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.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US purposely gave ammo to the Communists in the Vietnam War

Why on Earth would an army provide its enemy with ammunition? So they would use it, of course. The United States wanted the North Vietnamese to use the ammo they provided because they would take out the weapon (and maybe even the person) using it.


There was no unconventional war like the one that played out behind the scenes of the greater war in Vietnam. One small aspect of that hidden war was Project Eldest Son, a plan that would take out the enemy’s individual infantry rifles using its own ammunition.

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

Viet Cong soldiers.

It was carried out by a U.S. military entity called the Studies and Observations Group, the Special Forces unit that was behind many of the top secret missions and operations inside the Military Assistance Command Vietnam. The unit was in many of the major battles and offensives of the war, including the Tet Offensive and the Easter Offensive. But Project Eldest Son was different. It was a slow burn, a subtle influx of materiel into the enemy’s supply and ammunition depots, with one marked difference – one that wouldn’t show itself until it was too late.

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

Soldiers from the regular North Vietnamese Army.

Starting in 1967, the United States and the MACV-SOG began sending the Communist forces throughout the area ammunition for the AK-47, machine guns, and even mortars. They all looked ordinary, but they didn’t work like any ordinary ammo – and they weren’t just duds, either. These rounds were filled with high explosives, enough not just to fire the projectiles, but enough to destroy the weapon and severely wound the shooter. For the mortar rounds, the explosives together could kill an entire mortar crew.

After a while, the United States hoped the Vietnamese Communists would be afraid to use their own weapons and ammo. Killing the enemy was a good side effect, but the SOG needed some of them to survive.

For two years, special operators all over Vietnam would capture ammunition and supply centers, infuse cases of ammo with the faulty ammunition and then let it end up back in the hands of the enemy. Like seemingly everything in Vietnam, you never knew what might be booby-trapped. Eventually, the SOG would have to warn U.S. troops against using Communist weapons and ammo over the defective new M-16 to prevent the explosives from killing friendlies.

The program only ended because it was leaked to the media in the West, but even so, the efficacy of the program was never fully known.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US general most respected by the Nazis may surprise you

Let’s be clear: if the German high command had any respect for American generals at the outset of World War II, they would never have declared war in the first place. But as we all know, respect is earned and not issued, so it took a little time for the United States to earn respect on the battlefield.

History may remember the most audacious personalities and events, while some figures end up quietly stealing the spotlight through bravery and determination. Jimmy Doolittle did both.


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

That’s right, it’s good ol’ Jimmy “Payback’s a Bitch” Doolittle.

Before the many, many armchair historians start clacking away at their keyboards try to remind me that Gen. George S. Patton existed and that Nazi High Command feared him the most, let me remind readers that fear and respect are not the same thing and that Patton’s history is often apocryphal. Even Patton’s personal biographer wrote he was not a “hero even to professional German officers who respected him as the adversary they most feared in battle.” For most of World War II, the German general staff barely noticed Patton at all.

This isn’t to imply that Patton didn’t deserve his accolades and reputation or that he didn’t do as history says he did. Patton’s shift from entrenched positions in North Africa to a more mobile kind of warfare, one designed to destroy the enemy’s forces rather than hold land, helped turn the tide for the Allies in World War II. But to the Germans, Patton was one threat among many. By 1944, Patton didn’t even warrant a one-paragraph briefing in the German High Command’s War Diary. In their view, the Allied invasion of Sicily was nothing to brag about. Even as 3rd Army commander in Europe, the Germans facing Patton used words like “timid” and “systematic” to describe his tactics.

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

Harsh words from the Germans. But they still lost.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Jimmy Doolittle was Maj. Jimmy Doolittle. He was promoted after the United States entered World War II, and of course, immediately began planning his infamous raid over Tokyo. The Doolittle Raid involved secretly getting 16 B-25 Mitchell bombers as close to Japan as possible aboard the USS Hornet, and then taking off on a short runway – something that had never been done – then flying these stripped-down tin cans full of bombs over the Japanese homeland and crash landing in China, hopefully avoiding Japanese patrols.

This is a plan so unprecedented and audacious that I can’t even come up with a modern real-world comparison. Three of the Doolittle Raiders died after dropping their ordnance, one crew was interned in the USSR, eight were captured by the Japanese, and all planes were lost. But Jimmy Doolittle was flying in the lead plane. It was his first combat mission. But while the Doolittle Raid may have awed the Japanese and the American public, it did little for Nazis. Doolittle wasn’t finished though. In just two years, he would be promoted to Lieutenant General and go from commanding a squadron of 16 bombers to commanding the entire Eighth Air Force – and the largest aerial formation ever assembled.

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

Lt. Col. James Doolittle wires a Japanese Medal of Peace to one of the bombs destined for Tokyo in 1942.

The air war over Europe was very, very different from the fighting on the ground and was a much longer war. By 1944, Doolittle was in command of Eighth Air Force in Europe, and the Allies were making preparations for the coming D-Day invasions. Doolittle and the Eighth were tasked with reducing the effectiveness of the Luftwaffe and giving the Allies complete air superiority over Europe. At the time, the German air forces were wreaking havoc on Allied bombers. American bombers would avoid any contact with the Luftwaffe if they didn’t have fighter protection, and even when they did, the Nazi’s twin-engine Zerstörergeschwader heavy fighters and Sturmböcke were still able to take their toll on Army Air Forces. But Operation Argument – better known as “Big Week” – changed all that.

The Germans had pulled their entire air force back to Germany. Doolittle wanted to plan Big Week in a way that would force Germany to respond with fighter interceptions so he could either destroy the Luftwaffe in the air or destroy the production of replacement aircraft. The Nazis, with their new heavy fighter tactics, were more than willing to challenge the Eighth Air Force bombers. But Doolittle had two surprises waiting for them. The first was the new longer-range P-51 Mustang fighter. The second was a revolution in bomber defense tactics: instead of being forced to stay close to the bombers, fighter escorts could sweep the skies clear well ahead of the bombers.

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

Game changer.

Doolittle targeted factories all over Germany, in 11 cities, including Leipzig, Brunswick, Gotha, Regensburg, Schweinfurt, Augsburg, Stuttgart, and Steyr, to name a few. Some 3,894 heavy bombers and 800 fighters took off from England, including the new P-51 flying well ahead of the bomber force. And the Luftwaffe arrived in force to greet them. The new fighters and their new tactics were devastating to the heavy German fighters. Allied airmen hunted down and picked off the fighters before they could get close to the bomber formations. During 3,000 sorties over six days, the Allies punished the German air force and industrial capacity. The air raids damaged or destroyed 75 percent of the factories that produced 90 percent of Germany’s aircraft. The Luftwaffe was “helpless” in the face of the aerial onslaught.

The Nazis lost hundreds of airplanes and pilots, and had the capacity to replace neither of them. The Allies would soon have total air superiority over Europe, just in time for the June 1944 invasion of France. Doolittle also ordered his fighters to hit any military targets on the ground if the opportunity arose. By the time Allied forces landed in Normandy, flak was taking down more Allied bombers than fighters were. The Nazis noticed, especially Adolf Galland, a fighter ace and senior commander of the Luftwaffe under Hermann Goering.

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

Courtesy of 8th Air Force.

Galland would become friends with many of the Allied officers he fought after World War II. One of those was James Doolittle. After the war, Galland told Doolittle that the German High Command had no idea what was happening to them until it was much too late, and they were overcommitted. His tactic of allowing fighters to sweep the skies instead of being in formation with the bombers took the Luftwaffe from offense to defense for the rest of the war, and never again would the Luftwaffe be a considerable threat to the Allies in the air. Because of this, the Germans knew Doolittle could destroy the German oil industry, as well as its communications and transportation infrastructure. The Army Air Force did just that.

Leading the way was one extraordinary leader, James Doolittle.

Articles

The World War II commander who helped John Wayne make an iconic war film

John Wayne never served a day in the military, but he certainly was one very vocal supporter of the troops.


During World War II he tried to enter the military, but between a series of old injuries from his acting career and a bodysurfing incident, his family situation, and the maneuverings of a studio head, his efforts were thwarted, according to the Museum of Military Memorabilia.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
John Wayne in Operation Pacific, a 1951 film centering on the submarine service during World War II. (Youtube Screenshot)

Wayne did make USO tours in the South Pacific in 1943 and 1944, well after the fighting there had ended. But he made a number of iconic World War II films, including “They Were Expendable” in 1945, “The Sands of Iwo Jima” in 1949 (where he was nominated for an Oscar), “The Longest Day” in 1960, and “The Green Berets” in 1968. In “They Were Expendable,” the producers of the film worked with Medal of Honor recipient John Bulkeley.

One film that doesn’t get the attention of these other classics is “Operation Pacific,” released in 1951, which featured retired Adm. Charles Lockwood, the former commander of the Pacific Fleet’s submarines during World War II. Wayne played the executive officer, then the commanding officer, of the fictional submarine USS Thunderfish in this film.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
VADM Charles A. Lockwood, who served as technical advisor for Operation Pacific. (US Navy photo)

Given Lockwood’s involvement, it’s no surprise that the film features some of the notable submarine exploits of World War II, compressed into one story — including Howard C. Gilmore’s famous “Take her down” orders, and the effort to fix the badly flawed torpedoes that dogged the U.S. Navy’s submarines for the first portion of the war.

The film’s climax featured an incident that composited the attacks on Japanese carriers during the Battle of the Philippine Sea with the actions of the submarines USS Darter (SS 227) and USS Dace (SS 247). The film is notable for showing the many missions the subs of World War II carried out, from evacuating civilians to rescuing pilots to, of course, sinking enemy ships (the Thunderfish’s on-screen kill total included a carrier, destroyer, a Q-ship, and a submarine).

You can see the trailer below. The film is available for sale on Youtube.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDAlgrBKmxA
MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: Here’s How WWII changed Oregon’s economy forever

After Japan bombed Pearl Harbor during World War II, Oregon residents became uneasy. As a west coast state, they felt like Oregon could be the next target. In response to their anxiety about a possible invasion, several towns on the Oregon coast developed citizen militias. They patrolled the beaches hoping to scare off or at least slow down an attack. 

The role of Oregon families and children in WWII

Even Oregon schoolboys participated in the citizen-organized war effort. They built model airplanes to help sky watchers identify enemy aircraft. Many cities, including Portland, practiced air raids and blackout drills. Families learned skills they probably never dreamed of learning, including how to neutralize firebombs in case they landed in their homes. 

A state suddenly full of active military installments

Oregon also had more formal participation in the war. Pilots from Oregon’s Pendleton Air Base General flew during General Dolittle’s bombing raid on Tokyo. Other bases that represented all military branches were scattered around the state as well. 

Strategically inland, the Umatilla Ordnance Depot stockpiled every single type of munition. The Tillamook Navy Air Base supported Military blimps that patrolled the Oregon coastline searching for energy submarines. The state’s largest training base was Camp Adair, which brought in 45,000 new faces to the Corvallis area. This area had previously been nothing but tiny, quiet towns, and now it was bustling with activity. The young ladies surely did enjoy all the young men around. 

The only WWII fatalities on the US mainland

The only fatalities from war action on the US mainland happened in Oregon in May 1945. The Japanese had sent thousands of bomb-carrying hydrogen balloons toward the US mainland. Most didn’t make it to land, though about 300 did. Most exploded harmlessly, except for one on Gearhart Mountain in southern Oregon’s Fremont National Forest. A minister’s wife and their five children died from the explosion. 

Portland prospered thanks to WWII

As often happens during wartime, the US experienced many shortages of pretty much everything. In nearly every town in Oregon, residents pitched in and salvaged scrap metal, paper, and rubber to donate to the war effort. They drove their cars less and cut back on electricity use. They even donated bacon grease if you can believe it. 

Yet from industry to agriculture, production was booming. Portland grew and prospered as a result, as did many cities. People from the smaller towns in Oregon came to Portland during the war period looking for work, knowing they would get it. 

All sorts of industries needed hired help, including shipyards and aircraft factories. Many rural loggers happily came in and took those jobs because they paid a lot more money. Women also came to work in fields that would have never been available to them without the war. Thanks to all the new help, three Portland-area shipyards built over 700 vessels during the war. 

Related: The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

Articles

Why the food in Guam is as funky and awesome as anywhere on the mainland

In a U.S. territory half a world removed from the continental United States, what does it mean to be American? To find out, Meals Ready To Eat host August Dannehl shipped off to the far reaches of Pacific Micronesia, to Guam.


How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
A sea of American flags in the heart of the Pacific. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Guam is a tiny island with a full dance card of seemingly competing cultural histories. Its indigenous people, the Chamorro, called it home for 4000 years, but after the island was “discovered” by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, it experienced several centuries of European colonization, capture, and rule that heaped Spanish, Catholic, American, and Japanese cultural influence atop the foundations of its identity.

But where other territories with similar fraught histories stumble through the modern era in crisis and without a firm sense of collective “self,” Guamanians wove themselves into the fabric of democratic and multicultural America. They celebrate their 21st century hybridity with exuberance, with fervent patriotism and military service, and with a food culture so funky and delicious, people travel from all over the globe to get in on it.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Imagine this, but in a taco. With crab. And star fruit. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Why choose? (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

In Guam, you find patriotism in its purest form, animated by gratitude for life. Guamanians have earned a deep understanding of how precarious human existence can be, whether it’s an island in the middle of the ocean or an oasis in the heart of the desert or a small, blue planet in the void of space.

Guamanians don’t just feel gratitude, they act on its behalf. As a people, they serve in the U.S. military at a higher rate than any of the 50 states.

When the Americans came and liberated us, they became family. That patriotism from our ancestors or those even living today, it continues on. And that’s an honor to be part of a nation that gives freedom, to be part of something greater than this tiny island…that’s what makes us American. —Sgt. Joleen Castro, U.S. Air Force

Their service reflects their dedication to the American ideal, yes, but it’s also an expression of inafa’maolek, or interdependence, the core value of the Chamorro people. Guamanians, at the deepest level of their tradition, celebrate collective prosperity, unity and togetherness. They celebrate the good.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Unsurprisingly, they throw incredible parties. (Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)

Watch more Meals Ready To Eat:

Army food will make you feel the feels

This whiskey is a WWII victory, distilled

This is what happens when you run your kitchen like a platoon

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Battle of San Juan Hill would go down today

The Battle of San Juan Hill is best known for the charge of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry, famously called “the Rough Riders,” led by Col. (and future President) Theodore Roosevelt. However, there was much more to that battle than the single, iconic charge. In fact, by some accounts, the attack was what they call a Charlie-Fox. But if it happened today, would it be the same, nail-bitingly close battle?

Historically, the Battle of San Juan Hill pitted 800 Spanish troops on strategically important heights outside Santiago, Cuba, against 8,000 American troops and 3,000 Cuban insurgents. Back then, the Spanish had the advantage of more modern rifles, machine guns, and artillery. So, for the sake of argument, we’ll call it roughly two light infantry battalions against two infantry brigade combat teams. As we talk about a hypothetical, modern Battle of San Juan Hill, we’ll also leave out drones and air support – just to try and keep this comparison “apples to apples.”


Today, in terms of small arms, the United States has the advantage. Spain uses the Heckler and Koch G36, a rifle that the Germans designed but are now dropping due to its myriad problems.

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

German troops with G36 rifles carry out a demonstration during BALTOPS 2004. Spain also uses that piece-of-crap rifle.

(US Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class George Sisting)

The United States, on the other hand, uses the M4 carbine and M16 rifle, which are much more reliable and accurate. Most of the other weapons in service are roughly equal, with the exception of Spain’s M109A5 self-propelled howitzers, which are less modern than American M109A7 Paladins. In terms of munitions, United States has the advantage of the Excalibur GPS-guided shell.

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

Today, the “Rough Riders” under Teddy Roosevelt’s command would enjoy the edge in small arms and artillery that the Spanish had in 1898.

(George Rockwell)

Today, Spain no longer has the technological advantages they once enjoyed. The U.S. simply has better rifles and artillery at their disposal, which would change the entire dynamic of the battle. First off, American artillery would be able to deliver much more suppressive fire in the 2018 Battle of San Juan Hill.

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

The United States Army’s M109A7 Paladin howitzers would bring a decisive edge against Spanish artillery today.

(US Army)

But the real difference lies in American rifles. In the historical battle, the Spanish held out against overwhelming numbers, inflicting about 1,300 casualties on the Americans, due to a combination of defensive positioning and more modern weaponry. This time around, the Americans would make the charge with top-of-the-line weapons while artillery keeps the Spanish holed up.

In short, it’d be a rout. What was once a daring, uphill charge would feel more like a casual stroll.

Articles

Reagan taught US pilots how to recognize the Zero

Ronald Reagan probably helped save a number of lives on the front lines — and not because he was a big hero. In fact, Reagan’s eyesight was so bad, they kept him in the United States. But despite not being fit for front-line duty, Reagan still played his role for Uncle Sam.


While Reagan’s eyesight made him next to useless for combat, he did end up being involved in doing training films, one of which involved recognizing the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. Friendly fire has long been a problem — ask Stonewall Jackson.

And yes, friendly fire was a problem in World War II. The P-38 was hamstrung because someone mistook a C-54 for a Fw 200.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
A6M2 Zero fighters prepare to launch from Akagi as part of the second wave during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In this training film, “Recognition of the Japanese Zero,” Reagan portrayed a young pilot who had just arrived in the Far East. The recognition angle is hammered home, and not just because of the friendly-fire problem.

Reagan’s character studies silhouettes drawn by a wounded pilot who hesitated too long — and found out he was dealing with a Zero the hard way.

Even with the study, Reagan’s character later accidentally fires at a P-40 he misidentifies, greatly angering the other American pilot. However, when he returns, he takes his lumps, but all turns out okay when the other pilots realizes there is a Zero in Reagan’s sights from the gun camera footage.

Reagan’s character explains that he stumbled across the Zero, then after a dogfight (not the proper tactic against the Zero, it should be noted), Reagan’s character shoots down the Zero.

There’s a happy ending as the earlier near-miss is forgotten and the kill is celebrated.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Colin Powell briefing President Ronald Reagan in 1988. (Photo from Reagan Presidential Library)

The film is also notable in that it revealed to American pilots that the United States had acquired a Zero that had crashed in the Aleutians. The so-called Akutan Zero was considered one of the great intelligence coups in the Pacific Theater, arguably second only to the American code-breaking effort.

So, see a future President of the United States help teach American pilots how to recognize the Zero in the video below.

Articles

That time Los Angeles fought off an imaginary Japanese bombing raid

In February 1942, Army units defending Los Angeles launched a devastating barrage of anti-aircraft fire into the sky, sending up 1,433 rounds against targets reported across the city in the “Battle of L.A.”


Fortunately for the occupants (but unfortunately for the egos of everyone involved), the City of Angels wasn’t under attack.

In the months after the Pearl Harbor attacks, the American Navy was largely in retreat across the Pacific, and the West Coast was worried that it was the next target of a Japanese attack.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Army gun crews man a Bofors anti-aircraft gun in Algeria in World War II. (Photo: Library of Congress)

In reality, the chances of a Japanese attack on the West Coast were low since the Navy was pulling back from far flung outposts in order to secure ground they knew they had to hold, like California, Oregon, Washington, and vital bases on Pacific islands.

But LA was overtaken by fear and uncertainty in the early months of 1942. Then, on Feb. 23, a city in California was attacked by the Japanese. A long-range submarine surfaced near Santa Barbara, California, and shelled an oil refinery there.

The very next night, a light was spotted over the ocean off the coast, possibly a signal flare sent up to guide Japanese planes or carriers to their target. Then, a few hours later, blinking lights were spotted and an alert was called. When no attack materialized, the alert was called off.

But in the early hours of Feb. 25, radars picked up activity at approximately 12,000-feet. Lookouts reported dozens of aircraft closing on the city. “The Great Los Angeles Air Raid” was on, and the city residents and their Army gun crews knew exactly how to respond.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
American anti-aircraft gun crews firing in World War II. (Photo: Flickr/U.S. Army RDECOM)

Army Air Force crews rushed from their beds to await launch orders and gun crews ran to their stations. Volunteer air wardens fanned across the city to enforce the blackout.

At 3:06 a.m., the first gun crews spotted their targets and began firing into the sky. For the next hour, a fierce barrage lit up the night as searchlights and shells looked for targets. In all, 1,433 rounds would be fired by gun crews.

Citizens drove through the street against orders and caused three auto fatalities while two others were lost to panic-induced heart failure. Fuzes failed to detonate some rounds in the air and they crashed back to earth where they destroyed property while luckily causing no fatalities.

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

But the embarrassing reality started to become clear at headquarters. With no reports of bomb damage and few reports of downed aircraft — none of which could be confirmed — either both sides were engaging in the least effective battle in the history of war or there were not actually any Japanese bombers.

The alert was suspended at 4:15 a.m. and later lifted entirely. Soon, the entire country heard that the reported attacks in Los Angeles were actually just a case of the jitters.

A 1983 military investigation of the incident found a possible explanation. A swarm of meteorological balloons had been released that night with small lights attached to aid in tracking. It’s possible that the gun and radar crews saw these balloons and, in the nervous atmosphere, mistook it for an attack.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

There is undoubtedly no worse place for troops to live and fight in than the trenches of old. Soldiers would dig fighting positions into the ground and, with no way to continually clear out the rodents, water, sewage, and bodies, the fortifications would become ripe with disease.

The sand around you was your home. The sandbags above the parapet were your only protection from snipers. The walls that surrounded you could collapse under enemy artillery fire and quickly become your coffin.

Despite all of these glaring faults, their purpose is clear when you look at the bigger picture.


How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
They could fight for months and not even take a single inch.
(Imperial War Museums)
 

Trenches have been used as early as the Roman Empire, but the scale at which they were used swelled drastically on the western front of the First World War. During WWI, trenches were built in three distinct rows: The main firing trench (used for direct combat), the support trench (used as a second line of defense and as a place for officers, medics, cooks, and other supporting troops), and the reserve trench (used for housing).

Soldiers knew in advance where they’d hold off the enemy and they’d begin building fighting positions there for cover. The enemy would show up, see the trenches, and quickly dig their own at a safe distance. Inevitably, both sides would find it impossible to dislodge the opposition and so they’d dig in deeper.

Many of the problems we associate with trenches today ran most rampant within British units, as they believed that the trenches would be temporary and the war would keep moving — it didn’t.

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

That entire red line was almost entirely a trench system between both the Allied Powers and the Central Powers

(The History Department of the United States Military Academy)

Meanwhile, many French and German trench systems were built with the long-haul in mind. They better fortified their walls and created much more hospitable bunkers. They understood that the systems weren’t to be used to advance, but rather to stall the enemy. Each row within the trench systems was designed to make it as difficult as possible for the enemy to take it over.

If the enemy managed to make it across No Man’s Land (the expanse of ground between opposing forces’ fortifications), they’d come across fields of barbed wire that would slow their movement and alert sentries that heard the rustling. Then, they’d come into the first trench, which was typically dug into asymmetrical zigzags that not only minimized the effect of shrapnel, but also provided as small of a field of fire as possible for invaders.

The rows were designed to be able to be taken from the rear. While enemy forces swarmed the first trench, defenders could hop over top the next trench back and open fire. This defense mechanism sounds like it’s begging to be exploited, but that would require the enemy to flank around the trench line first. Both sides would prevent this from happening by creating hundreds of miles of trench systems. Often, there was no way around.

The trenches did exactly what they were built to do. They ensured the enemy couldn’t get past. With no viable option for advancement, militaries were able to send men elsewhere — who would then dig even more and offer little room for the enemy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the truth behind the creepy Philadelphia Experiment

The Philadelphia Experiment is one of the most grotesque military urban legends ever — and it has endured as an infamous World War II conspiracy theory. But is there any truth to it? Let’s take a look.

According to legend, on Oct. 28, 1943, the USS Eldridge, a Cannon-class destroyer escort, was conducting top-secret experiments designed to win command of the oceans against the Axis powers. The rumor was that the government was creating technology that would render naval ships invisible to enemy radar, and there in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, it was time to test it out.


Witnesses claim an eerie green-blue glow surrounded the hull of the ship as her generators spun up and then, suddenly, the Eldridge disappeared. The ship was then seen in Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia before disappearing again and reappearing back in Philadelphia.

The legend states that classified military documents reported that the Eldridge crew were affected by the events in disturbing ways. Some went insane. Others developed mysterious illness. But others still were said to have been fused together with the ship; still alive, but with limbs sealed to the metal.

That’ll give you nightmares. That’s some Event Horizon sh*t right there.

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

I’ll never sleep again.

(Event Horizon | Paramount Pictures)

Which is actually a convincing reason why the Eldridge’s story gained so much momentum.

In a 1994 article for the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Jacques F. Vallee theorized that deep-seated imagery is key to planting a hoax into the minds of the masses and of the educated public.

But before we break down what really happened that day, let’s talk about the man behind the myth: Carl M. Allen, who would go by the pseudonym, Carlos Miguel Allende. In 1956, Allende sent a series of letters to Morris K. Jessup, author of the book, The Case for the UFO, in which he argued that unidentified flying objects merit further study.

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

Jessup apparently included text about unified field theory because this is what Allende latched onto for his correspondences. In the 1950s, unified field theory, which has never been proven, attempted to merge Einstein’s general theory of relativity with electromagnetism. In fact, Allende claimed to have been taught by Einstein himself and could prove the unified field theory based on events he witnessed on October 28, 1943.

Allende claimed that he saw the Eldridge disappear from the Philadelphia Naval Yard, and he further insisted that the United States Military had conducted what he called the Philadelphia Experiment — and was trying to cover it up.

Jessup was then contacted by the Navy’s Office of Naval Research, who had received a package containing Jessup’s book with annotations claiming that extraterrestrial technology allowed the U.S. government to make breakthroughs in unified field theory.

This is one of the weirdest details. The annotations were designed to look like they were written by three different authors – one maybe extraterrestrial? According to Valle’s article for the Journal of Scientific Exploration, Jessup became obsessed with Allende’s revelations, and the disturbed researcher would take his own life in 1959. It wasn’t until 1980 that proof of Allende’s forgery would be made available.

Inexplicably, two ONR officers had 127 copies of the annotated text printed and privately distributed by the military contractor Varo Manufacturing, giving wings to Allende’s story long after Jessup’s death.

So, what really happened aboard the USS Eldridge that day?

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

Somewhere in Delaware there are secret military canals that have all the answers…

According to Edward Dudgeon, who served in the U.S. Navy aboard the USS Engstrom, which was dry-docked in the Philadelphia Naval Yard while the Eldridge was, both ships did have classified devices on board. They were neither invisibility cloaks nor teleportation drives designed by aliens, but instead, they scrambled the magnetic signatures of ships using the degaussing technique, which provided protection from magnetic torpedoes aboard U-boats.

How Stuff Works suggested that the “green glow” reported by witnesses that day could be explained by an electric storm or St. Elmo’s Fire which, in addition to being an American coming-of-age film starring the Brat Pack, is a weather phenomenon in which plasma is created in a strong electric field, giving off a bright glow, almost like fire.

Finally, inland canals connected Norfolk to Philadelphia, allowing a ship to travel between the two in a few hours.

The USS Eldridge would be transferred to Greece in 1951 and sold for scrap in the 90s, but Allende’s hoax would live on in our effing nightmares forever.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Roman gladiators were some of the most vicious and popular athletes of all time. The extremely violent sport of gladiatorial fighting was as popular back then as MMA is today. In ancient Rome, crowds would swarm to see their favorite warriors beat the sh*t out of each other until only one man was left standing in the center of the arena — or until the match ended in a draw.


Although multiple films and TV shows have covered the lives of these warriors, many details remain shrouded in mystery. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about these brave, sword-wielding warriors.

What their dental impressions revealed

Scientists who study the gladiator’s role in the Roman Empire have discovered that many fighters once suffered from infant malnutrition. Upon examining preserved dental impressions, specialists recognized defects in the form of horizontal lines that ran across the tooth enamel. This supports theories that state many gladiators grew up very poor and may have been sold off as slaves at a young age.

After becoming property, those trained in combat were then fed well by their owners and encouraged to gain the much-needed muscle to fight in the arenas.

They formed their own trade unions

Although gladiators battled and killed one another, they commonly viewed each other as brothers. Many developed and organized themselves into unions, called “collegia.” They had their own leaders and would pay respects to warriors who fell in battle.

Commonly, a fund was collected from gladiators that would then go to a fallen’s family as compensation.

How US special-operations forces helped the US military win its first post-Cold War victory
Commodus gives a thumbs down when dictating a gladiator’s bloody future.
(DreamWorks Pictures)

Fighting to the death

Contrary to popular belief, gladiators didn’t typically fight to the death while in the arenas. A warrior’s death was a tremendous financial burden on their owner. However, historians believe that nearly 700,000 gladiators lost their lives in the Colosseum.

That’s a lot of debt.

They were split up into different sections and types

Gladiators were broken up into various classes based on their records, experience, and skill level. The thraeces and murmillones gladiators battled it out using swords and shields while the essedariis rode in combat on chariots.

Before their battles, they lived in privately-owned schools that doubled as both training and prison grounds.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Only one country who developed nuclear weapons ever gave them up

In 1979, American Vela Hotel satellites detected a bright double flash near the Prince Edward Islands of Antarctica. A double-flash is a clear indication of a nuclear explosion in the atmosphere, as all 41 of the previous double flashes turned out to be. The only thing was this time, no one was claiming this unannounced nuclear test.

A Soviet spy later announced the flashes were caused by a joint Israeli-South African nuclear test.


The South Africans had been researching atomic energy since at least 1965, with the delivery of a U.S.-made nuclear research reactor and a supply of highly enriched uranium fuel. The country soon began to pour its resources into its own uranium enrichment programs and by 1969, was able to produce weapons-grade uranium on its own. By the 1970s, South Africa was developing nuclear explosions for use in mining, but that program quickly became a weapons development program. By the 1980s, South Africa was a nuclear weapons state.

In the 1980s, South Africa was also developing missiles that could be used with the six warheads they constructed, based on the Israeli designs for its Shavit rockets.

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

Israel’s Shavit rockets delivers satellites into space for the Jewish state.

It’s important to note that during this entire process, South Africa was fighting a prolonged border insurrection with its breakaway state of South West Africa and its allies in Angola and Cuba. Between 1966 and 1989, the Cold War raged hot in the southern tip of the continent as the South West African People’s Organisation wrested control of the region against the South African Defence Forces. At the same time, the South Africans were fighting Angolan and Cuban intervention, as well as insurgent groups from nearby Zambia, especially the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia.

The extended fighting at their borders gave South Africa a big incentive to develop nuclear weapons to bring leverage to their position at the negotiating table. When the Western powers and the Soviet Union got wind of potential South African nuclear tests in the late 80s, they were horrified and pressured the South Africans to abort the test. But South Africa never had any intention of putting warheads on the missiles; they didn’t fit anyway. South Africa wanted the world to think they did, however.

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

A South African armored column in Ohangwena, Ovamboland in the 1970s.

Instead, the South Africans did the opposite. They signed a peace accord with all the belligerents they had been fighting for more than 20 years, withdrew their troops from South West Africa, and allowed the region to declare its independence as the new country of Namibia. The very next year, South Africa ended its nuclear program. Since then, it helped establish the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone and became party to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, ending more than 40 years of nuclear weapons research.

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