The U.S. military is getting a nuclear-powered space vehicle - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The U.S. military is getting a nuclear-powered space vehicle

A nuclear thermal propulsion system meant to operate in low Earth orbit may sound like the stuff of the future, but the future will come much sooner than most of us expect. 

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (better known by its acronym, DARPA)  just announced three companies will be designing America’s most futuristic engine – and it’s expected to be operational by 2025. 

This engine is not known by its acronym, DRACO, which stands for Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations. DARPA says the three big contractors designing over the next four years will be General Atomics, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin.

The U.S. military is getting a nuclear-powered space vehicle
Aerospace company Lockheed Martin is known for making some of the fastest fighters, including this U.S. Air Force F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter from the 58th Fighter Squadron.

DRACO is not only advanced because the propulsion system will be the first of its kind, it’s also advanced because electric and chemical systems don’t give current technology anything close to the kind of maneuverability we’ve come to expect from space vehicles that don’t actually exist, like X-Wing fighters and Federation Runabouts. 

Designers aren’t exactly thinking that the new system will give any space vehicle the kind of handling current air fighters enjoy, but it’s fun to think about what the future may hold. Military planners are hoping for any kind of advanced agility in orbit, something that offers the best of the chemical and electric propulsion currently used by orbiting vehicles. 

Current chemical systems are only half as efficient as the nuclear thermal system will be. Chemical systems create water as a waste product

“The performer teams have demonstrated capabilities to develop and deploy advanced reactor, propulsion, and spacecraft systems,” Maj. Nathan Greiner, the project’s Air Force program manager, said in a statement. “The NTP technology we seek to develop and demonstrate under the DRACO program aims to be foundational to future operations in space.” 

The first phase is (appropriately) the foundational phase of the design plan. General Atomics will develop the system’s reactor and propulsion mechanics. The other two companies will build off of that design and each create a concept for a spacecraft. 

This won’t be the first time The United States has conceived the idea of a nuclear-powered engine in space. In 1961, NASA built nuclear reactors for use in rocket engines with its Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application (NERVA). 

The U.S. military is getting a nuclear-powered space vehicle
1 December 1967: The first ground experimental nuclear rocket engine (XE) assembly is shown here in “cold flow” configuration, as it makes a late evening arrival at Engine Test Stand No. 1 in Jackass FlatsNevada. The engine is in the left background with a shield structure in the mid/foreground.

Then-Director for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center conceived the idea of manned missions to Mars using spacecraft powered by three NERVA engines each, eight years before man landed on the moon. The proposed mission was supposed to embark in 1981 and land on Mars by 1982. Instead it was scrapped in 1972. 

DARPA’s nuclear thermal rocket system will use fission to heat liquid hydrogen and fire that heated element in its gaseous from the rear of the rocket. As it expands through a nozzle, it will create thrust in space. 

If you’re worried about the possibility of an exploding rocket filled with radioactive elements spewing those elements all over the Earth, you’re not alone. But scientists assure us that nuclear thermal rockets will use low-enriched uranium, which would not be usable as a weapon if that happens. 

They also assure us that the uranium used in the propulsion system won’t be radioactive until the rocket is well clear of Earth’s atmosphere. 

Right now, DRACO rockets are being considered for transit between the Earth and its moon, but it would significantly cut down on travel times inside the solar system, potentially reaching Mars in as little as three months.  

MIGHTY HISTORY

See how an individual scout survived the massacre at Little Bighorn

The soldiers fighting at Little Bighorn in 1876 were facing long odds. The initial attack seemed to favor federal government forces, but they quickly found that the Native forces were much larger and stronger than originally suspected. Scout William Jackson, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe, also known as Sikakoan, recalled the fighting in an Army historical document. It’s as dark as you might expect, but also (surprisingly) funny at times.

Let’s take a ride:


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Reenactors near the Little Bighorn River in Montana.

(Leonard J. DeFrancisci CC BY-SA 3.0)

The story starts with the 7th Cavalry having already engaged the massive force of Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors under Sitting Bull. Jackson was with Maj. Marcus Reno when they hit the first Native American camp with three companies of soldiers. The men were tasked with driving off ponies belonging to the Sioux, but the men spotted more camps further downriver and realized their assault was doomed.

Reno pulled the men back into a stand of timber and prepared for defensive fighting. They held well for a while, even as the Native forces began receiving reinforcements and eventually reached about 1,500 warriors.

But repeated charges by the Native forces eventually caused Reno to pull the men back, but the orderly retreat turned into a panicked rout as repeated attacks broke up the Federal formations.

Multiple men sacrificed themselves to protect the rest of the force. Bloody Knife, one of the scouts, a half Sioux-Ree, reportedly said, “Boys, try to save your lives. I am going to die in this place.”

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Bloody Knife, an Arkira-Sioux Native American who worked with federal troops in the 1870s. He was killed during the battle, and Scout William Jackson claimed that he died protecting the federal withdrawal.

(U.S. National Archives)

Jackson and a few others were able to get away. And here is where we get our first bit of a comedic break. A Native leader walked up to the forces surrounding the Federal troops, and he chastised them for suffering the Federal soldiers for so long. According to Jackson, he:

“…came up and began to scold his people saying that there were only white people in the brush and that they were very easily killed. He urged the rest to follow him and armed only with a sword started to run into the brush, but when reached the edge of it he fell.”

Yeah, dude was talking mad sh*t right up until he got himself shot. But the Federal forces were still in a tough spot. They were outnumbered, surrounded, and out of water and food.

Luckily, the lieutenant had brought a bottle with him into the bush. Unfortunately, it was a bottle of coffee because of course, the LT was riding around with coffee. Probably telling everyone about how this “Go-Juice” had gotten him through junior year, too.

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Reenactors near the Little Bighorn River in Montana.

(Leonard J. DeFrancisci, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Still, the lieutenant was the hero for sharing his drink with everyone, so he tried to follow this up by making a cigarette with his rolling paper and loose tobacco. That was when one of the enlisted men pointed out that, when hiding from Native warriors in the brush, it’s generally best to not give away your position with smoke.

L-Ts gonna L-T.

As darkness came on, one soldier, Gerard, offered to ride for help, but the lieutenant shot it down. The men could still hear the sounds of the larger battle, and it was clear that it wasn’t going well for the 7th Cavalry, so it was unlikely anyone could help them. And the officer didn’t want to split up his tiny, four-man force on such a longshot.

Lt. De Rudio said, “Fight right here till you die and all stick together.”

About 11 o’clock, by Jackson’s estimate, the Native activity around the men had died down, and they decided to try and escape down the riverbank. They were able to slip past the sentries, but it was a close-run thing. The men did run into a war party, but Jackson could luckily speak Sioux and talked the way through.

The men made their way across a river and into another stand of timber. In these trees, they heard the sound of snorting horses and saw the light as someone raised a lit match to a pipe and the tobacco brighten as someone drew on it.

Gerard got hopeful and called out, “There! Didn’t I tell you the soldiers were in the timber? Hold on, boys, don’t shoot! It’s us; Gerard and De Rudio!”

Unfortunately for him, as well as Jackson; De Rudio; and Tom O’Neill, the other survivor, these weren’t federal troops. They were native warriors.

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A painting depicting the Battle of Little Bighorn where famous U.S. Army officer George C. Custer, a brevet major general at the time, was killed.

(Short Allison)

The warriors gave chase, and the men were forced to split up. Jackson and Gerard got away while De Rudio and O’Neill were unable to. After a few minutes, Jackson and Gerard heard five to six gunshots and realized they would likely never see their friends again.

For the entire next day, the two men tried to get to friendly lines but kept finding themselves cut off by Native warriors maneuvering on the besieged federal troops. It wasn’t until after dark, over 30 hours after they were originally isolated, that Jackson and Gerard were able to return to federal lines.

After telling their story a time or two, they were given some hardtack. They were eating it when they got a pleasant surprise.

A sentry yelled a challenge to two people walking up the camp. When Jackson and Gerard looked for the source of the commotion, they were surprised to see De Rudio and O’Neill. Those men had killed three Natives pursuing them and then escaped into a woodline. They hid in a fallen, rotten tree for an entire day, even as Native warriors searching for them used that very log as a seat and then jumped their horses over it.

The four survivors were happy to learn that the camp they were in belonged to Maj. Reno who had also survived the fighting. Reno asked Jackson to please go get a doctor from Custer’s main camp.

It was during this mission that Jackson learned what had happened to Custer and the bulk of the men under his command. He found a slaughter on the battlefield. The survivors eventually made it out, but Federal forces had taken one of their worst losses in history.

(Scout William Jackson’s full statement is available here. It should be known that some accounts of the battle differ in the details. For instance, other accounts claim that Bloody Knife was killed near Maj. Reno before the retreat, and that Bloody Knife’s death may have been the event that pushed Reno to give the withdrawal order.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This MoH recipient had the most impressive last stand at Heartbreak Ridge

Standing among the greatest warriors are the troops who go above and beyond the call of duty for their comrades when the odds are at their slimmest. This is the story of Medal of Honor recipient Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au.

Herbert K. Pilila’au was a native Hawaiian, born and raised on the island of O’ahu. Those who knew him growing up would describe him as a gentle kid who would spend much of his time reading the Bible and listening to classical music.


He was drafted into the Korean War at the age of 22 and attended Basic Training at Fort Shafter. His peers were in awe as they watched the stillest, quietest soldier in their company turn out to be the most physically fit and strong of the recruits. Despite being the most talked-about soldier, he remained humble and continually wrote home.

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A home not too far from the Pilila’au Army Rec Center, lateru00a0named in his honor.
(Photo courtesy of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation – Hawaii)

Very shortly after basic training, he was attached to Charlie Company of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division and entered the fray in Gangwon Province, Korea. He volunteered to be the squad’s automatic rifleman saying, “someone had to do it.”

He first showed his prowess in battle alongside the rest of the 23rd Infantry Regiment as they fought at the Battle of Bloody Ridge in August of 1951. This victory lead United Nations troops to march on what is now known as the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge.

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The battle for these hills would end up costing the lives of 3,700 American and French GIs.
(Courtesy of the National Archives)

Pilila’au would meet his destiny on September 17th, 1951, when his platoon was tasked with protecting the ridge-line of Hill 931. After suffering a barrage of North Korean artillery strikes on their position, his platoon was forced to retreat. As they started to rejoin the rest of the unit, North Korean infantrymen descended on their position.

Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au volunteered himself to cover the retreat of the rest of his platoon with his Browning Automatic Rifle. He laid fire into every North Korean that came his way until he ran out of bullets. He then switched to throwing every grenade he had with him. When the grenades were gone, he pulled out his trench knife and carved into any attacker he could while punching them with his free hand. It was only after his platoon was safe that he would be surrounded and, finally, fall to an enemy bayonet.

When his platoon retook the position the next day, they discovered the bodies of forty North Koreans around his. He was buried at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu. On June 18th, 1952, Pfc. Herbert K. Pilila’au was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and became the first Native Hawaiian to receive the United States Military’s highest decoration.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘The Attack of the Dead Men’ was a horrifying WWI infantry charge

Just in time for Halloween, the horrifying tale of a Russian infantry charge gone bad. Listen, everyone knows the Russian infantry historically gets the worst of every war, but World War I was especially horrific for the Russians fighting Germany. For the Russians defending Osowiec Fortress, it was especially horrible.

Welcome to the age of poison gas. You know something was intense if Sabaton has a song about it.


In true, stupid World War I fashion, the German high command ordered a full-frontal assault on Osowiec Fortress, using 14 battalions of infantry, along with sappers, siege guns, and artillery. The Russians had roughly 900 men defending the fortification, with less than half of that being conscripted militiamen. Instead of the usual artillery pounding, the Germans decided to use poison gas on the fort, opting to use chlorine gas on the Russians.

Well, it turns out the gas and the water in the air, along with the water in the lungs of the Russian defenders didn’t just choke the Russians; it turned the chlorine into hydrochloric acid and began to dissolve the Russians from the inside out. Russians tried to stem the gas using wet rags, but they had no chemical defenses, and the skin on their faces soon began to melt as well.

Instead of just taking the assault, the beleaguered Russians decided to counter attack.

The 100 or so men who formed up to charge the Germans ran into 12 battalions of enemy troops, but kept on running anyway. What the Germans saw coming through the mists was the difference-maker. A horde of face-melting zombies charged through the darkness and slammed into an army of 7,000. The Germans panicked and bolted at the sight of the undead Russians.

German troops turned and ran from the horrifying scene so fast, they ran into their own booby traps and barbed wire. The bold, outnumbered counter-charge was short-lived, however. The fortress would have to be abandoned as other fortifications surrounding Osowiec were starting to fall, and the Russians would soon be trapped. They demolished the fort and fell back.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What to know about the Combat Controller who will get the Medal of Honor

President Donald Trump will posthumously award the Medal of Honor to the family of a fallen U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Combat Controller at a ceremony on Aug. 22, 2018, for his extraordinary heroism in March 2002 while deployed to Afghanistan.

According to the medal nomination, Tech. Sergeant John Chapman distinguished himself on the battlefield through “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity,” sacrificing his life to preserve those of his teammates. Chapman was part of a joint special operations reconnaissance team deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 that came under overwhelming enemy fire during a heroic rescue attempt on Takur Ghar mountain, Afghanistan, March 4, 2002.


“Tech. Sgt. John Chapman earned America’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor, for the actions he performed to save fellow Americans on a mountain in Afghanistan more than 16 years ago,” said Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson. “He will forever be an example of what it means to be one of America’s best and bravest Airmen.”

During the initial insertion onto Afghanistan’s Takur Ghar mountaintop, the MH-47 “Chinook” helicopter carrying Chapman and the joint special operations reconnaissance team flew into an enemy ambush. Intense enemy small arms and rocket propelled grenade fire significantly damaged the helicopter, throwing Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Neil Roberts into the “hornet’s nest” of enemies below. Following a controlled crash landing a few miles away, the remaining team members elected to fly back to the enemy-infested mountaintop in a heroic attempt to rescue Roberts.

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Tech. Sgt. John Chapman

During the rescue attempt, Chapman and his teammates once again received heavy enemy fire from multiple directions. Chapman, despite the enemy fire, charged uphill through thigh-deep snow to directly assault an enemy position. He took the enemy bunker, cleared the position, and killed the enemy fighters occupying the position.

Then, with complete disregard for his own life, Chapman deliberately moved from the bunker’s protective cover to attack a second hostile bunker with an emplaced machine gun firing on the rescue team.

During this bold attack, he was struck and temporarily incapacitated by enemy fire.

Despite his wounds, Chapman regained his faculties and continued to fight relentlessly, sustaining a violent engagement with multiple enemy fighters before paying the ultimate sacrifice. In performance of these remarkably heroic actions, he is credited with saving the lives of his teammates.

“Tech. Sgt. John Chapman fought tenaciously for his nation and his teammates on that hill in Afghanistan,” said Air Force Chief of Staff General David L. Goldfein. “His inspiring story is one of selfless service, courage, perseverance, and honor as he fought side by side with his fellow Soldiers and Sailors against a determined and dug-in enemy. Tech. Sgt. Chapman represents all that is good, all that is right, and all that is best in our American Airmen.”

The U.S. military is getting a nuclear-powered space vehicle

John Chapman holding a child in Afghanistan.

He continued, “I extend my deepest thanks to the members of Tech. Sgt. Chapman’s family, his military family, and the Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who were his brothers on the battlefield and who have remained committed to honoring his legacy. He is a true American hero.

“This is a reflection of our commitment to recognizing the heroic actions of our Airmen,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright. “As Chapman’s story reminds us, we have a sacred duty to honor the actions and sacrifices of all our service members. I share our Airmen’s deepest gratitude to the Chapman family, as well as the family members of all those who gave their lives serving our great nation.”

The Medal of Honor is the nation’s most prestigious military decoration. It is awarded by the president, in the name of Congress, to military members who have distinguished themselves conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life, above and beyond the call of duty, while engaged in action with an enemy of the United States.

Chapman will be the 19th Airman awarded the Medal of Honor since the Department of the Air Force was established in 1947. He will be the first Airman recognized with the medal for heroic actions occurring after the Vietnam War.

This article originally appeared on the United States Air Force. Follow @usairforce on Twitter.

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These are the only 2 subs that sank enemy ships in combat since 1945

Submarines were very proficient ship-killers in World War II. Nazi U-boats hit 3,474 Allied ships. Allied submarines in the Pacific sank 1,314 ships from Japan’s navy and merchant marine.


But since 1945, submarines have had a mostly dry spell. In fact, most of the warshots fired by subs since then have been Tomahawk cruise missiles on land targets – something Charles Lockwood and Karl Donitz would have found useful.

There are only two submarines that have sunk enemy ships in the more than 70 years since World War II ended.

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PNS Hangor deploys in the early days of the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1. PNS Hangor

The sub that provides the first break in the post World War II dry spell is from Pakistan. The Pakistani submarine PNS Hangor — a French-built Daphne-class boat — was the vessel that pulled it off during operations in the Arabian Sea during the 1971 Indo-Pakistani War.

According to Military-Today.com, a Daphne-class vessel displaced 1,043 tons, had a top speed of 16 knots, and had 12 22-inch torpedo tubes (eight forward, four aft), each pre-loaded.

On Dec. 9, 1971, the Hangor detected two Indian frigates near its position. The submarine’s captain dove deep and got ready to fight.

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INS Khukri, a Blackwood-class frigate that holds the distinction of being the first ship to be sunk by an enemy submarine since World War II. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

India had sent two Blackwood-class frigates, INS Khukri and INS Kirpan, out of three built for them by the United Kingdom to patrol in the area. These frigates were designed to hunt submarines. Only this time, the sub hunted them.

According to Bharat-Rakshak.com, the Hangor fired a torpedo at the Kirpan, which dodged. Then the Khukri pressed in for an attack. The Hangor sent a torpedo at the Khukri, and this time scored a hit that left the Indian frigate sinking. The Kirpan tried to attack again, and was targeted with another torpedo for her trouble.

The Kirpan evaded a direct hit, and Indian and Pakistani versions dispute whether that frigate was damaged. The Hangor made her getaway.

It didn’t do India that much harm, though. India won that war, securing the independence of what is now Bangladesh. Pakistan, though, has preserved the Hangor as a museum.

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This 2006 photo HMS Conqueror (on the right in the foreground) show her awaiting scrapping. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. HMS Conqueror

Just over 10 years after PNS Hangor ended the dry spell, HMS Conqueror got on the board – and made history herself. The Conqueror so far is the only nuclear submarine to sink an enemy warship in combat.

The Conqueror, a 5,400 ton Churchill-class submarine, was armed with six 21-inch torpedo tubes. With a top speed of 28 knots, she also didn’t have to come up to recharge batteries. That enabled her to reach the South Atlantic after Argentina’s 1982 invasion of the Falklands, touching off the Falklands War.

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The General Belgrano underway prior to the Falklands War. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In a sense, the Argentinean cruiser ARA Gen. Belgrano — formerly known as USS Phoenix (CL 46) — really didn’t stand a chance. GlobalSecurity.org notes that the 12,300 ton cruisers were armed with 15 six-inch guns, eight five-inch guns, and a host of lighter anti-aircraft guns.

As the Gen. Belgrano approached the exclusionary zone declared by the Brits, the Conqueror began to track the cruiser. Finally, on May 2, 1982, she got the orders to attack. The Conqueror fired three Mark 8 torpedoes and scored two hits on the cruiser. The General Belgrano went down with 323 souls.

The Conqueror’s attack sent the rest of the Argentinean fleet running back to port. The British eventually re-took the Falkland Islands. The Conqueror is presently awaiting scrapping after being retired in 1990.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 of the deadliest sniper rifles in World War II

World War II sniper rifles were often updated World War I models made better with new telescopic sights and upgrades to make them more easily employed in combat.


These relatively minor improvements to the weapons made the snipers much more dangerous in combat, and sharpshooters were able to make an outsized impact on the conflict, tying down enemy units and picking off key players. Here are four of the weapons used by the major powers in Europe:

The Springfield ’03 sniper

 

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A U.S. soldier holds a camouflaged Springfield 1903 sniper rifle during World War I. (Photo: U.S. Army via Imperial War Museum)

 

The Springfield Model 1903 began its career as a standard infantry rifle, but its accuracy and reliability led to the creation of a sniper variant that was basically the same except the iron sites were gone and permanent mountings for telescopic sights were placed instead. The bolt-action weapon used a five-round internal magazine.

The Mauser 98 sniper

The Mauser ’98 sniper rifle was one of the first to use a long-eye relief scope where the optic — usually a 4x magnification but some models had a piddly 1.5x — sits more than five inches from the shooter’s eye. The weapon as a whole had a revolutionary design that was copied by others across the world. German troops carried it in both world wars, but many other countries have used it.

The Lee-Enfield

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Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspects the Lee-Enfield No. 4 Mk. 1 in 1942. (Photo: British War Office Capt. Horton)

 

Like most World War II rifles, the Lee-Enfield No. 4 was simply an updated World War I design. But the No. 4 was lighter, more reliable, and more infantry friendly than its predecessors. The British military fielded a sniper version with a 3.5x telescopic sight. The Australians used the older No. 1 model for their sniper conversions.

Mosin-Nagant

 

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The famous Soviet sniper Roza Shanina poses with her Mosin-Nagant 1891/30 rifle. (Photo: Public Domain)

The Soviet version of the Mosin-Nagant was a 1930 update of an enormously successful 1891 weapon. In 1932, the Soviets began modifying new Mosin-Nagants as sniper weapons by reconfiguring the handles to receive telescopic sights and lighter triggers. While the stocks warped in some weather, its accuracy made it a choice of snipers on both sides of the conflict anyway.

Check out the Weaponology video below to learn more about these weapons. The rifle portion begins at 2:47.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How one pilot became Santa Claus to the kids of West Berlin

After the Second World War ended, Germany was split in two. The Allies took control over Western Germany while the communists shrouded the eastern half behind the Iron Curtain. Berlin, Germany’s capital, was also famously split in two. The city is nestled deep into the heart of Eastern Germany, leaving the West Germans living there to fend for themselves in a war-torn city without supplies.

Starting in June of 1948, the communists tried their best to cut West Berlin off from the outside world. In what was later dubbed the “Berlin Blockade,” the Soviets shut down all railway, road, and canal access to Western citizens. Just as quickly, allied humanitarian missions were carried out to get food and supplies to the starving people of West Berlin. Between June 24th, 1948, and September 30th of the following year, 278,228 air missions, collectively called “Operation Vittles,” delivered over 2,326,406 tons of supplies to keep the city alive.

But one man, Lt. Gail Halvorsen, went behind his commander’s back to deliver a little extra and help raise the children’s spirits. His personal mission was dubbed Operation Little Vittles.


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For this, the kids gave him the exceedingly clever nickname, “Uncle Wiggle Wings.”

(National Archives)

Lt. Gail Halvorsen arrived in Germany in July, 1948, and was given orders to fly one of the C-54 Skymasters into the city to ferry supplies. On his day off, he decided to walk around the airfield with a camera to get a couple good shots of aircraft taking off and landing. When he made it to the fence at the end of the runway, he noticed that a group of children were gathered to watch the planes.

They asked him all sorts of questions about the planes and their mission and, as a demonstration of good faith, he gave them the two sticks of gum he had in his pocket. The impoverished kids divvied the two sticks, splitting it evenly amongst the large gathering — they didn’t fight over who got the biggest piece. In fact, it was said that the kid missed candy so much that just smelling the wrapper was good enough.

Halvorsen was heartbroken. He promised the children that he’d return with more. He told them that he’d always “wiggle his wings” when he was flying overhead with candy.

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Among all the fan mail and shipments of candy, Halvorsen also received plenty of marriage proposals from the ladies back home. Take notes, fellas.

(National Archives)

The very next day, he tied a bunch of candy to handkerchief parachutes and tossed it out of his plane to the kids waiting below as he took off. Halvorsen continued to do this every single day and, as he did, the daily gathering of kids grew larger.

His commanding officer, Lieutenant General William H. Tunner, heard of what he was doing and was reportedly upset. It wasn’t until every newspaper in the region (and back home) started reporting on the heroics of “Uncle Wiggly Wings” or “The Chocolate Flier” that the general officially allow Halvorsen to continue.

Soon enough, people began sending candy to Halvorsen’s unit. Folks back in the States started sending candy by the box, large candy makers donated to Halvorsen’s cause, and the West German children shared the bounty amongst themselves.

As Christmas, 1948, drew nearer, Halvorsen knew he’d have to do something big. By this point, candy makers had supplied him with 18 tons of candy and another 3 tons was given by private donors. In a single night, instead of tossing it to the kids gathered by the runway’s end, Halvorsen spread it across the entire city.

For one night, the spirit of Christmas was brought to the people of West Berlin. The kindness of Lt. Halvorsen, his crew, and the innumerable candy donors would never be forgotten.

To more on this story, listen to the silky smooth narration of Tom Brokaw below.

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The real reason the Japanese invasion of Singapore was a disaster

In February 1942, the war in the Pacific came to British-controlled Singapore. The Japanese were ready to assault one of the British Empire’s most significant military bases and capture the cornerstone of the imperial defense strategy. 

Despite its well-known status as “the Gibraltar of the East,” the Japanese managed to land 30,000 troops on the islands and force a British surrender. It was a disaster for the British, of course, but the real disaster is that the British could have annihilated the invaders.

Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita led a force of about 30,000 troops down the Malayan Peninsula for two months before beginning the fight for Singapore. The well-positioned British forces were seemingly protected by impassable jungles on an island where they’d destroyed the only causeway that would give invaders access. 

The Japanese still managed to move through the dense jungle and make an amphibious landing on Singapore. In about a week, the British surrendered the island, in the largest surrender in British military history. 

Singapore was defended by almost 90,000 British and Imperial troops. Although many of these troops were undertrained, the fighting in the jungles would have negated Japanese air superiority had the British rode out to meet them. The British believed the jungle was too dense to mount an overland campaign and didn’t. 

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Lieutenant-General Percival and his party carry the Union flag on their way to surrender Singapore to the Japanese. (Wikimedia Commons)

The first mistake was allowing the Japanese to advance down the peninsula to get the bulk of their forces to Singapore itself. The British defenders had time to create a credible defense for the island in the days following the attacks on Pearl Harbor and other Allied holdings throughout the Pacific Theater. If they had had created multiple lines of credible defenses in the peninsula, similar to the lines used by the Duke of Wellington against Napoleonic armies in the Peninsular War. 

Green as they may have been, the British, ANZAC, and Indian defenders might have been able to put up a better fight if they had prepared a defense in depth to funnel the oncoming Japanese into a death trap before they could reach the strait separating Singapore from the peninsula. The jungle canopy would have hidden the fighting from Japanese air power and allowed the British a fighting chance. 

Just such a defense occurred at the Battle of Pasir Panjang, where 1,400 British forces in reinforced concrete bunkers held out against 13,000 Japanese invaders. Despite being low on ammunition and subject to banzai charges still held on with their fighting spirit intact. Similar engagements occurred at places like Parit Sulong and Niyor during the fighting for the Malay peninsula.

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Photo of the blown up causeway between Singapore and Malaysia, delaying the Japanese attack for nine days. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Island of Singapore is also not the size of Greenland. After destroying the only causeway, the British knew the Japanese would have to make an amphibious landing somewhere along the facing coastal areas. Allowing the enemy to land a force of 30,000 troops there nearly unimpeded was a costly mistake. Singapore’s coastal defense guns weren’t even turned against the invading troops. They weren’t even used against the massing forces in the nights before they made the crossing. 

The British commander, believing Japanese landings would take place elsewhere, failed to reinforce the troops opposing the landings that were currently taking place. The initial assault consisted of 13,000 Japanese troops, which, even if one is expecting another landing, is enough to send reinforcements. Yamashita even said as much after the war. Once inland, Singapore’s fate was sealed. 

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This soldier fought off a German tank with his pistol

On Dec. 16, 1944, the Germans launched a massive offensive into the Ardennes Forest that caught the Allies off guard. As the Battle of the Bulge erupted, depleted American forces were rushed into the lines to shore up the defense. One of those units was the 1st Infantry Division’s 26th Infantry Regiment.


One of the veterans of the battalion, Henry Warner, was assigned to lead a 57mm anti-tank gun section in the battalion’s anti-tank company.

Warner had joined the Army at the age of 19 in January of 1943. After being assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, he fought through northern Europe with the 26th Infantry Regiment and received a promotion to Corporal.

When the Germans launched their major offensive, known to them as Operation Watch on the Rhine, Warner and the rest of his outfit were regrouping in Belgium after bitter fighting.

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U.S. troops of the 26th infantry at Butgenbach positioning an anti-tank gun. (U.S. Army Center for Military History)

The 26th Infantry Regiment had been engaged in the brutal fighting in the Hürtgen Forest. The second battalion had been particularly hard hit. The unit had been so depleted that nine out of every ten men in the battalion were green replacements — and they were still understrength. At the outset of the Battle of the Bulge, only seven officers in the entire unit had been with the battalion the previous month.

While the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions blunted the initial German thrust at Elsenborn Ridge, the 1st Infantry Division went south to shore up the defenses and stop any attempts of an encirclement by the Germans. Linking up with the 99th Infantry Division was the 2nd Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment. The battalion commander dispersed his understrength unit to hold the Belgian town of Butgenbach.

The defenders at Butgenbach just happened to be right in the way of the planned German assault.

Although the 2nd Battalion was short on many things, including men, machine guns, and grenades, they were determined to hold the line.

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U.S. troops defend their position near Luxembourg in Jan. 1945. (U.S. National Archives)

Stationed along a pivotal roadway was Warner’s anti-tank gun section. Thanks to the valiant efforts of the 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions, Warner and his men had ample time to dig in and prepare their positions.

The first German attacks came on Dec. 19, but were beaten back by the American forces. The Germans then continued to probe American lines throughout the night.

On the morning of Dec. 20, the Germans came hard down the road manned by Warner and his men. At least ten German tanks supported by infantry fought their way into the American position. All along the line Americans and Germans engaged in close combat.

Anti-tank gunners and bazookas blasted the German tanks at point blank range as they tried to drive through the lines.

On that morning, three German tanks approached Warner’s position. Manning his 57mm gun, he promptly knocked out the first tank with a well-placed shot.

As the tanks continued to advance, Warner skillfully lined up another shot and put a second German tank out of action.

As the third tank neared his position, Warner’s gun jammed. He fought to clear the jam until the German tank was within only a few yards. Then, in a move that can only be deemed crazy, Warner jumped from his gun pit brandishing his .45 caliber 1911 pistol.

With the German tank right on top of him — and disregarding the intense fire all around from the attacking German infantry — Warner engaged the commander of the German tank in a pistol duel. Warner outgunned the German, killing him, and forcing his now leaderless tank to withdraw from the fight.

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U.S. troops march a German prisoner past a burning Nazi tank. (U.S. Army Signal Corps photo | Dec. 17, 1944)

Supporting American artillery broke up the German infantry assault and, along with Warner’s heroics, had repelled the German attack.

Warner and the rest of the battalion continued to resist the German onslaught, turning back numerous infantry advances. The Germans rained down mortar and artillery fire throughout the rest of the day and that night, as well.

The next morning the Germans came in force once again. And once again Warner was manning his 57mm gun. As a Panzer Mark IV emerged into Warner’s view, he engaged it with precision fire. He set the tanks engine on fire but paid for it with a blast from a German machinegun.

Not out of the fight, Warner ignored his injuries and struggled to reload his gun and finish off the German tank. A second burst from a German machine gun cut him down before he could complete his task.

For his actions in stopping the German attacks, Cpl. Warner was awarded the Medal of Honor.

The rest of the 26th Infantry Regiment, spurred on by the bravery of soldiers like Warner, held its position against repeated German attacks.

The 1st Infantry Division, along with the 2nd, 9th, and 99th Infantry Divisions, now made up the northern shoulder of “the Bulge” and the strict time table for the attack was severely behind schedule.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This command post flew 24 hours a day for 29 years

We’ve all seen the movie where a well-funded group of terrorists makes a threat against the U.S. government then all hell breaks loose until one man or woman steps up and saves the day by defeating the bad guys. These films often make our defensive capabilities appear powerless versus these fictional villains.

Although these storylines are entertaining, our government’s ability to protect us goes well beyond some smart computer hacker, especially in the event of a nuclear war.

The nuclear war strategy of the U.S. relies upon its capacity to communicate with and control its nuclear forces under the most hazardous of conditions. For close to 30 years, this vital defense plan was laid in the hands of 11 different converted EC-135Cs code-named “Looking Glass.”


 

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Operation Looking Glass was introduced by the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Command on Feb. 3, 1961. It was prepared to take over all operational control of nuclear forces if the ground-based command centers were destroyed or rendered unusable.

If that devastating nuclear event occurred, the general officer serving as the Airborne Emergency Action Officer (AEAO) aboard the “Looking Glass” would be required by law to assume the authority of the National Command Authority and directly command execution during a nuclear attack.

 

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To avoid any potential enemy threat from jamming the unique aircraft’s signal, the specialized planes came equipped with high-frequency antennas located on the wings. Along with the AEAO, a crew consisting of approximately 15-20 airmen would man their solitary post for several hours a day.

Since its maiden flight in 1961, there has always been a “Looking Glass” plane flying somewhere above the United States in case of an emergency, 24-hours a day.

On June 1, 1992, Operation Looking Glass was grounded from service and replaced.

Check out the video below to witness just how special this flying beast was to national security.

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These 74 dead sailors from the Vietnam War are not honored on the Wall

The most notable part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. is “The Wall,” which features a list of 58,315 personnel killed during the Vietnam War. An effort to add the names of 74 sailors, though, has been rebuffed by the Navy.


According to a report by FoxNews.com, the 74 sailors were killed when the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Frank E. Evans (DD 754) was rammed by the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (R 21) during a South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) exercise.

The destroyer was cut in half, with the bow sinking in a matter of minutes, taking 73 sailors with it. A single body was recovered from the South China Sea, bringing the total to 74 lives lost.

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The Wall, the most prominent part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Among the dead were the three Sage brothers from Niobrara, Nebraska – the worst loss any family had suffered since the Sullivan brothers were killed when the anti-aircraft cruiser USS Juneau (CL 52) was sunk during the Guadalcanal campaign.

The portion of the Frank E. Evans that remained afloat was taken to Subic Bay, where it was decommissioned on July 1, 1969. On Oct. 10, 1969, the ship was sunk as a target.

The Navy’s initial refusal to place those 74 names on the Wall was due to the fact that the destroyer was outside the “Vietnam combat zone.”

According to U.S. Navy criteria, “Vietnam and contiguous waters” was defined as “an area which includes Vietnam and the water adjacent thereto within the following specified limits: From a point on the East Coast of Vietnam at the juncture of Vietnam with China southeastward to 21 N. Latitude, 108° 15’E. Longitude; thence, southward to 18° N. Latitude, 108° 15’E. Longitude; thence southeastward to 17° 30’N. Latitude, 111° E. Longitude; thence southward to 11° N. Latitude; 111° E. Longitude, thence southwestward to 7° N. Latitude, 105° E. Longitude; thence westward to 7° N. Latitude, 103° E. longitude, thence northward to 9° 30’N. Latitude, 103° E. Longitude, thence northeastward to 10° 15’N. Latitude, 104° 27’E. Longitude, thence northward to a point on the West Coast of Vietnam at the juncture of Vietnam with Cambodia.”

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The aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne (R21), which rammed US Frank E. Evans (DD 754). (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

According to the website of the Frank E. Evans Association, the accident occurred 110 miles from the Vietnam Combat Zone.

FoxNews.com reported that the Navy has offered to place an exhibit about the collision in a planned Vietnam Veterans Memorial educational center, but many families are skeptical due to lagging efforts at fundraising for the proposed $130 million project.

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The HMS Thunderbolt was lost with almost all hands. Twice.

The HMS Thunderbolt was lost in combat on March 14, 1943, after a short but successful World War II career that saw it sink multiple Italian vessels, which might have been surprising to some since the submarine had actually sank three years prior in 1940 with a loss of nearly all hands.


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The submarine scheduled to become HMS Thetis in 1939. It would later sink but was raised and served in World War II as the HMS Thunderbolt. (Royal Navy Lt. S.J. Beadell)

That’s because the HMS Thunderbolt was once the HMS Thetis, or, more properly, it was almost the HMS Thetis. It was a submarine launched in 1938 as part of the interwar buildup of arms. The submarine was scheduled to become the HMS Thetis when it was commissioned.

But the planned commissioning didn’t happen. As the submarine went through its sea trials, a tragic accident occurred. Most torpedo tubes, then and now, work using two doors. One door opens to the sea when a torpedo is launched, one door opens into the sub when the crew needs to load a new torpedo. The best subs have mechanisms that make it physically impossible to open one door if the other isn’t closed.

But the N25 had an indicator instead, that was supposed to tell the crew the outer door was open so they wouldn’t open the inner door. But the indicator was really just a small hole in the door that would spurt water if the tube was flooded, and a painter had accidentally filled the small hole in.

During a dive on June 1, 1939, this resulted in the inner door being opened while the outer door was also open. The crew was able to seal a bulkhead after significant flooding, but the boat was filled with 53 members of the defense industry and public, and air was already in short supply in the flooded sub.

The crew managed to raise themselves back to the surface for a short period, and four crewmembers escaped, but it crashed back to the seafloor, and 99 people were killed.

But the almost-HMS Thetis was in shallow water, and divers were able to salvage the ship which was drained, dried, and repaired. After passing new sea trials, it was commissioned as the HMS Thunderbolt in 1940 and sent to the Atlantic.

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​The HMS Thunderbolt in the Mediterranean in 1942. (Royal Navy)

The HMS Thunderbolt was successful, even though it seemed like it would be cursed. First, sailors don’t always like it when a vessel’s name is changed, an old superstition. And if any sub could be a ghost ship, the Thunderbolt was a top contender. Worse, Thunderbolt was, itself, an auspicious name for British vessels as two previous HMS Thunderbolts had been lost in crashes.

All of this likely weighed on the crew, especially when they saw the rust line on the walls of the sub from the original sinking. But it destroyed an Italian sub in the Atlantic on Dec. 15, 1940, and helped destroy an Italian light cruiser and a supply ship in early January 1943 in the Mediterranean.

But on March 14, 1943, the Thunderbolt attacked and doomed the transport Esterel, but caught the attention of the Italian cruiser Cicogna in the process. Cicogna was commanded by a former submarine officer, and he knew the adversary’s tactics and the local sea.

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The crew of the HMS Thunderbolt poses with a Jolly Roger flag in 1942. (Royal Navy J.A. Hampton)

The Cicogna forced the Thunderbolt under and, when the British crew tried to resurface for air, spotted the boat’s periscope and hit it with depth charges, ending the ill-fated sub’s career and killing its crew, the second time the submarine was lost with all hands.

Interestingly, the HMS Thetis and Thunderbolt was not the only ship to serve in World War II that had already sank. Just before the Thetis sank, the USS Squalus sank during a test dive just months after it was commissioned. It was later raised and served as the USS Sailfish. And there were seven combat ships sank at Pearl Harbor that later saw service in World War II after salvage and repairs.

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