Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

It may surprise modern admirers of Finland that the Nordic country did not fight against the Axis during World War II. But their alignment with Hitler wasn’t for territory, ideology, or the persecution of certain ethnicities.


The Finns had one reason for siding with Germany: killing Russians.

And as the war dragged on and the eventual Soviet advance into the Baltics took its toll, the Finns developed a daring strategy of shadowing Russian bombers that had a devastating effect on Moscow’s ability to swallow its western neighbor.

In 1939, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact – the nonaggression agreement between the Nazis and the Soviet Union – contained a secret clause that put Finland in the Soviet sphere of influence. Shortly after, the USSR started negotiating for critical pieces of Finnish territory. A month later, the Russians shelled its own village to make it look like the Finns escalated the conflict.

The Russians then invaded Finland, sparking the so-called “Winter War.”

While the Finns fought the Red Army with tenacity, it was simply too much for the small country. When Russian Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov demanded huge concessions of land and surrender to the exhausted Finnish Army, they had to capitulate.

Finland didn’t stop during the interim peace from March 1940 to June 1941. The Nazis knew what was coming and sent troops to Finland to help them rearm and prepare. When Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of Russia, the Finns moved with German forces. Stalin counterattacked with air raids on Finnish cities, but the Finns were on the offensive.

 

After the German defeat at Stalingrad, Finland was rebuffed by the Red Army and pushed back to its 1940 positions. In February 1944, the Russians launched an air raid against Helsinki, the most heavily defended capital at the time (which is saying a lot).

In three waves, Russian bombing runs dropped 20,000 explosives on the capital. Only 3 percent of those actually hit the city. Finland had no night fighters and couldn’t intercept the bombers, even though they knew the Russians were coming.

The Finns had four squadrons of bombers with older, experienced pilots. Finland’s intelligence knew where the Russian bombers were flying from, their radio communication, how Red Army pilots operated, and all their tactics.

With that intel, the Finnish Air Forces designed a daring scheme.

In February 1944, Finnish aircraft covertly slipped into Russian bomber formations flying under blackout conditions over the Gulf of Finland. The Finns had very different planes than the Russians, but even when the Russians turned on their navigation lights when they entered friendly airspace, the Finns just played along.

No one noticed.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

A Finnish Air Force Dornier DO-17 Bomber from the era. Finland fielded 5 of these during WWII.

One by one, the returning Soviet bombers landed at Levashovo airfield. As the last squadron – the Finns – approached,  they opened their bomb bays instead of their landing gear and dropped 80 bombs on the unsuspecting Russians.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia
Russian airmen in front of a Soviet B-25 Mitchell bomber.

The attack was such a success that the tactic was repeated on subsequent Soviet bombing runs. Finland’s pilots joined returning Russian formations and right before landing, hit the airfield with everything they could. For months, these attacks decimated the Russian airfields along the Finnish border and night raids slowly began to dwindle as the tactic took its toll.

While the RAF was known to attempt this tactic with single fighters, no one in World War II ever attempted to join enemy bomber formations in such numbers or with such access as Finland had against the Soviet Union.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These letters home give a peek at life in Vietnam War

Letters are a very personal and specific method of communicating, filled with all the details about feelings and moments that would get left out of official reports and summaries. That’s why they’re so loved by historians.


Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

Military police escort a captured Viet Cong fighter during the Tet Offensive.

(U.S. Army Don Hirst)

In these letters from the U.S. Army Heritage Education Center, a man identified as “Cofty” writes to his family about his experiences fighting in the jungles and front lines of Vietnam.

The first letter comes from Feb. 2, 1968, near the start of the Tet Offensive. The author and his unit were part of forces sent to counter the North Vietnamese attacks which had slammed into major U.S. posts at Long Binh and Bien Hoa. Saigon was also already under attack.

Though the writer couldn’t know it at the time, his unit was quite successful in driving the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong forces back, and attacks on Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would cease the same day he wrote this letter.

(The author mistakenly put that his unit moved out on the 31st of December. The post-it notation on the letter is to amend “December” to “January.” The letter was written on February 2, 1968.)

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia
Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

The attack on the prisoner of war camp resulted in about 26 North Vietnamese dead and no U.S. or South Vietnamese casualties. There were at least two platoons involved in the fighting there, an infantry platoon and a cavalry platoon. It seems that the author was likely part of the cavalry platoon as, in an earlier letter available below, he refers to his squadron and his troop. Troops and squadrons are unit types predominantly used in cavalry organizations.

(A cavalry troop is roughly the same size as an infantry company, and a cavalry squadron is roughly the same size as an infantry battalion.)

While Bien Hoa Air Base and Long Binh Post would be relatively safe within hours of this letter being completed, attacks would continue across the front for months, including in Saigon where an embassy was partially overrun and then re-secured.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

Marines push through the alleys of Hue City in February 1968, attempting to retake areas seized by Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces during the Tet Offensive.

(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. W. F. Dickman)

North Vietnamese forces launched approximately 120 attacks during the surprise offensive, greatly overstretching their forces and creating a situation where U.S. and South Vietnamese forces could quickly counterattack and retake the ground.

The offensive resulted in a large military defeat for the North Vietnamese, but early successes by the communist forces broke American morale at home, and the NVA achieved a major strategic victory despite their severe losses.

The other letter from this young soldier is dated January 19, a few weeks before the Tet Offensive began. It provides a little more “day-in-the-life” as the author details what search and destroy missions were, where his unit was located, and how hard it was to fight in the jungles near Cambodia.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia
Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia
MIGHTY HISTORY

This fighter pilot shot down more than 20 enemy aircraft, earning him the title ‘Quad Jungle Ace’

Sitting in the driver’s seat with his foot on the gas, Major Gerald “Jerry” Johnson drove to the Alert Tent in the early morning hours of Oct. 13, 1943, as jeeps carrying other pilots from the 9th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group, Fifth Air Force trailed in a column behind. On his mind were the names of other pilots who were lost in a mission the night before, friends of his with whom he had shared pancakes in the mornings and gambled his valuables away in late-night poker games. They were briefed on the mission and sat around for hours in boredom at Horanda Air Field, a large stretch of land that was formerly just another patch in the New Guinea jungle.

When Johnson and his squadron of eight P-38 Lightnings were alerted, they took to the air to intercept a massive aerial convoy of 18 dive bombers supported by 20 agile fighters. They were outnumbered and outgunned, but Johnson wasn’t entirely concerned about that as all he could focus on was reaching the enemy before they dropped their payload over Oro Bay, an advanced military shipping installation.


Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

9th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group. Squadron posing in front of a P-38 Lightning commemorating the first USAAF pilots to land and operate in the Philippines after the landing on Leyte, October 1944. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As his plane climbed through the clouds, the bombers came closer into his sights. He maneuvered his aircraft and issued orders over the radio to communicate their approach. The Japanese were unaware that they were being trailed in the air when Johnson and his squadron ambushed the enemy, walking his rounds from the nose of the aircraft into one of the dive bombers, igniting the plane’s fuselage.

Black smoke and a flash of flames burst through the plane’s side as the bomber plummeted out of the sky. The Japanese zeros peeled off, and an all-out dogfight ensued. On numerous passes, Johnson evaded the tracers shot by Japanese fighters, diving and climbing, rolling and tilting before his rounds struck and downed a second enemy bomber. Their surprise attack netted him three aerial victories, two bombers and one enemy fighter, a solid day’s work that impeded the enemy formation from reaching its target.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

A P-38 Lightning prepares to land after flying a heritage flight with the F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter April 3, 2016, during the Luke Air Force Base air show, 75 Years of Airpower. Photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller/U. S. Air Force, courtesy of DVIDS.

The large enemy force diverted away from their intended target as Johnson’s small but ferocious display of aerial finesse surprised and overwhelmed the Japanese. For his actions on this day he was awarded his first of two Distinguished Service Crosses. In his following tours, Johnson was a nightmare for the Japanese in the Pacific, earning 22 aerial victories with 21 probables to secure his status as a quadruple ace (five aerial victories are required to achieve “ace” status).

Sadly, while on a courier mission after the war, the B-17 or B-25 he was in entered severe weather, and a violent mixture of rain, lightning, and turbulence knocked out all radio communications. One of the passengers neglected to bring along a parachute, and knowing the consequences of giving up his own, Johnson handed it to the passenger, who then bailed out of the plane. Everyone with a parachute was rescued and survived, while Johnson fought with the controls until he perished. Accounts vary as to whether he was the pilot or a passenger on the plane.

Johnson’s remains were lost with the rest of the aircraft. Since he wasn’t on a combat mission, his heroic last act on Oct. 7, 1945, did not warrant a posthumous Purple Heart; however, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for heroism at the risk of life in a non-combat-related incident. A hero in the sky even on his final flight. Gerald R. Johnson is sometimes confused with Gerald W. Johnson, another ace pilot during World War II, but the latter’s aerial dominance was in the European Theater and not the Pacific.

Butch O’Hare: The Irish-American Who Became the US Navy’s First Combat Ace

www.youtube.com

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


MIGHTY HISTORY

The insane way Vlad the Impaler turned back an enemy army

In 1462, the prince of a small area called Wallachia went to war with arguably the most powerful military force on the planet at the time, led by one of the greatest military minds of the time. The one thing that the prince knew for certain was he would need an extraordinary plan to stay alive and keep his principality from being conquered.

That prince was Vlad III, the Impaler and he was going up against Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire, fresh from his resounding victory over the Byzantines, relegating the once-great Roman Empire to the history books, once and for all.


Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

Can’t blame him for feeling cocky, I guess.

In just 53 days, Mehmed II earned the title “Fatih” – or Conqueror – by doing what no Ottoman Sultan before him could: bringing down the vaunted walls of Constantinople and an end to the Byzantine Empire. Now all of Europe was open to the Ottoman Turks, and one of the closest principalities to the new Ottoman Empire was Romania and its small provincial fiefdoms. The Turks would exert their influence by first charging the un-Islamic a jizya, the tax for not being a follower of Mohammed. When Prince Vlad III of Wallachia refused to pay, Mehmed set out to teach him a lesson.

But Vlad Tepes wasn’t about to sit around and wait for the Ottoman Sultan’s tens of thousands of men to come lay waste to his small lands.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

You can probably guess what’s coming.

After a long cat and mouse game, the sultan decided to send an envoy as bait for an ambush. But Vlad got wind of the plot and ambushed the ambush in one of the first European uses of handguns. He took the Turkish uniforms, disguised himself, and moved to the nearest Turkish fortress and simply ordered them to open the gates in Turkish. When they did, Vlad slaughtered the defenders and destroyed the fortress. Then he went on a rampage.

Vlad invaded neighboring Bulgaria and began to split his army up to cover more ground. They systematically rounded up Turkish sympathizers and captured troops in a 500-mile area and slaughtered them. Vlad reckoned killing more than 23,000, not counting those he burned in their own homes. He then routed an Ottoman invasion force 18,000 strong under Mehmed’s Grand Vizier. Only 8,000 walked away from the battle. Mehmed was pissed and decided to go take care of Vlad personally.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

Vlad Tepes, seen here, calling his shot.

The sultan assembled an army so large, historians repeatedly lost count trying to keep it all together. Mehmed requested an army of at least 150,000 men but what he got was anywhere between 300,000 to 400,000 and a naval force to sail up the Danube with them. With this force arrayed against him, Vlad freaked out. He asked the King of Hungary for help, and when none came, he conscripted women and children to fight for him. In the end, he amassed an army about one-tenth the size of the Ottoman invaders. Vlad needed some way to level the playing field and scare the sultan back to Constantinople. When the Ottoman Army closed in on him, he got his chance.

The Impaler poisoned wells and destroyed anything of use that Mehmed might capture. He also sent men infected with the plague and other diseases into the Ottoman ranks to infect as many as possible. But still, the enemy made their way to Târgoviște, where their first night in camp turned out to be an unforgettable one. Vlad and his men infiltrated the camp and wreaked havoc on its sleeping men. As the Wallachians slaughtered the now-confused Turks, Vlad attempted to assassinate the sultan in his tent, missing and hitting the tents of his viziers instead.

But that’s not what drove the sultan out of Wallachia.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

You can probably guess what’s coming.

Sultan Mehmed’s elite Janissaries pursued the Wallachians and managed to inflict casualties numbering in the thousands. The rest of the army pressed on the Wallachia’s capital, prepared to lay siege to the city and destroy it. But instead of a fortified citadel, the Turks found the gates of the city wide open. Inside, as they rode around, they were treated to a “forest of the impaled” along the roadside. Vlad impaled some 20,000 more enemy soldiers and sympathizers. Historical accounts aren’t clear on the sultan’s reaction, if he was horrified or impressed, but they do agree Mehmed decided to leave Wallachia the very next day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

The USS Philadelphia, a 1,240-ton, 36-gun sailing frigate, was built by the residents of Philadelphia who collected $100,000 to fund her construction during one week in June 1798. She was completed in November 1799 and was commissioned under the command of Capt. Stephen Decatur Sr.


Three years later, during the First Barbary War, the Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli harbor and was captured. A year after that, Capt. Decatur’s son, Lt. Stephen Decatur Jr., devised a plan to keep the enemy from using the ship.

He was going to board her and retake her.

British Lord ­Horatio Nelson, then a vice admiral, would call the raid that followed “the most bold and daring act of the Age.” It would also make Lt. Decatur a national hero in the fledgling United States — its first military hero since the Revolution.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia
Lt. Stephen Decatur

As darkness fell on Feb. 16, 1804, Lt. Decatur and eighty volunteers, most of whom were Marines, sailed into Tripoli harbor aboard the USS Intrepid, a captured Tripolitan ship that had been disguised with short masts and triangular sails. She flew a British flag. On her deck were Sicilian volunteers who spoke Arabic while the Marines, dressed as Maltese sailors and Arab seamen, huddled below decks. The Intrepid had sailed with the USS Syren, which remained outside the harbor but would supply supporting fire if needed.

To avoid calling attention to the raid, the Marines were told that the use of firearms was prohibited.

As the Intrepid approached the Philadelphia, one of the Arabic-speaking volunteers called out that their ship had lost her anchors. They wanted to use the harbor to rig a replacement but needed a place to tie up for the night. Before her capture in 1803, the Philadelphia’s commander, Commodore William Bainbridge, had jettisoned some of the ship’s guns and three anchors, moved other guns forward, and had had her foremast cut down in an unsuccessful attempt to free her from the reef she was on. He had then tried to scuttle the ship but that, too, failed, and he and his crew became prisoners.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia
Commodore William Bainbridge

Bainbridge later called his capture “humiliating.”

The Philadelphia had not yet been fully repaired, and her upper yardarms and sails had also been removed.

The guard aboard the Philadelphia gave the disguised Intrepid permission to tie up alongside. When she did, Decatur yelled “Board!” He and his volunteers flooded aboard the captured US vessel armed with pikes and cutlasses.

“Not a man had been seen or heard to breathe a moment before,” the Intrepid’s Surgeon Mate Lewis Heermann later wrote; “at the next, the boarders hung on the ship’s side like cluster bees; and, in another instant, every man was on board the frigate.”

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia
Decatur boarding Philadelphia

In ten minutes of bloody, hand-to-hand fighting, the US volunteers killed twenty of the Tripolitan crew and captured one. The rest had fled the ship by jumping overboard. One American had been wounded.

Decatur had hoped to sail the Philadelphia out of the harbor after he had taken her but quickly realized that’d be impossible because of her condition. He also realized the smaller Intrepid would not be able to tow the Philadelphia. To keep the ship from being used against American vessels, there was only one alternative and his orders had been clear: If he couldn’t bring her out of the harbor, he was to burn her.

Decatur’s men fired the ship.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia
They burned it well.

As the flames grew, the Americans returned to the Intrepid. Lt. Decatur was the last man to leave the Philadelphia, which he did with a dramatic leap into the Intrepid’s rigging.  As the Intrepid pulled away and headed toward the harbor entrance, the flames spread throughout the Philadelphia. The guns still aboard her, which were primed and ready, began firing in the heat, some of the discharges striking the town. The ship also began drifting as her ropes gave way. She finally grounded herself, still burning, on rocks near the entrance to the harbor. By then, the enemy in the town had realized what was happening and began firing on the Intrepid from the shore and preparing to launch small boats.

The American Syren replied with fire from the harbor mouth as Decatur and the Intrepid sailed out of the harbor, the American crew cheering.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Mighty Women: The disguised female soldiers of the Civil War

When we think of defining women’s rights movements, many cite women’s suffrage of the 20s or the explosion of female empowerment during the 60s and 70s. But in America, it started much sooner. 

As far back as the Revolutionary War women were found to have supported combat efforts, many alongside their husbands. Margaret Corbin was one of them and was critically wounded fighting after her husband was killed beside her. Corbin was the first female to receive a military pension for her efforts during the war. 

Women during this time were expected to relish their role in the home. It was also unbecoming for women to travel alone, unless she wanted to be thought of as “loose” or risk her safety. Historians believe there were many more instances of women disguising themselves as men than realized, for those reasons alone. 

The Civil War saw women go even farther and harder, regularly (and with increasing numbers) disguising themselves as men to fight alongside their countrymen. When the war began, thousands of women volunteered as nurses. Historians have discovered as many as a 1,000 women may have fought in every major conflict of the war itself. 

Those who were discovered were sent home, imprisoned or even institutionalized. They did it in spite of personal risk in order to serve their country. For these women, patriotism was more important than anything else.

Sarah Edmonds was one of them. Early on she used an alias and traveled as a man in order to work and earn a living. She was reportedly an ardent abolitionist and when the war broke out she was ready to risk it all. Edmonds mustered into the 2nd Michigan Infantry as Franklin Thompson on May 25, 1861.

During her time with the Union, she’d become a spy and participate in numerous battles, one which left her with life-long injuries. After a bout with Malaria two years later which left her fearful of being discovered, she made the decision to leave. Edmonds spent the rest of the Civil War as a nurse. Decades later she’d win the battle of earning her pension. 

civil war
State Archives of Michigan / 02255

Frances Clayton is another remarkable story of courage. When she enlisted as a man into the Union Army, it was alongside her husband. They traveled from Minnesota to Missouri to do so, hoping they could disguise her true identity. Posing as Jack Williams, they fought side by side for the regiment. When her husband was killed in action, reports revealed she stepped over his body to continue fighting. 

Another notable story was the one of Albert Cashier who was born Jennie Hodgers. Cashier fought in more than 40 different battles and continued to live as a man when the war was over. When his former comrades found out the truth, they rallied behind him in support. Upon Cashier’s death in 1915, he was buried in uniform and with full military honors.

civil war
Albert Cashier, formerly Jennie Hodgers

Despite the challenges and risk associated with posing as a man during these times, it was apparently easy. This was mainly due to so many underage boys who were allowed to sign up, it was easy for women to pass as bare faced teenagers. The physical fitness requirements were also minimal, at the time.  

Clara Barton is perhaps one of the most well-known women of the time. Although she would eventually become the founder of the American Red Cross, she was also known as the “angel of the battlefield.” She continually nursed the wounded and risked her life repeatedly to bring soldiers supplies. 

Barton was quoted to say that it was the events of the Civil War which pushed the women’s rights movement forward 50 years and opened the doors to the changes so desperately needed. 

The true number of disguised female soldiers will never be known but what is recognized is their undeniable impact on the war efforts. It was their courage which paved the way for women to openly serve their country. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us not forget the female veterans hundreds of years ago who made it all possible.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Nope, ‘God & The 3 Mistakes’ is not what happened after Pearl Harbor

I’m known among my friends as a bit of a heartless cynic (#NotPopularAtParties #PleaseStopInvitingMe #HowManyOfTheseDoIHaveToRuinToBeLeftAlone). Maybe that’s why We Are The Mighty’s president and CMO, U.S. Air Force veteran Mark Harper, sent me this heartwarming story about Admiral Nimitz arriving at Pearl Harbor after the attack.

But then, I ruined it.


Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, a bold and brave man too busy being optimistic for your “history facts” or his own notes.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

The story is entitled God and the 3 Mistakes, and it makes the rounds on the internet every once in a while. Here’s a version of it from armchairgeneral.com:

Tour boats ferry people out to the USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii every thirty minutes. We just missed a ferry and had to wait thirty minutes. I went into a small gift shop to kill time. In the gift shop, I purchased a small book entitled, “Reflections on Pearl Harbor” by Admiral Chester Nimitz.

Sunday, December 7th, 1941 — Admiral Chester Nimitz was attending a concert in Washington D.C. He was paged and told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the phone. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Admiral Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume command of the Pacific Fleet. He landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941. There was such a spirit of despair, dejection and defeat–you would have thought the Japanese had already won the war. On Christmas Day, 1941, Adm. Nimitz was given a boat tour of the destruction wrought on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. Big sunken battleships and navy vessels cluttered the waters every where you looked.

As the tour boat returned to dock, the young helmsman of the boat asked, “Well Admiral, what do you think after seeing all this destruction?” Admiral Nimitz’s reply shocked everyone within the sound of his voice. Admiral Nimitz said, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make, or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?”

Shocked and surprised, the young helmsman asked, “What do mean by saying the Japanese made the three biggest mistakes an attack force ever made?” Nimitz explained:

Mistake number one: the Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk–we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

Mistake number two: when the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking those battleships, they never once bombed our dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow every one of those ships to America to be repaired. As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks, and we can have them repaired and at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.

Mistake number three: every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is in top of the ground storage tanks five miles away over that hill. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply. That’s why I say the Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make or God was taking care of America.

I’ve never forgotten what I read in that little book. It is still an inspiration as I reflect upon it. In jest, I might suggest that because Admiral Nimitz was a Texan, born and raised in Fredricksburg, Texas –he was a born optimist. But anyway you look at it–Admiral Nimitz was able to see a silver lining in a situation and circumstance where everyone else saw only despair and defeatism.

President Roosevelt had chosen the right man for the right job. We desperately needed a leader that could see silver linings in the midst of the clouds of dejection, despair and defeat.

There is a reason that our national motto is, IN GOD WE TRUST.
Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

Look, an optimistic photo of a re-floated battleship. Let’s all go get coffee and not read the rest of this.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Stop here to remain happy. No? Alrighty, then.

Was that heartwarming and satisfying for you? Good. Stop reading. Go away. Be happy. Don’t let my factual poison into your soul. Ignore the holes and historical discrepancies and return to the world as a satisfied human being.

Or, let’s go through this together and destroy joy.

(Author’s note: For some of the debunking done here, we’re turning directly to Adm. Nimitz’ notes from December, 1941, compiled in his “gray book,” which the Navy put on the internet in 2014. Citations to that document will be made with a parenthetical hyperlink that will give the PDF page, not the printed page number. So, “(p. 71)” refers to his December 17 “Running Summary of Situation” that is page 71 of the PDF, but has the page numbers 9 and 67 printed on the bottom.)

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Navy Adm. Chester W. Nimitz.

(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

That phone call on December 7 didn’t happen

First: “Sunday, December 7th, 1941 — Admiral Chester Nimitz was … told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

Nope. At the time, no one knew exactly what had happened or who to blame, and Adm. Husband E. Kimmel was still very much in charge. How screwed up would it have been if Roosevelt’s first action, while the fuel dumps were still burning and sailors were still choking to death on oil, was to fire the guy in command on the ground rather than shifting supplies and men to the problem or, you know, investigating what happened?

The bulk of the losses at Pearl weren’t even announced until December 15 (p. 51) because no one, even at Pearl, could be sure of the extent of the damage while the attack was ongoing.

In reality, Nimitz wasn’t ordered to Hawaii until December 17, the same day that Kimmel was told he would be relieved (p. 71).

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

National ensign flies from the USS West Virginia during the Pearl Harbor attack.

(U.S. Navy)

No, it wouldn’t have been worse if the Japanese had lured the ships to sea

The single most non-sensical claim in this story is that Nimitz was glad Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack.

Mistake number one: the Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and been sunk–we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

What? Nimitz thought he would’ve lost more men if the Japanese had lured them into a fight near the island? Does anyone believe that he had that little belief in the skills of his men?

If the Japanese had tried to lure the American ships to sea, we would’ve only sent the ones ready to fight, with full ammo loads and readied guns with crews. We would’ve tried to recall the carriers conducting exercises at sea. Yes, losing 38,000 sailors is worse than 3,800, but we’ve never lost 3,800 in a fair fight.

At the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway, the U.S. took combined losses of about 1,000 killed while inflicting losses against Japan of about 4,000. At the Battle of Savo Island, “the worst defeat ever inflicted on the United States Navy in a fair fight,” according to Samuel Morison, the U.S. lost 1,100 sailors.

Meanwhile, at Pearl, the U.S. lost over 2,000 killed while inflicting less than 100 enemy deaths. Who the hell would be glad it was a surprise attack?

In his notes on Samoa dated December 17, Nimitz specifically cites Japan’s use of surprise as to why it had been so successful (p. 64).

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

The largest fuel dumps at Pearl Harbor did survive the attack, but they weren’t enough.

(U.S. Navy)

Yes, Japan did ravage America’s fuel dumps and hit drydocks

Nimitz, when he got the actual call on December 17, quickly tied up his duties in Washington, D.C., and reported to Pearl Harbor. (He arrived Christmas Day, not Christmas Eve.)

There, he found an island still burning and heavily damaged. The Japanese planes absolutely did hit fuel dumps at Pearl Harbor. They hit drydocks as well, heavily damaging three destroyers that were in the docks at the time.

Luckily, Pearl Harbor didn’t have “every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war” in December 1941 as the story says, but the other dumps were under attack as Nimitz was supposedly giving this pep talk. Fuel dumps on the Philippines and Wake Island were destroyed or isolated by the Japanese attack in the days and weeks following December 7.

(Seriously, how would you even run a Pacific fleet if your only gas station was in Hawaii? That would mean ships patrolling around the Philippines and Australia would need to travel 10,000 miles and over three weeks out of their way every time they needed to refuel.)

It is true, though, that Japan failed to hit the largest and most important fuel tank farms on Pearl and didn’t destroy the doors to the drydocks. That was a major strategic error on the part of the Japanese.

But, what damage was done to these facilities was important, changing the strategic calculation for America at every turn.

On December 17, Nimitz wrote a plan to reinforce Samoa that specifically cited the lack of appropriate fuel dumps being ready or filled at Pearl or Samoa (p. 63 and 70). It even mentioned how bad it was to shift a single oiler from replenishing Pearl to getting ships to Samoa. The fuel situation was dire, and Nimitz knew it.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

Two heavily damaged U.S. destroyers sit in a flooded drydock. Both destroyers were scrapped and the drydock was damaged, but it did return to service by February 1942.

(U.S. Navy)

The ship repair situation was worse

If the fuel situation was bad, the repair situation was worse. Drydocks were attacked during the battle. Two ships were destroyed in Drydock number one, and Floating Drydock number 2 was sunk after sustaining damage. Both were back in operation by February 1942.

Other drydocks were safe or only lightly damaged and were up and running by the time Nimitz arrived at Pearl. Yes, that’s a big deal logistically. But that still left too few drydocks for the sheer number of ships heavily damaged in the attack.

But the number of drydocks wasn’t the biggest factor in whether a ship could be repaired at Pearl, because there weren’t nearly enough supplies and skilled laborers in and around the harbor, anyways. Capt. Homer N. Wallin, the head of the salvage effort from January 1942 onward, lamented shortages of firefighting equipment, lumber, fastenings, welders, carpenters, mechanics, engineers, and pumps for the duration of salvage.

That’s why three battleships left Pearl Harbor for repairs on the West Coast on December 20, and ships were heading back to the continent for repairs as late as the end of 1942, nearly a year after the attack, because drydocks had insufficient space or supplies to repair them on site.

In fact, in his history written in 1968, Wallin specifically remembers Nimitz touring the wrecks on Dec. 31, 1941, and being pessimistic about repairs, especially the viability of the USS Nevada. The Nevada was back in combat less than a year later, despite Nimitz’ pessimism.

But the worst problem facing Pearl Harbor was invasion

But the most naive claim of this entire story is that Nimitz was optimistic as to the situation in December 1941. His actual notes from the period paint a much grimmer picture of his mind.

In the wee hours of December 17, hours before Nimitz was ordered to replace Kimmel, Nimitz sent Kimmel a message on behalf of himself and Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox. Kimmel was ordered to “reconsider” his beliefs that Pearl Harbor was safe from further attack (p. 74).

Knox and Nimitz wanted Kimmel to keep ships out of the harbor as much as possible, to reinforce defensive positions. Most importantly:

Every possible means should be devised and executed which will contribute to security against aircraft or torpedo or gun attack of ships, aircraft and shore facilities [on Hawaii];

Given that Nimitz was actively cautioning about how vulnerable Pearl Harbor was on December 17, it would be odd for him to feel cocky and optimistic on December 25 (the earliest he could have actually taken this supposed boat tour).

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

Adm. Chester W. Nimitz pins the Navy Cross on Doris Miller at Pearl Harbor on May 27, 1942.

(Library of Congress)

But he was still a great leader

The fact is, Nimitz was not some famed optimist. He was a realist. And he was in command of a fleet crippled by a sneak attack but backed by the most industrialized nation in the world in the 1940s. American industrial might was so strong that, by the end of the war, the U.S. was producing half of all industrial goods and weapons in the world. And the Japanese had failed to hit the submarines, something that did give Nimitz hope.

While it took most of 1942 and 1943 to fully ramp up America’s wartime production, the seeds were all in place in 1941 thanks to Roosevelt’s Cash-and-Carry and Lend-Lease policies. Nimitz was no fool. He knew he could win, even though the challenge facing him on Christmas 1941 was still daunting.

We can honor him, the sailors lost at Pearl Harbor, and the stunning achievements of the greatest generation without sharing suspect anecdotes about a Christmas Eve boat ride.

(As an added side note: The book this story supposedly came from wasn’t actually by Nimitz, it’s an “oral history” by William H. Ewing. And it was published five years after Nimitz died. Maybe it is a faithful account of Nimitz’ words at some point, but it doesn’t match his notes or the tactical situation in 1941.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

World War II sniper rifles were often updated World War I models made better with new telescopic sights and upgrades to make them more easily employed in combat.


These relatively minor improvements to the weapons made the snipers much more dangerous in combat, and sharpshooters were able to make an outsized impact on the conflict, tying down enemy units and picking off key players. Here are four of the weapons used by the major powers in Europe:

The Springfield ’03 sniper

 

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A U.S. soldier holds a camouflaged Springfield 1903 sniper rifle during World War I. (Photo: U.S. Army via Imperial War Museum)

 

The Springfield Model 1903 began its career as a standard infantry rifle, but its accuracy and reliability led to the creation of a sniper variant that was basically the same except the iron sites were gone and permanent mountings for telescopic sights were placed instead. The bolt-action weapon used a five-round internal magazine.

The Mauser 98 sniper

The Mauser ’98 sniper rifle was one of the first to use a long-eye relief scope where the optic — usually a 4x magnification but some models had a piddly 1.5x — sits more than five inches from the shooter’s eye. The weapon as a whole had a revolutionary design that was copied by others across the world. German troops carried it in both world wars, but many other countries have used it.

The Lee-Enfield

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Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1 in 1942. (Photo: British War Office Capt. Horton)

 

Like most World War II rifles, the Lee-Enfield No. 4 was simply an updated World War I design. But the No. 4 was lighter, more reliable, and more infantry friendly than its predecessors. The British military fielded a sniper version with a 3.5x telescopic sight. The Australians used the older No. 1 model for their sniper conversions.

Mosin-Nagant

 

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The famous Soviet sniper Roza Shanina poses with her Mosin-Nagant 1891/30 rifle. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Soviet version of the Mosin-Nagant was a 1930 update of an enormously successful 1891 weapon. In 1932, the Soviets began modifying new Mosin-Nagants as sniper weapons by reconfiguring the handles to receive telescopic sights and lighter triggers. While the stocks warped in some weather, its accuracy made it a choice of snipers on both sides of the conflict anyway.

Check out the Weaponology video below to learn more about these weapons. The rifle portion begins at 2:47.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 things you didn’t know about trench clubs

Rifles, grenades, and bayonets are just some of the weapons ground troops used while fighting in the trenches of World War I. However, there’s one weapon that’s often overlooked by history, even though its use was extremely important — especially in the close-quarters combat typical of The Great War. That is the trench club.


In the event that one force decided to raid their enemy’s trench, oftentimes, their bolt-action rifles were rendered near ineffective, as each shot was followed by spending precious seconds reloading. Similarly, stabbing a man with a bayonet requires that, before engaging another enemy, you must first withdraw the blade from the bad guy’s flesh. Every single moment matters when you’ve closed in on the enemy, and regaining a firm grip on your bayonet may take too long.

So, troops grabbed old pieces of wood and converted them into weapons. The various types of trench clubs used in World War I hearken back to when brave Knights once fought with them on medieval battlefields. Here’s what you didn’t know about these improvised tools of destruction.

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One of the common variations on trench clubs.

(Imperial War Museum)

1. They would commonly see use in night raids

In the black of night, troops would crawl across the dangerous area between friendly and enemy fortifications known as “no man’s land” and navigate through the enemy’s trenches, quietly clubbing their opposers without raising alarm.

Sneaky.

2. Size does matter

Reportedly, a medium-sized club worked best within the confined spaces typical of trench warfare. The average club was approximately 40-centimeters long, which is, basically, the length of a standard classroom ruler plus 3 inches.

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The guts of the Mills’ bomb were removed and mounted on the head of the club.

3. They were made right there on the frontline

Trench clubs weren’t standard issue, so troops would gather materials found in the trenches and either put them together themselves or have unit’s carpenter do it. Nails, the shell of a Mills’ bomb, and a variety metal components were affixed the clubs, usually in mass quantities, to increase lethality.

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See the club on the bottom? Yeah, that’s the spring club.

4. The most famous type of club was the…

…spring club.

This club was made up of a leather handle, a flexible metal coil as the base, and a metal head. Various other heads, like smalls metals balls and star-shaped blades, were also affixed to clubs.

www.youtube.com

Check out Simple History‘s video below to get an animated look on the major impact trench clubs had on World War I.

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World War II vet gets awesome 99th birthday present

Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard served in the Marine Corps during World War II and was wounded in action. But he never lost a love for aviation, also serving in the Air Force and as an airplane mechanic in his civilian life.


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Staff Sgt. Eugene Leonard (Youtube screenshot)

So, for his 99th birthday, one friend decided to pick up the former Marine’s spirits after Leonard became a widower and moved to the Phoenix area, Fox10Phoenix.com reported.

What was selected for that task was another World War II veteran — a restored B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.

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B-17 formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, Aug. 17, 1943. (U.S. Air Force photo)

In a day and age where we lose 492 World War II veterans a day, according to the National World War II Museum, those few remaining are a link to the heroic history of that conflict.

The same can be said for the planes. In this case, one World War II vet was able to give another one a brief pick-me up.

Here is Fox10Phoenix’s report on Staff Sgt. Leonard’s flight:

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This Japanese war movie mixed three Hollywood blockbusters into one

The 2005 film Yamato, released by the Japanese entertainment company Toei, is one most Americans haven’t heard of. In fact, the movie’s production company is best known in America as the source of material for the various incarnations of “Power Rangers” — including a film that comes out in March.


Similarly, not many Americans know much about the battleship Yamato outside of those who follow World War II. Perhaps the biggest following outside those interested in World War II are anime fans, due to the connection with the 1980s cartoon series “Star Blazers” (A re-dub of “Space Battleship Yamato”) and a 2010 live-action-reboot of the Japanese source material.

A 2006 review of the film in Variety, though, may make it worth watching. The reviewer described the film as a cross between “Pearl Harbor” and “Titanic”, and compared the depiction of the air attacks that sank the Japanese super-battleship to the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan” According to CombinedFleet.com, it took less than two hours for the battleship, the world’s largest ever constructed, to be sunk by over 390 U.S. Navy carrier planes.

The DVD of the film is available on Amazon.com, if you are interested in buying it. For those who want to get a taste of this film, watch below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcBW2r8-abk
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the rank of General of the Armies was only given twice in US history

General of the Armies is a rank so high up in the strata of power that only two people in the history of the United States have ever attained it. Keep in mind: This is not General of the Army, it’s plural — all the Armies. Today, it is the equivalent of a six-star general with autonomous authority equal to the Admiral of the Navy, but senior to General of the Army, General of the Air Force, and Fleet Admiral.

How did one attain this an honor and the right to exercise complete control over our Armed Forces? Historically, you either win the War to End All Wars like John Pershing or be George Washington.


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How do you find the guy who went to West Point in a bar? Don’t worry, he’ll tell you.

John J. Pershing graduated West Point in 1886 and was assigned to the 6th Cavalry. In 1890, he went on campaign against the Ghost Dance movement in the Dakota Territory before becoming an instructor of military science at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, a year later. He earned a law degree while teaching there in 1893 and became a tactics instructor at West Point in 1897.

Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

Here is a quick timeline of his military career:

  • 1898 — Pershing returned to service in the Spanish-American War in Cuba as an ordinance officer.
  • 1899 (June) — Pershing was promoted to adjutant general in charge of the Bureau of Insular Affairs.
  • 1899 (November) — Pershing deployed to the Philippines in command of the department of Mindanao.
  • 1901 — Pershing campaigned against the Moros for two years.
  • 1905 — Pershing deployed to Japan as a military attache to the U.S. Embassy.
  • 1906 — Pershing is promoted from captain to brigadier general and returns to the Philippines as the governor of the Moro Province.
  • 1917 — Pershing becomes the commander of the U.S.-Mexican Border.
  • 1917 (April) — U.S. declares war on Germany.
  • 1917 (June) — Pershing is sent to France to gather a ‘General Organization Report’ used to create an Army of one million by 1918 and three million by 1919. US Army strength is 84,000 at the time.
  • 1918 — Pershing concentrates an army almost entirely independent of the allies on the Western Front.
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Don’t talk to me or my son ever again.

The allies strongly advised that the U.S. troops replenish their failing armies instead of marshaling our own in WWI. Allowing this to come to pass meant Americans would be used as cannon fodder during enemy attacks. Pershing strongly defended the idea of keeping the U.S. Army whole, regardless of the desperation of our European allies. The U.S. War Council gave into allied pressure and recommended the amalgamation of U.S. troops into other armies.

Pershing ignored the recommendation. He refused to sacrifice American lives and left the allies to suck it up. It was akin, as he put it, to…

“Pouring new wine into old bottles.” – John J. Pershing
Finland once snuck inside the Soviet air force to bomb Russia

You’re all boots to me.

In 1919, recognizing his achievements and victory after World War I, Pershing became the first person to be promoted to General of the Armies. His insignia became four gold stars but, because of bureaucracy, they were not recognized as an official rank for years. He held this rank for the rest of his career. According to the U.S. Army Center of Military History,

Pershing then retired from the United States Army on September 13, 1924, and retained his rank on the U.S. Army retirement rolls until his death in 1948.”

Years later, in 1976, Congress decided that it was inappropriate that General George Washington was outranked by four- and five-star generals in the nation’s history. Washington retired as a lieutenant ‘three-star’ general and was subsequently out ranked officers of the Civil War, WWI, and WWII, including General Pershing. Something had to be done. America could not allow George Washington to be out ranked — that’s borderline blasphemy — so they did something about it.

On March 13, 1978, Lieutenant General Washington was promoted to General of the Armies, effective July 4th, 1976.

Here’s the text of his posthumous, legislative promotion:

“Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington of Virginia commanded our armies throughout and to the successful termination of our Revolutionary War; Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington presided over the convention that formulated our Constitution; Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington twice served as President of the United States of America; and Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list; Now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That(a) for purposes of subsection (b) of this section only, the grade of General of the Armies of the United States is established, such grade to have rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present.(b) The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.”
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How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Ching Shih was born around 1775 in China and became a prostitute in Canton, a province in southwest China, before marrying a pirate leader, taking over his fleet, and growing it until it was able to destroy a combined fleet of Chinese, British, and Portuguese navy ships as well as Dutch mercenary vessels.


Then she accepted amnesty from the Chinese government and walked away with her ill-gotten fortune and a title as Chinese nobility.

Ching attracted the eye of Zheng Yi Sao — a pirate leader with a fleet of a few hundred ships — when she was 26 years old and working as a prostitute. Zheng became smitten with her and either proposed to her in the brothel or ordered her abducted in a raid. (Both stories have been passed forward in the years since the incident.)

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Ching Shih (Illustration: Public Domain)

Either way, Ching agreed to marriage with a couple of specific requirements, the most important one being that she gain some control over the fleet and a share of its profits.

For the next six years, Ching and Zheng managed the “Red Flag Fleet” together. But Zheng died in a tsunami, leaving Ching in the dangerous position of being a woman atop 600 ships and their crews of outlaws.

Ching quickly struck an accord with Chang Pao, Zheng’s lieutenant and former slave who was granted control of the fleet. Ching and Chang built a new power structure for the Red Flag Fleet and grew it quickly.

Ching focused on the business dealings of the fleet and Chang led the troops in combat. They employed shallow-bottomed boats that attacked coastal villages and conducted raids in rivers while larger junks, the premiere war-fighting and commerce ship in the area at the time, raided merchant shipping and fought the Chinese navy.

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The Chinese Junk Keying. (Illustration: Public Domain)

The really revolutionary part of their partnership was Ching’s economic foresight. She extorted protection payments on a larger scale than most others and she formed a network of farmers, fisherman, and spies to keep the fleet well supplied and informed. Eventually, Ching took over control of the entire Red Flag Fleet from Chang.

The criminal network grew until it consisted of over 1,700 ships and 80,000 pirates. The bulk of the ships were still in the Red Flag Fleet, but many ships were assigned to subordinate commanders who ran the Black, White, Blue, Yellow, and Green fleets.

This massive force posed a serious threat to the Qing dynasty, which ordered a fleet constructed to destroy the pirates. Instead, Ching led the combined fleets out and easily dispatched the government forces.

Ching even captured about 63 of the Chinese ships, more than she lost of her own vessels, and pressed most of the crews into service with her own forces. She won the battle so hard, she came out of it with more forces than when she started.

Unsurprisingly, the emperor took his loss personally and ordered the Chinese navy to challenge her fleet. He enlisted the aid of the British and Portuguese navies in the effort and hired Dutch mercenaries to assist.

For the next two years, Ching’s fleets fought their way through the enemy forces, still gaining power and loot despite the ships arrayed against them.

But the writing was on the wall. The dangerous business would hove to end sooner or later, and Ching wanted her and her pirates well set up for it. Some articles on Ching also point to a conflict between the Red and Black Fleets for what happened next.

The emperor offered an amnesty to draw away many of the pirates working in his territory, and Ching herself took him up on it. But, like when she married Zheng, she required a few additional incentives.

First, nearly all of her workers, from the pirates who engaged in combat to the farmers who supplied them, were to get off without punishment. Second, the government had to provide money to help the pirates transition to shore life.

Third, Ching was to receive a title in the Chinese nobility.

The government caved, and Ching got her list. At the young age of 35, only nine years after escaping a brothel in Canton, Ching was made a member of the nobility and sat on a massive fortune. She opened a gambling house and brothel in China and settled into a semi-quiet retirement.

Chang, meanwhile, wanted to keep his life on the seas and got command of 20 government ships in the deal.

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