Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell was an Army officer at the beginning of the 1900s who campaigned for a separate Air Force that would revolutionize warfare. While most of his predictions about American airpower ultimately came true, Mitchell was dismissed as a radical in his day and convicted of insubordination.
Mitchell rose through the ranks quickly and was named deputy commander of Army Aviation shortly after his promotion to major. He requested permission to become an Army pilot, but as a 38-year-old major he was declared too senior in age and rank to become a pilot.
Mitchell eventually got his wish, and a series of demonstrations were scheduled for Jun.-Jul. 1921 where Mitchell’s forces would bomb three captures German ships and three surplus U.S. ships.
The crown jewel of the test targets from the German battleship Ostfriesland, scheduled for bombing Jul. 20-21. The tests were a resounding success. In full view of Navy brass and the American press, every ship was torn apart by aerial bombardment.
The Ostfriesland was hit with armor piercing, 2,000-pound bombs specially designed for use against naval ships. Unfortunately, the Navy claimed that Mitchell overstepped the parameters of the test and Congress just ignored the results.
The friction between Mitchell and the Navy and Congress grew, until two major accidents by the Navy. In one, three planes flying from the West Coast to Hawaii were lost and in another the USS Shenandoah Airship was destroyed with the loss of 14 sailors.
Mitchell took to the press to blast the Navy and Army brass who he believed had failed their subordinates.
“These incidents are the direct result of the incompetency, criminal negligence and almost treasonable administration of the national defense by the Navy and War Departments,” Mitchell said. “The bodies of my former companions in the air moulder under the soil in America, and Asia, Europe and Africa, many, yes a great many, sent there directly by official stupidity.”
His trial was a national sensation, attended by societal elite and crowds of veterans. Mitchell’s lawyer tried to argue that Mitchell’s freedom of speech trumped his duties as an officer, but the defense easily ripped through the argument by pointing out allowing complete freedom of speech in the military could create anarchy.
Mitchell was sentenced to five years suspension without pay or duty, during which time he could not accept civilian employment. When the decision reached President Calvin Coolidge, Coolidge amended them to allow the general half pay and a subsistence allowance.
Mitchell opted to resign his commission instead. He launched a speaking tour that traveled around the country and promoted air power.
He died in 1936 and so was not able to see his prophecies come true in World War II. The Air Force Association tried to get his conviction overturned in 1955, but the secretary of the Air Force left it in place because Mitchell did commit the crimes. President Harry S. Truman authorized a special posthumous award for Mitchell in 1946, recognizing Mitchell’s work to create modern military aviation.
On July 20, 1969, the United States won the space race. America had put two astronauts on the moon, secured the ultimate high ground, and put an end to decades of back and forth victories won by American and Soviet scientists. While many Americans saw the space race as a matter of national honor and prestige, many involved in the race for each nation’s government knew the truth: the space race was an extension of the Cold War in every appreciable way, and there was far more at stake than simply bragging rights.
Perhaps it’s because of this struggle for space supremacy, or what felt like the very real possibility that the Soviets might win it, that makes American audiences tend to gloss over the incredible achievements of the Soviet space program. It certainly makes sense not to celebrate the victories of your opponent, but in the grand scheme of things, many of the incredible feats put on display in both Russian and American space programs were victories for the human race, even if the politics of the day made it impossible to appreciate such a concept.
There may be no better example of this idea than the Soviet Venera program that took place between 1961 and 1984. The Soviets’ Mars efforts may have been marred in failure, but many Americans may be surprised to learn that they actually had a great deal of success in sending orbiters and even landers to Venus.
This might be one of the toughest little space robots you’ve ever seen.
(Venera 10 courtesy of WikiMedia Commons)
Over the span of just over two decades, the Soviets managed to put thirteen probes in orbit around Venus, with ten hardened devices reaching the planet’s hell-like surface to send back scientific data and even images of the planet. Because of the Soviet practice of keeping their space-endeavors a secret until it was politically beneficial to announce them, very little was known about these missions for decades, and it seems that much of the data acquired by these landers was lost during the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, but some treasures did manage to survive. Color photos of the Venusian surface taken by Venera 13, for instance, offer us a rare glimpse of what it’s like on the surface of a world many of us may have never thought we’d get to see.
Unlike the arid and cold environment of Mars that allows for the extended use of landers and rovers, Venus’ harsh environment made the long-term survival of any equipment utterly impossible. Instead, Soviet scientists hardened their landing platforms using the best technology available to them with a singular goal: they only had to last long enough to gather some data, snap some pictures, and transmit it all back to earth. If a lander could do that before the extreme atmospheric pressures and temperatures as high as eight hundred and seventy degrees Fahrenheit destroyed it, it was deemed a success.
It took Venera 13 four months to reach the surface of Venus, but once there, it survived for only around 120 minutes. During that time, it sent back fourteen color photos, eight more in black and white, and it drilled for a few soil samples which it analyzed internally. A duplicate lander, the Venera 14, was launched five days later and also managed to reach the surface, but survived only about an hour before succumbing the extreme environment.
Venera 13 lasted around 2 hours on the surface of Venus before the heat and pressure destroyed it.
While other Venera landers reached Venus, no others were able to transmit back color photographs of the environment. A number of them did. however, transmit back black and white images.
The pictures we have of the surface of Venus taken by the Soviet Venera program may not offer the same sweeping panoramic views we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from NASA’s Martian efforts, but they do offer an almost uncanny glimpse into a world that, upon getting a good look, doesn’t appear as alien as we may have expected. In a strange way, seeing Venus makes it feel that much closer, and although these images were captured by the Soviet Union during an era of extreme tension and a world on the verge of conflict, from our vantage point firmly in the future, it’s hard not to appreciate the incredible accomplishment these photos truly represent.
Besides, we did end up winning the space race, after all.
The Ukrainian Famine lasted from 1923 to 1933 and killed nearly 4 million people. Known as the Holodomor, the famine was blamed on the Poles who were subsequently targeted by Stalin and the NKVD, a precursor to the KGB. Vsevolod Balytskyim, the head of NKVD in Ukraine blamed the mass starvation of Ukrainians on the “Polish Military Organization.” Moreover, Poles accused of belonging to the PMO were also guilty of espionage. Suspected PMO members were “taken care of” by the NKVD.
On August 11, 1937, Operational Order 00485 was signed and went into effect. This anti-Polish order provided for the complete liquidation of all potential members of the PMO with a sentence of either execution or confinement in a prison camp. Because all Poles were suspected to be PMO members, the order effectively called for the elimination of the Polish people in Ukraine.
The process began with relocating captured Polish soldiers and officers to Kazakhstan. However, 15,000 of these men never made it to Kazakhstan. The Soviet government claimed that the prisoners had all escaped. It was not until February 1943 that the missing Poles were located. They had been sent to the Soviet camps of Starobelsk, Kozielsk, and Ostashkov. There, German field police stationed in Smolensk, Russia, reported that bodies were found in the ground; the missing soldiers. One of these soldiers was Lt. Janina Lewandowska, the only woman killed in what would become known as the Katyn Massacre.
Lewandowska was born into a military family in Poland. At a young age, Lewandowska discovered a love for flying and planes, achieving certificates in parachuting and gliding. She joined Poznań Flying Club as a teenager and, by the age of 20, was the first European woman to parachute from an altitude above 5km. By 1937, Lewandowska had her pilot’s license for light aircraft and joined her father, now a General, in the Polish military as an Air Force reservist.
Right before the outbreak of WWII, Lewandowska, a newly minted 2nd Lt., was drafted for service with the 3rd Military Aviation Regiment stationed near Poznań. Just over a month later, before she had the opportunity to fight in combat, her unit was captured by the Red Army and taken prisoner. She and the only other officer in her unit were transported to Kozielsk, a Soviet camp that consisted mostly of officers and high-ranking prisoners. She and the other Polish service members in the camp were executed en masse by gunshot in Spring 1940. It wasn’t until 1943, in the Katyn Forest, that German soldiers discovered the mass graves, including the body of Lewandowska.
In total, nearly 22,000 Poles were killed. Exiled in London, the Polish government requested an investigation by the International Committee of the Red Cross. In response, Stalin severed diplomatic ties with the Polish government and accused the Nazis of the atrocities. It was not until 1990 that the Soviet government acknowledged the massacre and cover-up.
Lewandowska’s body was finally recovered and laid to rest in her family plot in 2005.
The airmen of the United States have always been at the fore of airpower. But that didn’t start with the world wars or even the test pilots of the Cold War. The U.S. is the original home of powered flight, of naval aviation, and of aircraft innovation. It all dates back to the turn of the 20th Century – before the world wars. And it was two Americans who went head to head in the air.
If the Civil War taught us anything, it’s that no one kills Americans like Americans kill Americans.
But these Americans weren’t fighting for America. In fact, the United States had seen relative peace since the Spanish-American and the Philippine-American Wars at the turn of the 20th Century. But there was (and always will be) a fight somewhere for anyone who’s looking for it. In the Mexican Revolution, two American aviators were looking for such a fight, using airpower to level the playing field. These airmen of fortune – mercenaries – were hired by either side of the war who wanted the upper hand but knew nothing about flying.
On one side was Dean Ivan Lamb, who was hired by General Benjamin G. Hill, fighting for the Carranzista faction of the war in Mexico. Hill gave Lamb a Curtiss D biplane and took him on as an aerial reconnaissance pilot. Lamb soon learned that his good friend and fellow aviator Phil Rader was hired by the opposing force under General Victoriano Huerta.
This is what the two pilots were flying in 1913.
While any airman today might be mortified that his good friend was flying for the opposing air force, you should know that in the early days of aviation, airplanes going up against each other was not something that happened. Airplanes were fragile and valuable, so they were used for recon mostly and maybe to drop the occasional bomb or grenade on the opposing side. The two friends weren’t worried. Until Hill ordered Lamb to use his pistol on the opposing pilot. Since there was only one other plane in the area, the Pusher Lamb came upon on Nov. 30, 1913, could only have been that of his good friend. He took out his pistol and prepared to fulfill the letter of his orders.
But not the spirit. This was still his friend and fellow American at the stick of the plane. He made the first interception of one aircraft to another, almost locking wings with Rader. Rader veered off and shook his fist, then pulled his own pistol and fired at his friend. Lamb was shocked… until he realized Rader had fired below him, not at him. Lamb decided to do the same, firing his pistol but purposely aiming wide.
Dean Ivan Lamb in the service of the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s.
The world’s first dogfight turned into a show of force between two friends – literally. As they fired, the opposing airman turned his plane away from the other in reaction, looking like the round may have hit home, but neither did. The two flew in a circle and reloaded their weapons. So long as they used all their ammunition, no one on the ground would know any better. How could they, when the only two qualified pilots were the men making the combat airshow? When the ammo was done, they waved to one another and went home.
Back on earth, they received a hero’s welcome. The men below watched the aerial “duel” with great interest. Eventually, Lamb left the Mexican service when he stopped getting paid. Rader left when his plane was damaged beyond repair from normal use. Lamb would go on to fight in both world wars, shooting down as many as eight German fighters in WWI.
These days, Richard Marcinko is a business instructor, author, and motivational speaker. In his earlier years, “Demo Dick” was the United States’ premier counterterrorism operator. Marcinko enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1958 and eventually worked his way up to the rank of commander, graduated with degrees in international relations and political science, and earned 34 medals and citations, including a Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, and four Bronze Stars. But that’s just his military resume.
Even among the ranks of American special operators, Marcinko, his record, and his reputation are all exceptional — and it’s easy to see why. At 77, he is still training business executives as well as U.S. and foreign hostage rescue teams. He even worked as a consultant on the FOX television show 24. His memoir, Rogue Warrior, is a New York Times bestseller.
“I’m good at war,” Marcinko once told People Magazine. “Even in Vietnam, the system kept me from hunting and killing as many of the enemy as I would have liked.”
1. North Vietnam had a bounty on his head
As a platoon leader in Vietnam, Marcinko and his SEALs were so successful, the North Vietnamese Army took notice. His assault on Ilo Ilo Island was called the most successful SEAL operation in the Mekong Delta. During his second tour, Marcinko and SEAL Team Two teamed up with Army Special Forces during the Tet Offensive at Chau Doc. The SEALs rescued hospital personnel caught in the crossfire as an all-out urban brawl raged around them.
Because of Marcinko’s daring and success, the NVA placed a 50,000 piastre bounty on his head, payable to anyone who could prove they killed the SEAL leader. Obviously, they never paid out that bounty.
2. He was rejected by the Marine Corps
Marcinko joined the military at 18 but, surprisingly (to some), he didn’t first opt to join the Navy. His first stop was the Marine Corps, who rejected him outright because he did not graduate from high school. So Marcinko, who would leave as a Commander, enlisted in the Navy. He later became an officer after graduating from the Navy’s postgraduate school, earning his commission in 1965.
3. He designed the Navy’s counterterrorism operation
You know you’ve made it when they make a video game about your life story.
After the tragic failure of Operation Eagle Claw, the U.S. attempt to free hostages being held by students in Iran, the U.S. Navy and its special operations structure decided that they needed an overhaul. Marcinko was one of those who helped design the new system. His answer was the creation of SEAL Team Six.
4. He numbered his SEAL Team “Six” to fool the Russians
When he was creating the newest SEAL Team, the United States and Soviet Union were locked in the Cold War — and spies were everywhere. Not trusting that anyone would keep the creation of his new unit a secret, he numbered it SEAL Team Six in order fool the KGB into believing there were three more SEAL Teams they didn’t know about.
5. His job was to infiltrate bases — American bases
The Navy needed to know where their operational sensitivities were — where they were weakest. Even in the areas where security was thought tightest, the Navy was desperate to know if they could be infiltrated. So, Vice Admiral James Lyons tasked Marcinko to create another unit.
Marcinko created Naval Security Coordination Team OP-06D, also known as Red Cell, a unit of 13 men. Twelve came from SEAL Team Six and the other from Marine Force Recon. They were to break into secure areas, nuclear submarines, Navy ships, and even Air Force One. Red Cell was able to infiltrate and leave without any notice. The reason? Military personnel on duty were replaced by civilian contractor security guards.
6. He spent 15 months in jail
Toward the end of his career, he was embroiled in what the Navy termed a “kickback scandal,” alleging that Marcinko conspired with an Arizona arms dealer to receive $100,000 for securing a government contract for hand grenades. Marcinko maintained that this charge was the result of a witch hunt, blowback for exposing so many vulnerabilities and embarrassing the Navy’s highest ranking officers. He served 15 months of a 21-month sentence.
British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was a difficult man to get along with. American Generals Omar Bradley and George S. Patton couldn’t stand the guy and even the Royal Navy’s Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay thought promoting Montgomery to Field Marshal was “stupid.” It’s surprising that the United States’ Supreme Allied Commander and later President Dwight Eisenhower disliked him most of all. Even more surprising is probably Ike’s hand-painted portrait of “Monty.”
Historian Anthony Beevor tells the story of Eisenhower’s 1952 portrait of his British counterpart, which Eisenhower signed, “’To my friend Monty from Ike,” by noting that the two men didn’t get along from the moment they met. Eisenhower was incensed at Montgomery’s smoking in his presence. Montgomery didn’t think much of Eisenhower’s abilities as a soldier.
Of course, Montgomery didn’t think any less of himself, no matter what his war record looks like. His men famously took heavy losses when they didn’t need to, due to Monty’s attention to detail, especially in taking the city of Caen. Before the disastrous failure of Operation Market Garden, however, Prime Minister Winston Churchill still prompted him to Field Marshal – a rank above the Supreme Allied Commander’s.
But the invasion of Europe didn’t happen without Ike, and when the American landed in France he took command of the ground forces there. Monty was furious, but there was little he could do. Eisenhower was in charge.
Rank didn’t stop Montgomery from rankling anyone though. The Field Marshal took credit for American wins in the Battle of the Bulge and, as Beevor points out, the British command was told that no American would agree to serve under Montgomery ever again.
Eisenhower painted Montgomery some seven years after World War II ended, probably just enough time to be able to forgive and forget – until Montgomery’s autobiography hit bookshelves.
Monty’s 1958 memoirs were filled with criticisms of his American counterparts, especially Ike. But they didn’t stop at criticizing Americans. Montgomery almost faced a lawsuit for suggesting that British Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck wanted to retreat during the First Battle of El-Alamein in 1942. His lie was so egregious that he was forced to recant it on the BBC that same year.
Having Bernard Montgomery criticize him in memoirs was too much for then-President Eisenhower. Ike railed about Montgomery until the day he died, referring to the Field Marshal as an “egocentric” and a “psychopath.”
When Japan introduced the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, it gained a remarkable plane that racked up an impressive combat record through 1941. However, despite its incredible performance for the time, the Zero couldn’t hold up.
The Grumman F6F Hellcat achieved fame as a Zero-killer after it was introduced in 1943. But it was its predecessor, the Grumman F4F Wildcat, that held the line during the first campaigns of World War II.
So, how did the Wildcat match up so well against the fearsome Zero? First, it’s important to understand that a big part of the Zero’s reputation came from racking up kills in China against a lot of second-rate planes with poorly-trained pilots. After all, there was a reason that the Republic of China hired the American Volunteer Group to help out during the Second Sino-Japanese War – Chinese pilots had a hard time cutting it.
The Mitsubishi A6M Zero had racked up a seemingly impressive record against second-rate opposition.
A damaged F4F Wildcat lands on USS Enterprise (CV 6) during the Battle of Santa Cruz. Japanese pilots would put hundreds of 7.7mm machine gun rounds into a Wildcat to little or no effect.
But, believe it or not, the Wildcat almost never made it to the field. The original F4F Wildcat was a biplane that lost out to the Brewster F2A Buffalo in a competition to field the next carrier-born fighter. Grumman, unsatisfied by losing out a contract, pitched two upgraded designs, and the F4F-3 was finally accepted into service. It was a good thing, too. As it turned out, the Brewster Buffalo was a piece of crap — whether at Midway or over Burma, Buffalos got consistently fell to Zeros, costing the lives of Allied pilots.
When the F4F faced off with the Zero, however, it proved to be a very tough customer. A Zero’s armament consisted of two 7.7mm machine guns and two 20mm cannon. The former had a lot of ammo, but offered little hitting power. The latter packed a punch, but the ammo supply was limited. As a result, in combat, many Japanese pilots would empty their 7.7mm machine guns only to see the Wildcat was still flying.
By contrast, the Wildcat’s battery of four to six M2 .50-caliber machine guns brought not only hitting power to bear against the lightly armored Zero, but also came with an ample supply of ammo. Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa was able to score seven kills against Japanese planes in one day with a Wildcat.
But ammo wasn’t the only advantage. Wildcat pilots had an edge in terms of enemy intelligence thanks to the discovery of the Akutan Zero, a recovered, crashed Zero that gave the U.S. insight into its inner-workings (this vessel made a cameo in a training film featuring future President Ronald Reagan).
Learn more about this plane that held the line against the odds in the video below.
Born in a bar, raised on an island, honed on the rifle range, refined in combat, there is no better friend, no worse enemy than a United States Marine. After 242 years of adapting and overcoming, evolved the most elite organization of barrel-chested freedom fighters the world has ever witnessed.
It is said that there are only a select few who will ever truly understand the U.S. Marine Corps: the Marines themselves and their enemy. Well, there may be one more group: Spartans. Sparta was a city-state of ancient Greece, best known for producing a warrior class that has become the gold standard of the subject. Notorious for their training styles and battlefield effectiveness, Spartans earned their reputation.
After exploring a little further, one can appreciate why Marines are often referred to as “America’s Spartans.”
1. Beauty Standards/Fat Shaming
Spartan soldiers had strict diets because they were focused on remaining physically fit – as both a point of pride and to avoid beatings. Every ten days, young men had to stand naked in public so their bodies could be inspected. Those who failed to meet standards of physical fitness were censured and/or beaten, and anyone who was overweight was ridiculed in public or banished.
The USMC is renowned for the look of its Marines, showcasing the high fitness standards in posters and commercials, but it doesn’t stop there. Consistent uniform inspections as well as physical fitness tests complete with a height and weight standard keep them that way.
If a Marine is found to be outside these height and weight standards, his body mass index will be measured shirtless with a tape measurer. If the leatherneck fails this, he will be visually inspected by the commanding officer, who will then determine whether the Marine is within regulations. If not, the Marine will be assigned to a Body Composition Plan controlling his/her diet and exercise routine until fit again.
In basic training, we call these recruits Fat Bodies because “your feelings do not matter.”
2. Fighting Tooth and Nail
During the famous Battle of Thermopylae, the events of which were depicted in the film 300, Spartan soldiers continued to fight despite losing their weapons, resorting to using their nails and teeth in an attempt to bite and scratch their way to victory.
Marines are well-documented warriors with plenty of hand-to-hand combat on the books. Most notable perhaps was in Okinawa during World War II where E-tools were turned 90 degrees and unleashed on the brave Japanese soldiers who soon died for the emperor.
Spartans sported the Crimson tunic; Crimson (red) represents Spartan pride in their women. In 1925 gold and scarlet became the official colors of the Marine Corps. While there is no direct representation for the colors, this Marine likes to think scarlet red represents blood and blood, as every Devil Dog knows, makes the grass grow.
4. Low Reg Haircuts
Spartans were famous for having very long hair. The Spartans viewed long hair as the symbol of a free man. Marines have a strong and ferociously enforced standard regarding hair length. Only those with very special permission can even dream to grow their hair to any length that could ever be considered “long.”
Any Marine with actual long hair EAS’d years before, therefore long hair represents a free man in the Corps as well.
5. Two Kings
Sparta had two kings from two different ruling dynasties. Their explanation was that during the fifth generation after the demi-god Heracles, from whom legend claimed all Spartan kings descended, twin sons were born which formed the bloodline for the two royal houses, Agiad and Eurypontid. The two rulers would share the duties of king.
The USMC has a Commandant and a Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps and while they do not share the same authority, they do both lead in respective ways.
The conversations about who the best warrior class is, much like the fights, always end with U.S. Marines and Spartans as the winners, and that is just what they are, winners. When being the best is a lifestyle, victory becomes ancillary. Spartans have secured their legacy but Marines are still writing theirs, and if history is an indicator, those legacies will be similar as well.
When our nation was young and yearned to be free from the shackles of tyranny, she relied on its patriots to defend the hopes and dreams of generations to come. In a time when the promises of their generals could not be counted on, the infantryman relied on this weapon the most.
The ‘Brown Bess,’ or the Long Land Pattern Musket, and its variations were designed and produced from the year 1722 into the mid-1800s by the British Empire.
It was used in service by both sides during the Revolutionary War and most civilians already had one in their home, as American colonies required, by law, that every male own one for militia duties. The fact that Continental Army troops and militia recruits would bring their rifles from home was paramount to success in the war.
The English had standardized armaments while the Colonies welcomed anything that fired into service. This created a logistical nightmare in getting munitions to the frontline (get your sh*t together, supply!). American troops would scavenge these muskets from battles or from compromised British supply lines.
The Brown Bess weighs 10.5 lbs. and is 58.5 inches long, with 42 of those inches accounted for in the length of the barrel alone.
The musket was mostly inaccurate, which is why it was utilized by tightly packed lines of infantry that fired only when dangerously close to the enemy. Its max effective range at the time was about 100 meters in good weather. Its smooth bore and flint lock firing mechanism made it difficult to fire in the rain – if it fired at all.
To make matters worse, fighting in a tight firing line added the additional danger of incurring concussions from musket fire immediately to one’s left and right.
Later models would see a steady increase in range, the replacement of the flintlock with a percussion cap, and manufacturing standardization. However, those changes wouldn’t be made until long after the rebellion was won.
The firing rate is, technically, 3 to 4 rounds per minute, but in the face of a bayonet charge, one would be lucky to fire a second shot before engaging in hand-to-hand combat.
The Brown Bess fired an 18mm musket ball made of lead with the option of fixing a bayonet to defend against infantry and cavalry charges.
The Brown Bess may have been inaccurate, susceptible to misfires, and costly to reproduce, but in the hands of patriots, standing shoulder to shoulder, each volley brought the upstart nation a step closer to independence.
In World War II, the United States had outstanding fighters like the P-51 Mustang and the P-47 Thunderbolt. Allies tossed in excellent aircraft as well, like the Spitfire.
But while the Allies won the air-to-air battle against the Axis, it doesn’t mean that the ground troops could forego ground-based air defense.
The U.S. had one weapon that they used for that role — especially front-line grunts. It was the M2 machine gun, known as “Ma Deuce.” One could do some serious damage, firing up to 635 rounds per minute according to the FN website.
Now imagine what four of these could do to troops — or anything short of an armored vehicle or bunker, come to think of it.
In World War II, the United States deployed the M45 Quadmount, with four M2s, each of which were fed by a 200-round drum of ammo. As an anti-aircraft weapon, it was fierce against prop-driven planes like the Me-109, the FW-190, and the Ju-87.
However, grunts often don’t see what a weapon was designed to do. They quickly can come up with “off-label” uses for weapons they are issued, and the M45 Quadmount — initially designed to kill Axis planes — soon was used on Axis ground targets.
The system soon got nicknames like “Meat Chopper.” The M45 mount was used on trailers, but also on the M16 half-track, where it was called the MGMC for “Multiple Gun Motor Carriage” — in essence, a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun. One version was even tested on the chassis of the M3 light tank — but that version didn’t go into production.
The M45 “Meat Chopper” didn’t leave when World War II ended. In fact, it managed to stick around for the Korean War and the Vietnam War — in both cases serving as a very deadly infantry-support platform.
The house of the Commandant of the Marine Corps is one of the oldest continuously-occupied buildings in the capital of the United States. Steeped in American history, the house was spared the torch when the British captured and burned Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. All but the first two Commandants have lived in the 15,000 square-foot house and, since 1916, all the historical occupants of the house were honored with portraits by order of then-Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
All but one, that is. There have been 37 Commandants of the Marine Corps but the house holds just 36 portraits.
The conspicuously missing spot belongs to Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, the fourth Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was the only Commandant ever to be fired from the position and the one with the fewest surviving records. No one knows what he looked like or even knows the location of his final resting place.
This is not Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, this is Archibald Henderson, his successor.
Luckily for us, it’s not so much of a mystery anymore. The Marine Corps Association and Foundation’s Robert T. Jordan did an exhaustive work on the life of Lt. Col. Gale. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, around 1782 and his tenure as Commandant lasted from March 1819 until October 1820. In the decades that followed, Gale fell off the map. He’s seldom-mentioned in the annals of USMC history because the events surrounding his dismissal were said to have brought “embarrassment” upon himself and the United States Marine Corps. And so, he was pretty much lost to history entirely.
Until 1966, that is. General Wallace M. Greene Jr., the 23rd Commandant of the Marine Corps set up an investigation into the history of the Marine who fell from grace.
What was learned, however, was still very little. Anthony Gale arrived in the nascent United States in 1793. When President John Adams rebooted the Marine Corps (which was disbanded after the American Revolution), Gale was among the first to sign up as an officer. He commanded Marines guarding French prisoners of the quasi-War in Philadelphia and took to sea aboard the USS Ganges, where he fought Barbary Pirates and British sailors alike.
Gale cared deeply for his Marines and when a Naval officer, Lieutenant Allan MacKensie, arrested one of them aboard ship, Gale slapped the officer and challenged him to a duel — the duel that killed MacKensie. That’s not what got him the boot from the Corps, though. Superiors in Washington believed the duel would force Navy officers to treat Marines with respect.
This is also not Gale. This is Maj. Gen. Charles Heywood, 9th Commandant and Medal of Honor Recipient.
His career continued, and soon he was married and saw service aboard the USS President and USS Constitution. By 1804, Gale was brevet Major Anthony Gale and his duties became focused on the recruitment and training of Marines. But soon, there was a new sheriff in town: Commandant Lt. Col. Frank Wharton took over for Commandant William Ward Burrows and Burrows looked at Gale with a much sharper eye than his predecessors.
Gale’s once squeaky-clean reputation soon became tainted by notes of alcoholism, sloppy management of the Marine Corps Barracks, and allegations that Gale used Marine Corps funds to renovate his personal home. Wharton took Gale to trial, but Gale was cleared of any wrongdoing. Still, Wharton sent Gale to the then-backwater of New Orleans – perhaps not the best place for a potential alcoholic, even in the early 19th Century. Still, when Wharton died in 1818, Anthony Gale was the most senior Marine Corps officer.
That did not mean he was promoted instantly.
No one forgot the charges filed against Gale, whether he was cleared or not. Others tried to have him removed from consideration to become the next Commandant. Gale was less concerned with the succession crisis and more concerned with keeping his head down and retaining his command. Even though he was not trying to be Commandant, that’s exactly what happened. He was promoted to Lt. Col. Commandant of the Marine Corps on March 3, 1819.
Gale had trouble with the position immediately. The Marine Corps became disorganized and undisciplined in the six months since Wharton died and he found himself spending more time fighting to re-organize it while the Navy Secretary and President Monroe would frequently counter his orders whenever it suited them — at the request of Gale’s subordinates. Overwhelmed and frustrated, Gale turned again to booze.
His mental state deteriorated as he became a drunkard, a womanizer, and verbally abusive toward his subordinates. Eventually, he was accused of drunkenness, conduct unbecoming an officer, signing false documents, and leaving his quarters without permission and was placed under house arrest. He was court-martialed and plead mental instability during the inquisition.
The court still found Gale guilty and removed him as the Commandant on Oct. 16, 1820, less than two years into his tenure.
This is Maj. Gen. Ben Hebard Fuller, the 15th Commandant, who is both not Gale and consolidated the Fleet Marine Force Concept.
After being helped out of the service, Gale moved to his home in Philadelphia, but found no peace there. He eventually moved his family to a log cabin in Kentucky where he found that being a farmer was not in his blood, either. He turned back to his old friend, alcohol. He fought to be granted a pension for his instability, earning one 15 years later in what might be one of the earliest veteran disability claim suits.
According to Kentucky records found by the Marine Corps, Gale died of Lung Cancer in 1843 in Kentucky. A number of his sons also joined the Marine Corps, some of whom served in the Civil War. They apparently had no idea he served as Commandant, believing he was a quartermaster in the Corps. But Gale’s sons are also lost to history, so even if a supposed burial site is ever found, there’s no way to definitively prove it.
At this spot on the western side of the Dnieper River in central Ukraine, some 30,000 Soviet soldiers died under Nazi artillery during World War II. Yet, on this hot June day, there’s nothing to suggest that this particular place was once on the deadliest front of the deadliest war in human history.
“What horrors happened here,” says my 55-year-old Ukrainian father-in-law, Valeriy Deriy, who is a Red Army veteran of the Cold War. “Can you imagine?”
We’ve hired a zodiac boat for the day, embarking from a yacht club in the riverside town of Horishni Plavni. To get to the so-called Island of Death, our captain weaves through narrow, overgrown channels that branch off the main course of the Dnieper River.
Tucked away in a dense forest on the island, there’s an old Soviet war memorial. You’d hardly notice it from the water, unless you knew what to look for. Valeriy explains that one can still find evidence of war in the surrounding woods. Old artillery pieces, bullets, rifles, and boots. That sort of stuff.
“Some people want to forget the past. But it’s impossible,” he tells me. “It’s always there.”
Between August and December 1943, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union fought the battle for the Dnieper River. It was one of World War II’s largest battles, comprising some 4 million soldiers stretched along a nearly 900-mile-long front.
After Nazi Germany’s defeat at the Battle of Kursk, the Soviets pressed their advantage and pushed the Nazis back across Ukraine. The third longest river in Europe, the Dnieper — which runs roughly north to south down the middle of Ukraine to the Black Sea — was a natural physical obstacle for the advancing Red Army.
The Nazis took to the heights on the western bank to set up their artillery, which they used to devastating effect. The Red Army crossed the river under heavy fire, improvising makeshift means to get across. Soviet losses were staggering — accounts vary, but roughly 400,000 Red Army soldiers died in the Dnieper River battle of 1943.
The Other Side
Earlier, Valeriy and I stand at a spot on the opposite, eastern bank of the Dnieper River.
“My great-grandfather said the water ran red with blood in the war,” Valeriy says as we stand on the riverbank, looking to the other side.
Valeriy explains that his great-grandfather fought in that Dnieper River battle, and he crossed the river at this very spot. Right where we’re standing. I’m left a bit speechless.
His great-grandfather couldn’t swim, Valeriy continues, but Soviet commanders would have him shot if he’d refused the crossing. So he held on to a log for flotation and kicked his way across. Somehow, he survived.
“It was October, and the water was already very cold,” Valeriy says, shaking his head. “What a nightmare.”
Today, at this spot where so many died in World War II, there’s a simple old Soviet memorial crumbling, halfway reclaimed by the forest. A dilapidated Soviet tank and artillery piece sit in the foliage, too. But that’s it. You have to rely on your imagination to appreciate what happened here.
There’s not a cloud in the sky and the hot breeze feels good on my face. On a day like this, it’s hard to appreciate what happened here about 77 years ago. I can hardly imagine the fear felt by Soviet soldiers as they stood at that same spot on the river shore, looking to the far side like lost souls about to cross the River Styx.
And then I remember what it was like to stare across no man’s land in eastern Ukraine. I remember the fear I felt under the Russian artillery and sniper shots. And I imagine, at least a little, what those Soviet soldiers must have felt.
The trench lines in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region — where Ukrainian troops have fought a war since 2014 to keep a Russian invasion force at bay — are only about five hours away by car. We could be there by dinner, if we wanted to.
True, we’re much too far from the trenches to hear the daily rumble of battle, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The war is always there.
Standing on the riverbank, Valeriy says to me: “History has been hard on Ukraine. But things will get better. We’re fighting for our democracy, just like your country did. And we’ll win it, too. Just like you did. I still have hope that my daughter and my grandchildren will see an amazing, free Ukraine.”
Still looking across the river, facing the same divide his great-grandfather once faced, Valeriy adds: “We’ll get there.”
Valeriy never served in Afghanistan. He was posted instead to East Germany and worked in signals intelligence, a specialty that paved the way for his future civilian career as a German language interpreter.
“It was an unwritten rule in the Soviet army that only one brother would have to be in Afghanistan at a time,” Valeriy explains. “And my brother went in my place.”
Valeriy’s older brother, Sergiy, was drafted into the Red Army and served in the war in Afghanistan from 1982 to 1984.
In fact, both brothers had volunteered for the war. But their mother had secretly gone to military officials and asked that only one son be allowed to go. Sergiy ultimately volunteered without Valeriy’s knowledge. It wasn’t until their mother died in December 2012 that Valeriy learned the truth.
Sergiy was a sergeant in a signals unit deployed near the Salang Tunnel in the Hindu Kush Mountains. The combat he experienced was terrible, Sergiy tells me, but he doesn’t go into much detail about the war very often. And when he does, his eyes adopt a distinctly distant look, as if he’s looking past me, in an attempt to articulate memories that no words could ever really recreate.
Today, both Deriy brothers live in the town of Horishni Plavi — it’s where my wife, Lilya, grew up.
On a warm June afternoon, our family gathers at a park by the Dnieper River to grill shashlik — Ukraine’s version of a barbecue. Both Sergiy and Valeriy are wearing NASA baseball caps, gifts from me and my wife.
It’s the first time we’ve all been together since the coronavirus lockdown was lifted on June 5, and we’re in good spirits. We make toast after toast until our legs are a little wobbly. We’ve brought along an iPhone speaker and grill the meat while we cycle through a playlist of staple rock hits — songs by bands like the Scorpions, Led Zeppelin, Metallica. That’s my in-laws’ favorite kind of music. Mine too.
We end up cooking more meat than we could ever hope to eat in a day. And we maintain a steady pace with the cognac toasts. And, as it’s prone to do, the conversation between Valeriy, Sergiy, and myself returns to the ongoing war in Ukraine’s east.
“The Russians were never our friends. Stalin invaded us, and now Putin has, too,” Sergiy says. “The only county that ever really cared about us was the United States.”
“We’ll never forget what your country has done for us,” he adds, speaking specifically about America’s delivery of Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Then Valeriy abruptly stands.
“Please,” he says, beckoning me to shake his hand, “I want to shake the hand of a citizen of the country that put a man on the moon.”
I stand and shake my father-in-law’s hand and feel proud of my country. And I’m particularly proud that he’s proud of my county, too.
A generation ago, we would have been enemies. Our countries were poised at opposite ends of the earth, ready to unleash nuclear Armageddon to destroy one another.
Today, we are a family.
No One Forgets
Located on the east bank of the Dnieper River, roughly 190 miles southeast of Kyiv, Horishni Plavni was founded by Soviet youth volunteers in 1960 as a place to live for workers in the nearby iron-ore mines.
Originally, the city’s name was “Komsomolsk,” a reference to the All-Union Leninist Young Communist League, or “Komsomol.” The town was renamed Horishni Plavni in 2016 as part of Ukraine’s decommunization laws—a set of measures that went into effect in 2015 to curb Russia’s cultural influence.
Across the country, all Soviet-era names of settlements and roads have been changed to new Ukrainian ones. All reminders and relics of the Soviet Union have been removed or made illegal — including playing the Soviet national anthem and displays of the hammer and sickle flag.
Horishni Plavni’s main thoroughfare was once called Lenin Street. Now it’s named Heroes of the Dnieper River Street. The statue of Vladimir Lenin that once stood in the city center is gone. Only an empty pedestal remains — a common sight in Ukraine these days.
Yet you can’t totally erase the past. World War II is too deeply ingrained in Ukraine’s national psyche, and its physical environment, to ever be forgotten.
Soviet-era war memorials still stand around Horishni Plavni. At a riverside park, children play on the marble ramps of a towering, Soviet-era war memorial. In a nearby field, a row of Soviet tanks are on permanent display. Teenagers sit in the shade of the turrets and drink beer and listen to music.
Despite all their years living under Soviet propaganda, my father-in-law and uncle-in-law have a surprisingly pro-American perspective on the war.
“The Soviet Union could have never won without American help under lend-lease,” Valeriy tells me, referring to the American policy from 1941 to 1945 to provide materiel assistance to the Soviet Union’s war effort.
“And thank God the Allies landed in France,” Valeriy adds. “Otherwise Stalin would have taken over all of Europe.”
No War Ever Ends
After our shashlik picnic is over, Sergiy visits his brother’s apartment, where my wife and I are staying. He brings with him a photo album from his time in the Soviet army, including his deployment to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
I’m thrilled to have a look and listen to his stories from the war.
Sergiy recalls how his commander in Afghanistan justified the Soviet war by the need to defend the Soviet Union from U.S. nuclear missile strikes.
“We were told that America was evil, and that we were fighting in Afghanistan to defend the world from America,” Sergiy tells me. “It was all a lie, of course.”
Incredibly, Sergiy bears no ill will toward the country — my country — that was responsible for the death of many of his comrades.
“The Soviet Union did the same to America in Vietnam,” Sergiy says of America’s covert effort from 1979 to 1989 to arm and finance Afghanistan’s mujahideen fighters to fight against the Soviets. “It was the Cold War, and we were enemies. And that’s what enemies do to each other.”
Now, Sergiy has welcomed me — an American veteran of another war in Afghanistan — into his family with open arms. More than that, I’d even say that Sergiy and I share a special bond because we share a common battlefield. We remember the same places, and in some cases, the same enemies. Sometimes, as I’ve learned, former enemies actually have more in common with each other than they do with their fellow citizens who know nothing about war.
As he goes through the old photos, Sergiy’s face flashes with various contradictory emotions. Pride and pain. Nostalgia and regret. For Sergiy, war was both the worst and the best experience of his life. Therein lies that great paradox that faces all soldiers who’ve home to live in peace.
If war was so terrible, why do we sometimes miss it?
Sergiy, for his part, remembers his friends from the army fondly. But there’s a dark cloud, too, that hangs over every good memory.
“The Soviet Union lied to me. They lied to all of us,” Sergiy says as he flips through the photo album’s pages.
He pinches his lips and slowly shakes his head.
“They wasted so many lives,” he adds.
Soldiers rarely fight for the reasons dictated to them by the governments that send them to battle. Rather, once the bullets start flying, a simple sense of duty to defend one’s friends, and to not disappoint their expectations, is what inspires one to act courageously.
Yet, once soldiers are separated from their wars for a while — either by time or by distance — the moral clarity of duty may erode, leading them to question the justice of their individual actions in combat. The simple kill-or-be-killed morality of combat no longer shields them from thoughtfully considering the consequences of the things they did in war.
In many ways, life in peace is much more complicated than life in war. That was certainly true for my uncle-in-law. Although Sergiy came through the war in Afghanistan physically unscathed, he was left irrevocably jaded about Soviet communism.
In 1985, just a year after his discharge from the Soviet Army, Sergiy began law studies at Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv, Ukraine’s premier university.
“I felt so at peace. Finally, no war, no suffering. Only a bright future,” Sergiy recalls of his arrival in Ukraine’s capital city to begin his studies.
But it didn’t last. In April 1986, an explosion ripped through reactor No. 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.
The Chernobyl plant is located only about 60 miles north of Kyiv. And so, spooked by the threat of radiation, Sergiy was unsure whether he should stay in Kyiv to finish his law degree. The reborn optimism and happiness he’d felt just a year earlier, fresh from his wartime service, quickly gave way to feelings remembered from the war — dark feelings that he’d wanted to forget forever.
“When I was in Afghanistan, I always felt like death was chasing me,” Sergiy remembers. “And when I came back to Ukraine, I thought I could be free from that fixation on death. But Chernobyl happened, and here death finally caught me. A long and painful death. I remember I said to myself, ‘How ironic, death didn’t catch me in the war, but it did in civilian life.'”
Sergiy ultimately stayed in Kyiv to finish his law degree. After graduating from law school in 1991, he returned to his hometown of Horishni Plavni (then called Komsomolsk). The Soviet Union broke apart that year, further upending his world.
When Ukraine’s economy subsequently collapsed in the 1990s, Sergiy ultimately abandoned his law career and took up work as a hired hand. It was his only option to make a living. He never went back to practicing law.
My uncle-in-law, who is a devoutly religious man, has struggled with his demons from Afghanistan. And his family life has had its ups and downs. But he’s never given up hope for his country, even as Ukraine has gone through revolutions and an unfinished war to finally free itself from Russian overlordship.
“I try to stay positive, despite everything that’s happened to our country,” Sergiy says. “It would be so wrong not to believe in our future. I always have hope. It’s just a matter of time. Our future generations will be truly happy and free.”
As young men, Soviet propaganda told Valeriy and Sergiy that America was their mortal enemy. Yet, as older men, they’ve both shown the remarkable moral courage to abandon their former worldviews and embrace the promise of democracy.
Above all else, Valeriy and Sergiy now believe in the justice of freedom and democracy rather than conformity and communism. And the two Red Army veterans wholeheartedly believe that the United States is a force for good and a beacon of hope for freedom-loving people around the world.
It’s true that history hasn’t been kind to Ukraine, and my in-laws have not led easy lives.
Yet in spite of everything, their faith in America remains unbroken. And, with America’s promise lighting the way, they still extoll the justice of their own country’s democratic path, no matter its attendant hardships.
In the end, they choose to reject their Soviet past but not forget it. When the work of building a democracy gets tough, as it so often does, they look to the past to remember what they’re working so hard to achieve.
“Democracy hasn’t been easy, but I’d rather live as a free man than go back to the way things were before,” my father-in-law says.
Freedom, after all, usually means more to people who’ve experienced the alternative.
He’s famous for leading the nighttime aerial bombing raid on Tokyo in the opening days of World War II, a feat that earned him the Medal of Honor. He commanded the Eighth Air Force and broke the back of the Luftwaffe.
But James H. Doolittle also nearly blew the biggest intelligence advantage the Allies had – ULTRA.
So, how in the world did this hero manage to do that? The big problem was that Doolittle had a habit of leading from the front. In fact, an obituary in the Los Angeles Times revealed how he lead the Tokyo Raid.
Though General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, the Army Air Corps Chief of Staff, wanted Doolittle to hang back and act as his chief aide, Doolittle made a run around the Army Air Corps staff and got the spot to lead the raid.
Doolittle survived the Tokyo Raid and escaping China ahead of Japanese forces. But he wasn’t quite done going too far forward.
While commanding the 12th Air Force in Africa, he drew the wrath of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. According to Dik Daso’s biography “Doolittle,” Eisenhower had called Doolittle’s HQ to talk with the general. Doolittle wasn’t in the HQ, he was in a Spitfire taking it for a test flight. Eisenhower expressed his displeasure with his subordinate.
But Doolittle just didn’t take the hint. Even when he commanded the Eighth Air Force, he kept flying missions. Retired Navy Capt. G. H. Spaulding noted that Doolittle would continue to fly even after he was briefed on ULTRA – the Allied codebreaking effort that targeted Germany’s Enigma machine.
On June 27, 1944, Doolittle allowed his new intelligence officer, Brig. Gen. Arthur Vanaman — who also had been briefed in on ULTRA — to fly what was supposed to be a “milk run” over Germany. Doolittle had flown a number of times, and made it back, but Vanaman would not be so lucky.
German flak scored a hit on Vanaman’s plane. The pilot ordered the crew to bail out. About half did before control of the plane was restored. The plane returned to base, with news that Vanaman had bailed out over enemy territory.
In his 2007 book Masters of the Air, Donald L. Miller needed only one word to describe Eisenhower’s reaction to Doolittle’s decision to let Vanaman fly that mission: Furious. Luckily, the Germans didn’t ask Vanaman any questions at all. They kept him as a POW until the end of the war. Vanaman would retire from the Air Force as a major general in 1954, according to the Air Force’s official biography of him.
According to an official biography on the Air Force web site, Doolittle would retire from the Air Force as a lieutenant general in 1959. In 1985, he would receive a fourth star from President Reagan. A very lengthy and remarkable career for a man who almost blew the biggest secret of the war.