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 CULTURE

Women in the military: Paving the way and shooting for the stars… literally

There are few things I love more than seeing badass women breaking barriers and proving to the world that powerful women are a force to be reckoned with. Women in the military have fought long and hard for equality, respect and recognition. While I feel like I could spend months researching and compiling lists of all of the amazing women who have served our country, I decided to start with these four, who proved that nothing is impossible.


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

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Olivia G. Ortiz/Released)

Maj. Katie Higgins Cook

Like many service members, Maj. Cook’s calling to the military was a family affair. A third generation pilot, Cook has followed in the footsteps of both of her grandfathers, who served in both the U.S. Army Air Corps as well as the Air Force, and her father, who had a 26 year long career in the Navy. In an interview in Risen Magazine, she said of her paternal grandfather:

“He instilled in us this idea, because his parents were immigrants to this country from Sweden. The American dream in this country gave us all these opportunities and we needed to give back.”

Graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2008, she made the choice to go into the Marine Corps, after spending time training with Marines in Quantico, Virginia.

During her time in the Marine Corps, she was one of the few female pilots to fly combat missions during her deployment to Afghanistan for Operation Enduring Freedom. After that, she spent time on assignment in Uganda, and had already accrued over 400 combat flight hours. It was during her time in Africa that she was approached by a Blue Angel pilot, who encouraged her to apply for the coveted flight demonstration team. Following an extensive interview process, Maj. Cook was officially the first female Blue Angel, and became the pilot of the Lockheed C–130 Hercules named “Fat Albert.”

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

(US Navy photo)

While Maj. Cook takes pride in her contribution to history, she stands firm on the fact that she was chosen due to her ability to perform, not because of her gender. She is also quick to remind those who praise her of all of the women who came before her, who paved the way for her and fellow female service members. Becoming a role model for young girls is something she takes great pride in, and she highlights the importance of hard work and dedication. She has garnered a respectable social media following, and has coined the hashtag “#flylikeagirl” — in order to encourage young girls to dream big.

When asked about the phrase, Cook explained, “The hashtag ‘fly like a girl’ is empowering. It’s positive. And being able to fly to the caliber of a female pilot is something to strive for. To me, it shows that the cockpit is a great equalizer. Both men and women can do equally awesome jobs, and in the end, there is no distinction between genders when it comes to performance. All of us are pilots with the same goal: get as many landings as take-offs.”
How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Teddy Wade/Released)

Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody

Gen. Dunwoody has had a career full of firsts. While the one that sticks out the most in recent memory is her becoming the first woman to reach the rank of four-star general in the history of the U.S. military, this wasn’t the first time Dunwoody had helped pave the way.

Another service member coming from military lineage, Dunwoody’s father was a decorated Army Veteran, and much of her life was spent moving from base to base. Her own career in the Army began in the mid-70’s, and after receiving a two-year commission as a second lieutenant at Fort Sill, she fell into the groove of military life and ultimately decided to dedicate the next few decades to serving. By 1992, she had become the first female battalion commander for the 82nd Airborne Division, and in 2000, was named the first female general at Fort Bragg. Throughout her career she was also the recipient of numerous awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal and the Defense Superior Service Medal.

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

(DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen)

After over 30 years of service, Dunwoody made history in 2008 with her promotion to four-star general.

When speaking on her promotion, Dunwoody said “I have never considered myself anything but a Soldier. I recognize that with this selection, some will view me as a trailblazer, but it’s important that we remember the generations of women, whose dedication, commitment and quality of service helped open the doors of opportunity for us today.”

Following her retirement in 2012, she went on to co-write and publish a book on leadership, called A Higher Standard: Leadership Strategies from America’s First Female Four-Star General.

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

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jonathan Pankau)

Admiral Michelle Howard

Prior to beginning her own career in the military, Michelle Howard already knew the road would not be easy. Joining the service was something Howard thought about often, even as a child. Her father, an Air Force master sergeant, was largely what influenced her to embark on her own journey in the service.

Luckily for Howard, just two years prior to her being old enough to enlist, President Ford signed the Military Procurement Bill which, beginning in 1976, allowed for the admission of women into military academies. Howard was accepted into the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1978 and was one of only seven black women in her class of over 1,300. It was during her sophomore year that she first piloted a ship, and soon went on to distinguish herself as a bold and respected leader. After taking command of the USS Rushmore in 1999, Howard became the first Black woman to command a ship in the U.S. Navy.

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

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Kristopher Wilson/Released)

Remember the 2013 movie Captain Phillips starring Tom Hanks? Howard played a huge part in the real life story. She had taken the position of commander of an anti-piracy task force in the Gulf of Aden just three days before Captain Richard Phillips was kidnapped by Somali pirates. The movie doesn’t do justice to the real world nuances and complexities of Howard’s involvement. In an interview she shared that:

“The pirates were using the fuel in the life raft to steer toward shore–and it was obvious that if they got to shore with Captain Phillips, we were probably not going to get him back.”

She was integral in the four days of hostage negotiations that led to the successful rescue.

It was in 2014 that Howard made history again, when she was promoted to the rank of four-star admiral, the first woman in the Navy to do so. That same day she was also appointed as the 38th vice-chief of naval operations, which made her the second highest ranking officer in the Navy. As if that wasn’t already impressive enough, two years later she went on to become commander of naval forces in both Europe and Africa. She concluded her career as the Commander of Allied Joint Force Naples. Following her retirement in late 2017, she went on to teach cybersecurity and international policy at George Washington University.

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

(USAF Photo)

Lieutenant General Nina Armagno

The end of 2019 brought the announcement of the inception of the United States Space Force. Aside from appealing to virtually every sci-fi fan in the country, the Space Force also started to assemble its ranks soon after it was officially unveiled. Among them was Major General Nina Armagno. Prior to her being promoted to Lieutenant General upon her transfer in the Space Force, Armagno had just over 30 years of experience in the Air Force as well as space systems operations, specifically.

Graduating from the USAF Academy in 1988, Armagno has gone on to have an impressively full military career, as well as picking up three degrees and numerous certifications along the way (including a Bachelors in Biology and two Masters degrees, in both Education Administration and National Securities Studies). She was also the only Air Force officer to command both East and West U.S. space launch facilities. Along with the completion of over 20 assignments and almost a dozen awards and decorations, she is also the recipient of the 2010 Women of Influence Award as well as the 2014 Gen. Jerome F. O’Malley Distinguished Space Leadership Award.

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

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Levi Riendeau)

Upon her commission in the Space Force, Armagno was promoted to three star general on August 17th, 2020. She will be serving as staff director, and overseeing Space Force headquarters daily operations. Not only does this make her the Space Forces first female general officer, she’ll also be playing an integral role during the earliest years of the history making organization. In a statement, Armagno remarked, “We’re going to be agile, we’re going to be nimble, and we’re going to bring the best of everything into the Space Force”.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient was the Navy’s first ace-in-a-day

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare was a pioneer of Navy aviation, establishing the Navy’s first night fighter squadron, earning a Medal of Honor and ace-in-a-day status, and probably saving American carrier USS Lexington before his tragic death during a night battle in November, 1943.


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

The senior Edward O’Hare was murdered by the Al Capone gang while driving home.

O’Hare was the son of a St. Louis, Missouri, businessman with ties to Al Capone’s gang. His father put in a good word to get the younger O’Hare into the U.S. Naval Academy, which led to his being trained as an aviator.

During his training, his father turned against Capone after the events of the Valentine’s Day Massacre and passed financial documents to the IRS. Capone was eventually convicted, but put a hit out on O’Hare’s father. Then-Ensign O’Hare took a break from training to attend his father’s funeral, but went on to earn his wings 18 months before the Pearl Harbor attacks. He earned a reputation as a skilled aviator before America entered World War II.

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

Edward O’Hare as a pilot during World War II as a lieutenant. He rose to the rank of lieutenant commander and helped create night aviation procedures for the Navy before his death during the war.

(U.S. Navy)

His first engagement came near the Pacific island of Rabaul while his wing was temporarily assigned to the USS Lexington. A patrolling submarine spotted waves of Japanese “Betty” bombers heading for the Lexington’s task force on February 20, 1942. Fighters took to the air, and O’Hare and his wingman were the last pair to get airborne.

While the first fighters to take off dealt with the first wave of bombers, a second wave closed in and the O’Hare pair were the only fighters in position to attack. They did a quick test fire of their weapons. O’Hare had four working guns, but his wingman couldn’t fire.

And so O’hare was left facing either eight or nine attacking bombers — accounts differ — with only his F4F Wildcat protecting the carrier. He had just a few minutes to interrupt the enemy attack.

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

The USS Lexington was America’s second carrier and a legend in World War II. But it likely would have been destroyed early in the war if it weren’t for Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. O’Hare.

(U.S. Navy)

O’Hare zipped into position and focused his first attack on two bombers trailing on the right side of the enemy formation, downing both with quick, accurate bursts from his four .50-cal. Browning machine guns against their engines and fuel tanks. By the time he had downed the second bomber, he had overtaken the formation so he wheeled back around and came up the left side.

This time, he hit the rearmost plane with shots to the starboard engine that sent it wheeling toward the sea. O’Hare attacked again, slaughtering a fourth plane and crew with shots through the left wing and cockpit.

It had been only moments, and approximately half of the enemy formation had hit the water or was on its way. But that still left about four bombers heading to Lady Lex. So, O’Hare went in for a third attack pass as the fight drew into range of the Lex’s guns.

He sent a burst into the trail plane and then sent more rounds at the lead plane of the formation, knocking one of its engines off.

The kills had come so fast and furious that officers on the Lexington would later report seeing three fireballs heading for the ocean at once.

Between O’Hare and shipboard gunners, only two of the Japanese “Bettys” were still alive to drop their bombs, and none of the bombs managed to damage the carrier at all. O’Hare would claim six kills from the engagement, but he would only get credited with five. Either way, that took him from zero kills to fighter ace in a single engagement. This made him the Navy’s second fighter ace and its first ace-in-a-day as the service’s air arm was young and relatively small in World War I.

O’Hare tried to eschew glory for his success, but the U.S. was hungry for a hero in the months after Pearl Harbor and a series of U.S. defeats. The young pilot was summoned to Washington D.C. to receive the Medal of Honor, then he was sent to fill an instructor slot to pass on his knowledge to others.

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

F6F Hellcats were strong successors to the F4F Wildcat and they allowed naval pilots to become more lethal against Japanese forces.

(U.S. Navy)

But that couldn’t keep O’Hare engaged, and he returned to combat in 1943, this time flying the Wildcat’s stronger successor, the F6F Hellcat. In just a few months during the latter half of 1943, O’Hare earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, one for an attack on Japanese forces on Marcus Island where he and his flight destroyed all aircraft on the ground and approximately 80 percent of ground installations, and another for an attack against Wake Island installations where the flight downed three enemies in the air and destroyed planes and installations on the ground.

But the American forces were vulnerable deep in the Pacific, and O’Hare was tasked with finding a way to stop Japanese dusk attacks had allowed damage to the USS Independence. His proposal to create three-plane teams with two Hellcats and a radar-equipped Avenger was quickly adopted. The carriers would detect enemy planes first and vector the fighter in until the Avenger could detect the targets.

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

In this 1951 photo, the plane closest to the camera is an Avenger, the plane that O’Hare paired with F6F Hellcats in order to make them more effective at dusk and in the early night. The rest of the planes on the deck are F8F Bearcats, successors to the Hellcat.

(U.S. Navy)

O’Hare referred to them as the “Black Panthers” and often went aloft with them. On November 26, 1943, he went up to help disrupt an attack by more Japanese Bettys. The flight was able to shoot down one bomber and then the Hellcats worked to get back in line with the Avenger.

Right as the Hellcats returned to the Avenger, though, a Japanese plane slipped in behind them and sent a burst through O’Hare’s plane. The tail gunner in the Avenger downed the attacker, but O’Hare and his plane slipped away into the dark and crashed into the water.

He was never found again, but did receive a posthumous Navy Cross for his contributions to Navy night fighting. Chicago’s O’Hare airport is named for him. One of his top subordinates and wingmen was Lt. j.g. Alex Vraciu, who ended the war as the Navy’s fourth top ace.

Coincidentally, Vraciu earned six of his kills in a single engagement after taking off from the USS Lexington, copying O’Hare’s claimed feat from 1942.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Special Operators receive Silver Stars for valor in Afghanistan

Three Silver Stars were earned during a hard fight in Afghanistan last year. Two Army Special Forces soldiers and one Air Force Pararescueman received the nation’s third-highest award for extreme valor while under fire in Afghanistan.


The 7th Special Forces Group team fought against what Army officials described as an elite Taliban unit, which they encountered by accident in a small Afghan village. During the ensuing eight-hour engagement, the American team lost its contact with its supporting element, which operated the vehicles, and had to walk for almost a mile while under constant enemy fire before reaching relative safety. The three commandos who received the Silver Stars were pivotal in saving the lives of their teammates during the firefight.

The three Silver Stars weren’t the only medals awarded. Troops from the 7th SFG’s 1st Battalion also received six Bronze Stars for Valor, three Army Commendation Medals with Valor devices, and four Purple Hearts. The Battalion itself received the Meritorious Unit Citation for its contribution in the fight against the Taliban during that six-month deployment (July 2019-January 2020).

Command Sergeant Major Brock Buddies, the senior enlisted leader of 1st Battalion, said that “the event is humbling. Every year we remember the men and women of this formation, their legacy and acts of heroism.”
How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent

Lt. Gen. Francis Beaudette, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, pins a medal on an unnamed member of 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), during a memorial and awards ceremony at 7th Group’s compound on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020. (US Army).

Congress established the Silver Star in the closing months of the First World War.

Don’t be surprised that and Air Force Pararescueman was on an Army Special Forces team. After Pararescuemen finish their selection and training pipeline – a more than two-years affair – they get assigned to either a Guardian Angel or Special Tactics/Warfare squadron. Guardian Angel squadrons primarily focus on combat search and rescue (CSAR) and personnel recovery (PR). Indeed, PJs are the only unit in the Department of Defense to be specifically trained and equipped for those mission sets. On the other hand, Pararescuemen who get assigned to a Special Tactics/Warfare squadron are often individually attached to other Special Operations units. PJs, being world-class combat medics, often fill out or complement the combat medic spot on Navy SEAL platoon, Ranger platoon, or, as in the case of this action, a Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA).

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

A Special Forces ODA getting ready to go outside the wire in Afghanistan (US Army).

The past year had been quite tough on the 7th SFG. In February, an ODA from the 7th SFG was ambushed, suffering two killed in action and several wounded. The action took place a few weeks before the signing of the peace treaty with the Taliban.

Lieutenant General Francis Beaudette, the commanding officer of the United States Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) presented the awards.

“The actions of the warriors we are recognizing today speak volumes about them as individuals,” he said during the ceremony. “They also clearly reflect the families and communities that shaped these men,” he was quoted saying during the closed event. “Even if they cannot be here physically — thank you for what your families do to support you every day.”

The 7th SFG operates mainly in Central and South America. Green Berets assigned to the “Red Legion,” the nickname of the unit, become experts in the cultures and countries of their area of operations. This is key to mission success since Special Forces soldiers work with and through their partner forces.

Each Special Forces group, there are seven, is focused on a region. 1st SFG is responsible for East Asia; 3rd SFG is focused mainly on Africa; 5th SFG on the Middle East, Horn of Africa, and Central Asia; 7th SFG is dedicated on Latin America; 10th SFG is concentrated primarily on Europe; and the 19th SFG and 20th SFG, which are National Guard units, complement their active-duty counterparts around the world.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.


MIGHTY TACTICAL

Why that stunning Russian missile video is nothing to worry about

Recently, Russia released new video of the KH-35U “switchblade” anti-ship cruise missile in action, a weapon that can be fired from surface ships or aircraft and flies extremely quickly towards target ships, which are then destroyed in a massive explosion.


www.youtube.com

The video shows a Su-34 being prepared for takeoff, then jumps to ships being struck by a missile before cutting again to a Su-34 landing. The KH-35U carries an over-1,000-pound warhead and is reportedly capable of destroying vessels of up to 5,000 tons.

The Russians test fired eight missiles during the exercise, according to the Russian Defence Ministry, and all eight hit their targets.

The missile video is impressive and fun to watch, but it’s left many U.S. observers worrying. Russia claims the weapon is impossible to stop and that it renders all current ship defenses powerless.

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

Both the Su-57 and the T-14 were impressive programs on paper that slowly wilted in the bright light of day. Now, there are few orders for either platform, even from within Russia, as the capabilities ended up being low and the costs high.

(Alex Beltyukov and Vitaly V. Kuzmin, CC BY-SA)

But these are Russian defense claims about a Russian weapon, so it’s prudent to take them with a grain of salt. After all, the T-14 Armata and PAK FA (which became the Su-57) programs haven’t lived up to the hype.

But the KH-35U is a fielded weapon. The first KH-35 came out in the 1980s, and the U variant has been in the field for years. It flies close to the water, can be fired from aircraft ranging from helicopters to jets, and can be carried by surface ships. If Russia’s claims are accurate, it can eliminate destroyers and littoral combat ships with just one shot. Carriers would likely be crippled or destroyed with a shot, but certainly couldn’t withstand sustained bombardment.

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

A ship is destroyed by a KH-35U anti-ship cruise missile during a Russian test.

(YouTube/Star Channel)

So, should America be shaking in its boots? Well, the target ship in the Russian video is a stationary, civilian vessel, and hitting that with a missile is a far cry from getting a cruise missile into the hull of an American carrier sailing at a decent clip with its Phalanx close-in weapon systems firing off rounds.

That, and the missile has a range of approximately 185 miles. Meanwhile, the Super Hornets that protect carriers have a range of 500 miles, and the Navy is already looking to increase that range with the addition of conformal fuel tanks, fuel tanks semi-permanently added to the aircraft that would increase range by 300 miles.

Meanwhile, the F-35C will have a range about 10 percent greater before aerial refueling. So, aircraft carriers will have plenty of breathing room as long as they keep the radars and patrols up.

But some task forces have little-to-no jet support, and a Su-34 or a similar aircraft could get within range and release the missile. And what’s worse is that the Russians may have already sold the missile to at least one other country. North Korea’s Kumsong-3 anti-ship cruise missile bears a striking resemblance to the KH-35U, meaning that a rogue state may be able to strike American ships from 500 miles away.

Though, again, we should avoid getting too far into speculation without our grains of salt. After all, the Russian military has a history of stripping down the export versions of their weapons, just like the U.S. And, ownership of a missile doesn’t mean you have the expertise and tactical excellence to properly employ it.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy is still working on a Tomahawk variant that could be used in an anti-ship configuration. It has an expected range of over 1,000 miles, same as the land-attack variant with years of successful service. That would allow the U.S. Navy to strike Russian ships carrying the KH-35U from 835 miles outside of the Russian engagement envelope.

So, enjoy the Russian propaganda, but sleep well tonight. The KH-35U demonstration is an impressive fireworks display, but it doesn’t represent a Russian technology edge against anyone but fishermen.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Bazooka Charlie’ turned his WWII recon plane into a tank killer

Charles Carpenter, or “Bazooka Charlie” as he’s now remembered, served as an Army pilot in the Second World War, tasked with locating enemy positions from the air for artillery bombardment. Aircraft like Carpenter’s unarmed L-4 Grasshopper were perfect for low-level, low-speed reconnaissance, but ol’ Bazooka Charlie aspired to do more than spot enemy tanks… he wanted to destroy them himself.

The L-4 Grasshopper military aircraft was just a Piper J-3 Cub with some added plexiglass

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
L-4 Grasshopper (WikiMedia Commons)

The Army’s L-4 Grasshopper, which is more commonly known by its civilian moniker, the Piper J-3 Cub, was an American design out of the Piper Aircraft firm that first went into production in 1938. Its simple strut-braced monoplane design made the aircraft extremely manageable at the sort of low, loitering speeds needed for a reconnaissance or military liaison aircraft. The Cub was so well suited for the role that the American military would eventually order more than 5,400 of the newly dubbed “L-4 Grasshoppers” for the fight.

But the Grasshopper’s performance and capabilities left a lot to be desired compared to some of the more legendary World War II planes like the acrobatic Spitfire, the powerful P-51 Mustang, or the forward-reaching B-29 Superfortress. The aircraft had room for one pilot and one passenger and was almost identical to the civilian-market cub, with the exception of a plexiglass skylight and rear windows for improved visibility in combat environments. With just the pilot on board, the Grasshopper would top out at 85 miles per hour, had a service ceiling of 12,000 feet, and could remain airborne for around three hours. It was also capable of flying very slowly–with a stall speed of just 38 miles per hour–which made it ideally suited not just for recon patrols, but for artillery spotting duties.

Of course, with a trained observer onboard carrying a 25-pound radio, the aircraft was often stuck operating while exceeding its intended weight parameters, but the plucky Grasshopper proved capable for its role, even if it wasn’t quite the war machine other aircraft of the day had become.

Charles Carpenter turned his Grasshopper into a tank-buster

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Charles Carpenter and his L-4 Grasshopper

Charles Carpenter signed up to serve in 1942, shortly after the United States entered the war. He was assigned the role of Grasshopper pilot and became an artillery spotter for the 4th Armored Division of General George Patton’s 3rd Army. Initially, the job was fairly safe–German troops rarely fired upon the unarmed scout aircraft for fear of giving away their position, which gave Carpenter a great deal of latitude when it came to performing his duties. As the war stretched on, however, Carpenter began to grow weary of his artillery spotter role, and began looking for ways to play a more active role in the fighting.

It wasn’t long before Carpenter found his way into the fight, jumping on a .50 caliber machine gun during an engagement with Nazi troops. After firing for a few minutes, Carpenter chose to lead a group of soldiers into the German-held town they’d come from and, despite not being their commander, the troops followed. In the midst of the fighting, Carpenter ordered the tank he’d jumped on to open fire on another vehicle that soon proved to be American. He was promptly arrested after the incident and threatened with a court martial… That is, until General Patton himself intervened on the young pilot’s behalf. It was after that close call that Carpenter decided to keep his fighting in the air.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Crew chiefs attach a bazooka to Carpenter’s L-4. (U.S. Army photo)

Inspired by stories he’d heard from other unarmed scout aircraft, now Major Charles Carpenter decided to follow suit, strapping not one but six M1A1 bazookas to the wing struts of his Grasshopper. Aided by an ordnance tech and a crew chief, the bazookas were wired into the cockpit of the airplane and could be fired by flipping switches either individually or all at once. Each bazooka could fire a single rocket-propelled anti-tank grenade that could penetrate as much as three inches of armor plating. That was enough to take out a tank if you hit it in the right places (like on top) but would be practically useless against the Nazi armor when engaging head-on.

Bazooka Charlie and Rosie the Rocketeer

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
(U.S. Army photo)

With his Grasshopper now equipped with enough firepower to rain holy hell down on his enemies, Carpenter took to calling his aircraft “Rosie the Rocketeer,” in honor of the cultural icon representing women working in factories and shipyards back home in the States. His plane wasn’t the only thing to get a new nickname though, and soon after he began flying with his bazookas Charles Carpenter became better known among the troops around him as Bazooka Charlie.

Carpenter’s first kill came quickly, eliminating a German armored car before upgrading some of his bazookas to the more capable M9 platform, which could fire the M6A3 High Explosive Anti-Tank rounds he’d need to go after bigger prey. Soon, the Germans began to realize that the crazy Grasshopper scouting them was just as capable of destroying vehicles as the artillery he guided, prompting them to fire on him any time he appeared in the sky.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
The Deseret News, Oct. 11, 1944

“Word must be getting around among those Krauts to watch out for Cubs with bazookas on them,” Carpenter said at the time.

“Every time I show up now, they shoot with everything they have. They never used to bother Cubs. Bazookas must be bothering them a bit.”

Despite the hail of gunfire, Carpenter would dive his aircraft directly at Nazi tanks and open fire with his bazookas at only about 100 meters off the ground. Then he’d pull straight up, hoping to get back out of range of the enemy gunfire before they managed to shoot him down.

The “Mad Major” goes on the offensive

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Lawrence Journal-World – Oct 3, 1944

These exploits soon earned Bazooka Charlie yet another nickname: The “Mad Major.” Although Carpenter had been inspired by other pilots who had armed their aircraft, his wild successes at fighting armored vehicles inspired other artillery scout and reconnaissance pilots to follow suit, but according to press coverage at the time, the other pilots “found that driving their frail aircraft into a hail of German small arms fire was extremely unhealthy.” As a result, most returned to their less-dangerous observation duties.

Whether you knew him as Bazooka Charlie, the Mad Major, or just as Major Carpenter, the man tended to live up his larger-than-life reputation. At one point, he destroyed a German column advancing toward Allied troops and instead of flying back to base, he chose to land his aircraft in a nearby field to scout out the damage he’d wrought. While doing so, he managed to take an additional six German soldiers prisoner with a rifle he’d found on the ground–which, it probably goes without saying, was not a common practice among artillery scout pilots.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
There isn’t much space for POWs in this thing. (U.S. Air Force photo)

“Some people around here think I’m nuts,” Carpenter once said, “but I just believe that if we’re going to fight a war, we have to go on with it 60-minutes an hour and 24-hours a day.”

Not long after, Carpenter would match some of the exploits found among Spitfire pilots in the Battle of Britain, despite flying an aircraft that was never meant for combat. During a patrol, Carpenter found an American infantry unit pinned down by German soldiers and he sprung into action, engaging the German positions with his on-board weapons. When he ran out of firepower, he flew straight back to base and had the ordnance team re-arm his Grasshopper for another jaunt.

After expending all of his rockets again, he returned once more for re-armament. After flying three combat sorties into the fight, Carpenter had managed to destroy two German tanks and break up the Nazi attack. British pilots defending against Nazi bombers in the Battle of Britain would often fly multiple sorties a day in order to beat back the overwhelming Luftwaffe numbers, though they often used amphetamines to push through the exhaustion.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
(Imperial War Museums)

By the time World War II came to a close, Charles Carpenter was officially credited with killing six Nazi tanks, making him an official “tank ace,” though many claim his unofficial number was actually much higher. According to some accounts, Carpenter and his airplane Rosie the Rocketeer took out at least 14 Nazi tanks, a number of other armored vehicles, and dozens of enemy soldiers. He never took so much as a scratch from enemy fire, earning him one more nickname among the Allied troops he fought alongside: the Lucky Major.

With the war at an end, Carpenter was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and awarded a Silver star, a Bronze Star, and an Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster for his heroic service, but with no more Nazi tanks to fight from the sky, the legendary pilot hung up his flight suit and went right back to work in the profession he had prior to the war, as a high school history teacher.

This article originally appeared on Sandboxx. Follow Sandboxx on Facebook.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 incredible photos of Navy ships barely fitting through the Panama Canal

The Panama Canal is a man-made 52-mile-long waterway through Panama that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. When it opened in 1914, about 1,000 vessels transited the canal. By 2012, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through. In 2016, the waterway was expanded to allow larger vessels with more cargo. Here are five impressive pictures of massive U.S. naval vessels passing through the Panama Canal.

1. USS Saratoga (CV-3)

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
USS Saratoga (CV-3) transits the canal during the inter-war period (U.S. Navy)

2. USS Lexington (CV-2)

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
USS Lexington (CV-2) in one of the Panama Canal’s locks in March 1928 (U.S. Navy)

3. USS Boxer (CVS-21)

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
USS Boxer (CVS-21) passes through the canal in 1958 before she was redesignated as an experimental amphibious assault ship (LPH-4) in 1959. Note the personal vehicles carried on her flight deck (U.S. Navy)

3. USS Valley Forge (CV-45)

ship in panama canal
USS Valley Forge (CV-45) was one of the last aircraft carriers to transit the Panama Canal (U.S. Navy)

4. USS Missouri (BB-63)

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
USS Missouri (BB-63) had just 8 inches of clearance on either side (U.S. Navy)

5. USS New Jersey (BB-62)

ship in panama canal
USS New Jersey (BB-62) transits the Panama Canal in 1984 (USS New Jersey)

6. USNS Comfort (T-AH-20)

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) passes through the Miraflores Lock (U.S. Navy)
MIGHTY TRENDING

That time an F-16 flyby lit up a highway patrolman’s radar

A California patrolman’s radar apparently flipped out on an empty stretch of highway in March 2019, which was odd because there wasn’t another car in sight, but then an F-16 Fighting Falcon came flying low and fast past his location.

A video taken by Officer Chris Bol and shared by California Highway Patrol station in the California desert suburb of Bishop shows the F-16 making a pass — not the first, as the officer filming has his camera ready to catch the fighter flying by his Ford Explorer.


The video, first reported by Popular Mechanics, was captioned: “When the radar in your patrol car is going crazy but you don’t see any cars on the road, look up!”


When the radar in your patrol car is going crazy but you …

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An F-16 can fly at speeds greater than Mach 2, more than two times the speed of sound. That means the fighter jet can hit in excess of 1,500 mph. The fighter in the video, however, was not going that fast.

These low-altitude flybys occur regularly in the area where the video was taken and are often picked up on radar. One California Highway Patrol officer at the Bishop station told Business Insider his radar once read out at more than 300 mph.

As for the video posted on March 9, 2019, Bol’s radar was going in and out, but it read 250 mph at one point. Several F-16s flew past his spot repeatedly while he was out there.

Popular Mechanics said that while the video was taken in Bishop, the aircraft in the video may have originated from the Arizona National Guard or Utah’s Hill Air Force Base, although it is hard to know for sure because there are a number of air bases nearby that use the area for training.

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

6 ways the Integrated Training Exercise feels like a video game

Marines love video games. It’s no secret that games like Battlefield had an influence on many of us as we decided to sign up in the first place. Slowly, you’ll come realize that life in the military is nothing like video games 99% of the time. But that still leaves that sweet, sweet 1% — which is experienced mostly during the Integrated Training Exercise.

When you’re at ITX, your battalion is put to the test to see if they can operate in combat environments. This is the thing that makes or breaks your unit. It’s what tells the Marine Corps that you’re ready to be sent on cool, important missions during deployment.

There’s a lot at stake when your unit arrives at Camp Wilson, make no mistake about that. It’s also some of the most fun you’ll have while training for a deployment. At times, the experience can feel like you’re in a video game. The types of things you do at ITX are the very reason you joined the infantry in the first place — to shoot guns and blow stuff up. This is Battlefield live.


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

Even some of the company assault ranges were pretty cool.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Schwoch)

You go on cool missions

Conducing helicopter-supported raids and clearing through a large town populated with both enemies and civilians sound like objectives out of latest Rainbow Six. Sure, not all of the exercises are this cool, but even video games have their dull levels.

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

There’s not much to do there, either.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Natalia Cuevas)

Camp Wilson is basically the game lobby

When playing a game online, between matches, you often get sent to a “lobby,” where you wait with other players and get prepared for the next mission. This is essentially the role of Camp Wilson: it’s a place you relax and get ready for the next event.

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

You were lucky if you mostly rode in helicopters.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Schwoch)

You use vehicles to attack objectives

This isn’t the case for every mission but, for the most part, you’ll be taken to and from a staging area by vehicle to get as close as possible to your objective before you get out and attack. On the large assaults, you’ll be riding in Amphibious Assault Vehicles.

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

The explosions are better in person.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Schwoch)

You finally get to witness air strikes

Twentynine Palms offers a cool training experience for units undergoing ITX evaluation — you get the ability to use and witness air strikes. That’s right: We’re talking planes flying overhead and dropping bombs that you get to watch explode. And you thought calling in an airstrike in Call of Duty felt good?

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

They’re like mortars but, bigger.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo illustration by Sgt. Justin A. Bopp)

You have artillery support

In some games, you can call for artillery support. This probably wasn’t the case during a lot of your pre-deployment training cycles. You definitely get mortars, but watching a 155mm Howitzer drop warheads in the distance is amazing. Just like air strikes, these are even better in person.

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

You’ll burn through more ammo than you thought you’d ever touch.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Dallas Johnson)

You fire a lot of bullets

Video games give you a lot of ammunition and so will your unit at Twentynine Palms. You’re going to get everything you need for every mission you take on, and you might get more than you know what to do with. Hopefully your trigger finger is prepared for the cramp it’s going to experience.


MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the secret war off the US coast during World War II


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.

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

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.

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

“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.”

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
The wreck of U-701 rests on the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off of the east coast of North Carolina. (Photo: NOAA)

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.

MIGHTY CULTURE

‘Midway’ looks like it’s everything ‘Pearl Harbor’ was supposed to be

Remember the collective crushing disappointment we all felt as we got settled in to watch Pearl Harbor in 2001, expecting a Saving Private Ryan-level war movie on a grander scale and suddenly realizing it was a love story and that the attack on Pearl Harbor was actually just part of the backstory? The bad news is that Pearl Harbor is still on television.

The good news is that the director of Independence Day just made a movie about the World War II Battle of Midway. And he even remade the attack on Pearl Harbor to get started.


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

All this and Woody Harrelson as Chester Nimitz? I’m interested. This still is from Planet of the Apes, but we all wish Nimitz shaved his head like this before combat. I do, anyway.

For the uninitiated, the Battle of Midway may have well been the turning point in the Pacific War of World War II. While the Doolittle Raid featured in Pearl Harbor showed American resolve and boosted morale, it did little to really hurt the Japanese in the Pacific (the Doolittle Raid appears to be in the Midway movie as well). Two months later in 1942, the U.S. Navy struck a decisive blow, delivering a devastating punch to the face of the Japanese Empire at the height of its power – just six months after the U.S. Navy was supposed to be knocked out of the war at Pearl Harbor.

The Americans had a complete intelligence advantage at Midway, having broken the Japanese radio codes and determining they were on their way to attack an island code-named “AF.” In order to figure out what objective “AF” was, American intelligence sent an uncoded message that the water purification system on Midway was down, they heard Japanese radio operators reporting objective “AF” was low on water. The target was Midway, and the Navy laid a trap for the oncoming Japanese fleet.

The United States ended up with the Japanese objective, the days the Japanese fleet would arrive, and the entire Japanese order of battle. What’s more, the Japanese were unaware of the Americans’ positions or that the Navy had broken their codes, so the Japanese Navy took the further steps of so dividing their forces into four subgroups, that they were unable to support each other. This might have been a great tactic in a surprise, but not so much when the Americans knew exactly where every ship would be and when they would be there. The result was, not surprisingly, a complete rout that could only be described as a major ass-kicking.

Japanese forces took massive losses. The Imperial Japanese Navy lost ten times the number of men, along with four aircraft carriers it could not replace, two heavy cruisers, and almost 250 aircraft. The Americans lost just 307 men, 150 planes, the carrier USS Yorktown and the destroyer USS Hammann.

Not bad for the first American victory in the Pacific.

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These daring defectors turned the Vietcong against itself

In 1966, the Marines in Vietnam found themselves with an unusual opportunity – to turn the tables on the enemy.


This came by way of Viet Cong and North Vietnamese defectors who were willing to be retrained to work and fight with American combat units. In exchange, they would receive better treatment and pay than they had at the hands of the communists.

This program dubbed “Chieu Hoi” (translated as “open arms”) offered defecting Viet Cong and North Vietnamese amnesty, healthcare, money, and employment assistance. After barely surviving under communist oppression, many were more than willing to give it up.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Kit Carson scouts were recruited from Vietcong defectors for their knowledge of the terrain and the local population. (Photo from AirborneOCS.com)

These incentives were enough to convince thousands of Viet Cong to desert and join the Americans. Due to their inherent knowledge of the terrain and the locals, the Marines called them Kit Carson scouts after the famous American frontiersman.

To the Vietnamese they were Hoi Chanh – or “one who has returned.”

To prepare for missions with American forces, communist defectors first had to pass training to become Kit Carson scouts.

For the 3rd Marine Division, an early proponent of the Kit Carson program, this training took place at Quang Tri City. Sergeant Maj. Tran Van Tranh, a communist infiltrator who defected when he saw the good life in South Vietnam, led the school there.

How this MLB player ended up working as a WWII secret agent
Recruiting leaflet for the Chieu Hoi program. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

At the school he lectured on mines, booby-traps, snipers, and ambushes. And how to detect and disarm each one.

In 1967, after seeing the effectiveness of the program with the Marines, U.S. commander Gen. William Westmoreland ordered all divisions to recruit and train at least 100 scouts each.

Other schools with other divisions soon followed. In the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Division the Hoi Chanhs became known as Tiger Scouts.

Despite their training and experience many Kit Carson Scouts lacked English language skills. This was overcome in the Marine Corps by training young Marines in the Vietnamese language prior to arriving in country. These Marines were then assigned as “handlers” to the scouts assigned to their unit.

The Kit Carson Scouts were able to perform numerous tasks that made them priceless to the American fighting men. They were able to talk to the local Vietnamese in their native language and could identify Viet Cong guerrillas in the villages.

Through their training and experience they became adept at spotting booby traps – often having laid some themselves – saving countless Americans from death and dismemberment.

Due to the nature of their work and being out in front of American forces the Kit Carson scouts often found themselves engaged in combat as well. Relying on their guerrilla instincts and proper military training from the Americans, they excelled.

Many were recommended for awards for their bravery.

The scouts proved their value early on. In a short period of time in late 1966 the few Kit Carson Scouts assigned to the Marines were credited with nearly 50 enemy kills and the detection of nearly 20 mines, booby-traps, or tunnels.

Another scout led Marines through unfamiliar territory, at night, allowing them to surprise and capture a 15-man contingent of Viet Cong.

In another instance, a scout on patrol with Recon Marines fought savagely when the unit was ambushed. His suppressive fire in the face of overwhelming odds drove the enemy back. He then located a suitable landing zone for extraction and single-handedly carried two wounded Marines there. It was only after he fell, exhausted, while working to clear the landing zone that the Marines realized he had been shot three times but had never stopped.

The usefulness of the Kit Carson Scouts did not stop on the battlefield though.

They were equally as valuable in civil affairs and psychological operations due to their understanding of the local population and the enemy. Most importantly, they could help recruit more Viet Cong to rally to the government’s cause.

In total, over 83,000 Viet Cong were convinced to defect to South Vietnam, though only a small number would become Kit Carson Scouts.

In a paper detailing his experiences as the Officer in Charge of Kit Carson Scouts for the 3rd Marine Division Capt. William Cowan explained “the methods of effective Scout employment are restricted only by the imagination…success varies proportionally with the unit’s attitude and methods of employment.”

He gives the example of a Kit Carson Scout, Nguyen Thuong, who worked with 2nd Battalion 9th Marines. This particular scout could do it all.

In one instance Thuong discovered a well-concealed trap but because of his experience he suspected an enemy observation post in the area. His keen instinct was correct and the Marines were able to sweep through and destroy it.

In a later mission, Thuong braved enemy mortars to determine their firing position and called out the coordinates, in English, to the Marines who were able to call for fire and silence the position.

Thuong also made broadcasts for the Marines psychological operations efforts and acted as a clandestine agent in the villages around the Cam Lo artillery base. His intelligence gathering was far superior to anything the Marines could hope to accomplish on their own.

The service of men like Thuong proved invaluable to the overall war effort. By wars end over 200 Kit Carson Scouts had been killed in action out of less than 3,000 who served with the Americans.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This is why the F-117 Nighthawk was so groundbreaking

When you think of goblins, the mythical creatures portrayed in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter films might come to mind. Traditionally, the goblin has been a mischievous, sneaky monster. So, in one sense, it’s fitting that this cunning creature found its way into the nickname of the first operational stealth aircraft.

The F-117 Nighthawk was nicknamed the “Wobblin’ Goblin,” mostly due to its handling characteristics — after all, it didn’t look like a conventional plane and it required computer assistance to remain in controlled flight. It might not sound ideal, but those were some of the realities of flying the first operational stealth fighter. Well, more accurately, it was a light bomber that usually carried two GBU-10 laser-guided bombs or four GBU-12 laser-guided bombs.

While most planes using laser-guided bombs on high-value targets often faced greater risk, the F-117 was perfectly suited for the task.


The reason? It was extremely hard to detect on radar. It was, for all intents and purposes, invisible to enemy forces on the ground, effectively negating many surface-to-air missiles of the time. With that, the F-117 was able to operate at the best possible altitude and fly the best possible profiles for covertly deploying laser-guided bombs.

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

F-117s en route to Saudi Arabia.

(USAF)

According to MilitaryFactory.com, the F-117 was initially in service in 1983, a “black project” that operated in the Nevada desert for five years until the Air Force officially acknowledged it. The plane made its combat debut in Panama, where the planes achieved their objective. In Desert Storm, they hit many heavily-defended targets, flying 1,200 sorties with no losses. Often, the only warning that a F-117 was attacking was when its target blew up.

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

A F-117 gets fuel from a KC-10 Extender.

(USAF)

The F-117 also saw combat over the Balkans, where one was shot down, and during Operation Iraqi Freedom. With the introduction of the F-22 Raptor, the F-117 was eventually retired and taken back to the Nevada desert, where these high-tech Goblins lurk in case they’re needed again.

Learn more about this sneaky plane in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJv722N5OtA

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