What’s it like to take part in a modern air battle, flying some of the most sophisticated planes ever to take to the sky? We’re talking the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon here, during the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot.
The F-15 and F-16 have seen a lot of action, the vast majority of which has taken place in the Middle East. One of the most notable engagements these airframes saw was the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. During the 1982 Israeli-Lebanon War, the Israelis were dealing with terrorist attacks from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO had relocated to Lebanon shortly after wearing out its welcome in Jordan.
After a PLO assassination attempt that targetted the Israeli ambassador to the United Kingdom, the Israelis went into Lebanon to deal with the terrorists. The thing was, the PLO was backed by Syria. So, when the Israelis went in, the Syrian Army went in to stop them. A crucial part of the Syrian strategy was to take control of the air.
This wouldn’t work out so well for the Syrians. Not only had Israelis just acquired the latest and greatest fighters from the United States, they had also acquired the Grumman E-2 Hawkeye. This radar plane was perhaps the biggest advantage for the Israelis. Ground-based radar stations have a lot of trouble seeing low-altitude planes and cruise missiles. Airborne radar, however, has much less difficulty.
Between June 9 and 10, nearly 200 fighters from both the Israeli Defense Force and the Syrian Air Force clashed over the Bekaa Valley. When the shooting had stopped, all the Israeli planes returned safely to their bases. Over 80 Syrian combat planes were not so lucky, destroyed in the ferocious air battle.
You can see what this battle was like from an Israeli pilot’s perspective in the video below. There probably aren’t very many Syrian perspectives available.
On Apr. 4, 1951, a Navy inductee burst into the Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, blood gushing from his nose, doubled over in pain. There was no trauma, but the soon-to-be sailor could barely walk and was covered in blood. The doctors began to suspect poison was the culprit – and they were right.
The name of the would-be recruit was not recorded in the literature, but he was slated to join the Army during the Korean War. But he soon regretted his decision and tried to shirk his duties by shuffling off his mortal coil. His preferred method of self-inhumation was poison: rat poison.
Proving that US troops can and will eat anything.
The man had been so desperate not to deploy that he would rather have offed himself with rat poison. Eventually, while taking the load of rat poison he thought it would require to kill an adult male, his senses returned to him, and he decided that would not be the best course of action. It took him more than four days to realize that rat poison wasn’t going to kill him, but it was going to be a very painful experience. That’s when he went to the hospital.
How did he manage to survive a dose of poison that should have easily killed its intended target? The toxic substance he used was Warfarin, an agent derived from a notorious poison affecting livestock. Warfarin decreases the body’s ability to clot blood, and the colorless, odorless substance is used to kill rats and vampire bats by forcing internal bleeding.
I’m suddenly okay with that.
Warfarin is in the powerful family of anticoagulants found accidentally by farmers who wondered why their livestock suddenly bled to death after eating slightly spoiled sweet clover. It turns out mold can reprogram a certain chemical in the clover. While the anticoagulant kills animals, it keeps humans from clotting in seriously life-threatening situations, like surgery and World War II – which is exactly how the substances in the clover were first used.
Researchers at the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation derived more versions of the anticoagulants based on the chemical in sweet clover. One of them proved mighty useful in killing rats. That compound was dubbed “warfarin.” While America began to use it in pest control substances, researchers kept testing its blood-related properties. So when the sailor stumbled into the hospital with a belly full of Warfarin, the team was able to reverse the effect by dosing him with Vitamin K.
Attempted suicide is some hardcore skating.
And now that there was a tested, effective antidote, the team could go to work researching the effects on Warfarin on humans. On top of preventing fatal blood clots throughout the human body, they found the drug could restore blood flow in stroke victims. The FDA soon approved its use for treating blood clots. But the true test came after President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a heart attack.
He was in Denver in 1955 visiting friends and family when he suffered the attack. Doctors were concerned that errant blood clots throughout his body could soon cause a stroke, killing or incapacitating the 34th President. They gave him the newly-approved Warfarin, saving the President’s life and allowing him to serve two terms in the White House.
“President Nixon” would just have to wait.
Because one depressed would-be sailor attempted suicide using rat poison and doctors were able to give him an antidote, thousands of tests were able to be conducted on the efficacy of the dangerous drug. Warfarin has since saved countless cardiovascular patients in the United States and abroad, including the man that led the United States into its mid-20th Century Golden Age.
While the converted collier, USS Langley, was America’s first aircraft carrier, it wasn’t America’s first fleet carrier. That honor goes to the converted battlecruiser, USS Lexington.
Under the terms laid out in the 1923 Washington Naval Treaty, a naval arms control accord, the United States had the right to convert two of six planned battlecruisers into aircraft carriers. The Lexington and her sister ship, USS Saratoga, were selected and effectively saved from the scrapheap for this role. The Lexington was commissioned in 1927 and, over the next 14 years, she served in the peacetime Navy.
One of the explosions that doomed USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea. (US Navy photo)
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Lexington took part in the abortive effort to relieve Wake Island. She then took part in various hit-and-run attacks on Japanese bases in the Marshalls until she went to the South Pacific to ward off a Japanese thrust towards Port Moresby. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington’s planes helped to sink the Japanese carrier Shoho, but on May 8, she came under attack.
The Lexington was struck by two torpedoes at least one bomb. The ship’s crew worked hard to keep the vessel afloat. The ship’s Damage Control Officer, Commander Howard R. Healy, suggested to the captain that if he were to take additional torpedo hits, “it would be as well to take them on the starboard side.” Healy would die in the process of controlling the extensive damage done.
A series of internal explosions would force the United States to scuttle the Lexington, making her the first fleet carrier America lost in WWII. She went down in the Coral Sea in 1942, but not before the Japanese were turned back, suffering a strategic defeat.
Earlier this week, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced on Facebook that he found the Lexington. See this heroic vessel, whose sacrifice saved Port Moresby, in the video below.
December 7, 1941 is a date which will live in infamy. The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor took the lives of 2,403 Americans, wounded 1,178, and served as the catalyst for America’s entry into WWII. Multiple factors like Japanese misinformation, American focus on the war in Europe, and the fact that the attack took place on a Sunday contributed to the high loss of American life that day. Despite the surprise nature of the attack and the low state of readiness of American military forces in Hawaii, American servicemen fought back valiantly. With the sky littered with Japanese aircraft, American aviators did their best to get airborne and repel the attack. Though 14 Army Air Corps pilots tried to take off, most were shot down as they taxied. However, a few of them managed to get airborne and take the fight to the skies.
2nd Lt George Welch and 2nd Lt. Kenneth Taylor spent the evening of December 6th at the Wheeler Field officers club and an all-night poker game. The next morning, as the two men discussed the idea of an early morning swim, they were alerted to the attack by the sound of distant gunfire and explosions. Miles away from their airfield at Haleiwa, they phoned ahead to have their Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk fighters fueled and armed before they hopped into Taylor’s Buick and raced toward the fighting. Reaching speeds of 100mph on their dash to the airfield, the two men were attacked by Japanese planes who attempted to strafe them on the ground.
When they reached the airfield, their P-40s were only partially loaded with ammunition. Despite this, and with Taylor still wearing his tuxedo pants from the night before, the two men took off. They engaged a formation of Nakajima B5N2 Kate torpedo bombers and shot down two each. However, one of Welch’s .30-caliber guns jammed and Taylor was hit in the arm and leg by a tail gunner, and the two returned to the airfield.
As they refueled and rearmed, their mission was debated. “We had to argue with some of the ground crew,” Welch recalled. “They wanted us to disperse the airplanes and we wanted to fight.” As their planes were refitted and Taylor was advised to remain grounded to have his wounds treated, a second wave of Japanese planes appeared. With Welch’s jammed gun still not cleared and Taylor refusing medical treatment, the two men took off again. Soon after, Taylor caught the attention of a flight of Mitsubish A6M2 Zero fighters. Welch managed to shoot one of the Zeros off of Taylor’s tail before pursuing an Aichi D3A Val dive bomber out to sea and shooting it down.
Welch and Taylor are officially credited with six kills during the attack on Pearl Harbor. “We went down and got in the traffic pattern and shot down several planes there,” Taylor recalled. “I know for certain I shot down two planes or perhaps more; I don’t know.” Taylor later appeared before Congress to testify during an investigation into the attack.
For their actions, Welch and Taylor both received the Distinguished Service Cross. Though General Henry “Hap” Arnold recommended both men for the Medal of Honor, the honor was denied by their commanding officer because they had taken off without permission.
The other three aviators who managed to take off, 1st Lt. Lewis Sanders, 2nd Lt. Philip Rasmussen (who was still in his pajamas), and 2nd Lt. Gordon Sterling, were at a slight disadvantage compared to Welch and Taylor. Though their Curtiss P-36 Hawk fighters were very similar to Welch and Taylor’s P-40s, the P-36 had a less powerful radial engine. Still, the three men managed to get airborne. “We climbed to 9,000 feet and spotted Japanese ‘Val’ dive bombers,” Rasmussen recounted in a 2002 interview. “We dived to attack them.” Sanders is credited with one enemy aircraft kill. Sadly, after this initial attack, Sterling was shot down and drowned after getting out of his plane.
Rasmussen, who witnessed Sterling’s death, charged his guns only to have them malfunction and begin firing on their own. In an incredible stroke of luck, a Japanese plane flew into the uncontrolled burst of fire and exploded. Rasmussen got his guns back under control and, after shaking two Zeros off his tail, managed to score one more kill. That was when he felt his aircraft get hit.
“There was a lot of noise,” Rasmussen recalled. “He shot my canopy off.” Rasmussen’s P-36 had lost its hydraulics and tail wheel. Nursing his badly damaged plane back to the airfield, he managed to land without his brakes, rudder, or tail wheel. It was later discovered that two 20mm cannon shells had lodged themselves in the bulky radio behind the pilot’s seat which saved Rasmussen’s life.
2nd Lt. John Dains, 2nd Lt. Harry Brown, and 2nd Lt. Malcolm Moore also managed to get airborne at Pearl Harbor. Moore did not score any kills during the attack and Dains’ suspected kill remains unconfirmed. Brown, however, is credited with the final American kill of the attack.
Of the 29 Japanese planes shot down at Pearl Harbor, these men were responsible for 10. Though America’s war in the Pacific began with a badly bloodied nose, men like Welch, Taylor, Sanders, Rasmussen, and Brown gave the Japanese a taste of what was to come.
The effective end of Col. Joe Dowdy’s career in the United States Marine Corps came when he was relieved as commanding officer of Regimental Combat Team 1 on April 4, 2003. The man who relieved him, then-Maj. Gen. James Mattis, also just served as Secretary of Defense.
The relief was so shocking it made national headlines. It was not unprecedented in modern warfare, though.
During the fighting on Saipan, Marine Lt. Gen. Holland Smith relieved Army Maj. Gen. Ralph Smith of command of the 27th Infantry Division over poor combat performance. The Marine general felt that the 27th’s lack of progress had caused unnecessary casualties to the Marine Corps. The relief generated a lot of controversy at the time. Ralph Smith would later command the 98th Infantry Division and would go on to lead the relief organization CARE.
Then-Col. Dowdy was seen as a good officer prior to the relief. He had seen some action in Beirut and also served during Operation Restore Hope. According to a 2004 Wall Street Journal report, RCT-1 had only suffered one KIA during the fighting.
The report also noted that Dowdy was very focused on taking care of his troops, at one point declining an air conditioner when it was clear that the enlisted Marines were not receiving any.
When Dowdy’s unit was halted outside Nasiriyah for over a day, Mattis, who had commanded 1st Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment during Operation Desert Storm, was frustrated. In 2001, Mattis made a name for himself by leading a daring assault to take an air strip near Kandahar, which was crawling with Taliban at the time.
It didn’t help Dowdy’s case when Brig. Gen. John Kelly reportedly caught him dozing off. Then, Maj. Gen. Mattis noticed a captain reading a book next to a runway crater at a recently-captured airfield while sitting on a bulldozer. The captain told Mattis he hadn’t received an order to fix the crater.
Things came to a head on April 3. RCT 1 had managed to lure some of Saddam’s forces away from the western flank – and left it open for U.S. forces to charge into Baghdad. Sensing that Saddam’s forces had cracked, Dowdy was ordered to carry out an operation into al Kut, and was told to decide whether or not to push through. Dowdy ultimately elected not to push through, a decision that angered Gen. Kelly, who recommended his relief.
The next day, Dowdy was reportedly summoned to a meeting with Mattis, and replaced with Col. John A. Toolan. In a performance evaluation, Dowdy was described as “being fatigued beyond normal” and “overly concerned about the welfare” of those under his command, which meant he was “not employing the regiment to its full combat potential.”
Dowdy would retire from the Marine Corps the next year, and eventually served for a time in the Office of the Director at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center as a special operations manager.
He later left NASA. In 2013, the Military Times reported that he would often be called for counsel by other Marine officers who were relieved of their commands.
In 1969, El Salvador and Honduras fought a war that lasted for 100 hours and left over 3,000 dead. This brutal conflict was called the “Soccer War,” but the three highly contentious soccer games were not the cause of the war, but probably the spark that set off a growing powderkeg of tensions that had been building up between the two Central American countries for a while.
With those growing tensions building and building over the ongoing displacement of Salvadoran squatters, the three-game qualifier for the 1970 World Cup really was the last straw. The heated series ended on June 26, 1969 with a 3-2 victory by El Salvador. After that win, El Salvador cut off diplomatic relations with Honduras within hours of the deciding game.
However, the Hondurans managed to hit Salvadoran fuel supplies – at the same time, the Organization of American States worked on the diplomatic front. On July 18, there was a ceasefire. By August 2, 1969, all Salvadoran troops had left Honduras. By that point, not only had over 3,000 people died, but tens of thousands were displaced.
A full peace treaty was not signed until 1980. The International Court of Justice resolved the Gulf of Fonseca dispute in 1992. Even then, it took 14 more years for Honduras and El Salvador to finally resolve the last of the border disputes.
Oh, and about the soccer. El Salvador made it to the 1970 World Cup, but was quickly defeated by the Soviet team.
North Concord Air Force Base located in East Mountain, Vermont used to be a radar base during the Cold War. The station opened in 1956, its purpose to provide early warning signs and protection in the event of a nuclear event. It also sent information to Strategic Air Command Bases. The spot was perfect, literally in the middle of nowhere in one of the most remote areas in all of Vermont.
Keeping Watch For Nuclear Threats Was No Joke During the Cold War
Slightly lower on the mountain, the North Concord AFB housed around 174 servicemen who lived in tin and steel huts, called Quonset Village. They guarded the radar ears on giant steel and tin towers on East Mountain’s summit, always on the lookout for the Soviets up above in the sky. An inflatable white dome topped each tower to serve as protection for the radars.
In the station’s early years, there was only one way to get to it: a treacherous, winding, one-lane dirt road that traveled along steep slopes. To put it lightly, Quonset Village was a harsh place to live in winter. Snowstorms could make the road down the mountain impassible, leaving its military residents stuck up there until it passed. For that reason, the village included all the basic necessities and more. It had a store, barbershop, mess hall, theater, and bowling alley.
A Short-Lived Military Station Indeed
In 1962, North Concord AFB incurred a name change to Lyndonville Air Force Station. However, that didn’t last long, as the US government shut the whole place down a year later in 1963. It was just too expensive to keep up, especially considering that it quickly became obsolete as technology advanced.
In 1961, not too long before it closed, the base reported a UFO sighting that lasted 18 minutes. Strangely, residents of nearby New Hampshire Barney and Betty Hill claim that they were abducted by aliens a couple of hours after the sighting. It remains unclear whether the abduction actually happened or not.
Did Somebody Say UFOs Visited Vermont?
Today, the remains of the abandoned North Concord AFB are still there. Thanks to the UFO sighting and reported abduction, many local legends about the area have become part of its history. Stories about unknown characters lingering around and haunting it are commonplace. Because the US Military abandoned the station, its structural integrity has deteriorated over the years, making it pretty dangerous. In the 90s, someone roaming around a crumbling old tower, unfortunately, fell to their death. However, regardless of its dilapidated state, some might consider the North Concord Air Force Base an unofficial historical site and memorial to the Cold War.
Countries go to war for a lot of reasons these days. Turkey invaded Syria to keep the Kurds from declaring it to be their homeland. The United States and The United Kingdom almost went to war over a pig. Some 2,000 people died in the fighting between two Italian states because someone stole a bucket. While those are all dumb, there are some good reasons to fight a war, and that’s what the “Just War” philosophers have been working on forever.
Over the years, a number of principles have been boiled down from the world of philosophy addressing the subject, as everyone from Saint Thomas Aquinas to NPR have produced their thoughts on the ethics of killing in uniforms. See if your favorite war fits the criteria!
Get in losers, we’re gonna go liberate Kuwait.
It has to be a last resort.
The only way to justify the use of force is to exhaust all other options. If the enemy could be talked down from doing whatever it is they’re doing instead of fighting them to stop them by force, the war can’t be justifiable. In Desert Storm, for example, President Bush gave Saddam Hussein a time limit to remove his forces from Kuwait before bringing down the thunder, that just didn’t persuade Hussein.
It must be declared by a legitimate authority.
Some countries have very specific rules about this. A war cannot be declared by just anyone. What may be egregious to one person or group may not apply equally to the country as a whole, and the rest of the world needs to recognize the need and the legitimacy of the actions taken as well as the authority of those who send their people to war.
A just war is fought to right a wrong.
If someone attacks you out of the blue, you are completely within your right to defend yourself by any means necessary. If a country is seeking to redress a wrong committed against it, then war is justifiable. When the Japanese Empire attacked the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in 1941, it was sufficient enough to send the United States to war.
You have to have a shot at winning it.
Even if one country sucker-punches another or has good intentions in its decision to go to war, it’s not a justified war if that country cannot win it. If fighting a war is a hopeless cause, and the country is just going to send men to their deaths for no end, it cannot be morally justified.
It’s also kind of dickish to do that to your population.
The goal of the war should be to restore peace.
If you’re going to war, the postwar peace you seek has to be better than the peace your country is currently experiencing. Of course, Germany thought going to war in World War II was a just cause. The Treaty of Versailles was really unkind to them. Does it mean they were allowed to kill off the population of Eastern Europe for living space? Absolutely not.
You should only be as violent as you have to be to right the wrongs.
Remember, if you’re going to start a just war, you’re fighting to right a wrong, to redress a grievance. If you start the wholesale slaughter of enemy troops, that’s not a just war by any means. The violence and force used by one country against another have to be equal.
Only kill the combatants.
It seems like a foregone conclusion that an invading force shouldn’t murder enemy civilians, but looking at history – especially recent history – it looks like that’s what it’s come to. A legitimate warrior only kills those on the enemy’s forces who are lawful combatants.
The Medal of Honor is well-known as the U.S. military’s highest honor for acts of valor in the face of the enemy. It is bestowed for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.” Usually, only members of the military earn the award. But a few, rare civilians have, too.
It’s kind of a big deal.
Created in 1861 as a Navy medal, there have been 3,513 Medals of Honor bestowed, with roughly half going to veterans of the U.S. Civil War. The medal is generally given only to U.S. military members, but in the history of the United States, eight civilians have received the honor for their actions on the battlefield.
A purge of Medal of Honor recipients in 1917 stripped the eight of their awards (with a total of 911 previous awardees) after Congress tightened the rules. Seven were restored in 1989, and one more in 1977.
“Buffalo Bill” Cody
In 1872, Buffalo Bill was a scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars. He received the medal for gallantry in combat after leading a cavalry charge against a band of Sioux warriors. He killed two of the warriors, recovered their horses, and then chased them off the battlefield. His medal was restored in 1989.
Amos Chapman Billy Dixon
Chapman was also a civilian scout for the U.S. Army during the Indian Wars of the late 19th century. He was a half-Native who also worked as an interpreter. While working with Lt. Frank Baldwin out of Fort Dodge, he and another civilian scout, Billy Dixon, along with four soldiers, were confronted by a joint force of more than a hundred Comanche and Kiowa warriors. The six retreated to a buffalo wallow, essentially a mid-sized hole in the ground. On the way there, Dixon was injured, so Chapman picked him up and carried him to the defensive position. He stopped to fight off attackers on occasion, but was shot in the leg a quarter mile from the wallow. He dragged himself and Dixon the rest of the way to the wallow. The six held out until weather forced the enemy withdrawal, three days later.
Another civilian scout during the Indian Wars, Dozier was awarded the honor for gallantry at the Little Wichita River, Texas in 1870. Dozier and another scout tracked a band of the Keechi to Bluff Creek. Dozier fired down on the Keechi from a higher position, wounding Chief Keesh-Kosh. Noticing that U.S. soldiers below were exposed to direct fire from a band of Keechi on a hillside, Dozier mounted his horse and attacked the band by himself. Dozier suffered serious injuries when his horse was shot out from under him, but was credited with the campaign’s success.
Ferrell was a civilian in the service of the Union Navy during the Civil War. While acting as a Navy pilot near Nashville, Tennessee, an engagement with Confederates saw the flag of their ship, the Neosho, shot down. Ferrel and the ship’s quartermaster ran through the enemy fire to reraise the flag.
Another U.S. Navy civilian in service to the Union during the Civil War, Freeman was at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama. He was the pilot of the Union Flagship. He piloted the Navy’s ships into the bay under “terrific” enemy fire, from Fort Morgan, the CSS Tennessee, and a flotilla of Confederate gunboats. The boats were captured, the Tennessee surrendered, and the Fort’s guns were silenced.
Mary Edwards Walker
Walker received her Medal of Honor recommendation from General William Tecumseh Sherman himself. She worked as a contract surgeon at the battles of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Chattanooga, and Chickamauga. During battles, she would frequently cross enemy lines and treat civilians. Throughout the war, she was contracted as a surgeon by the Army of the Cumberland, the 52d Ohio Infantry, and the Patent Office Hospital in Washington, D.C. She would be arrested by the Confederacy as a spy in 1864 and spend four months as a POW. She received the Medal of Honor from President Andrew Johnson, and refused to give it back when Congress erased her award. She died two years later. President Jimmy Carter restored her status in 1977.
William H. Woodall
Woodall was a civilian employee of the Union Army during the Civil War. At the Battle of Namozine Church, while riding as a scout with Gen. Philip Sheridan’s Cavalry Corps, Woodall was with a group of scout spies dressed in Confederate uniforms when they captured Confederate General Rufus Barringer. Woodall captured the general’s headquarter’s flag.
It first entered Navy service in February, 1895, with some doubters mocking its excessive armament while Americans hoped that its speed, steel, and guns would allow it to survive while outnumbered if under heavy attack. Instead, the small but mighty USS Olympia slaughtered an enemy fleet, bombarded shores, and escorted convoys during its 27-year career.
The USS Olympia, a fast cruiser with heavy armament.
In the late 1800s, the U.S. Navy wrestled with what the service should do and what ships it needed for the 1900s. The battle of the Merrimack and Monitor decisively proved that wooden ships were on their way out, but the rise of steel ships showed that the iron vessels made in earnest during and after the Civil War wouldn’t survive either.
Meanwhile, sails were the efficient and cheap method of propelling a ship, but it was clear that steam gave commanders more flexibility and more options in combat.
And the Navy needed ships to secure American shores even as a constrained budgets made ship-building tough. Some presidents were already looking at using the Navy for power projection as well.
So, the Navy had to decide whether it should have lots of cheap ships, lots of coastal defenses, steam or sail power, all while keeping power projection a feasible option.
The Navy figured out a plan address all the changes and requirements: A new fleet of steel vessels that relied on steam power but still had masts for sails for long voyages when the winds were favorable. Because the U.S. couldn’t spend as much on ship hulls as potential European attackers, each ship would be heavily armed and as fast as possible.
This resulted in cruisers that could hopefully run ahead of enemy fleets, pelting the lead of the enemy ship with shot after shot while staying out of range of the rest of the enemy fleet. (Video game players do this today against powerful enemies and call it, “kiting.”)
The USS Olympia in front of a column of cruisers circa 1900.
(Francis Christian Muller)
The Olympia fit all the qualifications of the new naval plan. It could steam at over 21 knots while most of its potential enemies topped out at 18. It had four 8-inch guns, two in a single turret forward and two in a turret aft. These big guns were the primary armament, but the ship also had ten 5-inch guns. A few years after launch, it also got Gatling guns and sidearms for potential boarding parties.
Some naval observers around the world critiqued the design, saying that it was either an overarmed cruiser or a too-tiny battleship. But these heavily armed cruisers were designed for their own mission, and they could outrun attackers while picking them off with their larger guns.
The defensive war Olympia was ostensibly designed for never came, though. Instead, it was sent to the Pacific where it became the flagship of Commodore George Dewey before the USS Maine, a larger and even better armed ship, blew up in Havana Harbor. While the explosion was later found to have likely been caused by an ammo handling accident or an overheated bulkhead that touched gunpowder stores, the U.S. blamed it on a Spanish attack at the time.
In response to the Maine’s destruction, Dewey and his squadron were sent to Manila Bay to attack the Spanish fleet there. The hope was that the ships, protected by steel and heavily armed, could rush past the guns of the Spanish coastal defenses and engage the Spanish fleet with the large guns.
The USS Olympia leads the attack against the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila.
But the rest of the fleet held its fire until Dewey saw the fleet, crept in range, and got the angles right. Spanish rounds were raining against the steel hulls of the American ships, and gunners crouched behind the paltry armor and prayed for safety until Dewey, on the Olympia, calmly told the ship’s captain, “You may fire when ready, Mr. Gridley.”
The American fleet opened up and slaughtered the decrepit Spanish fleet, sinking all vessels and capturing the port in mere hours. America now owned the capital of the Philippines and would get the islands in the peace treaty that came later. Nine Americans had been wounded while the fleet had killed 161 Spanish fighters and wounded 210.
The Olympia and Dewey became famous, and the ship went on to serve in World War I as a convoy escort. And, in 1918, Olympia bombarded the shore during an amphibious assault at Murmansk in the Russian Civil War.
But the era of the Dreadnought had come, and in the years following World War I, it became clear that the Olympia was no longer enough ship to compete with enemy combatants. And America, flush with prestige after World War I and possessing overseas colonies from the Spanish-American War, had the money to build a larger, more powerful fleet.
In 1922, Olympia was decommissioned, and the hull was slated for the scrap heap, but activists pushed for the ship to be turned into a museum. It took decades of wrangling before Philadelphia donors got the money to return Olympia to the 1898 configuration and moored the ship in the city’s waterfront in 1958.
Since then, the ship has hosted visitors who wanted to walk the weathered boards of its deck or see the steam engines that made its speed possible. The Flagship Olympia Foundation is trying to raise the money necessary to dry dock and overhaul the ship. It’s already been on the water since 1892, and could have decades more in it after repairs.
Nancy Bentley, in a custom uniform, stands with an officer on the HMAS Sydney in 1920.
In November 1920, a little girl was playing in the bushland of Tasmania when she slipped and fell to the ground. Nancy Bentley surprised a snake which proceeded to bite her wrist, threatening her life. Because of the remote location where she was bitten and the fact that she was a woman, the Royal Australian Navy enlisted her into the service as a mascot to save her life.
The light cruiser HMAS Sydney which once had a living human girl as its mascot.
The ship’s medics were willing to assist the injured girl, but regulations from the crown and instructions from admirals ordered the commander, Captain Henry Cayley, to prevent women from boarding the ship. He felt he needed to create some official pretext to explain the little girl on his ship. But women, even little girls, were forbidden from serving in the standard ranks of the navy.
So Cayley turned to the office of mascot, an official rank in many military forces at the time that was typically assigned to animals adopted by the unit or crew. Basically, a crew could acquire or purchase an animal and then use the “wages” assigned to the mascot to feed and house it. Understandably, the rules regarding this rank were lax since, you know, it was typically for dogs and cats.
So Cayley ordered that Nancy be admitted onto the crew with service number 000001 and given a rating of “mascot” on November 15. Her terms of enlistment were even more lax. She was to remain in the navy “till fed up.”
The ship’s medical staff gave her rudimentary treatment and sent her to Hobart, Tasmania, for further treatment. She was also allowed to see a movie at the town’s theater after her treatment before the ship carried her back home. In all, she spent eight days in the navy.
“I was the crew’s official mascot and everybody from the Captain down gave me VIP treatment,” Nancy said in 1970.
She was well-reviewed by the navy. Her character was reviewed as “very good,” and she was “exceptional” in her naval duties.
It would take another 21 years before women were allowed into the actual ranks of the Royal Australian Navy as World War II required manpower that only women could provide.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated across the world since 1909, and is used as a day to laud the important contributions women make.
Women have long-since served in the U.S. military, even before they were officially allowed to enlist. From covert spy operations to battles on the front lines, women have been there for all of it.
Nancy Morgan Hart
During the American Revolution, Hart was supposed to stay and take care of her children at their Georgia home while her husband fought in the war, like many military spouses today do. However, Nancy couldn’t sit idly by while a war raged around her.
Pretending to be a crazy man, Hart was able to gain access to British camps in Augusta, where she successfully gathered intelligence and reported it back to the Continental Army. Hart also wasn’t afraid to defend her home against the enemy, as evidenced when six Loyalist soldiers entered her home and demand she feed them. While they were occupied with food, she hid their weapons and held them hostage with one, killing two when they tried to overpower her, until her husband and a neighbor came home.
Dr. Mary E. Walker
Walker volunteered her expertise as a surgeon with the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War, despite women not being allowed to serve as doctors. She was captured and became a prisoner-of-war after she was caught crossing enemy lines to treat wounded soldiers. She was considered a spy by the Confederates and was held until eventually released in a prisoner exchange.
For her bravery and willingness to confront the enemy to save Union soldiers, President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor, after a recommendation by Gen. William Sherman, becoming the first and only women ever to be awarded the highest military honor.
Col. Eileen Collins
Collins became the first female to pilot a shuttle in space in 1995, and was also the first female commander of a U.S. spacecraft in 1999.
During her time in the Air Force, Collins served as an instructor for the T-38 Talon at Vance Air Force Base, and eventually transitioned to an assistant professor role at the U.S. Air Force Academy, teaching mathematics and instructing T-41 pilots.
Sarah Emma Edmonds
Edmonds fled to Michigan from Canada, escaping an abusive marriage. While traveling, she found that dressing like a man made life considerably easier, and eventually joined the military as a male nurse out of a sense of obligation. Edmonds used the alias “Franklin Thompson,” and served as a spy for Union soldiers until she was confronted with a bout of Malaria. Knowing she would be punished if Army doctors discovered she was a woman, Edmonds abandoned her male disguise and continued to serve as a female nurse in Washington D.C.
After she wrote a memoir about her time as a spy, Edmonds contributions to the war were accepted, and she received an honorable discharge, as well as a government pension for her service.
French tank designers had an ambitious idea before World War I: What if they could create a vehicle with the protection of an armored car but the firepower of an artillery gun?
The design that eventually emerged packed a massive 75mm artillery gun into the nose of a tank named the Saint Chamond, but the offensive focus of the designers left glaring oversights in mobility and armor, allowing even pistol rounds through in some circumstances.
While French officers had considered designing an armored weapon platform before the war, the outbreak of hostilities put the effort on old. As Britain started building their first tanks, France got in on the action with two heavy tank designs of their own, the Schneider and the Saint Chamond.
But the design compromises needed to make space for the massive cannon were significant. The vehicle drove on relatively thin and short treads, and the weight of the vehicle pushed it hard against the soil, making it questionable whether the tank would be able to navigate the muddy craters of No Man’s Land.
Worse, the cannon needed to be mounted at the front, and it couldn’t fit properly between the treads while leaving room for the cannon’s crew. So, instead, the entire length of the cannon had to sit forward of the treads, causing the tank’s center of balance to be far forwards of the center of the vehicle. As the French would later learn, this made it nearly impossible to cross trenches in the St. Chamond. Instead, crews would tip into the trench and get their gun stuck in the dirt.
Thanks to the limited traction from the treads, the tank couldn’t even back away from the trench and get back into the fight. Once tipped forward, they usually needed towed out.
But, worst of all, in an attempt to keep the already-heavy vehicle from getting too much heavier, they opted for light armor on the sides of the tank. While the front was only a little thicker, it was, at least, sloped. Col. Jean Baptiste Eugene Estienne, a French artillery officer who is now known as the Father of French Tanks, saw the Saint Chamond and tested its armor by firing his pistol at it.
The pistol round passed through the quarter-inch armor.
In the designers’ defense, the St. Chamond’s armor was soon upgraded to 11mm at a minimum, a little under a half-inch. The front armor was up to 19mm, almost .75 inches.
But still, when the British and French tanks made their combat debuts, the shortcomings of early tank design were quickly made apparent. Crews from both countries complained of bullets punching through the sides or, nearly as bad, impacting the armor so hard that bits of metal exploded off from the hull and tore through the crew.
French tanks had even worse trouble crossing muddy sections than their British counterparts, getting bogged down quickly. And that was if the engines held up. Often, they would breakdown instead.
As the war continued, though, France did find a successful design: the Renault FT, a light tank with a rotating turret, 37mm gun, and decent speed. It did have even lighter armor than the St, Chamond, but its configuration allowed the road wheels to help protect the crew from the sides, and the speed let them overwhelm German defenses before too many rounds could hit them.
Best, the Renault FT could be produced in much higher numbers, meaning that German defenders couldn’t often concentrate fire on any single target.
The design was so successful that it was one of the designs America licensed for its tank corps as it joined the war and stood up its armored forces. America ordered over 4,000 of the tank, known in American inventories as M1917s, but none of them reached the actual forces in France until after the armistice.
Still, the design was liked by U.S. Army Capts. Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton, officers who would create America’s armored strength and later rise to even greater fame in World War II.
Today, the closest modern equivalent to the St. Chamond isn’t even a tank. After all, the vehicle was created to carry a large cannon into battle, and, by the end of the war, it was used more as mobile artillery than to directly attack enemy trenches. As such, it’s more like the M109 Paladin than the M1 Abrams.
And, as artillery, the St. Chamond wasn’t bad. Its weak armor wasn’t a big deal when far from the front lines, and it wasn’t important that an armored artillery platform couldn’t quickly cross a trench.