'Executions at midnight' weren't really a thing - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Michael F. asks: Are executions really held at midnight like shown in the movies? If so, why?

By the time Rainey Bethea was executed on Aug. 14, 1936, most of the United States had ceased executing people publicly. However, in Kentucky in 1936 an execution could still be held publicly and, according to the jury at his trial, Bethea deserved such an end, though not without controversy given the fact that the whole thing from murder to scheduled hanging took place in only about two months. On top of that, this was the case of a young black man who had previously only been convicted of a few minor, non-violent crimes being sentenced to death for rape and murder without any real defense on his behalf. He also claimed the confessions he gave were given under coercion. Whatever the case, the jury deliberated for less than five minutes and returned with the sentence of death by hanging, a mere three weeks after the crime was committed.


Approximately 20,000 people gathered around the gallows to witness the execution. When the time came, the trap door was opened and the rope snapped Bethea’s neck. After 14 minutes, his body was taken down and he was confirmed dead. This was the last public hanging ever performed in the United States.

So what does any of this have to do with executions being held at midnight? While a common Hollywood trope is the classic execution at midnight, it turns out for most all of history, this really wasn’t a thing. As with the case of Bethea, executions were largely a public spectacle and, outside of mob murders, people weren’t exactly keen on gathering at night to watch someone be killed; so executions tended to occur at more civilized hours.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

(Flickr photo by Alan Levine)

Interestingly, the fact that people preferred day time executions actually appears to be one of the chief reasons executions were, for a time in the United States, initially switched to late night, giving us the Hollywood trope that has largely endured to this day.

The earliest examples of this change occurred in the late 19th century as certain states began looking to curtail the spectacle that was public executions. As professor John Bessler of the University of Baltimore School of Law states, “There was pickpocketing at these public executions, thefts and sometimes violence. They were trying to get rid of the mob atmosphere that attended these public executions.”

The fix was easy — simply move the execution time to an hour when most people are sleeping, getting rid of the boisterous crowds and accompanying extra media coverage.

Now, given the switch to banning public executions completely, you might at this point be wondering why the nighttime time slot endured and became popular enough for a time to become a common trope?

One of the principal reasons often cited is simply to cut down on potential for more red tape in certain cases. While there are exceptions, in many states in the U.S. death warrants were, and in some cases still are, only legal for one day. If the execution is not carried out on the specified date, another warrant would be required which, as you might imagine for something as serious as killing someone legally (and ensuring the executioner cannot be charged for murder), this is a lot of paperwork and not always a guarantee. By starting at midnight, it gives the full 24 hours to work through potential temporary stays of execution, if any, before the time slot has ended and a new death warrant must be procured.

That said, perhaps more importantly, and a reason cited by many a prison official, is simply the matter of staffing. Executions performed at the dead of night see the inmates locked up in their cells, with minimal guard presence needed. Thus, prison workers don’t have to worry about any potential issues with the inmate populace during an execution. Further, some normal staff can easily be diverted to handling various aspects of a nighttime execution without taxing the available worker pool, a key benefit given prison systems are notoriously understaffed in the United States.

All this said, contrary to popular belief, midnight executions are not really much of a thing anymore. There are a variety of reasons for this, but principally this is as a courtesy for the various people processing and working on the appeals. For example, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor notes, “Dispensing justice at that hour of the morning is difficult, to say the least, and we have an obligation … to give our best efforts in every one of these instances.”

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

(Flickr photo by kyle tsui)

Arguments for a switch in time slot have also been made on behalf of the loved ones of both the condemned and victims. These people were formerly made to arrive a couple hours before the execution at midnight, and would then have to stay until after it was carried out if they wanted to witness it. Even with no delays, this tended to see them not processed out the door until a few hours after midnight. And if there were temporary stays of execution, they might have to skip a night’s sleep to be sure they were there to watch someone, perhaps a loved one or potentially the opposite, die.

There is also the issue of overtime. While ease of staffing is generally listed as a positive reason for late night executions, it turns out that as states began to move the executions into the light of day again, issues with the other inmates during daytime executions never really manifested, while overtime costs to keep the necessary staff on hand to process the execution at night were not trivial. For example, in the execution of Douglas Franklin Wright in 1996, staff assigned to the execution cost just shy of an extra ,000 (about ,000 today) in overtime compared to if the execution had been carried out in the daytime. Some prisons have also taken to simply implementing special modified lockdown procedures during executions to free up normal staff while reducing the risk of issues with the rest of the inmates.

What about the potential paperwork problem? This has easily been worked around by many states who’ve moved to daytime executions. For example, in Missouri they just switched the time limit to 24 hours, regardless of date. What matters is just the starting time. Other states simply have moved to longer periods like a week or ten days granted for such a warrant.

Thus, contrary to what is often depicted in films, midnight executions have gone the way of the dodo in the United States, though there are a few places in the world that still prefer to execute people in darkness. For example, in India executions are typically carried out before sunrise, with the stated reasoning being staffing convenience — as was the case in the U.S., at these hours more staff are available to handle the execution before normal daily activities begin.

Bonus Fact:

  • Botched executions are surprisingly common, for example occurring in about 7% of all executions in the United States. Historically, between 1890 and 2010 in the United States, 276 executions were messed up in some way, sometimes dramatically. One young black teen, who very much appears to have been innocent of the crime he was convicted of, even had to be sent to the electric chair twice. After the first attempt at killing him failed and he had to be brought back to his cell, the subsequent controversy over whether it was legal to try to kill him again brought to light the fact that there really wasn’t any evidence against him other than a forced confession. We’ll have more on this in an upcoming episode of our podcast The BrainFood Show, which you can subscribe to here: (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed)

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Delta Daze: The ‘ghosts’ Delta Force saw after the Cold War

Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.

“Well, they sure favor their Earth tone clothing over here; every color is … dark, dingy, and just… gray. It’s like this whole city is trapped inside a gray balloon,” my brother observed and commented. “What the hell is with all the dark clothing, seriously?” he puzzled. “I mean is there some kind of extra import tariff on $hit that is red, yellow, or orange — the longer wavelength colors — always with the shorter waves, Moriarity; ALWAYS WITH THE SHORTER WAVES!”


Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina in former Yugoslavia. The boys and I came here shortly after a United Nations (UN)-induced cease-fire. The tide of homicide, genocide, fratricide, and suicide along the countryside… had all just become so, so, so over the top for the world theater’s pallet.

The suffering on the ground was hellish but what the real world didn’t know and we only learned on the ground was that we were here because of a doll. Yep, that’s right journalists were placing dolls in the scenes of carnage which when seen by coffee-talkers around the world sparked global outrage — time to send in some troops!

“They’re ripping babies out of mothers’ arms and then gunning both down right there in the streets… and I think that’s just wrong, you know?” bleat the crestfallen Gladys Pumpernick of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. “Oh, but what of the children??”

And so it went; that’s how me and the boys ended up in a C-130 Herc out of Germany, junked-up with body armor and helmets. Ground fire was an indeed thing in and around the Sarajevo airport. No slow shallow glide to the flight line; that would lend undue exposure of the aircraft to ground fire. Ours was a fast approach with a sudden steep dive and flare onto the tarmac.

Air Force likes to tell you that a dive gives you a chance. The Army tells you to throw on body armor. Despite both schools of wisdom, you’re still stuck in a metal tube with absolutely nothing you can do. We looked and felt stupid in our armor, with nothing protecting us from bullets coming up through the floor of the aircraft.

“In Nam the Air Cavalry sat on their steel pots!” recalled a brother, and we all quickly removed our armored vests and helmets. We lay our vests on our red nylon seats, the K-Pot helmets on the vests, then sat on top of the combo, grinning back and forth at each other the grin you grin when you have saved your testicles for yet another day.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Once on the ground, were attached to the in-country commanding general’s group of the UN-titled Implementation Force (IFOR). All soldiers from all nations wore the IFOR badge on their uniforms. Our badges, being with the command element read “ComIFOR” the Command of IFOR, a title that lent prestige in countless areas as well as free parking spots.

We wore only functionally rugged civilian clothes and carried a concealed M-1911 pistol on our person. Parking along a curb on our first day we were immediately approached by a fireplug of a hateful U.S. Military Police person. She huffed and she puffed and sought to blow us down:

“You can’t park there!”

Our team lead, D-man, neatly closed the driver’s door of our SUV as he replied: “Yes we can.”

“No you can’t — IFOR!” huffed the MP as she jammed an indicating index finger into the IFOR badge on her chest.

D-Man tapped his badge on his chest: “Yes we can — ComIFOR.”

The MP’s eyes flashed a “been-got” flash, and she stewed momentarily. “Well, don’t take all damned day!” was all she had.

“Yeah, we’ll be sure and not take all damned day, sweetheart,” was how D-Man dismissed our host.

I can tell you that it was dark in Sarajevo at night, so dark. My first night there I counted from up high a grand total of five lights coming from some sources in the city, not even bright ones. Two of them were traffic lights… just two traffic lights on main street in the entire city. It was dark in Sarajevo at night, yeah.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Night in a shopping district of modern-day Sarajevo

The country’s infrastructure was simply destroyed from the years of bombing and shelling. There was no dependable electric grid, fuel or transportation was rare. People were forced to spend long days well into night, mostly on foot just trying to take care of their basic needs.

And at night our headlights revealed the ghost people as they moved through the streets. Clad mostly in black; light black and dark black. A splash of gray to compliment the dark something-or-other, an ensemble pulled together with a black pleather jacket.

And the women, dark on dark with pallid skin, long raven hair, black lipstick, and dark eyeshadow… looking like a hoard of listless Morticia Addams’ sulking their way to somewhere. They shuffled as singletons or couples arm in pleather arm. Goth was just the untimely trend for the young there. It just made for an even more macabre ambiance in the city at night.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

The original Morticia Addams

Back at our little compound, I had a chance to meet one of the ghost people face to face: Rado, short for Radovan, had been a newspaper editor before the war in just his early 20s. He was since rounded up by Serbian troops and held for many months in a barn with the other men of his neighborhood and tortured beyond logical description, to the brink of a ghost person.

Subject to his calamity he became as simple as a little child in both thought and action. He did odd jobs around the American Embassy for food and pennies. He smoked like a meat house and wore the same unlaundered pullover sweater the entire three months I was there.

The team and I really came to question the ghost people: why were they walking in the street at night in dark clothes, in the middle of the street even?! It’s like they’re begging to be killed… they’re stoned freaking crazy — all of them! Yes, it sure seemed that way to me too. I have to reckon that after all they have been through these last years nothing really lights their fuses.

What can I tell you? These souls have been treading in Lucifer’s backyard for over four years now, the longest siege of a major city in modern history. Day after day of pacts with the devil to stay alive, scratching and screaming to stay living, promising all and everything to the Creator for just one more day above ground… do we honestly expect them to worry over their dark wardrobe while they stroll the street shoulders of their peace-time home??

An American Colonel gave Rado his used New Balance running shoes the day he signed out; he just walked up and stuffed them in Rado’s chest and walked away. Rado stood stunned, gradually sinking to the ground crying and hugging his now most prized possession, his (used) American shoes. “Even and they are my number!” he cried out in fractured English, meaning they were just his size, “Even and they are my same number!”

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Driving on patrol or even on the base was always a challenge for us with the Ghost people lurking in the shadows. “I swear to God “Sarajevo” is the Bosnian word for ghost people! They need to move out of the freakin’ way!!” =HONK — HONK — HOOOOOONK= “I’m going to run one of these sons-of-bitches over and it’s not going to be my fault!” Tough talk, but we would continue to always yield to the ghost people, our rage notwithstanding.

Rado got hit by an IFOR HMMWV (hummer) and died on Alipašina Ulica (street). It was night, and the street was dark. Rado was dark and too simple, the driver American and so irate, irate with the ghost people of Sarajevo.

I didn’t see the accident, but I raced there when I heard the news, as it was very close by. Rado lay still where he died, wearing his same rancid pullover sweater, and now the Colonel’s used running shoes, his same number, Rado’s, the simple child… Rado, the ghost of Sarajevo.

Radovan Bozhić served his sentence in Hades. He was finished with his sentence, and now it was time for him to live; it was someone else’s turn to stagger the green mile to death for a fair spell.

Somewhere, somehow, some clerk made an errant entry in the wrong row, the wrong column of a divine dispatch log, and mistakenly put Rado wrongfully back on the mortal path… my, but I did hate it so.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Cold War nuclear sea mine required a chicken to explode

The Cold War spawned decades’ worth of bizarre weapon ideas as the West and the Soviet Union strove towards gaining the strategic upper hand over their superpower rival.

The US was responsible for at least seven nuclear weapon designs during the Cold War that now seem outlandish or ill-advised. But the US wasn’t alone in its willingness to build seemingly absurd weapons systems to gain some kind of advantage over the Soviets.


In the 1950s, the UK designed a nuclear landmine that would be placed in West Germany to stop a hypothetical Soviet assault on the rest of Europe, the BBC reports. The landmine, dubbed Operation Blue Peacock, would be operated remotely so that it could be detonated at the moment when it could inflict maximal damage on the invading Red Army.

But the weapon had a major hitch. Buried underground, it was possible that the mine would become cold to the point that the detonator would be unable to trigger a nuclear blast. In 1957, British nuclear physicists found a solution: chickens

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
The design was based on the free-falling Blue Danube bomb.

“The birds would be put inside the casing of the bomb, given seed to keep them alive and stopped from pecking at the wiring,” the BBC notes. The chickens’ body heat would be enough to maintain the triggering mechanism’s working temperature. In all, the chickens would be estimated to survive for a week, after which time the bomb would return to a possibly cooled and inoperable state.

In all, the landmines designed in Operation Blue Peacock were thought to yield a 10-kiloton explosion which would produce a crater 375 feet in diameter, according to the American Digest. Such destructive potential ultimately led to the abandonment of the project as the British realized that there would be an unacceptable amount of nuclear fallout from such a blast — never mind the complicated issue of burying nuclear weapons within the territory of an allied nation.

By 1958, after the production of only two prototypes, Operation Blue Peacock was abandoned.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The story of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ makes your officers look pretty smart

The “Charge of the Light Brigade” has become shorthand for a military disaster, especially one that is filled with heroics but is still a catastrophe. In the actual Charge of the Light Brigade, approximately 670 men rode into the teeth of Russian artillery because their officers didn’t understand their orders and didn’t want to talk to one another.


Yes, one of history’s most famous military failures was caused by officers who couldn’t get along.

The Crimean War was fought by Britain, France, Sardinia, and the Ottoman Empire against Imperial Russia between Oct. 1853 and Mar. 1856. The Battle of Balaclava in late 1854 took place in a mountainous area. Two valleys, known as the North Valley and the South Valley, ran east-to-west across the battlefield and were split by the Causeway Heights which contained a road.

 

The road was key to the movement of supplies and communications for the allied forces and the Turks were constructing redoubts to guard it. On Oct. 25, the Russians attempted to capture the road and the incomplete redoubts. A large cavalry force bore down on the Turks who retreated soon after.

The British commander, Lord FitzRoy Somerset, the First Baron of Raglan, saw this take place from his headquarters to the west of the valley. Lord Raglan sent orders for British infantry to move from the hills into the valley and for the British cavalry, who were camped in the valley, to move against the Russian cavalry.

The British cavalry Heavy Brigade under Lord George Bingham, Earl of Lucan, managed to turn the Russian attack and even sent the Russians past the Light Brigade, but the Light Brigade failed to attack the exposed Russians. The Russian cavalry dropped back to the abandoned Turkish redoubt and began attempting to capture the naval guns positioned there.

The British senior commanders were angry that the Light Brigade’s commander, Lord James Brudenell of Cardigan, had failed to attack and were worried about the potential loss of valuable cannons. Lord Raglan sent orders for the cavalry to attack the Russians before the Russians could carry away the guns. Since the infantry was still making its way to the valley, the cavalry would be on their own.

The order, written by Sir Richard Airey, read:

Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front – follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Troop Horse Artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. R Airey. Immediate.

This would have been a valuable use of cavalry in what was an accepted practice at the time. Cavalry riding against artillery would have been able to close the gap between themselves and the enemy guns quickly, giving the enemy just enough time for one or two shots from the cannons. Once the cavalry reached the guns, they could have cut the gun crews to ribbons with their sabers.

Even better for the British, these were Russian cavalrymen retreating with Turkish guns. Chances are, they wouldn’t have attempted to fire the cannons at all, abandoning them or dying in their attempt to remove them.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
Lord Fitzroy James Henry Somerset, 1st Baron Raglan. Raglan’s unclear orders would doom the Light Brigade in their famous charge. Portrait: William Salter

But, Lord Raglan worded his orders with the assumption that Cardigan knew the Turkish cannons were being carried away. From their positions on the valley floor, neither Cardigan nor Lucan could see the former Turkish positions. When the order to attack came, they didn’t know what Russian guns they were being told to attack.

This is where a quick conference between the commanders or clearly written orders would have saved everything. But Raglan and Airey provided unclear orders and the courier who carried the orders may have indicated the wrong target for attack. Cardigan and Lucan, the two cavalry commanders, hated each other. (Cardigan had married Lucan’s sister but the couple later separated, embarrassing Lucan.)

So, Lucan simply passed the order to Cardigan and the cavalry mounted for an attack. Instead of attacking the retreating cavalry and regaining the Turkish naval guns, Cardigan led the Light Brigade into the North Valley in an attempt to attack Russian artillery at the eastern end of it.

The attacking cavalrymen made it most of the way through the valley in two ranks before the Russians opened up with the 30 cannons in the main battery. Immediately after those cannonballs punched holes through the lines, additional Russian artillery placed on either side of the valley fired into the still-charging cavalrymen. Then, Russian infantry that was formed in ranks on the hill added musket fire to the mix.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
Painting: Richard Caton Woodville, Jr., Public Domain

 

Survivors described the carnage in vivid language, talking about severed limbs, riders decapitated in their saddles, and smoke as thick as that from a volcano.

The Heavy Brigade was behind the Light and realized that the attack into the Northern Valley was a mistake. Lucan turned the Heavy Brigade around as the Light Brigade continued charging in. Despite heavy losses, the Light Brigade made it to the Russian guns and infantry ranks and began slicing through their enemies.

Surprisingly, the Charge of the Light Brigade was costly but initially successful.

They pushed past the cannons and forced a massive retreat of panicked Russians.

The Light Brigade formed up and were preparing to kill the rest of the gun crews and advance when they realized that the Heavy Brigade had not followed them in. Without the Heavy Brigade, the British were vastly outnumbered. With the Russians forming up for a counterattack, the Light Brigade was forced to retreat back through the valley.

The retreat of the Light Brigade was soon interrupted by Russian cavalry attacks that attempted to hold them in the valley. As the horsemen on each side clashed, Russian artillery crews that had withdrawn from their guns returned to position and began firing grapeshot and cannon into the Light Brigade, killing more men and horses.

Luckily for the English, the French cavalry took it upon themselves to attack Russian positions on the north side of the valley, reducing the cannon fire coming down.

Still, of the approximately 670 men who rode forth with the Light Brigade, 110 were killed and 160 wounded. The brigade also lost 375 horses and the Turkish guns were captured from the hills and later paraded by the Russians in Sevastopol.

A correspondent for the London Illustrated News was on the hills during the battle and wrote an article about the heroic but doomed actions of the cavalry. The article would stir the imagination of the British public and lead to Lord Alfred Tennyson, the Poet Laureate of Britain at the time, writing the famous poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Navy’s carrier-based F-35s may not be ready for combat after all

The US Navy has declared its F-35Cs ready for combat, but the service’s own testing data says the stealth fighters designed to take off and land on aircraft carriers are nowhere close to ready, an independent nonpartisan watchdog reports.

“The F-35C is ready for operations, ready for combat and ready to win,” Vice Adm. DeWolfe Miller, commander of Naval Air Forces, said in February 2019 as the Navy announced that the fighter had achieved initial operating capability. “We are adding an incredible weapon system into the arsenal of our Carrier Strike Groups that significantly enhances the capability of the joint force.”


But the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit government-accountability group, warned March 19, 2019, that despite these claims, the F-35C, like the other variants, “continues to dramatically underperform in crucial areas including availability and reliability, cybervulnerability testing, and life-expectancy testing.”

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

An F-35C Lightning II carrier variant joint strike fighter.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Eli K. Buguey)

While still secretary of defense, Jim Mattis demanded last fall that the Navy and the Air Force strive to achieve a fleet-wide mission-capable rate of 80% for their fighters by October 2019. The Navy’s carrier-capable F-35 variant is apparently nowhere close to that target, having consistently achieved unacceptably low fully mission-capable rates.

The mission-capable rates for the Navy’s F-35Cs dropped from 12% in October 2016 to zero in December 2017, with figures remaining in the single digits throughout 2018, the oversight group reported, citing Navy documents. The US Navy, according to Military.com, also has only 27 of the required 273 F-35Cs, and the mission-capable rates do not apply to aircraft in testing, training, or depot.

“The fully mission capable rate for the full fleet is likely far below” the target set by Mattis, the watchdog concluded.

It said the Navy had opted to move forward with the aircraft “in spite of evidence that it is not ready for combat” and that it could “put at risk missions, as well as the troops who depend on it to get to the fight.”

The group’s analysis follows the release of a disconcerting report from the Defense Department’s director of operational, test, and evaluation in January that called attention to F-35 readiness issues, such as life expectancy, cybersecurity, and stagnant aircraft availability.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Two F-35C Lightning II aircraft.

(U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Shannon E. Renfroe)

“Fleet-wide average availability is below program target value of 60% and well below planned 80% needed,” the official report said. “The trend in fleet availability has been flat over the past three years; the program’s reliability improvement initiatives are still not translating into improved availability.”

The F-35 Joint Program Office responded to that report, saying the problems presented in the report were being “aggressively addressed.”

The JPO told Business Insider that as of January 2019, the mission capable rate for the Navy’s F-35C was 56 percent. “The Program Office has identified the enablers to increase our mission capability rates,” a JPO spokesman explained.

“We will continue to learn and improve ways to maintain and sustain F-35C as we prepare for first deployment,” the Joint Strike Fighter Wing commodore, Capt. Max McCoy, said as the Navy’s carrier-capable variant was declared “ready for combat” February 2019. “The addition of F-35C to existing Carrier Air Wing capability ensures that we can fight and win in contested battlespace now and well into the future.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Navy almost blew up the President of the United States

If you mess up just one glorious time in the U.S. military, your friends and peers will never let you forget it. It’s always been this way, even in World War II. From November 1943 until she was lost in 1945, the destroyer USS William D. Porter was greeted by home ports and other U.S. Navy ships with: “Don’t shoot, we’re Republicans!” That’s what happens when you almost assassinate the President.


‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Yes, that President.

In 1943, the USS Iowa was ferrying President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, along with the top brass of the entire United States military in the middle of the biggest, most dangerous war ever. It was a very special, important mission. They were on their way to meet their Allied counterparts in Cairo and Tehran, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin.

The whole thing was almost derailed by one torpedo fired at the Iowa, by a destroyer in the Iowa’s own convoy, the William D. Porter. And it was a fast-running, powerful 500-pound torpedo.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

“Whoops.”

The Porter was a hard-luck ship that hadn’t even seen combat yet. As she left Norfolk, she scraped the side of her sister ship, almost tearing her apart. While on convoy duty crossing the Atlantic, one of her depth charges slipped out of its hold and detonated, sending the convoy into a tizzy. Later, a large wave washed everything on the destroyer’s deck into the ocean, including a sailor that was never found. Once things calmed down a bit, the crews settled in for some target practice as the President watched on.

The Iowa launched target balloons, which the ships fired at in turn, including the Porter. Next, the skipper of the Porter ordered torpedo practice with Iowa as the target. But when the simulated order to fire a torpedo accidentally launched an armed torpedo, the bridge understandably flipped out.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Yes, that USS Iowa.

Under strict radio silence to avoid attracting German u-boats, the crew of the Porter began to furiously signal Iowa. Unfortunately, in their haste, they mentioned nothing about a torpedo, instead telling the battleship that the destroyer was backing up at full speed. Eventually, they radioed the Iowa anyway. After a brief disagreement about radio procedures, the huge battleship moved out of the way of the oncoming torpedo, which exploded in the wake of the battleship, with President Roosevelt aware of the torpedo and watching it come.

The guns of the battleship turned on the William D. Porter. The ship was ordered to make its way to Bermuda, its entire ship’s company under arrest. It was surrounded by U.S. Marines when it arrived in Bermuda. The crew was dismissed to landward assignments, and its skipper was sentenced to 14 years in prison – a sentence President Roosevelt commuted to no punishment because he considered it an averted accident.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

The “WIllie Dee” sinks in the Pacific, June 1945.

The destroyer itself would go on fighting the war while continuing its hard luck, accidentally shooting down American planes and strafing her sister ship with gunfire. In June 1945, a Japanese kamikaze pilot who missed his initial target sank into the sea next to the Porter. It exploded directly underneath the ship, however, and sent her to the bottom.

Articles

Watch this Texas monster truck rescue an Army vehicle from Harvey floodwaters

For the last several days, Hurricane Harvey has dropped an estimated 50-inches of rain, putting several Texas towns underwater.


Countless Americans are braving the weather conditions, driving massive trucks out to help their fellow flood victims by transporting them and what belongings they can muster to local shelters until this natural disaster clears.

One Twitter video has been recently making rounds of a massive Cadillac Escalade lifted up on enormous tires pulling a nearly submerged medium sized tactical truck from a flooded residential area.

Related: This is how the Growler disables an enemy’s air defense system

After the Escalade roared its powerful motor, the driver managed to tow the Texas National Guard’s military vehicle from the flood waters causing the nearby spectators to cheer.

According to the US Department of Defense, more than 3,800 people have been rescued, but many residents wish to stay at home protecting their belongings from looters.

Also Read: 15 clichés every military recruit from Texas hears in basic training

Check out Micheal Keyes’ video below to see the action for yourself.

MIGHTY MOVIES

Why one of the ‘most influential horror movies ever made’ was a flop

Described variously as everything from “the greatest B-movie ever made” to a masterpiece of horror and suspense, John Carpenter’s The Thing, which debuted on June 25, 1982, is a movie that rightfully stands amongst the likes of Alien and The Terminator as one of the most kick-ass sci-fi movies in history. The thing is, it turns out The Thing was so poorly received when it debuted that it nearly ruined Carpenter’s career.

First, for anyone unfamiliar with the The Thing, the basic plot is that a shape-shifting alien organism from the depths of space crash lands in the middle Antarctica and begins brutally assimilating the denizens of an American research base. Throughout the film, in traditional horror movie fashion, the eponymous Thing slowly kills off the cast while Kurt Russell, sporting the bushiest beard of his career, tries to incinerate it with a flamethrower. Of note is the fact that the film ends on a cliffhanger, showing Russell’s character staring down known hero of this Earth Keith David, as they both sit around waiting to freeze to death and come to the realization that one of them could be the Thing… The fate of neither man is made explicitly clear, leaving what happens next largely up to the interpretation of the audience.


For some reason audiences and critics hated this, with many a scathing review being written criticizing the movie’s nihilistic tone and lack of a satisfying conclusion to the story. This somewhat annoyed director John Carpenter who did actually film a more positive ending after being pressure by the studio, but ultimately cut it because it felt, in his words “cheesy”. As Carpenter would later note of the general reaction to the film’s ending: “The film wasn’t heroic enough, it wasn’t the U.S. Hockey team beating the Russians. That’s what people wanted to see.”​

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Filming of “The Thing,” 1982.

Not stopping there, perhaps the most baffling criticism levied against the film came courtesy of New York Times reviewer Vincent Canby who described the film’s practical effects as “phony looking“. A bold claim considering the film’s practical effects are still referenced today by experts in the field as being some of the most technically impressive ever seen on the silver screen.

The endless dunking on Carpenter didn’t stop with reviews, though, and the director of the film The Thing was loosely based upon, The Thing from Another World, Christian Nyby would later release a statement saying that the film was terrible. As if that wasn’t a bitter enough pill to swallow, following the bad reviews and exceptionally poor box office returns the film saw (it only managed to bring in million on a budget of million), Universal yanked Carpenter off of his next directing project and then bought out of the rest of his contract so that he wouldn’t make any more movies for them.

John Carpenter’s The Thing original trailer (1982) HQ

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Carpenter, as you can imagine, was hurt by the critical mauling the film received, including being particularly stung when Sydney Magazine had a cover story on the movie titled: “Is This the Most Hated Film of All Time?”

Needless to say, Carpenter refused to comment on The Thing publicly for many years. Of course, over the years the critical consensus on the film has shifted dramatically and The Thing is now considered one of the greatest and most influential horror movies ever made. Which begs the question, what gives?

Well, according to Carpenter, one of the key reasons he believes the film flopped was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which was released just two weeks before The Thing. Said, Carpenter, “I just don’t think audiences in 1982 wanted to see that. They wanted to see E.T. and The Thing was the opposite of that… I was called ‘a pornographer of violence’… I had no idea it would be received that way… The Thing was just too strong for that time. I knew it was going to be strong, but I didn’t think it would be too strong…”

In the end, he didn’t think audiences were ready for a movie about a shape-shifting alien murder-beast so soon after one about a happy, friendly little alien who likes eating Reese’s Pieces.

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

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America’s ‘concrete battleship’ defended Manila Bay until the very end

Before the advent of maneuver warfare, nations defended their territory with massive fortifications. This was particularly true of coasts and harbors, especially if a nation owned the finest harbor in the Orient. This was the case for the American port at Manila Bay.


After the United States acquired the Philippines from Spain during the Spanish-American War, the U.S. Board of Fortifications recommended that important harbors be fortified. This led to the development of defenses on several islands at the mouth of Manila and Subic Bays. One of these was El Fraile Island which would later become Fort Drum, America’s concrete battleship.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

While other islands were fortified by more conventional means, the plans for El Fraile were much more extensive. Construction began in 1909 and completed by 1916. What was originally a rocky outcropping of an island was excavated down to the waterline. From there, the concrete battleship began to take shape.

The new structure was 350 feet long and 144 feet at the widest point. The exterior walls of the fortification were constructed of reinforced concrete 25 to 36 feet thick and rising 40 feet above the water. The top deck of the structure was reinforced concrete 20 feet thick that mounted two turrets containing twin fourteen inch guns and a 60 foot fire control tower to complete the battleship look.

The fort’s armament was rounded out by dual six-inch guns in armored casemates on each side as well as three-inch anti-aircraft guns mounted on the top deck. The fort’s 240 officers and enlisted lived deep inside the impregnable walls of the concrete ship along with all the stores they would need to hold out against a siege.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

That siege came after the Japanese invaded the Philippines in December 1941. In January 1942, the Japanese began to target Fort Drum and the rest of the harbor defenses from the air and by February the concrete battleship was in range of Japanese artillery on shore. The fort endured bombing and shelling, destroying the anti-aircraft batteries, temporarily disabling a six-inch gun, damaging its casemate and searchlight, chipping away large chunks of concrete.

The whole time Fort Drum was under attack, it returned fire against the Japanese. The fort’s resistance continued even after the fall of Bataan on April 10, 1942 left Fort Drum and the other islands of the harbor defense as the last American forces in the Philippines. The guns of the concrete battleship dealt serious blows to Japanese forces assaulting the island of Corregidor, inflicting heavy casualties.

Unfortunately for the men of E battery, 59th Coastal Artillery, their efforts were not enough to halt the Japanese onslaught as General Wainwright made the decision to surrender the remaining U.S. forces in the Philippines. However, the fort was never taken and its main guns were still firing five minutes before the surrender was announced.

After capturing the Philippines, the Japanese manned all former American positions, including the concrete battleship. Eventually, American forces recaptured Manila and a daring assault by the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment U.S. forces recaptured Corregidor as well. That left Fort Drum once again as the last bastion of resistance. However, unlike the Americans some three years earlier, the Japanese had no intention of surrendering. This combined with the fact that the Americans had designed the fort to resist all manner of bombings and gunfire meant they would have to find another way to remove the defenders.

Unfortunately for the Japanese manning the concrete battleship, the idea the Americans came up with was rather grisly. The troops poured a mixture of two parts diesel oil and one part gasoline into the fort, lit it, and burned the defenders alive. The fire burned for several days afterwards but all the defenses of the harbor had been cleared of Japanese. The fort has never been reoccupied and still stands like a ghost ship in Manila Bay to this day.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

popular

If the modern American military conducted the 1944 D-Day landings

The most important difference between 1944 and today would be in the realm of guided munitions.  I once heard that a single F-15 packs as much firepower as an entire squadron of WWII era bombers, when you take into account explosive weight and the percentage of ordnance you can get on target (Keep in mind, the F-15 is a Fighter/Bomber, not a dedicated bomber.  If we start talking about the B-52, things get even crazier).  Additionally, Naval Gun Fire support has come a long way since the 1940’s.  US destroyers and cruisers now only come equipped with one or two 5″ main guns.  In the 1940’s, 5″ guns were almost considered an afterthought.  With improved fuses and nearly automatic rates of fire that can be achieved with today’s weapons, you wouldn’t need the hours and hours of shelling they used during WW2 landings.


As far as the landings go, with today’s amphibious landing tactics and equipment, you wouldn’t NEED to land at Omaha beach at all.

 

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
Photo: US Navy Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Alicia Tasz

This is an LCAC (Landing Craft Air Cushioned).  It is just one of the many ways the US Navy and US Marine Corps get troops from ship to shore.  The main difference between an LCAC and the landing craft of yore is the fact that the LCAC can access almost any beach in the world, and can travel across dry land.  Furthermore, it can achieve incredible rates of speed compared to the Amtracks of WW2 (I think around 70 knots when not weighed down much).  Today the US would be able to basically avoid any defensive strongpoints and just stick their landing forces where ever they figured was the least defended.

Helicopters, in widespread use since the Vietnam War, allow entire infantry companies and battalions to be shuffled about at incredible speed compared to the 1940s.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
Photo: US Army Cpl. Mark Doran

The M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank would probably be as close to invulnerable as anything ever employed in warfare.  The only reasonable option for destroying one with 1944 equipment would be swarming it with infantry and trying to get a grenade inside.  This technique was costly during WW2.  Against an Abrams, with a wingman that can just shower his buddy with HE rounds that do nothing substantial to the armor…

As far as the individual soldier is concerned, the primary difference is the body armor.  Ceramic plates and flak jackets have greatly increased the survivability of the infantryman.  Back in WW2, your armor was a millimeter of cloth.  Today it contains plates that would actually be capable of stopping pretty much any small arms round the Wehrmacht utilized (7.62 AP is the limit, I believe).  A quick look at the WW2 Killed/Wounded ratio [1:1.65] versus the Operation Iraqi Freedom Killed/Wounded ratio [1:7.3] shows that even if nothing but the current body armor was added to the equation, it is likely that the US would have reduced the number of soldiers killed on D-Day from 2,500 to probably around 700.  On the flip side, the infantry of WW2 would be much faster and more agile, as they weren’t towing around 50+ lbs of gear.  So you have a classic heavy infantry vs light infantry situation here.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
Photo: US Army

The Mk19 Automatic Grenade launcher.  Designed for use against troops in the open, troops in trench-lines, light armored vehicles, urban strongpoints, and light fortifications, this 76.2 lb beast is technically man-portable (by someone’s standard) and is widely employed on mounted assets.  Capable of firing 325-375 40mm grenades per minute, there is arguably no more intimidating weapon in the US arsenal that is commonly used in firefights.  I have personally been within 25 meters or so of the beaten zone of someone unleashing a long burst of grenades, and it was, shall we say, disconcerting.  This is probably the one weapon capable of allowing an individual to singlehandedly end a firefight.

Today many infantry companies will have communication assets down to the fire team level.  This allows for much faster response times to dealing with threats or re-organizing after a firefight or simply getting troops to move around where you want them (radios at the platoon level were very rare during World War 2, and what was in play was of limited range and had no encryption capabilities.  When I was in a motorized heavy weapons platoon, we had a dozen PRC-119’s, satcom radios, Blue Force Trackers, etc; we probably had comm capabilities that entire divisions during WW2 would have drooled over.  And we had 40 dudes).

While the small arms themselves haven’t really come a long way, the accoutrements certainly have.  Every infantryman today is probably equipped with, at minimum, a 4x scope, NVG’s, and a laser for use with night vision.  One out of every 4 infantrymen will have a grenade launcher.  Another one will have a light machine gun.  This allows for the ability to achieve combined arms effects using just a single fire team.  And the night-fighting capability, with nothing else, would be a game changer.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Christopher S. Muncy

 

The one thing we would be at a disadvantage in would be combat experience.  The Germans had been fighting for FIVE years by the time the US actually got into France.  Of course, this was an issue during the actual D-Day landings, and didn’t hamper things too much, probably because the allies were facing off against the JV squad, so to speak.  At the same time, our military back then was well trained for large scale battles, as opposed to how the US military is organized today.  Whether or not the current infantryman would fare well is anyone’s guess.

Free Fun Fact:

One thing that hasn’t changed is the M2 .50 Caliber Heavy Machine Gun.  Supposedly something like 95% of the M2s in use currently were originally built during World War 2.  The ammunition, however, has received quite the upgrade (SLAP, API, Raufuss, all fun stuff)

Another Fun Fact:

The United States uses a military doctrine termed “Rapid Domination” (Shock and Awe for the soundbite term).  The Gulf War and the initial invasion of Iraq during OIF are two examples of this doctrine in use.  The basic concept involves gaining air superiority, using tactical and strategic bombers to disrupt and destroy enemy command and control, employing a wide range of offensive maneuvers (amphibious landings, paratrooper drops, armored thrusts, infantry assaults on defensive positions) simultaneously in order to paralyze any decision making ability of the opponent.  This military doctrine is heavily based on the so-called Blitzkrieg doctrine of Nazi Germany.

Read more from Paul Frick here.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran admits it has US Navy veteran in custody

Iran says it is holding a U.S. Navy veteran, confirming media reports about a case that risks further escalating tensions with Washington.

The New York Times reported on Jan. 7, 2019, that Michael White, 46, was arrested while visiting Iran and had been held since July 2018 on unspecified charges.

On Jan. 9, 2019, Iranian state news agency IRNA carried a statement by Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi that confirmed the arrest, but did not specify when it had happened or what crime he was accused of.


Qasemi was quoted as saying that Iran had informed the U.S. government about White’s arrest within days of when he was taken into custody in the city of Mashhad “some time ago.”

The spokesman added that White’s case was going through the legal process and officials will make a statement at the appropriate time.

The U.S. State Department said it was “aware of reports” of the detention but did not provide further details, citing privacy considerations.

U.S. Navy veteran Michael White reportedly jailed in Iran

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The New York Times has quoted White’s mother, Joanne, as saying she learned three weeks ago that her son was being held at an Iranian prison.

She said her son had visited Iran “five or six times” to see an Iranian woman she described as his girlfriend.

White’s incarceration was also reported on Jan. 7, 2019, by Iran Wire, an online news service run by Iranian expatriates.

White’s imprisonment could further worsen relations between Washington and Tehran, longtime foes.

Tensions have been high since U.S. President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of a landmark nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed crippling economic sanctions against Tehran in 2018.

At least five Americans have been sentenced to prison in Iran on espionage-related charges.

Among them is Xiyue Wang, a Princeton University student, who was given a 10-year sentence for espionage. He was arrested in August 2016 while conducting research for his dissertation on Iran’s Qajar dynasty. Both Wang and the university deny the claims.

Baquer Namazi, a retired UNICEF official, and his son Siamak, an Iranian-American businessman, were sentenced in 2016 to 10 years in prison for spying and cooperating with the U.S. government. The charges were denied by the family and dismissed by U.S. authorities.

Bob Levinson, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, vanished on Iran’s Kish Island in 2007 while on an intelligence mission. Tehran has said it has no information about his fate.

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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9 of the most legendary heroes in US Army history

U.S. Army life has created a lot of heroes in its 243 years of service. Here are 9 of the most legendary soldiers to have ever shot, bayoneted, and blown up America’s enemies:


1. Gen. George Washington

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
Photo: Public Domain

The legendary standard, George Washington began as a militia officer working for the British Crown but later commanded all American forces both as the top general in the Revolutionary War and later the first commander in chief.

2. Sgt. John Lincoln Clem

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
John Lincoln Clem as a young drummer boy. Photo: Library of Congress

John Lincoln Clem changed his own middle name from Joseph to Lincoln sometime before he tried to enlist in the Union Army at the outbreak of the Civil War when he was 9. After being rejected by another unit, he made it into the 22nd Michigan Volunteer Infantry who sawed down the musket he later used to kill a Confederate officer who demanded his surrender.

He was promoted to sergeant and became a national hero before being discharged in 1864. He returned in 1871 and rose to major general before retiring in 1915.

3. Sgt. Alvin York

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
Photo: US Army

Sgt. Alvin York tried to stay out of World War I as a conscientious objector. When his plea was denied, he followed orders and went to war where he captured 132 German soldiers almost single-handedly. He then escorted those prisoners through German lines, marching them past their own comrades.

4. Sgt. Henry Johnson

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
Photo: Public Domain via US Army

Sgt. Henry Johnson was a “Harlem Hellfighter” of World War I. During a fight in the Argonne Forest, Johnson and a buddy came under attack by a dozen Germans. Johnson held them off with grenades and rifle fire until he ran out of ammo, then he finished the job with a knife, saving the rest of his unit.

5. Sgt. Audie Murphy

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Photo: US Army

One of the most decorated service members in history, Sgt. Audie Murphy was initially too small to enlist after Pearl Harbor and had to fight to get into the Army. Once in Europe, he engaged in a series of heroics including jumping onto a burning tank to hold off waves of infantry and six enemy tanks.

6. Gen. George S. Patton

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Photo: Wikipedia/US Army

The Olympian and West Point graduate Gen. George S. Patton is most known for his role in creating the Armored Corps, leading tanks in World War II, and coining a collection of inspirational quotes, but he also served in World War I and the American expedition to capture Pancho Villa in Mexico.

7. Gen. Douglas MacArthur

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Photo: US Army Signal Corps Gaetano Faillace

Gen. Douglas MacArthur led the Army as the chief of staff through the early years of Great Depression. He retired but was recalled to active duty in 1941. He led Pacific Forces in World War II and then ran the war in Korea until he was relieved of command for openly criticizing President Harry S. Truman.

8. Cpl. Tibor Rubin

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Photo: Department of Defense

Tibor Rubin survived the Mauthausen, Austria concentration camp and joined the U.S. Army to how his appreciation for them liberating him. In Korea, he held a hilltop on his own for 24 hours while his unit retreated using the road he was guarding. When he was finally captured, he refused offers by the Chinese to send him to his native Hungary, instead staying as a prisoner and stealing food for others.

9. Col. Lewis Millett

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing
Photo: US Army Al Chang

Lewis Millett joined the Army in 1941 but got tired of waiting for the U.S. to invade someone, so he deserted to Canada and got himself deployed to London. When America entered the war, he jumped back under the Stars and Tripes and twice saved men in his unit from certain death before his desertion charges caught up with him.

He was convicted and then promoted to second lieutenant within weeks. When Korea rolled around, he was an infantry captain who received a Distinguished Service Cross for a bayonet charge he led on Feb. 4, 1951 and a Medal of Honor for another bayonet charge on Feb. 7. He later served in Vietnam and retired as a colonel.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This enemy of France earned its top military honors

Emir Abdelkader was born the son of a respected military leader who had helped harass French occupiers in Algeria. As might be expected, young Emir continued his father’s war against the French in a conflict that had religious overtones since, you know, the Algerians were mostly Muslim and the French predominantly Christian. But when he rode forth to save Christians from angry mobs in 1860, France conferred on him its top military honors, the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor.


‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

Emir Abdelkader as a military leader in the late 1830s.

(Public domain)

Abdelkader’s military career started about how you would expect with his taking over his father’s war against the predominantly Christian French military. But where his father ran campaigns of harassment against the French, the younger Emir quickly capitalized on some of his father’s successes and managed to negotiate a treaty with France that gave him the interior of Oran. Oran is a coastal area of Algeria.

Further successes on the battlefield and in negotiations gave him control of more land and pushed most French forces back to a few ports. His success on the battlefield in service of Algerian independence led to him being dubbed the “George Washington of Algeria.”

And one thing that made these successes even more impressive is that he succeeded while strictly adhering to Islamic rules for combat. He wouldn’t kill women, children, or the wounded. He demanded proper treatment of prisoners, dead bodies, and Christian leaders, including priests. He even employed Christians and Jews in his administration and refused to force Islam on prisoners or conquered subjects.

This obviously frustrated colonial French efforts to undermine his popular appeal. (In fact, some modern Muslims have used his story and legacy to shame members of Daesh and show how Muslims are supposed to fight according to the Quran.)

But Abdelkader was unable to defeat the larger and better equipped French military forever. A renewed French campaign in 1840 slowly ground down Abdelkader and his supporters and, in 1847, he surrendered to a French general and the duc d’Aumale, the French king’s son.

But his story was not over. He was a prolific writer and was widely respected in the region and across the world. So, when political violence erupted into a summer civil war in 1860, Abdelkader’s calls for calm incited some popular support for peace.

‘Executions at midnight’ weren’t really a thing

A statue of Emir Abdelkader in Algeria.

(Mouh2jijel, CC BY-SA 3.0)

But the violence did continue and spilled into Damascus, now the capital of Syria. Abdelkader rode forth with his guard and supporters and personally rounded up Christians and took them back to his compound where he and his men guarded them. He put a bounty out for the safe delivery of any Christians to him and his men. And, he sent guards to escort local Christian leaders and officials back to safety.

His efforts were credited at the time with saving thousands, and he had hundreds of Christians at a time sheltered under his protection.

So France, now under the control of Napoleon III who was broadly friendly to his empire’s old foe, awarded Abdelkader the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor. The 1860 Mount Lebanon Civil War lasted less than three months, but an estimated 20,000 Christians were killed.

Abdelkader lived until 1883 and was toasted by leaders from America to Europe to the Middle East for his religious tolerance.

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