Ordnancemen of Scouting Squadron Six (VS-6) load a 500 pound demolition bomb on an SBD scout bomber on the flight deck of USS Enterprise (CV-6), during the first day of strikes on Guadalcanal and Tulagi, 7 August 1942. Note aircraft's landing gear and bomb crutch; also bomb cart and hoist. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.
In the 109 years of Marine Corps aviation, there have been significant accomplishments, happenings and many global conflicts. However, there’s one moment that’s considered the defining moment in Marine Corps aviation history. Marine 1st Lt. Alfred Cunningham was the first Marine on record to report for flight instruction all the way back in 1912. Over the course of the last 109 years, the most defining moment of aviation came on August 7, 1942, when members of the First Marine Division landed ashore on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
Marine Corps aircraft weren’t on the scene that day, but that doesn’t mean aviation wasn’t central to the operation. In fact, it was explicitly because the Japanese were constructing an airfield on Guadalcanal that the Marine Corps participated in the first Allied offensive action in the first place.
The Japanese airfield was a direct threat to Australian communication. When the Marines captured it, it remained Henderson Field, after Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241 commanding officer Maj. Lofton Henderson. Henderson had been killed at the Battle of Midway in June 1942.
Once captured, the airstrip became the object of destructive and concentrated assaults by Japanese ground forces, complete with repeated bombings by enemy ships and air attacks by Japanese airplanes.
Navy, Army Air Corps, and Allied forces all joined in the battle to assist and aid the Marines. However, it was Marine pilots and aircrew who were directly involved with the operations of Cactus Air Force, the Allied codename for Guadalcanal Island. Like the rest of the Allied forces, the Marines came with one central mission in mind – to decimate the enemy and take control of the island and the airstrip.
After the first Marine aircraft landed on the island on August 20, 1942, there was no stopping what they could do. Between first landing in August and six months later in February when the island was considered secure, five Marine aviators performed such heroic acts that they all received the Medal of Honor for their bravery. Additionally, several Marines received the Navy Cross, including famous fighter ace pilots Capt. Marion Carl and Maj. Jack Cram.
When enemy ships threatened to overtake Guadalcanal, Maj. Cram jumped into Brig. Gen. Roy Geiger’s assigned PBY Catalina and used the lumbering flying boat to make a torpedo attack against a Japanese transport carrier.
The Battles of the Eastern Solomons and the Battle of Santa Cruz both reduced the number of aircraft carriers operating in Guadalcanal’s waters. As this shift occurred, land-based aviation became more critical than ever to help provide defense against the Japanese ships that were attempting to gain back control of the land.
World War II encompasses so many firsts for military strategy, aviation and geopolitics. But nowhere during the war did Marine aviation personnel operate under such hardship conditions as they did during the six month Guadalcanal campaign. Combat aside, the island’s living conditions were absolutely terrible, and many Marines became ill with unfamiliar tropical diseases. Supplies were scarce, so there were reduced rations, inadequate medical supplies, and virtually no help from outside the island. For those who participated in the combat, Guadalcanal got a new name – Operation Shoestring.
The Battle of Midway helped to blunt the Japanese conquest of the Pacific and initiate offensive actions, but it was the protracted offensive actions at Guadalcanal that proved to be the turning point for the Pacific Theater. The flying leathernecks were no match for the Japanese crews that they encountered in the skies.
In the 245 years that our Marine Corps has existed, there are several battles that epitomize what it means to be a Marine – Iwo Jima, Chosin, even Chesty Puller all bring to mind what it means to serve the Corps. But in terms of sterling Marine aviation, nothing compares to the efforts of the First Marine Division at Guadalcanal.
Copy print of a well-known photograph of airmen at Bertangles stripping the remains of Richthofen’s wrecked Fokker Dr.1 Triplane and his two Spandau machine-guns, 22 April 1918. Salvaged by No. 3 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps. From the collection of the Air Force Museum of New Zealand.
The world is full of mysteries and the military world is no exception. Each war has been accompanied by strange stories, potential double agents, secret messages and unsolved disappearances. Scary? Intriguing? You tell me! Keep scrolling to learn about the top 10 mysterious events in military history.
1. The foo fighters were more than a band name.
Almost everyone has heard of the foo fighters, but few realize the origins of the 90s rock band name. In WWII, the foo fighters were a genuine concern. At night, American and British aircraft pilots frequently spotted bright lights in the distance. At first, they assumed the lights were Russian or German flyers. Until they began to move, that is.
The lights would change direction and speed away faster than any aircraft possibly could. Hundreds of reports were recorded, with some pilots even reporting dogfights with them. Since no one was able to figure out what the crafts were or who piloted them, they were given the nickname “foo fighters.” To this day, it’s one of the biggest military mysteries of WWII.
2. The Red Baron’s killer was never found.
The Red Baron, a German fighter pilot during WWI, was so famous that even Snoopy knew of his aerial prowess. He was one of the most lethal fighters in history, with over 80 confirmed kills. He was a serious threat to the Allied forces throughout the majority of WWI, until he was mysteriously shot down.
A Canadian pilot named Roy Brown claimed to have shot down his plane, but the details of his story didn’t quite make sense. No one knows for sure who killed him, but whoever it was would have had their name in the history books. The Red Baron was such an amazing pilot that the Allies helped to give him a decent burial in France in honor of his skill.
3. A Hungarian soldier turned out to be a serial killer…and he was never found.
During WWI, a man named Bela Kiss enlisted in the Hungarian army. He notified his landlord that he would be away for some time, and left for war. Some time later, the landlord heard that Kiss had died in combat, so he decided to rent the house to someone else. When he arrived to clean it out, however, he walked into a house of horrors. Several bodies were inside preserved in alcohol, all belonging to women who had disappeared.
It turns out, Kiss had been tricking women into marriage before killing them and taking control of their finances. Despite an extensive search, and a few reported sightings, he was never found.
4. A plane vanished out of thin air, starting the legend of the Bermuda Triangle.
It’s hard to imagine that six planes could straight up disappear, but that’s what happened. On December 5, 1945, five Grumman TBM Avenger torpedo bombers, collectively known as Flight 19, stopped responding to the control tower while on a training flight. A Mariner flying boat was deployed to search for the missing planes, but the Mariner soon vanished too. While no bodies or wreckage was ever found, 27 men and six aircrafts were never seen again.
While many rumors cropped up over the years, the disappearance probably has nothing to do with the supernatural. The most likely explanation is that Flight 19’s leader, Navy Lieutenant Charles Taylor, got so disoriented that he led the planes out to sea until they ran out of gas and crashed into the Atlantic. The rescue sea plane is likely to have exploded, as flying boats were prone to catching fire. Still, after all these years the resting place of the planes have never been found.
5. A strange ad was placed in the New Yorker magazine. But who published it?
Anyone can put an ad in the paper, but one published in the New Yorker was more than a little suspicious. The ad was for a real game called “Deadly Double,” but the copy gave a not-so-secret message: “We hope you’ll never have to spend a long winter’s night in an air-raid shelter, but we were just thinking … it’s only common sense to be prepared. If you’re not too busy between now and Christmas, why not sit down and plan a list of the things you’ll want to have on hand. … And though it’s no time, really, to be thinking of what’s fashionable, we bet that most of your friends will remember to include those intriguing dice and chips which make Chicago’s favorite game: THE DEADLY DOUBLE.”
A similar ad for the same product included the phrase, “Warning! Alerte! Achtung!” Okay, then. The dice shown in the ad’s images were even more strange. Instead of numbers 1-6, numbers like 7, 20 and 12, were shown. Some believe these bizarre ads were really a hint to American spies that an attack on Pearl Harbor was on the horizon. The creator’s widow has denied any suggestion that the game had any connection with spy activity, but it still seems a little fishy.
6. Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis predicted the bombing of Pearl Harbor over 20 years before it happened.
In 1920, Lieutenant Colonel Pete Ellis was a bit of an oddball in the Navy. He was known for being pretty solitary and working late into the night. When asked what he was doing in his office so late, he said he was working on “a special project.” A year later, he appeared to go mad. He gave a lengthy prediction of the future, including Japan’s attack on several islands on the Pacific, the targeting of Pearl Harbor, and the use of torpedo planes. Considering torpedo planes hadn’t been invented yet, he sounded crazy…except he was right.
All his predictions were dead on. After his prediction, he asked for a 90-day leave, which was personally approved by the Secretary of the Navy. He was given a sealed envelope and sent off to Europe, but he never arrived. He went to Japan instead, where he mysteriously died. A man who knew him travelled there to search for him…but he was found dead too! It’s a strange story with many loose ends, but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever know the details.
7. Ralph Sigler’s death doesn’t seem like an accident.
Ralph Sigler, an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, arrived in America when he was eight. He enlisted in the Army in 1947 and got married to a German woman shortly after while he was stationed abroad. When his tour was over, he brought her back to the states and the couple had a child. Over a decade later in 1966, FBI agents arrived at his doorstep to let him know he had been randomly selected to participate in counterespionage. The family’s ordinary life was turned upside down overnight.
In the following years, Sigler fed a great deal of false information to the SVR, Russia’s intelligence agency. When he met Russian officials in person, he quickly earned their trust. He identified 14 SVR agents and over time grew worried that the Russians were starting to suspect something. The FBI approached him by this time, but Sigler made plans to retire from the Army
His first contact with Russian officials came in 1968 in Zurich, and he soon earned their trust. Authorities have speculated that Sigler’s work led to the identification of 14 SVR agents. He was given an estimated 0,000 in compensation, every last penny of which he gave to the Army.In the mid-1970s, Sigler worried that he was “getting in too deep” and the Russians were becoming suspicious, which may have led him to offer extra information under pressure. By this time, the FBI had approached him.
The situation grew complicated, and some American intelligence officers were suspicious of his loyalties too. He was forced to take a polygraph test, which showed he was extremely on edge. Concerned, the Army arranged for Sigler to stay at a motel. Sadly, he never left. His body was found in the motel room after he had been electrocuted by two motel lamps. While the Army ruled his death a suicide, most believe he was killed and possibly tortured by Soviet agents. In his last call to his wife, he ominously told her, “I’m dying. I never lied.” He was later awarded the Legion of Merit cross for his sacrifices.
8. During the Vietnam War, troops on both sides claimed to be attacked by large, ape-like creatures. Vietnam doesn’t have apes.
The Vietnam war was chaotic to say the least, but there’s one mystery that has never been explained. Troops from both sides often reported exchanging blows with a group of human-like creatures who had reddish hair and ape-like features. Strangely, there isn’t a single known species of ape in Vietnam.
Other soldiers reported an enormous snake around 100 feet long with a massive, three-foot head. In Vietnamese folklore, such a creature was known as a “Bull Eater.” For comparison, the largest snake ever recorded is a reticulated python named Medusa, who’s 25’2″ long. Either that was a massive exaggeration or a tall tale…or a 100-foot mystery monster is lurking in the jungle.
9. A Revolutionary War hospital dealt with plenty of death, yet no one knows where the dead were laid to rest.
During the American Revolution, there were obviously a lot of injuries. To serve these wounded soldiers, a hospital was built in the new town of Easton, Pennsylvania. Needless to say, 18th-century medicine wasn’t the best. While medical records were poorly kept, it’s safe to say that hundreds or thousands died there. The strange part is that there’s no record at all of where they were buried. Since there was no formal grave yard nearby, the easiest assumption is that somewhere around Easton, there’s a mass grave from the Revolutionary War that has yet to be found. If I lived in Easton, I might move.
10. What happened to Paul Whipkey?
Fast forward a few years to the 50s. Lieutenant Paul Whipkey was working in the Air Force at Fort Ord, California. He was one of the first to witness an atomic bomb test, and he was doing pretty well. When 1957 arrived, however, things began to go awry. Whipkey stopped acting like himself, dropped weight, and appeared to be constantly ill. He developed black moles all across his body and lost all his teeth. While he was at work, two men in suits frequently arrived to speak with him, and colleagues reported that he always appeared tense when the men left. On July 10th, he left on a trip to Monterey, but he was never seen again.
The events following are shrouded in secrecy. The army cleaned out his apartment almost instantly, and he was classified as a deserter. The army seemed reluctant to search for Whipkey, and in 1977 they destroyed all files on him, yet his status was updated from “deserter” to “killed in action.” Some believe he died on a secret CIA mission, but most people believe he suffered from radiation poisoning due to the atomic bomb detonation he witnessed. I guess we’ll never know!
On the morning of July 4, 1989, alarm bells blared at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, home of the US Air Force’s 32d Tactical Fighter Squadron.
Within minutes, a pair of armed F-15 Eagles, manned by Capts. J.D. Martin and Bill “Turf” Murphy, were launched on a scramble order. Their mission was to intercept what appeared to be a lone fighter making a beeline from Soviet-controlled airspace into Western Europe.
Though the Cold War’s end was seemingly not too far away, tensions still ran high between the two sides of the Iron Curtain, and any incursion by an unidentified aircraft would need to be responded to swiftly.
As JD and Turf were vectored in on the aircraft, now identified as a Soviet MiG-23 Flogger supersonic fighter, ground controllers notified them that all attempts to contact the inbound jet had failed and the intentions of its pilot were unknown and potentially hostile.
When they got close the the Flogger, the two Eagles were primed and ready to shoot down their silent bogey if it didn’t respond and carried on its flight path. But when the two F-15 pilots closed in on the aircraft to positively identify it, they noticed that the pylons underneath the Flogger — used to mount missiles and bombs — were empty.
By then, the Flogger was firmly in Dutch airspace, casually flying onward at around 400 mph at an altitude of 39,000 ft.
What JD and Turf saw next would shock them — the Flogger’s canopy had been blown off and there was no pilot to be found inside the cockpit. In essence, the Soviet fighter was flying itself, likely through its autopilot system.
After contacting ground control with this new development, the two Eagle pilots were given approval to shoot down the wayward MiG over the North Sea, lest it suddenly crash into a populated area. Unaware of how long the pilotless MiG had been flying, and battling poor weather which could have sent debris shooting down the MiG into nearby towns, JD and Turf opted to let the jet run out of fuel and crash into the English Channel.
Instead, the aircraft motored along into Belgium, finally arcing into a farm when the last of its fuel reserves were depleted. Tragically, the MiG struck a farmhouse, killing a 19-year-old. Authorities raced to the site of the crash to begin their investigation into what happened, while the two F-15s returned to base. French Air Force Mirage fighters were also armed and ready to scramble should the MiG have strayed into French airspace.
Details of what led to the loss of the Flogger began to emerge.
As it turns out, the Soviet fighter had originated from Bagicz Airbase — a short distance away from Kolobrzeg, Poland — on what was supposed to be a regular training mission. The pilot, Col. Nikolai Skuridin, ejected less than a minute into his flight during takeoff when instruments in the cockpit notified him that he had drastically lost engine power. At an altitude of around 500 ft, it would be dangerous and almost certainly fatal if Skuridin stayed with his stricken fighter, trying to recover it with its only engine dead. The colonel bailed out with a sense of urgency, assuming the end was near.
But as he drifted back down to Earth, instead of seeing his fighter plummet to its demise, it righted itself and resumed climbing, its engine apparently revived.
The ensuing debacle proved to be thoroughly embarrassingfor the Soviet Union, which was forced to offer restitution to Belgium and the family of the deceased teenager. By the end of the MiG’s flight, it had flown over 625 miles by itself until it ran out of fuel and crashed.
It’s no secret that America is pretty good at getting themselves involved in wars throughout the world. Historically, we haven’t been the best at coming up with an exit strategy for some of those conflicts, though.
The Vietnam War is considered one of the most politically charged military campaigns in our nation’s history as young men were drafted into service to fight against the spread of communism.
After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the U.S. embarked on an offensive to break up a network comprised of men that take the worship of the religion of Islam into extremism.
Although these campaigns took place in separate decades against very different adversaries, the similarities from the perspective of the ground forces are impeccable. History repeats itself. Here are four ways in which these two conflicts are the same.
4. For the most part, we didn’t trust our allies
In both wars, American forces were teamed up with local troops to help combat their common enemy. Many Vietnam and Afghanistan War vets have noted that their “friendly” counterparts often appeared distant and were known to have even protected the enemy at times.
3. We fought against an unmarked enemy
Many of the fighters the U.S. went up against in both campaigns were able to disappear as fast as they appeared. This ghostly advantage wasn’t the result of some magical vanishing act, but rather an ability to blend back into the local population — right out in the open.
Since most of the “disappearing act” fighters are from small guerilla militias or surrounding clans, they never wore any distinguishable uniforms, adding to their advantage.
2. The enemy could live below ground
The Viet Cong commonly used their well-engineered tunnels while the Taliban make use of caves in the mountains of Afghanistan.
These livable structures can house enemy combatants for extend periods of time and conceal deadly weapons.
Some things are universal. If you’re going to start a war, make sure you’re also the one who finishes it. To be ill-prepared for any reason is dumb and just prolongs a war, yielding pointless loss of life. In the history of the world, wars have been prolonged and lost for many, many stupid reasons.
Things like ignorance, hubris, and incompetence come to mind.
(Department of Defense)
Racism is all three of those things. Especially when a leader is about to send thousands — or even tens of thousands — of his most loyal troops into a situation they can’t possibly win because that leader thinks victory is assured just because he’s white. Or Chinese. Or Japanese. So, let’s be honest with ourselves: The most spectacular examples of military leadership did not belong to any one race.
As a matter of fact, if there’s any one person who can claim dominance over all other military minds, you don’t have to worry about race for two reasons. First, because he killed nearly everyone. Second, because he had sex with all the survivors and most of us are related to him anyway.
When a country goes to war, it needs to come prepared to earn that win. No army, weak or obsolete, is going to just let anyone roll all over them because the invader thinks they’re genetically or racially superior. Yet, in the history of warfare, it happens over and over again.
“Cor, I think we may be knackered.”
1. Battle of Isandlwana
The British had been in Africa for a long time and were pretty good at subduing natives by 1879. Experience taught them that small groups of European forces with superior technology could outgun native warriors, even if they were outnumbered.
It turns out there was a diminishing rate of return to that theory.
British forces in South Africa prepared to invade Zulu with less than 1800 redcoats and colonial troops, a few field guns, and some rockets. They made zero effort at preparing defensive positions. The British didn’t even bother to scout or recon where the opposing Zulu force was. If they had, they would have known much sooner that their camp was surrounded by 20,000 Zulu Impi.
The Impi slaughtered the British — they just absolutely creamed them. Though the redcoats fought fiercely, 20,000 is a hard number to beat. Despite a British victory later at Roarke’s Drift, their invasion of Zululand fell apart. The worst part is that British High Commissioner for Southern Africa didn’t even have to invade. He just wanted to depose the elected government and federalize South Africa. No one authorized his invasion. He just thought so little of the Zulus that he figured it must be an easy task.
But the British had to finish what they started. The second time the British invaded Zululand (because of course they did), they brought more men and technology to win a decisive victory.
Hint: not well.
2. The Battle of Adwa
Italian forays into colonizing Africa didn’t always go according to plan. When carving up Africa for colonization, the other European powers seemed to leave the most difficult areas to subdue for Italy. The Italian army had to subjugate modern-day Libya, Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia. How do you think that went?
Yeah, they died.
In another example of “we’re white so we must be better” thinking, the Italians — who barely got themselves together as country in 1861 — tried to exploit Ethiopia, an already rich, complex, and advanced society. Italy tried to misinterpret a treaty signed with Ethiopia to subdue it as a client state, but Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II wasn’t having any of it. So, the Italians invaded from Italian-controlled Ethiopia.
After a year of fighting, they made it deep into Ethiopian territory. But as both armies began to struggle to feed themselves, the Italian government wanted a break in the stalemate. Instead of an orderly retreat, the Italians decided to attack, considering 17,000 Italians with old guns versus more than 100,000 Ethiopian troops would be less embarrassing than having retreat before Ethiopians.
Well, the Italians mostly died — but they didn’t have to. The Ethiopians not only had significantly more manpower, they weren’t exactly armed with spears either. They also had rifles. And cavalry. And more of everything on their home turf. The Italian invasion was just a bad idea from the start.
The Italians were pretty much annihilated at Adwa, with more than 10,000 killed, captured, or wounded. For Ethiopia, it guaranteed their independence from European meddling or subjugation, forcing Italy to recognize Ethiopia as such – at least, until Mussolini came to call with airplanes and chemical weapons.
Next time, don’t make your hats such big targets.
3. The Russo-Japanese War
At the turn of the 20th Century, Japan and Russia were in direct competition for dominance over Korea and Chinese Manchuria. Russia was expanding the Trans-Siberian Railway to reach its eastern shores, and did so through China, eventually expanding to the city of Port Arthur — which the Japanese thought they’d won in a previous war with China. Both Russia and Japan became convinced a war was coming. Because it was.
“Wait, wait… I think we want to negotiate now.”
For some reason (racism), the Russians didn’t seem worried. They were far away from any kind of reinforcement and the Japanese had an advantage in manpower and proximity. But the “yellow monkeys,” as they were portrayed in Russian press, gave the Russian military zero pause. The Czar and his advisors were sure Russia would win any war with an Asian country. Japan repeatedly attempted to negotiate with the Russians but to no avail. War was easily averted, but the Czar was sure Japan wouldn’t attack.
Since Russia had advisors with Menelik II in Ethiopia, you’d think they’d be wary of racist overconfidence, but you’d be wrong. Because Japan attacked.
When Japan attacks, they do it in a big way. They attacked the Russian Far East Fleet and bottled it up at Port Arthur, destroying it with land-based artillery. Japan then captured all of Korea in two months. They then moved into Manchuria as the Russians fell back, waiting for land reinforcements via the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Russian Baltic Fleet, which pretty much had to circumnavigate the globe to get to the war.
Russians retreating from Mukden. You’d think they’d be sprinting.
Neither was put to good use. Russia lost 90,000 troops when the Japanese captured the Manchurian capital at Mukden. And the Baltic Sea Fleet (now called the 2nd Pacific Fleet) was annihilated by the Japanese on its way through the Tsushima Strait.
4. World War II in the Pacific
Well, just as the Russians proved they learned nothing about racism by watching Menelik trounce the Italians, the Japanese learned nothing about racism from their victory over Russia.
By 1937, the Japanese were coming out of the Great Depression, well before the rest of the world. Coupled with significant military victories against China, Russia, and in World War I, Japan was riding pretty high. But this isn’t the start of the Japanese superiority complex. The country actually tried to have a race equality declaration written into the League of Nations.
But we all know how well the League of Nations turned out.
Oh. Right. Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese became contemptuous of white Americans and Europeans and saw themselves as a superior race. The inferior white races were considered soft and weak in comparison. When Japanese officials were met with racism while visiting foreign countries, it only exacerbated the issue.
They saw whites as overly individualistic, a society that would crumble at the first sign that it needed to unify or die. Japan soon came to believe its divine role was to be the champion of Asians and to liberate the colonies of the Western powers. Their view of themselves as a superior race was so extreme, it would weigh heavily on the Asian peoples they “liberated.”
But before any of that happened…
And Yamamoto learned about this thing called the U.S. Army Air Forces.
The fact is that American citizens didn’t really want the U.S. to go to war with Japan. But Japan needed raw materials to continue their campaign in Asia. So, when the United States cut them off of American oil and scrap metal, there was only one way to go about getting it.
Just kidding. There were many ways Japan could maintain its expansion in Asia without bombing Pearl Harbor or going to war with Europe, but it opted to bomb the Americans, who had the only fleet that could stop the Japanese Navy, and then take oil and rubber from the British and Dutch colonies in Asia. The Japanese thought if they destroyed the U.S. fleet, then America would just give up and let them have it.
That’s how weak-willed the Japanese thought Americans were. That line Admiral Yamamoto supposedly said about waking a sleeping giant? He never said that. But Japan found out pretty quickly about these guys called “U.S. Marines.”
Japan’s leadership knew they couldn’t win a long war against the U.S., but it was their racial bias that led them to believe the Americans would just give up after Pearl Harbor. They had led themselves to believe Japan was invincible so much that losing the war came as a shock and surprise to most of the Japanese people.
Emptiness and gloom is pretty much the main theme at Pripyat, Ukraine, one of the largest ghost towns in the world.
Built as a small residential city for employees assigned to the nearby Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station, it was suddenly abandoned en masse after Chernobyl’s Number 4 reactor experienced the worst nuclear meltdown in history in 1986, spreading deadly radiation across Ukraine and large chunks of Eastern Europe.
As a direct result of this accident, decrepit farmers fields and forest clearings are now home to some of the eeriest military hardware graveyards in the world, full of untouchable Soviet-era equipment.
In the immediate aftermath of the meltdown, the power plant spewed uncontrollable amounts of toxic chemicals into the air, fatally irradiating hundreds, if not thousands, of the Pripyat’s citizens. Over the course of a few days, the entire town was told to pack lightly and leave right away by military personnel deployed to the area to help with the response to the effects of the meltdown.
Within a week, Pripyat, a once-thriving planned city was deserted — save for scores of tanks, helicopters, armored personnel carriers and heavy trucks brought in by the military to assist with the nuclear cleanup.
Thousands of tons worth of top-of-the-line military equipment were flown or driven into Pripyat, with hundreds of Ukrainian and Soviet troops to man the vehicles and gear. State-of-the-art remote-controlled fire suppression units, radiation monitors, cherry-pickers and more, were also brought in to tackle the horrifying situation that lay before Chernobyl and its neighboring towns.
The debacle proved to be a global embarrassment for the Soviet Union, still in control over Ukraine, and something needed to be done to make it go away quickly before further details of the accident made their way into Western newspapers.
Cleanup and response crews were placed on rotating schedules to limit their exposure to radiation, though this proved in the long run to be poorly executed, leading to the deaths of many.
When removing helicopters and trucks from Pripyat and neighboring locales similarly affected by the meltdown, Geiger scans noted that every single truck brought into the disaster zone was severely radioactive. In effect, soldiers were operating inside cocoons of radioactivity, bombarding them with harmful cancer-causing radiation particles.
There was no other solution than to simply abandon these costly vehicles around Chernobyl rather than attempt to decontaminate and scrub them clean. Scores of tanks and trucks were left to rot in “mohyl’nyk” (Ukrainian burial grounds) after it was no longer feasible to safely operate them (the term “safely” being used very relatively and loosely here).
More equipment and military vehicles were brought in to assist with the post-meltdown cleanup, and more were similarly condemned and abandoned.
Helicopters, especially gargantuan Mil Mi-6 Hook transports, were listed among the worst cases of exposure, given that they were tasked with flying directly above the plant after the accident in order to release chemical solvents to eliminate fires burning beneath the plant’s blown-off roof. These helicopters were also abandoned at burial grounds, arranged among rows of dark green equipment.
Today, some of these armored trucks, tanks, helicopters, and even trains, still sit in the fields around the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station near Pripyat, which has since been enveloped in a sarcophagus to prevent further radiation leakage. The largest of these fields is known as the Rassokha Equipment Cemetery.
The general area, known as the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, is mostly off-limits to the public, though occasional tour groups are permitted to briefly enter the Zone for a quick peek before being ushered out. Visiting the abandoned vehicle graveyards is prohibited, however.
The Ukrainian government has invested considerable amounts of time and money into securing the Chernobyl plant, still in a low state of operation, and with disposing of the vehicle mohyl’nyk, full of unsalvageable gear. Over the past decade, teams of specialists have entered these fields to dismantle large sections of the graveyards and bury them on the spot, ensuring that the radiation they emit is fully contained.
Even still, the burial of every single piece of hardware will take years, thanks to the sheer numbers used in the wake of the accident. The few remaining war machines left untouched serve as silent reminders of the worst nuclear disaster in history, never to be used again.
Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States led a coalition of forces to invade Afghanistan. The mission, known officially as Operation Enduring Freedom, was intended to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist organization that had masterminded the 9/11 attacks and to topple the Taliban regime that had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda within its fundamentalist stronghold. The Taliban had held most of Afghanistan in thrall since 1996, imposing its extreme version of Islam on the populace and perpetrating a well-documented list of human rights abuses.
The invasion began on Oct. 7, 2001 with air strikes against Taliban defensive positions and al-Qaeda training grounds in Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad. Most of the Taliban’s outdated surface-to-air missiles, radar, and command units were destroyed on the first pass, along with its modest fleet of MIG-21 and Su-22 fighters. Having crippled the Taliban defensive response, the Coalition Forces Command gave the Afghan Northern Alliance the go-ahead to begin a ground invasion, with U.S.-led coalition forces providing air and ground support.
The groundwork for large-scale military action in Afghanistan had been laid in secret in the weeks following 9/11 by a small CIA liaison team codenamed ‘Jawbreaker.’ The team had staged covertly in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, in order to coordinate with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. During the same period, President George W. Bush formally demanded that the Taliban relinquish bin Laden to the U.S. for prosecution and destroy al-Qaeda bases, brooking no discussion nor negotiation of terms.
They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.
By November 12th, the Taliban was routed in Kabul. Three weeks later, Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold, was captured, driving Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar into hiding and the remaining al-Qaeda forces into the mountains of the Tora Bora region. Skirmishes continued between al-Qaeda and anti-Taliban indigenous forces, as U.S. Special Forces teams worked to locate the mountain caves into which al-Qaeda leadership had retreated. However, by the time the caves were captured, Osama bin Laden had escaped into neighboring Pakistan. He would remain at large until 2011, when he was finally apprehended and killed by SEAL Team 6.
In the vacuum of governance left by the expelled Taliban, a grand council of Afghan tribal leaders was assembled under the leadership of Hamid Karzai. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the U.N. Security Council to handle security in the region. Karzai was elected President in 2004 in Afghanistan’s first ever democratic elections. But even as Afghanistan began to take its first wobbly steps as a young democratic nation, the Taliban was regrouping on the Pakistan border. Soon they launched a wide-ranging insurgency, conducting guerilla-style attacks on Afghan Security Forces and targeting members of the new administration. Despite the continued intervention of U.S. military might in the region, the insurgency continues.
In World War II, the battleship Yamato dwarfed nearly all others, and many Japanese ships were larger than their American counterparts. But how was Japan, a relatively small country with limited natural resources, able to construct larger ships than America?
First, Japan started early with the knowledge that it wanted a naval force capable of widespread offensive warfare. But it also benefitted from specializing. Since the Imperial Navy wanted to dominate the Pacific, they didn’t need to make their ships capable of transiting the Panama Canal like America did.
Of course, making the world’s greatest battleships came with plenty of engineering challenges.
The designers of the Yamato had to figure out how to keep a floating platform steady when it fired 18-inch guns, each of which fired a shell roughly the same weight as a car. How can such a large ship be made to sail smoothly through the water quickly?
In this video from PBS, interviewers speak with historians and experts, including a Japanese engineer who served during World War II. Watch it below to see how Japanese designers ensured the ship would be battle ready:
In the end, the Yamato was never able to live up to its glorious design. It took some small part in battles in the Pacific but frequently found itself in the wrong spot on the battlefield to bring its weapons to bear.
One of its few claims to fame was inflicting damage on a small number of U.S. ships in the Battle off Samar.
In April 1945, the Japanese Navy decided to beach the Yamato on Okinawa and use it as a fortress and gun platform for as long as possible before U.S. ships and planes destroyed it.
Rifles, grenades, and bayonets are just some of the weapons ground troops used while fighting in the trenches of World War I. However, there’s one weapon that’s often overlooked by history, even though its use was extremely important — especially in the close-quarters combat typical of The Great War. That is the trench club.
In the event that one force decided to raid their enemy’s trench, oftentimes, their bolt-action rifles were rendered near ineffective, as each shot was followed by spending precious seconds reloading. Similarly, stabbing a man with a bayonet requires that, before engaging another enemy, you must first withdraw the blade from the bad guy’s flesh. Every single moment matters when you’ve closed in on the enemy, and regaining a firm grip on your bayonet may take too long.
So, troops grabbed old pieces of wood and converted them into weapons. The various types of trench clubs used in World War I hearken back to when brave Knights once fought with them on medieval battlefields. Here’s what you didn’t know about these improvised tools of destruction.
1. They would commonly see use in night raids
In the black of night, troops would crawl across the dangerous area between friendly and enemy fortifications known as “no man’s land” and navigate through the enemy’s trenches, quietly clubbing their opposers without raising alarm.
2. Size does matter
Reportedly, a medium-sized club worked best within the confined spaces typical of trench warfare. The average club was approximately 40-centimeters long, which is, basically, the length of a standard classroom ruler plus 3 inches.
3. They were made right there on the frontline
Trench clubs weren’t standard issue, so troops would gather materials found in the trenches and either put them together themselves or have unit’s carpenter do it. Nails, the shell of a Mills’ bomb, and a variety metal components were affixed the clubs, usually in mass quantities, to increase lethality.
See the club on the bottom? Yeah, that’s the spring club.
4. The most famous type of club was the…
This club was made up of a leather handle, a flexible metal coil as the base, and a metal head. Various other heads, like smalls metals balls and star-shaped blades, were also affixed to clubs.
Check out Simple History‘s video below to get an animated look on the major impact trench clubs had on World War I.
World War I marked the fourth time Congress declared war, but just the first time America instituted a draft. The “Great War” also created a new series of benefits for Veterans–some that exist in different forms today.
A story from The Cook County News-Heraldfrom Grand Marais, Minnesota, July 4, 1917, referring to World War I registration slackers.
April 6 marks the start of the U.S. involvement in World War I, which 4.7 million Americans fought in.
President Woodrow Wilson asked for a declaration of war April 2, 1917. The Senate voted April 4 and the House of Representatives voted to adopt the war resolution April 6.
Despite the declaration, American men did’nt volunteer in large numbers. Because the U.S. needed to organize, train and equip a force to fight Germany, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which started U.S. conscription.
Following the May 18 passage, the first draft registration day was June 5, 1917, for the 48 states and Washington, D.C. In July, the first draft registration for Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii started. This period also started the round up of draft evaders, called “slackers.”
According to the Library of Congress, over 70% of American Army troops were conscripts.
Of the 4.7 million Americans who fought, 116,000 died in service and 204,000 were wounded.
Veterans did see new benefits arise out of their World War I service. Congress amended the War Risk Insurance Act of 1914 in 1917 to offer government-subsidized life insurance for Veterans. Additional legislation provided Veterans a discharge allowance at the end of the war.
The War Risk amendments also established authority for Veterans to receive rehabilitation and vocational training. The benefits focused on Veterans with dismemberment, sight, hearing, and other permanent disabilities. Injured service members remained in service and trained for new jobs.
The Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1918 provided vocational rehabilitation training for honorably discharged disabled World War I Veterans. The act also gave special monthly maintenance allowances for Veterans who couldn’t carry on a gainful occupation. In 1919, a new law fixed Veteran medical care. It gave the Public Health Service greater responsibility, transferred military hospitals to the Public Health Service and authorized new hospitals.
The war also produced another benefit for service members: information. For 17 months, The Stars and Stripes newspaper informed American service members about the war. Over 100 years later, the publication still provides independent news and information to active duty, Department of Defense civilians, Veterans, contractors and families.
After the fighting around Guadalcanal, which was the stage for several epic naval battles, clashes continued in the South Pacific. These battles don’t get as much coverage today, but they were just as important. In fact, it was the Allied move up the Solomon Islands that arguably broke Japan’s back in the Pacific.
The Battle of Midway is justifiably celebrated as a decisive Allied victory that turned the tide of the war. Guadalcanal is known as a slugging match that, although bloody for both sides, put the initiative in Allied hands. It was through the Solomon Islands campaign, however, that put the Allies eventually into a position where they could neutralize the Japanese base at Rabaul and make General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines happen.
Here are a few things you might not have known about this crucial campaign:
What ultimately emerged as the Allied plan for dealing with Rabaul: Surrounding it, then bombing the hell out of it.
The original plan called for taking Rabaul
MacArthur originally wanted to take Rabaul, which was a superb harbor (the reason why Japan had taken it in early 1942). It had proven extremely useful as a forward base for the Japanese, and MacArthur figured it could work just as well for Allied forces. But heavy fighting at Guadalcanal and the “Europe-first” strategy led to bypassing Rabaul as part of the “island hopping” campaign.
Bypassing worked out pretty well, don’t you think?
A Vought F4U Corsair from Marine Fighter Squadron 215 (VMF-215) lands at Munda Point.
The New Georgia invasion cost Japan in the skies
The Japanese had built an airfield at Munda Point on the New Georgia Islands. This became an important objective in the campaign to the neutralize the Pacific. It took about three and a half months to take the islands, and cost the Allies almost 1,200 personnel — about 15 percent of the losses suffered at Guadalcanal. Japan lost 1,671 personnel, but the real discrepancy was in the air: 356 Japanese planes were downed compared to only 93 Allied losses.
New Zealand Coastwatcher Donald G. Kennedy with a Marine officer.
The invasion of New Georgia was launched nine days early to save one man
According to Volume VI of Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, after Japan took the Solomon Islands, a coastwatcher from New Zealand, Donald G. Kennedy, courageously went from village to village, vowing that the Allies would return. During the Guadalcanal campaign, he sent warnings of air raids to the Marines. After he was wounded in a firefight with a Japanese patrol boat, the 4th Marine Raider Battalion went in to protect his outpost while the invasion started. Kennedy later received the Navy Cross for his actions.
USS Helena (CL 50) firing on Japanese ships during the Battle of Kula Gulf.
Two naval battles early in the campaign came out roughly even
In the Battle of Kula Gulf, the U.S. Navy lost a light cruiser, but sank two destroyers. At the Battle of Kolombangara, the Japanese lost a light cruiser and the Allies lost a destroyer and had three light cruisers damaged in what was a tactical victory for Japan.
Future President John F. Kennedy and the crew of PT-109.
John F. Kennedy earned his heroic reputation in this campaign
John F. Kennedy’s heroism in the wake of the loss of PT 109 came during the fighting around the New Georgia Islands. His PT boat was with others in the Blackett Strait in August, about two months after the invasion started. His boat was rammed by HIJMS Amagiri, and the rest was history.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto on April 18, 1943 – hours before he was shot down by Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr.
(Imperial Japanese Navy)
The Pacific Theater’s “Zero Dark Thirty” mission took place just before the Solomons campaign
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was carrying out an inspection tour in April, 1943, when his place was intercepted by P-38 Lightnings. Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier would shoot down Yamamoto’s Mitsubishi G4M Betty while Rex Barber downed another that was carrying members of Yamamoto’s staff. The Japanese Navy didn’t have a new Commander-in-Chief Combined Fleet until a month before the invasion of New Georgia.
Australian troops patrolling on Bougainville in January, 1945. Japanese troops on the island held out until August 21 of that year.
(Australian War Memorial)
The Solomons Campaign technically lasted throughout the war
The northernmost of the Solomon Islands, Bougainville, wasn’t fully under Allied control until the Japanese forces there surrendered on August 21, 1945. The United States pulled out in 1944, handing the fighting over to Australian troops, who carried out operations for about a year and a half.
USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) is named for an escort carrier that was named after a battle of the Solomons campaign.
Several Navy ships get their names from the Solomon Islands campaign
During World War II, a number of escort carriers — the Casablanca-class vessels USS Lunga Point (CVE 94), USS Bougainville (CVE 100), USS Munda (CVE 104) and the Commencement Bay-class ships USS Kula Gulf (CVE 108), USS Vella Gulf (CVE 111), USS Rendova (CVE 114), and USS Bairoko (CVE 115) were all named after battles in the Solomons campaign. Two other ships, the Casablanca-class escort carrier USS Solomons (CVE 67) and the Commencement Bay-class USS Rabaul (CVE 121), were named for the campaign and the ultimate objective, respectively.
Today, the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) carries on the name of one of those escort carriers, and an America-class amphibious assault ship will be named USS Bougainville (LHA 8).
Jin Ke's assassination attempt on Qin Shi Huang. Jin Ke (left) is hold by one of Qin Shi Huang's physicians (left, background). The dagger used in the assassination attempt is seen stuck in the pillar. Qin Shi Huang (right) is seen holding an imperial jade disc. One of his soldiers (far right) rushes to save his emperor. Stone rubbing. (Wikimedia Commons).
When it comes to the Chinese military, most westerners are familiar with the most recent Chinese leaders. A country with thousands of years of history, of course, is going to have many, many more beyond Mao Zedong and Chiang Ki-Shek.
For centuries, Chinese generals not only led armies against outsiders like Mongols and other tribes, they led massive armies against other Chinese generals. The long history of warring states (one period of Chinese history is even known as the “Warring States Period”) gives historians numerous examples of famous and successful Chinese leaders.
1. Qin Shi Huang
The first emperor of a unified China, Qin conquered all the other warring states after a ten-year campaign that ushered in the Qin Dynasty. After winning a decade of brutal pitched battles, Qin reformed Chinese society to focus on centralized government and defense.
Instead of arming peasantry to fight its wars, Qin established military institutions to train professional career soldiers that would push the boundaries of military strategy. Qin also began the construction of the Great Wall.
2. Wu Qi
Wu is not only a celebrated military leader in Chinese history, he was also the architect of some of China’s most successful states during the Warring States Period, having worked as a civil leader for Wei, Lu, and Chu. Under his leadership, the Chu came to conquer the Yue and Wei states.
During his lifetime, he wrote the Wuzi, a treatise on the art of military strategy and one of the Seven Military Classics of ancient China (which includes the more widely-known “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu). Wu Qi argued that a general should not carry a sword, for he is the brain of an army, who must direct the soldiers’ blades.
3. Bai Qi
Qi was a general of the Qin state during the Warring States Period, and is best known for slaughtering hundreds of thousands of people, earning him the nickname “Human Butcher.” He never suffered a defeat in battle leading Qin armies and captured some 73 cities from enemy states.
In the 200-year history of the Warring States Period before Emperor Qin Shi Huang unified China, an estimated 2 million people were killed in major battles. Half of those were killed by Bai Qi’s command.
4. Li Mu
For the Qin to unify China, they first had to conquer the Zhao. To conquer the Zhao, they knew they had to get rid of Li Mu. The problem was that no one seemed to be able to defeat an army led by Li Mu in combat.
Before Li’s rise to command, the Qin had already weakened Zhao, along with Wei, Han, and Yan. None of them were able to help Zhao fend off the Qin. Other states like Qi and Chu were content to watch the QIn defeat the Zhao for good. Qin attacked Zhao while its army was virtually wiped out, but under Li’s leadership, pushed massive forces of Qin back, defeating the successively at Yi’an and Fanwu. The only way the Qin were able to defeat Zhao was by convincing the King of Zhao to demand Li Mu’s suicide.
5. Cao Cao
Cao Cao rose to prominence after helping put down a widespread peasant rebellion that ended in 205 CE. The rebellion left China divided into three separate states, essentially ruled by military juntas. These states immediately began to jockey for the power needed to reunify the country.
Cao captured the Xian Emperor and formed an army hundreds of thousands strong. Soon he was the most powerful man in China. He first tried to coerce the other states to unify with him but when they refused, Cao took action. He didn’t unify China in his lifetime, but his sheer force of will dominated an emperor and awed those in his sphere.
The P-51 may have been the plane that won the skies over Europe, and the Me-262 and Gloster Meteor may have been the first operational jet fighters on the sides of the Axis and Allies.
But those planes weren’t the fastest. That honor goes to the Me 163 “Komet.”
The Me 163 was short (about 19.5 feet long), with a wingspan of about 30 feet and looks like a miniature version of the B-2 Spirit. It was armed with two Mk 108 30mm cannon intended to rip apart Allied planes and it had a top speed of almost 600 miles per hour.
So, why isn’t it more well-known? Well, for starters, the way the plane got its speed — by using a rocket engine — tended to burn up a lot of fuel. That gave it a little over seven minutes of powered flight. The short flight time meant the Me 163 really didn’t have much range — about 25 miles.
After the fuel ran out, the Me 163 was an armed, fast glider. When it landed, it had to be towed. That meant it was a sitting duck until help arrived, and Allied pilots would just wait for the plane to start gliding down before putting a burst into it.
According to MilitaryFactory.com, despite operating for about 10 months, the Me 163 just didn’t get a lot of kills – anywhere from nine to 16, depending on the estimate. That’s less than one pera month. Furthermore, only one fighter group ever operated the plane, which was also hobbled by a shortage of rocket fuel.
AcePilots.com notes that the Me 163 was also dangerous to fly. The rocket fuel ingredients were very nasty – and when they leaked through the suit, it did bad things to the pilot. It wasn’t unheard of for Me 163s to just explode on landing as residual amounts of fuel would mix.
For all intents and purposes, the Me 163 was a manned, reusable surface-to-air missile that could make two attacks. Eventually, the Nazis decided to just use an expendable rocket instead of a manned plane for these types of missions.