Here's how far 'Air Force One' has come since the beginning of powered flight - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

The Commander-In-Chief is more than just an American leader, the office is of global importance. As the “Leader of the Free World,” the American President has to be able to travel all over the U.S. and around the world – safely. So of course, the United States Air Force has a special plane for the President. This wasn’t always the case, however. What we call “Air Force One” isn’t the name of the plane, it’s the callsign for any plane the POTUS happens to be on (so yes, if President Biden went Groupon skydiving in a decades-old rust bucket Cessna, that plane would be Air Force One for a brief, shining moment).


The specially designed planes commonly seen as a referred to as Air Force One are two Boeing VC-25s, military versions of the 747 with some common and classified special air countermeasures. This also wasn’t always so. Earlier planes used by the President had few special features and were just like any other aircraft. Air Force One was introduced as the Presidential call sign after another plane with the same call sign entered the same airspace as President Eisenhower’s in 1953.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

Although it was after he left office, Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to fly in a powered plane (because of course he was. I’m surprised he didn’t invent powered flight). He flew in a Wright Flyer near St. Louis in 1910.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

The first specially outfitted plane for America’s Chief Executive was a Douglas Dolphin, in service from 1933 through 1939. Built for President Roosevelt, there are no photos of him actually flying in it, but it was there if he needed. The plane was specially outfitted with luxury upholstery and a sleeping compartment.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

FDR was the first president to fly while in office, however. A Pan-Am Boeing 314 called the Dixie Clipper flew him to the Casablanca Conference in Morocco in 1943. German u-boats made travel by sea a risky prospect for American VIPs.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

A modified C-87 Liberator dubbed Guess Where II was specially designed by the U.S. military to ferry President Roosevelt on international trips. It might have been the first official plane specifically designed to be Air Force One, but it was not accepted for this use.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

A C-54 Skymaster was reconfigured by the U.S. Secret Service to be the President’s official mode of international transportation. Nicknamed Sacred Cow, the aircraft was fitted with a sleeping area, radio phone, and an elevator to accommodate President Roosevelt in his wheelchair. He was able to use it only once before he died, on a trip to the Yalta Conference in 1945.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

President Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947 into law, creating (among other things) an independent United States Air Force. He also updated the Presidential aircraft, a C-118 Liftmaster, painted with the head of a bald eagle and nicknamed for the president’s hometown of Independence, Missouri.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

When President Eisenhower’s plane (callsign Air Force 8610) was confused with an Eastern Airlines 8610, Ike was flying in a Lockheed C-121 Constellation called Columbine II. After that, any aircraft carrying the President would be called Air Force One. Eisenhower put these presidential aircraft into service, two C-121s called Columbine II and III.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

In 1962, President Kennedy updated the Presidential airplane yet again, this time equipping them with jet engines. The Air Force purchased a Boeing C-137 jet for the purpose. The plane was designed by famed industrial designer Raymond Loewy to much fanfare from the Press and public. The plane, name Special Air Mission (SAM) 26000 served Presidents Kennedy through Clinton and participated in many of the late 20th century’s most iconic moments. SAM 26000 is now on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

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

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

The next plane introduced to the President was SAM 27000, which served Presidents Nixon through George W. Bush. SAM 27000 was carrying President Nixon back to California after he resigned the Presidency. As Gerald Ford was sworn into office, the pilots requested their call sign be changed from Air Force One to SAM 27000. SAM 27000’s last flight took George W. Bush to Waco, Texas, where it was decommissioned. The plane is now on display at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, Calif.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

President Reagan did not make any changes to the Air Force One program, but a new plane was built during his presidency. It would be in service until 1990, when it would carry President George H.W. Bush. The plane now featured defenses from electro-magnetic pulses and secure communications systems. SAM 28000 and SAM 29000 are two military-grade Boeing 747s specially designed to carry the President. The interiors were designed by then-First Lady Nancy Reagan.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

The Boeing 747-8 was the Air Force One plane during the most recent Trump administration. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

The U.S. Coast Guard was officially formed in 1915, but it traces its history to 1790 through the Lifesaving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service. Formerly part of the Treasury Department and now under the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard is generally the butt of jokes from military branches under the Department of Defense.


Despite the comments about the ‘puddle pirates,’ Coast Guard history is filled with shocking exploits.

1. The Coast Guard conducted a World War II raid nearly three months before Pearl Harbor attack

 

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Photo: US Coast Guard

The Coast Guard cutter USCG Northland was patrolling near Greenland under a defensive treaty between Greenland and the U.S. on Sep. 12, 1941, when it received a tip that a suspicious ship had put ashore a landing party in a nearby fjord. The Northland found the vessel, the Norwegian fishing boat SS Buskoe. The Northland crew boarded the ship and took the ship master to the Northland for questioning. The boarding party continued to search the Buskoe and found two sets of radio equipment, an indicator that the ship was handling communications for Nazi radio stations.

The Coast Guard conducted an interrogation of the ship master and learned the location of the landing party the ship had previously dropped off. Coast Guardsmen landed on the shore and conducted a nighttime raid against a radio station established by the enemy landing party. They captured three Norwegians, at least one acting under German orders. They also found German radio equipment, code words, and military instructions. Since the U.S. and Germany were not yet at war, the Norwegians were arrested as illegal immigrants.

2. Revenue cutters captured 18 ships during a quasi-war with France

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command

America owed a significant amount of money to France when the French crown was overthrown during the French Revolution in 1794. The U.S. told the French Republic that they would not be repaying the debt since the money was owed to the crown.

Backlash from France resulted in the Quasi War from 1798-1799. Though neither nation declared war, naval battles became common with the French seizing American merchant ships by the hundreds. The Navy, which had been disbanded after the war of 1812, was re-instituted. While the Navy was standing up, eight Revenue Cutter Service ships were pressed into service against the French Navy.

Twenty-two French navy vessels were captured during the war. Eighteen were captured by Revenue cutters unaided and another two were captured in joint Navy-Revenue Cutter Service operations. One cutter, the USRC Pickering, captured 10 French ships during two cruises of the West Indies. One capture was that of l‍ ’​Egypte Conquise, a French privateer that carried 44 guns, was crewed by 200 men, and was three times the size of the Pickering.

3. A Coast Guard lieutenant commanded an Army company in combat

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Photo: US Army

In 1855, Revenue Cutter 2nd Lt. James E. Harrison was ordered to accompany a U.S. Army company in the American-Indian Wars. In the Puget Sound area of Washington, the Army camp was ambushed by a group of Native Americans on December 3. The Army commander, Lt. W. A. Slaughter, was killed the next day in the fighting. Harrison assumed command of the company and beat off the attackers in a fierce firefight. He then led the company back to Fort Steilacoom, Washington on December 21.

4. The USRC Hudson rescued a Navy vessel while under heavy fire from Spanish artillery

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/US Coast Guard

On May 11, 1898, the USRC Hudson was part of the Navy fleet blockading Cuba during the Spanish-American War. A group of Spanish ships had attacked the blockade the day before and were now in harbor in Cardenas, a fortified port. Navy Cmdr. John Merry ordered the Hudson and the USS Winslow to enter the port and sink the ships.

The Winslow was faster and entered the port first, but was soon damaged due to fierce fire from shore batteries. The Hudson rushed to the defense of the damaged torpedo boat, laying down thick covering fire and attempting to secure a tow cable to the Navy vessel. After more than a half hour, the Winslow crew was finally able to secure the tow cable and the Hudson pulled her out of the port. The vessels sank two Spanish ships during the attack, but the Winslow suffered the deaths of an officer and multiple crewmen.

Three members of the Winslow were awarded the Medal of Honor. Revenue Servicemen were not eligible for military medals, but Congress awarded specially minted medals to the crew at the urging of President William McKinley. The ship captain, Lt. Frank H. Newcomb, was granted the only gold medal of the war. His officers were given silver medals and the crew received bronze.

5. The Surveyor crew bravely fought back against a boarding party over three times its size

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Photo: US Coast Guard

During the War of 1812, a boarding party of 50 British sailors from the HMS Narcissus used muffled oars to sneak up on the USRC Surveyor. The 15-man crew of the Surveyor saw the British approaching but could not bring the guns to bear due to the angle of approach of the boarding party.

Capt. Samuel Travis ordered his men to take two muskets each and wait quietly for the British to get within pistol range. The British were hampered by the surprise volley but kept coming, so the crew of the surveyor fought across the decks to retain control of the ship. The British were eventually able take the ship, but they suffered three dead and seven wounded to the Americans’ five wounded. The cutter’s defense was so fierce despite the numerical advantage of the British that British Capt. John Crerie returned the American captain’s sword the next morning with the following note.

“Your gallant and desperate attempt to defend your vessel against more than double your number excited such admiration on the part of your opponents as I have seldom witnessed, and induced me to return you the sword you had so ably used, in testimony of mine.

Our poor fellows have severely suffered, occasioned chiefly, if not solely, by the precaution you had taken to prevent surprise. In short, I am at a loss which to admire most-the previous arrangement on board the Surveyor, or the determined manner in which the deck was disputed inch by inch. You have my most sincere wishes for the immediate parole and speedy exchange of yourself and brave crew.”

6. A future commandant of the Coast Guard herded reindeer 1600 miles across Alaskan Arctic

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Photo: US Coast Guard

Eight whaling ships and 265 people were trapped in the Arctic ice on the north Alaskan coast in 1897 when the ice closed earlier than normal. President William McKinley learned of the men’s plight and tasked the Revenue Cutter Service with getting needed supplies to the whaling ships.

The service accepted volunteers for the mission dubbed “The Overland Expedition” which departed Dec. 16, 1897. The men made their way through the Alaskan wilderness with dog and reindeer teams pulling sleds of supplies and mail. The amount of supplies needed and the scarcity of sleds and dogs meant the men had to run alongside the sleds for most of the 1600-mile trek in temperatures as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The expedition purchased reindeer and drove them north through the nearly complete darkness of the Alaskan winterThe men arrived at Point Barrow March 29, 1898 with 382 reindeer. Though many of the whalers had become sick or emaciated before the arrival of the rescue party, only three died and the rescue was a success. When the summer thaw completed, four of the ships were able to sail south. Four had been destroyed by the ice and their crews were transported south by the USRC Bear to San Francisco. The second-in-command of the operation, 2nd Lt. Ellsworth Berthoff, would go on to become the first commandant of the Coast Guard when the Revenue Cutter Service and the Lifesaving Service were combined in 1915.

7. A beached crew fired the enemy’s own cannonballs back at them

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Photo: US Coast Guard

When the USRC Eagle found itself outmatched by the British HMS Dispatch during the War of 1812, the crew didn’t give up. They intentionally ran the cutter aground on Long Island and dragged some of its guns to a high bluff. From there, they teamed up with local militia and began firing on the British.

By mid-afternoon, they were out of shot. They reportedly began using sheets from their logbook as wadding and fired the enemy’s own cannonballs back at them. The enemy fire was so fierce, the cutter’s flag was shot off three times. The British eventually captured the Eagle.

8. Coast Guardsman destroyed a major pirate fort

Cape Breton Island in modern day Nova Scotia, Canada was a haven for pirates such as Captain Kidd for much of the 17th and 18th centuries. During operations in 1820, the USRC Alabama and USRC Louisiana attacked the pirate fort at Breton Island. Louisiana went on to capture five pirate vessels as part of a Caribbean task force with the British and U.S. navies.

9. The Coast Guard conducted more than 1,300 search and rescue missions during the Mariel Boatlift

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Photo: US Coast Guard

On April 22, 1980, Cuban President Fidel Castro opened the Port of Mariel to Cubans who wished to emigrate from Cuba. Within hours, ships were headed from Miami to pick up the refugees. Over the next 45 days, an estimated 5,000 vessels pulled more than 100,000 Cubans from the island. The vessels were usually packed over capacity and had insufficient flotation devices. Over half of the vessels needed some sort of assistance from the Coast Guard.

The Coat Guard shifted many of its active duty assets to the Straits of Florida and called up its reserves. Many vessels began running 24-hour operations just to tow damaged ships or search for lost ones. The call for Coast Guard cutters became so dire that some ships stopped being able to maintain their logs. Still, the Coast Guard logged 1,300 search and rescue missions during the operation with an unknown number not being recorded.

NOW: The Navy’s new way to launch aircraft is a slingshot on steroids

OR: 21 jaw-dropping photos of the US Coast Guard in Alaska

MIGHTY HISTORY

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

The US Army’s highly secretive counterterrorist unit, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta, is without a doubt among the best counterterrorism units in the world. But it wasn’t the first.


While Delta is extremely well known, if only by its name, it wasn’t actually the first American counterterrorist force in existence. That honor goes to a different unit — now long lost to history — known as “Blue Light.”

Colonel Charlie Beckwith, a former Green Beret and the brains behind 1st SFOD-D, discussed the parallel history of Blue Light in his co-written book, “Delta Force.” Beckwith, after serving an exchange tour with the British Special Air Service, returned to the US with an idea for a dedicated counterterrorist unit, similar to the SAS.

With terrorism on the rise throughout the 1970s, it became imperative for the US military to create a force that would deal with terror threats with precision and extreme effectiveness.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
U.S. Army photo

The firebrand colonel would go on to outline his concept to the Pentagon, particularly Army generals and fellow colonels with enough sway to allocate funding for such a unit. Beckwith encountered resistance — especially from “old guard” officers who disagreed with allowing Delta to exist on its own with its own funding.

Rather, they felt that Delta needed to remain within an already established pecking order in the asymmetric warfare community — the US Army’s Special Forces.

Despite its official title, Delta Force had absolutely nothing to do with Army Special Forces Operational Detachments, also known as “A-Teams.” The title was just another vaguely-misleading cover for the unit’s real purpose.

Delta, instead, would have a direct line through the Department of Defense to the president’s office, circumventing Special Forces altogether. Further incensing the brass was the fact that Delta would be given free rein to recruit whoever interested them, including experienced Green Berets from the groups.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Graduates of one of Delta Force’s Operator Training Courses in 1978. Blue Light would be disestablished that same year (Photo US Army)

 

Inner-Army politicking quickly led to Special Forces brass deciding it would create a counterterrorist unit of its own, ostensibly as an interim solution while Delta was getting up to speed, but with the inward hopes of it being a more permanent fixture.

The new unit — Blue Light — was staffed with commandos brought in directly from 5th Special Forces Group’s 2nd Battalion into a subordinate unit. There, they would be trained in an array of skills necessary for counterterrorist mission and be readied for real-world operations. Colonel Bob “Black Gloves” Mountel would be responsible for helming the new unit in its infancy.

Blue Light would only be equivalent to a company-sized element of troops, but would still draw its funding from Special Forces, and would push its members through further airborne and dive training, weapons courses and more.

It was assumed that because Green Berets were already highly-trained for asymmetric warfare, they would be ready to fight far quicker than Delta.

 

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Members of 5th SFG with ARVN troops in Vietnam (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

 

In the meanwhile, Beckwith and his cadre got to work designing and training the founding members of Delta Force, still very aware of the potential for Blue Light to completely take over their mission and tank 1st SFOD-D before it could even get off the ground.

Blue Light was beefed up with the presence of veteran operatives with significant combat experience under their belts, including Joseph Cincotti, a Vietnam-era Green Beret who would later go on to head up the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and who was responsible for creating the curriculum all Special Forces candidates undergo today.

In their book, “Special Forces: A Guided Tour of US Army Special Forces,” authors Tom Clancy and John Gresham claim that Blue Light was somewhat handicapped from the start. While Delta was designed to operate in every conceivable environment, using a multitude of mission-relevant skills, Blue Light was, in reality, only prepared for a few contingencies.

 

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Members of 10th Special Forces Group training alongside Lithuanian counterparts (Photo US Army)

 

Little by little, Delta Force took shape at Fort Bragg, NC, and by the end of the 1970s, Delta was ready for action. Bragg was also the home of Blue Light, and the rivalry between the two counterterrorist units was palpable. Former operator Eric Haney discusses the animosity between Blue Light and the 1st SFOD-D in his book, “Inside Delta Force.”

When Delta was declared fully operational, Blue Light faded into the shadows, eventually being disbanded in 1978. Its former members were either transferred to other units within the Army’s various Special Forces groups, or decided to retire altogether.

Beckwith, not willing to let an opportunity pass, extended invites to Blue Light commandos to try out for Delta Force, and at least four of the former counterterrorist unit’s operatives successfully passed selection and the arduous Operator Training Course to become Delta Force operators.

Former Blue Light officers would later play a part in planning Operation Eagle Claw, the failed mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy way British pilots took out incoming V-1 missiles

One week after D-Day, Germany began launching a new, secret weapon at London. The distinctive roar of V-1 flying bombs would slowly fill the air and then suddenly cut out, followed shortly by the massive explosion as a warhead went off. Dozens would fall in the first week, and the Royal Air Force had to scramble to stop them.


This led some pilots to, after expending all of their ammunition, take more drastic measures to stop the bombs: flying wingtip to wingtip until they either crashed or tipped the bomb off course.

The V-1s had pulsejet engines, and prop-driven planes couldn’t keep up with them. But, if a pilot flew to high altitude and then dove toward a passing V-1, the speed from the descent would allow them to keep up.

The first intercept took place on June 15, 1944, the third day of V-1 attacks. A Mosquito pilot was able to shoot one down with his guns, and others soon followed.

But the pilots had limited ammunition, and it was tough to hit the fast-flying V-1s. And each bomb could kill multiple Londoners if it wasn’t intercepted.

So some pilots began to experiment with a risky but valuable alternative. If a plane flew close enough to a V-1, the wind off the plane’s wings could nudge the flying bomb off course. And if the disturbance was enough to flip the V-1 over, known as “turtling,” then it would often fail to explode.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

A Spitfire nudges a V-1 missile off course during World War II.

(Public domain)

But this had obvious risks. If the pilot accidentally bumped the V-1, they could crash into the ground alongside the bomb. A soft bump was obviously no big deal. It would just help the pilot tip the bomb over. But a harder strike was essentially a midair crash, likely clipping or breaking the pilot’s own wingtip.

Despite the risks, the work of pilots and gunners on the ground saved London from much of the devastation. 1,000 of the bombs were shot down or nudged off course in flight. And, the bombs were famously inaccurate, which was lucky for Britain. Of the approximately 10,000 flying bombs fired at the city, around 7,000 missed, 1,000 were shot down, and about 2,000 actually hit the city and other targets.

Eventually, this would result in about 6,000 fatalities and 16,000 other casualties.

In October 1944, Allied troops captured the V-1 sites targeting London and were able to stop the threat there. Unfortunately, that was right as the Germans got the V-2 program up and running, The faster, rocket-powered V-2s were essentially unstoppable with anything but radar-controlled guns.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

An American JB-2 Loon based on the German V-1 missile.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum)

After the war, Allied powers experimented with the weapons and some, including America, made their own knockoffs. Some were shot down as flying targets for pilots, but others were held in arsenals in case they were needed against enemy forces. Eventually, the invention of modern cruise missiles made the V-1s and V-2s obsolete.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This miniatures game helps you re-fight World War II

World War II has always been a popular subject for wargamers. On land, sea, or air, this conflict has an extensive library of options, whether it be a board game, a computer game, or miniatures rules. But all games are not equal. There are also tradeoffs – each type of game has its pros and cons.

One miniatures game for the World War II era (and about a decade beyond) is Command at Sea, part of the Admiralty Trilogy of wargames designed by Larry Bond. Bond’s most famous wargame, Harpoon, is notable for its use by author Tom Clancy in the development of Red Storm Rising.


Command at Sea is now in its fourth edition since 1994. This version has been harmonized so that its simulations are in the same format as the other games in the Admiralty Trilogy, Harpoon and Fear God and Dreadnought. This means that those who have these games could cover a war from 1989 to 2018 with very little difficulty.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

Can you, as America, did, turn back the Japanese in the Pacific, despite having power ships like the heavy cruiser Takao and the battleship Kirishima?

(Imperial Japanese Navy photo)

A substantial number of additional modules, supporting every major combatant and theater of the war, are available. One that came with earlier versions of the game is The Rising Sun in the Pacific, which covers the first half of the Second World War in the Pacific Theater, where pivotal battles like the Battle of the Coral Sea, the Battle of Midway, and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal can be re-fought on one’s own tabletop, along with possible battles that could have taken place had history gone differently.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

USS Enterprise (CV 6) preparing to launch planes against the Japanese.

(US Navy photo)

Other modules include American Fleets, which covers just about every ship class and aircraft the United States used during the war, and a few, like the Montana-class battleships, which didn’t make it to the fleet. Another module is Steel Typhoon, which covers the second half of World War II in the Pacific with 36 scenarios of both historical and hypothetical battles. The system doesn’t just cover World War II. The Spanish Civil War, fought before World War II was seen as inevitable is covered in a module.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

With Command at Sea, USS Tuscaloosa (CA 37) could have a very different service career during World War II.

(US Navy photo)

Since this is a set of miniature rules, it has some advantages over computer simulations. The online store Wargamevault.com has this game and the modules in both downloadable PDF and hard-copy versions.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Two POWs made a daring escape from prison just to relieve the boredom

On Jan. 23, 1943, an Italian POW named Felice Benuzzi, who was being held by the British in Africa, escaped.


But for a very peculiar reason.

Once free of the wire, Benuzzi and two other prisoners who escaped with him spent the next two weeks working their way up the south side of the nearby 17,000-foot Mt. Kenya, their only map a sketch of the mountain they found on a can of Oxo corned beef.

Then they returned to the POW camp.

A member of the Italian Colonial Service, Benuzzi was taken prisoner when the British liberated Ethiopia in 1941 and was imprisoned beneath Mt. Kenya in Camp 354, a camp for civilian POWs. There he encountered the mountain, the first 17,000-foot peak he had ever seen.  In his 1952 book about the camp and the mountain, No Picnic on Mt. Kenya, Benuzzi said he “fell in love” with the mountain the first time he saw it.

Not so the camp.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Benuzzi, last on the right in the camps with friends. (Photo from Benuzzi’s book No Picnic on Mount Kenya)

He quickly became bored with the routine and the inactivity of Camp 354, a huge camp that could accommodate up to 10,000 prisoners.

“The sole activity for this host of people was to wander round the camp… They just walk and stop when they see other people talking. Then they stay for a while and join in the conversation,” Benuzzi wrote.

Also read: This Army Air Corps pilot stole a plane to escape from a POW camp

He quickly decided he had to take some action — do something to stay sane. He had been a mountaineer in the Alps before the war, and he decided the something he would do was climb Mt. Kenya.

He recruited another prisoner, Giuàn Balleto, a doctor and (like Benuzzi) a mountaineer before the war, and the two men set about making, buying, and stealing the equipment and food they would need to tackle the mountain.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
The second highest mountain in Africa, Mount Kenya. (Photo by Håkon Dahlmo)

They hoarded what they could from their rations and stopped smoking so they could use the cigarettes to buy supplies and food from other prisoners. They made crampons from steel taken from a scrapped automobile and an oven cover, ice-axes from hammers, and ax-handles that doubled as tent poles.

At the last minute, they recruited a third man, Enzo Barsotti, a non-mountaineer who would help with the escape and climb, but would not be in on the attempt at the summit.

“The only reason we decided to [recruit] him,” Benuzzi wrote, “was because he was universally thought to be mad as a hatter, and mad people were what we needed.”

When they were finally ready, they simply walked out of the camp through a gate that opened into the camp gardens using a key they had stolen and copied, accompanied by another prisoner disguised as a British officer. The three men holed up in a shed near the gardens until dark, dug up the supplies and equipment they had hidden there earlier, and began working their way up the mountain.

They had also left a note for the camp commander explaining what they were doing and promising to return.

They spent a week climbing to about 14,000 feet where they established a base camp and where Barsotti, who was by then suffering from altitude sickness, remained while the other two men headed to the summit.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Barsotti and Benuzzi attempted the 17,000-foot climb up Mt. Kenya as escaped POWs. (Photo from Benuzzi’s book No Picnic on Mount Kenya)

But as Benuzzi and Balleto continued on, a storm blew in and the limitations of their homemade equipment became obvious. They made it to over 16,000 feet but could go no farther. There, they left an Italian flag they made for the purpose and a piece of paper with heir names sealed in an empty brandy bottle.

They then headed back to the base camp and – after a brief rest – began their descent, finally slipping back into Camp 354 as part of a work party.

Like escape stories? 5 of the ballsiest WWII POW escape attempts – all by the same pilot

It was the 18th day after their escape.

When they were discovered, they were each sentenced to twenty-eight days solitary confinement, but were released after seven days, Benuzzi wrote, because the camp’s commander “appreciated our sporting effort.”

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight
Felice Benuzzi’s book on his daring adventure.

After the war, Benuzzi continued in the Italian diplomatic service at several postings, including to the United Nations in New York and as ambassador to Uruguay. He died in Rome in 1988.

No Picnic on Mount Kenya is considered a mountaineering classic.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Alaska was so important for an American victory in WWII

It’s often called the “Forgotten Campaign of the Second World War” — and there’s no secret as to why. The campaign lost out on fanfare mostly because it took place in a far off, remote territory that few Americans lived on or cared about. And it didn’t help that it happened at a time when Marines and soldiers were pushing onto the beaches at the Battle of Guadalcanal.

The truth is, however, that the sporadic fighting and eventual American victory on the frozen, barren islands of Alaska proved instrumental to an Allied victory in the the Pacific.


Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

A bit of a fixer-upper, but nothing that can’t be buffed out.

(National Archives)

Just six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese launched a two-day attack on Dutch Harbor, Alaska. On June 3rd and 4th, 1942, their targets were the Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and U.S. Army Fort Mears on Amaknak Island.

The Japanese attack was an attempt to establish a foothold in the Northern Pacific. From there, the Japanese could continue and advance towards either the Alaskan mainland or move toward the northwestern states of the United States. A few days later, on June 6th and 7th, the Japanese invaded and annexed the Alaskan islands of Kiska and Attu — along with the western-most Aleutian Islands.

It was a tactical victory for the Japanese but the Americans managed to shoot down a Zero during the Battle of Dutch Harbor, and it happened to land in relatively good condition.

Here’s how far ‘Air Force One’ has come since the beginning of powered flight

Allied troops would move onto Kiska with over 34,000 troops… Just to find the island completely abandoned two weeks prior.

(National Archives)

Meanwhile, Japan was busy moving the bulk of their naval forces toward Midway to aid in recovery from the burgeoning American victory there. Back in North America, the Americans had regrouped and gained the support of the Canadian military.

The bolstered Allied troops moved toward Japanese-occupied territories. They sporadically picked off enemy vessels one by one as they pushed through the island chain. Then, on March 27th, 1943, the American and Japanese fleets squared off at the Battle of Komandorski Islands. The Americans took more damage, but caused enough to make the Japanese abandon their Aleutian garrisons.

On May 11th, U.S. and Canadian soldiers landed on Attu Island to take it back. Japanese dug in and booby-trapped much of the surrounding island. The Americans suffered 3,929 casualties — 580 dead, 1,148 wounded, and over 1,200 cold-weather injuries — but the Japanese were overrun. In a last-ditch effort, the Japanese committed the single largest banzai charge — an attack in which every infantryman first accepted their death before charging charged into battle — in all of the Pacific campaign. The Japanese suffered 2,351 deaths with hundreds of more believed to be lost to the unforgiving weather.

The captured Zero from Dutch Harbor, dubbed the Akutan Zero, was studied and reverse engineered by American technicians. Test pilots were successfully able to determine the weak-points and vulnerabilities of the fighter aircraft, which were quickly relayed to the rest of the Army Air Force. This information proved vital in later battles.

In the end, America would retake the islands and force the Japanese Navy back south to deal with the brunt of the American military. With the Japanese gone, the only route into the continental U.S. was secure again.

To learn more about the Aleutian Campaign, check out the video below!

MIGHTY HISTORY

This dogfight with nearly 200 jets was like the Battle of Britain on steroids

In what would come to be called the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot, 96 Israeli fighters and a squadron of UAVs faced off against 100 Syrian fighters backed up by 19 surface-to-air missile launchers in 1982. It was one of the largest jet battles ever fought.


 

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Photo: Israel Defense Forces

Israel has a history of fighting with its neighbors, especially from the 1960s through the 1980s. A series of small battles with Egypt resulted in some hard lessons learned for the Israel Air Force after they lost a number of fighters to surface-to-air-missiles.

But the IAF learned their lessons and on Jun. 9, 1982, they attacked 19 Syrian surface-to-air missile batteries deployed near their border. In the first two hours of fighting, the IAF destroyed 17 of the missile batteries with no losses. Then, things really went nuts.

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Israeli Air Force F-15s in an exercise. Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kevin J. Gruenwald

The Syrians sent up 100 MiGs to intercept the 96 F-15s, F-16s, and F-4s that were attacking the SAM sites. The Israelis were flying an E-2C Hawkeye airborne warning and control system aircraft that picked up the incoming fighters. It began feeding instructions to the IAF fighters.

The more advanced Israeli fighters, firing both Sidewinder heat-seeking and Sparrow radar-guided missiles, destroyed 29 of the Syrian Air Force fighters.

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One of the Syrian Air Force’s main fighters in the conflict was the MiG-21, like this one flown by the Serbian Air Force. Photo: Wikipedia/claudiu_ne2000

But the IAF wasn’t done. There were still two missile sites they wanted gone. So, they returned Jun. 10. Again, the bulk of the Syrian Air Force lifted off to greet them, and the IAF pounded them into the ground, downing another 35 Syrian aircraft with no Israeli losses.

 

The stunning victory was due to a number of factors. The Israeli pilots had benefitted from great training and a lot of combat experience, but the Syrians had also screwed themselves.

The Syrians fed their pilots instructions from a ground control station that couldn’t communicated due to Israeli jamming. In an Air Power Journal article, a Western military observer of the battle says, “I watched a group of Syrian fighter planes fly figure-eights. They just flew around and around and obviously had no idea what to do next.”

Lt. Gen. Leonard Perroots, director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency at the time, trashed the lazy deployment of Syrian missile sites. “The Syrians used mobile missiles in a fixed configuration; they put the radars in the valley instead of the hills because they didn’t want to dig latrines–seriously.”

The conflict between the two countries continued through Jul. 1982. In over a month of fighting, Israel lost only two jets while Syria lost at least 87.

(h/t Cracked.com)

MIGHTY HISTORY

An ancient king whipped the ocean to protect his troops – and it worked

There’s an old military adage that goes “if it’s stupid and it works, then it isn’t stupid.” This idea clearly dates all the way back to the Classical Era, because the stupidest thing ever done to protect a fighting force was perpetrated in 480 BC. By a King.


Say what you want about Persian King Xerxes I, he knew how to fight a battle. That is to say, he always brought enough men and material to get the job done. Yes, this is the same Xerxes seen in the movie 300, but before the Persian Army could get to Thermopylae, they had to cross the Hellespont, what we call the Dardanelles today. It did not go exactly as planned.

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Like a lot of things the Persian Army tried.

Xerxes was coming right off of victories over uprisings against Persian rule in Egypt and Babylon and had acquired a massive army, as-then-unheard-of in ancient times. Some 300,000 troops were ready to pour into Greece to avenge the ass-kicking the Greeks perpetrated on Xerxes’ father, Darius. Xerxes was not one to overthink things. The simplest way to get a massive army from one land mass to another was to simply build a bridge and roads to it. Xerxes even had the bridges built in advance so his army wouldn’t have to wait to get to Greece.

This did not go exactly as the Persian Army planned. Before he and his troops could arrive, the seas swelled up and swallowed the bridges, completely destroying them. When the King arrived, it was just debris. Infuriated with the seas, Xerxes marched out to the sea and whipped it with a chain 300 times as his soldiers watched and shouted curses at the water.

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He also beheaded the engineers who built the bridge, which may have been a contributing factor to his eventual success.

The bridges were then rebuilt to the exact specifications required to hold 300,000 Persian troops bent on destruction, along with their pack animals, cavalry, and whatever else they could carry. This time, the bridges held and the Persians marched out to meet the Greeks – who would kick the Persian Army right back out of Europe by the following spring.

When the Persians arrived at the bridges in full retreat, they had been destroyed again.

Articles

This is the other awesome weapon named ‘Carl Gustav’

Carl Gustav’s name is associated in most militaries with the recoilless rifle that bears his name, a weapon typically used in anti-armor/anti-personnel applications that is known for its range and lethality. But another weapon, a submachine gun that was reliable enough to serve special operators in the jungles of Vietnam, claims the name as well.


The Carl Gustav M-45 is a design originally ordered by the Swedish Army in World War II. They wanted new weapons to preserve Swiss neutrality and as potential exports to the warring nations.

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(Photo: CGM45BE CC BY-SA 4.0)

The weapon used a simple blowback procedure to cycle the weapon. The operator would pull the trigger, the first round would fire and the force of the explosion would propel the bullet forward while also ejecting a spent casing and allowing a new round to enter the chamber.

It borrowed many of its design elements from other popular submachine guns of the day, such as stamped metal construction. It had a folding stock and featured a 36-round magazine, enough to out fire most designs of the time.

But it could churn through those rounds in seconds. It had a firing rate of 600 rounds per minute and could only fire on full auto. The operator had to preserve ammo by shooting controlled bursts.

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A U.S. Army Ranger candidate fires the Carl Gustav submachine gun. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. David Shad)

America never officially adopted the M-45, but U.S. special operators carried it in Vietnam because it was more reliable in the jungle environment than the M-16 that was standard-issued U.S. weapon. Special Forces soldiers and SEALs fought Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces on jungle trails with the little guns, spraying rounds at close range.

In Vietnam, the U.S. operators often carried the weapon with an American-made Sionics silencer and with new magazines that held up to 71 rounds.

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Army Maj. (Ret.) Drew Dix received a Medal of Honor as a staff sergeant in the Vietnam War.(Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Lauren Main)

Army Staff Sgt. Drew D. Dix was carrying the M-45 for most of his January 1969 exploits that would contribute to his receiving the Medal of Honor. He led a relief force that rescued friendly troops under fire and an American nurse before heading off to rescue other groups of friendly and U.S. prisoners in a Vietnamese city.

By the time Dix’s rampage ended, he had killed at least 14 — and possibly as many as 39 — enemy fighters, captured 20 prisoners, and freed 14 Americans and friendly civilians.

The M-45 eventually faded from American use after the Swedish government banned exports to the U.S. in protest of the Vietnam War.

But that wasn’t the end for the M-45. Egypt produced the weapon as the Port Said submachine gun under license.

The submachine gun has appeared in dozens of movies including “Brüno,” “Red,” and “Fast Five.”

Articles

These 3 active duty officers served as National Security Advisor before McMaster

With the news that Army Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster has been chosen to serve as National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, this marks the fourth time an active-duty military officer has filled this position.


Here is a look at the previous three.

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Air Force Lt. Gen Brent Scowcroft meeting with Vice President Nelson Rockefeller during his tenure as Deputy National Security Advisor. Scowcroft would later become the National Security Advisor – serving 28 days until retiring from the Air Force. He later served under George H. W. Bush. (White House photo)

1. Air Force Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft

Brent Scowcroft was active-duty for less than a month while serving as National Security Advisor to President Gerald Ford, taking the job on Nov. 3, 1975, and retiring on Dec. 1, 1975. Still, he is technically the first active-duty military officer to serve in this position.

Scowcroft served for the remainder of the Ford administration, then was tapped to serve as National Security Advisor for a second stint under George H. W. Bush – holding that post for the entirety of that presidency. During his second run as NSA, Scowcroft’s tenure saw the fall of the Berlin Wall, Operation Desert Storm, and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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(Official U.S. Navy biography photo)

2. Navy Vice Adm. John M. Poindexter

Perhaps the most notorious active-duty officer to hold the position due to his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair, Poindexter was National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan during the 1986 Freedom of Navigation exercises in the Gulf of Sidra that turned violent, Operation El Dorado Canyon, and the Reykjavik Summit in October, 1986.

Poindexter was initially convicted on five charges connected with Iran-Contra, but the convictions were tossed out on appeal. In 1987, he retired at the rank of Rear Admiral (Upper Half).

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Colin Powell briefing President Ronald Reagan in 1988. (Photo from Reagan Presidential Library)

3. Army Lt. Gen. Colin L. Powell

Probably the most notable active-duty officer to serve in the post, Colin Powell served as National Security Advisor from November 1987 to the end of Ronald Reagan’s second term. While he was in that position, the U.S. and Iran had a series of clashes culminating in Operation Praying Mantis and the downing of an Iranian Airbus by the guided-missile cruiser USS Vincennes (CG 49).

After his tenure as National Security Advisor, Powell went on to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff – then was Secretary of State during George W. Bush’s first term as president.

As a note for the fashion-watchers, while all three predecessors wore suits, We Are The Mighty has learned from a source close to senior Trump staffers that incoming Nationals Security Advisor McMaster has been given the option to wear his uniform while holding the post.

A spokesperson for Scowcroft noted, “It is not against the law but it is not usually done.”

Neither Powell nor the White House Press Office responded to a WATM request for comment by post time.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Texas Revolutionary was the original ‘Maverick’

In the later days of 1835, Samuel Maverick and his two friends were held on house arrest in what would one day be called San Antonio, Texas. The Texas Revolution was in full swing and the local Mexican military commander, Gen. Martín Perfecto de Cos, didn’t trust the former Americans one bit, holding them prisoner in their own homes. They still somehow managed to inform the incoming Texian army about Mexican movements in the city. On the first day of December, Cos finally allowed the men to leave.

The first thing they did was join the Texian forces and lead an attack on the town.


By the time Maverick and his friends reached the Texians, the army was ready to retreat. Instead, the men offered to lead a series of attacks against their former city. After rousing a few hundred volunteers to join them, they headed back to San Antonio de Bexar. Four days after being forced out of the city, the men were leading attacks against its garrison commander, Gen. Cos. Maverick guided Col. Ben Milam’s troops into the city, while Maverick’s friend John Smith led the other detachment.

Milam was killed minutes into the fighting and Maverick was forced to lead the rest of the men into the streets and the house-to-house fighting that followed their entrance into the city. For five days, the revolutionaries fought Mexican government regulars in fierce urban combat. The Mexicans would surrender on the sixth day.

Since Milam had fallen early in the fighting, Maverick took his place at the surrender ceremony. He stayed around the San Antonio area, eventually joining the defenders of the Alamo. While in garrison at the famed citadel, Maverick was elected as one of two San Antonio delegates to the Texas Independence Convention. Maverick would not be able to leave the Alamo until March 2, 1836, because it was surrounded by Mexican troops. When he finally got away, the garrison commander, William Travis, begged him to ask the convention for reinforcements.

They would, of course, be too late. The day a special session of the convention was to be held was also the day of the Battle of the Alamo. All of the fort’s defenders were then dead. Maverick signed the Texas Declaration of Independence the next day.

He left Texas briefly to get married and have a baby, but soon returned to a state still considered to be in rebellion by the Mexican government. He became the Mayor of San Antonio and joined the city militia to fight off Comanche raids. But raids weren’t the biggest threat to San Antonio. Mexico was still bent on recovering its lost land. Eventually, the Mexican Army arrived outside San Antonio. The Anglo citizens of the city mustered a defense but were captured and forcibly marched back to Mexico. Despite being in prison, Maverick was still elected to the Texas Congress. He was released by Mexico the same day as his daughter’s birthday, after refusing repeatedly to publicly back Mexico’s claim to Texas. He served in the Texas legislature even after annexation by the United States – but none of this is how the word “Maverick” came to have its accepted meaning.

Maverick refused to brand his cattle because he was against the pain it caused the animals. He cared very little for his herd of cattle which was given to him as payment for a debt in lieu of cash. He transferred the care of the herd to a family in another part of Texas. It’s said that stragglers from Maverick’s herd were often found roaming. The unbranded cows were known as “mavericks” and often returned.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ultimate Pearl Harbor tour for history buffs

2020 marks the 79th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. While it’s been nearly eight decades since the attacks, December 7, 1941, as noted by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, is “a date that will live in infamy,” and is never far from these historical landmarks. 

Be sure to bookmark these stops on your next trip to Oahu, Hawaii:

Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Pearl Harbor National Memorial is an obvious first stop for history enthusiasts. Open daily from 7AM – 5PM (except Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day), the grounds house a visitor’s center, museum and bookstore. It is also the access point for the USS Arizona Memorial and USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. 

The USS Arizona Memorial, arguably Pearl Harbor’s most recognizable landmark, features a full program for guests that includes a 23-minute documentary film and a Navy-operated shuttle boat ride out to the memorial. 

To note: Due to COVID restrictions, part of the USS Arizona Memorial program has been modified to exclude use of the theater. 

The USS Bowfin was launched on December 7, 1942, exactly one year after the attacks on Pearl Harbor, and is a fleet attack submarine that fought in the Pacific during WWII. She was nicknamed the “Pearl Harbor Avenger”.

Before leaving Pearl Harbor National Memorial, buy tickets for the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum and Battleship Missouri Memorial on Ford Island. 

To note: The cost of the tickets includes a bus ride to Ford Island, however there is also a parking lot for guests who choose to drive over. 

Ford Island

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(Kait Hanson)

Driving across the bridge to Ford Island is a bit like stepping back into the 1940s, where historical homes, landmarks, and even bullet strafing, can still be seen. 

Here you’ll find:

The USS Missouri, also known as “Mighty Mo”, was the last battleship commissioned by the United States and was the site of the Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945, officially ending WWII. The ship offers two daily tours, but is open daily for self-led tours. 

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(Kait Hanson)

To note: The Battleship Missouri Memorial is currently closed due to COVID restrictions, but you can take a virtual tour here.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum allows guests to explore historical aircraft housed in two hangars on Ford Island. General admission covers access to more than fifty aircraft and all exhibits with free guided audio (available in multiple languages).

Ford Island’s 4-mile loop trail offers insight into lesser-known historical moments, which include plaques for clarification. Along this trail, accessible with base access onto Ford Island, guests can see bullet strafing, the CPO neighborhood that sat adjacent to the attack zone, the original Bachelor Officers Quarters and buildings, and the USS Oklahoma and USS Utah Memorials. 

Hickam Field

Located adjacent to Pearl Harbor, Hickam Field served as the principal airfield and bomber base in 1941. From the National Park Service on the morning of December 7th:

“At Hickam Field, Japanese Zero fighters and Val dive-bombers strafed and bombed the fight line and hangars, concentrating on the B-17 bombers. The 12 U.S. B-17s arrived unarmed and low on fuel during the attack. Most succeeded in landing at Hickam where they were attacked on the ground. The second wave of the Japanese attack struck Hickam at 8:40am and by 9:45 the attack was over. Nearly half of the airplanes at Hickam Field had been destroyed or severely damaged. The hangars, the Hawaiian Air Depot, several base facilities–the fire station, the chapel and the guardhouse–had been hit. The big barracks had been repeatedly strafed and bombed and a portion of the building was on fire. Thirty-five men were killed when a bomb hit the mess hall during breakfast. Hickam’s casualties totaled 121 men killed, 274 wounded and 37 missing.”

Residents who lived on Hickam Field at the time of the attacks recall blackouts on the base and hearing bullets bounce off the roof. Today, Hickam is home to the headquarters of the Pacific Air Force and features many of the buildings that were standing in 1941.

Wheeler Army Airfield

Exiting Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, hop on H2 North toward Wahiawa, where Wheeler Army Airfield is located. Wheeler Field was a primary target for the Japanese in 1941, as they hoped to prevent planes from getting airborne. While many of hte planes that were parked at Wheeler were destroyed in the attacks, twelve pilots managed to get P-36 Hawk and P-40 Warhawk aircrafts off the ground and engaged Japanese pilots. After WWII, Wheeler Army Airfield became a National Historic Landmark for the role it played during the war. 

Today, the airfield is accessible with valid military identification and features restored buildings and planes as they would have looked the day of the attacks.

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