Here's a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

The Battle of the Coral Sea was a game-changer in terms of naval battles. Not only did it mark the first time the Allies turned the Japanese back during World War II, it was the first time ships fought without sighting each other. That means the primary weapons weren’t guns, as they had been for centuries — they were planes.


At that point in World War II, the air groups on fleet carriers usually consisted of three types of planes: fighters, dive-bombers, and torpedo planes. We’ll look at the aircraft that did most of the fighting.

Captain Joseph J. Foss peers from the cockpit of a Grumman F4F-4 Wildcat, the fighter type in which he scored all 26 of his victories. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

F4F Wildcat

The Grumman F4F Wildcat walked a long road in becoming one of the most successful naval fighters of all time. At first, the US Navy didn’t even want the plane, opting instead to field the Brewster F2A Buffalo. By the time the war started, however, the Wildcat won out. The F4F-3 that fought at the Coral Sea packed four .50-caliber machine guns. 20 F4F-3 s were on USS Yorktown (CV 5), and 22 were on USS Lexington (CV 2).

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
A Mitsubishi A6M Zero takes off from the Zuikaku.
(U.S. Navy)

 

Mitsubishi A6M Zero – “Zeke”

This was Japan’s best fighter in World War II. In China, it racked up a huge kill count and went on to dominate against British, Dutch, and even American fighters over the first six months of World War II. It packed a pair of 7.7mm machine guns and two 20mm cannons. The Japanese fleet carriers Shokaku and Zuikaku each had 21 Zekes on board, and the light carrier Shoho added 12 more.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
A Douglas SBD Dauntless assigned to VS-2 on USS Lexington in flight. “Lady Lex” had 36 of these planes at the Coral Sea.
(U.S. Navy)

 

Douglas SBD Dauntless

This plane became America’s most lethal ship-killer in World War II —and it did so using 1,000-pound bombs. The plane also packed two .50-caliber machine guns in the nose and a twin .30-caliber machine gun mount used by the radioman. That combination proved lethal to a number of Zekes. USS Yorktown had 38 on board, USS Lexington had 36.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
An Aichi D3A Val during the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had 41 of these planes on Shokaku and Zuikaku.
(U.S. Navy)

Aichi D3A – “Val”

Japan’s primary dive bomber was only capable of carrying a 550-pound bomb, which left it unable to land a killing blow. Even after suffering repeated strikes, a target could still float, lingering. Still, it was capable of doing damage. Shokaku had 20 Vals on board, Zuikaku had 21 at the start of the battle.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
A Douglas TBD Devastator drops a Mk 13 aerial torpedo just prior to World War II. The two American carriers at the Coral Sea had 25 of these planes.
(U.S. Navy)
 

Douglas TBD Devastator

The Douglas TBD Devastator is best known as the plane that was decimated at Midway. It could carry a single Mk 13 torpedo, but also was able to be used as a level bomber. It had a single .30-caliber machine gun in the nose, and was built for a single .30-caliber machine gun to be used by a rear gunner, who doubled as the radioman. USS Lexington had 12 planes on board, USS Yorktown had 13.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
A Nakajima B5N “Kate” on Shokaku during the Battle of the Coral Sea. The Japanese carriers brought 51 of these planes to the Coral Sea.
(Imperial Japanese Navy)

 

Nakajima B5N – “Kate”

This was the plane that a Japanese carrier used as its ship killer. It carried a crew of three and could carry a torpedo or be used as a level bomber. Unlike the Devastator, the Kate’s mark in history can be listed in the ships it sank: USS Arizona (with a level bomb), USS Oklahoma (with torpedoes), and USS Lexington (torpedoes) were three of the most notable prior to the Battle of Midway. It had a single 7.7mm machine gun used by the radioman and some additional guns in the wings. Shokaku and Zuikaku each had 21 of these planes on board, and Shoho added nine more.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Britain formed a number of commando units in World War II that operated from Burma to India to Europe and even north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. The No. 14 (Arctic) Commando trained specifically to sink German ships, destroy infrastructure, and interrupt operations in order to cripple Axis efforts in the Atlantic.


Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

Austro-Hungarian ski patrol on the Italian front.

(Imperial War Museum)

The unit was formed after the success of Operation Gunnerside, a British-Norwegian commando operation that saw the destruction of equipment at a Nazi-held heavy water plant, ultimately delaying German creation of a nuclear bomb or reactor (The Germans were already leaning towards the reactor over the bomb and had limited material to pursue either).

But Gunnerside had also shown a shortage of suitable transportation and experienced personnel, so British leadership allowed members of the 12 Commando unit to form the ‘Fynn Force’ as well as to create an all new commando unit, 14 Commando, in 1942.

Troops were recruited from units with experience in cold climates, especially those who already knew how to ski and canoe. Yes, canoe. The unit was to be split into two, each specialized for certain operations. One group would specialize in transiting via skis, and the other would row in canoes.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

Commandos carry the wounded to landing ships.

(Imperial War Museum)

Canadians were in high demand for the unit, but British and Norwegian sailors and commandos joined as well. It was a job that required steady nerves. Most missions proposed for the Arctic commandos were obvious suicide missions. One raid scheduled for the winter of 1942-1943 called for a group of skiers to parachute in and destroy a viaduct critical for iron ore transportation.

The unit commander voted against the mission on the basis that the party would almost certainly not be able to escape, but was overruled because of the value of success even if the commandos were lost. Luckily for them, weather made the mission impossible.

But No. 14 Commando would get its chance to fight just south of Arctic Circle. Eight men were sent on a canoe raid against German ships in Operation Checkmate.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

The “Cockleshell Heroes,” another group of canoe raiders who sunk ships with explosives.

(Royal Marine Museum)

They went forward on a motorboat and then split up. Four men stayed with the boat while four men went forward in two canoes. The men in the canoes were able to plant a limpet mine against the hull of ships, sinking a German minesweeper before they escaped.

But the mission fell apart there. The men on the motorboat had been forced to move from the rendezvous point, and the quartets were forced to escape and evade separately. Neither group made it out. They were captured during a massive search involving German forces and Norwegian civilians.

Thanks to the new order from Hitler to kill all captured commandos, issued just months before in October 1942, all eight were sentenced to die. Seven were executed after forced labor in concentration camps while the other died of typhus.

The rest of No. 14 Commando was later absorbed into other units after the organization was disbanded.

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These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

If fighting the well-defended Viet Cong on their home turf wasn’t dangerous enough, imagine having to crawl your way through a series of extremely tight and narrow underground tunnels to capture or kill them.


Armed with only a flashlight, a single pistol, or maybe just a knife, a “Tunnel Rat” didn’t have much in the way of defense.

“The most dangerous part would be psyching up to get into the tunnel,” Carl Cory says, a former 25th Infantry Div Tunnel Rat. “That was the part that was most frightening because you didn’t what you were getting into.”

Related: This video shows the ingenuity behind the Viet Cong tunnel systems

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
Sgt. Ronald H. Payne, a Tunnel Rat, bravely searches a tunnel’s entrance during Vietnam War. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

In 1946, the Viet Minh were the Viet Cong resistance fighters who began digging the tunnels and bunkers to combat the French, whom they would eventually defeat.

By the time the Vietnam War broke out, the Viet Cong had over 100-miles of tunnels with which to spring deadly ambushes on American and South Vietnamese forces before vanishing.

The numerous spider holes (as the tunnel entrances were sometimes called) were conveniently located and well camouflaged — nearly impossible to detect.

Also Read: American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

It was the duty of the brave Tunnel Rat to slide alone into the tunnel’s entrance then search for the enemy and other valuable intelligence. Due to the intense and dangerous nature of the job, many Tunnel Rats became so emotionally desensitized that entering a spider hole was just another day at the office — no big deal.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
Sgt. Ronald A. Payne searches a Vietnamese tunnel armed with only a flashlight and a pistol. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

With danger lurking around every corner, the Tunnel Rat not only had to dodge the various savage booby traps set by the Viet Cong, but typically only carried 6-7 rounds of ammunition with him even though the tunnels were commonly used to house up to a few dozen enemy combatants.

With all those physical dangers to consider, the courageous troop still needed to maintain a clear and precise mental state of mind and not let the fear get the best of him.

After completing a search, many American and South Vietnamese units would rig the tunnels with C-4 explosives or bring in the always productive flamethrowers to flush out or kill any remaining hostiles.

MIGHTY HISTORY

FDR wrote a letter to the future President for America’s first WWII hero

Three days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Capt. Colin Kelly, Jr. was set to fly over Taiwan in his B-17 Flying Fortress in one of the first American counter attacks of World War II. Kelly was stationed on Luzon, in the Philippines and survived the massive Japanese attack on that island nation as well. Kelly died after attacking a Japanese heavy cruiser, one of the first casualties of the Pacific War and the first graduate of the United States Military Academy to die in combat.

He was also one of the first heroes of the Army Air Corps in World War II – and President Roosevelt would not forget him.


Instead of Taiwan, the 26-year-old pilot dropped a bomb load on the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Ashigara as it supported the landing invasion forces on Luzon. He was immediately swarmed by Japanese Zeros. The B-17 pilot never had a chance. Before he could bail out, the plane exploded with Kelly inside. He stayed at the controls so his crew could bail out.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

This painting of Colin Kelly, Jr. hangs in the Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.

“Out of ammunition, I flew alongside the B-17 and saw the pilot trying to save the burning aircraft after allowing his crew to escape,” a Japanese pilot who was over Luzon that day remembered. “I have tremendous respect for him.” Kelly was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross

Americans responded to the news of Colin Kelly’s death by setting up a fund for his son’s education, once he reached college age. But one person in particular wanted to make sure the son of America’s first World War II hero had the chance to do whatever he wanted in life.

That person was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

When watching a movie like Saving Private Ryan for the first time, I scoffed at the idea that someone so high up in the government would be able to watch a situation like World War II from the ivory tower of the White House and have such a granular effect on the individuals affected by the war. And maybe President Roosevelt didn’t have time for everyone, but for Colin Kelly III, Capt. Kelly’s son, he sure did.

Roosevelt penned a letter to the future, specifically, to the future President of the United States in 1956. That would be the year Colin Kelly III would start looking for a university and Roosevelt want to ensure he did everything he could for the boy.

Roosevelt wrote,

To the President of the United States in 1956:

I am writing this letter as an act of faith in the destiny of our country. I desire to make a request which I make in full confidence that we shall achieve a glorious victory in the war we now are waging to preserve our democratic way of life.

My request is that you consider the merits of a young American youth of goodly heritage—Colin P. Kelly, III—for appointment as a Cadet in the United States Military Academy at West Point. I make this appeal in behalf of this youth as a token of the Nation’s appreciation of the heroic services of his father, who met death in line of duty at the very outset of the struggle which was thrust upon us by the perfidy of a professed friend.

In the conviction that the service and example of Captain Colin P. Kelly, Jr., will be long remembered, I ask for this consideration in behalf of Colin P. Kelly, III.
Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

1956 just so happened to be Ike’s re-election year.

“Most people in my parents’ generation or a bit older or younger seem readily to remember being deeply touched by what President Roosevelt did for the infant son of the young pilot killed in the Pacific,” Colin Kelly III later wrote for the New York Times. “It was one of the first actions of F.D.R. as the wartime President, a special White House ceremony in which he personally signed the papers appointing me to the Academy.”

In 1956, that future President was President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike received FDR’s letter, read it, and honored the request of his Presidential predecessor – but Colin Kelly III didn’t accept the appointment, he decided to earn his place at West Point, competing with the other potential plebes and graduating in the class of 1963.

The younger Kelly spent his time in the Army as a tank commander in West Germany. After his time in the service was up, he left and went to divinity school, only to return to the U.S. Army as a chaplain, saying

“The Lord called me when I was 14, but I believed I was called to complete my West Point opportunity first.”
Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

Like father, like son. West Point graduates and U.S. Army Captains Colin P. Kelly.

Kelly was too young to remember his heroic father, but his memory lived on through the people that knew him best: neighbors, relatives, and close friends. Over the years, Colin Kelly got to know his father through their eyes while making his own way through life, still following in his father’s footsteps.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The insane Communist plan to overthrow the Afghan government

In April 1978, an Afghan tank commander rushed to tell President Mohammed Daoud Khan of a coming coup attempt. The President ordered his tank commander to circle to the presidential palace. Khan did not want to be caught off guard. He had only taken the reins of power from the King of Afghanistan five years before and didn’t want the monarchists coming back to power.

But when the critical moment to stop the coup came, the tank commander, with tanks surrounding the president, turned his guns on the palace. He was part of the coup all along.


Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

The day after the revolution.

As coup attempts go, it was relatively bloodless, and thankfully short. But this coup would set Afghanistan on a path that would destroy it from within for the next fifty years or more. Daoud Khan and his family were killed in the palace that day, and the Communists under Nur Muhammad Taraki would ascend to the presidency of Afghanistan. Daoud was himself not a member of the Communist party, but the Communists did help him overthrow the monarchy. Once in power, the new president tried to keep Afghanistan non-aligned in the Cold War.

But when you share a border with the Soviet Union, that just doesn’t seem likely to happen.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

Khan, on the right, shaking hands with senior Afghan military leaders

The problem with being non-aligned is that you can really lean one way or the other. When you ask for favors from a superpower, they expect you to fall in line. So it went for Daoud, who asked for help from the Soviets to settle a border dispute with Pakistan. He struggled to keep the USSR out of Afghan foreign policy thereafter. When a rivalry in the Afghan Communist Party ended with the murder of a faction leader, the Afghans were convinced it was Daoud whose hands were dirty – and that they were next. He didn’t have any of them assassinated, but he did have them arrested after protesting the government.

That sealed his fate.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

The palace on the day of the coup.

It was on April 27, 1978, that Daoud’s trusted tank commander turned on him. He had already defected to the Communist party. By noon, more tanks were rumbling to the palace, the Army occupied important areas of the city, and the Afghan Air Force took to the skies, all against Daoud and his supporters. When the rebels captured the radio station Radio Afghanistan, they announced to the people what was happening.

By the next morning, the President and his family were dead, the palace was lit up like swiss cheese, and the Communists were in control of the country. It turns out Daoud and his brother charged out of the palace toward the army, guns blazing, like a scene out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

Which eventually led to a Soviet invasion.

The reforms implemented by the Communists were mixed, as was the public reaction to the change in power. The new regime was brutally repressive, executed political prisoners, and brutally put down any resistance from the countryside. This repression turned the people against their Communist government, which triggered the Soviet Union’s Brezhnev Doctrine – any threat to Communist rule in any Communist government is a threat to all Communism everywhere.

The Soviets invaded and occupied Afghanistan for some nine years. The war was a brutal stalemate that severely set back the development of both countries and may have led to the downfall of the USSR.

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That time a Marine mechanic took a joyride in a stolen A4M Skyhawk

How much could a Marine Corps fighter cost? That was probably one of the questions running through 21-year-old Lance Cpl. Howard Foote’s mind as the enlisted flight mechanic climbed into an unarmed A4M Skyhawk in the middle of a July night.


Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
An A4M Skyhawk taking off in 1989. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

In case you were wondering, the cost is roughly $18 million. Rather, that was the cost back in 1984, when Foote stole one of them from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. Today, that would be the equivalent of $41 million, adjusted for inflation.

Sentries tried to stop Foote as he taxied the aircraft for takeoff, but they just couldn’t get his attention.

“Foote joined the Marines to go the Corps’ Enlisted Commissioning Program, hoping to attend flight school,” Lt. Tim Hoyle, an El Toro public affairs officer, told the Los Angeles Times. “However, while flying at 42,500 feet in a glider he suffered an aerial embolism similar to the bends suffered by divers.”

The bends is the divers’ term for decompression sickness, where gasses in the body (like nitrogen in the compressed oxygen tanks used by divers) come out of the blood in bubbles because the body doesn’t have time to adjust to the pressure around it.

Flight school was not going to happen. Foote became a mechanic instead. Still, he had to realize his dream of going up at the helm of a fighter.

“I had worked my entire life for this flight,” Foote told the LA Times, four years later. “There was nothing else.”

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
An LA Times Clipping of the incident. (Tactical Air Network)

The young Marine drove up to the plane in a vehicle used to take pilots to their aircraft. He even wore a flight suit to dress the part.

He flew the fighter for 50 miles, roughly a half hour, doing loops and barrel rolls over the Pacific Ocean. He then landed it after making five passes of the runway.

No one tracked the plane. They didn’t send any other fighters to intercept it. Foote brought it back all on his own.

That’s integrity.

Foote was sent to the stockade at Camp Pendleton. He served four and a half months of confinement and was served an other-than-honorable discharge.

He tried to fly for Israel and for Honduras after his discharge. Foote later qualified as a test pilot in more than 20 different military and civilian aircraft, and became a contractor to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He holds patents in aviation design and engineering technology.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The British fought Vietnam alongside Gurkhas, Indians, and Japanese POWs – and won

For hundreds of years, the country we know today as Vietnam has been invaded and occupied by outsiders the world over. At the end of World War II, the Vietnamese had enough of colonialism and external rule by a foreign power. They were going to gain independence by any means necessary.

In the annals of military history, the occupiers and invaders of Vietnam most often remembered are the French and the Americans, neither of which truly succeeded in subduing Vietnam. Even China’s invasion of the country was short-lived. 

For a short period of time after the end of World War II the United Kingdom went to war in Vietnam. The only difference was they were successful in achieving their wartime aims.

The United States spent almost 20 years aiding South Vietnam and preventing a Communist takeover of the country from its northern neighbor. Before that, Vietnam fought a war for independence from French colonial rule in the years following World War II. 

What neither country could fully grasp from the locals was that the Vietnamese saw themselves as fighting for freedom from outside rule. They wanted a Vietnam run by the Vietnamese, and they were willing to pay any price to get it. That price was very high. 

War with the west wasn’t always the one way forward for Vietnam. During World War II, Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh fighters sided with the United States and the Office of Strategic Services to harass Japanese forces and rescue American pilots. After the war’s end, Ho declared independence for Vietnam, directly quoting the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

Hồ Chí Minh, 1921 (Public Domain)

Ho used the excerpt to get American support in keeping the French out of Vietnam after the war. It didn’t work. Just 11 days after the official surrender of Japan aboard the USS Missouri, fighting broke out in South Vietnam between the Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh and a surprising mix of allies set to impose colonial rule on the country. 

Before World War II ended, it was decided that the Chinese under Chiang Kai Shek would receive the Japanese surrender in Northern Indochina while the British would accept a Japanese surrender in the South. Just before the Allies arrived, the Viet Minh had taken control of the government and imprisoned a French garrison as POWs.

Chiang Kai-shek (Flickr, Public Domain)

The POWs were eventually released, rearmed, returned to control of Saigon. But the Viet Minh began cutting off the city from the rest of the country. The impending return of French rule had turned the once-friendly communist forces against the Allies. 

By October 1945, Allied forces formed a motley crew of British, Indian, and French troops along with Nepalese Gurkhas and Japanese POWs to launch a campaign to push the Viet Minh away from Saigon and back north. The Viet Minh saw some successes in small unit combat, but were devastated by British air power and machine guns and, on one occasion, a Gurkha kukri knife charge. 

In the last major battle of the campaign, the Viet Minh were cut down in overnight fighting, losing 100 troops to British machine gun nests. The defending British and Indian troops didn’t have a single fatality. The Viet Minh spent the rest of the conflict conducting ambushes and hit-and-run attacks. 

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
General Leclerc reviews troops of the 20th Indian Division, Saigon, French Indochina, 22 December 1945.

The British left Indochina in mid-1946 and the French took back control over the country. The win was fleeting, however. The French would have nominal control over Vietnam, fighting the Viet Minh until being forced to withdraw in 1954.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A US civilian tried to get revenge in Afghanistan with a sword

Gary Brooks Faulkner, a construction worker from Colorado, was detained by police with a pistol and a sword. Except for the sword, this would not be unusual in Colorado. But he wasn’t in Colorado. He was in Pakistan, and he was there to avenge the 9/11 terrorist attacks by taking a sword to the world’s most wanted man.


When the U.S. Army adopted the motto “Army of One,” a lot of soldiers laughed. But one American civilian seemed to have taken it to heart. He wasn’t ashamed of his self-imposed mission. He was proud of it. Even when he was arrested in the Chitral District of Pakistan while trying to cross into Afghanistan, he didn’t hide it.

“He told the investigating officer he was going to Afghanistan to get Osama. At first we thought he was mentally deranged,” said Muhammad Jaffar Khan, the Chitral police chief. But the gun-toting, sword-wielding Californian was totally serious. He even brought along night vision goggles. The American was even under armed guard while staying in Pakistan under the guise of being an everyday tourist. One night, he slipped away from his guard and made a run for the border.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

Faulkner was arrested in Pakistan back in 2010 and had no idea – like the rest of the world – that Osama bin Laden wasn’t even in Afghanistan at the time. Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was just a ten-hour drive from the Kalash Valley, where Faulkner was staying. There wasn’t even a border to cross or policemen to arrest him or take away his samurai sword.

But the American had no idea where he was going. He told police he brought the Bible along with him and that God would guide him to where Osama bin Laden was hiding, and allow him America’s vengeance. Or at least allow him to capture the world’s most wanted terrorist. But of course, we all know how OBL’s story ends.

Faulkner’s ends with a Nic Cage movie.

Gary Brooks Faulkner, however, was turned over to the U.S. State Department in Pakistan and repatriated home to Colorado, where he was a guest on various talk shows, including The View and The Late Show with David Letterman, before going back to a regular life of managing his brother’s apartment complex. Then one day, a tenant who was being evicted tried to break into his apartment with three of her friends. She tried to intimidate a man who hunted Osama bin Laden with a sword.

He fired a shot at his assailants, but that shot brought the police, who confiscated his weapons and discovered he was a convicted felon. That shot eventually landed Faulkner in jail.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Coast Guard ship was a Venus fly trap for Nazi subs

During World War II, The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard were tasked with ruining the days of any and every Nazi submarine they could find, but those underwater dongs of death were notorious for staying hidden until they spied a convoy of merchant ships and oil tankers moving on their own.


Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

The USS Big Horn fires Hedgehog depth charges, an anti-submarine warfare system.

(Navsource.org courtesy Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas L. Jordan)

How were the big, bad naval services supposed to counter the insidious “wolf packs?” By dressing up as sheep until the wolves got close, and then revealing themselves to be sheepdog AF.

The Navy purchased used merchant vessels, mostly oil tankers, and converted them for wartime service. Anti-submarine weapons were cleverly hidden across the deck while the holds were filled with additional ammunition as well as watertight barrels to provide additional buoyancy after a torpedo strike. The resulting vessels were known as “Q-ships.”

These were derivative of a World War I and World War II practice pioneered by the British, who built decoy “Queen Ships” for the same purpose.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

The USS Big Horn exposes its 4-inch gun at sea.

(Navsource.org courtesy Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas L. Jordan)

One Q-ship, the USS Horn, carried five large guns on the deck of which only one was typically visible. There was a 5-inch gun visible, four 4-inch guns concealed behind false bulkheads, and “hedgehogs,” depth charge systems that would quickly fire a series explosives into the ocean.

The ship commissioned into Navy hands in 1942 and served in the Caribbean before being sent more broadly across the Atlantic. During this time, it encountered numerous submarines and damaged at least one with its depth charges. The damaged sub was likely sunk.

In 1944, the ship was transferred to Coast Guard control and assigned to weather patrols, still heavily armed to challenge any U-boat that exposed itself. The new Coast Guard crew sailed across the Atlantic, looking for targets and relaying weather information until March 1945, when they were sent to actually move oil across the Pacific, supporting operations like the capture of Okinawa.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

U.S. Navy sailors conduct gunnery drills on the USS Big Horn.

(U.S. Navy)

Unfortunately, the Coast Guard crew never got to go on a true submarine hunting mission like their U.S. Navy brethren, but they were able to contribute to victory in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters by safeguarding convoys and moving oil to where it was needed.

All Q-ships were released from the fleets in the years following World War II. While the modern Coast Guard has some anti-surface capability, it lacks any weapons effective against long-endurance diesel-electric or a nuclear submarines. Either type could dive well outside of the cutters’ ranges, fire torpedoes, and sail away without ever exposing themselves.

Basically, if it’s more dangerous than a narco submarine, the Coast Guard has to be careful about attacking it.

There have been some calls for re-arming the Coast Guard for a true anti-submarine mission, but with the Coast Guard failing to maintain the budget for its current ships, it’s unlikely they’ll get the funds and crews for sub hunters in the near future.

MIGHTY HISTORY

In a military exercise, try not to really shoot anyone


There are a couple things that everyone going into a military exercise absolutely has to get right. First, get good training and look for ways to improve both personal and unit performance. Second, and perhaps more importantly, don’t really shoot anyone.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
Hint: U.S. Navy pilots aren’t supposed to do this to U.S. Air Force pilots. (Photo: Public Domain)

Guess which thing Navy Lt. (j.g.) Timothy Dorsey, an F-14 pilot, messed up while shadowing an Air Force RF-4C Phantom over the Mediterranean on Sep. 22, 1987?

Dorsey and his radar intercept officer, Lt. Cmdr. Edmund Holland, were taking part in an exercise testing the defenses of the Navy carrier USS Saratoga against enemy attacks. The Air Force had provided a jet and aircrew, Capt. Michael Ross and 1st Lt. Randy Sprouse, to act as the opposing force.

Ross took off from Aviano Air Base, Italy, and began searching for the carrier. The unarmed jet would need to get within visual distance of the Saratoga and read off its hull number to count a “kill” against it in the exercise.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
The RF-4C Phantom was a reconnaissance plane and typically carried only cameras. (Photo: US Air Force)

The exercise orders called for Dorsey and another F-14 to be unarmed as well, but both Navy jets were actually carrying live missiles. The Navy pilots would have to simulate an attack on the opposing force jet to win.

The Air Force crew faced trouble early on when its equipment for hunting the Navy carrier and its fleet electronically malfunctioned. Ross and Sprouse began conducting a visual search instead. The Navy jets got lucky early when the combat controllers sent them after a radio contact that turned out to be the RF-4C refueling from an Illinois Air National Guard KC-135 tanker.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
A Navy F-14 prepares to link up with a tanker for fuel. (Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael D. Gaddis)

Dorsey’s flight joined up on the tanker and picked up fuel. Ross and Sprouse flew away first and returned to searching for the carrier. Dorsey and Holland, obviously believing that they had spotted their quarry, pursued the Phantom.

The Air Force jet found the carrier, but also knew that a Navy jet was on its tail. Sprouse, the backseater on the Phantom, alerted Ross to the Navy presence.

“There`s a Navy F-14 sitting on our left wing at about 8 o’clock,” Sprouse said.

“Okay, he’s a good guy,” Ross said.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
The USS Saratoga’s hull number was 60. There, now no one has to be shot down to get it. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Meanwhile, Dorsey was tracking the Air Force jet’s progress toward the carrier. When the RF-4C got to about 15 miles from the Saratoga, Ross initiated a diving turn at the carrier, simulating the start of an attack run. Dorsey called out the threat to Holland and they alerted the Saratoga.

So far, everything is good. The Air Force is simulating an attack on the carrier, the Navy is simulating the protocol for attacking a threat to the carrier.

The Saratoga responded, “Red and free on your contact.” And that was where everything got messy. Dorsey, relatively new to the Saratoga and with only a couple hundred hours of flight time under his belt, was under the impression that “red and free” was a command to fire that was only used in real-world, “Shoot that guy right now!” situations.

Still, he hesitated and asked for guidance.

“Jesus, do they want me to shoot this guy?” he asked.

The phrase, “red and free,” was commonly used around the Saratoga in exercises. Holland, thinking that Dorsey still understood that everything was taking place within the limits of the exercise, not an actual fight, responded with, “Yes. Shoot!”

Dorsey armed one sidewinder and attempted to fire, but the missile failed. So, he fired another and this one slammed into the back of the recently-fueled Air Force jet.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
Again: These aren’t meant for friendly jets. (Photo: Public Domain)

Holland later said of that moment, “I heard a ‘whish’ sound from the right side of the aircraft, and I looked out and I said, ‘What was that?’ I saw the front end of an F-4 and the back end was in flames. I said, ‘You shot him down!’ and I was absolutely amazed.”

It was Holland’s shock and sudden questions that alerted Dorsey to the fact that he had done something very wrong.

Ross and Sprouse, meanwhile, we’re going through their own sudden crisis. They mistakenly believed that they had collided with the F-14 that was tailing them. The RF-4C was shaking violently and parts of it were on fire.

Ross gave the order to eject.

“I’m gone,” Sprouse said as he pulled the ejection handle. Both airmen got clear of the dying jet and Holland radioed for an at-sea rescue.

“Mayday! Mayday! Got a kill on a Fox 4!”

For obvious reasons, Navy commanders immediately started asking what had happened. Ross and Sprouse were fished out of the water and questioned by Navy lawyers. They both gave full statements before the commander of the Saratoga, Navy Capt. David Frost, told them what really happened and apologized. (Probably something like, “oh, by the way, we shot you down. Sorry. Okay, who’s up for some great Navy chow?”)

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
Probably some awkward dinner conversation on the Saratoga that night. Photo: US Navy

Sprouse and Ross received medical attention, Navy uniforms, and a swag bag. They were given the best dinner on the ship and good spots to sleep until they could be sent back to the Air Force.

Dorsey was grounded but allowed to stay in the Navy. He made it to the rank of captain in the reserves as an intelligence officer and then an inspector general. In 2012, he was recommended for promotion to admiral. When Congress heard about his 1987 incident, they declined to vote on his promotion, effectively rejecting it.

Many suspect that Dorsey wouldn’t have been allowed to stay in the Navy if it weren’t for the fact that his father was James Dorsey, a prominent figure in the Naval aviation community. In 1987, Dorsey was the captain of the USS America, a supercarrier.

Ross’s injuries from the shootdown appeared slight when he was rescued from the ocean, but grew steadily worse as he aged. He received 32 surgeries and became fully disabled.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This American admiral planned the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1932

An American admiral launched an almost perfect carrier attack on Pearl Harbor during an exercise in 1932, but the military failed to learn its lesson, allowing the Japanese to launch almost exactly the same attack 9 years later.


Rear Adm. Harry E. Yarnell was an early proponent of aircraft carriers, but his displays of air power were discounted by the most of the admiralty.

The aircraft was invented in 1903 and, almost immediately, the military started to look at how to use the technology in combat. But different military branches from different nations moved at different speeds, and many navies considered planes an observation platform and nothing more.

 

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

In World War I, pilots bombed enemy targets by throwing munitions from their planes, but aerial bombing was still considered a stunt by many, and the U.S. Navy brass was convinced that airplanes weren’t a threat to their capital ships.

Between the wars, aviation pioneers tried to get the Navy and Army to understand how important planes would be in the next war. Army Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell had some success in 1921 when his men sank the captured German battleship Ostrfriesland in a test.

Eleven years later, Yarnell was given command of the attacking force in an annual exercise to test the U.S. defenses at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The defenders were certain that he, like all of his predecessors, would launch his attack using his battleships and cruisers.

Instead, he turned to his carriers.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

Yarnell ordered his cruisers to remain near San Diego in complete radio silence while his two carriers, the USS Lexington and USS Saratoga, proceeded to Pearl Harbor with three destroyer escorts inside a massive rainstorm that hid them from enemy observers and radar.

On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 7, 1932, the attacking fleet was in position and Battleship Row was essentially asleep, just like Dec. 7, 1941. And, except for Japan’s use of modified torpedoes and the size of the respective fleets, the attacks were nearly mirrors of one another.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

 

The fighters took off first, F-4Bs. They launched strafing runs against the defenders’ fighters, barracks, and other assets, keeping them from taking off. Behind them, flights of BM-1 dive bombers dropped flares and bags of flour that simulated bombs, “destroying” every single battleship and many of the other vessels.

Like the Japanese, Yarnell attacked from the northeast and, like the Japanese, he attacked in the wee hours of a Sunday morning.

 

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

The referees of the exercise declared Yarnell the clear winner, but later reversed their decision when Pearl Harbor admirals and generals complained that Yarnell acted in an unfair manner.

Their complaints included that Sunday morning was an “inappropriate” time for an attack and that “everyone knew that Asians lacked sufficient hand-eye coordination to engage in that kind of precision bombing,” according to Military.com.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

Good ole, racism, stopping military preparedness. The Japanese, meanwhile, had naval officers at their consulate on Oahu who witnessed the exercise and read the press coverage that followed, allowing them to report on it to their superiors almost 10 years before Japan launched its own attack.

The bulk of the U.S. military refused to accept the result, just like many of them refused to accept the result of Mitchell’s bombing of the German battleship. In 1941, average sailors and soldiers paid the price for their hubris.

Articles

The condition of this former presidential yacht will surprise you

What once hosted notable figures like Winston Churchill and Leonid Brezhnev — and where historic decisions like the precursor to SALT were made — has now become a nest for raccoons.


The USS Sequoia, which once was used as a presidential yacht, is falling apart and is the subject of a fierce legal fight over ownership.

According to a report by CBSNews.com, the yacht is no longer the “floating White House” where Richard Nixon reached a high point of his presidency (discussing the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty with Leonid Brezhnev) and a low point (deciding to resign in the wake of the Watergate scandal).

The USS Sequoia was purchased in 1931, initially to serve as a floating sting operation against alcohol smugglers. However, it soon found itself used by President Herbert Hoover for fishing (the President once used it to sail to Florida – not something that would likely happen today).

Two years later, the Commerce Department handed the Sequoia to the Navy, and it became the presidential yacht, replacing the USS Mayflower, which was decommissioned in 1929. It remained in service until President Jimmy Carter auctioned the vessel off for $286,000 in 1977.

Afterwards, it served on a private charter, but was still used by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush to host events.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
USS Sequoia (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Today, the condition of the boat is shocking. While it is drydocked in Deltaville, Virginia, the vessel has not received any maintenance. A family of raccoons have taken residence in the vessel, eating some of the ship’s keepsake candy bars and the ship might not even make it through this winter.

“The status of the vessel is we need to protect it immediately, get it through the winter. Currently, she is stressed,” Matthew Vilbas, the captain of the vessel, told CBS. “There [were] a few rooms where the animals defecated on carpets, including presidential carpets where presidents spent time with their families and foreign and national persons.”

It was Vilbas who discovered the family of raccoons using an American flag as a nest. Vilbas is desperate for the legal situation to get resolved.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea
Senior Enlisted Adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey talks with wounded soldiers and their families on board the USS Sequoia on the way to Mount Vernon, Va., on Oct. 11, 2005. Gainey joined Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in presenting eight Purple Hearts to soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center during a ceremony at Mount Vernon. (DOD photo)

“I spent hours, days, evenings with and without family on board in what I felt has been a great honor to serve and provide experiences for many different persons. And when you spend that time on her, it becomes an extension of yourself,” he told CBS.

Even after the legal ownership is resolved, it will take millions of dollars to fix the vessel. Whoever owns it will also have to locate enough shipwrights who are knowledgable about classical wood building techniques.

It reportedly could take as much as 10,000 hours to fix the ship.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

With the help of Pearl Harbor survivors, Janet Glen Tomlinson created Home of the Brave Tours Museum, a one-of-a-kind WWII Military Base Tour along with the largest private collection of 1940’s memorabilia in the Pacific. As curators of this extensive collection, the Tomlinsons have received numerous awards and accolades for their work in educating the public about the rich heritage, sacrifices and traditions of the United States military.


The Home of the Brave Museum is a one-of-a-kind treasure trove of artifacts, stories, and memories of our American Military that fought to save our country and liberate the world during our darkest hours. The extensive collection exists to preserve wartime legacies, as well as to honor the sacrifice and victory of our nation’s great servicemen and women.

Here’s a rundown of the main weapons at the Battle of the Coral Sea

Their goal is to maintain the extensive collection and expand the property into an interactive learning center to further promote awareness, gratitude, and documentation of America’s military heritage for public interest and educational purposes.

Also read: A previously ‘unknown’ sailor killed at Pearl Harbor is returned home 75 years later

Last year, the revenue needed to operate the museum was cut off due to the termination of their exclusive military base tour. This was due to security concerns from Homeland Security increased competition from larger tour operators who offer larger commission structures to the sales agents selling and promoting Pearl Harbor Tours. The five star “mom pop” tour operation just couldn’t compete with the “big boys.”

The Foundation offers exciting and engaging ways to delve into America’s military legacy as well as educational (hand-on history) and entertainment opportunities for school groups, senior centers, local, military, and island visitors.

The Home of the Brave Museum is asking for help. Visit this site to give your support.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” – President Harry S. Truman

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