Lt. Col. Merlyn Dethlefsen flying the Republic F-105F. (U.S. Air Force photo).
In March 1967, U.S. Air Force Capt. Merlyn Dethlefsen and three other F-105 Thunderchief pilots were tasked to fly 50 miles north of Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam. Once there, they were to destroy the Thai Nguyen Steel Works.
The works were protected by a ring of 85mm anti-aircraft guns, surface-to-air missile batteries, and squadrons of MiG-21 fighters on patrol. Needless to say, the airmen were outgunned. They went anyway.
“Thuds,” as F-105s were affectionately known, would go in ahead of fighter-bomber strike forces to strike SAM sites directly. They would purposely allow themselves to be targeted by the SAM batteries’ radar in order to track the source.
Then they would make their own strike runs at the SAM sites — a tactic known as the “Wild Weasel.”
What makes this mission particularly dangerous is not just that the Wild Weasel allowed himself to be tracked by SA-2 SAM batteries; the danger was also present for the Thuds who flew in behind him, who remained low enough to evade being tracked by the SAM radar and therefore became vulnerable to ground-based anti-aircraft fire.
During this mission, the batteries at Thai Nguyen were much more powerful than expected and took down two of the four Thuds immediately.
This was not the first rodeo for the remaining pilots.
This was not their last rodeo either — eventually, Dethlefsen and his Electronic Warfare Officer, Capt. Kevin “Mike” Gilroy, would fly 100 missions over North Vietnam.
After their two wingmen were shot down, Dethlefsen and Gilroy evaded the MiG interceptors by flying deeper into the anti-aircraft umbrella.
Wild Weasels’ orders usually called for only one attack pass at enemy defenses, but some missions required two. Merlyn Dethlefsen, Gilroy, and their heavily-damaged wingman did far more than the two required passes.
With enemy MiGs chasing them down — and heavily damaged by anti-aircraft guns — they destroyed one SAM site with Shrike missiles and another with a strafing run of 20mm rounds and the Thud’s 750-pound bombs.
A follow-on strike by 72 fighter-bombers would finish the steel works off.
Both of the remaining aircraft made it back to base full of holes from MiGs and 85mm guns.
Captain Dethlefsen was awarded the Medal of Honor the very next year while Gilroy received the Air Force Cross.
When James Elliott Williams enlisted in the Navy in 1947, World War II was over, and the South Carolina native probably thought he might have a career no different, better or worse than any other enlisted sailor. History would have other ideas. He just wanted to join the Navy, so bad in fact, he was only 16 when he enlisted. He and a county clerk altered his birth certificate to make him old enough to join. That was just the first bold move of his career.
It’s notable that the most decorated enlisted sailor in Navy history isn’t a SEAL or anything like that, he was a Boatswains Mate.
Today’s Boatswain’s Mates now train, direct, and supervise the ship’s personnel in the maintenance of the ship as well as operate machinery to load and unload supplies. They’re kind of the jack of all trades sailor, the oldest rate in the Navy. They repair the ship, provide security, and even drive the damn things. Not three years into James William’s enlistment, the Korean War broke out, and Williams was aboard the destroyer USS Douglas H. Fox. Being a Boatswain’s Mate, he ended up on numerous small boat raiding parties into North Korea.
It suited him just fine. Williams continued his enlistment even after the war ended. His real moment to shine came during his time in Vietnam.
Williams was the Petty Officer in charge of overseeing patrols in the Mekong Delta as the Vietnam War was heating up in 1966 and 1967. At the time in his career when other NCOs would be seeking a quiet place to end their enlistment, Williams was tossing ammunition over his shoulder and telling junior sailors everything was going to be okay – and it was, because Williams was going to see to that.
That’s what happened on Oct. 31, 1966, when Williams’ two boat patrol was ambushed by two enemy boats on the river. He collected his “19-year-old and scared to death” gunners, and directed a return fire that destroyed one boat and sent the other running away for dear life. It wouldn’t get away, as the sailors chased the damaged enemy boat right into…
An enemy stronghold.
Suddenly, they were outnumbered 65-to-1. The VC opened up on the Americans with withering AK-47 and RPG fire. You can probably guess what happened next.
Williams led his boat and its crew into the enemy formation, with fortified bunkers shooting at them from the riverbanks, enemy boats swirling around them, and all kinds of different ordnance being thrown their way. As he attacked enemy sampans, junks, and other river craft, he called in for help from UH-1B Huey helicopters as the night fell on the South Vietnamese inlet where Williams and his crew were absolutely laying waste to the Viet Cong.
For three hours, Williams and company fought and wrecked an entire hub of VC shipping and supply along with the 65 boats and untold manpower defending it. The Navy wrecking crew killed 1,000 enemy troops in the process while disrupting the VC supply lines in the entire region.
Aside from the Medal of Honor he earned on that day, Williams other awards and decorations include the Navy Cross, the Silver Star with gold star, the Legion of Merit with combat V, the Navy and Marine Corps Medal with gold star, the Bronze Star with combat V and two gold stars, the Purple Heart with two gold stars and a ton of other unit commendations and service medals.
He left the military as a Boatswain’s Mate First Class, E-6, but was made an honorary Chief in 1977.
A US soldier accused of supporting the Islamic State believed that Hitler was right, the moon landings were fake, and 9/11 was an inside job.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Ikaika Erik Kang, arrested by an FBI SWAT team over the weekend after being accused of attempting to aid ISIS, was a noted conspiracy theorist, according to a soldier who knew him.
His former Army bunkmate from 2013, Dustin Lyles, told The Associated Press that he and Kang practiced martial arts together and discussed conspiracy theories, particularly the idea that the US staged the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Kang, who belongs to the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii and worked as an air traffic control operator, pledged allegiance to ISIS, and attempted to send classified and unclassified military documents to members of the terror group. He had no idea that these supposed members were actually undercover FBI agents.
Kang apparently told a confidential human source as recently as March that “Hitler was right, saying he believed in the mass killing of Jews,” according to court filings. He also said that America was the only terrorist organization in the world.
In addition to embracing conspiracy theories, Kang sought to provide support to ISIS in numerous ways, including wanting to provide combat training to help ISIS members.
Kang’s long history of strange statements and support for ISIS resulted in him losing his security clearance in 2012. For an unknown reason, his security clearance was reinstated in 2013 after he “complied with military requirements stemming from the investigation.” The Army finally referred Kang’s case to the FBI in 2016 for more serious investigation, which culminated in an arrest.
The Army declined to elaborate to The Daily Caller News Foundation on why Kang was permitted to regain his clearance after making pro-ISIS comments.
During World War II, Hitler personally ordered the construction of massive, steel-plated towers that bristled with anti-aircraft guns, tearing planes from the sky like King Kong on angel dust. For modern Germans, these nearly indestructible towers provide a unique problem: They don’t want to waste well-engineered buildings and materials, but they’re not super into maintaining relics of Nazi triumph.
So the Germans have found interesting ways to re-purpose the old fortresses.
A German flak tower under construction in 1942 as part of Germany’s defenses against Allied bombing raids. Some of the expensive towers have been re-purposed in the decades since the end of the war.
(German Military Archives)
The strategy of constructing the towers was questionable to begin with. It required massive amounts of concrete and steel for the walls that, in some cases, are over two feet thick. Construction in Berlin was completed in six months and additional towers were built in Vienna and Hamburg before Germany was defeated. Construction took so much material that rail shipments had to be rearranged around them, slowing the flow of needed materiel and troops to battlefields and factories.
Just the Zoo Tower in Berlin required 78,000 tons of gravel, 35,000 tons of cement, and 9,200 tons of steel. The towers were built in pairs. For each primary tower devoted to anti-aircraft operations there was a second tower that had some anti-aircraft weapons, but also sported communications and other support equipment.
But the towers, once completed, were nearly impregnable. They relied on no single support pillar, and nearly every structural support was so strong that they were almost impossible to destroy from outside. When Germany was conquered, Soviet forces who took Berlin had to lay siege out of range and negotiate a surrender of the towers.
But there was one major shortfall to the towers. They were designed to stop air raids on Berlin, and it was dangerous to attack the city within range of the towers. So, planes simply flew outside of their range or approached them en mass, fielding so many planes that the Germans simply couldn’t get all of them at once.
German soldiers man a flak gun on a tower in World War II. The massive towers were a significant obstruction to air raids on three German cities, but were part of a questionable military strategy.
(German Military Archives)
Plus, Germany lacked proximity fuses during the war, meaning their flak weapons were less effective than those used by the Allies — at least, when the Allies were willing to use the fuses and risk their capture.
After the towers finally surrendered, engineers worked to destroy them, but quickly found that massive amounts of explosives were needed and, even then, many would still stand. The Zoo Tower, mentioned above, survived two attempts at destruction. The first attempt used 25 tons of explosives and the building shrugged it off.
The third attempt, powered by 35 tons of dynamite, finally did the job.
Outside of Berlin, some of the towers survived destruction attempts while a few were simply left in place. Instead of destroying them, locals decided to re-purpose them over the years.
At first, Germans simply stripped the towers of valuable materials and left the steel-reinforced buildings in place. But, over the years, the brilliant German engineers found ways to make use of buildings with excellent thermal insulation and structural integrity.
A storehouse for art in Vienna, Germany.
(Photo by Bwag)
In Vienna, one of the six towers is now an aquarium maintained by the Aqua Terra Zoo. Visitors can see over 10,000 fish and other aquatic organisms in the tower. On the outside of the tower, visitors can use the climbing wall that has been added.
Another Vienna tower has been turned into an antenna for cellular phones, and one is used to store art in controlled conditions.
In Hamburg, two towers have been re-purposed. One holds nightclubs and businesses and the other provides energy storage for part of the city.
Solar collectors cover the tower and work with butane and wood burners to heat large water tanks inside the tower. The thick concrete walls provide insulation and the water is pumped to nearby buildings, heating them during the cold months. The tower is also used to generate electricity for 1,000 homes.
While most of the towers in Berlin were destroyed to one degree or another, in one case, the rubble was simply covered over with dirt, forming two hills in a public park for visitors to sit on.
Check out the YouTube video below from Real Engineering to learn more.
Ted Meyer is a Los Angeles-based artist, curator, and patient advocate who has been coloring the lives of those with traumatic injuries for 17 years with his project called “Scarred for Life: Mono-prints of Human Scars.”
“The whole idea is to tell their story by making a beautiful piece of art from their scar” Meyer said. “I do a print off their body and then I try to work in some of the details of what happened to them into the painting that I do over the print.”
Meyer is comfortable around hospitals because he was born with an enzyme deficiency that doctors believed would cut his life short. Fortunately, a treatment was found, and the breakthrough radically changed his life and artistic focus.
“I met a woman who was using a wheelchair with a broken back,” he recalled. “We had a long conversation one day and she told me I should keep doing my art because I still had a lot to say about it.”
He called the woman to do a print of her scars, and the public’s reaction to the artwork received was very different from that received by his paintings.
“People would come up to me after seeing the work and show me their scars,” Meyer said. “They take their shirt off, pull down their pants or lift up a dress, everybody wanted to tell me. That was seventeen years ago and I’ve been doing this since.”
Originally, Meyer shied away from printing veterans’ wounds. Though he comes from a family with military tradition, he didn’t feel he had the credentials to do it.
“I’m not in that world,” he said. “There’s a couple of other veteran projects and usually they have a much closer relationship to it than I do.”
That all changed a few years ago. Someone close to Meyer returned from Iraq after several tours as a helicopter pilot and killed himself.
“I thought I should approach this subject by letting people tell their stories, because he never told any of us that he was struggling,” Meyer said. “Apparently, he had some damage in his jaw from shrapnel, and they wouldn’t let him fly because the jaw was deteriorating.”
So Meyer decided to tell veteran stories, but that has created a different problem: He needs more veterans to become works of art. He was offered an exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, but he couldn’t find enough scarred vets to participate so he had to postpone the show indefinitely.
“I think it was very systemic of the fact that a very small percentage of people fight over there,” Meyer said. “It’s a different culture and these are people who have a different sense of what being patriotic and being an American and defending us is.”
One of Meyers’ subjects, Jerral Hancock, is missing an arm, is paralyzed, and burned.
“Almost his whole body is scarred from burns,” Meyer said. “He had a lot of texture, so I went in and I have his tank that he had been in sort of marching across, rolling across his scar. I try to give it a narrative, but also make it a beautiful piece of artwork.”
“It was cool seeing war and our scars put to art, and it was an interesting experience going through Ted’s art,” Hancock said. “I would recommend it to other vets because it helps show the reality of war for those who don’t understand the sacrifices made.”
Working with wounded warriors changed the way Meyer sees the veteran community. A man who spent his life with people in physical and emotional crisis gained an appreciation for a new group he’s never known and relates that experience to the world.
“They’ve given a tremendous amount and don’t feel bitter about it,” Meyers said. “There’s a moral integrity to that I find lacking most everywhere else.”
Meyer has an upcoming show for his “Scarred for Life” project at Muzeumm Gallery in Los Angeles from February 6th through March 1st. If you’re a veteran with scars and a story you’d like turned into art, contact Ted Meyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While everyone likes to talk about how scary the Spartans or Romans could be, it was the Mongols who pioneered new warfare tactics, used them to win battle after battle, and survived on a diet of horse blood and liquor to ride across whatever terrain they needed to in order to murder you.
The Mongols, made most famous by Genghis Khan after he established an empire in 1206, were centered in the steppes of central Asia. The empire would eventually cover over 9 million square miles, making it the largest land empire in world history.
Mongol success was due to a number of factors. They could be ruthless, allowing them to press the attack when most would back off. They had a good division of labor, with women taking on many camp and political duties while the men did the bulk of the fighting with few distractions. And their societal ties to horses made them highly mobile. So highly mobile that, in battle, they were some of the pioneers of “localized superiority of numbers,” a force concentration strategy where a smaller force could dominate a larger one by outnumbering the larger force at key points.
Basically, it doesn’t matter if you have three times the forces in the region if I have three times the forces at the objective — my team’s horses allow us to quickly hit objective after objective while your marching brethren are still plodding along the roads.
In one case in 1223, two of Genghis Khan’s lieutenants were riding with 20,000 men against 80,000 Russian troops. The horsemen conducted a controlled withdrawal, and the Russians pursued sloppily, allowing their column to get stretched out. After a week, the Russians were split up and the horsemen turned around, slamming their 20,000 troops against a couple thousands Russians at a time. The Mongols won handily, using bows and lances to kill Russian after Russian.
But as the Mongol Empire went to expand, the terrain began to limit them. Horse armies are perfect for traversing grasslands covered in animals, and are even good for mountains and forests, but trying to cross the most sparse parts of Asia was near impossible. The horde could face days of hard riding with barely enough food to sustain a few horsemen, let alone the 20,000 or more in the horde.
For instance, the 1223 attack against Russian forces required that the Mongols cross miles and miles of grasslands for days. They carried dried horse milk, dried meat, dried curds. Sure, it doesn’t sound appealing, but it could keep you going on the march.
But that would only buy the Mongols a few days. Since they also liked getting drunk, they usually carried horse liquor, which packed a lot of calories for relatively little weight. So, yeah, when the Mongol Horde rode out of the mists to slaughter you, they were drunk on horse when they did it.
But for even longer rides, famed explorer Marco Polo said things took a turn for the darker. See, the horsemen would get almost no sustenance from eating grass. It passes through the human digestion system while leaving almost no calories or nutrients behind.
But horses can eat grass just fine; it’s one of their primary foods. And so, in a pinch, the Mongols would cut a vein in their horse’s necks at the end of every day, taking a few swallows of blood that the horse could easily replace. It wasn’t much, but it allowed them to cross the grasses to the west and hit Russia and additional empires.
On the even darker side, they also allegedly ate human flesh when necessary. Even killing the attached human if horses and already-dead people were in short supply. So, you know, the Mongols were the monsters you heard about in history. But they were also tactical masterminds who embraced technology and strategy.
Few military units have ever had the effect on world history as did the Praetorian Guard. From the foundation of the Roman Empire until the reign of Constantine in 306, the Praetorians protected – and sometimes controlled – the leader of the most powerful empire on Earth.
Like other elite guard units to come, the Praetorian were loyal to the Emperor personally, not necessarily to Rome. At least, that’s how it started under Caesar Augustus.
Over the centuries, the unit began to slowly corrupt. It soon became comprised of members of noble families who conspired against the Emperor, even assassinating a number of them.
They weren’t limited to the role of a mere guards.The Praetorian Guard fought in wars, in the Colosseum and other games, were a secret police force, and acted as volunteer firefighters for Rome. They would assist the regular firefighters in fighting larger fires.
After a number of assassinations, the Praetorian took their meddling in government a little too far. They were bound to butt heads with some Roman Emperor – without being able to kill him first. That emperor was Constantine I.
The Praetorian Guard backed a pretender to the Roman throne. You can tell the pretender to a throne as opposed to the real Emperor because the pretender is usually filled with knives, spears, or poison.
Constantine defeated armies belonging to the General Licinius and Senator Maxentius and – unfortunately for the Praetorian – they backed Maxentius. Constantine liquidated and disbanded the Praetorian Guard, burned their barracks, and sent survivors to the far reaches of the Empire.
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Paul A. Yost, Jr., later a Commandant of the Coast Guard, was leading a group of 13 swift boats during the insertion of Navy Underwater Demolition Team-13 and some Vietnamese marines when his column came under attack from a Viet Cong ambush that managed to heavily damage multiple boats, kill American and Vietnamese troops, and isolate the last boat.
When Yost found out that his last boat was trapped in the kill zone and his other ships weren’t in shape to recover it, he took his command boat and one other back into the kill zone to rescue the sailors who were still under attack.
The other eight boats continued upriver. When they went to drop off their marines, a U.S. Marine major assigned as an advisor went to Yost and asked that the Vietnamese marines be dropped another mile upriver because the going was hard and no Viet Cong activity had been spotted. Yost agreed.
Just to be safe, Yost ordered the two Seawolf attack helicopters assigned to him be launched. They were based on a ship 15 minutes away, meaning they would arrive as the boats got to the more dangerous parts of the river.
But Yost’s superior, Navy Capt. Roy Hoffman, ordered the helicopters to sit tight, possibly to ensure that they wouldn’t run out of fuel before they were needed. Yost wasn’t told of the change.
Yost was in the second boat and ordered it to push through the kill zone, and the rest of the column followed.
The rear boat, PCF-43, was the slowest and needed maintenance, according to then-Lt. j.g. Virgil A. Erwin III — a boat commander during the operations. In addition to its maintenance issues, it was weighed down with 800 pounds of explosives, 10 UDTs, and all of their gear.
That boat was unable to keep up with the rest of the column as they pushed through the kill zone, and it was left as the sole target for a few fatal seconds during the ambush. The corpsman on board was hit with a rocket and killed just before another rocket struck the cabin, killing the boat commander and severely wounding the two others in the cabin.
The boat ran out of control and beached itself, hard, on a mudbank. It hit so hard that it slid most of the way out of the water, leaving the engine’s water intake above the waterline and making it impossible for the boat to propel itself back off.
As the engine overheated, the UDT members jumped from the boat and established a defensive perimeter behind it, using the wreck as cover from the Viet Cong fire coming from a mere 20 feet away.
The closest boat, PCF-38, attempted to assist PCF-43, but their steering gear was damaged and they were forced to head back upriver. Once they reached the lead perimeter, they alerted Yost to the state of PCF-43.
Yost took his craft, PCF-31, and the former lead boat, PCF-5, back downriver. Once they reached the ambush site, 5 and 31 began pouring .50-cal. rounds into the jungle and forced the Viet Cong fighters to take cover. As 5 kept the fire up, Yost and 31 pulled up to the stricken 43 and began evacuating the wounded and dead.
The two crafts escaped with 15 survivors and the bodies of the two men killed in action.
Just a few hours later, PCF-43 exploded. The most likely cause was that the engines, which typically were cooled by water flowing through the engine for propulsion, had overheated and set fire to the leaking fuel. The fuel ignited the explosives and the whole thing burned hot until the boat itself exploded.
After the outbreak of World War I, young Paul Kern joined millions of Hungarian countrymen in answering the call to avenge their fallen Archduke, Franz Ferdinand. He joined the Hungarian army and, shortly after, the elite corps of shock troops that would lead the way in clearing out Russian trenches on the Eastern front. In 1915, a Russian bullet went through his head, and he closed his eyes for the last time.
Which would be par for the course for many soldiers – except Kern’s eyes opened again in a field hospital.
Many, many other Austro-Hungarian eyes did not open again.
From the moment he recovered consciousness until his death in 1955, Kern did not sleep a wink. Though sleep is considered by everyone else to be a necessary part of human life. There are many physical reasons for this – sleep causes proteins in the brain to be released, it cuts off synapses that are unnecessary, and restores cognitive function. People who go without sleep have hallucinations and personality changes. Sleeplessness has even killed laboratory rats.
Doctors encountering Kern’s condition for the first time were always reportedly skeptical, but Kern traveled far and wide, allowing anyone who wanted to examine him to do so. The man was X-rayed in hospitals from Austria to Australia but not for reasons surrounding the bullet – the one that went through his right temple and out again – was ever found.
One doctor theorized that Kern would probably fall asleep for seconds at a time throughout the day, not realizing he had ever been asleep, but no one had ever noticed Kern falling asleep in such a way. Other doctors believed the bullet tore away all the physical area of the brain that needed to be replenished by sleep. They believed he would find only an early death because of it.
Kern did die at what would today be considered a relatively young age. His wakefulness caused headaches only when he didn’t rest his eyes for at least an hour a day in order to give his optic nerve a much-needed break. But since Paul Kern had an extra third of his days given back to him, he spent the time wisely, reading and spending time with his closest friends. It seems he made the most of the years that should have been lost to the Russian bullet in the first place.
Getting stuck behind enemy lines is a very real possibility during warfare, so the U.S. military puts service members through Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) training to increase the chances that troops will make it back to friendly lines safely.
1. The first step for troops who have gone down behind enemy lines is to escape their crash site. If they land in the water, their parachutes or vehicles could potentially drown them.
2. Once service members get away from their crash sites, they have to hide or destroy any equipment they can’t take with them. Many items are buried.
3. The survivors need to keep moving, getting as much distance as they can from where enemy patrols will search for them.
4. While on the move, escapees camouflage themselves with mud, grass, and other materials to make themselves harder to spot.
5. It’s not enough to simply move from the crash site, they have to plan a route to safety while avoiding areas of known enemy activity.
6. Personnel at risk of becoming isolated are given radios and a plan for signaling for help. They attempt to contact friendly forces at scheduled times.
7. After most attempt to establish contact, they’ll again move positions to reduce the chance enemies can track them down.
8. Troops are trained to overcome problems with equipment. Here, airmen practice using the “stick and shadow” method of determining compass directions.
9. Throughout all of this, survivors need water to keep going. It’s important to source water carefully and treat it with pellets, filters, or sunlight before drinking it.
10. For warmth and cooking food, it’s best to start a fire. While some fish and most plants can be eaten raw, fire is needed to prepare most meat and insects.
11. While a big fire can provide more warmth and light, survivors evading an enemy have to be careful that they don’t give away their position with the light or smoke.
12. Because hunting is risky, isolated personnel are expected to largely forage for food. Here, an airman picks pieces of grasshopper from his mouth after eating one.
13. In the event they run into enemy forces, troops are trained on how to overcome an adversary even if they’re caught without a weapon.
14. Once rescue forces are in the area, isolated survivors will signal them for pickup. Smoke looks cool, but troops commonly create signals with dead plants and brush on the ground.
15. At night, flares or infrared strobe lights that can only be seen with night-vision goggles are commonly employed. This gives the aircrew the pickup site’s exact location.
16. At the pickup site, rescue crews are ready for most contingencies. Combat rescue personnel like this one can dive into the water, drop into thick jungle, or fight their way to wounded personnel for recovery.
Japan conducted a surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941 that ultimately brought the United States into World War II.
What most people don’t know is that Japan conducted two surprise attacks on the U.S. mainland less than a year later, with the goal of starting wildfires. Now known as the Lookout Air Raids, beginning on Sep. 9, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast of Oregon, assembled a seaplane, and pilot Nobuo Fujita took off toward the Oregon forests.
Here’s what happened next, according to the Los Angeles Times:
At 6:24 a.m. Mr. Howard Gardner, a forestry service observer on Mt. Emily reported seeing an unidentified seaplane come from the west, circle and return toward the sea. He described the plane as a single-motored biplane with a single float and small floats on the wing tips. The plane appeared to be small and of slow speed. It had no lights, no distinct color and no insignia was visible. It is possible that a plane of this type might have been carried on a submarine.
Fortunately, it wasn’t the best time to start a fire since the area was so damp. While Fujita did successfully drop his bombs and start a small fire, it didn’t turn into the hoped-for wildfires that would take valuable resources away from the war effort.
Three weeks later, Fujita gave it another try with two more bombs, and once again, he was unsuccessful.
In his obituary in 1997, The New York Times wrote:
A quiet, humble man who in his later years was deeply ashamed of his air raids on the United States, Mr. Fujita eventually forged a remarkable bond of friendship with the people of Brookings, the small logging town whose surrounding forests he had bombed. Last week, as he lay dying, the town council of Brookings hailed Mr. Fujita an ”ambassador of good will” and proclaimed him an ”honorary citizen” of the town.
His mission was unsuccessful but he was hailed as a hero back in Japan. And Fujita did earn his place in history as the pilot flying the only enemy aircraft that has ever bombed the U.S. mainland.
At a little after two o’clock in the morning on Monday, January 19, 1942, an earthquake-like rumble tossed fifteen-year-old Gibb Gray from his bed. Furniture shook, glass and knickknacks rattled, and books fell from shelves as a thundering roar vibrated through the walls of the houses in Gibb’s Outer Banks village of Avon. Surprised and concerned, Gibb’s father rushed to the windows on the house’s east side and looked toward the ocean.
“There’s a fire out there!” he shouted to his family.
Clearly visible on the horizon, a great orange fireball had erupted. A towering column of black smoke blotted out the stars and further darkened the night sky.
Only seven miles away, a German U-boat had just torpedoed the 337-foot-long U.S. freighter, City of Atlanta, sinking the ship and killing all but three of the 47 men aboard. The same U-boat attacked two more ships just hours later.
Less than six weeks after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the hostilities of the Second World War had arrived on America’s East Coast and North Carolina’s beaches. This was not the first time that German U-boats had come to United States waters. During World War I, three U-boats sank ten ships off the Tar Heel coast in what primarily was considered a demonstration of German naval power. But by 1942, U-boats had become bigger, faster, and more deadly. Their presence in American waters was not intended for “show” but to help win World War II for Germany.
The abbreviated name “U-boat” comes from the German wordunterseeboot, meaning submarine or undersea boat. However, U-boats were not true submarines. They were warships that spent most of their time on the surface. They could submerge only for limited periods — mostly to attack or evade detection by enemy ships, and to avoid bad weather.
U-boats could only travel about sixty miles underwater before having to surface for fresh air. They often attacked ships while on the surface using deck-mounted guns. Typically, about 50 men operated a U-boat. The boats carried fifteen torpedoes, or self-propelled “bombs,” which ranged up to twenty-two feet long and could travel thirty miles per hour. Experts have described German U-boats as among the most effective and seaworthy warships ever designed.
Within hours of the U-boat attack near Avon, debris and oil began washing up on the beaches. This scene seemed to be repeated constantly. For the next six months, along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, at least sixty-five different German U-boats attacked American and British merchant ships carrying vital supplies to the Allies in Europe — cargos of oil, gasoline, raw vegetables and citrus products, lumber and steel, aluminum for aircraft construction, rubber for tires, and cotton for clothing. By July of 1942, 397 ships had been sunk or damaged. More than 5,000 people had been killed.
The greatest concentration of U-boat attacks happened off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where dozens of ships passed daily. So many ships were attacked that, in time, the waters near Cape Hatteras earned a nickname: “Torpedo Junction.” U.S. military and government authorities didn’t want people to worry, so news reports of enemy U-boats near the coast were classified, or held back from the public for national security reasons. For many years, most people had no idea how bad things really were. But families living on the Outer Banks knew—they were practically in the war.
“We’d hear these explosions most any time of the day or night and it would shake the houses and sometimes crack the walls,” remembered Blanche Jolliff, of Ocracoke village. Even though ships were being torpedoed by enemy U-boats almost every day, just a few miles away, coastal residents had no choice but to live as normally as possible.
“We sort of got used to hearing it,” Gibb Gray said. “The explosions were mostly in the distance, so we weren’t too scared. I remember we were walking to school one day, and the whole ground shook. We looked toward the ocean, just beyond the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, and there was another huge cloud of smoke. That was the oil tanker, Dixie Arrow.”
Some Outer Bankers came closer to the war than they would have preferred. Teenager Charles Stowe, of Hatteras, and his father were headed out to sea aboard their fishing boat one day when they nearly rammed a U-boat, which was rising to the surface directly in front of them. The elder Stowe’s eyesight was not very good. He told his son, who was steering their boat, to keep on going—he thought the vessel ahead was just another fishing boat.
“I said, ‘Dad, that is a German submarine!’ And it sure was,” Stowe recalled. “He finally listened to me, and we turned around and got out of there just in time.”
The war cut back on one favorite summer pastime for Outer Banks young people. “That summer we had to almost give up swimming in the ocean — it was just full of oil, you’d get it all over you,” Mrs. Ormond Fuller recalled of the oil spilled by torpedoed tankers.
Gibb Gray remembered the oil, too: “We’d step in it before we knew it, and we’d be five or six inches deep. We’d have to scrub our feet and legs with rags soaked in kerosene. It’s hard to get off, that oil.” It is estimated that 150 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea and on the beaches along the Outer Banks during 1942.
Some local residents thought Germans might try to sneak ashore. Others suspected strangers of being spies for the enemy.
“We were frightened to death. We locked our doors at night for the first time ever,” said Ocracoke’s Blanche Styron. Calvin O’Neal remembered strangers with unusual accents who stayed at an Ocracoke hotel during the war: “The rumor was they were spies, and the hotel owner’s daughter and I decided to be counterspies, and we tried our best to follow them around, but we never caught them doing anything suspicious.”
At Buxton, Maude White was the village postmistress and a secret coast watcher for the U.S. Navy. She was responsible for observing unusual activities and reporting them to the local Coast Guard. In 1942 one couple with German accents attracted attention by drawing maps and taking notes about the island. White became suspicious, and so did her daughter, who would follow the pair from a distance — riding her beach pony.
After being reported by White, the strangers were apprehended when they crossed Oregon Inlet on the ferry. Records fail to indicate whether or not the strangers really were spies, but White’s daughter became the inspiration for the heroine in author Nell Wise Wechter’s book Taffy of Torpedo Junction.
Slowly but surely, increased patrols by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, and planes of the Army Air Corps, began to prevent the U-boat attacks. Blimps from a station at Elizabeth City searched for U-boats from high above, while private yachts and sailboats with two-way radios were sent out into the ocean to patrol and harass German warships. The military set up top-secret submarine listening and tracking facilities at places like Ocracoke to detect passing U-boats.
Many people who lived along the coast during World War II remember having to turn off their house lights at night and having to put black tape over their car headlights, so that lights on shore would not help the Germans find their way in the darkness. Even so, the government did not order a general blackout until August 1942. By then, most of the attacks had ended.
On April 14, 1942, the first German U-boat fought by the American navy in U.S. waters was sunk sixteen miles southeast of Nags Head. Within the next couple of months, three more U-boats were sunk along the North Carolina coast: one by a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber, one by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol ship, and one by a U.S. Navy destroyer. North Carolina’s total of four sunken U-boats represents the most of any state.
By that July, the commander of Germany’s U-boats became discouraged. He redirected his remaining warships to the northern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, Germany considered its attacks against the United States a success, even if they failed to win the war. Gerhard Weinberg, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has since called the war zone off the U.S. coast in 1942 “the greatest single defeat ever suffered by American naval power.”
As the years have passed, most of the physical evidence of World War II U-boat encounters off North Carolina’s coast has vanished. Submerged off the state’s beaches are the remains of at least 60 ships and countless unexploded torpedoes, depth charges, and contact mines. Even today, small patches of blackened sand offer reminders of the massive oil spills of 1942. On Ocracoke Island and at Cape Hatteras, cemeteries contain the graves of six British sailors who perished in North Carolina’s waters.
In spite of those stats, most Americans don’t know about the time when war came so close.
Kevin P. Duffus is an author and documentary filmmaker specializing in North Carolina maritime history. He has lectured for the North Carolina Humanities Council on topics that included World War II along the state’s coast.
Beginning in early August, the US Marines aboard the USS Wasp have conducted airstrikes against ISIS’ Libyan stronghold of Sirte from the Mediterranean. This has forced the group to retreat to a point where the Marines can now use the big guns: AH-1W SuperCobra attack choppers.
While drones and Harrier jump jets launched from the deck of the USS Wasp helicopter carrier had been attacking ISIS targets in Libya for weeks, the use of the SuperCobra represents a change in tactics.
Because helicopters can hover, loiter, and maneuver easily, they are ideal for seeking out hidden targets in urban areas. ISIS has been forced to retreat as Libyan and US forces drive the group into the “densest, most built-up part” of Sirte, a Defense Department official told The Washington Post. The birthplace of former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Sirte is an important port city in the divided nation.
The SuperCobra attack choppers are guided by US Special Forces on the ground in Libya along with other allied and Libyan forces aligned with the Government of National Accord, a UN-backed government that has requested US assistance in riding the country of ISIS.
Sirte’s position in the Mediterranean means it could be a staging point for ISIS looking to mount attacks in Europe. The power vacuum left over from the death of Gaddafi in 2011, as well as internal disagreements in Libya, has caused the country to become a hub of crime and human trafficking.
Though Libya remains divided, the ousting of ISIS can only be a good thing for the country’s stability. A recent statement from US Africom said only a few hundred or so ISIS fighters remained in Libya.