On Dec. 4, 1950, Ensign Jesse Brown, the Navy’s first black aviator, was leading a six-plane reconnaissance patrol over North Korea near the Chosin Reservoir. Marines and soldiers on the ground were conducting a fighting retreat and Navy aviators were covering their withdrawal.
The Korean and Chinese soldiers were well-camouflaged, so Brown’s flight of F4U Corsairs from Fighter Squadron 32 flew at low altitudes to try and spot the enemy infantry. The noise of the engines prevented the pilots from hearing ground fire, but muzzle flashes began blinking against the snow.
Immediately after the shots, Lt. j.g. Thomas Hudner, a friend of Brown’s and a member of the flight, spotted vapor streaming from Brown’s engine. Hudner radioed Brown, who confirmed that he was quickly losing oil pressure. 17 miles behind enemy lines, Brown was going to crash.
Hudner pointed out an open expanse of snow where Brown could land with relative safety, but the crash was still violent enough that the cockpit buckled in. Hudner worried that Brown was dead until he began moving. Knowing that Brown wouldn’t survive long in the extreme winter cold of the Korean mountains, Hudner crash-landed his own plane near Brown’s.
He jumped from his cockpit and rushed to Brown. He attempted to free his friend, but saw that his leg was pinned down by the instrument panel.
Hudner began alternating between trying to free Brown and packing snow around the smoking engine to keep it from bursting into flames. When he got a chance, he returned to his plane and requested a rescue helicopter with an ax and fire extinguisher.
When the helicopter arrived, Hudner and the helicopter pilot, 1st Lt. Charles Ward, continued to try and free Brown. It became clear that they would need more equipment, and Hudner asked his friend to hold on.
“I told Jesse we couldn’t get him out without more equipment, and we were going to get more,” Hudner told The New York Times in 2013. “He didn’t respond. I think he died while we were talking to him.”
Hudner and Ward flew back to the USS Leyte Gulf. A few days later, Fighter Squadron 32 decided that they wouldn’t be able to secure the crash site and recover Brown’s remains, so they conducted a napalm run to burn them rather than allow their capture.
Hudner and Brown had been unlikely friends. They met in the locker room of Fighter Squadron 32 in Dec. 1949, a year before the events at the Chosin Reservoir.
“Shortly after I joined the squadron, I was changing into flight gear and he came in and nodded ‘Hello,” Hudner said in The New York Times interview. “I introduced myself, but he made no gesture to shake hands. I think he did not want to embarrass me and have me not shake his hand. I think I forced my hand into his.”
Brown was the son of a Mississippi sharecropper who knew he wanted to be a Navy aviator since he was a child. He fought tooth-and-nail to overcome racial barriers and become one of the first African-American Navy officers and the first Navy’s first black aviator. Hudner was the privileged son of a Massachusetts business owner and a graduate of the Naval Academy.
The story of Brown and Hudner is the subject of “Devotion,” a new book by New York Times bestselling author Adam Makos. Hear Hudner tell the story in his own words in the video below.
It was one of the most audacious special operations raids ever launched. Nearly 30 hostages were being held for close to a week in the heart of Britain’s capital city — the target of an assault by a Middle Eastern separatist group who stormed the Iranian embassy.
And in broad daylight, after six days of fruitless negotiations in April and May of 1980, one of the world’s most skilled counter-terrorist units assaulted the target in front of news cameras who broadcast the daring operation live around the globe.
In the end, only one of the hostages was killed and two wounded and the nearly three dozen commandos from the British Special Air Service cemented their place as some of the most fearsome and capable operators the world had ever seen.
That dramatic story will be retold this summer in the movie “6 Days.” Directed by Toa Fraser and starring Jamie Bell, Abbie Cornish and Mark Strong, the movie recounts the drama of the Iran embassy takeover and the rescue mission, dubbed “Operation Nimrod,” from the perspective of the SAS team, a BBC reporter and the police negotiator trying to get the terrorists to surrender their prisoners.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the story is that the SAS assault took place in broad daylight in front of dozens of TV cameras — exposing for the first time the secretive world of Britain’s most elite warriors and making them instant heroes in the eyes of their countrymen.
“6 Days” is scheduled to open in the England in August. No U.S. release date has been set so far.
Strategists say the first casualty of war is the plan. In a few cases, the plan never reached the war stage. And if these 10 invasions happened, the world would be a dramatically different place.
1. War Plan Red: The U.S. Invasion of Canada
In the post-WWI era, fresh from battlefield victory in Europe, the United States was building its military to compete with those of the other world powers. It was a time of global imperialism, when the aspirations of any country could end up sparking a war anywhere, with anyone. To this end, the U.S. drew up a series of “Rainbow War Plans,” filled with possible war scenarios that were coded by color. The first on the list was War Plan Red: The U.S. War with Britain.
In the age of the “Special Relationship” the U.S. enjoys with the UK, we tend to forget Anglo-American relations haven’t always been this close. Before the rise of the Soviet Union, the U.S.’ “special relationship” was more akin to its relations with Russia. Catherine the Great traded directly with the American Colonies despite the British ban on such trading and Russian ships traded with the colonies during the Revolution. The Russians kept other European powers out of the American Civil War.
War Plan Red did not involve any U.S. vs. UK action outside the Western Hemisphere. The authors believed capturing Canada would make Britain sue for peace. The first step would be an American invasion of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, followed by a move West into Quebec. Once the Province of Quebec falls, the Canadians would have been unable to move men and supplies in either direction. This would have been followed by thrusts to capture the Great Lakes area (which is also the Canadian industrial center) to prevent attacks on the American industrial centers in the Rust Belt regions. An attack from Grand Forks, North Dakota would capture the Canadian Central Rail system in Winnipeg, and a joint blockade an amphibious invasion was called to capture British Columbia in the West.
2. The Canadian Invasion of The United States
As if the Canadians knew something was up down south, they had an invasion scheme of their own. Literally called Defence Scheme No. 1, it called for immediate action as soon as evidence of an American invasion was uncovered. The Canadians believed the U.S. would strike Montreal and the Great Lakes regions first, then Westward into the prairies and into British Columbia.
In 1930, Canadian intelligence developed its counter plan. It was designed to buy time for Canadians to mobilize for war and to receive help from Great Britain. Units designed for speed of movement would capture major cities in Washington State as others in the East would capture cities in Minnesota and the Great Plains States. French Canadian forces would move to capture Albany, New York while an amphibious assault would land in Maine. As the Americans began to push the Canadians out, the retreating troops would destroy food and infrastructure as they went.
Operation Downfall was the codename for the Allied invasion of Japan at the end of World War II. Japan surrendered after the United States dropped two atomic bombs and the Soviet Union entered the Pacific War, handily defeating Japanese forces on the Chinese mainland. Downfall would have been the largest amphibious operation in world history, a landing even bigger than the ones at Normandy the previous year.
The invasion was divided into two parts, Operations Olympic and Coronet. Olympic was the capture of the southern portion of the Japanese main island of Kyushu. Coronet used assets captured in Olympic to invade the main island of Honshu in the plains areas near Tokyo. The plan called for five million American troops with an additional one million British and Commonwealth forces. The Japanese are estimated to have mustered 35 million regular, reserve, and conscripted troops.
The Japanese correctly predicted the U.S. war plan and their defensive operation plan was an all-out defense of Kyushu with little left for defenses anywhere else. A study conducted for the War Department at the time estimated at least 1.7 million American casualties because the study assumed Japanese civilians would join in the island’s defense.
4. The Soviet Invasion of Western Europe
The Eastern Bloc countries maintained a defensive posture for much of the Cold War. None of the Soviets’ war plans called for nuclear weapons until after Joseph Stalin’s 1953 death. It was after 1953 that the nuclear tensions began to ratchet up on the continent. NATO countries had their own individual plans for nuclear war, as well. The UK alone planned to drop at least 40 nuclear weapons on Eastern Europe. The American Single Integrated Operation Plan, first created in 1960, called for raining thousands of nuclear strikes on Communist countries, even if they weren’t at war with the U.S. For the West, the destruction would be so absolute, it didn’t matter what came after. For the Russians and their allies, the war didn’t stop at the nuclear exchange. Nukes only shaped the conventional battlefield.
After the exchanges, Eastern armies were to pour West, capturing cities in West Germany and pushing all the way to France. Czechoslovak armies took the middle of Europe, through to the Pyrenees while Polish and Soviet armies took the Northern parts. They planned a five-to-one advantage in troop strength and hoped to be at the Atlantic Coast within 14 days.
5. Sino-Soviet War
This one was actually a “border conflict” between the two Communist countries that almost turned into a nuclear conflict. It started over a small island on the Ussuri River, 3/4 of a mile in area. The river is the border between Russia and the People’s Republic of China. In 1964, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ceded the island to China but rescinded the recognition after Chairman Mao threatened to claim other Russian areas for China. By 1968, the Red Army was massed on the border.
At the time, the Chinese were numerically superior but technologically inferior to the Russians. Mao’s strategy of “man over weapons” essentially meant he would throw as many Chinese troops at the Soviets as it took – and the Soviets were ready to oblige him but not really sure if they could win. The Politburo in Moscow believed that if it came to war, the USSR would have to use nuclear weapons to win. Leonid Brezhnev even asked the U.S. to remain neutral if the Russians used nukes in the war.
6. The Soviet Invasion of Israel
The 1967 Six-Day War began with a massive Israeli pre-emptive strike against Egyptian airfields. The Israelis destroyed the Egyptian Air Forces on the ground within hours. With air superiority, Israeli forces moved into the Gaza Strip and advanced into the Sinai Peninsula inflicting heavy losses on the Egyptians while taking few of their own. In response, Egypt convinced Jordan and Syria to intervene, which resulted in the Israeli capture of the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Golan Heights.
In the days of the Cold War, the Israeli-Arab conflict extended far beyond the borders of the contemporary Middle East. The Soviet Union was the patron of the Arab countries in those days, a counterweight to the U.S. support for Israel. The Soviets were not happy about the rapid Israeli advance and warned the U.S. that if they didn’t do something about it, the Soviet Union would. The Russians prepared an amphibious invasion of Israel on the Mediterranean coast, with full air support. Strategic bombers and nuclear-armed naval forces were already en route to the Middle East when the Soviet Premiere delivered his threat to Washington.
7. The Mexican Invasion of The U.S.
In the days leading up to the U.S. entry into World War I, British intelligence intercepted a telegram from the German Foreign Secretary, Arthur Zimmerman, to the German ambassador in Mexico. The note instructed the ambassador to offer a German-Mexican alliance in case the Americans join World War I against Germany. The Germans would fund a Mexican invasion of territories lost during the Mexican-American war in the 1840s. Instead, the intercepted telegram was published in the U.S., causing a huge public furor and inflaming anti-German sentiment.
The plan called for an invasion and annexation of Texas, New Mexico, California, Nevada, and Arizona, as well as parts of Utah, Colorado, and Oklahoma. The Germans hoped that, even if Mexico didn’t reconquer the territory, the declaration of war would keep American men and ships in the West and stem the flow of arms and supplies to the World War I allies.
8. The Kaiser’s Invasion of the U.S.
That wasn’t the first time Kaiser Wilhelm planned an attack on U.S. soil. The Kaiser disliked and distrusted Americans, believing American capitalism an immoral and corrupting practice. He also believed U.S. imperialism in the Pacific threatened German hegemony over the Samoas there. In 1897, he ordered the German General Staff to develop an invasion of the United States to stem its growing regional and economic influence. The Imperial German Navy would never be large enough to carry out any of the plans developed.
The first draft plan called for the invasion of Hampton Roads, Virginia, in an operation that specifically targeted the U.S. Navy. After the decisive American victory in the Spanish-American War, the plan was changed to focus on invading via New York and Boston. The plan required sixty warships and 100,000 German troops. The German ships were to bombard and invade the largest cities on the Atlantic.
9. Confederate Invasion of Mexico and the Caribbean
150 years after the Civil War, it’s hard to remember that a Union victory in the Civil War wasn’t guaranteed. And in the years surrounding the war, Americans on both side of the slavery issue were anxious to expand American territory. That didn’t change just because there were now two Americas.
The Confederates never thought of their cause as lost, either. In their postwar plans, Confederate leaders made plans for expansion into Latin America and the Caribbean. They even attempted to destabilize areas of Mexico so they could take their battle-hardened army right to Mexico City. They also planned to expand their slave territories to Brazil, where two Confederate explorers established colonies (New Texas and Americana) for 20,000 rebels after the South lost the war.
10. Napoleonic France Invades Australia
In 1800, L’Empereur sent a French expedition to British New Holland (now Australia) ostensibly to conduct surveys in geography and natural history. Two ships led by a Frenchman named Nicolas Baudin sailed for three years along Australia, Tasmania, and other islands in the region. They collected natural specimens that were sent back to France and uncovered some 2500 species of plant and animal. Baudin did not survive the expedition, dying on Mauritius in 1803.
One of the explorers, Francois Peron, authored a confidential report for Napoleon that outlined what they saw as English encroachments on the territory, accusing the English of land grabs. He believed the French could use the land more effectively and Peron began to feed military and political information back to France. Baudin himself may even have had a role in developing the invasion information, allegedly preparing a report on how to invade Sydney Cove. They believed 1,800 French troops back by Irish soldiers and convicts could topple British control of the entire area.
In the Air Force, few names ring as many bells as John L. Levitow. He’s had awards named after him, as well as dorm halls and roads. Levitow’s name is about as close to U.S. Air Force royalty as you’ll get.
Oddly, even though his name is emblazoned across every corner of every Air Force base in the world, many airmen have scant knowledge of Levitow’s actions. Many are more well informed of his mysterious separation than of his heroic actions. The legend of his separation is still shared by many higher-ups during various briefings as a cautionary tale, but I digress.
As the Air Force leads the way into the future, it’s important to remember who paved the way and how exactly they did it. This is how John L. Levitow became the lowest ranking Medal of Honor recipient in Air Force history.
Airman First Class Levitow cross-trained into the Loadmaster career field after a couple of years in the Air Force. This cross-train is what ultimately placed Levitow on board the Spooky 71, an AC-47 gunship, during that fateful night.
A legend born
On Feb. 24, 1969, Levitow was aboard the Spooky 71 AC-47 gunship flying missions in South Vietnam. During the flight, a mortar round struck the side of the aircraft, ripping holes all across the plane, including an approximately two-foot puncture in the wing.
After impact, Levitow, while suffering from over 40 fragment wounds, helped a fellow wounded airman away from the now-open cargo door. As he moved his comrade to relative safety, he spotted a Mark 24 flare that was seconds from igniting.
Mind you, the Mark 24 flare is a three-foot metal tube weighing roughly 27 pounds that, once ignited, generates the light of 2,000,000 candlepower and burns at 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Levitow dragged himself towards the flare, which was rolling to and fro as the Spooky 71 pilots fought to regain control, hurled himself atop of it, pushed the flare towards the cargo door, and flung it out into the Vietnam sky just before ignition.
This really happened. It is not an exaggeration or poorly documented folk tale. Levitow literally placed his body atop a flare powerful enough to turn the Spooky 71 into a crisp with no real idea of how long he had until the flare ignited. This is one of the most selfless acts ever documented.
After the amazing feats he accomplished that night, he would return to Vietnam after recuperating to fly another 20 missions.
Awarded the Medal of Honor
Levitow was awarded the nation’s highest military honor on May 14, 1970 by President Richard Nixon. Levitow separated from the Air Force in 1970.
Following his separation, Levitow worked diligently with the veteran community, showing up to events that honored or featured veterans. On Nov. 8, 2000, John Lee Levitow passed away after a year-and-a-half battle with an unspecified cancer. He was 55 years young.
The Vietnam War was long and arduous. It cost the United States a total of 58,220 troops, with 40,934 of them killed in action. The overall number of wounded sits at 304,000. These staggering numbers gave the military time to reflect on how effective they could be at evacuating wounded troops from the battlefields.
The wounded were airlifted out of combat and transported to medical staging facilities (picture mini-hospitals, not tents). If not for the rapid response of transporting troops, there would have been many more lives lost in Vietnam.
Looking at statistics, 4.5 percent of wounded troops died during air transport in WWII. But in Vietnam, only one percent of wounded died during transport. This means the improvements made from war to war were drastic, not only in medical training but in the types of aircraft used in aeromedical evacuation and transport. The critical factor in bringing down these high casualty rates were U.S. Army dust-off missions.
During this time, the Army established specialized medical crews which utilized Huey helicopters to swoop in and collect the injured on the battlefield. The Air Force already appointed a number of planes dedicated to aeromedical evacuation, but they were only used for transport from medical staging facilities back to the United States.
The capabilities of the Huey helicopter were just more convenient than having a larger plane land on the battlefield. The Huey could quickly drop in anywhere, anytime to pick up their patients and transport them safely to an air staging hospital.
There’s no doubt that the distinctive sound of the Huey’s chopper was a comfort to the wounded troops on the ground, waiting to get out of the hell they just experienced. The Huey meant safety and comfort from the military’s best medical personnel.
Any enlisted Navy sailor can tell you that their dress uniform wouldn’t be as famous today without one of its most iconic pieces — the historic neckerchief.
Reportedly, the neckerchief made its first appearance in the 16th century and was primarily worn as a sweat rag and to protect the sailor’s neck from rubbing raw against their stiff collared shirts.
In some cases, the 36-square-inch silk fabric could also be used as a battle dressing or tourniquet in a life saving situation.
The color black was picked to hide any dirt or residue that built up during wear.
In 1817, the Navy wanted each one of its sailors to tie their neckerchief the same way, so it introduce the square knot. The square knot was hand-picked because it was commonly used on ships to secure its cargo.
The knot was later added to the dress blue uniform to represent the hardworking Navy tradition, and it remains that way today.
How to tie a square knot:
During the inspection, each sailor is carefully examined by a senior at least twice a year. While under observation, the sailor must display a properly tied square knot which needs to hang at the bottom of the jumper’s V-neck opening, and the ends of the neckerchief must appear even as shown above.
Do you remember your first uniform inspection? Comment below.
Preparing for the invasion of Normandy wasn’t just a matter of training troops to take the objectives, nor was it simply about moving all the necessary troops and supplies to England or fielding enough planes for support. All of those elements were important, but the Allies needed to plan for something else, too: evacuating the wounded.
Looking back on history, it’s easy to assume this was a given. If I were storming the beaches, I’d want to know that if I got hit, the brass had a plan to get me out of there safely as opposed to leaving me to explore Nazi Germany’s idea of hospitality. As it turns out, the Allies had a plan for retrieving the injured, but it was far from trivial.
The widespread use of helicopters to evacuate wounded troops wasn’t made practical until the Korean War.
On the battlefield, a medic (or corpsman) would move to aid a casualty as quickly as possible. He’d assess the condition and the troop would then be moved back, either on foot or by jeep, to the battalion aid station. From there, if needed, a troop would be moved further back from the front for more intensive care.
Now, in World War II, using helicopters for medical evacuations wasn’t possible. The first practical helicopters were flying, but they still didn’t have the lift capacity needed — even still, there were ways to get troops back reasonably quickly.
The Landing Ship Tank proved to be a key component of plans to evacuate wounded troops on and after D-Day.
One of the best assets for doing this was the Landing Ship Tank, or LST. These vessels were designed to get tanks and vehicles ashore, usually by making a run onto the beach and dropping a bow ramp, allowing vehicles to roll onto land. That ramp, of course, worked two ways. You could easily roll vehicles, like jeeps and trucks, back on.
The LSTs were designed to be a combination of both a floating ambulance and an emergency room. On board, Army doctors could perform emergency surgery on wounds that required immediate attention. Troops could then be evacuated (usually via C-47 Dakota) as necessary from Normandy to England. In England, a network of holding hospitals, transit hospitals, and general hospitals awaited the wounded.
Like the C-17 today, the C-47 Dakota was used for medical evacuation.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)
The result was that many wounded troops — who would have likely died from those same wounds in past wars — were able to survive and, in some cases, even return to the battlefield.
Learn more about the way combat casualties were evacuated from Normandy in the video below.
So far, the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed down recruitment events, delayed testing, and affected daily military life much like it has affected everyone else. It’s a major pain, but there’s a bright side; unlike in previous pandemics, the military has coped about as well as everyone else. Their COVID infection rate is right in line with that of the general population. COVID policies are intensely debated, but all in all, the military’s precautions in 2020 prevented the rampant spread of disease that was incredibly common in the wars of yesteryear.
World War II was the first US war in which combat killed more soldiers than disease. Before then, getting sick was riskier than being attacked. In the Civil War alone, roughly two thirds of the casualties were caused by illness. Naturally, some diseases were more deadly than others. In the early years of war, these nine diseases were some of the most feared biological opponents.
Scurvy If your mom ever pestered you about getting enough vitamin C, she had a point. During the Civil War, there were 30,714 cases of scurvy, also known as vitamin C deficiency. Scurvy was most common in sailors who had little access to fresh fruits and vegetables, which are natural sources of the essential vitamin.
Symptoms start out mild with fatigue and soreness. The longer you’re missing out on your daily dose of vitamins, the worse it gets. Limbs begin to swell and become weak, wounds take longer to heal, and skin may bruise and bleed easily. Losing teeth and developing jaundice are other common (and less than pleasant) side effects. Left untreated, scurvy is eventually fatal.
Typhoid The kind of Salmonella that people get from sneaking a bite of raw cookie dough is no fun, but it’s a breeze compared to one of its cousins. Typhoid fever is caused by a variation of Salmonella that causes symptoms for weeks, or even months, on end.
Typhoid symptoms vary in severity, and they don’t come on until up to a month after exposure. They begin with a high fever, followed by abdominal pain, muscle weakness, headaches, and sometimes vomiting. Rashes are also common. It might not sound so bad, but complications like intestinal hemorrhaging, encephalitis, and pneumonia are common and potentially lethal. During the Civil War, typhoid caused 34,833 deaths among Union soldiers.
Malaria In WWI, troops on both sides were surprised by a silent adversary: malaria. Malaria is a parasite that is delivered to unsuspecting victims by the bite of an infected mosquito. Within about two weeks, flu-like symptoms begin. If not treated immediately, symptoms progress rapidly. While children are especially at risk, adults are far from safe. Adult victims commonly experience multi-organ failure, respiratory distress, anemia, and other life-threatening symptoms.
By the time WWI hit, the military was aware of the cause of malaria, but they didn’t realize how common it was throughout parts of Europe. Because of this, wartime preventative measurements were woefully insufficient. About 617,150 cases and 3,865 deaths were reported among the allied troops, while the axis powers suffered 562,096 cases and 23,351 deaths. The difference in fatalities was likely due to better malaria management practices by the Allied Powers.
Pneumonia While pneumonia is still common today, we’re much better equipped to deal with it than Civil War soldiers were. If you’ve never experienced it, consider yourself lucky. Pneumonia causes a severe cough, stabbing chest pain, intense fatigue, fever, chills, and shortness of breath. Most cases can be treated by antibiotics, but it can be deadly in at-risk individuals. While advanced age is the most common risk factor, the poor living conditions and nutrition of Civil War troops resulted in 77,335 cases and 19,971 deaths. About one in six of those who acquired the illness died of it, including Stonewall Jackson.
Dysentery Of all the diseases during the Civil War, dysentery was one of the worst. Dysentery is an intestinal infection that causes severe, bloody diarrhea. The symptoms are similar to most stomach bugs, with abdominal cramping, nausea, fever, and sometimes vomiting, only worse. The dehydration it often causes can be severe enough to be life-threatening.
It accounted for upward of 95,000 deaths between both armies, but those numbers may not capture the full extent of the illness’s impact. The discomfort from dysentery left soldiers weak and more prone to being injured in battle. The deaths that followed were often attributed to battle wounds, when dysentery may have dealt the final blow.
Dysentery still occurs today, but it’s much less common due to better hygiene practices. Civil War soldiers had little idea of proper sanitation methods, and they often built latrine pits near the same streams they drank from. Oops.
Smallpox Smallpox was fairly uncommon during the Civil War, but it was the most infamous of all the wartime diseases. There were over five times as many measles cases than smallpox cases, but more soldiers still died of smallpox. If you got it, you had nearly a 40% chance of dying from it.
To add to the fear, people were so desperate to guard themselves against the ominous illness that some attempted DIY vaccinations. They injected themselves with material from other people’s sores, but the sores weren’t always caused by smallpox. Some managed to give themselves gangrene or syphilis with their medically-unsound immunity treatments.
Cholera Cholera is acquired in the same way that dysentery is; by consuming contaminated food or water. Symptoms can be mild, but severe cases can cause life-threatening dehydration. Without treatment, the dehydration can be so severe that kidney failure results, plus shock, coma, and death. Cholera impacted numerous wars, coming in a series of five brutal outbreaks before improvements in sanitation practices were applied.
Tuberculosis Tuberculosis is one of the more mysterious of the afflictions that has affected US soldiers. It’s caused by a mycobacteria that’s transmitted through the air, most commonly spreading to the lungs. It can rest dormant in the body for months or years with no symptoms, but the symptoms are severe when they reemerge. Those infected develop a chronic cough, intermittent fever, weight loss, and night sweats. Untreated, they begin coughing up blood, and the prognosis isn’t great; only about half survive.
The cramped conditions of Civil War camps contributed to the rapid spread of tuberculosis. 6,497 soldiers from the Union Army officially died from it, but many more were discharged due to the illness and died later.
Influenza The flu has been around as long as we can remember, but one flu pandemic was especially destructive. The so-called Spanish Flu infected around a third of the global population, and about 50 million people died; more than twice those killed in WWI.
While most flu outbreaks hit young children and the elderly harder than healthy adults, something about the Spanish flu was different. Plenty of young adults were killed by the pandemic two, including those serving in the armed forces. Roughly 45,000 American soldiers died of either influenza, or the pneumonia that often followed.
Thankfully, modern medicine has helped US soldiers to stay as pandemic-safe as they can be. That, and no more drinking from contaminated latrine streams!
During the Cold War, the U.S. government was hell-bent on one upping the commies in any way possible. In the process, they came up with a number of outlandish plans, such as that time they proposed nuking the moon, interestingly enough a project a young Carl Sagan worked on. There were also many more down to Earth projects like the development of what would become the internet in order to ensure ease of sharing information among the nation’s scientists. This brings us to a project that unfortunately went into history’s dustbin — the U.S. Army’s plan to build a massive military installation on the moon.
Known as Project Horizon, the impetus for the plan came when the Soviets set their sites on the moon. As noted in the Project Horizon report, “The Soviet Union in propaganda broadcasts has announced the 50th anniversary of the present government (1967) will be celebrated by Soviet citizens on the moon.”
U.S. National Space policy intelligence thought this was a little optimistic, but still felt that the Soviets could probably do it by 1968. Military brass deemed this a potential disaster for the United States for several reasons.
Concept art from NASA showing astronauts entering a lunar outpost.
To begin with, if the Soviets got to the moon first, they could potentially build their own military base there which they could use for a variety of secret projects safely away from the United States’ prying eyes. In the extreme, they could potentially launch nuclear attacks on the U.S. with impunity from that base.
Naturally, a military installation completely out of reach of your enemies both terrified and tantalized military officials.
Next up, if the Soviets landed on the moon first, they could try to claim the entire moon for themselves. If they did that, any move by the U.S. to reach the moon could potentially be considered an aggressive act, effectively making the moon off limits to the United States unless willing to risk war back home.
This was deemed to be a potential disaster as the moon, with its low gravity, was seen as a needed hub for launching deep space missions, as well as a better position to map and observe space from than Earth.
Beyond the practical, this would also see the Soviets not just claiming the international prestige of an accomplishment like landing and building a facility on the moon, but also countless other discoveries and advancements after, as they used the moon for scientific discovery and to more easily launch missions beyond.
Of course, the Soviets might do none of these things and allow the U.S. to use the moon as they pleased. But this wasn’t a guarantee. As noted in the Project Horizon report, “Clearly the US would not be in a position to exercise an option between peaceful and military applications unless we are first. In short, the establishment of the initial lunar outpost is the first definitive step in exercising our options.”
The threat of having the moon be in Soviet hands simply would not stand. As Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson would famously state in 1964, “I do not believe that this generation of Americans is willing to resign itself to going to bed each night by the light of a Communist moon.”
Thus, long before Kennedy would make his famous May 25, 1961 declaration before Congress that the U.S. “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth”, military brass in the U.S. were dead-set on not just man stepping foot on the moon, but building a military installation there and sticking around permanently.
And so it was that in March of 1959, Chief of Army Ordnance Major General John Hinrichs was tasked by Chief of Research and Development Lieutenant General Arthur G Trudeau with developing a detailed plan on what was needed to make such a moon base happen. A strict guideline of the plan was that it had to be realistic and, towards that end, the core elements of the plan had to use components and equipment either already developed or close to being completed.
To facilitate the outline for the project, Major General John B. Medaris stated, “We grabbed every specialist we could get our hands on in the Army.”
The resulting report published on June 9, 1959 went into an incredible amount of detail, right down to how the carbon dioxide would be scrubbed from the air at the base.
So what did they come up with?
To begin with, it was deemed the transport side could be accomplished using nothing more than Saturn 1 and Saturn 2 rockets. Specifically, 61 Saturn 1s and 88 Saturn 2s would transport around a total of 490,000 lbs of cargo to the moon. An alternative plan was to use these rockets to launch much of the cargo to a space station in high Earth orbit. These larger sections would then be ferried over to the moon using a dedicated ship that would go back and forth from the Earth to the moon.
The potential advantage here was that for the Saturn rockets to get equipment to the moon, they were limited to about 6000 pounds per trip on average. But if only transporting something to orbit, they could do much greater payloads, meaning fewer rockets needed. The problem, of course, was that this version of the plan required the development of a ferrying rocket and an orbiting space station, which made it the less desirable option. Again, a strict guideline for the project was that the core of the plan had to use existing or near existing equipment and technology in order to expedite the project and get to the moon before the Soviets.
Whichever method was used, once everything was on the moon, a pair of astronauts would be sent to inspect everything and figure out if anything needed replaced. The duration of this first moon landing by man was slated to be a 1-3 month stay.
Next up, whatever replacement items that needed to be sent would be delivered, and then once all that was set, a construction crew would be sent to complete the base. The general plan there was to use explosives and a specially designed space bulldozer/backhoe to create trenches to put the pre-built units into. Once in place, they would simply be attached together and buried in order to provide added protection from meteorites and potential attacks, among other benefits.
As for the features of this base, this included redundant nuclear reactors for power, as well as the potential to augment this with solar power for further redundancy. Various scientific laboratories would also be included, as well as a recreation room, hospital unit, housing quarters, and a section made for growing food in a sustainable way. This food would augment frozen and dehydrated foods supplied from Earth.
The base would also have extensive radio equipment to facilitate the moon functioning as a communications hub for the U.S. military back on Earth that could not be touched by any nation on Earth at the time. On a similar note, it would also function as a relay for deep space communications to and from Earth.
Beyond the core base itself, a moon truck capable of transporting the astronauts and equipment around was proposed, as well as placing bomb shelters all around the base for astronauts to hide in if needed. Water, oxygen, and hydrogen would ultimately be provided from the ice on the moon itself, not only sustaining the astronauts but potentially providing any needed fuel for rockets, again to help facilitate missions beyond the moon and transport back home to Earth.
Of course, being a military installation, it was deemed necessary for the 12 astronauts that were to be stationed at the base at all times to be able to defend themselves against attack. Thus, for their personal sidearms, a general design for a space-gun was presented, more or less being a sort of shotgun modified to work in space and be held and fired by someone in a bulky suit.
The astronauts would also be given many Claymore like devices to be stationed around the base’s perimeter or where deemed needed. These could be fired remotely and more or less just sent a hail of buckshot at high speed wherever they were pointed.
Thanks to the lesser gravity and lack of tangible atmosphere, both of these weapons would have incredible range, if perhaps not the most accurate things in the world.
Artist concept of a lunar colony.
But who needs accuracy when you have nuclear weapons? Yes, the astronauts would be equipped with those too, including the then under development Davey Crockett nuclear gun. Granted, thanks to the lack of atmosphere, the weapon wouldn’t be nearly as destructive as it would be on Earth, but the ionizing radiation kill zone was still around 300-500 meters.
Another huge advantage of the Davey Crockett on the moon was that the range was much greater, reducing the risk to the people firing it, and the whole contraption would only weigh a little over 30-40 pounds thanks to the moon’s lesser gravity, making it easier for the astronauts to cart around than on Earth.
Of course, being a space base, Project Horizon creators naturally included a death ray in its design. This was to be a weapon designed to focus a huge amount of sun rays and ionizing radiation onto approaching enemy targets. Alternatively, another death ray concept was to build a device that would shoot ionizing radiation at enemy soldiers or ships.
As for space suits, according to the Project Creators, despite being several years before the character would make his debut in the comics, they decided an Iron Man like suit was the way to go, rather than fabric based as NASA would choose. To quote the report,
For sustained operation on the lunar surface a body conformation suit having a substantial outer metal surface is considered a necessity for several reasons: (1) uncertainty that fabrics and elastomers can sustain sufficient pressure differential without unacceptable leakage; (2) meteoroid protection; (3) provides a highly reflective surface; (4) durability against abrasive lunar surface; (5) cleansing and sterilization… It should be borne in mind that while movement and dexterity are severe problems in suit design, the earth weight of the suit can be allowed to be relatively substantial. For example, if a man and his lunar suit weigh 300 pounds on earth, they will only weigh 50 pounds on the moon.
Along with death rays, nuclear guns, and badass space suits, no self respecting moon base could be governed by anything as quaint as a simply named committee or the like. No, Project Horizon also proposed creating a “Unified Space Command” to manage all facets of the base and its operation, along with further exploration in space, including potentially a fleet of space ships needed to achieve whatever objectives were deemed appropriate once the base was established.
As to the cost of this whole project, the report stated,
The total cost of the eight and one-half year program presented in this study is estimated to be six billion dollars (*about billion in 2019 dollars*). This is an average of approximately 0 million per year. These figured are a valid appraisal, and, while preliminary, they represent the best estimates of experienced, non-commercial, agencies of the government. Substantial funding is undeniably required for the establishment of a U. S. lunar outpost; however, the implications of the future importance of such an operation should be compared to the fact that the average annual funding required for Project HORIZON would be less than two percent of the current annual defense budget.
Of course, the reality is that the entire Apollo program ended up costing a little over billion, so this billion estimate likely would have ballooned to much greater levels had the base actually been built. That said, even massively more expensive, given the number of years, this would have still represented a relatively small portion of the United States’ annual defense budget, as noted.
Sadly, considering the initial plan was explicitly to make this a peaceful installation unless war broke out, meant mostly for scientific discovery, and considering what such a moon base would have meant for the direction of future space exploration, neither President Dwight D. Eisenhower, nor the American public had much interest in even going to the moon at all, let alone building a base there.
NASA conceptual illustration of a lunar base.
Yes, contrary to popular belief, the Greatest Generation was pretty non-enthusiastic about the whole space thing. In fact, even after Kennedy would make his famous speech before Congress and then at Rice University, a Gallup poll showed almost two-thirds of Americans were against the plan to land a man on the moon, generally seeing it as a waste of taxpayer dollars. Sentiments did not greatly improve from there.
But Kennedy was having none of it, as outlined in his September 12, 1962 speech at Rice University:
We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained, and new rights to be won, and they must be won and used for the progress of all people. For space science, like nuclear science and all technology, has no conscience of its own. Whether it will become a force for good or ill depends on man, and only if the United States occupies a position of preeminence can we help decide whether this new ocean will be a sea of peace or a new terrifying theater of war… But why, some say, the Moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win…
As for the U.S., as the initial glow of the accomplishment of putting a man on the moon rapidly wore off, and with public support almost nonexistent for further missions to the moon, it was deemed that taxpayer dollars would be much better spent for more down to Earth activities like spending approximately SEVEN TIMES the Apollo program’s entire cost sending older taxpayer’s children off to kill and be killed in Vietnam… a slightly less inspiring way to counter the communists. Thus, efforts towards the moon and beyond were mostly curtailed, with what limited funds were available for space activities largely shifted to the space shuttle program and more obviously practical missions closer to home, a move the Soviets quickly copied as well unfortunately.
A little talked about facet of Kennedy’s goal for landing on the moon was actually to have the Soviets and the U.S. join together in the effort. As Kennedy would state in the aforementioned Rice speech, “I… say that space can be explored and mastered without feeding the fires of war, without repeating the mistakes that man has made in extending his writ around this globe of ours. There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again.”
Unfortunately, each time Kennedy proposed for the U.S. and Soviets join efforts towards this unifying goal, which seemingly would have seen the Cold War become a lot less hot, the Soviets declined. That said, for whatever it’s worth, according to Sergei Khrushchev, the son of then Soviet Premiere Nikita Khrushchev, while his father initial thought it unwise to allow the U.S. such intimate knowledge of their rocket technology, he supposedly eventually changed his mind and had decided to push for accepting Kennedy’s proposal. Said Sergei, “He thought that if the Americans wanted to get our technology and create defenses against it, they would do that anyway. Maybe we could get (technology) in the bargain that would be better for us…”
Sergei also claimed that his father also saw the benefit of better relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union as a way to facilitate a massive cutback in military spending that was a huge drain on Soviet resources.
Sergei would further note that Kennedy’s assassination stopped plans to accept the offer, and the Johnson administration’s similar offer was rejected owing to Khrushchev not trusting or having the same respect for Johnson as he had developed for Kennedy.
Whatever the truth of that, thanks to declassified documents after the fall of the Soviet Union, we know that the Soviets were, in fact, originally not just planning to put a human on the moon, but also planning on building a base there as well. Called Zvezda, the planned Soviet moon installation was quite similar to the one outlined in Project Horizon, except instead of digging trenches, this base would simply be placed on the surface and then, if needs be, buried, but if not, the base was to be a large mobile platform to use to explore the moon.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
By 1944, the tides of the war in the Pacific had turned against the Japanese Empire. The United States and its allies repelled the Imperial Japanese Navy in critical battles like Midway, Milne Bay, and Guadalcanal. The stage was set for the U.S. to retake the Philippines in 1944, but the Japanese were getting desperate. Low on ships, manpower, and material, they turned to the one thing they had in abundance — zeal for the Emperor.
That zeal led to the surprise kamikaze attacks that have come to define the war in its closing days. The amazing video producers at AARP are dedicated to keeping the memory of veterans of every American war alive and their latest offering is the story of Phil Hollywood aboard the USS Melvin at the Surigao Strait in incredible 4K video.
The Melvin was a Fletcher-class destroyer, part of the U.S. 7th Fleet Support Force moving to help the Allied landing at Leyte. But first, they had to get through the 47-mile Surigao Strait. Waiting for them was a fleet of Japanese battleships ready to halt their advance and stymie the allied landing — and the famous return of General Douglas MacArthur to his beloved Philippine Islands.
Phil Hollywood was a young sailor who enlisted after Pearl Harbor at age 17. He was aboard the Melvin at Surigao and talked to AARP about his role as a Fire Controlman 2nd Class during what would become the last battleship-to-battleship combat in the history or warfare. The Melvin was his first assignment, a ship made of, essentially, engines, hull, and guys with guns.
“It was everything I ever wanted in a fighting ship,” he said. “Facing the enemy was everything. I didn’t think of anything else.”
Former U.S. Navy FC2 Phil Hollywood, a World War II Pacific veteran, looking at photos of destroyers from that era.
The Melvin was supposed to be looking for flights of Japanese planes via radar and alert the main landing area at Leyte. It was not safe to be on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II, even by the standards of that war. Some 77 destroyers were lost in the war and 17 of those were from kamikaze attacks. Hollywood’s battle station was at the top of the director, moving guns on target.
“There were moments I was afraid, not sure if I was going to live or die,” he told AARP. “But one thing’s for certain, I wanted to fight and save our ship. The patriotism was raging in my blood.”
World War II veteran Philip Hollywood enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old. He was just 19 when he took part in one of history’s greatest naval battles.
Hollywood recalled what it was like to face the kamikaze pilots in battle. The pilots were not well trained. For many, it was their first and last flights, and the planes were loaded up with weapons so traditional flight profiles weren’t really able to be used by the enemy pilots. It was a frightening experience. It seemed like no matter how much they threw at the pilots, they kept coming.
“During a kamikaze attack, being in the main battery directory, we were on telescopes,” he recalled. “It looked like he was coming down our throats. I was frightened, my heart was pounding, one looked like it was gonna hit us. We kept hitting him and hitting him… until I could see the flex of his wings breaking up.”
That was the moment he looked death in the face. Luckily, the plane crashed into the ocean. For Hollywood, it was both a sigh of relief and a moment to think about. Maybe the first thought other than avenging Pearl Harbor – which says a lot for the salty combat sailor Hollywood was by this time.
“It was a new experience,” he said. “Trying to kill an opponent who only wanted to kill you and not survive. Anyone at that time who says they weren’t scared… I don’t think they’re telling the truth.”
The Destroyer USS Melvin.
The Battle of Surigao Strait was really a part of the greater Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in military history. It put 300 American ships against some 68 Japanese ships. The Japanese had always believed that one great naval battle could knock the United States out of the war and win it for Japan. This was a must-win battle for both sides, and it showed. The fighting at every level was intense but only one side could come out on top, and it wasn’t the Japanese.
Surigao was just the beginning of the greater battle, and sailors like FC2 Phil Hollywood and the crew of the Melvin started off the biggest naval battle of all time, a battle that would rage on for three full days.
It was the Red Army’s “Iwo Jima” moment, Soviet troops fixing the flag of the Soviet Union on top of the most infamous symbol of Hitler’s rise to power. On May 2, 1945, Soviet photographer Yevgeny Khaldei snapped the now-famous photo of Alyosha Kovalyov and Abdulkhakim Ismailov raising the hammer and sickle over the Reichstag.
But the truth behind the photo, who was in the photo, and who actually raised the Soviet victory banner, was clouded in the fog of war and muddled by the Russian propaganda machine for decades. The first to raise the flag were a Kazakh, Lt. Rakhimzhan Koshkarbaev and Pvt. Georgij Bulatov, a Russian from Sverdlovsk.
At first, the Kremlin announced that Georgia-born Meliton Kantaria and Russian Mikhail Yegorov were the men in the photo. The men were hailed as heroes and lived the rest of their lives in the glory created by Soviet propaganda.
Only after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 did the truth come out. Kovalyov and Ismailov were really the ones who hoisted the flag on the building… in the photo. But they weren’t the first to raise one. One story has it that a Sergeant Mikhail Menin, part of a five-man fire team led by Vladimir Makov raised a flag on the building first.
In 2007, the Russian Institute of Military History announced that honor went to Koshkarbaev and Bulatov. The only problem was they hoisted the red banner at 10:30 at night. No one believed these two, however – it was too dark for photos.
A documentary film titled “The Motherland Calls” about Kazakhs in the Great Patriotic War (the Soviet term for WWII), relayed anecdotal evidence from other Red Army veterans that described Koshkarbaev and other men from the 674th regiment moving on the parliament building – including the Soviet filmmaker and combat cameraman Roman Karmen.
Karmen recalled filming “the Kazakh officer” as a Red Army combat cameraman in Berlin.
“You see, we received an order from Moscow: the Victory Banner over the Reichstag should be hoisted by representatives of Georgia and Russia, but it was difficult to stop. I was told to cut the frames [of Koshkarbaev], but they are preserved, in the archives.”
Kovalyov and Ismailov were pressured by the the KGB to stay quiet about their role in the flag raising. Bulatov was found hanged in his apartment in 1955.
Soviet leadership began pressuring their troops to capture the building in preparation for the International Workers Day celebrations for May 1st. The Soviets tried to drape red banners on the building via aircraft, but came up short when the banners were caught on the girders of the roof.
But as of May 30th, Hitler still controlled the Reichstag.
The German parliament building, Hitler’s rubber stamp, was defended by 1,000 German troops, so Soviet leadership ordered nine divisions to attack the building. Red Army troops used mortars fired horizontally to punch through bricked-up doorway throughout the building. They fought room by room until Soviet fire teams could make their way to the stairs and the roof of the building.
By May 2nd, the only Germans left in the building surrendered from the basement. That’s when the photographer Yevgeny Khaldei made his way up to the roof and enlisted Kovalyov and Ismailov to help raise the now-famous red banner. He burned through a whole roll of film taking the image.
The United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was authorized by Congress and signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on July 30, 1942. Like their female counterparts servicing in other branches of the military, the primary function of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was to release men for combat duty. The jobs available to them were also very similar. Members served in occupations classified as professional, semi-professional, clerical, skilled trades, services, and sales. While over 200 job categories were made available to members of the Women’s Reserve, over half of members worked in clerical positions. Only Caucasian and Native American Women were accepted into service, the Marine Corps barred African American and Japanese American women from its ranks.
At its height, the Women’s Reserve had recruited more than 17,000 members. As was discussed in Part I, the military used a variety of tactics to recruit female members. Films such as Lady Marines, were used to provide a look at the life of a female military recruit in an effort to make new recruits more comfortable with the process. The film, shot at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, follows a class of recruits from their arrival, to graduation, highlighting their training and job opportunities.
The United States Navy also recognized the importance of allowing females to serve in their ranks. The United States Naval Reserve (WAVES), was established and signed into law by President Franklin Roosevelt on July 30, 1942, the same day the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. Women were accepted into the WAVES as commissioned officers as well as at the enlisted level in order to release men for sea duty. They served at 900 shore stations in the United States and included over 85,000 members. While primarily comprised of white women, 74 African-American women were allowed to serve during the program’s existence.
The color film, WAVES at Work, highlights the variety of jobs made available to members of the WAVES. Women wanting to serve in the medical, clerical, communication, and culinary fields were able to do so as a member of the WAVES. One of the most interesting jobs highlighted in the film is that of the Air Controlman. Those serving in this capacity would direct planes and ground crews from a control tower at naval air stations.
Both films, Lady Marines and WAVES at Work, touch on the values discussed in Part I femininity, benefits of joining the military, and the importance of the work needing done. These films also make it a point to highlight the opportunities made available to women in the military. Female recruits were provided with job training in non-traditional areas, training that was not widely available to their civilian counterparts . You can view both films in their entirety below.
When people think of American firearm manufacturers, legendary names like Colt, Smith & Wesson and Springfield come to mind. However, the modern firearms that today’s Springfield Armory makes like the M1A, SAINT AR-15s, XD pistols and Hellcat sub-compact pistol have little, if any, relation to classic American firearms like the M1903 Springfield and M1 Garand rifles that served in the World Wars. To explain, we have to go back to America’s fight for independence.
In 1777, George Washington was searching for a suitable location for an arms repository. General Henry Knox, chief artillery officer of the Continental Army, recommended Springfield, Massachusetts. Though the town was small and possessed little industrial capacity, it was not meant to host any sort of firearms manufacturing facilities. Rather, the Continental Army needed a central location to store and distribute firearms and munitions throughout New England. Springfield lay at the intersection of three rivers including the Connecticut River and four major roads that led to New York City, Boston, Albany, and Montreal. After scouting the site, Washington approved the location and the Springfield Armory was born.
Although the armory did not produce any firearms, musket cartridges and gun carriages were produced there to support the war effort. As intended, the armory continued to stockpile and distribute muskets, cannons, and other weapons throughout the war. By the 1780s, Springfield Armory was America’s premiere ammunition and weapons arsenal. This made it a prime target for Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays and his Regulators.
Burdened by debts and taxes from the war, Shays and other veterans felt betrayed by the government that they had fought to establish. In an effort to overturn it, Shays and his followers marched on Springfield Armory on January 25, 1787. The armory was defended by state militia who fired grape shot at the rebels, forcing them to flee. Four Regulators were killed and 20 were wounded. The rebellion was routed and eventually put down and the armory was untouched.
In 1794, construction of manufacturing facilities began at Springfield Armory. The next year, the armory began producing its first firearms. Though the it employed just 40 workers and produced 245 muskets, it was the start of American national firearms manufacturing. Congress would later establish a second national armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). However, Harpers Ferry would never grow to match Springfield and would be destroyed during the Civil War.
Throughout the 19th century, Springfield became a hub for firearm design, research, and production. This national armory model mirrored European nations who had dedicated facilities that were funded, maintained, and operated by the government. Under this model, military firearms like the Trapdoor rifle, M1903 Springfield, and M1 Garand were designed and primarily built by the Springfield Armory. Though private companies like Winchester and Remington were contracted to produce rifles during wartime, the manufacturing processes and procedures were all developed and standardized by Springfield.
By WWII, Springfield Armory had over 15,000 employees and was producing a majority of military firearms. However, employment and production was scaled down significantly after the war. Though Springfield did develop and build the M14 to replace the M1 in 1959, U.S. defense policy was changing.
The idea of maintaining a national armory at the expense of the tax-payer was brought into question in the 1960s by then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. He believed that it would be more economical to contract private industry for the design and manufacture of military firearms. Rather than having to constantly scale a national armory between peace and wartime, private companies could be lobbied and compete for government contracts when necessary. Under McNamara’s guidance, the Springfield Armory was slowly scaled back.
By 1968, Springfield Armory was completely shut down. Future rifles like the M16/M4 were designed and built by private companies like Armalite, Colt, and FN. However, just a couple years later, the Springfield Armory name was trademarked by Elmer Balance. Through his Texas-based company, LH Manufacturing, Balance had the idea to build a civilian version of the military M14 rifle and market it with the Springfield name. Using surplus M14 parts, Balance created what we know today as the Springfield M1A.
In 1974, Balance sold his entire enterprise, tooling, trademarks, and all, to the Reese family in Geneseo, Illinois. Springfield relocated from Texas to Illinois where it remains today. Though the M1A is a derivative of the M14 that was designed and manufactured by the original Springfield Armory, the rifle is the closest relation that the modern Springfield Armory has to its Revolutionary War-era namesake.
Despite this, Springfield Armory, Inc. maintains the federal logo of two crossed cannons with a cannonball and the writing “Since 1794”. Moreover, many of the company’s firearms are sub-contracted to other manufacturers including the XD pistol series and Hellcat pistol which are made in Croatia.
Today, the actual Springfield Armory facility in Massachusetts is owned and maintained by the National Park Service as a historic landmark. Though the national Springfield Armory is gone, its impact on American history is undeniable. In addition to designing and building war-winning weapons like the M1903 and M1 Garand, Springfield also revolutionized the manufacturing industry with innovations like interchangeable parts and the Blanchard lathe. The national armory also introduced modern business practices like hourly wages. While the modern private company is a cornerstone of the American firearms market, it’s important to note the difference between it and the national armory that it draws its name from.