In almost every war in history, spies have had a big role in the outcome of the war. Those who played both sides, put themselves in danger in order to learn secrets, and played the part to get helpful information — they played a huge part in the history books. And in most cases, they don’t earn the credit they deserve. Because they were successful, their roles were under the radar, leading few people to understand just how they helped turn the course of a given war.
In the Civil War, female spies were especially helpful in providing key information. There are noted individuals who brought their espionage skills to the table in order to help their side. This is worth noting because — when considering the war and who sacrificed, most often, men get the glory. They were on the front lines, they were being injured or killed for their duty, while women stayed home and filled in with the work that needed to be done at home and in factories.
However, it’s this very stereotype that caused women to be such successful spies during the Civil War. In most cases, they were trusted and considered to not have a role in the war. Therefore, women could easily find information or infiltrate the other side. It’s said that hundreds of women got information by flirting and tricking soldiers into giving up key information.
Other methods were used to share secrets, such as hiding items in intricate hairdos, or flashing a fan with Morse Code. In one particular instance, it’s said that a Confederate spy, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, flashed her fan across the Potomac River, sending a message to hidden soldiers.
But war secrets weren’t the only things being communicated during the Civil War. Harriet Tubman famously helped free hundreds of slaves, thanks to her work obtaining secrets and the locations of hidden underwater mines.
Smuggled Items and Belle Boyd
In addition to finding secrets and passing them along, women would also smuggle goods to their respective side’s forces. They might place medicine, ammunition or even weapons in a basket or in the hoops of their skirts. Due to modesty trends of the time, it was considered indecent to check women’s clothing, so it was known that they would not be searched by male guards. Women also sewed important notes into the seams of their dresses, hiding key information in plain sight.
Maria “Belle” Boyd was a known force of the time. She pioneered these methods of smuggling and even recruited others to do the same. Working for the Confederacy, Boyd got her start when she killed a drunk Union soldier who “addressed my mother and myself in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive.” Armed, she shot him and received no repercussions for the action.
At just 17, this was the start of her stint as “the Rebel spy.” Soon after, Boyd began making friends at Union camps and eavesdropping on their talk, reporting back to the Confederates. She flirted with soldiers, who shared secrets with the temptress time and time again.
The Union learned of her interactions and gave her many nicknames in the press, including: the Rebel Joan of Arc, Amazon of Secessia, La Belle Rebelle, and the Siren of the Shenandoah. Her attire was listed in the New York Tribune so that she might be identified by soldiers who saw her in person.
Eventually, a Union soldier helped her escape to Canada. She wrote an exaggerated memoir while living in Europe, having married the soldier who helped her escape.
Most people associate astronauts and rockets with places like Houston and the east coast of Florida. After all, NASA’s current headquarters is in Houston, and Florida houses both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. But the US has another important, yet much lesser-known “Rocket City” that you probably never heard of!
In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed off on the country’s first space program: NASA. NASA’s first home was not in Houston, though. It was just outside of Huntsville, Alabama, at Redstone Arsenal, a former military base which they renamed Marshall Space Center. Because no astronaut has ever uttered, “Huntsville, we have a problem,” this rocket city has largely stayed under the radar.
Operation Paperclip Goes to Alabama
Immediately following World War II in 1945, the US government secretly brought a group of about 1,600 German scientists into the country so that Russia could not get their hands on them. This top-secret program, called Operation Paperclip, helped put the US space program ahead of the rest of the world.
Perhaps the most important of the German scientists in the group was Dr. Wernher von Braun. He worked directly with Hitler to develop rockets for Germany before Operation Paperclip moved him to “Rocket City,” Alabama. His expertise as an aerospace engineer was exactly what the US government wanted for its space program. They had their eyes on the prize of leading the world in all things outer space, so they conveniently set aside the fact that von Braun was a Nazi sympathizer.
Neil Armstrong Can Thank Smuggled German Scientists for His Fame
A team of both American and German scientists worked under von Braun’s leadership at Redstone Arsenal, later NASA’s Marshall Space Center. Together, they developed a rocket that would eventually bring humans into outer space. In the late 1960s, the team had tested a whopping 32 of their Saturn launch vehicle designs. Not a single one failed, which meant it didn’t take long before one of them was ready for takeoff.
On July 16, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins took off in a Saturn V rocket headed for the moon, where they arrived 240,000 miles and four days later. Armstrong and Aldrin made history by being the first humans to walk on the moon’s surface, while Collins stayed patiently in orbit, waiting for his moon-walking peers. This was all thanks to von Braun and his brilliant team of scientists’ work at the Marshall Space Center. Good thinking by the US government to smuggle those Germans over, after all.
“Rocket City” is Also Alabama’s Claim to Fame
No big deal, but the Saturn V remains the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. No wonder Huntsville, Alabama, got the nickname “Rocket City.” There are only three Saturn V’s in existence today, and one of them still towers over Huntsville at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. Tons of high-tech companies also call Huntsville home, including Boeing, Siemens, and many other firms working in the field of aerospace technology.
On June 28, 1914, an assassin supplied by terrorists shot and killed the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, igniting an already tense situation between Serbia and the Hapsburg-controlled monarchy in Vienna. By July 1914, a month later, the world was at war, and by the end of the war, Austria-Hungary would no longer exist, and Germany would be punished in the treaty that ended it.
Even though Germany had nothing to do with igniting “the powder keg of Europe.”
A Bosnian terrorist kills an Austrian noble in Serbia so Germany and Russia go to war. Get it?
It’s a little more complicated than who started what but Germany gets the brunt of the blame for the war because of how the fight between Austria and Serbia escalated so fast, and no attempt was made to de-escalate it. The resulting deaths of millions worldwide along with the destruction wrought on European battlefields and the use of poison gas left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth (sometimes literally) throughout the duration of the war.
While Germany didn’t necessarily start World War I, it didn’t do much to stop it, either. In fact, many historians believe Germany actively encouraged the war, despite the systems of alliances in place that should have deterred the European powers from fighting. The Germans knew if Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, the Russians would intervene on Serbia’s behalf. Then Germany would have to come to Austria’s aid.
That’s what the Germans wanted.
Russians were still carrying religious icons into battle instead of modern weapons.
Even though Austria was satisfied with Sarajevo’s attempt to smooth things over, Germany convinced the Hapsburg Emperor that he could not only invade and win against the Serbians, but that Germany would have an easy time against all the other European allies. Germany really, really wanted a war with Russia to acquire new territory in the east, but couldn’t justify it. Going to war to back its Austrian ally was more than enough and Austria had a reason to go to war with Serbia. So Germany kept pushing its ally despite calls for peace from the rest of Europe.
Finally, Austria agreed and attacked Serbia, which caused the Russians to come to Serbia’s aid, which forced Germany to back Austria and France to back Russia. Then the Germans invaded France through Belgium, requiring England to intervene in the war as well. So Austria-Hungary technically started the war, but Germany tried to finish it. For four years.
That’s why Germany takes the blame for World War I.
Throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, the Russian and Japanese empires had been engaged in a political struggle over who would dominate northeast Asia. In a decisive naval battle at the Tsushima Strait in 1905, Japan would be the dominant power in Manchuria and Korea until its defeat in World War II and set back Russia’s far eastern ambitions for decades.
Japan had been rapidly modernizing since the Meiji Restoration of 1868 ushered in a generation of reforms, and was more and more exerting its influence as a Pacific power. Russia had been expanding its footprint across central and eastern Asia, and warm water ports in China were vital to this vision. Both desired Korea and Manchuria as colonial buffer zones between the two empires, but defining those zones grew so intractable that war became inevitable.
A key point of the dispute was the strategic Russian-controlled Port Arthur in Manchuria, the only major Russian naval base on the Pacific outside of Vladivostok farther north, and unlike Vladivostok was warm water and could be used year round. When war broke out in 1904, a large Japanese army attacking out of Korea besieged and after suffering terrible casualties seized the port. Most of the Russian Pacific fleet was bottled up at Port Arthur after their defeat in the Battle of the Yellow Sea and was destroyed as well, and Russian forces were forced to retreat northward.
While the battle for Port Arthur was still raging, Tsar Nicholas II had ordered a large force from his Baltic fleet to the Pacific to help break the siege. Designated the Second Pacific Squadron under Admiral Rozhestvensky and composed of 11 battleships and numerous cruisers and destroyers, on paper, it was a formidable force. In reality, many of its ships were older vessels and badly maintained by ill-trained crews. The incredibly long voyage of over 18,000 nautical miles would only add to these problems.
Setting sail on Oct. 15, 1904, the voyage was off to an inauspicious start in the North Sea when rumours of Japanese torpedo boats in the area led to panicky crews firing on British shipping, sparking a diplomatic incident. Denied the use of the Suez Canal by the British, the fleet was forced to sail around the Horn of Africa, and it was not until April 14, 1905, that the fleet reached Cam Rahn Bay in Indochina. Port Arthur, the original target of the expedition had fallen on Jan. 2, and the fleet set sail instead to Vladivostok to refit for a counterattack.
The commander of the Japanese Combined Fleet Admiral Togo was well aware of the approaching fleet, and the Japanese correctly guessed that the Russian fleet would pass through the Tsushima Strait on its way north. Rozhestvensky tried to slip through the strait at night but was spotted by Japanese patrol vessels on the morning of March 27, and Togo’s fleet of four battleships, 27 cruisers, with dozens of destroyers and torpedo boats, set sail from Korea to intercept.
The Japanese fleet was comprised mostly of modern vessels, and its crews were well-trained and disciplined. Despite possessing fewer heavy battleships than the Russians, it had a huge superiority in lighter cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats that would prove decisive. The Russian fleet was suffering from low morale and poor training, and the long voyage had led to chronic maintenance problems and fouled boilers left many of its ships unable to reach anywhere near their top speed or maneuverability.
Spotting the Russian fleet at around 1:40 pm, Togo ordered a line attack across the two approaching Russian columns, and the superior condition, training, and gunnery of the Japanese fleet quickly proved itself. Rozhestvensky was wounded and was forced to transfer to a destroyer after his flagship was sunk, leaving his subordinate Adm. Negobatov to take command, and two more Russian battleships were sunk before nightfall under relentless Japanese gunnery with little damage in return. After dark, a swarm of Japanese destroyers and torpedo boats cut out the heart of the Russian fleet in hit-and-run torpedo attacks, and by the morning of May 28, Negobatov ordered his few remaining ships to surrender. Russian naval power in the Pacific had been practically destroyed in one decisive battle, with 21 ships destroyed and six captured. Nearly 5,000 Russian sailors lost their lives and over 6,000 were captured. Japanese losses amounted to less than 800 casualties.
The battle effectively decided the Russo-Japanese War, with the Russians quickly suing for peace. It shocked the Western world that a European power had been so thoroughly beaten by Japan, who quickly took its place as a dominant force in Asia and setting the stage for its imperial expansionism and its eventual defeat in World War II.
So influential was the battle that Great Britain launched a building program of modern fast dreadnought battleships that led to a naval arms race with Germany, and Russia’s loss of prestige may have played a significant a role in the power politics leading up to World War I. Behind the Battle of Midway in World War II, it was the most decisive naval engagement of the 20th century.
The Civil War Trust, known for its great maps and historical accounts of the war, has branched into animated maps that show move-by-move accounts of important battles like Antietam, Vicksburg and Shiloh.
The trust’s still maps are known for their accuracy and detail, and these new animated maps continue that tradition. The big difference is the motion; it’s like watching the battle play out on a sand table during a ROC drill.
A narrator provides context for the action, telling viewers everything from how the crippling heat affected the repeated clashes at Little Round Top to why Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles made his ill-advised deployment of artillery on the Union’s front.
Meanwhile, short video clips try to put the viewer on the ground with soldiers during the most fierce and important events, showing things like when Maj. Gen. John Reynolds was shot in the neck and killed.
The full videos for each battle are a little long, about 15-20 minutes each. But they let you get a better understanding of each battle that you can knock out in a lunch break. Check out Gettysburg below:
Bob Hicks was spending a cold December night in his barracks 53 years ago at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City when the phone rang.
It was the chief of his missile maintenance team, who dispatched Hicks to an incident at an underground silo.
“The warhead,” the team chief said, “is no longer on top of the missile.”
Hicks eventually learned that a screwdriver used by another airman caused a short circuit that resulted in an explosion. The blast popped off the missile’s cone — the part containing the thermonuclear warhead — and sent it on a 75-foot fall to the bottom of the 80-foot-deep silo.
The courageous actions Hicks took that night and over the next several days were not publicized. The accident was not disclosed to the public until years later, when a government report on accidents with nuclear weapons included seven sentences about it. The report listed the accident as the nation’s first involving a Minuteman missile.
Further details are reported publicly for the first time here, drawn from documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by the Journal and others, and from Hicks himself, who is now 73 years old and living in Cibolo, Texas.
When Hicks was sent to the accident on Dec. 5, 1964, he was only 20 years old, and the cryptic statement from his team chief was the only information he was given.
“That was enough,” Hicks recalled, “to cause me to get dressed pretty quickly.”
The trouble began earlier that day when two other airmen were sent to a silo named Lima-02. It was 60 miles northwest of Ellsworth Air Force Base and 3 miles southeast of the tiny community of Vale, on the plains outside the Black Hills.
Lima-02 was one of 150 steel-and-concrete silos that had been implanted underground and filled with Minuteman missiles during the previous several years in western South Dakota, where the missiles were scattered across 13,500 square miles. There were hundreds more silos in place or soon to be constructed in North Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, eventually bringing the nation’s Minuteman fleet to a peak of 1,000.
The original Minuteman missiles, called Minuteman I, were 56 feet tall and weighed 65,000 pounds when loaded with fuel. The missiles were capable of traveling at a top speed of 15,000 miles per hour and could reach the Cold War enemy of the United States, the Soviet Union, within 30 minutes.
Each missile was tipped with a thermonuclear warhead that was many times more powerful than either of the two atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan during World War II. One government agency reportedly estimated that the detonation of an early 1960s-era Minuteman warhead over Detroit would have caused 70 square miles of property destruction, 250,000 deaths, and 500,000 injuries.
The two airmen who visited the Lima-02 silo on Dec. 5, 1964, were part of a young Air Force missile corps that was responsible for launching and maintaining the missiles. The two airmen’s names are redacted – as are many other names – from an Air Force report that was filed after the accident.
At noon that Saturday, the airmen received orders to troubleshoot and repair the Lima-02 security system. They made the long drive and arrived at 2 p.m.
The rectangular, north-south aligned, 1-acre silo site was surrounded by a chain-link fence that was topped with strands of barbed wire. The unremarkable-looking place consisted mostly of a flat expanse of gravel. Toward the south end were several low-slung tops of underground concrete structures.
One of the structures was a 3½-foot-thick, 90-ton slab that covered the missile and would have been blasted aside during a launch. A couple of paces away from that was a circular, steel-and-concrete vault door, about the diameter of a large tractor tire. The door concealed a 28-foot-deep shaft leading to the underground work area known as the equipment room.
Working in 24-degree conditions above ground, the airmen began a series of steps with special tools and combination locks that allowed them to open the massive vault door. Next, they climbed the ladder down to the equipment room, which encircled the upper part of the silo and missile like a doughnut.
The airmen worked in the roughly 5 feet of space between the steel launch tube and the equipment-room wall, among racks of electronics and surfaces painted mostly in pale, institutional green. Though the launch tube was between them and the missile, the missile was not much more than an arm’s length away.
According to the Air Force report on the accident, one of the airmen removed a fuse as part of a check on a security alarm control box. The report says the airman was “lacking a fuse puller,” so he used a screwdriver to pry the fuse from its clip.
When the fuse was re-inserted, the report says, it was supposed to click. The sound of a click indicated good contact with the holder. But there was no click, so the airman repeated the procedure. Still not certain he heard a click, he pulled the fuse out a third time and pushed it back into the holder again.
“At 1500 hours MST,” the report says, referencing 3 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, “simultaneously with the making of this contact, a loud explosion occurred in the launch tube.”
Hicks arrived at the silo later and heard a simpler story from his team chief. According to that story, it was merely the removal of the fuse with a screwdriver – not the pushing-in of the fuse – that caused the problem. Hicks said the metal of the screwdriver contacted the positive side of the fuse and also the fuse’s grounded metal holder, causing a short circuit that sent electricity flowing to unintended places.
“It would be just like you taking your car battery and you touch a screwdriver to the positive terminal on the battery and you touch the frame of the car,” Hicks explained in a recent interview. “You have just put voltage potential on your entire car.”
Hicks and the accident report agree that the wrong tool was used. In the language of the report, “The technician did not use the authorized, available tool to remove the fuse.”
The resulting short circuit might not have been problematic had it not been for some wiring in one of the missile’s retrorockets that was later found to be faulty. According to Hicks, some weakly insulated or exposed wiring may have been in contact with the metal casing of a retrorocket, allowing for a jolt of electricity that caused the retrorocket to fire.
The retrorockets were housed below the cone of the missile. They were supposed to fire when the missile was in outer space, to separate the third and final fuel stage from the cone, allowing the cone and its warhead — which were collectively called the “re-entry vehicle” — to fall toward the target.
When one of the retrorockets fired inside the missile in the Lima-02 silo, pressure built up in the space where the retrorockets were housed, and the cone of the missile — which was about 5 feet tall, nearly 3 feet in diameter at its base, and about 750 pounds in weight — burst off and fell down in the few feet of space between the missile and the silo wall.
The cone hit the wall of the silo, bounced back toward the missile and grazed it in two spots along the second fuel stage, hit two of the three suspension cables that supported the missile, and finally crashed to the concrete floor of the silo and came to rest on its side. Luckily, the cone did not do enough damage to the missile to cause the missile to explode.
Neither of the airmen immediately knew what had happened. The bureaucratically written accident report says they “expeditiously evacuated” after hearing the explosion, as the silo filled with gray smoke.
In later years, Buddy Smith, who now lives in Texas and is a friend of Hicks, received training about the South Dakota accident before working in the missile fields of Wyoming.
“I wasn’t there,” Smith said of the explosion, “but I know there were two technicians who ruined their underwear. ‘Cause that ain’t supposed to happen.”
Bob Dirksing, who was Hicks’ roommate at Ellsworth and now lives in the Cincinnati area, said the two airmen who were in the silo when the explosion happened were lucky to survive.
“It could’ve been a lot worse,” Dirksing said. “If the short had gone to the missile instead of to the retrorockets, it would’ve been a completely different story. I’m sure there would’ve been fatalities. The boys who were down there would’ve been fried.”
The explosion triggered a flurry of activity over the next seven hours. A potential “broken arrow” was declared, which is military-speak for an accident involving a nuclear weapon. A strike team was deployed to set up a 2,000-foot cordon around the silo, including a roadblock. Medics were dispatched to the scene. Three sergeants were flown in by helicopter.
The sergeants went down to the equipment room after the smoke cleared and made two observations: Everything was covered in gray dust, and the missile was missing its top.
A radiation-monitoring team went down next and did not detect alarming radiation levels but did find the missile’s cone, which contained the warhead, damaged and lying at the bottom of the silo.
By about 10 p.m., the scramble to assess the situation was over. Nobody was injured. The missile was slightly damaged but otherwise intact. The warhead was safe inside its cone, although the cone was damaged. And except for some Vale-area residents who probably saw the commotion and wondered what was going on, the public knew nothing.
The emergency was over, and it was time to plan a salvage operation. Sometime before midnight at Ellsworth, the phone rang for Bob Hicks.
Into the silo
Hicks had enlisted less than two years earlier as a skinny, 6-foot-tall, 19-year-old farm boy from Somerset, Texas, a small town about 20 miles south of San Antonio. He was the youngest in a family of 13 children, which included six boys who served more than a combined 90 years on Air Force active duty from World War II to Vietnam and beyond.
After basic training, Hicks had been sent to nuclear weapons maintenance school in Colorado. By October 1963 – eight months after his enlistment – he was installing warheads and guidance packages atop Minuteman missiles in the silos of western South Dakota.
The silos had been rushed into existence after a groundbreaking ceremony in 1962, with Americans still reeling from the shock of seeing the Soviets launch their Sputnik satellite in 1957. If the Soviets could put a satellite into orbit, American leaders reasoned, it would not be long until they could launch a missile on an arcing path through outer space to the United States.
When Hicks got the call about the accident on Dec. 5, 1964, he and another airman jumped into the specially equipped truck-and-trailer rig that they typically used to transport warheads. They sped into the night, traveling on the newly constructed Interstate 90 toward Sturgis. It wasn’t long before Hicks had to pull over when he saw a state trooper’s cruiser lights flashing in his rear-view mirrors.
“He said, ‘Ya’ll seem to be in a hurry,'” Hicks recalled.
Hicks did not divulge that he was en route to a potential nuclear disaster, and the trooper inquired no further.
But the trooper did mention some smoke emitting from one of the rig’s wheels. Hicks and his companion traced the problem to some bad brake hoses. They made an impromptu fix and sped off again toward Sturgis.
After passing through Sturgis and heading east, Hicks steered the rig north around the hulking, dark mass of Bear Butte and motored across the quiet countryside to Vale before finally reaching the silo.
There were perhaps a dozen people at the scene.
“As we later joked,” Hicks recalled in his slight Texas drawl, “They were standing around not knowing whether to scratch their watch or wind their butts.”
According to Hicks, the missile had not yet been rendered safe, and his team chief said somebody had to do it. Hicks volunteered.
When he saw the missile was fully upright, Hicks was relieved. If it had fallen against the silo, the missile might have been weakened to the point of a collapse and explosion. But that disaster had been avoided.
Incredible as it may sound to a civilian, Hicks said he spent no time worrying about the thermonuclear warhead. He had been convinced by his training that it was nearly impossible to detonate a warhead accidentally. Among other things, he said, the warhead had to receive codes from the launch-control officers, had to reach a certain altitude, and had to detect a certain amount of acceleration and G-force. There were so many safeguards built in, Hicks later joked, that a warhead might have been lucky to detonate even when it was supposed to.
That’s not to say his trip down the silo was without danger. The missile, which contained a load of fuel, had been grazed and damaged by the falling cone. And with only a few years of history behind the Minuteman missile program and no known nuclear accident involving a Minuteman until the one Hicks was confronting, he was heading into the unknown.
Nevertheless, he climbed down the shaft and into the equipment room that encircled the upper part of the underground silo. Next, he lowered the so-called “diving board,” which extended from the launch tube toward the missile and allowed Hicks to essentially walk the plank at a height of about 60 feet above the silo floor.
He also installed a work cage, which was a man-sized steel basket that could be hung from motorized cables on the inner wall of the launch tube. The cable assembly not only moved the cage vertically but could also move horizontally on a track around the launch tube, allowing airmen to access every part of the missile.
Hicks maneuvered the cage down the side of the missile and started the procedure to “safe” it. At each point between the missile’s three fuel stages, Hicks inserted a long metal rod with a socket-like head and turned the rod to break the electrical connections between the stages, rendering them incapable of firing.
With the missile “safed,” it was time to figure out what to do about the warhead.
‘Up very slowly’
Hicks said there was a particularly high-ranking officer at the scene who’d been flown in by helicopter. After Hicks had rendered the missile safe, Hicks came back to the surface and heard the officer asking some other men how to retrieve the warhead.
Hicks heard no response, so he piped up. Cargo nets were sometimes used to move heavy equipment in and out of the silo, he said. He suggested that a net could be lowered to the bottom of the silo, and the cone with its warhead could be rolled into the net. The net could then be hoisted up on a cable by a crane.
The officer did not appreciate the boldness of Hicks, whose rank was airman second class.
“He said, ‘Airman, when I want an opinion from you, I’ll ask you,'” Hicks recalled.
Hicks retreated to his truck and awaited further orders. Later, Hicks said, he was recalled to the officer’s side and asked to explain the idea again.
The cargo-net method was eventually chosen as the plan, but Hicks said the Air Force wanted the procedure to be practiced in another silo. The practice proceeded over the next couple of days.
Following the practice, the operation was green-lighted, and a crew assembled at Lima-02 on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 1964 – four days after the accident – to retrieve the damaged missile cone and its thermonuclear warhead.
First, some jagged edges on the cone that were caused by its violent separation from the missile were covered in padding, and the cone was hoisted about a foot off the silo floor while a mattress pad was slid underneath it. Next, two cargo nets, which were layered one on top of the other under the pad, were pulled up around the cone and hooked to the cable.
Then began the painstaking process of raising the cone up out of the 80-foot-deep silo, in the few feet of space between the missile and the silo wall, without hitting the missile and causing an explosion. The crane did the lifting, but three men also held tight to a hemp rope that was connected to the cone in case of any problems with the crane, cable or net.
“Up very slow,” reads a portion of a minute-by-minute account of the operation, as printed in the later accident report. “Dead slow. Stop. Up very slow. Stop. Up slow. Stop ”
And on it continued like that for about two hours until the cone emerged from the silo late that afternoon. The cone and its inner warhead were placed on top of some mattresses, Hicks said, in a truck-and-trailer rig. There the cone and warhead sat overnight, in the trailer.
The next day – Thursday, Dec. 10 – a convoy assembled to escort the truck to Ellsworth Air Force Base. According to Hicks, he drove the truck, in part because nobody else at the scene seemed to know how.
The warhead was eventually transported to Medina Annex at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for disassembly. The written record is not as clear about the fate of the missile, but the accident report indicates it may have been removed from the silo the next day, Friday, Dec. 11.
Also on Dec. 11, 1964, the Air Force appointed a board of officers to investigate the accident. The board filed its report seven days later, on Dec. 18, and listed “personnel error” as the primary cause. The report said the cost of the damage was $234,349, which would equate to about $1.85 million in inflation-adjusted 2017 money.
Large sections of the report’s findings and recommendations are redacted, and the non-redacted portions do not disclose the fate of the two airmen who were at the silo when the explosion happened.
Several months after the accident, in March 1965, Hicks was selected as the maintenance man of the month for his division. A short article about the honor in the base newspaper did not disclose that a missile accident had occurred, but it vaguely referenced Hicks’ role in rendering a missile safe and transporting “damaged components.”
That same month, Hicks was awarded an Air Force Commendation Medal for acts of courage. The written citation with the medal briefly summarized the accident and the role Hicks played in responding to it.
“By his personal courage and willingness to risk his life when necessary in the performance of dangerous duties,” the citation said, in part, “Airman Hicks has reflected credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”
The accident did not scare Hicks away from dangerous jobs. Shortly after receiving his medal, he trained in explosive ordnance disposal and was eventually sent to Guam during the Vietnam War, where he disarmed and extracted bombs that failed to release from B-52 planes.
Hicks went on to work for the Office of Special Investigations, which is the Air Force equivalent of the FBI. He retired from active duty during the 1980s and was hired to work as a civilian agent for OSI until his final retirement in 2005. Along the way, he and his wife, Janet, had two sons.
The missile silos in western South Dakota were decommissioned following the 1991 signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the United States and the Soviet Union. By 1996, all but one of South Dakota’s silos had been imploded. The last remaining silo, called Delta-09, is now host to an unarmed missile and is part of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which includes three attractions spread out along Interstate 90 east of Wall – the silo, a preserved launch-control center called Delta-01, and a visitor center.
The former Lima-02 silo site near Vale has passed into private ownership and is now home to a honey-extracting business. The fence that formerly surrounded the silo complex is still there, kept intact by the landowner.
Although South Dakota’s Minuteman missiles now belong to history, the United States still has 400 Minutemans ready to launch from silos in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. Each of the missiles is a Minuteman III – two generations advanced from the Minuteman I that was in the Lima-02 silo in 1964.
The Minuteman III fleet is just one part of the US nuclear-weapons triad, which comprises 5,113 nuclear warheads in all, including some in storage and others that are deployed and ready for use from land, sea, or air.
To opponents of nuclear armament, that’s a lot of accidents waiting to happen. The US government has officially acknowledged 32 accidents involving nuclear weapons since the 1950s, while additional accidents, incidents, mishaps, and close calls have been uncovered by journalists and activists.
And accidents continue to happen. In 2014, three airmen were conducting maintenance on a Minuteman III missile at a silo in Colorado when an accident caused $1.8 million worth of damage to the missile – roughly the same amount of damage, taking inflation into account, as the 1964 accident in South Dakota. The few known details of the 2014 accident were revealed only after persistent requests for information from The Associated Press.
None of the accidents suffered by the nation’s nuclear-weapons program has ever caused a nuclear detonation. That there was not a detonation at Lima-02 in 1964 is an indication of the safety and reliability of the Minuteman missile program, according to Bob Hicks, who did not sour on nuclear weapons after the accident.
Hicks views the nuclear triad as a necessary and effective deterrent against attacks from nations such as North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un is provoking worldwide anxiety about his development of nuclear weapons.
As the future of nuclear weaponry unfolds, the world may need more unflappable people like Hicks, who considers himself lucky rather than unfortunate to have been called to the site of a nuclear missile accident.
“A career is made up of opportunities,” Hicks said. “Being in the right place, at the right time.”
Labyrinth900 asks: Were “Wanted Dead or Alive” bounties a real thing? In other words, if you found someone that is wanted dead, could you legally shoot and kill them and collect a bounty, and not be charged for murder?
A classic Hollywood trope is the idea of a poster with the photo of a given criminal along with very large print text that would say something like “Wanted — Dead or Alive”. But did these actually ever exist and could you actually kill someone legally when such a poster was issued by the authorities?
To answer the first question — yes, there are many known instances of such “Dead or Alive” posters being put up by the state and other entities, but that doesn’t actually tell the whole story. Just because a poster stated something like “Dead or Alive” it did not grant any individual the right to kill the person without legal consequences. For example, consider the infamous murder of Jesse James at the hands of his outlaw buddies Charley and Robert Ford.
Missouri governor Thomas Crittenden negotiated with various rail companies to offer a ,000 (1,000 today) reward each for the capture of Jesse James or his brother Frank. The subsequent posters noted “Wanted Dead or Alive Jesse or Frank James.” Ultimately the Ford brothers arranged with the governor in secret to bring their buddy Jesse in.
Deal struck, on the morning of April 3, 1882, the brothers had breakfast with James. After eating, the trio walked into the living room. When James turned his back on the brothers, reportedly to clean a dusty photo, Robert Ford shot him in the back of the head.
Unfortunately for Charley and Robert, when they went to collect the reward, they instead found themselves promptly arrested for murder and soon after were sentenced to hang. You see, James was unarmed at the time of his death, and just as importantly was not in any way resisting arrest or attempting to flee. He seemingly didn’t even know the Ford brothers were there to arrest him that day.
To get away with killing such a person you were attempting to collect a bounty on the person needed to be resisting in some way, particularly in a way that threatened your own life. Thus, you could only kill them if it was self defense, which wouldn’t have been any different than if someone attacked you outside of any bounty scenario, with one caveat. For quite some time in U.S. history it was legal to use deadly force against a fleeing felon, even if your own life wasn’t immediately threatened. The logic behind this was seemingly that chasing down a fleeing person could be dangerous in unforeseen ways. It also incentivized criminals to not try to flee in the first place upon discovery.
Jesse and Frank James in 1872.
Granted, if no one was around to witness, whose to say the dangerous criminal you killed didn’t actively threaten your life in an imminent way to cause you to defend yourself? And given that bringing such a criminal in across long distances used to be an extremely dangerous affair in many cases, anecdotally it seems like it wasn’t uncommon to simply rid the world of the alleged criminal first and then lie about what happened after. A body is so much safer to transport and people were quick to believe a dangerous criminal would fight tooth and nail to escape because, after all, in many cases they probably did if they knew being brought in was going to likely result in a hanging. They really had nothing to lose.
On that note, Teddy Roosevelt was once thanked by boat thief Michael Finnigan for not killing him in this sort of scenario, despite the extreme risk to Roosevelt at the time. In a nutshell a couple guys stole a boat from Roosevelt in the dead of winter. Rather than let it go, Roosevelt dropped everything and built a new boat, tracked them down and captured the thieves. The whole affair ended up being a few hundred mile trek, which had to be partially on foot because ice made the river unnavigable at a certain point. Near the end, Roosevelt had to stay awake 40 hours straight to guard the prisoners as they walked and rested. You see, he was escorting them alone at that point and it was so bitterly cold that he worried the criminals would get frost bite if he bound them in any way, so he didn’t.
In the end, Roosevelt didn’t even press charges against one of the men, noting he didn’t “have enough sense to do anything good or bad.” As for the aforementioned Finnigan, while he did find himself behind bars, he thanked Roosevelt for not killing him as most lawmen would have done in the same set of circumstances. You can learn much more about this fascinating saga on one of our favorite series of our BrainFood Show podcast titled The Bull Moose. Though perhaps a better title for that series would have been: In Which Teddy Roosevelt Makes Men Everywhere Feel a Little Less Manly.
Theodore Roosevelt as the Badlands hunter in 1885.
(Photographed by George Grantham Baine)
In any event, going back to the Ford brothers, they did end up getting off as the governor went ahead and pardoned them, something that was met with mixed reaction by the general public. The speed at which the trial and pardon happened had some accusing the governor of actually knowing before hand that James would be killed and that the pardon had likewise all been pre-planned. Although this seems to strain credibility because if Robert Ford had known it would be illegal to kill James in the way he did, he could have killed him in the exact same way and just made up a story that James had tried to attack him or flee. No one would have been the wiser in that case and there would have been no need to trust the governor to grant a pardon.
Whatever the case, going back to the Wanted Dead or Alive posters, there are a few more caveats to consider as well. First, while depictions in movies and games often show clear photographs, in reality many historical examples were simple sketches, and often even got the descriptions of the person wrong.
Further, in the vast majority of cases, it was lawmen themselves who would take it upon themselves to go hunt down the criminal and collect the reward, not someone in the general public. Naturally, while finding criminals was sort of their job anyway, criminals that had bounties on their heads tended to get much higher priority and a lot more effort. A caveat to that was that it was occasionally the case that a member of the general public would be deputized specifically to go capture someone.
This brings us around to who pays. In most cases, as you might have guessed from our former mentioned instance of Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden getting railroad companies to put up the reward money, this usually wasn’t actually the state itself, but rather private companies or individuals who had particular interest in seeing someone brought to justice and wanted to incentivize law enforcement to actually do something about it.
Missouri Governor Thomas Crittenden.
It was also these private entities that were more likely to have something like “Dead or Alive” put in the poster if they were involved. The legality of killing the person wasn’t really relevant here — only what the stipulations were for getting the reward. And if the company or person just wanted the alleged criminal out of the way, regardless of how it happened, they might state that they were happy to pay even if the person was killed. This would incentivize more people to try to capture the person as the risk would be less than if it was required that the person be brought in alive no matter what.
If the wanted poster and reward were coming from the state alone, it was far more likely that the poster would say something more benign, and more likely that a bounty would only be paid if the person was brought in alive and in some cases even requiring the person be convicted. Again, all of this had more to do with the stipulations surrounding how one could get paid, rather than the legality of anything suggested in the poster.
It should also be noted that if a private citizen aided a lawmen in tracking down or bringing in alleged criminals, from accounts we reviewed it would seem not uncommon at all for the lawmen to go ahead and make sure they themselves got the lion’s share of the reward, in a few instances even when the lawmen did little but recover the body after the private citizen had done their part. For example, in the aforementioned case of the Ford brothers who killed Jesse James, for all their trouble, they ended up only getting a small percentage of the bounty, with the rest going to Marshal Henry H. Craig and Sheriff James Timberlake.
But to sum up — yes Wanted Dead or Alive posters were indeed a thing, though this did not technically allow people to legally kill someone if they found them, as is often portrayed in movies. Doing so flagrantly might just see the killer wind up on their own Wanted poster.
For quite a bit of England’s history, bail was not in the form of money, but rather in the form of a person who would stand trial and potentially be sentenced in your place if you skipped town. As you might imagine from this, bounties on those who’d skipped town were most definitely a thing going back at least as far as the 13th century in England as those who had pledged themselves as bail, but had the person skip town, were highly incentivized to get the person back. Using money, rather than a person, as bail finally changed in the 17th century thanks to the Habeas Corpus Act. While you’ll often read that these 13th century instances were the first known instances of bounty hunters, this isn’t correct at all. It seems more likely that this has been going on since as long as civilized humans have been humaning. As for one example drastically predating 13th century England, at some unknown point in the history of Pompeii (definitely preceding 79AD for obvious reasons), someone wrote on a wall: “A copper pot went missing from my shop. Anyone who returns it to me will be given 65 bronze coins. 20 more will be given for information leading to the capture of the thief.” Moving over to China in the 3rd century BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huang is known to have used bounties for various purposes.
If you’re wondering if Wanted Dead or Alive posters are still a thing, not really. While Wanted posters are still around, and the FBI, for example, currently uses over 5,000 digital billboards at various times for this purpose, the Dead or Alive variety went the way of the Dodo around the early 20th century. That said, we did find one instance occurring in 2018. In this case, in California an unnamed homeowner who was robbed put up Wanted Dead or Alive posters with the image of the person who had robbed him. As you might imagine, local law enforcement did not take kindly to this, though the person in question refused to stop posting the Dead or Alive bounty, citing freedom of speech. The police did not do anything about it, and they eventually captured the theif. However, they did note that had something happened to the thief as a result of the posters, there very likely would have been legal ramifications for the homeowner.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Bizarre, seemingly impossible anachronistic historical matchups aren’t just for wargaming or Sid Meier’s Civilization. There’s at least one instance in recorded history where European regular infantrymen were called on to take down some of Japan’s elite samurai warriors: the Battle of Cagayan.
In 1573, Japanese pirates, known as wokou, sailed into Cagayan, a city on the Philippine island of Luzon. The pirates were made up of ronin (samurai without a feudal master), soldiers of fortune and sailors from Japan and China. When their flat-bottom boats entered Caguyan, they demanded the locals submit to their will.
At the time, Cagayan was an important gold and silver trading area between the Japanese and Spanish, who controlled the Philippines. The pirates were looking to take control of the precious metal trade – and they were reasonably successful.
The Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines, Gonzalo Ronquillo de Peñalosa, wrote to King Phillip back in Spain that the pirates were becoming a nuisance, carrying not just the traditional weapons of the ronin, but also gunpowder weapons like arquebusiers and artillery, weapons he believed were built by the rival Portuguese.
King Phillip dispatched Juan Pablo de Carrión of the Spanish Navy to deal with the problem. Almost immediately, Carrión sank a wokou ship while sailing the South China Sea. That got the pirates’ attention. They responded by sending a fleet of ships to Cagayan, 18 flat-bottomed sampans, led by a junk.
When Carrión learned of the incoming attack, he assembled the best force he could manage; 40 soldiers on a total of seven ships, with a Spanish galleon at its head. The only advantage they had was that they were much better with firearms than their oncoming enemy. The Spanish had been proficient with them for decades, and made much better weapons and gunpowder than the Japanese carried.
Carrión and his ships arrived at Cagayan in time to catch the pirates abusing the natives of the town from a sampan. He and his men headed straight for it, and boarded the ship with rodeleros, shield-carrying swordsmen. Once on board, the rodeleros went into combat against sword-carrying Japanese sailors.
The Spaniards lost the first act of the fight, being forced back to their ships but came back twice as hard. The decks of the ships were a mess of men, bodies and sharp weapons. But the Spanish turned the tide with gunpowder weapons, forcing the Japanese pirates to abandon ship and swim for safety.
With the first sampan effectively out of the fighting, the flotilla of Spaniards sailed up the Cagayan River. It wasn’t long before they found the pirate fleet near a newly-constructed fortress. The turn of events didn’t deter them; they quickly opened up on the wokou ships with their ships’ artillery.
After blasting their way through the enemy ships, they managed to land on shore and bring that artillery to bear on the pirates from hastily-dug trenches. The pirates called for a cease-fire and asked to be compensated for the gold they would lose by leaving. Carrión refused and the pirates determined they would hit the Spanish with an overwhelming force.
They assembled a pirate army of 600 men to attack the Spanish trenches and hit them in successive waves. The first and second were easily repelled by superior firepower, but by the third wave, the Spanish were running low on powder. The samurai ran at them with full force, katanas glinting in the sunlight and almost forced the Spaniards out of their defensive positions.
But the pirates never managed to dislodge their Spanish enemy. The third wave was devastating for the attackers, so the Spanish left the trenches and finished the pirates off with long pikes. Those Japanese soldiers who could run away did, leaving their weapons and booty behind.
The victorious Spanish troops kept the strange Japanese weapons and armor they found scattered on the battlefield as war trophies.
The Battle of Midway is remembered as one of the greatest naval victories in American history. The big moments — whether it was the heroic sacrifice of Torpedo Squadron 8 or dive bombers catching three Japanese carriers exposed and vulnerable — are well known. But those moments wouldn’t have happened without a single undersea cable and a brilliant idea.
In the weeks before the Battle of Midway, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was fighting his own battle — and it wasn’t with the Japanese. Instead, it was against bureaucrats in Washington who were proving to be the bane of Nimitz’s existence. With the attack on Pearl Harbor still fresh on everyone’s mind, a fierce debate raged over a single question: Where will the Japanese strike next?
Wilfred J. Holmes (call him “Jasper”) was the man responsible for the gambit that led Japan to reveal Midway as their target.
Nimitz needed to know the answer to this question for two reasons: One, the Pacific Fleet was outnumbered — big time. Two, he wanted the bureaucrats in Washington off his back. If he followed their advice and things went wrong (as in losing Midway and/or the carriers), he knew who’d take the heat — and it wasn’t gonna be the folks in Washington. It was then that an intelligence officer, Jasper Holmes, came up with a plan.
Long before World War II, America laid an undersea cable to send messages across the ocean. Nimitz used this line to broadcast an unencrypted message, saying that the fresh-water condensers on the atoll were broken and they needed a shipment of H2O.
The Battle of Midway, where Japan lost the heavy cruiser Mikuma and four carriers, was one of America’s greatest victories.
The hope was that the Japanese would pick that message up and pass it on. They did — and the Americans were listening in. Surprisingly, the Japanese didn’t give pause as to why such an operational vulnerability would be revealed via radio broadcast. Nimitz had the proof he needed that Midway was, indeed, the next Japanese objective.
The rest was history. One of America’s greatest victories had come about because an American commander got the enemy to help him get Washington off his back.
Middle Eastern oil, the happy kind. (Go90
Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
Host August Dannehl toured a Palestinian-owned olive farm in the West Bank that was being guided by consultants from the
Near East Foundation and USAID’s Olive Oil Without Borders project. Similar aid was being offered to neighboring Israeli olive farmers and, far from begrudging the competition, the Arab farmers seemed relieved just to be able to get on with their livelihoods and happy to wish their Jewish counterparts the same.
In Part 2, Dannehl dives deeper into Israeli military, farm, and food culture, meeting with an Arab gourmet chef who helms a cutting edge restaurant in Tel Aviv, talking to young Israeli Defence Force soldiers about how they view their nation’s foes and learning from diners of both nationalities the frank similarities between Israeli and Palestinian cuisine.
“We’re kind of the same people, you know? We love hummus, they love hummus…” (Go90
Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
Finally, he returns to West Bank olive country, to the farm of Israeli olive oil maker Ayala Meir in order to attend a traditional kibbutz dinner, joined this time by Meir’s family and a number of their Palestinian friends from across the border wall.
Olive oil is culture. It brings people together. This is now the season that Jewish and Arabs and Muslims and Christians meet together. We all love this product. And it’s a way to know our neighbors. Actually an ancient olive tree is many individuals living in the same house. Every branch has a different root system. —Ayala Noy Meir
A toast to friends and neighbors. (Go90
Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
The recent success of efforts like Olive Oil Without Borders, not to mention the more live-and-let-live worldview that can be found among younger citizens of both nations, gives the world a glimmer of hope that this, one of the thorniest conflicts in human history, may one day be no more than a story neighbors reminisce about around a communal dinner table.
Magic hour in occupied territory. (Go90
Meals Ready To Eat screenshot)
From May 26 to Jun. 4, 1940, one of the largest evacuations in human history saved approximately 338,000 Allied troops and gave the Allies the strength to continue resisting Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich.
The operation was more successful than the planners’ wildest dreams, partially because of the skill and bravery of boat crews and troops but also because of horrible decisions by the German high command.
The days leading up to the evacuation were characterized by one of the most effective German Blitzkriegs. British, Belgian, and French forces were falling back across France and a thrust by Germany through the Ardennes successfully cut the Allied force in half. By May 19, Britain was looking for ways to get its expeditionary force back across the channel.
A failed counterattack on May 21 sealed France’s fate but Germany’s advances made it appear impossible to stage a large evacuation. The Germans crossed the canals near Dunkirk by May 24 and were about to capture Dunkirk, the last port the British could feasibly use. Luckily, Hitler ordered his Panzers to stop advancing and to even fall back a short distance to the canals.
Hitler’s reasoning is a source of debate, but two main factors are thought to have been uppermost in his mind.
First, Hermann Goering may have been successful in his attempts to convince the fuhrer that the Luftwaffe could kill the troops on the beaches of Dunkirk . Also, there was a chance that Hitler believed that Britain was more likely to surrender if it hadn’t been embarrassed and didn’t have the slaughter of approximately 200,000 of its own troops to rally around.
Unfortunately for Hitler, Britain sent nearly the entirety of the Royal Air Force, including planes from the defensive-in-nature British Metropolitan Air Force, to cover Operation Dynamo. Working with French and British navy ships in the waters below, they were able to establish a weak air superiority over the beaches and parts of the channel, limiting the chances for the Luftwaffe to attack.
In a perimeter around Dunkirk, British and French units prepared to fight delaying actions, often to the last man, to give their buddies a chance to retreat. On May 26, these troops were sorely tested. The Belgian King Leopold, whose troops were cut off in small pockets and being quickly overwhelmed, surrendered and Hitler allowed the Panzers to attack Dunkirk.
As the tanks crashed against the defenders, the Royal Air Force and other planes desperately fought to keep the Germans away from the ships. The Royal Navy was attempting to evacuate as many men as possible, but found itself unable to keep up.
British leaders finally announced to the public how desperate the situation on the beaches was. Dunkirk was burning to the ground and troops were being bombed on the sand and strafed as they stood neck-deep in the water. The public responded valiantly, cobbling together hundreds of privately-owned vessels to form a flotilla of “Little Ships” that became a symbol of British perseverance.
The action drug on for days as six destroyers, eight personnel ships, and about 200 small craft were sunk and tens of thousands of men were killed or captured. But, 338,000 troops were rescued, approximately 140,000 from the British Expeditionary Force and 198,000 from the Polish, French, and Belgian armies. Forty-thousand were lost, either captured or killed.
In Britain, “Dunkirk Spirit” became a symbol of national pride, an embodiment of how Britons could come together to face down any foe and overcome any challenge. Prime Minister Winston Churchill spoke in the House of Commons, saying that Britain would fight on the beaches, on the landing grounds, in the fields, and in the streets.
Joseph John Rochefort, the man whose decoding of the Japanese codebook led to the American victory at the Battle of Midway, had enemies other than the Empire of Japan. His feats at cryptanalysis were phenomenal, but not universally appreciated, particularly by the codebreakers in Washington, D.C. Naval jealousy and internal machinations would rob Joseph Rochefort of the honor that was due to him for his brilliant work in predicting where the Japanese fleet would strike after Pearl Harbor.
Rochefort, who had not gone to the Naval Academy, was an outsider from the beginning of his naval career. He was still in high school when he enlisted in the Navy in 1918 with the goal of being a naval aviator. He claimed to have been born in 1898 so that he would seem old enough for a military career, and didn’t even have a high school diploma when he was commissioned as an ensign after graduating from the Navy’s Steam Engineering School at Stevens Institute of Technology.
He wasn’t looking for a career in codebreaking. He served as a staff officer for senior admirals and and enjoyed doing crossword puzzles. Years later, when Commander Chester C. Jersey was posted to Navy Headquarters in Washington, D.C., he remembered Rochefort’s affinity for crossword puzzles. It was 1925 and the Navy was looking for people who could work with codes. The newly created codebreaking outfit of the Navy, OP-20-G, at that time consisted of one man, Lieutenant Laurance F. Stafford, today credited as the father of U.S. Navy cryptology, who had been assigned to develop new codes for the Navy. Rochefort showed up and Safford conducted a six-month cryptanalyis course: Safford provided him with cryptograms to solve and Rochefort solved them. But when Stafford was assigned to sea duty the following year, Rochefort, just twenty-five years old, was the officer in charge of a staff of two.
By June 1941, Rochefort was at Pearl Harbor. By this time, the codebreaking unit had more people and, more relevance. The Japanese didn’t know that their code had been broken years before when a previous American Director of Naval Intelligence used a secret naval intelligence slush fund to finance break-ins during the early 1920s at the Japanese consulate in New York City. The Japanese Navy’s code book was furtively photographed and, over the years, translated. By the time he was sent to Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor, Rochefort had the codebook. But he didn’t have the additive tables, which the Japanese frequently changed. Rochefort’s assignment was to create an accurate additive table using the raw messages that went out over the airwaves by the Japanese Navy.
Joseph John Rochefort.
The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was a devastating blow to the Navy, but it also galvanized the nation and its military forces into the war effort. Restoration began immediately on the naval fleet. But in order to defeat the Japanese and their intention of becoming the dominant naval power in the Pacific, the Navy knew that codebreaking was a crucial priority. Fortunately, in Joseph Rochefort, they had a codebreaker who worked tirelessly to decipher the messages of the Japanese.
Joseph Rochefort and his crew had been given the order to begin the decryption of JN-25, the central Japanese communications system. As it turned out, breaking the Japanese code would prove easier than addressing the friction between Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor and OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Captain Edwin Layton was the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence officer. But, because OP-20-G had given Rochefort the assignment and was more or less overseeing the network of the intercept stations, there was a turf war between Rochefort and Washington, D.C. The D.C. office wanted central control over all of the radio intelligence units.
Rochefort, who was not always as tactful as might have been politic, believed that he answered solely to Admiral Nimitz, who had been named commander of the Pacific Fleet. Layton had a great deal of respect for Rochefort’s factual reports and hard work; he, like Rochefort, was fluent in Japanese and Layton knew how much work was going into the messages that were being translated. In fact, of the five hundred to one thousand messages per day that were being deciphered, Rochefort was personally translating more than one hundred of them. Layton trusted Rochefort’s translation and his assessment, so when Rochefort called Layton on May 14, 1942, to say that he had translated part of a message which included the words “invasion force”, Layton knew it was legitimate. But the message also include an unknown reference, AF, indicating a location. But where was AF? Rochefort was convinced that the location was Midway.
Nimitz agreed with Rochefort’s analysis and ordered three aircraft carriers to return from the South Pacific. Midway was covertly warned of the threat. The Seventh Air Force at Hawaii was placed on alert, its B-17 bombers loaded with bombs ready to strike enemy ships.
Commander John Redman, who commanded OP-20-G, refused to believe that Midway was the next Japanese target, disputing Rochefort’s assertion that AF was Midway. OP-20-G said the target was more likely to be the Hawaiian Islands but thought that the real target was the American West Coast and everything else was merely a decoy.
Captain Edwin Layton.
But Nimitz had complete confidence in Rochefort’s analysis. If Rochefort was wrong, Nimitz’s career would be imperiled. Rochefort devised a plan that would confirm that Midway was the target. The radio operators at Midway were instructed, via undersea cable, to send an uncoded message that the island’s distillation plant, which was responsible for the desalination of the island’s water supply, had broken down. Two days after the message was sent, the Japanese reported that the AF Air Unit needed to be resupplied with fresh water.
The Navy intercept unit in Australia informed Washington that AF was now confirmed to be Midway. Rochefort spent the night before Nimitz’s May 27, 1942 staff meeting reviewing all the messages. He showed up at the meeting to let them know that HYPO had broken the final piece of the JN-25 puzzle; he had a message dated for May 26 ordering the destroyer escorts for the Japanese troopships to arrive at Midway on June 6. Another decoded message said that the air attacks would begin northwest of the island several days before.
Rochefort’s reports came in the nick of time. On May 27, both the code books and the additive tables were changed and radio silence was imposed by the Japanese, denying American codebreakers access. Fortunately, Nimitz had his cues, knowing where and when the Japanese would strike.
Nimitz was not a codebreaker, but he had an instinct for the future of naval warfare and he held the radical view that carriers, and not battleships, would lead to victory. Instead of relying on the few battleships that had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, he focused on the ability of the carriers to deliver hit-and-run attacks against the enemy. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the mastermind of the December 7 ambush, had an elaborate plan for the Midway attack.
Nimitz had a simpler approach: get there first and surprise the Japanese. The tactics worked. As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, formerly First Lord of the Admiralty, put it, “The annals of war at sea present no more intense, heart-shaking shock…the qualities of the United States Navy and Air Force and the American race shone forth in splendour”.
After the victory, Station HYPO celebrated for what Rochefort described as a “drunken brawl” for three days. The codebreakers then returned to work to decode JN-25’s new codebook and additives. They had done splendid work that had resulted in a gamechanging victory at sea. But Washington was not so charitable in its response. Rochefort was resisting Redman’s crusade to place all the radio intelligence under the control of OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Although both HYPO and OP-20-G had been vigorously involved in the codebreaking, it was HYPO which had performed the analysis that had led to victory. As author Stephen Budiansky points out in his book Battle Of Wits: The Complete Story Of Codebreaking In World War II, if Nimitz had followed Washington’s direction, the Japanese would have had a much greater chance of winning at Midway.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.
When Nimitz told Joseph Rochefort that he wanted to nominate him for a Navy Distinguished Service Medal for the role he played in the victory, Rochefort was not encouraging. It would only make trouble, he told Nimitz.
John Redman claimed that Midway was solely the achievement of OP-20-G. Because of that, he could not, would not accede to Nimitz’s intentions of awarding the Distinguished Service Award to Rochefort. Redman’s brother Joseph Redman was the Director of Naval Communications and he took exception to the fact that, in his words, Station HYPO was under the command of someone who was not technically trained in naval communications.
Instead of Rochefort, Captain Redman said, HYPO should be commanded by a senior officer who was trained in radio intelligence. The Redman brothers were effective in their behind-the-scenes efforts and Rochefort did not receive a medal because he had only used the tools that had been provided. It was Washington, not HYPO, the Redmans asserted, that had evaluated the intentions of the Japanese.
Over his desk, Rochefort had a sign which read We can accomplish anything provided no one cares who gets the credit. But no one could have expected that Washington would so completely steal credit from those who deserved it.
The battle for centralization of the radio intelligence units continued. Nimitz authorized his embattled codebreaker to send a memo that Rochefort answered only to Nimitz, not to Washington. A month after he sent the memo, Rochefort was ordered to the Navy Department for temporary additional duty that quickly became permanent. Nimitz was enraged at John Redman, who at this time was now the fleet communications officer for Nimitz. The excuse was that Rochefort’s advice was needed, but Rochefort was no fool. He had told Nimitz that he would not be allowed to return to HYPO.
Rochefort never again worked in coding. At the end of his career, he was placed in command of the San Francisco floating dry dock ABSD-2. Rochefort died in 1976, but the battle to reward him for his work did not end with his death, and Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, responding to renewed efforts to honor the codebreaker who helped to win the Battle of Midway, supported those efforts. Joseph John Rochefort received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal almost a decade after his death, on November 17, 1985.
This article originally appeared on Argunners. Follow @ArgunnersMag on Twitter.
International diplomacy is a sort of constantly evolving, tangled mess. So much so that, in some cases, we could technically still be at war with a country that we’re now allied with. For instance, America never ratified the treaty that ended World War I, but invading Germany to finally settle the century-old grudge match would get fairly complicated since it’s now a NATO member. Here are three wars that we never bothered to wrap up on paper (but please don’t try to go fight in them):
U.S. Army infantrymen fight during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of World War I.
America never agreed to the final terms of World War I
Yup, we’ll just go ahead and knock out this one that we hinted at in the intro. America signed, but never ratified, the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I.
Oddly enough, though, this wasn’t because of issues with the lay of the land in Europe as the war closed, or even land claims or military restrictions around the world. The actual issue was that American President Woodrow Wilson wanted to establish the League of Nations, the precursor to the United Nations, and he used the treaty to do it.
But isolationists in Congress didn’t want America to join the league, and so they shot down all attempts to ratify the treaty at home. And America only officially adopts treaties when ratified, not signed, so America never actually agreed to the final terms of World War I.
Gurkha troops march to escort Japanese prisoners of war at the end of World War II in 1945.
(Imperial War Museums)
Japan and China never made peace after World War II
There are a number of still-simmering tensions between combatants from World War II, including the Kuril Islands Dispute between Russia and Japan.
(This author even once made the error of saying that Russia and Japan were still at war, which is only sort of right. While the two countries never agreed to a treaty ending the conflict, they did agree to a Joint Declaration in 1956 that had a similar effect. Essentially, it said they couldn’t yet agree to a treaty, but they were no longer fighting the war.)
But there was an Allied country that never reached peace with Japan: China. And China arguably suffered the worst under Japanese aggression. But, because of the civil war in China at the time, there were two rival governments claiming to represent China, and no one could agree on which government to invite. So China didn’t take part in the peace process at all.
So China and Japan never technically ended their hostilities, and Japan’s almost-peace with Russia is not quite finished either.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visits the Demilitarized Zone on the Korean Peninsula in 2015.
(Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Dominique A. Pineiro)
The Koreas are, famously, still at war.
The ongoing state of conflict on the Korean Peninsula is probably the most famous issue on this list. The Korean War sort of ended on July 27, 1953, when the United Nations and the Delegation of the Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Volunteers signed the Korean Armistice Agreement which instituted a truce between North and South Korea.
But, importantly, no national government agreed to the armistice or the truce. The militaries involved essentially agreed to stop killing each other, but the larger governments never came together to hash out the real peace. And this is a problem since the two countries have a much more tense relationship than any other group on this list.
America and Germany are not suddenly going to revert back to 1918 and start killing each other again. But South and North Koreans at the border still sometimes shoot at one another, and people have died in border clashes.