That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

Few feats of engineering are as impressive as a military-grade helicopter. Today worth millions of dollars each, these high-tech birds are a formidable military asset, including, among many other uses, for rescue operations — all a fact US military personnel helpfully chose to ignore during Operation Frequent Wind when they pushed several dozen of them into the sea, in one case for no other reason than to save a mother, a father, and their five children.


For anyone unfamiliar with it, Operation Frequent Wind was the name give to the final phase of evacuations during the Fall of Saigon — effectively the final days of the Vietnam War. Noted as being one of the largest military evacuations in history and the largest involving helicopters as the primary means of evacuation, Operation Frequent Wind is celebrated as a logistical success for the US due to the fact that a few dozen helicopter pilots were somehow able to evacuate over 7,000 people in around 18 hours. This is made all the more impressive when you realize that the mass evacuation was never supposed to involve helicopters much at all.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

A South Vietnamese helicopter is pushed over the side of the USS Okinawa during Operation Frequent Wind, April 1975.

(US Marine Corps photo)

You see, while Operation Frequent Wind is now famous for being the most successful mass helicopter evacuation ever organised, using helicopters as the primary means of evacuation was never the original plan — it wasn’t even the backup plan. It turns out that it was the backup to the backup to the backup plan.

Known initially as Operation Talon Vise until North Vietnamese spies heard whispers of it, the plans for a mass evacuation of Vietnam had been in place for several years and were originally supposed to involve the primary use of both commercial and military aircraft which would evacuate at-risk citizens and military personnel, with the total slated to be evacuated estimated to be about 2 million people.

Failing or in addition to this, the idea was to dock ships at Saigon port and load them with as many people as possible. In the event none of these options were possible, the final, Hail Mary plan was to instead use military helicopters to transport people to ships off shore.

Of course, evacuating the original estimate of 2 million people was never an option for the helicopter plan alone, nor even the extremely whittled down number of about 100,000-200,000 that military brass eventually reduced that figure to. Instead, at this point it was just as many people as they could as fast as they could.

So why did the US have to fall back to literally their least effective option if they’d been planning the evacuation for years? Well, much of the blame falls somewhat unbelievably to the actions of a single man — Graham Anderson Martin, the American ambassador to South Vietnam at the time who steadfastly refused to agree to start an evacuation for fear of mass panic and given his unshakable faith in the notion that the threat of the “superior American firepower” would keep the enemy at bay.

Despite this, recommendations did go out in advance of Operation Frequent Wind that at risk people should leave the country, resulting in a total of around 50,000 people, including a few thousand orphans, leaving via various planes in the months leading up to an actual evacuation being started. This was mostly done via supply aircraft who would bring supplies in, and then load up as many people as they could for the trip home. Yet an official full scale evacuation, which would have seen these efforts massively ramped up, was continually stalled by Martin.

Military brass tried and failed to persuade Martin to change his mind, with Brigadier General Richard E. Carey going as far as to travel to Saigon to plead personally with with the ambassador. This was a meeting Carey would later diplomatically call “cold and non productive” and should be noted took place on April 13th, 2 weeks after preparations were already supposed to have begun for the mass evacuation.

This back and forth continued until April 28th when North Vietnamese forces bombed the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, effectively eliminating any possibility of getting people out via large aircraft capable of mass evacuation. When this was pointed out to the Martin, he still refused to call for the evacuation, deciding to wait until the next day so he could drive out to the base and confirm the damage for himself.

Upon confirming that North Vietnamese forces had indeed destroyed the air base and the best option for a mass evacuation, he finally relented.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

South Vietnamese refugees arrive on a U.S. Navy vessel during Operation Frequent Wind.

This was an order that was relayed to soldiers on the ground via the official Armed Forces Radio station by the words “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising,” followed by the playing the song I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas by Bing Crosby.

As a direct result of Martin’s stubbornness, the military had no choice but to rely on the least effective means of mass evacuation — via helicopter, with the operation officially commencing later that afternoon at 14:00.

Even as the operation began, Martin’s bullheaded refusal to prepare in anyway for an evacuation caused problems for certain helicopter pilots, most notably the ones trying to evacuate him and his staff.

How?

Well there was a large tree in the embassy courtyard that military brass had “strongly advised” Martin cut down so as to better allow helicopters to land there should the worst happen. Martin, believing that doing so would be as good as admitting the war had already been lost, absolutely refused to do this. As Henry Kissinger would later note, “Faced with imminent disaster, Martin decided to go down with the ship.”

On that note, to his credit, Martin refused to leave once the evacuation had begun, though this was much to the annoyance of the pilot, Colonel Gerry Berry, sent to fetch him. Instead, Martin continually had refugees boarded while he simply waited with his staff in his office, knowing that as long as he was there, the helicopter would keep coming back allowing more lives to be saved.

It wasn’t until the 14th trip that an exhausted Berry finally reached his wits’ end. Said Berry, “I called the sergeant over. And he got up in the cockpit. And I said, ‘This is it. Get all these people off. This helicopter’s not leaving the roof until the ambassador’s on board. The President sends.'”

With an order supposedly from the President himself, though not actually in reality, Martin finally relented and allowed Berry to complete his mission by transporting Martin and his entourage.

Of course, what the military brass had failed to remember after this supposed last flight was that they’d accidentally left almost a dozen soldiers behind at the compound… This wouldn’t be realized for many hours, but all 11 Marines were rescued after being forced to barricade themselves on the rooftop for the night in case of an attack.

Leaving the evacuations as late as Martin did understandably resulted in mass panic across Saigon with many thousands of South Vietnamese citizens fleeing in everything from cars to stolen planes and helicopters.

In addition, lack of time meant that helicopter pilots had a laughable number of people to rescue, resulting in many ignoring the “recommended” weight limit of their craft and massively overloading them to the very extremes of what they could handle given the pilot’s assessments and weather conditions. In one case, one pilot noted he was overweight to the point that he could only hover inches off the ground, but no one was willing to get off as for many it would mean their life if they could not get out of the country.

He then stated he thought if he could get some forward speed he could get the additional lift needed, so simply pitched the craft forward and took a dive off the rooftop he was on, barely recovering before hitting the rooftops below and then managing to very slowly climb from there.

As for these pilots, they were instructed to ferry evacuees to waiting ships in the South China Sea, many of which quickly began to run out of space resulting in people sleeping double in the small bunks, as well as just anywhere on the ships there was available space for someone to sit or lie down on.

On top of that, any South Vietnamese pilots that could manage to get a hold of their own helicopters and flee to sea were also crowding the decks as they arrived. This resulted in the order to push some of these South Vietnamese helicopters overboard to make more space, or orders for some pilots to simply crash their helicopters into the ocean and await rescue after they’d dropped off any passengers.

This all brings us around to the incredible story of Major Buang Lee. Knowing he and his family — a wife and five children — would in all likelihood be executed if they couldn’t find a way out of the country immediately, the Major managed to commandeer a small Cessna O-1 spotter plane. Under heavy fire, he managed to take off and flee the country with two adults and five children jam packed aboard the tiny, slow moving aircraft.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

A South Vietnamese UH-1H is pushed overboard to make room for a Cessna O-1 landing.

He then headed out to sea in search of a ship to land on or ditch the plane next to. About an hour and a half off the coast and with only about an hour of fuel left, he finally found one in the USS Midway.

The issue now was there was not sufficient room to land on the ship, owing to the number of helicopters on the deck. Unable to find the right frequency on the radio to talk to those on the Midway, Buang resorted to dropping notes.

The first two notes, unfortunately blew away before anyone aboard could grab them. Buang tied the third to his gun and dropped it. When the crew aboard retrieved it, they saw it read: “Can you move the helicopters to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to move. Please rescue me. -Major Buang, Wife and 5 child.”

The captain of the vessel, one Lawrence Chambers then had a decision to make. While it was possible to move some of the helicopters out of the way, there was no room to move them all. The young captain, only appointed to that post some five weeks before, decided that there was little chance the family would all survive if they tried to ditch in the sea next to the Midway and be rescued that way.

Said Lawrence of the event, “When a man has the courage to put his family in a plane and make a daring escape like that, you have to have the heart to let him in.”

So, thinking he’d likely be court-martialed for it, he made the call to move what helicopters could be moved and dump the rest in the ocean after stripping them of any valuable gear that could be removed quickly. In total, some million (about million today) worth of helicopters were ditched in this way.

There was another problem, however. The plane in question typically needs a minimum of a little over 600 feet of runway to land and come to a full stop. The Midway itself in total was about 1,000 feet long, but the runway deck was only about 2/3 of that, meaning there was zero margin for error here.

Thus, in order to land such a craft on the deck with enough margin of safety, the ship really needed to be moving as fast as possible to make the plane’s relative speed slow enough that it could stop in time before falling off the end. Using the cable system to stop the craft faster wasn’t deemed a good option as in all likelihood it would have just resulted in the landing gear ripping off and/or the plane flipping over in a spectacular crash.

Unfortunately, Chambers had previously granted the ship’s engineers permission to take the Midway’s engines partially offline for routine maintenance. After all, helicopters did not need nor want that relative wind, especially when landing on such a crowded deck.

Said Chambers, “When I told the chief engineer that I needed 25 knots, he informed me that we didn’t have enough steam. I ordered him to shift the hotel load to the emergency diesels.”

With this, the ship was able to achieve the requested speed and Buang’s landing was also helped by another 15 knots of headwind, further reducing his needed stopping distance.

With that done and deck cleared as it could be, Buang was given the greenlight to land, ultimately doing so with textbook precision and with plenty of deck to spare, becoming a rare individual in relatively modern times to land such an aircraft aboard a military carrier.

And, thankfully for Captain Lawrence, he was not court-martialed for ditching rather valuable military hardware to save Major Buang and his family, and instead enjoyed a continuance of his successful career, eventually retiring as a Rear Admiral.

In the aftermath of Operation Frequent Wind, the U.S. ships continued to hang around for a few days off the coast, trying to pick up as many refugees from the water as they could. Finally, the order was given to head home, forcing the commanders to leave many thousands of people that had been promised evacuation behind.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

A military brat shares the real insider details to enlisting in the military

I’m joining the Navy.

Four words my father NEVER expected to hear come out of my mouth. Even more surprising because I was 26 years old when I said them. But come on, I was a proud BRAT, all too happy to follow in the family footsteps.


Once the shock wore off, the conversations began, and I have never been so thankful to come from such a strong military family as I was during the enlistment process. My father served 26 years in the Navy. My grandfather was in for 4. One uncle was in 20 years while another was in for 30! Add in my cousins (1 Navy, 1 Army, 2 Air Force) and I had a wealth of knowledge to pull from as I started my journey into service. But even with all that, nothing could prepare me for what I was going to face as I tried to enlist.

Enlisting Is Not As Easy As It Looks

In every TV show and movie, they show the young, bright-eyed kid going into a recruiter’s office and then walking out the same day with a ship date. For me, it was more like the scene from Sex in the City where Charlotte had to knock on the temple doors three times before the rabbi would talk to her about converting to the Jewish faith.

From the day I decided I wanted to enlist until I shipped off to Chicago for Boot Camp was two years and three days. Yes, you read that right. For two years I fought to enlist. Most people would have given up. Decided that the universe was saying the military was not their path and walked away. But not me. I knew that to achieve the goals I had set for myself and the military was the way to get there.

For someone looking to enlist and leave tomorrow, keep in mind that there is paperwork, and more paperwork, and even more paperwork that must be done. Waiver to sign (especially if you are older and have lived a little). ASVAB to take, jobs to pick, and quotas to be filled at specific times. Make sure that you go in with a realistic expectation of when you may ship out.

Don’t Buy The First Car You Test Drive

I got lucky. Because I am a military BRAT, I knew that the recruiter was essentially a military car salesman. If you’re anything like me you just pictured a guy in a cheap suit with too much cologne on trying to convince you that the neon yellow 1980’s vehicle sitting on the lot is a *classic* and not a lemon. That’s not exactly what I mean when I say that recruiters are salesmen. But it can be close.

The whole job of a recruiter is to hit a goal number of new recruits put into boot camp each month. They have jobs that are easier to fill (an example being an undesignated Sailor) and some that are harder to fill (a Navy nuke for example). They know when there will be lulls in numbers for the year and when high recruiting time is (right before high school graduations is a peek time!) A savvy recruiter is going to word their pitch to entice new recruits to sign up for the window that works for their quotas more than what will work for the recruit because many do not know enough about the process to know how to question what is being said.

If you walk into the recruiting office and things sound too good to be true, use the same line I did, “May I please take this paperwork to read over with my father/uncle? I would like them to help me understand some of the military terminology since they are both in/veterans.” Don’t be afraid to use the resources available to you in a military family to make sure you’re not being worked over. This will let your recruiter know that you’re taking the process seriously, that you have someone to walk you through the grey language they may use, and that you’re not going to be an easy tick on their number sheet.

Do Your Research

Remember when I said it took me 2+ years to leave for boot camp? Well, it was 1 year and 6 months from, “Hi, I want to enlist,” to me picking a job and signing a contract. Then another 6 months until I was able to ship out because the quotas for October were open while the ones for April were not. Part of the long wait for me was that I was not willing to sign a contract that I didn’t agree with. Prior to ever walking into their office I had researched the jobs I would take, the ASVAB scores that it would require to get them, and what jobs would require a 5-year vs 4-year commitment.

My entire goal for enlisting was that I wanted to go back to school to get a degree in education and eventually get my teaching license. I knew that I was a “one and done” Sailor. For me to have the career outside the military that I wanted, I needed a job that was a bit more desk duty that flightline chaos. Growing up in such a military family I was able to grill everyone on which jobs would allow for more personal time and which were 24/7 on-call positions. The fact that I am not at all mechanically-inclined (I blew up a car engine because I didn’t know to change the oil) meant I was not going to be working on planes or helicopters any time soon. And I am not good with blood and guts so medical was not for me. But paperwork, heck yeah! I love the meticulous nature of keeping files and writing awards and all the tasks that would drive a less organized person batty. Add to that my intention to focus on English teaching after the Navy and an administrative position was perfect for me.

Of course, my recruiter and the Sailors at MEPS doing my paperwork didn’t see it that way. They saw my ASVAB scores and my prior college experience as a way to earn their version of bonus points. They wanted me to enlist in as a nuke. Their pitch included telling me that I would earn enlistment bonuses since it was such a selective process to get the job, that A-School was in my favorite city of Charleston, SC and I would have time to explore while I was there for a year, and that I would have my pick of bases on both coasts and Japan.

Sounds great right? I mean, what smart person would turn down that offer?

One that has done their research!

I knew that as great as a year in Charleston sounded, nuke school had a nearly 90% fail rate. Meaning, if I did not pass, I would enter the fleet as an undesignated Sailor with no official job and be at the mercy of the military where I ended up. And even if I did do well in school, with only a 10% pass rate I was going to have to spend most of my time studying, not enjoying shrimp and grits at Poogan’s Porch. Oh, and that pick of bases? They didn’t mean ALL Navy bases. They meant ones with the right ships for the stand I picked up. And once on said ship, I would have to wear a pretty device that would alert me if I was picking up too much radiation and might start to glow in the dark.

Take your time and DO THE RESEARCH! Come in with documents to let your recruiter know you’ve look into the options, you understand why that branch of the military is the best fit for you, and you know what you want to get out of your time in service, whether it is 4 years or 30. And it allows you to really understand what it means to be committing to your enlistment. It is much easier to make the best out of a strange new situation (which it is no matter how much military you have in your family) when you have prepared yourself before getting to boot camp. Oh, and don’t let your pride get in the way when doing your research either. If the job you want requires a high ASVAB score, study, study, study! Hire a tutor. Bust your butt to do well because as much as I hate saying that a test can decide your military fate, it has a big role in what opportunities are available to you. Knowing what score you need on a test is just as important as knowing how many pull-ups you will be required to do in a fitness test when it comes to background research.

Tackle The Tough Stuff Before Leaving

To enlist, I faced some challenged. The biggest one was my weight. I have never been a skinny girl and I certainly wasn’t when I walked into the recruiter’s office. I knew I was going to have to lose weight and get into better shape before Boot Camp, but I didn’t expect that recruiters wouldn’t even speak to me because they didn’t think I had the ability to do that. A personal trainer, new cooking skills, and a half-marathon to keep me motivated had the weight off before they knew what hit them. But it was an eye opener from that point as to just how much physical standards were going to rule my life while I was enlisted. I was able to get a crash course in nutrition and fitness before shipping out when I had always assumed that boot camp would be where I was whipped into shape. The stamina I had to complete every task, and the pallet to deal with boot camp food, were built in the months before I left and it made those challenges something I didn’t have to face and be ridiculed for while I was being turned into a Sailor.

And I’ll admit, I had a very weird fear about boot camp. I’m pretty modest. I lied. I’m very modest. And no matter who I asked, everyone told me that showering with others was just part of the deal. No way around it, I was going to have to get over my modesty and wash up just like everyone else. So, what did I do? Well, not what most people may do but it certainly helped me! I found a local art class that needed figure models. Yup. I bared all for about 10 art students to tackle my debilitating fear of having to do the same in front of a bunch of strangers on my first day at boot camp. While it didn’t make me want to strut my stuff in front of 40 women I’d never met before, it certainly made it less awkward. Then again, by the time I got a shower for the first time in boot camp it had been almost 48 hour since my last one, I was exhausted, fighting a migraine from lack of sleep and would have been ok if the male recruits hopped in with me as long as I was allowed to get clean finally!

I know everyone has a different fear, different challenge they are facing, prior to heading out to boot camp. I do get that. However, I will say boot camp is not the place to face it. Do everything you can prior to leaving the comfort of your home to prepare you for what is to come. Boot camp is new for everyone. No matter how much the military is a family tradition, your boot camp experience will take you out of your comfort zone, put you with people you never would have met otherwise and test you in ways you never imagined, physically and mentally.

So, go in ready and willing to learn, leave your hang-ups at home, and keep your eyes on the end of the situation, not the tough day you are in at the moment. Before you know it all the preparation, the researching, will pay off and you will be able to proudly wear the uniform you worked so hard to earn. There is no feeling like graduation day when you realize you are now part of an elite group of people that are willing to put their lives on the line to protect their country.

This article originally appeared on Military Spouse. Follow @MilSpouseMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How 150 British Paratroopers seized a fortified artillery battery on D-Day

As part of Operation Tonga, the British airborne component of Operation Neptune (the official name of the D-Day), the 9th Parachute Battalion was tasked with capturing the Merville Gun Battery, whose guns were trained on Sword Beach and the British troops who would be assaulting it on the morning of the invasion.


That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families
Airborne troops admire the graffiti chalked on the side of their glider as they prepare to fly out as part of the second drop on Normandy on the night of 6th June 1944. Airborne troops of 6th Airlanding Brigade admire the graffiti chalked on the side of their Horsa glider at an RAF airfield as they prepare to fly out to Normandy as part of 6th Airborne Division’s second lift on the evening of 6 June 1944. Image by War Office official photographer, Malindine E G (Capt).

The gun battery’s defenses were formidable. It had four reinforced concrete casemates housing four guns with a garrison of over 150 men and numerous machine gun emplacements. The battery also had an anti-tank ditch on two sides and two sets of barbed wire fences, with a minefield in between, surrounding the perimeter.

The paratroopers drilled relentlessly for their mission over the preceding months. The plan called for the 9th to land on drop zone ‘V’ along with gliders bringing in heavier equipment for the mission. Once the battalion was formed, they would assault the battery from the rear while three Horsa gliders would land directly on top of the battery bringing in paras and sappers armed with flamethrowers and explosives to clear the casemates and destroy the guns. Should the assault fail, the Royal Navy cruiser HMS Arethusa was scheduled to fire on the battery in hopes of destroying it at 5:50 am, ten minutes before the start of the landings.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families
Overhead aerial of the gun battery at Merville (3km east of Ouistreham) consisting of four medium casemates, after air bombardment, May 1944. Bombing failed to penetrate the casemates. Photo by the Imperial War Museums.

Unfortunately, as was the case with most airborne units on D-Day, nearly nothing went as planned. Intense anti-aircraft fire, broken Eureka beacons, dust, darkness, and confusion all consorted to scatter the drop of the 9th Parachute Battalion across the French countryside. The Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Terence Otway, landed nearly on top of a German headquarters. He was able to escape only when he threw a brick through the window and the confused Germans hit the ground thinking it was a grenade.

Lt. Col. Otway made his way to the assembly point to find he was nearly alone. The news only got worse from there. The five gliders carrying jeeps, anti-tank guns, and other heavy equipment never arrived. Of the men who did arrive, the heaviest weapon they had was a single Vickers machine gun. Explosives consisted of twenty Bangalore torpedoes and some Gammon bombs. There were no mortars, no anti-tank guns, no sappers, and only the orderlies from the medical team. By this time, the battalion assembled about 150 men. As one para would later put it: “Company C was about three men, which struck me as a rather limited force.” As the time to launch the attack approached, Otway decided he would have to proceed anyway, the men hitting the beach were counting on them.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families
The 9th Parachute Battalion on the march. Photo by the Imperial War Museums.

When Otway and his men reached the objective, they got their first bit of good news, the advanced party scouted the objective and took it upon themselves to begin clearing and marking paths through the barbed wire and minefields, leaving only the inner wire to breach. With such a depleted force, Otway needed a new plan for the assault. With no heavy weapons, his new plan relied on the element of surprise and violence of action.

The British waited for the three gliders that were supposed to land inside the perimeter to make their attack. To their dismay, only one glider came overhead and it missed its mark. The men of the glider disembarked, intent to join their comrades for the attack on the battery but quickly ran into a German patrol and were unable to break contact. With his last hope for reinforcements dashed, Otway ordered the attack.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families
Photo by the Imperial War Museums.

The Bangalores exploded and several men rushed forward to body breach the remaining wire. The rest of the men, led by Otway, charged through the breach firing from the hip and throwing grenades as they went.

Almost immediately, a murderous crossfire began from the German machine gun emplacements and cut down numerous paratroopers. The British responded with their sole machine gun. Fortunately, it was manned by one Sgt. McKeever, known for his prowess on the MG. He quickly took out three enemy guns while another three were silenced by a diversionary party assaulting the front gate. The rest of the men split into four groups and attacked the casemates.

One hardcore para, a Pvt. Tony Mead who suffered a puncture wound to the stomach when he landed in a tree, was holding his guts in with one hand while dispatching Germans with his Sten Gun in the other. Other paras threw grenades through the openings and began clearing the casemates and tunnels of the battery.

After an intense twenty-minute hand-to-hand battle, the battery was secured. The British paras took over twenty Germans prisoner, killed more than twenty more and drove off the rest. They paid dearly for their victory, however. By the time the battery was seized, only 75 of the original 150 men were still in fighting shape. Fifty men died capturing the battery while almost thirty more were wounded.

Having no sappers or proper explosives, the paratroopers improvised what they could to disable the guns. The signals officer then sent a carrier pigeon back to England with a message that the battery had been captured. He followed that up with a flare to signal the HMS Arethusa to avoid bombarding the now-friendly position.

With the battery secure, Otway rallied his remaining men and moved on to other objectives, picking up stragglers along the way. The 9th Parachute Battalion would continue fighting in Normandy and then into Northern France before being withdrawn back to England in September 1944.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This supersonic missile was the precursor to the legendary Tomahawk

When you think “cruise missiles,” the BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missile comes to mind. That’s not a surprise — the Tomahawk has been widely-deployed and launched from ships, subs, and ground launchers. Hell, there were even air-launched versions of the missile in development!


But it wasn’t the first cruise missile to be widely deployed by the United States military. In fact, one cruise missile family formed the basis of the Navy’s nuclear deterrence in the 1950s — years before the Tomahawk entered service.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families
The battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64) launches a BGM-109 Tomahawk missile against a target in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm. (Photo from U.S. Navy)

That cruise missile was the Regulus. It got its start the year after World War II ended. Initially, the Navy had looked at trying to improve Germany’s V-1, but soon realized it was a dead end.

The first version of the Regulus, designated SSM-N-8, entered service in 1955. The ultimate version of the Regulus I had a range of 500 nautical miles, according to Designation-Systems.net. It could be equipped with a Mk 5 warhead with a yield of 40 kilotons or a two-megaton W27 warhead. The missile had a top speed of 600 miles per hour.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families
A Regulus I missile on USS Growler (SSG 577). (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Like the Tomahawk, the Navy deployed the Regulus on both surface ships and submarines. The Navy also modified some of its aircraft carriers to launch the missile, although it was never operationally part of a carrier’s air wing. An improved version, the SSM-N-9 Regulus II, would’ve had a speed of Mach 2 and a W27 warhead with a range of 1,000 nautical miles if it ever saw the light of day, but the successful development of the Polaris ballistic missile killed that program.

The cruise missile concept made a comeback, though. Today, the versatile Tomahawk is one of the Navy’s preferred weapons for attacking enemy targets on land. The Tomahawk can look back at the clunky-looking Regulus, and see what paved the way. Learn more about the scrapped Regulus II project in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOBQrtR4F2w
(Jeff Quitney | YouTube)
MIGHTY TACTICAL

Brand-new Air Force tanker is being tested with the service’s biggest plane

The US Air Force’s newest air refueling aircraft, the KC-46A Pegasus, is undergoing a variety of tests out of Edwards Air Force Base, California.

Starting on April 29, 2019, the KC-46 conducted the first refueling test with a Travis AFB C-5M Super Galaxy. The testing is a part of a larger test program to certify aerial refueling operations between the KC-46 and 22 different receiver aircraft.

Maj. Drew Bateman, 22nd Airlift Squadron chief of standardization and evaluation and a C-5M pilot, flew the Air Force’s largest aircraft for testing on April 29, 2019. He flew it again May 15, 2019.

“The April 29 sortie was the first where the KC-46 and the C-5M made contact,” Bateman said. “That was awesome to be a part of. You have a few pinch me moments in life and this was one of them for me. Not everyone gets to be a part of something like this. We were able to get two aircraft together for the first time.”


“Every test flight begins with a continuity check so the KC-46 crew ensures they can connect and disconnect safely with our aircraft,” Bateman added. “From there, we continue testing a variety of items at multiple speeds and altitudes throughout the sortie.”

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

A Boeing KC-46A.

One capability Bateman and his C-5M crew mates tested with the KC-46 was the ability to connect with both aircraft near max gross weight.

“For these tests, we were required to be over 800,000 pounds with cargo and fuel,” Bateman said. “Our 60th Aerial Port Squadron Airmen developed a load plan. The expediters loaded the cargo onto the airplane, and our maintainers ensured the C-5M was flyable. It’s a huge team effort to ensure we are mission ready. I feel like I have the smallest part of it. I just fly the airplane.”

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

A KC-46A Pegasus during testing with a C-5M Super Galaxy for the first time on April 29, 2019.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Christian Turner)

On April 29, 2019, Master Sgt. Willie Morton, 418th Flight Test Squadron flight test boom operator, oversaw operations in the back of the KC-46 during the testing process.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Morton said. “I was a KC-10 Extender boom operator at Travis for about 13 years so going to the KC-46 and being a part of the next step in aerial refueling is pretty awesome. I have the chance to provide input on an aircraft that will be flying missions for many years.”

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A United States Air Force KC-10 Extender.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)

To complete refueling with the KC-46, boom operators must use a series of cameras that project a 3D image on a screen. These refueling experts then use that image to carefully guide aircraft into position, Morton said.

“We are testing capabilities at low altitudes, high speeds, high altitudes and high speeds, as well as heavy and light gross weights so we know how the aircraft will respond,” he said. “We have to find the optimal speed the C-5M can fly at to support refueling. We are also doing our best to ensure the mechanical compatibility of the KC-46 and C-5M.”

According to Lt. Col. Zack Schaffer, 418th FLTS KC-46 Integrated Test Force director, the testing is a joint effort between the USAF and Boeing.

“The KC-46s being used for this test effort are owned by Boeing and operated by a combined Air Force and contractor crew,” Schaffer said. “All the test planning and execution is being led by the 418th FLTS, part of the 412th Test Wing at Edwards. The flight test program evaluates the mechanical compatibility of the two aircraft at all corners of the boom flight envelope, as well as handling qualities of both the tanker, boom and receiver throughout the required airspeed and altitude envelope at different gross weights and center of gravity combinations.”

The 418th FLTS is also responsible for developmental testing of the C-5M, and is providing a test pilot to support the C-5M side of the certification testing, Schaffer added. The C-5M was crewed primarily by the 22nd AS with augmentation from the 418th.

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A United States Air Force C-5 Galaxy in flight.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Brett Snow)

“Additionally, the military utility, lighting compatibility and fuel transfer functionality is also being evaluated,” Schaffer said. “The testing is expected to take approximately 12 sorties to complete.”

Once the testing is complete, the results will be used to develop the operational clearance necessary to allow KC-46s to refuel the C-5M for missions.

“The C-5M is also one of the receivers required to complete the KC-46 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation program, which is a prerequisite to the KC-46 being declared operationally capable,” Schaffer said. “Completing the testing necessary to expand the operational capabilities of the KC-46 is a critical step in modernizing the Air Force’s aging tanker fleet. The 60th Air Mobility Wing at Travis has provided outstanding support to ensure this testing can get the warfighter expanded capabilities as soon as possible.”

Identifying potential problems is also a focus of the testing, Moore added.

“It’s important, if any issues are identified during the testing, to ensure counter measures are created to overcome those issues,” Moore said. “We want to get the best product to the warfighter to extend global reach and mobility.”

Travis is scheduled to receive its first KC-46 in 2023.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

At the height of World War I, British intelligence provided the United States with a secret telegram sent from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the government of Mexico. The telegram promised the Mexicans a military alliance if the United States entered the war against Germany. The Germans promised Mexico it would help them recover the American territories of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico it lost in the Mexican-American War.

The interception of the telegram was one of the earliest big wins for signals intelligence. Maybe the Kaiser shouldn’t have sent it via Western Union.


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“Hopefully no one breaks this code STOP It would mean we lose the war STOP We’re paying by the word STOP”

The note from Zimmerman was sent to the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, letting him know that the German high command intended to resume its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in the coming days. This strategy, while effective at keeping the British Isles from getting its necessary supplies also had the adverse effect of killing innocent civilians from neutral countries – countries like the United States.

On May 7, 1915, this policy resulted in the sinking of the luxury liner RMS Lusitania, killing some 1,128 people. And 128 of those people were American civilians bound for England. The incident was illegal under international law and sparked widespread anti-German outrage in the U.S. You know relations are strained when Americans rename their food to sound less German.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

“Sauerkraut” is still “Liberty Cabbage” to me.

The note read:

We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain, and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.
Signed, ZIMMERMANN

This wasn’t even the first time the Germans tried to incite the Mexicans against the U.S. There were at least five other occasions when the German Empire funded or assisted efforts to create tensions in North America. President Wilson even had to send U.S. troops to occupy Veracruz during his administration. What the Germans didn’t take into account was the fact that Mexico was already in the middle of its own civil war, Mexico didn’t stand a chance against the U.S., even then, there was already a peace agreement in place, and Mexico knew Germany couldn’t actually support it in any meaningful way.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

“Mexico: We are with you. But not like… there. We have to be here. But good luck in your war with the US.”

The British sent the telegram to the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, who eventually got it to President Wilson. Wilson promptly gave it to the American media. When delivered to the American people, who were already anti-Mexican and anti-German, the result was explosive. To make matters worse, Zimmerman admitted the telegram was genuine in a speech to the Reichstag, and the Germans soon sunk two American merchant ships with u-boats. Three months later, in the face of American public opinion, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The worst things about every Army rank

Do you need an introduction to this? I mean, really? You all know what the Army is, and that all the ranks have their virtues and their vices. Lot’s of vices. That’s why it’s easy to hate all of them.


(Disclaimer: It’s all in fun. If you might be offended by a few jokes about your rank, please just close the page before you spit your coffee all over your screen and write letters to my editor.)

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An Army private first class watches out the window for enemy targets, probably while imagining his next kill streak on Fortnite because, seriously, these guys can not focus.

(U.S. Army Spc. William Dickinson)

Junior Enlisted

Privates and Privates Second Class

Basically the same rank. They’re either a “Pubic Patch Private” with no rank to Velcro on or a Mosquito-Wing Private with rank that’s barely worth Velcroing on. Either way, they almost certainly need their hands held to be able to differentiate their fourth point of contact and a hole in the ground.

Even if they’re just left sweeping a room, chances are they’ll end up with two STDs and a warrant for their arrest before you get a chance to check on them again.

Privates First Class

Finally, you can look away for three seconds without them getting into trouble. But they still probably have no initiative, unless it’s grabbing more fatty cakes from the chow line.

Fatty cakes that you have to run off of them mile after grueling mile. If they would just eat some lean chicken, instead, maybe you could finally do a little physical training in the gym or at the pull-up bars, for once. But nope. Time to run the carbs off the privates for the third time this week.

Specialists and Corporals

Just smart enough to know how to shirk their duties, too dumb to realize they should do them anyway. The specialists will spend days setting up elaborate networks to get out of hours worth of work.

And the corporals, ah the corporals. They’re eager enough to show a little initiative and get an extra stripe, but few of them can actually assert their authority without having to whine about military customs and courtesies. It takes more work for the others NCOs to back up the corporal than they would have to do if the corporal just became a specialist again.

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“See how your shots are barely on the paper? That’s because you don’t know how to shoot.”

(U.S. Army Spc. Tynisha L. Daniel)

Noncommissioned Officers

Sergeants

Finally, a rank that can get stuff done without hand-holding or tons of guidance. Too bad this is when they start diddling subordinates, racking up unpaid alimony, and dying of caffeine and nicotine overdoses.

Seriously, buck sergeants, if you don’t have a staff sergeant or platoon sergeant’s tolerance for stimulants, stick to the Fun Dips like the other children.

Staff Sergeants

The E-6 ranks are filled with both hard-chargers and the laziest of the careerists, you can never tell if a staff sergeant is going to be capable or slowly counting down to retirement until you meet them in person and see whether they’re more likely to bust out some pull-ups on the nearest door sill or bust tape on the next PT test.

But at least they don’t have control of a whole platoon, yet.

Sergeants First Class

Out there in front of a whole platoon, the good ones will inspire heroics and, even better, diligence in all the soldiers they lead. The others will just provide their preferred customer discount numbers at strip clubs and the tobacco counter.

But hey, at least they take themselves too seriously and will lose their tempers at literally anything.

Master Sergeants and First Sergeants

Half of them need to retire, the other half basically already have. Counting time until they get to give the Army the old double deuce with the middle fingers on either hand, these E-8s are probably so crabby because you can’t spend this much of your life using communal Army toilets and not literally catch crabs.

Sergeants Major

The staff sergeants major are supposedly just there to make sure section OICs don’t forget to take their meds and actually run every once in a while. But they actually run the show in most staff sections and absolutely will not let you forget it. And command sergeants major act like they’re the second-in-command like no one knows what a deputy commanding officer or executive officer is.

And no matter what you’re complaining about, be sure they will let you know how much worse it was before you were born. Doesn’t even matter if they took part in the war they’re complaining about. Fifty-year-old sergeants major will tell you how much worse they had it in the Korean War than you do now.

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Absolute subject matter expert. Will not tell you what you’re doing wrong until he gets a good laugh about it.

(U.S. Army Sgt. M. Austin Parker)

Warrant Officers

Warrant Officers 1

All the training in the world couldn’t prepare warrant officers to be true subject matter experts on every aspect of their domain, and luckily for warrant officers 1, they’re not burdened by all that much training. Seriously, hope these guys learned some stuff before they went warrant, ’cause otherwise, they’re less useful than a user’s manual and even harder to find.

Chief Warrant Officers 2-4

Finally, a little expertise, but mostly in how to disappear before formations. They’ll always have a coffee cup in their hand, but there’s still a 15 percent chance they will feign falling asleep while talking to you. They’ll actually fall asleep while briefing the commander.

Chief Warrant Officer 5

Literal unicorns, but they hide their horns and hoofs wherever it is that they hide the rest of themselves, probably an entire office building that fell off the books three years ago, and only they know about. They know literally everything about their job area but will only tell you anything under duress or after they’ve gotten a few laughs at your ignorance.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

An Army captain crawls through the dirt, sleeves rolled like he’s ready to adorn a movie poster.

(U.S. Army Capt. Daniel Parker)

Officers

Second and First Lieutenants

These men and women are children. Please, do not let them use anything as dangerous as a microwave without supervision. They will ask questions that brand new recruits are supposed to know before basic training, and then make the subject matter expert stand at attention while answering.

Captains

Give a guy a chance at company command, and they will puff up like newly born demigods. They always have the most self-satisfied smiles on their face, which is ironic since chances are they haven’t satisfied anyone personally or professionally in years.

Majors

Will only communicate with non-majors under duress. Seriously, these folks either hate the Army for existing or else hate it for not promoting them sooner. Maybe that’s because they always get stuck in battalion XO and other staff positions. Must suck to spend eight years climbing from company XO just to be the XO one level up.

Also, when you see one, there’s a 90 percent chance they’ll be standing and watching something happen. Not speaking, not guiding, just watching. It’s creepy.

Army lieutenant colonels will absolutely watch the Army pee on you while swearing it’s rain.

(U.S. Army Claudia LaMantia)

Lieutenant Colonels

Somehow, all lieutenant colonels are majors but, half of them got their optimism back, and the other half hate you because they’re still in the Army. Half will lie to you and tell you that everything’s peachy, the other half will tell you dark truths even if they don’t apply to you.

Colonels

Believe so much in the mission that they will sacrifice their very lives to get it done, but they’d much prefer to sacrifice someone else’s. Yours might be alright. They will write a real nice letter to your family afterward, though. So that and your life insurance policy will pay off the house, at least.

Brigadier and Major Generals

This marks the transition from where senior officers are generally in charge of managing downwards and become mostly tasked with managing up to the other generals and politicians, and boy do they ever forget what sense they had. General Officer Bright Idea is a commonly understood term for the total nonsense that these folks come up with.

That’s not an endorsement of their ideas.

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Generals are some of the most accomplished ground combatants in history. Also, they will absolutely send you into a sacrificial cult if they think it will advance their mission one iota.

(U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathan Fernandez)

Lieutenant Generals and Generals

Ugh, almost no one can tell these folks no anymore, and it shows. Their GOBIs are usually turned into multi-million dollar programs that require thousands of junior soldiers to jump through all sorts of hoops. Half the time, it turns out these ideas could’ve been shot down from the outset by a competent warrant officer or noncom.

They give real inspiring speeches, though, usually by emailing them out to everyone in their command, even though a solid half of the recipients are in forward bases with no internet access. Thanks, boss!

MIGHTY TRENDING

ISIS is making a comeback on all fronts

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an alarming announcement on Aug. 20, 2019 – the Islamic State terrorist group is showing signs of resurgence in almost every place it still operates. While there are some caveats to go along with that statement, the “caliphate” that was all but squashed out just four years ago is making a dramatic comeback.


“It’s complicated. There are certainly places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago,” said Secretary Pompeo. While making that grim assessment on CBS “This Morning,” the Secretary of State also reminded viewers that the territory once held by the terror group has been recaptured and that making attacks in those areas would be terribly difficult for Islamic State fighters.

But guerrilla attacks have increased in Iraq and Syria in recent days, as ISIS retools its finances and recruits new followers from refugee tent cities across both countries. The statement came days after an Islamic State attack on a wedding in the Afghan capital of Kabul which killed 63 and wounded 182 others.

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Pompeo was a guest on CBS This Morning when he acknowledged the resurgence of ISIS.

After President Trump declared a total victory over the Islamic State, the Pentagon has cut the number of U.S. troops supporting the fight against the “caliphate” by more than half, leaving the allies in the region to do the bulk of the fighting. As they departed, ISIS sleeper cells and other units began sniper attacks, ambushes, kidnappings, and assassinations against security forces and returning community leadership. The group even has an estimated 0 million in unaccounted for funds that it could use as a war chest.

Its main source of new recruits comes from a tent city run by allied nations that houses an estimated 73,000 people in poor, cramped conditions. The camp, called Al Hol – or “swampland”– houses refugees from 43 different nations, all crammed in together. It is said to have become a hotbed of ISIS ideology, a breeding ground for terrorists that CENTCOM and the United Nations both say will soon be a huge problem if not dealt with soon.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

An estimated 10,000 fighters are in Afghanistan already.

But the ISIS resurgence isn’t limited to Iraq and Syria. From Afghanistan to West Africa, the terror group is reminding the world that theirs is a global movement that has killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians alike. ISIS may have as many as 18,000 fighters still ready to go to work in Iraq and Syria, along with untold others elsewhere around the world. So far in 2019, ISIS and ISIS-supported attacks have targeted Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Morocco, Nigeria, Egypt, Mali, Tunisia, and have even inspired attacks like the Easter bombing in Sri Lanka.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Chuck Yeager is an air combat ace, daredevil pilot, and hilarious on Twitter

He shoots down all these Germans, THEN became the fastest human being alive? And he’s this witty, rugged mountain guy? No way, re-write this.” If Chuck Yeager’s life story were a fictional screenplay, it might be rejected as too unbelievable. Just to put his accomplishments in perspective: he was the first human to travel faster than the speed of sound, and that arguably isn’t even the coolest thing he accomplished.


Born the son of a gas driller in West Virginia, Yeager enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces during WWII intending to become a mechanic. Turning wrenches presumably didn’t offer enough mortal danger, so he earned his wings as a fighter pilot. On his eighth combat mission, Yeager was forced to bail out over occupied France when his P-51 fighter was hit by German fire. He was injured and alone in enemy territory, so naturally, this was very bad news…for the Germans.

Yeager, thoroughly pissed off by anything that didn’t involve tormenting the Third Reich from the skies- linked up with the French Resistance and taught them bomb-making skills. He also saved the life of another downed U.S. pilot by amputating the man’s leg with a penknife and carrying him over the mountains to neutral Spain.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

(U.S. Air Force photo)

Upon returning to England, Yeager headed back to the States to take it easy for the rest of the war. Just kidding: General Eisenhower approved his request to return to combat duty, and Yeager promptly shot down five enemy planes in a single day, earning the rare “ace-in-a-day” status.

He also downed one of the Germans’ infamous Me-262 jet fighters by ambushing the much faster jet when it slowed down for landing, later reflecting “not very sportsmanlike, but what the hell?”

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Yeager’s P-51D fighter in Europe.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

The war might have been over, but Chuck Yeager’s appetite for death-defying aerial feats remained unquenched. He remained on active duty and became a test pilot for the first generation of jet aircraft.

Piloting the experimental X-1 jet in 1947, Yeager became the first human being to travel faster than the speed of sound despite having broken several ribs horseback riding a few days before. He quipped over the radio mid-flight to a colleague, “I’m still wearing my ears and nothing else fell off either.”

Oh, Chuck.

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Chuck Yeager next to his experimental jet aircraft.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

Yeager’s legendary skill as a pilot was apparently surpassed only by the ice water in his veins that enabled him to repeatedly survive disaster. While setting yet another airspeed record in 1953, his jet began spinning out of control. Despite his head smashing against the canopy, Yeager regained control of the jet and landed safely, because of course he did. By this point, even physics itself had learned not to mess with Chuck Yeager. Yeager went on to multiple command billets within the Air Force.

Despite commanding the Air Force’s astronaut training program, Yeager himself was ineligible for NASA because he lacked any formal education beyond high school (admittedly though, if anyone on earth could be justifiably declared “too cool for school,” it was Chuck Yeager). He also logged 127 combat missions in Vietnam as a bomber pilot because if there’re flying and danger involved, then no way is Chuck Yeager missing out. Yeager retired from the Air Force in 1975 as a brigadier general.

He continued to work as a test pilot after retirement and broke the sound barrier again during his final Air Force flight in 1997. Yeager was portrayed by Sam Shepard in the 1983 film “The Right Stuff” in which he made a cameo as a bartender.

Oh yeah, and then he broke the sound barrier again at age 89 as a passenger in an F-15. Chuck Yeager has broken the sound barrier so many times that one might wonder if it personally wronged him at some point.

Yeager’s legacy lives on in an unexpected way, too. Think about the last time you heard an airline pilot on the intercom. You know that familiar relaxed, deliberate cadence that every pilot seems to speak with? That “pilot voice” began during the early era of jet aircraft when Yeager’s contemporaries began imitating his distinctive West Virginia drawl on the radio.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

(Photo by Olivier Blaise)

This is the point in the story at which one might expect to hear that General Yeager passed away in such-and-such year.

Wrong.

As of the time of this writing in 2019, Yeager is alive. He is very active on social media where his insights and trademark sense of humor (seriously, he’s hysterical) continue to entertain and inform fans across the world.

Check him out on Twitter at: @GenChuckYeager

Articles

This artist did a World War 2-Star Wars mashup and the result is intense

Thirteenth Floor is an Akron, Ohio art and clothing store whose run by Billy Ludwig, an artist working under the name Impale Design.


“All of the artwork is my own, Ludwig says. “Although my work can take on different styles and personalities, the majority of my work revolves around the paranormal and macabre.”

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He has a small staff who runs his Akron-based warehouse, from where they run their online store. Ludwig and Thirteenth Floor also sets up shop at Comic-Cons and horror conventions throughout the United States.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

“I was renting an old store front in Massillon, Ohio, our original location,” Ludwig recalls. “[It was] as a rehearsal studio, and I decided to convert it into an art gallery to sell my artwork along with other regional artists.”

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

Ludwig has been a Star Wars fan since he was able to say the word “Star Wars.” He was inspired to create a signature poster series, merging World War II imagery with imagery from Star Wars.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

“Many of George Lucas’ concepts for Star Wars came from WWII,” he says. “I thought it would be interesting to combine the two. It was just something I did for fun, and over time has gained quite a large following.”

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

Ludwig is currently creating a fourth series of posters, and plans to create some interesting surprises for his series and for the fans who frequent his work.

Check out Thirteenth Floor’s Instagram and Website for more beyond the “SWVSWWII” Series.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Defectors living openly in US happens ‘far more often than people would think’

A former Russian official whose background matches descriptions of a high-level CIA spy hurriedly extracted from Russia has been living openly outside Washington, DC, under his own name.

According to documents from a 2017 real-estate purchase reviewed by Insider, Oleg Smolenkov bought a house in the DC area in 2018 for $925,000.

Intelligence sources told Insider that such a situation — a former agent living under his own name — was less unusual than it might at first appear, partly because of precedent and the unique personality type of high-level sources.


Smolenkov was named in Russian media Sep. 10, 2019, as a possible identity of the extracted spy. Reuters and the BBC were among Western outlets to also report the name.

A spokesman for the Kremlin said Smolenkov had worked for the Russian state but reportedly dismissed reports that a high-level spy had been extracted as “pulp fiction.”

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Smolenkov was named in the wake of reports by The New York Times and CNN that described an unnamed Russian official who worked for the CIA for decades before fleeing to the US in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.

The descriptions from Russia of Smolenkov’s work for the Kremlin, the timing of his disappearance in 2017, and his presence in the suburbs of Washington, DC, appear to match the reports.

When an NBC News reporter knocked on the door of the Smolenkov house Sep. 9, 2019, he was intercepted by unidentified men asking what he was doing.

Two former FBI officials told NBC News that they thought the man in Virginia was the intelligence asset.

That asset is reported to have supplied critical information that helped shape the US government’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The asset’s identity remains unconfirmed. Among assets in a similar position, however, the practice of living openly in a Western country under a real name would not be unusual, according to a former US Drug Enforcement Agency agent who regularly ran intelligence and drug-cartel sources.

“Not shocking at all to those of us who have been there,” said the former member of the DEA’s special-operations division, which handles high-level investigations and sources.

“A guy like Smolenkov spent decades working his way to the top of the Russian government and succeeded while also being an asset for the CIA,” the source said. He asked for anonymity to protect former sources and assets around the world.

“That level of political success at the same time he knew every day for decades he could be revealed and arrested usually requires a special level of ego and appetite for risk,” the source said.

“So it’s not shocking that the first reports said he turned down a chance in 2016 to escape before being convinced by the media coverage that he finally had to go in 2017. Getting him to give up that level of status inside his own homeland along with the status he secretly held with the CIA … it’s a powerful combination.”

Three other former intelligence agents contacted by Insider were less willing to talk about the story, which immediately grabbed the attention of the media and intelligence circles Sep. 9, 2019.

But all three noted that Russian intelligence assets tended to keep their identities intact after defection despite usual pleas from their handlers to adopt fake names and go into hiding.

All three noted that the Russian defectors Sergei Skripal and Alexander Litvinenko lived openly in the UK after fleeing Russia and continued to consult for intelligence services and private companies under their own names.

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Footage of Sergei Skripal’s 2006 trial.

(Sky News)

Both men were poisoned in cases where UK has blamed the Russian state.

Skripal and his daughter narrowly survived a nerve-agent poisoning in 2018, while Litvinenko died in 2006 after drinking tea laced with radioactive poison.

“It’s unlikely that someone with the level of ambition to rise that high in the Kremlin while working as an agent for the Americans would want to easily drop the social status that came with both sides of their double life,” the former DEA agent said.

“And it gets even harder to convince them they’re actually threatened and need to go into deep witness-protection programs if they have families that probably didn’t know they were working for another country on the side.

“Then you add that these are people rather used to risk and living off their wits and so ego plays a huge role.”

When asked how often high-level defectors refused to completely abandon their old life and identity, the former DEA agent said “far more often than people would think.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

You should go update your (hacked?) WhatsApp

WhatsApp was hacked, and attackers installed sophisticated spyware on an unknown number of people’s smartphones.

The Facebook subsidiary, which has 1.5 billion users, said it discovered in early May that “an advanced cyber actor” infected an unknown number of devices with the malware.

The Financial Times, which first reported on the issue on May 13, 2019, said bad actors exploited a vulnerability to install the surveillance technology by calling the target through WhatsApp, giving them access to information including location data and private messages. Even if the target didn’t pick up, the malware was able to infect the phone.


The FT reported that the spyware was developed by Israel’s NSO Group, whose Pegasus software is known to have targeted human-rights activists. In a statement to the FT, the firm denied any involvement in the WhatsApp hack.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

(Photo by Rachit Tank)

“This attack has all the hallmarks of a private company known to work with governments to deliver spyware that reportedly takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems,” WhatsApp said in a statement to the FT.

“We have briefed a number of human rights organizations to share the information we can, and to work with them to notify civil society.”

In a statement sent to Business Insider, a spokesman added: “WhatsApp encourages people to upgrade to the latest version of our app, as well as keep their mobile operating system up to date, to protect against potential targeted exploits designed to compromise information stored on mobile devices. We are constantly working alongside industry partners to provide the latest security enhancements to help protect our users.”

A notice on Facebook said the issue affected Android phones, iPhones, and Windows phones. An update to resolve the issue was released on May 13, 2019, and users are being urged to update regardless of whether they have had any suspicious call activity.

Citing a source, the FT reported that the US Department of Justice was notified about the hack last week.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why Germany gets blamed for starting World War I

On June 28, 1914, an assassin supplied by terrorists shot and killed the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, igniting an already tense situation between Serbia and the Hapsburg-controlled monarchy in Vienna. By July 1914, a month later, the world was at war, and by the end of the war, Austria-Hungary would no longer exist, and Germany would be punished in the treaty that ended it.

Even though Germany had nothing to do with igniting “the powder keg of Europe.”


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A Bosnian terrorist kills an Austrian noble in Serbia so Germany and Russia go to war. Get it?

It’s a little more complicated than who started what but Germany gets the brunt of the blame for the war because of how the fight between Austria and Serbia escalated so fast, and no attempt was made to de-escalate it. The resulting deaths of millions worldwide along with the destruction wrought on European battlefields and the use of poison gas left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth (sometimes literally) throughout the duration of the war.

While Germany didn’t necessarily start World War I, it didn’t do much to stop it, either. In fact, many historians believe Germany actively encouraged the war, despite the systems of alliances in place that should have deterred the European powers from fighting. The Germans knew if Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, the Russians would intervene on Serbia’s behalf. Then Germany would have to come to Austria’s aid.

That’s what the Germans wanted.

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

Russians were still carrying religious icons into battle instead of modern weapons.

Even though Austria was satisfied with Sarajevo’s attempt to smooth things over, Germany convinced the Hapsburg Emperor that he could not only invade and win against the Serbians, but that Germany would have an easy time against all the other European allies. Germany really, really wanted a war with Russia to acquire new territory in the east, but couldn’t justify it. Going to war to back its Austrian ally was more than enough and Austria had a reason to go to war with Serbia. So Germany kept pushing its ally despite calls for peace from the rest of Europe.

Finally, Austria agreed and attacked Serbia, which caused the Russians to come to Serbia’s aid, which forced Germany to back Austria and France to back Russia. Then the Germans invaded France through Belgium, requiring England to intervene in the war as well. So Austria-Hungary technically started the war, but Germany tried to finish it. For four years.

That’s why Germany takes the blame for World War I.

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