How Green Berets prepared to carry 'backpack nukes' on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

  • In the Cold War, strategists wanted nuclear weapons they could use without sparking a nuclear war.
  • That led to the development of tactical nuclear weapons for use against targets.
  • Teams of Green Berets trained to carry those nukes to their targets and saw it as a one-way mission.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Throughout the Cold War, as the nuclear arms race became more frantic, a nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union remained a major concern.

With intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and air-dropped bombs, both countries had several options when it came to nuclear warfare.

But the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the closing days of World War II made clear the destructive capability of nuclear arms and the danger of a full-blown nuclear conflict.

As a result, US strategists sought ways to use nuclear weapons without triggering an all-out nuclear war.

The tactical nuclear option

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
An M-388 Davy Crockett nuclear weapon mounted to a recoilless rifle at Aberdeen Proving Ground in March 1961. 

In the 1950s, the US military came up with the tactical nuclear option, using weapons with a lower yield and range than their strategic counterparts.

These weapons would be used on the battlefield or against a military-related target to gain an operational advantage. For example, the Air Force could drop a tactical nuclear bomb on a Soviet division invading Poland to stop its advance without triggering a disproportionate response — such as a nuclear attack on New York City.

There were two types of tactical nuclear munitions: The Medium Atomic Demolition Munition (MADM) had a medium-yield payload and required several troops to carry it. The Special Atomic Demolition Munition (SADM) had a low-yield payload but could be carried by one soldier.

The order to use tactical nuclear weapons would still have to come from both political and military authorities. SADMs were subject to the same command-and-control procedures as other tactical nuclear weapons and meant to be used only if there were no other means of creating the desired effect.

Tactical nuclear weapons came in several forms, including artillery shells, gravity bombs, short-range missiles, and even landmines. But perhaps the most interesting iteration was the “backpack nuke,” which was to be carried by Army Special Forces operators.

Green Light Teams

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
US officials with an M-388 Davy Crockett nuclear weapon. It used one of the smallest nuclear warheads ever developed by the US. 

Specially trained Green Berets were assigned to Green Light Teams. Their purpose was to clandestinely deploy in NATO or Warsaw Pact countries and detonate their SADMs in a conflict with the Soviets. The Pentagon later included North Korea and Iran on the target list.

Green Light Teams’ main targets were tunnels, major bridges, mountain passes, dams, canals, ports, major railroad hubs, oil facilities, water-plant factories, and underground storage or operations facilities.

In other words, SADMs were intended to either slow down the enemy by destroying or significantly altering the landscape or target the logistical, communications, and operations hubs that are vital to an army, especially during offensive operations.

Green Light Teams primarily carried the MK-54 SADM. Nicknamed the “Monkey” or “Pig,” the device weighed almost 60 pounds and could fit in a large rucksack.

In each team, there was a chief operator who was primarily responsible for the activation of the SADM. He and other members of the team held the codes required to activate the bomb.

Like every Green Beret team, Green Light teams were trained in various insertion methods, including parachuting — both static line and military free fall — skiing, and combat diving.

Free falling was probably the most realistic insertion method other than ground infiltration, but doing it with the device was tough.

During parachute insertions, the chief operator seldom got to jump with the device because it had a high probability of injury for the jumper, and the chief operator was key to mission success.

An operator would have to strap the SADM between his legs like a rucksack, but the device would work against him as he tried to stabilize in the air before deploying his parachute. Even in static-line parachuting, when the ripcord is hooked to the plane, there would still be issues.

Paratroopers will release their rucksacks or other heavy cargo attached to them via a line moments before landing to prevent injuries. But the SADM tended to get stuck between the jumper’s feet in the crucial seconds before landing, resulting in several sprained ankles and broken legs.

Everything closely associated with Green Light Teams was top secret, and the seriousness of the mission followed Green Light operators outside work. They were instructed to travel only on US airliners and never to fly above a communist country in case the plane had to make an emergency landing, which could lead to them being held by local authorities.

No one is coming for us

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
Soldiers of the 77th Special Forces Group are towed on skis during training at Camp Hale, Colorado, February 5, 1956. 

A common thread among successive generations of Green Light Teams was their distrust of leadership when it came to their specific mission.

“During training, the instructors had told us we had about 30 minutes to clear the blast radius of the device. We never really believed that,” a retired Special Forces operator who served on a Green Light Team told Insider.

“In every other mission, teams would have an extraction plan. We didn’t. It was all up to us to get the hell out of dodge. But that’s not how the Army works. So that’s why we never really believed that we could get out alive in case we had to use one of those things. It was a one-way mission,” the retired Green Beret added.

There were Green Light teams forward deployed in Europe — even in Berlin — always on standby to launch. Some Green Light Teams even sought to forward deploy inside East Germany to be ready in case the Soviets unleashed their military on Western Europe.

Green Light Teams also deployed to South Korea at different times and were on standby in case tensions with North Korea turned into war.

With the end of the Cold War, the Green Light Teams were deactivated. They were never used in a real-world operation.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The fascinating origin of a favorite gloating phrase

You’ve just proven yourself to the doubters and in your moment of triumph you turn and ask just one question: “How do you like them apples?” This phrase has been used for decades and has been made popular by films like Good Will Hunting and Rio Bravo, but where does it come from?

While many claim that the origin of this phrase is unknown, others claim that it comes straight from the trenches of World War I.


How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

When developing the first armored fighting vehicles, the British didn’t want everyone to know what they were working on, so they called them ‘water tanks.’

(Imperial War Museums)

World War I was, at the time, the largest international conflict ever. As such, troops came together from all kinds of backgrounds. As they intermingled, they picked up on dialects from other cities, countries, and continents and, as a result, a large number of new phrases were born from adapting elements of these different languages. It was during this same war that the first armored fighting vehicle was dubbed a ‘tank’ and anti-aircraft fire was called an ‘ack-ack.’

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

You can still find these on the internet because why not?

(International Military Antiques)

The origin behind “how do you like them apples” actually has nothing to do with apples and everything to do with mortars. Specifically, we’re talking about the British-made 2-inch medium mortar, better known as the “toffee apple.”

This mortar used a smoothbore muzzle loading (SBML) system that fit a 22-inch shaft with a spherical bomb on the end, which would be exposed from the tube. This mortar, like others, was designed specifically for dropping warheads on foreheads in enfilade, but found use in other areas of the war.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

Hopefully, your calculations aren’t too far off.

(The Atlantic)

The spherical shape and low velocity meant that the warhead wouldn’t penetrate the ground prior to detonation, leaving shrapnel to devastate enemy forces. Unfortunately for its operators, the system had a fairly short range. Oftentimes, in order to land an explosion in enemy trenches, this system would need to be used from no man’s land — an extreme risk.

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2FnBSUhP57PLMje.gif&ho=https%3A%2F%2Fi.giphy.com&s=933&h=5835921a957170bf014dae9c6a1e3ee92371a75d1be5b1dd5df4ac37238225f0&size=980x&c=1457418599 crop_info=”%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252FnBSUhP57PLMje.gif%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Fi.giphy.com%26s%3D933%26h%3D5835921a957170bf014dae9c6a1e3ee92371a75d1be5b1dd5df4ac37238225f0%26size%3D980x%26c%3D1457418599%22%7D” expand=1]

Oh, Matt Damon.

In addition, to clearing out enemy infantry, these bombs could be used to cut barbed wire fences and destroy enemy machine gun emplacements.

Though some say this term was used during the first World War, many others will tell you it wasn’t used until the 1959 classic, Rio Bravo. In the film, after chucking some explosives, a character remarks, “How do you like them apples?” Since then, it’s appeared in (and was arguably popularized by) Good Will Hunting.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An Army veterinarian first took down Ebola in the United States

“From a pathology point of view, it’s a fascinating virus,” says Dr. Nancy Jaax, a veterinarian and Army officer. She’s talking about the Ebola virus, a subject she knows a lot about, having prevented it from maybe spreading to the entire United States. “The opportunity to work with such a unique virus was irresistible to me.”


When Jaax came to the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases in 1979, not much was known about Ebola. They knew it killed 90 percent of those infected, and that was about it. It was a Biosafety Level-4 pathogen: fatal to humans, easily transmittable (maybe even by air), with no effective treatments or vaccines. So when it showed up in a group of monkeys shipped in from the Philippines, it could have been really bad for the Reston, Va. lab where Jaax was working. Luckily, the Army has people like Col. Jaax working for it.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

Jaax joined the Army with her husband in the late 70s to pursue her veterinary residency. Right away, her work in veterinary medicine was significant, as she and her team discovered the first diagnosed coronavirus in military working dogs. But dogs getting colds were the least of the Army’s research needs. Jaax wound up at USAMRIID in the veterinary pathology program. A few years into her stint there is when the macaques from the Philippines were found to have Ebola. It was her job to actually look for the virus under the microscope.

When she looked at the tissue sample of the dead monkeys, she actually found they had two highly-lethal contagions: simian hemorrhagic fever, which is not contagious to humans, and Ebola. They had to shut down the facility – except for those exposed to the viruses.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

This was also my gut response. But luckily cooler heads prevailed.

The Reston Ebolavirus spread to all the facilities animals, who had to be put down. Unfortunately, it also infected a number of the USAMRIID workers who worked alongside Jaax. When they went to “depopulate” the facility, just under 50 people were found to have contracted the virus. The only thing was, unlike the other strands of Ebola, none of the Reston workers actually got sick or showed symptoms. In fact, their bodies didn’t respond to the virus at all. It came and went.

No one knows why. What they do know (and the reason we can all sleep soundly at night) is that the Army’s quarantine procedures worked as planned. None of the monkeys escaped into an Outbreak-like scenario. There was no worker with a small symptom who was nervous about it but decided to hide it so he could take the Metro to go to his kids birthday party. The virus stayed put, the monkeys were contained, and no one let the virus out of the facility.

That’s why we have procedures.

You can watch the story of Dr. Nancy Jaax and her experience with Ebola on NatGeo’s new miniseries The Hot Zone, a three-night special premiering Memorial Day, May 27th at 9pm on National Geographic.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This vet crash-landed a 767 on a race track on family day

Air Canada Flight 143 was supposed to be routine. The crew took possession of their airplane from the departing crew, reloaded on fuel, grabbed the passengers, and headed out of Montreal bound for Edmonton at 41,000 feet.

But then they got a fuel pressure warning. “No big deal,” they may have thought. Pumps fail all the time and gravity can feed these engines, “turn off the alarm.” But then a second one went off. What they would later learn was that the ground crew had entered their fuel measurement using formulas for pounds — but the systems had been converted to work with kilograms.

Shortly after dinner service, the plane ran out of gas.


How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

The “Gimli Glider” was crash-landed on a race track as families watched in horror and fascination after it ran out of gas thousands of feet in the air.

(Aero Icarus, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The crew heard a long warning noise that none of the members had ever heard before, even in the simulators. The warning signaled a total loss of both engines. The plane had ran out of gas. This is an even bigger problem than it would be in your Chevy since the plane needs engine power to run a host of systems, including the hydraulics

Suddenly, the crew was piloting a massive glider with nearly no power, no hydraulics, and limited instruments — and they were still over 1,000 miles from their destination. To make matters worse, air traffic control suddenly had their own issues guiding the flight since the plane’s radio transponders were powered by, you guessed it, the engines.

Luckily, the pilot often flew and towed gliders for fun, and the first officer, a veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, was intimately familiar with the airspace and landing strips nearby from his time in the service. The two men tapped into their respective skill banks to save the flight and get all 69 people on the plane down safely, eventually netting them awards for their flying in what would later be known as the “Gimli Glider” incident.

This video from Today I Found Out shows how it all went down:

www.youtube.com

An earlier version of this story referred to the race track as a “go-kart track.” The track was being used by small sports cars on the day of the landing, not go-karts.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How US Marine Wayne Terwilliger charged a Japanese tank head-on

The nose of their amphibious tank entered the ocean and bobbed through the waves en route toward the reef of Saipan, the largest archipelago among the Northern Mariana Islands. Wayne “Twig” Terwilliger, a radioman assigned to the 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division, watched helplessly as they crept over the reef toward the beach into the range of Japanese defensive positions.

“I started seeing these puffs of water all around us, and it took a second to realize what was causing them,” Terwilliger wrote in his autobiography. “Then we heard small arms fire hitting our tank, and the reality sank in: there were people on that island who wanted us dead.”


Prior to the invasion of Saipan, U.S. Navy frogmen conducted a daring reconnaissance mission in advance of the assault force. Valuable intelligence collected had provided the amphibious tanks with adjustments to successfully land on the beach — but they didn’t anticipate how their tracked vehicles would navigate earth displaced by battlefield weaponry in combat.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

Wayne Terwilliger, third from the left, on the beach at Saipan during a shelling attack, June 1944. The photo ran in newspapers across the country; in 2000, it appeared as background on a sheet of commemorative stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service. Photo courtesy of wayneterwilliger.com

While the amphibious tanks attempted to land on the beach, some were destroyed and others became trapped in craters left from mortar shells in the sand. “Japanese mortars kept whistling over our heads,” Terwilliger said, describing his first hours in combat stuck inside a large, green, immobilized target. “Most of them were headed toward the beach area, but we never knew when one would come our way. We also had no idea how long we’d be stuck there. We were there at least a couple of hours, though it seemed like forever.”

Terwilliger’s crew left the disabled tank and scattered, diving into foxholes situated out of the open. Gunfire snapped overhead, and explosions from mortars and grenades flung a wall of shrapnel through the air. Before they could catch their breath the rumbling sound of an unfamiliar tank grew nearer. Their horror realized Japanese armor with the big red “Rising Sun” emblem on the tank’s side was blasting its 37mm turret gun and had stopped directly beside their foxhole.

With nothing more than a few hand grenades, his crew couldn’t defend themselves. They pulled the pins and hurled them at the tank before fleeing for cover, but there wasn’t any within crawling distance. Terwilliger ran under heavy fire across open ground until he reached an old Japanese artillery piece. His stomach dropped when he realized he had run the wrong way. He found a little path, as if all of the enemy’s attention was upon him, and sprinted toward the beach as bullets zipped passed. He looked over his shoulder to find the Japanese tank trailing his every move.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

Wayne “Twig” Terwilliger, front left, with Company D, 2nd Armored Amphibian Battalion, which was created to lead the assault on key islands in the South Pacific. They fought at Saipan, Tinian, and Iwo Jima, and were preparing for new battles when the war ended. Photo courtesy of wayneterwilliger.com

He zigzagged through the soft sand to give the tank a harder target to hit. Marines waved and yelled to get his attention, and he dashed over a small sand dune for cover. “I looked back just in time to see one of our tanks made a direct hit, which knocked the Japanese tank on its side,” Terwilliger reflected. “That was my first six or seven hours of combat.”

Terwilliger served honorably in the U.S. Marine Corps, participating in the invasion of Tinian, as well as being among the first amphibious tanks to lead the invasion of Iwo Jima. During World War II, many amateur and professional baseball players joined service teams when not actively participating in combat operations.

“We didn’t have any spikes so we played in the boots the Marines issued us,” Terwilliger told ESPN. “You would have an air-raid sound during the game, you would scatter and then come back later to finish.” Terwilliger helped lead his battalion team to a 28-0 record, even winning the 2nd Division Championship — not bad for a high school second baseman.

When news of Japan’s surrender in 1945 came in, Terwilliger was in Hawaii, preparing to invade mainland Japan. He left the military that same year and went on to have a successful career as a player, coach, and manager in Major League Baseball. For 60 years, taking Terwilliger well into his 80s, he remained active in America’s national pastime. He was a teammate of Jackie Robinson — the first Black player to break the color barrier — and a personal friend of Ted Williams, one of the greatest hitters in all of baseball. However, Terwilliger’s most prized experience was his service as a U.S. Marine.

BRCC Presents: WWII Army Ranger Roy Huereque & The Best Defense Foundation

www.youtube.com

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The time that African American troops battled American MPs in Britain during WWII

Though America didn’t enter WWII until after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the American draft began earlier in October 1940, with the first men entering military service on November 18 of that year. Men between the ages of 21 and 45 were required to register and were liable to be called up for military service regardless of their skin color (the age range for registration was expanded to 18-65 following Pearl Harbor). Colored men were called up to fight for a country that allowed them to be discriminated against on buses, in restaurants and at water fountains to name a few.


Additionally, African American troops were segregated into colored units like the 1511th Quartermaster Truck Regiment. Part of the Eighth Air Force, the 1511th was sent to the European theater and based at Air Force Station 569 (nicknamed Adam Hall) in Bamber Bridge, Lancashire, England. The 1511th was almost entirely African American, while all but one of its officers were white.

Upon their arrival at Bamber Bridge, the men of the 1511th were surprised to find that the town was racially integrated; the townspeople welcomed Black troops and allowed them entry and service in all establishments. This didn’t sit well with the American commanders who demanded the creation of a colored bar to prevent the mixing of white and Black troops. In response, all three pubs in Bamber Bridge posted “Black Troops Only” signs. Racial tensions were further exacerbated by the Detroit race riot that took place from June 20-22, 1943 and resulted in 1,800 arrests, 433 injuries, and 34 deaths.

On the night of June 24, 1943, a group of colored troops were drinking with English locals at Ye Olde Hob Inn in Bamber Bridge. Two white MPs, Cpl. Roy Windsor and Pfc. Ralph Ridgeway entered the pub and attempted to arrest one of the colored soldiers, Pvt. Eugene Nunn, for being improperly dressed (wearing a field jacket rather than a Class A uniform) and not having a pass.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

Ye Olde Hob Inn c. 2005 (Photo by Geoff Wilkinson)

An argument broke out in the pub, with the locals siding with Nunn and his comrades. The exact details of what followed are unclear, but the situation at the pub was defused and the MPs left without Nunn. They returned, however, with two more MPs and fighting broke out. One of the MPs drew his sidearm and shot Pvt. Lynn Adams in the neck, dispersing the crowd.

Adams survived his wound and the men of the 1511th returned to their base (the white MPs were posted on the other side of town). Word of the incident soon spread and rumors began to circulate that the MPs were out to shoot Black troops. Lt. Edwin Jones, one of the Black officers, persuaded the men to let the officers investigate the incident and ensure that justice was done. A few soldiers slipped off base, either to run or seek revenge on the MPs, but the majority of them remained on the base.

At midnight, jeeps full of MPs arrived at the base along with an improvised armored vehicle which reportedly mounted a machine gun. Panic and chaos ensued and the colored troops armed themselves in response. Two-thirds of the rifles in the camp armory were reportedly taken. The MPs retreated from the base and the colored troops followed them into the town. A roadblock was set up, which British police officers claim was used to ambush the colored troops.

Running battles were fought between the colored troops and white MPs throughout the town, with both sides exchanging gunfire down the streets. The shooting continued until 4AM and resulted in two MPs and five colored soldiers wounded, and one Black soldier, Pvt. William Crossland, dead. The rest of the troops returned to their base, and by the afternoon all but four of the rifles were recovered.

Running battles were fought between the colored troops and white MPs throughout the town, with both sides exchanging gunfire down the streets. The shooting continued until 4AM and resulted in two MPs and five colored soldiers wounded, and one Black soldier, Pvt. William Crossland, dead. The rest of the troops returned to their base, and by the afternoon all but four of the rifles were recovered.

Following the battle, 32 of the colored troops were found guilty of, among other crimes, mutiny, seizing arms, rioting, and firing upon officers and MPs. However, their sentences were all reduced on appeal by the President of the court martial, citing poor leadership, with officers failing to perform their duties properly. The longest sentence served was 13 months; arguably a light sentence given the charge of mutiny during a time of war.

The commander of the Eighth Air Force, General Ira Eaker, placed the majority of the blame on the white officers and MPs. To prevent such an incident from repeating, Gen. Eaker consolidated the Black trucking units into a single, special command, purged the officer corps of inexperienced and racist officers, and racially integrated the MP patrols. As a result, morale amongst colored troops in England greatly improved and the rate of courts-martial fell, though several more minor incidents between white and colored troops occurred in Britain over the course of the war.

The Battle of Bamber Bridge, as it has come to be known, was heavily censored. Fearing that news of the incident would serve to worsen race relations on the homefront and abroad, papers wrote only that violence had occurred in an unnamed town in the North West of England.

Popular interest in the Battle of Bamber Bridge increased after author Anthony Burgess, who lived in the area after the war, wrote about it in the New York Times in 1973. In the late 1980’s, bullet holes from the battle were discovered in the Bamber Bridge NatWest bank by a maintenance worker.

To date, the Battle of Bamber Bridge remains a rather obscure event in history. The explosion of racial tension served as one of the many precursors to the American civil rights movement that would follow the war. Though the U.S. military was desegregated in 1948, it would take decades for the nation to see racial integration as a whole with advancements like Brown v. Board and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The recorded circumstances of Pvt. Crossland’s death are DNB – Died Non-Battle. He deserves to be remembered as a victim of racism and a martyr for the advancement of equality.


MIGHTY HISTORY

This Army wife’s wedding dress is made of the parachute that saved her husband

During World War II, Maj. Claude Hensinger had to bail from his B-29 bomber. When he jumped out of his plane, he was packing a parachute that turned out to suit a number of purposes for a wayward pilot, not the least of all ensuring he came to Earth with a thud instead of a splat. It also turned out to be a blanket, a pillow, and a wedding ring.


How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

Just making that jump is no small feat.

Hensinger and his crew had just successfully made a bombing run over Yowata, Japan but on the way back to base, one of their engines caught fire. Instead of heading home, everyone had to bail out over China. In 1944, survival was anything but guaranteed in that part of the world. Much of China was still occupied by the Japanese, who were always on the lookout for down Allied aviators.

As if roving Japanese troops wasn’t enough, the nights were cold, dark, and long on the ground there. He didn’t know if he was even in occupied territory. Hensinger was also injured from landing on a pile of sharp rocks and was bleeding. He kept a hold on his parachute, even after landing. It was a good thing, too. The chute kept him warm and kept his bleeding to a minimum.

Eventually, he made it to safety and then the comfort of the United States.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

Hensinger and his wife, married after the war.

When the war ended, he returned to his native Pennsylvania, where he reconnected with a friend from his childhood — a girl named Ruth. The two began dating and in 1947, Hensinger wanted to propose to his lifelong friend. When he got down on one knee, he proposed to her without a ring. Instead, he held his lucky parachute in his hands. He told Ruth how it saved his life and that he wanted her to fashion a wedding dress from the dirty, blood-stained nylon.

Of course she said yes. To both questions. As she pondered how to make the paratrooper’s dream gown, she began to worry about how she could ever turn the nylon into a real wedding dress. One day, walking by a store, the inspiration came to her. She passed a frock that was itself inspired by one worn on Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 film Gone With the Wind. She patterned the dress to match that while designing a veil and bodice to boot.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

Vivian Leigh wearing the dress that inspired Ruth Hensinger’s parachute dress in “Gone With The Wind.”

While another local seamstress sewed the veil and bodice, Ruth sewed the skirt, using the parachute strings to lace the skirt higher in the back than in the front. Keeping with tradition, Hensinger didn’t get to see his wife’s parachute dress until she walked down the aisle. He was a happy man, according to Ruth.

The couple was married for 49 years before Hensinger died in 1996. In the years between, two other generations of women were married in Ruth Hensinger’s parachute dress. The dress is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of American History.

Articles

The Navy is looking for a ship that was a hero of the American Revolution

A team of sailors and scientists from the United State, Great Britain and France searched for the wreckage of Revolutionary War ship Bonhomme Richard in early September in the frigid waters off the coast of England.


Underwater archaeologists from the Naval History and Heritage Command, Navy divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2, sailors from Naval Oceanography Mine Warfare Center, sailors from the French Mine Clearance Dive Unit and members from Global Foundation for Ocean Exploration embarked on the Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Grasp (T-ARS 51) to survey a late 18th or early 19th century-shipwreck in the North Sea.

The site is interesting to researchers since it’s considered a region of the sea where the final battle of John Paul Jones’ famous warship Bonhomme Richard went down. While some evidence from the site suggests the wreck researchers found could be Jones’s ship, other information suggests it sank much later.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
Joe Gregory, an able seaman aboard the Military Sealift Command rescue and salvage ship USNS Grasp (T-ARS 51), watches as the ship’s workboat is driven alongside Grasp during a magnetometer survey of a shipwreck site. Underwater archaeologists from the Naval History and Heritage Command are aboard Grasp conducting a remote sensing survey of a shipwreck that may be that of Revolutionary War ship Bonhomme Richard. Commanded by John Paul Jones, Bonhomme Richard was lost Sept. 23, 1779 following her victory over the much more heavily armed HMS Serapis. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Eric Lockwood/Released)

“The site has potential to be from the late 18th to early 19th century,” said George Schwarz, an underwater archaeologist from NHHC. “Although the site has some intriguing features, including a buried wooden hull, well-preserved organic artifacts and large concentrations of concreted iron objects, we also have later material on site such as sections of 19th century iron chain.”

Different Navy units surveyed areas around the shipwreck site using various pieces of equipment. NHHC used a magnetometer towed behind a rigid hull inflatable boat to map possible concentrations of iron along a predetermined grid over the site. NOMWC used unmanned underwater vehicles to survey other areas of the site and MCDU used a towed side scan sonar. MDSU 2 accompanied the mission and provided logistical and small boat support.

“The teams worked well together to collect seafloor and sub-seafloor features in and around the wreck,” said Schwarz. “These new data sets will aid considerably in the interpretation of the site, and we’re looking forward to future collaboration with project partners.”

Both NHHC and NOMWC often had to trade off using the RHI, but MCDU had their own and surveyed the site whenever weather and sea conditions allowed. The many hours they spent out on the water allowed them time to reflect on their mission and their part in it.

Acknowledging Bonhomme Richard was given to Jones and the U.S. Navy by France, one of the participating French scuba divers explained he’s glad to be a part of the survey mission.

The identity of the shipwreck under investigation is currently unknown but future surveys of the site are in the works. In addition to the wreck site surveyed, the teams conducted remote-sensing operations over an additional 2 square nautical miles, expanding the previously surveyed areas.

During the Revolutionary War, the French crown loaned Bonhomme Richard to the United States. Commanded by John Paul Jones, Bonhomme Richard’s crew was an early example of sailor toughness. The ship and her squadron were ordered to the United Kingdom to cruise for prizes off the coasts of Ireland, Scotland and England.

About a month into her mission Sept. 23, 1779, she encountered a convoy of merchant ships underway from Flamborough Head, which immediately turned back once they caught sight of Jones and his ships. Jones pursued and around 6:30 p.m. engaged HMS Serapis, which had been covering the retreat. More than three hours later, Bonhomme Richard emerged victorious-but mortally wounded. Jones shifted his colors to Serapis, the wounded were transferred over and her riggings were repaired. Bonhomme Richard sank somewhere in the North Sea.

Her logs were not updated in her final hours and so her resting place remains a mystery.

The Naval History and Heritage Command, located at the Washington Navy Yard, is responsible for the preservation, analysis and dissemination of U.S. naval history and heritage. It provides the knowledge foundation for the Navy by maintaining historically relevant resources and products that reflect the Navy’s unique and enduring contributions through our nation’s history, and supports the fleet by assisting with and delivering professional research, analysis and interpretive services. The command is composed of many activities including the Navy Department Library, the Navy Operational Archives, the Navy art and artifact collections, underwater archeology, Navy histories, ten museums, USS Constitution repair facility and the historic ship Nautilus.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the most successful fighter pilots in history are all Nazis

When Erich “Bubi” Hartmann died in 1993, he was still the most successful fighter pilot in the history of aerial warfare. With an astonishing 352 kills, his record is all but assured until World War III comes around. He’s not the only former Nazi Luftwaffe pilot whose name is at the top of the list. In fact, the top ten pilots on that list all have German names, including Gerhard Barkhorn (301 kills), Günther Rall (275), and Otto Kittel (267).

How did one of the most notably absent air forces in history rack up such impressive kill counts?


How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

Hint: They had to be good because their bosses were so bad at their jobs.

The reason German pilots scored so high is a combination of skill and time in the air. There’s probably also a dash of luck in there, if they managed to survive the war. Since the Luftwaffe saw its best successes at the beginning of the war, taking on obsolete and unprepared air forces in enemy countries, Nazi pilots were fighting for years before American pilots. When the war came home, the number of German pilots dwindled, and enemy targets over Germany rose.

A skilled pilot could rack up quite a kill count in that time, especially if they had to fight until the whole war was over, or they were killed or captured.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

And they did.

(U.S. Army)

In contrast, American pilots would be sent home, or rotated out after a certain amount of time spent in the air. At the height of World War II, allied fighter pilots were required to spend at least 200 hours behind the stick of a fighter aircraft before being eligible to be rotated home. American pilots dutifully fought the required amount of time and went home for some RR.

Even Richard Bong, the Army Air Forces’ highest-scoring ace – the “Ace of Aces” – scored 40 kills in the Pacific Theater from September 1942 until December 1944. His stay was extended because he was also training pilots in the Philippines. He ended up spending much longer in the area, leading missions and training pilots. Even though he wasn’t allowed to seek combat opportunities, Bong still racked up an astonishing 40 kills against the Japanese.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

It seems being one the top aces of any war is just a matter of time… and not getting shot down.

Articles

This legendary pilot fought to his last bullet after being shot down

Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., arguably America’s greatest fighter pilot of World War I, was finally downed after taking out 14 German observation balloons and four combat planes. But he took as many Germans with him as he could, strafing ground troops as he crashed and unloading his pistol into the infantry trying to capture him.


Luke enlisted in the Army on Sept. 25, 1917, for service in the aviation field. He took his first solo flight that December, received his commission the following January, and was in France by March.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke Jr. with his biplane in the fields near Rattentout Farm, France, on Sept. 19, 1918. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

After additional instruction there, Luke was ready to go on combat patrols. In an April 20, 1918, letter home, Luke described a severely injured pilot who later died and the constantly growing rows of graves for pilots. In between those two observations, he talked about what fun it is to fly.

Luke claimed his first kill in August, but the reported action took place after Luke became separated from the rest of the flight and few believed that the mouthy rookie had actually bagged a German.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke had a short career on the front lines of World War I, but was America’s greatest fighter pilot for a short period. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

But the intrepid pilot would get his first confirmed victory less than a month later. He had heard other pilots talking about how challenging it was to bring down the enemy observation balloons that allowed for better artillery targeting and intelligence collection.

Flying on Sept. 12, 1918, Luke found one of the heavily defended balloons while chasing three German aircraft. He conducted attack passes on the balloon and it exploded into flames on Luke’s third pass, just as the balloon was about to reach the ground.

The flaming gas and bladder fell upon the ground crew and the winch mechanism that held the balloons, killing the men and destroying the site. Two more American officers at a nearby airfield confirmed Luke’s balloon bust.

Two days later, the Arizona native brought down a second balloon in a morning patrol, but he still wasn’t liked by other members of his unit. The same afternoon, he was designated to take the risky run against another balloon as the rest of the formation fought enemy fighters. One, a friend of Luke’s named 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, would cover Luke on his run.

Luke once again downed the enemy balloon and was headed for a second balloon when eight enemy planes chased him. His guns were malfunctioning so he ran back to friendly lines rather than risking further confrontation.

Wehner and Luke became a team and specialized in the dangerous mission of balloon busting. Over the following weeks, they pioneered techniques for bringing down the “sausages.” The pair grew so bold that they scheduled exhibitions for well-known pilots like then-Col. William Mitchell, inviting the VIPs to witness German balloons going down at exact times along the front.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
Army pilot 1st Lt. Jospeh Wehner was a balloon buster partnered with 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Services)

But the men’s partnership was short-lived. Wehner had first covered Luke on Sept. 14, and over the next few days they each achieved “Ace” status and Wehner took part in two actions for which he would later receive two Distinguished Service Crosses.

On Sept. 18, the two men scored one of their most productive days including the balloon downing that made Wehner an ace, but Wehner was shot down during the attack on the second balloon. Luke responded by charging into the enemy formation, killing two, and then heading for home and killing an observation plane en route.

Luke was distraught at the loss of his partner and took greater risks in the air. His superior officers attempted to ground him, but Luke stole a plane and went back up anyway.

At that point, he was America’s highest-scoring ace with 11 confirmed victories, ahead of even Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker’s record at the time.

On his final flight on Sept. 29, he dropped a note from his plane that told the reader to “Watch three Hun balloons on the Meuse. Luke.”

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
German observation balloons allowed for intelligence gathering and highly accurate artillery fire. (Photo: State Library of New South Wales)

The pilot flew across the battlefield, downing all three but attracting a patrol of eight German fighters. Sources differ on exactly what happened next, but the most important details are not in dispute.

Luke’s plane was damaged and he himself was hit, likely from machine gun fire from the ground. As he lost altitude, he conducted a strike against German troops, most likely with his machine guns, though locals who witnessed the fight reported that he may have used bombs dropped by hand.

After landing his plane in German-controlled territory, Luke made his way to a stream and was cornered by a German infantry patrol that demanded his surrender. Instead, Luke pulled a pistol and fired, killing an unknown number of Germans before he was shot in the chest and killed.

All of Luke’s confirmed victories had taken place in September 1918. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Sept. 12-15, a second for his actions on Sept. 18, and the Medal of Honor for his final flight on Sept. 29.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Going to any bartender that knows their craft and ordering a “torpedo juice,” means you’ll get a cocktail that’s two parts alcohol (any alcohol) and three parts pineapple juice. It’s not a bad drink, but it’s not exactly refined.

Neither were the World War II sailors who created the concoction. These guys had to do something to mask the harsh kick of the liquor by any means necessary. It just so happened that juice was the most readily available. 

In Mike Ostlund’s 2011 book, “Find ‘Em, Chase ‘Em, Sink ‘Em: The Mysterious Loss of the WWII Submarine USS Gudgeon,” he details how sailors were able to drink the grain alcohol carried by submarines, even after the Navy tainted the supply.

Even during the best days of World War II, a good stiff drink was hard to find. For U.S. Navy submarine crews, it was next to impossible – to find one. So they would make their own, using the fuel that fed the submarine’s deadly torpedoes. 

Torpedo tubes on a US destroyer

One might think Americans would be used to either having to distill their own booze or to go completely without. The United States had only emerged from Prohibition less than a decade before the start of the Second World War. But no, Americans enjoyed their drinks and sailors were already known for their love of the hard stuff. 

Since there were no bars, pubs or stills aboard the submarines – and there wasn’t room for anything of the sort anyhow – they made the best of their situation. They converted to fuel used to drive their torpedoes into 180-proof alcohol. 

At first, the sailors could just pop open the fuel and start drinking, but it wasn’t always that way. Torpedo fuel was made from pure grain alcohol back then and the Navy brass knew it. They also knew that once the sailors aboard ship realized it, there would soon be a significant lack of fuel for torpedoes. 

Soon, Ostlund writed, Navy leadership began to add croton oil to the fuel stores. Drinking the alcohol with the oil additive gave sailors extreme stomach pains and diarrhea. Unlike the wood alcohol used by the government to poison industrial ethyl alcohol during Prohibition, the croton oil wouldn’t kill or blind sailors. They were still needed to fight the war, after all. The pain and suffering would soon pass. 

The Navy thought its fuel troubles were over and its fuel stores safe from thirsty sailors. They were wrong. There’s nothing more resourceful than a sailor in need of a drink on long haul sea voyages. 

Aboard the USS Gudgeon, sailors figured out how to separate the croton oil from the alcohol. The fuel was stored in five gallon cans and poured into a 50 gallon vat for use in the torpedoes. The sailors smuggled the fuel in their original five gallon containers back to anywhere they could set up a still, usually a hotel in a port city. 

They then simply distilled the oil from the alcohol, using the same method used to make grain alcohol in the first place. The stuff was then mixed with any kind of juice the sailors could find.

Operating a still in a random hotel wasn’t entirely without risk. The makeshift still setups can – and did – explode, setting fire to the hotel, buildings, and whatever happened to be nearby. A small price to pay for a bit of relaxation away from one of the world’s deadliest jobs. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

America is still obsessed with its ex-girlfriends

Britain isn’t our only “special relationship.” The United States has had many passionate affairs over the years. Just like in a real relationship, when things are good, they’re really good — even when the U.S. isn’t such a great partner when it comes to things like human rights.


How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

When the relationship goes bad, no one is more outraged than the United States. Nobody holds a grudge quite like the American government. But instead of moving on and just finding a new boo, we keep sneaking away to spend time with our exes, dropping by in the middle of the night and badmouthing them to everyone else while telling Israel and Palestine how to manage their divorce.

I guess it all depends on how you define “special.”

Russia

This is the one partner we just can’t say goodbye to. It’s been so long since the breakup that there aren’t any Americans left who remember just how good our relations with Russia really were. Russia traded with the colonies during the Revolution, kept the British out of the U.S. Civil War, and even sold us Alaska. Then one day, Russia just… changed.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

We didn’t recognize Russia anymore. Suddenly, Russia wanted to be called the “Soviet Union” and our love faded. After a brief spat (aka “invasion”), we sat back and watched our friend deteriorate on a drug called “Communism” until rival drug dealers (trying to push something called “fascism”) tried to kill them. Like some geopolitical Buford Pusser, we stopped rolling with the punches and began to clean up this town. But all we did was clear out the competition. Soon, other friends got hooked on the Communism and our friendship with Russia broke down.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
This could only be more American if the Rock was wearing an Old Navy flag tee.

We then threatened to kill each other every day for 40 years. Obsessively, we made movies, television shows, and books about how awful our rival could be. Like a Danzig song, we opined about how one day we would emerge victorious against the devil woman, the evil empire that broke our hearts.

Every time Russia tried to reach out to others, go to work, or invade Afghanistan, we were there telling everyone how awful they are — or cutting their brake lines. Our public shouting matches got so bad that people either chose sides or walked away from both of us.

One day, Russia just quit the habit. Russia started coming around again and things were looking good. Russia was Russia again. But then Russia found a new man.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
Mr. Steal Your Girl.

Iran

If Russia was our longest breakup, Iran was our most tumultuous. Just a scant few decades after we split with Russia, we found new love with their beautiful, exotic, oil-rich neighbor down the way. The Shah wasn’t the best ruler, but he was smarter than the Tsar. Iran, with its beautiful dark hair, secular government, and vast oil wealth, was more than just a rebound. It was a partner – it shared our love for champagne, defense contracts, and it even liked our friend, Israel.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
And Iran didn’t even mind that we spied on our ex from its house.

Then it happened. One day everything was beautiful and the next thing you know, Iran’s taking hostages. We haven’t forgotten for a single moment. And as much as we publicly berated its behavior, just a few years after the breakup, we were right back in bed together, trading arms for hostages.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
TFW you get caught sleeping with your ex.

Now we’re constantly threatening to come back and kill it. In return, Iran hassles all our friends and undermines us to our allies… but we’re still not afraid to hop back into bed once in a while. For old times’ sake.

Cuba

Our love for Cuba is almost as old as our country itself. Cuba is our first love. We practically grew up together. We even wanted to marry Cuba for the longest time — and when that didn’t work out, we were still very close. Cuba is the girl next door. Then one day, Cuba fell in love with our other ex.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
A blatant violation of bro code.

The next thing you know, Cuba has a gun to our head and we’re locked in a love triangle that nearly destroyed the entire planet.

Nowadays, Cuba is still in love with our ex and we resent them for it, even if the two aren’t together anymore. Cuba is constantly talking trash about us in our own neighborhood. Although we almost buried the hatchet a couple of years ago, those old feelings bring out the mistrust in us and we end up right back to where we started.

France

File this one under “frenemies.” No one took care of us like France did. We even named our favorite drink after the French. But as hot and heavy as the love was during the days of the Revolution, things quickly soured. France started getting pushy and domineering and, fresh from our break up with England, we just weren’t ready to get back into something so fast.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
But we never forget our anniversary.

So, instead of taking on the rest of the world together, we opted to just be friends… friends who constantly criticize each other to everyone else. But then France got in over its head a few times and we had to come help them out – and we never let them forget about it.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
We still have feelings for each other.

Sure, we’re demanding, but France is too independent, just like us after the American Revolution. And every time France opts not to go to war alongside the U.S., we get upset and brand them cowards and cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

Vietnam

They were our darling for such a short time. A sort-of rebound from our days with Russia, Vietnam was fighting the addiction to Communism that consumed so many of our friends. We tried to help Vietnam get off the stuff, but to no avail. It was a terrible breakup, one that Americans still can’t forget.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
Memories.

The U.S. spent the next few decades struggling with the memories of Vietnam and what happened between us. We couldn’t forget her and we soon began making movies, television, books, and music about Vietnam. We constantly looked in to see what Vietnam was doing, but it was still hooked on the Communism.

And we were so close.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War

Related: Why the US Navy is going to Vietnam for the first time since 1975

Now that a few years have passed, we just dropped in. We just happened to be in the neighborhood and we thought about Vietnam — we wanted to say hi, share some memories, and maybe see what Vietnam was up to these days.

Give us a call. Keep in touch. You look so good. I’m happy we did this.

Afghanistan

It’s pretty much over between us and Afghanistan.

 

 

Coming Soon:

United Kingdom

Iraq

Saudi Arabia

Taiwan

NATO

Literally all of Africa

Not Israel

Articles

This is why the Allies’ secret DD tank failed on D-Day

If you’ve seen the blockbuster movies The Longest Day (currently on Netflix) or Saving Private Ryan, a big part of the story is how infantry fought through the obstacles on Omaha Beach (the wisdom of sending two divisions into that meat-grinder can be debated at another time).


But the lack of tank support wasn’t part of the plan. In fact, it was one hell of an instance where that notorious and unwelcome Murphy’s Law put in an appearance, costing the infantry some much-needed support. It would have been their secret weapon: the Dual-Drive, or DD, tank.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
M4 Sherman modified into a DD tank. (British government photo)

The DD tank was a modified M4 Sherman that had a large canvas screen and propellers to enable it to swim in to shore from a distance. Tanks-Encyclopedia.com notes that the M4 had some good firepower for busting up fortifications — a 75mm gun with 90 rounds. At close range, that gun would more than do against the Nazi fortifications.

How Green Berets prepared to carry ‘backpack nukes’ on top-secret one-way missions during the Cold War
This is how the DD tank was supposed to work. Note the calm seas. On D-Day, they seas were rough. (YouTube screenshot)

There’s just one problem: the DD tanks weren’t tested in rough seas. Almost all of them ended up sinking when eight-foot-tall waves swamped them. And a tank on the bottom of the channel can’t provide support for the grunts. In short, the grunts had to do the hard by themselves.

So, take a look at this History Channel video, and a piece of D-Day history some folks would like to forget.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information