The Maxim Gun's devastating firepower changed warfare forever - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

During the pre-dawn hours of October 25, 1893, a British column of 700 men from the British South African Police under the command of Maj. Patrick William Forbes camped in a defensive position next to the Shangani River. While they slept, the Matabele king Lobengula ordered an attack on the column, sending a force comprised of up to 6,000 men – some armed with spears, but many with Martini-Henry rifles.


Among its weapons, the column possessed five Maxim guns – history’s first recoil-operated, belt-fed machine gun. Once a British bugler sounded the alert, the machine guns saw action, and the results were horrific. More than 1,600 of the attacking Matabele tribesman were mowed down like grass. As for the British column, it suffered only four casualties.

The British military not only measured the Maxim gun’s success by the number of Matabele killed in action. They could gauge the Maxim’s potential as a weapon of psychological warfare. In the aftermath, several Matabele war leaders committed suicide either by hanging themselves or throwing themselves on their spears.

The Maxim gun was an earth-shattering a weapon in its heyday – and a true weapon of empire.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
(By Zorro2212 – Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Hiram Maxim‘s invention brought industrial-level killing to the battlefield. More than any other weapon developed in the late 19th and early 20th Century, the Maxim gun is responsible for changing the nature of warfare forever.

The British square and “the thin red line” of massed infantry firepower eventually went the way of the dodo.  When the Maxim gun opened fire at 500 rounds per minute, the tactic of soldiers firing in ranks became suicidal – from then on, the infantryman would have to dash and weave, relying on his ability to maneuver to bring fire to bear on the enemy and to stay alive.

The Maxim gun has two phases to its history. The first is when it was used as the weapon of choice to help expand the British Empire during the late 19th Century.  The weapon’s devastating use during The Great War launched the second phase of its history as one of the guns of modern 20th Century warfare.

But to really understand the weapon you have know something about Maxim, an American who was both an impressive genius and a shrewd businessman.

Born in Maine in 1840, tinkering came naturally to Maxim. While still a teenager, he literally built the better mousetrap – his automatically reset and rid local mills of rodents. At 26, he patented a curling iron, the first of 270 more patents to come. Then, Maxim became chief engineer of the United States Electric Lighting Co. in New York, where he introduced longer-lasting carbon filaments for electric light bulbs.

But he wanted fame and fortune – particularly fortune. He went to Europe in an effort to seek wealth by developing peacetime inventions like he had in the United States.

“In 1882 I was in Vienna, where I met an American whom I had known in the States,” Maxim wrote in his memoir. “He said: ‘Hang your chemistry and electricity! If you want to make a pile of money, invent something that will enable these Europeans to cut each others’ throats with greater facility.'”

Sound advice: In 1884, he harnessed the recoil of a bullet with a spring-loaded bolt mechanism and feeding device that fed ammunition into the gun on a cloth belt. The Gatling or Nordenfelt rapid-firing guns of the time were hand-cranked, gravity-fed weapons with multiple barrels prone to jamming.

Maxim also invented a cleaner burning, smokeless powder that he called cordite, which fouled a weapon much less than the black powder of the era. The combination of mechanized automatic fire and cleaner ammunition was revolutionary. By 1889, the British army adopted the Maxim gun; a year later, the armies of Austria, Germany, Italy and Russia all had Maxims.

The quintessential incarnation of the Maxim gun came when the inventor partnered with the British Vickers Co. The result was a water-cooled, tripod-mounted machine gun in .303 caliber, fed by ammunition on a 250-round belt.

It came just in time for World War I.  However, many generals and military planners doubted the effectiveness of the Maxim gun as well as similar machine guns against troops of Western European powers.

They still preached the bayonet charge. As one infantry manual said, “The spirit of the bayonet must be inculcated into all ranks, so that they go forward with aggressive determination and confidence of superiority born of continued practice, without which a bayonet charge will not be effective.”

Not even the evidence of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1906) with its long sieges and trench warfare – an eerie predictor of The Great War’s horrors to come – could persuade military observers of the Maxim gun’s lethality on the modern battlefield.

“The observers watched Russian and Japanese being mowed down in swathes by machine-gun fire and returned home to write: The machine gun is a vastly overrated weapon; it appears highly doubtful that it would be effective against trained European soldiery,” James L. Stokesbury drily comments in A Short History of World War I. “Apparently, they did not consider Japanese, or even Russians, to be in that supposedly elite category.”

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
A large-bore Maxim on the USS Vixen ca. 1898 (US Navy Photo)

The reality on the Western Front was something quite different. Some called The Great War “the machine gun war” – although artillery fire often caused the bulk of the casualties, soldiers vividly recounted watching their comrades drop like flies as machine guns traversed their ranks while firing.

In just one day during the Battle of the Somme – July 1, 1916 – the British saw 21,000 men slaughtered. The great majority of the casualties were killed by Spandau machine guns, the German version of the Maxim.

Maxim – wealthy, famous, and knighted by the queen – died on November 24, 1916, in London, his home after he became a naturalized British subject. A few weeks before, the Battle of the Somme had ended. The result was more than a million casualties.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The intriguing history of the term special operator

Operator – someone who operates.

In the civilian world, that could be someone operating an excavator, a wheeled tractor, and other similar heavy equipment. Historically, the term applied to people who worked in the old-school telephone centers and operated the manual telephone switchboards that were necessary in order for someone to call another number.

In the military, conversely, the term operator has come to be associated with troops serving in Special Operations Forces (SOF). A Navy SEAL operator, a Special Forces operator, a Marine Raider operator has become standard nomenclature, even in official communique and statements.

But what’s the actual origin of the term? For many in the spec ops community, an operator is someone who is serving or has served in one of the Joint Special Operations Command’s (JSOC) Special Mission Units (SMU). This would apply to members of the Delta Force, SEAL Team Six, also known as the Naval Special Warfare Development Group (DEVGRU), 24th Special Tactics Squadron (24th STS), Intelligence Support Activity (ISA), or one of the other smaller, blacker SMUs.

The office of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) historian, however, posits that the term originated from within the Green Beret community. In support of this claim, there is a document from the late 1950s. Dated April 2, 1959, the document’s headline reads: “The Code For the Special Forces Operator.” It includes 10 provisions to which a Green Beret must abide by. They range from the volunteer and highly dangerous nature of Special Forces – during the Cold War, Special Forces Operational Detachment Alphas (SFODAs) were designed to remain behind enemy lines once the Soviet mechanized onslaught had been unleashed on Western Europe; their role, as it is today, was to organize, train, and lead indigenous forces in waging an Unconventional Warfare (UW) campaign against the Communists – to superb physical fitness, soldiership, and professionalism, among other things.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

“I realize,” the document’s sixth provision states, “it is my responsibility as a Special Forces Operator to undergo more intense and more rugged training than is required of the average soldier of the United States Army.”Read Next: Three SOF Phrases That I Hate

The document was signed by Captain Albert Clement, 1st Company, 77th Special Forces Group (SFG), and witnessed by John Hanretty. The 77th  is one of the original Special Forces Groups and the predecessor of the modern-day 7th SFG.

So, there it is. According to the existing historical evidence, it is the Green Berets who have the claim over the term “Operator.” Does a title matter, though? Not to those who operate.

This article was originally published on July 30, 2020 on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later


Thirty-three years ago, the Star Wars program was easily the most elaborate and complex defense system ever conceived.

“I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete,” President Ronald Reagan said on March 23, 1983. The speech announced the creation of a new missile defense called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which quickly became known as Star Wars.

It envisaged a vast network of laser-armed satellites, air-based missiles, and ground-based interceptors missiles and electromagnetic railguns. These would be used to intercept incoming nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Soviet Union and other enemies, all coordinated through advanced sensors linked to supercomputers, and protect the United States from direct nuclear attack. By being able to neutralize at least most of the incoming nuclear warheads, the U.S. hoped to show the Soviet Union that any potential nuclear confrontation was hopeless.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Graphic of how SDI would work.

The United States and the Soviet Union had flirted with anti-ballistic missile systems in the past.

The U.S. developed the Nike Zeus series of missiles in the early 1960s, which had some ABM capability, and the Soviet Union installed similar missiles around Moscow as protection against limited nuclear strikes. Neither could begin to effectively cope with large-scale nuclear attacks, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty of 1972 strictly limited the number of missile interceptors allowed. The U.S. closed its only missile defense system, called Safeguard, in 1976 after it had only been in operation for a few months and at enormous expense. But by the early 1980s, concerned with advancements in Soviet missiles, the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff revisited the idea, and presented it to Reagan. The idea of a defensive measure to nuclear war beyond simply building more nuclear warheads appealed to to the president.

The technical hurdles for a defense shield like Reagan proposed would be on a scale exceeding any defense project attempted before. The majority of the technology involved, such as weaponized lasers and electromagnetic railguns firing projectiles at extremely high speeds, did not even exist yet and might not be developed for decades. It entailed hundreds, if not thousands of advanced satellites and radars to even begin to aim all the weapons required to make a dent in the Soviet’s vast arsenal. Reagan himself admitted that SDI could easily take until the end of the century to be put into place.

The skepticism towards the program was intense from the beginning. Besides the clear violations of the ABM treaty such a system would represent, it would also extend the arms race even deeper into space.

Swarms of hunter-killer satellites and space-based lasers would be a frightening new frontier, and the Soviet Union would almost certainly try to respond in kind. The projected costs of the system ran into the hundreds of billions of dollars, and the inevitable cost overruns would balloon the Star Wars program to a huge percentage of the U.S. military budget. In the event of an a nuclear attack, unproven technology would have be coordinated on an unprecedented scale and work perfectly the first time. The hurdles involved were well-nigh insurmountable. Nevertheless, by 1987 more than $3 billion was being appropriated annually by Congress to start developing the technology, roughly $6.5 billion in today’s dollars.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

There has been much debate about what sort of affect the Star Wars program had running up to the end of the Cold War, but there is little doubt that the Soviet Union took the program very seriously, and were genuinely concerned about an expanded arm’s race which had immense costs they could not begin to afford. But by the end of the Cold War, a missile-defense system on the scale of SDI was still a pipe-dream. In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the idea was scaled back to a much more limited system capable of defending against small-scale strikes.

The simple fact was that the program was never going to be feasible against as many weapons as an opponent like the Soviet Union could put into play. By 1986 the Soviet’s had over 40,000 nuclear warheads stockpiled, including nearly a thousand ICBM’s with up to 10 warheads a piece that could shower and overwhelm any target within 30 minutes of launch. Soviet submarine’s armed with nuclear missiles could get close enough to U.S. coasts that their payloads could strike hundreds of targets faster than any conceivable system could detect and intercept them. Even if SDI could stop 90 percent of the Soviet’s warheads, the 10 percent that made it through would leave the United States in radioactive ruin.

Though scaled back, development on weapons envisaged in Star Wars continued throughout the 1990s. Its legacy can be seen in today’s Missile Defense Agency. The MDA has cost more than $100 billion since 2002, and the test results of its missile interceptors have been decidedly mixed.

After more than three decades of advances in technology, however more modest our nuclear defense program is now, it still might not be any more realistic than its Cold War forebears.

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The insane way the first cosmonaut got back to Earth

The very first man to go to space was a Soviet cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, who rose to the top of his class thanks to his stunning memory, quick reactions, and poise during emergencies. That poise would come in handy since his spacecraft couldn’t survive re-entry, used compromised design components, and ultimately took the astronaut through an 8g spin cycle on his way back to Earth.


Vostok 1

The first manned space mission was launched with Vostok 1, and Yuri Gagarin at the helm. Gagarin had trained for years to be the first human to leave the atmosphere and had gotten the mission because his peers in cosmonaut training had voted that he was the best choice.

But it was a dangerous honor. After all, only animals had entered space before, and the U.S. and Soviet Union had less than stellar records of getting mammals back alive.

And the plan for getting Gagarin back wasn’t one to inspire confidence. First, while Gagarin had been selected partially based on his reflexes, he was locked out of the controls. And it wasn’t certain the spacecraft could slow itself down during re-entry. Instead, it relied on Gagarin ejecting at almost 4.5 miles above the Earth, right after he dealt with all the tumult of hitting the atmosphere.

As a bonus, there was a chance that the controls would simply fail in space, so Gagarin flew with 10 days worth of food in case he had to wait until his orbit decayed naturally.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space and first man to orbit this beautiful blue orb. (NASA archives)

 

The actual launch on April 12, 1961, went well. The rocket made it into space, the launch vehicle broke away, and Gagarin rode through one orbit of the Earth. So far, so good. But then, the service module failed to separate from the spacecraft.

When the two-module spacecraft hit the atmosphere, the modules tumbled around each other and began to burn up.

“I was in a cloud of fire rushing toward Earth,” he later said.

After about 10 minutes, the cable burned up and Gagarin’s spacecraft re-oriented itself slowly. Freshly drained from a trip around the Earth and an 8g flaming tumble through the atmosphere, Gagarin had to pull himself together and get to work quickly or else he could die on impact like some animals in prior tests.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Yuri Gagarin’s space capsule sits in a museum. (SiefkinDR, CC BY-SA 3.0)

 

Because, again, the capsule had little protection for the cosmonaut, and he couldn’t be certain he would survive the capsule’s impact with the Earth. So he had to activate his ejection seat almost 4.5 miles up. Gagarin and his capsule traveled separately from there. Gagarin landed near a farm and walked up, in full orange spacesuit and helmet, to the farmers for help.

He was quickly named a Hero of the Soviet Union and put on a high shelf where he couldn’t be broken. He was able to lobby for a potential return to space though, but a tragic training accident ended his life while he was still preparing for the mission.

On March 27, 1968, he was piloting a MiG-15, entered a steep dive, and crashed into a forest. An investigation in 2010 concluded that a vent was left partially open. This vent was supposed to be closed as the plane entered high-altitude flight so the pilots would have enough air in the cockpit. The investigator supposed that Gagarin and his co-pilot entered a steep dive to get back to a safe altitude to close the vent, but passed out and could never pull out of it.

(As a fun side note, Gagarin asked the bus to stop for him to piss while he was on the way to Vostok 1. Cosmonauts today remember him by taking a leak on their way to the launchpad.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This wooden jet fighter showed just how desperate Germany was

By early 1944, the Germany and the Luftwaffe were in a bad state. Allied bombing had a devastating effect on oil supplies and the new P-51 Mustang was killing German pilots faster than they could be trained. Though Germany was developing the twin-engined Me 262 jet fighter to combat the allied bombers, Hitler’s constant interference and the strain on resources delayed the program. Luftwaffe Supreme Commander Reichmarschall Hermann Göring and Armaments Minister Albert Speer proposed the alternative solution of a single-engined jet fighter that was cheap and easy to produce and could be flown with very little training. Their idea was approved and a contract was issued for the Volksjäger, or “People’s Fighter”.

The Volksjäger requirements called for a single engine to reduce cost and construction complexity. Its airframe would be made primarily of wood and non-strategic metals since Germany’s reserve of war materials was dwindling. Moreover, the design had to be simple and able to be constructed by semi and non-skilled labor, including slave labor. The contract also required that the plane be easy to fly with very little experience, though this was more a sign of Germany’s desperation. “[The] unrealistic notion that this plane should be a ‘people’s fighter,’ in which the Hitler Youth, after a short training regimen with clipped-wing two-seater gliders like the DFS Stummel-Habicht, could fly for the defense of Germany, displayed the unbalanced fanaticism of those days,” recalled the plane’s designer, Dr. Ernst Heinkel, after the war.

Heinkel’s design, the He 162 Spatz (Sparrow), was selected on September 25, 1944. Incredibly, the first prototype flew less than 90 days later on December 6. Though the first flight was successful, it was noted that some of the glue holding the wooden frame together started to fail. The second test flight on December 10 saw a similar glue failure that caused the aileron to separate from the wing and resulted in a crash that killed the pilot. Still, Germany was desperate and testing pressed on without addressing the glue issue.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
The Hinterbrühl facility was captured in April 1945 (German Federal Archives)

Though the He 162 was supposed to be flown by Hitler Youth, the aircraft turned out to be too complex and required a more experienced pilot at the controls. A small number of training gliders were built and delivered to a Hitler Youth squadron at Sagan. However, the unit was in the process of forming when the war ended and did not undergo any training.

Despite the need for trained pilots, production of the He 162 began at Salzburg and the underground facilities at Hinterbrühl and Mittelwerk. The first operational unit received the He 162 in February 1945. Despite heavy allied bombing of German industry and air bases, I./JG 1 (First Fighter Wing) began training on the new jet in March and saw their first action with it the next month.

On April 19, the He 162 scored its first kill when Feldwebel Günther Kirchner shot down an RAF fighter. While on approach to land, the vulnerable jet fighter was shot down by another RAF fighter. Both the plane and pilot were lost. Though more victories were scored in April, I./JG 1 lost 13 He 162s and 10 pilots. However, only two were actually shot down. The other planes were lost due to mechanical failure, structural failure, or running out of fuel.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
A captured He 162 in France and later brought to the U.S. (U.S. National Archives)

On May 5, the squadron was grounded following the surrender of German forces in the Netherlands, Northwest Germany, and Denmark. Unlike other German squadrons with experimental aircraft, I./JG 1 did not destroy their planes. Rather, they turned them over to the British on May 6 who distributed them among the other allied nations for evaluation.

After the war, allied research found that the He 162 was actually a capable and well-designed fighter. Its inherent problems were the result of its rushed production. If the Germans had the time and resources for proper testing and evaluation, the plane could have been a serious threat to allied air superiority.

Today, many examples of the He 162 survive in museums including the RAF Museum in London and the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
The He 162 at the National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian Institute)
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That time a badger lived in the White House

President Theodore Roosevelt is known for being a Rough Rider, a trust-buster, and coining the infamous phrase, “Walk softly, but carry a big stick.” He also turned the White House into a veritable menagerie during his stay there. He, of course, had plenty of cats and dogs, but he was known for keeping guinea pigs for his children, and several of his sons had rabbits as well as a bright blue macaw named Eli Yale.

Arguably his most exotic pet, and probably the most unpredictable animal to inhabit the White House, was a real-life badger.


The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Theodore Roosevelt, like the badger, don’t give a f*ck. (Giphy)

 

While on a railroad tour through the West, President Roosevelt stayed for several days in Sharon Springs, Kansas. After he’d fulfilled his presidential duties of talking with residents and giving speeches, he was getting ready to head further west when a girl named Pearl Gorsuch, who was twelve-years-old at the time, came up to him to ask if he’d like a badger.

Not exactly your average fan gift.

Whether the president didn’t actually think she was serious, or if he was immediately ready to take a badger on a train ride, no one’s really sure. But when Pearl returned, she had with her a two-week-old badger, as well as the rest of her family.

Roosevelt graciously showed the family (and accompanying badger) around his private rail car, and gave Pearl a locket and a carnation as a thank you. When he took the badger, he was delighted when it started nibbling on his fingers. He named the badger Josiah after Pearl’s father and took it with him in his private car.

On the rest of his trip, Josiah proved to be good-natured, even when met with young children who were enchanted by the animal. Roosevelt wrote to his own children to inform them that he’d be bringing the badger home, and that he’d nicknamed Josiah “Josh” for short.

As the Roosevelt family did have plenty of dogs, a badger-specific cage had to be built, including two feet of underground space for him to burrow.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
The Roosevelt family with Skip, just one of their many pups. (upload.wikimedia.org)

 

Roosevelt himself loved setting the badger loose, as Josiah was known for biting ankles, and the family soon learned to stand clear when he was out of his cage.

Archie Roosevelt, who was the second youngest of six children, was nine when Josiah arrived at the White House and laid the best claim to the animal. He would walk around the grounds holding Josiah around the waist. When Teddy expressed concern that Josiah might take advantage of the positioning to bite Archie’s face, Archie insisted that little Josh only bit legs, not faces.

Though Josiah the badger did come home with a penchant for nipping but an overall friendly demeanor, he eventually lost his pleasant attitude. He may have grown overwhelmed by the bustle of the Roosevelt’s White House, or just succumbed to his primal nature, but whichever reason, the result was the same.

The Roosevelt family had him placed in the Bronx Zoo in New York, which was probably for the best both for the animal and the family. However, they continued to visit him, just to make sure he didn’t develop any abandonment issues.

Though each president has had different pet preferences—the Coolidge family actually had a pet raccoon named Rebecca—it’s safe to say that Teddy Roosevelt came the closest to running a zoo out of the White House. But really, who’d refuse a little girl in a small town in Kansas handing you a baby badger?

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
First Lady Grace Coolidge shows off her pet racoon, Rebecca, at the White House Easter Egg Roll April 18, 1927. (Courtesy of the George W. Bush White House Archives.)
MIGHTY HISTORY

How Bette Davis’ club became the best spot for WWII troops

Veterans and troops always have a go-to spot where they can enjoy themselves after hours. Oftentimes, it’s a bar where they can unwind alongside buddies and take their minds off the stresses that come with military life, if only for a brief moment. Wherever that place may be, when you’re there, you know you can just kick back, enjoy that sweet, refreshing beer, and relax.

Back during World War II, the U.S. was abuzz with patriotism and everyone who could would do their part to serve those who serve. Hollywood celebrities of the time, like Bette Davis and John Garfield, were no exception. In fact, they created a club designed specifically to cater to returning troops. Best part of all: The uniform got you in for free and troops would never spend a single cent when there.


The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

She would spend almost the entire run of the Second World War supporting the troops at the expense of her infamous Warner Bros. contract.

Located at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, CA was the fabulous Hollywood Canteen. Troops who visited would be greeted with the words, “through these portals pass the most beautiful uniforms in the world.” Anyone was allowed in, but the troops were treated with more esteem than the celebrities who catered to them.

No one dedicated more time and effort to the Hollywood Canteen than Bette Davis herself. The beautiful actress was the president of the Canteen and would often be the first person ready to greet troops as they came through the door. Visiting troops would be escorted to their seat by a lovely celebrity and then offered a fantastic evening.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

Who wouldn’t want a free meal served to you by Rita Hayworth and Marlene Dietrich?

Everything within the Canteen was offered on a donation basis, but the tickets to get were outrageously priced (for those who weren’t in the military). Tickets ran the average civilian — about 4.15 when adjusted for inflation — and they still wouldn’t get the star treatment from the celebrities. Of course, all of that money was funneled back to the war effort.

It operated at a huge loss. It was highly publicized; they welcomed in well over one million troops and spent ,000 (,697.51 AFI) weekly on food alone. As a result, the Canteen relied heavily on donations and good will from wealthy individuals to keep the doors open. The most ardent benefactors were Bette Davis and the many celebrities that came to support the troops — a long list that included everyone who was anyone at the time.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

It’s probably the best business move anyways. Anyone would go bankrupt if they openly offered every troop as much alcohol as they wanted.

The troops were offered nearly whatever they wanted. Chef Milani, one of the earliest celebrity chefs, was world-renown and took great joy in making off-the-wall recipes for the troops. The troops were also offered drinks, cigarettes, and a night of entertainment free of charge.

The only real downside is that since it was unprofessional to offer a bunch of free alcohol to troops (and, as a result, have drunk troops’ photos plastered all over the tabloids), they refrained from openly serving alcohol — but you know it happened anyway. Officers were also discouraged from entering as it was more or less seen as “the enlisted’s paradise.”

In 1944, Warner Bros., who had Bette Davis under contract, made a musical, called Hollywood Canteen, which was set in its namesake club. Nearly every actor and musician who supported the club made a cameo appearance in the film. It was the fourth highest grossing film of that year and 40 percent of the profits were funneled directly back into the club.

When V-J Day finally came, the club’s purpose had been fulfilled. They threw one hell of a party before closing its doors for good. The remaining funds in the Canteen’s account were spread among various veteran organizations.

In 1980, Bette Davis was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, the Department of Defense’s highest award for civilians, for her dedication to the troops and for giving them the Hollywood Canteen. The two-time Academy award winning actress and arguably the greatest actress of the classical film era said of the Canteen, “there are few accomplishments in my life that I am sincerely proud of. The Hollywood Canteen is one of them.”

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5 of the worst US Navy ship collisions in history

The recent collisions involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) have generated a lot of headlines.


But there have been other collisions – though they are certainly rare events, according to a June USA Today article. But even one is far too many, and some have been even worse than that suffered by those two destroyers.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-18) in drydock at Bayonne, New Jersey, showing the damage to the carrier’s bow from her 26 April 1952 collision with USS Hobson (DMS-26). Wasp collided with Hobson while conducting night flying operations in the Atlantic, en route to Gibraltar. Hobson was cut in two and sank, 61 men of her crew could be rescued, but 176 were lost. (US Navy photo)

April 26, 1952: The USS Wasp (CV 18) collides with the USS Hobson (DD 464)

While making her way to the Mediterranean Sea, the Wasp was conducting night-time flight operations when she made a course change. A deadly combination of a surface-search radar and a poorly-thought out course-change by the destroyer caused the Wasp to ram the Hobson. The impact broke the Hobson in half and killed 176 sailors, including the Hobson’s captain.

The Wasp was repaired and back in action within 10 days. The Navy ultimately blamed the commanding officer of the Hobson for the collision.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
What was left of USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754) after her collision with the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne. (US Navy photo)

June 3, 1969: The HMAS Melbourne rams the USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754)

For over two decades, the United States was a member of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. This alliance also included Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, France, and the United Kingdom. SEATO was hoped to be a NATO for the region, but it never reached that potential — although allies did hold exercises.

Five years previously the Melbourne had rammed and sunk an Australian destroyer.

During an anti-submarine warfare exercise, there was a near-miss between the Melbourne and the destroyer USS Everett F. Larson (DD 830). Despite that near-miss, tragedy struck when in the early-morning hours of June 3, the Frank E. Evans cut in front of the Melbourne. Her bow was sheared off and sank, causing the deaths of 74 American sailors.

The collision resulted in a Navy training film, “I Relieve You, Sir,” or “The Melbourne-Evans Incident,” that was used to disseminate the lessons learned from this tragedy.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Damage done to USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67) after her collision with USS Belknap (CG 26). (US Navy photo)

November 22, 1975: The USS Belknap (CG 26) collides with the USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67)

This collision is notable for the extensive damage the Belknap sustained. During operations in the Ionian Sea, the Belknap and John F. Kennedy collided. A burst pipe sent fuel onto the guided-missile cruiser, and a massive fire melted the Belknap’s aluminum superstructure.

Eight sailors died, and 48 were injured. This collision actually has shaped the ship that is the backbone of the fleet today. After studying the collision and fire, the Navy decided to make the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers out of steel.

The Belknap was rebuilt over the course of four years, and served as the flagship of the Sixth Fleet from 1986 to 1994, before she was sunk as a target in 1998.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
USS Greeneville (SSN 772) in dry dock after her collision with the Japanese fishery training ship Ehime Maru. (US Navy photo)

February 9, 2001: The USS Greeneville (SSN 772) rams the Ehime Maru

The Improved Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine USS Greeneville collided with the Ehime Maru, a fishery training ship for a high school while surfacing. The Ehime Maru sank very quickly, with nine people dead as a result.

A number of civilian visitors were aboard the sub at the time, and the failure of the Greeneville’s captain to ensure that their presence didn’t hamper military operations was a contributing factor to the fatal incident.

The next year, the Greeneville would collide with the amphibious transport dock USS Ogden (LPD 5), and suffer minor damage.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Sailors aboard the Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine USS Hartford (SSN 768) wait for the brow to be lowered during the ships return home to Submarine Base New London after a month-long surface transit from Bahrain in 2009. The sub’s sail is askew as a result of her collision with USS New Orleans (LPD 18). (US Navy photo)

March 20, 2009: The USS Hartford (SSN 768) collides with the USS New Orleans (LPD 18)

Navigational chokepoints are called that because maritime traffic has to go through them, and they are very narrow. This doesn’t leave a lot of room for error or complacency.

According to a 2009 Military Times report, though, the crew of the Hartford got complacent, and the Los Angeles-class submarine and the San Antonio-class amphibious transport collided.

The Hartford suffered over $100 million in damage, while the New Orleans had a ruptured fuel tank and spilled 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the sea. There were 15 sailors injured on the Hartford, which was almost knocked onto its side.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This soldier waited 150 years to receive the Medal of Honor

During the Civil War, the Medal of Honor didn’t carry the same weight it does among US troops these days. When it was first conceived in 1861, American troops getting medals for any reason was a new thing, even if it was for “personal valor.” More than 1,500 were awarded throughout the war. By 1917, however, the Medal of Honor achieved the status it was intended to carry in the first place, and 910 of those were rescinded to officially elevate the award. Since then, individual medals have been awarded, often long after the action for which they were won.

That’s how Alonzo Cushing was awarded his Medal of Honor for bravery before the enemy at the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. It was presented to him by President Obama in 2014.


The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

Every photo of Cushing looks like he is ready to personally end some Confederate lives.

Major Alonzo Cushing was a Union artillery officer who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point just a few short weeks after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. By the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, Cushing was still a lieutenant in experience, but earned the rank of brevet major for his role at the recent Battle of Chancellorsville, in Virginia. The heavy toll the Union took during that battle must have weighed heavily on Cushing because he gave no ground to the enemy as long as he could still stand. He was also a veteran of Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. By then, he knew how important his role was.

On the last day of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, the artillery battery commander was wounded three separate times. First, shrapnel from an exploding shell tore through his shoulder. This was not enough to deter Cushing. Even after his second wound, which cut through his lower abdomen and literally spilled his guts, he stayed at his post, holding them in. It was the third injury that would silence him forever. He was ordered to fall to the rear. Instead, he ordered his guns to move closer and moved with them.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

The Gettysburg Cyclorama, 1883.

(Paul Dominique Philippoteaux)

Cushing defied orders to abandon his position on Cemetery Ridge at the critical point in the battle. The massive bombardment of Cemetery Ridge that cut into Alonzo Cushing preceded a full frontal infantry assault that came to be known as “Pickett’s Charge.” The Confederate attack on the Union position at Cemetery Ridge was as close as the Confederate Army would ever get to defeating the Union, losing more than half the men who made the charge.

Also killed was Brevet Maj. Cushing. Because of his previous wounds, Cushing could no longer yell loud enough to be heard by the men under his command. His First Sergeant literally picked him up and repeated his orders to the men. As he gave orders, the 22-year-old Cushing was hit in the mouth by an enemy bullet and was killed. His gallantry in combat earned him the permanent rank of Lt. Col. and a burial at his beloved West Point’s cemetery.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

If looks could kill, Cushing’s is an 1841 Howitzer.

Just as Cushing’s First Sergeant wrote to his family about his bravery in battle, the Wisconsin native became the subject of a letter-writing campaign more than 100-plus years later. Residents of Wisconsin were more concerned with recognizing one of their favorite sons for his valor. It wasn’t until 2014 that Congress was finally able to act and the President was able to concur.

“His part of our larger American story — one that continues today,” the President said. “The spirit, the courage, the determination that he demonstrated lives on in our brave men and women in uniform who this very day are serving and making sure that they are defending the freedoms that Alonzo helped to preserve. And it’s incumbent on all of us as Americans to uphold the values that they fight for, and to continue to honor their service long after they leave the battlefield – for decades, even centuries to come.”

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to 1st Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing for his gallantry during combat at Gettysburg July 3, 1863. Receiving the medal at the White House ceremony, Nov. 6, 2014, is Helen Loring Ensign, Cushing’s first cousin, twice removed.

Accepting Cushing’s Medal of Honor was a distant first cousin of the young officer. Also present was Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and 94-year-old historian Margaret Zerwekh. It was Zerwekh’s constant lobbying that made Cushing’s award a reality.

At 151 years, it was the longest wait of any Medal of Honor Recipient to receive the award.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Russia used children to spy on a US embassy

On Aug. 4, 1945, a group of Russian school children from the Vladimir Lenin All-Pioneer Organization presented a two-foot, wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States to Averell Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.


Harriman believed the Great Seal was a friendly gesture and hung it up in the library of the Spaso House in Moscow.

Little did the ambassador know, the Great Seal was a one-of-a-kind listening device.

Related: This WW2 pilot acquired a massive advantage after crashing

The Soviets embedded a high-frequency “bug” in the decorative seal, which allowed them to eavesdrop on some very confidential conversations.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
The listening device inside the Great Seal. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Austin Mills)

This unique bug wasn’t battery powered or composed of any electrical circuitry. Instead, the device was activated by radio signal pointed in its direction from a surveillance van parked outside the embassy. Sound waves from the conversations caused vibrations in a membrane built inside the carvings of the Great Seal, which then bounced the signal back to the surveillance van.

The device’s simple construction dramatically increased its lifespan and made it nearly impossible to detect. The Great Seal decorated the U.S. Ambassador’s wall for years until it was discovered during a security sweep in 1952. After officials found the bug, it was dubbed, “The Thing.”

Also Read: This paratrooper just took his first jump in 31 years

Its discovery was kept secret for several more years until the U2 spyplane situation occurred in 1960.

As the Soviets were in the middle of accusing the U.S. of spying, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. whipped out “The Thing” during a proceeding with the Russians — undeniable proof of Soviet foul play.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever

Check out Simple History‘s video below to get the complete, animated breakdown of how sneaky Russians used school child to spy on the US.

(Simple History | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

When people think of American firearm manufacturers, legendary names like Colt, Smith & Wesson and Springfield come to mind. However, the modern firearms that today’s Springfield Armory makes like the M1A, SAINT AR-15s, XD pistols and Hellcat sub-compact pistol have little, if any, relation to classic American firearms like the M1903 Springfield and M1 Garand rifles that served in the World Wars. To explain, we have to go back to America’s fight for independence.

In 1777, George Washington was searching for a suitable location for an arms repository. General Henry Knox, chief artillery officer of the Continental Army, recommended Springfield, Massachusetts. Though the town was small and possessed little industrial capacity, it was not meant to host any sort of firearms manufacturing facilities. Rather, the Continental Army needed a central location to store and distribute firearms and munitions throughout New England. Springfield lay at the intersection of three rivers including the Connecticut River and four major roads that led to New York City, Boston, Albany, and Montreal. After scouting the site, Washington approved the location and the Springfield Armory was born.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Shays’ Rebellion is driven away from Springfield Armory (National Archives)

Although the armory did not produce any firearms, musket cartridges and gun carriages were produced there to support the war effort. As intended, the armory continued to stockpile and distribute muskets, cannons, and other weapons throughout the war. By the 1780s, Springfield Armory was America’s premiere ammunition and weapons arsenal. This made it a prime target for Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays and his Regulators.

Burdened by debts and taxes from the war, Shays and other veterans felt betrayed by the government that they had fought to establish. In an effort to overturn it, Shays and his followers marched on Springfield Armory on January 25, 1787. The armory was defended by state militia who fired grape shot at the rebels, forcing them to flee. Four Regulators were killed and 20 were wounded. The rebellion was routed and eventually put down and the armory was untouched.

In 1794, construction of manufacturing facilities began at Springfield Armory. The next year, the armory began producing its first firearms. Though the it employed just 40 workers and produced 245 muskets, it was the start of American national firearms manufacturing. Congress would later establish a second national armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). However, Harpers Ferry would never grow to match Springfield and would be destroyed during the Civil War.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Springfield Armory c. 1850 (National Park Service)

Throughout the 19th century, Springfield became a hub for firearm design, research, and production. This national armory model mirrored European nations who had dedicated facilities that were funded, maintained, and operated by the government. Under this model, military firearms like the Trapdoor rifle, M1903 Springfield, and M1 Garand were designed and primarily built by the Springfield Armory. Though private companies like Winchester and Remington were contracted to produce rifles during wartime, the manufacturing processes and procedures were all developed and standardized by Springfield.

By WWII, Springfield Armory had over 15,000 employees and was producing a majority of military firearms. However, employment and production was scaled down significantly after the war. Though Springfield did develop and build the M14 to replace the M1 in 1959, U.S. defense policy was changing.

The idea of maintaining a national armory at the expense of the tax-payer was brought into question in the 1960s by then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. He believed that it would be more economical to contract private industry for the design and manufacture of military firearms. Rather than having to constantly scale a national armory between peace and wartime, private companies could be lobbied and compete for government contracts when necessary. Under McNamara’s guidance, the Springfield Armory was slowly scaled back.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Springfield Armory’s experimental shop where John Garand developed the famous M1 (National Park Service)

By 1968, Springfield Armory was completely shut down. Future rifles like the M16/M4 were designed and built by private companies like Armalite, Colt, and FN. However, just a couple years later, the Springfield Armory name was trademarked by Elmer Balance. Through his Texas-based company, LH Manufacturing, Balance had the idea to build a civilian version of the military M14 rifle and market it with the Springfield name. Using surplus M14 parts, Balance created what we know today as the Springfield M1A.

In 1974, Balance sold his entire enterprise, tooling, trademarks, and all, to the Reese family in Geneseo, Illinois. Springfield relocated from Texas to Illinois where it remains today. Though the M1A is a derivative of the M14 that was designed and manufactured by the original Springfield Armory, the rifle is the closest relation that the modern Springfield Armory has to its Revolutionary War-era namesake.

Despite this, Springfield Armory, Inc. maintains the federal logo of two crossed cannons with a cannonball and the writing “Since 1794”. Moreover, many of the company’s firearms are sub-contracted to other manufacturers including the XD pistol series and Hellcat pistol which are made in Croatia.

Today, the actual Springfield Armory facility in Massachusetts is owned and maintained by the National Park Service as a historic landmark. Though the national Springfield Armory is gone, its impact on American history is undeniable. In addition to designing and building war-winning weapons like the M1903 and M1 Garand, Springfield also revolutionized the manufacturing industry with innovations like interchangeable parts and the Blanchard lathe. The national armory also introduced modern business practices like hourly wages. While the modern private company is a cornerstone of the American firearms market, it’s important to note the difference between it and the national armory that it draws its name from.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The story of Thomas Norris, a forgotten Navy SEAL

On March 30, 1972, 14 North Vietnamese Army divisions crossed over the DMZ. The attacks would later be known as the Easter Offensive. Three days later, on Sunday, April 2, a US Air Force EB-66 radar-jamming aircraft was shot down just south of the DMZ in enemy-controlled territory. The crash killed five crewmen. The one lone survivor, Lt. Col. Iceal B. Hambleton, parachuted out of the aircraft into an area thick with NVA troops. 

Bat 21, as Lt. Col. Hambleton was known by his call sign, was immediately part of an Army helicopter rescue attempt near the Cam Lo bridge over the Mieu Giang River. But that helicopter was also shot down, and all four personnel aboard died. So the Army tried again, but once more, the chopper was shot. This time, it was so badly damaged that it had to crash land after escaping heavy NVA fire. 

The next morning, April 3, Air Force pilots circled about Bat 21’s presumed location to drop mines and keep the enemy from swarming him. Conditions were dire, and there were growing concerns that a rescue attempt might not be successful. Two more Air Force search and rescue helicopters were so badly damaged by enemy fire that both had to withdraw.

Not prepared to give up, the Air Force sent out an OV-10 Bronco spotter plane to assist with the rescue, but that too was shot down. Capt. William Henderson and 1st Lt. Mark Clark both parachuted to the ground near the river.

Three more rescue attempts failed, and by nightfall on April 3, Capt. Henderson was captured. He would spend a total of 369 days as a prisoner of war. During the course of the next seven days, Lt. Col. Hambleton and 1st Lt. Clark would become the focus of the most intense and costly rescue efforts of the entire war.

The following day, eight fighter planes sustained battle damage, and one was completely destroyed. Two days later, on April 6, 52 sorties (attacks made by troops coming out from a position of defense) and four B-52 bombers obliterated the area. Helicopters flew around in an attempt to locate Hambleton and Clark for rescue. 

The helicopter was struck by enemy fire, and all six aboard were killed. One day later, another AF OV-10 circled the area but again, was shot down, and both airmen were lost. By the 9th of April, it was clear that Hambleton and Clark couldn’t be rescued by air. 

Enter Navy SEAL LtJG Thomas R. Norris. Norris was assigned to lead a team of five SVA navy commandos in a ground rescue. Norris was a veteran of Vietnam and had been in-country for over a year. 

Nightfall, April 10: Norris takes his team out in search of Clark. He’d planned to swim upriver, but the current was too strong. So Norris advised Clark to float down to them. Clark did so, and Norris was able to retrieve him and take him to safety.

Three days later, Norris and a member of his team went upriver to a bombed-out village and found a sampan. In complete darkness, they went in search of Hambleton. The sailors found the airman and hid him in the bottom of the boat, hoping they might look like fishermen. But then they came under heavy NVA fire and pulled to the shore to call for air support. Smoke cover and friendly fire allowed the men to return to the river and reach a safe position, all the while carrying Hambleton, who could no longer walk.

In October, Norris was nearly killed when he was shot in the head during an intelligence-gathering mission. The actions of fellow SEAL Michael E. Thornton saved his life. For those gallant efforts, Thornton was awarded the Medal of Honor. After three years of hospitalization, Norris was also awarded the Medal of Honor. However, in broad reviews of the conflict, his name is not widely discussed or known.

Articles

The founder of Delta Force was almost impossible to kill

In 1952, the Green Bay Packers drafted “Chargin’ Charlie” Beckwith from the University of Georgia. But seeing as how the Korean War was already in its second year, Chargin’ Charlie declined the offer for a different green uniform.


Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, Charles Beckwith served a few years on the Korean Peninsula, in war and later peacetime. It was after Korea that he joined the 82d Airborne, and later, U.S. Army Special Forces.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
Col. Charles Beckwith toward the end of his career.

Beckwith’s first mission was to train the Royal Lao Army in 1960 but his mission to deploy with British SAS to Malaysia as they fought a Communist insurgency is one that forever changed military history.

It was there that Beckwith came down with a mean case of Leptospirosis — a bacterial infection that causes kidney failure and pulmonary hemorrhaging. Doctors did not expect Beckwith to survive.

In fact, they called it one of the three worst cases they’d ever seen. Beckwith was given three weeks to live — and he did.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
The British SAS patrol during Malayan insurgency.

He survived the infection and his time with the Special Air Service inspired him to develop the American Army’s version of such an elite unit. In 1963, he formed the specialty unit code-name Project Delta, personally selecting the men best suited to conduct long-range recon operations in Vietnam.

But his time in Delta — and on Earth — was nearly cut short in Vietnam in 1966. Beckwith was shot in his abdomen with a .50-caliber round. He was taped up, but essentially left for dead.

But death still didn’t come.

The Maxim Gun’s devastating firepower changed warfare forever
A MACV Special Operation group in Vietnam circa 1969.

Beckwith not only recovered, he continued with his military career, fighting in a series of battles from the Tet Offensive in 1968 until the end of the war in 1973.

It was in the mid-70s that Beckwith’s elite unit idea finally became a full reality. He was given the authority and formed the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta in 1977. The new elite unit focused on anti-terror and hostage recovery ops, based on the model of the British SAS.

Unfortunately for Beckwith and Delta, their first mission was Operation Eagle Claw, the doomed hostage rescue of Americans held in Iran. After the catastrophic failure of Eagle Claw, Beckwith retired from the Army.

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