Kamikaze attacks — known as “special attacks” by Japan — were an infamous tactic designed to not only destroy American ships but also strike fear in the Allied navies.
But two months before the first kamikaze attacks were carried out at the Battle of Leyte Gulf in Oct. 1944, a Japanese transport pilot pitched the idea of a kamikaze super weapon, the Oka “Cherry Blossom” Type 11 plane.
While the Oka was technically a plane, it was more like a pilot-guided missile. It was a 4,700-pound aircraft that contained 2,600 pounds of high explosives. That left only 2,100 pounds for the body, armor-piercing nose cone, and three rocket engines.
Hitting the enemy ship at up to 576 mph, it punched right through most armor and detonated its 2,600-pound payload inside the ship.
While those 2,600 pounds of explosives gave the kamikaze a big boom when it hit its target, the small control surfaces and extreme speed made it very hard to aim.
The Oka’s commonly made it past enemy defenses and outran pursuing fighters, but they sometimes missed their target entirely.
Also, the bombers carrying the Oka were susceptible to attack. While carrying the massive weapon, the planes lost maneuverability, range, and speed. The first thing a Betty with an Oka was supposed to do if it came under attack was drop the Oka and attempt to evade the fighters.
This led to another problem for the Oka pilots. When the bomber crews felt a route was too dangerous, they’d often order the Oka pilot into the suicide plane early and launch it.
The pilot would be left sitting in the cockpit, piloting his coffin into the ocean with no chance at destroying a target.
In the end, the more than 850 Oka 11s produced sank only one ship and damaged six others. Longer range variants were produced that could fly up to 81 miles. They would have been a serious threat to Navy ships during an invasion, but none ever saw combat.
One of the key reasons the Americans were so dominant over the Japanese in the Pacific Theater of World War II was the security of communications. The U.S. broke the Japanese code early on in the war. While the Japanese could have broken American military cyphers, as they did diplomatic codes before the war, they still wouldn’t have understood the language.
The reason is that those codes were in languages of American Indian tribes, limited to the U.S. and only spoken by members of those tribes. And I don’t know if you’ve ever met American Indians, but they are very, very pro-U.S. military — so good luck getting a code talker to reveal their secrets
The use of American Indian languages in U.S. forces’ communications safeguarded every American move. There aren’t many countries that could use that same style of code. It wasn’t just Navajo, though. Marines used Comanche and Lakota to communicate between units as well.
The United States isn’t the only country to have such obscure languages safeguarded by limited use, however. In the event of another major war outbreak, there are a few others that could be used in place of American Indian languages — in case the Russians and Chinese are wise to that tactic by now.
But the Russians have their own potential code languages, too.
There aren’t many languages like Finnish around. As it is, the language is a Uralic language, related only to Estonian and Hungarian — not one of its Scandinavian neighbors. Despite being derived from other languages in the area of the Ural Mountains, it’s unrelated to Russian. An offshoot of Finnish, Mansi, only has some 1,000 speakers left and would be an even better choice.
The Russians could implement this language as a basis for their own code, so it would behoove U.S. intelligence to learn it. Chechen is a very isolated language and there aren’t many expatriate populations speaking the language outside of the former Soviet Union. As it is, only 1.3 million people speak Chechen.
While the language of Ireland is an Indo-European language, it is currently only spoken by just over 73,000 native users.
This lonely language is spoken in a small area in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. As of 2016, there were roughly 750,000 speakers left and has no known language relatives. Marines actually did use this language to great effect during WWII.
Though Welsh is an official language in Wales and is widely known as a limited language, Welsh has been proven to be secure for use in combat in both the Falklands War and in Bosnia.
This indigenous language is spoken in parts of Ethiopia and has only 400 speakers — but Ethiopia has long been a dedicated American ally since World War II, volunteering troops for the Korean War, Global War on Terror, and today’s UN Peacekeeping operations.
In almost every war in history, spies have had a big role in the outcome of the war. Those who played both sides, put themselves in danger in order to learn secrets, and played the part to get helpful information — they played a huge part in the history books. And in most cases, they don’t earn the credit they deserve. Because they were successful, their roles were under the radar, leading few people to understand just how they helped turn the course of a given war.
In the Civil War, female spies were especially helpful in providing key information. There are noted individuals who brought their espionage skills to the table in order to help their side. This is worth noting because — when considering the war and who sacrificed, most often, men get the glory. They were on the front lines, they were being injured or killed for their duty, while women stayed home and filled in with the work that needed to be done at home and in factories.
However, it’s this very stereotype that caused women to be such successful spies during the Civil War. In most cases, they were trusted and considered to not have a role in the war. Therefore, women could easily find information or infiltrate the other side. It’s said that hundreds of women got information by flirting and tricking soldiers into giving up key information.
Other methods were used to share secrets, such as hiding items in intricate hairdos, or flashing a fan with Morse Code. In one particular instance, it’s said that a Confederate spy, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, flashed her fan across the Potomac River, sending a message to hidden soldiers.
But war secrets weren’t the only things being communicated during the Civil War. Harriet Tubman famously helped free hundreds of slaves, thanks to her work obtaining secrets and the locations of hidden underwater mines.
Smuggled Items and Belle Boyd
In addition to finding secrets and passing them along, women would also smuggle goods to their respective side’s forces. They might place medicine, ammunition or even weapons in a basket or in the hoops of their skirts. Due to modesty trends of the time, it was considered indecent to check women’s clothing, so it was known that they would not be searched by male guards. Women also sewed important notes into the seams of their dresses, hiding key information in plain sight.
Maria “Belle” Boyd was a known force of the time. She pioneered these methods of smuggling and even recruited others to do the same. Working for the Confederacy, Boyd got her start when she killed a drunk Union soldier who “addressed my mother and myself in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive.” Armed, she shot him and received no repercussions for the action.
At just 17, this was the start of her stint as “the Rebel spy.” Soon after, Boyd began making friends at Union camps and eavesdropping on their talk, reporting back to the Confederates. She flirted with soldiers, who shared secrets with the temptress time and time again.
The Union learned of her interactions and gave her many nicknames in the press, including: the Rebel Joan of Arc, Amazon of Secessia, La Belle Rebelle, and the Siren of the Shenandoah. Her attire was listed in the New York Tribune so that she might be identified by soldiers who saw her in person.
Eventually, a Union soldier helped her escape to Canada. She wrote an exaggerated memoir while living in Europe, having married the soldier who helped her escape.
Brig. Gen. Walter McIlhenny is one of the greatest US Marine Corps war heroes that you’ve never heard of. The World War II officer of the 1st Marine Division received the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, and two Purple Hearts during the Guadalcanal campaign. After an intense battle, he even captured the same Japanese sword he’d been struck in the helmet with. But “Tabasco Mac” is most remembered as the driving force behind bringing tiny bottles of Tabasco hot sauce to every American GI’s C rations during the Vietnam War.
In 1949, the Marine took the reins of his family’s McIlhenny Co., producer of the world-famous Tabasco red pepper hot sauce, and remained in charge until his death in 1985. The spicy empire was the brainchild of his great-grandfather, Edmund A. McIlhenny, an amateur gardener and banker. When Edmund McIlhenny returned to his home on Avery Island in the Louisiana bayou country following the American Civil War, he discovered his crops of capsicum peppers had survived. He took three basic ingredients — peppers, salt from the island’s salt mines, and vinegar — and aged them together for 30 days to create the special potion that has been admired for generations.
McIlhenny’s red hot pepper sauce was first bottled into discarded cologne containers and referenced informally in conversation as “That Famous Sauce Mr. McIlhenny Makes.” His first commercial pepper crop emerged in 1868, and he sent 658 bottles at $1 apiece to grocery stores around the Gulf Coast, mainly in New Orleans. Two years later, McIlhenny secured a patent for Tabasco red pepper sauce — named in honor of the Mexican state where the peppers were sourced — and added a sprinkler fitment to ensure the concentrated sauce was sprinkled and not poured.
Walter McIlhenny, the World War II Marine general, received several handwritten letters mailed from American GIs in Vietnam requesting tasty recipes. His great-grandfather’s original resolve to add flavor to the boring and monotonous diets of those in the Reconstruction South inspired him to do the same with ground troops’ C rations. The obligation to produce a fun and easy-to-follow guide led to the 1966 publication of The Charlie Ration Cookbook, or No Food Is Too Good for the Man Up Front.
The camouflaged cookbook with cartoon illustrations and clever recipes inside was wrapped around a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco and placed in a waterproof container to be shipped overseas to Vietnam. Some of the more popular and humorous recipes included Fox Hole Dinner for Two (Turkey and Chicken Poulette), Cease Fire Casserole, and Fish with Frontline Stuffing.
The recipes spoke to the grunts and were a reminder of home. “The casserole can be elegant, but as most men know, women often use it as a camouflage for a hasty meal after a long bridge game,” reads the recipe for Tin Can Casserole. “Here’s a recipe to put the Old Lady’s Bridge Casserole to shame.” The Breast of Chicken Under Bullets recipe suggests “breast of chicken under glass was never intended for areas where glass and shrapnel fly.”
George Creighton, a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, put Tabasco on everything. “The rations get boring and you just need something to liven them up and Tabasco does that,” Creighton told the Baltimore Sun in 2003. He added Tabasco to his beef, to his peas, and to his spaghetti. A favorite, according to Creighton, was a mixture of water buffalo meat with C rations — “like a mulligan stew with rice and put in Tabasco sauce and add flavor to the whole mix.”
Tabasco continued the tradition into the 1980s and through Operation Desert Storm and published The Unofficial MRE Recipe Booklet providing creative alternatives for soldiers looking to please their palates. The innovative American family also collaborated with comic strip writer Mort Walker to illustrate it with the famous Beetle Bailey characters. Inside McIlhenny’s second cookbook he promised “Meals, Ready-to-Excite” with recipes of Paratrooper Pork and Beans, 40 MM Beanwiches, Chopper Chipped Beef in Cream Gravy, Ham Grenades, and Victory Pot Pie. The cookbook kept with tradition from Vietnam and came in a Tabasco quick-draw camouflaged holster with a 2-ounce bottle of Tabasco sauce.
The most famous hot sauce brand in the world is synonymous with flavorful and fun experiences for American service members from Vietnam to present day. “It’s a little touch of home in far-flung places,” said Paul McIlhenny, who was president of Tabasco from 1998 to 2012. “We want to defend the world against bland food, wherever it may be.” Thanks to Tabasco, and with help from the Charlie Ration Cookbook, GI Joe has gone gourmet.
Friday, August 14, honors the contributions of Indigenous people who helped the war effort during WWII. Today also marks the observance of US code relating to Indigenous languages and the participation of First nations tribe members in U.S. military conflicts. This year marks the 38th year the holiday has been observed, established by President Reagan to honor all tribes associated with the war effort including (but not limited to!) the Cherokee, Choctaw, Comanche, Hopi and Navajo tribes.
On this Navajo Code Talkers Day, take a step back in time to understand the history of this observance and understand a little more about covert U.S. operations, too.
A Complex Origin Story
Let’s get one thing clear – the name of this holiday has less to do with the Navajo tribe itself and more to do with the broader term that encompasses the “Navajo Code” used to help fool the fascist Nazis and imperialist Japanese during WWII.
The traditional role of an Indigenous “warrior” involved more than just fighting enemies. Warriors were men in communities who cared for people and helped during times of difficulties and were committed to ensuring their tribes survived. Because warriors were regarded with so much respect, boys trained from an early age to develop the appropriate mental, emotional, and physical strength required of warriors. Many tribes had several specific warrior subgroups within their communities, which had their own ceremonies and ways of life. The warrior tradition was integral to Indigenous life, and it was this call that encouraged many Indigenous people to serve in the military. In addition to wanting to defend the United States, the military offered economic security and a way off the reservation, an opportunity for education, training, and travel.
More than 12,000 Indigenous American Indians served in WWI, about 25 percent of the male population at the time. During WWII, an estimated 44,000 men and women served.
WWI Training and Recruitment
Navajo Code is thought to have been established from the many conflicts experienced by Indigenous people. The earliest reports of the relationship between Code Talkers and the military can be found during WWI when the Choctaw tribe language was used to relay messages related to surprise attacks on German forces.
WWI veteran Philip Johnston understood the value of code talkers and suggested that the USMC use a similar communication strategy for WWII efforts. Though he was not Indigenous, Johnston had grown up on a Navajo reservation and saw the success of the Choctaw efforts in WWI.
During the war, more than 400 Navajos were recruited as Code Talkers, and their training was intense. Some Code Talkers enlisted while others were drafted, but the majority of all Code Talkers served underage and had to lie about their age to join. At the height of the Code Talker involvement in WWII, there were service personnel from more than 16 tribes.
Constructing the Code
Many of the Code Talkers recruited simply used their tribal languages to convey messages. These were known as Type-Two Codes.
In 1942, the Marine Corps recruited the entire 382nd Platoon to develop, memorize and implement the Navajo-coded language. This language became one of many Type-One codes that translated English into a coded message. A Type-One code combined the languages of the Navajo, Hopi, Comanche, and Meskwaki.
To develop the Type-One code, the original 29 Navajo Code Talkers first decided a Navajo word for each letter of the English alphabet. To keep things simple, the Code Talkers decided to associate words with animals that were familiar to them. Here’s an example of the words they used:
Code Talkers were also required to develop specific military-related words for planes, ships and weapons. After looking at these items’ images, the Code Talker squad came up with words that seemed to fit the pictures.
To transmit code, a Code Talker was given a message in English, which was then translated and sent to another Code Talker. To avoid detection, none of these messages were written down until they were received.
Code Talker needed to be intelligent and brave to ensure some of the most dangerous battles and remain calm under fire. They served proudly and with honor and distinction, and their actions provided critical support in several campaigns in the Pacific and are credited with saving thousands of fellow Americans’ lives. The Navajo and Hopi served in the Pacific in the war against Japan, while the Comanches fought the Germans in Europe and the Meskwakis fought the Germans in North Africa. Code Talkers from other tribes served in various locations throughout the European and Pacific theaters. There are very few Code Talkers left alive today, but it’s clear that the outcome of WWII would have been much different without their efforts.
The Barrett M82, known by members of the U.S. military as the M107 .50-caliber semi-automatic rifle, is one of the military’s most beloved weapons in use today. Its service history is as storied – and as American – as the history of its inventor, Ronnie Barrett.
Before his name became synonymous with American military supremacy, Barrett was a professional photographer in his home state of Tennessee. He never studied science or engineering in college – in fact, he didn’t go to college at all. He went to Murfreesboro High School before going out and starting a photography studio.
That all changed during the course of his usual work.
And many, many U.S. and allied troops are better off for it.
In 1982, Barrett was snapping a photo of a river patrol gunboat during a military exercise on the Stones River near Nashville, Tenn. Mounted on that boat were two M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns. The size of the ammunition cartridge got Ronnie Barrett thinking. He was “wowed” by the Ma Deuce, but he wanted to know if the .50-caliber cartridge could be fired from a shoulder-mounted sniper rifle.
He was out on the water that day to snap promotional photos for the Browning Firearms Company, but he ended up starting a rival firm, one that would become as closely-linked with the U.S. military as Browning.
The photo also won a first-place award from the Tennessee Professional Photographers Association. No joke.
(Photo by Ronnie Barrett)
Barrett went home and began work on a 3D sketch of what would soon become the Model 82A1 – M107. Within just seven years, Barrett was able to sell his powerful sniper rifle to the Swedish military and eventually the United States Marine Corps, then the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.
Not bad at all for someone with no college education, but a whole lotta vision. Welcome to Ronnie Barrett’s America, folks.
The 3rd Infantry Division, then known simply as the 3rd Division, was activated in November 1917 for service in World War I. They were fighting the Germans by April 1918. The green troops of the 3rd Division were thrown into the line in the midst of a strong German attack along the Marne River.
The Marne had been the site of a significant battle that had turned back the German onslaught into France in 1914. It would be remembered once again in 1918.
After the Germans’ Spring Offensives had ground to a halt, they still sought a breakthrough of the Allied lines. Hoping to draw forces away from Flanders, where the Germans hoped to eventually drive through to Paris, they launched a large scale offensive to the south in the vicinity of Reims.
In the early morning darkness of July 15, 1918 the Germans began crossing the Marne River in assault boats.
Under a massive artillery barrage, the German Seventh Army smashed into the French Sixth Army. Under the brutal bombardment and onslaught of German stormtroopers, the French fell back in disarray. All along the line the Germans were quickly gaining ground – except for one spot on their right flank.
This was the position held by the 3rd Division. Particularly stubborn resistance came from the 38th Infantry Regiment under the command of Col. Ulysses McAlexander. It was dug in along the riverbank with a secondary line holding a raised railroad embankment. As the Germans crossed the river they were met with murderous fire from the Americans.
As they landed, the Germans quickly found themselves engaged in brutal hand-to-hand combat.
Unfortunately for the Americans, there were simply too many Germans and slowly but surely the advanced platoons on the riverbank were wiped out. The Germans were then met at the railroad embankment, where according to Capt. Jesse Woolridge, they gave a thousand times more than they took, but even those positions became untenable. Reinforcements were quickly rushed in and smashed the beleaguered German troops.
This effort finally broke up the attack.
In Woolridge’s account, he states “it’s God’s truth that one Company of American soldiers beat and routed a full regiment of picked shock troops of the German Army.”
While the rest of the 3rd Division was pushed back, the 38th Infantry was giving the Germans hell. Refusing to relinquish his position despite his exposed flanks, Col. McAlexander pulled his two battalions on the flanks back to form a horseshoe shape. The shape of his defense and the stubbornness with which he held it earned McAlexander and the rest of the regiment an enduring nickname – the Rock of the Marne.
The nickname eventually came to encompass the entire division for their stellar defense of their sector during the massive German attack. The Division would later adopt the special designation The Marne Division as well for their part in the battle.
At the Second Battle of the Marne, the 3rd Division also received its official motto. As French troops retreated, 3rd Division soldiers rushed to the scene to hold the line. The division commander, Maj. Gen. Joseph Dickman, gave his famous orders, in French so their allies would understand, “Nous resterons la!” – We shall remain here!
The battle was significant. Not just to the 3rd Division but to the entire American war effort. The Americans were relatively untested at the time and their success in holding back the Germans at the Marne garnered great respect from their European counterparts.
Stopping the German offensive also opened the way for the immediate counterattacks of the Aisne-Marne Offensive and finally the Hundred Days offensive that would eventually lead to Germany’s capitulation. The division’s stand was called “one of the most brilliant pages in the annals of military history” by the commander of the American Expeditionary Forces, Gen. John Pershing.
During its spectacular march against the Axis, some 35 members of the division were awarded the Medal of Honor for their action in combat including their most famous member, Audie Murphy.
The Marne Division later fought in the Korean War before spending the Cold War guarding Germany against possible Russian aggression. Since 2003, the division has been actively involved in the Global War on Terror and led the US Army’s invasion of Iraq.
It still remains one of the bloodiest battles of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was a 48-day house-to-house urban nightmare that left a major city in ruin and an insurgency reeling.
But while Marines (and their Army brothers) lost many men in the fight for Fallujah, Iraq — including 82 Americans killed and more than 600 wounded — it remains a vivid memory for the thousands of Leathernecks who fought there and has earned its place as an iconic battle in the history of the Corps.
Dubbed “Operation al Fajr,” or New Dawn, the battle served as a major test for modern urban fighting in a counterinsurgency and tested many newly emerging theories on how to confront guerrilla armies. It also drew on the Marines’ history, recalling battles like Hue City, and Okinawa.
In the end, it was about the Marines and their brothers, fighting for each and every inch and looking after their own.
Happy 241st birthday United States Marine Corps!
Marines had to engage insurgents in house-to-house fighting.
Marines moved in small, squad-sized units to clear buildings block-by-block.
For many Marine officers and NCOs, this was their first major test of combat.
When it came to taking down Fallujah, the Marines used everything they had.
Once Marines secured a building, they rearmed, reoriented and moved on to the next target.
When the Marines were done, the city of Fallujah was in shambles.
Leathernecks went on for days without sleep, sometimes grabbing rest only for a few minutes before taking up the fight once more.
Classic Marine quote…
“We took down the hardest city in Iraq. This is what people join the Marine Corps to do. You might be in the Marine Corps for 20 years and never get this chance again — to take down a full-fledged city full of insurgents,” said Cpl. Garrett Slawatycki, then a squad leader with India Co., 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. “And we did it.”
While the converted collier, USS Langley, was America’s first aircraft carrier, it wasn’t America’s first fleet carrier. That honor goes to the converted battlecruiser, USS Lexington.
Under the terms laid out in the 1923 Washington Naval Treaty, a naval arms control accord, the United States had the right to convert two of six planned battlecruisers into aircraft carriers. The Lexington and her sister ship, USS Saratoga, were selected and effectively saved from the scrapheap for this role. The Lexington was commissioned in 1927 and, over the next 14 years, she served in the peacetime Navy.
One of the explosions that doomed USS Lexington during the Battle of the Coral Sea. (US Navy photo)
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Lexington took part in the abortive effort to relieve Wake Island. She then took part in various hit-and-run attacks on Japanese bases in the Marshalls until she went to the South Pacific to ward off a Japanese thrust towards Port Moresby. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Lexington’s planes helped to sink the Japanese carrier Shoho, but on May 8, she came under attack.
The Lexington was struck by two torpedoes at least one bomb. The ship’s crew worked hard to keep the vessel afloat. The ship’s Damage Control Officer, Commander Howard R. Healy, suggested to the captain that if he were to take additional torpedo hits, “it would be as well to take them on the starboard side.” Healy would die in the process of controlling the extensive damage done.
A series of internal explosions would force the United States to scuttle the Lexington, making her the first fleet carrier America lost in WWII. She went down in the Coral Sea in 1942, but not before the Japanese were turned back, suffering a strategic defeat.
Earlier this week, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced on Facebook that he found the Lexington. See this heroic vessel, whose sacrifice saved Port Moresby, in the video below.
The B-2 Spirit is the most expensive bomber ever built, with a $500 million fly-away cost that climbs much higher when the RD costs are taken into account. The B-2’s story, though, really starts in World War II – because the B-2 was the culmination of an idea.
Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that Jack Northrop, the founder of Northrop Aviation, had been pursuing the flying wing since 1923. By 1940, he got a technology demonstrator up.
The next year, the U.S. Army Air Force was looking for a long-range bomber that could hit Europe from bases in the U.S. in the event England were to be knocked out of the war.
Northrop submitted a four-engine propeller-driven design that the Army Air Force designated the B-35. It was to have a range of 8,150 miles, a top speed of 391 miles per hour, and a maximum bomb load of 51,070 pounds. Production versions were to have up to 20 .50-caliber machine guns for defense.
The plane had a difficult development, and fell behind schedule. The Army Air Force, though, saw potential and kept it as a research project. Northrop was asked to develop a jet-powered version known as the YB-49, replacing the propeller-driven engines with eight jet engines. While this increased the top speed to 493 miles per hour, it cut the range down to about 4,000 miles.
The plane had its share of problems. Keeping the plane steady was very difficult in the best of times, and it was missing targets when it dropped bombs. Then, one of the YB-49s crashed on June 5, 1948, killing all four crew, including United States Air Force Capt. Glenn Edwards.
There were also hot disputes over the plane’s manufacturing. Northrop insisted on having his company build the B-49 and its variants, while the Air Force wanted Northrop to work with Convair, which had designed and built the B-36 Peacemaker and B-32 Dominator bombers. Jack Northrop would later claim that the Secretary of the Air Force had demanded that Northrop agree to a merger of his company and Convair.
Northrop would abruptly retire and sell off his interest in the company he founded. However, shortly before his death in 1981, he was returned to Northrop, where Air Force officials took the extraordinary step of showing him a scale model of what would become the B-2 Spirit. The B-2 would be able to reach operational status in 1997, largely because by this time, the technology to address the stability issues had been developed.
Today, 20 B-2s are in service with the Air Force, and the service plans to buy another flying wing, the B-21 Raider.
Have you ever looked at the old SR-71 Blackbird and wondered how awesome it would be as a fighter jet? So did the United States Air Force (for the most part). The SR-71 is based on the super-secret CIA’s A-12 reconnaissance plane. When the Air Force got a glimpse of the A-12 and its capabilities, their minds got to work.
The first idea to come from the A-12 design was the YF-12, a single-seat interceptor aircraft that closely resembled the A-12 but came packing with guns and missiles instead of photographic and signals intelligence monitoring equipment.
Lockheed’s YF-12 first took off in August 1963 and unlike its predecessor, the A-12, or its successor, the SR-71, there was nothing really secret about it. The President of the United States first revealed its existence but that might have been a strategic move. It covered up the CIA’s super-secret aircraft and provided enemies a window into the advancements Air Force fighters were making.
The YF-12 was every bit as great as expected, and every bit as great as both the A-12 and the SR-71. It could fly at supersonic speeds of more than 2,000 miles per hour and at altitudes of more than 80,000 feet. It is still the largest and fastest interceptor aircraft ever built.
It also had an advanced fire control radar system to operate the AIM-47 missiles that could be mounted under its wings. Unlike other missile systems at the time, the AIM-47 was much more accurate and reliable in air-to-air combat. This would have made the YF-12 the deadliest aircraft in the world at the time.
The Air Force was understandably excited at the prospect of integrating such a fighter aircraft into its air defense network. After successfully testing the AIM-47 missile integration, the USAF placed an order for more than 90 of these flying behemoths, ready to implement them into the defense of the United States. It was a little war brewing in Vietnam that would be the program’s demise.
As the intensity of the fighting in Southeast Asia increased, so did the American commitment to South Vietnam. Spending on the war increased along with it. Concerned about the cost of the YF-12 program, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara declined to support the interceptor program and it was ultimately cancelled in 1968.
All was not lost for the unique airframe, however. Though there was no need for a supersonic, high-altitude interceptor for airspace defense in the U.S., there was a need for an ultra-fast, high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft to fly over places other aircraft wouldn’t dare. The SR-71 Blackbird was born from this need.
The Blackbird looks exactly like its predecessors but outperforms both of them. It has a greater operational range than the YF-12 and is still the fastest air-breathing manned aircraft ever built, a record set in 1976.
SR-71s were a brief view of what the YF-12 could have been: a fighter aircraft so accurate, it could hit a target on the ground while flying at three times the speed of sound. If another fighter or a surface-to-air missile came up at it, all the pilots had to do was hit the throttle and outrun it. The A-12s, YF-12s and SR-71s were titanium masterpieces of Cold War technology.
When America joined the Great War, the British Fleet was holding most of the German Navy in the North Sea, meaning that American warships and troop ships rarely faced severe opposition. But one ship did fall prey to an unknown assailant: The USS San Diego, sank off the U.S. East Coast due to a massive explosion from an unknown source.
The USS San Diego in March 1916.
But the ship is now a fish sanctuary, and researchers looking at the wreck and at historical documents think they’ve figured out what happened all those years ago.
On July 19, 1918, the armored cruiser was sailing from Portsmouth Naval Yard to New York with a full load of coal in preparation to strike out across the Atlantic. But, as it was coming up the coast, an explosion well beneath the waterline suddenly tore through the ship, hitting so hard that it warped the hull and prevented the closure of a watertight door.
USS San Diego sinks in this 1920 painting by Francis Muller.
(Naval History and Heritage Command)
His working theory was that they had been hit by a German torpedo, and he wanted to both kill the bastard who had shot his ship and save the vessel. Unfortunately, he could do neither. The ship sank in 30 minutes into water 110 feet deep, and the crew never spotted the vessel that attacked them.
Six sailors died in the incident. They were Engineman Second Class Thomas E. Davis, Engineman 2nd Class James F. Rochet, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Frazier O. Thomas, Seaman 2nd Class Paul J. Harris, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Andrew Munson, and Fireman 1st Class Clyde C. Blaine.
It was a naval mystery for years, but there was a theory competing against the torpedo one: The ship might have struck a mine placed there by a submarine that was long gone when the San Diego arrived.
The proud USS San Diego, also known as Armored Cruiser 6.
Researchers created a 3-D map of the wreck, and found damage that was most similar to the larger explosive load of a torpedo, but could have been caused by a large mine. And so they turned to naval records handed over by Germany after World War I.
In those records, they found reports from the U-156, a German submarine that did operate on the East Coast that month. But it wasn’t concentrating on finding ships to torpedo. She was carrying mines.
The mine explosion took place well below the waterline and against relatively thin plating. The mine detonated against a half inch of steel. If it had contacted at the armored band, it would’ve done paltry damage against the ship’s 5-inch thick armor belt.
Because of the limited ships the Central Powers could put to sea in the later years of World War I, the Navy concentrated on protecting and conducting logistics operations rather than chasing elusive fleet action. The Navy delivered more than 2 million soldiers to Europe without losing any soldiers to U-boats.
In World War II, it would be forced to conduct fleet actions while also delivering troops and supplies across the Pacific, Europe, and Africa.
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.