The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission

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. 

A similar plane to the one used by O'Hare.
A similar plane to the one used by O’Hare.

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. 

Butch O'Hare
Lt. Butch O’Hare seated in the cockpit of his Grumman F4F “Wildcat” fighter, circa spring 1942. The plane is marked with five Japanese flags, representing the five enemy bombers he was credited with shooting down

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. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Virginia is in a fight with Minnesota over this piece of history

No matter how you feel about the Confederate States of America or the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, it’s undeniable that relics from the Civil War belong in a museum.

But which one?


The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission

A face that screams “wanna fight about it?”

In 1863, a Pvt. Marshall Sherman from the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment captured a Confederate battle flag from the battlefields of Gettysburg, Pa. His bravery that day earned him not only the keepsake of his heroics, but also the Medal of Honor.

“We just rushed in like wild beasts. Men swore and cursed and struggled and fought, grappled in hand-to-hand fight, threw stones, clubbed their muskets, kicked, yelled, and hurrahed,” said Minnesota soldier William Harmon, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

The flag, no longer on public display, resides at the Minnesota Historical Center in St. Paul. And Virginia wants it back.

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission

“Come get it. Sincerely, the 1st Minnesota Infantry”

The 1st Minnesota wasn’t only at Gettysburg, though the unit took a beating there. They were also at First and Second Bull Run, Antietam, Seven Pines, and First and Second Fredericksburg, just to name a few. It was at Gettysburg that the 1st was ordered to charge a Confederate position where they would be outnumbered by at least five to one to keep a faltering Union line together. They suffered 82 percent casualty rate but still helped hold off Pickett’s Charge the next day.

The Regiment has their own monument at the Gettysburg Battlefield today.

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission

And Minnesota has a war trophy.

For a century, Virginia has tried to get it back, through any means necessary. They tried asking nicely. The answer was no. They tried an act of Congress. Minnesota said no. Even after a Presidential order, Minnesota declined. In 1998, 2000, 2003, and in 2015, the answer remained the same. When Virginia demanded the piece of their heritage back, then-Governor Jesse Ventura replied that it was now Minnesota’s heritage.

Check out the story from Minnesota’s Historical Society.

Articles

This is the cave art Native American soldiers left in France during WWI

For thousands of years, mankind has been telling stories using various forms of communication. Some passed verbal stories down from generation to generation, as others carved visual symbols deep into solid rock surfaces — cave art.


Fast forward to the battlegrounds of France during WWI where nine members of an Indian tribe from Point Pleasant, Maine, called the Passamaquoddy proudly served and carved images in the cave’s wall to represent their heritage during their trench warfare days.

Even though these carvings exist, the question remains:what stories were the Passamaquoddy Indians trying to tell us?

Related: This corpsman’s sea story starts with a ‘Hello Kitty’ tattoo

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
Shown here are the 9 documented Passamaquoddy tribe members that served in Yankee Division I company during the Great War. (Source: Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)

Although 25 Passamaquoddy men were sent to fight, 9 of them fought in the Yankee Division.

To gain more information about these findings, military historian 1st Lt. Jonathan Bratten, questioned the meaning behind these quarry cravings that only a Passamaquoddy Indian could translate.

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
A Passamaquoddy carving of a canoe. (Source: Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)

The craving above appears to be a birch bark canoe, and the highlighted detail in the hull shows what looks like the swastika Germans would later use to represent the Nazi Reich.

For the Passamaquoddy, however, it’s a cultural symbol that dates back thousands and thousands of years meaning peace and friendship.

Also Read: These three women were the first American military casualties of WWI

Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to explore the caves and learn the stories behind stories.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)Fun Fact: Nearly 99 years later, the families of 6 men from the Passamaquoddy tribe who volunteered to fight during the WWI conflict finally received official recognition and honored for their heroic contributions.
MIGHTY HISTORY

German POWs hit the gridiron for the Barbwire Bowl Classic

Throughout the course of World War II German prisoners of war were commonly sent to the U.S. mainland, to be incarcerated in POW camps. This incarceration did not immediately end upon the conclusion of the war, and during this period enemy POWs underwent time in reeducation camps as they awaited repatriation to Germany. In January of 1946, 44 German POWs would get the opportunity to participate in a uniquely American autumn tradition, competition on the gridiron.


POW camps were a mainstay throughout the U.S. mainland in WWII. Upon conclusion of the war, prisoners were not immediately repatriated to Germany; rather many remaining incarcerated until they could be sent home. Many of these camps were located throughout the South and Midwestern states, but California had a handful of these camps as well.

One, located in Stockton, California would host an event that would become known as the Barbwire Bowl Classic, in which 44 German prisoners of war volunteered to participate in a game that would have thousands of spectators and gain national attention.

The commanding officer of the Stockton Ordnance Depot Colonel Kenneth Barager proposed a football game between POWs located at the stockade and POWs located at a smaller camp known as the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, commanded by John M. Kiernan Jr. Barager hoped that this experience would spread football to Europe upon the POWs returning home. So, after posting an announcement asking for volunteers, those men that showed up were shown an instructional film and demonstration about American football, issued equipment provided by local area football teams, and began their preparation for the big game.

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission

Kiernan’s Krushers

(http://warfarehistorynetwork.com)

The teams were coached by two former collegiate players. Sgt. Ed Tipton, a former player for the University of Texas would lead one squad, initially naming them Stockton Tech, but later changing their name to the Barager Bears. The other side was led by Sgt. Johnny Polczynski who played his college days at Marquette. Polczynski would call his team the Fairground Aggies, later changing their name to Kiernan’s Krushers.

The game was played on January 13, 1946 in front of an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 fans. Both teams struggled in the contest as they didn’t completely understand the rules. The teams had trouble throwing the ball, so they primarily stuck to the wing formation and T-formation, in an attempt to establish a rushing attack. A couple of fights apparently broke out, and the culprits were sent to the locker rooms for the remainder of the game.

In the 3rd quarter the Krushers QB Hubert Lüngen scored the games first points on a sneak play. The extra point was no good. The game would come down to the wire in the 4th quarter, with the Bears mounting some offense, driving all the way down to the ten-yard line before being stopped on 4th down. The final score was 6-0 in favor of Kiernan’s Krushers.

After the game the teams changed back into their military uniforms and were treated to a banquet at the Officer’s Club, and were sent back to their POW camps with plenty of leftovers. The teams decided to hold a rematch 4 weeks later, but this time Barager’s Bears would win 30-0.

Articles

5 movies to avoid before deployment (especially if you’re infantry)

Hollywood loves to make old fashion bloody war movies that have plenty of entertaining explosions and dramatic death scenes. While entertaining, these can hit pretty close to home for someone who’s been in the fight.


Related: 5 crazy Hollywood hazing scenes that probably happened

The graphic ones can be particularly realistic, but no matter what, they all represent the sucktitude of war.

Here are five you may want to stay away from before deploying to a combat zone.

1. Saving Private Ryan

Known as one of the most authentic and gruesome openings to a film ever, this Steven Spielberg-directed classic put audiences inside the minds of war-hardened characters as they storm the beaches of Normandy.

I think that guy had eggs for breakfast. (Image by Giphy)

2. Casualties of War

Marty McFly, I mean Michael J. Fox, plays an Army soldier who is coerced by Sgt. Tony Meserve (Sean Penn) to take advantage of a Vietnamese hostage-turned-sex-slave. When he refuses, the whole squad turns against him.

We guess they missed those team building exercises stateside. (Image via Giphy)

3. Hamburger Hill

John Irvin’s 1987 war epic depicts one of the most disastrous friendly fire accidents in the military in the Vietnam war.

Could you imagine that sh*t. (Image via Giphy)

4. The Deer Hunter

Because no one wants to think about the dangers of being a prisoner of war and playing Russian roulette at the same time.

Ballsy. (Image via Giphy)

Also Read: 5 military myths that Hollywood has taught us to believe are true

5. Platoon

No one wants to get left behind and eventually gunned down by the bad guys.

WHY ME?! (Image via Giphy)

Bonus: Pearl Harbor

This is a good one if you join the service with a buddy. In Micheal Bay’s “Pearl Harbor,” two childhood friends join the military as pilots. As one is off fighting in an aerial dogfight, the other stays back keeping his girlfriend company — eventually knocking her up.

Spoiler alert — he takes about a half dozen bullets for his buddy to buy himself some redemption. That is all.

It’s actually a good way to make things even. (Image via Giphy)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The incredible true story of how the heir to Walmart served in MACV-SOG in Vietnam

The next time you are browsing the aisles at Walmart, just think to yourself that the son of Sam Walton, the founder of the retail giant, was involved in special operations during the Vietnam War. Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observation Group — or MACV-SOG — is a name so bland that it shielded the true nature of their top-secret work into deniable areas like Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. How did the 11th richest man in the world intertwine his legacy into one of the most notorious special operations units in U.S. military history?

John Thomas Walton was born in Newport, Arkansas, the second of three sons, and excelled at athletics. He was a standout football star on their public high school football team and was more of a student of life than academics. His father, Sam, opened Walton’s 5&10 in Bentonville, a small business in a small town known for its variety of hunting seasons. Walton had a modest upbringing and after only two years of college he dropped out to enlist in the U.S. Army. “When I was at Wooster [The College of Wooster in Ohio], there were a lot of people talking about the war in the dorm rooms, but I didn’t think they understood it,” Walton said.


Walton enlisted in the Army and became a Green Beret (Army Special Forces). “I figured if you’re going to do something, you should do it the best you can,” he said during an interview with Andy Serwer for Fortune magazine. Assigned to MACV-SOG after the Tet Offensive in 1968, Walton was stationed at FOB 1 in Phu Bai where members of Strike Team Louisiana conducted deep penetration reconnaissance missions. John Stryker Meyer, a teammate and friend of Walton’s, wrote, “In August of ’68, on one such mission, Walton’s six-man recon team was surrounded and overrun by enemy soldiers.” The firefight became so intense that the team leader, William “Pete” Boggs, called an airstrike (napalm) directly on their own position to break contact.

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission

Extracted from page 119 of “On The Ground” by John Stryker Meyer and John E. Peters.

“That strike killed one team member, wounded the team leader and severed the right leg of the Green Beret radio operator Tom Cunningham Jr., of Durham, N.H. Another team member was wounded four times by AK-47 gunfire by an enemy soldier whom Walton killed,” Meyer wrote. As the team’s medic, Walton was responsible in setting up a triage point to tend to the casualties. He applied a tourniquet to Cunningham’s leg that had begun to hemorrhage. The tourniquet ultimately saved his life, but he later lost his leg. Facing hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers (NVA) and completely surrounded, Walton called in two extraction helicopters.

The first helicopter, piloted by South Vietnamese Captain Thinh Dinh, touched down and picked up members of the team, some of whom Walton personally carried. The enemy soldiers were now sprinting to prevent their escape. Bullets clanged off the chopper and whizzed by their bodies. A second helicopter was needed to get them all out, but realizing how dire the situation had turned, the first helicopter sat back down and picked up the entire team. Their weight was too much, and they barely managed to climb over the treetops. Walton’s determination to get his teammates out of harm’s way earned him the Silver Star, the nation’s third highest award for valor.

During a poker game on the night they returned to base, one of his teammates noticed that the skin on Walton’s wrist was burnt. It was evidence of just how accurate the NVA gunfire was. Walton, Meyer, and his teammates enjoyed poker, Scrabble, and other games that require thought. They spoke about their goals and the dreams they hoped to accomplish when they returned home. Walton’s was a life of adventure.

Meyer shares how Walton had inspirations to travel domestically on a motorcycle and to Mexico, Central, and South America by plane. He earned his pilot’s license and started his own business crop-dusting cotton fields in Texas and Arizona. Crop-dusting provided Walton a new challenge that helped his transition after Vietnam. His aerial theatrics featured ingenuity, too — Walton co-founded the company Satloc in 1999, which pioneered the use of GPS applications in agricultural crop-dusting. He also served as a company pilot for his family business.

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission

John Walton, far right, is shown in uniform.

(Photo courtesy of John Stryker Meyer.)

It seemed Walton was always searching for his next greatest thrill. He briefly owned a sailing company called Marine Corsair in San Diego, and he regularly traveled to Durango, Colorado, for outdoor activities such as mountain biking, skiing, and skydiving. As Walmart’s success climbed, so too did Walton’s wealth. At one point, he was the 11th richest man in the world, with an estimated .2 billion net worth. However, despite the amount of money he made, he always stayed true to his modest roots. Meyer recalled a breakfast the pair had in Oceanside, California, and Walton arrived in a small Toyota hybrid.

Walton was also a strong proponent of education and school vouchers, helping establish the Children’s Scholarship Fund with the goal of sending low-income children to private schools. The Walton family as a whole has donated an estimated 0 million, largely due to John’s advocacy. The William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership recognized his contributions in 2001.

John T. Walton died on June 27, 2005, when his custom-built CGS Aviation Hawk Arrow plane crashed in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. He was 58 years old. An investigation determined that loose flight control components were the cause of the fatal accident. Walton left behind a wife, Christy, and son, Lukas.

Though Walton’s name will always be immediately recognized as the heir to the Walmart empire, his legacy is also inextricably tied to MACV-SOG. Two years before his untimely death, Walton chartered his private jet to pick up the family of Thinh Dinh, the South Vietnamese pilot with whom he served decades prior. They reunited in Las Vegas, never forgetting the lasting bonds forged in war.

Embedded With Special Forces in Afghanistan | Part 2

www.youtube.com

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the M18 Hellcat was America’s most underrated tank destroyer in World War II

To counter the German blitzkrieg, the U.S. Army needed to not only destroy individual tanks, it needed to destroy the Wehrmacht’s ability to use them effectively. To do that, it created an entirely new doctrine of mechanized warfare: tank destroyer forces.

In order to ambush massing enemy armor as it attempted a breakthrough, the Army needed a powerful, fast, armored vehicle that  would ride out to meet an armored attack while setting enemy tanks up to be ambushed at the same time. 

The result was the M18 Hellcat, the fastest armored vehicle until the development of the M2 Abrams, and the most effective anti-tank weapon of World War II. 

M18 Hellcat
US Army photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Before the time the United States entered World War II, it did not have an army that could effectively face everything the Nazis were using in Europe, so a number of technological innovations had to be created. One of those needs was a way to stop massed armor formations from breaking through the battlefield. 

The need was to create a weapons system that could stop heavy German tanks without getting blown away themselves. It needed enough armor so that enemy infantry couldn’t neutralize it on their own and it needed enough speed to move when it had to. It also had to be able to kill German tanks. 

More than a dozen models were developed by American manufacturers to meet these Army requirements, but as one need was met, another need would soon arise. Armor was soon sacrificed in favor of speed and mobility, its main turret was soon upgraded with the Sherman tank’s 76mm turret, and the M18 Hellcat was deployed in the field before it could be standardized. 

Hellcats first saw action in the Italian campaign of 1944 but they were already outgunned by upgraded German panzer and Tiger tanks, and particularly vulnerable to those tanks’ main turret rounds. 

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
M18 Hellcat in action during a 2007 reenactment (Wikimedia Commons)

Nevertheless, the Hellcat was still effective against Axis armor. Even though the armor of German panzers couldn’t be penetrated by the M18 76mm rounds, American tank crews were still able to use the Hellcat to their advantage. The biggest of these was how fast the M18 could take a shot at an enemy tank. When set up for an ambush on the flanks of advancing enemy armor, they were devastating.

American tank crews knew that a well-aimed shot between two specific plates of a panzer’s armor would cause the anti-tank round to ricochet into the enemy vehicle’s driving compartment and kill the crew. The tankers learned this trick in time to meet Hitler’s 1944 armor offensive against Patton’s 3rd Army at Arracourt.

It was at Arracourt that seven M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyers and 25 U.S. tanks  met a force of more than 200 Nazi tanks trying to push Patton back out of the the Lorraine Province of France. Over 11 days, the seven Hellcats destroyed or disabled 39 Nazi panzers.

At the Battle of the Bulge, the Hellcat’s top speed of 50 miles per hour allowed them to get ahead of German armor divisions looking to capture fuel to continue the fighting. This was slowed by Hellcat quickly moving their positions and firing into the advancing enemy.  

Although there are successful examples of Hellcats fighting with their designed purpose, in practice, they were normally used to support infantry operations.


Feature image: US Army photo

MIGHTY HISTORY

10 things you may not know about the Coast Guard Reserve

The United States Coast Guard Reserve is a flexible, responsive operational force that exists to support the Coast Guard roles of maritime homeland security, national defense, and domestic disaster operations. The Coast Guard depends on the Reserve force to be always ready (Semper Paratus!) to mobilize with critical competencies in boat operations, contingency planning and response, expeditionary warfare, marine safety, port security, law enforcement and mission support.


On Feb. 19, 2018, we will celebrate 77 years of extraordinary Coast Guard Reserve service!

Also read: These Coasties were tougher than your first sergeant

While I’m fortunate to know many of our reservists, I have to admit, I didn’t know a lot about the history or inner-workings of our Reserve force. To learn more, I reached out to our incredible reserve community and the wonderful people who work with them. I was amazed by what I learned and I think that you will be, too!

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp speaks to members of Coast Guard Reserve Port Security Unit 305, deployed to Joint Task Force Guantanamo, during an all-hands meeting. (U.S. Navy photo)

1. The Coast Guard Reserve played a significant role in Coast Guard operations during World War II.

More than 92 percent of the 214,000 personnel who served in the Coast Guard during WWII were reservists, with an additional 125,000 personnel serving in the Temporary Reserve. From manning Coast Guard and Navy ships, to acting as coxswains on invasion landing craft – their service and heroics were present from Iwo Jima and Guam, to Normandy and North Africa.

2. The Coast Guard Reserve is Semper Paratus (always ready).

Since 1972, reservists have been subject to involuntary activation for domestic contingencies and have up to 48 hours to report for active duty upon notification. In 2017, nearly 1,300 reservists were activated in support of hurricane response operations.

3. A reservist will be serving at the White House.

A Reserve Physician’s Assistant (PA) will be serving on active duty with the White House Medical Unit beginning this summer. She will be the first reservist to serve in this capacity.

4. RESERVIST Magazine has been continuously published since 1953.

The original purpose was “the dissemination of up-to-date information of interest to all Coast Guard Reservists, on active and inactive duty” and that purpose continues today.

5. On November 23, 1942, the Women’s Reserve was established as a branch of the Coast Guard.

Members became known as SPARs, an acronym derived from the Coast Guard’s motto, “Semper Paratus, Always Ready.” SPARs became the foundation for women in the Coast Guard today.

6. Reservists have deployed all over the world and served in multiple conflicts.

Whether at home or overseas, whether man-made or natural, whatever the reason, wherever the need, the Coast Guard Reserve will be there when needed most.

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
Coast Guard Reserve Seaman Christopher Knight, removes an M-240 machine gun from a Viper patrol boat for cleaning, Dec. 11, 2008. (Photo by Army Spc. Erica Isaacson)

7. In addition to the Coast Guard’s core values, there are three Coast Guard Reserve tenets.

Professionalism, preparedness, and patriotism: These are prominently displayed on the Emblem of the Coast Guard Reserve.

8. A number of celebrities have served in the Coast Guard Reserve and/or Temporary Reserve.

The Coast Guard Reserve has some celebrity connections, including Humphrey Bogart, Beau Bridges, Jeff Bridges, Senator Sam Nunn, Rep. Bill Delahunt, and Rep. Howard Coble.

9. Many Coast Guard reservists have other jobs.

Coast Guard reservists often perform very different functions in their civilian lives – they’re teachers, police officers, firefighters, pharmaceutical salesmen, and real estate agents. For two weeks out of the year (or more), they put their lives on hold to commit to fulfilling their obligations to the service. And, once a month, they often work seven days straight.

10. Our reservists don’t serve for the pay or the glory.

To quote Chief Eric McCusker, one of the reservists that I have the honor of knowing, “We do this for a few hundred dollars which is sometimes not enough to cover the cost of airfare when we have to travel out of state to our drilling units on our own dime. We don’t perform our jobs in the Reserve for the pay or the glory. We do it because we love it. We love feeling that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We love the opportunity to get to help assist our active duty brothers and sisters (even though sometimes we catch a lot of grief for being “Weekend Warriors”). We leave our drilling units each weekend with a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing that we have done our best.”

Articles

This is how presidents-elect learn about covert operations before they’re sworn in

Now that the Republican Party has officially nominated Donald Trump as its candidate for president, briefers from intelligence agencies will soon begin detailing America’s current covert operations to both Trump and likely Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.


And that’s if they haven’t already begun.

So how does a presidential candidate — and later a president-elect — get caught up on everything that’s going on in the cloak-and-dagger world of international intelligence?

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
President Barack Obama receives his daily intelligence briefing. Presidential candidates will not receive his level of information, but presidents-elect do. (Photo: White House Photographer Pete Souza)

Intelligence officials give them a series of briefings that former NSA Director Michael Hayden described as “a college seminar on steroids.”

When possible, the briefings take place in secure areas. But more often than not, briefers are sent to meet candidates and presidents-elect where they are.

In 1992, the Deputy Director of the CIA flew to Little Rock, Arkansas, and rented a cheap motel room to inconspicuously brief then-President-elect Bill Clinton.

When candidates are on the campaign trail, the briefers plan spots on the route where they can establish a temporarily secure area to brief.

These initial briefings to candidates are not as in depth as the president’s daily brief. The idea isn’t to give the candidate a detailed breakdown of each operation and how it works, it’s to give them a broad understanding of what America is doing around the world and why.

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said that all major candidates for president must receive the same intelligence briefing. (Photo: Kit Fox/Medill)

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has said that each candidate receives the exact same briefing. But this wasn’t always the case.

For instance, the intel briefings were first given to Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson during the 1952 election. During the run-up to Election Day, Eisenhower was receiving more sensitive information than Stevenson. This was because Eisenhower had extensive experience with intelligence from his command time in World War II, while Stevenson did not.

Once a candidate is selected, though, the briefings become more detailed and some of them become decision briefs. Even though the president-elect is not yet in charge, the intelligence agencies have to be prepared to immediately execute his or her orders on Inauguration Day.

The president-elect receives a roughly complete copy of the president’s daily brief — sometimes as early as election night. The only information omitted is operational information that isn’t useful to the president-elect.

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
President John F. Kennedy was a war hero and senator before campaigning for the presidency. But he didn’t gain access to America’s top intelligence until after winning the election. (Photo: National Archives)

For presidents-elect who need a primer on intelligence, such as John Kennedy, there will also be a series of general briefings to provide context and understanding. For those with an extensive intelligence background, such as former Vice President and Director of Central Intelligence George H.W. Bush, the general briefings are skipped.

Once the president-elect has a base of knowledge about the situation, senior intelligence officials begin coming to him or her for their expected orders on Jan. 20. If the president-elect wants to cancel a covert operation or change its course, the decision is made ahead of time so the agency can prepare.

In 2000, then-President-elect Barack Obama made it clear that the detention and interrogation program would cease the moment he was in charge. That allowed Hayden to prepare to cut that program while keeping most other covert operations going full-bore.

You can learn a lot more about these briefings and their history in former-CIA Analyst John L. Helgerson’s book, Getting to Know the President. The book is available for free on the CIA’s website.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Russian submarine had a ‘Crimson Tide’ moment near Cuba

The 1995 movie “Crimson Tide” saw two U.S. Navy officers square off in a battle of wits, gusto and ideology over whether or not the United States and Russia were at nuclear war. Launching their submarine’s nuclear missiles would either be a retaliatory strike against Russian targets or it would precipitate World War III.

Spoiler alert, Denzel Washington wins the day, the submarine learns the war hasn’t started and a nuclear exchange is averted. This may seem like a pretty far-fetched plot, given today’s advances in communications technology, but three naval officers found themselves in just this situation in 1962. 

Three Soviet officers aboard a submarine designated B-59 were headed for Cuba during one of the most tense events of the Cold War. They’d been sailing for four weeks and had little communication from Moscow. They had no idea the world was on the brink of nuclear war. In fact, some of them thought the war had already started. 

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
Soviet submarine B-59, forced to the surface by U.S. Naval forces in the Caribbean near Cuba. U.S. National Archives

Back then, communication wasn’t so good and the submarine was in a pretty tense situation. It  was October 1962, in the last few days of what would become known to history as the Cuban Missile Crisis. B-59 had been tracked by the U.S. Navy blockading squadron off the coast of Cuba and the United States was dropping depth charges around its position. 

On the surface, dropping high explosives near a foreign submarine seems like a provocative act, which it was. The U.S. Navy, though, was trying to force the sub to surface so they could have a conversation about its mission and destination. The trouble with that is, there was no way to communicate that idea to the officers aboard. There was also no way for the sub to communicate with the Soviet Navy.

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
President Kennedy meets with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko in the Oval Office. The President knows but does not reveal that he is now aware of the missile build-up. (Public Domain)

Valentin Savitsky, the boat’s captain, believed that the U.S. and USSR were already at war. As the American depth charges rocked the submarine and the waters around, he ordered a ten-kiloton nuclear torpedo to be loaded into its tube. His target was the American aircraft carrier USS Randolph, with nearly 3,500 sailors aboard. 

Soviet naval regulations required the agreement of the boat’s top three officers before a nuclear weapon could be used. Aboard B-59, there were two Gene Hackmans against one Denzel Washington. The Denzel Washington on B-59 was Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov.

Arkhipov argued that there was no way the Americans were trying to destroy their submarine. Of all the depth charges they dropped, no one could be this bad at using them. If the U.S. had actually wanted to destroy B-59, they would have done so by now. Arkhipov believed that, like Denzel Washington believed in “Crimson Tide,” the sub needed to surface and get an update from the Kremlin.

Since their last information update was so long ago and their orders so scant, surfacing to communicate with their command about the current situation was a much better idea than potentially triggering a nuclear exchange with the Americans. 

In the face of his officer’s refusal to agree, Capt. Savitsky surfaced his submarine and was immediately met by an American destroyer. The two sides talked, no one boarded the Russian submarine or inspected its cargo. The Russian was ordered to return to the Soviet Union and did.

The next day, the U.S. and USSR reached an agreement that would remove missiles from Cuba and Turkey with a promise the United States would not invade Cuba. The Cuban Missile Crisis was over. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

TDY to Paradise: 11 fun facts about Hawaii

Usually, we imagine American history as, well, history. Surprisingly, Hawaii is probably younger than most grandmas; as a state, at least. Hawaii gained statehood on August 21st, 1959, as the 50th and final US state. Here on the mainland, most of us know Hawaii as the land of hula dancing, beautiful beaches and family vacations, but our 50th state has a rich cultural history that’s still alive and well today. Keep reading for 11 interesting facts about the Aloha state.


Hawaii has an impressive and diverse military presence.

The US Army has the largest presence there, with over 16,000 active duty members. Next comes the Navy with roughly 8,000, the Marine Corps with 7,000, and the Air Force with about 5,000. These forces operate from numerous military bases, which gives Hawaii the largest and most diverse concentration of our military within a metropolitan area.

Veterans love Hawaii. 

Because of the strong military presence on the islands, over 120,000 veterans live in Hawaii, making up about 11% of the population. As of late 2018, Hawaii has over 18,000 military retired personnel. Of those individuals, over 17,000 receive monthly pensions.

The attack on Pearl Harbor changed life in Hawaii. 

​When the Japanese Navy Air Service attacked Pearl Harbor, over 2000 Americans were killed, but the impact on Hawaii didn’t end there. Tourism and production industries on Oahu ground to a halt. Meanwhile, over 160,000 Japanese people were being held in Hawaii- a setup that the struggling islands could no longer support. If they were removed all at once, however, the economy would crumble.

Martial law was strictly enforced until the end of the war, leaving the US military in direct control of many aspects of life in Hawaii. Over time, the military transformed Hawaii’s culture. Sugar plantations were turned into housing and training sites, more roads were built, and some of the smaller islands were destroyed. At the end of the war, military personnel returned to the mainland, resulting in even more economic challenges for Hawaii. Fortunately, the people there have since worked together to rebuild a thriving, beautiful Oahu.

Hawaii was once a monarchy.

Until 1893, the islands were ruled by the Hawaiian Monarchy. Queen Liliuokalani was sin power at the time, when a group from her Committee of Public Safety conducted a military coup. After the Hawaiian Kingdom was overthrown, President Grover Cleveland believed the monarchy should be restored. When President McKinley took office, however, he saw Hawaii as a chess piece in the game of the Spanish-American War and annexed the region. As mentioned before, it took until 1959 for Hawaii to officially become a US state.

Hawaii still honors its historical royalty.

As a former monarchy, Hawaii has traditions dating back long before it became a state. Hawaiian royalty, or ali’i, is still celebrated today. Kamehameha Day is held on June 11 in honor of King Kamehameha the Great, and Prince Kuhio Day takes place on March 26. Both of these dates are official state holidays, celebrated with annual festivals, traditional foods, and colorful parades.

Hawaii is the only U.S. state with two official languages.

The rest of the states only recognize English as the official language, but Hawaii includes its original Hawaiian tongue. Hawaiian pidgin, a Creole language based on English, is also commonly spoken, but it’s not considered an official state language.

Learning the alphabet in Hawaii is easier.

To tourists, Hawaiian names can look intimidating, but they’re actually pretty simple once you learn how the Hawaiian alphabet works. There are only 12 letters plus two symbols that change pronunciation. Once you learn the basics, it’s actually easier to sound out than English!

There are actually 137 Hawaiian Islands.

Most people have heard of some of the largest Hawaiian islands, like Maui, Oahu, Kauai, and “the Big Island”. In addition to the eight major ones, there are over 100 more smaller islands, each with unique reefs. Across the many islands, the climate varies too, covering 10 of the world’s 14 climate zones! This natural variation is responsible for the vast diversity of flora and fauna in Hawaii, making it a place like none other on Earth.

Hawaii is home to the world’s largest dormant volcano.

Maui’s Mount Haleakala reaches a peak of 10,023 feet above sea level, with a 7.5 by 2.5 mile crater. That said, the bulk of the volcano is actually located under water. Measured from the sea floor, it’s nearly 30,000 feet; similar to the height of Mount Everest! This volcanic giant was responsible for creating the majority of the island of Maui, and it’s likely to grow again in the future. Mount Haleakala isn’t extinct, just dormant, so it may erupt again one day.

Surfing started here!

With white sand, warm water, and epic waves, it’s not shocking that surfing was invented in Hawaii. It originated over a century ago, and it’s believed that stand up paddle boarding began there as well. Surfers at Waikiki started the trend several decades ago, but it wasn’t until a more recent revival by big wave surfers that the sport began to increase in popularity.

There are no snakes in Hawaii.

If you’re scared of things that slither, Hawaii is your ideal destination. The state has a strict ban on snakes and other species that may disturb native species, including hamsters, gerbils, and squirrels. Anyone who does bring a snake in should be prepared for hefty fines and possible jail time! Hawaii also requires a quarantine period for other pets, which has prevented the transmission of rabies completely.

Articles

5 types of extra armor added to tanks during WWII

The technological evolution of warfare is cyclical. As weapons become deadlier, armor becomes stronger. As armor becomes stronger, weapons become deadlier. During WWII, tank technology rapidly advanced from small light tanks to battlefield behemoths like the German Tiger. In order to better protect themselves from enemy fire, tank crews often added extra layers of protection to their tanks. Some added armor was more effective than others, though.

1. Sandbags

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
An angry General Patton after reprimanding a tank crew for the sandbags on their Sherman (Public Domain)

Sandbags stop bullets, right? Generally, yes. Short of a high-caliber round like a .50 BMG, sandbags are able to stop bullets. Not tank shells, bullets. Still, this reality didn’t stop American tankers from fortifying the front, sides and turret of their M4 Shermans with an array of sandbags. Arguably more of a psychological armor than a protective one, Sherman crews were desperate for any advantage against the deadly German anti-tank guns they went up against. However, not only did the sandbags offer no additional protection from tank shells, but the extra weight added undue stress to the suspension and drivetrain. By the summer of 1944, General Patton himself banned the addition of sandbags on his tanks. Where sandbags did have some potential is as protection from magnetic mines. Some tank crews placed sandbags on their vehicle’s underside to deter such weapons.

2. Spare tracks

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
British tank with tracks for armor (Imperial War Museum)

Seeking additional armor, Sherman tankers took to welding spare track-links to their tanks. Like the sandbags, the tracks were applied to the front and sides of the tank hull as well as the turret. However, the effectiveness of the track armor is doubtful. Tracks were not made of armor-grade steel and offered little, if any, additional protection. In fact, the soft track steel could normalize an incoming AP round and turn it directly into a Sherman’s hull, negating the protective effect of its sloped frontal armor. Again, the added weight put extra strain on the suspension and drivetrain with dubious benefits. Still, this didn’t prevent American, British, Canadian or Polish tankers from slapping spare tracks on their tanks.

3. Logs

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
A 76mm Sherman with logs strapped to its sides (Public Domain)

Logs were another improvised armor added to tanks during WWII. However, they could also be removed from the tank and placed under the tracks in boggy terrain for additional traction. In fact, many Soviet tanks left the factory with logs mounted for this reason. As armor, however, logs did not offer much protection. Like the sandbags, a full-power AP round could penetrate a log and reach a tank’s hull armor with very little lost velocity. However, it did provide some stand-off distance to protect against shaped charged weapons. Still, the molten jet of copper created by these weapons was generally unfazed by the extra spacing of a log.

4. Spaced Armor

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
A Panzer IV H fitted with hull and turret Schürzen (Public Domain)

In order to keep a shaped charge from reaching the tank itself, a layer of armor needed to be placed far enough from the tank to give the warhead enough space to detonate harmlessly. At an angle, the extra layer of armor could also reduce the effectiveness of kinetic projectiles like tank AP shells and anti-tank rifle rounds by altering their angle of attack. Spaced armor could be mounted on the turret and/or the hull. The Germans used spaced armor extensively in the form of Schürzen. These armored skirts were fitted primarily against kinetic rounds and proved effective against light anti-tank weapons.

5. Tank armor

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
A 76mm Jumbo Sherman. Note the extra armor on the front resulting in the recessed hull-mounted ball turret. (Public Domain)

What’s the best type of extra tank armor? Actual tank armor. Although Patton banned the application of sandbags to his tanks as extra armor, crews were eventually allowed to cannibalize armor from destroyed tanks and weld it onto their own tanks. The salvaged armor was applied to weak points like hatches, ports and flat sections in general, and proved to be effective. The concept of extra armor on the Sherman culminated in the M4A3E2 “Jumbo” Sherman. From the factory, Jumbos were fitted with thicker armor on the hull front, turret, and gun mantlet. Though the extra armor slowed the tanks down by 3-4 mph, it made them nearly unkillable from the front, even by a Tiger.

Feature image: Wikimedia Commons

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a prostitute turned pirate queen defeated 3 navies at once

Ching Shih was born around 1775 in China and became a prostitute in Canton, a province in southwest China, before marrying a pirate leader, taking over his fleet, and growing it until it was able to destroy a combined fleet of Chinese, British, and Portuguese navy ships as well as Dutch mercenary vessels.


Then she accepted amnesty from the Chinese government and walked away with her ill-gotten fortune and a title as Chinese nobility.

Ching attracted the eye of Zheng Yi Sao — a pirate leader with a fleet of a few hundred ships — when she was 26 years old and working as a prostitute. Zheng became smitten with her and either proposed to her in the brothel or ordered her abducted in a raid. (Both stories have been passed forward in the years since the incident.)

 

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
Ching Shih (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

Either way, Ching agreed to marriage with a couple of specific requirements, the most important one being that she gain some control over the fleet and a share of its profits.

For the next six years, Ching and Zheng managed the “Red Flag Fleet” together. But Zheng died in a tsunami, leaving Ching in the dangerous position of being a woman atop 600 ships and their crews of outlaws.

Ching quickly struck an accord with Chang Pao, Zheng’s lieutenant and former slave who was granted control of the fleet. Ching and Chang built a new power structure for the Red Flag Fleet and grew it quickly.

Ching focused on the business dealings of the fleet and Chang led the troops in combat. They employed shallow-bottomed boats that attacked coastal villages and conducted raids in rivers while larger junks, the premiere war-fighting and commerce ship in the area at the time, raided merchant shipping and fought the Chinese navy.

 

The Navy’s first World War II ace shot down five bombers on a single mission
The Chinese Junk Keying. (Illustration: Public Domain)

 

The really revolutionary part of their partnership was Ching’s economic foresight. She extorted protection payments on a larger scale than most others and she formed a network of farmers, fisherman, and spies to keep the fleet well supplied and informed. Eventually, Ching took over control of the entire Red Flag Fleet from Chang.

The criminal network grew until it consisted of over 1,700 ships and 80,000 pirates. The bulk of the ships were still in the Red Flag Fleet, but many ships were assigned to subordinate commanders who ran the Black, White, Blue, Yellow, and Green fleets.

This massive force posed a serious threat to the Qing dynasty, which ordered a fleet constructed to destroy the pirates. Instead, Ching led the combined fleets out and easily dispatched the government forces.

Ching even captured about 63 of the Chinese ships, more than she lost of her own vessels, and pressed most of the crews into service with her own forces. She won the battle so hard, she came out of it with more forces than when she started.

Unsurprisingly, the emperor took his loss personally and ordered the Chinese navy to challenge her fleet. He enlisted the aid of the British and Portuguese navies in the effort and hired Dutch mercenaries to assist.

For the next two years, Ching’s fleets fought their way through the enemy forces, still gaining power and loot despite the ships arrayed against them.

But the writing was on the wall. The dangerous business would have to end sooner or later, and Ching wanted her and her pirates well set up for it. Some articles on Ching also point to a conflict between the Red and Black Fleets for what happened next.

The emperor offered an amnesty to draw away many of the pirates working in his territory, and Ching herself took him up on it. But, like when she married Zheng, she required a few additional incentives.

First, nearly all of her workers, from the pirates who engaged in combat to the farmers who supplied them, were to get off without punishment. Second, the government had to provide money to help the pirates transition to shore life.

Third, Ching was to receive a title in the Chinese nobility.

The government caved, and Ching got her list. At the young age of 35, only nine years after escaping a brothel in Canton, Ching was made a member of the nobility and sat on a massive fortune. She opened a gambling house and brothel in China and settled into a semi-quiet retirement.

Chang, meanwhile, wanted to keep his life on the seas and got command of 20 government ships in the deal.

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