How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb

  • In late February 1943, nine commandos set out of daring raid against the Germans in the Norwegian wilderness.
  • Their mission, to destroy a plant producing heavy water, would fulfill one of the Allies’ most important goals: Prevent the Nazis from building an atomic bomb.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

At 8:00 p.m. on February 27, 1943, nine Norwegian commandos trained by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) left their hideout in the Norwegian wilderness and skied several miles to Norsk Hydro’s Vemork hydroelectric power plant.

All the men knew about their mission was the objective: Destroy Vemork’s “heavy water” production capabilities.

Each man carried a cyanide capsule to take if they were captured and wore a British Army uniform so if they were killed and their bodies found, the Germans might spare the local civilians from reprisal killings.

Their mission would be one of the most successful in special-operations history, and it contributed to one of the Allies’ most important goals in World War II: Preventing Nazi Germany from developing nuclear weapons.

The race for an atomic bomb

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
The German experimental nuclear pile at Haigerloch, southwest of Stuttgart, being dismantled in April 1945. 

Within months of the discovery of nuclear fission on December 17, 1938, the military potential of nuclear power became clear, and the race for an atomic weapon was on.

In April 1939, Germany started its nuclear-bomb effort, known informally as the Uranverein, or “uranium club.” It included some of the best scientists in the field, including the men who discovered nuclear fission and Nobel Prize-winner Werner Heisenberg.

During their research for a nuclear reactor, the scientists discovered that deuterium oxide, known commonly as “heavy water” because it has a heavier molecular weight than regular water, performed well as a moderator, enabling control over the fission process.

There was only one place in the world capable of producing heavy water on an industrial scale: Norsk Hydro’s Vemork hydroelectric power plant in southern Norway. The plant’s main purpose was to produce ammonia for nitrogen fertilizer; heavy water was actually a byproduct.

In January 1940, German officials asked to buy all of Norsk Hydro’s heavy water stock and if it was possible to increase the plant’s monthly output 10-fold to meet German demand.

This caught the attention of the French, who were experimenting with nuclear physics themselves and pursuing heavy water. Worried about German intentions, agents from the Deuxième Bureau, France’s military-intelligence agency, secured all of Norsk Hydro’s heavy water for France on March 9.

It was only a temporary setback for the Nazis. Exactly a month later, Germany invaded Norway and occupied it by early June. Vemork, now under German control, was forced to increase heavy-water production.

Operations Grouse and Freshman

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
The Vemork hydroelectric power plant, February 24, 2011. 

The Allies, unaware of the German nuclear program’s progress, were increasingly worried that Germany may be ahead in the race. Vemork’s heavy-water production was known to be important to the program, and that alone was a good enough reason to take action against it.

Working with the Norwegian Resistance, the SOE created a plan for two teams to be dropped into Norway.

The first, codenamed Operation Grouse, was made up of four SOE-trained Norwegian commandos who would parachute into Norway, conduct reconnaissance, and secure a landing zone for a 34-man team of British commandos, codenamed Operation Freshman, who would land in two gliders and then assault the plant and destroy the 18 electrolysis cells that made heavy water.

On October 18, 1942, Grouse was launched. The team spent the next few weeks trekking to Freshman’s designated landing site, reaching it on November 9. On November 19, Operation Freshman was launched.

But Freshman was a colossal failure. Mechanical difficulties and bad weather caused one of the bombers and the glider it was towing to crash, killing the flight crew and a number of commandos. The second glider’s cable snapped when the bomber towing it aborted the mission, causing it to crash as well.

Survivors from both gliders were found by the Germans and executed as per Hitler’s Commando Order. Forty-one men were lost, security at Vemork was increased, and the Grouse team was stranded and had to fend for itself.

Operation Gunnerside

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
A reconstruction of the Operation Gunnerside team planting explosives to destroy electrolysis chambers in the Vemork heavy-water plant. 

Vemork was still a priority target for the Allies, and a new plan, with a stealthier approach, was developed.

A team of six Norwegian commandos would be dropped into Norway to link up with members of the Grouse team. They would infiltrate the plant, destroy the heavy-water production room with explosives, and escape into the night.

Codenamed Operation Gunnerside, the team parachuted into Norway on February 16, 1943, and linked up with the Grouse team on February 22. On the night of February 27, nine members from both teams set out for Vemork, with one member remaining behind to communicate with the British.

Upon arrival on the outskirts of the plant, they saw that the bridge, the only direct way into the complex, was heavily guarded.

The team had to descend a 328-foot cliff, cross a frozen river, then climb an almost 500-foot cliff before arriving at a fenced railway gate that led into the rear of the complex. They got there at 11:45 p.m. but had to wait for the guards to change shift, eventually cutting their way through the fence after midnight.

Once inside, the team split into two groups. Five commandos took covering positions outside the barracks, bridge, and main gate, while the other four entered the plant. Inside, they encountered only a Norwegian employee, who didn’t resist or raise the alarm.

Explosives were set in the target room, which was in the basement. The team evacuated and waited for the explosion. Because the room was so far underground and the walls were so thick, there was hardly any noise when the bombs went off, allowing the whole team to escape before the Germans found out what had happened.

Aftermath

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
Joachim Ronneberg, leader of Operation Gunnerside, at a ceremony in his honor in London, April 25, 2013. Ronneberg died in 2018. 

The operation was a resounding success. The commandos destroyed the electrolysis cells and over 500 kg of heavy water. They managed to escape without firing a single shot or taking any casualties.

The Germans repaired the damage by May, but subsequent Allied air raids prevented full-scale production. Eventually, the Germans ceased all production of heavy water and tried to move the remaining supply to Germany.

In a last act of sabotage, a Norwegian team led by one of the Gunnerside commandos sank the ferry transporting the remaining heavy water on February 20, 1944, although at the cost of 14 Norwegian civilians.

The operations helped foil Germany’s nuclear ambitions, and the Nazis never built an atomic bomb or a nuclear reactor. Nazi Germany surrendered to the Allies in early May 1945, two months before the US’s bigger and better-resourced Manhattan Project tested the first nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the story of Old Abe, the ‘Screaming’ Eagle

All unit patches in the Army are based on something. The 25th ID patch pays homage to their home state of Hawaii. The 3rd ID patch showcases the major battles they were a part of in WWI. The 1st ID went with a big, red one because lieutenants are creative. But it’s the 101st Airborne who has them beat — all thanks to “Old Abe,” who was one badass bird.


Old Abe was captured as a baby bald eaglet in 1861 by Ahgamahwegezhig (Chief Sky). He was sold for a bushel of corn to Daniel McCann, a rich aristocrat, to be kept as a family pet. It turns out, however, that keeping a bald eagle as a pet was more of an expensive headache than McCann originally thought.

 

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
I mean, what did he expect? He caged the literal personification of American freedom. Just saying. (Painting courtesy of the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum)

So, Abe was again sold for a whole $2.50 (paid in quarters, partly borrowed from friend) to Capt. John E. Perkins of a Wisconsin Militia, The Eau Claire Badgers. The Badgers then quickly became the Eau Claire Eagles — because of this bird. When his unit was activated and re-designated as the Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment to enter the American Civil War, Perkins decided to finally give the baby bird a name — “Old Abe.”

Perkins brought Abe into every battle in which he and his unit fought. The 8th Wisconsin VIR fought across the Western Theater. It’s said that wherever Perkins’ unit went, Abe’s battle cry was heard across the battlefield, thereby earning the title of “screaming eagle.” As he flew overhead, the Union troops would be reinvigorated. At the Battle of Corinth, Mississippi, Confederate Gen. Sterling Price said,

That bird must be captured or killed at all hazards. I would rather get that eagle than capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags!

Abe saw 36 battles and was wounded twice but still kept intimidating Confederate troops with his cries.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
Still more adorable than most combat veterans. (Image courtesy of the National Archive)

 

When the 8th Wisconsin was mustered back home in late 1864, Old Abe followed. He had become a celebrity to everyone in Wisconsin. People came from far and wide to see the war eagle. He made tours across the country and was used to raise funds for veterans’ issues.

Also Read: This is why Screaming Eagles wear cards on their helmets

Old Abe passed due to complications caused by smoke inhalation in 1881. His remains were preserved and displayed at the Wisconsin Capital building until a fire destroyed the display in 1904. A few of Old Abe’s feathers remain very carefully preserved at the Wisconsin Veteran’s Museum in Madison.

His likeness would be used in 1921 by the newly formed 101st when they were still an Army Reserve unit. They were then activated to Regular Army in 1942. Maj. Gen. William C. Lee said, “[our division] has no history, but it has a rendezvous with destiny.”

The 101st would prove his sentiment true time and time again with Old Abe on their shoulders.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This guy kept fighting World War II for 30 years after Japan surrendered

Hiroo Onoda was an Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer who refused to believe that World War II had ended. He spent nearly 30 years holding out in the Philippine jungle waiting to be officially relieved.


Also Read: The Most Famous Photograph Of World War II Was Taken 70 Years Ago

According to his memoirHow a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb, Onoda – just an apprentice officer at the time – received direct orders from the division commander to lead the Lubang Garrison in guerilla warfare. His men were to destroy the airfield and harbor installations to stop the advance of American forces.

Before carrying out his orders, he got a pep talk from Lieutenant General Akira Muto, Chief of Staff of the Fourteenth Area Army who dropped in unexpectedly:

You are absolutely forbidden to die by your own hand. It may take three years, it may take five, but whatever happens, we’ll come back for you. Until then, so long as you have one soldier, you are to continue to lead him. You may have to live on coconuts. If that’s the case, live on coconuts! Under no circumstances are you to give up your life voluntarily.

To put it in perspective, that was the equivalent of having an O-8 and an O-9 giving orders to an O-1. On top of that, he believed the emperor was a deity and that the war was a sacred mission. Onoda was deeply honored and impressed; he took these orders more literally and seriously than any trooper could have.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
Japanese reps sign the article of surrender aboard the USS Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

A few months later, the Imperial Japanese forces surrendered, leaving thousands of soldiers scattered across the South Pacific and Asia. Many of these stragglers were captured and sent home while others went into hiding, committed suicide, or died of starvation and sickness. The remaining stragglers – including Onoda – took leaflets and radio announcements of Japan’s surrender as enemy propaganda and trickery.

On Lubang, Onoda’s men and several other groups retreated into the jungle when the allied forces overran the island. They continued to fight, but after several attacks the groups dwindled into cells of less than five men each. There was four in Onoda’s cell: Cpl. Shoichi Shimada, Pvt. Kinshichi Kozuka, Pvt. Akatsu, and Onoda.

Thinking that they were still at war, they survived by eating coconuts and wild fruits, stealing from locals, and occasionally killing their livestock for meat. They evaded Filipino search parties and killed 30 people who they believed were enemies. In 1950, one of the enlisted men surrendered and the other two were later shot dead by the local police in 1954 and 1972.

In 1974, Norio Suzuki, a Japanese college dropout, found Onoda shortly after arriving in the Philippines. According to Onoda’s memoir, “when Suzuki left Japan, he told his friends that he was going to look for Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the Abominable Snowman, in that order.”

Onoda didn’t budge with Suzuki’s request to return to Japan because he still considered himself to be under orders. Suzuki took photos with Onoda and returned to Japan to show the government that the World War II vet was still alive. The Japanese government sent Onoda’s former commanding officer to formally relieve him of his duty.

Onoda came home to a hero’s welcome filled with parades and speeches by public officials. He was the pride of Japan, the loyal soldier, who some believed could claim victory because he never surrendered.

Onoda died on January 16, 2014 at the age of 91.

Articles

The time a fishing boat helped capture a North Korean submarine

Since the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953, a tenuous ceasefire has existed between South Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Although gunfire has been exchanged across the demilitarized zone on the 38th parallel, the conflict is largely marked by espionage. In 1998, the extraction of North Korean spies from South Korea was foiled by an unlikely and unintentional defense mechanism.

On June 22, a North Korean Yugo-class became disabled in South Korean waters. About 11 miles east of Sokcho and 21 miles south of the inter-Korean border, the submarine became tangled in a fishing drift net. The North Korean sailors attempted to free the submarine to no avail.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
U.S. Air Force graphic by Billy Smallwood, edited to show location of Sokcho

The surfaced and disabled submarine was observed by South Korean fishermen who notified the South Korean Navy of their sighting. A corvette was promptly dispatched to intercept the North Koreans. The submarine was towed by the corvette back to the navy base at Donghae with its crew still inside. However, the submarine sank on its way into port. It is still unclear if the submarine sunk due to damage sustained or if it was scuttled. The next day, the North Korean state-run Korean Central News Agency announced that a submarine had been lost in a “training accident.”

On June 25, the submarine was salvaged by South Korea. It had sunk to a depth of approximately 30 meters. The bodies of nine North Koreans were recovered from the submarine. The five sailors who crewed the submarine were apparently executed. Four of them had been shot in the head. “It appears that four men, including the commander, shot the five men to death, then committed suicide,” said the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff Lt. Gen. Chung Young Jin.

The North Korean submarine is now in Unification Park in South Korea

Also discovered in the submarine were two automatic rifles, two machine guns, a shoulder-fired rocket launcher, diving equipment, oxygen tanks, military boots and hand grenades. While this equipment was not exceptional to find on a military submarine, the presence of South Korean drinks suggested that the agents had completed an espionage mission. The submarine’s logbook noted multiple incursions into South Korean waters on previous voyages. The bodies of the submarine crew were buried in the Cemetery for North Korean and Chinese Soldiers.

1998 was a year of high tension on the Korean peninsula. Following the 1998 Sokcho submarine incident, a dead North Korean commando and an infiltration craft were discovered near Donghae in July. In December, a semi-submersible vessel exchanged fire with South Korean ships near Yeosu and later sunk with all hands aboard in what became known as the 1998 Yeosu submersible incident. However, the involvement of a fishing net and a fishing boat in the Sokcho submarine incident makes it stand out from the others.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
A North Korean Sang-O submarine that ran aground in South Korean waters near Gangneung (Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons/@Idobi)

Feature image: screen capture from YouTube

MIGHTY HISTORY

How George Patton became the Army’s Master of Swords

We’ve all heard of General George S. Patton. Maybe you’ve seen the movie. Maybe you did a report on him in school. Maybe you even have a grandfather who served under him in World War II. Maybe you’re a Cav or Armor troop. (Scouts out!) All of these and more are good reasons to know who this man was.

First, let’s cover some basics. Then we’ll jump right into stuff you may not know about this well-known — and sometimes notorious — United States Army General…

George Patton, Jr. (also known as George Smith Patton III) was born on November 11, 1885, in San Gabriel, California. He died following a car accident on December 21, 1945, in Heidelberg, Germany. He is buried at the American Memorial Cemetery in Luxembourg City, Luxembourg. In between those two bookends, he was a United States Army soldier and officer from 1909, until his death. As an officer, he commanded the U.S. Seventh Army and the U.S. Third Army during World War II — in the Mediterranean theater, in France and Germany, respectively. He was nicknamed “Bandito” and “Old Blood and Guts.”

Gen. George Patton commanded Third Army
Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., US Army, commanded Third Army in the breakout from Normandy, across France and into Germany in 1944-1945. (US Army)

Now, that’s enough with what you probably already knew. Let’s dive into the obscure; like what led to Patton being the Army’s master sword instructor.

As a junior officer, Patton was chosen to represent the United States at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. He was selected to compete in the first modern pentathlon, a sport invented by the man who revived the Olympics and founded the modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Patton was chosen based on his history with fencing at both the Virginia Military Institute and the United States Military Academy at West Point. Fencing is one of the five sports found within the modern pentathlon, along with 200m freestyle swimming, equestrian show jumping, pistol shooting, and 3200m cross country running. Patton finished fifth overall, and first among the non-Swedes in the event.

Coubertin considered the Pentathlon to be the core of the Olympic spirit. He was inspired by the ancient pentathlon from the original Olympics, which required the skills of an “ideal” Greek soldier. Coubertin created the modern pentathlon based around the skills of a 19th-century cavalry soldier behind enemy lines: “He must ride an unfamiliar horse, fight enemies with pistol and sword, swim, and run to return to his own soldiers.”

Even Gen. George Patton himself noted the difference(s) between his event at the 1912 Olympics, and other “non-military” events:

“The high spirit of sportsmanship and generosity manifested throughout speaks volumes for the character of the officers of the present day. There was not a single incident of a protest or any unsportsmanlike quibbling or fighting for points which I may say, marred some of the other civilian competitions at the Olympic Games.”

“Each man did his best and took what fortune sent them like a true soldier, and at the end we all felt more like good friends and comrades than rivals in a severe competition, yet this spirit of friendship in no manner detracted from the zeal with which all strove for success.”

General George Patton jumping an obstacle
Army Lt. George C. Patton jumping an obstacle during the equestrian segment of the Modern Pentathlon at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. (U.S. Army)

Once he wrapped up the 1912 Olympics in Sweden, after some work and travel in Germany, Patton traveled to France in order to train directly with the French swordsman and Master of Arms, Adjutant Charles Cléry, at their Cavalry School in Saumur. Cléry was known throughout Europe, at the time, as being the greatest military swordsman. There, Patton picked up several tactics that were specific to French cavalry swordsmanship: stabbing, rather the slashing, for the most part.

The French penchant for piercing over slashing dated back to their heavy cavalry units during the Napoleonic Wars. The French determined/rediscovered that piercing wounds figured into a far larger percentage of fatalities than simple surface cuts — something Roman Legions understood all too well 20 centuries prior.

Upon completion of his training commitments with the French swordmaster, Patton returned to the United States. Once back, he was temporarily assigned to the Office of the Army Chief of Staff. After a flurry of assignment changes, more advanced training back at Saumur, and some publications on his tactical and technical fencing insights, Patton finally unpacked his bags at the United States Army’s Mounted Service School in Fort Riley, KS, and began his new post as both Cavalry student and the Army’s first Master of the Sword (sword instructor).

This culmination found Patton penning his 1914 Saber Exercise and his Diary of the Instructor in Swordsmanship. It also found the Army Ordnance Corps pumping out 20,000 new M1913 Cavalry Sabers (or “Patton Sabers”) based on his new designs, thus replacing the old hack & slash sabers.

Model 1913 Cavalry Saber

In the middle of all of this, Patton was once again chosen to represent the United States as a Pentathlete at the 1916 Olympics… though those games were canceled due to World War I.

As revolutionary as Patton’s sword tactics (both mounted and dismounted) and sword design were, by the time they reached the line units preparing for combat, they were already obsolete.

So, to recap, one of America’s most famous/infamous generals — who led millions of tons of tanks into the heart of Nazi Germany, and who was both feared and respected by his enemies on the field of battle — dug his roots deep into the soil of swordsmanship and understood that the microcosm of combat is just two dudes or dudettes with weapons in-hand trying to bring their opponent down.

And, as to that, Gen. George Patton’s ability to adapt horseback-mounted, bladed combat into his then-modern, lethal counter-Blitzkrieg armored tank warfare is certainly a testament to the lengths a dyed-in-the-wool troop will go to win a war.

So just remember: The dude who helped defeat Nazi Germany on the back of a tank was once the United States Army’s Master of Swords, and he literally wrote the book on the subject (several of them, actually).

Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How female spies change the course of the Civil War

In almost every war in history, spies have had a big role in the outcome of the war. Those who played both sides, put themselves in danger in order to learn secrets, and played the part to get helpful information — they played a huge part in the history books. And in most cases, they don’t earn the credit they deserve. Because they were successful, their roles were under the radar, leading few people to understand just how they helped turn the course of a given war. 

In the Civil War, female spies were especially helpful in providing key information. There are noted individuals who brought their espionage skills to the table in order to help their side. This is worth noting because — when considering the war and who sacrificed, most often, men get the glory. They were on the front lines, they were being injured or killed for their duty, while women stayed home and filled in with the work that needed to be done at home and in factories. 

However, it’s this very stereotype that caused women to be such successful spies during the Civil War. In most cases, they were trusted and considered to not have a role in the war. Therefore, women could easily find information or infiltrate the other side. It’s said that hundreds of women got information by flirting and tricking soldiers into giving up key information. 

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
Pauline Cushman, a trained actor and Union spy.

Other methods were used to share secrets, such as hiding items in intricate hairdos, or flashing a fan with Morse Code. In one particular instance, it’s said that a Confederate spy, Rose O’Neal Greenhow, flashed her fan across the Potomac River, sending a message to hidden soldiers. 

But war secrets weren’t the only things being communicated during the Civil War. Harriet Tubman famously helped free hundreds of slaves, thanks to her work obtaining secrets and the locations of hidden underwater mines. 

Smuggled Items and Belle Boyd

In addition to finding secrets and passing them along, women would also smuggle goods to their respective side’s forces. They might place medicine, ammunition or even weapons in a basket or in the hoops of their skirts. Due to modesty trends of the time, it was considered indecent to check women’s clothing, so it was known that they would not be searched by male guards. Women also sewed important notes into the seams of their dresses, hiding key information in plain sight. 

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
Maria Isabella “Belle” Boyd, one of the most prolific Confederate spies.

Maria “Belle” Boyd was a known force of the time. She pioneered these methods of smuggling and even recruited others to do the same. Working for the Confederacy, Boyd got her start when she killed a drunk Union soldier who “addressed my mother and myself in language as offensive as it is possible to conceive.” Armed, she shot him and received no repercussions for the action. 

At just 17, this was the start of her stint as “the Rebel spy.” Soon after, Boyd began making friends at Union camps and eavesdropping on their talk, reporting back to the Confederates. She flirted with soldiers, who shared secrets with the temptress time and time again. 

The Union learned of her interactions and gave her many nicknames in the press, including: the Rebel Joan of Arc, Amazon of Secessia, La Belle Rebelle, and the Siren of the Shenandoah. Her attire was listed in the New York Tribune so that she might be identified by soldiers who saw her in person. 

Eventually, a Union soldier helped her escape to Canada. She wrote an exaggerated memoir while living in Europe, having married the soldier who helped her escape. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the B-52 rained fire in Vietnam

When the B-52 was originally conceived, its express purpose was the delivery of nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union. However, America’s Cold War interventions had other plans for the venerable aircraft.


As America’s role expanded in Vietnam, so too did the B-52’s.

This came in the form of Operation Arc Light — the initial deployment of B-52’s from the United States to Guam to support missions in Vietnam. These bombers, in the B-52’s combat debut, first struck North Vietnamese targets in June 1965 using standard 750 and 1,000 pound bombs.

The B-52’s expanded role led the Air Force to modify numerous existing B-52D models under a program called Big Belly. This modification turned the B-52 into an absolutely devastating conventional bomber.

 

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52F Stratofortress drops bombs over Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo))

The improvements allowed the B-52 to carry 84 500-pound bombs internally as well as another 24 750-pound bombs mounted on wing pylons. This gave the bomber a total of 108 bombs or 60,000 pounds of bombs to drop on the enemy.

By comparison, the B-17G, America’s bombing workhorse of WWII, could only carry about 9,600 pounds of bombs on missions.

When flown in a pair of cells — or a group of three B-52s in formation — the bombers could leave behind a swath of destruction a mile long and a half mile wide.

In addition to the B-52’s massive bomb load, it was especially effective for another reason: ground-directed bombing.

Air Force technology had come a long way since the days of carpet-bombing the Third Reich and Imperial Japan. This meant that the destruction the B-52s could be brought to bear was much more accurate than ever before.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
B-52D hailing 500-lb bombs. (Image: Wikimedia)

 

This was accomplished using Combat Sky Spot, an interlinked system of radar sites, utilizing the MSQ-77 radar/computer system, to accurately direct bombing missions.

These sites were manned by airmen of the Combat Evaluation Group. With numerous sites located throughout the region, they provided guidance across the entire battlefield.

The MSQ-77, or Miscue 77 as it was often referred to, was revolutionary because it used an algorithm to determine exact bomb impact points, rather than specific release points for aircraft as earlier versions had done.

This meant that bombers and fighter-bombers operating at night, in bad weather, or near friendly troops could be directed to where their bombs would land.

Related: How does the B-52 get more awesome? With lasers, that’s how

This level of accuracy meant that large scale bombing runs could safely be made within 1,000 meters of friendly forces, closer with the approval of a Forward Air Controller.

This ability would be used to devastating effect against the North Vietnamese in numerous battles.

During Operation Harvest Moon, the Marines used the giant B-52 bombers against stubborn Viet Cong resistance.

The B-52s also helped the 1st Cavalry Division troopers fighting in the Ia Drang.

 

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
The B-52 and the 70,000 pounds of munitions it can carry. Photo: U.S. Air Force

 

By 1966, B-52 bombers flew over 5,000 missions against targets in Vietnam, accounting for more than 8,000 tons of bombs per month. Besides just supporting ground troops the bombers also flew interdiction missions against North Vietnamese convoys on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

By 1967, the number of Arc Light missions had nearly doubled with most missions being in direct support of troops in contact.

In 1968, Arc Light B-52s flew numerous close air support missions in support of the Marines under siege at Khe Sanh. Flying high above the monsoon rains that had grounded the fighters, and aided by the MSQ-77, the B-52s put 60,000 tons of the proverbial warheads on foreheads.

This round-the-clock punishment helped to break the siege.

Because the B-52s flew so high as to remain unseen and unheard by the enemy, they had to find other ways to counter. This meant the men of the Combat Evaluation Group at the Combat Sky Spot sites were the most likely target.

The North Vietnamese realized if they could take out the radar sites then they could impair American bombing efforts. This led to the largest loss of airmen on the ground when the North Vietnamese overran Lima Site 85 and took out its Combat Sky Spot.

Despite the dangers to all involved, the Arc Light missions were a great success and continued through the end of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is what a well-earned retirement looked like for a Roman veteran

At its climax, the dominion of ancient Rome comprised one of the largest territories in history. Most of western and southern Europe, as well as the entire Mediterranean periphery, awoke and went to sleep under the rule of the SPQR flag (Senatus Populusque Romanus: the Senat and People of Rome). The discipline and the efficiency of its army is key to Roman expansion. In return for their precious service to Rome, the soldiers received some handsome benefits upon retirement.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
A recreation of Roman legionaries wearing the lorica segmentata, 1st–3rd century (Caliga10, Wikipedia)

The army consists of wealthy Roman citizens who serve for a short duration for the Roman Republic (509BC-27BC). The need of a particular campaign or to defend a territory under immediate invasion did not need a standing army. Recruitment and discharge to civilian activities is based on the needs of the army. Because of the short military service, benefits and pensions were unnecessary. However, in 108BC, Consul Gaius Marius initiated the professionalization of the army.

Roman military benefits

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
Non-Roman soldiers could become auxiliaries, which would guarantee them citizenship after they completed their term of service. If they survived, that is.

In order to entice citizens under the dominion of Rome into military life, they were offered rewards in land, work animals, or a pension of equal value after ten years of service. Roman citizens became legionnaires and non-Roman citizens became auxiliaries. Auxiliaries earn a third of the legionnaires’ salary and is often fight on the front lines during battles. However, upon completion of their service, they would receive full Roman citizenship, thus giving them the right to vote, to hold property, to marry a Roman citizen, or to stand for civic and public office.

Retired soldiers sometimes settled together in military towns or conquered territories, making them a great tool for the Romanization of these lands. In this case, administrative positions are available to veterans to become prominent members of the local society. The veterans are a reserve force (evocati in Latin) in case of emergency, although retired soldiers no longer took part in the army’s activities. Even after long years in the army, they never completely left the service of Rome.

Pension like rewards

It is impractical to award all soldiers with land as the army grows in number. At this point the reward is converted into a praemia, a pension-like cash prize. Under Augustus Caesar, adopted son of Julius Caesar and first leader of the Roman Empire (27BC-286AD), the Aerarium Militare, a pension fund for retired veterans paid by special taxes, is created and the length of service to qualify for the pension was extended to twenty-five years. The praemia reached 12,000 sesterces for legionnaires and 20,000 sesterces for the Praetorian guards. That sum was the equivalent of twelve years of salary in the army.

Upon retirement, Roman soldiers did not only receive a sizeable cash prize, but also their savings, any bonus for the campaigns they had fought, donations from the emperor, the senate, or the generals, and the share of loot earned during conquests. Some soldiers were able to retire as wealthy men and build a comfortable life for themselves. By law, Roman soldiers were forbidden to marry while in active service. Naturally, that rule proved very difficult to enforce and was often ignored. Retirement also became the occasion for the soldiers to officially recognise their wife and children and to settle with them.

You can check out but never leave

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
If you’re an Ancient Roman warrior, don’t bother getting rid of your gear when you retire. You’ll probably need it again.

In the early 3rd century AD, under Caracalla and Septimius Severus, the praemia rose to 20,000 sesterces for legionnaires. By then, the Empire was facing frequent crisis and needed to increase the incentives to convince the Roman citizens to join the army’s ranks. However, due to these crises, it was not infrequent for evocati to be called back to service. Additionally, disabled Roman veterans were exempted from paying taxes.

Some historians trace the beginning of the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the Senate’s decision to reduce the soldiers’ pension. With less incentive to join the army, the Roman citizens turned to different careers. The Senate then filled the ranks of the army with Barbarians, diminishing the cohesion and discipline. These decisions are major contributing factors that lead to the fall of Rome. A cautionary tale to not mess with a veteran’s pension and post service benefits.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 things you didn’t know about Roman gladiators

Roman gladiators were some of the most vicious and popular athletes of all time. The extremely violent sport of gladiatorial fighting was as popular back then as MMA is today. In ancient Rome, crowds would swarm to see their favorite warriors beat the sh*t out of each other until only one man was left standing in the center of the arena — or until the match ended in a draw.


Although multiple films and TV shows have covered the lives of these warriors, many details remain shrouded in mystery. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know about these brave, sword-wielding warriors.

What their dental impressions revealed

Scientists who study the gladiator’s role in the Roman Empire have discovered that many fighters once suffered from infant malnutrition. Upon examining preserved dental impressions, specialists recognized defects in the form of horizontal lines that ran across the tooth enamel. This supports theories that state many gladiators grew up very poor and may have been sold off as slaves at a young age.

After becoming property, those trained in combat were then fed well by their owners and encouraged to gain the much-needed muscle to fight in the arenas.

They formed their own trade unions

Although gladiators battled and killed one another, they commonly viewed each other as brothers. Many developed and organized themselves into unions, called “collegia.” They had their own leaders and would pay respects to warriors who fell in battle.

Commonly, a fund was collected from gladiators that would then go to a fallen’s family as compensation.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
Commodus gives a thumbs down when dictating a gladiator’s bloody future.
(DreamWorks Pictures)

Fighting to the death

Contrary to popular belief, gladiators didn’t typically fight to the death while in the arenas. A warrior’s death was a tremendous financial burden on their owner. However, historians believe that nearly 700,000 gladiators lost their lives in the Colosseum.

That’s a lot of debt.

They were split up into different sections and types

Gladiators were broken up into various classes based on their records, experience, and skill level. The thraeces and murmillones gladiators battled it out using swords and shields while the essedariis rode in combat on chariots.

Before their battles, they lived in privately-owned schools that doubled as both training and prison grounds.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

Few feats of engineering are as impressive as a military-grade helicopter. Today worth millions of dollars each, these high-tech birds are a formidable military asset, including, among many other uses, for rescue operations — all a fact US military personnel helpfully chose to ignore during Operation Frequent Wind when they pushed several dozen of them into the sea, in one case for no other reason than to save a mother, a father, and their five children.


For anyone unfamiliar with it, Operation Frequent Wind was the name give to the final phase of evacuations during the Fall of Saigon — effectively the final days of the Vietnam War. Noted as being one of the largest military evacuations in history and the largest involving helicopters as the primary means of evacuation, Operation Frequent Wind is celebrated as a logistical success for the US due to the fact that a few dozen helicopter pilots were somehow able to evacuate over 7,000 people in around 18 hours. This is made all the more impressive when you realize that the mass evacuation was never supposed to involve helicopters much at all.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb

A South Vietnamese helicopter is pushed over the side of the USS Okinawa during Operation Frequent Wind, April 1975.

(US Marine Corps photo)

You see, while Operation Frequent Wind is now famous for being the most successful mass helicopter evacuation ever organised, using helicopters as the primary means of evacuation was never the original plan — it wasn’t even the backup plan. It turns out that it was the backup to the backup to the backup plan.

Known initially as Operation Talon Vise until North Vietnamese spies heard whispers of it, the plans for a mass evacuation of Vietnam had been in place for several years and were originally supposed to involve the primary use of both commercial and military aircraft which would evacuate at-risk citizens and military personnel, with the total slated to be evacuated estimated to be about 2 million people.

Failing or in addition to this, the idea was to dock ships at Saigon port and load them with as many people as possible. In the event none of these options were possible, the final, Hail Mary plan was to instead use military helicopters to transport people to ships off shore.

Of course, evacuating the original estimate of 2 million people was never an option for the helicopter plan alone, nor even the extremely whittled down number of about 100,000-200,000 that military brass eventually reduced that figure to. Instead, at this point it was just as many people as they could as fast as they could.

So why did the US have to fall back to literally their least effective option if they’d been planning the evacuation for years? Well, much of the blame falls somewhat unbelievably to the actions of a single man — Graham Anderson Martin, the American ambassador to South Vietnam at the time who steadfastly refused to agree to start an evacuation for fear of mass panic and given his unshakable faith in the notion that the threat of the “superior American firepower” would keep the enemy at bay.

Despite this, recommendations did go out in advance of Operation Frequent Wind that at risk people should leave the country, resulting in a total of around 50,000 people, including a few thousand orphans, leaving via various planes in the months leading up to an actual evacuation being started. This was mostly done via supply aircraft who would bring supplies in, and then load up as many people as they could for the trip home. Yet an official full scale evacuation, which would have seen these efforts massively ramped up, was continually stalled by Martin.

Military brass tried and failed to persuade Martin to change his mind, with Brigadier General Richard E. Carey going as far as to travel to Saigon to plead personally with with the ambassador. This was a meeting Carey would later diplomatically call “cold and non productive” and should be noted took place on April 13th, 2 weeks after preparations were already supposed to have begun for the mass evacuation.

This back and forth continued until April 28th when North Vietnamese forces bombed the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, effectively eliminating any possibility of getting people out via large aircraft capable of mass evacuation. When this was pointed out to the Martin, he still refused to call for the evacuation, deciding to wait until the next day so he could drive out to the base and confirm the damage for himself.

Upon confirming that North Vietnamese forces had indeed destroyed the air base and the best option for a mass evacuation, he finally relented.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb

South Vietnamese refugees arrive on a U.S. Navy vessel during Operation Frequent Wind.

This was an order that was relayed to soldiers on the ground via the official Armed Forces Radio station by the words “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising,” followed by the playing the song I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas by Bing Crosby.

As a direct result of Martin’s stubbornness, the military had no choice but to rely on the least effective means of mass evacuation — via helicopter, with the operation officially commencing later that afternoon at 14:00.

Even as the operation began, Martin’s bullheaded refusal to prepare in anyway for an evacuation caused problems for certain helicopter pilots, most notably the ones trying to evacuate him and his staff.

How?

Well there was a large tree in the embassy courtyard that military brass had “strongly advised” Martin cut down so as to better allow helicopters to land there should the worst happen. Martin, believing that doing so would be as good as admitting the war had already been lost, absolutely refused to do this. As Henry Kissinger would later note, “Faced with imminent disaster, Martin decided to go down with the ship.”

On that note, to his credit, Martin refused to leave once the evacuation had begun, though this was much to the annoyance of the pilot, Colonel Gerry Berry, sent to fetch him. Instead, Martin continually had refugees boarded while he simply waited with his staff in his office, knowing that as long as he was there, the helicopter would keep coming back allowing more lives to be saved.

It wasn’t until the 14th trip that an exhausted Berry finally reached his wits’ end. Said Berry, “I called the sergeant over. And he got up in the cockpit. And I said, ‘This is it. Get all these people off. This helicopter’s not leaving the roof until the ambassador’s on board. The President sends.'”

With an order supposedly from the President himself, though not actually in reality, Martin finally relented and allowed Berry to complete his mission by transporting Martin and his entourage.

Of course, what the military brass had failed to remember after this supposed last flight was that they’d accidentally left almost a dozen soldiers behind at the compound… This wouldn’t be realized for many hours, but all 11 Marines were rescued after being forced to barricade themselves on the rooftop for the night in case of an attack.

Leaving the evacuations as late as Martin did understandably resulted in mass panic across Saigon with many thousands of South Vietnamese citizens fleeing in everything from cars to stolen planes and helicopters.

In addition, lack of time meant that helicopter pilots had a laughable number of people to rescue, resulting in many ignoring the “recommended” weight limit of their craft and massively overloading them to the very extremes of what they could handle given the pilot’s assessments and weather conditions. In one case, one pilot noted he was overweight to the point that he could only hover inches off the ground, but no one was willing to get off as for many it would mean their life if they could not get out of the country.

He then stated he thought if he could get some forward speed he could get the additional lift needed, so simply pitched the craft forward and took a dive off the rooftop he was on, barely recovering before hitting the rooftops below and then managing to very slowly climb from there.

As for these pilots, they were instructed to ferry evacuees to waiting ships in the South China Sea, many of which quickly began to run out of space resulting in people sleeping double in the small bunks, as well as just anywhere on the ships there was available space for someone to sit or lie down on.

On top of that, any South Vietnamese pilots that could manage to get a hold of their own helicopters and flee to sea were also crowding the decks as they arrived. This resulted in the order to push some of these South Vietnamese helicopters overboard to make more space, or orders for some pilots to simply crash their helicopters into the ocean and await rescue after they’d dropped off any passengers.

This all brings us around to the incredible story of Major Buang Lee. Knowing he and his family — a wife and five children — would in all likelihood be executed if they couldn’t find a way out of the country immediately, the Major managed to commandeer a small Cessna O-1 spotter plane. Under heavy fire, he managed to take off and flee the country with two adults and five children jam packed aboard the tiny, slow moving aircraft.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb

A South Vietnamese UH-1H is pushed overboard to make room for a Cessna O-1 landing.

He then headed out to sea in search of a ship to land on or ditch the plane next to. About an hour and a half off the coast and with only about an hour of fuel left, he finally found one in the USS Midway.

The issue now was there was not sufficient room to land on the ship, owing to the number of helicopters on the deck. Unable to find the right frequency on the radio to talk to those on the Midway, Buang resorted to dropping notes.

The first two notes, unfortunately blew away before anyone aboard could grab them. Buang tied the third to his gun and dropped it. When the crew aboard retrieved it, they saw it read: “Can you move the helicopters to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to move. Please rescue me. -Major Buang, Wife and 5 child.”

The captain of the vessel, one Lawrence Chambers then had a decision to make. While it was possible to move some of the helicopters out of the way, there was no room to move them all. The young captain, only appointed to that post some five weeks before, decided that there was little chance the family would all survive if they tried to ditch in the sea next to the Midway and be rescued that way.

Said Lawrence of the event, “When a man has the courage to put his family in a plane and make a daring escape like that, you have to have the heart to let him in.”

So, thinking he’d likely be court-martialed for it, he made the call to move what helicopters could be moved and dump the rest in the ocean after stripping them of any valuable gear that could be removed quickly. In total, some million (about million today) worth of helicopters were ditched in this way.

There was another problem, however. The plane in question typically needs a minimum of a little over 600 feet of runway to land and come to a full stop. The Midway itself in total was about 1,000 feet long, but the runway deck was only about 2/3 of that, meaning there was zero margin for error here.

Thus, in order to land such a craft on the deck with enough margin of safety, the ship really needed to be moving as fast as possible to make the plane’s relative speed slow enough that it could stop in time before falling off the end. Using the cable system to stop the craft faster wasn’t deemed a good option as in all likelihood it would have just resulted in the landing gear ripping off and/or the plane flipping over in a spectacular crash.

Unfortunately, Chambers had previously granted the ship’s engineers permission to take the Midway’s engines partially offline for routine maintenance. After all, helicopters did not need nor want that relative wind, especially when landing on such a crowded deck.

Said Chambers, “When I told the chief engineer that I needed 25 knots, he informed me that we didn’t have enough steam. I ordered him to shift the hotel load to the emergency diesels.”

With this, the ship was able to achieve the requested speed and Buang’s landing was also helped by another 15 knots of headwind, further reducing his needed stopping distance.

With that done and deck cleared as it could be, Buang was given the greenlight to land, ultimately doing so with textbook precision and with plenty of deck to spare, becoming a rare individual in relatively modern times to land such an aircraft aboard a military carrier.

And, thankfully for Captain Lawrence, he was not court-martialed for ditching rather valuable military hardware to save Major Buang and his family, and instead enjoyed a continuance of his successful career, eventually retiring as a Rear Admiral.

In the aftermath of Operation Frequent Wind, the U.S. ships continued to hang around for a few days off the coast, trying to pick up as many refugees from the water as they could. Finally, the order was given to head home, forcing the commanders to leave many thousands of people that had been promised evacuation behind.

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

MIGHTY TRENDING

Why World War II veterans are returning captured Japanese flags

It’s not uncommon for troops who overrun an enemy position to take a photo with a captured enemy banner. It’s just as common for them to take that banner home as a souvenir. There are a lot worse things to remove from the battlefield. American troops have been capturing flags since the founding of the republic.

So, why are these World War II veterans returning captured Japanese flags?


The importance of a unit’s standard dates back to antiquity. Roman legions carried standards that took on an almost divine quality, representing the Legion, the Emperor, and even the Gods themselves. They would take extraordinary measures to recover a captured standard, even invading neighboring countries decades after losing the standards just to get them back. The Japanese had a similar tradition with their Yosegaki Hinomaru.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb

The hinomaru was a blank flag carried by every drafted Japanese soldier. It was signed by everyone in their life; mother, father, sisters, brothers, neighbors, teachers, wives, and children. It was a good luck charm that wished bravery and a safe return home to the carrier. The Japanese troop then marched off to war, the flag folded and tucked somewhere on his person.

These are usually the flags that were captured by American troops in World War II. Because no one enjoys taking photos with the flags of their fallen enemies like U.S. troops.

Read: These 13 photos of US troops with enemy flags show some traditions never die

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
U.S. Marines with a yosegaki hinomaru after the Battle of Iwo Jima. (U.S. Army)

But American troops had no idea these flags were the personal keepsakes of fallen individuals and not unit flags carried by the Japanese army. Now that the men who captured these battlefield trophies are aging and dying, the flags are being sold off or thrown away altogether, but there’s a better way to handle these pieces of history: giving them back.

And that’s what World War II veterans and their families are doing. Through the international nonprofit Obon Society, families and veterans who still possess a captured yosegaki hinomaru are tracking down the Japanese veterans and families of Japanese veterans of the Pacific War to return the family heirlooms and help the aging veterans heal their decades-old, invisible wounds.

If there’s any doubt about the power of these standards, even to this day, just watch below as a Japanese man reacts to seeing his missing brother’s yosegaki hinomaru.

There are no better frenemies than American and Japanese veterans of WWII. In the years that followed, the U.S. and Japan grew ever closer as allies and as people. Despite the overwhelming brutality of the war, the enduring friendships that developed in the years since have been a testament to the idea that peace is always possible, even in the face of such hard fighting. The only thing that remains is handling the losses incurred along the way – brothers, fathers, sons, and friends.

Groups like the Obon Society and its team of researchers make it easy to start healing the pain that remains between families and friends who lost loved ones in the war. If you or your departed veterans have a flag like the ones seen in the photos above, contact the Obon Society to return the flag to its family and maybe even make contact with them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

An ensign took command of a destroyer at Pearl Harbor and took the fight to the Japanese

Destroyers, in general, don’t get as much love as they deserve for their contribution to World War II. The USS Aylwin is not different, even though her crew managed to do what few others could, which was to take the fight to the sucker-punching Japanese Navy and naval air forces during and after its attack on Pearl Harbor.

Despite having only half the necessary crew and being commanded by an Ensign, the Aylwin was out on patrols immediately.


How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb

The Aylwin was moored at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, with other ships from her Pacific squadron. Like most ships, roughly half of its crew were out on liberty or leave when the Japanese arrived in Hawaii. She had only one boiler going, strong enough to power only a few of the ship’s systems. That’s when the Utah was hit by a torpedo.

Even with only half her crew and being under the command of Ensign Stanley B. Caplan – that’s an O-1 for you non-Navy folks – the Aylwin was returning fire within three minutes of the Japanese attacks. A few minutes after that, her remaining boilers were lit. And a few minutes after that, Aylwin was making her way into the channel and into the open sea. This destroyer wasn’t going to be a sitting duck if she could help it.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb

As she left the harbor, Aylwin maintained a deadly, continuous rate of fire that would have dissuaded even the most daring of pilots from pressing their attack on the destroyer. Pearl Harbor, at that moment however, was a target-rich environment for both sides. The skies were filled with Japanese planes, and the grounds and harbor area were littered with military targets, planes, ships, and more. Zero after Zero came after the U.S. ship but were chased away as Ensign Caplan and his men fired everything they had at their pursuers. The machine gunners on the decks of the Aylwin claimed to have downed at least three enemy fighters.

Caplan and company began an immediate combat patrol, looking for enemy submarines in the area, as were her standing orders in case of such an attack. An unknown explosion and an attempt to depth charge an enemy submarine were the most notable events of the next few days. For 36 hours, Ensign Caplan knew what it meant to be the captain. The ship and the rest of its crew joined the task force around the USS Lexington and headed to Wake Island by Dec. 12.

The Aylwin would survive the war mostly intact, but with 13 battle stars for her contributions to the fighting at Midway, Attu, and Okinawa, just to name a few.

popular

The last shots of the American Civil War were fired in Russia

Historians don’t talk much about naval action during the Civil War, certainly not as much as they do about the ground combat. If it’s not about a riverboat, the Monitor and the Merrimack, or damning torpedoes, it just doesn’t get the same attention.


The CSS Shenandoah did a lot of things worth talking about.

Her flag was the last Confederate flag to be lowered and she was the ship that took the Civil War to the global stage, looting and burning Union merchant shipping from Africa to India to Russia and back.

She took 38 prizes and more than a thousand prisoners, some of them joining the Confederate ship.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
You’d think a whaling fleet would have an armed escort.

Shenandoah was built by the British. A fast, steam-powered screw ship, the Brits transferred her to a Confederate skeleton crew under Capt. James Waddell off the coast of Africa. From there, Shenandoah terrorized American ships in sea lanes around the Cape of Good Hope, through the Pacific, and into the Bering Sea off Alaska.

At the time, however, Alaska belonged to the Russian Czar. And the Czar was friend to the United States. When Shenandoah began burning American whaling fleets in his territory, the Czar was not at all pleased.

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
The Shenandoah’s mission brought the US Civil War worldwide.

 

Even after the Civil War was over, Shenandoah continued her Pacific rampage. The skipper just didn’t believe Lee’s surrender ended the war, even when American whaling captains told him so.

Pretty soon, he was the only Confederate still fighting. So he moved to shell the defenseless city of San Francisco. It was on his way to California that he met a British ship who confirmed the news: The Confederacy was gone and the captain and crew of the Shenandoah were going to be tried and hanged.

With every Navy in the world looking for Shenandoah and a hefty bounty on his head, Capt. Waddell disguised the ship, stowed its weaponry, and made a mad dash for Great Britain – the long way around.

 

How a daring raid by Norwegian commandos kept the Nazis from building a nuclear bomb
I wonder if mustache maintenance was a problem at sea.

Out of major shipping lanes, he faced terrible weather. He also never contacted any ships or stopped in any port, steaming the Shenandoah 27,000 miles to Liverpool, England, where he surrendered to the Royal Navy.

The USS Waddell, a guided missile destroyer, was named for the ship’s captain. Though not the first ship to be named for a Confederate, it was the first one to be named for an enemy captain who wreaked havoc on American shipping.

Do Not Sell My Personal Information