This might be the most important moment in Marine aviation - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This might be the most important moment in Marine aviation

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.

Articles

Russia’s inflatable arsenal is one of the oldest tricks in the book

The Russian Ministry of Defense has started deploying an old kind of military deception: inflatable weaponry.


The Russian government has a growing supply of inflatable military gear, including tanks, jets, and missile batteries, provided by hot-air balloon company RusBal, as detailed by a report by The New York Times.

Also read: WWII ‘Ghost Army’ may be up for Congressional Gold Medal

A demonstration in a field near Moscow illustrated the ingenuity behind the idea.

The inflatables deploy quickly and break down just as fast. They transport relatively easily, providing targets that may not only draw the enemy’s fire but also affect their decision-making process, burdening a rival’s leadership with the task of verifying targets.

An inflatable mock-up of a T-72 tank, from the 45th Separate Engineer-Camouflage Regiment of Russia.

“If you study the major battles of history, you see that trickery wins every time,” Aleksei A. Komarov, RusBal’s director of military sales, told The Times. “Nobody ever wins honestly.”

Inflatable weaponry has a history on Europe’s battlefields. Prior to the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944, Gen. George S. Patton was placed in charge of the First US Army Group (FUSAG) — a phantom force housed in cities of empty tents and deployed in vehicles made of wood, fabric, or inflatable rubber.

After Allied forces had a foothold in France, the “Ghost Army,” as it came to be called, continued to serve a purpose, as it was responsible for more than 20 illusions that befuddled German military leadership and disguised actual Allied troop movements in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany.

Moscow’s modern-day iteration of the inflatable army fits with a distinctly Russian style of subterfuge: Maskirovka, a Russian doctrine that mixes strategic and tactical deception with the aim of distorting an enemy’s conception of reality, bogging down decision-makers at every level with misinformation and confusion.

Maskirovka is a longstanding practice of Russian planners. During the Cold War, maps created for the Russian public were filled with tiny inaccuracies that would make them useless should they fall into the hands of rival military planners. The cartographer who came up with the ruse was given the State Prize by Josef Stalin.

A more recent version of maskirovka was displayed in Ukraine in 2014, when masked or otherwise disguised soldiers showed up in Crimea, and later by other soldiers purportedly “vacationing” in eastern Ukraine.

According to The Times, Russian military leaders were dubious about the inflatable hardware at first, but they appear to have been won over.

“There are no gentlemen’s agreements in war,” Maria Oparina, the director of RusBal and daughter of the founder, told The Times.

“There’s no chivalry anymore. Nobody wears a red uniform. Nobody stands up to get shot at. It’s either you or me, and whoever has the best trick wins.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 things you didn’t know about Operation Market Garden

It’s been 75 years since the launch of Operation Market Garden – the World War II mission to secure key bridges across Belgium and the Netherlands while pushing an Allied advance over the Rhine into Germany and ending the war in Europe by Christmas 1944. Unfortunately, many of Market Garden’s main aims failed, and the Christmas victory was not secured.

That doesn’t mean this brainchild of British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery was a total failure, it was just slightly more ambitious than the Allies were prepared for. Here’s why.


It was actually two operations.

Market Garden was divided into two sub-operations. The first was “Market,” an airborne assault that would capture the key bridges Allied forces needed to advance on German positions and cross into Germany. The second was “Garden,” where ground forces actually crossed those bridges and formed on the other side. In the north, the push would circumvent the Siegfried Line, creating the top part of a greater pincer movement of tanks inside Germany’s industrial heartland, as well as a 64-mile bulge in the front line.

Getting there would be slow going.

Six American paratroopers of the First Allied Airborne Army receive a final briefing from their commanding officer before Operation Market Garden.

(Imperial War Museum)

It was the largest airborne operation ever.

The British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were dropped around Oosterbeek to take bridges near Arnhem and Grave. The U.S. 101st Airborne was dropped near Eindhoven, and the 82nd was dropped near Nijmegen with the aim of taking bridges near there and Grave. In all, some 34,000 men would be airlifted into combat on the first day, with their equipment and support coming in by glider the next day. In the days that followed, they would be relieved by Allied troops zooming North to cross the river.

British POWs captured by the Germans at Arnhem.

The Allies thought the Nazis weren’t going to fight.

Isn’t that always what happens in a “surprise” defeat? Underestimating the enemy is always a mistake, no matter what the reason. In this case, the Allies thought German resistance to the invaders would be minimal because the Nazis were in full retreat mode after the Allies liberated much of occupied France. They were wrong. Hitler saw the retreat as a collapse on the Western Front and recalled one of his best Field Marshals from retirement, Gerd von Rundstedt. Von Rundstedt quickly reorganized the German forces in the West and moved reinforcements to the areas near key bridges and major cities.

Even though Dutch resistance fighters and their own communications intercepts told the Allies there would be more fighting than planned, they went ahead with the operation anyway.

Cromwell tanks speed toward Nijmegen, Sep. 20, 1944.

Speed was essential and the Allies didn’t have it.

The surprise of using 34,000-plus paratroopers definitely worked on the German defenders. But still, some attacks did not proceed as planned, and though most bridges were taken, some were not, and some were demolished by their defenders. The British were forced to engage their targets with half the men required. What’s worse is that the paratrooper’s relief was moving much slower than expected, moving about half of its planned advance on the first day. To make matters worse, British Gen. Sir Brian Horrocks halted his advance on the second day to regroup after assisting in the assault on Nijmegen Bridge.

It was the halt that would keep British troops at Arnhem from getting the forces they needed to be successful and spell the ultimate failure of Market Garden.

British Engineers remove explosives set by German engineers on a bridge near Arnhem.

The British took the brunt of the casualties.

Overall, Market Garden cost the Allies between 15,000 and 17,000 killed, captured, or wounded. The British 1st Airborne Division was the hardest hit, starting the battle with 10,600 men and suffering 1,485 killed and some 6,414 captured. They failed to take and hold the bridge at Arnhem, encountering stiff resistance and reinforcement from the Nazi troops there. Because of that bridge, the invasion of Nazi Germany over the lower Rhine could not proceed.

“Monty” still saw Market Garden as a success.

British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was a steadfast supporter of the operation, even after considering all its operational successes and failures. Despite the lack of intelligence and overly optimistic planning in terms of the defenders, Montgomery still considered the operation a “90 percent” success.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Regaining the sense of pride: Saigon falls and the Vietnam War ends

The date was April 23, 1975, the war in Vietnam was winding down and the world was waiting to see what America would choose to do. President Ford gave a speech to the people from Tulane University. During that speech he told the citizens of the U.S. and the rest of the world that as far as America was concerned, the war was over.

He stated, “Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war.” With these words he made it very clear that he would not be sending troops back over, despite the pleas for support from the South Vietnamese.


At this time, North Vietnam was surrounding the city of Saigon, preparing for a final assault on the capital city. The military leaders of South Vietnam ordered their troops to withdraw to the Highlands to a more defensible position. The biggest issue was that the South Vietnamese were largely outnumbered by the North Vietnamese. When they met in battle at Xuan Loc on April 21, it was clear that the end was near. Between the loss at that battle and President Ford’s speech at Tulane, South Vietnam had little hope that they could emerge victorious.

By the time April 27 dawned, North Vietnam forces had completely surrounded Saigon. They soon began their final push and assault on the city. On April 30, when North Vietnamese tanks burst through the gates of the Presidential Palace, the South Vietnamese were battered and beaten, and surrendered there and then. The war in Vietnam was officially over.

The Vietnam War was controversial from day one, especially in the U.S. It remained so through its duration, and beyond. President Ford made the choice to pull the American troops out of Vietnam and not send them back, even though South Vietnam pleaded with him to do so. This too was surely a controversial decision. The Vietnam War was an instance where no matter what was done, someone felt it was the wrong choice. The people of the United States at that time were not shy about shouting their opinions from every rooftop, either.

Those who were against the war, which was a good portion of the country, even made sure the soldiers returning home knew how they felt. The soldiers were not met with fanfare and welcome homes as were the soldiers of past wars, or as the soldiers of future wars would be. They were not given help or support in adjusting back to their lives at home. It seemed the people, the government and the country as a whole were perfectly happy to sweep the entire war and all those involved under the rug and simply move on.

Even now, 45 years after the war ended, the Vietnam War is still considered one of the most controversial wars in history. It is still often talked about in whispers, or not talked about at all. While there have been movements over the past two decades to give the Vietnam Veterans the recognition they deserve, it is still a fight everyday against the stigma felt during that time.

America as a country did as Ford said, “Regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam.” For those who fought in the war, however, there was no sense of pride found. They each had no choice but to go through the process of living a ‘normal’ life. For many this proved impossible, the war having taken every piece of them away.

It’s been 45 years since Saigon fell, 45 years since the war in Vietnam ended. Many of those men who fought in those jungles still live with the realities of that war every day. Now is the time to give them the recognition and appreciation they have always deserved. They didn’t choose to fight that battle. But, they answered the call when heeded. Today and every day, thank our Vietnam Veterans and show them the appreciation they never and should have received when they came home.

Articles

This bridge is one of the most underrated engineering feats of WWII

Throughout history, bridges have been one of the most targeted structures on the battlefield, as opposing forces do everything in their power to blow them up and cut off incoming supply lines.


After a bridge is destroyed, a new one needs to be established, or occupying forces can risk losing their resupply sources permanently.

In World War II, Japanese, Italians, and German armies used explosive motorboats as a technique to take down allied bridges. Enemy troops in scuba gear would point these motorboats in the direction of the bridge’s supporting structures and bail out right before the vessel strikes and detonates.

The explosive motorboats in action. (Images via Giphy)Because of the effectiveness of the explosive motorboats, allied forces needed to create a portable bridge that could be quickly set up and could handle the massive stress of getting blown up.

The resolution came from an unlikely source — the mind of a British civil servant named Donald Bailey.

Donald Bailey carefully examines one of his bridge designs. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Related: Why WWII soldiers nicknamed the Sherman tank ‘death trap’

While returning home after working at an experimental bridge, an idea popped into Bailey’s mind. He began sketching out the new architectural idea on the back of an envelope — something that later became the “Bailey Bridge.”

This new creation could support large armored tanks across 200 feet of water and set up quickly just by using some wrenches and a few engineers.

“The Bailey bridge is a very fabricated bridge, and it can be broken down into parts, trucked to a site, and then reassembled in a big hurry,” military historian William Atwater explains.

Also Read: This forgotten soldier survived 4-months in Dunkirk by himself

After being successfully set up under fire during the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower reportedly claimed the bridge was one of the pieces of equipment that most contributed to the victory in Europe.

Check out Lightning War 1941’s video below to see how this quickly fabricated bridge helped change the course of the war.

YouTube, LightningWar1941
MIGHTY HISTORY

Some of the best jokes the CIA wrote for President H.W. Bush

President George H.W. Bush occupied the White House during tumultuous times, conducting military operations in Panama and the Persian Gulf and grappling with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in just four years.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun, he told the CIA officers tasked with briefing him each day.

As vice president and president, Bush took special interest in the intelligence he was provided and in the personnel who provided it, according to a remembrance in the most recent edition of the CIA’s Studies in Intelligence journal, written by its managing editor, Andres Vaart, a 30-year CIA veteran.


In a 1995 article in the journal, one of Bush’s briefers, Charles A. Peters, recounts how, on Jan. 21, 1989, the day after his inauguration, Bush injected levity into one of the more severe daily tasks the president takes on.

“When the President had finished reading, he turned to me and said with deadly seriousness, ‘I’m quite satisfied with the intelligence support, but there is one area in which you’ll just have to do better.’ The [director of Central Intelligence, William Webster] visibly stiffened,” Peters wrote, according to Vaart.

Chief Justice William Rehnquist administering the oath of office to President George H. W. Bush during Inaugural ceremonies at the United States Capitol. Jan. 20, 1989.

(Library of Congress)

“‘The Office of Comic Relief,’ the new President went on, ‘will have to step up its output.’ With an equally straight face I promised the President we would give it our best shot,” Peters wrote. “As we were leaving the Oval Office, I wasted no time in reassuring the Director that this was a lighthearted exchange typical of President Bush, and that the DCI did not have to search out an Office of Comic Relief and authorize a major shakeup.”

The CIA staffers compiling the PDB included a “Sign of the Times” section, which included amusing or unusual anecdotes meant to lighten otherwise heavy reading.

“Libyan intelligence chief recently passed message via Belgians laying out case for better relations with US and expressing desire to cooperate against terrorism… even suggested he would like to contribute to your re-election campaign,” one January 1992 entry read, according to Peters.

“French company says it has won contract to export vodka to Russia… deal apparently stems from shortage of bottles and bottling equipment… no word on whether Paris taking Russian wine in return,” a July 1992 entry read.

US President George H. W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

(George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

Bush’s single term stretched over the final days of the Soviet Union, possibly giving CIA staffers the opportunity to draw on their cache of Soviet jokes to liven up the daily briefing.

Bush’s briefs also included updates about his counterparts. From time to time, Vaart writes, Bush would call one of those leaders to chat about something interesting they were doing.

For staffers working on the President’s Daily Brief between 1981 and 1993, during Bush’s time in office, “no labor was too intense to produce the needed story and no hours were too many or too late to make certain we … made it good and got it right,” Vaart writes.

“This may have been true with later presidents,” Vaart adds, “but what stood out with President Bush was that we … knew well that the effort was truly appreciated.”

“We also saw through those interactions, as though at first hand, the humor and personality of a man who deeply cared about the people who served him,” he writes.

Bush’s mirth was widely recounted in the days after his death on Nov. 30, 2018. Friends and colleagues remembered his enthusiasm for jokes — at his expense, like when he invited Dana Carvey to the White House to impersonate him after his 1992 electoral defeat, and at the expense of others, like the “award” he gave aides who fell asleep during meetings, named after national-security adviser and frequent dozer Brent Scowcroft.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Russia used children to spy on a US embassy

On Aug. 4, 1945, a group of Russian school children from the Vladimir Lenin All-Pioneer Organization presented a two-foot, wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States to Averell Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.


Harriman believed the Great Seal was a friendly gesture and hung it up in the library of the Spaso House in Moscow.

Little did the ambassador know, the Great Seal was a one-of-a-kind listening device.

Related: This WW2 pilot acquired a massive advantage after crashing

The Soviets embedded a high-frequency “bug” in the decorative seal, which allowed them to eavesdrop on some very confidential conversations.

The listening device inside the Great Seal. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Austin Mills)

This unique bug wasn’t battery powered or composed of any electrical circuitry. Instead, the device was activated by radio signal pointed in its direction from a surveillance van parked outside the embassy. Sound waves from the conversations caused vibrations in a membrane built inside the carvings of the Great Seal, which then bounced the signal back to the surveillance van.

The device’s simple construction dramatically increased its lifespan and made it nearly impossible to detect. The Great Seal decorated the U.S. Ambassador’s wall for years until it was discovered during a security sweep in 1952. After officials found the bug, it was dubbed, “The Thing.”

Also Read: This paratrooper just took his first jump in 31 years

Its discovery was kept secret for several more years until the U2 spyplane situation occurred in 1960.

As the Soviets were in the middle of accusing the U.S. of spying, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. whipped out “The Thing” during a proceeding with the Russians — undeniable proof of Soviet foul play.

Check out Simple History‘s video below to get the complete, animated breakdown of how sneaky Russians used school child to spy on the US.

(Simple History | YouTube)
Articles

This is the United States Navy officer who saved Midway

Some of America’s heroes don’t dive on grenades or shoot down three or four dozen enemy planes. In fact, the hero who made Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance’s victory at Midway did so from a basement in Pearl Harbor.


According to a biography at the National Security Agency website, Commander Joe Rochefort was born in 1898. After enlisting in the Navy in 1918, he eventually earned a college degree and was sent into a variety of code-breaking and intelligence positions, as well as serving at sea. In 1941, he was transferred to Pearl Harbor as tensions with Japan rose.

Joe Rochefort prior to World War II. (U.S. Navy photo)

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Rochefort and his team ended up working to break what was known as the JN 25 code. Japan used this code to give out orders to ships. After the Doolittle Raid, Rochefort soon began to pick up messages that indicated Japan was planning an operation in the Central Pacific against a location known as “AF.” Rochefort soon believed the target was Midway.

In Washington, though, others had doubts, believing the Aleutian Islands or Hawaii were the main objective. According to the book “Incredible Victory” by Walter Lord, one of Rochefort’s officers soon came up with a plan to confirm where Japan was targeting. The American garrison at Midway was ordered to send an uncoded message that their water purification systems had failed.

Midway Atoll in 1942. (U.S. Navy photo)

Soon after the radio message was sent, coded Japanese messages reported that AF would be running low on fresh water. Rochefort had not only gotten the Japanese to reveal their objective, but he had convinced skeptics in Washington that Midway was the target.

History reveals what happened.

The American fleet got into position to ambush the Japanese at Midway. Caught by surprise by the unexpected presence of the U.S. Navy, Japanese Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo went back and forth between hitting Midway a second time or going after the American fleet.

By the time the Japanese carriers were preparing to strike the American fleet, SBD Dauntless dive-bombers struck, sinking three carriers, and then fatally crippling a fourth. Later, American code-breaking would set up the “Zero Dark Thirty” moment of the Pacific War: the aerial ambush of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto – the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack who was killed when Tom Lanphier shot down the Mitsubishi “Betty” bomber he was flying in.

After Midway, the embarrassed officers in Washington exacted a measure of revenge.

Rochefort was eventually pulled from his codebreaking efforts for the rest of the war, leaving the Navy as a captain in 1953. His efforts would gain popular recognition in the 1976 movie “Midway,” where he was played by Hal Holbrook.

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan would present Rochefort’s family with a Distinguished Service Medal for the contributions Joe Rochefort made to America’s greatest naval victory. The next year, Rochefort received the Medal of Freedom posthumously. To date, no United States Navy vessel has been named for Rochefort.

Below is a brief scene of Hal Holbrook playing Rochefort opposite Charlton Heston in “Midway.”

Articles

Aerial footage of the Abraham Lincoln super carrier drifting

Considered one of the most technologically advanced ships in the Navy’s arsenal, the USS Abraham Lincoln is the fifth ship built in the Nimitz-class of aircraft carriers.


Originally costing nearly three billion dollars in the mid-’80s, the carrier was christened and launched by Newport News Shipbuilding under the command of Capt. J. J. Dantone.

Do you remember when former President George W. Bush gave a speech congratulating America for completing the mission in Iraq back in 2003? That took place aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln (and is probably a moment the former POTUS would probably like to take back for obvious reasons but let’s stay on track here).

The mission hasn’t been accomplished, at least not yet.

In May of 2017, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was redelivered back to the Navy after undergoing nearly a four-year mid-life Refueling and Complex Overhaul.

Approximately 2.5 million hours of labor were committed to the overhaul and restoration of this legendary aircraft carrier.

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) busting an epic U-turn in the Atlantic Ocean. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The vessel’s upgrades include various repairs and replacements of ventilation, electrical, propellers, rudders, and combat and aviation support systems.

With the innovated modification to the rudders and propellers, the USS Abraham Lincoln can now tactfully turn around with minimal support.

Check out Ultimate Military Channel‘s video below to watch this impressive aircraft carrier drift for yourself.

(YouTube, Ultimate Military Channel)
Articles

This sub sank because its commander couldn’t flush his toilet

In April 1945, being a German submariner was a dangerous prospect. Allied sub hunters had become much more effective and German u-boats were being sunk faster than they could be built. Technical breakthroughs like radar and new weapons like the homing torpedo were sinking the Germans left and right.


For the crew of U-1206, the greatest threat was actually lurking in their commander’s bowels. German Navy Capt. Karl-Adolf Schlitt was on his first patrol as a commander when he felt the call of nature and headed to the vessel’s state-of-the-art toilet.

While Allied subs had toilets that flushed into a small internal tank that took up needed space in the submarine, the Germans had developed a compact system that expelled waste into the sea. The high-tech system even worked while the sub was deep underwater.

Unfortunately, the toilet was very complex. By doctrine, there was a toilet-flushing specialist on every sub that operated the necessary valves. The captain, either too prideful or too impatient to search out the specialist, attempted to flush it himself. When it didn’t properly flush, he finally called the specialist.

The specialist attempted to rectify the situation, but opened the exterior valve while the interior valve was still open. The ocean quickly began flooding in, covering the floor in a layer of sewage and seawater. The specialist got the valves closed, but it was too late.

The toilet was positioned above the battery bank. As the saltwater cascaded onto the batteries, it created chlorine gas that rapidly spread through the sub and threatened to kill the crew. Schlitt ordered the sub to surface.

The sub reached the surface about 10 miles from the Scottish coast and was quickly spotted by British planes. One sailor was killed as the sub was attacked. The order was given to scuttle the ship and escape. Three more sailors drowned attempting to make it to shore. The other 37 sailors aboard the U-1206 were quickly captured and became prisoners of war.

Luckily for them, the war was nearly over. The sub sank April 14, 1945. Hitler killed himself April 30 and Germany surrendered May 8.

Articles

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

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


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

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

Wooden tooth jokes are as funny as actual wooden teeth.

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

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

 

George Washington

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

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

Articles

That time the US collected Soviet radar technology via the moon

A U-2 spyplane captured a strange photo in 1960; the Soviets had built a massive new antenna near a missile test range. The CIA and others immediately suspected that the array was part of a new radar system and wanted to figure out what its capabilities were, but it was deep in defended space.


So American intelligence decided to try a newly discovered option. In 1946, the U.S. Army Signal Corps had bounced communications signals off of the moon, proving that it had a suitable surface for relaying signals. The Navy spent the next decade building a system that would allow communications between far flung ships and bases by reflecting the signals off the moon.

So the CIA, after they ruled out further collection by aircraft, decided for a literal moonshot. They would train highly sensitive antennas on the moon and wait for the Soviets to scan an object in front of the moon. When the radar energy that passed the target struck the moon and bounced back to the earth, the CIA could collect information from it to figure out how the new radar worked.

But the effort required truly massive receiving antennas. Most of the available antennas that would suffice were 150 feet wide and the best was a proposed 600-foot dish that was never completed. Even then, the CIA needed to get lucky and be looking at the same moment that the Soviet Union was using the radar in the direction of the moon.

They would get insanely lucky.

Meanwhile, the Army and Air Force were just pissed that Russia was irradiating their future moon bases. (Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

The first break came in 1962 when the Soviet Union inadvertently reflected radar data out, not from the moon, but from their own atomic testing. The nuclear detonation created an ionized cloud that reflected signals and allowed some limited intercept.

In 1964, the CIA was able to start regularly collecting data from the Soviet site, dubbed the “Hen House Site,” after it reflected off the moon. A specially modified receiving station in Palo Alto, California, picked up the signals.

To the surprise and delight of the CIA, the Russians began tracking the moon with the radar for practice, giving the U.S. up to 30 minutes at a time of continuous data. A CIA historical document detailing the effort said:

We expected to see a regular scanning, or “search” mode, and a tracking mode, where the beam follows a target. Both of these have been observed. In the latter, the Soviets, apparently just for practice, have set the radar to track the moon for as much as half an hour. This makes the intercept job much easier, as we then see the signal continuously rather than in short bursts as the beam swings by the moon.

The radar system was estimated to be quite sophisticated, capable of not only identifying and tracking individual targets but of tracking multiple targets and quickly switching focus between them. The system was so fast that the CIA felt confident it was controlled by a computer.

All in all, it made the system a serious threat to American efforts. It would later come to light that the system was designed to track and potentially defeat ballistic missiles. If successful, it could have negated the American nuclear deterrent.

Thanks to the efforts of the CIA, though, America was able to get a jump on the Russians and steal back the advantage.

Articles

Oldest Navy Pearl Harbor salvage diver dies

In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the battleships USS California (BB 44), USS West Virginia (BB 48), and USS Nevada (BB 36) were severely damaged while the battleships USS Arizona (BB 39) and USS Oklahoma (BB 37) were sunk.


Four of those ships would eventually be salvaged, three of which returned to service, thanks to the efforts of brave Navy divers.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the oldest living diver to have worked on that immense project, 103-year-old Ken Hartle, died on Jan. 24. He had been a ship-fitter when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and as a result, was unable to join the Navy until 1943 when his skills were necessary to repair ships that had suffered battle damage.

He later volunteered to be a Navy diver.

The USS West Virginia during salvage operations. Photo: US Navy

According to the Naval History and Heritage Command website, Navy divers carried out over 4,000 dives, covering 16,000 hours to salvage the ships at Pearl Harbor. The operations were not without risk. The Union-Tribune report listed a number of dangers Hartle and fellow divers faced, including getting trapped in wreckage, the “bends,” and attacks from sea creatures — all while wearing uninsulated canvas suits and using 200-pound copper helmets and having breathable air pumped down to them.

Hartle was nothing if not a survivor. During his life, the Union-Tribune reported that he was kicked by a mule at age 3, stabbed in the neck during a brawl at age 9, survived a rattlesnake bite, a scorpion sting, a car accident that threw him several hundred feet, six bypass surgeries, two bouts with cancer, and a fall while trimming trees at age 97.

Cmdr. Daniel M. Colman, commanding officer of the Pearl Harbor-based Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One (MDSU) 1, address attendees during a change of command ceremony at the USS Utah Memorial on Ford Island. Colman was being relieved by Cmdr. John B. Moulton. The MDSU-1 mission is to provide combat ready, expeditionary, rapidly deployable Mobile Diving and Salvage Detachments (MDSD) to conduct harbor clearance, salvage, underwater search and recovery, and underwater emergency repairs in any environment. The suit to Colman’s left is similar to one used by Ken Hartle, who died Jan. 24 at the age of 103, during salvage operations at Pearl Harbor in World War II. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist David Rush)

A memorial service for Hartle will be held on Mar. 4.