The "Father of the Air Force" challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

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 joined the Army in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, seven years before airplanes were a thing and 11 years before the military bought it’s first one.

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.

So he paid for his own lessons out of pocket. By 1917 he was an accomplished aviator and was promoted to brigadier general. He took command of all U.S. Army aerial combat planes in France and led 1,481 planes into combat against the Germans at the Battle of St. Mihiel.

After the war Mitchell continued pushing for a separate Air Force and claimed that a flight of bombers could destroy any battleship in existence, a claim he proposed testing by bombing actual battleships captured in World War I.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
The USS Alabama is hit by a white phosphorous bomb dropped during a demonstration. Photo: US Navy History

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 “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

 

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.”

Mitchell was quickly brought up on Article 96 of the Articles of War which prohibits “all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline.”

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.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A hunt for a death ray gave us radar

One of the most useful and game-changing weapons of World War II was radar, a technology that allowed Allied pilots to know when and where to fly in order to intercept incoming German bombers, but Britain was actually hunting for a super weapon: A death ray.


How War Made Flying Safer

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In 1935, World War II had essentially not started yet. Japan was conducting limited, intermittent fighting with China, but Europe was technically at peace. Except war was clearly bubbling up. Germany was re-building its military in violation of the Peace Treaty of Versailles, and Italy launched a successful invasion of Ethiopia.

Britain knew, sooner or later, it would get dragged into a fight. Either Italy would attack colonial possessions in Africa that belonged to it or its allies, or Germany would attempt to conquer Europe. And there was a rumor that Germany had developed a weapon that could wipe out entire towns.

(This may have been a result of early nuclear research. German scientists made some of the critical first breakthroughs in what would later result in nuclear bombs.)

So British leaders asked Robert Watson-Watt if his research, using electromagnetic radiation to detect clouds, could be used to kill enemy pilots.

Yes, they wanted a death ray. But Watson-Watts quickly realized that he couldn’t get that much energy into the clouds. His work, which would lead to modern day weather radar, used a magnetron to send microwave radiation into the sky. But it wasn’t a focused beam of energy, and there simply wasn’t enough juice to kill or even seriously distract an enemy pilot.

To get an idea of how the death ray would’ve had to work, imagine a microwave that could cook a human in less than a minute while they were still miles away. That would be a huge, power-sucking microwave and essentially technically impossible to build.

But Watson-Watts came back with an alternative proposal. The death ray was dead in the water, but the magnetrons could be used to detect planes just like clouds, but even more effectively. And the early math around the idea revealed that the device could see enemy planes for miles and miles, eventually 100 miles out.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

British troops guard a downed German Messerschmitt Bf 109 in August 1940. Radar helped British pilots hold off German advances despite a shortage of pilots and planes.

(Imperial War Museums)

This was game-changing for British pilots when war did break out and reach British shores. Germany quickly conquered France and then began attacking England in the Battle of Britain, using the Luftwaffe to bomb British targets and take on British fighters. The British were outnumbered, and so they needed to make each flight hour of each pilot count for as much as possible.

Radar made this possible. If Britain could only spot incoming German forces with human eyeballs, it would need a large number of spotters on the ground and pilots in the air at all times. But with radar looking out a hundred miles, the Royal Air Force could fly fewer patrols and keep most pilots resting on the ground until needed, instead.

When radar detected incoming planes, the in-air patrols could fly to intercept as additional forces scrambled into the sky as necessary. The network of radar stations would become the “Chain Home” system, and it watched Britain to the north, east, and south.

Germany developed its own radar and deployed it operationally in 1940.

Britain never got its death ray, but Japan did experiment with making a death ray like Watson-Watts considered. They used magnetrons to create microwave radiation in an experimental design that did kill at least one rabbit targeted during tests. But killing the rabbit required that it stay still for 10 minutes, not exactly useful in combat. A groundhog took 20 minutes.

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This intense 360 video shows the dangers of fighting during the Civil War

Although trench warfare was made famous during the battles of WWI, it was originally the brainchild of a French military engineer named Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban in the 17th century.


Fast-forward to 1861 when the Civil War started. The implementation of entrenchments as a form of defensive posturing was commonly overlooked.

As the war raged on, infantry units began dominating the battlefield as troops increased their use of the rifled muskets and Gatling guns. These new deadly weapons caused the need for entrenchments as a form of cover.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban — the first known architect of trench warfare.

Related: This intense first-person video shows how dangerous life was in the trenches of WWI

The trenches used during the Civil War were primitively constructed from wood logs, as engineers and other materials needed to build them properly were in short supply.

For nine long months, both sides of the fight battled it out in a series of man-made tunnels that stretched more than 30 miles long.

When the Civil War ended in 1865, an estimated 620,000 people lost their lives during the multi-year skirmish — nearly two percent of the population.

As time would go on, trench warfare was famously utilized and modified throughout military history. Today we commonly refer to trenches as fighting holes.

Also Read: This is actual footage of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri

Check out the American Heroes Channel‘s video below for this powerful 360 video of a Civil War firefight re-enactment below.

(American Heroes Channel, YouTube)
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That time Civil War soldiers stopped fighting and played music for one another

A few weeks after the bloody battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, an odd event took place at the front lines of the Civil War armies camped on the Rappahannock River in Virginia. The two sides — camped approximately a mile from one another — engaged in a battle of the bands.


The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
A Union band in the Civil War poses for a photo. (Photo: CC BY-SA Jcusano)

According to University of Virginia Professor Dr. Gary W. Gallagher in his Great Courses lecture series on the war, the concert was begun by a Union band on one side of the field who played a patriotic northern song, likely “Yankee Doodle” or “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Just after they finished playing, the Confederate band opened with the song “Dixie.”

The two bands then continued playing songs for one another throughout the early hours of the night, until the Union band started playing “Home on the Range,” a song popular in both Union and Confederate camps throughout the war.

The Confederate band joined in during the song, and soldiers from each side sang along.

The entire event was captured in a poem “Music in Camp” by John Reuben Thomas.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
Thure de Thulstrup’s Battle of Gettysburg, showing Pickett’s Charge. (Scan: Library of Congress)

Like the later Christmas Truce of World War I, the peace between the warring sides was short-lived. The Civil War would rage for almost two more years before its official end in May 1865. Indeed, the bloodiest battle of the war, Gettysburg, would take place just a few short weeks after the impromptu concert.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The first Muslim Green Beret was also in Iran’s Special Forces

The first time Changiz Lahidji joined a Special Forces unit, his loyalty was to Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. But he found himself guarding lavish parties in the middle of the desert, protecting the opulent ruler of Imperial Iran and his guests. It wasn’t exactly the life of adventure that John Wayne movies led him to believe he could have.

He didn’t stay in service to the Shah for very long. It seemed like a waste. So, he moved to California, working in family-owned gas stations until November, 1978. That’s when he joined the Army and became an instrument of destruction — for the United States.


The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
Master Sergeant Changiz Lahidji in Afghanistan in the early 2000s. He was the first Muslim Green Beret and longest-serving Special Forces soldier in history with 24 years of active service. (Changiz Lahidji)

The late 1970s were not a good time to be from the Middle East and living in the U.S., even if you’re in the Army. He had to constantly endure racism from his fellow soldiers, even though they couldn’t tell the difference between an Arab and a Persian. It didn’t matter, Lahidji pressed on and finished Special Forces training. Less than a year later, he was wearing the coveted Green Beret and by December 1979, he was on his first mission.

He was on his way back to Iran.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
Changiz Lahidji standing guard during the Shah’s celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the Persian Empire. (Changiz Lahidji)

In November, 1979, students in Tehran seized the U.S. embassy there, taking 52 federal employees and U.S. troops hostage. Lahidji wasn’t about to wait for the military to get around to assigning him to help. He wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter, offering his unique skills, knowledge of Tehran, and native Farsi to the task. He wanted to choose his A-Team and get to Iran as soon as possible.

The U.S. military was happy to oblige. He wasn’t going to lead an A-Team, but he had an Iranian passport and he went into Tehran ahead of Operation Eagle Claw in order to get advance knowledge of the situation on the ground and to rent a bus to drive hostages and operators out after they retook the embassy. After the disaster at Desert One, he was forced to smuggle himself out aboard a fishing boat.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
Master Sgt. Changiz Lahidji, U.S. Army. (Changiz Lahidji)

After Iran, he didn’t have to worry about being accepted by his fellow Green Berets. He was one of them by then.

He writes about all of his worldly adventures in some 33 countries in his memoir, Full Battle Rattle: My Story as the Longest-Serving Special Forces A-Team Soldier in American History. In it, you can read about him helping to bust drug rings in Spain, capture the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, and what it was like on the ground during the “Black Hawk Down” debacle in Mogadishu, Somalia. He was there for all of it.

But it wasn’t the only time his Iranian background would come to the aid of U.S. forces. In 2003, some 24 years after the failure of Eagle Claw, Lahidji was in Tora Bora, dressed as a farmer and working for a U.S. private contractor. There, he would personally identify Osama bin Laden. When he went to the American embassy to report his finding, the U.S. seemed to take no action.

Lahidji does a lot of private contractor work these days. After spending so much time traveling and in service to the United States — he’s done more than 100 missions in Afghanistan alone — he looks back on his time in the service as a privilege. Army Special Forces gave Changiz Lahidji the brotherhood and adventure he always dreamed of as a secular, middle-class child growing up in Iran.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The insane way the first cosmonaut got back to Earth

The very first man to go to space was a Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, who rose to the top of his class thanks to his stunning memory, quick reactions, and poise during emergencies. That poise would come in handy since his spacecraft couldn’t survive re-entry, used compromised design components, and ultimately took the astronaut through an 8g spin cycle on his way back to Earth.


Vostok 1

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Vostok 1

The first manned space mission was launched with Vostok 1, and Yuri Gagarin at the helm. Gagarin had trained for years to be the first human to leave the atmosphere and had gotten the mission because his peers in cosmonaut training had voted that he was the best choice.

But it was a dangerous honor. After all, only animals had entered space before, and the U.S. and Soviet Union had less than stellar records of getting mammals back alive.

And the plan for getting Gagarin back wasn’t one to inspire confidence. First, while Gagarin had been selected partially based on his reflexes, he was locked out of the controls. And it wasn’t certain the spacecraft could slow itself down during re-entry. Instead, it relied on Gagarin ejecting at almost 4.5 miles above the Earth, right after he dealt with all the tumult of hitting the atmosphere.

As a bonus, there was a chance that the controls would simply fail in space, so Gagarin flew with 10 days worth of food in case he had to wait until his orbit decayed naturally.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space and first man to orbit this beautiful blue orb.

(NASA archives)

The actual launch on April 12, 1961, went well. The rocket made it into space, the launch vehicle broke away, and Gagarin rode through one orbit of the Earth. So far, so good. But then, the service module failed to separate from the spacecraft.

When the two-module spacecraft hit the atmosphere, the modules tumbled around each other and began to burn up.

“I was in a cloud of fire rushing toward Earth,” he later said.

After about 10 minutes, the cable burned up and Gagarin’s spacecraft re-oriented itself slowly. Freshly drained from a trip around the Earth and an 8g flaming tumble through the atmosphere, Gagarin had to pull himself together and get to work quickly or else he could die on impact like some animals in prior tests.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Yuri Gagarin’s space capsule sits in a museum.

(SiefkinDR, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Because, again, the capsule had little protection for the cosmonaut, and he couldn’t be certain he would survive the capsule’s impact with the Earth. So he had to activate his ejection seat almost 4.5 miles up. Gagarin and his capsule traveled separately from there. Gagarin landed near a farm and walked up, in full orange spacesuit and helmet, to the farmers for help.

He was quickly named a Hero of the Soviet Union and put on a high shelf where he couldn’t be broken. He was able to lobby for a potential return to space though, but a tragic training accident ended his life while he was still preparing for the mission.

On March 27, 1968, he was piloting a MiG-15, entered a steep dive, and crashed into a forest. An investigation in 2010 concluded that a vent was left partially open. This vent was supposed to be closed as the plane entered high-altitude flight so the pilots would have enough air in the cockpit. The investigator supposed that Gagarin and his co-pilot entered a steep dive to get back to a safe altitude to close the vent, but passed out and could never pull out of it.

(As a fun side note, Gagarin asked the bus to stop for him to piss while he was on the way to Vostok 1. Cosmonauts today remember him by taking a leak on their way to the launchpad.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 reasons why the Winged Hussars are among the greatest fighters of all time

Everyone always remembers the sheer bad*ssery and battle prowess of the vikings, the samurai, and the Roman legionnaires — but the Winged Hussars of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth a rarely find a way into the conversation.

Don’t let the flamboyant wings fool you. These shock troops were some of the most devastating cavalrymen to ever mount a horse.


The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Creighton Abrams may be remembered for it, but Polish-Lithuania lived by the mantra, “they’ve got us surrounded again? The poor bastards…”

They defeated nearly every “unstoppable” empire that came at them

When history buffs bring up the three most formidable empires in history, they’ll often include the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Khanates. Smack dab in the middle of those three was the little commonwealth of Polish-Lithuania. As history buffs also know, everyone always tries to come grab a piece of Poland. What kept them at bay for so long were Winged Hussars.

The Ottomans? The Hussars charged through Vienna like it was nothing. The Russians? They toppled Ivan the Terrible in the dead of winter. The Khanates? There’s a reason the Mongols, and, eventually, the succeeding khanates, never made it past Poland and into Europe.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Marching into battle looking like Roman angels was steeped religious symbolism. After all, Polish-Lithuania was (and Poland remains) a very Roman Catholic nation.

Their wings weren’t just for decoration

It might sound silly that heavily armored cavalrymen felt the need to include giant, feathery wings on either their saddles or their backs, but it wasn’t just a fashion statement — it was an effective strategy.

Hussars were shock troops, meaning that they needed to instill as much fear as they could as fast and effectively as they could — before the enemy has a chance to realize what’s going on. In an era when it was unlikely that you’d ever even see a neighboring city, what were you supposed to make of the rapidly approaching, heavily armed legion of vengeful, glittering angels?

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Best thing about a sword is that you never have to reload it.

They adapted extremely well to firearms

As new technologies are introduced to the battlefield, old tactics get thrown out. No single piece of military tech changed warfare quite like firearms.

Firearms instantaneously made arrows obsolete and swords pointless — if you can keep your distance. The Hussars never really got the memo, though, and they’d still charge into battle, decked-out in armor that could take a bullet or two and close the distance before their enemy got a chance to reload.

The Hussars eventually got their own firearms, which meant their enemies now had to deal with a heavily armored Hussars charging at them with spears, swords, warhammers, and rifles.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Seriously, Hollywood? Why isn’t this a movie yet?

They put the Battle of Thermopylae to shame.

Everyone praises the Spartans for pitting 300 troops against the mighty Persian army. But when you start looking deeper into it, you’ll quickly realize there are plenty of things they left out for the sake of the comic (and, later, film adaption), like the actual numbers of Greeks aiding them and how poorly trained most of the Persians were. The Spartans were bad*sses, yes, but some elements of their most famous tale are questionable.

Want to know who undoubtedly pulled off a heroic victory when faced with 62-to-1 odds? The Polish Winged Hussars.

A 400-strong Hussar unit was being attacked on two fronts by the 25,000+ Crimean Khanate forces and they were backed into the tiny village of Hodow. The Hussars had only a single night to turn the town into a fortress, to defend themselves with no supplies and no backup.

The Crimean forces raided the half-defended town and ran out of ammunition so fast that they needed to turn enemy arrows fired at them into improvised rounds for their long rifles. Six hours of intense fighting later and the Crimean Khanate started to retreat. The dust settled and thousands of the Khanate Tatars lay dead on the floor while less then a hundred Hussars had fallen.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

The famous winged banners weren’t needed.

They never really went away

As tanks took over the battlefield, people generally stopped riding into battle on horses. For the Polish, that was kind of true. Officially, the Winged Hussars ended in the 1770s because of political reforms, but heavily geared-out, horse-mounted, Polish troops existed throughout World War I and World War II.

Since Poland was being attacked from all sides and had little room to breathe, local militias needed to pick up some of the slack. The militias didn’t have tanks, but the farmers did have horses, rifles, and an undying will to fight.

Today, their spirit lives on with the Polish Land Forces’ 11th Armored Cavalry Division.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Germans tried to assassinate Hitler all the time

Lots of people like to play a mind game that centers around one moral quandary: Would you kill baby Hitler? Yeah, it’s Hitler, but it’s also a baby… Hell, this same question was even jokingly debated during an episode of Superstore, where the crew tries to decide whether you should help a celebrity steal baby Hitler. Apparently, “killing” Hitler was a step too far for NBC.

But it wasn’t for Germans living under the Third Reich, who actually tried to kill adult Hitler multiple times. In fact, if you add in assassination attempts from the Allies, there were at least 15 attempts on Hitler’s life, with more planned but never executed. Here are four of the best assassination attempts by German citizens:


The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

The remains of a beer hall in Munich after Johann Georg Elser destroyed a support pillar with a bomb in an attempt to kill Hitler.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

1. A random carpenter misses Hitler by 13 minutes

If it weren’t for the rise of Hitler, Johann Georg Elser would’ve been entirely forgettable. He was a skilled laborer, mostly in carpentry, who was once employed in an armaments factory. He combined the explosive knowledge he gained there with his carpentry skills to form a daring plan to kill Hitler during a planned speech.

Hitler gave a speech every year at a beer hall in Munich. Elser started going there late every night in 1939, eating and then hiding so he could emerge after it closed. In the empty beer hall, he clandestinely hollowed out a section of pillar and filled it with explosives. He set the timer for halfway through Hitler’s approximately hour-long speech.

But the attack was set after the invasion of Poland, and Hitler was eager to complete his November speech and get back to Berlin. He delivered his speech an hour early on November 8, 1939. Hitler left the podium 13 minutes before the bomb went off, killing eight and wounding 60. Elser was later captured while attempting to escape the country. He lived through most of the war in a concentration camp before his execution in 1945.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Capt. Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff, an officer who attempted a suicide bombing of Adolf Hitler.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

2. A weapons expert tried to use two suicide bombs

In 1943, Capt. Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff was assigned to give Hitler a tour of captured Soviet weaponry. The tour was supposed to last 10 minutes, so von Gersdoff decided to carry two bombs in his pockets during the tour, set to go off five minutes from when they were set.

But Hitler, again, was impatient and rushed through the tour. Von Gersdorff had planned to embrace Hitler as the bombs ticked down to zero, but was instead forced to rush to a bathroom and defuse his ordnance as Hitler walked away.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Lt. Col. Henning von Tresckow, the mind behind multiple assassination attempts against Hitler.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

3. A German officer used a dud fuse

German Lt. Col. Henning von Tresckow was a career officer quietly serving on the staff of his uncle when Germany invaded Poland. He took part in the invasion and later operations, but was quickly disgusted by the actions of the SS, especially the executions of surrendering or captive Soviet Soldiers.

He decided that the execution of Hitler was the best thing for Germany. To that end, he tried to recruit other senior officers to his plots, but was largely unsuccessful. So, instead, he convinced another officer to carry a package of brandy to friends in Berlin while flying with Hitler in 1943 — but the brandy was actually a bomb.

Unfortunately, the fuse on the bomb was a dud, and von Tresckow was forced to go to Berlin and recover the failed bomb. He didn’t give up, and was eventually able to recruit Col. Claus von Stauffenerg to his plans, leading to the “July Plot.”

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Hitler and Mussolini survey the aftermath of the “July Plot” in 1944.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

4. The “July Plot” is foiled by a thick table leg

The “July Plot” in 1944 is probably the most famous of the assassination attempts against Hitler. As hinted above, von Tresckow and von Stauffenerg were key to the efforts. The plan was to smuggle a briefcase bomb into the “Wolf’s Lair,” an underground bunker in Germany, and set it off. This would kill Hitler and some of his closest aides and top officers.

The senior leaders involved in the assassination attempt, including the former chief of the army general staff and the chief of staff of the reserve army, would then take control of what levers of government they could while pressuring the remaining powers in Berlin to make peace before it was too late.

And it very nearly worked. This time, Hitler didn’t leave early, the bomb did go off, and Hitler was even injured. So, why didn’t Hitler die? Well, an officer needed to get closer to him to make a point, and he moved the briefcase behind the leg of a thick, oak table. When the bomb went off, the table absorbed and redirected a lot of the blast.

Most of those involved were caught and killed or, in the case of von Tresckow, committed suicide.

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The Marine Corps’ love-hate relationship with the AV-8 Harrier

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
Capt. Jonathan Lewenthal and Capt. Eric Scheibe, AV-8B Harrier pilots with Marine Attack Squadron 231, Marine Aircraft Group 14, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), fly over southern Helmand province, Afghanistan after conducting an aerial refuel Dec. 6, 2012. VMA-231 deployed to Afghanistan to provide close air support for counter-insurgency operations. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Gregory Moore)


Dubbed the “widow-maker” in some aviation circles, the AV-8 Harrier is as dangerous to America’s enemies as it is to the pilots who commandeer it.

From its commissioning to as recent as 2013, there have been about 110 fighters involved in Class A mishaps — accidents causing death, permanent injury or at least $1 million in losses.

Related: This Marine pilot makes landing his Harrier fighter on a stool look easy

“Measured by its major accident rate per 100,000 flight hours, which is the military standard, the Harrier is the most dangerous plane in the U.S. military,” said Los Angeles Times reporter Alan C. Miller in the video below. “Overall the Marines have lost more than one-third of the entire Harrier fleet to accidents.”

The first Harrier model, the AV-8A had a Class A mishap rate of 31.77 accidents per 100,000 flight hours. The Marines improved the rate to 11.44 per 100,000 hours with the introduction of the AV-8B in the mid-1980s, according to Miller.

By contrast, the Harrier has more than twice the accident rate of the F-16, more than three times the rate of the F/A-18, and about five times the rate of A-10.

Despite its astronomical accident rate, the fighter is beloved and remains in service more than 40 years since its introduction in 1971.

“One Marine general who flew the plane early on described it as an answer to a prayer,” Miller said.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
An AV-8B Harrier jet aircraft assigned to the air combat element of the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit (13th MEU) performs a vertical landing on the flight deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer June 16, 2013. Boxer is conducting amphibious squadron and MEU integrated training.(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Mark El-Rayes)

The Corps’ need for an aircraft with a vertical landing and short takeoff capability can be traced to the 1942 Battle of Guadalcanal. The Marines lost over 1,000 men during that fight and felt abandoned by the Navy to fend for themselves.

“Since then, the precept that the Marines in the air should protect the Marines on the ground has been an essential part of the Corps’ ethos,” Miller said.

This History Channel video shows how the Harrier supports the Marine Corps’ mission to fight anywhere, anytime regardless of the risks:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUFBV–62tA

Engineering Channel, YouTube

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The ‘Fork-tailed devil’ terrified Japanese pilots

Among the fighters that allowed America to win World War II, the P-38 Lightning was uniquely successful and was dubbed the “fork-tailed Devil” by the Germans even though its greatest successes came in the Pacific, Mediterranean, and North African theaters.


Army Air Corps leaders first solicited for what would become the P-38 in 1937 with the specification X-608, a request for a new pursuit aircraft that could fly 360 mph at 20,000 feet, reach 20,000 feet in six minutes, and run at full power at that altitude for at least an hour. They also wanted a long combat radius and plenty of firepower.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
The J model of the P-38 carried the same .50-cal machine guns and 20mm cannons of its predecessors, but could also carry bombs. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

Lockheed, a newcomer to the military market, submitted the XP-38, a radical departure from conventional aircraft design that featured three pods and two tails. The outer pods lined up with the tails and each carried an Allison V-1710 engine with 1,000 hp.

While the XP-38 was a radical design, the Army adopted it anyway because they needed its power and speed to compete with new German and British designs. And it packed a lot of punch with four .50-cal. machine guns and a single 20 mm cannon, all crammed into the nose.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
The P-38 Lightning was the premiere twin-engine American fighter in World War II. It had four .50-cal. machine guns and a 20 mm cannon in its nose. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum)

The plane went through continued testing and design refinements before reaching Army pilots in 1940. Upon its debut, it was capable of reaching an altitude of 3,300 feet in one minute and could hit 400 mph with a range of 1,150 miles.

But production was slow and the Army had only 69 P-38s, so Lockheed was forced to subcontract parts to get the plane into combat for the U.S. But the P-38 arrived on the front lines with a vengeance. In early 1942, its pilots became the first Americans to down a Luftwaffe plane and P-38s carried seven of the top fighter aces of the Pacific theater.

The Lightning’s finest hour probably came on April 18, 1943. Naval Intelligence had learned that Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander and architect of the Pearl Harbor attacks, would be inspecting troops in the Pacific on that date.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
The last known photograph of Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto before he was killed by American P-38s. (Photo: Public Domain)

The military rushed together a plan to attack the admiral. The scheme called for fighters to fly approximately 600 miles out and 400 miles back with enough fuel available in the middle for fierce fighting. The only Pacific fighter capable of the feat in 1943 was the P-38 equipped with drop tanks.

A kill team of four P-38s flew with 12 others to an intercept point, dropped their tanks, and attacked the two bombers and six fighters of Yamamoto’s flight and escort. Two Americans had to peal off when their drop tanks failed to disconnect, but the other 14 successfully downed both bombers and the Zeros bugged out. One P-38 was lost in the battle and Yamamoto was killed along with his deputy.

America’s top-scoring fighter ace of all time, Maj. Richard Bong, achieved all of his 40 aerial victories in P-38s and the number two ace, Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, Jr., achieved most of his 38 kills in the P-38.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
Famed aviator Charles A. Lindbergh with Maj. Thomas B. McGuire, America’s second-highest fighter Ace of all time. (Photo: U.S. Air Force archives)

All of this is not to say that the P-38 was perfect. It suffered a number of drawbacks including a tendency to become unstable at speeds approaching Mach 1 and to become unresponsive to controls during high-speed dives.

In Europe, the plane that dominated over the Pacific became a major liability for pilots because it wasn’t designed to withstand the extreme cold of Europe’s winter air at 20,000 feet and higher, especially in the particularly bitter 1943-1944 winter.

Pilots suffered hypothermia and frostbite in the barely heated cockpit and the engines were prone to failures as their intakes over-cooled incoming air.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

The commander of the 20th Flight Group, Col. Harold J. Rau, was ordered to provide a written report as to why the P-38 wasn’t more successful in Europe. He asked the recipient to imagine a fresh-out-of-flight-school with less than 30 flight hours who was suddenly attacked by Luftwaffe fighters.

He must turn, he must increase power and get rid of those external tanks and get on his main. So, he reaches down and turns two stiff, difficult gas switches to main, turns on his drop tank switches, presses his release button, puts the mixture to auto rich, increases his RPM, increases his manifold pressure, turns on his gun heater switch, turns on his combat switch and he is ready to fight.

And the process was unforgiving of errors. Reversing the order of the engine steps or skipping a step could cause the engine to explode or throw a rod, either of which would rob the pilot of vital power during a dogfight. And all of this has to be done while German rounds are already ripping past or through the plane.

Luckily, the debut of the P-51 gave a viable alternative to the P-38. It didn’t suffer from the cold-weather problems of the P-38 and had comparable or better speed, range, and maneuverability at most altitudes while being easier for rookies to fly. It’s only major shortcoming against the P-38 was that it had only one engine and it was more susceptible to damage than either of the Lightning’s two.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 ways the year 1968 traumatized America

There are going to be a lot of significant 50-year anniversaries in 2018. This is because 1968 was probably the most tumultuous year in American history since the Civil War. To this day, we still haven’t fully recovered as a country.


The tumult began immediately. Americans were buffeted by watching the Prague Spring roll over Czechoslovakia with the election of reformist Alexander Dubcek on January 5th. He instituted many meaningful reforms that spelled the end of Communism in the country. But the hopes of a peaceful collapse of the Iron Curtain were crushed by August, when Soviet and Eastern Bloc tanks rolled over the same ground.

That was only the beginning. Americans orbited the moon for the first time, Star Trek aired the first interracial kiss, and African-American athletes in the Mexico City Summer Olympics made the most political statement in the history of the games.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

The captured crew of the Pueblo.

1. The USS Pueblo is captured by North Korea

The Pueblo was a Navy Signals Intelligence ship. On January 23rd, she was attacked and boarded by North Koreans in international waters. But Pueblo’s crew didn’t go down without a fight. As the ship attempted to evade capture and destroy captured intel, it took two North Korean subchasers, four torpedo boats, and two MiG fighters to stop Pueblo. One U.S. sailor was killed and 83 others were captured and held for the next 355 days. They were beaten and used as propaganda tools the entire time.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police, shoots Vietcong officer Nguyen Van Lem, also known as Bay Lop, on a Saigon street on Feb. 1, 1968.

(Photo by Eddie Adams)

2. The Tet Offensive begins in Vietnam

The U.S. was fully engaged in the Vietnam War by 1968 and, although there was evidence of a coming attack, it was not really suspected to come during the Tet holiday. At midnight on January 30th, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces assaulted some 100 towns and cities, catching American and South Vietnamese troops completely by surprise. The next day, they hit the U.S. embassy in Saigon. Although most losses were quickly recaptured, the ancient capital of Hué was held for a full month.

The Tet Offensive, while a technically a battlefield failure, shook much faith in the Americans’ ability to win the war, including reporter and “Most Trusted Man in America,” Walter Cronkite. In February, the execution of Viet Cong Nguyễn Văn Lém by Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, a South Vietnamese police chief, as captured by famed photographer Eddie Adams, further turned the U.S. against the war.

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3. President Johnson did not seek re-election

Johnson soundly beat Eugene McCarthy’s anti-war candidacy in the 1968 Democratic primary in New Hampshire. But just a few days later, Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced his candidacy and the Democrats were split between pro-war and anti-war Democrats, along with segregationist Democrats from the South. Johnson, unable to unite the party and concerned he wouldn’t survive another term, announced he would not seek another term as president on March 31st.

The president was right about uniting the party. Divided Democrats did not rally to their candidate Hubert Humphrey’s cause and Richard Nixon won the election.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

President Lyndon B. Johnson meeting with King in the White House Cabinet Room, 1966

4. Martin Luther King, Jr. is shot and killed

The famed Southern preacher and civil rights leader was killed at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4th. Riots erupted in major American cities, some lasting for days. His assassin, James Earl Ray, was a fugitive from justice who escaped the Missouri State Penitentiary. Ray was apprehended at London’s Heathrow Airport on June 8th.

During the ensuing riots, President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968, The Fair Housing Act, into law.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

(Photo by Boris Yaro for the Los Angeles Times)

5. Robert F. Kennedy is shot at the Ambassador Hotel

Kennedy, fresh from his win in the June 4th California primary election, just finished addressing supporters at Los Angeles’ Ambassador Hotel. As he walked through the hotel’s kitchen, he was shaking hands with staff members and other supporters when Sirhan Sirhan rushed in and repeatedly shot him with a .22-caliber pistol. He died of his wounds the next day. Sirhan’s motive was Kennedy’s pro-Israel views.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Police and demonstrators clash near the Conrad Hilton Hotel during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.

(Bettmann Archive – Getty Images)

6. Democratic Convention protests become a battle with police

From August 22-30, Democrats met to nominate Hubert Humphrey as their candidate for president. Outside, some 10,000 protestors descended upon Chicago’s streets. Mayor Richard Daley met them with 23,000 policemen in riot gear and National Guardsmen. At 3:30pm, police moved to arrest a man who lowered the American flag in Grant Park and began to beat him. The crowd responded by throwing rocks, concrete, and food at them. Violence spread throughout the area and America decided to vote for Richard Nixon.

Articles

What it was like in the room when Germany finally surrendered to end WWII in Europe

In the early morning hours of May 7, 1945, the remnants of Nazi Germany’s military leadership signed an unconditional surrender to Allied forces.


When the news broke the next day, soldiers and civilians around the world heralded Victory in Europe Day — the Soviet Union would mark Victory Day on May 9 — exuberant about the end of nearly six years of war that had destroyed much of Europe.

When German and Allied military officials gathered again in Berlin near midnight on May 8 to sign surrender documents, the atmosphere in the room was laden with emotional and political weight.

The Germans, characteristically severe, went through the proceedings in a mix of resignation and resentment, while the Soviets, Americans, and other Allies were relieved at the war’s conclusion.

All of them were uncertain what would come next.

Historian Antony Beevor’s sweeping history of the final months on the eastern front, “The Fall of Berlin 1945,” captured the mood in the room as victors and vanquished gathered to bring their conflict to an end:

“Just before midnight the representatives of the allies entered the hall ‘in a two-storey building of the former canteen of the German military engineering college in Karlshorst.’ General Bogdanov, the commander of the 2nd Guards Tank Army, and another Soviet general sat down by mistake on seats reserved for the German delegation.”
“A staff officer whispered in their ears and ‘they jumped up, literally as if stung by a snake’ and went to sit at another table. Western pressmen and newreel cameramen apparently ‘behaved like madmen’. In their desperation for good positions, they were shoving generals aside and tried to push in behind the top table under the flags of the four allies.”

The German delegation then entered the room — its members looking both “resigned” and “imperious.”

Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, commander of the Nazi armed forces during the final days of the war, “sat very straight in his chair, with clenched fists,” Beevor wrote. “Just behind him, a tall German staff officer standing to attention ‘was crying without a single muscle of his face moving.'”

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Gen. Georgy Zhukov, a senior Soviet commander during the war’s final days, stood to invite the Germans “to sign the act of capitulation.” Keitel, impatient, gestured for the documents to be brought to him. “Tell them to come here to sign,” Zhukov said.

Keitel walked over to sign, “ostentatiously” removing his gloves to do so, unaware that the representative for the chief of Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, was lingering just over his shoulder.

“‘The German delegation may leave the hall,'” Zhukov said once the signing was complete, Beevor wrote, adding:

“The three men stood up. Keitel, ‘his jowls hanging heavily like a bulldog’s’, raised his marshal’s baton in salute, then turned on his heel. As the door closed behind them, it was almost as if everybody would in the room exhaled in unison. The tension relaxed instantaneously. Zhukov was smiling, so was [British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur] Tedder. Everybody began to talk animatedly and shake hands. Soviet officers embraced each other with bear hugs.”
“The party which followed went on until almost dawn, with songs and dances. Marshal Zhukov himself danced the Russkaya to loud cheers from his generals. From inside, they could clearly hear gunfire all over the city as officers and soldiers blasted their remaining ammunition into the night sky in celebration. The war was over.”

The chaos of the war had ceased, but for Soviets and Germans other hardships were to come.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost
An aerial (oblique) photograph taken from a De Havilland Mosquito of the RAF Film and Photographic Unit showing badly damaged buildings in the area between Friedrich Hain and Lichtenberg, Berlin. | Royal Air Force

Zhukov, long a confidant of Stalin, earned glory for his command during the war, but he would soon find himself on the outs with the mercurial Soviet leader.

Keitel would face war-crimes charges, including crimes against humanity. He was convicted and hanged in October 1946. Like other Nazi leaders who were hanged, Keitel’s body didn’t drop with enough force to break his neck. He dangled at the end of the hangman’s rope for 24 minutes before dying.

Germans, many of them under the yoke of the Soviet Union, would struggle to rebuild both physically from the war and emotionally from their encounter with Allies forces — Soviet soldiers in particular. Berlin, buffered by two weeks of intense urban fighting, was shattered.

The Soviet Union’s drive for political vengeance and economic advantage lead it to hobble or strip much of East Germany’s infrastructure and resources.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the greatest artillery exchange of the Civil War

The Civil War was a revolutionary conflict for the planet with steam power, repeating rifles, and improved cannons all changing the face of warfare. European powers sent observers to see how battles were fought, and how the rules of combat evolved as the conflict wore on.


The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

A cannon sits on Powers Hill at Gettysburg National Military Park.

(National Park Service)

This changing industrial warfare led to butchery on a grand scale. There are a lot of ways to measure the war, but one of the greatest artillery exchanges of the war was an almost two-hour duel at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that, tragically for the Confederate infantrymen, immediately preceded Pickett’s Charge but failed to dislodge the Union guns.

The exchange came on the morning of July 3, 1863. Two days earlier, on July 1, Confederate scouts had pushed against Union forces near the crossroads at the center of the small town of Gettysburg. Neither side’s generals had chosen the ground, but they both reinforced their men in contact and stumbled into one of the most iconic and deadly battles of the war.

On July 2, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee attacked Union positions on hilltops near the city, attempting to push them off the high ground before more Union reinforcements arrived. Confederate troops were in Union territory, and the balance of power would shift against them more and more the longer the battle wore on.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Civil War reenactors play as Confederate artillery crews in 2008.

(Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The July 2 attacks were fierce, and Union forces suffered heavy losses and ran low on ammo in some positions. On Little Round Top, for example, Union forces barely survived by launching a bayonet charge down the hill after most of the men ran out of shot, leaving them vulnerable to a Confederate assault.

By July 3, it was clear that Lee’s invasion of the north would have to either succeed on this day or likely fail altogether. The Union troops, on the other hand, despite some missteps, had improved their positions, and it would take great skill and a bit of luck to dislodge them.

Union forces under Maj. Gen. George Meade were arrayed on a series of ridges, and attackers were able to push Confederate troops out of a nearby field in the early hours of the morning. In a bid to re-seize the initiative and soften Union defenses in the early afternoon, Lee ordered a massive artillery bombardment of the Union troops, focused on Seminary and Cemetery ridges where he hoped to attack and pierce the lines.

Battle of Gettysburg – The Artillery Duel

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The total number of guns on each side was similar. A Civil War Trust map of the artillery positions shows 126 Confederate guns and 128 Union guns covering the battlefield, with over 50 Union guns either on Cemetery Ridge or immediately adjacent to it. A HistoryNet count of the weapons engaged pegs it at 150 Confederate guns that took part against 75 Union guns.

When the afternoon artillery duel began, guns on each side began a disciplined but heavy bombardment of the opposing forces. For over 90 minutes, Confederate artillery tried to pick off Union guns and crews as the men ran back and forth from the caissons and ammo dumps to the guns to keep the rate of fire up. Good crews on either side could fire two rounds per minute. Thousands of rounds crisscrossed the field.

It’s the largest artillery barrage ever in the western hemisphere. The Union leaders ordered many of their crews to cease fire in an attempt to fool the Confederates into thinking the Union cannon crews were broken.

If the Confederate bombardment were successful, it would create a temporary gap in the Union defenses, an area where battered riflemen and depleted artillery crews would be hard-pressed to hold the line while reinforcements were moved in.

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Union artillery holds its position at the Battle of Gettysburg.

(Alfred Waud)

Lee prepared a massive infantry column, the core of the assault coming from Maj. Gen. George Pickett’s 4,500-man division, with about 10,000 more men coming from other brigades, for an attack directly into the Union center. This would break the Army of the Potomac in half and force Union Maj. Gen. George C. Meade to withdraw or allow his men to be cut apart.

Despite the quiet Union guns, despite the massive infantry column, some of the Confederate generals still believed that the infantrymen could not possibly capture the hill. Lt. Gen. James Longstreet was one of the top detractors of the plan, respectfully telling Lee that he didn’t think 15,000 men existed who could take the hill.

He would be proven right. The Union guns had been mostly sheltered by trees and fortifications during the exchange, and they survived the Confederate artillery attack in good order. Many of the guns on Cemetery Ridge were still in perfect order with ready crews manning them.

The 15,000 Confederate troops faced a march with .75 miles of open ground between the last spot of cover and the first Union defenses. For the entire distance, the Union cannon crews could hit them with balls and shot.

In what would become known as Pickett’s Charge, the Confederates came anyway. The artillery shredded their lines, but still, the Confederates advanced. Units faltered and were slaughtered wholesale on the open field, but the Confederates were undeterred. Fences at the start and end of the march had to be climbed or dismantled under fire, but the Confederates came anyway.

Union troops who had suffered devastating losses the year before at the Battle of Fredericksburg were merciless as the Confederate troops fell, yelling “Fredericksburg” at the fallen.

The Confederate troops did make it into infantry range, once charging at Union lines from only 80 yards away, but Union troops behind stone walls, fallen timbers, or raised terrain slaughtered even these attackers.

In total, Union forces lost 1,500 soldiers. The Confederate losses are estimated to have been over 6,000. The day featured what was, by some measurements, the greatest artillery exchange in Western Hemisphere history. It was an easy contender, by most measures, as the top exchange of the Civil War.

But it had failed to carry the day, failed to achieve its objective.

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