April marks the anniversary of the First Battle of Fallujah, aka Operation Vigilant Resolve, which took place in 2004. Led by I Marine Expeditionary Force commander Lt. Gen. James Conway and 1st Marine Division commander Maj. Gen. James Mattis, the battle was in retaliation for consecutive attacks in the region including the brutal killings of four private military contractors.
The fierce fighting lasted for a month before U.S. forces withdrew from the city and turned over control to the Fallujah Brigade. The battle is lesser known than Operation Phantom Fury, or the second Battle of Fallujah, but it was a key battle during Operation Iraqi Freedom as it brought attention to several facts the general public was not aware of and increased polarizing public opinion about the war in Iraq. More than a decade later, here are seven things you didn’t know about that battle.
1. The use of Private Military Contractors (PMC’s) began to see public scrutiny.
On March 31st, 2004 four Blackwater security contractors were ambushed, killed, and mutilated on the outskirts of Fallujah. Before this highly publicized incident, the general public had little knowledge of private military contractors and their role in the War on Terror, specifically in Iraq.
2. It was the first time insurgents, rather than Saddam loyalists, were considered the primary enemy of Coalition Forces.
Operation Vigilant Resolve brought mainstream attention to a growing insurgency comprised of insurgents other than Saddam loyalists.
3. The Battle of Fallujah thrust Abu Musab al-Zarqawi into the spotlight as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
4. It was the largest combat mission since the declaration of the end of “major hostilities.”
On May 1, 2003 President Bush gave a speech from the USS Abraham Lincoln in which he declared major combat operations in Iraq to be over. Although there continued to be guerrilla warfare, Operation Vigilant Resolve was the first time a major combat operation took place after the speech.
5. The Battle of Fallujah brought public attention to the Sunni Triangle.
When the battle began the term Sunni Triangle became widely known since Fallujah was only one of several cities known to be Sunni strongholds, all of which were located in triangle area of a map Northwest of Baghdad.
6. Scout Snipers were the core element of the strategy.
Scout snipers averaged 31 kills apiece during Operation Vigilant Resolve (one kill every 3-4 hours), according to Global Security.
7. During the Battle of Fallujah, one reconnaissance platoon set a record for Silver Stars awarded in Global War on Terror.
Four members of the second platoon of Bravo Company, First Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division were awarded the Silver Star — a record unmatched by any other company or platoon in the Global War on Terror, according to Military Times.
In addition, Capt. Brent Morel and Sergeant Willie L. Copeland were both awarded the Navy Cross for their heroism during the battle.
Who doesn’t love a bit of candy to lighten the mood? Today, troops opening up an MRE might find a bag of Skittles or some sweets in there to help boost morale a little bit. This isn’t anything new; troops have had some kind of candy in rations since WWII.
While the soldiers who were preparing to jump into the fight on D-Day likely had a few of their favorite chocolate bars on them, they had another specialty chocolate bar, one made exclusively made for the troops. It was called the U.S. Army Field Ration D and it tasted about as appetizing as the name suggests — a little bit better than a boiled potato.
Still better than the Veggie MRE.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt)
The Field Ration D, or “D-Bar,” was the brain child of Col. Paul Logan and the Hershey Chocolate Corporation. The idea was to stuff enough calories, vitamins, and nutrients inside of an easy-to-carry chocolate bar so that troops always had an emergency field ration if they needed it. It weighed 4 oz., packed 600 calories, and was mixed with raw oat flour to ensure that it wouldn’t melt easily.
The packaging of Field Ration D was made with aluminum wrapper, cardboard dipped in wax, and cellophane. There was no way that bugs, weather, or gas could reach the bar and contaminate it. There was also a safety measure put in place by Col. Logan to ensure troops didn’t just eat their emergency ration for a sweet fix — he reportedly asked Hershey to not focus on the taste.
The D-Bar was so full of cacao fat and oat flour that it could survive any condition, but it also made the bar extremely bitter. Since it was made to endure nearly any conditions, it was solid as a rock. Not exactly appetizing.
To make matters worse, if any troop didn’t read the tiny warning to eat the bar slowly, over a thirty minute time period, their bowels would suffer. This unfortunate side-effect earned it the nickname, “Hitler’s secret weapon.”
Word of how awful the D-Bar was (and its unofficial moniker) made it back to Hershey. They offered another chocolate bar instead — the Tropical Bar. Apparently, this was even worse and earned the name “Dysentery Bar,” because troops who already had dysentery were the only ones who could tolerate it.
In the end, the top brass at the Pentagon lavished Hershey with numerous awards for their “help” in WWII while the troops exchanged the D-Bars and Tropical Bars to unsuspecting civilians for better food.
To watch the bravest man on YouTube actually eat one of these, check out the video below by Steve1989 at MRE Info.
General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American paratroopers prior to D-Day. (Wikimedia Commons).
Dwight Eisenhower, West Point’s most famous alum, went through his own R-day in 1911. Even though the general and, later, president, will forever be associated with the Academy, a closer review of the history shows Eisenhower and West Point weren’t a perfect match. Here are five facts about Dwight Eisenhower’s time at West Point you might not know.
1. West Point wasn’t Eisenhower’s first choice.
It’s true. The academy that features a statue of Eisenhower, a leadership development program named for him and a theatre named after him, wasn’t Eisenhower’s first choice. Eisenhower initially preferred the Naval Academy. That makes sense because when Eisenhower was evaluating schools in 1910-1911, the U.S. demonstrated its military power through the Navy. Alas, Eisenhower, 20 at the time of his application, was too old for the Naval Academy, so he gave West Point a try. After some effort, Eisenhower was accepted, and he arrived at West Point on July 14, 1911.
2. Eisenhower was forced to join the “awkward squad” in his first weeks at West Point.
When students arrive at West Point, they are called plebes and hazing quickly begins. Upperclassmen at West Point initiate new students into the Army culture through rigorous physical and emotional tests known as the “beast barracks,” which involve a great deal of drilling. Having grown up in a rough-and-tumble farming town in Kansas, Eisenhower had no problem with the physical end of the ordeal. But he just could not catch onto the marching tempo and was forced to join similarly challenged plebes in the “awkward squad” until he could get the timing right.
3. Eisenhower didn’t like the hazing at West Point.
Eisenhower didn’t enjoy the beast barracks and did all he could to undermine the system of hazing. Years later he described the cadet instructors as “obnoxious and pestiferous.” Later in his plebe year, Eisenhower and a fellow cadet broke a minor rule. As punishment, an upperclassman ordered them to report in “full-dress coat.” Eisenhower took the order literally and showed up sans pants, an act of defiance that drove his tormenter mad. Years later Eisenhower savored how that upperclassman let out “the cry of a cougar.” Eisenhower recalled later in life that when he was an upperclassman, he shamed a cadet over a job the young man had held. After that incident, Eisenhower resolved to no longer harass plebes. Eisenhower was no bully.
4. Eisenhower broke the rules at West Point — a lot.
Eisenhower constantly broke the rules and regulations at West Point. The list of his demerits runs nearly 10 pages. Biographer Carlo D’Este writes that Eisenhower “seemed to relish every opportunity to outwit an instructor or upperclassman.” Eisenhower’s willful disregard for the rules pertaining to dancing, for example, brought him to the attention of the commandant. Eisenhower ignored an order not to, in his words, “whirl” a professor’s daughter during a dance. His willfulness led the commandant to demote him, confine him to barracks and order him to walk 22 laps.
5. Eisenhower was almost denied a commission at the end of his schooling at West Point.
Academics at West Point in the early 20th century did not encourage independent thinking. Instead, lessons involved what Michael E. Haskew called “mind-numbing rote memorization.” That approach led Eisenhower to devote his energies to football, a sport he had played in high school. Two weeks after competing against the legendary, Olympic gold medalist Jim Thorpe, Eisenhower suffered a major knee injury. That injury and others almost led an Army doctor to recommend that the future general be allowed to graduate but not receive a commission.
Eisenhower said he was fine with that and thought about a life in Argentina. When the doctor suggested he be commissioned in the Coast Artillery, Eisenhower objected, so West Point officials eventually settled on a commission in the infantry. Eisenhower graduated in 1915 and was deployed to the Mexican border, one of the least sought-after deployments in that era. In his first few years, Eisenhower’s requests to see combat in World War I were repeatedly denied, and he was pressured to coach football. Only through dogged persistence was he able to build a career for himself outside the confines of stateside training.
Ultimately, the best parts of college for Eisenhower were the lessons he learned about leadership and the friends he made among his classmates. Those classmates, collectively known as the “class the stars fell on,” eventually rose high in the ranks and formed a cadre of allies Eisenhower would call upon later. Eisenhower sharpened his skills as a leader and realized that humiliating people did not motivate them. The obligations of service – duty, honor, country – so ingrained over those West Point years inspired Eisenhower throughout his military career, highlighted by his command of the D-Day invasion, and a political career that concluded with two terms as President of the United States.
Army Private John R. McKinney was resting after a shift on guard duty in the Luzon area of the Philippines in May 1945 when his position was attacked by some 100 Japanese soldiers at a full run. McKinney, who was part of his unit’s perimeter defense, was cut in the ear with an enemy saber as he rested in his tent that night.
As the other men in McKinney’s machine gun squad worked to get the weapon ready, McKinney grabbed his service rifle and beat his attacker with it. He then shot another enemy soldier who tried to interrupt that beating.
Unfortunately, one of the machine gunners was injured in the attack and the other tried to carry him to safety. Private McKinney was now alone – and ten Japanese infantrymen were turning the machine gun around. McKinney jumped into the gun’s position and shot seven of those ten enemy troops at point blank range. He then clubbed the three others with the butt of his rifle.
Unfortunately for him, when McKinney took control of the machine gun, he found the weapon was inoperative. And there were more Japanese troops coming – a lot more. They were lobbing grenades and mortar shells onto his position. So, he did what any combat-hardened Army private would do: he switched positions.
His new position had ammo in it. Lots of ammo.
For 36 minutes, McKinney reloaded his service rifle and repeatedly picked up others as waves of oncoming Japanese troops attempted to swarm and overrun him. He fired almost nonstop into the charge. When he couldn’t fire anymore, he flipped his rifle around and began to club them to death or engage in brutal hand-to-hand combat.
When all was said and done, 40 Japanese soldiers of the 100 who attacked McKinney lay dead, including the two mortarmen… who were 45 yards away. He protected the fellow members of his company as they slept, killing one enemy soldier every 56 seconds for the duration of the attack.
Not only did he repel the Japanese assault, but he was still alive and in complete control of the area. John R. McKinney died in 1997, at the ripe old age of 76.
An F-14 lands aboard the USS Saratoga in 1985 (U.S. Navy).
Exercise “Display Determination 87” was supposed to be a routine NATO exercise, pitting U.S. Air Force Phantoms out of Zweibrucken Air Base in West Germany against F-14 Tomcats from the USS Saratoga in the Mediterranean Sea. All the Phantoms had to do was find the Saratoga and engage in an exercise attack, if the Tomcats didn’t find them first.
The Tomcats only had to fly close enough to the Air Force planes to read their hull numbers. One pilot would do much more than that. In an act the Navy would call “deliberate” and “illogical,” Lt. Timothy Dorsey would engage his Air Force counterparts with a real-world sidewinder missile.
When the Tomcats catapulted off the Saratoga’s flight deck, they were immediately alerted to a radar contact, an Illinois Air National Guard KC-135 tanker that was refueling a lone RF-4C Phantom. The Tomcats moved in to check it out.
Dorsey moved in but was not able to move in close enough to read the Phantom’s hull number. The airmen, 1st Lt. Michael Sprouse as Weapons Systems Officer and pilot Capt. Michael Ross, finished their refueling and went looking for their target. They found it 22 miles out to sea.
As the Phantom approached, Ross began his simulated attack run. Dorsey, in his F-14, requested instructions from the ship. Saratoga gave the exercise’s command to engage, “’Red and free on your contact.”
Dorsey, seemingly confused, asked his Radar Intercept Officer if the Saratoga really wanted him to shoot at the RF-4C. The RIO responded with an affirmative, not realizing Dorsey was asking if he should really shoot down the Air Force plane. Dorsey tried to fire his first sidewinder, but it failed. His second one went off without a hitch.
The sound of a missile firing alerted the RIO to what was actually happening. Dorsey had shot down the Phantom.
Aboard the USAF plane, fire lights were flashing and the plane began to shake itself apart. Ross and Sprouse ejected just before the fireball engulfed the aircraft. They ejected into 500-knot winds and though they were rescued and taken aboard the Saratoga, over the years, Ross’ spine began to degenerate.
After a series of surgeries and screws in his back, Col. Ross was forced to retire in 1997. A promising officer on course to be a general was, by 2012, barely able to walk and living on disability and his retirement money.
Dorsey, the naval aviator who shot down Ross and Sprouse was disciplined and was stripped of his flying status. He never flew for the Navy again, but was never forced to resign. He remained in the Navy as an intelligence officer and then went into the Naval Reserve. In 2012, his name was sent to the Pentagon for a possible promotion to rear admiral – a move that required confirmation by the Senate.
When Ross learned that Dorsey had advanced so far while the error Dorsey made cut Ross’ own career so short, he was understandably upset.
“I almost got sick,” said Ross. “He ruined my life.”
The Navy determined that Dorsey’s actions were “not the result of an accident, but the consequence of a deliberate act. His subsequent reaction [to the radio command] demonstrated an absolute disregard of the known facts and circumstances.”
“He failed to utilize the decision-making process taught in replacement training and reacted in a purely mechanical manner. The performance of Lieutenant Timothy W. Dorsey on September 22, 1987, raises substantial doubt as to his capacity for good, sound judgment.”
The Senate never responded to the nomination, effectively ending any chance of promotion for Dorsey.
The Army’s helicopters have a number of names you recognize immediately: Apache, Black Hawk, Kiowa, Lakota, Comanche. They are also known as the names of Native American tribes. This is not a coincidence.
According to GlobalSecurity.org, this was originally due to Army Regulation 70-28, which has since been rescinded. Today, while the regulation is gone, the tradition remains, and there is a procedure to pick a new name. The Bureau of Indian Affairs keeps a list of names for the Army to use. When the Army gets a new helicopter (or fixed-wing aircraft), the commanding officer of the Army Material Command (the folks who buy the gear) comes up with a list of five names.
Now, they can’t just be any names. These names must promote confidence in the abilities of the helicopter or plane, they cannot sacrifice dignity, and they must promote an aggressive spirit. Those names then have to be run by the United States Patent Office, of all places. There’s a lot more bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo to go through, but eventually a name is picked.
Then comes something unique – the helicopter or aircraft is then part of a ceremony attended by Native American leaders, who bestow tribal blessings. You might be surprised, given that the Army and the Native Americans were on opposite side of the Indian Wars – and those wars went on for 148 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Don’t be. The fact is, despite the 148 years of hostilities, Native Americans also served with the United States military. Eli Parker, the only Native American to reach general’s rank, was a personal aide to General Ulysses S. Grant. Most impressively, 25 Native Americans have received the Medal of Honor for heroism.
In other words, the Army’s helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft bear names that reflect fierce and courageous warriors who also have fought well as part of the United States Army. That is a legacy worth remembering and honoring with some of the Army’s most prominent systems.
In 1991, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf knew that victory over Iraq was imminent. Operation Desert Storm lasted just 42 days. Once it ended, Schwarzkopf gave “The Mother of All News Conferences” across the street from his command headquarters in Saudi Arabia. The presser is lauded as being one of the most comprehensive and inviting news conferences ever given by a general of the US Army.
Gen. Schwarzkopf led the coalition forces during the Gulf War. But that wasn’t his first experience with combat. He was also a battalion commander during the Vietnam War. During Vietnam, Schwarzkopf earned three Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and the Legion of Merit. He also served as a commander during the Invasion of Grenada in 1983.
Operation Desert Storm
In 1988, Schwarzkopf assumed CENTCOM command. Initially, he was tasked with defending Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression. So, he set out to create and strengthen diplomatic relations with both countries. However, talks failed.
So Schwarzkopf quickly realized something else would need to be done to ensure peace in the region. He planned and led Operation Desert Storm. ODS was an aggressive air campaign that was followed by a grueling 100-hour ground operation. This tactic helped the coalition forces achieve victory over Iraq. Kuwait was liberated and Schwarzkopf decided that the best thing to do would be to explain to the world’s press how the battle was won. Units activated for ODS included the 101st Airborne, 82nd Airborne, along with the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division and the 3rd Armored Cavalry. These units were positioned behind the Saudi Arabian task force. Forces were deployed to the region on August 7.
As soon as it was clear Operation Desert Storm was a success, Gen. Schwarzkopf led a presser where he made good on his promise to provide information on how he constructed his mission plan and what the strategy was behind it. During the hour-long press conference, Schwarzkopf gave the following rundown of the mission.
Breaking it down battle by battle
By the middle of November, the decision to increase the number of ground troops was made, in part because of an increase in Iraqi forces to the area.
“We made a very deliberate decision to align all of those forces within the boundary looking north toward Kuwait,” Schwarzkopf briefed, “… so it looked like they were all against directly on the Iraqi positions.”
Adding to that was a very active and very known naval presence in the Gulf. Schwarzkopf said one of the reasons he made sure that the naval presence was so widely known was because it was obvious that the Iraqis were concerned about a water-based attack.
The hour-long brief given by Gen. Schwarzkopf is considered one of the most detailed and comprehensive military news conferences because of the depth and detail that he provided during the presser.
In his cadet picture from Bordentown Military Institute, a ten-year-old Schwarzkopf isn’t smiling. Apparently, he flat out refused and instead, frowned sternly.
“Some day when I become a general, I want people to know that I’m serious.”
For everyone attending the Mother of All Press Conferences, that message was received loud and clear.
In the world of special operations, the UK’s Special Air Service (SAS) is as good as they come. They are the British government’s elite counterterrorism unit, specializing in rescuing hostages, covert reconnaissance and generally taking the fight to unsuspecting bad guys all over the world.
Formed during World War II, they were the blueprint for the U.S. Army Delta Force, Israel’s Sayaret Matkal, and almost any other special operations force the world over. After World War II, the elite SAS served in nearly every UK military action around the world, from hunting down communist rebels in Malaya to the Troubles in Northern Ireland and from the Falklands to the Global War on Terror.
In that time, the SAS has experienced its share of victories and setbacks, but its story only grows with each mission. With each mission there are always standout soldiers who overcome incredible odds in the face of the enemy – and become legends even among special operators.
1. Lt. Col. David Stirling
As an officer in the No. 8 Guards Commando, Stirling first saw action at the capture of Rhodes, and the Battles of Crete and Litani River. It was while fighting these pitched battles that he realized a small team of special soldiers could be much more effective, doing extreme damage with minimal casualties. The story of how he pitched the idea of creating the Special Air Service is worthy of an article of its own, but by 1941, the SAS was operating in North Africa.
Using stripped-down Jeeps and a new kind of demolition bomb, Stirling and his new SAS were wreaking havoc on Axis airfields across North Africa. German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel dubbed Stirling the “Phantom Major,” and was able to capture the British officer. After a series of escape attempts with mixed success, Stirling was finally captured for good and sent to Colditz Castle in Germany, where he spent the rest of World War II.
2. Sgt. Talaiasi Labalaba
In 1972, the SAS were sent to Oman to train the Sultan’s soldiers to fight a communist insurgency from neighboring Yemen. Defending a small fortification near the port city of Mirbat were nine SAS troopers with small arms and a Browning machine gun. The SAS soon realized that 300 communist fighters were making their way toward the house, but they weren’t close enough for the British troopers’ small arms to be effective.
Sgt. Talaiasi Labalaba ran out of the house to a 25-pounder artillery gun some 200 meters away and began to fire it at the oncoming human wave. While operating the gun was a six-man job, Labalaba managed to fire off a round every minute by himself, as bullets whizzed by. After an hour of firing the gun, Labalaba was wounded and another trooper, Sekonaia Takavesi, came to his aid. Labalaba and Takavesi fought on for two and a half hours, until the gun was out of ammo.
Labalaba and two others were killed in the defense of Mirbat, but they held their ground because of Sgt. Labalaba’s skill with artillery.
3. Lt. Col. Robert Blair “Paddy” Mayne
Mayne was an early member of the Special Air Service, one of the UK’s most decorated soldiers of World War II and picked up where David Stirling left off. Initially the head of an anti-aircraft battery, the Irishman was transferred to the Royal Ulster Rifles and then No. 11 Scottish Commando. There, he invaded Vichy-held Lebanon and Syria. His skills in combat saw him transferred to what was then called the “parachute unit,” but would soon be known as the Special Air Service.
His first combat with the SAS came during night raids in North Africa, destroying aircraft, fuel supplies, and ammo dumps in 1941. He was soon placed in command of the SAS, fighting behind enemy lines in France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and even into Germany. His exploits in the war earned him four Distinguished Service Orders, the French Legion d’Honneur on Croix de Guerre.
4. Lt. Jock Lewes
Jock Lewes is many things, but first and foremost, he’s the SAS trooper who discovered that explosives used by Stirling and his men in North Africa weren’t as effective as they needed to be. The bomb he developed used diesel oil and plastic explosives to make sure Axis planes and vehicles could never be used again. The Lewes Bomb, as it came to be called, was used throughout the war to devastating effect.
Lewes was one of the first men to volunteer for Stirling’s new SAS unitand was killed by enemy aircraft while raiding an Axis airfield in Libya in 1941.
5. Staff Sgt. John McAleese
Scotsman John McAleese is one of the UK’s most decorated soldiers of all time. He’s one of the rare SAS soldiers who saw fame while serving, as the world watched the UK’s response to terrorists taking over the Iranian Embassy in London. For six days, the British government lay siege to the embassy. On the sixth day, they killed a hostage and the SAS were called in.
The world watched live as McAleese and his blue team followed the red team into the embassy by blowing their way into a first-floor window. In 17 minutes, the SAS killed all but one of the terrorists, losing only one hostage. McAleese also served in the Falklands War and earned medals fighting the Irish Republican Army during the Troubles.
With the surprising (to some) victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, one issue that will come into sharp focus is how he will handle the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria terrorist group.
During the campaign, he promised to “bomb the sh– out of” ISIS. Realistically, with the militants hiding among civilians in densely populated cities in the Middle East, a “bomb the sh– out of” them campaign would be a tough sell. So maybe it’s a good idea to see what similar air wars are in the historical playbook to get an idea of the cost.
This is the crowning masterpiece of the career of Sir Arthur Harris. In mid-February 1945, four massive raids with 722 Royal Air Force bombers and 527 more from the United States Army Air Force (which also contributed over 750 P-51 Mustang fighters) delivered almost 4,000 tons of bombs on target.
Dresden was firebombed for several nights, killing an estimated 130,000 Germans. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
For the loss of eight planes, over 200 factories were damaged. Not a bad ratio, except of course the fact that over 100,000 civilians were estimated to have been killed in the days-long fire bombing.
Kinda why the Air Force developed precision bombing.
The B-29 bombing offensive against Japan had not been entirely effective using daylight attacks from high altitude. That was when Gen. Curtis LeMay decided to change the game. Instead of high-altitude bombing during the day, he sent 334 B-29s against Tokyo on the night of March 9, 1945. He wanted to fly along with the raid, but since he had first-hand knowledge of top-secret military code-breaking efforts, the risk of his capture was too high and he was grounded.
Of the planes sent, 27 were lost due to enemy action.
But once again, 2,000 tons of bombs were dropped, annihilating 16-square miles of the city costing an estimated 130,000 lives. Emperor Hirohito toured the city in the aftermath of the raid, he began to work to get Japan out of the war.
With the Paris Peace talks stalled over ending the Vietnam conflict, President Richard Nixon acted decisively. For nearly two weeks in late December 1972, 207 B-52 Stratofortresses, along with hundreds of other planes, launched a massive aerial assault on Hanoi. Dubbed the “Christmas Bombing,” over that 11-day period, over 15,000 tons of bombs were dropped by the BUFFs, with the tactical aircraft dropping more. In all, 16 B-52s and 12 other planes were lost.
B-52 Stratofortress bombers dropped more than 15,000 tons of ordnance on Hanoi during the Christmas bombing campaign. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The North Vietnamese ultimately resumed negotiations, and the Paris Peace Accords were signed on Jan. 27, 1973. Some reports indicate nearly 1,000 Vietnamese were killed during the raids.
During Operation Desert Storm, the B-52Gs sent to targets over Iraq and Kuwait delivered up to 40 percent of the wartime bombing tonnage. Most of their operations involved carpet-bombing the Republican Guard and other Iraqi ground forces. Joe Baugher noted that in 1,620 sorties, one B-52G was lost due to an electrical failure on Feb. 3, 1991, and three others suffered combat damage.
5. War on Terror
The current bomber force may have drawn down, but in the 1990s, the B-52, B-1B Lancer, and B-2 Spirit were all equipped to handle precision-guided munitions. Today, they have been delivering lots of bombs on various terror groups, including al-Qaeda, ISIS, and the Taliban.
Douglas Hegdahl walked freely around the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison camp, one of many American prisoners of war held there in 1967. He was sweeping the courtyards during the prison guards’ afternoon “siesta.” The American sailor that fell into their laps was known to the guards as “The Incredibly Stupid One.” They believed he could neither read nor write and could barely even see. But the “stupid” Seaman Apprentice Hegdahl was slowly collecting intelligence, gathering prisoner data, and even sabotaging the enemy.
He even knew the prison’s location inside Hanoi.
Hegdahl was a South Dakota native who was blown off the deck of the USS Canberra as the ship’s five-inch guns fired on nearby targets of opportunity. Once overboard, he floated in the South China Sea for 12 hours before being picked up by fishermen, who turned him over to the North Vietnamese.
Hegdahl’s enlistment photo and a photo of the sailor in captivity.
Certain he could be tortured for information, the Communists tried to get Hegdahl to write anti-American and anti-war propaganda. They showed him similar documents that other captives – higher ranking captives – wrote for the North Vietnam. Hegdahl thought about it for a moment, then agreed. The Communists were amazed. No other captured American did this voluntarily. They went off to get ink and paper.
The young sailor was thinking quickly. He figured the officers who wrote the propaganda material were probably coerced into doing it. He decided the best thing he could do was play dumb. He was very, very successful. The North Vietnamese thought Doug Hegdahl was a developmentally challenged “poor peasant” and set out to teach him to read and write. After failing at that, they decided to write a confession for him to sign, which he did:
“Seaman Apprentice Douglas Brent Hegdahl III United States Navy Reserve, Commanding Officer, USS Canberra.”
The sailor was first put into a cell with Air Force officer Joe Crecca, who taught Hegdahl 256 names of other POWs and then taught him how to memorize the information to the tune of “Old McDonald.” After that, Hegdahl was imprisoned with Dick Stratton, who was the ranking officer for a time.
Because they thought Hegdahl so developmentally challenged, the Hỏa Lò Prison guards essentially gave him free reign to do a lot of the cleaning and sweeping around the prison yard. He was even allowed to go and clean up around the front gates of the prison itself. That’s how he was able to later tell U.S. intelligence where the prison could be found within the North Vietnamese capital.
Hegdahl on sweeping duty at “The Plantation,” Hanoi.
But the sailor didn’t stop there. As the sailor swept the prison grounds, when the single guard assigned to him took his afternoon siesta, Hegdahl would add a little bit of dirt to the gas tank of the nearest truck. Over the course of his captivity, he managed to disable five NVA prison trucks this way.
Eventually, it came time for the NVA to offer early releases to some of the prisoners of the Hanoi Hilton. Even though there was a strict order among the POWs to not accept any early releases, Hegdahl was ordered to accept an early release — the only Hoa Lo prisoner ever ordered to do so — by his senior officer, Lt. Cmndr. Dick Stratton. He was not only the most junior prisoner in the camp, he also had all the information the U.S. government needed to expedite the release of the POWs — all of them. He didn’t want to, but someone needed to tell the U.S. about the torture they were receiving there.
When he was released, not only did Hegdahl recite the names of the 256 men who were shot down or captured in North Vietnam, he could say their dog’s name, kids’ names, and/or social security numbers. These were the means by which other POWs verified the information given. He picked up all of this information through tap code, deaf spelling code, and secret notes.
Released in 1969, Hegdahl was able to accuse the North Vietnamese of torture and murder of prisoners of war at the Paris Peace Talks in 1970. Flown there by H. Ross Perot, he accused the North Vietnam delegation of murdering Dick Stratton, assuring Lt. Cmndr. Stratton would have to be repatriated alive at the war’s end.
But the prisoners back in Hanoi didn’t have to wait long for treatment to change. Once Hegdahl described the treatment of POWs in public and to the media, the ones he left behind saw their treatment improve, receiving better rations and less brutality in their daily life.
In his memoirs, Stratton wrote of Hegdahl:
“The Incredibly Stupid One,” my personal hero, is the archetype of the innovative, resourceful and courageous American Sailor.
Jay Leno has a truly historic engine that he wants to show you: A Merlin 1650-1 engine used in fighters like the P-51 Mustang and Lancaster Bombers used across Europe to drive Germany back toward Berlin.
The engine got its start before the war. It underwent initial testing in 1933 and first took to the skies in 1935. Early models generated about 800 horsepower but increasing requirements in the pre-war years caused Rolls Royce to keep redesigning it, giving it more power and reliability.
The De Havailland Mosquito was powered by two Merlin engines.
(Photo by Wallycacsabre, CC BY 2.0)
Aircraft manufacturers in England kept reaching for the Merlin for their new designs. In 1939, the first production Spitfire rolled off the line packing a Merlin Mk. II engine capable of 1,030 horsepower.
This engine would go on to be used in everything from the Lancaster bomber, which sported four of these beasts, to the De Havilland Mosquito and the P-51 Mustang.
Still, the engine was a literal lifesaver for RAF pilots, and both the Brits and Americans wanted to buy more of them.
A P-51 flies over Virginia. The P-51 was first built with an Allison engine but quickly transitioned to the Merlin with great results.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Ben Bloker)
Britain inked a deal with Ford motor company to start mass producing the engine on the American side of the Atlantic, but Ford later backed out of the deal. The offer was made to Packard, then a luxury car brand in the U.S., who turned out their first Merlin engines in August 1941.
It’s one of these early Packards that Leno is showing off in his garage. They were delivered across the Atlantic both in boxes and already installed in planes like the P-51.
The P-51 was originally ordered by the Royal Air Force in 1940 and sported an Allison engine that produced 1,200 hp, but proved unreliable above 15,000 feet. Since it was supposed to escort bombers, that was a huge issue. The switch to the Merlins greatly increased their power and altitude ceilings.
And, in a lucky coincidence, the Merlin changed the center of gravity of the plane, shifting it slightly back. The engineers added a fuel tank to the front to level it out, also increasing the plane’s range.
World War II buffs love the engine for its effect on the war, but gearheads like Leno can find a lot to love in the engine’s massive power output and throaty sound. As Leno points out in the video below, he actually bought two cars built around the Merlin engine — and both are massive hotrods.
On July 25, 1953, seven Czechoslovakians rolled across one of the most heavily guarded borders in the world to freedom in the West. They rolled over three rows of barbed wire, land mines, and guard towers on their way into West Germany. The Czech border guards didn’t even try to stop them. No one fired a shot. They all just watched in stunned disbelief as the Nazi armored personnel vehicle just tore its way across the Iron Curtain.
The story of Vaclav Uhlik is a success story for American soft power, specifically the Cold War-era broadcasts of Radio Free Europe. Uhlik was an engineer in the new, Soviet-dominated Czechoslovakia following the end of World War II. He was a concentration camp survivor, a fighter for the Czech Underground, and mechanic who hid a big secret from the new Communist authorities in his country: there was an armored vehicle in his backyard – and he was rebuilding it.
For three years, he listened to the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe as he gathered parts and materials needed to get the APC operational again. The broadcasts gave him hope. His progress gave him patience. He was assisted by former Czech soldiers Walter Hora and Vaclav Krejciri in his efforts, and they were rewarded by riding in the vehicle the night it was to drive to the West.
The Czech-West German Border in 1980.
(Photo by Alan Denney)
Starting nearly from scratch, the men slowly reconstructed a battered Nazi Saurer RR-7 Artillery Tractor. Vaclav Uhlik, the engineer, rebuilt the vehicle as an armored personnel carrier. He made it large enough to carry himself, his wife and two children, the two veterans, Josef Pisarik, and Libuse Hrdonkova, a Czech woman who married an American after the war. Since he could only stay with her for three months, she decided to come to him in Iowa.
After years of tinkering and preparation, the modified RR-7, covered in the brush and foliage that hid it from Czechoslovakian authorities for so long, rumbled its way to the West German border. They drove through the Bavarian forest to the Wald-München (near Nuremberg) border crossing. And he did cross the border, except he didn’t go through the gates, instead opting to go right through the rows of barbed wire between guard towers and minefields.
The border guards just watched in awe, as they thought the APC was a friendly army vehicle. The Czechs inside had only what they wore with them, but they were on the right side of the Iron Curtain.
The seven Czechs drove the APC for several miles into West Germany and away from the border until they were stopped by West German police, taken to an American installation to be interviewed by intelligence officers, and then welcomed to their new home in the West. They would eventually be resettled in Springfield, Mass. – all except Hrdonkova. She would move to Sioux City, Iowa, to be with her long-separated husband.
In the early evening of April 24, 1943, Coast Guardsmen braved leaping flames and saved New York City from what could have been the largest man-made explosion in history to that point, a blast that would’ve wiped out sections of the harbor and, potentially, large swaths of the larger city and parts of New Jersey. Instead, just one ship was lost and zero lives.
Painting of the El Estero fire by Austin Dwyer.
(Austin Dwyer via U.S. Coast Guard)
While all the other branches rib the Coast Guard for being a band of puddle pirates, it’s important when really looking at its history to remember that, first, they actually have conducted a ton of deepwater missions. And, more importantly for this discussion, the shallow waters of the world are home to vital and dangerous missions that the Coast Guard does well.
The Coast Guard often takes on a large role during conflicts to help to ensure that war materiel is safely moved from industrial powerhouses in the U.S. to theaters of war overseas. During World War II, this included loading many of the Liberty Ships and other vessels that plied the Atlantic and Pacific.
But logistic expediencies created real hazards. It made sense in terms of speed and efficiency to move all the munitions, vehicles, and other vital supplies to a handful of ports and load it on ships from there. But doing so meant that strings of railroad cars and ships filled with explosive materials would be stored right next to each other.
Investigations would later reveal that the boiler had likely been leaking fuel oil into bilge water in the compartment below it, and a boiler flashback ignited the pooled fuel and started a fire. But once the fire was going, it would be able to boil oil to give itself more fuel and heat up the ammo until it started to explode.
The engine room crew immediately started fighting the flames with handheld extinguishers, but it wasn’t enough, so officers went to the Coast Guard barracks for volunteers. Could someone, anyone, please climb onto the burning ship, descend into its belly, and fight flames in the hopes of it not blowing up?
A graphic tried to tackle the level of damage if the ship had exploded. This high traffic area would have made an explosion of the El Estero especially catastrophic.
(New York Daily News illustration via U.S. Coast Guard)
But the Coast Guardsmen knew what was at stake. The loading docks were always filled with ammo and fuel and, on April 24, there were two other nearly full ships nearby, there were railroad cars loaded with ammunition waiting to unload, and there was a fuel farm that served the departing ships. A detonation on the El Estero would likely trigger a chain reaction.
Another World War I explosion, this one on a ship with 5,000 tons of TNT in Halifax Harbor in Canada, had killed 1,500 people leveling a large section of Halifax, Canada, in 1917. The combined loads of the El Estero and nearby ships and trains, somewhere around 5,000 total tons of explosives, dwarfed the size of the Halifax explosion. And an El Estero explosion would’ve been on the doorstep of New York City and could’ve flattened everything for five miles around.
Coast Guardsmen on a fireboat. Small vessels like these assisted in controlling the El Estero fire.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
And so 60 Coast Guardsmen, most of them in dress uniforms while awaiting their Easter Day liberty passes, rushed to the ship. New York firefighters arrived soon after with a firefighting ship, and they began passing hoses into the holds of the El Estero, but it was Coast Guardsmen who descended into the smoke and fire.
Survivors would describe a heat that overwhelmed them. The hot deck plates warmed and then burned their feet, paint peeled off the walls, and the heat continued to build. The Coast Guard officer in charge was Lt.j.g. Francis McCausland. It was his first day of work at the station.
But he was able to get tugboats to move the other ammo ships away and ordered Army soldiers to shift as many of the train cars out of range as they could move. By the time that additional fire trucks and Coast Guard fireboats arrived at 5:35, the fiercely burning El Estero was largely isolated, but still surrounded by the city, fuel stores, and warehouses of ammo.
The Coast Guard seemed to get the upper hand on the ship for a few minutes as the oily black smoke gave way to yellow and white streaks of flames, a signal that streams of water were hitting the major source of the fire. But the oily smoke returned, and the heat continued to rise.
About 40 volunteers were ordered off the ship, and a crew of 20 stayed onboard to try and keep the fire contained as long as possible while the ship was towed to a safe detonation point. Those 20 passed their personal effects to the men ordered off, some of whom wanted to stay and keep working. These included an engaged man who had to personally be ordered off the decks.
The further the ship was out of the harbor, the more lives would be saved in New York City and in the surrounding harbor from the pending explosion. Coast Guardsmen shoved anti-aircraft shells from the decks into the water and kept directing the water from the tugs onto the hot ammo as they traveled.
(The ship was designed so that it could only be scuttled from one spot that was directly underneath the burning boilers, so the Coast Guardsmen could only sink it by flooding it.)
Once the hull of the ship was under the waves, the threat of a full ammo explosion was largely dissipated. Firefighters kept water pouring onto the still burning superstructure for hours until, finally, the threat was gone. No one had died in a crisis that was later found to have threatened as many as one million residents with death, injury, or extreme property damage.
All the Coast Guardsmen involved were given special medals for their efforts, and the U.S. government overhauled ammo-handling procedures to move dangerous operations away from population centers. This would save lives in June 1944, when an ammo ship with 4,600 tons of ammunition exploded northeast of San Francisco, killing 300 sailors on the ship and nearby, but leaving the city untouched.