission, Hathcock came back to the United States in 1967. However, missing the service, he returned to Vietnam in 1969, taking command of a sniper platoon.
On September 16, 1969, an AMTRAC Hathcock was riding on struck an anti-tank mine. He pulled seven Marines from the vehicle, suffering severe burns in the process. Hathcock received the Purple Heart while he was recuperating. Nearly 30 years later, he received a Silver Star for this action.
After returning to active duty, Hathcock helped establish the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. However, he was in near constant pain due to his injuries, and in 1975, his health began to deteriorate. After diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he medically discharged in 1979. Feeling forced out of the Marines, Hathcock fell into a state of depression. But with the help of his wife, and his newfound hobby of shark fishing, Hathcock eventually overcame his depression. Despite being retired from the military, Hathcock continued providing sniper instruction to police departments and select military units, such as SEAL Team Six.
Germany’s highest awards for valor, the Iron Cross, was the most awarded of the top tier medals of any nation in World War II. But Germany awarded more top-tier valor awards than any other country for two very good reasons. First, most German troops fought for the duration or the war unless they were crippled.
As German ace Gunther Rall put it, that meant Third Reich troops’ destiny “was either the Iron Cross or the wooden cross.” They would be heroes or they would die in the attempt.
Second, German troops could earn the Iron Cross with a series of events, like succeeding in enough aerial battles, rather than for just a single act of extreme valor like in most militaries. While the medal was awarded for singular military achievements and bravery, it was also automatically warranted after a service member completed a challenging act.
Here are four things that would get a World War II German soldier an automatic Iron Cross:
1. Destroying a set number of enemy tanks
For German tankers, the “easiest” way to earn an Iron Cross was to achieve enough tank victories to qualify. While the number required increased as the war ground on, 50 was the magic number for a few years. That’s 50 Allied tank kills before a single tank managed to kill them.
2. Killing a set number of Allied planes
German Luftwaffe pilots could net an Iron Cross by accruing an ever-increasing number of points. Single-engine aircraft were worth one point, dual-engines netted two points, and four engines were worth three points. Fighters could get the Iron Cross second class for becoming an ace (downing five enemy aircraft).
3. Sinking a set amount of Allied shipping
For submariners, the Iron Cross was usually awarded for sinking tons of Allied supplies. The Iron Cross second class usually required sinking 50,000 tons of shipping, while the Knight’s Cross, a higher level of the same award, would be granted to those who sank 100,000 or more tons.
These were older, frail planes piloted by Soviet women who would carry a few bombs at a time and drop them on Nazi massed forces, breaking up German attacks on Soviet positions. But the planes were so slow and quiet that they were hard to find and harder to fight, so the Luftwaffe promised an Iron Cross for a single kill.
The future Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman and civil rights pioneer Jackie Robinson was a young lieutenant facing court-martial in August 1944 for refusing to give up his seat on a bus near Camp Hood, Texas, while training as a tanker.
The segregation situation at Camp Hood was arguably one of the worst for black service members in the country. The civilian buses contracted to work the routes onto and off of post were fully segregated as were nearly all of the base facilities. While there for training, Robinson had fairly regular confrontations with other officers over racial issues on the base.
Robinson was assigned to a black armored unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, as a second lieutenant. He was one of the few black officers in a unit with mostly white leadership.
On July 6, 1944, near the end of a two-year training pipeline, Robinson took a seat on a civilian bus next to a white woman on Camp Hood and the driver ordered him to move to the back of the bus.
Robinson refused and the military police were called to arrest him. While waiting for the MPs and again at the camp’s provost marshall office, Robinson was called “nigger” by both civilians and military personnel whom he outranked.
Angry from his treatment and frustrated at the rampant discrimination on the post, Robinson refused to wait in the provost marshal’s office and was escorted to the hospital under guard and under protest.
The prosecution did not charge Robinson for his actions on the bus, but they did charge him for disrespecting a military police captain and for disobeying an order from the same captain.
His trial opened on Aug. 2 and ran for 17 days. Bates testified that Robinson was an outstanding officer. Bates even told the military panel that Robinson was traveling on the bus on July 6 at his request. Robinson had reported to a civilian hospital for a medical evaluation to see if he could ship out to Europe with the 761st.
Meanwhile Robinson’s defense attorney, Capt. William A. Cline, managed to highlight inconsistencies in the prosecution’s witness testimonies and prove that Robinson’s actions only took place after he was repeatedly disrespected by lower-ranking soldiers.
Gunner Cpl. Carlton Chapman of the 761st Tank Battalion poses in his M4 Sherman tank near Nancy, France, Nov. 5, 1944. (Photo: National Archives)
The defense won its case and Robinson was freed. Rather than fight to rejoin the 761st or train with the 758th, he decided to accept the Army’s assessment that he should be medically retired from service due to a bone chip in his ankle that sometimes caused the joint to seize up.
At the age of 88, he has to walk gingerly down the steps. Coming around a bend in the stairway, he points to a “Moran St.” sign encased behind glass in a wooden box.
“They named a street at Fort Meade after me, too, right there,” he says, almost in passing.
No big deal. There’s more to show below.
The basement is like a private museum — time capsules dating back to the Korean War hung and displayed everywhere. Pictures, plaques, trophies, statues, banners, posters, flags, awards, books, newspaper clippings, most of which are about him: Raymond Moran, a man whose career is stacked with achievement.
As a recruiter, Moran enlisted so many men and women that the U.S. Army Recruiting Command named its Hall of Fame after him. In 2017, he received a Lifetime Service Award. Yet Moran is so low-key that the ceremony took place at a local barbecue joint. He keeps the newspaper articles in several binders, so many that they might fill a whole wall if they were framed.
Sgt. Maj. (Ret.) Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” poses for a portrait on Fort Meade, Maryland, March 9, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
Near the bar, there’s even an M1 rifle, returned from Korea decades after the war. It was a Veterans Day gift from his eldest son, Ray. The M1 is the same style rifle the ‘Old Soldier’ carried in combat when he was a young infantryman.
“I never put one nail on the wall,” said Raymond Moran as he offered the private tour.
In fact, every memory was hung by a professional: his wife, Barbara, who spent a decade working at the museum on Fort Meade. The couple has been married 65 years, celebrating their wedding anniversary at home on Valentine’s Day.
Like his marriage, Moran devoted 65 faithful years serving and loving the Army. He spent 30 years on active duty as an infantryman and recruiter, living all over the world: Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Germany. The other 35 years came as a civilian recruiter for the U.S. Army Reserve.
When the Gulf War broke out, Moran was 61 and had been retired for 21 years, but he convinced the Army to allow him back to duty in uniform.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” flips through a book on the Korean War during a portrait session in his home in Odenton, Md., while sharing stories about his military commitment to the U.S. Army and the U.S. Army Reserve during 65 years of service both as an enlisted soldier and as a Department of the Army civilian.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
“You’ve got to help me put my uniform together. I’ve never worn these,” he told his son, Ray, holding a camouflage-patterned uniform, known as “battle dress.”
“He was in the old, starched, OG-107 green Vietnam uniforms from that era,” recalls his son, Ray, who was an Army Reserve soldier himself at the time. “So he’d never worn battle dress until he got recalled for Desert Storm.”
“The age cutoff was 63, and he was just a few months shy,” said his son, Ray. “He volunteered again later at age 74 when Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off. The Army sent him a very nice, ‘Thanks, but not this time,’ letter.”
Moran served stateside during Desert Storm as a casualty escort sergeant major, a job with a heavy toll. One of his most difficult tasks was taking wedding rings off the bodies of soldiers after a scud missile attack killed 13 from an Army Reserve unit in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Moran had recruited soldiers into that unit, located less than 10 miles from his hometown of Latrobe.
“That was a perfect example of him giving himself to the remembrance of those soldiers,” said his younger brother, Jim Moran. “He put on his uniform, went to Dover (Air Force Base) and did one of the most difficult jobs in trying to show mercy and gratitude for these young men and women that lost their lives, and accompanied those bodies back to their hometown. People remember things like that.”
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” catches up friends during a welcome luncheon after a military ceremony hosted by the First Recruiting Brigade on Fort Meade, Md., March 9, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
Yet, Moran recalls his years with only gratitude and joy. His 65 years of total service are equivalent to three military careers.
“I loved it. Enjoyed every minute of it. Never complained at all any time that I served in uniform. It was just an honor for me to serve. And I have all of this as a result of it,” he says, pointing to the walls.
“All this” is more than military trinkets displayed on some walls. These objects point to the memories of people whose lives he touched. His brother and son said all those plaques and pictures are a reflection of the people Moran has helped, either through his recruiting years or otherwise.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” shakes the hand of a Soldier who recognizes him during a ceremony hosted by the First Recruiting Brigade on Fort Meade, Md., March 9, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
“He’d always help other people. I remember so many people would call Dad for assignments,” said Ray. “And he’d call buddies, guys he had worked with … It was crazy because Dad never did that for himself. Even if he had a lousy duty assignment, he would never ask for a better one. But when it came to everybody else, he was always pressing for the best.”
In the Army, he eventually became the sergeant major of the First Recruiting Brigade on Fort Meade, responsible for hundreds of recruiters across multiple states. When he retired, he humbly (and eagerly) accepted a civilian position as a GS-7, basically working at the lowest level of the recruiting food chain. He reported to a staff sergeant, a rank that was three grades below his retired rank. And yet, he never acted like the work was beneath him. Instead, he loved it. He recruited for the Army Reserve and found plenty of active duty recruits to pass onto others, which helped everyone else meet the recruiting numbers they needed.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” grabs his veteran cap from his son, Ray, as they head out the door to attend a ceremony on Fort Meade, Maryland, March 9, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
“Recruiting is something close to my heart. I have a lot of pride in the Army Reserve, so encouraging them to join was an easy job for me,” he said.
“He genuinely is that kind of person. Positive. Upbeat. I hope to someday love anything as much as that man loves the Army and Barbi,” said Sgt. Maj. Luther Legg, former recruiting command sergeant major and long-time friend of Moran.
“If you have something in your life you aspire to, if you can feel that much affection toward anything, then you should consider yourself blessed,” he said.
He, Barbara and their three children, Ray, Rich and Robbi — all grown into parents and some into grandparents by now — have lived in so many places during Moran’s time on active duty, but one town in particular is still a point of pride for the Old Soldier: Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” holds an honorary Korean War Memorial medal that he keeps on display in his home in Odenton, Maryland, Feb. 22, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
If anyone mentions Latrobe, he is quick to mention Arnold Palmer, the famed golfer whose smiling picture is in his basement — autographed and all. Palmer and Moran were high school friends, along with Fred Rogers, who was one year ahead of them.
“He never had any tattoos underneath his sweater,” Moran reminds others of Mister Rogers, dispelling the silly rumor, which had made its way around some internet circles.
As the basement tour continues, Moran jumps from one life event to another. Historical references spanning decades press against each other. Within minutes of mentioning high school (which he attended while the world was engaged in its second war), he jumps three-quarters of a century in time to another picture.
“Happy Veteran’s Day, Pap-Pap,” he reads from one inscribed portrait of a baby named Penelope, his great-granddaughter. “Kinda cute,” he says with a chuckle.
Then, another family picture. This time, a young soldier: Christopher, his grandson, served in Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2007-2008. Moran had recruited him into the Army.
“And of course he got pinned with a (Combat Infantry Badge), and he was so proud because the first thing he wanted to show me was his CIB,” said Moran.
An oversized Combat Infantry Badge hangs on the wall beneath a genuine M1 rifle in the basement of retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
He mentions his grandson’s CIB, because he, too, earned one in Korea.
In fact, there it is, hanging on the wall beneath the M1: An oversized replica of the award — a ribbon given specifically to infantrymen who engage in combat.
“That was pinned on me by my battalion commander in the Korean War … We were in mud up to our ankles in combat boots, and he told everyone, ‘Unbutton your top button on your field jacket. And then he came and pinned our CIB on … That day, it must have been at least 100 (of us). We were all lined up from one end to the other in a parade field. That was the only time we ever got together,” said Moran.
When the Korean War first broke out, Moran was a corporal serving in Japan on peacekeeping occupation duty. Then, the war brought him to the Korean peninsula. When he returned home to his parents in Latrobe, he was a 21-year-old master sergeant. He’d been promoted from E-4 to E-8 in one year.
“He got a lot of field promotions,” said his brother, Jim. “Which tells you that he saw a lot of action.”
A U.S. Army recruiting poster leans against the wall in the basement of Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran’s home in Odenton, Md., Feb. 22, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
Jim is 84 now. He was too young to serve in Korea, but their middle brother, Sam fought at the same time as Ray. The two brothers ran into each other several times during the war, even though they were assigned to different units. Ray was with the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division. Sam was assigned to the 2nd Chemical Mortar Battalion in support of a British regiment known as the “Glorious Glosters.” During one encounter, they wrote a joint letter home to their parents. They missed two Christmases, which the Moran family refused to celebrate without them. Somehow, they returned home from across the world within a few hours of each other.
It’s hard to imagine Raymond Moran as a combat-fierce infantryman. Not because of his age, but because of his gentleness.
He’s an encourager, often saying to friends and family, “Good job. I’m real proud of you,” over the littlest things.
“Good job, Barbara, you remembered your medicine. You do such a great job,” he says for example.
“That was real nice of you. You take such good care of me,” he tells his sons and daughter repeatedly as they take turns visiting him on weekends.
Or, “Oh you’re right on time. I’m real proud of you,” he tells a visitor on their way out the door together.
Various portraits — including that of famed golfer Arnold Palmer — hang on the basement wall of retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran’s home in Odenton, Maryland, Feb. 22, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
When he says those things, his voice is not that of a dog owner training a puppy. It’s filled with genuine kindness. It’s more like the voice of his high school mate Mister Rogers making a neighbor feel welcome in his home.
When visitors leave his home, Moran stands on the front door waving a little American flag and salutes them goodbye.
“He’s always positive. He’s always upbeat … At first you think, ‘He’s a recruiter and he’s been a recruiter for years and years and years, so he’s taught to be that way because he wants to be positive around people when talking to them about joining the Army.’ But then you realize that he’s just like that. There’s no one left for him to convince to join the Army,” said Legg.
“I remember one sergeant major one time saying to me, ‘I’ve never heard your dad say a bad word about anybody,'” recalled his son, Ray. “There was one guy who was just like the worst person in the world. Somebody said something like, ‘I hate that son of a bitch.’ And Dad wouldn’t, just wouldn’t cross that line,” he said.
Ray remembers how his dad would give fatherly care and advice to all his soldiers.
“Dad kind of adopted (them) like a second son, or third son, or tenth son, at this point. He’s got so many,” he said.
Wedding anniversary and Valentine’s Day cards sent by friends and family are on display in the home of Raymond and Barbara Moran in Odenton, Maryland, Feb. 22, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
He was a father and mentor to all who came in contact with him, and beyond.
“If you track (soldiers’) mentors back, somehow they all find their way back to Sergeant Major Moran. He may not have been your mentor, but there’s a good chance that he was your mentor’s mentor … I used to kid, he’s like the (game) ‘Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon.’ Eventually you find your way back to Sergeant Major Moran,” said Legg.
Moran earned his nickname in Vietnam because he called a lot troops “Ol’ Soldier” when he couldn’t remember their names. Eventually, the nickname stuck back on him, especially because he was older than most around him. Yet, long before Vietnam, Raymond was known as “Smiley Moran” because of his constant smile and infectious positive attitude.
“Dad used to tell a story when I was a kid that they were digging ditches or something in Korea, and Dad was whistling,” his son said. “The captain came over and said, ‘You’re Morale-Builder Moran.’ And everybody called him Smiley Moran after that.”
What made his cheerfulness unusual was that the Korean War was no place for smiling. The winters were so brutal that some soldiers recall their gravy freezing on their plates by the time they walked back to their foxholes from the chow line. Bodies of American soldiers — frozen stiff — were stacked by the truckload after China sent 200,000 troops to fight alongside the North Koreans against the Americans. The History Channel produced a documentary on the war, titled, “Our Time in Hell.” It features Moran, among several other soldiers who fought there. The images and video clips shown in that documentary don’t evoke any desire to smile, yet “Smiley Moran” managed to earn that nickname.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” leans in to kiss his wife, Barbara, of 65 years marriage at their home in Odenton, Md., Feb. 11, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
“I would (imagine) Ray was a smart fighter,” his brother, Jim, said. “He’s not one to have (made) many mistakes as a fighter. He was the one always looking to take advantage of the situation. To change the situation. To make it better for them … He was a thinking-man’s fighter.”
The Old Soldier himself talks very little of whatever combat he saw or hardships he experienced.
He’s proud of his service in Korea, summarized simply, “It was infantry. It was mud. It was hardship. Good buddies … The guys had each other’s backs. Got to know each other so well.”
He typically resorts to the same few anecdotes: seeing his brother in Korea on several chance encounters and coming home to hug his father. Yet not every story is offered as easily as his smile, nor found framed inside a picture. Some stories surface over the years in the most unexpected ways.
Like the time his son, Ray, accompanied him to receive an award in Texas in 2002 and a young sergeant major came up to him and said, “Hey! You’re Smiley Moran, aren’t you? … My dad says you saved his life.”
That was a story he’d never told his son before, and even when asked about it now, he treats it as if it was no big thing.
“I just patched him up. Did the best I could, the way they teach you in the Army,” he said, and that was it. He wouldn’t linger there any longer or brag about saving someone else’s life.
A sign reading “Raymond loves Barbara” hangs on their front door as Barbara Moran heads out for a hair appointment before celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary married to retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
Another story that surfaced unexpectedly was after Vietnam, when he went for a haircut with Barbara. The barber nicked Raymond’s neck, but instead of a little trickle of blood, it shot off in gushes. Barbara was scared. She thought maybe the barber’s scissors had fallen out of his pocket and stabbed her husband in the neck.
They managed to stop the bleeding, and Raymond was fine, but the whole incident upset his wife.
“We’re not going back to that barber shop anymore,” Barbara told her husband.
But in his typical gentleman fashion, Raymond Moran took the blame away from the barber.
“No, no. Not his fault,” he said. “I didn’t tell him to be careful. I had a wound on my neck.”
The wound was from a helicopter crash in Vietnam. This was a shock to his wife because he had never mentioned it before. After all, Moran was a 41-year-old retention sergeant major in Vietnam, not the fighting infantryman he once was in Korea.
The crash happened in the spring of 1970. He recalls how a medic had to administer an injection to his scalp because of the profuse bleeding from his neck. The medic was freaked. He’d never given a shot in the scalp before.
“Do it anyway. You have to do it,” someone told him.
He injected Moran, stopped the bleeding, and they evacuated him.
Though retired, Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” still has a recruiting office at Fort Meade, Maryland, filled with Army memorabilia.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
After the incident, Moran wanted to keep a memento to remember the man who helped save his life. So he gave him a “Mickey Mouse” bill — it was fake money used by soldiers during the war. Moran asked the medic to write his name so he could keep it to remember him. He also told him to write “New Hampshire” on the bill because that’s where the medic said he lived back home.
“I went to New Hampshire (later on) to look him up, and I could never find him, and I felt bad. But I still think of him, often, up in New Hampshire. He helped me,” Moran recalled now, years later.
Unfortunately that paper bill is gone, lost somewhere in a box or maybe slipped between the pages of a book. Moran had tried several times looking for that bill, but couldn’t retrieve it.
That’s how it happens. That’s how Moran has managed to collect so many mementos. But it’s usually Moran doing the helping, and the recipient sending him a token of appreciation in return. Barbara said there are even more boxes of items in a backroom of the basement they couldn’t fit on the walls. A few miles from their home, Moran still has an office at an Army Reserve center. He doesn’t go there often, but like his basement the walls of that office are plastered with reminders: autographed portraits of sergeants major and generals, coffee mugs from all corners of the Army, a rack full of challenge coins, pictures, banners, trophies, even the Korean flag draping from one corner of the room. And stacks of business cards.
That’s the one thing everyone else keeps as an Old Soldier memento: his business card. Even though he’s long retired, he keeps some at home and hands them to anyone who visits. Sometimes he will hand out a second or third business card.
Retired Sgt. Maj. Raymond Moran, affectionately known as the “Old Soldier,” smiles at his wife before she goes for a nap at home in Odenton, Md., Jan. 18, 2018.
(Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret))
“No, this one is different, take it,” he’ll say. And sure enough, this time the business card has a different picture on the back. It’s a wedding photo of him and Barbara, dated 1953.
Nowadays, he doesn’t give out as many as he used to. At 88, he spends most of his days at home with Barbara, whom he calls his “wonderful Army wife.” But on the rare occasions he makes his way to Fort Meade, he’s like a local celebrity. soldiers at the gate recognize him and many stop him to take a picture together.
At home, a nurse visits daily to take care of Barbara and checks both of their temperatures and blood pressure in the morning while eating breakfast.
After she reads his vitals, Moran asked, “Is that good?”
“That’s very good. You’re strong and healthy.”
“Good,” he responded. “I guess I’ll re-enlist then.”
The U.S. and Soviet militaries in the Cold War both understood the importance of the Arctic. Their submarines moved under it, their bombers moved over it, and both sides kept radar stations to track each other’s planes and potential missile launches. But after the U.S. figured out how to track Soviet submarines from drift stations, they wanted to know if the Soviets had figured out the same trick.
The problem was that drift stations were small bases built on floating ice islands. It’s hard to sneak onto such isolated and small installations. Luckily, drift stations are a bit dangerous. As the ice shifts on the island, it can crack and rupture. Drift station commanders had to keep firm eyes on their runways. Otherwise, the ice could crack too badly and make escape impossible.
So they had a tendency to get abandoned every once in a while, but only as they were becoming inaccessible. Well, inaccessible to the Russians, who couldn’t get personnel out of the remote areas without a runway. But America had a new trick up its sleeve in 1962 it wanted to try out.
An instruction comic for the Robert Fulton Skyhook.
But the mission would be dangerous. A small team would need to parachute into Arctic conditions, scrounge through the rubble of the rapidly breaking base, and then get extracted with a Skyhook before it all fell apart. This was Operation Coldfeet.
Two men were selected for the mission. Air Force Maj. James Smith was a Russian linguist with experience on American drift stations, and U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Leonard LeSchack, an Antarctic geophysicist. LeSchack had to learn to jump out of planes, and both men had to train on the retrieval system.
But as the men trained, the target drift station was shifting further from their launch point at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. Luckily, something even better came along.
Station NP 8 was a more modernized station, but its runway rapidly degraded and the Soviets abandoned it. America found out in March 1962 and shifted the planned operation to target NP 8.
The insertion took place on May 28, and the two investigators got to work. They searched through piles of documents, technological equipment, and other artifacts to piece together what was happening at the drift station.
They discovered that, yes, the Soviets were tracking American subs. Worse, they were developing techniques to hunt them under the ice.
The Fulton Skyhook being used by the men of Operation Coldfeet in 1962.
Smith and LeSchack made a prioritized set of documents and items they needed to get out, and they carefully packed it into bags. Over six days and five nights, they cataloged, documented, and packed. Then they attached them to balloons, filled the balloons with helium, and sent them into the sky where the plane snagged them up.
Once they were sure the bags were safe, they sent their own balloons up and got pulled out by the plane.
The Soviets wouldn’t know for years that their secret was out.
Anyone can tell you that in combat, good communications are important. But there was one time that a miscommunication helped the U.S. win a significant naval surface action off Guadalcanal during the Battle of Cape Esperance.
That bit of lucky confusion happened on the night of Oct. 11, 1942. That was when Japan decided to carry out what was called a “Tokyo Express” run. These runs delivered troops, often dashing in under the cover of darkness. This was necessary because American planes at Henderson Field were very capable of taking down enemy ships in the daylight hours.
To take Henderson Field, Japan had to reinforce the troops on Guadalcanal — especially because the Americans had, in the middle of September run a substantial convoy to Guadalcanal at the cost of the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV 7). During that month, at the battle of Edson’s Ridge, the Marines had repelled an attack, inflicting substantial losses on the Japanese ground troops.
According to “The Struggle for Guadalcanal,” Volume Five in Samuel Eliot Morison’s “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II,” on Oct. 9, 1942, an American convoy carrying the 164th Infantry Regiment, part of the Americal Division, departed for Guadalcanal. Three United States Navy task forces covered the transports.
One was centered around the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8), which had launched the Doolittle raid almost six months prior. The second was around the battleship USS Washington (BB 56). The third was a group of cruisers and destroyers under the command of Rear Adm. Norman Scott, who had his flagship on the heavy cruiser USS San Francisco (CA 38).
In addition to the San Francisco, the heavy cruiser USS Salt Lake City (CA 25), the light cruisers USS Helena (CL 50) and USS Boise (CL 47), and the destroyers USS Laffey (DD 459), USS Farenholt (DD 491), USS Duncan (DD 485), USS McCalla (DD 488) and USS Buchanan (DD 484) were part of Task Force 64, which had the assignment of securing Ironbottom Sound until the transports finished unloading.
At 11:32 that night, the radar on the USS Helena detected a Japanese force of three heavy cruisers (the Aoba, Kinugasa, and Furutaka) and the destroyers Fubuki and Hatsuyuki. American radar tracked the Japanese force, which was covering a supply convoy. At 11:45 that night, Capt. Gilbert C. Hoover on board the Helena would send a fateful message to Admiral Scott, “Interrogatory Roger.” He was requesting permission to fire. Scott’s response, “Roger,” was intended to acknowledge receipt of the request. But “Roger” was also used for granting permission to fire, according to Morison.
Hoover would assume the latter, and at 11:46, the USS Helena opened fire with her fifteen six-inch guns. According to NavWeaps.com, the Mk 16 six-inch guns could fire up to ten rounds a minute. In that first minute, as many as 150 rounds would be fired by that ship. Other American ships also opened fire, and the Aoba, the flagship of the Japanese force, took the brunt of the American fire. The Japanese commander, Rear Adm. Aritomo Goto, was mortally wounded early on.
Thrown into confusion, the Japanese force initially believed they had been fired on by their troop convoy. Eventually, they began to return fire, but the battle’s result was never in doubt. The Aoba would be badly damaged, and the Furutaka and the Fubuki would be sunk by the end of the battle.
The Americans would lose the destroyer USS Duncan, while the Boise and Salt Lake City were damaged and returned to rear bases for repairs, along with the destroyer Farenholt.
Norman Scott had won a tactical victory, thanks to that communications foul-up, but the Japanese landed their reinforcements that night. On the night of October 13, the battleships Kongo and Haruna delivered a devastating bombardment against Henderson Field, but couldn’t prevent American reinforcements from arriving.
Later that month, Japanese forces would fail to take Henderson Field, while a naval offensive would be turned back in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands at the cost of the Hornet.
The two men involved in that communications foul-up would see action about a month later off Guadalcanal when Japanese battleships tried to again bombard Henderson Field, only to be stopped by Daniel Callaghan.
Rear Adm. Norman Scott would be killed in action in that engagement. Hoover would survive, and be left in command of the surviving ships. As he lead them back, the anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52) would be sunk by a Japanese submarine. Rather than try to rescue survivors, Hoover radioed the position of the survivors to a patrolling B-17, expecting a request to be relayed to the South Pacific.