How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940 - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

In 1940, Finland was far from a major military power. With just a few dozen tanks, fewer than 120 aircraft and an army about a third of the size of the Soviet Union’s, it was ripe for the picking at a time when weaker countries were getting gobbled up by stronger neighbors.

The Soviets invaded Finland on Nov. 30, 1939, while Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan – countries that would later form the Axis Pact – were aggressively invading their neighbors as well as far-flung territories. But they didn’t have the same problems the Red Army did.

In fact, the Soviet Union almost lost its war in Finland altogether. 

When the Soviets came across the Russo-Finnish border on the Karelian Peninsula in the winter of 1939, they brought nearly half a million men, facing Finland’s 130,000. The bulk of the Finnish defenses were at the Mannerheim Line, named for Finnish Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Mannerheim.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
Finnish Field Marshal Carl Gustaf Mannerheim

Mannerheim had been fighting in wars for nearly 40 years. He was an officer in the Russian Imperial Army under Tsar Nicholas II during the Russo-Japanese War and World War I. When Finland declared it independence after the Bolshevik Revolution, he served in the anti-Communist White Army. Mannerheim had long been the Red Army’s worst nightmare.

This time was no different. In what was now called “The Winter War” by the Finns, Mannerheim was again in command of an anti-Communist army. The USSR wanted to take Finland by force and install a pro-Moscow Communist government. The best they would get is mineral-rich lands in the north of Finland.

The Mannerheim Line wasn’t completed when the Soviets invaded but it was still a significant line of defenses. It was a series of reinforced concrete bunkers with 157 machine gun positions, eight artillery positions, and even coastal defenses where the line was adjacent to the sea. It was integrated into the geography of the land, making it difficult to see from the air. It was even reinforced at its weakest points. 

Where it was incomplete, it still had a series of trenches and earth redoubts that the Soviet Union would find difficult to overrun. But before the Red Army could even get there, they had to overcome the 21,000 Finnish defenders deployed as a defense in depth.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
Trenches on the Mannerheim Line in the Winter War

Defense in depth isn’t designed to stop an army in its tracks, but it is supposed to bog it down in a series of battles for short yards as the weaker army is slowly forced to fall back. The Mannerheim Line was Finland’s ultimate fallback position, but they made the Soviets pay for every inch of Finnish land before making it to the line. 

When the USSR invaded, they came with thousands of tanks. There were so many tanks, estimates to this day range wildly between 3,000 and 6,000. The Finns originally had no way of taking out a tank or the training to fight them – but they learned fast. 

They first attacked the bogie wheels of the Soviet tanks, disabling their movement with the use of crowbars. They soon picked up a weapon that was much more effective for them: the Molotov Cocktail. 

When the Soviets first bombed the Finnish capital of Helsinki, they claimed to be dropping food relief for Finnish citizens from the air. The Finns mockingly called the bombs “Molotov bread baskets.” Naturally, they decided they would return the favor, by offering the communists a beverage they called the Molotov Cocktail, an improvised bomb made of a glass bottle filled with gasoline or other flammable liquid and an equally improvised fuse. The Finns mass-produced the incendiary weapon. 

Along with the quick thinking of the Finns came the winter weather. In January 1940, the temperature on the Karelian Peninsula dropped below −45 °F. Finnish troops, many wearing clothes from home, thrived in the weather. Soviet troops began to die from frostbite. 

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

The Finns also wore excellent white camouflage to blend in with the snow while the Red Army was still wearing green and khaki clothing. They made excellent targets for Finnish guerrilla tactics and the stable of now-famous Finnish snipers who picked them off one by one. 

Finland’s tactics against the Soviets are still studied by military historians and tacticians as an example of how to overcome a larger adversary. Though the Red Army eventually forced Finland to capitulate to certain demands, including Karelia, it came at a high cost. Tiny Finland inflicted almost 400,000 casualties on the Red Army, destroyed up to 3,000 tanks and 500 aircraft, and caused the Soviets worldwide embarrassment. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch the TOW anti-tank missile in action in Vietnam

The BGM-71 Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided (TOW) missile is a mainstay of American ground forces. Even light units, like the 82nd Airborne Division, rely on this missile to give them a fighting chance against enemy tanks.


While it picked up some notoriety in Operation Desert Storm, it actually made its combat debut about two decades earlier, in Vietnam. Given its reputation for jungle warfare, you might think that tank warfare didn’t happen in Vietnam — you’d be very wrong.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
An early BGM-71 TOW is launched from a M151 Jeep. (US Army photo)

The North Vietnamese relied on tanks to attack American positions, particularly during the 1972 Easter Offensive. The tanks of choice for the Communists were the PT-76 amphibious light tank and the T-54 medium tank. The PT-76 has been in service since 1952, making it about the same age as the B-52 Stratofortress. According to MilitaryFactory.com, it’s armed with a 76mm main gun, a 7.62mm machine gun, and can be equipped with a 12.7mm DShK machine gun. The tank has a crew of three.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
A Soviet naval infantryman (Marine) stands with an arm on his PT-76 light amphibious tank, on display for visiting Americans. North Vietnam used the PT-76 in the Vietnam War. (US Navy photo)

The T-54 first saw use in 1949, and while it is no longer in Russian service (it’s likely still held in reserve), it still is serving with a number of countries around the world. The T-54 has a 100mm main gun, a 12.7mm DShK machine gun, and two 762mm machine guns. It has a crew of four.

The earliest firings of TOW missiles were primarily from helicopters, including the UH-1B Iroquois. The version used in Vietnam, the BGM-71A, had a maximum range of just over a mile and a quarter. The launch system used for the UH-1B was set aside in favor of developing one for the AH-56 Cheyenne attack helicopter, which never made it to active service.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
Polish T-54 tanks. North Vietnam used the tank against South Vietnamese and American troops. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Z. Chmurzyński)

Today, the TOW is still going strong. In fact, the latest versions are said to pose a threat to Russia’s vaunted T-14 Armata main battle tank. Not bad for a missile that’s been around for almost half a century. Check out some early footage of the missile in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpzXVvemY0s
(Jeff Quitney | YouYube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the flower that marked a German soldier as being elite

Navy SEALS, Army Green Berets, and Marine Reconnaissance are just of the few forces in the U.S. military that are considered the best of the best. The Navy SEALS earn their beloved Trident, Army Green Berets proudly wear their unique headgear, and Marine Recon team members usually get their insignia tattooed onto themselves.

Each of these symbols are considered the marks of a powerful and well-trained instrument of war. But back in the World War I era, German troops had a different idea. They’d travel high up in the Alps, far above the tree line, just to pick a very small flower — one that would show others that they were true warriors.


Also Read: Watch this Sentinel destroy a trespasser at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
The Edelweiss flower sitting at the top of the Alps

The edelweiss, otherwise known as Leontopodium alpinum, is a flower native to the Alps and is a national icon in Switzerland. The name, in German, is a combining of the words for ‘noble’ and ‘white.’ It’s beautiful, unique, and it grows more than 10,000 feet above sea level, so finding one means you’ve made quite the hike.

Daring German troops would haul their gear straight up the mountain, reach the top of the tree line, and search for the precious little, white flower. If you saw someone who managed to bring one back down, you know they’d climbed mountains for it.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
Swiss troops patrol their border in the Alps during World War II.

This prestigious act wasn’t for soldiers alone. Reportedly, in the 19th century, the edelweiss was associated with purity and Swiss patriotism. In fact, countless young men would risk their lives in attempts to retrieve the unique little flower and give it to their brides.

Related: This is actual footage of the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri

In 2001, HBO’s classic mini-series Band of Brothers featured the small flower:

Today, the edelweiss flower is still worn by various Austrian, Swiss, Polish, and German troops.

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Motorcycle soldiers used to rush parts to tanks under fire

They were quite possibly the ballsiest men to serve in World War I — a group of motorcyclists who would wait for tanks to get bogged down or disabled and ride on their two-wheeler’s to the rescue.


Motorcyclists provided a number of services to the tank corps including signaling, dispatch riding, and delivering replacement parts or crewmembers to tanks under attack — even when the area was being targeted by enemy artillery or machine gun fire.

Motorcycle soldiers were envisioned by then-Army Capt. George S. Patton, Jr. when he was first standing up the American tank units. Patton wanted at least two motorcycles and riders for each tank company as well as an additional two riders and bikes for the battalion headquarters.

Motorcycles were necessary for traversing the shell-pocked landscape between World War I trenches — areas with mud so deep and inclines so steep that tanks would often get stuck or break.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
U.S. Marine Corps motorcycle riders in Tientsin, China, in 1927. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Archives)

But the motorcyclists may not have had the worst job supporting the fledgling tank corps in World War I. That award probably goes to the salvage corps whose members had to yank tanks from the battlefield.

In the worst cases, members of the salvage corps would map out where all disabled tanks were in No Man’s Land, then crawl out to them through the mud and under artillery fire at night. If they could get the tank running again, they’d drive it off the battlefield. If not, they would strip it for parts as German snipers and machine gunners hunted for them in the dark.

Luckily, a young tanker whose name was lost to history eventually suggested a better idea — outfit one tank as a recovery vehicle to bring necessary parts and mechanics to their comrades under fire.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
American Army Renault FT light tanks in the Argonne Forest in 1918. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

The recovery tanks could also deliver new crewmembers to the battlefield and could tow away damaged tanks, preventing the necessity of motorcycle riders to roar in under artillery fire.

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This awesome ‘trench broom’ terrified Germans in both World Wars

A single weapon used predominantly in World War I and with a limited deployment in World War II was so effective and so terrifying that Germany lodged a diplomatic protest against its use by American forces. It wasn’t the flamethrower or the machine gun. It was shotguns, especially the Winchester Models 1897 and 1912.


How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
A World War II Marine carries a Winchester Model 1897 shotgun. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons)

The two shotguns were first entered into combat after America realized how brutal trench warfare really was. The soldiers and Marines serving on the Western Front needed a way to clear attackers from the American trenches as well as to quickly clear defenders from enemy trenches during assaults.

The spread of a shotgun was perfect for this mission, but the Americans didn’t stop at just buying off-the-shelf weapons. The War Department contracted for standard, trench, and riot versions of most shotguns.

Standard shotguns were civilian versions of the weapon, often with a sling added for easy carrying. Riot guns were similar but with shorter barrels. The most heavily modified versions were the trench guns which featured shorter barrels — usually 20 inches or shorter, heat shields, and bayonet lugs.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
The Trench Winchester Model 1897 shotgun features a cut-down barrel, sling, heat shield, and a bayonet lug. (Catalog Illustration: Public Domain)

The Model 97 quickly became one of the most popular shotguns issued, partially because of how well it stood up to the rigorous conditions on the Western Front. Operators could quickly clean mud and water from the weapons and get them ready to fire after a mishap, and the weapon continued to function even if it was dropped or slammed against trenchworks.

But the big reason that the Model 97 became so popular was that it could be “slamfired.” Typically, an operator readies a pump-action shotgun by pumping it to feed a round into the chamber and eject any empty casing currently in it. Then, they pull the trigger while aimed at their target to fire. Repeat.

But when slamfiring, they keep the trigger held back while pumping the weapon. When the new round feeds into the chamber, it will automatically fire. This meant the weapon could be fired as quickly as the operator could pump the handle.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
A standard pump-action Winchester Model 1897 lacks military features like the heat shield and bayonet lug. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Model 97 held six rounds of 00 buckshot, each shell of which held nine pellets. A trained soldier slamfiring could fire all six rounds, 54 total lead pellets, in approximately two seconds. At the close ranges in many World War I trenches, the effect was devastating.

Shotgunners would rapidly clear German trenches, cutting away the defenders. The tactic was so effective that Model 97s picked up the nicknames “trench brooms” and “trench sweepers.”

The German government lobbed an official protest against the weapon, saying that the weapon inflicted unnecessary cruelty. America responded that the claim was hollow coming from the nation that introduced chemical weapons and flamethrowers into warfare.

There are even reports that American soldiers skilled in skeet shooting were placed along the front trenches to shoot enemy hand grenades from the air, deflecting or destroying the devices before they could hurt American troops.

The Winchester Model 97 and Model 1912 would go on to serve similar functions in World War II, again clearing German defenders from trenches and bunkers as well as operating in the Pacific. The two Winchester shotguns were deployed to Korea and Vietnam, though the U.S. was slowly transitioning to newer shotguns by that point.


Feature image: US Army photo

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How legendary battleships could come back, and why they won’t

The battleships of yore maintain a special place in the hearts of Navy enthusiasts — and it’s easy to see why. Imagine the massive broadside salvos from the USS Iowa, each hurling 15 shells against an enemy force, smacking Communists with 18 tons of steel and explosives with each volley from as far as 20 miles away. Every few years, there’s a new call to bring these behemoths back. Today, the Navy could, but they won’t.

Why?


First, let’s look at the role battleships were intended to play in naval warfare. These ships were floating fortresses, equipped with massive, long-barreled naval artillery. The idea was that these ships would form “battle lines” at sea. Battleships would line up, present their broadsides, and overwhelm an enemy force with firepower.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, battleships proved this strategy could work. The side that typically won a fight during that war was the one that got their battleships properly lined up against the enemy’s formation first. The best success comes when one fleet can “cross the T,” sailing their line of ships perpendicular to the front of the enemy line so they can fire all broadsides while only a few enemy ships can fire from forward turrets.

Japanese success added fuel to an arms race already playing out across the world’s shipyards. The British launched the HMS Dreadnought in 1906, only a year after construction began. It was the most powerful weapon of war at the time and could fire 4-foot-tall shells at ranges of up to 10 miles.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
HMS Dreadnought underway (US Navy)

It redefined naval warfare. All the powerful nations of the world began building copycats, leading to these ships taking on a huge role in World War I.

Except fights between battleships were actually fairly rare in World War I. This was partially because they cost so much to build that it was considered foolhardy to risk them when victory wasn’t essential. Instead, battleships were often used to support operations on shore or to secure trade and supply lines.

But there were clashes between battleships, the largest of which was the Battle of Jutland in 1916 — by some metrics, the largest naval battle ever fought. Over 250 ships participated, including 50 battleships. The British had more and better ships, but suffered from poor gunnery and debatably poor tactics. Germany won the tactical exchange but Britain was victorious strategically.

It was the golden hour of battleships, still the kings of the ocean. But during World War I, a new weapon was introduced that would change naval warfare: the carrier. It would take decades for bombers to be effective weapons against capital ships, but the change was already underway by the time Germany invaded Poland, and arguably complete by the time Pearl Harbor was attacked.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
After landing a Royal Navy Grumman Martlet of 888 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm is seen taxiing along the flight deck of HMS Formidable (67) to the forward hangar.

Once naval aviation was capable of delivering repeated torpedo and bomb attacks hundreds of miles from their ship, the battleships’ maximum ranges,, which hovered around 20 miles, made them too vulnerable for front-line fighting. Even super battleships, like the Yamoto, and their support vessels were forced to turn back when they thought they were facing even a single carrier fleet.

In fact, the Yamoto only fired its guns against a surface target in one battle before it was sunk in 1945. It was sunk by… let me check my notes here… carrier-based aircraft. But its sister ship, the Musashi… oh, that also saw minimal fighting before sinking due to damage sustained from carrier-based aircraft.

Instead, battleships took on a role supporting amphibious landings, raining steel on enemy positions as Marines and soldiers pressed ashore.

And that’s the role battleships filled for decades, supporting landings in Korea, Vietnam, and even a fake amphibious attack in Iraq in 1991.

So, what role would a re-commissioned or newly built battleship play today? Not much of one. The Navy could re-commission a battleship, but they require tons of fuel and manpower — often needing over 1,500 crewmembers. And the best conventional naval guns still only shoot about 20 miles.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
The Office of Naval Research-sponsored Electromagnetic Railgun at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division. (US Navy photo by John F. Williams)

There is one game-changing technology that could resuscitate naval artillery: railguns. They can provide massive firepower at ranges of over 100 miles and speeds of over mach 7, all without conventional explosives that increase the risk of catastrophic damage during a fight.

It’s not too hard to imagine a nuclear battleship with multiple railguns powered by the reactor and massive capacitor banks. But even then, the battleship wouldn’t have the range to hit Chinese shore installations without venturing deep into the defender’s anti-ship missile range.

So, the future is likely to lie in extended range missiles, carrier drones, and aircraft, all still capable of attacking targets hundreds of miles further out than even a battleship with a railgun could.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This ‘pirate’ was the unsung hero of British carrier operations during the Cold War

Believe it or not, during the Cold War the British had a number of real carriers, not just the V/STOL carriers that have served for years.


These vessels were primarily a mix of two post-World War II classes: The Audacious-class fleet carriers (HMS Eagle and HMS Ark Royal), one World War II-era fleet carrier (HMS Victorious), and the Centaur-class light carriers.

One of the planes that the fleet carriers relied on most was the Blackburn Buccaneer. According to MilitaryFactory.com, this strike plane was fast (a top speed of 667 miles per hour), was equipped with an in-flight refueling probe, and could fly up to 1,108 miles on internal fuel. It could carry up to 7,000 pounds of bombs, and upgrades gave it the ability to use laser-guided Paveway bombs and stand-off missiles.

A Royal Navy Buccaneer S.2, two Royal Navy Phantom FG.1, from HMS Ark Royal, over Jacksonville, Florida in 1976, accompanied by three US Navy A-7E Corsair IIs. (US Navy photo)

The Buccaneer also was equipped with the Martel air-to-surface missile which came in two variants — the AS 37 for attacking enemy radars, and the AJ 168 anti-ship version. Either version had a range of just over 32 nautical miles and came with a 330-pound warhead. The Buccaneer later was able to carry the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile, which had a range of just under 60 nautical miles.

The Buccaneer flew off the Royal Navy’s fleet carriers until 1978, when the Ark Royal was retired. They were then handed over to the Royal Air Force, where a dozen saw action during Operation Desert Storm, providing laser guidance for RAF Tornados and Jaguars. The RAF retired its Buccaneers in 1991 at the end of Desert Storm.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
A Blackburn Buccaneer on HMS Eagle in the Mediterranean Sea. (Wikimedia Commons)

The only export customer was the Republic of South Africa, which acquired 16 Buccaneers. These planes saw action from 1965 to 1991 in the minor wars that country had with its neighbors.

The Buccaneer is now gone, but it served well when it was in the British fleet.

You can see a video about this fascinating plane below.


Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why an airman had to shoot down his own plane – while flying it

At the height of the Korean War, Air Force pilot A.J. D’Amario was on his first solo flight since arriving in country. Luckily for him, it wasn’t a combat mission, he was just on a routine sortie to “have fun boring holes in the sky.” Things got a lot more interesting for D’Amario immediately upon taking off. He would have to put a few rounds from his sidearm in the plane before he could bring it down.


D’Amario’s P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter wasn’t the latest and greatest plane, but it was still a good fighter to have. He would have to get used to it. The MiG-15 was tearing through P-80 Fighters, but there weren’t yet enough F-86 Sabres to go around. Still, the P-80 held its own: the first American jet-to-jet kill was made behind the stick of a Shooting Star. None of that was on D’Amario’s mind as he shot up into the wild blue yonder. He was more concerned about his left fuel tank. It felt heavy – it wasn’t feeding fuel to the engine.

He wanted to land immediately, but that much fuel was a no-go for the Korean War-era U.S. Air Force. The tower at Suwan, Korea, wasn’t about to have a melted runway if that much jet fuel caught fire on the flightline. They told him to dump his tanks at a bomb range and then come back.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

D’Amario retired from the Air Force as a Lt. Col.

(U.S. Air Force)

The young pilot flew over to the range, and as soon as he came upon his target area, he flipped the switches for the bomb release. Unfortunately, nothing happened. D’Amario’s P-80 Shooting Star was still carrying the heavy tanks of dangerous fuel and had no way of dumping the tanks, feeding the engine, or landing. He did what anyone who’s felt enough frustration with malfunctioning equipment wanted to do: he shot it.

But that wasn’t his first reaction. He made a few bombing runs, trying to release the left tank at every turn. He even once hit the plane’s “panic button” – the button that released everything attached to the fuselage. It did dump everything, everything except his errant fuel tank, full of fiery death. The tower told him he was cleared to bail out. The only problem with that is that bailing out comes with its own potential consequences. The loss of the aircraft is a definite consequence.

“… pilots really hate to punch out of a perfectly flyable airplane,” D’Amario later wrote, “And I figured I still had one option worth trying.”

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

U.S. Air Force P-80 Shooting Stars with drop tanks.

(Lockheed)

That’s when the pilot opened the canopy of his jet aircraft (which he did slow down to 220 miles per hour) and pulled out his issued sidearm, a Colt M1911, and fired at the very full, very malfunctioning fuel tank.

“… liquid fuel will not burn,” D’Amario writes. “At least not like vapors, so I aimed for the part of the tank I was sure would be full of liquid.”

D’Amario fired four shots at the tank. The first shot was to understand just where to shoot to hit the tank while flying at 220 miles per hour. The next three rounds punctured the tank and went through the other side. It worked: the P-80 was still flying, and liquid fuel was pouring out of the left tank. Best of all, D’Amario and his Shooting Star did not become a real-life burning streak across the sky.

He was able to drain the tank and make a “routine” landing a half-hour later, convinced he was the only USAF pilot to shoot his own plane when it malfunctioned.

“Thank goodness for my .45,” he wrote.

Articles

This top-secret jet bomber spied on Americans in Normandy

Allied troops on the beaches of Normandy got a shocking view of the future of warfare in 1944 when, as they were moving supplies from ships to the shore, a jet-powered, Nazi bomber ripped past at approximately 460 mph.


The Arado Ar 234 was the first operational jet bomber and flew at up to 540 miles per hour, so quick that no Allied fighter could match it without going into a dive.

In fact, one flight of P47 Thunderbolts spotted a flight of three Ar 234s 10,000 feet below them in 1945 and attempted to use the Thunderbolt’s high dive speeds for an attack run. The Nazi pilots waited until the Americans had almost reached them and then tore away at full speed as the P-47s coughed on their smoke.

For the air crews assigned to protect the American forces landing supplies in Normandy in August 1944, attacking the Arado was essentially impossible. Loaded with reconnaissance gear, it flew over the beaches at 460 mph while taking a photo every 11 seconds.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
The only known surviving Arado Ar 234 Blitz aircraft now rests at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. (Photo: Michael Yew CC BY 2.0)

At that speed, it could fly over all five original D-Day beaches in less than eight minutes. By the time that fighter aircraft made it into the air to hunt the Arado down, it would already be long gone.

That didn’t quite make the Arado invincible, though. Like the slightly slower British de Havilland Mosquito, a prop-driven British bomber and reconnaissance aircraft that go its speed from its light weight, the Ar 234 was left vulnerable when it was forced to maneuver or slow down for bombing runs.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
The P-51 is one of the only aircraft to shoot down an Arado Ar 234 in flight. It did so thanks to a group of P-47 Thunderbolts that forced the jet-powered bomber into a speed-bleeding turn. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Philip Bryant)

One of the only Ar 234s ever shot down was caught because it was forced into a sharp turn while coming out of a bombing run.

A group of German jets were bombing Allied bridges on the Rhine when a group of American P-47s came at them. The German jets took a tight turn to avoid the P-47s, losing so much speed that they were left vulnerable. American Capt. Don Bryan was in a P-51 nearby and was able to position himself so that the turning German planes had to fly just underneath him.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
Republic P-47C-2-RE Thunderbolts of the 61st Fighter Squadron, 56th Fighter Group. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

Bryan made his attack in a dive which allowed his Mustang to keep up with the German jet while his .50-cal machine guns chewed through the Arado’s right engine. The German pilot was left without momentum, without adequate engine power, and with too little altitude. He went down with his jet.

Adolf Hitler considered the Ar 234 one of his wonder weapons that would save Germany, but it suffered from a number of shortcomings. First, the fragile engines needed an overhaul after every ten hours of flight and were replaced after 25. The jet also needed long runways and large amounts of fuel, two things that were hard for a Luftwaffe on the retreat to provide with regularity.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
An Arado Ar 234B bomber sits in a captured hangar with Junkers Ju 88G. (Photo: U.S. Army)

In the end, the jets were sent on just a few operational missions. The Normandy reconnaissance was the first, and they also did duty over the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge and in the final defense of Germany, flying first against the bridges over the Rhine and later against Soviet troop concentrations.

The only surviving Ar 234 is in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.

MIGHTY HISTORY

46 years later: Reviewing the timeline of the Watergate Scandal

This week in 1974, the country saw both the Watergate scandal come to an end and Richard Nixon’s presidency come to a close. The scandal that began on June 17, 1972, took two long years to unfold. In the end, the sitting President was impeached and subsequently resigned the office of the presidency, making him the first and only President ever to do so.

It’s been 46 years, but to this day, Watergate remains one of the most infamous political scandals in American history, complete with intrigue, cover-ups, money trails, secret informants and proverbial smoking guns.

For today’s history lesson, here’s a quick refresher and a timeline of events in the Watergate Scandal leading up to the resignation of former President Richard M. Nixon.


June 17, 1972

Five men — James McCord, Frank Sturgis, Bernard Barker and two accomplices — were arrested while trying to bug the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters at the Watergate hotel. Among their possessions were rolls of film, bugging devices and thousands of dollars in cash.

Bob Woodward, a young Washington Post reporter, was sent to the arraignment of the Watergate burglars, and another young reporter, Carl Bernstein, starts to do some digging of his own.

June 20, 1972

Bob Woodward had his first contact with “Deep Throat,” his source and informant for the story. Deep Throat’s identity remained hidden for 30 years. In 2005, (at the age of 91) Mark Felt, the Associate Director of the FBI (as the scandal played out), admitted that he was, in fact, Deep Throat.

June 22, 1972

At a press conference regarding the incident, President Nixon denied that the White House was involved in the incident, stating unequivocally, “The White House has no involvement in this particular incident.”

June 25, 1972

Alfred Baldwin, a former FBI agent involved with the scandal, agreed to cooperate with authorities in the investigation. Baldwin names E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy as two of Nixon’s campaign aides who were involved in the burglary.

Aug. 1, 1972

The Washington Post reported that a ,000 check (funds intended for Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign) was deposited in the bank account Bernard Barker — of one of the Watergate burglars.

August 29, 1972

Nixon continues to deny any involvement in the Watergate Burglary, telling reporters, “I can say categorically that his investigation indicates that no one on the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.”

In the same news conference, Nixon insists that there is no need for a special Watergate prosecutor.

September 1972

Deep Throat told Bob Woodward that the money for the burglary was controlled by assistants to Former Attorney General John Mitchell, who incidentally was now serving as the chief of Nixon’s re-election campaign. In words that would become Rule #1 in any good investigation, Felt told Woodward to “follow the money.”

September 29, 1972

The Washington Post reports that John Mitchell did, in fact, have control over that secret fund, while he was serving as Attorney General. When they reached out to Mitchell for comment, instead of cooperating, an enraged Mitchell threatened the reporters and Katherine Graham (publisher of The Washington Post). Woodward and Bernstein did not back down; instead, they printed Mitchell’s threat in the Post.

Oct. 10, 1972

Woodward and Bernstein report that the FBI made the connection between Nixon’s aides and the Watergate break-in.

November 7, 1972

Richard Nixon is elected to a second term in office; winning by a landslide against George McGovern.

Jan. 8, 1973

The Watergate break-in trials begin. Seven men go on trial, five of whom plead guilty.

Jan. 30, 1973

G. Gordon Liddy and James McCord were convicted for their roles in the Watergate break-in.

March 23, 1973

James McCord wrote a letter to Judge Sirica, who presided over the Watergate trial. The letter points to a conspiracy and a cover-up in the White House. The letter is read in open court.

April 30, 1973 

President Richard Nixon accepted responsibility for the scandal but maintained that he had no prior knowledge of it.

May 17th, 1973

Senate Watergate Committee begins public hearings that were nationally televised. During these hearing, Senator Howard Baker, R-Tenn., (Vice-Chairman of the committee) famously asked, “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

May 18, 1973

Archibald Cox was appointed as a special prosecutor to lead the investigation into both Nixon’s re-election campaign and Watergate.

July 23, 1973

President Nixon was known to have recorded his calls in the Oval Office. It was believed he was in possession of dozens of tapes that proved his involvement in the cover-up; those tapes became known as the “Nixon Tapes.” The Senate Watergate Committee issues subpoenas for The Nixon Tapes after the President refused to turn them over.

July 27 -30, 1974

The articles of impeachment were approved by The House Judiciary Committee and proceedings begin. The articles of impeachment included obstruction of justice (impeding the Watergate investigation), abuse of power and violating public trust, and contempt of Congress by failing to comply with congressional subpoenas.

August 5, 1974

Folding under intense pressure, President Nixon finally releases the transcript of his conversations with then chief-of-staff, H. R. Haldeman. These transcripts proved that the President ordered a cover-up of the burglary at the Watergate Hotel on June 23. 1972, six days after the burglary.

August 8, 1974

In a nationally televised speech, the 37th President of the United States formally resigned, making him the first and only President ever to do so.

August 9, 1974

Richard Nixon signed his letter of resignation, and Gerald Ford was sworn in as the 38th President of the United States.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Navy tried to prevent accidents 60 years ago

For a long time, the Navy has been trying to reduce the frequency of accidents — and it’s easy to see why. The recent collisions involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) left 17 sailors dead, many others hurt, and both destroyers out of action for months. Other safety mishaps have been less costly, but each accident takes time and effort to clean up — ultimately taking time and effort away from other, more important things, like fighting the enemy.

For years, the Navy put forth the Friday Funnies, which used humor (most of the time) to push sailors to be careful, often using the sailors involved in accidents and mishaps as the butt of the joke pour encourager les autres — to help others learn from their mistakes. If you didn’t want to be made fun of in the bulletin, well, you knew what not to do.


One area in which things can quickly turn fatal is within aviation. When things go wrong on a plane or when somebody messes up, crashes can happen, and those tend to be deadly. So, not surprisingly, the Navy created safety bulletins that focused on the flight line. The messages were clear and designed to prevent simple (but costly) mistakes, like forgetting to put the landing gear down, which happened to both a C-17 crew in 2009 and an A-4 Skyhawk flown by a contractor in 2015.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

The 1966 fire on USS Oriskany (CV 34) was started when a flare accidentally ignited.

(US Navy)

But accidents don’t just happen in the air. The ground (or the carrier) is also a high-risk environment. There were huge fires on the carriers USS Oriskany (CV 34), USS Forrestal (CV 59), and USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during the Vietnam War that collectively claimed the lives of 206 sailors.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

Some accidents are through error – like a C-17 crew forgetting to make sure the landing gear is down.

(USAF)

Even if nobody gets hurt, accidents can lead to damaging valuable combat planes. These days, when an F-35 costs about 0 million, nobody wants that to happen.

See how the Navy taught sailors to avoid accidents 60 years ago in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyuJ8rUefc8

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

How easy it was for the Navy and Marines to fly the F6F Hellcat

There were two reasons that the Japanese Navy found itself on the wrong end of the Marianas Turkey Shoot. One was the F6F Hellcat, which proved to have much better performance than the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. But just having the Hellcat wasn’t enough.


The real key to the overwhelming victory in the skies above the Philippine Sea was how well a pilot could operate their plane. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Stanley Vejtasa earned the second of his two Navy Crosses by destroying three Zeroes while flying a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber. Later in 1942, Vejtasa would score seven kills in one day during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands while flying the F4F Wildcat. Vejtasa would find himself sent back Stateside, his kill total for World War II frozen at 10.5, as he became a test pilot.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
An F6F Hellcat takes off from USS Ticonderoga during combat operations. (US Navy photo)

Many other aces were sent back, some as test pilots, but most were responsible for training up-and-coming pilots. The combination of the user-friendly F6F Hellcat and skilled, veteran pilot instructors made this fighter a superb weapon. It scored 5,165 kills during World War II. David McCampbell would score 34 of them to become the Navy’s leading ace. Japan kept its pilots on the front lines, so when they were shot down, they were often killed.

One reason the Hellcat racked up such a high total was that its contemporary, the Vought F4U Corsair, was difficult to fly – earning the dubious nickname, “Ensign Eliminator.” By contrast, the Hellcat was a relatively simple plane to land — a big plus when it came time to land on a carrier. As a result, the Corsair was relegated mostly to land bases.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940
The combination docility and performance of the Hellcat made it ideal for carrier operations. (US Navy photo)

 

This classic warplane that won control of the skies over the Pacific decades ago is hardly seen in the sky today – only 11 F6Fs are listed with the FAA.

Tell us, would you prefer to fly a Hellcat or Corsair?

MIGHTY HISTORY

A panoramic look at how US troops prepared for World War I

In a section of the National Archives dedicated to historic panoramic photos, there’s an odd selection of wide images that show the troops and trainees who would soon deploy to France as America joined World War I. (Panoramics are obviously wide photos, so you may need to turn your device sideways and/or zoom in to see all the detail in the photos.)


How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

(Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs – Panoramic Views of Army Units, Camps, and Related Industrial Sites)

Our first entry shows soldiers of the 331st Machine Gun Battalion performing exercises at Camp Grant in Rockford, Illinois. Army physical training was overhauled with the publication of the new U.S. Army Manual of Physical Training in 1914 which emphasized four pillars: general health and bodily vigor; muscular strength and endurance; self-reliance; and smartness, activity, and precision.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

(Records of the Adjutant General`s Office)

This photo shows engineers of the 109th Engineers in June 1918 as they trained at Gila Forest Camp, New Mexico. It’s unlikely the men made it to France in time for the fighting, but training like this allowed U.S. forces to overcome the trench works and other defenses of Germany as they pushed east and liberated France.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

(Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs – Panoramic Views of Army Units, Camps, and Related Industrial Sites)

Company H of the 347th Infantry pose in Camp Dix, New Jersey, in January 1919. During the war, men like this rotated into position on the lines or, during major offensives, were sent against German defenders en masse, hitting machine-gun nests with grenades and bodies to ensure victory. After the war, they were sent into Germany as an army of occupation to ensure the terms of the armistice and the peace treaty were followed.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

(Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General)

“White trucks” at Fort Riley. The trucks in the photo were made by the White Sewing Machine Company, later renamed the White Motor Corps. The Army had asked the manufacturer to design a motorized ambulance in 1902, just two years after the company had produced its first car. By World War I, their trucks were well-respected, and they did so well in the war that France awarded the trucks the Croix de Guerre.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

(Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel)

Sailors go through boat exercise at the Naval Training Station, Hampton Roads, Virginia, in September 1918. The naval war was largely over by the time America joined the fray, but sailors still fought against German U-boats and protected the convoys that kept troops ashore supplied and fed.

How Finland almost stopped a massive Soviet invasion in 1940

(Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs)

At Camp Meigs, Washington D.C., quartermasters trained on how to keep the men full of food and weighed down with valuable ammunition. This was more challenging than it might sound. Allied advances in the closing months of the war were frequently slowed down by artillery and logistic support getting choked up for hours on the heavily damaged roads behind the infantry, forcing the infantry to slow or stop until support could reach them.

Quartermasters and other troops who could get the trucks through could save lives.

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