The U.S. Army Truck, 1/4-ton, 4×4, Command Reconnaissance, better known as the jeep, was the primary light wheeled transport vehicle of the U.S. military during WWII. President Eisenhower called it, “one of the three decisive weapons the U.S. had during WWII.” By the end of the war, nearly 650,000 Jeeps had been produced. They saw use across the globe from Africa, to Europe and Asia. After the war, many jeeps were sold to or given to locals, or simply left behind rather than having to be transported back to the states. In the Philippines, hundreds of jeeps made their way into the hands of locals.
Reportedly, the Philippines saw a huge black market for surplus jeeps after WWII. Regardless of how they were left behind, the local Filipinos saw the jeep as a rugged, dependable and adaptable vehicle. These qualities made it perfect for the post-war Filipinos who were still recovering from years of Japanese occupation. Many Filipinos lost their mode of transportation, be it car, horse or bicycle, during the war.
The Filipinos stripped the military jeeps down and rebuilt them to suit their needs. The soft-top utilitarian trucks were given metal roofs for shade from the tropical sun, painted with vibrant colors, and adorned with chrome-plated ornaments. The decoration of the jeeps helped to return some element of beauty to the country’s capital, Manila. Known as the Pearl of the Orient, the city saw heavy fighting and suffered a great deal of damage during WWII.
The backs of the jeeps were also altered. The two side-by-side rear seats were replaced with parallel benches in order to accommodate more passengers. Over time, the vehicles were lengthened and given a longer wheelbase to increase their passenger capacity. The stretched jeeps became a popular form of public transportation and started to operate on regular routes like buses. Operating like jitneys, the jeeps became known as jeepneys.
Through the second half of the 20th century, the jeepney became a cultural icon of the Philippines. It was used by school children and adults alike and served as a major form of public transportation across the country, and especially in Manila. Fares were posted on the jeepney itself and people could hop on and off at their leisure. Passengers hanging on to the back or riding on top of a full jeepney was a common sight. Jeepneys are also heavily decorated and even themed by their drivers.
The heavy use of and increased demand for the jeepney quickly stretched the supply of WWII-surplus jeeps. Modern jeepneys are produced and maintained with imported parts, generally from Japan or South Korea. However, the stretched jeep appearance is maintained from the original jeepneys.
Seeing the widespread use of the jeepneys, the Philippine government began to regulate them. Drivers must now obtain a special jeepney license, routes are prescribed, and fares are fixed. However, private jeepneys still operate outside of this governmental oversight.
Though indigenous to the Philippines, the jeepney has been exported. Nearby Papua New Guinea determined that importing new buses and vans for their public transportation would be too expensive. The cheap and reliable jeepneys were suggested as a more affordable alternative to conventional vehicles. In 2004, 4,000 jeepneys were exported from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea.
Today, there are many threats that could lead to the removal of the old jeepneys. Increased restrictions and regulations on emissions have led to many builders abandoning jeepney production for other products or going bankrupt entirely. Modern mini-buses and ride-sharing services also cut into the traditional jeepney passenger market. Despite these factors, the jeepney continues to drive the roads of the Philippines and carry on the legacy of the WWII jeep.
If you haven’t heard about the planned Area 51 raid yet, then shut up. You have definitely heard about this crap. (And if you really haven’t, then I am so sorry. Basically, 1.6 million people have signed up for a Facebook event to rush Area 51 en masse because “They can’t kill all of us.”)
Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, Young Thug, & Mason Ramsey – Old Town Road (Area 51 Video)
Now, this raid will almost certainly never happen. Most of the people who are “going” probably just find the idea funny. But that begs the question of, “If a bunch of as-holes attempted to Naruto-run onto Area 51, what would happen? What would they see?”
Well, they would honestly find nothing and wouldn’t get inside any facilities because the Air Force isn’t likely to conduct any sensitive outdoor tests while a bunch of civilians are rushing the fences. They’re gonna button up the base and try to protect their secrets without having to kill civilians by the thousands.
But if they did somehow get past a bunch of blast doors or the Air Force left sensitive equipment out, the runners would most likely find the same sort of experiments that Area 51 became famous for during the Cold War. No, not alien biopsies. The actual experiments that the Air Force did at Area 51, many of which are now public knowledge: aircraft testing and experimentation.
It’s easy to forget almost 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union that, when America wasn’t the only superpower, it took a lot of work and quite a bit of secrecy to stay ahead of them. The Soviet Union had a decent spying apparatus and a robust research and development industry of its own.
And the U.S. and the Soviet Union both knew that aircraft would be important in a potential war. That’s why we worked so hard to steal each other’s aircraft and radar prototypes and more. We wanted to know what their radar could detect, and we wanted our radar to be able to detect all of their aircraft and missiles. And, we wanted to develop aircraft that could outmaneuver and fight the enemy even if it was outnumbered.
So, scientists needed to work on radar, stealth technologies, and on aircraft designs and engines. All of those benefit from having lots of open space, but aircraft designs and engines require literally hundreds of square miles to adequately test an aircraft. So, the Air Force needed a big, secret base to test their new goodies in.
The dry lake bed at Groom Lake was near the center of Area 51. The area is valuable for weapons testing and pilot instruction, but probably doesn’t host aliens.
(Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0)
And guess where many of those projects went? An old Army Air Force training area at Groom Lake in Nevada known as Area 51. It’s fairly common for old training areas to be re-purposed when the government goes shopping for an area to do some classified crap. In general, and in Area 51 in particular, these are areas where civilians already don’t live or work, where the few residents nearby are already used to loud and weird noises, and where a few light shows will be ignored.
And the Air Force went to extreme lengths to keep Area 51 secret. Nothing was allowed to leave the base, and you needed a security clearance to even get on the base. Even once you were on the base, if something was being tested that you weren’t cleared to see, you had to go sit in a building with the windows covered until the test was over.
We know all of this from court cases. People who worked at the base came down with weird cancers and material poisonings and so forth from all the weird chemicals used on the base. The military wouldn’t admit that the base existed for years before it finally said, “Yeah, it existed.” Then decades later, “Yeah, we played with planes there.”
But there are still all those rumors about aliens, right?
Well, yeah, there are rumors. But believing in aliens at Area 51 is literally insane. It requires that you believe that the government can keep massive, reality-changing secrets to itself for decades and generations of workers. And that there was either only one alien crash ever or that each crash was successfully controlled by the government. And that the government wants to keep all this secret in the first place.
So, what would the raiders find if they actually get into the testing range? Maybe aliens. But, way more likely, they’ll find some hypersonic missile prototypes, and maybe a B-21 Raider airfoil with some radars pointed at it. There’s a slight chance that they find a Stealth Hawk or some other piece of custom kit like that. But that’s only if you can find the good stuff on the 575 square mile base.
I mean, that stuff would be pretty cool to see. But is it really worth risking being shot by U.S. Airmen? Sure, they probably won’t hit you with the first round, but those dudes have A-10s. You’re not getting through that, not even if you run like Naruto.
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.
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.
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.
In 1917, due to changes in the medal’s regulations, her award was rescinded because she did not engage in direct combat with the enemy.
Walker refused to return her medal and continued to wear it.
According to one legend, when federal marshals attempted to retrieve it in 1917, she opened the door holding a shotgun — and wearing her medal.
She died in 1919 — one year before women were finally allowed to vote.
Dr. Mary E. Walker, circa 1911.
(Library of Congress)
Walker also attracted public scrutiny for her views on women’s rights, which were seen as radical. She reportedly voted as early as 1871 — a half-century before women were legally allowed to do so in the US.
President Jimmy Carter reinstated her medal in 1977 to honor her sacrifice and acknowledge the sexism she fought.
In 2012, the town Oswego dedicated of a statue in her honor, drawing people from around the country remember her, according to The Post-Standard of Syracuse, New York.
“I have got to die before people will know who I am and what I have done. It is a shame that people who lead reforms in this world are not appreciated until after they are dead; then the world pays its tributes,” Walker once said. That quote is inscribed on part of the statue.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
North American B-25G "Pride of the Yankees" in the Gilbert Islands. Note the spent 75mm shell casings used as covers for the .50-cal. machine guns. (U.S. Air Force photo).
The idea of using planes to destroy tanks is not a new one. Although the concept has been perfected with modern aircraft like the popular A-10 Warthog, tank-killing planes flew not long after the invention of both vehicles. In WWII, tank and plane technology advanced rapidly. As tanks became more survivable with thicker armor, planes began carrying heavier and heavier ordnance to kill them. Eventually, armies decided that the best way to kill a tank and other ground targets with a plane was with a tank cannon. Here are four of those planes. Note that planes armed with flak guns like the German BK 3,7 3.7cm gun are not included.
1. de Havilland Mosquito FB Mk XVIII — QF 6-pounder (57mm)
The DH Mosquito was one of the most capable planes of WWII. Famously made mostly of wood, the Mosquito was used as a fighter, bomber, pathfinder, and reconnaissance aircraft. It was said that the only problem with the Mosquito is that the RAF never had enough of them. The Mk XVIII fighter-bomber variant was armed with an autoloading quickfire 57mm anti-tank gun, the same gun used on the Churchill and Crusader tanks. It was designed to attack U-boats and other German ships. Despite the Air Ministry’s doubts over arming the Mosquito with a tank gun, the variant proved to be very effective. On March 10, 1944, Mk XVIIIs from 248 Squadron engaged a German convoy of one U-boat and four destroyers protected by 10 Ju 88 Schnellbombers. Though the U-boat was only damaged, three Ju 88s were shot down. Pilot Tony Phillips shot down one Ju 88 with four 57mm shells, one of which tore off the German’s engine. The Mk XVIII went on to sink at least a dozen German U-boats and surface ships. It was so successful that the British toyed with the idea of mounting a 96mm QF 32-pounder to a Mosquito.
2. Junkers Ju 88 P-1 — Bordkanone BK 7,5 7.5cm
Like the Mosquito, the Ju 88 was an extremely versatile WWII aircraft. It was used as a bomber, dive bomber, night fighter, reconnaissance aircraft, and even a flying bomb at the end of the war. In 1942, Germany began experimenting with the idea of mounting the deadly 7.5cm PaK 40 anti-tank gun on the Ju 88. Testing was successful and resulted in 40 Ju 88 P-1 variants armed with modified PaK 40s. However, the aircraft proved to be slow and vulnerable on the battlefield because of the gun’s weight. The concept was further developed with the P-2 and P-3 variants. These used the lighter BK 3,7 3.7cm autocannons developed from the 3.7cm Flak 18. Along with the 50mm autocannon-equipped P-4 variant, the higher velocity of the small-caliber guns proved deadly against Soviet armor on the Eastern Front.
3. Henschel Hs 129 B-3 — Bordkanone BK 7,5 7.5cm
Following the successful integration of the BK 7,5 on the Ju 88, the gun was further modified and mounted on the Hs 129. As a dedicated ground-attack aircraft, the Hs 129 was a more appropriate choice to carry the gun. It was also equipped with a new hydraulic-dampening system and an aerodynamic muzzle brake. Attacking from above, it was theoretically capable of destroying any tank in the world at the time. Still, the 7.5cm’s heavy weight made the plane difficult to fly. Although only 25 units were delivered to frontline squadrons before production was halted, the aircraft proved highly effective against Soviet armor.
4. North American B-25G/H/PBJ-1H Mitchell — T13E1 75mm cannon
Like the British, the U.S. needed a heavy-hitting aircraft for anti-ship operations. The answer came in the form of a tank cannon on a bomber. Like an early AC-130, the B-25 Mitchell of Doolittle Raid fame was experimentally fitted with the 75mm M4 cannon. Modified from the M3 cannon found on the M4 Sherman tank, it was the largest weapon carried on an American bomber at the time. Modified from a B-25C, the experimental XB-25G proved the flying tank gun concept and led to the development of the B-25G and later H variants. The lighter T13E1 75mm cannon was adapted from the M4 and was loaded by the plane’s navigator. After being signaled that the gun was loaded, the pilot could fire it with a button on his control wheel. An average of four rounds could be fired on a strafing run. The Marine Corps also adopted the 75mm B-25 as the PBJ-1, standing for Patrol (P) Bomber (B) built by North American Aviation (J), not “peanut butter and jelly.” One of the most heavily armed aircraft in the world, it could attack targets with eight forward-firing .50- caliber machine guns, eight 5″ rockets, 3,000 pounds of bombs and its 75mm tank cannon.
In 1941, after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, famous aviatrix Marina Raskova lobbied Joseph Stalin to form regiments of women pilots. Out of necessity, Russia became the first country to allow women to fly combat missions and formed three regiments.
The most fearsome of these groups, the 588th Regiment, became known as the Nachthexen or, “Night Witches,” a name the women adopted with pride.
The Night Witches were not treated equally to their male counterparts. The only regiment made up entirely of women — ages 17 to 23 — wore hand-me-downs from male pilots and flew militarized crop-dusters known as Polikarpov Po-2 biplanes.
The planes were made mostly of wood and canvas and, if hit by tracer bullets, would ignite like paper. The pilot and navigator sat in open cockpits, with only small, glass windscreens to protect them from the savage Russian winters. To top it all off, the aircraft carried no radio or machine gun. The Po-2 could carry only two 220-lb. bombs at a maximum speed of 94 mph. Because of the weight of the bombs they carried and the low altitudes at which they flew, they carried no parachutes. They had no radar to help navigate through the night skies — only maps and compasses.
The courageous and smart women that made up the 588th, however, used these trainer planes’ shortcomings to their advantage. Because of the planes’ primitive construction, German radar could hardly see their approach, so they were assigned night harassment. Often operating in a sort-of stealth mode, idling engines as they neared the targets, they would glide their way to the bomb release points.
The Germans became terrified of the “Night Witches” and spread wild rumors that the women were given special injections that gave them feline-perfect night vision. Soldiers often would refuse to go outside and smoke for fear of letting the bombers know where they were. The “Night Witches” were so effective and so elusive that German pilots received the Iron Cross and a cash award of 2,000 Reichsmarks if they shot one of them down.
Dealing with daily sexual harassment on the ground and grueling night runs (sometimes up to 18 per night), the women were hardened and feared very little. However, the all-female aircrew did fear one thing above all else, and that would be what might occur if they were grounded and captured alive by the Germans.
Hint: It would not end well for the pilots, who were both female and Russian — a deadly combo when caught by the SS.
Galina Beltsova, a navigator with the Dive Bombers regiment said,
All of us were provided with one extra bullet and if I could see I was being circled by the enemy, of course, I could take out my pistol and shoot myself — as a last resort.
The female fighter pilots initially struggled, but later earned the respect of their brothers-in-arms. As a regiment, they flew more than 24,000 combat missions and dropped 3,000 tons of bombs and 26,000 incendiary bombs. The leader of the 588th Regiment, Irina Sebrova, became one of the most decorated pilots in the Soviet Army and was awarded the distinctions of Hero of Soviet Union and the Order of Lenin. Sebrova also received 3 Orders of the Red Banner, the Order of the Patriotic War, 1st and 2nd class, the Order of the Red Star, and various medals.
The “Night Witches” didn’t have great planes, superior bombs, or even very much support for their unit, but they nonetheless became one of the most remarkable fighting forces of World War II.
In the early days of World War II the Germans still had an advantage over the British. Even though the Royal Air Force had won the Battle of Britain, its bombers suffered heavy losses when they crossed the channel into occupied Europe.
British scientist believed this was due to advances in German radar technology.
Reconnaissance photos showed that the Germans indeed had a complex radar system involving two types of systems – long-range early warning and short-range precision – that allowed them to effectively guide night fighters to British bomber formations. In order to develop effective countermeasures against these radar systems the British scientists needed to study one.
Operation Biting was conceived to steal a German “Wurzburg” short-range radar.
A German radar installation at Bruneval, France, was identified as the best target to conduct a raid against.
The plan called for C Company, 2nd Parachute battalion led by Maj. John Frost to parachute into France, assault the German position, steal the radar, and then evacuate by sea back to England with their loot. Accompanying the paratroopers would be a Royal Air Force technician who would oversee the dismantling and transport of the radar.
After extensive training and briefings, the raid was set for late February, 1942, when a full moon and high tides would provide the perfect environment for the assault force.
On the last night of the mission window, the conditions were just right and the men of C Company embarked for France aboard converted Whitley bombers of No. 51 Squadron.
The company was divided into five sections each named after a famous British naval officer: Nelson, Jellicoe, Hardy, Drake, and Rodney. Three sections – Jellicoe, Hardy, and Drake – would assault the German garrison at the station and capture the Wurzburg radar. While this was taking place, Nelson would clear the evacuation beach and the area between it and the station. Finally, Rodney would be in reserve guarding the most likely approach of a German counterattack.
The drop was almost entirely successful with only a portion of the Nelson section missing the drop zone a couple miles. The rest of the paratroopers and their equipment landed on target. Frost and the three assault sections were able to rendezvous in just 10 minutes. The Germans still had no idea British paratroopers were in the area.
That didn’t last long though, as the paratroopers assaulted the villa near the radar station. The paratroopers killed the lone German defending the house with a machine gun on the upper floor. But the attack alerted the rest of the garrison in other nearby buildings who immediately began returning fire killing one of the paratroopers. Frost stated that once the firing started “for the whole two hours of the operation there was never a moment when some firing was not going on.”
As the paratroopers battled the Germans, Flight Sgt. C.W.H. Cox, the RAF technician sent along to dismantle the radar, led the engineers to the radar set to begin its deconstruction under heavy German fire. After a half hour of work they had the parts and information they needed and loaded them onto special carts to haul them to the evacuation beach. The men of C Company had also managed to capture two German radar technicians who had vital knowledge of the operation of the Wurzburg radar.
Frost then ordered the force to withdraw to the beach. This was just in time, as a column of German vehicles began to arrive at the radar station. Almost immediately upon departure the paratroopers encountered a German pillbox that should have been cleared by the Nelson task force. Due to a communications breakdown Frost had not learned about the missed drops of a large portion of the Nelson group.
A small portion of the force had arrived and was fighting to hold the beach but the remainder had been moving at double time to reach their objective. After a brief firefight with a German patrol, the remainder of Nelson arrived on the scene and cleared the pillbox allowing the rest of the force to continue to the beach.
Once on the beach, the communications problem became even worse – the paratroopers had no contact with the Royal Navy flotilla assigned to evacuate them. Frost tried to raise them on the radio and when that failed, he decided to fire signal flares. The flares worked, and just in time, as a lookout spotted a trail of headlights moving toward the beach. Three Royal Navy landing craft came ashore and the paratroopers hastily loaded themselves and their prizes onboard before setting out for home. The return trip was without incident and the raiders returned to England to a hero’s welcome.
The British losses were two killed, two wounded, and six men captured who had become separated during the fighting. But the amount of intelligence they returned to England was near priceless. The information provided by the captured Germans and the radar itself allowed the British to advance their countermeasures.
This would prove crucial in the airborne operations at Normandy two years later.
A New York Times article dated March 3, 1942, predicted that the success of the raid had “changed the nature of warfare itself” and that soon these types of commando units and actions would grow to encompass much larger formations such as the airborne divisions that the Allies formed.
As for the men of C Company and Frost, they would see action in North Africa and Italy before being a part of the ill-fated Operation Market-Garden.
RMS Titanic in Southampton England April 9, 1912 (Wikimedia Commons).
Who has never been daunted by the idea of packing gear for an extended field op? You have to make a list of everything you will need or you think you will need, you have to make sure that your gear’s weight is what the S-3 says it’s supposed to weigh, everything has to fit. When it’s only for leave, your life doesn’t depend on these preparations. You might get chewed out, but you rarely run the risk to freeze to death or turn to cannibalism.
However, when it comes to exploration, expeditions, adventures and other journeys, preparedness is everything. In the most remote corners of the planet, what you carry is all you have, and every decision can be a matter of life or death. Indiana Jones, with his bullwhip, Fedora hat, and roguish charms, might make exploration look easy, but it takes a lot more than an impish smile and witty replies to survive through those expeditions. It requires planning, knowledge, grit and leadership to be a successful adventurer. Some expeditions made it, leading to great discoveries and the retreat of the world’s frontiers. Proper prior planning prevents piss-poor performance, as it is said in the Corps.
It might seem strange to imagine that Christopher Columbus, a man celebrated for opening an entire continent to European exploration, might have led a failed expedition. However, it makes a lot more sense when we know that the proposed aim of the expedition that reached the Americas in 1492 was actually to reach the Indian subcontinent, then known as the East Indies, by sailing westward and circumnavigating the globe. Also, we cannot say that his voyage was a failure, but the lack of knowledge regarding world geography was sure to stand in the way of his first purpose. At first, he was so sure to have reached his destination that he called the natives “Indians.” Although he travelled four times to the Americas, he never reached India.
The Burke and Wills Expedition
What happens when you combine a man with no experience of life in the Australian bush and an exploration commission? An unmitigated disaster. In 1860, the Australian government was offering a reward of 2000 pounds to whoever would cross the continent north to south. The Royal Society of Victoria organized an expedition of 19 men, led by Robert Burke and William Wills. However, the interior of the Australian continent was largely unknown to non-natives. The expedition was ill-prepared for the challenges they would face. Scorching temperatures would reach 122°F in December. Not to mention the severe vitamin B and C deficiency caused by a lack of knowledge on the local flora. Monsoon rains and rough terrain allowed only one man to survive the return trip.
The Darien Scheme
This is a failed venture that almost bankrupted an entire country. In order to compete against England’s trading power at the end of the 17th century, Scotland tried to establish a colony that would serve as a trading post on the Isthmus of Panama. It rested on the Gulf of Darién, a region that is considered one of the deadliest on Earth. Plagued with poor planning and poor leadership, the scheme was set for failure. Due to epidemics, poor provisioning and a lack of demand for goods, the English and the Spanish Empires came together to ensure the doom of the colony. When the few survivors returned to Scotland, they were often shunned by their families, as the failure of the expedition led to the near financial ruin of the entire country.
The Terra Nova Expedition
In 1910, two rival expeditions were vying to reach the South Pole first. One, led by experienced Norwegian explorer Roal Amundsen, managed to reach its objective on the Dec. 14, 1911. However, in contrast to that team’s relatively smooth trip, the team led by British Captain Robert Falcon Scott went through Hell and never came back from it. The difference came down to planning and preparation.
The British mindset at that time had some very precise, rigid ideas about what was and wasn’t appropriate. Dogs were a no. For Scott, sled dogs were not a grand enough way to travel, unlike horses. Moreover, he didn’t train his men to ski prior to the journey, he took five men when he had packed for four, mishandled the fuel and wrongly marked the return route. The team eventually made it to the South Pole, over a month after Amundsen’s expedition, but none of them survived the return trip.
The Titanic was a tale of hubris. The ship was unsinkable… yet, it sunk on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912. At the time, it was the biggest ship afloat, not only in length but also in weight. It was nearly twice as heavy as the second biggest ship. Confident in the size of the ship despite its flawed design, its engineers thought it would be enough to withstand any collision or weather conditions, so they allowed themselves to skimp on safety measures.
In the example made famous by the movie, the Titanic only carried 20 lifeboats, which only allowed room for 1178 passengers. It was more than was legally required, but it was still not enough for the 3327 people it could take on board. As a result, out of the 2224 passengers and crew who were part of its maiden voyage, over 1500 died. To date, it is still the deadliest sinking of a cruise ship in times of peace.
Believe it or not, the Germans were not surprised that the Allies were ready to invade Fortress Europe as a means of bringing World War II to an end. As a matter of fact, in much of Europe, the Nazis were ready for whatever the Allied troops were going to throw their way. The Nazis knew about the military build-up in England, and even the lowest-ranking Wehrmacht trooper knew the invasion would come at some point.
Luckily, the Allied powers still had a few tricks up their sleeves.
They didn’t think Normandy would be the target.
The ideal point of an invasion of Europe from England, Nazi planners determined, would come at Calais. There were many reasons for this, but the simplest explanation is that Calais is the closest landing point from England. The English Channel is a tough, choppy sea with inclement weather – a more distant location could put a substantial invasion force at risk, so the troops manning the Atlantic Wall were reasonably sure Normandy was safe.
No one expected it in June 1944.
Most experienced German troops and planners believed the Allies would not open a second invasion of Europe from the West until the Invasion of Italy was complete. Most thought another invasion of Allied forces would come only after the Italian Campaign reached the Alps or even crossed over them. This, coupled with the fact they thought the landings would come at Calais meant the Germans manning defenses at Normandy were not the best troops for the job. Those troops were hundreds of miles away.
The advance was much faster than expected
German troops marveled at the speed with which American, British, and Canadian forces were able to move their men and materiel, not only in crossing the English Channel on D-Day and the days after, but in the weeks following June 6. The formation of a firm beachhead and the rapid advance through the French countryside astonished the Germans, who had made the same lightning advance across the territory just a few years prior.
How much the Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine failed them
During the D-Day landings, the presence of the German Air Force or Navy was minimal where it existed at all. The Wehrmacht was the only real resistance to the Allied landings. Were it not for the Channel’s infamous choppiness and bad weather, the landings would have made it across the water entirely unabated. With no air cover or protection from the water, the army was essentially left out to dry.
The coordination of the Maquis
The Germans largely despised the resistance movements in France and other occupied countries and looked down on them with disdain. In practice, however, the close coordination between French resistance cells and the Allied command created a situation where German troops, transports, and heavy weapons that might have thrown the Allies back into the English Channel were instead tied up and slowed down for hours, leaving only the defenses sitting on the Atlantic Wall to try and stem the tide.
The 13th Demi-Brigade is one of the legendary units of the French Foreign Legion. During World War II, it was the only formation to immediately join Gen. Charles de Gaulle and the Free French Forces when France capitulated to to the Nazis.
From the creation of Vichy France to the country’s eventual liberation, the 13th Demi-Brigade carried the Legion’s honor in battles across the world. The 13th fought in Norway and across Africa, Syria, Italy, and France before victory was achieved.
Allied soldiers during the Battle of Narvik where French legionnaires with the 13th Demi-Brigade and other forces liberated Norwegian ports from Nazi occupation.
The 13th took part in two landings in Norway, both aimed at the port town of Narvik. The first was on May 6 at a point seven miles north of the city, and the second was on May 26 from a position to the south. Conditions during the fight were brutal. Temperatures fell as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit and the legionnaires were attacking a force three times their size.
While the German’s conquest was ultimately successful, the victory wouldn’t matter. The legionnaires fought through vicious machine-gun fire, Luftwaffe attacks, and artillery bombardment, finally pushing the Germans out of Narvik and into the surrounding country. The Legion was pursuing the Germans across the snow and were only 10 miles from the Swedish border when the call came in to return home.
The Germans had invaded France, and all hands were needed to defend Paris.
France surrenders to Germany following the fall of Paris.
But it was too late. The brutal blitzkrieg laid France low before the legionnaires could get back. They landed in France only to learn that it was now German territory. After a brief debate about whether to continue fighting, the force’s commander executed a lieutenant who wanted to abandon the mission, and the bulk of the force went to England.
It was here that the 13th, answering the call of de Gaulle, joined the Free French Forces, the only legion able and willing to do so. As the rest of the Legion decided how much to cooperate with German authorities assigned to watch them per the armistice, the 13th was deciding how many Germans each of them would kill.
They first got their chance when they were sent to North Africa in the end of 1940. There, they captured Gabon and the Cameroons essentially unopposed and helped the British during vicious battles against Italian forces to secure territory in East Africa. In June 1941, they were sent to Syria where they would fight their own — Legion forces loyal to Vichy France.
The 6th Foreign Legion Infantry was garrisoned in Syria, an area under French mandate. Vichy France was allowing German forces to use their ports and airfields in Syria, posing a threat to the Suez Canal and British oil fields in the Middle East. The situation could not stand, and legionnaire was doomed to fight legionnaire.
The 13th, for their part, took a risk in the hopes that a legion civil war could be avoided. They fought through other French forces, at one point using outdated artillery in direct-fire mode as improvised anti-tank guns. When they had fought through to the Legion forces, they sent a small patrol to the outpost.
The outpost sent out a guard who presented the patrol with a salute and then arrested the patrol’s members. The fight was on.
Free French Forces legionnaires, likely members of the 13th Demi-Brigade, maneuver during the Battle of Bir Hacheim.
(Photo by Sgt. Chetwyn Len)
Luckily for the 13th, the 6th and other forces under Vichy control had been stripped of most of their serious weapons and were suffering severe morale problems. But the fight was fierce but brief. The 13th Demi-Brigade won the battle, a fight that included bayonet charges and grenade assaults, and it marched into Damascus in triumph eight days later.
They allowed all members of the 6th to join the 13th if they so wished. Less than 700 of nearly 3,000 did so.
Instead, the French forces destroyed 33 tanks in the first hour and held out for another two weeks. When the defenders finally gave in, they did so on their terms, conducting a nighttime breakout through German lines with the walking wounded and healthy troops marching and providing cover fire for the wounded on litters.
Allied forces celebrate at the end of their successful evacuation out of Bir Hacheim.
They made it through the desert to El Alamein where the commander, the legendary prince and Lt. Col. Dmitri Amilakhvari, reportedly had a dream where he was hit with a mortal wound and the last rites were administered by someone other than his chaplain.
During the first morning of the Battle of El Alamein, a German counterattack with tanks and air support felled the brave prince when a shell fragment pierced the iconic legion white kepi that he wore instead of a helmet. His last rites were administered by a French chaplain.
The 13th failed to take their objective, and the British command sidelined them for the next year.
While the end of their time in Africa was less than glorious, they were still heroes of fighting in multiple countries, and they were still needed to continue the war. Their next chance at glory was in Italy in April, 1944, during fighting that would be brief but bloody.
The legionnaires, with two infantry battalions, an artillery battery, and an anti-tank company, were sent against Italian troops dug into the mountainsides and fortresses of Italy. They were tasked in some areas with climbing rock faces and castle walls under fire. In one case, six troops climbed a wall with bags of grenades and managed to take the high ground from the enemy and rain the explosives down on the enemy in a daring coup.
Italy cost the legionnaires over 450 killed and wounded, but the war wasn’t over. The D-Day invasions of Normandy were underway, and the French Foreign Legion wasn’t about to sit out the liberation of France.
13th Demi-Brigade troops parade during a ceremony in the 1950s or ’60s.
(Private collection of Lieutenant-colonel Paul Lucien Paschal)
Paris was liberated on August 25, but the legionnaires were to the south and east, continuing to push the invaders from the southern French coast north past Switzerland and east, back towards Germany. The 13th, unfortunately, was not allowed to follow.
It had suffered over 40 percent losses in the fighting in France and western Italy as they pushed the Germans back. The unit was put on other duties as newly revived Legion units and Free French Forces drove with the rest of the Allied forces into Germany.
When 33 pilots and more than 200 ground crewmen left Mexico for Laredo, Texas, they were embarking on a historic opportunity. They would be the first Mexican forces to train and fight in combat away from Mexican shores.
During World War II, Mexico was only one of two countries in Central and South America to declare war on the Axis powers and also send troops to go fight them (Brazil was the other).
They had a reason to go and fight. Two Mexican oil tankers bound for the United States were torpedoed and sunk by German u-boats while flying the Mexican flag. Some 20 Mexican sailors died as a result of the attacks within a week of each other and spilled 6,000 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
On May 22, 1942 Mexican President Manuel Ávila Camacho declared war on the Axis Pact.
The Escuadrón Aéreo de Pelea 201 or 201st Air Fighter squadron spent six months training in Texas before shipping out to the Pacific Theater. They arrived in the Philippines in April 1945, still with plenty of time to take the war to the Japanese, which they did almost immediately.
It might seem odd that Mexico, which was attacked by Germany, would agree to send pilots to fight the Japanese far from Europe. The Mexican Army had intercepted a communique that detailed a planned Japanese invasion of the United States that went straight through Mexico.
The invasion plan called for a Japanese landing in Sonora through the Sea of Cortez. From there, the Japanese would drive across the American southwest. If Mexico wanted to keep enemy troop ships from landing on its shores, it would have to take the fight to the enemy.
In American-built P-47 Thunderbolt fighters flying the Mexican flag on their tails ad white noses on their P-47s, the Aztec Eagles – a nickname they’d given themselves during training – hit the Japanese in the Philippines and later, Formosa (modern-day Taiwan).
Their first mission required them to dive bomb heavily-entrenched Japanese positions in mountainsides near Vigan. The maneuvers required of the mission were as dangerous as flying so close to the enemy. They impressed their American counterparts with their skill and daring.
In the Philippines, the Mexican aviators hit the Japanese forces on the ground to support the 25th Infantry Division’s campaign to clear Luzon of its Japanese defenders. During this time period they lost seven pilots in combat and training exercises but only one aircraft lost to the enemy in its effort to free the people of the Philippines.
To attack Formosa, the Mexicans flew 650 miles at near-wavetop heights to drop their bombs on the ports and harbors of the island. The missions took such a toll on the pilots that they had to be helped out of their cockpits when they returned.
It wasn’t only the Mexican officers in the air who struck back at the enemy. Enlisted ground crews got more than their fair share of combat in the Philippines when airfields were attacked by enemy troops, forcing the Mexicans to fight them off. The 201st knocked an estimated 30,000 Japanese troops out of the war in its four-month combat tour.
In combat, their American allies saw them as both crazy and ferocious, both meant as high compliments to their skill.The squadron received the Philippine Legion of Honor for its wartime efforts and returned home to a parade in Mexico City’s Constitution Square. Today, a monument in Chapultepec honors the men of the 201st, the only unit to leave Mexico to fight a foreign enemy.
Featured Image: A Fuerza Aérea Expedicionaria Mexicana (FAEM — “Mexican Expeditionary Air Force”) Republic P-47D-30-RA Thunderbolt (USAAF s/n 44-33721) from Escuadrón 201 (201st Squadron) over the Philippines during the summer of 1945. (U.S. Army Air Force)
In March of 1965, the first U.S. troops entered the jungle-filled country of Vietnam. This would begin America’s involvement in one of the most controversial wars in the nation’s history. While the service members were facing new dangers around every turn, the environment back home was growing increasingly hostile. As more of the population grew to protest the war, it became evident that the military members fighting in the jungles of Vietnam were quickly becoming public enemy number one.
By March of 1973, with the war coming to an end, demonstrations in the States began to die down. However, disillusionment with the war was as widespread as ever. The troops were withdrawing from Vietnam, but there was no warm welcome and appreciation waiting for them as they arrived home. The World War II era of celebration as troops returned to U.S. soil had passed, and the troops of the Vietnam era were met with nothing more than disdain, anger and protest.
These war veterans were thrown back into “normal” life without ceremony and with little to no assistance to help them adjust to life after war. This combined with the anger of the American people led many of these service members to turn to addiction and worse to cope with their inability to adjust back to civilian life. Others adjusted well enough, but went on to live their lives without the pride of their fellow veterans, always knowing deep down that their service was seen with disdain as opposed to gratitude. Even decades later, those who served in Vietnam were ignored or seen with the same contempt they were met with when they arrived home.
It wasn’t until 2007 when the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Vietnam War was being observed that the movement to give Vietnam Veterans the acknowledgment they deserve truly took form. It was then that Congress authorized a program to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War. However, it wasn’t until 2017 that Vietnam Veterans Day was officially established to be celebrated every year on March 29. This enactment states that the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War should be commemorated through 2025, thus ensuring that Vietnam Veterans Day will be observed at least through that time.
Along with establishing a specific day to acknowledge these veterans, there has been a movement across the country to give Vietnam Veterans the welcome home they never received 45 years ago. This movement encourages Americans to thank a Vietnam Veteran, shake their hand, and tell them, ‘Welcome home,’ when they meet them. Each of these veterans sacrificed something in those jungles many decades ago. Many sacrificed everything — while over there, or after they returned home. It is long overdue that those men are given the welcome home and the gratitude they deserve.
They didn’t choose to enter that war, or trek through those jungles. Many of them didn’t even choose to be in the military in the first place, their choice was taken away from them when they were drafted. However, they did their duty. They fought the war. And they faced contempt when they arrived home, living with it for decades since.
This Vietnam Veterans Day, and every day, take the time to thank a Vietnam Veteran. Take a moment to shake their hand, thank them for their service and welcome them home. It’s a small gesture, but to them it means more than anyone could possibly know. For them, 45 years later, they are finally gaining the acknowledgement and gratitude they should have received the day they stepped foot back on U.S. soil.
Col. Joseph Duckworth was one of the Air Force’s most skilled pilots. Although a flyer during World War II, he never saw combat behind the stick of any aircraft. Despite that lack of combat experience, he would go on to be one of the USAF’s most legendary pilots.
The reason for his fame stemmed from his technical knowledge, knowledge that allowed him to become the first person to fly into a hurricane, all the way to the eye, in a single-engine plane and live to tell about it. He did it all on a bet.
In 1941, flying in bad weather was hard. A lot of pilots died because they couldn’t actually use the instrument panel in the cockpit. This may sound insane by today’s standards, but according to Duckworth himself, even pilot trainers didn’t know the instruments.
Col. Duckworth joined the Army Air Corps in 1927 and became a civilian pilot shortly afterward. In 1940, he was recalled to active duty. He was immediately surprised and appalled at how new pilots were being trained before going off to war. It was almost suicidal.
“The first shock I received was the almost total ignorance of instrument flying throughout the Air Corps,” Duckworth said after the war. “Cadets were being given flight training as if there were no instruments and then directed to fly an aircraft across the Atlantic at night. Losses in combat were less than those sustained from ignorance of instrument flying alone.”
Duckworth, upon taking over training the Army Air Forces, implemented a system to train pilots on all instruments. Estimates say this training saved the lives of thousands of Air Force pilots worldwide and earned Duckworth the honorific title of “father of modern-day Air Force instrument flying.”
In 1943, Duckworth entered the world history books when he flew an AT-6 single-engine training aircraft into a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. Without permission from his superior officers on base, he took off from Bryant Field in Texas and flew right toward the eye of a category-1 hurricane.
The bet came on the morning of July 27, 1943 over coffee in the mess hall at Bryant Field. It turned out to be more of a bar bet. With a surprise hurricane on the way, the U.S. Army wanted to move its aircraft out of the storm’s path.
A visiting group of British pilots stationed at the base and taking instrument flying classes scoffed at the idea. The weather back home was often bad. Back in England, they flew in storms and their planes weathered the rains all the time. They laughed at the fragility of the American air forces in the face of the oncoming storm.
Then-Lt. Col. Duckworth took exception to their comments, so he bet the British aviators that he could take a single-engine trainer up, fly through the hurricane and come home with no issues. As the commander of Bryant Field, he knew he would be able to get a plane up, so long as no one above him knew what he was doing.
He got a navigator, Lt. Ralph O’Hair, and immediately took off toward the hurricane. As they flew through sheets of rain, Lt. O’Hair thought about what it might be like to parachute from an aircraft in the middle of a hurricane.
But Duckworth was as skilled as everyone thought, whether he could see out of the cockpit or not. Before they knew it, they were in the calm of the storm’s 10-mile-wide eye. After flying around for a while, they punched back into the storm itself and headed home.
When he came back to Bryant Field, he went right back up into the storm, taking a meteorologist with him, making history twice in the same day.