It must have seemed like a relatively harmless work detail, in the way that any detail in the world’s most heavily armed border area can be harmless. When Captain Arthur Bonifas and Lieutenant Mark Barrett reported for duty to chop down a tree in the Korean DMZ, they probably never thought they’d be hacked to death by North Korean soldiers.
The two officers were leading a South Korean work detail with a South Korean officer on August 18, 1976. A 100-foot tall poplar tree blocked the view between the U.N. observation post and U.N. Command Post No. 3. North Korean soldiers were known to drag unsuspecting U.N. personnel across the North-South Korean border in this area. Bonifas himself once defused a tense situation at CP No. 3, after several Americans were held at gunpoint by Northern troops.
Bonifas was one of 19 people assigned to help take down the tree that afternoon. He led Lt. Barrett, the South Korean officer, five workers, and 11 enlisted personnel into the joint security area to trim the tree. They did not wear sidearms, as regulations restricted the number of armed people that could be in the area at one time. The workers brought axes to trim the tree.
As soon as work began, 15 North Korean soldiers appeared, led by a Northern officer, Lt. Pak Chul, who was known for being confrontational. The North Koreans watch the crew work for roughly 15 minutes before demanding they stop because North Korean President Kim Il-Sung had supposedly planted the tree. Capt. Bonifas ordered the work to continue and then turned his back on the North Koreans.
That gesture set Lt. Pak “The Bulldog” Chul over the edge. He sent a runner to get 20 more North Korean soldiers, who came carrying clubs and crowbars in the bed of a truck. He then ordered his men to “kill the bastards.” The Communists picked up the axes dropped by the work party and beat Capt. Bonifas to death on the spot.
Lt. Barrett jumped over a wall and fell into a ravine across the road. Everyone else was wounded. The U.N. Observation Post could not see where Barrett was but only that North Korean guards were taking turns going into the ravine with an axe. This continued for 90 minutes.
A search team was dispatched. They found Barrett still alive but badly hacked with the axes. He died on the way to a hospital in Seoul.
The entire incident was recorded on film.
Kim Jong-Il, speaking at a conference of Non-Aligned Nations in Sri Lanka denounced the attack as North Korean troops defending themselves from U.S. aggression.
Around 10:45 a.m. today, the American imperialist aggressors sent in 14 hoodlums with axes into the Joint Security Area to cut the trees on their own accord, although such a work should be mutually consented beforehand. Four persons from our side went to the spot to warn them not to continue the work without our consent. Against our persuasion, they attacked our guards en masse and committed a serious provocative act of beating our men, wielding murderous weapons and depending on the fact that they outnumbered us. Our guards could not but resort to self-defense measures under the circumstances of this reckless provocation.
Meanwhile, U.S. troops went to DEFCON 3 as a military response was weighed by the Pentagon and South Korean President Park Chung-Hee.
Instead of an assault, the U.S. launched Operation Paul Bunyan. Three days after the killing, 23 American and South Korean vehicles drove into the the Joint Security Area without alerting the North. They then dispatched 8 two-man teams of engineers with chainsaws to take out the tree. Two platoons of 30 men each came armed with clubs and were accompanied by South Korean Special Forces with axe handles.
The South Koreans had Claymore Mines strapped to their chests, detonators in hand, as they walked across the bridge of no return that separated the two countries. They yelled at the North Korean soldiers, daring the Northerners to cross the bridge and meet them in combat.
Meanwhile, the massive show of force operation, also had 20 helicopters in the air in the area, as well as B-52 Stratofortress Bombers flying overhead. The bombers were accompanied by F-4 Phantom IIs, South Korean F-5s and F-86s, and a number of F-111 bombers. The USS Midway Task Force was also just offshore.
North Korea deployed 200 troops to meet the force of more than 800 the U.S. and South Korea fielded. The Northerners watched the allied forces vandalize their guard posts from some buses. They eventually filed out and set up fire positions, but by then the Americans were on their way out of the JSA.
The tree was gone in 42 minutes.
While North Korean President Kim Il-Sung sent a message of regret over the incident, he never took responsibility. The ax used to kill Bonifas and Barrett is now in the North Korean Peace Museum.
In the South, the JSA’s advance camp was renamed Camp Bonifas for the fallen officer. General William Livsey, who commanded the 8th Army at the time, fashioned a “swagger stick” carved from the poplar tree’s wood. He passed it on to his successor.
(Editor’s Note – To commemorate the 78th anniversary of a legendary mission, the following is an updated repost of a story with retired Lt. Col. Richard “Dick” Cole, the last surviving member of the Doolittle Raiders originally published October 3, 2016 and before his death April 9, 2019, he was 103.)
Standing proudly in front of a B-25 Mitchell on display for a recent airshow in the central Texas town of Burnet, retired Lt. Col. Richard Cole slowly walked up to the antique bomber and clutched one of its propeller blades.
The last surviving Doolittle Raider, who had just marked his 101st birthday a few days before, smiled as he reminisced in the shadow of the bomber — a link to his storied past.
“When we got the B-25, it was a kick in the butt,” he later said, adding that he first flew the B-18 Bolo out of flight school. “It was fast and very maneuverable, with a good, steady bombing platform. You could fly it all over.”
Seventy-plus years ago, he co-piloted a similar bomber alongside then-Lt. Col. James Doolittle during a pivotal mission April 18, 1942, that helped turn the tide for the allies in the Pacific theater of World War II.
A U.S. Army Air Force B-25B Mitchell medium bomber, one of sixteen involved in the mission, takes off from the flight deck of the USS Hornet for an air raid on the Japanese Home Islands on April 18, 1942.
As the final member of the famed 80-man Army Air Forces unit, Cole was chosen to announce the name of the Air Force’s newest bomber, the B-21 Raider, at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference on Sept. 19 in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve never flown in any of the modern bombers so it’s pretty hard to realize how all of the improvements have meant to aviation,” he said at the Sept. 10 airshow. “All I can say is that the B-25 was like having a Ford Model T, (and now pilots are) getting into a Mustang.”
Crew No. 1 (Plane #40-2344, target Tokyo): 34th Bombardment Squadron, Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, pilot; Lt. Richard E. Cole, copilot; Lt. Henry A. Potter, navigator; SSgt. Fred A. Braemer, bombardier; SSgt. Paul J. Leonard, flight engineer/gunner. Cole is the last surviving member of the “Doolittle Raid” crews, having celebrated his 101st birthday.
Following the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, Doolittle developed a plan to retaliate with a daring air raid on Japan. Without escort fighters, he and the other crewmembers flew 16 modified Army B-25s off an aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, for a one-way trip that had the makings of a suicide mission. The plan called for the aircraft, which were incapable of landing back on the aircraft carrier, to bomb industrial and military targets in five cities on the Japanese home islands and then continue on to friendly airfields in China.
Forced to launch 10 hours earlier than planned, due to the task force being spotted by a Japanese patrol boat, many aircrews later had to bail out of their fuel-parched aircraft after dropping their bomb loads. Doolittle’s crew, including Cole, parachuted into China and linked up with Chinese guerillas operating behind Japanese lines who helped them escape.
U.S. Air Force Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Co-Pilot to Jimmy Doolittle during the Doolittle Raid, stands in front of a refurbished U.S. Navy B-25 Mitchell displayed at an airshow in Burnet, Texas. Lt. Col. Cole was honored by the community and guests as the only remaining military service member alive from the April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid.
“The main memory I have was when my parachute opened,” Cole said of the mission. “But that was part of the job. I’d rather be sitting here than worried about a parachute jump.”
Being alone to tell the Raiders’ story these days has been something of a paradox for Cole.
“You can’t help but be happy that you’re here but on the other side of the coin you also wish that the people who were with you were here too,” he said. “But you know that that’s not possible so you have to live with it.”
The average age of the Raiders during the mission was 22, while Cole was a 26-year-old lieutenant, according to his daughter, Cindy Cole Chal.
“Dad was older on the raid,” she said. “Nobody thought that Dad would be the last one, even though he’s been in excellent health.”
Former Staff Sgt. David Thatcher was the second to last living Raider before he died at the age of 94. He was buried with full military honors June 27 in Montana.
As a 20-year-old gunner in Flight Crew No. 7, then-Cpl. Thatcher saved his four other crewmembers when their B-25 crash-landed into the sea near the Chinese coast after it bombed Japanese factories in Tokyo. He pulled them to safety on the surrounding beach and applied life-saving medical treatment, despite having injuries himself. He later earned the Silver Star for his actions.
Meanwhile, Cole parachuted into rainy weather at night and landed in a tree located on precarious terrain.
“I was fortunate in that I never touched the ground. My parachute drifted over a tall pine tree and caught on top leaving me about 10 feet off the ground,” he recounted in a 1973 letter posted on the official Doolittle Raider website. “At daybreak I was able to see that the terrain was very rough and had I tried to look around at night; probably would have fallen down a very steep hill.”
In a photograph found after Japan’s surrender in 1945, Lt. Robert L. Hite, copilot of crew 16, is led blindfolded from a Japanese transport aircraft after his B-25 crash landed in a China after bombing Nagoya on the the “Doolittle Raid” on Japan and he was captured. He was imprisoned for 40 months, but survived the war.
Once the sun rose, Cole walked westward and the next day he found an outpost belonging to the Chinese guerillas, the letter states.
On April 18, 2015, Cole and Thatcher were presented the Congressional Gold Medal for the Raiders’ efforts, the highest civilian honor given by Congress.
In his speech, a playful Cole couldn’t resist a touch of humor.
“Tonight’s affair couldn’t have been planned more accurately,” Cole said. “As I remember, the mission was over, it was Saturday night on the 18th of April and about this time David Thatcher was on the beach in China saving the rest of his crew and I was hanging in my parachute in a tree.”
Also at the ceremony, Thatcher spoke candidly as he gave advice to today’s Airmen.
“Be prepared for anything you run into — we weren’t,” he said. “Learn everything you possibly can, and be good at it.”
Lt. Col. Dick Cole, a Doolittle Raider, smiles while looking out of a B-25 aircraft April 20, 2013, on the Destin Airport, Fla. The B-25 is the aircraft he co-piloted during the Doolittle Raid.
Seven Raiders died during the mission: three were killed in action while another three were captured and executed and one died of disease in captivity.
The bombing runs did little damage but the mission rekindled the morale of the American people and struck fear into the Japanese with aircraft reaching their homeland.
“Knowing that we did the mission and did it like it was supposed to be done, we felt pretty good about it,” Cole said.
In response, the Japanese maneuvered their forces from around Australia and India to the Central Pacific, and sent two aircraft carriers to Alaska.
“The Japanese thought we were going to make more visits. But we didn’t have any equipment to do it and we had no plans for it,” Cole said. “For some reason they moved two carriers to Alaska, thinking that’s where we came from. When they did that, it evened up the number of carriers we had available for Midway.”
The Battle of Midway proved to be a major turning point in the war. Believing their Central Pacific flank to be vulnerable because of the Doolittle Raid, the Japanese launched an invasion force to secure the isolated atoll of Midway to establish a base and airfield. Unaware that U.S. Naval Intelligence had broken their naval codes and knew the date and location of the impending attack, the Japanese sailed directly into an ambush set by three U.S. carriers.
When the smoke cleared, U.S. Navy dive-bombers had sunk four Japanese carriers, the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, all members of the six-carrier force that had launched the attack on Pearl Harbor, and more than 3,000 men, including many experienced combat pilots. The U.S. lost one carrier, the USS Yorktown, and about 300 men. The Japanese remained on the defensive for the rest of the war.
“When the time came for the Battle of Midway, the (U.S.) Navy was able to win and that started the Japanese on the downhill,” he said.
Nowadays, Cole has shifted his focus away from the twin-engine bomber to his tractor and lawnmower. He refuses to let his age stand in the way of his daily chores. So when not traveling for events, he tends to his acreage in Comfort, Texas, about an hour’s drive northwest from San Antonio.
“People ask me if I’m getting any flying time and I say, ‘Well, I’m getting a lot of single-engine time with the lawnmower,” he said, chuckling.
To keep the memory of Doolittle and the rest of the Raiders alive, he helps sell his book, “Dick Cole’s War,” which documents not only the Doolittle Raid, but his service after that mission with the First Air Commandos in Burma. Proceeds from the book go into a scholarship fund in Doolittle’s name for students in the aviation field.
U.S. Air Force Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Co-Pilot to Jimmy Doolittle during the Doolittle Raid, holds a coin that has a coveted picture with his mother from 1942. The personally coveted coin was created to celebrate his 100th birthday last year. Lt. Col. Cole was honored by the community of Burnet, Texas as the only remaining military service member alive from the April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid.
Cahl estimates her father has put in hundreds of thousands of dollars from the sales of books and signed lithograph prints into the fund to honor Doolittle, who died in 1993.
“All the time when I was flying with Colonel Doolittle, I was in awe over the fact that I was sitting next to him,” Cole said. “He put the word ‘team’ in the forefront of the English language.”
Now the sole survivor, Cole wants no part being the poster child for the historic mission.
“You did the mission. You did what you were supposed to do,” he said. “The people who were involved are all passing (away) and that’s the way it ends.
“I didn’t think any of the Raiders wanted to be singled out. We just wanted to be part of the big picture.”
U.S. Air Force Retired Lt. Col. Richard E. Cole, Co-Pilot to Jimmy Doolittle during the Doolittle Raid, smiles as he honors the U.S. flag during the singing of the national anthem at an airshow in Burnet, Texas. Lt. Col. Cole was honored by the community and guests as the only remaining military service member alive from the April 18, 1942 Doolittle Raid.
An estimated 300,000 “war brides,” as they were known, left home to make the intrepid voyage to the United States after falling in love with American soldiers who were stationed abroad during World War II. There were so many that the United States passed a series of War Brides Acts in 1945 and 1946. This legislation provided them with an immigration pathway that didn’t previously exist under the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed quotas on immigrants based on their nation of origin and strategically excluded or limited immigration from certain parts of the world, particularly Asia.
Equipped with little but a feeling and a sense of promise, war brides left everything that was familiar behind to forge a new identity in the United States. Many spoke little to no English upon their arrival in the country, and they were introduced to post-war American culture through specially designed curricula and communities. To this day, organizations for war brides in the United States provide networks for military spouses and their children, helping them keep their heritage alive and share their experiences of their adopted home.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II on September 2, 2020, We Are The Mighty is proud to collaborate with Babbel, the new way to learn a foreign language. Babbel conducted interviews with surviving war brides as much of the world endured lockdown. Many of these women are now in their 80s and 90s, and their oral histories celebrate the challenges and successes of adapting to a new culture and language, as well as reflect on the leap of faith they all took to travel across the world to an unknown country. Spoiler alert: there are few regrets.
War Brides is a 5 part series.
I was born in Bari, Italy. Times were slow during the depression, and I had a very complicated life. When I was a little girl, my dad was in the army, and he was sent to Ethiopia. In 1935, he brought the whole family over there, so I lived in Ethiopia for about five years, and I returned to Bari right in the middle of World War II.
Before the war, I loved to read a lot. I used to love going to school. But my father was a prisoner of war for six years, and while we were in Ethiopia, we lost everything. We were in a concentration camp. And by the time we got back to Italy, it was 1943, and things were very different from when we left.
The war had changed everything in Bari. I remember running because of all the bombings. Until the British and American armies came to Italy to set us free, things were very hard.
I met my husband in a very exceptional way. My husband was of Italian descent, and he had gone to America when he was a young boy, but he still had family in Italy.
He contracted a disease while serving America in the Pacific War, and he had to go back to the veterans hospital in America. While there, his mother, who was in Italy, became very sick. It took him 20 days by boat, but by the time he reached his family, his mother had already passed away. He stayed in Italy with his family for a few months.
During this time, I had found a job with the American army in a rank called the USO Shows, which brought in celebrities to perform for the troops. There was an office in Bari, and they needed a typist. I was only 17 years old, and I did not speak English, but I could read it. They convinced me I did not have to speak to anyone, just type. So I copied the words.
My husband passed our door and saw me, and he said he wanted to see more of me. He waited until the end of the day, and then he called me. He called after me in Italian, and I said “Yes, what can I do for you?” He asked me how to get to the station, explaining he was new in town. I tried to explain, but decided to walk him there. And that’s how we met.
As we started talking, we found out we had quite a few things in common. He was born in the same town as my father, and he knew some family there. Actually, my father’s cousin was my husband’s doctor!
That day we met, we felt a special attraction for each other. When we fell in love, it was as simple as that. He had to go back to the Veterans Affairs hospital in America, so we planned to get married after he returned to Italy. But he ended up staying in the hospital for almost a year. By that time, his finances were low, and he told me he did not think he could return to Italy. But he told me there was a way I could come to America as one of the war brides, and we could get married in America.
It took a lot of thinking on my part. But you know, I thought it was meant to be, so I said, “Okay, I’ll try.” My parents were not pleased about it, but I wanted to marry him. They put up a good fight because we did not know anyone in America. How could they let their 19-year-old daughter go alone to a strange country? I had to do a lot of convincing, but I was in love with him and he was in love with me.
I arrived in New York Harbor in 1947. I had seen lots of movies where the city was portrayed as such a prominent and beautiful place to live. I had no idea what skyscrapers looked like in real life, but when I saw them, it was really extraordinary. Everyone was so friendly and kind when I arrived. I felt very much at home. My husband opened a grocery store soon after, and he put me behind the counter. That’s when I realized that I had to learn English. We had all kinds of people come through the door: Black, white, young, old, Italian — every nation! I didn’t know how to speak English, and they all helped me. We all got along beautifully.
I remember someone told me about an area called Little Italy, where they had bookstores filled with books that would teach me languages. I read them every day and I made a point of practicing my English, even though I made a lot of mistakes at first. I sometimes made very stupid mistakes! Some people laughed at me, but I laughed with them. I asked them to correct me when I made mistakes, because that’s the way I learned.
After a couple of years of only speaking English with my husband, I knew how to speak well. I loved the language. English is beautiful. I remember reading Joseph Conrad. I found some of the phrases he used so attractive. Once I started reading in English, I felt like part of the environment. I was not a stranger any longer. The sooner you learn the language, the more you feel at home. I wanted to assimilate into the American lifestyle.
One of the biggest differences that struck me was that in Italy, if there was ever something special happening, you would get a mob arriving. Everyone would fight to get to the front of the line, whereas Americans used to line up for hours — there was no pushing, no shoving, no nothing.
The one thing I miss about Bari is the food, because everything is very organic. They still do things the old way, and you can’t replicate that in America. And the wines that they grow in the Bari regions, where the fruits are picked straight from the tree — you can’t make them here.
I went back to Bari almost 10 years ago with my daughter for the first time. I couldn’t go back sooner because of the business, the children, and my husband being in and out of the hospital.
It was very emotional because it did not look the way I remembered. It was all completely different, but the food and the restaurants have stayed the same. But it felt so normal to be there. You never lose your birthright, and I was so happy to see my cousins.
I didn’t teach my children Italian, and that was one mistake I made. I wanted to learn how to speak English, so I never spoke Italian to them. I brought my whole family to America, though. My mother raised my oldest son, and only spoke Italian to him, so when he went to kindergarten he couldn’t speak English! The nuns called me and said, “You cannot leave this boy here. He’s crying all the time. He doesn’t understand us.” So he stayed at home, and I had to teach him English.
For people considering moving to a different country or culture, I would say to be courageous, because you never know what you’re going to encounter. If they are fortunate like me, they will find a beautiful place to call home. My husband was a good provider. I had no problems. We just had to work hard. You’ll have to assimilate with the people wherever you’re going. If you want to keep your ways, then you’re always going to feel like a stranger.
The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) probably wouldn’t be blamed for not wanting to sail off the coast of Yemen. But in the wake of an attack on a Saudi frigate, the Cole is patrolling the waters near the war-torn country where she was attacked by a suicide boat in 2000.
That attack killed 17 sailors, wounded 39 and tore a hole in the hull that measured 40 feet by 60 feet. A 2010 Navy release noted that the Cole took 14 months to repair. That release also noted that the Cole’s return to Norfolk came through the Bab el Mandab, near the location where the Saudi frigate was attacked.
160710-N-CS953-375 The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Mahan (DDG 72) and USS Cole (DDG 67) maneuver into position behind three Japanese destroyers during a photo exercise. USS Cole is in the center of the photograph. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim Comerford/Released)
According to a report by FoxNews.com, the Cole’s mission is to maintain “freedom of navigation” in the region. In the past, things have gotten rough during the innocuous-sounding “freedom of navigation” missions.
The region has already seen some shots taken at the guided-missile destroyer USS Mason (DDG 87) on threeoccasions, prompting a retaliatory Tomahawk strike from the destroyer USS Nitze (DDG 94). The attacks on the Mason, the Saudi frigate, and the former US Navy vessel HSV-2 Swift were blamed on Iranian-sponsored Houthi rebels. The attacks on USS Mason used Iranian-made Noor anti-ship missiles, a copy of the Chinese C-802.
More than 100 midshipmen man the rails for a photo on the foícísle of the guided-missile destroyer USS Cole (DDG 67) during the 2016 Professional Training for Midshipmen (PROTRAMID) Surface week. USS Cole has deployed off the coast of Yemen, where the ship was attacked in 2000. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Seelbach)
Iran has been quite aggressive in recent months, making threats to American aircraft in the Persian Gulf. There have been a number of close encounters between American ships and Iranian speedboats as well. In one case this past August, the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Squall (PC 7) fired warning shots at Iranian vessels. Last month, the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG 72) also was forced to fire warning shots at Iranian speedboats.
The invasion of Iwo Jima was one of the most costly battles in the Pacific in World War II, largely because the aerial bombings and naval artillery bombardments that preceded the invasion failed to do serious damage to the 22,000 Japanese troops or their network of 1,500 bunkers and reinforced rooms carved into the island.
The Marines were forced to fight bitterly for nearly every yard of the island, and Japanese defenders emerged from hidden caves and bunkers at night to kidnap, torture, and kill American invaders.
Modern Marines would enjoy two big advantages that their predecessors lacked — night vision devices, including thermal and infrared technologies and bunker-busting weapons like thermobaric warheads. Other modern advances like counter-fire radar would play a role as well.
When the invasions first hit the beaches in 1945, the Japanese defenders refused to heavily contest the landings. Instead, they huddled in their miles of tunnels and waited for the Marines to come to them across minefields or to group up where mortars and artillery could kill many Americans in one hit.
Harriers and Hornets launching from amphibious assault ships could then hit these positions with guided bombs. Destroying the weapons would require accurate hits, but that’s sort of the point of precision weapons. And, if the Marine pilots brought along their F-35Bs, they could potentially carry the high velocity penetrating weapon, a bunker buster small enough to be carried on a smaller jet.
Meanwhile, the infantry Marines would find themselves with more options than their World War II counterparts. While the flamethrower — which was so important at Iwo Jima — is now a thing of the past, thermobaric rounds for the SMAW and other missiles would make up the difference.
The SMAW-Novel Explosive warhead is fired through an opening or thin wall of a a cave, building, or bunker and disperses a metal cloud that is then ignited, causing a large explosion that overpressurizes the area, killing or severely wounding everyone inside.
And other missiles like the TOW and Javelin are no slouches against bunkers.
With the Marines capable of destroying bunkers anytime the Japanese compromise their camouflage by firing from them, the defenders would fall back to their other major tactic on Iwo Jima, creeping out under cover of night to hit the Americans.
But this would go even worse for them. While night vision was in its infancy in 1945, modern systems can amplify ambient light (what’s typically happening in green-tinted night devices), detect infrared energy (black and white night vision), or provide a detailed thermal map (blue, green, orange, yellow, and red vision). Any of these night optics would be able to see Japanese troops.
Aviation assets with infrared and light-amplifying devices could watch any defenders crawling from their bunkers and either hit them or report their locations to infantry and artillery units. The infantrymen could strongpoint their camps with vehicle and tripod mounted machine guns and missile systems with night optics.
Between the two, the Marines would enjoy a massive advantage in night fighting. Even if the defenders had their own systems, the 2017 Marines would be in a better position than their 1945 counterparts since in 1945 the Japanese were able to own the night. In 2017, they would be evenly matched at worst.
With the shift in power with modern technology, the Marines might even take Iwo Jima while inflicting greater casualties than they suffered. As it was, the Iwo Jima invasion was the only major engagement in World War II where they didn’t inflict more casualties than they suffered.
For almost 80 years, the aircraft carrier has been the most powerful warship on the high seas. Just over six decades ago, the carrier reached a new level of potency when the angled deck was introduced. Some carriers were re-fitted with it while others were designed with the advanced tech from the get-go — but how did a shift in the deck make carriers even deadlier?
First, let’s take a look at how carriers operated in World War II and, to a large extent, in the Korean War. The naval aviation workhorse of those conflicts, the Essex-class carrier, had a straight-deck design. To deliver some hurt to the enemy, carriers would launch “deckload” strikes, sending off most of their air group (in World War II, this consisted of 36 F6F fighters, 36 SBD Dauntless dive-bombers, and 18 TBF Avenger torpedo bombers).
USS Intrepid (CV 11) in 1944. Her propeller-driven Hellcats were easy to stop when they landed.
Carriers, at the time, could either launch planes or land them — they couldn’t do both at the same time. When launching deckload strikes of propeller-driven planes, it wasn’t an issue. All planes would leave at once and, later, all return. When it came time to bring aircraft home, the propeller planes were easy to stop — they were light and slow relatively to the jets that had just started to come online.
The use of jets off aircraft carriers changed things – the F9F Panthers were faster and heavier than the World War II-era piston-engine fighters. It is easy to see how a jet that misses the wires could make things very ugly.
Jets were a game-changer for several reasons: They were faster and heavier and, thus, needed more space to stop. They also didn’t have the endurance to wait for other planes to launch. So, how could they find the runway space needed to operate these new tools of war? Building larger carriers wasn’t a complete solution — this wouldn’t eliminate the issue of stopping jets should they fail to catch the wires.
The British decided to create an angled deck, thereby allowing a jet that missed the arresting wires a chance to go around.
(Animation by Anynobody)
Then, the British came up with the idea of angling the landing deck of carriers. Angling the deck gave the jets enough room to land and, if they missed the wires, they could go back around and try again — stopping the jet with a barrier became an absolute last resort.
Before and after photos of USS Intrepid showing the angled flight deck.
(Compilation of US Navy photos by Solicitr)
Not only did the angled deck allow for the use of jets, it also made carriers deadlier in general. Now, they could launch and land aircraft at the same time. This meant that a carrier could send a major strike out and, at the same time, land its combat air patrol. All in all, the angled deck had a very unintended (but welcome) consequence on carrier performance.
Check out the video below to see how the Navy explained the angled flight deck to sailors.
“American Sniper,” “Dunkirk,” and “Fury” are just a few the great war films that have hit theaters with in the last few years. These films help inspire today’s youngsters to consider joining the military.
In the next few decades, they will be remembered as among “The Classics” when it comes to ranking war movies.
But as we move forward, the classic war movies that inspired our past generations are the ones that helped get the modern day war films greenlit. Because of this, we should always recognize and never forget them — ever.
Grab your popcorn and check out our list of classic war films every young trooper should watch.
1. The Great Escape
Steve McQueen stars in this epic WWII film about a group of POWs trying to escape from a German prison camp.
2. Kelly’s Heroes
Directed by Brian G. Hutton, the film follows a group of American troops who travel deep behind enemy lines to retrieve some Nazi treasure.
3. Paths of glory
This classic stars Kurt Douglas as Col. Dax, an officer who attempts to defend his troops who are accused of cowardice while fighting in the dangerous trenches of WWI.
4. Hamburger Hill
Directed by John Irvin, this story depicts one of the bloodiest American battles to take place during the hectic Vietnam War.
5. Apocalypse Now!
This film is considered one of the greatest movies ever produced. The story follows Capt. Willard’s journey to locate and assassinate a renegade Army colonel during the Vietnam War.
6. The Green Berets
John Wayne plays Col. Mike Kirby, an Army Special Forces officer tasked with two vital missions consisting of building a camp and kidnapping a North Vietnamese General.
7. Sands of Iwo Jima
This time John Wayne plays Sgt. John Stryker, a Marine who puts his men through his rough style of training to prepare them to fight in one of the Corps’ most historic battles.
Directed by Jack Smight, this classic tale re-enacts the American victory at the Battle of Midway — considered one of the most critical turning points in the Pacific during World War II.
This 1970 film focuses on the incredible career of Gen. George S. Patton during WWII.
10. To Hell and Back
In this 1955 release, real life war hero Audie Murphy plays himself in the story of how he became one of the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history.
11. The Dirty Dozen
This epic motion picture follows Maj. Reisman, a rebellious soldier assigned to train a dozen convicted murders to carry out a deadly mission to kill multiple German officers.
12. The Fighting Seabees
John Wayne plays Lt. Cmdr. Wedge Donovon, a construction worker building military bases in the Pacific. After they come under fierce attack from Japanese forces, the Seabees have to defend themselves at all costs.
13. The D.I.
Directed and starring Jack Webb, this film follows one of the toughest Marine drill instructors to ever serve on Parris Island as he pushes a recruit platoon through basic training.
“I felt and saw two flashes after which only the bow of the ship was visible. The rest had disintegrated and the bow sank soon afterwards.” – Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Perry Stinson, USS Serpens commanding officer
The quote above refers to the Coast Guard-manned USS Serpens. Nearly 73 years ago on Jan. 29, 1945, a catastrophic explosion destroyed the transport. In terms of lives lost, the destruction of the Serpens ranks as the single largest disaster ever recorded in Coast Guard history.
In March 1943, an EC-2 class “Liberty Ship” was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract as “Hull #739” by the California Shipbuilding Corporation of Wilmington, California. It was launched less than a month later as the SS Benjamin N. Cardozo. Two weeks later it was transferred to the U.S. Navy and designated AK-97. The transport was 442 feet in length, displaced 14,250 tons and had a top speed of 11 knots. For defense it carried one 5-inch gun, one 3-inch gun, two 40mm and six 20mm anti-aircraft cannons. Its crew consisted of 19 officers and 188 enlisted men. In late May, the Navy renamed the transport Serpens, after a constellation in the Northern Hemisphere, and commissioned the vessel in San Diego under the command of Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Magnus Johnson.
(U.S. Navy photo.)
Following a shakedown cruise off Southern California, Serpens loaded general cargo at Alameda, California, and, on June 24, set sail to support combat operations in the Southwest Pacific. It steamed between the supply hub of New Zealand and various Pacific islands, such as Tonga, Vitu Levu, Tutuila, Penrhyn, Bora Bora, Aitutaki, and Tongatabu. In early December, Serpens moved its operations into the southern Solomons, re-supplying bases and units on Florida Island, Banika Island, Guadalcanal and Bougainville. In February 1944, its crew was ordered back to New Zealand for dry-dock and, for another four months, they delivered materials to bases in the New Hebrides and Solomons.
(U.S. Navy photo)
In late July 1944, Lt. Cmdr. Perry Stinson assumed command from Johnson. From that time into the fall of 1944, Serpens resumed operations carrying general cargo and rolling stock between ports and anchorages within the Solomon Islands. In mid-November, it loaded repairable military vehicles from the Russell Islands and Guadalcanal and sailed for New Zealand. After offloading in New Zealand, three of its holds were converted for ammunition stowage. Late in December 1944, Serpens commenced loading at Wellington, completed loading at Auckland, New Zealand, and returned to the Solomons in mid-January 1945.
Monday, January 29, found Serpens anchored off Lunga Point, Guadalcanal. Lunga Point had served as the primary loading area for Guadalcanal since the U.S. military’s first offensive of World War II began there in August 1942. Serpens’s commanding officer, a junior officer and six enlisted men went ashore while the rest of the crew loaded depth charges into the holds or performed their usual shipboard duties. Late in the day, in the blink of an eye, the explosive cargo stowed in Serpens’s holds detonated. An enlisted man aboard a nearby Navy personnel boat gave the following eyewitness account:
“As we headed our personnel boat shoreward, the sound and concussion of the explosion suddenly reached us and, as we turned, we witnessed the awe-inspiring death drams unfold before us. As the report of screeching shells filled the air and the flash of tracers continued, the water splashed throughout the harbor as the shells hit. We headed our boat in the direction of the smoke and, as we came into closer view of what had once been a ship, the water was filled only with floating debris, dead fish, torn life jackets, lumber and other unidentifiable objects. The smell of death, and fire, and gasoline, and oil was evident and nauseating. This was sudden death, and horror, unwanted and unasked for, but complete.”
After the explosion, only the bow of the ship remained. The rest of Serpens had disintegrated, and the bow sank soon after the cataclysm. Killed in the explosion were 197 Coast Guard officers and enlisted men, 51 U.S. Army stevedores, and surgeon Harry Levin, a U.S. Public Health Service physician. Only two men on board Serpens survived–Seaman 1/c Kelsie Kemp and Seaman 1/c George Kennedy, who had been located in the boatswain’s locker. Both men were injured, but were later rescued from the wreckage and survived. In addition, a soldier who was ashore at Lunga Point was killed by flying shrapnel. Only two Coast Guardsmen’s bodies were recovered intact and later identified out of the nearly 250 men killed in the explosion.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
At first, the loss of Serpens was attributed to enemy action and three Purple Heart Medals were issued to the two survivors and posthumously to Levin. However, a court of inquiry later determined that the cause of the explosion could not be established from surviving evidence. By 1949, the U.S. Navy officially closed the case deciding that the loss was not due to enemy action but an “accident intrinsic to the loading process.”
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Today, all that remains of the Serpens is the bow section sitting upside down on the sea floor off Lunga Point. The dead were initially buried at the Army, Navy and Marine Corps Cemetery at Guadalcanal. The crew’s mortal remains were later exhumed and shipped to Arlington National Cemetery for burial. On June 15, 1949, Serpens’s Coast Guardsmen were interred on Arlington Cemetery’s Coast Guard Hill. A monument to the Serpens listing all of the lost crewmembers was erected over the gravesite and dedicated on Nov. 16, 1950.
During the Civil War, an entire battalion was formed by pulling the students of two colleges out of school, putting them under the command of their professors, and shipping them off to war. And these college kids really did fight, possibly firing some of the first and last shots of the war and earning battle streamers for seven different engagements before the war ended.
Citadel cadets recreate the firing on the Star of the West
The college students were cadets at The Citadel and The Arsenal Academy, both establishments for training future military officers. So, when South Carolina seceded on Dec. 20, 1860, there was obviously a question of roles for these men who had already signaled an interest in military service.
A single warning shot across the bow failed to deter the ship, but a short volley a few minutes later caused multiple strikes against the ship’s hull and forced it to withdraw.
A later attack by Confederate forces on Fort Sumter in April 1861 is generally regarded as the first attack of the war, but the cadets were awarded a streamer for their January attack.
An illustration of The Citadel during the Civil War.
(Alfred Rudolf Waud)
The next streamer for the academy came in November 1861, at Wappoo Cut, but they didn’t actually meet with Union forces. On Nov. 7, Union naval forces had shelled and seized two Confederate forts near the South Carolina capital, and political leaders worried that the Union would press forward. They called on the cadets to man defenses at Wappoo Cut, but the Union soldiers didn’t press the attack, and the cadets eventually returned to school.
At this point, though, The Citadel and The Arsenal were still functioning as military academies despite their students and faculty being called away from time to time to perform training, logistics, or even defensive duties. But by June 1862, there was a body of cadets that was ready to go to war without waiting for their commissions at graduation. At least 37 cadets resigned from the school and formed the “Cadet Rangers,” a cavalry unit.
This sort of pattern would continue for the next few years, with the cadets being called out to defend Charleston for a few days or weeks and then being sent back to the school to train, frustrating some of them. In early 1863, cadets manned guns in a defensive battery on a bridge between Charleston and James Island.
Union forces shelled the city during this period, and some of the cadets were sent to guard stores of weapons and supplies. But they returned to school again until the first half of 1864, when they were once again sent to defend James Island.
At the end of 1864, the cadets were called to a defense that would actually result in combat. Union Marines, soldiers, and sailors were sent to break the Charleston and Savannah Railroad, and their attack surprised the infantrymen defending the position. The cadets, stationed a few miles away at the time, rushed to the fight at the double-time.
Union Marines and other troops attacked cadets at the Battle of Tulifinny near Charleston, South Carolina, and the cadets earned praise for their disciplined fire and poise under attack.
(David Humphreys Miller)
During that first night, on Dec. 6, the cadets did little because they arrived as the Union troops were digging into their defensive positions while the Confederate attacks gave way.
But the next morning, the cadets were one of the key components of an attack on the Union positions. They came under rifle fire and responded with a bayonet charge, but were driven back. They secured their wounded and dropped back to their own defenses. In this role, they earned praise from nearby infantry units for their disciplined fire. They even pursued the Marines attacking them during the final Union retreat. During the fight, they suffered eight casualties.
The following year, in May 1865, cadets would once again engage in direct combat with Union forces. They were sent to guard infrastructure in Williamston, South Carolina, when Union forces attempted to reach a bridge over the Saluda River and burn it. The cadets beat back the attack successfully, saving the bridge.
But as YouTuber “Bloke on the Range” shows in the video below, it’s actually very unlikely that the enemy would gain any real advantage from the M1 Garand’s sound.
And many veterans of World War II interviewed after the wars said they actually preferred to have the sound as a useful reminder to reload.
To get a grip on the controversy, imagine being a young G.I. in combat in World War II. You’re moving up on a suspected Japanese position with a fully loaded M1 Garand. You catch a bit of movement and realize the small mounds on the ground in front of you are actually enemy helmets poking up from a trench.
You drop into a good firing position and start throwing rounds down range. With seven shots, you kill one and wound another. Your eighth shot reinforces the man’s headache, but it also causes the ping, telling the attentive third Japanese soldier that you’re completely out of ammo.
The theory states that that’s when the third soldier jumps up and kills you. But there are a couple issues with the theory.
First, in the chaos of combat, it would be uncommon for an enemy to hear the clip ejecting over the sound of the fight. Second, soldiers typically fight as a group, so the G.I. in the hypothetical should actually have five to nine other soldiers with him, and it’s unlikely that more than one or two of them would be out of ammo at the same time.
Third, as the Bloke demonstrates, it doesn’t take long for the shooter to reload, putting them back in the fight and ready to kill any enemy soldiers running to take advantage of the ammo gap.
ArmamentResearch.com found a 1952 Technical Memorandum where researchers asked veterans who carried the rifle what they thought of the ping. Out of 315 responders, 85 thought that the ping was helpful to the enemy, but a whopping 187 thought it was more useful to the shooter by acting as a useful signal to reload.
An article by a Chief Warrant Officer 5 Charles D. Petrie after he reportedly spoke to German veterans of D-Day who found the idea of attacking after a ping laughable. They reported that, in most engagements, they couldn’t hear the ping at all, and the rest of the time they were too aware of the rest of the American squad to try to take advantage of it.
The reply that came during a seance, according to a defendant’s testimony given at a Kyiv court on March 10, 1948, was that the Soviet dictator was no such thing.
Coming at a time when Josef Stalin’s cult of personality was at its height, such a conversation was sure to attract attention. Especially because the founding father of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Lenin, was allegedly the one replying from beyond the grave during the conjuring, more than two decades after his death.
Other court evidence revealed that during one of the seances “Lenin” predicted from the afterlife that war was coming — six countries would soon free the Soviet people from Stalin’s yoke.
When asked about the future of Soviet power, an unidentified Russian revolutionary responded that “it won’t exist, with the help of America.”
Such “conversations” were revealed in archived documents of trial testimony and interrogations carried out by the Soviet State Security Ministry (MGB), which included the secret police.
Aside from Lenin, the court heard from a number of early Soviet A-listers, some of whom might have cause to slander Stalin.
Lenin and Stalin.
There was archrival Leon Trotsky, who was assassinated in Mexico City in 1940 on the Soviet leader’s orders. And Nadezhda Alliluyeva, Stalin’s second wife, who died under mysterious circumstances after a public argument with her husband in 1932.
Others speaking from the grave included the writers Maxim Gorky and Aleksandr Kuprin, as well as famed rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
Their questioners were not members of the Bolshevik inner circle, but ordinary residents of the north-central Ukrainian town of Bila Tserkva who had never even belonged to the Communist Party.
For their role in conjuring up voices from the past, Ilya Gorban, his sister Vera Sorokina, and his lover Olga Rozova were arrested and accused of anti-Soviet acts and the “creation of an illegal religious-mystical group of spiritists.”
Gorban was an unaccomplished artist when he moved to Bila Tserkva from Kyiv in early 1947, a year before the trial.
The 44-year-old native of the Poltava region had designed museum exhibits and prepared posters and portraits of Lenin for demonstrations. He was wounded during World War II while manning an anti-tank gun near Orel.
He had married and fathered a child. But the marriage ended in divorce and his daughter lived with her mother.
Gorban settled into his new life in Bila Tserkva with his sister, Vera, and got a job at the local industrial plant as a sculptor.
A book lover, he frequented the city library and soon entered into a romance with 39-year-old Olga Rozova, a library employee.
Rozova was married. But her husband — Andrei Rozov, a journalist with a newspaper in Voronezh — had been accused of belonging to an “anti-Soviet Trotskyite terrorist organization” in 1938 and imprisoned for 10 years.
While at work, Gorban had a conversation with colleague Mikhail Ryabinin, who asked the sculptor if he believed in the afterlife and the existence of spirits.
Gorban said he did not, but he did take Ryabinin up on his recommendation that he read the Spirits Book — written in 1856 by Frenchman Hippolyte Leon Denizard Rivail under the pen name Allan Kardec and considered one of the pillars of spiritism.
The doctrine of spiritism, or Kardecism, centers on the belief that the spirits of the dead survive beyond mortal life and can communicate with the living. The communication usually takes place during seances conducted by a person serving as a medium between this world and the otherworld.
Gorban read it with fascination and proposed that Ryabinin organize a seance. His friend declined, however, saying according to case files that “all these sessions with plates — they are nonsense and baby talk. I contact the spirits at a higher level.”
Gorban’s sister agreed to try, however, and together they conducted a seance based on what they had learned.
They lit candles and sat at a table with a sheet of paper in the center. On the paper the letters of the alphabet, the numbers zero through nine, and the words “yes” and “no” were drawn in a circle.
A seance board similar to the one used in Bila Tserkva
A saucer with an arrow from the center to the edge was set over the paper.
The idea was to call on the spirts of a particular person and, if he or she appeared, to ask them questions. If all went well the saucer, beneath the hands of participants, would begin to rotate freely and without force, spelling out answers by pointing to the appropriate symbols on the paper.
Altogether, Gorban and his sister conducted 15 to 20 seances in the summer and autumn of 1947. At times they reached out to people outside the Soviet circle. The spirits of deceased relatives were often conjured up, including the siblings’ mother, who allegedly gave the pair everyday advice. They even got a hold of Alexander Pushkin, but the Russian poet “cursed” them.
Gorban’s girlfriend, Olga Rozova, began to join the sessions, and the group conjured up a late writer who began to compliment her.
“I suspected that this was a trick of Gorban’s, with whom I had been in an intimate relationship,” she recalled during her courtroom interrogation. “The whole session was of a purely personal, amorous character.”
Some sessions were held at Rozova’s apartment, which was inside the library. A friend of hers who headed the local school library, Varvara Shelest, took an interest and also started attending the sessions.
The last seance, according to testimony of group members, was held in December 1947.
They asked Lenin’s spirit about the monetary reforms enacted that year, which included the denomination of the ruble and the confiscation of personal savings.
Knock on the door
A couple of months later Chekists — agents of the feared secret service — came for them.
Rozova was detained on Feb. 19, 1948; Sorokina and Gorban were taken away the next day.
The case was transferred to the authorities in Kyiv, and the trial began on March 6, just two weeks after the suspects were detained.
From the MGB’s point of view, the seances were evidence of the formation of an “illegal religious-mystical group” — which on its own could have led to imprisonment. But the authorities took things one step further by adding the more serious “anti-Soviet” charge.
“This seance had a sharply anti-Soviet character,” read one file. “This deliberate slander pertained to one of the leaders of the [Communist] Party and government.”
When initially questioned, the three did not appear to hide that they had participated in seances. Gorban and Sorokina wrote them off as an attempt to have fun; Rozova said there was no intended goal.
Joseph Stalin, Lenin, and Mikhail Kalinin.
But ultimately their confessions were recorded by their interrogators — the sessions were driven by anti-Soviet sentiment and were just a “convenient screen” for “slanderous agitation.”
In his interrogation report, Gorban was quoted as saying he had “tried to defame and slander the Soviet powers and the leaders of the Party and government” to expose the “talentlessness” of Soviet leaders to his alleged accomplices.
Disgruntled by postwar poverty, it was Gorban who had directed the movements of the saucer, according to the documents.
During their trial, those alleged admissions were recanted. Each of the three defendants declared that they did not believe in the otherworld or spirits. When queried about their religious beliefs, each answered that they were atheists. And their sessions, they said, were for entertainment.
“I didn’t think that our sessions were anti-Soviet,” Sorokina testified. “What we did was, of course, not good, but I was, am, and will remain a Soviet person.”
As for the saucer, Gorban said, he had no idea how it moved. All admitted to partial guilt, according to the court files.
The ruling in their case came on March 10, after just two court sessions.
The three were found guilty of anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation, and of participation in a counterrevolutionary organization.
Gorban was sentenced to 25 years in a labor camp; Rozova and Sorokina to 10 years each. Gorban would have been executed had the verdict come a year earlier — but the death penalty had recently been suspended.
The mystery of ‘North’
The role of Gorban’s colleague in all this was not forgotten. A criminal case was opened against Ryabinin — the man who had suggested Gorban read the Spirits Book — the same day the others were sentenced.
It is unclear, however, what might have happened to him.
Rozova’s friend, Shelest, also remains a mystery. Despite her attendance at the group’s seances, she was apparently never detained.
According to the case files, she disappeared shortly after the others were nabbed. Material related to her was transferred to a different case, a common step intended to avoid the search for the accused slowing down the investigations of those detained.
When it later emerged that the others had been arrested as part of an underground sting operation, Shelest’s name was not listed among the targets. And when the MGB informed other Soviet authorities about the eradication of a group of spiritists in Bila Tserkva, it made mention only of an informant — codenamed “Sever” (North) — who had attended some of the sessions.
But Shelest’s name did pop up. During their trial the three defendants claimed it was Shelest who initiated most of the “political” questions posed to spirits — including Trotsky, Alliluyeva, and Gorky. Rozova said she had suspicions that Shelest had manipulated the saucer’s movements.
In requesting a pardon in 1954, one year after Stalin’s death, Rozova wrote that “at the trial it became clear to me that Shelest had been tasked with creating an anti-Soviet crime from our seances.” She further argued that Shelest continued to live in Bila Tserkva, yet no one was trying to question her.
Around the same time a prosecutor wrote that while Sorokina and Rozova were “addicted to spiritism because of their curiosity and irresponsibility,” their actions did not result in serious consequences. The two, the prosecutor argued, should be released.
The Supreme Court eventually ruled that while the verdicts handed down against Gorban, Sorokina, and Rozova were correct, their sentences were too harsh.
Sorokina and Rozova were released on Feb. 22, 1955, seven years after their arrest. The decision came too late for Gorban, who died in 1950 while incarcerated at a labor camp near the Arctic Circle.
In 1992 — less than one year after the dissolution of the Soviet Union — all three were rehabilitated.
In August, 1995, a series of events occurred that would just seem implausible today. A Taliban MiG fighter intercepted a Russian Airstan Ilyushin Il-76TD, forcing it to land at Kandahar International Airport in the middle of a nationwide Civil War. The crew and its passengers were taken prisoner by the Taliban. They were held for a year while the Russian government tried to negotiate their release with the help of a U.S. senator
The 1990s were a crazy time. Even with our post-9/11 goggles off, it seems inconceivable that any number of the above could happen – just try to imagine these crazy things:
A Taliban MiG fighter
Forcing a Russian plane to land
Russian government negotiating
A U.S. Senator helping Russia
It’s all true, of course. In 1994, the Taliban exploded out of Kandahar and, by the time of this incident, controlled much of the country south of Kabul. When the Airstan plane was flying over, the Taliban were still deadlocked against the Afghan government of the time, led by Burhanuddin Rabbani.
It must have been an awkward ask for Rabbani, who spent years fighting the Russians in Afghanistan, only to ask them for weapons in trying to keep it away from other Afghans.
Even Jiffy Lube makes you keep the keys on the dashboard, guys.
The Airstan Ilyushin Il-76TD was carrying a load of 30 tons of weapons from Albania bound for the legitimate Afghan government when it was intercepted by a Taliban MiG-21. It was an old fighter, even in the 1990s, but was still enough to bring down the Ilyushin II.
Upon landing, the crew of seven was taken into custody by the Taliban — but the story doesn’t end there. As negotiations between the Russians and the terrorist group began to stall, American Senator Hank Brown stepped in to facilitate the talks, not only buying the Russians time, but also the crew. It didn’t hurt that the Taliban wanted some of their people freed in exchange for their prisoners.
For over a year, the Russian aircrew prepared for their daring escape. Brown managed to get the Taliban to agree to let the Russian Airstan crew maintain their captured aircraft to ensure it was in working order when the time to take off finally came. Brown visited the crew and let them know they would be maintaining it.
But not only did the crew perform its routine maintenance, they also slowly but surely prepared it for their flight home. They finally got their big chance one day, just over a year after being captured. When half of the Taliban who regularly guarded them left the group to attend evening prayers, the crew tricked the others into leaving their weapons outside the plane.
They overpowered the remaining three guards and started the engines.
By the time the Taliban noticed the plane was getting ready for take off, it was already taxiing down the runway. They tried to block their takeoff using a fire truck, but to no avail, the Russians were airborne well ahead of the truck’s position on the runway. The Taliban missed catching the escaping Russians by a mere three to five seconds.
The crew had done the impossible and the Taliban were not able to scramble intercepting aircraft in time to catch them.
They left Taliban airspace as fast as possible and set course for the UAE. By the time they landed, Russian President Boris Yeltsin was waiting by the phone to congratulate them. They made it home to Russia shortly after. The crew is said to celebrate their escape from the terrible event like a second birthday. The Taliban are brutal to prisoners, and the crew of the Airstan Ilyushin Il considered the entire country a prisoner of the terror group.
“My heart really goes out to these people. I’ve seen what a poverty-stricken and miserable standard of living they have. They’re still fighting because they’ve nothing left to lose,” a member of the crew told the BBC.
Their daring escape was the subject of a Russian film, Kandagar, in 2010.
World War I is not the bloodiest war in the history of war, but rapid advances in technology as well as the failure of military leaders to adjust their tactics resulted in possibly the bloodiest day in British military history when the nation lost almost 20,000 troops on July 1, 1916.
The roots of the bloodshed of July 1 date back before the war even started as the Gatling Gun gave way to true machine guns, originally known as “gunpowder engines,” and advances in mortars, artillery, and even the standard rifle made soldiers of all types much more lethal.
Members of the British Border Regiment rest in dugouts during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
(Imperial War Museums)
But, importantly, many of these breakthroughs favored static defenses. Soldiers could march forward with machine guns, but they would struggle to quickly emplace them and get them into operation. Defenders, meanwhile, could build fortifications around their machine guns and mow down enemy forces with near impunity.
After the war started in 1914, Germany managed to quickly move into France before getting bogged down in a line that eventually stretched across Europe. A German attack at Verdun in early 1916 became a black hole for French troops. The attack was designed to bleed France dry and force it out of the war.
The Germans expected Britain to launch its own attack against German lines to relieve the pressure from France. And Britain did have a plan for an attack, but it would prove to be a failure.
General Sir Sam Hughes watches a British attack at the Battle of the Somme, October 1917.
(BiblioArchives, CC BY 2.0)
A joint British-Franco assault was scheduled for the summer. The main thrust was to come along a narrow stretch of the River Somme and the first day would see approximately 100,000 British troops rushing German lines in what was hoped to be a quick advance.
Soldiers with the Royal Irish Rifles sit in a communication trench on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
(Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY-SA 2.0)
But the battle wasn’t over. While small changes in tactics and the later introduction of the tank reduced the number of casualties that Britain took, the battle would wage on for five months and the combatants eventually inflicted over 1,000,000 casualties on one another.