How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

  • As the threat from the Soviet Union declined in the early 1990s, a new challenge for the US arose in the Middle East.
  • The first Gulf War was a textbook conventional war, but it featured an array special-operations missions that helped secure victory.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the US military shifted its focus from Russia to the Middle East.

In August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded neighboring Kuwait, starting an international crisis that would end with Iraq’s defeat by a US-led coalition six months later.

Although Operation Desert Storm is considered a textbook conventional war, it was full of special-operations missions.

Let us into the fight!

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Delta Force personnel in civilian clothes guarding Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf during the first Gulf War in 1991. 

The first and biggest hurdle US special-operations units faced was getting into the battle.

Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the four-star commander of US Central Command and the war’s military leader, viewed unconventional-warfare units with skepticism.

Initially, Schwarzkopf was adamantly against special-operations units having any significant role in the conflict — though he did accept some Delta Force operators as personal bodyguards.

Conversely, his second-in-command, British Gen. Sir Peter de la Billière, immediately called in the Special Air Service (SAS), which he had served in and commanded, and Special Boat Service (SBS). The SAS and SBS, the British equivalents of Delta Force and SEAL Team 6, respectively, offered unconventional-warfare options to the war effort.

Meanwhile, after some persuasion from the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Schwarzkopf relaxed his no-commandos policy.

Here is a brief breakdown of the notable operations they conducted.

US Army Special Forces

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Members of US Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 525. 

Army Special Forces operators set up observation posts on the Saudi-Kuwaiti border to monitor Iraqi moves. Special Forces teams also conducted prisoner-snatching operations to provide the Coalition with more human intelligence, perhaps the most valuable form of intel.

One team, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha 525, was compromised when Iraqi boys spotted its members conducting a special reconnaissance operation 150 miles inside Iraq.

Alpha 525 chose not to kill the boys and instead tried to escape and evade. Over the following hours, the Iraqi Army almost overwhelmed them numerous times. The Green Berets escaped only because of their disciplined marksmanship and the close-air-support they received.

Special Forces teams also conducted Foreign Internal Defense (FID) by training allies and partner forces. Although not as shiny as raids and ambushes, FID was key to the victory because it brought Coalition units up to speed and was the glue that kept the multi-national force together.

Green Berets embedded with coalition units also served as liaisons, primarily between coalition units and US aircraft, and called close-air-support.

British Special Air Service and Special Boat Service

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
British infantry during Operation Desert Storm. 

British special-operations units played a vital role in the military buildup during Operation Desert Shield and during combat in Operation Desert Storm.

Alongside their US counterparts, SAS and SBS operators hunted for SCUD missiles in the Iraqi desert and conducted special reconnaissance along the Saudi-Iraqi border and within Iraq.

SBS operators also conducted a highly publicized assault on the British Embassy in Kuwait City, which the Iraqis had captured.

They also participated in a lesser-known operation on the outskirts of Baghdad, in which nearly a full squadron of SBS operators, accompanied by some American commandos from a Tier 1 unit specializing in signals intelligence, went after the Iraqi Army’s underground fiber-optics communications network. Saddam had used the network to communicate with his mobile SCUD launchers in the desert.

Ferried in by two special-operations Chinook helicopters, the joint commando force spent close to two hours on the ground digging for the cables. With dawn approaching, the operators managed to locate the cables and rig them with explosives, destroying them and frustrating Saddam’s communication with his most dangerous weapons.

US Navy SEALs

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Members of Navy SEAL Team 8 and French commandoes hang on a special patrol insertion/extraction rope secured to a CH-46D helicopter as part of an exercise during during Operation Desert Storm, February 1991. 

Navy SEALs conducted special reconnaissance operations along the Iraqi and Kuwaiti coasts to gather intelligence on Iraqi moves.

In the first hours of the ground war, SEALs conducted diversionary raids on the coast to fool the Iraqis into thinking that a large-scale amphibious operation was coming. The diversion — bolstered by the presence of US battleships — worked, allowing Coalition ground troops to arrive from the desert in the opposite direction and overwhelm the Iraqis.

SEALs conducted Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) operations in the Persian Gulf, often assaulting suspicious ships, and a SEAL element from SEAL Team Two went ashore to destroy a Tomahawk missile that had failed to detonate in order to prevent the Iraqis from getting the technology.

A SEAL platoon was also one of the first US units to enter Kuwait City during its liberation.

US Army Rangers

A battalion of Rangers was sent to Saudi Arabia as a quick-reaction force for the Tier 1 units.

The Rangers were also to assist Delta Force if it mounted a hostage-rescue operation in Iraq or Kuwait to free any of the hundreds of Westerners who Saddam captured in during the invasion and held as human shields.

Rangers also conducted a raid against a telecommunications tower near the Jordanian-Iraqi border, destroying it and capturing several prisoners.

US Air Force Commandos

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
A Pararescueman meets a Navy F-14 pilot during the Gulf War’s first successful combat search-and-rescue operation, January 21, 1991. 

Air Commandos don’t usually get as much publicity as their sister-service comrades because more often than not Pararescuemen, Combat Controllers, Special Operations Weather Technicians (now Special Reconnaissance operators), and Tactical Air Control Party airmen are attached to other special-operations units as individuals.

During Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Air Commandos mainly saw action alongside Delta operators in the hunt for the SCUD missiles. But they also did some traditional Air Commando tasks.

A Pararescue element conducted the first rescue operation of the war on January 21, 1991, after a Navy F-14 Tomcat was shot down in Iraq. A special-operations MH-53J Pave Low helicopter carried the team behind enemy lines to save the pilot, though the F-14’s radar officer was captured.

But not all missions went well. During the Battle of Khafji, in a Saudi city close to Kuwait’s border, an AC-130H Spectre gunship was shot down by an Iraqi portable surface-to-air missile, killing its 14-man crew—the largest loss of life in a single incident in Air Force Special Operations Command’s history.

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

Articles

This jet was the one of Navy’s deadliest fighters — for its pilots

Let’s face it, sometimes, the military gets stuck with bad planes. We’re talking real dogs here.


One of the worst jets was bought by the U.S. Navy and lasted just over a decade between first flight and being retired.

The plane in question was the Vought F7U Cutlass. To be fair, it was better than Vought’s last two offerings to the Navy. The F5U “Flying Flapjack” was a propeller plane that never got past the prototype stage. The F6U Pirate was underpowered and quickly retired.

But pilots grew to hate the Cutlass.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
A F7U takes off from USS Midway (CVB 41). (US Navy photo)

According to Air and Space Magazine, the Cutlass had such a bad reputation that a pilot quit the Blue Angels when he was told that was the plane they would fly. It was underpowered – and badly so. The Navy had wanted an engine providing 10,000 pounds of thrust – but the Cutlass engines never came close to that figure.

The nose gear also had a habit of collapsing. The hydraulic system had more leaks than you’d find in a nursery with low-cost diapers. Not mention that this plane was a bear to fly.

Over 25 percent of all Cutlasses ever built were lost in accidents, according to the National Naval Aviation Museum.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
A F7U comes in for landing. Note the overly long nose wheel. That got some pilots killed. (NASA photo)

Now, the Cutlass did achieve one significant milestone: It was the first naval fighter to deploy with the Sparrow air-to-air missile. That, combined with four 20mm cannon, made for a relatively well armed plane.

The Cutlass also was modified for ground-attack, but the order was cancelled.

Much to the relief of pilots who had to fly it, the F7U Cutlass was retired in 1959, replaced by the F8U Crusader, later to be known as the F-8 Crusader.

The Sparrow, the new armament for the Cutlass, went on to have a long career with the U.S. military, serving as a beyond-visual range missile until the 1990s, when the AIM-120 AMRAAM replaced it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time unmanned rifles and mannequins tricked the enemy at Gallipoli

In December of 1915, allied forces received word that it was time to evacuate from the fight against the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli.


In order to cover their sneaky retreat, Australian forces needed to find a way to make it appear as if they were still present so that the Turkish wouldn’t immediately follow.

One resourceful soldier stepped up and did just that. Lance Cpl. William Scurry came up with a way to rig rifles to fire, unmanned, at different times and at various points to deceive the enemy. So, the “drip rifle” or “pop-off rifle” was born.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Australian soldiers at Anzac Cove, 1915

Related: That time Google Maps accidentally sparked a military invasion

After the rifle was loaded and set into a fixed position by using sands bags, two tin cans, used for storing rations, played a key role in this brilliant invention. One was filled with water and had a hole punched into it, while the other, empty, was attached by string to the rifle’s trigger.

Over time, water dripped into the empty tin can, eventually filling it to the point where it was heavy enough to pull rifle’s trigger, firing the weapon.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
One of the drip rifles.

Also Read: This legendary Navy skipper sank 19 enemy ships

After the rifles were set, allied forces snuck away into the night. The sporadic rifle fire gave the enemy the impression that they were still up against a mighty power.

On the last night of the evacuation of Gallipoli, troops left behind mannequins and artillery equipment to further sell the illusion and help buy the allies more time — it worked.

The rear guards successfully escaped without suffering any casualties. Later, Scurry received the Distinguish Conduct Medal for his ingenuity.

Check out Simple History‘s video below to get the complete animated breakdown of this epic story.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Indian military unit fought for the Nazis

During World War II, the military force aiming to install an Aryan master race over the world found potentially unlikely allies on the subcontinent of India where thousands of soldiers joined the “Free Indian Legion,” fighting on behalf of the Nazis against the Allied Powers from the China-Burma-India Theater to the Atlantic Wall on D-Day.


Hitler’s Indian Regiment

www.youtube.com

Hitler’s Indian Regiment

India was a British colony during World War II that sent millions of loyal subjects to fight on behalf of King George VI, but the relationship between Britain and India was strained—to say the least—when the war started. India had been agitating for independence from the East India Company and then the British Crown for about a century.

Indian troops serving Great Britain fought valiantly and earned top awards for heroism in the battle against the Axis Powers, but not all Indian leaders thought the fight against fascism should trump the fight for Indian independence. Much like American patriots in the 1770s capitalized on Britain’s fighting with France, some Indian leaders thought Britain’s war with Germany was the perfect time to break away from the crown.

And the Nazis were happy to help. When they began to take Indian troops prisoner in Africa, they offered those men German uniforms, weapons, and training if they would take up arms against the British. The first 27, all seen as potential officers, were pulled out of German POW camps and sent to Germany for training in 1941. These were soon followed by thousands of others to fill out the ranks.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

Let’s all agree that, regardless of motives or other accomplishments in your life, the photo of you shaking Hitler’s hand will never look good.

(Public domain)

An Indian independence leader, Subhas Chandra Bose, helped start the legion and got serious concessions from Germany on how the troops would be trained, deployed, equipped, paid, and more. Basically, the agreement was that the unit would be trained, paid, and equipped at the same level as any normal German unit.

But, the Indian troops could not be deployed like normal German units. The agreement that formed the unit would limit it to combat deployments focused on overthrowing British control of India. So Germany had to fund the unit like any German force, but they could only use it for Indian independence.

But still, the trade-off was seen as worthwhile by Germany as it struggled with how it would one day root British forces out of the jungles of Asia. This worry would prove well-founded when Britain and India began sending “Chindits” into the jungles to break the logistics chains and defensive lines of Japanese forces.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

Soldiers with the Free Indian Legion fight side-by-side with other German soldiers in World War II.

(German Federal Archives)

So the Indian Legion was formed and given a distinctive badge of a leaping tiger. But, in direct contradiction of the agreement, Indian Legion troops would go on to serve almost exclusively in Europe during the war. This wasn’t some dastardly Nazi plot though. It was simply the reality of the battlefield.

Savvy World War II buffs will remember that, while the Axis Powers were triumphantly marching across much of the world in 1941 when the legion was first recruited, it was suffering serious setbacks just a year later.

While the Indian Legion was going through initial recruitment, organization, and training, America joined the war, Polish and French resistance gained strength against Nazi occupiers, England turned back the German tide in the Battle of Britain, and America began limiting and then defeating Japan in the Pacific.

Italy, meanwhile, crumbled under the Allied assault like it was an Olive Garden.

So the Indian Legion, still in Europe for training, was sent to the Netherlands and France to get experience guarding coasts in 1943 until Germany was ready to invade through either the Soviet Union or the Middle East into India. Some Indian Legion members were still on the French coast when the Allies launched the 1944 Operation Overlord, the invasion of Fortress Europe through France.

The Indian Legion saw some combat there, but was quickly pulled from the front lines as the men complained that they would likely be executed as traitors if captured by British forces. The legion continued operations across Nazi-occupied France and Belgium and maintained some presence on the Atlantic Wall.

It suffered a few casualties against French forces, but saw little combat overall until the last of its troops deployed in France were sent to join brethren already in Italy. It was there, in Italy, that the Indian Legion surrendered to the Allies. Indian Legion members generally opted to surrender to American and French forces, but they were handed over to British and Indian forces quickly after capture.

The Indian political climate after the war had little appetite for prosecuting Indians who had worked, albeit with the Nazis, for independence. And most of the soldiers who faced court-martial saw their charges dropped or commuted.

Articles

A Navy F-14 Tomcat once shot down an Air Force RF-4C Phantom

Exercise “Display Determination 87” was supposed to be a routine NATO exercise, pitting U.S. Air Force Phantoms out of Zweibrucken Air Base in West Germany against F-14 Tomcats from the USS Saratoga in the Mediterranean Sea. All the Phantoms had to do was find the Saratoga and engage in an exercise attack, if the Tomcats didn’t find them first. 

The Tomcats only had to fly close enough to the Air Force planes to read their hull numbers. One pilot would do much more than that. In an act the Navy would call “deliberate” and “illogical,” Lt. Timothy Dorsey would engage his Air Force counterparts with a real-world sidewinder missile.

When the Tomcats catapulted off the Saratoga’s flight deck, they were immediately alerted to a radar contact, an Illinois Air National Guard KC-135 tanker that was refueling a lone RF-4C Phantom. The Tomcats moved in to check it out. 

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
The USS Saratoga in 1980s (U.S. Navy)

Dorsey moved in but was not able to move in close enough to read the Phantom’s hull number. The airmen, 1st Lt. Michael Sprouse as Weapons Systems Officer and pilot Capt. Michael Ross, finished their refueling and went looking for their target. They found it 22 miles out to sea.

As the Phantom approached, Ross began his simulated attack run. Dorsey, in his F-14, requested instructions from the ship. Saratoga gave the exercise’s command to engage, “’Red and free on your contact.”

Dorsey, seemingly confused, asked his Radar Intercept Officer if the Saratoga really wanted him to shoot at the RF-4C. The RIO responded with an affirmative, not realizing Dorsey was asking if he should really shoot down the Air Force plane. Dorsey tried to fire his first sidewinder, but it failed. His second one went off without a hitch. 

The sound of a missile firing alerted the RIO to what was actually happening. Dorsey had shot down the Phantom. 

Aboard the USAF plane, fire lights were flashing and the plane began to shake itself apart. Ross and Sprouse ejected just before the fireball engulfed the aircraft. They ejected into 500-knot winds and though they were rescued and taken aboard the Saratoga, over the years, Ross’ spine began to degenerate. 

After a series of surgeries and screws in his back, Col. Ross was forced to retire in 1997. A promising officer on course to be a general was, by 2012, barely able to walk and living on disability and his retirement money. 

Dorsey, the naval aviator who shot down Ross and Sprouse was disciplined and was stripped of his flying status. He never flew for the Navy again, but was never forced to resign. He remained in the Navy as an intelligence officer and then went into the Naval Reserve. In 2012, his name was sent to the Pentagon for a possible promotion to rear admiral – a move that required confirmation by the Senate. 

When Ross learned that Dorsey had advanced so far while the error Dorsey made cut Ross’ own career so short, he was understandably upset.

“I almost got sick,” said Ross. “He ruined my life.”

The Navy determined that Dorsey’s actions were “not the result of an accident, but the consequence of a deliberate act. His subsequent reaction [to the radio command] demonstrated an absolute disregard of the known facts and circumstances.”

“He failed to utilize the decision-making process taught in replacement training and reacted in a purely mechanical manner. The performance of Lieutenant Timothy W. Dorsey on September 22, 1987, raises substantial doubt as to his capacity for good, sound judgment.”

The Senate never responded to the nomination, effectively ending any chance of promotion for Dorsey. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: That time North Dakota almost experienced its own Chernobyl

Grand Forks Air Force Base near Grand Forks, North Dakota began operation in 1957. It was one of the bases that housed B-52s during the Cold War. The most central role of B-52s throughout military history has been as a strategic bomber. Since its creation, it’s been a part of our country’s nuclear arsenal. As the Cold War continued for decades, Grand Forks Air Force Base and its B-52 fleet remained active and alert, always at the ready to protect the US from a potential Soviet attack. Bombers were always kept fueled, armed, and ready to take off at a moment’s notice. 

Fire on a B-52 atomic bomber plane? NBD!

On September 16, 1980, Grand Forks AFB made history when a B-52 bomber caught fire. Its crew was preparing for takeoff, and fortunately the crew managed to exit the plane unharmed. But the fire wasn’t so easy to put out, thanks to all that jet fuel in its wing tank. The blowtorch-like fire ended up taking almost three hours to put out. 

In the meantime, North Dakota officials didn’t know what to do. Air Force policy did not allow the release of information about whether or not nuclear weapons were on board the aircraft. But they couldn’t just ignore the raging fire. They didn’t even know if they were supposed to evacuate, sound the emergency broadcast system, or pretend like nothing was happening. Mums the word when it comes to nukes, of course.

Mums the word

It’s no surprise that it took almost a decade for ND officials and the public to get the read story. Eight years after the fire, congressional testimony revealed that the plane did in fact have nukes onboard. Not just one either. Testimony showed that there were a dozen bombs on the plane. Each one of them was 10 times more powerful than the bomb dropped in Hiroshima. That same testimony also revealed even more horrific details. Before that, based on the information that had been released, everyone thought the risk of a nuclear accident had been low.

However, the truth eventually came out. While the fire wouldn’t have caused the bombs to detonate, it would have absolutely exploded the warheads had it reached the fuselage. That would have then caused the plutonium cores of those warheads to explode into microscopic bits and disperse downwind, contaminating around 60 square miles of North Dakota and Minnesota and impacted roughly 75,000 people. 

Had that happened, and it was dangerously close to happening, the end result would have been worse than Chernobyl. Aside from all the death and health issues, the soil would have remained radioactive for 24,000 years. The fact that this massive nuclear accident didn’t occur was thanks to only one thing: the wind.

When fate is up to the weather

The 26-mile-per-hour wind that was blowing at the time happened to be blowing away from the fuselage and therefore away from the missiles. Had that B-52 been in a different parking space where the wind would have blown the fire toward the missiles, a nuclear accident to the likes of Chernobyl would have definitely occurred. As a result, 1990 Defense Secretary Dick Cheney had that particular type of missile removed from US aircraft to prevent the deadly risks it posed in the case of an accident.

Related: These are the punishments for convicted War Criminals

MIGHTY HISTORY

OORAH: The Marine Battle Cry Origin Story

Walk onto any Marine Corps base and you’ll hear all sorts of celebratory grunts. These almost words coming from the mouths of new Marines and seasoned NCOs sound like Errrr and Yut. Echoing across the well-trimmed grounds, humming through the DFAC, in the hallowed halls of Marine history, one grunt stands out. Oo-rah is the tried and true, battle-tested and history provided Marine call that defines the service. 


It’s no secret the military has way too many slang words and acronyms to count. Most are impossible for the civilian ear to understand. But there are some that translate just fine. One of those is the Marine battle cry, “oo-rah.” Anyone who’s heard it knows it has only one meaning.

Used as a motivational tool to push recruits and Marines beyond their limit, the classic grunt actually stems from another traditional sound.

Related: Here’s where the term ‘Bravo Zulu’ comes from

Although they are a few theories about how the legendary shout started, several sources point to a single origin — aboard a Naval submarine.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

Many historians believe that “oo-rah” came from, of course, Marines, assigned to 1st Amphibious Reconnaissance while traveling aboard a submarine in 1953.

When a sub is about to submerge, “dive, dive” is called out over the intercom system followed by a klaxon alarm, which makes a very distinct “aarugha.”

Click play below to hear the klaxon alarm.

(Lord Sandwich | YouTube)

Also Read: Here’s how ‘Taps’ got its name

Reportedly, aboard one of the submarines used during the Korean War was Gunnery Sergeant John R. Massaro, who shortened the sound into “oo-rah,” shouted as Marines dove out of the vessel.

As the grunt become more popular, it spread quickly throughout the Marine Corps. Soon, it became one of the ways Marines responded to various questions.

The symbolic grunt oo-rah has since become one of the most recognized sounds used in the military today.

As for its accredited originator, Gunnery Sergeant John R. Massaro, he served in the Marine Corps for 31 years and retired as the 8th Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps in 1979.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How ‘Hail to the Chief’ became the Presidential anthem

The song that many of us identify uniquely with the President of the United States has a surprisingly controversial history. Chester Arthur hated it, Ronald Reagan thought it was a necessary tradition for the office, and President Trump enters a room to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA more often than not. But this essential piece of Presidential entrance music is almost as old as America itself.


During the President’s Inauguration, “The President’s Own” Marine Corps band plays Hail to the Chief after 45 seconds of four Ruffles and Flourishes. The song is also most traditionally played when the President of the United States enters an official event, but there are no real rules for the song outside of the inauguration. The Department of Defense only asks that the song isn’t played for anyone other than the sitting President.

You wouldn’t know it from the orchestral renditions, but the song actually has lyrics, written in 1900 by Albert Gamse:

Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,
Hail to the Chief! We salute him, one and all.
Hail to the Chief, as we pledge cooperation
In proud fulfillment of a great, noble call.
Yours is the aim to make this grand country grander,
This you will do, that’s our strong, firm belief.
Hail to the one we selected as commander,
Hail to the President! Hail to the Chief!

The song itself can be traced all the way back to our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. At the time, the song was pop music, much like Greenwood’s song is to President Trump today. The Marine Band played it at the opening of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1828, an event attended by President Adams. The first time it was played in honor of the Commander-In-Chief was for Andrew Jackson, at a similar canal event the next year.

Martin Van Buren was the first President to hear the tune played for his inauguration in 1837. John Tyler, who ascended to the Presidency after the sudden death of William Henry Harrison, was much derided during his term for the unelected way he came into power. To remind people who was in charge, First Lady Julia Tyler ensured the song was played whenever he arrived at events. The same was done for James K. Polk, who was a short guy. His wife Sarah wanted to make sure everyone knew when he arrived so he wasn’t overlooked.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

Hail to that mullet, President Polk.

By the time Chester Arthur came to office in 1881, he hated the song so much, he opted to replace it with another song. Luckily for him, the leader of the Marine Band just happened to be the “American March King” John Philip Sousa. He commissioned Sousa to write a replacement, which the band leader did.

How well did that replacement go over? If you’ve never heard of Presidential Polonaise, you’re in good company — because most of America hasn’t either. The Presidents quickly went back to using Hail to the Chief.

By 1954, the Department of Defense made the song the official music of the President. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have to use the music. The President is the boss, after all.

He isn’t really bound by law or tradition to have the song played for him on every occasion. President Gerald Ford asked the U.S. Marine Corps Band to play his alma mater’s — the University of Michigan — fight song, Hail to the Victors, instead. Jimmy Carter preferred the tune Jubilation by Sir Arthur Bliss. Ronald Reagan, however, felt the office required more tradition and reinvoked Hail to the Chief.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Army designed divisions to fight a nuclear war

The advent of nuclear weapons on the battlefield left the Army very worried. It’s understandable; a bomb that could take out an entire city was rightly seen as a game-changer.


Over the years, the Army has shifted its divisional formations, from the “square” formation in World War I (two brigades each with two regiments) to a “triangle” formation (three regiments). But everything changed when the United States Army designed nukes for use on the battlefield, as they presumed the Soviets were going to eventually develop their own.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
A chart showing the organization of the 3rd Infantry Division. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

The solution was a new, pentomic divisional organization. Instead of regiments and battalions, each infantry and airborne division would have five battlegroups, each with five companies of infantry, a mortar battery, and a headquarters unit. Furthermore, each division had two battalions of artillery. Looking at it mathematically, the “triangular” infantry division had three regiments, each with three battalions that had three infantry companies, making for a total of 27 infantry companies. The pentomic structure had 25 infantry companies.

The first unit to adopt this structure was the 101st Airborne Division. As Time Magazine reported in 1957, the Army planned to re-organize 19 infantry and airborne divisions along the pentomic structure.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
The pentomic divisional structure was meant to fight on atomic battlefields. (US Army photo)

However, the Army soon found some problems with this structure. The first was that there was a long gap between command tours. The companies were commanded by captains, but you had to be a full colonel to get a “battlegroup.” Keeping the same person in charge for so long means command skills will get rusty. It also caused consternation among those concerned with tradition. The “battlegroup” concept placed the storied histories of regiments at risk.

Ultimately, the pentomic structure failed to take hold as growing arsenals made a nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Pact unlikely. The Army ended up going back to a triangular structure that used brigades instead of regiments — just in time for the Vietnam War. In the 2000s, the Army shifted to modular brigade combat teams and put four to a division, before dropping that number to three per division in the 2010s.

MIGHTY HISTORY

World War I MacArthur was a bad ass

Gen. Douglas MacArthur is well known for his exploits in WWII and Korea. What is often overlooked is his exemplary combat record as a leader in the 42nd “Rainbow” Division in World War I.


 

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur reveling in victory of the Germans in St. Benoit Chateau, France. (National Archives, 1918)

At the outset of the Great War, MacArthur was appointed Chief of Staff of the 42nd Division and promoted to a wartime rank of Colonel. He and the rest of the division arrived in France in November 1917.  

The 42nd entered the line in February of 1918 and MacArthur wasted no time getting into the war. On February 26, MacArthur and another American officer accompanied a French unit on a nighttime raid of a German trench. MacArthur gained valuable experience for his own troops to employ but, more importantly, greatly aided in the effort to capture German prisoners for interrogation. The French awarded him with a Croix de Guerre while Maj. Gen. Charles Menoher awarded him a SilveFr Star.

Also read: 8 amazing facts about General Douglas MacArthur

Then on March 9, MacArthur joined Company D, 168th Infantry Regiment in an attack of their own. Being their first major action, MacArthur’s presence and coolness under fire inspired the men and they quickly carried the enemy position. MacArthur himself described it as a “roaring avalanche of glittering steel and cursing men.” For his bravery in the attack, MacArthur was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. He was also lightly wounded and received his first Purple Heart.

MacArthur received a promotion to Brigadier General on June 26, 1918 after he and the men of the 42nd held the line against the German Spring Offensive for 82 days.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Brig. Gen. MacArthur (third from the left) receives the Distinguished Service Cross. (U.S. Army, 1918)

 

After a short rest, the division was quickly put back into the line to prepare for the German offensive in the Champagne-Marne sector. As the German onslaught surged forward under a rolling barrage, MacArthur once again joined his troops on the line to steady their nerves. As the Germans broke through the forward lines, MacArthur shouted encouragement and rallied his men for a fight. The German advance was broken up and MacArthur received a second Silver Star.  

After successfully holding the line, the division was moved to Chateau-Thierry to relieve the 26th Division and to maintain pressure on the retreating Germans. MacArthur led his men in a brutal offensive day after day in small unit actions and raids. As they approached the Main Line of Resistance, MacArthur led several large scale assaults to drive the Germans out of strong points and villages. One village changed hands eleven times before the Americans finally laid claim to the smoldering ruins.

Then on July 29, MacArthur led a valiant assault against the Germans at Seringes et Nesles. Under intense enemy fire, the men forded a stream and rushed up the slopes of the defenses before driving off the German defenders. For his part in the action MacArthur was awarded a third Silver Star.

Just days later, MacArthur was placed in command of the 42nd Division’s 84th Infantry Brigade after its former commander was relieved of duty. One of MacArthur’s first orders of business was to personally conduct a reconnaissance of German positions thinking that they might have withdrawn. He and a runner crawled through the mangled corpses and dying wounded of the German defenders left behind. In a tense moment MacArthur’s runner took out a machine gun position with a grenade before they could be spotted.

Eventually they reached the brigade on their flank and determined that the Germans had indeed withdrawn. MacArthur went straight to division headquarters to report his findings. After he explained his mission to his superiors, and passed out from not having slept in four days, the corps commander, Gen. Hunter Liggett, exclaimed “Well, I’ll be damned, Menoher, you better cite him!” MacArthur received his fourth Silver Star.

After another rest, MacArthur led the 84th Brigade in the main assault against the Germans at St. Mihiel on September 12, 1918. After months of fighting, MacArthur knew the German tactics; they would hold the center of the line while leaving the flanks weak. To counter this, his assault plan would fix the German center and then envelope the flanks. It worked, and on the first day of the attack the 84th Brigade drove farther than any other unit and suffered less casualties. They also captured some 10,000 German prisoners. This garnered MacArthur his fifth Silver Star.

 

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
American engineers returning from the front at the Battle of St. Mihiel. (National Archives, 1918)

 

Two weeks later, during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, MacArthur’s unit was ordered to conduct a diversionary raid against German strong points in their sector. MacArthur made a great show of it and, while accomplishing his diversionary mission, managed to suffer less than 20 casualties. For his exceptional leadership he was awarded a sixth Silver Star.

As the offensive continued on, MacArthur continued his valiant leadership. When his corps commander ordered the taking of a position — or to “turn in a list of 5,000 casualties” — he heartily replied, “We’ll take it, or my name will head the list.” MacArthur’s soldiers fought through bitter cold and determined resistance with mounting casualties, but they finally took the position. MacArthur was recommended for a promotion to Major General and a Medal of Honor. Instead, he received his second Distinguished Service Cross, which in the citation states: “On a field where courage was the rule, his courage was the dominant feature.”

Next, in the mad dash to take Sedan, he was awarded his seventh Silver Star when he averted a disastrous overlap of units from the 42nd and 1st Divisions by personally leaving friendly lines to communicate with the units involved at great personal risk to himself. During this period of fighting, MacArthur, known to not carry his gas mask as it impeded his movement, was gassed, earning a second Purple Heart.

For his exceptional service to the 42nd Division he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and also briefly made the division’s commanding officer in November 1918. His seven Silver Stars were a military record that stood until David Hackworth earned ten during fighting in Korea and Vietnam.

Articles

This is how piracy became totally legal during wartime

What’s the difference between pirates and patriots? A government to be loyal to, of course. Such was the case during the age of sail, when warring nations would literally hire pirates and other captains to raid enemy shipping.


When officially endorsed by a belligerent nation, pirates were issued a Letter of Marque – the marque being a pledge to fight for one nation…at least for the time being.

Such was the case with England’s “Sea Dogs,” hired by Queen Elizabeth I to raid gold-laden Spanish treasure fleets sailing from the New World. Capturing a ship meant money for both the ship and her crew as well as the Marque-issuing government.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

The Catholic King Philip of Spain was determined to flip Protestant England back to Catholic control. The English Protestants and their Queen were having none of it. For some 19 years, the two countries were bitter rivals, fighting a series of battles on both land and sea that saw little else but money change hands.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

For the crews who shared the prize money, life was harsh. Disease and starvation were common among sailing crews at the time. For the Sea Dogs’ commander, a few good prizes could make them rich. One pirate would become the second highest-earning pirate of all time.

That Sea Dog was Sir Francis Drake, a Protestant captain with a distaste for Spanish Catholics. Perhaps one of the greatest English leaders of the age, Drake led the expedition that defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 and took his piracy tour to the Pacific for the first time in history.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

The Spanish put a price on his head that would be the modern equivalent of almost $7 million.

Queen Elizabeth died in 1603 and the war ended the next year. Drake would also not survive the war, dying of dysentery after attacking Puerto Rico. Though the peace restored the status quo, the war was a disaster for Spain.

Embracing the Sea Dogs was a disaster for England as well. After the war, they joined the raiders of the North African coast, continuing their anti-Catholic piracy careers alongside the Turkish corsairs of the Barbary States.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

President Johnson’s naked press conference and 5 historic events from the first Air Force One

On a hot, sunny day in 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson had just delivered a stump speech during his campaign for the presidency. According to white House reporter Frank Cormier’s book “LBJ: the Way He Was,” once on board Air Force One, the President started taking questions about the economy from the press. In the middle of the QA session, Johnson took off his pants and shirt, then “shucked off his underwear… standing buck naked and waving his towel for emphasis” as he continued talking.


The U.S. Air Force 707 code named Special Air Mission (SAM) 26000, referred to as Air Force One while the President is on board, has a long and storied history.

President Johnson swore into office aboard Air Force One

 

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

 

After President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963, Johnson was sworn in aboard SAM 26000 by U.S. District Judge Sarah T. Hughes, the only woman to swear in the President of the United States.

Kennedy’s body was returned to Washington from Dallas on board

Kennedy’s body was ferried back to the nation’s capital with his widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, accompanying him. A portion of the plane’s wall had to be torn down to make room for the casket. The same plane performed a high-speed flyover over Kennedy’s funeral at Arlington National Cemetery.

Air Force One flew Nixon on his historic trip to China

 

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

In 1972, President Richard Nixon made a visit to Communist China, the first for a U.S. President, opening official diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China for the first time since the Nationalist regime fled to Taiwan in 1949. The division between Soviet and Chinese Communism combined with a thaw in U.S-China relations led to arms treaties with the Soviet Union.

Three former Presidents represented the United States in Egypt via Air Force One

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by the Egyptian military’s own Lieutenant Khalid Islambouli during a Victory Day parade. Islambouli was secretly a member of the Islamist extremist group Gama’a Islamiyya (Islamic Group). Islambouli emptied a full magazine into the Presidential grandstand, killing Sadat and four other dignitaries while wounding 28 others. The reason for the assassination was Sadat’s agreement to the 1979 Camp David Accords, a peace treaty normalizing relations between Egypt and Israel, brokered by then-U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, President Carter, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat

In 1981, President Reagan sent Carter along with former Presidents Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon to represent the U.S. at Sadat’s funeral aboard SAM 26000. The three were old political rivals and tensions on the flight ran high, including a dispute over who received the biggest steak at dinner. According to Carter’s 2014 memoir, “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety,” the tensions were finally broken by none other than Nixon, who “surprisingly eased the tension with courtesy, eloquence and charm.”

It flew two Presidents to their final resting places.

After LBJ’s death in 1973 and Nixon’s death in 1994, SAM 26000 flew the remains of the former Commanders in Chief to their respective homes and final burial sites in Texas and California.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Johnson in 1972, four years after leaving political life.

This specific plane is no longer in use as the Presidential airplane. The current Special Air Mission is 28000, and is a Boeing 747 (more accurately a VC-25, the military version of the 747). The Presidential 707 (SAM 26000) which saw all this history can now be seen at the Air Force Museum on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. President Reagan’s 707 (SAM 27000) can be seen at the Air Force One Pavilion at the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

MIGHTY HISTORY

The true history of the Medal of Honor

The nation’s highest medal for valor under enemy fire dates back over 150 years and has been awarded to well over 3,000 men and one woman in honor of heroic acts, including everything from stealing enemy trains to braving machine gun fire to pull comrades to safety.

This is the true history of the Medal of Honor.


How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott was one of Andrew’s Raiders and the first recipient of the Medal of Honor. Most of the other soldiers on the raid were eventually awarded the medal.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The idea of creating a new medal for valor got its legs when Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles suggested to Iowa Senator James Grimes that he author legislation to create such an accolade. The idea was that such an honor would increase morale among the sailors and Marines serving in a navy fractured by a burgeoning civil war. Grimes’s bill was introduced on Dec. 9, 1861, and quickly gained support.

The bill quickly made it through Congress and President Abraham Lincoln signed it into law on December 21. At the time, the president was authorized to award 200 medals to Navy and Marine Corps enlisted personnel. It would be another seven months, July 1862, before Army enlisted personnel were authorized to receive the medal — but another 2,000 medals were authorized at that time.

The first medal to be awarded went to a soldier, Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott, one of Andrews’ Raiders who stole a locomotive in Big Shanty, Georgia, and took the train on a 87-mile raid across Confederate territory in April, 1862. Parrott received the Medal first, but nearly all Army personnel on the raid eventually received it. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton presented the first six.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

The Navy was the first service authorized to present Medals of Honor, but the Army beat them to the punch. Still, hundreds of medals were awarded to deserving sailors for actions taken during the conflict, including this one presented to William Pelham for actions on the USS Hartford in 1864.

(Naval History and Heritage Command)

Although Andrews’ Raiders were among the first to receive the Medal of Honor, they were not the first persons to earn it. Recommendations for the award trickled in for actions taken earlier.

The earliest action that would earn an Army Medal of Honor took place in February, 1861, when assistant Army surgeon Bernard Irwin rescued 60 soldiers from a larger Apache force with only 14 men. The first naval action to earn the medal took place in October, 1862, when sailor John Williams stayed at his position on the USS Commodore Perry when it was under heavy fire while steaming down the Blackwater River and firing on Confederate batteries.

In 1863, the medal was made permanent and the rules were broadened to allow its award to Army officers. Soon after, in 1864, a former slave named Robert Blake became the first Black American to receive the Medal of Honor when he replaced a powder boy who was killed by a Confederate shell, running powder boxes to artillery crews while under fire.

In 1865, the first and only award of the of the Medal of Honor to a woman occurred. Dr. Mary E. Walker had served in the Union Army during the war and requested a commission. President Andrew Johnson refused but ordered that she be awarded a Medal of Honor in recognition of her bravery and service under fire even though she had served as a civilian and was ineligible.

Seven years later, the Civil War had ended but campaigns against Native Americans were being fought in earnest. It was during these Indian Wars that William “Buffalo Bill” Cody also received the medal despite being technically ineligible.

The medals for Walker and Cody were rescinded in 1917 but later reinstated. Walker’s was reinstated in 1977, Cody’s in 1989.

It’s sometimes noted that the Civil War-standard for the Medal of Honor was lower than the standard applied during World Wars I and II and more modern conflicts. The change in requirements began in 1876 after a surge of recommendations poured in following the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Additional recommendations came from the Legion of Honor, a group led by Medal of Honor recipients that would later become the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. In 1897, President William McKinley adopted new, higher standards that would later be applied during World War I.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

Air Force Capt. Jay Zeamer received a Medal of Honor of the Gillespie design featuring a blue ribbon with 13 stars, the word valor, and a wreath of laurels.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Ken LaRock)

While Civil War and Indian Wars-era Medals of Honor featured designs that incorporated a red, white, and blue ribbon and multiple clasps, in 1904, Medal of Honor recipient and Gen. George Gillespie introduced a new design with a blue ribbon carrying 13 stars. It also added a laurel wreath around the iconic star, added the word “VALOR” to the medal, and made a number of other, smaller design changes.

All Medal of Honor designs approved after 1904 are an evolution of this design.

In 1915, the Navy broadened its rules for the medal so that naval officers, like their Army counterparts, were eligible. In 1918, additional rules for the Army Medal of Honor required that the valorous action take place in conflict with an enemy, that the recommended awardee be a person serving in the Army, and that the medal be presented within three years of the valorous act.

Another change during World War I was that the Medal of Honor was officially placed as the highest medal for valor. While it had always been one of the top awards, it was previously uncertain if the Medal of Honor always outranked service crosses, distinguished service medals, and the Silver Star. In July 1918, the relative tiers of each medal were established, officially putting the Medal of Honor on top.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory

U.S. Coast Guardsman Douglas Munro and his compatriots work to protect U.S. Marines on the beaches of Guadalcanal during a withdrawal under fire from Japanese soldiers.

(U.S. Coast Guard)

The other military services would later adopt similar restrictions.

The only award of the Medal of Honor to a Coast Guardsman took place during World War II after Signalman First Class Douglas Munro braved Japanese machine gun fire to rescue Marines and sailors during the Battle of Guadalcanal. He was shot in the head during the engagement and died soon after returning to U.S. lines.

Because no Coast Guard version of the medal had ever been designed, Munro’s family was presented the Navy version. A 1963 law allowed for a Coast Guard design but no design has been approved and no medals of such a design have ever been made.

The Air Force made its own design for the medal in 1956 and it was officially adopted in 1965. Prior to that, airmen received the Army award.

Today, there are three approved versions of the Medal of Honor, one for each the Army, the Air Force, and the naval services.

To date, the medal has been presented to nearly 3,500 people.

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