How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

It’s the little things in life that make life worth living. During World War II, those little things literally made life worth living, allowing American GIs to survive in situations they may not have otherwise. It helps that they also wreaked havoc on the enemy.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
Sergeant Stanley G. Tiemann of the U.S. Army’s 546th Engineer Detachment at Ft. Lewis, Wash sighting a T3 carbine with an M2 infrared vision scope.

Even as late as 1945, as the United States’ “island hopping” campaign was in full swing, the Americans weren’t too keen on night fighting. With some exceptions, notably U.S. Army Rangers in Europe, the Americans didn’t operate at night until the development of early types of night vision. The game changer in the Pacific was the .30-caliber T3 Winchester carbine with infrared night sight.

Other belligerents in the war had different policies. The Soviet Union, for example, was just fine fighting at night, a fringe benefit of having so many people to throw at the enemy. The Red Army was like the U.S. Postal Service: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stayed those couriers of death from putting rounds downrange.

On the Axis side, the Germans pretty much had to move at night, otherwise Allied air superiority would strafe them into oblivion. Japanese troops loved night combat, and they were very, very good at it. 

Japanese forces in the Pacific Theater used night combat tactics to even the score against larger, better equipped forces. Sneakily infiltrating enemy camps and slitting throats was a favored method of not just taking out enemy troops, but also causing mass fear among the ranks. 

Night attackers were usually carried out by small Japanese units to achieve some objective. Surprise and secrecy was their key to success in these operations. Infantry assaults were often conducted with no artillery support, as the units normally targeted the enemy’s softest points. The main strategy for a Japanese night assault was to close with the enemy as fast as possible and overwhelm them in hand-to-hand combat. 

As the war ground on and Japanese combat veterans were replaced by raw recruits, the Americans gained the upper hand in night fighting. Early warning systems such as microphones became used in the field, along with other warning devices. But nothing took a toll on the Japanese like the infrared night sight. 

night vision scope
An infantryman armed with an M16A1 rifle and an AN/PVS-2 Starlight scope for use at night.

In late 1943, American scientists were studying ways to shine infrared light on objects in the dark while developing a telescope device that could see the infrared light. They were able to develop a six-volt, rifle-mounted scope that could illuminate objects up to 70 yards away, visible only through the telescope. 

It took two years to perfect the technology, build it onto an infantry weapon and get it to the front lines, but they did it. By the time the U.S. Army and U.S. Marines were ready to invade the island of Okinawa, the Japanese nighttime advantage was lost. 

The Battle of Okinawa was one of the fiercest battles of the entire Pacific War. It took an estimated 250,000 American troops to dislodge more than 70,000 Japanese troops and 40,000 Okinawan draftees. Though the battle for the island took around three months, the fighting took a heavy toll on the Japanese  – partly due to the infrared scope on the Army’s T3 carbine. 

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
A later development in night vision technology, the AN/PVS-7 Cyclops 3rd generation goggle. 

An estimated 30% of Japanese forces killed by small arms fire on Okinawa were sighted and shot by soldiers equipped with the night vision scope. It was an astonishing feat, considering only 200 of the scopes ever made it to the Pacific. 

When Japanese night infiltration was effective, it was often due to inclement weather, such as monsoon-level winds and rains. 

Infrared technology for small unit combat continued into the Korean War, mounted on other .30-caliber rifles, eventually evolving into the helmet-mounted goggles enjoyed by U.S. troops and their allies today.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 times Chesty Puller proved he was one of the greatest Marines

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller wasn’t just a great warfighter, he was an icon of Marine military prowess and culture, embodying and helping shape what it would mean to be a 20th-Century Marine. Here are five times that Puller proved himself to be one of the greatest Marines, from heroics to hard work to partying, this is the warrior your platoon sergeants told you about:


How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
Marine Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller in Korea after the Inchon landings.
(U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant M. Shutak)

 

His legendary breakout from Chosin Reservoir

It was possibly Puller’s most heroic feat. Puller was temporarily in command of the 1st Marine Division when Chinese forces overwhelmed American and UN troops at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. The entire X Corps was vulnerable to annihilation at the hands of the Chinese, but the top commanders had a workable plan to save the tens of thousands of soldiers and Marines. That plan relied on 1st Marine Division.

The Marines, under Chesty, served at times as both vanguard and rearguard for the “advance in a different direction” that was, effectively, a withdrawal. Puller kept his men’s morale up as they knocked three Chinese divisions out of the fight despite constant supply shortages and the necessity of leapfrogging their artillery. This saved thousands of American lives and helped ensure that the Chinese advance could be halted before South Korea was lost.

Lt. Col. Lewis "Chesty" Puller at a command post at Guadalcanal in World War II.
Lt. Col. Lewis “Chesty” Puller at a command post at Guadalcanal in World War II.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

 

Guadalcanal, from smoking under bombardment to directing naval artillery

Then-Lt. Col. Puller landed on Guadalcanal in September, 1942, as the proud commander of the 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment. Unfortunately, he was the only member of the unit with combat experience, and he had to keep his men on the straight and narrow. On their first night, the Marines came under naval bombardment and many had failed to dig their assigned foxholes.

Puller spent the bombardment yelling at the men to keep their heads down and remain behind available cover. When it was over, he walked the lines with a pipe, calmly smoking it and reassuring the Marines while giving them practical advice. As the fight ground on, Puller tried to get his men past the Japanese defenses.

When an amphibious landing failed and Marines were trapped under fire, Coast Guard Signalman Douglas Munro led a fleet of landing craft in to rescue them, and Puller rushed to ships off the coast to personally direct the naval artillery fire to ensure the Marines got off safely.

Marine First Lt. Lewis "Chesty" Puller with Sgt. William "Ironman" Lee during jungle fighting in the 1930s.
Marine First Lt. Lewis “Chesty” Puller with Sgt. William “Ironman” Lee during jungle fighting in the 1930s.
(U.S. Marine Corps)

 

After missing out on World War I, he deployed to Nicaragua and Haiti

Puller grew up listening to his relatives talk about their experiences in the Civil War, and he was eager for combat when World War I rolled around. He volunteered late in the war in order to get to France, but was sent to officer training and missed out on the actual fighting. Instead, the Corps offered him a billet helping allied governments stand up or bolster national guards in South America.

The jungle fighting was fierce, and Puller was in charge of leading jungle raids and patrols against rebels in Haiti and then Nicaragua. It was in Nicaragua that he earned his first two Navy Crosses, both awarded for valor under fire. One was for leading five successful raids on an extensive mission, and the other was for leading his platoon back safely after defeating multiple well-prepared ambushes that left Gunnery Sgt. William “Ironman” Lee wounded.

Puller during the Korean War.
Puller during the Korean War.
(U.s. Marine Corps)

 

A dedication to close combat that included mounting bayonets on flamethrowers

Puller was known, at least in part, for his bomb quotes. You know, things like, “don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!” and “hit hard, hit fast, hit often.” But one of his most iconic quotes came when he first saw a flamethrower demonstration.

“Where the Hell do you put the bayonet?” he asked. And like all three of those quotes show, Puller believed in violence of action, in closing with the enemy and killing them before they could kill you. That mentality was part of what made him such an icon in a Marine Corps on the rise, transforming itself from a largely reserve force of the Civil War to one of the dominant fighting forces of World War II, Korea, and today.

Chesty Puller and other officers enjoy themselves.
Chesty Puller and other officers enjoy themselves.
(U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

 

A tendency to accrue legends, some based in fact and others in fiction

And, like the Marine Corps itself, Puller had a tendency to accrue legends — some completely true, some plausible, and some over-the-top. The true ones included things like when he led an overnight defense against a mile-long assault by Japanese forces on Guadalcanal and the aforementioned victories at Chosin and in Nicaragua.

But his prowess was so great that he also become the subject of all sorts of hyperbole, like a rumor that his nickname was Chesty because so much of his chest had been hacked off in the jungle wars that his rib cage had been remade of literal iron.

It’s no surprise, really. When you’re arguably the most decorated Marine is history, it’s hard for people to keep the details straight.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Jet Li turned down being Nixon’s personal bodyguard

When he was just a boy, Jet Li traveled to the United States with the Chinese National Wushu Team. While there, he and his team performed for the American President, then Richard Nixon. It was then that Nixon tried to make the young martial artist his personal bodyguard.


Wushu is the standardized form of Chinese martial arts, created in 1949 to bring all the disparate Chinese arts together. Though relatively young as a sport, the separate forms making up the whole of wushu are much, much older.

Li was only 11 when he met President Nixon. Being selected to represent Chinese wushu practitioners was quite the honor for anyone, let alone an 11-year-old boy — considering an estimated 20 million Chinese people practiced the art form. In 1974, Li was good enough to tour the U.S., a tour that culminated with a performance for the President.

He performed his routine on the White House’s South Lawn as Nixon watched on, standing next to one of Li’s female teammates. After his performance, the young man went to stand next to then-Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.

 

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

(JetLi.com)

Next, he was introduced to the President, who was very impressed with his skills.

Nixon leaned in to Li and said, “Young man, your kung fu is very impressive! How about being my bodyguard when you grow up?”

Li replied, “No, I don’t want to protect any individual. When I grow up, I want to defend my one billion Chinese countrymen!”

The room was stunned into silence and no one knew what to say until Kissinger said aloud, “Heavens, such a young boy and he already speaks like a diplomat!”

The next year, Jet Li began his reign as the national martial arts champion, a title he would hold for five consecutive years.

Check out Jet Li’s amazing moves below: 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCPjv_juj6w

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the Marine Corps’ first amphibious landing

In 1775, Captains Samuel Nicholas and Robert Mullan recruited men in a popular Philadelphia bar, promising them beer and adventure on the high seas. Just a few months after that November gathering at Tun Tavern, some five companies of the finest Marines landed on the island of Nassau and handed the stunned British a gleaming defeat.


Marines across the Corps maintain that the two newly-commissioned officers were in Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern that chilly November day to create a cadre of warriors who would serve aboard ships of the Continental Navy. Former Quaker and onetime pacifist Samuel Nicholas managed to raise two battalions of Marines out of Philadelphia. They would need all the help they could get because while the Army was fighting the British off at home, the Marines were going to take the fight to the enemy.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
This 1803 map of Nassau is very similar to its 1776 defenses.

In the early days of the American Revolution, the colonial government of Virginia moved its stores of gunpowder to a “safer” location, to keep it out of the hands of rebel forces — who were desperately low. That location was in the Bahamas, supposedly safe from marauding rebel ships and fighters.

When word reached Congress about the large stores of gunpowder in the Crown Colony of the Bahamas, the body sent secret instructions to Commodore Esek Hopkins to lead a flotilla of eight ships and 220 Marines (led by Capt. Samuel Nicholas) to Nassau and capture the large gunpowder supply in March, 1776. Consisting of two forts, Nassau and Montagu, the island’s defenses were a wreck. Fort Nassau could not support firing its 46 cannons. Fort Montagu controlled the entrance to the harbor, but most of the gunpowder and ammunition on the island was held at Nassau.

After a brief council, Hopkins decided the landing party would land near Fort Nassau aboard three ships at first light. The invaders would capture the town of New Providence before the alarm was raised among the island’s defenders.

They were spotted by the British, who then fired guns from Fort Nassau to arouse the island’s defenses. The landing team was forced to withdraw back to the ships and the ships left to rejoin the rest of the flotilla to determine their next move. The aborted raid did have a positive effect for the nascent Americans however: The Governor of the Bahamas almost had the extra gunpowder moved aboard one ship for safekeeping, but that idea was abandoned. The gunpowder stayed put and Fort Montagu was reinforced with only 30 mostly unarmed militiamen.

Back aboard the rebel flotilla, a new plan was hatched. The Marines, bolstered by 50 Continental Sailors, would land on Nassau via three ships and backed by the USS Wasp for firepower. In two hours, the Americans landed their entire force east of Montagu unopposed. This was the first amphibious landing of the U.S. Marine Corps.

After landing, the Marines encountered a British reconnaissance force as Fort Montagu was reinforced with another 80 militiamen. Word soon got out that the invading force was sizably larger than the island’s defenses, Montagu fired only three shots before giving up, and the militiamen simply returned to their homes. The Marines occupied the fort that night. The next morning, they occupied Fort Nassau without a shot.

Unfortunately for the invaders, the governor managed to sneak 150 barrels of gunpowder out of the harbor that night because none of the American ships were guarding the harbor. They did take the remaining gunpowder stores and all the weapons and guns the flotilla could carry. These weapons were later used by the Army under Gen. George Washington.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 deadliest battles for troops to fight in

For better or worse, the grunts handle the main chunk of the fighting. These are your combat arms troops — infantry, scouts, tankers, artillerymen, etc.


The supply guys in the back can usually get a bit comfy knowing that they probably won’t get called to the front line — except in the case of total war when the front line is so decimated that everyone, back to front, needs to push into the fray.

To quantify the level of suck, we’ve ranked the following battles by a metric that measures the percentage of casualties in relation to troops present on the battlefield and total loss of life from both sides. Thankfully, for today’s troops, full-scale battles aren’t as catastrophic as they were before the advent of modern medicine.

6. Battle of Antietam (Civil War)

Fatality Rate: 3.22%

Starting things off is the single bloodiest day in American military history: Sept. 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam. Within the span of 12 hours, around 25 percent Union troops and 31 percent of Confederate troops were wounded, captured, or killed. Six Generals died as a result of the battle along with 3,454 other troops.

The battle is considered a Union victory strategically and it paved the way for the Emancipation Proclamation, delivered just five days later. But, when the dust settled outside of Sharpsburg, Maryland, no one knew who won. If the Confederacy waited a few more hours, it could have gone in their favor, Lincoln would have never had the confidence to announce the Emancipation Proclamation, and the South would have had stronger European allies, thus drastically changing the course of the war.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

5. Battle of Gettysburg (Civil War)

Fatality Rate: 4.75%

The three-day battle between Gen. Meade’s Army of the Potomac and Gen. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia would be remembered both as the turning point of the Civil War and for the enormous loss of life.

With between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties on both sides, the Battle of Gettysburg is the costliest battle in U.S. history. The fighting for the “Little Round Top” alone left nearly 1,750 dead.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
Time to do grunt stuff, boys!

4. Battle of Tuyuti (Paraguayan War)

Fatality Rate: 8.71%

The Paraguayan War became the bloodiest of all Latin American wars when Paraguay pushed its boundaries on all sides, unifying the previously-uneasy alliances between Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.

While the entire war would cost Paraguay nearly 70 percent of its total adult male population, the Battle of Tuyuti cost the Paraguayans nearly their entire force in a failed surprise attack on the Triple Alliance encampment.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
Note to self: Never piss off all of your neighboring countries at the same time.

3. Battle of Okinawa (World War II)

Fatality Rate: 35.48%

The battles of the Pacific Theater finally culminated in one of the last major battles of WWII, which saw the deaths of 240,931 troops and Okinawan conscripts. While the American troops suffered over 82,000 casualties with 14,009 deaths, the Japanese lost up to 80% of their defense forces.

The reason for such a high Japanese death toll is two-fold: First, pitting untrained, conscripted Okinawan civilians against the battle-hardened American forces that fought through the Pacific isn’t exactly an even match. Second, the Japanese refused to surrender. After witnessing the horrors of Okinawa, mental fatigue was widespread among American GIs.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

2. Battle of the Argonne Forest (World War I)

Fatality Rate: 39.48%

The final Allied offensive of World War I was also its bloodiest. For years, German troops pushed down the French and British troops, but they finally managed to stand up again with the aid of the Americans. When H-Hour finally began on Sept. 26th, the Allies expended more ammunition than both sides of the American Civil War – in just the first three hours.

The loss of life was astounding on both sides. 28,000 Germans, 26,277 Americans, and an estimated 70,000 French soldiers were on the push towards Sedan, France. French forces finally managed to recapture the Sedan railway hub in the final days. Then, it was announced that the Armistice was signed on Nov. 11th, 1918, bringing an end to the war.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
It was also the largest American military operation with 1.2 million troops operating under Gen. Pershing’s command.

1. Battle of Cannae (Second Punic War)

Fatality Rate: 53.42%

This battle is remembered throughout history for many reasons. Hannibal’s impressive march on a Roman Army twice as large, the first recorded use of the “Pincer movement,” but also the overwhelming defeat of that massive Roman army.

The scholar Polybius estimated that, of the 86,400 Romans who fought, only 770 Romans made it out alive. The Carthaginian forces managed to only lose 5,700 of their 50,000 and only 200 out of their 10,000 cavalrymen.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
Everyone thought elephants in battle would be a terrible idea until they had to fight elephants in battle.

Articles

Medal of Honor recipient who held off 9 German attacks has died

The Congressional Medal of Honor Society announced that Medal of Honor recipient Wilburn K. Ross died on May 9, 2017. According to a press release, Ross, who was working in a shipyard before he was drafted, was 94 years old and is survived by six children.


According to his Medal of Honor citation, Ross’s company — assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division — had taken heavy casualties in combat with elite German troops near St. Jacques, France, on Oct. 30, 1944 – losing over 60 percent of the troops. Ross then set his machine gun 10 yards ahead of the other Americans and used it to hold off German forces for eight attacks – receiving less and less help as the other troops ran out of ammunition.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
Troops from the 3rd Infantry Division in Nuremburg. (US Army photo)

Ross, too, was running low. After the eighth attack, Ross was also out of ammunition. As American troops prepared for a last stand, salvation came in the form of a resupply of ammunition. Ross was able to use that ammunition to defeat the ninth and final German attack.

A profile of Ross on a VA loan site adds some more background. Ross was a dead shot, practicing a trick shot that involved using a .22 rifle to light a match. He later described how he had selected his position beforehand. He also related that he had no idea that a dead soldier he’d been shooting over wasn’t dead at all – it was an Army lieutenant who was alive, and who reported Ross’s actions.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
The Medal of Honor

Ross would be presented the Medal of Honor on April 14, 1945. During his service in World War II and in the Korean War, he’d be wounded four times. He served in the Army until 1964, when he retired  as a Master Sergeant. Afterwards, he settled down in DuPont, Washington, where he raised his kids. A park in that town was named in his honor, and includes a monument that displays his Medal of Honor citation on a plaque.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How John Wayne got rid of the KGB agents hired to kill him

It seems like so many dictators just love movies. We all do, but absolute power takes it to a whole new level. Gaddafi had a channel set up just to play his favorite movie – his one favorite movie. Kim Jong-Il kidnapped his favorite actors and actresses to star in North Korea’s movies. Then, of course, the next natural step for these guys is directing movies.


Kim Jong-Il made several films. Benito Mussolini pitched to Columbia pictures. And even Saddam Hussein made a $30 million war epic. But Joseph Stalin was the Soviet Union’s “ultimate censor.”

Related video:

At the time, global Communism was still very much a growing threat, one Stalin wanted to continue to spread around the world – under Soviet leadership.

He saw how much power and influence films – and the stars in them – held over large audiences. He saw it in Nazi German propaganda during the Second World War and he used it effectively himself to further his own personality cult.

So when he saw John Wayne’s power as an virulent anti-Communist on the rise, he ordered the actor killed and then sent (allegedly) more than one hit squad to do the job. He saw the Duke as a threat to the spread of Communism around the world – and especially in America.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

According to the book John Wayne – The Man Behind The Myth, Soviet filmmaker Sergei Gerasimov told Wayne of the KGB plot in 1949. What the Duke and his Hollywood friends did to the hit squad is mind blowing.

Obviously not one to let a thing like Communist assassins get him down, Wayne and his scriptwriter Jimmy Grant allegedly abducted the hitmen, took them to the beach, and staged a mock execution. No one knows exactly what happened after that, but Wayne’s friends say the Soviet agents began to work for the FBI from that day on.

But there were other incidents. The book also alleges KGB agents tried to take the actor out on the set of 1953’s Hondo in Mexico. A captured sniper in Vietnam claimed that he was hired by Chairman Mao to take the actor out on a visit to troops there.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

Stalin died in 1953. His successor, Nikita Khrushchev, met privately with John Wayne in 1958 and informed him that the order had been rescinded. Wayne told his friends Khrushchev called Stalin’s last years his “mad years” and apologized.

The entire time Wayne knew there was a price on his head, he refused the FBI’s offer of federal protection and didn’t even tell his family. He just moved into a house with a big wall around it. Once word got out, though, Hollywood stuntmen loyal to the Duke began to infiltrate Communist Party cells around the country and expose plots against him.

Wayne never spoke of the incidents publicly.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 standard missions of the Confederate Secret Service

Popular history remembers the Confederate States of America for a lot of things, but having a developed government capable of almost anything the United States could do is seldom one of those things. But it did have all the trappings of a democratic government, including a Treasury Department, an Electoral College, and even coordinated clandestine activities.

Spies. They had spies.


How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

They’re, like, the first thing new governments get. Catch “Turn: Washington’s Spies” on AMC.

I describe the Confederacy’s secret soldiers as a kind of Secret Service, but that’s not entirely an accurate description. The mission of the U.S. Secret Service is not only to protect the President and other American leaders, but to act as an investigation and enforcement arm of the Treasury Department. They track down counterfeiters and other fraudsters while assisting on anti-terror and counter-narcotics task forces with other agencies. But intelligence is not their mission.

In the Confederacy, it could have been. The Confederate government had countless secret agents in their employ, so many the Confederate government couldn’t always track them all. They were assigned many, many roles.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

Sabotage

In the early morning hours of a balmy August night in 1864, an American barge parked on the James River was filled with stores of supplies for the Siege of Petersburg. After about an hour, the barge exploded, destroying an estimated million of Union supplies. Its destroyer was Capt. John Maxwell of the Confederate Secret Service. He and a handful of other saboteurs destroyed a number of Union supply carriers, sunk Union ships, and allegedly destroyed the river steamship Sultana, killing thousands in one of the worst maritime disasters in American history.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

Rose O’Neal Greenhow was a DC socialite who provided the Confederate Army with enough information to win at First Bull Run.

Intelligence

Like any other army fighting a war, the Confederate Army needed information about their opponents. More than that, the Confederates needed to know what was happening in Washington, who their friends were, and other such information. There were many Northerners willing to oblige them.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

James Murray Mason and John Slidell were captured by the Union on their way to Britain. They were later released.

Foreign Agents

The Confederate States were, like most rebellions, eager to have international recognition of their independence. Confederate agents operated in Europe and elsewhere looking for this kind of support. They also measured public sentiment for or against their cause while providing any useful military information they could pick up. The US and Britain almost came to blows after two Confederate agents were captured from a British ship and detained.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

“They’re over there!”

Signal Corps

The Confederate version of the US Army’s storied unit not only conducted battlefield communication for the Confederate armies in the field but also took on a number of espionage-related missions. They gave the Confederate artillery the positions of Union troops and maintained a secret telegraph line of communications for its spies that extended all the way to Canada.

Much of the Signal Corps’ mission logs were destroyed in the Union capture of Richmond, so the full extent of their clandestine activities may never be known.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

Confederates were so renowned for their use of torpedos that the Union had guys who did nothing but disarm them all day.

The Torpedo Bureau

The Confederates were very vulnerable to the vast superiority of the Union Navy. The solution for them was to mine or torpedo everything in sight. To this end, they hired two brothers who developed Confederate torpedo technology, taking them from crude wooden shells filled with gunpowder to disguised canisters which looked like coal that would be smuggled into the boiler rooms of Union steamships.

Land mines and sea mines were soon to follow.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

Raids from Canada

Like modern-day green berets, Confederate agents recruited Canadians and sympathetic northerners to launch raids on American outposts in the north of the country. One such raid was the St. Albans Raid of St. Albans, Vermont in 1864. Locals of the Vermont area were forced to swear loyalty oaths to the Confederacy at gunpoint as the raiders robbed the three local banks, gaining money and notoriety for the Confederates.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War II vets rebuilt an APC to drive through the Iron Curtain

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.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

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.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

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.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Seattle’s 6 secrets of surviving atomic attacks

Do you know what to do when the bombs fall? When the Soviet planes fill the skies and create an endless rain of hellfire on the cities of America? If not, the Seattle Municipal Archives have you covered, because they have a pamphlet from 1950 that is here to save your life. Here’s how you can earn your “Atomic Warfare Survival Badge.”


How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
Got all that? If you’re having trouble reading this,u00a0don’t worry. We’re going to go through these tips and provide a little commentary on each, below.
(Seattle Municipal Archives)

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

(Library of Congress)

Try to get shielded

If you have time, get down in a basement or subway. Should you unexpectedly be caught out-of-doors, seek shelter alongside a building, or jump in any handy ditch or gutter.

We’ve previously talked about Civil Defense hearings in 1955 where the public found out that ditches along the interstate were the best the government could do for many people in the event of an attack. Yes, basements, subways, and even ditches can effectively cut down on the amount of radiation that hits your skin, and they can drastically reduce the amount of flying debris and other threats you are exposed to.

But, remember, you’re likely going to need to spend a lot of time in your shelter (more on that in number 4), and so “any handy ditch” is unlikely to have the water, food, and sanitation facilities you need to survive.

Drop flat on ground or floor

To keep from being tossed about and to lessen the chances of being struck by falling and flying objects, flatten out at the base of a wall, or at the bottom of a bank.

So, yeah, this is basically the same as the first entry, but it’s telling you to lay flat wherever you hide. Again, not bad advice. This could help protect you from debris and can reduce the chances that you’ll become flying debris. But, again, you’ll be highly exposed to radiation both during the initial blast and from the ensuing fallout.

Bury your face in your arms

When you drop flat, hide your eyes in the crook of your elbow. That will protect your face from flash burns, prevent temporary blindness and keep flying objects out of your eyes.

So, sure, this will reduce damage to your eyes and face, but no, it will not fully protect you. Your arm is likely not capable of fully covering your face. Whatever is left exposed will certainly be burned by the flash. There’s no way around this, but it does help if you quickly pivot away from the flash when you see the bomb go off and you’re dropping to the ground. But you’ll still be burned, probably quite badly, on whatever skin is facing the radiation.

Don’t rush outside right after a bombing

After an air burst, wait a few minutes then go help fight fires. After other kinds of bursts wait at least 1 hour to give lingering radiation some chance to die down.

This is likely the most overly optimistic of the tips here. Yes, radiation will die down over time after a bomb is dropped, but one hour is nowhere near enough time. Someone does have to fight the fires and give medical aid to the wounded, and if you want to do that, thank you for your sacrifice.

And it is a sacrifice, because every moment you spend outside, exposed to all the radiation, is dangerous. Radiation can stay at acutely poisonous levels for hours and can cause harm for days or weeks after the bomb drops. It’s not “lingering radiation” after one hour, it’s lethal radiation.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa

(Aarton Durán, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Don’t take chances with food or water in open containers

To prevent radioactive poisoning or disease, select your food and water with care. When there is reason to believe they may be contaminated, stick to canned and bottled things if possible.

Hahahaha, don’t eat anything after a blast. Any food or water that was buried at the time of the blast may still be safe, assuming you don’t get irradiated dust onto it while accessing it. But containers stored in a kitchen or almost anywhere above ground will become contaminated.

But, it’s the container that is almost guaranteed contaminated. If you absolutely have to eat food that was exposed, you can handle it carefully and wash the container before opening and get mostly safe food or water out of it. But cans and bottles do not make the contents safe on their own.

Don’t start rumors

In the confusion that follows a bombing, a single rumor might touch off a panic that could cost your life.

That’s legit. But go ahead and expect that everything you hear from others for a few weeks after the bomb drops is just a rumor. No one knows anything, and you’re all on your own for days, weeks, or even months after the explosions.

Sleep tight!

popular

Here’s the most influential US general you’ve never heard of

Winfield Scott, the longest-serving general officer in the history of the United States Army, served an astonishing 53 years in a career stretching from the War of 1812 to the Civil War. Known as “Ol’ Fuss and Feathers” for his elaborate uniforms and stern discipline, he distinguished himself as one of the most influential U.S. commanders of the 19th century.

Born in Virginia , he briefly studied at the College of William and Mary before leaving to study law, and served for a year as a corporal in the local militia. He received a commission as a captain of artillery in 1808, but his early career was less than auspicious. He vehemently criticized Senior Officer of the Army James Wilkinson for allegations concerning treason, and after a court-martial was suspended by the Army for a year.

After being reinstated, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel as the War of 1812 was getting underway. Serving in the Niagara Campaign, he was part of surrendering American forces during the disastrous crossing of the river into Ontario and exchanged in 1813.

After his successful capture of Ft. George, Ontario in 1813, he was promoted to brigadier general at the exceptionally young age of 27. He played a decisive role at the battles of Chippewa and Lundy’s Lane, earning him acclaim for personal bravery and a brevet promotion to major general, but his severe wounds during the second battle left him out of action for the rest of the war.

Following the war, Scott commanded a number of military departments between trips to Europe to study European armies, whom he greatly admired for their professionalism. His 1821 “General Regulations of the Army” was the first comprehensive manual of operations and bylaws for the U.S. Army and was the standard Army text for the next 50 years.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
Legend says he can be summoned if you put your hands in your pockets while in uniform and say “Winfield Scott” three times. (Portrait by George Caitlin/ Wikimedia Commons)

After serving in a series of conflicts against the Indians, including the Blackhawk, Second Seminole and Creek Wars. When President Andrew Jackson ordered the Cherokee removed from Georgia and other southern states to Oklahoma in 1838-39, Scott commanded the operation in what became known as the “Trail of Tears,” when thousands of Cherokee died under terrible conditions during the long journey.

In 1841, Scott was made Commanding General of the U.S. Army, a position he would serve in for 20 years. When President James Polk ordered troops to territory disputed with Mexico along the Texas border, Scott appointed future president general Zachary Taylor to lead the expedition while he stayed in Washington. This was under pressure from Polk, who worried about Scott’s well known presidential aspirations. When the Mexican War subsequently broke out, Taylor grew bogged down in northwest Mexico after an initial series of victories, and it became clear that the northern route to Mexico City was no longer viable. Scott decided to personally lead a second front in order to break through to the Mexican capital.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
A little war going on is no excuse to not look your best. (Copy of lithograph by Nathaniel Currier, 1847/Wikimedia Commons)

Scott and his army’s landing at Vera Cruz, Mexico marks the first major amphibious landing by a U.S. army on foreign soil, and they seized the strategic port after a short siege. Roughly following conquistador Hernan Cortes’s historical route to Mexico City, U.S. forces won a series of victories against generally larger Mexican armies. Scott showed great skill in maneuver warfare, flanking enemy forces out of their fortifications where they could be defeated in the open. He successfully gambled that the army could live of the land in the face of impossibly long supply lines and after six months of marching and fighting, the U.S. seized the capital, putting the end to most resistance. The campaign had been a resounding success, with no less an authority than the Duke of Wellington, hero of Waterloo, declaring him “the greatest living general.”

Scott was an able military governor, and his fairness towards the conquered Mexicans gained him some measure of popularity in the country. But his vanity and political rivalry with Taylor, along with intercepted letters showing a scathing attitude towards Washington and Polk, lead to his recall in 1848.

Scott’s presidential aspirations were dashed when he badly lost the 1852 election to Franklin Pierce after a lackluster campaign. Continuing as commander of the Army, he was only the second man since George Washington to be promoted to Lieutenant General. By the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, however, Scott was 75 years old and so obese he couldn’t even ride a horse, and Lincoln soon had him replaced by general George B. McClellan. His strategic sense had not dulled. His “Anaconda Plan” to blockade and split the South, first derided by those seeking a quick victory, proved to be the strategy that won the war.

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
Scott’s Great Snake by J.B. Elliot (Library of Congress)

Scott was a vain man, prone to squabbling with other officers he held in contempt, and his political aspirations lead to great tensions with Washington during the Mexican War. His command of the “Trail of Tears” put him at the forefront of one of the most disgraceful episodes in the U.S. treatment of Native Americans. But his determination to turn the U.S. Army into a professional force, his immense strategic and tactical skill, and a career that spanned over five decades makes him one of the most influential figures in U.S. military history.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s a pilot’s eye view of the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot

What’s it like to take part in a modern air battle, flying some of the most sophisticated planes ever to take to the sky? We’re talking the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon here, during the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot.


The F-15 and F-16 have seen a lot of action, the vast majority of which has taken place in the Middle East. One of the most notable engagements these airframes saw was the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. During the 1982 Israeli-Lebanon War, the Israelis were dealing with terrorist attacks from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO had relocated to Lebanon shortly after wearing out its welcome in Jordan.

After a PLO assassination attempt that targetted the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, the Israelis went into Lebanon to deal with the terrorists. The thing was, the PLO was backed by Syria. So, when the Israelis went in, the Syrian Army went in to stop them. A crucial part of the Syrian strategy was to take control of the air.

 

How the first ‘night vision’ scope turned the tide against Japan on Okinawa
IAF F-15C Baz (Baz Meshupar) of the Israeli Air Force, Independence Day 2017 with four kill marks. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Mathknight and Zachi Evenor)

This wouldn’t work out so well for the Syrians. Not only had Israelis just acquired the latest and greatest fighters from the United States, they had also acquired the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye. This radar plane was perhaps the biggest advantage for the Israelis. Ground-based radar stations have a lot of trouble seeing low-altitude planes and cruise missiles. Airborne radar, however, has much less difficulty.

Between June 9 and 10, nearly 200 fighters from both the Israeli Defense Force and the Syrian Air Force clashed over the Bekaa Valley. When the shooting had stopped, all the Israeli planes returned safely to their bases. Over 80 Syrian combat planes were not so lucky, destroyed in the ferocious air battle.

You can see what this battle was like from an Israeli pilot’s perspective in the video below. There probably aren’t very many Syrian perspectives available.

(Paul Iddon | YouTube)

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