Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The involvement of females in the military goes back to the start of United States forces themselves. From lending a consulting ear, to helping create uniforms, to eventually being allowed to join the ranks themselves, women have undoubtedly been a big part of U.S. forces.

Join us in this trip down memory lane outlining how their roles originated and changed over time. 

Civil War-era

During the Civil War, women were not allowed to fight in the war. More than 400 got around this rule Mulan-style by disguising themselves as men and fighting anyway. This is most notable because, years prior is referred to the Cult of True Womanhood by historians. (Think Antebellum period.) This is a term that describes women who worked inside the home, wore intricate dresses, and spent their time socializing and keeping up with the housework. In other words, a far cry from helping in a war — let alone fighting within it. 

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Most famous and widely circulated photograph of Clara Barton, the Civil War-era nurse who founded the Red Cross.

They also played a huge role in helping the sick and wounded. With or without proper medical training, thousands of women worked as nurses where they helped those who were stricken with illness or who were hurt in the war. Later, in the war they did so officially with the Union’s United States Sanitary Commission. Inspired by trailblazer Florence Nightingale, they helped ensure conditions were as sanitary as possible. 

Women also helped by providing food for soldiers and gathering supplies in the North and South. 

This is noted as the first war in history that women held a true and significant role within the war. It’s also said that women’s position within the war advanced women’s rights by 50 years. 

World War I 

During the first World War, the U.S. was in “total war efforts,” meaning it was all hands on deck. As many men went overseas to participate in the war, that left many women at home to help fill their shoes. Farm work especially was taken on by women, as was household work, child rearing (alone or sharing responsibilities with family members left behind), and earning income to help supplement solider pay, which was not always enough to raise a family. 

This was the first “class-less” war, where those of all income levels worked in the same jobs. Women joined efforts in which they could travel overseas, including the YWCA. Nationwide propaganda also encouraged women to get a job working in the factories. Meanwhile, one of the most popular jobs was working as a switchboard operator; they were known as Hello Girls. 

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Hello Girls in WWI

The U.S. employed more than 21,000 women as nurses in hospitals stateside and overseas. 

Russia was the only major country of the war to send women to the front lines. However, in the U.S., 13,000 women joined the Navy working stateside and receiving the same pay as men. They were welcomed into the ranks of the Marines as well. 

World War II

This go-round, all major participating countries heavily recruited women into their respective militaries. In most cases, women held clerical or office jobs, including the majority of female soldiers. In the U.S., around 400,000 women served through these support positions. With this installment, women became seen as a permanent part of military forces, formalized by the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948.

WWII also saw the start of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1942. It began as an auxiliary unit but was converted to active duty just one year later. 

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Like in WWI, women were heavily relied upon to pick up duties and home and take on labor jobs. This led to the movement of Rosie the Riveter, a cultural icon representing women who worked in factories and shipyards during WWII. She is still credited today to advancing women working manual jobs and helping supply war efforts with equipment and ammunition. 

Articles

These are the 11 biological weapons the Soviets wanted to use on the US

World War II and the Cold War brought out the worst in everyone. So it should be a surprise to no one to find out the Soviet Union developed biological warfare agents almost as soon as the dust from the October Revolution settled.


Despite being a signatory to the Geneva Convention of 1925 – which outlawed chemical and biological weapons – and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, the Soviets had dozens of sites to develop eleven agents for use on any potential enemy.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Guess who.

The Russian Bioweapons program would be the most capable, deadliest program in the world. It was complete with viruses and pathogens that were genetically-altered and antibiotic resistant, with sophisticated delivery systems.

When the Soviet Union fell, the scientists at these facilities lost their jobs and their work became vulnerable to theft, sale, and misuse. Enjoy this list!

Category A Agents

Category A agents are easily weaponized, extremely virulent, hard to fight and contain, and/or have high mortality rates. They have the added bonus of being an agent that would cause a panic among the enemy population.

1. Anthrax

For most of us post-9/11 veterans, Anthrax was the one that could have been all too real. In the days following 9/11, letters containing Anthrax spores were sent to members of Congress and the media. Subsequently, troops deploying overseas to countries like Afghanistan and Iraq were given a course of Anthrax vaccines.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Thanks, assholes.

Anthrax can present in four ways: skin, inhalation, injection, and intestinal. All are caused by the Bacillus anthracis bacteria. Before antibiotics, Anthrax killed hundreds of thousands of people, but now there are only 2,000 or so worldwide cases a year.

The mortality rate is anywhere from 24 to 80 percent, depending on which type you get.

2. Plague

Ah, plague. The biblical weapon. This one makes a little bit of sense. Since the Soviet Union would most likely go to war with Western Europe, the best weapon to use would be something that regularly wiped out more Europeans than the Catholic Church.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
There was a time when everyone expected the Spanish Inquisition.

Plague works fast, incubating in two to six days, with a sudden headache and chills at the end of the incubation period. Gangrene and buboes (swollen lymph nodes in the armpit and groin) are the best indicator of plague.

There are other symptoms too, but after two weeks, it won’t matter. Because you’ll be dead.

3. Tularemia

Never hear of Tularemia? Good for you. Tularemia is one of the many reasons you shouldn’t touch dead animals. It’s a nasty bug that can survive for long periods outside of a host.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Like any Kardashian not named Kim.

Tularemia can enter the body through lungs, skin, or eyes. It can present as a skin ulcer, but the most dangerous form is when it’s inhaled. Pneumoic tularemia will quickly spread into the bloodstream, killing 30-60 percent of those infected.

4. Botulism

This is deadly neurotoxin, the deadliest substance known. It was used as a biological agent by Japan in WWII and was subsequently produced by almost every biological warfare program – for a good reason. Botulism is easy to produce and presents in 12-36 hours once in the body.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
This is why you don’t eat food from bulging cans.

In an aerosol infection (like a bioweapon attack), even detecting botulism could be difficult. Treatment is mainly supportive, there is little that can be done once symptoms start to present. The only known antitoxin even produces anaphylaxis, which means it can only be administered in a hospital setting.

5. Smallpox

Smallpox is the disease that won the new world for the Europeans, more than guns, horses, or booze. It killed off 90 percent of the indigenous population of the Americas, whose immune systems were unprepared for it.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The World Health Organization announced the eradication of Smallpox in 1980. The smallpox vaccine was developed in 1796 and after the eradication of the disease, widespread vaccinations were halted. This gave the Soviets the idea to rigorously pursue it as a weapon.

6. Marburg Virus

The Marburg Virus is a hemorrhagic fever, in the same family as the Ebola virus, the deadliest of hemorrhagic viruses. In an unprepared population, the mortality rate can be as high as 90-100 percent. So if you’re unfamiliar with Marburg Virus, imagine someone making Ebola airborne and killing you with it.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Just let me choose how I die, please.

While an experimental vaccine and treatment for Marburg Virus has been developed and shows promise, it’s still untested on humans. So why did the Soviets design a type of virus that could be loaded into an ICBM warhead and kill people in days?

Because they’re assholes.

Category B Agents

Category B agents are also easy to transmit and/or virulent among a population, but is less likely to kill or cause panic. Still, they should be taken seriously. Some, like Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis can have lasting effects.

7. Glanders

Glanders can enter the body through the skin and eyes, but also via the nose and lungs. The symptoms are similar to the flu or common cold, but once it’s in the bloodstream, it can be fatal within seven to ten days.

I’m not going to include a photo, because it’s really gross to look at.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Stupid Glanders.

The bacteria is at the top of the list for potential bioterrorism agents and was even believed to be intentionally spread to the Russian Army by the Germans in WWI. The Russians allegedly used it in Afghanistan during their ten-year occupation.

8. Brucellosis

This is usually caused by drinking raw milk or imbibing other raw dairy products. If an animal has brucellosis, they’re transmitting it to you. It’s also an inhalation hazard that can affect hunters dressing wild game. Symptoms are flu-like when inhaled and soon inflame the organs, especially the liver and spleen. Symptoms can last anywhere from a matter of weeks to years.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
First Vietnam, now Brucellosis.

Brucellosis was once called both “Bang’s Disease” and “Malta Fever.” It has been weaponized since the 50s, with a lethality estimate of one to two percent. Just kill me with fire if I have the flu for two years.

9. Q-fever

Like most of the agents on the list, Q-fever is also spread via inhalation or contacts with infected domestic animals – unless the Russians bombed your town with it. The agent can survive for up to 60 days on some surfaces.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
No, Q-Bert didn’t die from Q Fever. Don’t be silly. It was cancer.

When the American Biological Weapons arsenal was destroyed in the early 1970s, the U.S. had just under 5,100 gallons of Q-fever.

10. Viral Encephalitis

The worst part about this agent is that there is no effective drug treatment for it, and that any treatment is merely supportive – meaning that there is no way to treat the cause of the disease, only to manage the symptoms.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Pictured: how your body determines your response to Encephalitis.

The incubation period is fast, one to six days, and causes flu-like symptoms. It can incapacitate the infected for up to two weeks and cause swelling of the brain. Up to 30 percent of infected persons have permanent neurological conditions, like seizures and paralysis.

11. Staphylococcal Enterotoxin

Staph infections are pretty common but as a biological agent, it’s stable to store and weaponize as an aerosol agent. At low doses, it can incapacitate and it can kill at higher doses. The biggest concern is that a mass infection of a population is extremely difficult to treat effectively.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
There’s at least one surefire treatment.

This agent can infect food and water but is deadliest when inhaled. High doses of inhaled Staph can lead to shock and multi-organ failure. Symptoms of any dosage appear within 1-8 hours.

Category C Agents

Category C consists mostly of potential agents, but the Soviet program didn’t use any of the C category as we know it today. This category includes virulent but untested (for biowarfare) agents like SARS, Rabies, or Yellow Fever.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The heroic — and nearly forgotten — legend of ‘Pappy’ Gunn

When people mention “Pappy” — otherwise known as Gregory P. Boyington of VMF-214 — the “Black Sheep Squadron” immortalized in the late 1970s series “Baa, Baa, Black Sheep” comes to mind.


There is a good reason; Boyington, a Medal of Honor recipient, is the top-scoring Marine Corps ace with 28 kills. He was also an ace with the Flying Tigers (six kills).

But there is another Pappy who did much to help turn back the Japanese in the Pacific Theater. This was Paul I. “Pappy” Gunn.

“Pappy” Gunn had served in the U.S. Navy for twenty years before retiring to start airlines in Hawaii and the Philippines. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, he returned to the service — and received a Distinguished Flying Cross for flying in medical supplies to besieged troops on the Bataan Peninsula. He was evacuated to Australia, and in the summer of 1942, he began his major contribution to the war effort.

Gunn started to add M2 .50-caliber machine guns to the noses of A-20 Havoc light bombers. The planes had been okay, able to carry a ton of bombs, but bombing from high altitude often didn’t work with ships. So Gunn began modifying the A-20s, and later the B-25s, with M2s scavenged from fighters that had brought back their pilots, but which wouldn’t be repaired. He also developed the tactics these planes would use.

 

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
9th Air Force Douglas A-20G or A-20H over France. Note the solid nose holding six M2 .50-caliber machine guns. (US Air Force photo)

It was a very lethal masterpiece. Word filtered back to the manufacturers, Douglas and North American, and soon new versions of the B-25 and A-20 were out, built and inspired by Gunn’s field modifications. One version of the B-25 would carry 18 forward-firing M2s — the firepower of three P-51 Mustangs!

These planes would make their mark in the Southwest Pacific. Japan was trying to reinforce troops in New Guinea, where the Americans and Australians were fighting fiercely. Gunn’s modifications would be put to the test in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Japan sent eight transports, escorted by eight destroyers to deliver nearly 7,000 troops to Lae from Rabaul.

On March 3, 1943, they began. The Japanese force was simply unprepared to handle the Allied firepower. Despite cover from 100 fighters, their convoy was savaged. The strafing, combined with skip-bombing and mast-height bombing, tore the transports and half the destroyers apart. Only 1200 troops and practically no equipment made it to Lae.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Planes from the 5th Air Force carry out a low-level attack during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. (US Air Force photo)

Gunn would serve throughout the war, retiring as a full colonel. He then went back to re-building the airline he had started prior to World War II breaking out. In 1957, he was killed when his plane crashed during a storm. While not well-known, Gunn’s legend is one that does the United States Air Force proud.

popular

This insane law would force everyone who wanted a war to go fight it

In 1916, the people of the United States were not feeling good about the rest of the world. President Woodrow Wilson easily won re-election on the slogan, “He kept us out of war” as World War I raged on in Europe and elsewhere. The Mexican Revolution threatened to pull the United States back into conflict in the American Southwest. On top of all that, the U.S. military was a conscripted, third-rate power; a far cry from the professional, all-volunteer force that we enjoy today.

But it was almost an Army comprised only of those who wanted to go to war in the first place.


Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Five months after his inauguration, we were at war. Just sayin’.

 

The Constitution of the United States says only that the U.S. Congress can declare a state of war. There are no formal rules for how and when the Congress can do so, only that they can. In one instance, the President signed the legislation for war, and in others, it simply passed as a resolution. In 1916, the Congress had only declared war three times: against Britain in 1812, Mexico in 1848, and against Spain in 1898. The American people were not looking forward to a potential war in Europe, no matter who was on the other side.

Especially a concerned group of citizens from Nebraska, who created legislation that would change how the United States declared war – and who would fight it.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
“Get in, loser. We’re going to liberate Belgium.”

 

This proposed amendment to the Constitution outlined the process of declaring war as a national referendum, a direct vote by American citizens, where the majority would decide if the country was going to war or not. If the war referendum passed, all those who voted in favor of the war would be enlisted to fight that war.

Folks in Nebraska were surprised by how much popular support their proposed amendment received. The petition to submit the amendment to Congress had so many signatures, scraps of paper had to be added after the fact to ensure they all ended up on the document. While deciding who fights a war is very important, declaring a state of war comes with many automatic legal triggers, many of which have likely kept Congress from declaring war in the past few decades. An official state of war has not been declared since World War II.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
That face you make when you can still use the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to bomb Southeast Asia.

 

While the rules for how the United States conducts itself in a declared war versus an undeclared use of military force vary greatly, the rules for who fights the wars do not. All American male citizens are required to register for Selective Service at age 18, but the draft has not been used as a means of military recruiting since 1973, and was finally ended by President Gerald Ford in 1975. Ever since, the U.S military has been an all-volunteer force.

The question that has come out of the formation of an all-volunteer military in the past few years is one of disproportionate representation. If only certain segments of the American population have to fight the wars of the future, is it easier for a political class to launch unnecessary wars if they don’t have to be personally affected by its manpower needs? Those Nebraskans might have had a good point.

MIGHTY HISTORY

11 ‘facts’ you learned about US history that are false

Some things you’ve learned in school may have since been proven false, and that is especially true when it comes to US history.

Many say history is written by the winner, leaving much of the truth out. In recent years, historians and experts have been coming forward to reveal the true stories around some of America’s biggest historical events.

From the first Thanksgiving to the moon landing, here’s everything your teacher may have gotten wrong about American history.


Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Christopher Columbus.

1. MYTH: Christopher Columbus discovered America.

TRUTH: As early as primary school, most of us learned that Christopher Columbus discovered America, but that is not accurate. In fact, the Spanish explorer never even entered North America. On his four trips across the Atlantic, starting in 1492, Columbus explored the Caribbean islands of the Bahamas and Cuba.

He also couldn’t have discovered America because Native Americans were already living there. In fact, Columbus is not even the first European to explore the Americas. That honor goes to the Norse explorer Leif Erikson who sailed to the Western Hemisphere over 400 years earlier.

Then why is Columbus such a notable figure in American history? It’s most likely because he started a new age of exploration and his trips to the New World led to colonization.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Drawings of Columbus’ ships.

2. MYTH: Christopher Columbus sailed on the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria.

TRUTH: “In 1942, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue” is a common children’s song most learn in school. The song also mentions his three ships, which are usually known as Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria.

However, his ships were likely not named any of those things. Historians know that the Santa Maria’s real name was La Gallega and the Niña’s real name was the Santa Clara. It is not known what the Pinta’s actual name was at the time.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Pocahontas as depicted in a Disney film.

(Disney)

3. MYTH: Pocahontas and John Smith fell in love, uniting two cultures.

TRUTH: For starters, Pocahontas wasn’t even her real name. Her official name was Amonute. Pocahontas was her nickname, which meant “playful” or “ill-behaved child.” That’s right, Pocahontas was just a child, about 11 or 12 years old, so it is very unlikely there was any romance between her and John Smith, a grown man.

In his journals, John Smith wrote that Pocahontas saved his life when her family tried to execute him. He also wrote that during his captivity, the two became close and taught each other their languages, but never mentioned anything romantic happening between them.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

4. MYTH: The first Thanksgiving was a peaceful and joyous meal shared between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.

TRUTH: In school, most were taught that the Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower and sought help from the Native Americans to survive in the New World. In 1620, the two groups supposedly came together for a three-day feast to celebrate their relationship and new lives together. But many historians say this was not the case.

The two groups had a lot of hostile feelings towards each other. The Pilgrims viewed Native Americans as savages, and stole their farmland. They also killed more than 90% of the native population with smallpox, brought over on the Mayflower.

These hostile conditions, historians believe, did not lead to a celebratory first Thanksgiving. In fact, some say the Native Americans were not even invited to the feast.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Depiction of the Salem witch trials.

5. MYTH: Witches were burned at the stake at the Salem witch trials.

TRUTH: While most associate the Salem witch trials of 1692 with witches burning at the stake, the truth is that not a single person was burned. Of the 20 people who were convicted of practicing magic, 19 were hung near Gallows Hill and one person was tortured to death.

But throughout history, many referenced burning witches at the stake, so it caught on. For example, a magazine in 1860 wrote, “The North … having begun with burning witches, will end by burning us!”

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Painting of Paul Revere.

6. MYTH: Paul Revere rode horseback through the streets of Massachusetts yelling, “the British are coming!”

TRUTH: Paul Revere did ride horseback to warn that the British were fast approaching Lexington, but he was not screaming. Instead, he was much more discreet since British troops might have been hiding nearby. He also wasn’t alone. He was first joined by two other patriots, with 40 more joining by the end of the night. Lastly, he would never have called them “British” because many of the colonists still considered themselves British. At the time, he would have used the term “Regulars” to warn patriots about the invasion.

We have Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to thank for this misconception. He wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1861 and got most of the facts wrong.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

First president of the United States George Washington.

7. MYTH: George Washington had wooden teeth.

TRUTH: The first president of the United States, George Washington, did not, in fact, have wooden teeth. But he did have a lot of dental issues. The former war general wore dentures made of ivory, gold, and lead. But wood was never used in dentures and it was definitely not found in Washington’s mouth.

No one truly knows how or why this rumor started. Some historians say that the ivory may have been worn down, therefore having a grainy, wooden appearance, confusing early observers.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Declaration of Independence dated July 5, 1776.

(Archives)

8. MYTH: The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776.

TRUTH: While many believe we are celebrating the Declaration of Independence’s signing on the Fourth of July, it was actually signed in August of 1776. The confusion lies in the fact that July 4 was the day the final edition of the document was agreed upon. It was the deadline the Continental Congress gave itself and wrote down, though it wouldn’t be signed for another month.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Inventor Thomas Edison.

9. MYTH: Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.

TRUTH: In the late 1800s, Thomas Edison was widely considered a genius after he invented the light bulb. But some say Edison is not the sole inventor. In fact, there were over 20 inventors who had created the incandescent light bulb before him. Additionally, it’s rumored that he borrowed (or stole) details from those other inventors.

So, why does Edison get all the credit? In part, he was a great salesman, and he knew how to outpace everyone else who was working on the light bulb. Edison was lucky enough to receive the important patents he needed to be solely credited for the invention.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Soldiers during the Civil War.

10. MYTH: Slavery largely happened in the South.

TRUTH: Many associate slavery with the South, but the truth is that slavery existed in every colony before the Revolutionary War. In fact, Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery, and New York had over 1,600 slaves in 1720. Equally upsetting is the fact that presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both owned slaves.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

11. MYTH: Neil Armstrong said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” when he landed on the moon.

TRUTH: If you examine the famous line uttered by Neil Armstrong in 1969, you realize it doesn’t really make sense. Because “man” and “mankind” essentially meant the same thing, if his famous line was accurate, what he basically said was, “that’s one small step for mankind, one giant leap for mankind.”

Upon returning home, Armstrong clarified that he did say “one small step for a man,” which makes much more sense. Peter Shann Ford, a computer programmer, said he found proof that the missing “a” was actually just lost in transmission back to Earth.

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How French special forces rescued the holiest site in Islam

It may surprise the younger counterterrorism buffs out there to know that France maintains one of the oldest and most experienced counterterror units in the world, the Group D’Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale. If you don’t speak French, all you need to know is that they’re gendarmes, soldiers who can arrest you and – when asked – will come to find you outside of France to arrest you.

This is not something you want to happen to you, as some foolish terrorists found out when they seized the holiest site in Islam at gunpoint.


Islam’s version of the end of the world has a number of minor and major signs to look out for. The major part begins with the appearance of the Mahdi, Islam’s redeemer, who brings the world’s Muslim community back to the religion, helps kill the anti-Christ, and paves the way for the rule of Jesus (yes, Christianity’s Jesus, same guy) on Earth.

Over the years, many people have come forward claiming to be the Mahdi. There was Dia Abdul Zahra Kadim, the leader of an Iraqi insurgent group, killed near Najaf in 2003. The founder of the Nation of Islam, W. Fard Mohammed, claimed to be the Mahdi as many of the Nation’s followers do. Others have followers make the claim for them, like a leader of a Turkish sex cult.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

“Listen, I never said I am the redeemer of Islam, I just didn’t say you were wrong to say I am.”

But no one in recent memory left quite the impression on history like Muhammad bin abd Allah al-Qahtani, who led his personal army, al-Ikhwan, to capture the Grand Mosque in Mecca at gunpoint. The Grand Mosque is home to the Kabaa, the holiest site in Islam and destination for all the world’s Islamic pilgrims, a voyage every Muslim must make once in their lifetime. There are a number of other important holy sites contained within.

And in 1979, Mohammed Abdullah al-Qahtani and an estimated 300-600 followers took it over, along with the tens of thousands of people inside. They actually let most of them go, but not before killing the poorly-armed security guards, cutting the phone lines, and sealing themselves in. They were well-armed, well-trained, and well-funded. The Saudis were going to need some help.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

“I choose Pierre.”

That’s where GIGN comes in. While the truly ignorant can laugh about how “French commandos” sounds when the only history they know is from World War II, the rest of you need to know these guys wear ski masks and carry .357 Magnums as their sidearm. When the GIGN come to kill you, they want to make sure the job is done. Their training course has an astonishing 95 percent washout rate. While the US was toying with the idea of a special counterterrorism force, GIGN was probably retaking a cargo container ship somewhere.

Their job in Saudi Arabia would be no different, except they would also be training the Saudi and Pakistani special forces who would be going into the Grand Mosque with them.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Somewhere out there is a group of Pakistani commandos who pronounce “flashbang” with a little French accent. Fear those people.

The terrorists weren’t a bunch of desperate weirdos with a fundamentalist ideology. These guys were prepared to bring down the entire Saudi Kingdom while inciting other anti-Saud citizens to do the same. The terrorists immediately repelled the government’s counterattack and waited for whatever the King would throw at them next. GIGN is what came next. France sent three of their finest GIGN men who immediately began training their counterparts on how to effectively clear buildings of pesky terrorists. When the men were ready, they all prepared to storm the gates.

But there was a hitch. Muslim Saudi and Pakistani troops would be going in there alone because the Grand Mosque is forbidden to non-Muslims. Even when they’re trying to retake the mosque. Their GIGN mentors would have to sit back and wait to see how well they trained these men.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

This photo of the captured militants doesn’t do justice to how well-trained they were.

Some 50 Pakistani SSG commandos and 10,000 Saudi National Guardsmen stormed the Grand Mosque after two weeks or so of being held by the terrorists. On Dec. 4, 1979, the militants were disbursed from the mosque and forced to hide about in the now-evacuated city of Mecca. The guardsmen and SSG men fared well against the terrorists, killing roughly 560 of them while others fled the scene into Mecca and the countryside, where most were captured.

After the Frenchmen left Saudi Arabia, the hubbub surrounding the Grand Mosque seizure didn’t die. Instead of crackdowns of unruly citizens, the King of Saudi Arabia opted instead to implement many the famous “sharia” laws Saudi Arabia suffered through for decades; the restrictions on women, powerful religious police, and more. Only in the 2010s has the kingdom seen a loosening of these religious laws.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The military rescinded the only Medal of Honor awarded to a woman

During Women’s History Month, it’s important that we remember the women who have paved the way for others and accomplished great feats in times where women were considered less-than-equal. It might be shocking to hear, but the Medal of Honor has only been awarded to one woman out of 3,517 recipients. That’s right. To this day, only one woman has earned the citation.


Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Above, an original design of the Medal of Honor.

The Medal of Honor is the most prestigious military award given to those that exhibit exemplary courage in combat, dedication to country, and unquestionable valor during wartime. The Medal of Honor was created in 1862 after President Abraham Lincoln approved provisions for the Navy Medal of Valor.

Dr. Mary Edwards Walker was one of those honored with the highly coveted medal. She came from a family of abolitionists who believed in equal pay and equal rights for all. Education was first and foremost in her life, and she became a teacher to pay her way through her schooling at Syracuse Medical College in New York. Her aim was to help mankind — and she didn’t let her sex get in the way of accomplishments.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Dr. Mary Walker also continually challenged gender norms by wearing pants under her dresses.

Walker graduated, with honors, in 1855 and was the only woman in her class. When the Civil War broke out, she decided to try and sign up for the Union Army as a commissioned medical officer. Unfortunately, she was denied because of her sex. However, this did not dissuade her convictions. Instead, she worked as an unpaid volunteer and nurse in the U.S. Patent Office Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Later, she was able to secure a position as a field surgeon on the front lines. Walker worked for the Union for two years, performing surgery and tending to the casualties of war. It wasn’t until 1863 that she was awarded a commission as a “Contract Acting Assistant Surgeon (civilian).”

Surprisingly, Walker was allowed to wear the officer’s uniform and was known to carry two pistols on her hip, just in case. On April 10, 1864, Walker accidentally crossed enemy lines and was captured by Rebel soldiers and held captive in Richmond, VA. After four months of captivity, she was traded back to the Union, man-for-man, for a Confederate officer.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Dr. Mary Walker in her everyday attire, 1911. (Photo by Library of Congress)

She continued to serve as a surgeon in Louisville, KY until the end of the Civil War. President Andrew Johnson presented Walker with the Medal of Honor in 1865 for her selfless service. In 1917, when the eligibility requirements were changed to include “actual combat,” Walker’s medal was rescinded.

The government called for her to give the medal back, but Walker wouldn’t take it laying down! She continued to wear it on her lapel until her death in 1919. President Jimmy Carter and an Army board re-assessed the situation in 1977 and reinstated her Medal of Honor, during which they acknowledged her “distinguished gallantry, self-sacrifice, patriotism, dedication, and unflinching loyalty to her country, despite the apparent discrimination because of her sex.”

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
A statue erected in honor of Dr. Mary Walker in Oswego, NY.

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What it was like to be raided by the Vikings

They were some of the most feared and lethal warriors of their time, Scandinavian raiders who were experts in navigation and mobility, armed with iron weapons and advanced tactics, who would bear down on other European settlements for loot and pillage. Vikings were terrifying for all those not protected by high walls or standing armies.


For victims of these raids, death could come quickly and with little warning. The Vikings would raid deep inland by taking their longboats upriver, meaning that death could always be lurking just around the next bend. Towns on the coast were more likely to be raided, but they could at least see ships approaching on the horizon.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Viking shield walls provided plenty of defense while allowing the raiders to use their swords, spears, and axes over the top. (Wyrdlight.com, CC BY 3.0)

Since Vikings could barrel down at around 10-11 knots, though, that only gave them an hour of warning, Not long enough to marshal a defending force, but long enough to crap yourself once or twice and maybe say a few confessions.

Smart victims would then cower and hide, allowing the village to be plundered without resistance or they might even drag valuables out and buy off the Vikings. This might sound like cowardice, but the Vikings were professional raiders who worked hard to ensure that they had the upper hand, partially through reconnaissance.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
The Battle of Stiklestad was fought between Norse kingdoms. (Peter Nicolai Arbo)

Yeah, by the time you saw the Vikings, they probably already had a whole dossier on you, complete with whatever it is you did with those kind ladies in the expensive inn.

The Vikings actually took plenty of time to conduct quiet observation when they could before a raid, making sure there weren’t a bunch of enemy warriors that happened to be in town. Once they were sure it was just you and a few farmers and craftsmen around, they would launch their attack, keeping their men in tight formation and eradicating serious resistance before it could prepare.

This was made all the easier for the Vikings by how they organized their forces, employing ranged and melee attacks. Yeah, the Vikings basically had a combined arms team. They rarely had cavalry, though.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Re-enactors pour off of a longboat during a simulated raid. (YouTube/Grimfrost)

 

Viking raiders carried personal weapons and weapons provided by their magnate, a sort of chieftain. Younger and poorer raiders would usually carry an ax from home or a hunting spear, weapons made with mostly wood and a little iron. Shields, made of wood, were easy to get as well. Bows were relatively rare, but available.

Richer or more established raiders were likely to carry a sword and might even have chain mail or other iron armor, making them extremely challenging to kill for startled farmers in England or France.

Archers and spear men would engage any brave defenders as soon as they got into range, and swordsmen and raiders equipped with axes would charge forward with shields for protection.

So, yeah, unless the Vikings stumbled into a fight with the king’s army because of some bad intel gathering, they were going to win. Every once in a while, they’d do something bold like besiege Paris, and even then they’d usually win, because, again, great intelligence and professional are raiders are typically victorious.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What it’s like to fly a nuclear bomber for fun

The Blackburn Buccaneer was a fast-attack jet of the Royal Navy designed to kill Russian cruisers from just above the waves with conventional and nuclear weapons in engagements lasting only a minute or so. Now, a retired oil company CEO has bought a retired Buccaneer and flies it around South Africa.


Blackburn Buccaneer – British Nuclear Bomber

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The plane was sent to the fleet in 1962 and served for over 30 years. The need for the jet came in 1952 when Russia introduced the Sverdlov-class cruisers. These were a class of cruisers valuable for defending the Russian coasts and attacking British and other carriers at night when the British would be unable to launch planes.

Britain could either build a new fleet of its own to counter Russia’s new fleets and the Sverdlov cruisers or, it could find a way to negate the new Russian assets. The British decided to build a new plane that could launch day or night, and that could quickly attack enemy ships and get away before the ship could retaliate.

This was a tall order against the Sverdlov which had cutting-edge radar and anti-aircraft weapons. British designers got around this by making the Buccaneer capable of flying just over the waves, below the radar of the enemy ships. And when they reached the target, the Buccaneers would launch their weapons in less than a minute and make their escape.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

A Blackburn Buccaneer with its wings folded.

(Paul Lucas, CC BY 2.0)

The Buccaneer was supposed to eventually receive a custom-made nuclear air-to-surface missile, but actually spent most of its career carrying conventional air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles. Despite the failure to create the nuclear air-to-surface missile, the Buccaneer was equipped with nuclear free-fall bombs.

The aircraft performed plenty of training in the Cold War and were used for a number of missions, including extensive duties in Iraq during the Gulf War, but was retired in 1994 after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

And that was where Ian Pringle came in. A successful oil businessman, Pringle had the money to scoop up a Buccaneer when it went up for sale. He had the plane transported to Thunder City, South Africa, where civilians are allowed to fly nuclear-capable aircraft.

Once there, he took lessons in how to fly the aircraft, a dangerous process. His plane was an operational one, and so it only has controls in the front seat, so his trainer had to sit in the back seat and coach him from there. If Pringle had panicked in flight, there was no way for the instructor to take over.

But Pringle figured it out, and now he races the plane low over the grass of South Africa when he can. The plane was made to allow pilots to fly just above the water, and so he can take it pretty low to the grass.

He’s one of only two civilians ever to fly the plane, though he obviously can’t fly it with missiles or bombs on board.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 light tanks the Army used to operate

With the Mobile Protected Firepower program in the testing and evaluation phase, the Army is getting closer to adding a light tank back into its inventory. The XM8 Armored Gun System was the last tank to come close to filling the role. However, it was cancelled in 1997 before it left the experimental phase. Here are 7 light tanks that did see service with the Army.

1. M1 Combat Car

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
Civil War veterans inspect an M1 Combat Car at the 1939 New York World’s Fair (Public Domain)

The introduction of the tank during WWI changed the face of war forever. However, America didn’t have a tank of its own during the war. Instead, U.S. soldiers like George S. Patton crewed French tanks like the Renault FT-17. After the war, America got to work developing its own armored doctrine and vehicles. Light tanks were defined as weighing five tons or less so that they could be carried by trucks. Then-Chief of Staff of the Army General Douglas MacArthur promoted the mechanization of the Army to equip cavalrymen with armored fighting vehicles as well. Designated as combat cars, these light tanks allowed cavalry units to exploit opportunities on the battlefield rather than being tied to the infantry in a support role. Despite its name, the M1 Combat Car was a bonafide light tank. Developed and built by the Rock Island Arsenal, it had tracks, light armor and a turret. Armed with just one .50-cal M2 Browning machine gun and two .30-cal M1919 Browning machine guns, the M1 was not well-suited for direct combat. By the time WWII started, the M1 was obsolete. Still, it paved the way as America’s first light tank.

2. Light Tank, M2

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
A Marine Corps M2A4 on Guadalcanal (Public Domain)

Another inter-war design, the M2 went through a number of variants before WWII. However, the most common was the M2A4 equipped with one 37mm M5 gun and five .30-cal M1919 Browning machine guns. Before WWII, the most common variant was the M2A2. It was only equipped with machine guns. The Spanish Civil War showed that tanks armed only with machine guns were ineffective, so the U.S. added the 37mm M5 gun. By the time WWII broke out, the Army had moved on to the M3 light tank. The only American unit to field the M2 in combat was the Marine Corps’ 1st Tank Battalion.

3. M3/M5 Stuart

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
An M5 of Company D, 761st Tank Battalion in Coburg, Germany (Public Domain)

An evolution of the M2, the M3/M5 Stuart was the main American light tank of WWII. The tank was also supplied to British forces under the Lend-Lease Act. It was British forces who named the tank Stuart after American Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. The M3 featured thicker armor, modified suspension, and an upgraded 37mm M6 gun over the M2. The M5 was given an updated engine and an automatic transmission. It was also quieter, cooler, and more spacious inside than the M3. Initially designated the M4 light tank, it was redesignated the M5 to prevent confusion with the M4 Sherman tank. In the African and European theaters, the Stuart was outgunned by the heavier German tanks and deadly anti-tank units. However, it excelled at traditional cavalry missions like scouting and screening. In the Pacific theater, the Stuart saw more direct action. Japanese tanks were a rare sight and were generally outgunned by American tanks. Moreover, the dense jungles of the Pacific islands were more easily navigated by the smaller M3/M5 than the larger M4 Sherman.

4. M22 Locust

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
One M22 Locust that was successfully deployed during Operation Varsity (Public Domain)

Officially designated the Light Tank (Airborne), M22, the Locust was the first light tank of its kind. In 1941, the British War Office requested that America develop a light tank that could be transported via glider to support airborne troops. The result was an exceptionally small tank. Weighing just 7.4 metric tons and measuring 12 feet 11 inches long, 7 feet 1 inch wide, and 6 feet 1 inch tall, the Locust was truly a light tank. Crewed by 3 men, it was equipped with a 37mm M6 gun and one .30-cal M1919 Browning machine gun. However, the Locust was not ready to fight as soon as it landed. The turret was removed during flight in order to fit inside a glider. Upon landing, it took six men about 10 minutes to unload and assemble the Locust. As a result of this, its light armor, and small gun, the M22 performed poorly in British service during Operation Varsity in 1945. Of the eight tanks flown in to support the airborne operation, only four made it to the rendezvous point. Of those four, only two were undamaged and fit for service. Although a small number of Locusts were delivered to U.S. Army units, they never saw combat.

5. M24 Chaffee

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
An M24 Chaffee on guard duty outside the 1945 Nuremberg Trials (Public Domain)

Officially designated the Light Tank, M24, the Chaffee also owes it name to the British. While serving with the British Army, the M24 was named after U.S. General Adna R. Chaffee Jr. who is often referred to as the Father of the Armored Force for his work in developing the use of tanks in the U.S. Army. The British use of the M3 in North Africa demonstrated the shortcomings of its 37mm gun. However, the larger 75mm gun proved to be a more capable anti-tank weapon. In 1943, the Ordnance Corps started a project to develop a new light tank equipped with a 75mm gun. In order to keep the new tank under 20 tons, its light armor was heavily sloped to maximize its effectiveness. First delivered in October 1943, the M24 was equipped with a 75mm M6 main gun, one .50-cal M2 Browning machine gun, and two .30-cal M1919 Browning machine guns. The tank first saw action during the Battle of the Bulge and entered widespread use in December 1944. It was well-received for its improved off-road performance, reliability, and firepower over the M3/M5 Stuart. The M24 went on to serve during the Korean War where it suffered in direct combat but excelled in the reconnaissance and support roles alongside heavier tanks.

6. M41 Walker Bulldog

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
An M41 Walker Bulldog supports infantry during a U.S. exercise in Europe during the 1950s (Public Domain)

The M41 is unique in that is was developed independently by Cadillac and marketed to the U.S. military to replace the M24. First produced in 1951, the M41 was capable both as a reconnaissance vehicle thanks to its high speed and mobility, but also as a support tank with its 76mm M32A1 rifled cannon. The tank was named for the late General Walton Walker who was killed in a jeep accident in 1950. It was also the first American postwar light tank to see worldwide service and was heavily exported. Although the M41 was adopted too late to see use in the Korean War, five M41s were given to democratic Cuban forces for use during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The Cubans received training at Fort Knox in March 1961 and were transported to Playa Girón on April 17. Despite heavy resistance, all five tanks made it ashore. Although they had initial successes, knocking out several communist T-34/85 tanks, heavy armored counterattacks meant that the tank crews expended all of their ammunition by noon. The surviving tanks were abandoned on the beach when the invasion failed.

7. M551 Sheridan

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military
An M551 Sheridan of the 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry in Vietnam (Public Domain)

Entering service in 1967, the M551 Sheridan was a light tank developed for armored reconnaissance and airborne operations. Named for Union Civil War General Philip Sheridan, the M551 was designed to be dropped from a plane via parachute. It was also amphibious and capable of crossing rivers before heavy bridge-laying vehicles could be driven onto the battlefield. The Sheridan also featured a unique gun. Its 152mm M81 gun could fire conventional tank rounds. However, it also doubled as a launcher capable of firing the new MGM-51 Shillelagh guided anti-tank missile. The Sheridan performed well in Vietnam. Its light weight meant it was less prone to getting stuck in the mud compared to the heavier M48 Patton. The tank also excelled in direct-fire support of infantry. With its M657 High Explosive and M625 Canister rounds, it was an effective anti-personnel weapon. The Sheridan saw limited use during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. It saw its first combat air drop during Operation Just Cause in Panama where it also saw limited use. The Sheridan was retired from service in 1996 without a replacement. However, it did see limited use as a training aid for the Armored Officer Basic Course and as a simulated Soviet armored opposition force at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin until 2003.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A World War I legionnaire wrote this ‘Rendezvous with Death’

In 1916, an American poet, Harvard graduate, and soldier of the French Foreign Legion was killed while attacking in the first wave at Belloy-en-Santerre, part of the opening of the Battle of the Somme. Alan Seeger had written a prophetic poem that would be published a year later titled, I Have a Rendezvous with Death.


Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Alan Seeger as a young Harvard student. A few years after this photo, he would join the French Foreign Legion.

The young Seeger graduated from Harvard in 1910 where he studied with poetry legends like T.S. Eliot. He spent two years living the Bohemian life in New York City’s Greenwich Village, crashing on couches and living off friends’ generosity. But New York didn’t live up to his expectations and, in 1912, he departed for Paris.

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The City of Lights filled him with admiration despite the large amount of misery that came with living in crowded and filthy quarters in the city. When war broke out between Germany and France, Seeger joined the French Foreign Legion to protect his beloved city.

The young Seeger was a fatalist and romantic, and he wrote a number of poems that glamorized the idea of dying in war, especially for his adopted country.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Alan Seeger as a legionnaire.

After training, Seeger was sent with others to the front where, in June 1916, the French were tasked with assisting the British attack a few days into the Battle of the Somme.

Seeger took a spot in the first wave of his unit’s attack and wrote a letter to a friend where he wrote of his gratitude for the assignment.

“We go up to the attack tomorrow. This will probably be the biggest thing yet. We are to have the honor of marching in the first wave. I will write you soon if I get through all right. If not, my only earthly care is for my poems. I am glad to be going in first wave. If you are in this thing at all it is best to be in to the limit. And this is the supreme experience.”
Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Soldiers waiting for H-Hour during in operation in the Battle of the Somme.

But time passed without the men being ordered forward. On July 4, they were told that general offensive was about to begin, but they would only be in reserve.

Then, a few hours later, a voice called out. “The company will fall in to go to the first line.”

Seeger fell in with the troops front and center. A friend on the left wing later described what he saw.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

The Battle of the Somme and its overall campaign cost over 1.5 million lives.

Two battalions were to attack Belloy-en-Santerre, our company being the reserve of battalion. The companies forming the first wave were deployed on the plain. Bayonets glittered in the air above the corn, already quite tall.
The first section (Alan’s section) formed the right and vanguard of the company and mine formed the left wing. After the first bound forward, we lay flat on the ground, and I saw the first section advancing beyond us and making toward the extreme right of the village of Belloy-en-Santerre. I caught sight of Seeger and called to him, making a sign with my hand.
He answered with a smile. How pale he was! His tall silhouette stood out on the green of the cornfield. He was the tallest man in his section. His head erect, and pride in his eye, I saw him running forward, with bayonet fixed. Soon, he disappeared and that was the last time I saw my friend. . . .”

Seeger was killed that afternoon, cut down during the battle that is the bloodiest in British military history, and a costly one for every other nation that took part.

Seeger’s poem, published after his death, was panned as being outdated, but went on to become a favorite with many veterans, including John F. Kennedy, who would ask his wife to recite it for him often.

I Have a Rendezvous With Death

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear…
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The little-known stories of smokejumpers working with the CIA

The CIA had its eye on Tibet. The Buddhist nation of vast plateaus and mountain ranges in Central Asia was completely isolated from the rest of society. A diplomatic relationship with the small country surrounded by China on three of its sides was of utmost importance. On a mission from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, two Office of Strategic Services (OSS) officers, Capt. Brooke Dolan and Maj. Ilia Tolstoy, traveled through India to Tibet in September 1942 to contact the Dalai Lama, then just 7 years old.

Following the conclusion of World War II, the OSS was disbanded and re-formed as the Central Intelligence Agency in 1947. Only two years later, the CIA watched its new ally from afar and monitored the increased hostilities of Mao Zedong, the founding father of the People’s Republic of China. Mao had threatened to “liberate” Tibet, a strong-armed escalation to retake the government from the Dalai Lama.


In a contested intensification of force, the Chinese military marched through the Himalayas toward Chamdo, the third-largest city in the eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region. On May 23, 1951, China forced Tibet to sign a peace treaty called the 17-Point Agreement — declaring its autonomy as long as China oversaw its foreign policy including the civil and military components. If Tibet hadn’t signed the “agreement,” the action would have been a death sentence.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Brooke Dolan, second from left, and Ilya Tolstoy, right, with their monk-interpreter, Kusho Yonton Singhe, standing in front of a traditional Tibetan tent set up outside Lhasa for the expedition’s official greeting ceremony. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The young Dalai Lama had his hands tied. Without outside help, his nation’s independence was under threat. The staff types and officers at the CIA with covers as diplomats began searching for a hardy group who had special training in remote and mountainous areas.

The US military had previously established a relationship during World War II with the US Forest Service (USFS). US Army paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions participated in an exchange program with the smokejumpers — an elite firefighting force that parachutes from planes into isolated areas to fight forest fires. The all-Black paratroopers chosen became known as the Triple Nickles, and they were trained to prevent the spread of fires caused by Japanese balloon bombs.

Instead of training airborne paratroopers as the military did before, the CIA contracted smokejumpers who already had all the necessary knowledge in terrain, reconnaissance, weather, and a variety of other critically important skills. Smokejumpers go through their own selection course to get to their units; the CIA could choose from the very best in their ranks.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

From left to right: Vang Pao, leader and general of the CIA’s Hmong Army in the 15-year “secret war” in Laos; smokejumper Jack Mathews; and Kong Le, the neutralist forces leader. Photo courtesy of the National Smokejumpers Association.

Garfield Thorsrud was a Missoula, Montana, smokejumper tasked with training two CIA officers at the Nine Mile training facility in Montana in 1951. The CIA recruited Thorsrud and six other smokejumpers on a covert operation in Taiwan to train Nationalist Chinese paratroopers to facilitate personnel and cargo drops over mainland China. From 1957 to 1960, however, this covert relationship between the smokejumpers and the CIA went global.

More than 100 smokejumpers were sworn to secrecy on behalf of the US government. Ray “Beas” Beasley, a former Air Force winter survival expert who trained aircrews in airborne operations in Libya and the Korean War, was called upon in multiple capacities.

“We were training air crews for Africa and Ivy Leaguers for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA),” Beasley told Smokejumper Magazine. “Those Ivy Leaguers thought they were special, but they didn’t know a goddamned thing. It was truly unbelievable.”

Smokejumpers, including Beasley, acted as “kickers” or jumpmasters who “kicked” out 10,000 pounds of weapons, ammunition, and equipment to Tibetan resistance forces at elevations as high as 14,000 feet. The pilots from the CIA’s Civil Air Transport (CAT) flew sorties using old China Air Transport civilian routes in C-130B planes across Tibet to arm Khampa guerillas. The first pass dropped the agents, and the second dropped the pallets of supplies. These operations also trained as many as 200 Tibetan commandos at Camp Hale in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to jump alongside CIA officers.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Smokejumpers involved in the Taiwan Project where they trained Nationalist Chinese agents and paratroopers starting in 1951. Standing with Generalissimo and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek are smokejumpers Herman Ball, 2nd from left; Jack Mathews, between Chiang Kai-Shek and his wife; Gar Thorsrud, 2nd from far right; and Lyle Grenager, far right. Photo courtesy of the National Smokejumper Association.

“We were always ‘Romeo,'” Beasley told the Great Falls Tribune in 2014, referring to the call sign for their mission. “When we did these jobs, it was in the full moon and we flew right by Everest.”

When the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to India in 1959, the CIA kickers rigged a yellow parachute to a pallet filled with 300,000 rupees. As the Dalai Lama was in exile, the CIA funded id=”listicle-2647693389″.7 million per year to support Tibet’s resistance against Chinese and Soviet Union influence.

After Tibet, Beasley participated in covert operations in the “secret war” in Laos as well as the Bay of Pigs invasion. During the 1960s, if the CIA was running an operation inside a country they weren’t supposed to be in, flying unmarked aircraft, the smokejumpers often towed along. The smokejumpers’ roles expanded beyond jumpmaster duties to acting as liaison and operations officers in Guatemala, the Congo, India, Guam, Indonesia, and even the Arctic.

Thorsrud and five other smokejumpers dressed in parkas participated in Project Coldfeet, which premiered the ingenious Fulton surface-to-air recovery system (STARS) or Skyhook: The passing plane intercepts a 500-foot line with a smokejumper attached and yanks him into the air to retrieve him. Project Coldfeet was an intelligence-gathering mission at an abandoned Soviet Arctic drifting ice station — and the CIA deemed the mission a success.

The smokejumpers’ clandestine service with the CIA and their heroism was kept in the shadows. David W. Bevan was killed on Aug. 31, 1961, when his Air America C-46 plane crashed into a Laotian mountaintop. The former smokejumper’s mission remained a secret for 56 years, and not even his family were aware of how he had died. In 2017, the CIA publicly acknowledged Bevan and other CIA operations officers with a star on its memorial wall. At that time, there were 125 stars. Since 2019, the wall has grown to 133 stars, some of which honor those whose identity remains classified.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Pound for pound, these were the deadliest boats of World War II

They were made of wood, carried no heavy guns, and would sink at the drop of a hat. But they were fast, hard to hit, and could kill nearly anything afloat. Pound for pound, the deadliest boats of World War II weren’t the carriers or the legendary battleships, they were the humble patrol torpedo boats.


Battle Stations: PT Boats (War History Documentary)

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America invested heavily in capital ships in the inter-war years, concentrating on battleships and carriers that could project power across the deep oceans. Combined with destroyers and cruisers to protect them, this resulted in fleets that could move thousands of miles across the ocean and pummel enemy shores. It was a good, solid investment.

But these large ships were expensive and relatively slow, and building them required lots of metal and manpower. There was still an open niche for a fast attack craft like the Italian motor torpedo boats that had famously sunk the SMS Szent Istvan in World War I.

Boat builders who had made their name in racing lined up to compete for Navy contracts. They held demonstrations and sea trials in 1940 and 1941, culminating in the “Pinewood Derbies” of July 1941.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

PT-658 transits the water at the Portland Rose Festival in 2006. The boat was restored by volunteers and features its full armament and original engines.

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ralph Radford)

These were essentially races between different boats with either weapons or copper weights installed to mimic combat armament, allowing the Navy to see what designs were fastest, most nimble, and could survive the quick turns with a combat load.

Not all the vessels made it through. Some experienced hull and deck failures, but others zipped through the course at up to 46 miles per hour. A few boats impressed the Navy, especially what would become the ELCO Patrol Torpedo Boat. Higgins and Hulkins also showed off impressive designs, and all three contractors were given orders for Navy boats.

The Navy standardized the overall designs and armament, though the contractors took some liberties, especially Higgins. They were all to be approximately 50 tons, made of mahogany, and carry two .50-cal. machine guns. Many got up to four torpedo tubes and a 20mm anti-aircraft gun, while a few even got mortars or rockets.

They were powered by aviation fuel and three powerful engines.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

U.S. Navy patrol boats zip through the water during exercises of the U.S. east coast on July 12, 1942.

(U.S. Navy)

All of this combined to create a light, powerful craft that was fast as hell. Two gunners on a PT boat at Pearl Harbor were credited with the first Japanese kill by the U.S. in World War II when they downed an enemy plane.

The little boats would distinguish themselves over and over again, even though there were only 29 in the Navy at the start of the war. Gen. Douglas MacArthur slipped out of the Philippines on a two-day trip through the enemy fleet with Lt. John D. Bulkeley on a PT boat. Bulkeley would earn a Medal of Honor for his actions.

The boats launched constant attacks against Japanese ships, hitting them with Mk. 8 torpedoes. The Coast Guard used 83-foot designs for their submarine hunters and patrol boats, many of which saw service at D-Day where they served as the “Matchstick Fleet” that rescued drowning soldiers.

Also at D-Day, similar landing craft made by Higgins were modified to fire rockets at the shore to suppress shore positions.

Civil War through WWII: How female roles have evolved in the military

Navy Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy on PT-109.

(U.S. Navy)

But it was during island hopping across the Pacific where the torpedo boats really earned their fame. As Japan’s fleet took heavy losses in 1942 and 1943, it relied on its army to try and hold islands against the U.S. advance, and the Navy’s “Mosquito Fleet” was sent to prey on the ships of the “Tokyo Express.”

Japan’s destroyers and similar vessels could slaughter torpedo boats when they could hit them, but the U.S. patrols generally operated at night and would hit the larger ships with their deadly torpedoes, using their speed to escape danger. It wasn’t perfect, though, as Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy would learn when PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, forcing Kennedy and 11 survivors to swim through shark-infested water for hours.

The patrol boats served across the world, from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and thousands of sailors from the Coast Guard and Navy served on these small vessels, downing tens of thousands of tons of enemy shipping.

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