This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

During the Cold War, the Air Force and the Atomic Energy Commission (which was later folded into the Nuclear Regulatory Commission) set out to create an all-new nuclear reactor that not only would be more efficient than the reactors we have today, but would propel aircraft in flight for up to 15,000 miles without stopping.


That would’ve allowed for a bomber that could fly from California to Moscow and back with enough miles left to grab ice cream in Greenland on the way home.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
The Air Force’s experimental nuclear reactor is flown in an NB-36 airplane. (Photo: Convair)

Starting in 1946, the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program aimed to make the idea a reality. A physicist named Alvin Weinberg helped lead the reactor development. Though he had previously invented and championed the liquid-water reactor that provides almost all nuclear power today, he thought LWRs were wrong for the airplane.

The LWRs are kept relatively cool at 572 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s hot, but not hot enough to superheat air for jet engines. The LWR design is also less efficient, relying on solid fuels which can only be about 3 percent consumed before the fuel must be changed out.

Instead, Weinberg turned to a design that got kicked around during the Manhattan Project, the molten salt reactor, or “MSR.”

In an MSR, the nuclear material is dissolved into superheated salts. They’re heated so high that they become a liquid, then that heat is maintained because of the continuing nuclear reaction inside the molten salts.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
The Heat Transfer Reactor Experiment-3 was the option selected by the Aircraft Reactor Propulsion Program to turn reactor power into jet propulsion for an aircraft. (Photo: U.S. Department of Energy)

 

In the Aircraft Nuclear Propulsion program’s final design, air traveled through a compressor and then through the reactor, picking up the reactor’s heat. The immense heat of the reactor, generally about 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit, caused the air to rapidly expand and jet out the back of the plane, generating thrust.

The Air Force did fly with a different reactor on a modified B-36 bomber, but only to test the plane’s nuclear shielding for protecting the crew. During the tests, it was still powered by conventional jet engines.

President John F. Kennedy’s administration canceled the nuclear aircraft program in 1961 and sent the funds to the space race. But some scientists want to bring the reactor back, this time as a powerplant on the Earth’s surface for the generation of electricity.

Molten-salt reactors are much more efficient than LWRs and typically produce waste that is more stable and takes less time to become safe for handling — we’re talking hundreds of years instead of thousands.

And while the MSR in the B-36 was fueled by uranium, future MSRs could use thorium, a more stable fuel that is also very plentiful. Thorium is present in nearly any sample of dirt on the planet and is commonly extracted in rare Earth mining and discarded as waste. Or, MSRs could use uranium depleted in LWRs.

Either way, a bunch of waste products could be converted into plentiful energy thanks to a failed nuclear engine from the Cold War. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works is teasing a nuclear fusion reactor. If it works, it could fulfill the 15,000-mile promise of the Aircraft Reactor Propulsion Program.

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33 insane photos from the battle for Okinawa

The Battle of Okinawa, known as Operation Iceberg by the Allies, eventually consisted of 306,000 service members assaulting fierce defenses manned by 130,000 Japanese troops and an unknown number of local civilians, including children, drafted into the defenses.


The island was critical for the planned invasion of Japan, but the losses were enormous.

Here are 33 photos that give a look inside of one of America’s most costly battles of World War II:

1. For days before the invasion, Navy ships bombarded the island with naval artillery and rockets. This photo was taken five days before the amphibious assault.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

2. A Navy Corsair fires a salvo of rockets during Operation Iceberg, the Allied effort to capture Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyu Islands.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

3. The USS Idaho shells the island of Okinawa on April 1, 1945.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

4. Marines land on the beachhead already secured on the island. These infantrymen will continue pressing the attack against approximately 130,000 defenders.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

5. U.S. landing ships sit beached and burning on May 4 near the mouth of the Bishi River after a Japanese air attack.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

6. Famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle speaks with U.S. Marines a short time before his death on the island.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

7. A long exposure photograph shows the crisscrossing lines of Marine anti-aircraft fire over the U.S. airfield established on Okinawa.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

8. A May 11, 1945, morning artillery barrage kicks off an all-out offensive.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

9. Japanese rockets rain down on and near U.S. positions during heavy fighting on Okinawa.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

10. The infamous battleship Yamato, sent to Okinawa to attempt to beach itself and act as a shore battery until destroyed, is sank at sea on April 7 before it can reach the island.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

11. Army Lt. Gen. Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr., at right, surveys fighting just a few hours before Japanese artillery killed him.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

12. A Sherman tank drives past a burning home. The structure was set on fire to prevent its use by snipers.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

13. Marines attempt to extinguish the flames on an overturned Sherman tank. The ammo later exploded before the Army crew could be rescued.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

14. Engineers construct a causeway from the island to the sea to allow supplies to be trucked from ships to shore.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

15. American service members move supplies by horse in areas where the mud was impassable for vehicles.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

16. Okinawan civilians hired to carry supplies line up to receive their loads.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

17. A flamethrowing tank attacks Hill 60 during the Marine assault on the mound.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

18. A Japanese plane goes down in flames over the ocean.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

19. The HMS Formidable of the Royal Navy burns after a May 4 Kamikaze attack. Eight crew members were lost and 55 injured, but the Formidable survived the war.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: Royal Navy)

20. Marine Corps infantrymen ride a tank to the town of Ghuta on April 1 to occupy it before Japanese defenders can.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

21. A Marine sprints across the “Valley of Death,” a draw covered by Japanese machine guns that caused 125 casualties in eight hours.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

22. Marines explode dynamite charges to destroy a Japanese cave on the island.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

23. The USS Bunker Hill burns after two Kamikaze strikes in less than a minute. At least 346 sailors were killed and 43 went missing.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

24. The Bunker Hill survived and returned to the U.S. for repairs. It served as a troop transport after the war before it was sent to the fleet reserve.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. Navy)

25. Wounded sailors are moved from the Bunker Hill to the USS Wilkes Barre.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

26. Army soldiers move forward during the 82-day battle.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

27. A private cuts a sergeant’s hair in the Japanese city of Shuri on the island. A medieval castle in the city survived the battle.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

28. Marines rest on the side of a hill as Japanese fire prevents their further advance.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

29. A tank crewmember is relocated after suffering injuries.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

30. Wounded troops await transport to a ship hospital.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. National Archives Catalog)

31. Marine Lt. Col. R.P. Ross, Jr. places an American flag on Shuri castle on May 29, 1945. Ross was under sniper fire at the time.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
(Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

32. The American flag is raised over the island June 22 in a ceremony marking the end of organized Japanese resistance.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

33. A U.S. servicemember visits an American cemetery. The U.S. suffered over 12,000 killed and 50,000 wounded during the battle. Japan suffered over 150,000 soldiers and civilians killed or committed suicide.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

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Why Americans are twice as likely to die in hostage situations

While the United States was celebrating its 100th birthday on July 4, 1976, four Israeli C-130 cargo planes landed at Entebbe Airport in Uganda, cargo bay doors already open. A black Mercedes and a parade of Land Rovers screamed out of two of the planes, headed for the old passenger terminal. Armored personnel carriers exited the other three.

There were 106 mostly Israeli hostages being held by pro-Palestinian hijackers and supported by the Ugandan army under dictator Idi Amin being held here. The hostages were coming home.


This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
If anyone’s coming to rescue you, you want it to be the IDF.

The raid on Entebbe airport was one of the most daring hostage rescues of all time. The Israelis flew in some seven planes under the radars of many hostile countries, landing at an enemy airport, pretending to be the caravan of a brutal dictator, and risking an all-out war to save Israeli citizens, losing only three and only one of the Israel Defence Forces commandos. The Israelis even destroyed 11 Ugandan fighter aircraft on the ground in retaliation. In three years, Amin would be deposed.

Airplane hijackings dropped dramatically after this incident and a number of Western countries vowed never to negotiate with terrorists, especially the United States. The U.S. does not negotiate with terrorists as a matter of policy.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
Journalist James Foley, who has killed by ISIS in 2014 (CNN screen capture/ fair use)

In the years following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, more than 1,200 Westerners from some 32 or more countries have been captured by terrorists and held hostage by militant groups and pirates, demanding ransom or some other concession. Americans made up 20 percent of those hostages taken since 2001 and half of those were killed by their captors. The reason for this is the policy of not giving concessions to terrorists or anyone else who might take citizens hostage.

The United States believes giving in to terrorist or other militants’ demands for ransom or some other concession would just make Americans a more tempting target for those who would take hostages, allowing terrorists to perpetually self-finance through hostage-taking. As it is, Americans are twice as likely to die in captivity by their captors while countries who pay ransoms – Germany, Spain, France, Austria, and Switzerland – are more likely to have hostages released.

But citizens of those countries are not taken hostage in disproportionate numbers because taking hostages is risky and not as profitable as other ventures for terrorist groups, such a narcotics, black market oil and arms sales, and human trafficking. Civilians more likely to be kidnapped are those who are already in unstable areas. Three-quarters of Westerners taken by al-Qaeda and ISIS were freed. Only two of those were Americans.

Since a new hostage policy was announced in 2015, where the U.S. coordinates agencies to secure the release of hostages, six have been released, and none died in captivity. The only hitch is that none were held by foreign jihadist groups.

It should be noted that the Carter Administration held negotiations with Iran for the hostages taken at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran during the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Not one of the hostages were killed, and they were released on the last day of the Carter Presidency – all without firing a shot.


Feature image: screen capture from YouTube

Articles

First African-American Marines finally get their own monument

It’s hard to imagine a time when the Marine Corps made black troops drill on separate fields, but that’s how it was for African-American leathernecks who were preparing to fight during World War II.


Dubbed the “Montford Point Marines” after their segregated training grounds at Montford Point on the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the 20,000 black Marines were finally honored July 29, 75 years after their service. The 15-foot tall memorial outside the gates of Camp Johnson is largely the result of efforts by the Montford Point Marine Association to commemorate the first African-American units in the Corps.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina – U.S. service members and guests listen to the National Chaplain of the Montford Point Marine Association, Reverend James E. Moore, as he delivers the invocation during the Montford Point Marine Memorial dedication ceremony held at Jacksonville, North Carolina, July 29, 2016.

“Today, as a result of the hard work and perseverance of so many of you here, across the country and those no longer with us, that vision is now a reality,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations East at the memorial dedication.

“This inspiring memorial takes it rightful place among the other silent testimonials to the courage, dedication, and sacrifice of our men and women who have worn the cloth of this nation.”

The Montford Point Marines made up the 51st and 52nd Composite Defense Battalions, which mainly operated artillery and anti-aircraft guns. They were initially trained by white officers, but soon after their enlistment, several black NCOs took over the training and drilling of the first African-American Marines.

The units saw little action in the Pacific since the 51st and 52nd were assigned to outlying islands away from the main action. But some Montford Point Marines from ammunition and depot companies did see combat on Guam, Saipan, and Peleliu.

“This is something that I never thought would be possible,” Ivor Griffin, a Montford Marine who served 23 years, told Marines.mil. “I heard about it being in the making, and I thought it couldn’t be true, I thought we were the forgotten 20,000.”

The Montford Point Marines served from 1942 until 1949 when President Harry Truman desegregated the U.S. military and abolished all-black units.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The suicidal way China scored its first World War II victory against Japan

In the annals of World War II history, the brutality of the Sino-Japanese War is often overshadowed by the fierce fighting on the eastern front between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. The horrors the Japanese inflicted on China are often lost in the systematic destruction and murder of the Holocaust.

When it comes to brutal fighting and horrible occupation, the Japanese war on mainland China had no equal. 

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city
1940 photo of Chiang Kai-shek in full military uniform.

Japan invaded Chinese Manchuria in 1931 but stopped after occupying the province. Still, it gave the Japanese a foothold on the continent and rose tensions between the two countries. In 1937, Japanese and Chinese troops fought for control of the Marco Polo Bridge near Peking. The event led to a full-scale invasion of China, setting off World War II in Asia. 

Within a year, the Japanese occupied the capital city of Peking, Shanghai, and Nanjin. Its Navy and Air Forces were completely destroyed. Still, the Chinese people and Nationalist government under Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek were steadfast in their resistance to the invasion and occupation. 

After, the de facto Chinese leader signaled that any surrender negotiations would be refused, the Japanese stopped trying to offer any terms. Having made so may gains so fast, however, the Imperial Japanese Army was forced to stop any advances and consolidate them. The Emperor ruled that no more wartime operations would be conducted in 1938.

Still, the Japanese were able to follow fleeing and disorganized Chinese troops along the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers. The Yellow River runs into southern Shandong Province around the fortified town of Taierzhuang, some 430 miles south of Beijing. There was no getting around Taierzhuang. To advance south into the strategically important Xuzhou area, the Japanese would have to take the town. 

The Japanese Army launched an all-out assault with 300 men. From the start of the attack, things did not go as planned. The initial assault led the Japanese soldiers into the town gates and into a temple, which the Chinese burned down, killing all 300 men inside. 

The very next day, the Japanese launched another, more successful assault, breaking the gates of the town and establishing an entry point. They took half of the town in the first day, but Chinese reinforcements arrived while the invaders were bogged down in urban combat. The new Chinese artillery lit up the Japanese outside the town. 

In all, more than 100,000 Chinese troops would fight at Taierzhuang against a total of 70,000 Japanese troops, along with tanks, artillery, and aircraft. 

The Chinese slowly began to retake parts of Taierzhuang. But Japan’s own reinforcements began to trickle in. The two sides were locked in a stalemate. In the outskirts of the city, Chinese farmers began to sabotage rail lines, waterways, and communication lines. The Japanese reinforcements were cut off from linking up and soon found their rear filled with Chinese troops.

Japanese tanks and other armored vehicles were also decimated by China “Dare to Die” Corps, Chinese soldiers who wore body armor and strapped high explosives to themselves so they could dive underneath enemy tanks and destroy them. 

These suicide bombers use everything from grenade vests to sticks of dynamite in place of anti-armor weapons to even the playing field. In a last-ditch effort to break the stalemate, Japan employed poison gas to dislodge the Chinese defenders. 

It was the first victory for China against Japan during what would become known as World War II. Though both sides lost roughly the same number of troops, the battle bought time for the Chinese government to escape the Japanese Army and showed that Japan could be defeated in battle.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: Disabled missiles at Malmstrom AFB?

The year is 1967. The location is Montana’s Malmstrom Air Force Base. There, Captain Robert Salas was on duty with his Commander 60 feet underground in the missile launch bunker. They were in charge of 10 missiles. Each of these missiles contained an eight-ton nuclear weapon. Salas was in charge of launching the missiles if given the order, so it’s not like he was just clowning around. This was serious, and Cpt. Salas knew it.

UFOs are all fun and games until they happen to you

While his Commander took a nap in the early morning hours, Cpt. Salas stayed awake. That’s when the above-ground security guards contacted him about some strange lights they saw in the sky. At first, Salas thought it was a prank, so he laughed it off. But they rang him again 10 minutes later, and by then they were utterly terrified. 

Men discuss the disabled missiles
To this day, no one knows what happened to the disabled missiles.

The guard screamed at Salas into the phone about an oval-shaped, glowing red object about 40 feet in diameter above the front gate. It was moving in a jerky, strange way that the guard had never seen: quick short spurts, stopping and changing course abruptly, making sharp 90-degree turns, dropping then rising back up, and making no noise at all. 

A strange situation gets even stranger

Salas immediately wakes his Commander and informs him about the odd, frightening UFO situation going on above ground. Not moments later, all 10 missile lights inexplicably turn from green to red, an indication that they have been disabled. That meant the missiles were no longer launch-able, leaving the US compromised in the event of an attack. 

What would be going through your mind if this happened to you? Salas was thinking the same thing, that they were under attack. Desperate, they tried everything to get their missiles functioning again, but to no avail. 

And here’s what makes the whole thing even stranger, if you can believe it. A week earlier, another Malmstrom missile launch crew had reported the exact same thing. They described the same UFO with the same red lights and jerky movements, only to find their entire fleet of nuclear missiles disarmed moments later.

The case of the disabled missiles remains unsolved

The fact that it happened twice didn’t make Salas feel any better. He knew these missiles were the most sophisticated weapons they’d ever had, and now something strange and unknown had been able to disable them, just like that. Both of the UFO occurrences disarmed the weapons for almost 24 hours. 

To this day, no one knows what those UFOs were, how they shut down the missiles, or why they did it. Salas is convinced that the UFOs were extraterrestrial. Once the information was de-classified, he has been on a mission to foil the government cover-ups and help the public see that these events truly happen. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The men who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki

At 2:45 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 6, 1945, a propeller-driven, four-engine Boeing B-29 Superfortress aircraft lifted off from the unassuming island of Tinian, its destination due North. Inside, as was customary for the B-29, was a bomb. However, unlike the bombs with which the US Air Force had scorched Japan for roughly a year, this bomb was not filled with the usual incendiaries. Rather than isobutyl methacrylate or its more famous kin, Napalm, this bomb was packed with two masses of highly enriched uranium-235. The bomb, named “Little Boy”, was anything but: snout-nosed and weighing in at 9,700 pounds, it resembled nothing more than an obese metal baseball bat. At 8:15 a.m. local time, poised above Hiroshima’s Aioi Bridge, Little Boy dropped.

44.4 seconds later it detonated. 60,000 people died instantly. 31,000 feet above, and 10 and a half miles away from them, Paul W. Tibbets, en route to Guam, felt a 2.5g shockwave driven before a kaleidoscopic pillar of smoke and debris. He felt no regrets.


Brigadier General Paul W. Tibbets, pilot of the Enola Gay, dropper of Little Boy, recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart and four Air Medals, was born February 23, 1915. The young Tibbets performed his first flight at the age of 12, dispensing candy bars to a crowd at the Hialeah, Florida racetrack. Bitten by the flying bug, Tibbets, in February 1937 enlisted in the army. His flight instruction performance at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas showed him to be an above-average pilot.

Upon graduating as a second lieutenant, Tibbets first stint was as personal pilot to George S. Patton, allowing him to rack up over 15,000 hours of flight time. Tibbets ascended rapidly through the ranks, becoming a captain with his first command by 1942. In 1942, Tibbets ran the gauntlet at Lille, flying lead in a 100-plane raid with a 1/3 casualty rate. Despite the seemingly heavy losses, this was seen as a qualified success, proving that US Air forces would not break under stubborn opposition. Promoted to lieutenant colonel by November 1942, Tibbet’s cut his teeth further during the war in Northern Africa, flying Eisenhower to Gibraltar for Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of French North Africa.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

Charles Sweeney.

By 1943, Tibbets had earned himself as reputation as a seasoned and senior pilot, one vouched for by Eisenhower himself. After testing the newly-minted Boeing B-29 for a year, Tibbets was recommended to Major General Uzal Ent for consideration, for a “special mission”. In September 1944, Tibbets became responsible for the organization, training and command of a secret unit, Silverplate, the Air Force wing of the Manhattan Project. Tibbets was tasked with ironing out the logistical and technical kinks: requesting modifications to bomb bay doors, in order to accommodate the bulky weapon, organizing crews with photography and scientific equipment, to record the event for posterity and finally, deciding that he himself would drop the atomic bomb.

Upon receiving orders targeting the cities of Hiroshima, Kokura and Nagasaki, as the primary, secondary and tertiary targets of the nuclear strike, Tibbets readied his crew. At 2:15 am, they were airborne. The rest is history. Tibbets, recollecting the sight of the boiling cloud in his memoirs, wrote, “If Dante had been with us in the plane he would have been terrified!”

Three days later, Major General Charles Sweeney dropped the bomb on Nagasaki. Sweeney was well prepared, flying five rehearsal test drops as well as co-piloting the support and observation aircraft for the Hiroshima bombing. Nonetheless, Sweeney’s flight performance on August 9thhad none of the aplomb that Tibbets had displayed. First, the night before, Sweeney’s B-29, named Bockscar, had malfunctioned, with the reserve fuel bladder failing to pump. Running on 600 gallons less of fuel than expected, Sweeney nonetheless decided to go, intending to rendezvous with his two escort aircraft at 30,000 feet near the island of Yakushima, a fuel intensive task at that height.

Due to confusion at the rendezvous, for which Sweeney would be reprimanded later, valuable time was lost. The crew finally reached Kokura only to find it partially obscured, which was problematic given the clear directives to conduct a visual, rather than radar, bombing. After two unsuccessful flyovers, and running low on fuel, Sweeney opted for his second target: Nagasaki. Sweeney’s bad luck was Kokura’s good – indeed, so much so that the phrase “Kokura luck” has entered into the Japanese lexicon. With desperately little fuel left, and heavy cloud cover over Nagasaki, Sweeney decided drop Fat Man by radar, despite his orders to the contrary. The resulting 1.5-mile inaccuracy spared Nagasaki a great deal of damage, with the surrounding hills intercepting much of the blast. With only 60 percent of Nagasaki destroyed and two engines kaput from fuel exhaustion, Sweeney made a rough landing in Okinawa, with just seven gallons of fuel remaining. To say Tibbets was unamused by Sweeney’s near-failure, would be an understatement. However, the close-shave success was sufficient to ensure that no action would be taken against Sweeney.

Post Nagasaki, both men have been unshakeable in defending the dropping of the bombs as right and proper. Tibbets remains “convinced that we saved more lives than we took,” and concludes, “It would have been morally wrong if we’d have had that weapon and not used it and let a million more people die.” Sweeney, in his memoirs, made similar assertions, but drew fire for factual inaccuracies in his account of events. Indeed, so indignant was Tibbets at Sweeney’s account, Tibbets added a chapter to his own memoirs, in which he vented his displeasure at Sweeney’s command of the bombing.

Sweeney died at age 84 on July 16, 2004, at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Tibbets died at age 92 in 2007, in his Columbus Ohio home.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time infantry captured a Nazi train filled with lingerie

In August 1944, the successes of D-Day were in the rear-view mirror and American troops were engaged in the long slog to Berlin. One group of American soldiers got a surprise when, while chasing German soldiers east, they captured a military train only to find that sections of it were filled with lingerie, perfume, and other treats.


This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

(Chris Tingom, CC BY 2.0)

After Allied troops took the beachheads at D-Day, there were optimistic predictions that they could take Berlin by Christmas. But it wasn’t to be. It took weeks just to fight through the hedgerows of Normandy, and Germany stiffened its resistance everywhere possible.

Free French forces, resistance members, and British and American units maneuvered east, trying to keep as much pressure on German troops as they could.

As the line shifted east, German troops would burn supplies they were abandoning, but tried to keep vehicles, especially tanks, in good working order, so they could use them to kill American and other Allied soldiers. So the attackers quickly learned to seize as much as they could whenever possible.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

German armored troops roll through Denmark in April 1940.

(Danish Ministry of Defence)

As June ground into July and then August, the push east accelerated. Paris was liberated and, on August 26, Free French General Charles de Gaulle led a parade into the city.

About that time, the 3rd Armored Division was pushing to Soissons, a city 55 miles northeast of Paris. German soldiers pulling back were using railroads to quickly move equipment but, according to a story in Stephen E. Ambrose’s book Citizen Soldiers, one unit had overestimated how long it had to load onto the train and get going.

When U.S. troops arrived, they saw a train preparing to roll out with tanks and armored vehicles loaded onto it. Every armored vehicle that escaped would need to be killed in eastern France, Belgium, or Germany. The train had to be stopped.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

U.S. troops fire their machine gun during battle in Aachen, Germany.

(U.S. Army)

U.S. tanks and half-tracks opened fire as machine gunners and mortarmen rushed into position. Most of their rounds were bouncing off the German armor, but the sheer volume of fire was keeping German drivers and crew out of their vehicles, allowing American troops to keep the upper hand.

Most of the Germans who stayed to fight were killed or captured, and those who escaped into the woods were rounded up by the French resistance. The Germans had dallied too long, and now the train belonged to the U.S. troops.

When they began assessing their find, they were surprised to find little ammunition, medical supplies, or food, all materiel that they needed. Instead, the Germans had loaded the train with candy, women’s lingerie, and lipstick.

It appeared that the German soldiers had raided French shops and, when it came time to run, had prioritized gifts for girlfriends and family over packing or destroying their own supplies, getting a faster exit to save the vehicles, or even just absconding with their lives and arms.

This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

A woman writes a message on a U.S. tank in Belgium

(U.S. Army)

Their mistake was U.S. gain. The 3rd Armored took the vehicles, other U.S. troops seized millions of pounds of beef, grain, flour, coal, and more. Many items were given to the French public to alleviate shortages caused by Nazi occupation, but other items were pressed into the war effort to keep American troops moving.

Ambrose doesn’t reveal what happened to the love train’s more romantic contents, but it’s likely that some of it made it back to the states in reverse care packages, but most of it probably stayed right there in France, consumed by the people lucky enough to get their hands on it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This police detective is looking for an uncle who went MIA over occupied France

Tom McCaslin is a police detective in Omaha, Neb. and his coldest case is turning 75 in 2019. It’s the search for his uncle, Staff Sgt. Thomas J. McCaslin, one of eight crew members of a bomber that was shot down over Nazi-occupied France on June 22, 1944.

All these decades later, his nephew is hunting for his remains in order to bring the bomber crewman back home while four of his 12 siblings are still alive.


This failed nuclear engine might be able to power your city

Top row, from left: Lt. Col. Don Weiss, Lt. David Meserow, Lt. Axel Slustrop. Bottom row: Staff Sgt. John H. Canty,, S/Sgt. Tom McCaslin, T/Sgt. Clement Monaco. All but Monaco were aboard the B-26 when it was shot down.

Their B-26 Marauder was shot down by Nazi flak while supporting the Allied push inland. As the British Second Army fought the German Panzergruppe West in the streets of below, the crew of the B-26 tried in vain to stay aloft. They went down anyway, and that was the last anyone ever heard of them. Well, most of them, anyway. The first was found in 1946, buried after the crash by locals. The remains of the bird’s four officers were discovered in 1986 by a farmer in his fields. They were taken to the American cemetery at Normandy. Another, the enlisted top tail gunner, was found by an amateur historian who also found the man’s dog tag.

That leaves two – and one of those is Thomas J. McCaslin, the Marauder’s bottom turret gunner. McCaslin’s nephew is looking for his uncle and the other crewman.

“If there’s a lead to follow, I’ll keep looking into it,” McCaslin told the Hartford Courant.

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Det. Tom McCaslin of Omaha, Neb.

McCaslin’s mission has led him to talk to both the historian and the farmer who found the previous remains. He has also obtained numerous documents about the B-26 mission. It was one of 36 planes to fly over a chateau being used as a headquarters building by the Nazi SS. As the bomber began to make its run and open the doors, a flak burst cut the plane in two and sent it careening to earth. No one was able to bail out. In 40 seconds, it was all over, leaving those eight men among the 73,000 who would be unaccounted for during the war. McCaslin even has aerial recon photos of the crash site taken right after the crash.

McCaslin and his detective skills are largely responsible for the 2018 discovery of Staff Sgt. John Canty’s remains. His work persuaded French authorities to further search the field where his dog tag was found. Canty was later buried in Arlington National Cemetery. From interviewing relic hunters to requesting documents, McCaslin has worked tirelessly to track down the entire crew since the discovery of the first remains – which he only learned about through a newspaper.

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The B-26 Marauder.

Detective McCaslin and his family have all worked the case tirelessly for years. As a family, they have hounded government agencies in an effort to step up the recovery of his uncle and another unaccounted-for airman from his crew. All hope is not lost. McCaslin is currently waiting for the DNA identification of some finger bones found in the area. He even has an eyewitness to the battle who reports that she saw parachutes as a young girl.

“The stuff they’ve uncovered is incredible,” says Jed Henry, a journalist and independent researcher who has become an advocate for families of missing service members from World War II. “To have the intelligence to sort through it, and the tenacity — and to care about it. … I’ve never seen a family that has gotten into this as much as they have.”

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“My uncle joined (the military) in 1942, and we never saw him again,” Tom McCaslin said. “If there’s a chance to find him, we should do it.”

Articles

The Confederate sub that killed its own sailors and namesake

Silently gliding through frigid February water, the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley stayed just under the surface as it approached its prey. As it breached the surface, sailors aboard the Housatonic, a Union sloop-of-war, may have thought it looked like a whale coming up for air. By the time the Union sailors realized their mistake, it was too late.

Using a “spar torpedo” — an explosive spear that the sub rammed into its target — the Hunley blew a hole in the Housatonic, which sank beneath the Atlantic in less than five minutes. Most of its sailors survived, with just five out of a 155-man crew lost in the Feb. 17, 1864, attack near Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. But the crew of the sub that fired the shot actually fared worse. The Hunley never returned to port, with all eight mariners of the Confederate Navy lost for 131 years. 

The Hunley was the first submarine to see combat in America, even though it was deadliest to its own crew. Built in 1863 to run Union blockades of Confederate ports, the Hunley’s only successful combat action was against the Housatonic, causing those five casualties. But during its brief career in the Confederate Navy, the Hunley killed 21 Confederate sailors, including the eight lost in the attack on the Housatonic.

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The H.L. Hunley’s early nicknames included “Fish Boat” and “Fish Torpedo Boat” before it was named after its financial benefactor. Early sketches reveal that engineers stuck to a simple design for the Confederate Navy submarine. Photo courtesy of the Hunley Museum.

Originally built by James McClintock and Baxter Watson, the Hunley took its name from a decidedly unromantic source: the man who funded the whole thing, Horace L. Hunley, a wealthy Confederate lawyer and merchant. Upon successful demonstration, the submarine was sent immediately to use against the Union blockade off the coast of South Carolina in August 1863. 

However, the Hunley quickly built a reputation as a death trap. It sank for the first time on Aug. 29, before ever leaving its moorings at the dock, killing five of its eight crewmen. John Payne, the Confederate captain who commanded the sub that day, was among the survivors.  

The ship was raised, but it sank again two months later, on Oct. 15. A demonstration dive had been arranged to allow the Hunley to submerge under another ship, the Confederate bomber CSS Indian Chief.

It got the demonstration half right.

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Conservation work by nautical archaeologists and metal specialists assists scientists in understanding how the H.L. Hunley sank. To do that, concretions from the hull had to be carefully removed. Photo courtesy of the Hunley Museum.

The Hunley submerged and went below the other vessel. It just never came up. Again, salvagers pulled it out of the water.

According to the Hunley Museum website, the dive ended in terrifying final moments for those on board. “Rescuers reported the forward ballast tank valve had been left open, allowing the submarine to fill with water,” according to museum history. “The sub’s keel weights had been partially loosened, which suggested the crew realized they were in danger, but not in time to save themselves.”

All eight crewmen were killed, including Horace Hunley, who had captained the submarine himself for the demonstration, making the Hunley possibly the only ship in naval history to kill its namesake.

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Horace L. Hunley, a Southern lawyer and merchant who financed the construction of the H.L. Hunley. Hunley volunteered as a crew member on an ill-fated test of the submarine, leading to his death aboard the ship named for him. Photo courtesy of the Alabama Department of Archives and History.

The Feb. 17, 1864, sinking of the Housatonic was the Hunley’s first and last combat engagement. But as the Hunley sank to the floor of the Atlantic for the third and final time, it did so as the first submarine in history to successfully destroy another vessel. 

Missing for 131 years, the Hunley’s final sinking was a mystery many tried to solve, as both civilians and government searchers looked for the wreck. In 1995, a team from the National Underwater and Marine Agency, led by legendary adventure novelist Clive Cussler, discovered it. Inside, artifacts revealed a time capsule of life as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War. 

The Hunley’s captain, Lt. George E. Dixon, and the rest of the men aboard, volunteered for the mission. When the Hunley was found, the body of each man was found at his station, making identification of the remains easier. Sediment in the submarine left their bodies remarkably preserved, with one man’s brain still intact. 

Hunley’s artifacts ran the gamut of the daily life of a Confederate soldier, with random buttons from different campaigns, differently colored clothes and boots, and even ornate jewelry. Notably, salvagers found a gold coin with a bullet indentation that belonged to Dixon. It had stopped a bullet while in his pocket at the Battle of Shiloh. Dixon appeared to have engraved the coin with the date of the battle, “April 6th 1862. My life Preserver G. E. D.”

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Lt. George E. Dixon was found to be carrying an ostentatious display of wealth — his gold ring, which had a Kentucky full-carat cluster of nine diamonds. Photo courtesy of the Hunley Museum.

Researchers continue to debate why the Hunley sank. The sub was found with damage to much of it, including the hull, propellers, and conning tower, as well as oddities like the forward conning tower being unlatched. 

Was the Hunley too close to the torpedo explosion? Was it trapped by the tides, did it blindly collide with something, or did the Housatonic’s sailors get off a lucky shot? Researchers and nautical archaeologists at the Friends of the Hunley hope to answer these questions with more research. 

The remains of the Hunley’s final crew were buried in April 2004 at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, resting next to the 13 other crew killed during the previous accidents involving the submarine.


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

Feature image: Photo of the 1863 painting by Conrad W. Chapman, courtesy of the American Civil War Museum.

Articles

The ‘Hatchet Brigade’ rode into battle with some awesome blades

Union Army Col. John T. Wilder was a unique American officer, noted during the Civil War for his innovations that were initially considered strange but often proved to be revolutionary as well.


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Soldiers in Col. John T. Wilder’s brigade all carried long-handled hatchets. The dual use of as both a cutting tool and hammer served the soldiers well in camp and on the trail. (Photo: Amazon/Cold Steel)

For instance, Wilder’s brigade was one of the first Army units to carry Spencer Repeating Rifles, and it was the first to carry them into a major battle when they attacked Confederate forces in Hoover’s Gap on June 24, 1863, winning a huge Union victory.

When these Union infantrymen rode into Hoover’s Gap, they were carrying another unconventional weapon for infantry at the time, long-handled hatchets.

Wilder was given wide latitude in equipping his brigade, and he selected the rifles they carried, pushed for the horses they rode, and procured the hatchets.

The weapons were meant for use in battle. The 2-foot handles would let the soldiers reach enemy infantry from the saddle when necessary, allowing the men to cut their way through enemy lines.

At Murfreesboro, Tennessee, the appearance of so many hatchets made a strong impression on other Union forces and the unit picked up the nickname “The Hatchet Brigade.”

The nickname may have been derogatory, though. Cavalry units carried sabers and dragoons, which, prior to the 18th Century, operated as a sort of mounted infantry and had also preferred sabers. Wilder’s men, untrained in saber use and cavalry operations, may have received the hatchets because of their inexperience.

But the brigade proved itself in its first engagement, scattering Confederate forces in their wild dash through Hoover’s Gap and their subsequent defense of the gap. The brigade’s success despite being wildly outnumbered led to a second nickname: “The Lightning Brigade.”

As exciting as the sudden appearance of thousands of hatchets at the front was, it’s not clear that they were actually used violently. The mounted infantrymen carried them into battle, but the weapons’ main contribution to the war effort seems to have been logistical.

The plethora of hatchets allowed the men to build their own supply wagons, cutting the necessary wood and parts from destroyed wagons found on roads. Since hatchets also have a “striking head” on their reverse side, they could be pressed into service as a hammer when necessary.

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Union Col. John T. Wilder outfitted his men with the Spencer Repeating Rifle after the War Department refused to do so. (Photo: Library of Congress)

It’s unlikely that the unit would have found much use for the hatchets in combat. Each man could fire seven shots between reloads, making it unlikely that enemy forces could march into range of the hatchets. And the men rarely rode their horses during the actual fighting. Instead, they would ride quickly to the battlefield, dismount, and send the horses to the rear.

In that way, the mounted infantrymen really were the predecessors to mechanized infantry and air assault infantry rather than cousins to the cavalry.

And if they had been cavalry, they probably would have been saddled with those common sabers instead of their awesome, namesake hatchets.

MIGHTY TRENDING

9 hilarious memes that actually teach military history

Look, we get it, military history is one of the more exciting histories to learn, but it’s still a bunch of history lessons. All the descriptions of amazing heroics and bold battle plans are watered down by the years of failed diplomacy, post-war reconstructions, and industrial build ups.

Luckily, we found these nine awesome military memes that hit a lot of the high notes:


At the start of World War I, people from all over the world were surprised to learn that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand had triggered a series of dominoes that resulted in them needing to cross oceans and fight people they never met for confusing reasons. Extensive treaty networks and colonial relationships dragged country after country into what was originally a single territory’s attempt at revolution.

Yes, troops from New Zealand, Australia, and India were sent to fight for the British Empire against Germany and the other Centrists powers. French colonial forces did the same thing. Some battles were actually fought in those far-flung colonies, resulting in locals in places like Africa and southern Asia being surprised by sudden battles erupting around them.

Napoleon was one of the most capable and revolutionary military leaders in history, so much so that he was able to rise from commoner to first consul to Emperor of France. But then he forgot to win some battles and was exiled from France to the Isle of Elba.

But then he decided to leave Elba and win some battles again. That plan was short-lived because just about every kingdom in Europe agreed that Napoleon should be either dead or somewhere else, so they sent their best forces, generals, and admirals to make him either pretty dead or at least get him off the continent.

Napoleon was defeated again in 1815 and exiled some more, this time to the island of Saint Helena. He died there, partially thanks to arsenic-based home decor.

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(Piximus.net)

In case you don’t remember dates well, June 5, 1944, was the original date for D-Day, but it got postponed to June 6 due to weather, which is what this particular meme is referring to.

Speaking of the weather, the Allies had better weather reports than the Axis, so their top weatherman called for a few good, clear hours of decent seas on the morning of June 6 thanks to a break in a storm. Rommel and the Axis did not know about this break, and so they figured they could screw off and go to birthday parties and stuff.

Yeah, for real, Rommel left the beaches to go celebrate his wife’s birthday. The beach defense didn’t go perfectly for the Germans, and Hitler was facing a two-front war.

(Three, if you count fighting in Italy, which no one does because a bunch of the best forces in Italy were diverted to Operation Dragoon soon after the D-Day landings, so there were insufficient forces around to press the attack north quickly. They did tie up German Army Group C and eventually win, though.)

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(@avalonnicholls95)

But that new front in France was sort of hard to win. While most history classes talk about D-Day and then yada-yada to the Battle of the Bulge, those yada-yadas cover a lot of horrible fighting. The first big troubles came in the hedgerows just past the beaches.

The fields and gardens of Normandy were crisscrossed with hedges that formed thousands of tiny little enclosures, and soldiers had to punch through one right after another. Each enclosure could be defended by snipers, machine gunners, and other forces. The infantrymen and tankers couldn’t know whether an RPG team was waiting for them at every breach.

So, yeah, they took heavy losses.

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(Reddit)

While we love to point out that the British Imperial Army was the largest on Earth during the Revolution, Britain couldn’t afford to actually send many to the colonies to put down the rebellion. But the troops they did send were some of the best trained in the world, and they did have thousands of high-grade mercenaries.

British forces, counting their American Loyalists, did typically outnumber their U.S. counterparts, but thanks to weapons and powder sent from France, America had a fighting chance. Gen. George Washington made plenty of mistakes, but he had a keen military mind and learned from each one.

As his men gained experience, he began to achieve some stunning victories while also avoiding defeat. And, for most insurgencies, avoiding defeats is enough to eventually win. Britain got tired of fighting in what it saw as a backwater and bailed on the conflict. (Something very embarrassing for the men who had to surrender to Washington.)

Yup, Germany sank our ships and killed our civilians. But, in their defense, the U.S. was providing all sorts of materials to Allied combatants in World War I (and later in World War II). So, while the American government and military were “neutral” for most of the war, its industry was very much not neutral.

Germany, understandably, found this objectionable. But their policy of unrestricted submarine warfare just galvanized the American public, especially after the Lusitania was sunk.

So, bit by bit, Germany attacked American industry and people until the government and military did join the war. And then America started pouring 10,000 troops or more a day into Europe to fight Germany.

It went badly for Germany.

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(Piximus.net)

In Britain’s defense, declaring independence didn’t make America independent either. It was mostly the “drunken libertarian farmers and fishermen” thing mentioned before.

We’re not going to go through the whole American Revolution thing again.

Fun fact: China was once the hands-down most powerful nation on Earth. Its population benefited from the simple economics of old-time agriculture. Rice produced more calories per acre than wheat and other grains, and China’s rice lands were super productive. This allowed Chinese people to specialize more and make technological advances.

They invented all sorts of nifty stuff, including gunpowder. But then they focused on arts and culture, and they stopped focusing on technology or military investment. That, compounded with Britain smuggling metric tons of opium into the country, eventually broke China’s back.

Sure, they had advanced past torch-fired rockets long before America built its first F-22, but you get the point.

If you don’t know about White Death, Simo “Simuna” Häyhä, boy are you missing out. The Finnish sniper fought in the Winter War from November 1939 to March 1940. The Soviet Union had hundreds of thousands more troops, better equipment, and the benefit of knowing that no other nations in the area would join the war against them

Thanks to all of this, Russia … Wait, lost? Yeah, Russia took approximately 350,000 losses to Finland’s 70,000. This was partially thanks to Häyhä’s efforts, as the sniper killed more than five Soviets per day for 100 days. He wore a white mask to help him blend in with the snowfields, and he would hold snow in his mouth to prevent his breath fogging where Russian soldiers would see it.

Häyhä took a shot to the face in 1940 that ended his frontline career, but he survived until 2002.

Of course, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in 1941 and the Soviet Union re-invaded Finland, capturing more Finnish territory and forcing Finland to pay many of the monetary costs of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘We would have lost’: Did U.S. lend-lease aid tip the balance in Soviet fight against Nazi Germany?

On February 24, 1943, a Douglas C-47 Skytrain transport aircraft with serial number 42-32892 rolled out of a factory in Long Beach, California, and was handed over to the U.S. Air Force.

On March 12, 1943, the plane was given to the Soviet Air Force in Fairbanks, Alaska, and given the registration USSR-N238. From there, it flew 5,650 kilometers to the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk, one of some 14,000 aircraft sent by the United States to the Soviet Union during World War II under the massive Lend-Lease program.


This particular C-47 was sent to the Far North and spent the war conducting reconnaissance and weather-monitoring missions over the Kara Sea. After the war, it was transferred to civilian aviation, carrying passengers over the frozen tundra above the Arctic Circle. On April 23, 1947, it was forced to make an emergency landing with 36 people on board near the village of Volochanka on the Taimyr Peninsula.

On May 11, 1947, 27 people were rescued, having spent nearly three weeks in the icebound wreck. The captain, two crew members, and six passengers had left earlier in an ill-fated effort to get help. The body of the captain, Maksim Tyurikov, was found by local hunters about 120 kilometers from the wreck in 1953. The others were never found.

The plane spent 69 years on the tundra before a Russian Geographical Society expedition rescued it in 2016 and returned the wreckage to Krasnoyarsk.

“I knew that its place was in a museum,” Vyacheslav Filippov, a colonel in the Russian Air Force reserve who has written extensively about the Lend-Lease program’s Siberian connection, told RFE/RL at the time. “It was not just some piece of scrap metal. It is our living history. This Douglas is the only Lend-Lease aircraft that remains in Russia.”

An estimated 25 million Soviet citizens perished in the titanic conflict with Nazi Germany between June 1941 and May 1945. Overcoming massive defeats and colossal losses over the first 18 months of the war, the Red Army was able to reorganize and rebuild to form a juggernaut that marched all the way to Berlin. But the Soviet Union was never alone: Months before the United States formally entered the war, it had already begun providing massive military and economic assistance to its Soviet ally through the Lend-Lease program.

From the depths of the Cold War to the present day, many Soviet and Russian politicians have ignored or downplayed the impact of American assistance to the Soviets, as well as the impact of the entire U.S.-British war against the Nazis.

A Soviet report by Politburo member Nikolai Voznesensky in 1948 asserted that the United States, described as “the head of the antidemocratic camp and the warrior of imperialist expansion around the world,” contributed materiel during the war that amounted to just 4.8 percent of the Soviet Union’s own wartime production.

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A map of lend-lease shipments from the United States to the U.S.S.R. from 1941-45.

The Short History Of The Great Patriotic War, also from 1948, acknowledged the Lend-Lease shipments, but concluded: “Overall this assistance was not significant enough to in any way exert a decisive influence over the course of the Great Patriotic War.”

Nikolai Ryzhkov, the last head of the government of the Soviet Union, wrote in 2015 that “it can be confidently stated that [Lend-Lease assistance] did not play a decisive role in the Great Victory.”

Such assessments, however, are contradicted by the opinions of Soviet war participants. Most famously, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin raised a toast to the Lend-Lease program at the November 1943 Tehran conference with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt.

“I want to tell you what, from the Russian point of view, the president and the United States have done for victory in this war,” Stalin said. “The most important things in this war are the machines…. The United States is a country of machines. Without the machines we received through Lend-Lease, we would have lost the war.”

Nikita Khrushchev offered the same opinion.

“If the United States had not helped us, we would not have won the war,” he wrote in his memoirs. “One-on-one against Hitler’s Germany, we would not have withstood its onslaught and would have lost the war. No one talks about this officially, and Stalin never, I think, left any written traces of his opinion, but I can say that he expressed this view several times in conversations with me.”

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U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease Act on March 11, 1941.

The Lend-Lease act was enacted in March 1941 and authorized the United States to provide weapons, provisions, and raw materials to strategically important countries fighting Germany and Japan — primarily, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, and China. In all, the United States shipped billion (8 billion in 2020 money) worth of materiel under the program, including .3 billion to the Soviet Union. In addition, much of the billion worth of aid sent to the United Kingdom was also passed on to the Soviet Union via convoys through the Barents Sea to Murmansk.

Most visibly, the United States provided the Soviet Union with more than 400,000 jeeps and trucks, 14,000 aircraft, 8,000 tractors and construction vehicles, and 13,000 battle tanks.

However, the real significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet war effort was that it covered the “sensitive points” of Soviet production — gasoline, explosives, aluminum, nonferrous metals, radio communications, and so on, says historian Boris Sokolov.

“In a hypothetical battle one-on-one between the U.S.S.R and Germany, without the help of Lend-Lease and without the diversion of significant forces of the Luftwaffe and the German Navy and the diversion of more than one-quarter of its land forces in the fight against Britain and the United States, Stalin could hardly have beaten Hitler,” Sokolov wrote in an essay for RFE/RL’s Russian Service.

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British Matilda tanks are loaded onto a ship for transportation to the U.S.S.R. as part of the Lend-Lease program.

Under Lend-Lease, the United States provided more than one-third of all the explosives used by the Soviet Union during the war. The United States and the British Commonwealth provided 55 percent of all the aluminum the Soviet Union used during the war and more than 80 percent of the copper.

Lend-Lease also sent aviation fuel equivalent to 57 percent of what the Soviet Union itself produced. Much of the American fuel was added to lower-grade Soviet fuel to produce the high-octane fuel needed by modern military aircraft.

The Lend-Lease program also provided more than 35,000 radio sets and 32,000 motorcycles. When the war ended, almost 33 percent of all the Red Army’s vehicles had been provided through Lend-Lease. More than 20,000 Katyusha mobile multiple-rocket launchers were mounted on the chassis of American Studebaker trucks.

In addition, the Lend-Lease program propped up the Soviet railway system, which played a fundamental role in moving and supplying troops. The program sent nearly 2,000 locomotives and innumerable boxcars to the Soviet Union. In addition, almost half of all the rails used by the Soviet Union during the war came through Lend-Lease.

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A monument in Fairbanks, Alaska, to the American pilots who flew almost 8,000 U.S. planes to Alaska and to the Soviet pilots who flew them on to Siberia as part of Lend-Lease.

“It should be remembered that during World War I, the transportation crisis in Russia in 1916-17 that did a lot to facilitate the February Revolution [which lead to the abdication of the tsar] was caused by a shortage in the production of railway rails, engines, and freight cars because industrial production had been diverted to munitions,” Sokolov wrote. “During World War II, only the supplies brought in by Lend-Lease prevented the paralysis of rail transport in the Soviet Union.”

The Lend-Lease program also sent tons of factory equipment and machine tools to the Soviet Union, including more than 38,000 lathes and other metal-working tools. Such machines were of higher quality than analogues produced in the Soviet Union, which made a significant contribution to boosting Soviet industrial production.

American aid also provided 4.5 million tons of food, 1.5 million blankets, and 15 million pairs of boots.

“In order to really assess the significance of Lend-Lease for the Soviet victory, you only have to imagine how the Soviet Union would have had to fight if there had been no Lend-Lease aid,” Sokolov wrote. “Without Lend-Lease, the Red Army would not have had about one-third of its ammunition, half of its aircraft, or half of its tanks. In addition, there would have been constant shortages of transportation and fuel. The railroads would have periodically come to a halt. And Soviet forces would have been much more poorly coordinated with a constant lack of radio equipment. And they would have been perpetually hungry without American canned meat and fats.”

In 1963, KGB monitoring recorded Soviet Marshal Georgy Zhukov saying: “People say that the allies didn’t help us. But it cannot be denied that the Americans sent us materiel without which we could not have formed our reserves or continued the war. The Americans provided vital explosives and gunpowder. And how much steel! Could we really have set up the production of our tanks without American steel? And now they are saying that we had plenty of everything on our own.”

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

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