Lieutenant Edward “Butch” O’Hare’s Grumman F4F Wildcat fighter carried about 30-40 seconds worth of ammunition. He was one of two Wildcats held in reserve as the rest of his squadron attacked a formation of Japanese bombers coming for the carrier USS Lexington.
As the fighting in the Pacific raged on that day above the Lexington, radar screens picked up another formation coming for the carrier from the other end of the battlefield. Nine enemy bombers were on approach so, Butch O’Hare and his wingman made a beeline for the enemy.
When Thatch’s guns jammed, that left O’Hare as the sole fighter to take on a nine bomber formation. He would take down five of them and earn the Medal of Honor.
The USS Lexington was part of a task force on its way to raid the Japanese-held island of Rabaul on Fed. 20, 1942. The carrier launched its planes when it started picking up Japanese seaplanes on its radar screens. The naval aviators were soon fully engaged fighting bombers on their way to sink the Lexington.
The first formation to appear were nine Mitsubishi G4M Betty Bombers, which the Americans quickly took on. As they pursued their quarry, Lt. O’Hare and Lt. Marion Dufilho held back with the carrier in case any other threats should appear. They didn’t have to wait long. Less than an hour after the first wave, another nine-plane formation appeared on the other side of the carrier.
Only Dufilho and O’Hare could engage the newcomers, and that’s exactly what they did. But Dufilho’s guns jammed. In an age before missiles, it made his presence useless in the defense of the ship. O’Hare would go in alone.
Dropping in on the bombers from 1,500 feet above their formation, O’Hare came in guns blazing, even though he only had precious few seconds of ammunition. He started in on the formation’s right flank, taking two out immediately, but temporarily. He next came in on its left side, forcing one to abort his bombing run and shooting down another.
For his third pass, he hit the left side again, permanently taking down three more, including the enemy’s lead plane. On his fourth pass, the first two that had dropped out rejoined the formation and now O’Hare was out of ammunition. Four bombers were still on their way to the Lexington.
The four remaining Japanese Mitsubishi bombers dropped their ordnance, but luckily for the Americans, they all missed. Only two of them were able to return to base, the rest were destroyed, shot down or lost. O’Hare’s Wildcat had only one bullet hole in it.
Only two U.S. Navy planes were lost that day and the Lexington successfully participated in the raid Rabaul. O’Hare became the first U.S. Navy flying ace of World War II and the first naval aviator to receive the Medal of Honor.
O’Hare briefly trained new naval aviators in Hawaii before returning to combat duty in 1943. He would go on to earn the Navy Cross, two Distinguished Flying Crosses and a Purple Heart. But disaster struck during another Navy first.
O’Hare led the Navy’s first fighter attack launched from a carrier at night. He was shot down fighting the Japanese at night and his plane was never found. In 1949, Chicago’s main international passenger airport was named in his honor.
By the 1970’s, the Rhodesian Security Forces were facing a growing and determined insurgency in the civil war known as the “Rhodesian Bush War.” Faced with increased threats, manpower and equipment shortages, and a large territory to cover, they needed a new tactic to deal effectively with rebel groups. This led the Rhodesian Light Infantry to the development of the fireforce, a vertical envelopment technique involving light infantry, helicopters, and paratroopers in a rapidly deployable posture.
A fireforce was equipped with four helicopters, one C-47 Dakota transport aircraft, and a light attack aircraft. The helicopters were of two types; the K-Car and the G-Car. The K-Car was so called because it was the ‘killer’ with its 20mm cannon and functioned as the command and control aircraft. The G-Cars served as gunships with machine guns and as transports for heliborne troops, though they were only capable of carrying four combat loaded troops at a time. The unit was also supported by vehicles, called the ‘Landtail’ that supported the deployment of the airborne component. Weapons were standard for Africa at the time – FN FALs and FN MAG machine guns.
A unit set to a fireforce mission was distinctly organized from standard infantry units. Instead of fire teams, squads, and platoons, the Fire Force was composed of ‘waves’ that were broken down into stops, also known as sticks, each consisting of four men, due to the space constraints on the G-Cars. Each stop had a stick leader, machine gunner, and two riflemen, one of which was also trained as a medic. The fireforce airborne component was composed of eight stops. Stops one through three were assigned to the G-Cars while stops four through eight were assigned as paratroopers. These forces, along with the light attack aircraft, constituted the first wave. The remaining men assigned to the fireforce were in vehicles as the ‘Landtail,’ or second wave.
There were three main fireforce units located at three bases throughout the country, ready to respond to a contact or sighting of enemy forces by the Selous Scouts. That’s when the excitement began. Once contact was reported, a siren would sound alerting the fireforce. The first three stops would board helicopters while the rest would quickly don parachutes with the help of off-duty team members. The airborne component would rush to the objective where the fireforce commander would determine a drop zone and position the heliborne stops to encircle the rebels. Once on the ground, the stops would attempt to stop the enemy. They would act as blocking positions for the sweep element, usually paratroopers, creating the classic hammer and anvil movement. Combined with circling gunships and close-air support, this method proved deadly effective, resulting in a kill ratio of better than 80:1.
The fireforce became the primary tactic of the Rhodesian security forces. By 1977, all infantrymen would be trained as paratroopers. While on a ‘bush trip’ – usually lasting about six weeks – the men on a fireforce would rotate between heliborne insertion, paratrooper, landtail, and off-duty. After a bush trip, the men were given ten days rest before returning to the field. This allowed for a very high ops tempo. As the fireforce was perfected and the insurgency gained strength, this meant that Rhodesian soldiers were called on more and more to conduct missions. In his book Fireforce: One Man’s War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry Chris Cocks tells of men making three combat jumps in a single day. This led to a truly staggering number of jumps for many members of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, unmatched by any other unit in the world.
The fireforce was not enough to keep the Rhodesians from losing the war and the method was never adopted by other militaries. The French had used paratroopers extensively in Indochina while the Americans preferred to use only helicopters. With Rhodesia turning over to majority African control and becoming Zimbabwe, the Rhodesian Light Infantry and fireforces were disbanded. Though it would go down in history as one of the most effective counter-insurgency forces ever conceived.
Here in the modern world, many of us are more aware than ever of how the media can shape our perceptions of reality. While most debate about “perception management” these days is relegated to the arena of political mudslinging, the truth is, there has always been a concerted media effort to shape how we see the world in the form of advertising. And as many national governments learned early on, the same media infrastructure built to sell us products can also be used to sell us on ideas.
If you’re looking for a good example of how government initiatives can shape our idea of reality, you need to look no further than the air campaigns of World War II — because if you’re one of the millions of people that think eating carrots can help improve your vision, you’ve been duped by half-century-old wartime propaganda.
Not the wartime propaganda posters you were expecting?
(World Carrot Museum)
British (and eventually American) pilots defending the U.K. from Nazi bombers were among the first aviators in history ever to be tasked with night-time combat operations. Less than four decades after the Wright Brothers first took to the sky, Allied pilots were fighting for their lives in pitch darkness over the European theater.
At the time, aviators had to rely on their senses, rather than on the suite of technological gadgets we use for intercepts in modern combat aircraft, but it wasn’t long before the advent of onboard Airborne Interception radar (AI) gave the Brits the edge they needed over inbound Nazi bombers. The British also knew that announcing their new technological advantage would put the Nazi’s to work on finding ways to counter it, so instead, they chose a very different track.
As Allied fighters started closing with and destroying Nazi bombers in increasing numbers despite the difficult to manage night sky, the English Ministry of Information launched a propaganda campaign aimed at convincing the world that their pilots had impeccable Nazi-hunting night vision thanks to a steady diet of — you guessed it — carrots.
Technically speaking, they’re not wrong. A serious Vitamin A deficiency could make you go blind.
(US National Archive)
Like any good misinformation campaign, they needed to find a basis in fact to use as the bedrock for their campaign, and carrots are known to be a good source of Vitamin A. Technically speaking, eating more vitamin A won’t do anything for an otherwise healthy person’s vision, but not getting enough of it can cause vision problems. Because of this, it was easy for the Brits to twist the story away from eating carrots to avoid a Vitamin A deficiency, and instead toward the idea that eating enough carrots could actually make you see better at night.
The decision to use carrots was also informed by the nation’s sugar rations limiting snack options for the U.K. populace. Carrots were a great snack for school kids to munch on and the nation had plenty of them to spare — so selling the public on the idea that eating more carrots could turn your kid into a hawk-eyed fighter pilot benefited the war effort in ways beyond German perceptions.
It wasn’t long before the idea of carrots improving one’s night vision simply became carrots improving vision altogether. Soon, no one remembered where they first heard about carrots being so important to eye health and just started accepting it as the truth.
Amazing what a few posters can do.
(Bryan Ledgard on WikiMedia Commons)
Even today, mothers and fathers all over the world continue to tell their kids to eat their carrots because they’re good for their eyes. This isn’t because there’s a great deal of Vitamin A deficiencies in the modern world, but rather, because we’re still operating off of the familiar wisdom we gleaned from propaganda posters printed while Hitler was touring Paris.
Propaganda, it pays to remember, is little more than advertising paid for by governments, rather than corporations. We all know and accept the idea that advertising works (to the tune of 3 billion in the United States last year alone). Whether we like it or not, it seems that propaganda does too.
Americans today would have a hard time recognizing the all-out war effort citizens of the United States made during World War II. The idea of government dictating what and how much big business could produce, restricting the use of civilian products available to the public, and the mobilization of civilians in a war effort are all things that we just haven’t faced in the generations since. During World War II, these civilians were putting their lives on the line to hunt submarines. The Civil Air Patrol was born of that mobilization.
Civilian pilots and their resources were marshaled by the military to support the war effort here at home, even before the war began. Some 200,000 men and women of all races served in CAP in every state during World War II. After Nazi submarines sunk more than 400 ships off the U.S. Atlantic coast in the first six months, these civilian pilots took to the skies in their private planes to help hunt them down.
Civil Air Patrol pilots who were forced to bail out of their planes into the sometimes icy water below joined an exclusive club: the Duck Club.
The Civil Air Patrol was open to all races and genders from the get-go. All you needed was a radio and a plane you could fly.
(Civil Air Patrol)
The single-engine civilian aircraft flown by CAP volunteers in those days weren’t nearly as reliable as ones they depend on these days. CAP pilots would fly up to 50 miles off the U.S. coast, looking for enemy submarines in planes with engines that could quit at any given moment. Maybe this isn’t so bad for the pilot if their mission takes them into the Gulf of Mexico, but in the North Atlantic, having to bail could be deadly.
Even wearing their rubber “zoot suits,” designed to protect them from frigid northern waters, was no guarantee of survival in case of a bail out. These civilian pilots lost 59 of their own during the course of the war — 26 of whom were simply lost at sea. Maybe they survived the elements, maybe they didn’t. Being adrift in the middle of nowhere in the 1940s was tantamount to a death sentence.
For those who bailed out, each CAP station had amphibian planes who would attempt to come to the rescue. But even those were susceptible to being lost at sea – and some were. If a CAP pilot was successfully recovered after a bailout, he became a member of “The Duck Club,” those who were forced to ditch their planes by taking a dip in the ocean.
CAP pilots who joined this elite club earned a special badge: a patch featuring Donald Duck, his eyes crossed by the red propellers that symbolized the Civil Air Patrol. The Congressional Gold Medal the CAP received came much later, signed not by President Roosevelt, but President Obama. Their recognition came decades too late.
The history of the Civil Air Patrol is such a big deal because these were volunteers who put their life and property on the line to protect the liberties of their fellow citizens. They would not receive the GI Bill benefits received by veterans who fought overseas, despite finding Nazi subs operating in American water, rescuing airmen adrift at sea, reporting mines, distressed vessels, escorting convoys, and, in some cases, sacrificing their lives.
That’s just the history of the CAP and the tip of the iceberg. Their mission also extended along the southern border, in the wild forests, and elsewhere. Today, the Civil Air Patrol is an auxiliary of the United States Air Force, and an underrated, oft-forgotten total force partner in U.S. air defense. More than 60,000 civilian airmen still dedicate their time, energy, expertise, money, and personal property to the defense of the U.S. homeland and supporting aerospace education.
President George H.W. Bush occupied the White House during tumultuous times, conducting military operations in Panama and the Persian Gulf and grappling with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in just four years.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little fun, he told the CIA officers tasked with briefing him each day.
As vice president and president, Bush took special interest in the intelligence he was provided and in the personnel who provided it, according to a remembrance in the most recent edition of the CIA’s Studies in Intelligence journal, written by its managing editor, Andres Vaart, a 30-year CIA veteran.
In a 1995 article in the journal, one of Bush’s briefers, Charles A. Peters, recounts how, on Jan. 21, 1989, the day after his inauguration, Bush injected levity into one of the more severe daily tasks the president takes on.
“When the President had finished reading, he turned to me and said with deadly seriousness, ‘I’m quite satisfied with the intelligence support, but there is one area in which you’ll just have to do better.’ The [director of Central Intelligence, William Webster] visibly stiffened,” Peters wrote, according to Vaart.
Chief Justice William Rehnquist administering the oath of office to President George H. W. Bush during Inaugural ceremonies at the United States Capitol. Jan. 20, 1989.
(Library of Congress)
“‘The Office of Comic Relief,’ the new President went on, ‘will have to step up its output.’ With an equally straight face I promised the President we would give it our best shot,” Peters wrote. “As we were leaving the Oval Office, I wasted no time in reassuring the Director that this was a lighthearted exchange typical of President Bush, and that the DCI did not have to search out an Office of Comic Relief and authorize a major shakeup.”
The CIA staffers compiling the PDB included a “Sign of the Times” section, which included amusing or unusual anecdotes meant to lighten otherwise heavy reading.
“Libyan intelligence chief recently passed message via Belgians laying out case for better relations with US and expressing desire to cooperate against terrorism… even suggested he would like to contribute to your re-election campaign,” one January 1992 entry read, according to Peters.
“French company says it has won contract to export vodka to Russia… deal apparently stems from shortage of bottles and bottling equipment… no word on whether Paris taking Russian wine in return,” a July 1992 entry read.
US President George H. W. Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
(George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)
Bush’s single term stretched over the final days of the Soviet Union, possibly giving CIA staffers the opportunity to draw on their cache of Soviet jokes to liven up the daily briefing.
Bush’s briefs also included updates about his counterparts. From time to time, Vaart writes, Bush would call one of those leaders to chat about something interesting they were doing.
For staffers working on the President’s Daily Brief between 1981 and 1993, during Bush’s time in office, “no labor was too intense to produce the needed story and no hours were too many or too late to make certain we … made it good and got it right,” Vaart writes.
“This may have been true with later presidents,” Vaart adds, “but what stood out with President Bush was that we … knew well that the effort was truly appreciated.”
“We also saw through those interactions, as though at first hand, the humor and personality of a man who deeply cared about the people who served him,” he writes.
Bush’s mirth was widely recounted in the days after his death on Nov. 30, 2018. Friends and colleagues remembered his enthusiasm for jokes — at his expense, like when he invited Dana Carvey to the White House to impersonate him after his 1992 electoral defeat, and at the expense of others, like the “award” he gave aides who fell asleep during meetings, named after national-security adviser and frequent dozer Brent Scowcroft.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Flamma, Spartacus, and Carpophorus are just a few of the deadly gladiators that saw many victories while fighting in Rome’s famous arenas.
The vicious sport of gladiator fighting was just as popular back then as boxing and MMA are today. Gladiator combat was much more gangsta, though. Crowds would swarm to see mighty warriors beat the crap out of one another until only one man was left standing — or the match ended in a draw.
Most people believe that once you stepped foot into one of Rome’s great arenas, chances were, you weren’t coming out alive.
Some historians believe the gladiator games started as ceremonial offerings, as a way to provide entertainment at wealthy aristocrats’ funerals. It’s reported, that roughly only one in nine of the competitions ended in death. Many of the warriors who lost the bloody brawls were granted mercy — for financial reasons.
“If a gladiator was lost in the arena, that represented an enormous loss of an investment.” Professor Michael J. Carter explains.
If a rented gladiator was killed in the games, the sponsor was looking to forfeit nearly 50 times the cost of the rental.
Douglas Carlton Denman was born in Tallapoosa, Georgia, in February 1922. At the age of 18, he decided to join the Coast Guard and travelled to Atlanta’s recruiting office where a Coast Guard chief boatswain filled out his paperwork. Early on, he must have shown promise as a boat driver. He was sent to New Orleans to train at Higgins Industries, builder of landing craft, and in less than a year of enlisting, he was advanced from seaman first class to coxswain.
In November 1941, less than a year after enlisting, Denman was assigned to the Number 4 landing craft aboard the fast attack transport USS Edmund Colhoun (APD-2) known as an APD or “Green Dragon” by the Marine Corps’ 1st Raider Battalion. The Colhoun was a World War I-era four-stack destroyer converted to carry a company of marines. The Navy designation of APD stood for transport (“AP”) destroyer (D”). These re-purposed warships retained their anti-submarine warfare capability, carried anti-aircraft and fore and aft deck guns, and could steam at an impressive 40 mph. Their primary mission was rapid insertion of frontline marine units in amphibious (often shallow-water) operations, so they were equipped with landing craft.
Each APD carried four landing craft designated LCPs (Landing Craft Personnel). Also known as “Higgins Boats,” the LCP was the U.S. military’s first operational landing craft. It had a snub nose bow supporting two side-by-side gun tubs with each position holding a .30 caliber machine gun. The helm and engine controls were located behind the tandem gun emplacements. Diesel-powered, the LCP measured 36 feet in length, could hold 36 men, and had a top speed of only nine miles per hour. This early landing craft carried no front ramp, so after it beached, troops debarked over the sides or jumped off the bow. The LCP required a crew of three, including a coxswain, an engineer and a third crew member that both doubled as gunners. The LCP exposed its crew to enemy fire, so its crew members braved serious upper body, head and neck wounds when landing troops.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
The Colhoun was one of four APDs that comprised Transport Division 12 (TransDiv 12). TransDiv 12 ships inserted the Marine Raiders on the beaches of Tulagi, on Aug. 7, 1942. The amphibious assault of Tulagi was the first U.S. offensive of World War II. It was also the first battle contested by entrenched enemy troops, giving the Americans a taste of the horrors to come in island battles like Tarawa, Saipan and Palau. Colhoun’s sisterships Francis Gregory (APD-3) and George Little (APD-4) took up station 3,000 yards offshore and served as guard ships marking a channel into the landing area. TransDiv 12’s slow-moving Higgins Boats plowed up the slot to land the Marine Raiders in the face of enemy fire. Within two days, the marines had taken the island eliminating nearly all its garrison of 800 Japanese troops.
(U.S. Navy photo)
After landing the Marine Raiders at Tulagi, Colhoun continued patrol, transport and anti-submarine duties in the Guadalcanal area. On August 15, the TransDiv 12 APDs delivered provisions and war material to the Marine 1st Division on Guadalcanal Island. It was the first re-supply of the marines since their August 7 landing. On August 30, Colhoun made another supply run to Guadalcanal. After completing a delivery to shore, the Colhoun steamed away for patrol duty. As soon as the APD reached Iron Bottom Sound, the sound of aircraft roared from the low cloud cover overhead and Denman and his shipmates manned battle stations.
A formation of 16 Japanese bombers descended from the clouds and Colhoun’s gunners threw up as much anti-aircraft fire as they could. The first bombers scored two direct hits on the APD, destroying Denman’s Higgins Boat, blowing Denman against a bulkhead and starting diesel fires from the boat’s fuel tank. Denman suffered severe facial wounds, but he returned to what remained of his duty station. In spite of stubborn anti-aircraft fire, the next bombers scored more hits. Colhoun’s stern began filling with water and the order was passed to abandon ship. Denman remained aboard and, with the aid of a shipmate, he carried wounded comrades to the ship’s bow and floated them clear of the sinking ship. He and his shipmate also gathered dozens of life jackets and threw them to victims struggling to stay afloat on the oily water.
Colhoun’s bow knifed into the sky as it began a final plunge into the fathomless water of Iron Bottom Sound. Denman managed to jump off the vessel before the ship slid stern-first below the surface. The time between the bombing and the sinking had taken only minutes, but during that time, Denman saved numerous lives while risking his own. In spite of his severe wounds, Denman survived along with 100 of Colhoun’s original crew of 150 officers and men. Coast Guard-manned landing craft from USS Little and the Coast Guard boat pool on Guadalcanal raced to the scene to rescue the survivors.
After the battle, Denman could not recall the traumatic events surrounding the bombing. He was shipped to a military hospital in New Zealand and diagnosed with “war neurosis.” However, after a month, medical authorities reported, “This man has gone through a trying experience successfully and may be returned to duty . . . .” For the remainder of the war, Denman served stateside assignments and aboard ships, including an attack transport, LST and a U.S. Army fuel ship. In early September, APDs Little and Gregory were sunk in night action against a superior force of Japanese destroyers and the fourth TransDiv 12 APD, USS William McKean (APD-5) was lost in combat in 1943.
For his wounds and heroism in the face of great danger, Denman received the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals. During his career, he completed training for port security, intelligence specialist, and criminal investigation specialist. He also qualified in handling all classes of small boats and buoy tenders and was recommended for master chief petty officer. However, he retired as a boatswain senior chief petty officer to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Georgia with a major in animal science. He was one of many combat heroes who have served in the long blue line and he will be honored as the namesake of a new fast response cutter.
They have served alongside each other for decades, but they’ve been rivals for just as long. The F-16 Fighting Falcon and the F/A-18 Hornet went toe-to-toe ever since the Lightweight Fighter Competition. But which is really the better plane?
Both planes were replacing the Pentagon’s first joint strike fighter, the F-4 Phantom. The F-16 won the original competition, but the Navy based their VFAX on the YF-17, essentially circumventing Congress in the process.
The F-16 is a single-engine fighter (using either a Pratt and Whitney F100 or a GE F110) that can carry a wide variety of air-to-ground ordnance, and up to six air-to-air missiles, either the AIM-120 AMRAAM or AIM-9 Sidewinder. It also has a M61A1 20mm Gatling gun with 500 rounds – or about five seconds of firing time. According to GlobalSecurity.org, the Falcon has a range of over 2,100 nautical miles and a top speed of Mach 2.
The Hornet uses two F404 engines, and like the F-16, can carry a wide variety of air-to-ground ordnance. However, it can carry up to six air-to-air missiles as well (either the AIM-120, the AIM-9, or the older AIM-7), and it has a M61 with 570 rounds (about six seconds of firing time). GlobalSecurity.org credits the Hornet with a range of over 1,800 nautical miles and a top speed of Mach 1.8.
Both planes have long and distinguished combat careers. The F-16 got its first combat action in 1981, with the famous raid on the Osirak reactor. The F/A-18 made its debut in 1986 with the Freedom of Navigation exercises in the Gulf of Sidra that year. Since then, they have fought side by side. Both have been exported, with the F-16 having an edge on that front, while the F/A-18 operates from carriers as well as land bases.
So, which is better? If you needed one plane for all the military services, which would be the right choice? While the F-16 might win in a dogfight, the F/A-18 offers more versatility, and its ability to operate from carriers is a huge plus. While Congress was irritated with the Navy, and later ordered it to purchase some F-16s, which aviation historian Joe Baugher notes were used as aggressors, the fact remains that the DOD may have been better off buying the F/A-18 for all services.
Let’s face it – some planes are tough to fly. The F4U Corsair that served in World War II and Korea was called the “Ensign Eliminator.” The F-104 Starfighter and AV-8B+ Harrier have both been called the “Widow Maker.”
So. too, was the Martin B-26 Marauder.
The B-26 Marauder was a medium bomber with two engines. According to MilitaryFactory.com, it had a crew of seven, a top speed of 282 miles per hour, a range of 675 miles, and the ability to carry up to 5,200 pounds of bombs.
It also had a bad reputation early in World War II for crashing and killing its crews. In fact, according to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the B-26 was nearly cancelled because of all the crashes. But experienced crews went to bat for it, convincing Sen. Harry Truman to relent.
The bomber ultimately flew over 110,000 sorties, and dropped over 150,000 tons of bombs on the Axis.
One of those who helped prove the B-26 wasn’t a killer was Jimmy Doolittle, fresh from leading the Tokyo raid. He soon realized that many of the instructors were almost as inexperienced as the pilots they were training. Worse, the mechanics were not experienced, and weren’t maintaining the engines properly.
To top it off, a switch in the type of gasoline used had been causing damaged to the carburetors.
Doolittle soon took the plane up – in the type of lead-from-the-front leadership that would later get him in hot water with Gen. Eisenhower on more than one occasion. He would fly the plane with one engine shut down on takeoff, then he would make inverted passes at low level. But the Army also began to work harder on training the crews properly, and the manufacturer sent crews out to train the mechanics.
The Army also made a training film for prospective pilots of the Marauder, which you can watch below.
Aircraft carriers are the largest warships on the sea, and the U.S. Navy’s carriers are considered the world’s most elite. They’re so big they have their own ZIP code, and their reach and technological sophistication are unrivaled across the world.
On this date 96 years ago, the first aircraft carrier – the USS Langley – was commissioned in Norfolk, Virginia. The carrier had been converted from the collier USS Jupiter, which was the Navy’s first surface ship propelled by electric motors.
The Wright connection
Cmdr. Kenneth Whiting was the Langley’s executive officer. He was a submarine commander turned aviator who was one of the last to take personal training from famed aviator Orville Wright, one of the two brothers credited with inventing, building, and flying the world’s first airplane.
The Langley was named for Samuel Pierpont Langley, a former U.S. Naval Academy assistant professor who eventually became secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He was also a massive aviation enthusiast. Ironically, Langley had the same spirit as the famed Wright brothers, but never quite had their success. He built his own airplane that he tried on several occasions to launch off ships.
While he didn’t succeed, he did inspire the Navy’s desire to launch and land aircraft from ships at sea. Sailors took up where he left off.
USS Langley’s career
The Langley was built primarily for testing and experimentation for seaborne aviation in the Pacific. It became the test platform for developing carrier operation techniques and tactics, notably helping the Navy learn to better land and launch aircraft more quickly.
Fifteen years after its commissioning, in 1937, the Langley was reclassified as a seaplane tender because newer aircraft carriers were available. It stayed stationed in the Pacific to support seaplane patrols and aircraft transportation services during the early months of World War II.
On Feb. 27, 1942, the Langley was transporting U.S. Army P-40s off the coast of Indonesia when it was attacked by nine Japanese dive bombers. The escorting destroyers surrounding the carrier tried their best to help, but it wasn’t enough. The Langley’s crew was ordered to abandon ship, and the escort destroyers eventually torpedoed the Langley so it wouldn’t fall into enemy hands.
More fun facts
• Despite being an aircraft carrier, the Langley didn’t have a control tower – now known as “the island” – as the modern-day carriers do.
• It was nicknamed the “covered wagon” because its flight deck, which covered the entire ship, resembled a giant canopy.
• The first plane launch from the flight deck of the Langley was Oct. 17, 1922. The first landing was nine days later.
In 1940, following the fall of France, Winston Churchill authorized the establishment of a volunteer fighting force to wage a secret war against Hitler’s armies. This unique force became known as the Special Operations Executive (SOE), and their main mission was sabotage and subversion behind enemy lines. Despite being shrouded in controversy, and being viewed with suspicion by other agencies — the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) didn’t want their information-gathering operations disrupted with blown up bridges and factories — the SOE survived World War II and actually played a big part in winning the war for the Allies.
In a speech after World War II was over, General Eisenhower even stated, “The disruption of enemy rail communications, the harassing of German road moves, and the continual and increasing strain placed on German security services throughout occupied Europe by the organized forces of Resistance, played a very considerable part in our complete and final victory.”
For the SOE, sabotage meant blowing up trains, bridges and factories. Subversion was about fostering revolt and/or guerilla warfare in all enemy and enemy-occupied countries. The most unique element of the SOE is the fact that while the senior staff were ex-public school and Oxbridge, the agents were people from all walks of life, for example, former chefs, electricians, and journalists.
The SOE’s first headquarters was set up in November 1940. At the same time, they established mansions from the Highlands to the New Forest for training. At these sprawling estates the potential members of the SOE were trained to kill with their bare hands, disguise themselves, derail trains, and get out of handcuffs with a thin piece of wire and a diary pencil. If they passed this intense training as well as a grueling parachute course, then they were considered fit to be a part of the SOE.
In order to give the agents more of an edge, the SOE also employed budding scientists to invent unique weapons of war. These weapons included single-shot cigarette pistols, the sleeping beauty – a submersible canoe – and carborundum – an abrasive grease when smeared on the right spot could bring a locomotive to an immediate standstill. They also established the Camouflage Section which created fake tree trunks to conceal radio equipment, and fake camel dung that hid a booby trap that could blow the tire off an enemy truck. To top it all off, the SOE, also had a False Documents section where agents collected bogus identities and fashion companies outfitted agents with suits and dresses.
The SOE conducted many successful missions of sabotage and subversion throughout the War. Their first headline success was in June of 1941 when they blew up the Pessac power station in France. This precision mission halted all work at a vital U-boat base in Bordeaux and crippled the all-electric railways in the region. Then in Czechoslovakia in 1942, the SOE assassinated Himmler’s deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, with a grenade. Later that year in Greece they blew up the Gorgopotamos bridge, which carried vital supplies for Rommel’s army in the desert. And in Norway, in 1943, the SOE destroyed the heavy water plant in Vemork, effectively ending the Nazi atomic bomb program.
While other secret agencies shared a mutual dislike for the SOE, their successful missions played a large part in the Allies’ eventual victory. Without the sabotage and subversion of the Special Operations Executive the outcome of World War II could have been very different. The price was high, but the SOE performed their missions to the letter. Finally, with no war left to fight, the SOE was disbanded forever in 1946. The Agents of the SOE were sent back to their normal lives, and most of them carried the secrets of their wartime missions and victories to their graves, never even telling those closest to them what role they played in the Allied victories of World War II.
A little bit of charm goes a long way. Nowhere was that more apparent than when British General Cuthbert Lucas literally used a charm offensive to escape captivity and save his own life.
After being captured by Irish Republicans during the 1919-1921 Irish War of Independence, a British officer’s life expectancy could drop rapidly, if they weren’t careful.
Ireland had been trying to rule itself for decades before the outbreak of Ireland’s independence war. Originally, the Irish advocated volunteering to fight with the British in World War I. But as the war in Europe ground on, support for that split and Irish Republicans revolted in 1916. The British response to the revolt was so brutal it caused a full-on rebellion in 1919.
For a quick recap, watch the video below:
British General Cuthbert Lucas was sent to Ireland to command a brigade of infantry. A lifelong veteran of the British Army, Cuthbert had seen action in the Second Boer War and in World War I, notably at the Somme and at Gallipoli.
In June of 1920, Lucas became the highest-ranking British soldier to be captured by the Irish Republican Army. He was fishing in a river near his command in County Cork, Ireland along with two other officers. The junior officers attempted to escape but were injured in the process. The IRA let those two go and took Lucas to a hidden location in West Limerick.
If the general was frightened for his life, it was hard to tell. He demanded what was due to him as an officer and a prisoner of war, which included a bottle of whiskey every day. On top of his daily ration, the BBC says the general played cards with his captors, lots and lots of cards. In fact, the general was said to have cleaned out the Irishmen.
While Lucas played cards, his pregnant wife worried. When she learned he was captured, the grief sent her into labor. After the baby was born, she wrote to the general to inform him of the birth, by simply addressing it “To the IRA.” Thanks to sympathetic postmen on both sides, the couple were able to exchange letters.
Those letters ended up in the hands of their descendants, which ended up on an episode of Antiques Roadshow. After comparing the literal notes left by their grandparents, the grandchildren of both the general and his captors learned they were all having a great time together, something both sides of the incident would tell their families.
General Lucas’ love of drinking and poker likely saved his life because the IRA couldn’t get enough of him. But they also had trouble fighting the war.
With all the publicity surrounding Lucas’ capture, the IRA couldn’t operate in West Limerick anymore. So after a little longer than a month in captivity, Gen. Lucas was moved to County Clare, and on to East Limerick where the IRA completely relaxed his security detail, allowing him to escape.
While most of the Confederate Navy in the states was either penned up or quickly defeated during the Civil War, the Confederacy poured resources into blockade runners and commerce raiders that were successful, and few could even touch the CSS Alabama.
The Alabama was built in England, nominally as a merchant ship. British shipyards were allowed to build warships for the Confederacy early in the war as long as the ship buyers said they were for peaceful purposes and as long as no weapons were present when it was shipped.
But it was clear the Alabama was built for a fight. It had plenty of sails, like a warship or a merchant vessel would, but it also had a steam-powered paddle wheel. Merchant vessels had little use for these paddle wheels, but they allowed combatants to maneuver much better in a fight.
The Laird Brothers of Birkenhead launched the Alabama right as British forces cracked down on the illegal trade under threats of war from then President Abraham Lincoln. But as British troops rushed to seize the Alabama, it slipped up the coast in 1862, and the crew took on weapons before heading to the Azores to pick up Confederate Navy Capt. Raphael Semmes.
Capt. Raphael Semmes, in the foreground, poses on his ship’s 110-pound rifled gun, its most powerful cannon.
The crew was composed primarily of men from the Southern states and England, but it had members from other European countries and even a few from Northern states. And once it got into the water, it started racking up kills and captures.
It started in the North Atlantic where it attacked Union shipments of agricultural goods headed to Europe, and then it headed south to prey in the West Indies. But then it slipped up to the Gulf of Mexico and directly threatened the Texas coast. When the USS Hatteras came out of Galveston, the Alabama captured the ship and crew.
Over two years of raiding, it sank and captured around 68 ships. But two years of sailing and combat had taken its toll on the ship. While the copper plating helped prevent some corrosion and fouling of the hull, it didn’t prevent all damage. And the engine needed maintenance and the ship needed resupply.
So, on June 11, 1864, the Alabama sailed into Cherbourg, France, for docking and overhaul. But the Union had dispatched ships to hunt it, and other commerce raiders, and the USS Kearsarge got wind that the Alabama was in Cherbourg.
On June 19, when the Alabama sailed out, the Kearsarge was waiting. And the French people came out to watch this little battle of the American Civil War play out on their coasts. In order to ensure French neutrality and safety, that nation’s government sent out an ironclad to make sure the fight stayed in international waters.
A map shows the circular path of the Kearsarge and Alabama during their battle in 1864.
(Robert Knox Sneden via Picryl)
The Alabama fired the first shots, but the Kearsarge had chain armor, and the Alabama’s weapons and powder were degraded from seawater damage. The powder could not propel the shells as hard as it should have, and the shells were basically bouncing off the Kearsarge.
The two ships maneuvered on one another. The Kearsarge waited until the Alabama reached 1,000 yards before firing, and then the ships traded blows while trying to cross each other’s T in order to launch a broadside against the enemy’s bow.
This resulted in the ships basically sailing in a circle shooting at each other. The Alabama fired about 150 shots while the Kearsarge got off only about 100 shells. Still, with better powder and chain armor, the Kearsarge was able to quickly defeat the Confederate raider, sinking it in about an hour with a shot through the hull at the waterline.
The Kearsarge picked up most of the survivors, but Semmes and about 40 other sailors were picked up by a British ship and sat out the rest of the war.