This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Born as a slave in February of 1840, William Carney’s father managed to escape and make his way north via the Underground Railroad, ultimately earning the funds to purchase his wife and son’s freedom.


The family moved to Massachusetts, where Carney began to get involved in academics even though laws and restrictions still prevented African Americans from learning how to read or write.

Although pursuing a career in the ministry, once the Civil War erupted, Carney determined the best way he could honor God was by enlisting in the military to help rid the world of oppression.

 

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
William Carney holding his flag. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

In March 1863, Carney entered the Union Army and was assigned to Company C, 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment along with 40 other African American men. This was the first official black unit fighting on behalf of the North.

Carney and the other men were sent to James Island in South Carolina where they would see their first days in combat.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment.

 

On July 18, 1863, the soldiers of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment were led on a charge on Fort Wagner. During the chaos, Carney witnessed the unit’s color guard as he was mortally wounded, nearly dropping their flag to the ground.

Carney, who was also severally injured, dashed toward the falling patriotic symbol and caught it before it touched the dirty ground.

With the flag in his hand, Carney crawled up to the walls of Fort Wagner while motivating his fellow troops to follow his lead. He managed to plant his flag at the base of the fort and angled it upright for display.

Although Carney suffered deadly blood loss, it’s reported he never allowed that flag to touch the ground. This action inspired his fellow troops, and the infantrymen managed to secure the fort.

For his bravery in action, Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor on May 23, 1900, making him the first African American to ever earn the distinguished accolade.

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That time aliens landed in the Soviet Union for a walk in the park

The Russians have a strange history with the Unidentified Flying Objects. While 99 percent of the UFOs encountered by Russia and the Soviet Union over the years were probably American spy planes, they insist that one of them actually landed and its crew decided to step out and stretch their legs.

And then they shot a bunch of children.


In the late 1980s, The New York Times quoted Soviet police Lt. Sergei A. Matveyev, who swore he saw the spaceship, saying that lanky, three-legged creatures landed in a park in the Russian city of Voronezh on Sept. 27, 1989. Some 300 miles from Moscow, citizens of Voronezh reported a deep red ball, around 10 feet in diameter, landing in a park.

It was not an optical illusion,” he told the Russian TASS News Agency. “It was certainly a body flying in the sky. I thought I must be really tired, but I rubbed my eyes and it didn’t go away.”

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Admit that you were thinking about this meme.

 

A hatch opened and out stepped a three-eyed creature that stood nine feet tall and was dressed in silver overalls and bronze boots. It left the ship with a companion and a robot. After taking a triangle formation around the robot, the robot came to life. A boy began to scream in terror. That’s when the stuff hit the fan. With a look, the boy was paralyzed.

The aliens disappeared briefly and returned with “what looked like a gun” and shot the boy, who disappeared. He reappeared later, after the spacecraft had departed. Citizens of the town reported multiple sightings of the ship between Sept. 23 and Sept. 27, but when Soviet investigators came to the scene, their only abnormal finding was elevated levels of radioactive Cesium-23.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

As for the children who witnessed the landing in the park, they were all separated. When asked to draw what they saw that day, they all drew “a banana-shaped object that left behind in the sky the sign of the letter X.” The boy who was abducted could remember nothing about the craft.

The local interior minister said that if the craft appeared again, they would dispatch the Red Army to investigate the event. If the aliens had returned in full force to invade the Soviet Union, they would have met the joint capability of the Soviets along with the United States, as President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev agreed at the 1985 Lake Geneva Summit to join forces against any extraterrestrial invader.

Now read: That time the US and Russia agreed to be allies if aliens attacked Earth

Articles

That time George Washington’s dentures were stolen from a museum

The Smithsonian Institution is one place you’d think relics from America’s founding were safe. The security there must be pretty good, right? Well, tell that to a pair of George Washington’s dentures.


According to a 1982 New York Times article, the false teeth were discovered missing on June 19, 1981, by a curator who had gone to the basement of the American Museum of Natural History. The lower portion of the dentures turned up in a secure area of the Smithsonian in May, 1982. They were made of gold, lead, elephant ivory, and possibly human teeth — not wood, as many people believe.

“We never made any effort to have the value of the gold appraised,” Lawrence E. Taylor, a spokesman for the Smithsonian said. “It would be minuscule compared to the historic value of the teeth.”

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Wooden tooth jokes are as funny as actual wooden teeth.

According to Smithsonian magazine, Washington needed dentures because he’d lost most of his teeth from a combination of bad genes and worse dentistry practices at the time. This lead Washington to take measures to correct the tooth loss, including purchasing teeth from African-Americans, according to the official web site of Mount Vernon.

That site also notes that Washington was sensitive about the state of his teeth and tried to keep his dental condition a secret. Documents show he was particularly embarrassed to find out that the British had intercepted a letter in which he asked for a set of tooth scrapers to be sent to him in New York. That said, the intercepted letter helped mislead the British as to his intentions, ensuring the success of the Yorktown campaign.

 

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
George Washington

According to a timeline at the official site of Mount Vernon, Washington was down to one tooth when he was inaugurated as the first President of the United States in 1789. That tooth would be removed in 1796, before his term of office ended.

To hear Brad Meltzer describe the heist of the dentures, and to get a quick take on the theft, watch the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient directed a counterattack his first time in combat

Soon after graduating high school, Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. joined the Marine Corp Platoon Leaders Course, where he learned various military infantry tactics. Once Barnum earned his degree, he was given an officer’s commission in the Marine Corps Reserves and sent to the gritty jungles of Vietnam in 1965.

On December 18, Barnum and the rest of the Marines were patrolling in the Quảng Tín Province of South Vietnam. Unbeknownst to Barnum and his men, as the Marines moved deep into the enemy territory, they were walking into a vicious trap. The Vietnamese troops had dug themselves into the nearby terrain and waiting as nearly three companies of Marines walked by, headed toward a small village.

Then, a firefight broke out, first striking the Marine’s rear position and moving to the front of the patrol as the grunts entered the enemy-infested village. What happened next, no first-timer would ever expect.


This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Barnum takes a moment for a quick photo op while stationed in Vietnam.

The initial attack severely injured the company commander and the radio operator. This deadly wave was Barnum’s first taste of real combat — and his training kicked in immediately. He went and retrieved the radio, calling for heavy fire support.

Barnum also dashed out of his position to recover the company commander and move him to safety. Moments later, Barnum’s commanding officer died in his arms. With all the men looking for guidance, the young Marine knew it was up to him to assume control and direct a counterattack.

After passing out orders, the Marines laid a curtain of gunfire onto the trench line from which the enemy had so much success earlier. Barnum picked up a rocket launcher and fired it three times at the enemy position. That was the signal the attack Hueys needed.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
U.S. troops load up on a Huey during the Vietnam War.

After running out of rockets, the Marine officer directed the Hueys above towards targets to nail — and that’s just what they did. This airborne attack freed up some terrain, allowing the wounded and the dead to be transported out. Although still surrounded by enemy troops, Barnum choreographed each squad as they moved from the hot zone.

In roughly 45 minutes, the men found safety.

1st Lt. Harvey “Barney” Barnum, Jr. was presented with the Medal of Honor on February 27, 1967, surrounded by his fellow Marines at the barracks.

MIGHTY CULTURE

This is the history for each branch’s battle cry

It’s a general call to action. The formation snaps to attention and the unit shouts out their branch’s battle cry. It gets used as a general stand-in for regular words and the listener can often pick up context clues to infer what the word replaces. Soldiers can respond to most things with a simple “hooah” and their leader can assume they’re saying either “yes,” “no,” “I don’t really want to, but whatever,” or “screw you,” all from a single, guttural grunt.

Though each branch’s battle cry sounds similar, they different meanings and vastly different origins. Because there are no official records of the exact moment a word was first uttered, many of these have multiple origins. What follows are the most agreed upon.


Before we dive in, you’ll probably notice that the Air Force doesn’t really have one. Some civilian sites say that airmen use the Army’s “Hooah” and most vets will joke that it’s actually something silly like, “hip-hip-hooray!” To be honest, for all intents and purposes, the Air Force doesn’t really need one. Besides, they’ve always been the ones to side-step military tradition in favor of modelling themselves after the civilian workforce.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

And now it’s the name of an energy bar…

​(Photo by Beatrice Murch)

“Hooah” — U.S. Army

There are many conflicting accounts of the origins of “Hooah.” Some say that it originates from the Second Seminole War in 1841 when the peace agreement was made between the 2nd Dragoons and the Seminole Chief. The chief, who spoke little English, offered them a toast and said “Hough” — which was misinterpreted to mean “How d’ye do.”

The term also has roots in the jump just before D-Day when General Cota, the 29th Division’s commander, asked a 2nd Bat. Ranger where their commanding officer was. In response, the confused ranger shouted, “Who? Us?” The general could only hear “Hooah” through all the loud wind buzzing past them. Cota thought it was some cool Ranger saying and it kind of stuck.

But the most accepted origin is that it’s simply the acronym for “Heard, Understood, Acknowledged.”

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

The term was solidified when the late, great Gunny Ermey used it and it became a pop culture staple of the Marine Corps.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

“Oorah” — U.S. Marine Corps

Again, people offer all kinds of origin stories for the word, “oorah.” Some say it’s a butchering of the 16th century German word for “hurry.” Other say it’s an adaptation of the Turkish word for “kill.” Others say it comes from WWII, when injured Marines were treated in northern Australia. There, they’d spend a lot of time around the locals as they healed. That part of Australia used, “Ohh, rah.” as slang for “goodbye.”

However, according to Marine Corps lore, it is credited to Former Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps John Massaro who imitated a submarine’s dive siren of “Aarugha.” He later became a drill instructor and used it with his recruits who then passed it on to the rest of the Corps.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Even today, it’s only really Naval officers who unabashedly use it.

(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Lenny LaCrosse)

“Hooyah” — U.S. Navy

The Navy’s “hooyah” is the onomatopoeia for a siren going off. It’s that loud, obnoxious “gaHooyuh” that sailors would hear before manning battle stations.

As much as conventional sailors have tried to hijack the saying in the 90s, it actually belonged to the SEALs, Navy EOD, and deep-sea divers at first — but mostly the SEALs. This still leads to some awkwardness from regular sailors who aren’t sure if they’re allowed to shout it or not.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

“Hoorah” really is filled more symbolism befitting the seabees’ and corpsmen’s role to the Marine Corps.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Owen Kimbrel)

“Hoorah” — U.S. Navy Corpsman, Master-at-Arms, Seabees (and, occasionally, Marines)

Despite how most soldiers, airmen, and the occasional Marine think, “Hoorah” is more of a green-side Navy thing and not exactly a Marine thing — note the distinctive lack of an “H,” as found in the standard Marines’ version.

It’s a mix of the Marine’s “Oorah” and the sailor’s “Hooyah” all rolled into one. It’s a fitting battle cry seeing as how Seabees and Corpsman spend most of their time working side-by-side with Marines, but are still sailors. Some say it’s an acronym for “heard, understood, recognized, and acknowledged,” but this could also be a backronym, modeled after the Army’s version.

MIGHTY HISTORY

See how the Army evacuates wounded working dogs

Look, you all know what military working dogs are. Whether you’re here because they’re adorable, because they save lives, because they bite bad guys, or because they bite bad guys and save lives while being adorable, we all have reasons to love these good puppers. And the military protects these warriors, even evacuating them when necessary.


And so that brings us to the above video and photos below. Because, yes, these evacuations can take place on helicopters, and that requires a lot of training. Some of it is standard stuff. The dogs can ride on normal litters and in normal helicopters. But medics aren’t always ready for a canine patient, and the doggos have some special needs.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Military Working Dog Medical Care Training

(U.S. Army courtesy photo)

One of the most important needs particular to the dogs is managing their anxiety. While some humans get uncomfortable on a ride in the whirly bird (the technical name for a helicopter), it’s even worse for dogs who don’t quite understand why they’re suddenly hundreds of feet in the sky while standing on a shaking metal plate.

So the dogs benefit a lot just from helicopter familiarization training. And it’s also a big part of why handlers almost always leave the battlefield with their dogs. Their rifle might be useful on the ground even after their dog is wounded, but handlers have a unique value during the medical evacuation, treatment, and rehabilitation. If a dog is already hurt and scared when it gets on a helicopter, you really want it to have a familiar face comforting it during the flight.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Military Working Dog Medical Care Training

(U.S. Army courtesy photo)

But it’s not just about helping the dogs be more comfortable. It’s also about preparing the flight medics to take care of the dogs’ and handlers’ unique needs. Like in the video at the top. As the Air Force handlers are comforting and restraining the dogs, the helicopter crew is connecting handlers’ restraints because the handlers’ hands are needed for the dogs.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Military Working Dog Medical Care Training

(U.S. Army courtesy photo)

The personnel who take part in these missions, from the handlers to the pilots to the flight crews, all get trained on the differences before they take part in the training and, when possible, before any missions where they might need to evacuate a dog.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Justin Yarborough)

Of course, ultimately, the dogs get care from medical and veterinarian teams. Don’t worry about this good dog. The photo comes from a routine root canal.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what it was like to be a Roman soldier on holiday leave

Just like today, when it comes to leave, the leadership will reluctantly approve leave only when they’ve run out of excuses not to. In ancient Rome, if commeatus (leave) is granted, it affected the readiness of the army. Essentially, the needs of the army come first. The troops of ancient Rome had to accept that visiting families was not guaranteed. However, as much as the empire tried to prevent their soldiers from having human needs, they couldn’t stop nature.

When anyone receives leave of absence (commeatus), and for how many days, it is noted down in lists. For in antiquity (referring here to the early empire) it was difficult to be given unless for very good approved reasons. It seemed incongruous that a soldier of the Emperor, maintained in uniform and pay and rations at public expense, should have time to serve private interests.

Translated from Epitoma rei militaris, Book II, section XVIII

How dare you have a life outside the legion? Having feelings is bad, legionnaire. What does the emperor pay you for? Also, we’re extending your service from 16 years to 25. – Some Roman general probably.

Worst case scenario of granting leave

Once a troop is allowed to go on leave, the world is still not a safe place. War stops for no one and the road home also had its fair share of dangers. For the troops staying behind it meant lowered security with dire consequences.

The bridge was now complete, and the hills in front were occupied, […] with a speed and a display of strength which induced the Parthians to drop their preparations for invading Syria and to stake their whole hopes upon Armenia; where Paetus, unconscious of the coming danger, was keeping the fifth legion stationed far away in Pontus, and had weakened the rest (the fourth and twelfth legions) through unrestricted grants of leave, until he heard that Vologeses was coming with a large and threatening army.

Tactitus Annals Book XV

Commanders had good reason to deny leave because of the threat of fighting the enemy with a smaller force. Similarly, in today’s military leave can be denied due to important training. It is at the discretion of the commanding officer to consider if will not affect crucial training.

Best case scenario of granting leave

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Saturnalia was the timeth to party.

The Roman troop on leave would attend financial and administrative tasks at home. The best time to request leave, just like today, would be during a holiday season. Saturnalia was practically the purge with less murder. A troop would go on leave, have fun, and return when he said he would.

Originally celebrated on December 17, Saturnalia was extended first to three and eventually to seven days…All work and business were suspended. Slaves were given temporary freedom to say and do what they liked, and certain moral restrictions were eased. The streets were infected with a Mardi Gras madness; a mock king was chosen (Saturnalicius princeps); the seasonal greeting io Saturnalia was heard everywhere.

Britannica.com

Lupercalia was another holiday that Romans looked forward to on February 15. It was tied to the founding of Rome myth and promoted fertility. The holiday would start with a ritual sacrifice called the Comitium at a cave named Lupercal at the foot of Palatine Hill. Roman priests would then run naked through the streets and slap women on the breast with bloody bits of goat hide to promote fertility. Additionally, men and women would be paired at random during the festival and there would be a great feast. The holiday consisted of lovemaking and copious amounts of wine. ‘I need my leave approved for…reasons, sir.’

A Roman soldier on leave is not on vacation

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
So…no paid sick days?

While on leave any number of things could happen such as a volcano explosion causing the mass evacuation and destruction of a major city. Normal stuff in the ancient Roman Empire. One Roman soldier on leave experienced the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and found himself with a tough decision to make – save himself or save civilians. At an archeological site at the ancient Herculaneum marina reveals a daring last stand of a Roman soldier attempting to keep order and cross civilians as the world around them burned. When A roman soldier went on leave he could either tend to his family, party like an animal, or take charge of a life or death situation. The following video shows the bravery of solider against impossible odds.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The insane Communist plan to overthrow the Afghan government

In April 1978, an Afghan tank commander rushed to tell President Mohammed Daoud Khan of a coming coup attempt. The President ordered his tank commander to circle to the presidential palace. Khan did not want to be caught off guard. He had only taken the reins of power from the King of Afghanistan five years before and didn’t want the monarchists coming back to power.

But when the critical moment to stop the coup came, the tank commander, with tanks surrounding the president, turned his guns on the palace. He was part of the coup all along.


This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

The day after the revolution.

As coup attempts go, it was relatively bloodless, and thankfully short. But this coup would set Afghanistan on a path that would destroy it from within for the next fifty years or more. Daoud Khan and his family were killed in the palace that day, and the Communists under Nur Muhammad Taraki would ascend to the presidency of Afghanistan. Daoud was himself not a member of the Communist party, but the Communists did help him overthrow the monarchy. Once in power, the new president tried to keep Afghanistan non-aligned in the Cold War.

But when you share a border with the Soviet Union, that just doesn’t seem likely to happen.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Khan, on the right, shaking hands with senior Afghan military leaders

The problem with being non-aligned is that you can really lean one way or the other. When you ask for favors from a superpower, they expect you to fall in line. So it went for Daoud, who asked for help from the Soviets to settle a border dispute with Pakistan. He struggled to keep the USSR out of Afghan foreign policy thereafter. When a rivalry in the Afghan Communist Party ended with the murder of a faction leader, the Afghans were convinced it was Daoud whose hands were dirty – and that they were next. He didn’t have any of them assassinated, but he did have them arrested after protesting the government.

That sealed his fate.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

The palace on the day of the coup.

It was on April 27, 1978, that Daoud’s trusted tank commander turned on him. He had already defected to the Communist party. By noon, more tanks were rumbling to the palace, the Army occupied important areas of the city, and the Afghan Air Force took to the skies, all against Daoud and his supporters. When the rebels captured the radio station Radio Afghanistan, they announced to the people what was happening.

By the next morning, the President and his family were dead, the palace was lit up like swiss cheese, and the Communists were in control of the country. It turns out Daoud and his brother charged out of the palace toward the army, guns blazing, like a scene out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Which eventually led to a Soviet invasion.

The reforms implemented by the Communists were mixed, as was the public reaction to the change in power. The new regime was brutally repressive, executed political prisoners, and brutally put down any resistance from the countryside. This repression turned the people against their Communist government, which triggered the Soviet Union’s Brezhnev Doctrine – any threat to Communist rule in any Communist government is a threat to all Communism everywhere.

The Soviets invaded and occupied Afghanistan for some nine years. The war was a brutal stalemate that severely set back the development of both countries and may have led to the downfall of the USSR.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How sailors navigated before GPS

Humanity is fated to explore, colonize, and come up with new ways to assert dominance over the forces of nature. The timeline of recorded history is marked by inventions that have propelled us forward to achieve the impossible and expand our collective intelligence. The early explorers navigated the violence of the open ocean by using the stability of the heavenly bodies to guide them.

Before sailors could brave the blank spots on the map, they had to know where home was and how to find their place in the world. By charting the stars, keeping precise time, and using their honed senses, humanity was given the tools needed to explore ever outward.


This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

(HISTORY’s ‘Vikings’)

The Vikings used known points

The vikings sailed far enough from shore to lose sight of landmasses in a time before there was a proven method of navigation. They passed down knowledge of stars, coasts, currents, navigational landmarks, and wildlife to create mental maps.

They would make notes of unique mountain formations and follow currents favored by pods of whales for feeding. They also used a plumb bob, an instrument used to determine water depth by tying a weight to a rope and plopping it into the ocean. Viking sailors navigated by using their senses: listening to the calls of seabirds, allowing them to estimate which region they were in. They’d verify their guess by tasting the water to gauge the amount of fresh water flowing into the sea.

Flóki Vilgerðarson, who appeared in HISTORY’s Vikings, was a real person who used caged ravens when traveling. When he thought land was near, he would release a raven. If it circled the boat, there was no land. If it flew away, the ship followed it towards land. This technique was adopted by other vikings who followed in the footsteps of this pioneer.

Vikings crossed the Atlantic Ocean to found colonies in Iceland, Greenland, and Vinland using these techniques and raided western Europe with impunity, without fear of sea.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Let me sing you the song of my people…

(Maui Guide)

The Polynesians used songs

The Polynesians used songs to navigate the seas, an art passed down from master to apprentice over generations. They maintained guilds on each island that would identify sources of food and directed sailors towards them in times of famine and traded this knowledge for other resources. To identify where they were, they made close observations of sea signs, just as the vikings did, and recorded extremely detailed directions in the form of song lyrics.

The guilds also safeguarded the secrets of constructing outrigger canoes capable of making long voyages across the Pacific Ocean.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

With this, I will make my own empire! With blackjack — and freedom!

(ResearchGate)

The British invented the chronometer to identify latitude

Celestial navigation was turned into a science by the British. In 1714, the British government declared a prize of £20,000 be award to whomever could solve the problem of finding a ship’s current longitude position while out on the open ocean. John Harrison was clockmaker who believed the answer was in accurate timekeeping. He proved that one could find their latitude by calculating the position of the sun, moon, stars, or other celestial bodies in relations to the current time to find where you are on the globe.

Making a correct calculation required a timepiece that would not lose its accuracy due to storms, temperature changes, or manufacturing limitations. If one didn’t know the exact time, the almanacs and journals that outlined the location of celestial bodies were, basically, useless.

Harrison made the H4, a chronometer the size of a watch, and it was able to accurately keep GMS time in any clime and place, regardless of conditions. On its maiden voyage to Jamaica, it was only off by five seconds by the journey’s end.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 light tanks the Army used to operate

With the Mobile Protected Firepower program in the testing and evaluation phase, the Army is getting closer to adding a light tank back into its inventory. The XM8 Armored Gun System was the last tank to come close to filling the role. However, it was cancelled in 1997 before it left the experimental phase. Here are 7 light tanks that did see service with the Army.

1. M1 Combat Car

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Civil War veterans inspect an M1 Combat Car at the 1939 New York World’s Fair (Public Domain)

The introduction of the tank during WWI changed the face of war forever. However, America didn’t have a tank of its own during the war. Instead, U.S. soldiers like George S. Patton crewed French tanks like the Renault FT-17. After the war, America got to work developing its own armored doctrine and vehicles. Light tanks were defined as weighing five tons or less so that they could be carried by trucks. Then-Chief of Staff of the Army General Douglas MacArthur promoted the mechanization of the Army to equip cavalrymen with armored fighting vehicles as well. Designated as combat cars, these light tanks allowed cavalry units to exploit opportunities on the battlefield rather than being tied to the infantry in a support role. Despite its name, the M1 Combat Car was a bonafide light tank. Developed and built by the Rock Island Arsenal, it had tracks, light armor and a turret. Armed with just one .50-cal M2 Browning machine gun and two .30-cal M1919 Browning machine guns, the M1 was not well-suited for direct combat. By the time WWII started, the M1 was obsolete. Still, it paved the way as America’s first light tank.

2. Light Tank, M2

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
A Marine Corps M2A4 on Guadalcanal (Public Domain)

Another inter-war design, the M2 went through a number of variants before WWII. However, the most common was the M2A4 equipped with one 37mm M5 gun and five .30-cal M1919 Browning machine guns. Before WWII, the most common variant was the M2A2. It was only equipped with machine guns. The Spanish Civil War showed that tanks armed only with machine guns were ineffective, so the U.S. added the 37mm M5 gun. By the time WWII broke out, the Army had moved on to the M3 light tank. The only American unit to field the M2 in combat was the Marine Corps’ 1st Tank Battalion.

3. M3/M5 Stuart

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
An M5 of Company D, 761st Tank Battalion in Coburg, Germany (Public Domain)

An evolution of the M2, the M3/M5 Stuart was the main American light tank of WWII. The tank was also supplied to British forces under the Lend-Lease Act. It was British forces who named the tank Stuart after American Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. The M3 featured thicker armor, modified suspension, and an upgraded 37mm M6 gun over the M2. The M5 was given an updated engine and an automatic transmission. It was also quieter, cooler, and more spacious inside than the M3. Initially designated the M4 light tank, it was redesignated the M5 to prevent confusion with the M4 Sherman tank. In the African and European theaters, the Stuart was outgunned by the heavier German tanks and deadly anti-tank units. However, it excelled at traditional cavalry missions like scouting and screening. In the Pacific theater, the Stuart saw more direct action. Japanese tanks were a rare sight and were generally outgunned by American tanks. Moreover, the dense jungles of the Pacific islands were more easily navigated by the smaller M3/M5 than the larger M4 Sherman.

4. M22 Locust

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
One M22 Locust that was successfully deployed during Operation Varsity (Public Domain)

Officially designated the Light Tank (Airborne), M22, the Locust was the first light tank of its kind. In 1941, the British War Office requested that America develop a light tank that could be transported via glider to support airborne troops. The result was an exceptionally small tank. Weighing just 7.4 metric tons and measuring 12 feet 11 inches long, 7 feet 1 inch wide, and 6 feet 1 inch tall, the Locust was truly a light tank. Crewed by 3 men, it was equipped with a 37mm M6 gun and one .30-cal M1919 Browning machine gun. However, the Locust was not ready to fight as soon as it landed. The turret was removed during flight in order to fit inside a glider. Upon landing, it took six men about 10 minutes to unload and assemble the Locust. As a result of this, its light armor, and small gun, the M22 performed poorly in British service during Operation Varsity in 1945. Of the eight tanks flown in to support the airborne operation, only four made it to the rendezvous point. Of those four, only two were undamaged and fit for service. Although a small number of Locusts were delivered to U.S. Army units, they never saw combat.

5. M24 Chaffee

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
An M24 Chaffee on guard duty outside the 1945 Nuremberg Trials (Public Domain)

Officially designated the Light Tank, M24, the Chaffee also owes it name to the British. While serving with the British Army, the M24 was named after U.S. General Adna R. Chaffee Jr. who is often referred to as the Father of the Armored Force for his work in developing the use of tanks in the U.S. Army. The British use of the M3 in North Africa demonstrated the shortcomings of its 37mm gun. However, the larger 75mm gun proved to be a more capable anti-tank weapon. In 1943, the Ordnance Corps started a project to develop a new light tank equipped with a 75mm gun. In order to keep the new tank under 20 tons, its light armor was heavily sloped to maximize its effectiveness. First delivered in October 1943, the M24 was equipped with a 75mm M6 main gun, one .50-cal M2 Browning machine gun, and two .30-cal M1919 Browning machine guns. The tank first saw action during the Battle of the Bulge and entered widespread use in December 1944. It was well-received for its improved off-road performance, reliability, and firepower over the M3/M5 Stuart. The M24 went on to serve during the Korean War where it suffered in direct combat but excelled in the reconnaissance and support roles alongside heavier tanks.

6. M41 Walker Bulldog

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
An M41 Walker Bulldog supports infantry during a U.S. exercise in Europe during the 1950s (Public Domain)

The M41 is unique in that is was developed independently by Cadillac and marketed to the U.S. military to replace the M24. First produced in 1951, the M41 was capable both as a reconnaissance vehicle thanks to its high speed and mobility, but also as a support tank with its 76mm M32A1 rifled cannon. The tank was named for the late General Walton Walker who was killed in a jeep accident in 1950. It was also the first American postwar light tank to see worldwide service and was heavily exported. Although the M41 was adopted too late to see use in the Korean War, five M41s were given to democratic Cuban forces for use during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The Cubans received training at Fort Knox in March 1961 and were transported to Playa Girón on April 17. Despite heavy resistance, all five tanks made it ashore. Although they had initial successes, knocking out several communist T-34/85 tanks, heavy armored counterattacks meant that the tank crews expended all of their ammunition by noon. The surviving tanks were abandoned on the beach when the invasion failed.

7. M551 Sheridan

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
An M551 Sheridan of the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry in Vietnam (Public Domain)

Entering service in 1967, the M551 Sheridan was a light tank developed for armored reconnaissance and airborne operations. Named for Union Civil War General Philip Sheridan, the M551 was designed to be dropped from a plane via parachute. It was also amphibious and capable of crossing rivers before heavy bridge-laying vehicles could be driven onto the battlefield. The Sheridan also featured a unique gun. Its 152mm M81 gun could fire conventional tank rounds. However, it also doubled as a launcher capable of firing the new MGM-51 Shillelagh guided anti-tank missile. The Sheridan performed well in Vietnam. Its light weight meant it was less prone to getting stuck in the mud compared to the heavier M48 Patton. The tank also excelled in direct-fire support of infantry. With its M657 High Explosive and M625 Canister rounds, it was an effective anti-personnel weapon. The Sheridan saw limited use during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. It saw its first combat air drop during Operation Just Cause in Panama where it also saw limited use. The Sheridan was retired from service in 1996 without a replacement. However, it did see limited use as a training aid for the Armored Officer Basic Course and as a simulated Soviet armored opposition force at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin until 2003.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An ancient king whipped the ocean to protect his troops – and it worked

There’s an old military adage that goes “if it’s stupid and it works, then it isn’t stupid.” This idea clearly dates all the way back to the Classical Era, because the stupidest thing ever done to protect a fighting force was perpetrated in 480 BC. By a King.


Say what you want about Persian King Xerxes I, he knew how to fight a battle. That is to say, he always brought enough men and material to get the job done. Yes, this is the same Xerxes seen in the movie 300, but before the Persian Army could get to Thermopylae, they had to cross the Hellespont, what we call the Dardanelles today. It did not go exactly as planned.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

Like a lot of things the Persian Army tried.

Xerxes was coming right off of victories over uprisings against Persian rule in Egypt and Babylon and had acquired a massive army, as-then-unheard-of in ancient times. Some 300,000 troops were ready to pour into Greece to avenge the ass-kicking the Greeks perpetrated on Xerxes’ father, Darius. Xerxes was not one to overthink things. The simplest way to get a massive army from one land mass to another was to simply build a bridge and roads to it. Xerxes even had the bridges built in advance so his army wouldn’t have to wait to get to Greece.

This did not go exactly as the Persian Army planned. Before he and his troops could arrive, the seas swelled up and swallowed the bridges, completely destroying them. When the King arrived, it was just debris. Infuriated with the seas, Xerxes marched out to the sea and whipped it with a chain 300 times as his soldiers watched and shouted curses at the water.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

He also beheaded the engineers who built the bridge, which may have been a contributing factor to his eventual success.

The bridges were then rebuilt to the exact specifications required to hold 300,000 Persian troops bent on destruction, along with their pack animals, cavalry, and whatever else they could carry. This time, the bridges held and the Persians marched out to meet the Greeks – who would kick the Persian Army right back out of Europe by the following spring.

When the Persians arrived at the bridges in full retreat, they had been destroyed again.

Articles

This Komet was the fastest combat plane of World War II

The P-51 may have been the plane that won the skies over Europe, and the Me-262 and Gloster Meteor may have been the first operational jet fighters on the sides of the Axis and Allies.


But those planes weren’t the fastest. That honor goes to the Me 163 “Komet.”

The Me 163 was short (about 19.5 feet long), with a wingspan of about 30 feet and looks like a miniature version of the B-2 Spirit. It was armed with two Mk 108 30mm cannon intended to rip apart Allied planes and it had a top speed of almost 600 miles per hour.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Me 163 at the Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So, why isn’t it more well-known? Well, for starters, the way the plane got its speed — by using a rocket engine — tended to burn up a lot of fuel. That gave it a little over seven minutes of powered flight. The short flight time meant the Me 163 really didn’t have much range — about 25 miles.

After the fuel ran out, the Me 163 was an armed, fast glider. When it landed, it had to be towed. That meant it was a sitting duck until help arrived, and Allied pilots would just wait for the plane to start gliding down before putting a burst into it.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
A P-47’s gun-camera footage shows a Me 163 just prior to being shot down. (USAF photo)

According to MilitaryFactory.com, despite operating for about 10 months, the Me 163 just didn’t get a lot of kills – anywhere from nine to 16, depending on the estimate. That’s less than one pera month. Furthermore, only one fighter group ever operated the plane, which was also hobbled by a shortage of rocket fuel.

AcePilots.com notes that the Me 163 was also dangerous to fly. The rocket fuel ingredients were very nasty – and when they leaked through the suit, it did bad things to the pilot. It wasn’t unheard of for Me 163s to just explode on landing as residual amounts of fuel would mix.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
This Me 163 in Australian hands shows what a Komet looked like after landing. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

For all intents and purposes, the Me 163 was a manned, reusable surface-to-air missile that could make two attacks. Eventually, the Nazis decided to just use an expendable rocket instead of a manned plane for these types of missions.

Articles

This is what a broom tied to a mast means in the U.S. Navy

When the USS Wahoo sailed into Pear Harbor on Feb. 7, 1943, she had an odd ornament on her periscope: a common broom. But that broom was one of the most impressive symbols a crew could aspire to earn because it symbolized that the boat had destroyed an entire enemy convoy, sweeping it from the seas.


Historians aren’t certain where the tradition originated, but the story cited most often was that a Dutch admiral in the 1650s began the practice after sweeping the British from the seas at the Battle of Dungeness.

(Video: YouTube/Smithsonian Channel)

For the crew of the Wahoo, their great victory came in the middle of five tense days of fighting. It all began on Jan. 24 when the sub was mapping a forward Japanese base on a small island near Papua New Guinea. During the reconnaissance mission, the sailors spotted a destroyer in the water.

Flush with torpedoes and no other threats in sight, the Wahoo decided to engage. It fired a spread of three torpedoes but had underestimated the destroyer’s speed. The Wahoo fired another torpedo with the speed taken into account, but the destroyer turned out of the weapon’s path.

And then it bore down on the Wahoo, seeking to destroy the American sub. The crew played a high-stakes game of chicken by holding the sub in position. When the destroyer reached 1,200 yards, the crew fired the fifth torpedo, which the destroyer again avoided.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
The Imperial Japanese Navy destroyer Hayate undergoes sea trials in 1925. Destroyers are relatively small and weak ships, but are well-suited to destroying submarines and protecting friendly ships. (Photo: Public Domain)

At 800 yards they fired their sixth and last forward torpedo, barely enough range for the torpedo to arm. The risk of failure was so great that Lt. Cmdr. Dudley Morton ordered a crash dive immediately after firing, putting as much water in the way of enemy depth charges as possible.

But the last torpedo swam true and hit the Japanese ship in the middle, breaking its keel and causing its boilers to burst.

The next day, Jan. 25, was relatively uneventful, but Jan. 26 would be the Wahoo’s date with destiny. Just over an hour after sunrise, the third officer spotted smoke over the horizon and Morton ordered an intercept course.

They found a four-ship convoy consisting of a tanker, a troop transport, and two freighters. All four were valuable targets, but sinking the troop transport could save thousands of lives and sinking tankers would slow the Japanese war machine by starving ships of fuel.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
The USS Wahoo was one of the most successful and famous submarines in World War II, but it wouldn’t survive the war. (Photo: Public Domain)

There was no escort, but the Wahoo still had to watch for enemy deck guns and ramming maneuvers. The sub fired a four-torpedo spread at the two freighters, scoring three hits. The first target sank and the second was wounded. Wahoo then turned its attention to the tanker and the troop transport.

The troop transport attempted a ram, sailing straight at the Wahoo. Morton ordered a risky gambit, firing a torpedo at the transport after it drew close rather than taking evasive actions.

After the torpedo was launched, the transport took its own evasive action and abandoned its ramming maneuver. In doing so, the transport presented the sub with its broad sides, a prime target.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
Imperial Japanese Navy tankers steam in a convoy in World War II. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Wahoo fired two more torpedoes and dove to avoid another attack. It was still diving when both torpedoes struck home. Eight minutes later, the Wahoo surfaced and saw that the transport was dead in the water. It fired a torpedo that failed to detonate and then a carefully aimed final shot that triggered a massive explosion and doomed the Japanese vessel.

As the tanker and the damaged freighter attempted to escape, Morton gave the controversial order to sink all manned boats launched from the dying transport. His rationale was that a manned, seaworthy vessel was a legal target and any survivors of the battle would go on to kill American soldiers and Marines during land battles.

A few hours later, the Wahoo was able to find and re-engage the two survivors of her earlier action. The tanker and the wounded freighter had steamed north but couldn’t move fast enough to escape the American sub.

The Wahoo waited for nightfall and then fired two torpedoes at the undamaged tanker. One hit, but the ship was still able to sail quickly. With only four torpedoes left and the Japanese ships taking evasive action, Wahoo waited and studied their movements.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor
A U.S. Navy Helldiver flies past a burning Japanese tanker in January 1945. The tankers allowed the Imperial Japanese Navy to refuel ships at far-flung bases and at sea. Sinking them crippled the navy. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

When certain they could predict the Japanese ships, the crew attacked again. The first pair of torpedoes were fired at the tanker just after it turned. One of them slammed into its middle, breaking the keel and quickly sending it to the depths.

The crippled freighter was firing what weapons it had at the sub and almost hit it with a shell, forcing it to dive. Then, a searchlight appeared from over the horizon, possibly signaling a Japanese warship that could save the freighter.

The Wahoo carefully lined up its final shot at 2,900 and fired both torpedoes at once with no spread, a sort of final Hail-Mary to try and sink the freighter before it could find safety with the warship.

The final pair of torpedoes both hit, their warheads tearing open the freighter and quickly sinking it before the Japanese ship, which turned out to be a destroyer, cleared the horizon.

This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

The American crew escaped and continued their patrol, attempting to attack another convoy with just their deck guns on Jan. 27 and mapping a Japanese explosives facility on Jan. 28 before returning to Pearl Harbor with the triumphant broom flying high on Feb. 7.

Other ships have used brooms to symbolize great success, such as in 2003 when the USS Cheyenne flew one to celebrate that every Tomahawk it launched in Operation Iraqi Freedom landing on target with zero duds or failures.

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