Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first? - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?

Since the dawn of humanity, people have been as competitive as hell. We want to be the best. The first. While most of the world has already been explored today, the tallest peaks, darkest caves, and iciest tundras were once undiscovered mysteries, and humans were obsessed with discovering every corner. Before the 1900s, the North Pole was one of those untouched corners. All early attempts failed, upping the allure of the so-called top of the world. 

In 1909, that changed. First, US Navy engineer Robert Peary claimed to have reached the pole on April 6th of that year. But shortly after, an American explorer named Frederick Albert Cook declared he had actually reached the pole first, nearly a year prior. So who was right? 

The Race for the North Pole Was Cutthroat and Controversial

The North Pole is both barely habitable and intensely difficult to reach. Situated in the moddle of the Arctic Ocean, accessing the pole is impossible without first traversing treacherous, unpredictable sea ice. Every attempt before the 20th century fell flat. William Edward Parry, a British Naval officer, tried but didn’t even get close. An American explorer named Charles Hall tried and failed in 1871. Over two decades later, a pair of Norwegian explorers, Fredrik Hjalmar Johansen and Fridtjof Nansen, got painfully close before having to return home defeated. An Italian explorer got marginally farther before giving up as well. 

Then came Peary and Cook. They began as friends, but their differences were pointed. Peary was born in 1856, and he was deadset on achieving fame. His expeditions, like most, relied heavily on the assistance of the locals in each region he explored, but he treated them more like chess pieces than friends. He went as far as to dig up graves to sell to New York’s Museum of Natural History. Cook, born nearly a decade later in 1865, was an ambitious, young doctor with a more modern approach. He was genuinely interest in the lives of indigenous peoples, diving into their culture and learning their languages. 

The two traveled together to Greenland once, but Cook turned down a second invitation. Peary wanted him to sign a contract preventing any accounts of the expidition from being published before Peary did it first. Left with a bad taste in his mouth, Cook broke contact with Peary for several years. They were reunited when Peary was lost in the Arctic and Cook was called upon to rescue him. Rescue him he did, treating him for scurvy and several other conditions. On a later expedition to Greenland, Peary badly broke his leg and Cook stepped in once again to treat his injury. Still, the two were very different men. Instead of colleagues, they were competitors. 

Peary, one of the last imperialistic explorers, would have died for fame. 

In a message to his mother about his longing to conquer the elusive North Pole, he wrote, “My last trip brought my name before the world; my next will give me a standing in the world….I will be foremost in the highest circles in the capital, and make powerful friends with whom I can shape my future instead of letting it come as it will….Remember, mother, I must have fame.”

Peary did travel to the Arctic once more, but whether or not he made it all the way to the pole is highly disputed. According to him, he made it to the North Pole on April 6th, 1909, but he straight up refused to share any definitive proof. According to a later review conducted in 1989 by the US National Geographic Society, the photos Peary took suggest that he did make it within eight kilometers of the official North Pole. 

Even with this supposed endorsement, the truth of his claims remained controversial. Firstly, no one else on the expedition had the navigational skills to confirm or deny Peary’s reports. They did, however, mention multiple, agonizingly long detours, while Peary claimed to take a direct route. Secondly, even on his own expedition, he may not have been the first to arrive at the pole. He was joined by four Inuit men and his assistant, a black man named Matthew Henson. Henson was a skilled explorer of his own right, adventuring in the Arctic alongside Peary on seven different occasions. 

Yet Peary considered himself to be superior to Henson, and was unwilling to share the credit with him. In fact, he intended to abandon Henson to reach the Pole first on his owe. He lost track of the distance, however, and according to Henson, he was livid that five others shared “his” glorious North Pole victory. He later took all the credit, and it wasn’t until Henson published a book in 1947 that he began receiving recognition for his achievements. 

Whether they truly made it to the pole or not, their unopposed rule of polar discovery didn’t go unopposed for long. 

Cook claimed that he reached the pole nearly a year earlier, but his evidence was unconvincing. 

The daring Doctor Cook was just as keen on finding the far north as Peary was. After a Mount Denali expedition that was also shrouded in suspicion, Cook headed straight for the Arctic. He set off from Annoatok, a settlement in Greenland, February, 1908. He claimed to have arrived at the pole on April 21st, yet he didn’t make it back to Annoatok until the next spring, nearly starving along the way. 

In total, they were gone for 14 months, and it remains unclear where they ended up. Cook was never able to produce convincing navigational records. According to him, he left the records in a box along with some of his other belongings at Annoatok. There, an American hunter, Harry Whitney, attempted to load the box onto Peary’s ship, the Roosevelt, Peary forbid it. The contents of that box were never seen again. 

By December 1909, experts at the University of Copenhagen determined that Cook’s records were insufficient to prove he had reached the pole. Some researchers have noted that Cook’s account of the journey, which he tracked in a diary, describes the landscape with remarkable accuracy. If he didn’t reach the pole, how could he have known what it looked like? 

Whoever got there first, both men were intrepid adventurers who paved the way for later, less disputable expeditions. 

north pole
Personnel at an Antarctic Base, circa 1946-47. Back Row:(left to right) Dustin; Cox; Dr. Paul A. Siple; Rear Admiral Richard E. Byrd, USN; and Boyd Kneeling: (left to right) Morency; Shirley; Amory H. Waite: Richardson; and Wiener U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph

The true “first man to the North Pole” is nearly impossible to determine, but many have followed in their footsteps. About 60 years later, American Ralph Plaisted, along with three companions, were the first to reach the pole without a shred of controversy…by snowmobile, in 1968! Other adventurers have succeeded as well, by plane, submarine, and on their own two feet. I wonder which murderous wasteland will explorers fight over next. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how insanely specific WWI fighter planes had to be

In December of 1903, the Wright Brothers made history in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina as they took to the skies in their powered and controlled aircraft, making an 852-foot flight. Less than a dozen years later, mankind revolutionized military aviation with a hugely important invention: the synchronization gear.

This ingenious device managed the milliseconds that stood between crashing to the ground and defeating your enemy.


In the early days of World War I, aviation was still very much in its infancy. People were skeptical about the effectiveness of aircraft in battle, so many turned to mounted cavalry for reconnaissance. When that couldn’t cut it, they finally gave aircraft a shot — which turned out to be an effective way to cross no-man’s land without serious risk.

The low-power engines of the time, however, couldn’t build enough lift to carry any weapons what weren’t also found on the battlefield below. Machine guns only become a viable option once the engineers increased wing space. Thus, the iconic biplane was born.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
Or you could fly with three winged Fokker Dr.I like the Red Baron because why not?

The attached machine gun, which usually faced the rear of the aircraft, could rain Hell from above, but they were extremely ineffective against other aircraft. To address that need, they affixed a forward-facing machine gun that could fire in the direction of the aircraft. The problem was, however, that there was a propeller to contend with.

As an interim solution, the British developed the F.E.2. This machine-gun faced the front of planes but, to avoid hitting the propellers, it was located in the middle of the aircraft. It wasn’t pretty but it was an effective compromise.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
(Phillip Capper)

Then, the Germans introduced their newest advancement: the synchronization gear. Pilot Kurt Wintgens scored the first aerial victory utilizing one on July 1, 1915 — and it changed everything.

The theory behind it is fairly simple to explain. The machine gun was placed directly behind the propellers and would fire only when the propellers were safely out of the way. The execution, however, was much trickier. A poorly timed synchronization gear meant that the pilot would drop out of the sky like Wile E. Coyote.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
Not something you’d want to have happen while you’re almost a kilometer above enemy territory.
(National Archive)

Let’s talk mechanics: A timing cam rotated at the same speed as the propellers. This would physically stop the trigger from pulling at the moment a propeller was in the line of fire. The timing cam allowed the propeller to move at a various RPMs without adjusting the machine gun itself.

Americans improved on this design by employing hydraulics near the end of the war. This meant a faster rate of fire, more acute synchronization, and increased gun accuracy. The system could be adapted for nearly any engine and aircraft. The synchronization gear became a relic after the jet engine eliminated the need for propellers, but it still stands as one of the most ingenious inventions in aviation.

For more information on the physics of WWI aviation, check out the video below:

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the Presidential traditions around the Army-Navy game

Throughout the years, the meeting between the two largest rivals in college football has been known as “The President’s Game” because of how intertwined the game is with the Commander-in-Chief.


Many of the traditions surrounding the game — and perhaps the game itself — are owed to President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1893, after first four Army-Navy games, football was deemed “too unsafe” by President Grover Cleveland and future games were prohibited. After all, players were bloodied, fights broke out between fans, and, at one point, an Army General and Navy Admiral nearly dueled to the death over a game.

It wasn’t until 1897 that President Roosevelt — undeniably the manliest president America has ever seen — wrote a letter urging the reinstatement of the game. In 1899, it returned, but was as dangerous as ever. Later, President Roosevelt also saw to revamping the rules of the game. He made sure pads and gear were worn, adding safety but maintaining the sport’s intensity. Roosevelt attended the game in 1901 and laid down traditions for future presidents to emulate.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
Roosevelt crossing the field, sparking a new tradition. (Image via Library of Congress)

Presidential Attendance

To date, only nine sitting presidents have attended the game: Roosevelt, Wilson, Coolidge, Truman, Kennedy, Ford, Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama. Last year, then President-elect Donald Trump attended, making him the only President-elect to watch the game in person. President Truman holds the record at seven games, followed by President George W. Bush at three. Presidents that attend are usually asked to perform the coin toss at the start of the game.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
Bush also started the tradition of giving both teams a pep talk before the game. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tommy Gilligan)

President Eisenhower was the only President to ever play in the game, but never attend while in office. President Carter, despite having gone to the Naval Academy, never attended while in office. Between 1924 and 1945, no sitting President went to “The President’s Game.”

There was another gap in attendance starting in 1963, when President Ford came to cheer for both teams on for the 75th anniversary of the rivalry, and 1995. Since then, Presidents have made an appearance regularly.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
Kennedy was a major fan of the game, which is why the game was played just two weeks after his death. The almost 28 year gap was because of Presidential safety concerns. (Image via Kennedy Library)

Switching Sides

Another tradition started by President Roosevelt is walking across the field at half-time. This symbolic gesture shows good will and faith between both teams and the President. Even Presidents who had served in the Navy or Army, like Kennedy and Ford respectively, put their histories aside for the sake of tradition (although they both started on their service’s side).

The only President to not do this was the seven-time attendee Truman, who stayed comfortably on one side. Don’t worry, he switched sides for the next game.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
You can’t fault Truman for sticking to one side. He DID attend more games than any other President. (Image via Truman Library)

MIGHTY HISTORY

One of the first Ironman Triathletes was a Navy SEAL who hydrated with beer

What is now considered the gold standard of endurance competitions started out with an idea from a sailor who was stationed in Hawaii in 1978. That first race had 15 competitors, and among them was John Dunbar, a former Navy SEAL who might have finished first had he had water to hydrate with. Instead, he drank Budweiser. He still finished a strong second.


Spoiler alert: the first winner of the now-legendary race was Naval Reserve Lieutenant Gordon Haller. He was just 34 minutes ahead of Dunbar.

The Ironman Triathlon was the brainchild of Naval Officer John Collins and his wife. While stationed in Hawaii, they and their friends used to talk trash about who was more fit – who was the better swimmer, biker, runner, etc., as some military members are apt to do. Collins decided he would create a competition to make everyone put their money where their mouth is. Knowing about the new triathlons that were gaining popularity in the Mainland United States, the Navy guys decided theirs would be the most fitting test of might and endurance.

On Feb. 18, 1978, 15 people showed up to the shores of Waikiki at 0700 to tackle the first Hawaiian Iron Man Triathlon, looking for the promise Collins wrote out in the first-ever rule book: “Swim 2.4 miles! Run 26¼ miles! Bike 112 miles! Brag the rest of your Life!”

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?

The first Ironman Triathletes enter the ocean for the swim competition.

(Ironman)

Back then, there were few monitors for the race as military personnel can usually be trusted to maintain their integrity. But times were different. The toughness of an Ironman Race is well-known today. Then, the competition was unlike anything they could have prepared for, so each participant was expected to have a crew with them to ensure their needs were met as the race progressed. Dunbar ran out of water because his team ran out of water, but he hydrated with beer and finished the race. Other participants weren’t exactly using the scientifically-formulated nutrition of today’s races, either.

One runner ate candy to get the energy he needed. Race founder John Collins actually stopped to eat a bowl of chili as the race’s lore tells us. Another runner got his sugar and caffeine fix from drinking cokes…in an Ironman Triathlon. Imagine seeing that on television today.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?

The first Ironman Trophy.

(Ironman)

In the end, only 12 of the original participants finished the grueling race (no word on whether the Coke drinker made it across the finish line). Finishers received a small trophy consisting of an iron tube formed into the shape of a stick figure with a hexagonal nut for a head – an Iron Man. The next year was even more raucous, with another 15 racers and 12 finishers, but this time the winner was a bar owner from San Diego. Dunbar again finished second, but this time he did it in a Superman costume. Haller finished fourth.

Sadly, this epic origin story ends with a falling out and a legal battle. As Collins’ idea grew into a worldwide phenomenon, he would end up selling it for millions. Due to the wording of the paperwork signed by the original participants, there is a controversy over the original 15 owning a small part of the Ironman event, an interpretation that had been rejected by the courts. They never got a cut of the money from the event, which is now owned by Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group, who paid 0 million for it in 2015.

The Ironman runs some 260 races in 44 countries, and while they may be an incredible achievement for those who run it, there will never be an Ironman like the ones run by a group of Navy friends in the early years.

Articles

How Rangers ‘left their mark’ on the Italians at Sened Station

In early 1943, the 1st Ranger Battalion, known as Darby’s Rangers, was still relatively unknown and rather untested. All of that was about to change.


The Rangers had been formed less than a year before at the insistence of Gen. George Marshall. Marshall believed that the Americans needed a commando unit and ordered Major Orlando Darby to make it happen. On June 19, 1942, the 1st Ranger Battalion was activated from “volunteers not adverse to dangerous action.”

Though over 2,000 men had volunteered, only 575 officers and enlisted men were accepted into the battalion. The British Commandos then trained these men at their training facility at Achnacarry, Scotland.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
William Darby. (U.S. Army photo)

Less than six months after their formation, the Rangers spearheaded the Allied invasion of North Africa by taking out Vichy French artillery batteries at Arzew, Algeria. In a quick but decisive move, the Rangers captured the guns and some 60 prisoners.

After helping secure the port facilities and a nearby town, the Rangers were withdrawn from action. They began an intense training period, focusing on forced marches and night fighting. Both would prove useful in the near future.

With the rapid advance of Allied forces across North Africa, and commanders unsure of what to do with a specialized raiding force like the Rangers, they were not involved in the ongoing combat.

That changed in February when the Rangers were called upon to conduct raids against Axis forces to gather intelligence and weaken enemy morale.

Darby devised a plan to attack the Italians at Sened Station.

Trucked to within 20 miles of their objective the Rangers set off in total darkness. The Rangers set a blistering pace and stealthily covered some fourteen miles before taking shelter among the rocks for the day.

Word was passed around for that night’s mission — the Rangers would leave their mark.

“They’ve got to know that they’ve been worked over by Rangers,” Capt. Roy Murray said. “Every man is to use his bayonet as much as he can. Those are our orders.”

While his men concealed themselves among rocks and brush, Darby and his executive officer, Major Herman Dammer, conducted a leaders’ reconnaissance of the Italian outpost.

With the final plan set, the Rangers prepared to move out as the sun set. Faces were blackened and anything that jingled or rattled was secured to ensure silence. Helmets had been traded for wool caps the night before.

Once the moon set, the Rangers began their movement toward the objective.

The raiding force consisted of three line companies and a detachment of 81mm mortars. They moved out three companies abreast, toward positions within 500 yards of the outpost.

Darby was able to track the movement of his men by an ingenious method. Using red-lensed flashlights covered with a shroud mounted on the pack of a few men, he was able to see when his units were in position. This also ensured that no man wondered off course.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
Rangers train on the terrain of the 8 November assault at Arzew (U.S. Army Photograph)

When all was ready, Darby sent forward the order to fix bayonets and move out.

Slowly, silently, the Rangers crept toward the unsuspecting Italian garrison.

Some amount of noise must have made it to the Italians at their posts because they became suspicious. With the Rangers still some 200 yards out, Italian machine guns opened fire. In the pitch black, their fire was wild and inaccurate. The Rangers held their fire and continued to creep forward.

As the Rangers made it to within 50 yards of the wire, the Italian’s fire became too close for comfort. Italian sentries called out into the night, “Qui va la? Qui va la?” (“Who goes there?”)

All at once the Americans responded. The Rangers leapt up and charged across the short distance to the Italian perimeter. American Tommy Guns riddled the outpost as riflemen tossed hand grenades and stormed across the Italian defenses with their bayonets.

One Ranger, Cpl. James Altieri, stumbled into a trench and right on top of an Italian soldier. In the brief struggle, Altieri dispatched the man by stabbing him in the stomach. It was his first hand-to-hand kill. He immediately vomited before continuing the fight.

Altieri later described the fighting by saying, “We worked them over furiously, giving no quarter.”

As the Rangers cleared the outpost, the 81mm mortars pounded the Italian positions and cut off their retreat.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
American troops march in the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. (Dept. of Defense photo)

In just 20 minutes, the Rangers were victorious. The Rangers had killed some 75 Italians and captured eleven more from the elite 10th Bersaglieri Regiment. The Italian artillery and machine guns were destroyed in place.

The victory had cost the Rangers one man and another 20 wounded.

As Darby conferred with the assault commanders and consolidated his position, he could hear the distant rumble of tracked vehicles — German armor. This was expected; the raid had been intended to draw out the Germans to help commanders determine their strength. But it also meant it was time for the Rangers to get out of Dodge.

Also read: 8 more awesome nicknames that enemies gave the U.S. military

Retracing their steps, the Rangers set out on a forced march back to the French outpost with their prisoners in tow.

The sudden ferocity with which the Rangers struck earned them the nickname “the Black Death” among the Italians.

The daring raid also garnered Darby and eleven other Rangers a Silver Star for gallantry.

Darby and the Rangers would see more intense combat in North Africa before spearheading assaults into Sicily and Italy.

Their success convinced the Army to stand up four more Ranger battalions in the European theatre.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the Coast Guard’s largest loss of life in a single event

“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.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
USS Serpens at anchor somewhere in the Pacific islands with derricks extended to take on cargo.
(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.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
An aerial view of Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, during World War II showing the airfield captured by the U.S. Marines early in the campaign.
(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.”

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
A chart of Iron Bottom Sound, located north of Guadalcanal, showing the numerous ships lying on the seafloor, including the remains of USS Serpens at Lunga Point.

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.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
USS Serpens crew’s caskets arrive at Arlington National Cemetery from Guadalcanal in 1949.
(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.”

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
Retired Coast Guard officer Richard Stoud plays taps at the Serpens Memorial in November 2013.
(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.

This article originally appeared on the United States Coast Guard. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Austrian Army defeated itself

There has been no friendly fire incident in the history of the world like the 1788 Battle of Karansebes. The Austrian Army had been at war with the Ottoman Turks for more than a year when another contingent of Austrian soldiers stumbled upon another part of their army. What should have been a general misunderstanding turned into a full-on battle with more than ten thousand killed or wounded and the Ottoman capture of Karansebes anyway.


The story starts with a band of gypsies.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?

As every good story should.

It’s necessary to know that the Austrians of this time weren’t simply Austrian, they were fighting for the Hapsburg Empire, and their fighting force was comprised of several different languages, with no real common means of communicating between units. Still, units made up of these single language-speakers would regularly patrol by themselves, rather than joining other units to learn multiple languages or having a common tongue.

It was one of these units, a cavalry patrol, that was out looking for any signs of enemy Ottomans around. They didn’t find any Turks, but what they found was a group of Romani Gypsies who were just settling in for the night. The Gypsies offered the Austrians a good time with dancing and drinking, which the grateful cavalrymen eagerly took. Then, more Austrians showed up, but these were a group of infantry, and the cavalrymen refused to share.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?

Anyone who’s ever known infantrymen can probably guess what’s about to happen.

This started a fistfight, of course. As the rival groups started fighting over the booze, shots rang out from across the nearby river. All the fighting Hapsburg men stopped fighting and took cover, quickly making it back to their camp to warn the others that Turks were shooting from the other side of the river. The camp exploded in a frenzy of men who thought Turks were overrunning their camp. When the German officers tried to get their fleeing men to calm down and come back, they shouted “halt,” which in a German accent, was mistaken for “Allah.” part of the Ottoman’s battle cry.

All the sides fought one another until the camp commander believed he was being overrun, at which point he ordered the artillery to pound his own men.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?

Imagine this but with cannon fire landing everywhere around them.

When the Turkish Army did arrive to take the town two days later, it was completely deserted by the opposition. They rolled into the city immediately, and the Austrians didn’t talk about Karansebes for another forty years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The northernmost Confederate attack was a raid on Vermont

We hear a lot about how Gettysburg was as far north as the Confederate Army could get, while that may be true for the Army of Northern Virginia, it wasn’t true for the entire Confederate armed forces. The actual northernmost fighting took place in northern Vermont, near the U.S. border with Canada.

You can’t get much further than that.


Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?

Vermonters were not expecting this either, trust me.

Although the Confederates did make it to Gettysburg and were stopped, there were many other places in the United States, well north of Gettysburg. During the Gettysburg campaign, another Confederate expedition was making its way up through Tennessee and Kentucky, then into Indiana and Ohio. Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan led a raid that was supposed to divert men and resources from resisting the main southern thrust northward, the one at Gettysburg.

Morgan led his men, less than 3,000, through Cincinnati, Columbus, and Steubenville Ohio, only to be stopped by Union troops in Salineville, Ohio. Ambrose Burnside and his army of 40,000 relentlessly pursued Morgan up through the northern states. After they were captured, they managed to escape, retreating to Cincinnati and into Kentucky, where they took advantage of the state’s neutral status.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?

A handful of the raiders after the incident.

One native Kentuckian, Bennett H. Young, was captured at Salineville and escaped but instead of sneaking down the Ohio River and into Kentucky, he moved North instead. He slipped into British-controlled, Confederate-sympathizing Canada and hatched his plan to continue fighting the Union from the other side of the Mason-Dixon line.

He decided that diverting Union troops from attacking the South was still the best way forward, so he devised a plan that served that end while funding his own expeditions: raiding Northern border towns. His first stop would be St. Albans, Vermont, just a few miles from the U.S.-Canada border.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?

The raiders wanted to burn the whole town, but their accelerant didn’t work as planned.

Young’s men moved into St. Albans piecemeal, coming in groups of two to three every few days, and checking into the local hotels. By Oct. 19, 1864, 21 Confederate cavalrymen had made it to the sleepy Vermont town. Once ready, they simultaneously robbed the town’s three banks, fought off any resistance, forced others to swear loyalty to the Confederate States of America, and burned someone’s shed. They also made off with the modern equivalent of .3 million before escaping into Canada.

The United States demanded the extradition of the soldiers, but since the men had acted as official CSA soldiers, the Canadians would not turn them over to the Americans.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How we got a pilot’s-eye view of dogfights in the Korean War

If you’ve watched documentaries about the battles of World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, then chances are you’ve seen gun-camera footage. Whether it’s air-to-air or air-to-ground action, these attention-grabbing videos give us an idea of the intensity of combat aviation — but how do we get them?


In this day and age, we’re lucky to have plenty of digital tools to easily capture footage, download it to a hard drive, and upload it to YouTube or some other cloud storage service. Back in the day, however, all they had was film — and this film was often very useful. It gave intelligence officers some idea of what the pilots actually did. After all, it wasn’t unusual for a fired-up pilot to inflate their kill counts upon return.

But it wasn’t always easy to get that film.

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This gun-camera footage from a Navy F9F Panther shows a MiG-15 in its last few seconds of life.

(US Navy)

The process was a lengthy one. The film was first taken to a central processing laboratory. To save space, the film was placed in a number of magazines and then placed into one large roll. Loading that roll had to be done in total darkness. Why? In order to view film, it must first be developed and if the film is exposed to light prematurely, it’s ruined.

The entire process included rinsing to fully process the negatives, editing the processed negatives (which was done without computers, by the way), adding timestamps, and more. All in all, there were ten steps, including a test screening.

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This is the final product of a long process done by specialists who did hard work.

(Jeff Quitney / YouTube)

You can see how some Air Force specialists did this job during the Korean War in the video below. As an added bonus, after they give you a run-down of all the developmental steps, you get to see a MiG-15 in the sights of a F-86 Sabre’s gun-camera. The folks who made it possible for you to see that footage never faced enemy fire, but they certainly worked almost as hard as the Sabre’s pilot did!

Check out the video below to see how we get that intense footage.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMBGbrLBjE4

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time an F-14 killed three MiGs with a single missile

A lot of crazy sh*t happened in the Iran-Iraq War. The backbone of the Iranian Air Force at the time was the beloved F-14 Tomcat, a plane the Iranians still fly. Purchased by the Shah of Iran before the rise of the Islamic Republic, Iran’s Air Force consisted of dozens of the two-seat fighter aircraft, which gave them an edge in the air war against neighboring Iraq.

But tech can only take you so far. And it was the skills of Iranian pilots that allowed the IRIAF to claim three kills with one missile.


Iranians are really good behind the stick of the Tomcat. In fact, the highest scoring ace in a Tomcat is an Iranian named Jalil Zandi. According to the U.S. Air Force, Zandi is credited with 11 kills in an F-14 — an amazing achievement for any fighter pilot. But he was in good company during the Iran-Iraq War because his fellow pilots were keeping the skies clear of any offending Iraqi aircraft.

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You can’t slap sanctions on style, apparently.

Now Read: This Iranian was the highest-scoring F-14 Tomcat pilot ever

The Iran-Iraq War was in full stalemate by the end of 1981 and the fighting on the ground was so brutal, it might literally have been illegal. Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 for a number of reasons, mostly to take advantage of political instability following the fall of the Shah, but also to keep Shia Islamic Revolution from being exported to neighboring countries.

Before the Iraqi ground troops crossed the border, however, Saddam’s air forces attempted to destroy the Iranian Air Force while it was still on the ground. They missed and it cost them big time. From that point on, Iraqi MiG and Sukhoi fighters were flying the highway to the danger zone every time they flew into Iran – Tomcats were on patrol.

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Iranian F-14 Tomcats carrying Phoenix missiles.

In the opening days of the war, Tomcats took their toll on the Iraqi Air Force, downing fighters and bombers alike. Their most deadly weapons, Phoenix missiles, carried an explosive payload that was much larger than other anti-aircraft missiles. They were designed to take down Soviet-built Tupolev bomber aircraft, the same kind the Iraqis were trying to fly over Tehran.

By 1981, the war on the ground had devolved into an exchange of chemical weapons against human wave attacks. The war was just as brutal in the air, but the Tomcats gave Iran a decisive edge. A single F-14 in the area was enough for Iraqi pilots to scatter and head for home. What happened on Jan. 7, 1981 was a clear example of why.

Iranian pilot Asadullah Adeli and his Radar Intercept Officer Mohammed Masbough responded to reports of unidentified aircraft headed toward Kharg Island in the Persian Gulf. The Tomcat determined the intruder was actually three Iraqi MiG-23s, presumably headed toward an oil rig near the island. Iranian ground radar couldn’t see all three, but authorized Adeli and Masbough to engage the MiGs anyway.

They were flying really low,” Adeli recalled. “Even though it was night, they were flying at around 2,000 feet.

Masbough told him to target the one in the middle, just hoping to damage the other two enough that they might break off. That’s almost what happened. The American-built Phoenix missile’s explosive delivery was so powerful, it downed all three enemy aircraft. The wreckage of all three MiGs was found on Kharg Island the next day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Navy tried to prevent accidents 60 years ago

For a long time, the Navy has been trying to reduce the frequency of accidents — and it’s easy to see why. The recent collisions involving the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) and USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) left 17 sailors dead, many others hurt, and both destroyers out of action for months. Other safety mishaps have been less costly, but each accident takes time and effort to clean up — ultimately taking time and effort away from other, more important things, like fighting the enemy.

For years, the Navy put forth the Friday Funnies, which used humor (most of the time) to push sailors to be careful, often using the sailors involved in accidents and mishaps as the butt of the joke pour encourager les autres — to help others learn from their mistakes. If you didn’t want to be made fun of in the bulletin, well, you knew what not to do.


One area in which things can quickly turn fatal is within aviation. When things go wrong on a plane or when somebody messes up, crashes can happen, and those tend to be deadly. So, not surprisingly, the Navy created safety bulletins that focused on the flight line. The messages were clear and designed to prevent simple (but costly) mistakes, like forgetting to put the landing gear down, which happened to both a C-17 crew in 2009 and an A-4 Skyhawk flown by a contractor in 2015.

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The 1966 fire on USS Oriskany (CV 34) was started when a flare accidentally ignited.

(US Navy)

But accidents don’t just happen in the air. The ground (or the carrier) is also a high-risk environment. There were huge fires on the carriers USS Oriskany (CV 34), USS Forrestal (CV 59), and USS Enterprise (CVN 65) during the Vietnam War that collectively claimed the lives of 206 sailors.

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Some accidents are through error – like a C-17 crew forgetting to make sure the landing gear is down.

(USAF)

Even if nobody gets hurt, accidents can lead to damaging valuable combat planes. These days, when an F-35 costs about 0 million, nobody wants that to happen.

See how the Navy taught sailors to avoid accidents 60 years ago in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyuJ8rUefc8

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

When the USDA protected the US military it changed the world

For over 75 years, USDA scientists have been developing ways to protect the U.S. military around the world from powerful adversaries — mosquitoes and other biting arthropods that cause disease. Their work began in 1942 in a small USDA field laboratory in Orlando, where scientists made key discoveries about new chemicals for controlling these pests. At the time, the most effective repellents lasted only 2 hours, and the U.S. military needed a repellent that could protect for 10 hours. In 1952, testing in Orlando confirmed DEET was an effective repellent; it was soon adopted for use by the U.S. Army, became commercially available by 1957 — and is still used widely today.


Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s chief in-house research agency, have continued their search for better repellents ever since. They used the USDA database of 30,000 compounds to develop a model that used chemical structure data for predicting how long a repellent would keep pests away. This model predicted that some compounds would be more effective than DEET, and subsequent research confirmed some compounds did indeed repel pests more than three times longer than DEET.

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ARS testing demonstrates the efficacy of DEET u2014 used on the left hand u2014 in repelling mosquitoes.

In 2004, the Department of Defense initiated a partnership with USDA and others as part of the Deployed War-Fighter Protection (DWFP) program. Its’ mission: to develop and test management tools for pest and vector species that transmit diseases to deployed U.S. troops. ARS scientists in Gainesville, Florida; Beltsville, Maryland; and Oxford, Mississippi, have contributed discoveries about repellent as part of the DWFP research and accomplishments. ARS has also collaborated with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center since 2003 to optimize the arthropod bite protection of factory-produced permethrin-treated uniforms. Treating uniforms became standard practice in the 1950s, first with a miticide, and starting in 1991 with permethrin.

ARS National Program Leader Uli Bernier has been responsible for developing protocols to evaluate uniform protection against mosquitoes, and in 2015 conducted a study that led to the registration of etofenprox as an alternative clothing repellent. He recently staffed an ARS information table at the 5th USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo, where he said visitors wanted to learn more about a new pest-resistant tropical lightweight uniform on display. Visitors were also fascinated by a cage of mosquitoes used for research — but unlike USDA researchers, they were reluctant to place their hand in a cage full of mosquitoes!

This Military Appreciation Month, we pay special tribute to the efforts of our servicemen and women. USDA honors our military and will continue to support their work.

Articles

France sent thousands of thank you gifts to the US after WWII

In 1949, the French freighter Magellan steamed into New York Harbor with “Merci, America” painted on its bow. The ship was carrying 49 railway cars filled with thousands of gifts donated by the people of France — a thank you for the food donated by American citizens to help rebuild Europe after WWII.


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The Magellan steaming into New York Harbor in 1949.

Just two years before the Magellan arrived, the Marshall Plan inspired Americans to collect food and put their donations aboard what they called the “Friendship Train.” The train’s journey began in Los Angeles on Nov. 7, 1947, and arrived in New York City to a ticker-tape parade before shipping off to Europe.

Along the way, it stopped in many major cities on its 11-day route from sea to shining sea. When the cars arrived in the French city of Le Havre, it was 700 cars long and valued at some $40 million ($435 million adjusted for inflation).

Theme Trains, a site dedicated to the appreciation of historical railway events, notes that the idea of the American Friendship train was the brainchild of journalist Drew Pearson. Through his work and colleagues in Europe, he believed the Russians (and thus, Communists) were getting the credit for aid sent there through disinformation campaigns.

Pearson’s idea for the American train would make certain the Russians couldn’t take credit for western aid. He organized a grassroots effort through American newspapers, that effort resulted in the Friendship Train.

The people of France were so grateful that they responded with a train of their own — the Merci Train. French war veteran Andre Picard organized 49 WWI-era boxcars, one for each state (Hawaii and Washington, D.C. shared a car). The cars were filled with personal gifts from individual French citizens.

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The Merci Train arrives in New York, 1949.

When the Magellan arrived with the boxcars in 1949, delegations from each state received it, then sent its train on a tour of their state.  The boxcars bore a ribbon reading “gratitude train,” along with every crest from the provinces of France. They came to rest in public locations that vary from state to state — parks, museums, schools — for the public to view.

Discovering the North Pole: Who got there first?
Arizona’s boxcar, located near Scottsdale.