Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

Of all the nuclear weapons in all the world, quite possibly the weirdest, most ridiculous is the nuclear torpedo which has been envisioned and developed as everything from an anti-submarine weapon to a city-ending doomsday weapon. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin even claims that he’s brought it back (more on that later).


After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the entire world realized that a new paradigm existed. It was like the morning the first Dreadnought battleship was built. Once the Dreadnought existed, every ship built before it was essentially obsolete. Same with the nuclear bombs. Your massive armored corps don’t mean jack when a single bomb could’ve won the Battle of Kursk.

But where the construction of the Dreadnought kicked off a battleship race, the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Man kicked off a nuclear arms race. In addition to the nuclear bombs you would expect, designers in the U.S. and Soviet Union got creative, eventually creating everything from atomic cannons and recoilless rifles to atomic “mines.”

The underwater nuclear test Hardtack Umbrella was an 8-kiloton explosion. Most nuclear torpedoes were 10-kilotons or greater.
(U.S. Navy)

Another weird weapon on that list: the nuclear torpedo. The Soviet Union was the first to investigate the concept and came up with two designs dubbed the T-5 and T-15 from 1951 to 1952. The T-5 was a sort of tactically useful weapon, fitting in standard 21-inch torpedo tubes but featuring a nuclear warhead with a 5-kiloton payload.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
A Mark 45 nuclear torpedo previously in service with the U.S. Navy.
(Cliff, CC BY 2.0)

But the T-15 was supposed to be an absolute beast. It would require a specially modified submarine with a 61-inch diameter torpedo tube elongated to carry the weapon. Inside its shell would’ve been a thermonuclear warhead capable of creating a tsunami at a targeted shore, destroying the city or naval base there.

But the project was kept secret, even from the Soviet Navy, until July, 1954. When Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Fleet Adm. Nikolai Kuznetsov, was briefed on the concept, he reportedly said, “I don’t need that kind boat.” One of his major sticking points: Most U.S. cities were either too well protected or too far inland for the T-15 to work.

Apparently, purpose-building a submarine with a large crew in order to carry a weapon that likely could never be used in combat is a bad idea. Who knew?

But Kuznetsov was cool with the T-5 which would fit in a standard tube. It was a new option for commanders without straining logistics or construction outside of building the weapon itself. And so the Soviets got a nuclear torpedo into testing in 1955, detonating a 3-kiloton warhead.

The weapon was primarily aimed at destroying surface ships, but was thought to be plenty capable of taking out enemy subs by compressing their hulls. One of these torpedoes was almost used during the Cuban Missile Crisis when a Russian sub was bombarded with training depth charges by U.S. destroyers trying to force it to surface.

If the nuclear torpedo had been launched, it likely would’ve destroyed the American warships and could’ve pushed the crisis into a full war.

The U.S. developed their own nuclear torpedo, the Mark 45. The Mk. 45 was designed in 1957 and first produced in 1959, though the design was tweaked in 1960. These torpedoes fit in standard tubes but had an 11-kiloton W-34 warhead on the front. They were made to travel up to 12,000 yards before being triggered by an operator.

At the moment of the blast, the weapons would crush the hulls of ships and submarines as well as crack the keels of enemy ships if detonated properly. This is like breaking a ship’s back, and it drastically increases the speed at which a ship will typically sink.

Russia later developed an even more powerful nuclear torpedo. The Autonomous Special Combat Warheads boasted a 20-kiloton warhead. Luckily, neither it nor its U.S. and Russian predecessors were ever used in combat.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
A nuclear depth charge delivered via anti-submarine rocket detonates with an approximately 20-kiloton warhead, similar to Russia’s highest-yield nuclear torpedo during the Cold War.
(U.S. Navy)
 

But, of course, Russia once bragged that it has a new nuclear torpedo, a city killer that could wipe out U.S. coastal cities and make their surrounding area radioactive for decades. It was originally announced during a speech by Putin where he bragged about a number of supposedly functional doomsday weapons.

While the hypersonic nuclear missile famously was lost in a failed launch soon after the announcement, the nuclear torpedo isn’t nearly as technically challenging as the nuclear hypersonic missile.

The torpedo was called Status Six, later renamed Poseidon, and is remotely guided. So, it’s basically a drone and carries a warhead of up to 100 megatons. And it has an insane range and speed, capable of being launched from 6,200 miles away and swimming at 56 knots, faster than most U.S. torpedoes. And, it’s supposedly stealthy to boot, nearly undetectable.

Putin has desperately overhyped all of the weapons from that press conference, and so it’s unlikely that all the braggadocio will hold up, but nuclear torpedoes are technically very feasible, and so there’s no reason to think that Russia can’t build and launch one. A 100-megaton warhead is pretty feasible as well. A stealthy, fast, large torpedo is pretty unlikely though.

The good news is, though, that a strategic nuclear torpedo isn’t actually a game-changer, anyway. Russia has a history of overestimating U.S. missile defenses, and so they compensate by trying to create weapons that can pierce them. The nuclear torpedo is one of those, a city-killer designed to keep us from firing out city killers.

But it’s just a different flavor of mutually assured destruction, similar to ballistic missile silos and nuclear missile subs or nuclear bombers. Except nuclear torpedoes are, actually, just a little weaker since they can only engage coastal cities.

So, sleep tight, unless you sleep on the water.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the War of Independence was won in the trenches

When you picture the Continental Army — as commanded by General George Washington — you see scrappy colonials in ragtag uniforms, made as much of buckskin as breaches, lining up to trade musket volleys with orderly squadrons of Redcoats. You picture young, frostbitten officers fending off ice blocks in the Delaware River.


You picture this:

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

And this:

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

What you probably don’t picture is this:

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

You don’t really picture Minutemen grunts grovelling in groundhog holes or Washington commanding from behind a berm. But, at the climactic battle of the War of Independence, that’s exactly how it went down.

The engagement that ended the Revolutionary War —- the 1781 Siege of Yorktown — hinged on the disciplined execution of an early version of trench warfare. It’s a surprising historical tidbit.

We tend to associate trench warfare with World War I and the terrible mechanisms of death dealing shunted into that conflict by the Industrial Revolution. But as early as the Renaissance, siege tactics for breaching fortifications with artillery were designed around the clever engineering of trenches to great martial, as well as psychological, effect.

Before gunpowder and artillery, besieging a fortress was an arduous proposition. If you were really in a hurry, you’d bust out the siege towers and battering rams, doing your best to dodge hailstorms of rocks, arrows and boiling oil.

If that seemed unsavory, and you were happier killing time than your own soldiers, you’d simply blockade the fort and starve out its defenders. No muss, no fuss, but slow.

The explodey stuff changed all that. Cannons (once the diabolical death mongers had managed to dial them up to 11) made mincemeat of castle walls the world over: witness the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The defensive architects responded with burlier walls, but given enough time, nothing made of stone could keep out a cannon ball. Trenches became essential for buying your bombardiers time to operate.

At Yorktown, British Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis and 7,000 Redcoats were dug in behind a series of redoubts and batteries, waiting for reinforcement. Washington, joined (and thoroughly out-monikered) by the Marquis de Lafayette and the Comte de Rochambeau, had Cornwallis surrounded by land and sea.

Showing the tactical facility that made him America’s only six-star general, Washington initiated an artillery-enabled siege protocol by digging a first parallel, or bombardment trench, just out of range of British musket fire. From that position, he was able to blast the relentless crap out of the British encampment.

Under this continuous fusillade, American engineers dug a zigzagging trench forward to within 150 yards of the British earthworks fortifications and then dug a second parallel. From this position, their artillery would make rubble of the two redoubts that stood between Washington and victory.

But even before they began their next barrage, the psychological impact of the American advance impelled British soldiers to begin deserting in large numbers. Washington’s disciplined encroachment through his trench system bore with it the air of inevitability.

Also read: This may be one of the most important Revolutionary War generals you never heard of

By Oct. 15, 1781, both redoubts had been captured and Yorktown was in check. Cornwallis capitulated on Oct. 19, effectively ending hostilities and signalling the beginning of autonomous nationhood for the United States. And all because of Washington’s willingness to get his hands dirty.

From groundhog marauder to Founding Father, the man was put on this Earth to shake it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why balloons were some of the scariest targets of World War I

For World War I pilots, the most terrifying song that relates to their experience may not be Seven Nation Army but 99 Luftballoons, because going against barrage and observation balloons in the Great War was terrifying.


Barrage balloons over London in World War II.

(Public Domain)

Pilots with the balls and skill to attack these balloons were known as balloon busters, and ones that had shot down more than five of the balloons were known as balloon aces. And yes, shooting down a balloon counted as a “kill,” same as shooting down a piloted enemy plane.

But what made them so hard to shoot down? After all, they were just a bunch of floating bags of air. Pop ’em with a needle and get on with your day, right?

Well, no.

First, military balloons weren’t made of cheap Mylar or latex. Many in World War I were made of tightly woven fabric, though vulcanized rubber and Thiokol rubber were prominent in World War II. All of these materials could take plenty of hits without splitting, meaning bullets that passed through them caused them to leak instead of to pop.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

A row of spherical barrage balloons used for suspending aerial nets

(Australian War Memorial)

So they couldn’t simply be popped, and it often took a lot of rounds to bring one down. But if a fighter did manage to slay the beast, he wasn’t out of danger yet. While American balloons in World War II were sometimes filled with helium, none of the early Great War combatants had access to that gas, and hydrogen was the preferred gas for barrage balloons anyway.

Why? Well, for the same reason it was bad for the Hindenburg. Observation balloons had people in them, people who would’ve loved helium instead of hydrogen over their heads. But barrage balloons were empty, and filling them with hydrogen meant that, when destroyed, the balloons had a tendency to go out in massive fireballs. This was a huge threat to the fighters attacking it.

It also meant that fighters had one advantage though: Incendiary rounds were very effective against the balloons. But in World War I, pretty much only the British had incendiary rounds in planes. Everyone else was slinging cold metal. And incendiary rounds didn’t stay hot forever, generally traveling only 300 to 400 yards while still burning. You did not want to be 300 yards from an exploding balloon and still flying towards it as you would have to be to effectively shoot at it.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

Barrage balloons and their crews in World War II.

(Royal Air Force)

Fine, fine, fine. The balloons were hard to shoot down and, when shot down, might explode in a big fireball and kill the attacking fighter. Fine. Just fly around them, right? Let the Germans have their balloons over their lines, maybe bring in some air defense artillery to shoot at it. But let the fighters avoid them.

Nope. For two reasons. First, those observation balloons were an enduring threat from the moment they went up until the moment they went down. Artillery observers sat in them and reported troops positions and movements to their friendly artillery for hours, allowing German crews to hit English, French, and U.S. positions all day. They had to be killed.

But the barrage balloons couldn’t be ignored either, because they had thick steel cables or else entire nets hanging from them in order to catch enemy fighters attempting to fly under them. And they flew high enough that few World War I fighters or bombers could come over the top and still be effective. By World War II, the balloons were set lower, but only to steer the enemy aircraft up to over 5,000 feet where anti-aircraft artillery was most effective.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

American pilot Frank Luke poses with his 13th confirmed kill.

(Public Domain)

So observation balloons and barrage balloons were lethal, terrifying, and absolutely had to be destroyed, and some of America, England, and France’s top aces proved their mettle by flying at the things, especially in World War I. In fact, some of the top decorated fighter pilots of World War I had few wins against human-piloted planes, but a dozen or more against balloons.

Will Coppens, a Belgian pilot, personally awarded a medal by King Albert I had only shot down two enemy planes in his career, but he had taken down an astounding 35 enemy balloons. The next highest scoring pilot after him was Frenchman Leon Bourjade with 27. So, yeah, Coppens earned that medal from his king.

America’s top balloon buster was Frank Luke, a mouthy pilot who was looked down upon by his peers when he arrived in France. He claimed his first fighter kill in August 1918, but no one else had witnessed the feat, and he was written off as a blowhard. So, after hearing how hard balloons were to take down, he attacked one on September 12 and, after three passes, destroyed it right before it reached the safety of the ground where the observers could clamber out.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

German observation balloons allowed for intelligence gathering and highly accurate artillery fire, and barrage balloons created persistent threats to enemy fighters.

(State Library of New South Wales)

Luke bagged another two balloons two days later. His wingman that day, 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, formed a team with him that specialized in balloon busting and turned the whole thing into a traveling show, sending invitations to VIPs to witness German balloons blowing up at set times and places. But it was too bold to last, and Wehner was shot down on September 18 while taking down his fifth balloon, giving him balloon ace status in death.

Distraught, Luke went off the deep end, taking more and more risks in flight to the point that his superiors grounded the already famous pilot who, by that point, had 11 victories against balloons and four against fighters, making him America’s ace of aces. On September 29, he stole a plane and dropped a note to the ground that told observers to watch German balloons over the Meuse.

Luke flew into the teeth of the enemy, dodging ground fire and eight enemy fighters as he took down one balloon after the others, destroying all three in the area before he was shot down. He survived the wreck and pulled his pistol, fending off a German patrol and killing multiple members of it until a German round drilled him in the chest.

He was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses and the Medal of Honor for his heroics in September 1918, going to his grave as America’s best-ever balloon buster with 14 kills against balloons and four against fighters.

Articles

The first American shots in WW1 were actually fired in Guam

After receiving information that war was near, German Vice-Adm. Maximilian Von Spee sent a message to his Imperial navy colleagues in the Pacific to rally up for a fight.


Spee was aboard the SMS Scharnhorst docked near the Pacific island of Pohnpei when he sent his message to Tsingtao,  at the time the administrative center for the German Pacific colonies.

The battle damaged German ship SMS Cormoran geared up and was ordered to disrupt enemy supply lines. But after months at sea and under constant pressure by the Japanese, the Cormoran began running low on coal and needed a safe place to dock.

The Cormoran reached Apra Harbor in Guam — which had recently become a U.S. protectorate — on Dec. 14, 1914, hoping for some aid by the neutral Americans there.

Related: Here’s why flamethrowers were so deadly on the battlefield for both sides

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
The Naval officer stationed in Guam sitting with the natives. (Source: The Great War/YouTube/Screenshot)

Interestingly, until the 1950s, Guam’s governor’s office was held by American naval officers.

Guam’s Gov. William Maxwell initially refused to help the Germans because America wanted to stay neutral in the war, but since the Cormoran nearly was out of fuel, the ship wouldn’t leave.

The two sides finally came to an agreement and the German could stay but must live under restriction. The Cormoran’s crew had to stow their weapons on the ship, and the firing pins of the 10.5 cm guns had to be removed from service.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
The Germans were allowed to live on the ship or could stay in these tents featured in the image above. (Source: The Great War/YouTube/Screenshot)

Letting the Germans live on the island was extremely risky as the small amount of Americans were now outnumbered.

But during the time the Germans inhabited the small island alongside their soon to be American enemy, there weren’t any known reports of violent incidents — but that peace wouldn’t last forever.

Also Read: The Browning Automatic Rifle cut down enemies from WWI to Vietnam

In 1916, Guam’s new governor received a message that the US just entered the war. A small group of Marines assembled and demanded the German’s surrender right away. When the Germans refused, the Marines fired two warning shots across the Cormoran’s bow.

The warning shots were fired just two hours after the US entered the Great War, thus making history as the first shots fired by Americans at their new German enemy happened in Guam.

Check out The Great War‘s video to learn about this incredible story.

(The Great War, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

Not forgotten: ceremonies around the world honor the Battle of Iwo Jima

This past week was a special anniversary for Americans.


We observed the 75th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima, and specifically, on Feb. 23, we honored the 75th anniversary of the raising of the flag and the immortal photo taken by Joe Rosenthal.

Around the country, there were special celebrations to honor the men who served in that ferocious and terrible battle. Many politicians, notable figures and average Joe’s took to social media to honor the men who fought and died on Iwo.

With the passage of time, there are fewer and fewer men who fought on the volcanic rock, so events honoring them get more and more special.

Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams was honored at a Washington Capitals game over the weekend. Williams, who earned Medal of Honor as a flamethrower on Iwo Jima, was showered with applause and adulation by the Capitals fans, players and members of the opposing team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Williams is the last recipient living of the 27 men who were awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery during Iwo Jima.

Watch Williams being honored at the game:

Williams took to Twitter (yes, Medal of Honor Iwo Jima vets have Twitter too) to express his excitement of being at the game.

Williams, aged 96, shows no sign of stopping. He will be giving a TEDx talk this March at Marshall University.

While many other events took place around the country, a very special commemoration took place in California.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

Twenty-eight Iwo Jima veterans and members of the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee posae for a picture after an event commemoratiing the 75th annivesary of the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.

ROYCE DORMAN/MARINE CORPS

Camp Pendleton hosted a reunion of over two dozen Iwo Jima veterans last week. Over the course of three days, the Iwo Jima Commemorative Committee held events on Pendleton to honor the men that fought there. Sadly, the Marine Corps put out a statement saying that this would probably be the last formal event as fewer and fewer veterans are alive and in shape to travel.

But as they say, tell that to the Marines.

“It’s very special to be a part of this ceremony,” said William “Bill” Wayne, an Iwo Jima veteran whose fellow Marines of Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, raised the flag on Mount Suribachi. “I get a real kick out of coming and seeing everyone and talking to the young Marines.”
MIGHTY HISTORY

Civil War vets wanted to invade Canada to liberate Ireland

In the years following the American Civil War, Canada was still very much a possession of the British Empire. As such, it had a number of official fortifications and other important areas along its border with the United States. One of those was Fort Erie, directly across the Niagara from the American city of Buffalo, New York. In June 1866, some 850 men crossed the Niagara from Buffalo, intent on capturing the fort.

They were Irishmen, and they were going to conquer Canada to free their home country.


Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

Irish immigrants flowed into the United States in droves following the Acts of Union that saw British domination of Ireland since the early 1800s. The Great Irish Famine of the late 1840s also saw a huge emigration of Irish people to the United States. By 1860, there were more than 1.6 million people of Irish descent who called themselves American – and upwards of 175,000 of them were about to serve in the Union Army.

The Irish made-up 40 percent of foreign-born enlistments in the Civil War, and were 17 percent of the overall Union force. When these battle-hardened veterans returned home after the war, many of them were headed to New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New England. It was there that Irish National leaders were waiting to use the veterans’ new talent for combat.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

To be fair, when this plan was hatched, there were upwards of 10,000 Fenians.

Called the Fenian Brotherhood, its original aim was to send money, arms, and supplies to Irish rebels in Ireland via Irish émigrés living in the U.S. Many in the movement were soon convinced that liberating Ireland through a direct uprising was impossible, so they decided to step up their game a bit. If the Irish couldn’t mount an invasion of Ireland, then they would mount an invasion of Canada, the nearest British-held country and trade it for Irish independence.

T.W. Sweeny a former Union general who also served in the Mexican War hatched a three-pronged plan to invade Canada, set up an Irish government-in-exile, and pressure Britain to release Ireland to the Irish. It called for multiple incursions into Ontario in an effort to draw the main British force out of Quebec. With that done, the main Fenian force would invade Quebec, cutting off lines of communication and supply.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

Noncommissioned officers of the 10th Royal Regiment of Toronto Volunteers, circa 1870.

On June 1, 1850, a force of Irish-American members of the Fenian Brotherhood landed in Ontario and planted the Irish flag. They tore up railroads and cut the telegraph wires, effectively cutting Fort Erie off from the rest of Canada. Then, 600 Fenians marched westward. At the same time, the commander of British forces in Canada activated upwards of 22,000 troops to put the insurrection down. While the larger force formed up, 850 men under Lt. Col. Alfred Booker were dispatched to pin the Irish down and keep them from wreaking any more havoc.

The two forces met at Ridgeway in Ontario, Canada. It was the first time an all-Canadian force was led by a Canadian commander. Unfortunately for the Canadians, the Fenians were well-armed and skilled fighters, having just braved the battlefields of the American Civil War. The Canadians were soon reinforced, and the superior numbers caused the Fenians to retreat.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

No. 5 Company of the Queen’s Own Rifles.

The Fenians were repulsed elsewhere along their proposed lines of attack. Having assumed that Irish Canadians would join the uprising, they were surprised at how the Canadians responded to their invasion. By the time British forces mounted a full response, many of the Fenians had retreated back across the river, the United States Navy was stopping Fenian barges from bringing reinforcements, and the U.S. declared total neutrality in Canadian affairs.

There would be more Fenian uprisings in later years, but for the time being, the push to trade Canada for Ireland would not come to pass.

MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Vinegar’ Joe Stilwell lost the best WWII assignments twice

Army Maj. Gen. “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell was at the top of the list for high commands as America entered World War I. A 1904 West Point graduate with lots of intelligence experience in World War I and extensive time in the Pacific, he was expected to take on some of the most important commands and win.


And initially, it looked like that would happen, but two of the biggest commands of the war slipped through his fingers. He was assigned to lead the invasion of North Africa when America was ready to deploy forces across the Atlantic, but was recalled to take another mission. He was later assigned to lead the invasion of Japan…until the atomic bombs made it unnecessary.

 

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
General Chiang Kai-shek, Madam Chiang Kai-shek, and Lt. Gen. Joseph Stilwell celebrate the day after the Doolittle Raid strikes Tokyo. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense Capt. Fred L. Eldridge)

Instead, Stilwell spent most of the war in what was an important backwater, the Chinese-Burma-India Theater. Stilwell was in the middle of preparing Operation Gymnast, the landings of North Africa which would later be conducted as Operation Torch, when he learned that he was on the short list to command U.S. forces in CBI.

Stilwell didn’t want the job. He hoped to invade North Africa. From there, he would have a decent shot at commanding the European theater or at least all troops taking the fight to Italy.

This was a reasonable expectation. Operation Gymnast became Operation Torch and was passed to then-Brig. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower’s success in North Africa led to an appointment as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. A few years later, he used his status as a war hero to run for president.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
Army Lt. Gen. Joseph Stilwell eats C-rations as a Christmas meal in 1943 while not-at-all wishing that he had commanded the invasion of North Africa instead of that punk kid Dwight Eisenhower. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

Stilwell, meanwhile, was sent to the CBI theater where he was charged three major jobs. He was to command all U.S. forces in the theater, lead the Lend-Lease program in China, and serve as the chief of staff for Chiang Kai-shek, the Supreme Allied Commander for the China theater.

He was facing a tough job, but Stilwell dove into it. He assumed control of an integrated force in Burma in 1942 and prepared an offensive against the Japanese.

 

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
American forces assigned to GALAHAD rest in Burma during a movement in World War II. GALAHAD would be better known by history as Merrill’s Marauders. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

But it was too late for that. Before Stilwell could lay the groundwork, a new Japanese thrust overcame Chinese forces and sent them reeling back. The rest of the Allied forces in the area, mostly Americans under Stilwell, were forced to follow. This caused the loss of Burma and a severing of important logistical corridors.

The overall retreat was so disorderly that important railways were shut down thanks to crashes and traffic jams. Stilwell had to lead a group from his headquarters on vehicles and then on foot after the air corridors were closed. The vehicles eventually had to be abandoned because of the bad roads, and so Stilwell and a select group walked through the jungle out of Burma.

The group has started with 80 members and emerged from the jungle with 114, having picked up 34 strays and suffered no losses — possibly the only large group to do so.

 

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
Kachin Rangers stand in formation. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

For the next two years, Stilwell had to rely on a small group of Americans leading guerrilla operations in Burma to keep the Japanese off kilter. Army Col. Carl F. Eifler led a small group of U.S. soldiers who recruited the local Kachin people into an insurgency against the Japanese. The force was credited with killing 5,428 Japanese troops and recovering 574 isolated Allied troops, mostly downed aircrews.

But Stilwell didn’t want to disrupt the Japanese in Burma, he wanted it back. In 1944, he was able to lead a force that retook the region. One of the most famous units in the effort was Merrill’s Marauders, led by Maj. Gen. Frank Merrill. Merrill was one of the survivors that left Burma with Stilwell. Merrill had survived the evacuation despite suffering a heart attack.

 

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
Merrill’s Marauders move through the China-Burma-India Theater on the Ledo Road. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

Stilwell was finally removed from CBI in 1944, mainly due to staff and national politics. He was sent to the Ryukyu Islands where he took over the 10th Army on Okinawa. It was in this position that he was tapped to lead the invasion of Japan, Operation Downfall.

Luckily for him and his men, though not for his career and legacy, the invasion was made unnecessary by the Japanese surrendering to MacArthur in 1945.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a WWII bomber pilot climbed onto the wing mid-flight to save his crew

Jimmy Ward was a 22-year-old pilot when he received the Victoria Cross. World War II had been ongoing for a year and the British Empire stood alone against Axis-occupied Europe. Things looked grim as a whole, but small time pilots with stories like Sgt. Ward’s added up to a lot in the end.


Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
Sergeant James Allan Ward of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF.

The New Zealander was flying with his crew back from a raid on Münster, in northeast Germany. The resistance was light; there were few search lights and minimal flak. He was the second pilot, positioned in the astrodome of his Wellington bomber when an enemy interceptor came screaming at them, guns blazing.

An attacking Messerschmitt 110 was shot down by the rear gunner before it could take down the plane, but the damage was done. Red-hot shrapnel tore through the airframe, the starboard engine, and the hydraulic system. A fire suddenly broke out on the starboard wing, fed by a fuel line.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
A Vickers-Wellington Bomber. The astrodome is a transparent dome on the roof of an aircraft to allow for the crew to navigate using the stars.

After putting on their chutes in case they had to bail, the crew started desperately fighting the fire. They tore a hole in the fuselage near the fire so they could get at the fire. They threw everything they had at it, including the coffee from their flasks.

By this time, the plane reached the coastline of continental Europe. They had to decide if they were going to try to cross over to England or go down with the plane in Nazi-occupied Holland. They went for home, preferring a dip in the channel to a Nazi prison camp.

That’s when Sgt. James Ward realized he might be able to reach the fire and put it out by hand. His crewmates tied him to the airplane as he crawled out through the astrodome and tore holes in the plane’s fuselage to use as hand holds as he made his way to the fire on the wing.

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing
Trace Sgt. Ward’s path from this photo of his Wellington bomber.

He moved four feet onto the wing, avoiding being lifted away by the air current or rotor slipstream and being burned by the flaming gas jet he was trying to put out. He only had one hand free to work with because the other was holding on for dear life.

Ward smothered the fire on the fuel pipe using the canvas cockpit cover. As soon as he finished, the slipstream tore it from his hands. He just couldn’t hold on any longer.

With the fire out, there was nothing left to do but try to get back inside. Using the rope that kept him attached to the aircraft he turned around and moved to get back to the astrodome. Exhausted, his mates had to pull him the rest of the way in. The fire flared up a little when they reached England, but died right out.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill personally awarded Sgt. Ward the Victoria Cross a month later.

“I can’t explain it, but there was no sort of real sensation of danger out there at all,” Ward later said. “It was just a matter of doing one thing after another and that’s about all there was to it.”

Read Ward’s story in his own words.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Pepsi became the 6th largest military in the world

Almost everyone in the world has a favorite soda that they enjoy whenever they get the opportunity. But, is your favorite tasty drink worth giving up a military arsenal big enough to stock a whole country? Well, at one point in history, the Russians thought so.


In 1959, then-President Dwight Eisenhower wanted to bring our America culture to citizens of the Soviet Union and show them the benefits of capitalism.

To showcase their ideologies, the American government arranged the “American National Exhibition” in Moscow and sent then-Vice President Richard Nixon to attend the opening — but things were about to take a turn for the worse.

Related: This is the cheesy ‘Top Gun’ commercial Pepsi made in the 1980s

Nixon and Soviet leader Khrushchev got into an argument over the topic of capitalism versus communism. Their conversation got so heated that the vice president of Pepsi intervened and offered the Soviet leader a cup of his delicious, sugary beverage — and he drank it.

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Pepsi saves the day!

Years later, the people of the Soviet Union wanted to strike a deal that would bring Pepsi products to their country permanently. However, there was an issue of how they would pay for their newest beverage, as their money wasn’t accepted throughout the world.

So, the clever country decided to buy Pepsi using a universal currency: vodka!

In the late-1980s, Russia’s initial agreement to serve Pepsi in their country was about to expire, but this time, their vodka wasn’t going to be enough to cover the cost.

So, the Russians did what any country would do in desperate times: They traded Pepsi a fleet of subs and boats for a whole lot of soda. The new agreement included 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer.

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A Soviet diesel submarine.

The combined fleet was traded for three billion dollars worth of Pepsi. Yes, you read that right. Russia loves their Pepsi.

The historical exchange caused Pepsi to become the 6th most powerful military in the world, for a moment, before they sold the fleet to a Swedish company for scrap recycling.

Also Read: That time someone sued Pepsi because they didn’t give him a Harrier jet

Check out Not Exactly Normal‘s video below to get the complete rundown of this sweet story for yourself.

 

(Not Exactly Normal | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

The time that African American troops battled American MPs in Britain during WWII

Though America didn’t enter WWII until after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the American draft began earlier in October 1940, with the first men entering military service on November 18 of that year. Men between the ages of 21 and 45 were required to register and were liable to be called up for military service regardless of their skin color (the age range for registration was expanded to 18-65 following Pearl Harbor). Colored men were called up to fight for a country that allowed them to be discriminated against on buses, in restaurants and at water fountains to name a few.


Additionally, African American troops were segregated into colored units like the 1511th Quartermaster Truck Regiment. Part of the Eighth Air Force, the 1511th was sent to the European theater and based at Air Force Station 569 (nicknamed Adam Hall) in Bamber Bridge, Lancashire, England. The 1511th was almost entirely African American, while all but one of its officers were white.

Upon their arrival at Bamber Bridge, the men of the 1511th were surprised to find that the town was racially integrated; the townspeople welcomed Black troops and allowed them entry and service in all establishments. This didn’t sit well with the American commanders who demanded the creation of a colored bar to prevent the mixing of white and Black troops. In response, all three pubs in Bamber Bridge posted “Black Troops Only” signs. Racial tensions were further exacerbated by the Detroit race riot that took place from June 20-22, 1943 and resulted in 1,800 arrests, 433 injuries, and 34 deaths.

On the night of June 24, 1943, a group of colored troops were drinking with English locals at Ye Olde Hob Inn in Bamber Bridge. Two white MPs, Cpl. Roy Windsor and Pfc. Ralph Ridgeway entered the pub and attempted to arrest one of the colored soldiers, Pvt. Eugene Nunn, for being improperly dressed (wearing a field jacket rather than a Class A uniform) and not having a pass.

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Ye Olde Hob Inn c. 2005 (Photo by Geoff Wilkinson)

An argument broke out in the pub, with the locals siding with Nunn and his comrades. The exact details of what followed are unclear, but the situation at the pub was defused and the MPs left without Nunn. They returned, however, with two more MPs and fighting broke out. One of the MPs drew his sidearm and shot Pvt. Lynn Adams in the neck, dispersing the crowd.

Adams survived his wound and the men of the 1511th returned to their base (the white MPs were posted on the other side of town). Word of the incident soon spread and rumors began to circulate that the MPs were out to shoot Black troops. Lt. Edwin Jones, one of the Black officers, persuaded the men to let the officers investigate the incident and ensure that justice was done. A few soldiers slipped off base, either to run or seek revenge on the MPs, but the majority of them remained on the base.

At midnight, jeeps full of MPs arrived at the base along with an improvised armored vehicle which reportedly mounted a machine gun. Panic and chaos ensued and the colored troops armed themselves in response. Two-thirds of the rifles in the camp armory were reportedly taken. The MPs retreated from the base and the colored troops followed them into the town. A roadblock was set up, which British police officers claim was used to ambush the colored troops.

Running battles were fought between the colored troops and white MPs throughout the town, with both sides exchanging gunfire down the streets. The shooting continued until 4AM and resulted in two MPs and five colored soldiers wounded, and one Black soldier, Pvt. William Crossland, dead. The rest of the troops returned to their base, and by the afternoon all but four of the rifles were recovered.

Running battles were fought between the colored troops and white MPs throughout the town, with both sides exchanging gunfire down the streets. The shooting continued until 4AM and resulted in two MPs and five colored soldiers wounded, and one Black soldier, Pvt. William Crossland, dead. The rest of the troops returned to their base, and by the afternoon all but four of the rifles were recovered.

Following the battle, 32 of the colored troops were found guilty of, among other crimes, mutiny, seizing arms, rioting, and firing upon officers and MPs. However, their sentences were all reduced on appeal by the President of the court martial, citing poor leadership, with officers failing to perform their duties properly. The longest sentence served was 13 months; arguably a light sentence given the charge of mutiny during a time of war.

The commander of the Eighth Air Force, General Ira Eaker, placed the majority of the blame on the white officers and MPs. To prevent such an incident from repeating, Gen. Eaker consolidated the Black trucking units into a single, special command, purged the officer corps of inexperienced and racist officers, and racially integrated the MP patrols. As a result, morale amongst colored troops in England greatly improved and the rate of courts-martial fell, though several more minor incidents between white and colored troops occurred in Britain over the course of the war.

The Battle of Bamber Bridge, as it has come to be known, was heavily censored. Fearing that news of the incident would serve to worsen race relations on the homefront and abroad, papers wrote only that violence had occurred in an unnamed town in the North West of England.

Popular interest in the Battle of Bamber Bridge increased after author Anthony Burgess, who lived in the area after the war, wrote about it in the New York Times in 1973. In the late 1980’s, bullet holes from the battle were discovered in the Bamber Bridge NatWest bank by a maintenance worker.

To date, the Battle of Bamber Bridge remains a rather obscure event in history. The explosion of racial tension served as one of the many precursors to the American civil rights movement that would follow the war. Though the U.S. military was desegregated in 1948, it would take decades for the nation to see racial integration as a whole with advancements like Brown v. Board and the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The recorded circumstances of Pvt. Crossland’s death are DNB – Died Non-Battle. He deserves to be remembered as a victim of racism and a martyr for the advancement of equality.


MIGHTY HISTORY

This designer might be the most important mind in American military history

These days, aircraft designers aren’t exactly household names. Quick, can you tell me who designed the F-22? How about the F-35? No? Don’t worry, not too many can.


Back in the day, aircraft designers were big names. Kelly Johnson of Lockheed is rightly famous for designing the SR-71 and P-38, among other planes. But only one man can say that he designed aircraft that helped avenge both Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 attacks.

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Ed Heinemann. (Image from Wikimedia Commons)

His name is Ed Heinemann, and he holds the distinction of having designed both the plane that won one of the most pivotal battles in naval history and today’s best multi-role fighter. According to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, he became the chief engineer at Douglas Aircraft Corporation’s El Segundo plant in the 1940s.

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A Douglas A-20 Havoc pulls up during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. (Photo from DoD)

While there, he designed the A-20 Havoc and, more notably, the SBD Dauntless. The SBD is most famous for what it did in the span of roughly five minutes on the morning of June 4, 1942, about 175 miles north-northwest of Midway Atoll. In that timeframe, three Japanese aircraft carriers, the Akagi, Soryu, and Kaga, were fatally damaged by dive-bombers launched from aircraft carriers USS Enterprise (CV 6) and Yorktown (CV 5).

The SBD wasn’t all. While with Douglas Aircraft Corporation, Heinemann also designed some Cold War standbys of the United States: The A-3 Skywarrior and the A-4 Skyhawk.

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The A-3 Skywarrior may be the most underrated airplane of the Vietnam War. (U.S. Navy photo)

Heinemann left Douglas in 1962 to join a company called General Dynamics. In the wake of the Vietnam War, that company would be one of two asked to develop a lightweight fighter for the United States Air Force that took into account lessons learned from fighting the Communists. Heinemann oversaw the project team, which would produce a multi-role fighter that would become almost as widely exported at the Skyhawk, until his retirement in 1973.

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A U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 18th Aggressor Squadron at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, May 4, 2016, takes off from the base during RED FLAG-Alaska (RF-A) 16-1. Aggressor pilots are trained to act as opposing forces in exercises like RF-A to better prepare U.S. and allied forces for aerial combat. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Turner)

That plane, Ed Heinemann’s last aviation creation, would win the competition, and even get to star in a movie, all while becoming the backbone of the United States Air Force in Desert Storm (where it served alongside some modified A-3s) as well as the War on Terror. According to a book he co-authored on aircraft design, Ed Heinemann, in the last days of his career, oversaw the development of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 reasons why the Winged Hussars are among the greatest fighters of all time

Everyone always remembers the sheer bad*ssery and battle prowess of the vikings, the samurai, and the Roman legionnaires — but the Winged Hussars of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth a rarely find a way into the conversation.

Don’t let the flamboyant wings fool you. These shock troops were some of the most devastating cavalrymen to ever mount a horse.


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Creighton Abrams may be remembered for it, but Polish-Lithuania lived by the mantra, “they’ve got us surrounded again? The poor bastards…”

They defeated nearly every “unstoppable” empire that came at them

When history buffs bring up the three most formidable empires in history, they’ll often include the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Khanates. Smack dab in the middle of those three was the little commonwealth of Polish-Lithuania. As history buffs also know, everyone always tries to come grab a piece of Poland. What kept them at bay for so long were Winged Hussars.

The Ottomans? The Hussars charged through Vienna like it was nothing. The Russians? They toppled Ivan the Terrible in the dead of winter. The Khanates? There’s a reason the Mongols, and, eventually, the succeeding khanates, never made it past Poland and into Europe.

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Marching into battle looking like Roman angels was steeped religious symbolism. After all, Polish-Lithuania was (and Poland remains) a very Roman Catholic nation.

Their wings weren’t just for decoration

It might sound silly that heavily armored cavalrymen felt the need to include giant, feathery wings on either their saddles or their backs, but it wasn’t just a fashion statement — it was an effective strategy.

Hussars were shock troops, meaning that they needed to instill as much fear as they could as fast and effectively as they could — before the enemy has a chance to realize what’s going on. In an era when it was unlikely that you’d ever even see a neighboring city, what were you supposed to make of the rapidly approaching, heavily armed legion of vengeful, glittering angels?

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Best thing about a sword is that you never have to reload it.

They adapted extremely well to firearms

As new technologies are introduced to the battlefield, old tactics get thrown out. No single piece of military tech changed warfare quite like firearms.

Firearms instantaneously made arrows obsolete and swords pointless — if you can keep your distance. The Hussars never really got the memo, though, and they’d still charge into battle, decked-out in armor that could take a bullet or two and close the distance before their enemy got a chance to reload.

The Hussars eventually got their own firearms, which meant their enemies now had to deal with a heavily armored Hussars charging at them with spears, swords, warhammers, and rifles.

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Seriously, Hollywood? Why isn’t this a movie yet?

They put the Battle of Thermopylae to shame.

Everyone praises the Spartans for pitting 300 troops against the mighty Persian army. But when you start looking deeper into it, you’ll quickly realize there are plenty of things they left out for the sake of the comic (and, later, film adaption), like the actual numbers of Greeks aiding them and how poorly trained most of the Persians were. The Spartans were bad*sses, yes, but some elements of their most famous tale are questionable.

Want to know who undoubtedly pulled off a heroic victory when faced with 62-to-1 odds? The Polish Winged Hussars.

A 400-strong Hussar unit was being attacked on two fronts by the 25,000+ Crimean Khanate forces and they were backed into the tiny village of Hodow. The Hussars had only a single night to turn the town into a fortress, to defend themselves with no supplies and no backup.

The Crimean forces raided the half-defended town and ran out of ammunition so fast that they needed to turn enemy arrows fired at them into improvised rounds for their long rifles. Six hours of intense fighting later and the Crimean Khanate started to retreat. The dust settled and thousands of the Khanate Tatars lay dead on the floor while less then a hundred Hussars had fallen.

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The famous winged banners weren’t needed.

They never really went away

As tanks took over the battlefield, people generally stopped riding into battle on horses. For the Polish, that was kind of true. Officially, the Winged Hussars ended in the 1770s because of political reforms, but heavily geared-out, horse-mounted, Polish troops existed throughout World War I and World War II.

Since Poland was being attacked from all sides and had little room to breathe, local militias needed to pick up some of the slack. The militias didn’t have tanks, but the farmers did have horses, rifles, and an undying will to fight.

Today, their spirit lives on with the Polish Land Forces’ 11th Armored Cavalry Division.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This future President and First Lady fought with US troops in China

When you think of badass U.S. Presidents, you likely aren’t thinking of Herbert Hoover. In fact, he’s probably very low on your list of presidential badassery, right there with James Buchanan, Millard Fillmore, and Chester A. Arthur.


But what if you saw him and his wife fighting with the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry, his wife brandishing a .38 Smith Wesson, to fight Chinese rebels trying to murder tons of foreigners?

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Better start packing heat if you want to be top FLOTUS, Melania. Lou Henry Hoover don’t play.

Before he became President of the United States, Hoover was the general manager for the Chinese Engineering and Mining Corporation. He and his wife lived in China around the turn of the 20th Century and was generally well-regarded by the Chinese for his progressive views regarding their treatment.

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But the Boxer Rebellion soon broke out in 1900, a semi-spiritual effort to rid China of foreigners, often by ridding their heads of their bodies. It spread from sporadic acts of violence against Western influence to a full-on peasant uprising. That’s when the Chinese Empress Dowager Tsu’u Hzi declared war on all foreign nations at the same time.

Good call, lady.

The powers allied against China included France, Germany, the British Empire, the United States, Russia, Italy, Austria-Hungary, and Japan, who mobilized a multi-national force (called the Eight-Nation Alliance) to protect foreign interests and recuse the besieged foreign legations and citizens around the country.

The Hoovers were in Tianjin, and they were ready for the Boxers.

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I told you, Lou Henry Hoover does not f*ck around.

For a month, Hoover and his wife – along with the rest of the city – resisted the siege of Tianjin. Future First Lady of the United States, Lou Henry Hoover, defended herself with a Smith Wesson .38 caliber pistol while traveling from the battlefield to the hospital.

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Initially, the Hoovers enlisted the 800 other Westerners and Chinese Christians (also a target of the Boxers) to maintain a defense of the west end of Tianjin. They reinforced the area with bags of grain and sugar while arming U.S. Marines and sailors who happened to be there.

Hoover was known to have rescued Chinese children caught in the crossfire during the street-to-street fighting. Both Hoovers did duty manning the barricades. It’s not known if the Hoovers — devout pacifist Quakers — actually killed anyone, but they did keep the Boxers from doing it.

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Scenes like this don’t happen when there are Hoovers around.

The beginning of the end came as the multinational relief column — including the U.S. Army’s 9th Infantry Regiment, to this day known as the “Manchus” — arrived in Tianjin. Hoover himself led U.S. Marines, along with columns of British, French, and Japanese troops around the city. His knowledge of the area and its terrain was critical to their success there.

Later, biographer David Bruner recalled Mrs. Hoover’s account of her time in his book, Herber Hoover: A Public LifeShe said she “had a splendid time during the Boxer Rebellion and would not have missed it for anything.”

Tianjin was the bloodiest battle of the entire Boxer Rebellion.

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