How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Morris “Moe” Berg’s dying words — “How did the Mets do today?” — were on brand for the 70-year-old New York native who enjoyed a 15-year career in Major League Baseball before America entered World War II.

Sports columnist John Kieran called Berg “The Professor” on account of his reputation as an Ivy League-educated linguist and lawyer, a mentor and coach to younger MLB players, and a newspaper-devouring raconteur who earned fanfare as a repeat contestant on the NBC radio quiz show “Information Please.”

His 1972 New York Times obituary eulogized, first and foremost, the “catcher in majors who spoke 10 languages.”


But the brainy 6-foot-1-inch bullpen catcher with an unspectacular batting average had another career entirely: He was a World War II secret agent who gathered intelligence on three continents for the US government.

“We often think about athletes just playing ball and going in for records. But Moe, Ted Williams twice, Joe DiMaggio — they went off and risked their lives and their careers to serve,” said filmmaker Aviva Kempner, who illuminates Berg’s life and legacy in her 2019 documentary, “ The Spy Behind Home Plate.”

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Washington Senator Joe Kuhel (left) with Moe Berg (right).

(Alchetron)

Berg’s particular line of work during the war — he ultimately served as a spy for the Manhattan Project while working for the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA — further differentiated him. Who else would sit in the dugout talking about whether Mussolini would win or not?” Kempner said.

As the surviving members of the Greatest Generation dwindle and tensions rise among 21st-century nuclear-armed powers, Kempner emphasizes the need to learn about veterans and remember their contributions and sacrifices.

“It’s important to know who our unknown heroes are and what they did,” she said.

Here’s a window into Berg’s life and transition from multilingual ballplayer to World War II nuclear spy.

He was the son of immigrants.

Moe Berg was born in Harlem in 1902. He was the third child of Bernard Berg and Rose Taschker, Jewish immigrants from Ukraine, who came to the US seeking economic opportunity and religious freedom.

The Bergs moved to Newark, New Jersey, where Bernard opened a pharmacy. Education was paramount, and Bernard in particular expected his kids to pursue one of three professions: lawyer, doctor, or teacher.

From his early days, Moe had a rocket arm and a photographic memory.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Moe Berg’s passport.

As a 7-year-old, he played baseball on a church team using the pseudonym “Runt Wolfe.” He excelled on the field and in the classroom, initially studying at New York University. He transferred to Princeton University, where he was a star on the baseball team and in the modern languages department.

The popular, idiosyncratic scholar-athlete turned down an offer to join one of Princeton’s exclusive eating clubs, purportedly after being told that while he’d be more than welcome, he shouldn’t think of bringing other Jews around.

He spent off-seasons studying law at Columbia University and traveling the world.

After Berg graduated college, the Brooklyn Robins (now the Los Angeles Dodgers) and the New York Giants were interested in recruiting him, in part because they thought he’d help draw the city’s relatively large Jewish population.

He joined the Robins and played in the minor leagues. His technical skills and lack of offensive power inspired the phrase “good field, no hit.” He went on to play for the Chicago White Sox.

At the time, major leaguers worked in the spring and summer and were off the rest of the year. Berg used his baseball earnings to travel. He studied Sanskrit at the Sorbonne in Paris and wrote of how much he enjoyed French “wine, women, and song.”

Largely to appease his father, Berg also enrolled at Columbia Law School and arrived late to spring training while finishing his first year. The following year, the White Sox owner denied Berg’s request to arrive late again, so Berg arranged to leave school early and make up his courses. He’d go on to pass the bar and join the firm Satterlee and Canfield.

But baseball was his priority and ultimately how he made his living throughout the 1930s. He said he would rather be a baseball player than a Supreme Court justice.

He became a catcher by accident.

In 1927, White Sox catcher turned manager Ray Schalk, in a pinch during a game, called out to the bench asking if anyone could catch. Berg tried to volunteer the player next to him. But Schalk thought Berg, a shortstop, was volunteering and put him in without being corrected.

“If it doesn’t turn out well, please send the body to Newark,” Berg reportedly told his teammates. He took to catching. He and his second baseman communicated about the opposing team’s base runners in Latin.

If the runner trying to steal understood Latin, Berg said they’d switch to Sanskrit.

He made two trips to Japan “for baseball” in the 1930s, capturing panoramic footage of Tokyo that is believed to have been used to plan the 1942 Doolittle Raid, the US’s first bombing raid on Japan in World War II.

With Japan already at war with China, the Japanese government was becoming increasingly militarized. (Japan and China clashed from 1931 to 1932 and again between 1937 and 1945.) Meanwhile, Japanese citizens were growing interested in America’s favorite pastime.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Two Japanese naval vessels, left foreground, at Yokosuka Naval Base near Yokohama, directly in the path of bombs from Maj. Gen. James Doolittle’s raiders, April 18, 1942.

(Library of Congress)

In 1932, Berg was among a group of major leaguers sent to Tokyo to coach Japanese college players in hitting, base-stealing, and other skills. When the tour ended and Ted Lyons and Lefty O’Doul returned home, Berg stayed, traveling around Asia by himself.

He ended his trip in Berlin, and he saw firsthand the beginning of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, along with then-Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini’s fascist influence on the Nazi movement.

Back in the US, Berg played on the Washington Senators, frequenting embassy parties in DC, before being dropped and picked up by the Cleveland Indians.

In 1934, the Soviet Union briefly invaded China, and with tensions rising in the Pacific, the US sent an all-star roster of American League players on a tour of Japan to compete against Japanese teams in a friendly 18-game series.

The players would also serve as goodwill ambassadors, as the All-American Japan Tour was an attempt to bolster Japanese-American relations through a shared interest in baseball.

While Berg had set a league record for catching 117 games straight without an error, he didn’t have the same hall-of-famer status as other recruits, like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earl Averil, and Lefty Gomez. But he had been to Japan before, and when catcher Rick Ferrell dropped off the All-Americans roster just before the tour, Berg readily accepted the invitation.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Moe Berg, second from the left in the first row, with other members of the “All Americans” on a visit Nagoya Castle during a free day on the 1934 exhibition.

(CIA Museum)

He studied Japanese on the deck of the ship during the three-week journey across the Pacific. Upon arriving, Babe Ruth heard Berg greet a fan in Japanese. Ruth said he thought Berg claimed not to know Japanese. Berg said that he hadn’t a few weeks before.

“Shhh.”

Berg traveled with a 16 mm Bell and Howell movie camera, seemingly undeterred by leaflets distributed by police warning people not to make maps or capture images, which the Japanese feared could be used against them in war.

He also carried an official letter of introduction from US Secretary of State Cordell Hull.

On one occasion, Berg peeled off from his teammates and went to the roof of a Tokyo hospital, then the city’s tallest building. He wore a Japanese kimono and slippers, and he had flowers and an alibi that he was visiting an ambassador’s daughter who’d just had a baby.

But he threw out the flowers and ended up on the roof, where he shot a panorama of the Tokyo skyline, including the harbor and industrial centers. The US would later use the shots as reconnaissance footage to inform wartime military strategy and plan bombing raids.

How Berg delivered the footage to the US government remains murky. He was known for answering questions about his government work by putting his finger to his lips and saying, “shhh.”

When pressed on how he’d left the hospital with the movie camera, he supposedly responded, “What made you think I had anything in my kimono other than my big pecs and biceps?”

During World War II, he retired his Red Sox uniform to work for the government.

Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, killed more than 2,300 Americans and catapulted the US into World War II. Millions of Americans joined up. Before Berg’s father died in January 1942, he asked his sons, “Why aren’t you contributing to this war?”

Berg left the Red Sox to work for the Office of Inter-American Affairs, a government agency President Franklin Roosevelt founded to counter Axis propaganda in Latin America.

In February 1942, Berg made a radio broadcast addressing the people of Japan, in Japanese, asking for peace; he identified himself as “a friend of the Japanese people” and urged listeners to avoid “a war you cannot win.”

That summer, his work took him to Central and South America, ostensibly as an goodwill ambassador distributing baseball gear. He fed reports on the political situation to his boss, Inter-American Affairs Coordinator Nelson Rockefeller.

The OSS tapped him as a nuclear spy who carried out acts of espionage and sabotage to thwart Hitler’s nuclear program.

In the wake of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt recognized the importance of strong foreign intelligence to the Allied war effort. In 1942, he signed an executive order forming the OSS, a clandestine espionage and sabotage agency directed by Gen. William “Wild Bill” Donovan.

Donovan, a Republican, was Roosevelt’s Columbia Law classmate and a World War I general turned Wall Street lawyer. As the founding father of America’s CIA forerunner, Donovan recruited a diverse cast of military and civilian personnel whom he fondly regarded as his “Glorious Amateurs.”

At its peak in 1944, the OSS employed some 13,000 men and women, with personnel stationed across the world, working not only as field agents but also as codebreakers, researchers, mapmakers, psychologists, scientists, and propagandists who carried out special operations and information warfare.

Berg was recruited to the OSS in 1943.

With his unusual aptitude, agility, language skills, and information-gathering experience, Berg became the OSS agent that Donovan designated to support the government’s top-secret initiative to develop its first nuclear weapons, codenamed the Manhattan Project.

It was an undertaking so covert that Roosevelt supposedly didn’t even tell then-Vice President Harry Truman about it.

Leading researchers and scientists, including Albert Einstein, briefed Berg, teaching him what they hoped would be sufficient background on atomic energy and their adversaries’ efforts so Berg could collect vital information and assets from occupied Europe.

In 1944, Berg moved throughout war-ravaged Italy to track down important Italian scientists and documents in danger of falling into Hitler’s hands.

“I see Moe is still catching very well,” Roosevelt said after learning Berg had located and extracted Italy’s foremost expert in aerodynamics, Antonio Ferri.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Berg in a photo published upon his release from the Red Sox on Jan. 14, 1942.

(CIA Museum)

Ferri had destroyed lab equipment that could help the Axis and gone into hiding in the mountains with a crate of scientific documents. He raised a resistance circuit carrying out guerilla operations to thwart the Axis and enable Allied air drops. Berg and Ferri connected and began parsing and translating the scientific documents.

With special permission from Roosevelt, Ferri entered the US with a suitcase and the crate of documents and was escorted to the nation’s leading aeronautics research center, in Langley, Virginia.

As Manhattan Project scientists raced to develop the atomic bombs that America would drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, its leaders remained concerned with where Hitler stood with any similar efforts.

If the Axis powers were making progress, it would likely involve German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg, a Nobel Prize winner who remained in Germany during the war.

In December 1944, Berg was sent to neutral Switzerland for a conference at the University of Zurich with a pistol, a cyanide tablet, and a false identity as a Swiss physics student. His mission was to attend an intimate lecture that Heisenberg was giving at the conference.

If Heisenberg mentioned working on a nuclear bomb, Berg was to stand up and shoot Heisenberg point blank, with the understanding that this would also mean being killed himself.

Between the German language and the deeply technical physics terminology, Berg left the lecture unsure of what Heisenberg knew. He ended up complimenting Heisenberg on his talk and later insisting on escorting him to his hotel.

In the resulting report, which was read by Roosevelt, Berg determined that Heisenberg had low confidence in the German effort and that Hitler was at least two years behind the Manhattan Project.

Berg died in Belleville, New Jersey, in 1972 at the age of 70, after a fall at his home.

In 2018, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi awarded a Congressional Gold Medal to OSS personnel. The presentation of Congress’s highest civilian honor marked the first collective recognition of the OSS, which President Harry Truman disbanded in 1945.

Truman formed the CIA in 1947 from the old OSS headquarters. While Donovan was not employed by America’s post-war intelligence organization, many of his “Glorious Amateurs” were, and four would go on to hold the agency’s top post.

A bronze statue of Donovan — and an OSS book of honor naming the 116 OSS members who were killed during World War II — are on display in the lobby of the CIA’s current headquarters in Langley.

Berg declined the Medal of Freedom in 1946. He never married or had children. He led a nomadic existence, traveling and, in his later years, living with his sister, Ethel, in New Jersey.

Ethel Berg accepted his Medal of Honor after his death and donated it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown New York, where it is on display, along with his catcher’s mitt and passport.

Ethel took Berg’s ashes to Israel, but to this day, no one knows where his remains are buried.

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

MIGHTY MOVIES

4 things you didn’t know about Oliver Stone’s classic ‘Platoon’

There are a lot of war movies to choose from, but not many of them are directed from the perspective of a man who lived through the mental torture that was the Vietnam War.

With Platoon, critically acclaimed writer-director Oliver Stone (an Army veteran) transports audiences back to that politically charged time in American history where the war efforts of our brave service members were met with disdain upon returning home.


How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Filmmaker and Vietnam veteran Oliver Stone.
(oliverstone.com)

Platoon, fueled by Stone’s unique vision, features some of the most electric, emotionally driven scenes to ever hit the big screen. Although the film won several awards, there are a few things you probably didn’t know about this iconic war movie.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Filipino protesters linked arms whenever forces attempted to disperse them.

(Photo by Romeo Mariano)

The Philippines Revolution of 1986

Talented actor Willem Dafoe, who played Sgt. Elias in the film, decided that he needed to head to the Philippines before the rest of the cast to get acclimated before shooting. After arriving and taking a brief nap, Dafoe awoke and opened his hotel room’s curtains only to watch a column of tanks drive down the street.

The Philippines Revolution had just kicked off.

From the moment the actors landed, they were treated like infantrymen

Capt. Dale Dye (a Marine veteran) made the actors get haircuts and speak to one another using only character names. Many of the actors were sitting pretty stateside just 48 hours earlier. Suddenly, they were being treated like soldiers.

While the actors were digging their fighting holes with e-tools in the jungle, one of the special effects masterminds on set, Yves De Bono, planted explosive charges nearby to help transform the thespians into hardened grunts.

Once Capt. Dye gave the signal, the charges exploded as planned, taking the actors by complete surprise.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Lerner (played by Johnny Depp) carries a young girl through a Vietnam village

(Orion Pictures)

Johnny Depp fell asleep on post

While in training, Depp was assigned to man a post when he started drifting off to sleep. The young actor woke to a gun pressed to the back of his neck. Capt. Dye informed Depp that he had just been killed.

www.youtube.com

They were too high to film a scene the right way

Remember that scene where everyone got high? Well, that was real, according to actor Willem Dafoe. During an interview for a behind-the-scenes documentary, the cast got pretty high before the lights and camera were set up. However, once they were ready to film, their marijuana “high” was more like a “Mary Jane down.”

The castmates became very sleepy and, according to a chuckling Dafoe, everyone was “useless.”

Articles

This was the most devastating submarine attack in World War II

Submarines have killed a lot of ships over the course of history. Granted, in the 72 years since World War II ended, the total has been very small. Prior to that, tens of thousands of ships were hit by submarine attack.


Ironically, while an American sub has claim to the largest ship ever sunk by submarine, a Japanese sub, the I-19, can arguably claim it deserves credit for the most devastation in a single attack.

The date was Sept. 15, 1942. The United States was running a large convoy to support elements of the 1st Marine Division on Guadalcanal. The carrier USS Wasp (CV 7) was among the escorting force, which included the battleship USS North Carolina (BB 55), the cruisers USS Helena (CL 50) and USS Salt Lake City (CA 25), and a number of destroyers, including USS Laffey (DD 459) and USS O’Brien (DD 415).

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Japanese submarine I-19. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Wasp’s design had been dictated by limits imposed by the 1921 Washington Naval Treaty. In essence, she was a scaled-down Yorktown-class design, displacing about 14,900 tons compared to the 20,100 tons of Yorktown (CV 5), Enterprise (CV 6), and Hornet (CV 8). At the time of the Guadalcanal campaign, Wasp carried 25 F4F Wildcats, 26 SBD Dauntless, and 9 TBF Avengers. A potent force, it had missed the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.

According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the I-19 made her attack around 2:44 PM, firing six torpedoes. Three hit the Wasp forward, where aircraft fuel and munitions were stored. The torpedoes fatally wounded the carrier. In 36 minutes, it was obvious the Wasp had to be abandoned. But the spread did more.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
USS O’Brien (DD 415) hit by a torpedo fired by I-19 as USS Wasp (CV 7) burns fro three other torpedo hits from the same spread. (US Navy photo)

One torpedo hit the battleship North Carolina, tearing a good-sized hole in the fast battleship, but only did minor damage. A 5.5-degree list got corrected in less than six minutes, per DANFS. A fifth torpedo hit the destroyer USS O’Brien in the bow, in what appeared to be minor impact at first. O’Brien would sail under her own power to a series of forward bases. But on Oct. 19, 1942, effects of the hit caused the destroyer to break in half and sink after a 3,000 mile journey.

The I-19 would escape after this brilliant attack, but eventually karma exacted its price. During the Gilbert Islands campaign, the submarine was located by the USS Radford (DD 446) and sunk with all hands. The video below shows some of USS Wasp’s moments of agony after the torpedo attack.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This video provides interesting details about the iconic F-117 jet

As we have explained in posts we have published recently, F-117s continue to zip through the Nevada skies despite being officially retired in 2008. Actually, the iconic stealth jet is doing probably much more than “just flying around”. The most recent sightings have seen the aircraft actively taking part in seemingly complex missions, flying the aggressor role alongside 57th Wing F-16s as The War Zone reported just a few days ago.


Anyway, it’s certain that some F-117s have been retired once for all. In November 2014, we spotted an F-117 fuselage being transported on a truck trailer was seen back on Nov. 14, 2017. More recently, on Aug. 16, 2019 at 4:09 PM aviation expert and photographer Chris McGreevy spotted another fuselage being hauled by a truck along Columbia Way (Ave. M) near the joint military/civilian use Palmdale Regional Airport outside Palmdale, California. While we don’t know where the first F-117 ended, we know everything about the latter one: nicknamed “Unexpected Guest”, the aircraft in question was #803 (82-0803), an F-117 that entered active service in 1984, flew 78 combat missions (the most of any Nighthawk) starting from Panama’s “Just Cause” operation and was retired in 2007 after logging 4,673 Flight Hours.

Peace Through Strength: F-117 Display at Ronald Reagan Presidential Library

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The “Unexpected Guest” was prepared for public display at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, through an operation dubbed Operation Nighthawk Landing. The interesting video was released for the official ribbon-cutting ceremony held on Dec. 7, 2019, during the Reagan Foundation and Institute’s annual Reagan National Defense Forum. It includes footage of the F-117 stealth jets throughout their career, from the era when they flew under the cover of darkness at Tonopah, when an early form of biometric scanner called the Identimat built by Stellar Systems was used, to their last days of official operations before “retirement” (or something like that….). Long live the Stealth Jet!!

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

MIGHTY TRENDING

VA and DoD Identification Card Renewal and Issuance Guidance During the Coronavirus Pandemic

VA and the Department of Defense (DoD) have taken action to minimize the number of non-essential required visits to identification (ID) card offices during the coronavirus public health emergency. If you have a VA or DoD ID card that has expired or is getting ready to expire, here are your options.


VA-issued Veteran Health Identification Cards (VHIC):

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, Veterans enrolled in VA health care who are seeking a brand new VHIC (initial) should contact their local VA medical facility for guidance on going to facility to request a card. Once issued, cards are valid for 10 years.
  • Most Veterans will be able obtain a replacement VHIC (not initial VHIC) by contacting their local VA medical facility and making their request by phone, or they can call 877-222-8387, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET. Once their identity has been verified, a replacement card will be mailed to them.

DoD-issued ID Cards:

Detailed information concerning DoD ID Card operations during the coronavirus pandemic can be found at the DoD Response to COVID-19 – DoD ID Cards and Benefits webpage (https://www.CAC.mil/coronavirus).

For all information regarding DoD-issued ID cards, please contact the Defense Manpower Data Center Identity and ID Card Policy Team at dhracacpolicy@mail.mil. Limited information follows:

Common Access Cards (CAC) (including military and civilian personnel):

  • DoD civilian cardholders who are transferring jobs within DoD are authorized to retain their active CAC.
  • Cardholders whose DoD-issued CAC is within 30 days of expiration may update their certificates online to extend the life of the CAC through Sept. 30, 2020, without having to visit a DoD ID card office in person for reissue. Directions for this procedure may be found at https://www.CAC.mil/coronavirus under News and Updates / User Guide – Updating CAC/VoLAC Certificates.
  • Cardholders whose DoD-issued CAC has expired will have to visit a DoD ID card office in person for reissuance. Visit http://www.dmdc.osd.mil/rsl to find a DoD ID card office near you and schedule an appointment at https://rapids-appointments.dmdc.osd.mil.

DoD-issued Uniformed Services ID Cards (USID) (including Reservist, military retiree, 100% disabled Veteran, and authorized dependent ID cards):

  • Expiration dates on USID cards will be automatically extended to Sept. 30, 2020, within DEERS for cardholders whose affiliation with DoD has not changed but whose USID card has expired after Jan. 1, 2020.
  • Sponsors of USID card holders may make family member enrollment and eligibility updates remotely.
  • Initial issuance for first-time USID card-eligible individuals may be done remotely with an expiration date of one year from date of issue. The minimum age for first-time issuance for eligible family members has been temporarily increased from 10 to 14 years of age.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a guy hid actual treasure somewhere in the Rockies

Born on Aug. 22, 1930, in Temple, Texas, Forrest Fenn did not begin his life wealthy, with his father working to support the family via a job as a principal at a local school. Things would change, however, during the latter half of his life thanks to a love of exploring and collecting various artifacts. His first such object was a simple arrow head he found when he was nine years old, something he still has to this day some eight decades later. Said Fenn, “I was exhilarated and it started me on a lifelong adventure of discovering and collecting things.”

After finishing school, Fenn decided to do a little exploring on the government’s dime, joining the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and traveling the world. Ultimately rising to the rank of Major, as well as flying a remarkable 328 combat missions in one year during Vietnam, he used his free time while in the service to search for artifacts wherever he was. Among many other finds during his time in the Air Force he reportedly discovered such things as a spearhead in the Sahara desert dated to around the 6th century BC and even a jar still filled with olive oil from Ancient Rome.


When he finally retired from the service, he decided to see if he could make a career out of his hobby, opening a shop, Fenn Galleries, with his wife and a business partner, Rex Arrowsmith, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The business ultimately became extremely successful, apparently grossing a whopping million per year in sales at its peak.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Giphy

Fast-forwarding almost two decades later, in 1987, Fenn’s father died of pancreatic cancer. Things got worse the next year when Fenn himself was diagnosed with kidney cancer. During treatment, his doctors told him there was about an 80% chance of his cancer being terminal within a few years.

And so it was that with more money and valuable objects than anyone in his family would need when he was gone, he decided he’d like to use some of his artifacts to inspire people to get out of their homes and go exploring. As he noted a couple decades later in an interview with The Albuquerque Journal in 2013, “I’m trying to get fathers and mothers to go out into the countryside with their children. I want them to get away from the house and away from the TV and the texting.”

His method for doing this was, in 1990, to purchase an approximately 800 year old bronze chest for ,000 (about ,000 today) and then place inside of it a slew of valuables including rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and emeralds; several antique items including pre-Columbian gold figures; a 2,000 year old necklace; a Spanish ring covered in gems from the 17th century; well over 100 gold nuggets of various sizes; 256 gold coins; and, finally, an autobiography of himself written in ultra small print and encased in a sealed jar. To ensure it could be readily read by the discoverer, he helpfully also included a magnifying glass.

That done, his first idea was to simply wait until he was near death, then leave behind a series of clues to a spot he had picked to go die, lying next to his treasure chest.

Fortunately for him, he survived his cancer, though he would quip surviving “ruined the story”.

Now with more life in him, instead of going through with the plan, he simply placed the treasure chest and its valuable contents in his personal vault where it sat, waiting for his cancer to come back so he could execute his plan.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Giphy

Two decades later and no cancer returning, at the age of 80 in 2010, he figured it was time to put a version of the plan in motion anyway. Thus, he drove somewhere in the Rockies between Santa Fe, New Mexico and the border of Canada, got out of his car and lugged the chest some unknown distance. From here, it is not clear whether he buried it, or simply left it on the surface to be discovered.

Whatever he did, after driving home, he announced what he’d done shortly thereafter in his self-published autobiography called The Thrill of the Chase: A Memoir.

Given this was initially just sold in a bookstore in Sante Fe and he doesn’t seem to have otherwise too widely promoted what he’d done beyond locals, as you might imagine, little notice was given at first.

Things all changed, however, when an inflight magazine, who had stumbled on the story who knows how, decided to feature it. A Today’s Show producer ultimately read this and decided it would make good fodder for their show in 2013. Not long after this, the story exploded across the news wires and treasure hunters the world over swarmed to the Rockies to find the chest.

Since then, an estimated few hundred thousand people have gone looking for Fenn’s treasure. Some even have regular meetups in the Rockies each year to sit around camp fires and enjoy each other’s company, while sharing hypotheses of where the treasure might be. Not always wrong, according to Fenn, a few who have emailed him of where they looked have even come within a couple hundred feet of it, implying that they probably correctly identified the starting point he gives in the clues we’ll get to shortly.

But nobody has found it yet.

Worse, in the process of searching, at least four people to date have lost their lives — one Jeff Murphy died after falling down a steep slope in Yellowstone. In another case, a Pastor Paris Wallace somehow got swept away in the Rio Grande during his search. In another instance, one Eric Ashby was rafting in Colorado during his search when he drowned. In his case, Ashby apparently specifically moved to Colorado the previous year to devote himself to finding the treasure.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Finally, Randy Bilyeu, who retired from his job as a mechanic to search for the treasure full time, was found along the Rio Grande, though it isn’t clear how he died other than the temperatures were below freezing at the time he was searching.

For whatever it’s worth, it’s also been claimed by Bilyeu’s ex-wife, Linda, that a family of an unnamed individual reached out to her to offer their condolences and revealed their loved one had also died searching, but they had chosen not to make that information public. On top of that, it’s often mentioned that a Jeff Schulz, who died while hiking in Arizona in 2016, was searching for the treasure, though nothing in his family’s memorial to him and Facebook posts seem to mention any such connection, despite it being widely reported.

Whatever the case, in response to these deaths, Fenn, who actually rented a helicopter to help search for Bilyeu when he went missing, continually reiterates that searchers need to remember the treasure is “not in a dangerous place… I was eighty when I hid it…. don’t look anywhere where [an]… 80-year-old man can’t put something. I’m not that fit. I can’t climb 14,000 feet.”

This fact also has many speculating that from the starting point where he exited his vehicle might have only been a couple hundred feet given the 42 pounds the chest apparently weighed and his revelation that several people had come within two hundred feet of the chest.

Whatever the case, because of the deaths, and some people’s reported obsession with finding the treasure, with a handful of people even bankrupting themselves in the search, Fenn has been asked by certain authorities to retrieve the chest and call off the hunt.

A request Fenn refuses to grant, noting the overall benefit to hundreds of thousands who’ve got to go on a real treasure hunt in the wilderness. He further states, “I regret that some treasure hunters have invested more in the search than they could afford, although those numbers are small. I also regret that several people have become lost in the winter mountains. . I have said many times that no one should extend themselves beyond their comfort zone, physically or financially.”

And as for the addicted, he states this is unavoidable with any activity “in the same way gold miners, gamblers, hunters and baseball fans become addicted.”

Naturally, others have claimed it’s all one big hoax, such as the aforementioned Linda Bilyeu. Fenn is adamant, however, that it is not and he really did put the treasure chest somewhere in the Rockies.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

(Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

As for proof, he offers none but his word. That said, for whatever it’s worth a few of his friends have come forward and stated they saw the chest in his vault with the items over the years leading up to 2010 when it suddenly disappeared. For example, a long-time friend of his, noted author Douglas Preston, states he saw the chest and the items, and that “As far as proof goes, there’s no proof. It’s hard to prove a negative. The negative is that the chest is gone. It’s not in his house and it’s not in his vault. And also knowing Forrest for as long as I have, I can absolutely say with 100 percent confidence that he would never pull off a hoax. I’m absolutely sure that he hid that treasure chest.”

So where is it? As for the main set of clues Fenn has given, they are as follows:

As I have gone alone in there
And with my treasures bold,
I can keep my secret where,
And hint of riches new and old.
Begin it where warm waters halt
And take it in the canyon down,
Not far, but too far to walk.
Put in below the home of Brown.
From there it’s no place for the meek,
The end is ever drawing nigh;
There’ll be no paddle up your creek,
Just heavy loads and water high.
If you’ve been wise and found the blaze,
Look quickly down, your quest to cease,
But tarry scant with marvel gaze,
Just take the chest and go in peace.
So why is it that I must go
And leave my trove for all to seek?
The answers I already know,
I’ve done it tired, and now I’m weak.
So hear me all and listen good,
Your effort will be worth the cold.
If you are brave and in the wood
I give you title to the gold.

Beyond that, he’s also mentioned in his autobiography that it is “in the mountains somewhere north of Santa Fe”. That the treasure is not in any cemetery or grave (apparently some people were beginning to dig up graves, convinced he left it in one) nor on his property or any of his friends. (This one came out because people kept digging in his and his friend’s properties.) He also states it’s not in or under any man-made structure nor in a mine. Finally, in 2015, he stated at a certain point that it was wet at the time and surrounded by “wonderful smells, of pine needles or piñon nuts or sagebrush”.

In the end, apparently achieving his goal, since the treasure was allegedly placed, many thousands have used it as an inspiration for a fun family vacation in beautiful areas, in most cases seemingly little upset about not actually finding the treasure. As Fenn himself states, even for all who don’t find it, “the adventure [is] the greater treasure.”

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Giphy

Seemingly concurring, one retired searcher, Cynthia Meachum, has taken over 60 trips into the wilderness to try to find it, stating “You go out, you look, you don’t find it, you come back home, you go through your clues again, your solves again and you think, ‘Where did I go wrong?’ And you go out and you do it again. And I have actually seen some of the most spectacular scenery because of this that I ever would’ve seen.”

Of course, for one lucky individual someday they might just also walk away with a literal, rather than figurative, treasure, which is the hope of Fenn, who states that given the number of people having correctly followed the clues to a point and come so close, he expects someone will find it soon. However, with him now at 89 years old, he may not live to see the day.

(And if you’re now wondering, Fenn has also stated that he is the only one who knows the treasure chest’s location and he has left no definitive record of its whereabouts other than the already revealed clues.)

Bonus Fact:

Speaking of buried treasure, a back injury and a recommendation by his doctors to take frequent walks saw one Kevin Hillier of Australia deciding to use the time more productively than just exercise, taking strolls through former gold fields with a metal detector. Broke, one night he dreamed he found an endless gold nugget that was so big that it could not be dug out of the ground. The next morning, he drew a picture depicting his dream on a piece of paper and had his friend Russell sign it as a witness for some odd reason.

Whether he made that part up, it was coincidence from having gold on his brain, or indeed prophetic, on Sept. 26, 1980, the dream would come true. After lunch, Kevin and his wife Bip were detecting in opposite directions when Kevin screamed. Rushing to him, Bip found her husband on the ground sobbing while kneeling in front of a tip of a gold nugget that couldn’t be pried from the ground directly.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

The Hand of Faith, the largest gold nugget in the world.

As a result, they began to dig… and dig and dig until they finally reached the bottom. Lifting it up, they realized what they had found was history. Weighing an astounding 27.2 kilograms (nearly 60 pounds), it was the largest gold nugget ever found by a hand held metal detector and the second largest discovered in Australia in the 20th century. In a recent interview, Bip claimed that the couple had some heavenly intervention, “People will say it was all coincidence and that’s fine. But that’s my Father up there…and he’s interested in everything we do.” To them, the rock looked like a hand making a blessing. So, Bip and Kevin named the gold rock the “Hand of Faith.”

Scared to tell anyone, they rushed it home and soaked the sixty-pound chunk in the sink. The kids all helped to clean it with toothbrushes. That night, the family slept as the gold sat in a kiddie pool under the parents’ bed. After a few days of debate about what to do, they decided to hand the rock over to a trusted friend to take it back to Melbourne for a delivery to the government.

A few days later, at a televised press conference, Victorian Premier Dick Hamer announced the discovery. However, the Hilliers were not there. They were hold up in a motel room watching the press conference on television, refusing to be identified. Said one of the Hillier kids, “Even for years afterwards, we kids never brought it up.”

It took several months for the nugget to sell (according to Bip, this was the government’s fault and caused the nugget to dip in value as the hype died down a bit), but finally in early February of 1981, with the help of Kovac’s Gems Minerals, it was sold to the appropriately-named Golden Nugget Casino in Las Vegas for about a million dollars (approximately .7 million today).

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

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6 alternate names troops have for military awards

First, recipients of all these awards should be proud of themselves. Earning one of these medals show dedication to the U.S. military and is worthy of respect. However, that doesn’t stop service members making fun of their own awards.


1. Purple Heart

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Photo: US Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jeffrey A. Cosola

The Purple Heart, originally an award for merit established by General George Washington, is now given to any service member injured by enemy forces or recognized terrorist organizations. Since the award is given whenever an enemy successfully shoots an American, it’s jokingly called the “Enemy Marksmanship Badge.”

2. Special Warfare Insignia

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Photo: US Navy

Also known as the “SEAL Trident,” the badge of some of America’s most elite operators has a funny nickname. “Budweiser” refers to one of the classes SEALs recruits have to graduate to earn it, Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs, or BUD/S.

3. National Defense Service Medal

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The National Defense Service Medal is awarded for active duty service in the armed forces during times of war. For many recruits who receive it though, it can feel a bit hollow. After all, it’s typically given to recruits when they graduate basic training. Since it’s given so easily, service members have different nicknames for it.

One nickname used by the Marine Corps and Army is “Fire Watch Ribbon,” since doing overnight fire watch is about as hard as basic training gets. The Navy calls it the “Geedunk Ribbon,” referring to the sailors’ term for items available in a vending machine. Finally, some people from across the services call it the “Pizza Stain” because of its looks.

4. Army Commendation Medal

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Army Commendation Medal can be awarded for either merit or valor, with the valor award typically being the more impressive. On the merit or combat valor side, it’s one step below the Bronze Star. When awarded for noncombat valor, it’s just beneath the Soldier’s Medal. Soldiers call it, “The Green Weenie,” especially Vietnam vets.

5. Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Photo: US Marine Corps

All of the branches award a Good Conduct Medal for every three years an enlisted members serves in a branch without receiving any criminal or military punishments. Most of the branches will make a joke when they give the award, saying something like, “Oh, you went three years without getting caught, huh? Must’ve been pretty sneaky!” The Marine Corps created its own joke by nicknaming it “The Good Cookie.”

6. Basic Parachutist badge

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Graphic: US Air Force Yaira M. Resto

The nickname for the parachutist badge is so widespread, that some people think it’s the proper name. “Jump Wings” is pretty self-explanatory, since it’s a pair of wings given to military jumpers. They’re also sometimes called “Silver Wings” due to their color on the dress uniform.

NOW: 13 military phrases that sound ridiculous when used in politics

OR: 5 wild conspiracy theories that turned out to be true

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why Boeing may stop building fighter planes

Could Boeing be out of the fighter business in the near future? That question has been kicking around in recent years as air forces are looking to advanced planes like the Lockheed F-35 Lightning or for cheaper options like the Saab Gripen.


A big reason is that Boeing’s entry for a new Joint Strike Fighter, the X-32, lost that competition. A 2014 report from DefenceAviation.com noted that Boeing was producing an average of four jets a month.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
The X-32 takes off for Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD, from Little Rock AFB in 2001. The X-32 was one of two experimental aircraft involved in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program. (DOD photo)

The company has made some sales for versions of the F-15E Strike Eagle, but aside from Australia, there have not been many export orders for the F/A-18E/F Super Horner and EA-18G Growler (granted, the Marines could use the Super Hornet to replace aging F/A-18C/D Hornets in a more expeditious manner). The company has marketed the Super Hornet to India in the wake of the problems India has had in adapting the Tejas for carrier operations, and did a video promoting an advanced F-15C.

Boeing is not completely out of the light jet business. It has teamed up with Saab for an entry into the T-X competition that also includes the Lockheed T-50 and the T-100 from Leonardo and Raytheon. It also recently got an order for 36 F-15QAs from Qatar, according to FlightGlobal.com. Qatar also bought 36 Eurofighter Typhoons and 36 Dassault Rafales.

Boeing is also preparing for an upgrade to the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet line. The Block III Super Hornet will feature conformal fuel tanks for longer range and improved avionics, including a new radar and better electronic countermeasures systems. President Trump’s budget proposals did include buying 80 more Super Hornets.

Such purchases could only be delaying the inevitable. The Navy and Air Force are reportedly planning a sixth-generation fighter in the FA-XX project, but that may still be years into the future.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Iran won’t touch the Baghdad rocket attack with a ten foot pole

On Sunday, May 19, 2019, a rocket tore through the night skies across Baghdad near a museum by the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. It did no major damage, but the sound of the rocket explosion was almost heard around the world, amid increased tensions and a buildup of troops between the United States and Iran.

The Islamic Republic and all of its proxies want the world to know it had nothing to do with such an attack.


How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

“Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope.” – Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, probably.

The only thing damaged by the attack was the security guard shack near the museum. If it hadn’t exploded, it might have gone entirely unnoticed. But it did explode, and it was fired near the U.S. Embassy in a country known to be controlled by Iran. No group claimed responsibility, but a mobile rocket launcher was found in the area. Now militias aligned with Iran in and around Baghdad are publicly denouncing the attack, an unusual move for the Islamic Republic, who usually doesn’t seem to care who thinks they did anything.

Iran’s military projects power to maintain Iran’s regional military power by keeping the instability and the fighting outside of Iran. Like the United States Army Special Forces, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Quds Force will go into a nearby country, mobilize sentiment against a common foe, then teach people to fight their enemy. Iran-backed militias were on the front lines against ISIS, and many Shia insurgents fighting U.S. troops in the Iraq War had Iranian backing.

Not this time.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Iran-backed Shia militias were even incorporated into Iraq’s state security forces. How do you like those Humvees?

As the United States evacuated diplomatic personnel and President Trump warned Iran about its forthcoming total destruction, Iran was quick to backpedal away from the tense talk of recent days. Even its supporters in Iraq were quick to distance themselves.

“If war is ignited, everyone will be burned,” said Hadi al-Ameri, a militia commander and politician who represents militias, including Iran-backed factions, from across the spectrum. Even the most hardline, pro-Iran political parties denounced the attack.

But even if Iran or a pro-Iranian militia did not fire the rocket attack, it still leaves the question of who did fire the rocket and why.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Coast Guard struggling to keep up with surge of narco subs

Through September 2018, Colombia’s navy had captured 14 “narco subs” on the country’s Pacific coast — more than triple the four it captured in 2017 and another sign of drug traffickers’ ingenuity.

Colombia is not alone. The US Coast Guard reported in September 2017 that it had seen a “resurgence” of low-profile vessels, the most common kind of “narco sub,” capturing seven of them since June 2017.


“We’re seeing more of these low-profile vessels; 40-plus feet long … it rides on the surface, multiple outboard engines, moves 18, 22 knots … and they can carry large loads of contraband,” Coast Guard commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told Business Insider in October 2018 during an interview aboard the Coast Guard cutter Sitkinak in New York harbor.

“They’re very stealthy in terms of our ability to see them from the air [and] to detect them by radar,” Schultz added.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

US Coast Guardsmen sit on a narco sub in the Pacific Ocean in early September 2016.

(US Coast Guard photo)

‘Era of experimentation’

Low-profile vessels were the earliest kind of narco sub, a category that includes self-propelled semi-submersibles, which use ballast to run below the surface, and true submarines, which are the most rare.

They emerged in the early 1990s, as traffickers who had made a fortune moving drugs into the US — like George Jung and members of Pablo Escobar’s Medellin cartel — encountered more obstacles.

“In the ’80s, the drug traffickers … were using go-fast boats, they were using twin-engine aircraft, and those were very easily detected by radar systems that we had,” particularly in the Caribbean and the southeastern US, said Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration.

“So they started to counter those efforts by building submarines or semi-submersibles, because they were much more difficult to detect,” Vigil added. “They were made out of … wood, fiberglass, and then sometimes they had a lead lining that would reduce their infrared signature.”

The early 1990s was “the era of experimentation,” for Colombian narco subs, according to Vigil, who was stationed on the country’s Caribbean coast at the time and recalls encounters with them on the Magdelena River, which stretches nearly 1,000 miles from southwest Colombia to the Caribbean.

“They were not full-fledged submarines. They would float … just slightly underneath the water, but you could still see the tower, and they were not sophisticated at all,” he said. “Their navigational systems were poor; communications systems were poor.”

There are varying figures for how many narco subs have been caught over the years.

The first such vessel seen at sea by US law enforcement was intercepted in 2006, carrying 3 tons of cocaine about 100 miles off Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. The first one encountered in the Caribbean was stopped in summer 2011 — despite efforts to scuttle it, US authorities were able to recover 14,000 pounds of cocaine.

Criminal groups in Colombia continue to churn out homemade narco subs — 100 a year, according to Vigil — building them in the interior and using the country’s extensive river network, where law enforcement is scarce, to get them to sea.

The technology has advanced, and criminal groups, flush with profits from Colombia’s booming cocaine production, have been able deploy more sophisticated vessels for covert runs to Central America and Mexico, where cargos then move overland to the US. The routes have also grown more circuitous, likely to avoid detection at sea.

Better technology “has upped the chess game” between criminals and the military and law enforcement, Vigil said.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Suspected drug-smuggling routes in the eastern Pacific Ocean in 2016.

(US Southern Command)

‘A drop in the bucket’

The recent increase in low-profile vessels intercepted by authorities indicates traffickers will adjust their tactics.

“There was certainly an uptick where the semi-submersibles were being utilized quite frequently, and then we had a lot of success against them,” Lt. Cmdr. Devon Brennan, head of the Coast Guard’s Maritime Safety and Security Team in New York, said during an interview aboard the Sitkanik.

“The drug-trafficking organizations are very agile and adept organizations, so they try to shift back,” Brennan said. “For one reason or another, they thought [low-profile vessels] might be a better option because of the success we’ve had against the [self-propelled semi-submersibles], so we have seen an increase in them.”

“This thing called the low-profile vessel, it’s evolutionary,” Schultz said. “The adversary will constantly adapt their tactics to try to thwart our successes.” The increase “reflects the adaptability, the malleability” of traffickers, he added.

Schultz and Brennan both emphasized that the Coast Guard is having success capturing narco subs. And Colombian officials have said that intercepting those vessels at sea — along with arresting traffickers on land — lands a serious blow to criminal organizations.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

A abandoned low-profile vessel found by the Guatemalan coast guard on April 22, 2017.

(Guatemalan army / US Southern Command)

Vigil was skeptical of the true impact, saying the DEA estimated at least 30% to 40% of drugs coming to the US were moving on narco subs, but authorities were likely only intercepting 5% of those vessels.

“They may be capturing more but, again, that’s because there’s a hell of a lot more being using to smuggle drugs,” Vigil said. (Coast Guard Vice Commandant Adm. Charles Ray has said the service faces “a capacity challenge” in trying to patrol trafficking routes through the eastern Pacific, an area the size of the continental US.)

Vigil also noted that the costs seemed to favor the traffickers.

“The submarines cost id=”listicle-2611789516″ million or million … depending on the communications systems, the engine, the materials used in them, the navigational systems,” Vigil said. Even though many are likely only used once, he added, “they have absolutely no economic impact on the cartels.”

Each kilogram of cocaine is worth only a few thousand dollars in Colombia. But the multiton cargos narco subs can carry are worth hundreds of millions of dollars once they’re broken up and sold in the US or Europe.

The cost to build a narco sub is “a drop in the bucket compared to the payload that they carry,” Vigil said. “So a million, million is nothing to them.”

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

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Here’s what you need to know about China’s new light tank

China has long history of using light tanks – many of which have been discarded. Light tanks have become rarer as people have discovered that they need the same crew as a main battle tank, while offering said crew less protection.


China’s primary light tanks have been the Type 62 light tank and the Type 63 amphibious light tank. Both feature 85mm main guns (the Soviet/Russian T-34 used a main gun of this caliber as well), and each hold 47 rounds for that gun. But like many light tanks today, they are light in the protection department.

The Type 62 has about two inches of armor at most.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Type 63 amphibious light tank. (Wikimedia Commons)

China has now pushed the light tank to the VT-5. This is a much more powerful system. It is centered on a 105mm rifled gun with up to 38 rounds. This gun is pretty much what was used on the early models of the M1 Abrams, and prior to that, on the M60 Patton main battle tanks. ArmyRecognition.com notes that this tank will weigh between 33 and 36 tons. Secondary armament is a 12.7mm heavy machine gun and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher.

The last light tank in United States service was the M551 Sheridan. This vehicle saw action in the Vietnam War, Operation Just Cause, and Desert Storm before being retired in the mid-1990s. Called the Buford by some sources, the Army had the XM8 Armored Gun System ready to roll out, but it was cancelled as well.

Today, the United States Army uses the M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System. It has the same 105mm rifled gun as the VT-5, but only holds 18 rounds.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Armor Soldiers assigned to 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, fire their Main Gun Systems (MGS) Stryker’s 105 mm main gun during a live fire range 28 March 2011, at Yakima Training Center, Wash. (U.S. Army photo)

Below, you can see video of the VT-5 as it is put through some live-fire paces in Inner Mongolia. A number of military attaches witnessed this performance. Did China build the light tank that units like the 82nd Airborne Division need?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hQtH4L0LsDM
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The Air Force’s anti-missile laser airplane actually took down missiles in testing

Anyone who hates on an airplane with a nose-mounted laser designed to shoot down missiles is wrong. The only problem is that we’re limited by the technology required to make the lasers powerful enough. The Air Force may not have the patience or cash to make it happen, but they proved a long time ago, the concept is sound.

We live in the age of hypersonic missiles, ballistic missiles that can take down aircraft carriers, and potentially dozens of other kinds of warhead-toting rockets just waiting to be tried out on some of America’s finest. There’s no doubt we need some kind of defense.

A Russian Bulava ballistic missile, launched in June 2017 (Wikimedia Commons)

The good news is that the U.S. Air Force has been testing anti-missile lasers for years, and has actually been able to take down missiles in flight. The effort to bring an anti-missile laser to an aircraft was actually kind of a heartwarming supergroup of defense contractors and the story has been a long time coming.

In the 1980s, many may recall the Department of Defense’s Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as the “Star Wars” program. It was one of the earliest efforts to create a laser-based missile defense system. Although mocked by many, throwing money into something like that yielded results.

By the end of the 1980s, the Air Force Airborne Laser Laboratory actually was shooting down missiles with lasers. By the mid-1990s, the Air Force was reaching out to Boeing to get these laser weapons onto an aircraft. 

The 2000s saw a large group of defense contracting companies coming together to create an entirely new airborne defense system. Boeing repurposed an old 747-200 purchased from Air India. It prepared the aircraft to mount a Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser (COIL) that was prepared specifically for the purpose of airborne defense. 

The COIL, provided by Northrup Grumman, created a powerful, infrared laser that was not only capable of taking down missiles, it was tested and used in a way that was “representative of actual operational engagements.” For those unfamiliar with “govspeak,” this means that the laser was a viable weapon, capable of being used in combat. 

When it came time to build the actual prototype of an anti-missile laser plane, Boeing brought a new 747-400, modified it to fit a nose turret and fire control system created by Lockheed-Martin, and mounted the Northrup Grumman COIL weapon on the front. 

The COIL mounted on the YAL-1 (Wikimedia Commons)

The Boeing YAL-1 was ready for action. Its job would be taking down ballistic missiles while still in the boost phase, actually taking its first flight in 2002. The program lasted a few short years, but produced some mixed yet hopeful results.

Although the weapon worked, it was not operationally viable. Though the laser could shoot down missiles, it would have needed 20-30 times more power to fire the laser a significant distance, according to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates. 

Gates went on to note that shooting down missiles in the boost phase, without knowing exactly where they would be fired, might require dozens of these aircraft, flying continuously might require more money than the project was worth. The Air Force didn’t request more funding for the laser project and the prototype was ultimately scrapped. 

Although the program itself ended up not producing a significant weapon, it did prove that lasers could be used as short-range aircraft defense. It also showed that lasers could be a sub-orbital defense against ballistic missiles, something the “Star Wars” program was widely ridiculed for.


Feature image: screen capture from YouTube

MIGHTY TRENDING

China is building a massive amount of warships

The U.S. Navy’s 2016 shipbuilding plan called for 355 ships needed to compete in an increasingly contested international environment. The acting Secretary of the Navy has promised the Navy’s new plan will be complete by Jan. 15, 2020, but by all accounts, the number of ships will be reduced to 304, allotting for the construction of 10 new ships per year, fewer than the 2016 assessment.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Navy is increasing its naval presence – at a massive rate.


The People’s Liberation Army Navy is gearing up for the naval fight of the century, one that will likely happen without ever firing a shot. For control of the contested islands in the South China Sea, the PLAN is going to have to intimidate all the other naval forces of the world, but mostly the United States Navy. While China sees the waters around the Spratly Islands as its sovereign territory, other countries in the neighborhood don’t see it that way. The U.S. Navy, as part of its Freedom of Navigation mission, makes regular trips through these “Chinese waters,” challenging China’s claim to the islands and its territorial sea.

Basically, the U.S. Navy goes to contested sea areas and conducts operations inconsistent with “Innocent Passage,” which would be any action that doesn’t contribute to their quick and hasty movement through the territorial waters. When the U.S. Navy does something like launch planes or helicopters while in the disputed zones, it’s basically telling China, the U.S. doesn’t recognize their claim. In the South China Sea, there are at least two island chains in dispute between the Chinese and their neighbors.

The U.S. doesn’t take sides, but it also doesn’t recognize China’s Excessive Maritime Claims, so it frequently conducts Freedom of Navigation operations – and China hates it.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

(Forbes)

China’s response to the ongoing Freedom of Navigation operations has been to increase the presence of its deployed military hardware throughout the Spratly and Paracel Islands. It has even moved its vaunted DF-26 Ballistic Missile forces onto the islands in an effort to intimidate the U.S. Navy from continued operations. It has not been successful. China has even put its own ships in the way of the U.S. ships traversing the islands, threatening to stop them with one ship and sink it with another. But that is easier said than done. The United States Navy is the largest and most advanced fleet of ships in the world, with 11 aircraft carrier battle groups and hundreds of ships. It’s a lot to consider fighting.

Unless you also have hundreds of ships.

While the U.S. Navy is planning to build ten ships every year, the Chinese shipyards have been documented building up to nine ships at a time. The photo above shows nine Destroyers under construction, a number that would dwarf the UK’s Royal Navy, who has just six destroyers in service. This is only one yard, captured on social media for the world to see. China just finished its homegrown aircraft carrier, its second, and it boasts a crazy mysterious sailless submarine the United States knows very little about.

One day soon, the U.S. Navy’s intimidating Freedom of Navigation missions might just blow up in its face and it might find a fleet of Chinese ships waiting for it.

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