The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military

Since the dawn of communication, cryptology has been in place to help keep military secrets just that, secrets. But how it’s done ranges throughout history — from hieroglyphics to modern-day computer code. Based on the level of technology of the time, the country itself, and even various military branches have all used unique ways to keep their messages in code. 

The Roman Army used the Ceasar Shift Cipher as early as the 1st century, A.D., while ancient Greece hid messages “in plain sight” by a method called steganography. It was first seen around 440 B.C. by Herodotus. The Allies cracked the Enigma Code — Germany’s cryptology method at the time — to greatly shorten World War II. And in the 1970s, data encryption vastly advanced how communication was able to be hidden and protected. 

In the U.S., cryptology was heavily used in each battle or wartime event. As a way of keeping information from the enemy, notes were written in code or with secret messages. 

Revolutionary War

During the U.S. bout for freedom from the British, cryptology is said to have saved many lives, even having outed Benedict Arnold before he gave up West Point to the British. Through a secret group called the Culper Spy Ring, individuals passed along messages that were obtained by spies. Membership within the organization was secret, and even the members themselves didn’t know who was all involved. The messages were then passed after being coded into the Culper Code Book, which used 763 numbers to represent various words, names and places. The book was developed by George Washington’s spymaster, Major Benjamin Tallmadge, who spied under the name of John Bolton. 

Civil War

By the time the Civil War had begun, the telegraph had been invented and was widely used as a form of communication. This allowed messages to be passed quickly among military forces. It also called in the need for code to help encrypt messages. Both Union and Confederate forces disguided their telegraph messages. Hand-written notes and vocally passed messages were also coded in order to keep communication more private. 

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone’s electric telegraph (“needle telegraph”) from 1837 now in the London Science Museum (Geni, CC BY-SA 4.0)

Most notably, cryptology is known to have failed when female spies would flirt information out of soldiers. At the time, it was widely believed that women did not have a role in the war, or weren’t a valuable intelligence asset, so secrets were spilled without fear of consequence. 

World War I

During World War I, yet another technological advancement was made with the teletype cipher, which could de-code messages as they were received. This allowed messages to be sent much faster, as they did not require a person to manually translate the message. Instead they were sent live, decoded. 

During the Great War, British Admiral Sir William Hall’s team famously decoded the Zimmerman Telegram. A message system between Germany and Mexico, the message stated a German plan for submarine warfare and attempting to ally with Mexico for a U.S. invasion. However, rather than spill the beans, Hall kept quiet. He knew if he outed them, they would realize the source of the information leak. 

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
Teletype teleprinters in use in England (Public Domain)

The Zimmerman was later used to decrypt more messages and eventually help win the war. 

World War II

In World War II, there were entire deparments dedicated to finding the meaning of hidden codes. Notably women were recruited and taught cryptology, and were sworn to secrecy about what they were doing. Their efforts, along with other countries’, soon paid off. Polish and British mathematicians decoded the Germans’ Enigma code, leading Allied forces privvy to much information. The Germans soon suspected that their messages were being read, and added another rotor — the Enigma worked by scrambling letters with these rotors — to make messages harder to decipher. 

In addition, Japanese codes were also cracked, helping bringing an end to the war. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. used a machine called the SIGABA. Working similar to the Enigma, the SIGABA had 15 rotors and no reflector device, which made it harder to crack. There were no known breaches of the SIGABA through its use, up until the 1950s. 

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
SIGABA Machine (Public Domain)

Modern day wars

With the start of Vietnam, when data became digital and could therefore be encrypted, coding messages became more complicated. And more secret. To date, there are entire departments dedicated to creating programs that keep intelligence a secret. Using binary bit sequences, security clearance levels, and countless sophisticated computer programs, and it becomes a complicated event. One that we couldn’t even guess to begin how it works … and even if we could, it’s likely that folks in suits would show up at the door. So let’s just say it’s complicated, and perhaps in several decades, we can look back and see how it was all accomplished. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose was actually a marvel of engineering

It was a cool California November afternoon in 1947 when the HK-4 Hercules, also known as the Spruce Goose, finally flew. It was supposed to be a simple taxi test, nothing more than motoring through the water of Long Beach Harbor to show off its speed and test out the plane in open water. But having endured years of people mocking the project and himself for trying to build a plane so massive it had no hope of flying, Howard Hughes decided to take the opportunity to extend his middle finger at them all in the most poignant way he could.

No doubt with a twinkle in his eye as the Hercules cruised through the water, Hughes turned to the 30 year old hydraulic engineer, David Grant, who he had chosen as his co-pilot that day despite him not actually being a pilot, and unexpectedly told him to “lower the flaps to 15 degrees” — the take off position.


Not long after, the massive, few hundred thousand pound (250K lb / 113K kg empty, 400K lb / 181K kg gross), 218 ft (67 m) long aircraft with a still record holding wingspan of just shy of 321 feet (98 m) was out of the water. It was airborne for under a minute, went less than a mile, and only about 70 feet in the air, but it had done the impossible — the Spruce Goose flew.

Given the rather innovative use of a hydraulic system, landing was a bit abnormal for planes of the age in that the plane had to be landed under power, as Grant would instruct Hughes to “fly it into the water.”

When it finally settled back down in the water, Grant stated, “It was ecstasy all the way. It was like walking on air. It wasn’t underpowered at all, and it performed exactly like it was designed to.”

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
Internal view of the Hughes H-4 Hercules fuselage.

As to why Hughes didn’t fly it further, besides elements of the aircraft still needing tweaked and the potential danger of taking media aboard a test flight in which even the pilot wasn’t quite sure how the plane would handle, they’d been taxiing around for some time at this point and the plane hadn’t been fueled much to begin with. As such, Hughes didn’t want to risk running out of fuel in open ocean before he’d have a chance to circle back around and land.

Now, the original plan for this aircraft was a lot more grandiose than a brief publicity flight. In 1942, the United States — along with much of the rest of the world — was in the midst of WWII. Being across an ocean from where the fighting was taking place was a problem when transporting supplies, weapons, and soldiers en masse.

At the time, efforts on this front weren’t going well. German U-boats were patrolling Atlantic waters and torpedoing anything that was perceived to be helping the Allied war effort. According to one estimate, between January 1942 and August 1942 alone, German U-boats had sunk 233 ships and killed more than 5,000 Americans. It was clear that a better way was needed for transporting things safely across the Big Blue.

It was Henry J. Kaiser who first proposed an idea of an airboat. Running one of the most important construction companies in modern American history, Kaiser was responsible for building quite a lot of the infrastructure of the American west at the time (including the Hoover Dam). He also created a system for fast, high-quality shipbuilding during World War II that became world renownd.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
Henry J. Kaiser

Kaiser thought that a massive airboat packed to the gills with supplies and troops that could fly over German U-boats was the answer to the problem. However, he was a shipbuilder and not an expert on airplanes… But he knew someone who was.

By 1942, Hughes was already a famed figure in America. Exceedingly wealthy, he first gained widespread fame as a Hollywood producer who was most prominently known for producing and directing Hell’s Angels, a World War I epic about aerial combat that was (at the time) the most expensive movie ever made.

In 1934, he formed the Hughes Aircraft Company. A year later, he helped design and build the H-1, or as he liked to call it, the “Racer.” In September 1935, he broke the world land speed record in it with an average of 352.322 mph. In sort of a precursor of the future, during the flight the plane ran out of gas — something Hughes didn’t anticipate — forcing him to crash in a beet field, narrowly avoiding serious injury.

He broke another land speed record when he flew to New York from Los Angeles in a mere 7 hours, 28 minutes, and 25 seconds (averaging 332 mph). In 1938, he shattered the world record for quickest time flying around the globe, needing just 3 days, 19 hours, 14 minutes, and 10 seconds, almost 4 days quicker than the previous world record set in 1933 by Wiley Post.

His prowess as an aviation engineer and pilot quickly earned him a reputation as one of the most innovative aviators in the world- someone that Kaiser thought would help the Allies win the war.

Together, Kaiser and Hughes convinced the War Production Board to finance the construction of 500 flying boats, a project that was deemed in the press as the “most ambitious flying aviation program in the history of the world.”

For months, the old-school industrialist and the new-age aviator worked together to put together plans that would wow.

In late August, they submitted to the government blueprints for a seaplane with eight engines, a wingspan longer than a football field, and a hull taller than a five-story building.

Beyond being the largest plane ever built by far at the time, it would be able to transport 750 troops or two M2 Sherman tanks. It had a gross weight of about two hundred tons, which was nearly three times heavier than any other airplane ever built. And, due to wartime metal restrictions, it was to be built nearly entirely of wood. Hughes and Kaiser called it the HK-1, naturally named after themselves.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military

While hesitant at first, the federal government gave the pair $18 million (about $250 million today) to develop and build a prototype.

It didn’t go well from the very beginning. The Hughes Aircraft Company was not a big company in 1942 and struggled with staffing, expenses, and deadlines. Hughes himself was unfocused, taking on too many projects while underestimating how much attention was needed to build a plane that would eclipse anything anyone had ever attempted to make fly. Four months in and the best thing that could be said was that they built a 750-foot long hanger, also made out of wood.

By mid-1943, construction had begun on the plane itself, but it was incredibly slow-moving. Working with wood proved to be an enormous issue, presenting a variety of challenges that had to be overcome to make a reliable sea-plane. Beyond the aforementioned then innovative hydraulic system for manipulating the control surfaces, each piece of wood (which was mostly birch, not spruce, owing to birch being quite resistant to dry rot) had to be weighed and analyzed for quality assurance before being used.

In addition, each sheet had to be laminated with a waterproof glue in order to prevent it from being damaged by water, heat, and fungus. Along the way, besides needing to purchase the rights to the Duramold laminating process, which in a nutshell involved stacking shapable ultra-thin strips of wood and applying a glue, Hughes and his teem also had to develop a variation of the process for their particular application.

As late 1943 approached, the first prototype was due to the government but it was clear that wasn’t going to happen. What’s more, they had spent nearly half of the budget on “engineering re-tooling” and rumors were swirling that the first plane wasn’t going to be done until 1945. It turned out to be much worse than that.

At this point, Kaiser had had enough and bailed out of the project. Several times, the feds threatened to shut the whole thing down, willing to cut their losses. The contract that had originally been given to Hughes and Kaiser went from 500 planes to 3 planes to, finally, just one for the original $18 million.

By 1944, $13 million of that money was spent and, yet, the plane was less than half done. Then the war ended and any hope that the now-called H-4 Hercules (renamed after Kaiser left the project) was ever going to help the war effort was gone.

The contract with the federal government was swiftly canceled, but Hughes was determined to finish the plane. As he stated before the Senate War Investigating Committee in 1947 during an inquiry on whether he’d mismanaged tax payer dollars during the project,

The Hercules was a monumental undertaking. It is the largest aircraft ever built. It is over five stories tall with a wingspan longer than a football field. That’s more than a city block. Now, I put the sweat of my life into this thing. I have my reputation all rolled up in it and I have stated several times that if it’s a failure, I’ll probably leave this country and never come back. And I mean it.

And so it was that he paid for the project’s completion himself. The H-4 Hercules was finally finished in June of 1946 with $22 million of the government’s money and, while figures vary from otherwise reputable sources, according to Boeing, $18 million of Hughes own personal wealth chipped in, for a grand total of $40 million (about $450 million today). It should also be noted here that, subtracting initial research and development costs, had they decided to build a second plane, it probably would have only cost about $2.5 million (about $28 million today).

It took a little over a year more for Hughes to it fly. At this point given the massive scale of the plane, the incredible weight, the fact that it was made of wood, and the perpetual delays, the media had taken to mocking the plane, calling it the Spruce Goose — a nickname that Hughes and his team hated owing to it demeaning what was otherwise a marvel of engineering.

But on that fateful November day, the Hercules finally did what it was intended, proving many a critic wrong.

In the aftermath, there was some wrangling over who actually owned the plane given how much money Hughes himself had sunk into the project. But the U.S. government eventually gave up its rights to it in exchange for the Smithsonian Institute’s National Air and Space Museum getting the Hughes’ H-1 Racer plane and a portion of the Spruce Goose’s wing, as well as in exchange for a relatively small payment of $700,000 (about $3 million today).

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
Howard Hughes

For years afterward, Hughes, now moving on to other projects, kept the plane in the hanger he built specifically for it, seemingly originally with the intent of eventually flying it again. In fact, he kept a full-time crew of, at its peak, hundreds of people on hand to make sure the plane was ready to fly at any given moment, costing him millions of dollars over the years to do that.

Howard Hughes died in 1976 and the Spruce Goose immediately was under threat of being dismantled owing to the cost of maintaining it in its massive hanger. But the Aero Club of Southern California acquired the legendary plane in 1980 and put it in their own hanger next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach, right near where the plane did its maiden and final voyage.

The Walt Disney Company bought the property in 1988 and, after a few tense years, given Disney wanted the plane gone, the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon won the right to acquire the Spruce Goose.

For the last 26 years, that’s where it has remained, meticulously maintained. In fact, it’s generally thought that the maintenance over the years has been so good that, with some upgrades, particularly to the wiring and electronic components as well as going through the engines, it could possibly fly just fine today. Of course, because of its historical significance, nobody has seriously suggested anyone make those upgrades and try.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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This is the real, hard-luck story of SEAL platoon X-Ray

Legend has it that no SEAL platoon will use the designation “X-Ray” anymore. The story goes that the last platoon to use the literal nom de guerre had the worst luck — that is to say, a high casualty rate — of any platoon before or since.


The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
(U.S. Navy photo)

Related: This Navy SEAL unit was ‘the most hard luck platoon’ to fight in Vietnam

“That’s what I’ve heard,” says Gordon Clisham, a member of SEAL platoon X-Ray stationed in Vietnam during its hard-luck run there. “I don’t know if that’s true or not … the platoon lost four men — killed — and everyone was injured at least once.”

Clisham reached out to We Are The Mighty after reading our story about X-Ray in May 2016. He wanted to clear up some facts that he claims might not be as clear cut.

Specifically, Clisham wanted to set us straight on the counterinsurgency operation the SEALs conducted at Ben Tre which was lead by one of the team’s Vietnamese scouts.

“His name was Tong,” Clisham recalls. “I think he was dirty and I couldn’t prove it.” 

During the operation, X-Ray was ambushed by the Viet Cong. One story says a SEAL’s own grenades blew up while still on his belt. The explosion blew his glute off. Clisham says that’s not what happened.

A B-40 (a type of rocket-propelled grenade) hit the SEALs Mobile Support Team, Clisham says. The SEAL who supposedly lost a glute was actually P.K. Barnes, and he lost his leg from the knee down as a result of the explosion.

Clisham thinks it was their scout feeding intel to the enemy.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
X-Ray Platoon in Vietnam. Jim Ritter (KIA) took the picture. From left to right top row – Rick Hetzell, Irving Brown, Harold Birkey (KIA), Doc Caplenor, Frank Bowmar (KIA), Clint Majors, Mike Collins (KIA), Lou Decrose. Middle – Alan Vader. Bottom Row left to right – Mike Trigg, Dave Shadnaw, Gordon Clisham, Ah (the scout). (Navy SEAL Museum photo)

Ben Tre was just one operation among many that went wrong. Clisham estimates that about half the missions conducted by SEAL platoon X-Ray were compromised. They were just walking into one trap after another.

The reason? OPSEC.

Clisham suspects someone, maybe not just Tong, was feeding information to the enemy.

“I even went to Lt. Mike Collins [the unit commander] and said ‘We should get rid of this guy because we’re going on ops without him and we’re getting ambushed, and we go on ops with him, and he walks through the jungle like he’s walking through the park and we never get hit,'” Clisham says. “The boss didn’t want to shoot him, so we didn’t do it.”

What we had to do before we went out at night or any operation, was to get a clearance,” Clisham, who was the unit intel petty officer at the time, explains. “I would go up to the S2 center, give them our location –  never the exact location, we would ask for a ten grid square clearance, so they didn’t know exactly where we were at because a lot of the people working S2 center were VNs [South Vietnamese officers].” 

The Army wanted the exact location, but with the Vietnamese working in the intelligence, the SEALs were not willing to give up the coordinates. Lieutenant Collins struck a deal with the Army: SEAL platoon X-Ray would put the location of their ops in a sealed envelope before their mission. If necessary, the Army could open the envelope and provide support. If not, the location remained a secret.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
Standing, left to right: PK Barnes, Kit Carson Scout, Happy Baker, Mike Collins, Tong, Randal Clayton, Jim McCarthy, Ah, Mike Capelnor, Lou DiCroce, Kneeling: Allen Vader, Clint Majors, David Shadnaw. (Navy SEAL Museum)

After the first op, Clisham returned to the S2 to find the envelope opened. No one knew who opened it or why.

“There was a lot of hoopla raised about that,” Clisham recalls. “I don’t think anything was ever rectified, but we knew that somebody there was getting in on our intel or information of our location.”

To this day, as certain as he is that Tong, their scout was dirty, Clisham is sure it was a Vietnamese officer in the intel center who was giving their locations to the Viet Cong. To my surprise, he countered the May 2016 story’s claim that VC defectors who turned themselves in for amnesty – called “Chieu Hoi” – were untrustworthy.

“Now, we had a guy that worked with us that was ex-VC,” says Clisham. “That was Ah. He was a good man. He was on our side one hundred percent.”

There’s no exact reason why some veterans remember the details differently. As Clisham says, it was 45 years ago. When he and his fellow SEALs sit down for reunions, they don’t usually talk about what happened. They prefer to tell dirty jokes over cold beers.

But at least now history has a clearer picture of the “hard luck” that surrounded SEAL platoon X-Ray.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Dutch intelligence agents fooled Communists for almost 40 years

By 1968, global Communism was very much a threat to Western Europe. In Czechoslovakia, a massive invasion of Warsaw Pact forces saw a revolution crushed under the communist boot. Eurocommunist parties were popping up in Spain, Finland, and Italy. In China, Mao Zedong had rejected reforms enacted by Deng Xiaoping and re-enacted the repressive policies that led to the Cultural Revolution there. Unlike the Americans, who faced the spread of global Communism with force, the Dutch decided to found the Marxist-Leninist Party of the Netherlands – a group with which China cooperated.

The Chinese didn’t know its pro-China party in the Netherlands was a run entirely by Dutch spies who just wanted information on Chinese intentions.


The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military

Beijing even paid for the party newspaper, also run by Dutch spies.

A Dutch intelligence agent named Pieter Boevé set up the MLPN in 1968, gaining the trust of its Chinese Communist allies through the publication of its newspaper. Its timing was also fortuitous, as China and the Soviet Union had long before began to split in their view of what global Communism should look like. Since the MLPN embraced Maoist China and rejected the Soviet Union, that was even better for the Chairman. Using his MLPN, Boevé was able to expand his influence deeper into the party in Beijing.

His supposedly 600-member Communist party in a deeply capitalist society was the toast of the Communist world while Boevé ran the MLPN. In truth, there were only 12 members, but no one in the party or in the rest of the world knew that. Boevé could go anywhere in the Eastern Bloc, and China welcomed him with open arms so much, Zhou Enlai even threw a banquet in his honor. More importantly, they would brief him on the inner workings of the Chinese mission at the Hague.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military

The math teacher who outsmarted global Communism.

After attending a Communist youth seminar in Moscow in 1955, Boevé was recruited by the BVD, the Dutch intelligence service, to play up his Communist bona fides. He accepted and soon visited Beijing for a similar congress. The Sino-Soviet Split played right into the BVD’s hands, and after he embraced Maoism, his fake party practically built itself. The Dutch were able to know everything about China’s secret workings inside their country, and the Chinese paid for it, all of it orchestrated by Boevé, who was never paid as a spy. He was a math teacher at an elementary school.

“I was invited to all the big events – Army Days, Anniversaries of the Republic, everything,” Boevé told the Guardian in 2004. “There were feasts in the Great Hall of the People and long articles in the People’s Daily. And they gave us lots of money.”

The secret was kept until after 2001, when a former BVD agent wrote a book about the agency’s secret operations. Boevé and his fake party were outed.

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Unexploded German WWII bomb found in British port

Germany dropped a lot of bombs on England (not to mention the rest of the United Kingdom) during World War II. Not all of them exploded – and unexploded ordnance, or UXO, has been an ongoing issue.


According to a report by NavalToday.com, war’s gift that keeps on giving turned up in Portsmouth, England. This is where the Royal Navy is planning to base the 65,000-ton Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
The Royal Navy’s largest ever warship HMS Queen Elizabeth is gently floated out of her dock for the first time in Rosyth, Scotland in July 2014. (Photo from U.K. MOD)

The report said that the German SC250 bomb, which weighed 500 pounds and had 290 pounds of high explosive, was discovered while dredging was underway as part of a program to improve the Royal Navy base’s infrastructure. The London Guardian reported on a past UXO find in Portsmouth in November that was rendered safe in a controlled detonation. The Guardian report also mentioned a bomb discovered in September.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
U.S. Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal technicians work with local law enforcement bomb squad members to transport Civil War cannonballs washed ashore from Hurricane Matthew to a safe location at Folly Beach, S.C., Oct. 9, 2016. After the discovery of ordnance on the beach, local law enforcement and Air Force personnel worked together to properly dispose of the hazards. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sean Carnes)

UXO has been a long-running problem after wars. In fact, last October saw EOD personnel in the United States tasked to deal with Civil War cannonballs that were unearthed by Hurricane Matthew. UXO from World War I and World War II has been very common in Europe, including poison gas shells.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military
U.S. Marines with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) platoon, Chemical Biological Incident Response Force (CBRIF) participate in a final training exercise with Fire Department of New York (FDNY) responding to and deactivating a notional explosive threat found at a steam plant on Randall’s Island, N.Y., Sept. 15, 2016. (Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Maverick S. Mejia)

In 2009, a U.S. Navy release reported that a number of leftover mines and a British torpedo from World War II were discovered during a mine countermeasures exercise during that year’s BALTOPS. Three years later, during that same exercise, an unexploded aerial bomb was discovered according to another U.S. Navy release.

A 2011 Navy release estimates that in the Baltic Sea alone, there are over 200,000 pieces of UXO from not only conflicts, but training exercises dating back to the Russian Revolution.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The northernmost Confederate attack was a raid on Vermont

We hear a lot about how Gettysburg was as far north as the Confederate Army could get, while that may be true for the Army of Northern Virginia, it wasn’t true for the entire Confederate armed forces. The actual northernmost fighting took place in northern Vermont, near the U.S. border with Canada.

You can’t get much further than that.


The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military

Vermonters were not expecting this either, trust me.

Although the Confederates did make it to Gettysburg and were stopped, there were many other places in the United States, well north of Gettysburg. During the Gettysburg campaign, another Confederate expedition was making its way up through Tennessee and Kentucky, then into Indiana and Ohio. Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan led a raid that was supposed to divert men and resources from resisting the main southern thrust northward, the one at Gettysburg.

Morgan led his men, less than 3,000, through Cincinnati, Columbus, and Steubenville Ohio, only to be stopped by Union troops in Salineville, Ohio. Ambrose Burnside and his army of 40,000 relentlessly pursued Morgan up through the northern states. After they were captured, they managed to escape, retreating to Cincinnati and into Kentucky, where they took advantage of the state’s neutral status.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military

A handful of the raiders after the incident.

One native Kentuckian, Bennett H. Young, was captured at Salineville and escaped but instead of sneaking down the Ohio River and into Kentucky, he moved North instead. He slipped into British-controlled, Confederate-sympathizing Canada and hatched his plan to continue fighting the Union from the other side of the Mason-Dixon line.

He decided that diverting Union troops from attacking the South was still the best way forward, so he devised a plan that served that end while funding his own expeditions: raiding Northern border towns. His first stop would be St. Albans, Vermont, just a few miles from the U.S.-Canada border.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military

The raiders wanted to burn the whole town, but their accelerant didn’t work as planned.

Young’s men moved into St. Albans piecemeal, coming in groups of two to three every few days, and checking into the local hotels. By Oct. 19, 1864, 21 Confederate cavalrymen had made it to the sleepy Vermont town. Once ready, they simultaneously robbed the town’s three banks, fought off any resistance, forced others to swear loyalty to the Confederate States of America, and burned someone’s shed. They also made off with the modern equivalent of .3 million before escaping into Canada.

The United States demanded the extradition of the soldiers, but since the men had acted as official CSA soldiers, the Canadians would not turn them over to the Americans.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the US raided a Soviet arctic base in the Cold War

The U.S. and Soviet militaries in the Cold War both understood the importance of the Arctic. Their submarines moved under it, their bombers moved over it, and both sides kept radar stations to track each other’s planes and potential missile launches. But after the U.S. figured out how to track Soviet submarines from drift stations, they wanted to know if the Soviets had figured out the same trick.


The problem was that drift stations were small bases built on floating ice islands. It’s hard to sneak onto such isolated and small installations. Luckily, drift stations are a bit dangerous. As the ice shifts on the island, it can crack and rupture. Drift station commanders had to keep firm eyes on their runways. Otherwise, the ice could crack too badly and make escape impossible.

So they had a tendency to get abandoned every once in a while, but only as they were becoming inaccessible. Well, inaccessible to the Russians, who couldn’t get personnel out of the remote areas without a runway. But America had a new trick up its sleeve in 1962 it wanted to try out.

That was the Skyhook, an ingenious but dangerous tool that allowed planes to scoop people off of the ground using a system of hooks, wires, and balloons. A famous Batman clip actually shows the concept in very exciting detail. And, Russian Station NP 9 had recently been abandoned.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military

An instruction comic for the Robert Fulton Skyhook.

(CIA)

But the mission would be dangerous. A small team would need to parachute into Arctic conditions, scrounge through the rubble of the rapidly breaking base, and then get extracted with a Skyhook before it all fell apart. This was Operation Coldfeet.

Two men were selected for the mission. Air Force Maj. James Smith was a Russian linguist with experience on American drift stations, and U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Leonard LeSchack, an Antarctic geophysicist. LeSchack had to learn to jump out of planes, and both men had to train on the retrieval system.

But as the men trained, the target drift station was shifting further from their launch point at Thule Air Force Base, Greenland. Luckily, something even better came along.

Station NP 8 was a more modernized station, but its runway rapidly degraded and the Soviets abandoned it. America found out in March 1962 and shifted the planned operation to target NP 8.

But the operation was short on time. NP 8 wasn’t expected to last long. It was drifting quickly and would soon be crushed in the ice. And the training and the surveillance of NP 9 and then NP 8 had used up the funds allotted for the operation. So the military went shopping for partners, and the CIA was happy to help. They had their own questions about Soviet drift stations.

So an aviation company and CIA front, Intermountain Aviation, got a polar navigator and prepared to drop the men.

The insertion took place on May 28, and the two investigators got to work. They searched through piles of documents, technological equipment, and other artifacts to piece together what was happening at the drift station.

They discovered that, yes, the Soviets were tracking American subs. Worse, they were developing techniques to hunt them under the ice.

The logistics behind cryptology in the U.S. Military

The Fulton Skyhook being used by the men of Operation Coldfeet in 1962.

(CIA)

Smith and LeSchack made a prioritized set of documents and items they needed to get out, and they carefully packed it into bags. Over six days and five nights, they cataloged, documented, and packed. Then they attached them to balloons, filled the balloons with helium, and sent them into the sky where the plane snagged them up.

Once they were sure the bags were safe, they sent their own balloons up and got pulled out by the plane.

The Soviets wouldn’t know for years that their secret was out.

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This was America’s first anti-aircraft cruiser

Today, the Ticonderoga-class cruiser is the epitome of a vessel designed with the primary purpose of protecting capital ships from an aerial threat.


With the Aegis fire control system, two 64-cell Mk 41 vertical launch systems, and a pair of five-inch guns, among other weapons, the Tico can handle just about anything the enemy has that flies.

But this wasn’t the only cruiser designed to primarily confront the aerial threat. That honor falls to the cruiser USS Atlanta (CL 51), which was commissioned 17 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Atlanta was also designed to serve as a scout or a flotilla leader for destroyers, but her main battery of 16 5-inch/38 guns gave her a powerful anti-aircraft armament.

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USS Atlanta (CL 51) in 1942, coming up to USS San Francisco (CA 38). (US Navy photo)

The Navy originally ordered four of these cruisers, but doubled the total after the start of the war. Three slightly modified versions, known as the Juneau-class cruisers, were later acquired, but not finished until after the war.

According to the “Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships,” the USS Atlanta saw action in the Battle of Midway, the invasion of Guadalcanal, the Battle of the Eastern Solomons, the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. In that last battle, she was heavily damaged by both friendly and enemy fire, and ultimately had to be scuttled.

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USS Juneau (CL 119) during the Korean War, during which she sank three North Korean torpedo boats. (US Navy photo)

Other than the second ship of the class, USS Juneau (CL 52) — best known as the vessel that the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, perished aboard — the rest of the Atlanta-class cruisers survived the war.

The USS Reno (CL 96) did have a hell of a fight for survival after being torpedoed in November 1944.

The last Atlanta-class cruiser to serve in the United States Navy was the USS Juneau (CL 119), the lead ship of her sub-class that was completed in the months after World War II.

Ironically, the only action Juneau saw outside of shore bombardment was a naval battle on July 2, 1950, sinking three North Korean torpedo boats.

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The 8 coolest things ever said in wartime

There’s nothing more satisfying than watching a movie where the good guy says some really dope stuff right before he takes out the bad guy – but that doesn’t happen in real life, does it? It DOES. Throughout the history of warfare, those who have chosen warfighting as their profession have kept cool enough under fire to reply, retort, and rebuff their enemies with a weapon as lethal as firearms and blades – a silver tongue.


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Daniel K. Inouye

“Nobody called off the war!”

Inouye had just pulled off some epic, Medal of Honor-winning fighting, which included being gutshot, taking a frag grenade blast, and being shot in the leg and arm. He told his men to hold back while he went off and cleared the area. He was successful in breaking the confidence of the enemy. He said this as he was moving to get back to the aid station when reinforcements began to arrive in order to keep the men on target. He would lose that arm.

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Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington,

“I have seen their backs before, Madam.”

This incredibly awesome line wasn’t technically made in wartime. It was made by a wartime Field Marshal, however, by the name of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. While at an event in Vienna, he was asked about how he felt about French Generals turning their backs on him at a conference in Vienna. This was his reply when asked about the event.

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Mustafa Kemal Ataturk

“Men, I am not ordering you to attack. I am ordering you to die.”

The founding father of modern-day Turkey was actually a wordsmith of the highest caliber. He rose to power and reformed the Ottoman Empire after the end of World War I, but he rose to prominence defending Turkish lands during the battle for Gallipoli. This was his order to the 57th Infantry Regiment defending Gallipoli.

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General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

“No damn man kills me and lives to tell about it!”

What makes this quote so epically cool is that Forrest was shot and wounded by a fellow officer, a subordinate of his. Even though Forrest would survive the wound, he said this before taking his turn to shoot back. Forrest survived. The officer did not.

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Todd Beamer

“Let’s roll.”

United Flight 93 passenger probably never predicted such an offhand remark might one day become synonymous with that day and the American resolve to defeat terrorism. This is what he told his fellow passengers right before they all fought to recapture their airplane and try to avoid crashing into something important. Instead, they opted to down it in a rural field.

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General George S. Patton.

“As I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no one because I am the most evil man in the valley.”

Yeah, Patton had a lot of cool things to say in combat. But nothing tops this one-liner. Patton was a religious man, growing up in California, he was a regular at his local church, which helps the street cred for this sentence. What also helps is that Patton didn’t care if the enemy thought he was evil or not – he was coming, and he knew the enemy was afraid.

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Genghis Khan

“If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”

The Great Khan was ruthless in his efficiency, brave in his execution, and fearsome until the very end. Khan accumulated an empire that would be the largest on Earth until the British Empire reached its apogee. Until then Khan controlled 17 percent of the Earth surface, killing so many people, it led to global cooling.

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Sgt. Maj. Daniel Daly

“Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?!”

Of course, leave it to a United States Marine to top this list of dope sh*t said in the face of certain death. There are few Marines as storied as Sgt. Major Daniel Daly one of a very short list of people to earn the Medal of Honor. Twice. Daly said this at the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood, where Marines earned their nickname “Devil Dogs.”


Feature image: U.S. Army

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That time the USAF intercepted a pilotless Soviet fighter

On the morning of July 4, 1989, alarm bells blared at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, home of the US Air Force’s 32d Tactical Fighter Squadron.


Within minutes, a pair of armed F-15 Eagles, manned by Capts. J.D. Martin and Bill “Turf” Murphy, were launched on a scramble order. Their mission was to intercept what appeared to be a lone fighter making a beeline from Soviet-controlled airspace into Western Europe.

Though the Cold War’s end was seemingly not too far away, tensions still ran high between the two sides of the Iron Curtain, and any incursion by an unidentified aircraft would need to be responded to swiftly.

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F-15Cs of the 32d Tactical Fighter Squadron (US Air Force)

As JD and Turf were vectored in on the aircraft, now identified as a Soviet MiG-23 Flogger supersonic fighter, ground controllers notified them that all attempts to contact the inbound jet had failed and the intentions of its pilot were unknown and potentially hostile.

When they got close the the Flogger, the two Eagles were primed and ready to shoot down their silent bogey if it didn’t respond and carried on its flight path. But when the two F-15 pilots closed in on the aircraft to positively identify it, they noticed that the pylons underneath the Flogger — used to mount missiles and bombs — were empty.

By then, the Flogger was firmly in Dutch airspace, casually flying onward at around 400 mph at an altitude of 39,000 ft.

What JD and Turf saw next would shock them — the Flogger’s canopy had been blown off and there was no pilot to be found inside the cockpit. In essence, the Soviet fighter was flying itself, likely through its autopilot system.

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A Soviet Air Force MiG-23 Flogger, similar to the one which flew pilotless across Europe (US Air Force)

After contacting ground control with this new development, the two Eagle pilots were given approval to shoot down the wayward MiG over the North Sea, lest it suddenly crash into a populated area. Unaware of how long the pilotless MiG had been flying, and battling poor weather which could have sent debris shooting down the MiG into nearby towns, JD and Turf opted to let the jet run out of fuel and crash into the English Channel.

Instead, the aircraft motored along into Belgium, finally arcing into a farm when the last of its fuel reserves were depleted. Tragically, the MiG struck a farmhouse, killing a 19-year-old. Authorities raced to the site of the crash to begin their investigation into what happened, while the two F-15s returned to base. French Air Force Mirage fighters were also armed and ready to scramble should the MiG have strayed into French airspace.

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The crash site of the MiG-23 in Belgium (Public Domain)

Details of what led to the loss of the Flogger began to emerge.

As it turns out, the Soviet fighter had originated from Bagicz Airbase — a short distance away from Kolobrzeg, Poland — on what was supposed to be a regular training mission. The pilot, Col. Nikolai Skuridin, ejected less than a minute into his flight during takeoff when instruments in the cockpit notified him that he had drastically lost engine power. At an altitude of around 500 ft, it would be dangerous and almost certainly fatal if Skuridin stayed with his stricken fighter, trying to recover it with its only engine dead. The colonel bailed out with a sense of urgency, assuming the end was near.

But as he drifted back down to Earth, instead of seeing his fighter plummet to its demise, it righted itself and resumed climbing, its engine apparently revived.

The ensuing debacle proved to be thoroughly embarrassingfor the Soviet Union, which was forced to offer restitution to Belgium and the family of the deceased teenager. By the end of the MiG’s flight, it had flown over 625 miles by itself until it ran out of fuel and crashed.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The time an American battleship flooded itself…on purpose

Unless it’s a submarine, you generally don’t want your ship filling with water. Of course, all ships have some amount of ballast water held in ballast tanks and cargo holds. This provides stability and maneuverability on the sea. In combat though, extreme and unconventional measures are sometimes necessary to accomplish the mission.

Launched on May 18, 1912 and commissioned on March 12, 1914, USS Texas (BB-35) sailed almost immediately into action. In May 1914, she steamed for Mexico in response to the detention of an American gunboat at Tampico. Despite skipping the usual shakedown cruise, Texas remained on station off the coast of Mexico in support of American forces on shore for just over two months.

During WWI, Texas fired the first American shots of the war. On April 19, 1917, while escorting the merchant ship Mongolia, one of Texas’ batteries opened fire on a surfaced German U-boat. Although the enemy vessel wasn’t sunk, the attack on the merchant vessel was deterred. For the remainder of the war, Texas sailed with Britain’s Grand Fleet escorting convoys and minelayers.

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Crewman aboard USS Texas pose on one of the ship’s main 14-inch gun batteries (U.S. Navy)

Texas again made history during the inter-war period when she became the first American battleship to launch an airplane on March 10, 1919. She was also overhauled with a new powerplant and given additional guns at the sacrifice of her torpedo tubes. She briefly served as the flagship of the Pacific Fleet before returning to the Atlantic just before the outbreak of WWII.

Before America’s entry into WWII, Texas conducted neutrality patrols and escorted lend-lease convoys across the Atlantic. Additionally, in February 1941, the legendary US 1st Marine Division was activated aboard the Texas. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Texas escorted allied convoys to a variety of Atlantic destinations like Panama, Sierra Leone, and the United Kingdom.

During Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, Texas broadcasted Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s “Voice of Freedom” speech imploring the Vichy French not to oppose the allied landings. During the invasion, Texas fired less than 300 shells in supporting fire, a number that would be quickly dwarfed during her next major operation.

Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, D-Day. Texas sailed with the Western Taskforce for Normandy on June 3, 1944. On June 6, she took up her station off of Pointe du Hoc and began her bombardment of the coast in support of the 29th Infantry Division, 2nd, and 5th Ranger Battalions. In 34 minutes, Texas had fired 255 14-inch shells into Pointe du Hoc. Afterwards, with the help of aerial observers, she shifted her main batteries to fire on German reinforcements, artillery batteries, and other strong points further inland.

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USS Texas fires a salvo from her 14-inch guns (U.S. Navy)

As allied forces pushed off the beach, Texas moved closer to shore to support them. Originally stationed 12,000 yards offshore, she moved to just 3,000 yards from the beach. On June 7 and 8, she continued to bombard German positions. She was forced to return to England to rearm and was on station off of France again on June 11. By June 15 though, allied forces had pushed so far inland that their targets were now out of Texas’ range. In order to fulfill the requested fire missions, Texas’ crew had to get creative.

The ship’s massive 14-inch guns did not have the elevation required to lob their shots as far inland as the invasion forces needed. So, if the guns facing port couldn’t be raised any further, then the starboard side needed to be lowered. The starboard torpedo blister, a sponson on the hull below of the waterline, was flooded with water. This listed Texas two degrees to starboard and gave her main batteries enough elevation to complete the fire mission. Talk about improvise, adapt, overcome. However, the next day, the designated targets were too far for the flooding solution to work and Texas retired to England on June 18.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention and combat has proved this time and time again. The next time someone pitches you a solution that sounds crazy, remember that it might be just crazy enough to work.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How American naval tech advanced during the Civil War

The land battles of the Civil War, like the Battle of Gettysburg, often draw much of the attention when discussing the war. And they should — many of these conflicts were massive in scope, accounting for tens of thousands of casualties.


However, the Civil War was also notable for the great leaps in naval technology that took place in just four years. At the start of the conflict, navies still relied on wooden ships powered by sails that used wind power to travel the seas. The wood was necessary, as it was light enough to be pushed by gusts at a decent speed.

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The end of the Age of Sail: The frigate USS Cumberland is rammed and sunk by CSS Virginia on March 8, 1862. (Curier and Ives from Wikimedia Commons)

By the end of the conflict, ships were powered by coal-burning steam engines. This effectively liberated ships from the whims of the wind, allowing them to sail direct courses to their destinations. Even though the ships became heavier as a result, they would travel faster using a powerful engine.

The engines also allowed the ships to don armor to protect them enemy fire. Nowhere was that more evident than when the ironclad ram CSS Virginia attacked the Union fleet off Hampton Roads, Virginia.

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These plans of USS Monitor show the advanced technology that the Navy adopted in the Civil War: Steam engines, iron armor, and a turret. (U.S. Navy photo)

Even the way naval armament was mounted changed, moving from lines of side-mounted cannon to two-gun turrets. In the old days, a ship had to turn to bring half their main battery’s firepower to bear on the enemy. Turrets allowed a ship to hold its course and still bring all of its firepower to a fight.

USS Monitor was the first vessel to tie all these new technologies together. This made her the most powerful warship on the high seas from the time she entered the United States Navy to the time of her unfortunate sinking during a storm on Dec. 31, 1862.

Learn more about Civil War naval technology in the video below.

 

(Civil War Trust | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

5 American jet fighters that later became devastating bombers

Some planes have long had a reputation for being deadly in air-to-air combat. That is an arena built for the fast and evasive — and planes get faster and more evasive all the time. But what do we do about the older fighters? Retirement or being passed on, second-hand, to other countries happens to some models, and some of these designs are so good, they last for decades (the P-51 served in a military role until 1985). Other planes, however, undergo a little role change and start dropping bombs instead.


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An F-51 Mustang of the U.S. Fifth Air Force’s 18th bomber wing releases two Napalm bombs over an industrial military target in North Korea. The Mustang was a preview of jet fighters that later proved very capable at bombing the enemy. (USAF photo)

In fact, when you look at the most prominent fighters from World War II (the P-51, the F6F Hellcat, the F4U Corsair, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and the P-38 Lightning), they were all multi-role fighters. The jet age was no different — many planes designed for air-to-air became very good at dropping bombs on the enemy on the ground. Here are some of the most prominent.

1. North American F-86 Sabre

The F-86 Sabre dominated the skies during the Korean War, but as the war went on, this plane also had a significant impact as a fighter-bomber. This plane did so well dropping ordnance that the Air Force eventually bought the F-86H, a dedicated fighter-bomber version of the F-86, which served until 1972.

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F-86H Sabres deployed during the Pueblo Crisis. While F-86A/E/Fs were rapidly retired, the F-86H served until 1972. (USAF photo)

2. North American F-100 Super Sabre

Like the F-86, the F-100 was initially intended for air-to-air combat. But the F-100A had its teething problems, and it never saw much combat as a fighter. The F-100D version, however, became a very reliable fighter-bomber. In fact, a later model, the F-100F operational trainer model, was among the first of the Wild Weasels — Vietnam-era bombers that were responsible for taking out enemy air defenses. The F-100 fighter-bombers stuck around until 1979.

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A North American F-100D Super Sabre drops napalm on enemy positions. This plane hung around with the Air National Guard as a fighter-bomber until 1979! (USAF photo)

3. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom

The Navy’s version of the Phantom, the F-4B, was an all-weather interceptor. The Air Force was the first branch to use this airframe as a tactical fighter, and the others quickly followed suit. As F-14s and F-15s emerged into service, F-4s took on more ground-attack missions. Today, those still in service with Turkey and other countries are primarily used for bombing.

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20 years after the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, the F-4 was still a reliable plane for attack missions, dropping precision-guided weapons like this TV-guided GBU-15. (USAF photo)

4. Grumman F-14 Tomcat

Lessons learned from Vietnam and the development of new Soviet bombers spurred the development of the F-14 as a pure fighter. It had quite the long reach, too. With the end of the Cold War, though, the Tomcat quickly ran thin on targets in the air and was quickly retooled to attack ground targets. Sadly, it also saw its production ended shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union and was retired in 2004. It leaves us to wonder just what could have been for carrier air wings.

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Maverick, Goose, and Iceman made the Tomcat a movie star as a fighter in Top Gun, but in the War on Terror, it was carrying laser-guided bombs to blast terrorists on the ground. (DOD photo)

5. McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle

While the Navy replaced its F-4s with the F-14, the Air Force chose to replace them in the air-to-air role with the F-15. The F-15 dominated as an air-superiority fighter (it still hasn’t lost a for-real dogfight). Then, the Air Force sought to replace the F-4 for the ground-attack missions – and the F-15 was selected. Today, the F-15E is still going strong, bringing the fight to ground forces.

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The fact is, an air-superiority fighter need not despair when newer jets come along. It can earn a second lease on life by dropping bombs on the bad guys. It might not be as thrilling as a dogfight, but it’s plenty effective.

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