In June 2008, a 74-year-old North Korean farmer and former coal miner was swimming across the Tumen River, where it makes the border between the reclusive North Korean regime and Communist China. He was escaping the Hermit Kingdom like many North Koreans before him, except Kim Jin-Soo wasn’t North Korean.
The onetime South Korean Army soldier was born in the South, but enlisted in the Republic of Korea Army during the 1950-1953 Korean War. That’s how he ended up in the North.
Suwon Airfield being evacuated by South Korean troops as North Korea advances in 1950.
The young South Korean was just 17 years old when he signed up to fight the Communist advance in 1950 but was wounded in action by small arms fire. That’s how the young soldier was captured. He was taken by his captors North to recover from the wounds, but his own army, believing him dead, stopped looking for him. When prisoners were exchanged after fighting stopped, no one thought to look for a dead man.
The definitely not dead Kim Jin-Soo did eventually recover from his wounds, only now he was trapped in the North’s Stalinist “utopia.” Unfortunately for him, he was still a prisoner and was sent to work in the coal mines in North Korea’s North Pyeongan Province for nearly 40 years.
North Korean troops prepare for battle in 1950.
In the time that passed, the captive’s parents in the South both passed away. He even had four daughters and one son while living in the North. His surviving brothers in the South had no idea he was alive, let alone that they now had a nephew and a handful of nieces.
In the early 1990s, around the time of North Korea’s deadly and disastrous famine, Soo was sent to another province to work as a farmer. The harsh life of a North Korean POW had taken its toll on his body. He shrunk by nearly six inches over 55 years of captivity and weighed barely 105 pounds when he escaped to China.
The Essex-class aircraft carrier is arguably one of the most successful carrier designs in the history of the world. None of these vessels were lost in combat, and the United States built 24 of these ships. Eight more were cancelled at the end of World War II, including two, USS Reprisal (CV 35) and USS Iwo Jima (CV 47) that had been partially completed.
Some of these ships had close calls. None more so than USS Franklin (CV 13). Even though she had the fifth hull number in the class, GlobalSecurity.org notes that she was the eighth to be commissioned.
According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the Franklin just missed the Battle of the Philippine Sea, arriving to join the Pacific Fleet on the last day of June. During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, she helped to sink the Japanese super-battleship Musashi, the destroyer Wakaba, and the carriers Chitose and Zuiho.
Shortly after that battle, Franklin was hit by a kamikaze, killing 56 of her crew and wounding 60. She ended up sailing back to Bremerton, Washington, for repairs. By February, she was ready to rejoin the fleet in time for the invasion of Okinawa. She arrived on March 15, 1945.
Four days later, the Franklin was hit again. This time, it would create a catastrophic inferno. Two semi-armor piercing bombs went deep into the ship, one detonating in the hangar deck, the other causing ammunition, bombs, and rockets to explode. Of the ship’s crew, 724 were killed, 256 were wounded. Many survivors were either forced to abandon the ship or were blown overboard.
But the 106 officers and 604 men who were left followed the Navy’s famous admonition: Don’t Give Up the Ship. Numerous acts of individual heroism by many individuals, including Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O’Callahan, ChC (SJ) USNR, the ship’s chaplain, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Donald A. Gary, got the ship back to New York, where she was repaired and remained in reserve until 1964.
You can see a newsreel about this gallant carrier’s epic tale of survival below.
There’s a fun fact that you can’t escape in the South: Coca-Cola used to have cocaine in it. The Coke brand is everywhere down here, and every 14-year-old will bring up the cocaine fact a couple of times a week for the first six months after they learn about it.
The fact that cocaine used to be offered in every town usually gets written off as an odd quirk of history, but it turns out the inventor had a good reason to appreciate the coca plant: He had a number of gunshot and saber wounds from the Civil War.
Coke was invented by John Stith Pemberton (the drink is named after the coca plant, not the inventor or company founder). Pemberton became a doctor at the ripe old age of 19 in 1850. He was a successful surgeon and chemist in the 1850s, but he signed up for frontline service when the Civil War broke out.
He didn’t serve as a doctor, though. He started as a first lieutenant in a cavalry unit in 1862 and climbed the ranks to lieutenant colonel. He faced his fiercest fighting when Union Gen. James Wilson attacked Columbus in 1865. Pemberton suffered multiple gunshots wounds and even a saber strike to his chest.
Union Gen. James Wilson led Union troops during the Battle of Columbus.
(Brady National Photographic Art Gallery)
Pemberton would suffer for years from the wounds he took near Columbus, and he struggled against an opium addiction thanks to all the painkillers he was given. But Pemberton was, luckily, a skilled chemist and pharmacist. He moved to Atlanta after the war and developed new chemical products.
He became aware of a new European product already popular in Italy and France, wine infused with extracts from coca leaves. After a new business partnership in 1870, he was able to purchase the equipment to develop even more complex products.
And, in 1885, he made his own version of the coca-infused wines which he called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. One thing worth noting here, this isn’t technically cocaine in a drink. Coca leaves are a precursor to cocaine, but you have to use a solvent to extract cocaine sulfate from the leaves in order to get actual cocaine out. But Pemberton’s wine did have anesthetic effects like cocaine would.
The jump from French Wine Coca to Coca-Cola came when wine was threatened by alcohol prohibition in Atlanta and Pemberton decided to replace the sweetness from the wine with sweetness from sugar. After a few more changes to refine the taste, the product was renamed Coca-Cola and released in 1886.
It has gone through a few formula changes since, including switching fresh coca leaves out for spent coca leaves which have had the cocaine sulfate extracted. So, you know, you can’t get high from Coke anymore.
When you hear “Sandy,” maybe you think about Olivia Newton-John’s character in Grease, unless you’re in the Search-and-Rescue community. Even then, most people don’t associate the word with one of the best attack planes of all time. But the Douglas A-1 Skyraider was also a “Sandy” — and one that turned many enemies of the United States into…well…grease spots.
“Sandy” was the callsign A-1s operated under when they escorted the combat search-and-rescue helicopters. You may have seen Willem Dafoe’s character in Flight of the Intruder talking to “Sandy Low Lead.” Well, he was talking to a pilot flying a Skyraider when he called in an air strike on his own position.
The A-1 had been started in World War II, when it was called the BT2D-1. The Navy, though, was realizing that the air wings on the carriers needed to change. Part of the reasoning was the presence of the kamikaze, which required the presence of more fighters. The Navy even put a plane it rejected, the Vought F4U Corsair, on carrier decks. As such, the plan was to replace the SB2C Helldiver and the TBF/TBM Avenger. The plane later became the AD.
The Skyraider had 15 hardpoints, allowing it to haul 8,000 pounds of bombs, rockets, torpedoes, or gun pods. It also packed two or four Mk12 20mm cannon. The latter weapons helped the Skyraider score five air-to-air kills, including two MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters over North Vietnam.
Some of those “Sandys” were Air Force, incidentally — one of a number of Navy bombers used by that service. The Air Force had wanted a version of the plane, which proved excellent at close-air support, since 1949. The Air Force used the A-1 over Vietnam, as did Vietnam, Cambodia, and a number of countries in Africa. The last A-1s were retired by Gabon in 1985.
The A-10 has become a primary airframe flying the “Sandy” CSAR missions, which is one of the reasons the hog is so beloved.
World War II saw the decline of the battleship, the rise of the aircraft carrier, and the maturation of the destroyer and submarine. However, there was another type other major combat vessel in that conflict that often goes ignored: the cruiser. This ship was arguably very important for several reasons.
First, for the initial part of the war, cruisers served as heavy escorts for a carriers against surface threats. Battleships were often too slow to keep up with the carriers and destroyers packed a potent anti-ship punch in the form of torpedoes, but they couldn’t take much punishment. Cruisers were the perfect match.
USS Galveston (CL 93), one of 27 completed Cleveland-class light cruisers. She packed 12 six-inch guns and 12 five-inch guns.
Second, cruisers also were able excellent for maintaining a presence at sea. It took fewer personnel to fully crew a cruiser and they were comparatively cheaper to build than other major vessels. Despite their lower cost, they were still deadly vessels, equipped with either six-inch guns (on light cruisers) or eight-inch guns (on heavy cruisers).
Third, cruisers also fought it out when other options weren’t available. For example, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, a force of two heavy cruisers, a light cruiser, two anti-aircraft cruisers, and eight destroyers were led by Admiral Daniel Callaghan and took on two Japanese fast battleships, a light cruiser, and a number of destroyers. Callaghan’s outnumbered ships managed to turn away the Japanese force, leaving the fatally wounded Hiei behind.
While it’s best known for being sunk by a Japanese submarine in 1945, USS Indianapolis (CA 35) also served as the flagship of Admiral Raymond Spruance.
Fourth, cruisers could serve as flagships. The Portland-class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA 35) was the flagship for Admiral Raymond A. Spruance during the Central Pacific offensive in 1943 and 1944. It was also common for Japanese admirals to choose heavy cruisers as their flagships in surface engagements instead of battleships when they had the option.
While all of the major powers had cruiser designs, the most successful was the American Cleveland-class light cruiser. There were plans to build a total of 52 of these vessels. Of those, 27 were completed. The others were either cancelled or converted into light cruisers. Other notable cruiser classes include Japan’s Mogami-class heavy cruisers and the British County-class heavy cruisers.
Other powers in World War II operated cruisers, too. HIJMS Atago served as a flagship in several engagements, including her last one at Leyte Gulf.
(Imperial Japanese Navy)
With the end of World War II, cruisers began to fade away, especially as guided missiles emerged and submarines became more of a threat. Today, the United States Navy has the most of these vessels, with 22 Ticonderoga-class vessels in service.
Though the cruiser’s heyday has come and gone, there’s a chance they’ll make a comeback. The United States Navy intends to replace the Ticonderoga-class ships with a new, modern class of cruiser.
On this day 19 years ago, America woke up to unimaginable news. Nineteen members of al Qaeda had hijacked four fuel-loaded U.S. commercial airplanes. One crashed into the Pentagon. Two more hit the World Trade Center. The final plane was destined for the White House, but thanks to the heroic efforts of the passengers and crew, it never made it. That day, a total of 2,977 lives were lost; killed in New York City, Washington, DC and outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
September 11, 2001, showed us the very worst of humanity, but it also showed the very best. Nineteen men set forth to destroy our country, while thousands more stepped forward to heal it. We were reminded of what Americans are capable of; incredible kindness, selflessness and unity. The 11 figures below are just a few of the remarkable individuals who put their lives on the line that day, and gave us exactly what we needed: Hope.
Father Mychal Judge
While thousands lost their lives on that dark day, the first recorded casualty was Father Mychal Judge. The Roman Catholic priest and NYFD chaplain chose to walk into the burning World Trade Center to bring comfort to wounded firefighters and others injured in the attack, listening to their final confessions and blessing them in their last moments. He gave his life just to bring others peace.
Flight 93 passengers Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick
What would you do if your flight was hijacked? We’d all like to think we’d be as brave as these four men who fought their hijacker and helped prevent an even greater tragedy. When Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick boarded United Airlines Flight 93 that morning, they had no idea what was about to happen. In a stroke of “luck,” the flight was delayed slightly. Because of this, when the hijackers took over the plane at 9:30, the other attacks had already taken place. When the four passengers called their loved ones, they learned of the hijacker’s intentions for the plane — to crash directly into the White House.
To prevent this from happening, they worked with members of the plane’s crew to fight back against the terrorists. When the hijackers realized the passengers might successfully breach the cockpit, they opted to crash the plane into a field in Pennsylvania, killing all on board. The efforts of Beamer, Bingham, Burnet and Glick saved hundreds of lives that would have been lost had the plane reached its intended target.Before the plane went down, Burnett spoke to his wife on the phone, saying calmly, “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.”
Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney
One thing all these stories have in common is quick thinking and calm resolve. Two flight attendants on American Airlines Flight 11 could easily have panicked when the plane was hijacked. A passenger had already been stabbed, some crew members were murdered, and the air was filled with something similar to mace, but they calmly notified their colleagues on the ground of the scene unfolding.
Those on the receiving end were astounded by their unwavering professionalism, listening carefully as they provided details about the hijackers throughout the flight. The information they shared helped the FBI uncover their full identities.
Wells Crowther, a 24-year-old equities trader, was working on the 104th floor of the South Tower when it was struck by Flight 175. He called his mother and left her a voicemail, calmly telling her, “Mom, this is Welles. I want you to know that I’m ok.”
He had no obligation to help anyone escape other than himself, but the former volunteer firefighter chose to anyway. He helped over a dozen people get out before running back into the building alongside firefighters to save even more. He carried one injured woman out on his back, directing disoriented and terrified office workers to the ground floor. Survivor Ling Young told CNN, “He’s definitely my guardian angel — no ifs, ands or buts — because without him, we would be sitting there, waiting [until] the building came down.”
His body was recovered in a stairwell, his hands still holding a “jaws of life” rescue tool. He is remembered as “the man in the red bandana,” a commanding, brave figure who worked to save all he could.
Stanley Praimnath was trapped on the 81st floor of the South Tower when the second plane, Flight 175, struck. He was close enough to see the plane approaching, yet he survived the impact. Terrifyingly, he still had no way to escape the teetering tower. Luckily, Brain Clark heard his calls for help and talked him through a challenging escape route. As it turns out, by stopping to help Stanley, Brian also saved himself. Before he heard Stanley’s cries, he was headed to the upper floors to wait for help. The building collapsed within the hour. Those who had continued up the tower never made it out.
Michael Benfante and John Cerqueira
Two colleagues, Michael Benfante and John Cerqueira, were in the North Tower when the planes hit. Most people would be desperate to get out, but when the two men ran into a woman in a wheelchair on the 68th floor, they didn’t hesitate to stop. Together, they strapped Tina Hansen to a lightweight emergency chair and carried her down endless flights of treacherous stairs. Thanks to their selflessness and determination, all three of them survived.
Frank De Martini and Pablo Ortiz
Construction manager Frank De Martini and construction instructor Pablo Ortiz were both in the North Tower when it was hit. Instead of scrambling to safety, they took it upon themselves to rescue as many people as they possibly could. Many were trapped on the tower’s 88th and 89th floors, so the two men went into action. They opened jammed elevator doors, cleared debris, and directed people to safe escape routes. The North Tower collapsed while they were still inside. Before it did, however, they saved over 50 others.
Jason Thomas and Dave Karnes
Although members of the military eventually retire, their dedication to their country does not. Former Marine sergeants Jason Thomas and Dave Karnes had both been out of the military for some time. Yet, when they heard about the attack on the World Trade Center, they put their uniforms back on. Karnes was all the way in Connecticut when he sped off to New York at 120 mph to help.
He ran into Thomas at the site of the collapsed towers and together they began searching through the rubble. They identified two New York Port Authority police officers, William Jimeno and John McLoughlin, trapped 20 feet below the surface. Both men were seriously injured, but after a total of 11 hours they were both successfully rescued. Karnes later reenlisted, serving two tours of duty in Iraq.
Cyril Richard Rescorla was born in Britain, but his dedication to the United States is unmatched. A Vietnam Vet with a Silver Star, police officer, and private security specialist, Rescorla had frequently warned the Port Authority that the World Trade Center was vulnerable. At the time of the attack, Rescorla was working as head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley in the South Tower, and when his fears were realized he dove in to help.
When the first plane hit the tower across from his, Rescorla was directed to keep his employees at their desks, but he ignored this order. Instead, he issued an evacuation order, walking employees through the emergency procedures he had made them rehearse time and time again. He had evacuated over 2,700 employees and visitors in just 16 minutes when the second plane struck the building they had just escaped from. Throughout the tense evacuation, his steady voice singing “God Bless America” and “Men of Harlech” rang out through a bullhorn, giving people strength and calm.
According to The New Yorker, he called his wife during the evacuation to tell her, “Stop crying. I have to get these people out safely. If something should happen to me, I want you to know I’ve never been happier. You made my life.”
He was last seen on the 10th floor of the South Tower on his way to find any who had been left behind.
Maj. Heather Penney and Col. Marc Sasseville
When Major Heather Penney and Colonel Marc Sasseville learned of the initial attacks, the two National Guard pilots prepared to intercept United Flight 93, the fourth and final hijacked plane. They aimed their two F-16s directly at the wayward Boeing 757…except they were completely unarmed. The only way for them to stop the plane would be to ram into it- essentially a suicide mission.
“We had to protect the airspace any way we could,” Maj. Heather Penney told The Washington Post in 2011. “We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft. I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.”
Fortunately, the passengers and crew of Flight 93 took on the job themselves. While Penney and Sasseville never had to complete their death-sentence mission, they were fully prepared to go down with their aircraft to protect others from harm.
Army Spc. Beah Doboszenski
On September 11, 2001, Army Spc. Beah Doboszenski was just a tour guide at the Pentagon. He was working on the opposite side of the building, so far away that he didn’t even hear the plane hit. The former volunteer firefighter and EMT didn’t hesitate to volunteer his services, however, racing to the site of the crash. He had to evade police officers and go around barricades to find a medical triage station and begin giving medical care to countless victims.
He then voluntarily ran back into the building to search for survivors while the building was still in flames. He gave medical aid to the injured outside, then went back into the building while it was still in flames. Former Vice President Joe Biden said of Doboszenski’s heroic act, “When people started streaming out of the building and screaming, he sprinted toward the crash site. For hours, he altered between treating his co-workers and dashing into the inferno with a team of six men.”
Last but not least, Roselle
Some heroes have two legs, but some have four. Roselle, a guide dog, was on the 78th floor with her blind owner, Michael Hingson, when the plane hit. She guided him all the way down to safety. Without her, he most likely wouldn’t have made it out alive. The heroic pup lived a long, happy life until her passing in June 2011, and her owner has since written a book in her honor.
These are just a few of the innumerable heroes of 9/11. To the police officers, firefighters, military personnel, and ordinary citizens who brought light to one of America’s darkest days: We humbly thank you.
Growing up, learning about World War I usually involved learning about three things: trench foot, poison gas, and bloody stalemate. Right before the history teacher moves on to World War II, we learn the old mnemonic device — on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, ‘The War to End All Wars’ ended with an armistice.
Then, there was one kickass, worldwide party.
Obviously, glossing over one of the deadliest, most expensive, and most avoidable wars in American history does the Doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force an injustice. We need to remember that World War I was more than just a prelude to World War II. The horrors of WWI led to the annual recognition of those the who had to fight it. The day The Great War ended came to be remembered thereafter as Armistice Day.
But, when the 11th day of the 11 month rolls around, we all celebrate Veterans Day. What happened?
This is what Armistice Day 1938 looked like in Omaha, Nebraska.
The first public celebration of Armistice Day came in November, 1920. Much like how we celebrate Veterans Day today, the occasion was marked by speeches, parades, and exchange of drinks and stories between veterans of the war. The exception came when that 11th hour rolled around. For a moment, there was a pause in all activities across the country.
In that moment, mere years ago, millions of armed men stopped butchering each other over control of several yards of No Man’s Land.
In 1926, Congress made Armistice Day official, resolving that the “recurring anniversary of November 11, 1918, should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace between nations.” In 1938, Armistice Day became a Federal Holiday.
As we all know, the “War to End All Wars” didn’t actually end all wars — or any wars. It actually led very directly to the next war, World War II. Which led to the next war, the Korean War, which was part of a greater war, the Cold War. You get the point. By the time the Korean War ended, there was a whole new generation of war veterans who felt deserving of recognition for a job well done.
Veterans of those war lobbied Congress to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954, in order to honor veterans of every war. Congress agreed and President Eisenhower signed on to it, too.
Gerald Ford, the voice of reason.
In 1968, Congress acted again. This time, they wanted to give federal employees a couple of three-day weekends throughout the year, so they changed the dates of some major holidays to fall on certain Mondays. Columbus Day, Memorial Day, and Washington’s Birthday were all given Mondays. And Veterans Day was moved from the historic date of November 11 to “the fourth Monday in October.”
The states rightly thought that was a stupid idea and refused to recognize the movement of Veterans Day until President Ford changed it back in 1975.
Veterans Day is currently celebrated nationally on November 11, as it has been for decades. When the day was originally changed to Veterans Day in 1954, it was just in time for then-104-year old Albert Woolson, the last surviving veteran of the Civil War, to celebrate it. With him were two veterans of the Plains Wars, veterans of the Spanish-American War, and vets from the Philippines War.
States, local municipalities, and other governments have declared their own Veterans Days, some dating as far back as the end of World War II, recognizing the courage and sacrifices of every U.S. citizen who answered the country’s call to arms.
We’ve all heard of fighter aces. We’re talking legends like Robin Olds, Duke Cunningham, Pappy Boyington, James Howard, Jimmy Thach, and Swede Vejtasa. Germany had their own aces, and while Erich Hartmann and Adolf Galland are just some who attained immortality with their feats in the skies, others, like Otto Kretschmer and Gunther Prien, were renowned for what they did under the sea.
Kretschmer and Prien were both considered “U-boat aces,” and according to uboat.net, they were part of an elite group. Out of 498 men in World War I, and 1,401 in World War II who commanded U-boats, only a total of 71 men sank more than 100,000 tons of enemy shipping. The tonnage totals are eye-popping in comparison to American commanders, many of whom were rotated out of front-line duty to train new crewmen, similar to the policy used for ace fighter pilots like Thach.
America’s top sub skippers, like Eli Reich or Joe Enright, earned their notoriety on single missions. Reich sank the only battleship to be sunk by American submarines during the war, avenging fallen shipmates, while Enright holds the distinction of sinking the Shinano, the largest vessel ever sink by a submarine.
Germany’s U-boat aces pulled some incredible feats, themselves. Prien, for instance, earned his fame by sneaking into the British naval base of Scapa Flow and sinking the battleship HMS Royal Oak. 825 British sailors died when the Revenge-class battleship was hit by three torpedoes.
Kretschmer was the top-ranking U-boat ace of World War II, sinking 46 ships totaling over 274,000 tons of displacement. Compare that to the JANAC total credited to USS Tang (SS 306), Medal of Honor recipient Richard O’Kane’s command, which sank 24 ships totaling 93,824 tons of displacement.
Unconventional warfare is necessarily a messy business. It entails finding the enemies of our enemies and convincing them to fight our mutual foes, even if we’re not necessarily friends. It reduces America’s risk in blood, but it also means our national security rests on the shoulders of foreign fighters. In the confusing situations this creates, one top officer in the Afghanistan invasion had three simple questions to cut through the chaos.
U.S. special operators pose with Hamid Karzai during the invasion of Afghanistan. Karzai would go on to be president of Afghanistan.
During the invasion, then-Lt. Col. Mark Rosengard was in command of Task Force Dagger, and he had to greatly expand the unconventional warfare program in the country. So he couldn’t spend days or weeks of time and reams of paper figuring out whether he would trust one potential guerrilla leader or another.
So, according to reporter Sean Naylor in his book Not a Good Day to Die, Rosengard just asked three questions.
First, “Do we have a common goal today, recognizing tomorrow may be different?” Basically, do the militiamen or guerillas want the same outcome as the American forces? Including, do they want to see the same people die?
Next, “Do you have a secure backyard?” Simply, do the local forces have somewhere safe-ish to train? If the forces have to constantly quit training in order to fight off attacks, then they won’t be able to actually train. But if there’s any sort of safe compound in which to get to work, then it’s time to ask the third question.
“Are you willing to kill people?”
Yeah, that’s not a very complicated one.
Taken together, these three questions would let Rosengard know whether he could get to work with a new commander. Of course, there were additional concerns that he had to keep track of.
Afghan forces in a discussion with a senior weapons sergeant of the U.S. Army’s Special Forces.
For instance, on the first question, you would need to keep track of whether the militias might really turn on you tomorrow. It’s a bad idea to spend too much time training foreign fighters who only have a few days or weeks of loyalty to America left.
But, overall, these three questions match up with American choices in other wars.
Gen. John “BlackJack” Pershing made alliances with Moro tribesmen in the Philippines and hired them as law enforcement officers even though he knew their long-term goals would be different. And President Franklin D. Roosevelt allied America with Russia to destroy Germany, adding the Soviet Union to the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 despite it being clear that the U.S. and Soviet Union would eventually be at loggerheads.
Rosengard’s gambles in Afghanistan largely worked out for the invasion, and U.S. special operators and unconventional forces took large sections of the country in the Winter of 2001, a period in which they had planned to take just a small foothold in the north. The operators and their guerrilla allies also were able to bring Hamid Karzai back to the country to take power, helping cement American control of the country.
But, of course, the issues with Afghan forces in the invasion were quickly felt. Pashtun tribesmen were extremely helpful in taking the country from the Taliban, but their half-hearted attacks at Tora Bora are thought to have been a major contributor to Osama Bin Laden’s escape from that mountain stronghold into Pakistan where he would successfully hide until his death in 2011.
At the height of the second World War, the U.S. military was devising a means to fire bomb Japan (and Japan was doing the same for the U.S.). Still a few years out from the Manhattan Project being completed, the First Lady’s dentist friend, Lytle S. Adams, came up with a disastrous and inhumane plan — attach tiny napalm bombs to a million Mexican free-tailed bats.
It was called the “bat bomb.”
The Mexican free-tailed bat is one of the most abundant mammals in North America. Known for having the fastest horizontal speed of any animal, the species was also considered because female bats could carry much more weight than themselves (because they need carry their babies until they can fly.)
They can also be induced into hibernation, making them easy to handle. And instinctively, bats seek out dark places during the daytime. So without a cave, they’ll take shelter in buildings.
“This man is not a nut. It sounds like a perfectly wild idea but is worth looking into,” a President Roosevelt’s memorandum concluded. So Project X-Ray was given a cautious green-light.
The idea was to strap timer-detonated napalm packets onto the bat, fill a case with around forty bats, drop the bomb over a Japanese village at night, and by the time morning arrived, the bats would detonate the mostly paper and wood buildings.
At first, it didn’t work. The lightest they could make an incendiary device was two pounds. Still thirty times the weight of the bat. They would fall like rocks.
Louis Fieser, the inventor of napalm, was then attached to the project. With his new weapon, he could shrink the individual capsule of napalm down to half an ounce. Since napalm is a liquid, it would also be more devastating when it seeped into the cracks. So testing began again.
With the new light-weight devices, it still didn’t work. Explosive-carrying bats burnt down much of Carlsbad Army Airfield. They broke free of their handlers and incinerated the test range when they roosted under a fuel tank and the General’s car. This didn’t stop them from testing the bat bomb. It was just further proof that it could work.
The project was then tossed to the Marine Corps; and it still didn’t work. Millions of dollars were tossed into the project and over 30 demonstrations later, the atomic bomb was finished. There was no more need for the bat bombs.
During World War II, the Allies, especially Britain, worked hard to convince Germany that every attack it saw was a feint and that every shadow in its vision was another Allied army coming to crush it. These deception operations led to the creation of an entire, fake invasion of Norway that was supposed to keep German defenders away from Normandy on D-Day.
Norwegian soldiers on the Narvik front in World War II.
The overall deception operation was known as Operation Bodyguard, a reference to a speech by Prime Minister Winston Churchill that said Truth was too precious and fragile to go anywhere without a Bodyguard of Lies. And when it came to D-Day, Bodyguard was on steroids.
To understand how deception operations worked for D-Day, it’s important to understand that the actual landings at Normandy weren’t necessarily logical. The Normandy landings took no deepwater port, and the terrain in the area forced the Allied invaders to fight through thousands of hedgerows to break out into the rest of France. Even after that, it was over 600 miles from there to Berlin, and the bulk of that was through German homeland.
So, while the D-Day landings of Operation Neptune were successful and Germany lost the war, it wasn’t the easiest or, arguably, even the most logical course of action. After all, there were two succulent nuts that would be easier to crack than Normandy.
German troops in the Balkans in 1941.
(Bundesarchiv Bild, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The first and likely the easiest 1944 target for the Allies would’ve been an invasion into the Balkans, the soft underbelly of Europe. Allied troops were already holding the lowest third of Italy, all of North Africa, and Turkey, so they had plenty of places to invade from. And taking the Balkans from Hitler would’ve robbed him of much of his oil, copper, and bauxite, among other materials.
But another juicy target was Norway. Norway had been captured by Germany early in the war because Hitler knew that he needed a large Atlantic coastline to prevent his navy being bottled up in the Baltic and North seas like it had in World War I. And, the German presence in Norway helped keep Sweden neutral and amenable. If Norway fell, Sweden might allow Allied forces in its borders or, worse, join the alliance itself.
From Sweden or Norway, the Allies could easily bomb northern German factories and take back Denmark. And an invasion through Denmark would put the Allied forces less than 450 miles from Berlin, and only half of that path would be through German home territory.
And so Allied strategists played up the possibility of a Norway invasion, seeking to keep as many German units as possible deployed there to make the actual landings in France much easier.
Danish troops during Germany’s invasion in 1940.
This led to Operation Mespot, a coordinated plan to move troops, create false planning documents, and pass fake intelligence that would indicate an invasion into Norway, through friendly Sweden, and into Denmark in the summer of 1944, right as the actual D-Day invasions were taking place. According to the Mespot deception, the D-Day landings were the feint to draw German defenders from real invasions in the Baltics.
The part that related directly to an invasion of Norway was Operation Fortitude North, and it called for a British and American landing in the North. There, the forces would link up with Russian soldiers and press south. In order to sell this subterfuge, Britain ordered dozens of double agents from Germany to report on the movements of the “4th Army,” a fake organization that would be a major force in the invasion.
Those second two units were real, and the 52nd had actually been training for a potential invasion of Norway. So Germany wasn’t completely crazy.
The British 4th Army was a field army in World War I, and military deception planners revived the unit in World War II on paper in order to create fake units to deceive German defenders.
(Imperial War Museum)
The American troops were supposedly talkative, and German agents were told stories of another infantry division and three Ranger battalions training in Iceland. German double agents there were told to verify this false intelligence, and they did. In the end, Germany thought 79 divisions were training in England for invasions when there were only 52, and they believed that the main target might be Norway.
Since Hitler was already obsessed with a Baltic invasion, all of this intel fed into his fears and demanded a response. And so one was given. 464,000 German troops were held in Norway to fight off an Allied invasion. While many would have been there regardless, 150,000 were otherwise “surplus” troops who likely would’ve been sent to France to combat the landings if Germany had known Norway was relatively safe.
There was also a Panzer division and 1,500 coastal defense guns, many of which could have been moved if Germany had better intelligence.
British forces land on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
(Sgt. Mapham J, No. 5 Army Film Photographic Unit)
All of this had a real effect for Allied troops on the French beaches. Combined with the success of the famous Ghost Army, deception operations towards the Balkans, and German missteps, the D-Day landings faced much less resistance than they otherwise would have.
While Germany was defending Normandy, Denmark, and Greece, it was getting pummeled in France.
In 1563 and 1564, Sweden built a massive warship that was the pinnacle of naval technology at the time.
Its creation ushered in a sea change in naval combat — despite the fact that the ship sank early in its first battle.
King Eric XIV of Sweden ordered that the ship Mars be constructed to put Sweden at the forefront of naval artillery. It was a five-deck ship with two decks dedicated to artillery, mostly cannons. Even the crow’s nests had guns.
All this came at a time when naval engagements were decided by seamanship and armed boardings —where a group of sailors from one ship crossed to the deck of an enemy ship and fought with swords and pistols.
Naval artillery in the early and mid-1500s was focused on killing enemy personnel or causing structural damage to the enemy ship, but no one had ever sunk a ship that way. Ships were usually sank by fire, sabotage by boarding crews, or by ramming.
But Eric XIV had a vision of the future and ordered his admiral to take the Mars as part of a huge fleet aimed at Denmark and Lubeck (part of modern Germany) and sink ships using its naval artillery.
And the admiral delivered… probably. A Danish chaplain said that the Mars cast a somber shadow over the whole Danish and German fleet when it arrived. He also said it later sank the Longbark, one of the largest ships in the enemy fleet, with naval gunnery.
If accurate, it was likely the first time a ship was sunk by naval artillery.
The 64-gun warship Vasa sits in museum. The ship was built in the tradition of the Mars, but wasn’t as well designed and floundered during its first voyage in 1628.
(Jorge Lascar, CC-BY 2.0)
But the Mars cast too large a shadow and, as a consequence, drew too many attackers. On the second day of the battle, enemy ships sent massive amounts of fireballs onto the Mars and disabled it before sending boarding parties onto it.
What happened next is unsure. A fire definitely occurred in the Mars‘ gunpowder stores, and that might have set the loaded cannons off. Regardless, the ship was destroyed in the following hours, left to sink in approximately 250 feet of water.
Luckily for archaeologists, it was 250 feet of the Baltic Sea, which lacks the large populations of shipworms that destroy wrecks in the rest of the world. And the cold water is relatively still, reducing erosion. According to researchers who spoke to National Geographic, the wreck might be the best preserved vessel of its kind.
The concept behind the Mars was proven in the years following its loss as navy after navy, including those of Denmark and Lubeck, constructed large ships reminiscent of the cannon-toting behemoth.
The most powerful weapon in the United States’ Cold War arsenal was likely not its hundreds of nuclear warheads — it was the man whose job it was to deploy them.
There are few men in Air Force history as noteworthy and controversial as Gen. Curtis LeMay. He earned the nickname “Iron Ass” for his stubbornness and shortness once his mind was made up. When he did speak, the stout, cigar-chomping, stone-faced general had a reputation for his outspoken manner. Though not always remembered fondly by history, some of his image as a shoot-first-ask-questions-later, caveman may be undeserved.
He was the youngest general to wear a fourth star. When he retired, he had served as a four-star general longer than anyone in American history; a big deal for a general who didn’t go to a service academy, instead graduating from Ohio State. At the height of his career, he was the symbol of American military might. A bit more about one of the U.S. Air Force’s most influential founding generals can be gleaned through his more noteworthy quotes.
1. “We should always avoid armed conflict. But if you get in it, get in with both feet and get out as soon as possible.”
Despite his gruff, cold image, every operational goal, in LeMay’s mind, was a means to an end. Ending a war quickly meant saving American lives. During World War II, LeMay was responsible for the firebombing of Japanese cities which completely destroyed most major Japanese cities. It was his command that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Official estimates from the United States Strategic Bombing Survey determined at least 330,000 killed, 476,000 injured, 8.5 million people made homeless, and 2.5 million buildings destroyed. Almost half of 64 Japanese mainland cities were completely destroyed. The destruction was not lost on LeMay. He acknowledged that if the Japanese had won the war, he would have been tried as a war criminal.
Later he would reveal that dropping the atomic bombs was totally unnecessary, given the level of destruction he had already waged on Japan. He said he only dropped them because of President Truman’s authority. After the war, Japan’s former Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe confirmed that the decision to surrender was based on the prolonged bombing wrought by General LeMay’s Marianas-based air forces. LeMay took command of the Marianas in January 1945. The Japanese surrendered in August of 1945.
2. “War is never cost-effective. People are killed. To them, the war is total.”
He was known as a tough commander, but a fair one. He earned a reputation for being stone-faced, uncaring about the needs of his men but LeMay actually suffered from Bell’s Palsey, which literally immobilized his face. When a Harvard study found Army pilots were aborting bombing missions over Germany out of fear, LeMay personally led every bombing sortie and ordered any crew who didn’t go over the target be court martialed.
The gruff general took combat losses to heart, knowing he’d sent men to die, but firmly believed if the death of one American could save a thousand, then it was the right decision to make. In The Fog of War, a documentary about the life of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, McNamara quoted LeMay: “Why are we here? Why are we here? You lost your wingman. It hurts me as much as it does you. I sent him there. And I’ve been there, I know what it is. But you lost one wingman, and we destroyed Tokyo.”
3. “Successful offense brings victory. Successful defense can now only lessen defeat.”
This is an “extremely belligerent, many thought brutal” man who believed in the power, threat and use of nuclear weapons. He wanted SAC to be able to deliver every nuclear warhead in the American arsenal on the Soviet Union at once. This military rationale earned LeMay the image of a cold man who was obsessed with starting any kind of war with the Russians.
It was Gen. LeMay who inspired the character of Buck Turgidson in “Doctor Strangelove,” willing to pay for a victory over the Soviet Union with unlimited American lives. As a bomber pilot, LeMay’s point of view was one of overwhelming force. At its height, the SAC had 1600 bombers and 800 missiles in its arsenal.
4. “We can haul anything.”
As the commander of U.S. Air Forces In Europe, LeMay was asked by the Commander of all U.S. forces in Europe, Lucius D. Clay, about the feasibility of an airlift (later known as the “Berlin Airlift”) to break the Soviet blockade of West Berlin.
Gen. Clay asked LeMay “Can you haul coal?” Even though he preferred the more aggressive response of an armed convoy backed by bomber aircraft, Gen. LeMay enthusiastically began the 5,000 ton per day airlift operation within weeks. He was so instrumental in its startup, it was initially called “The LeMay Coal and Feed Delivery Service.” LeMay’s response to Clay’s hauling question represents the can-do attitude and spirit of the U.S. Air Force.
5. “If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I’m going to knock the shit out of them before they take off the ground.”
Robert McNamara, who served under LeMay during WWII and over him as Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy Administration, called him the finest combat commander there ever was. While he was convinced a war would happen at some point and believe the U.S. should fight it on the grounds most favorable to it, LeMay’s military upbringing taught him that true readiness required constant training and this readiness was to be in place when the civilian leaders of the military deemed it necessary to use them.
His solution was to create a force so powerful no one would dare sneak an attack. He would always advocate for a heavy military response, most notably during the thirteen-day Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but always loyally and diligently carried out the orders and policy of his civilian superiors.
6. “To err is human, to forgive is not SAC policy”
When he took control of Strategic Air Command in 1948, most of his bomber crews couldn’t hit Ohio with a mock atomic bomb during exercises. The SAC under Gen. LeMay became one of the most effective military units in the world on the basis of relentless training.
One officer was quoted as saying: “Training in SAC is harder than war … it might be a relief to go to war.” Within two years, the procedures, checklists, and training implemented by General LeMay gave SAC one of the best safety records in U.S. military history.
7. “The price of failure might be paid with national survival.”
After retiring from the Air Force in 1965, LeMay ran with George Wallace on his segregationist party ticket. It led many to conclude that LeMay agreed with Wallace’s racial views. In truth, LeMay agreed to run with Wallace because he believed in a hard line against Communism, and an end to the War in Vietnam, and didn’t see any of the potential candidates doing these things.
LeMay was no racist. During his tenure as a commander in the Air Force, he had actually promoted the integration of units well before Truman’s executive order. Protesters would attend Wallace rallies shouting “Sieg heil” at the man who designed the bombing plans that crippled Nazi war production, even personally leading the most dangerous missions.