Willie Rogers, the oldest living Tuskegee Airman, passed away Nov. 18. He was 101.
According to reports from FoxNews.com and the Huffington Post, Rogers died from complications after a recent stroke.
Rogers served in the 100th Fighter Squadron, assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group. He wasn’t one of the pilots, though. Instead, Rogers specialized in administration and logistics, according to the Huffington Post. He was wounded during a January 1943 mission.
Fliers of a P-51 Mustang Group of the 15th Air Force in Italy “shoot the breeze” in the shadow of one of the Mustangs they fly. Left to right: Lt. Dempsey W. Morgan Jr., Lt. Carroll S. Woods, Lt. Robert H. Nelson Jr., Capt. Andrew D. Turner and Lt. Clarence P. Lester. Ca. August 1944. (Courtesy National Archives)
According to the National Museum of the US Air Force, almost 1,000 Tuskegee pilots were trained to fight in World War II, and over 350 were deployed to the front lines. Over 16,000 other personnel were trained to serve in ground roles, as Rogers did during the war.
Rogers was one of about 300 Tuskegee Airmen who lived to receive the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007, with his being awarded in November 2013.
Of the Tuskegee Airmen, 32 were captured by the Nazis, and 84 were either killed in action or from other causes, including accidents or on non-combat missions. The group flew 179 bomber escort missions, of which 172 ended without any losses to the bombers. Members of that group received 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses, at least one Silver Star, and almost 750 Air Medals.
Advanced instruction turned student pilots into fighter pilots at Tuskegee Army Airfield, Ala. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The 332nd Fighter Group first flew Bell P-39 Airacobras, then transitioned to the P-40 Warhawk, then the P-47 Thunderbolt, and finally to the P-51 Mustang.
The group shot down 112 enemy aircraft, destroyed 150 more on the ground, was credited with crippling an Italian destroyer, destroyed 950 ground vehicles, and sank or destroyed 40 boats and barges.
A bomber group of Tuskegee Airmen — the 477th — was slated to have four squadrons (the 616th, 617th, 618th, and 619th Bombardment Squadrons) of B-25 Mitchells, but it never saw combat.
All four Tuskegee Airmen fighter squadrons are still active. The 99th Flying Training Squadron flies T-1A Jayhawk trainers, the 100th Fighter Squadron is an F-16 unit with the Alabama Air National Guard, and the 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons are Air Force Reserve F-22 units.
The 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing has assumed the lineage of the 332nd Fighter Group.
On Aug. 31, 1864, Union General William T. Sherman launched the final assault on Atlanta, Georgia.
Sherman’s Atlanta campaign began in the spring of that year, facing off against Confederate Generals John B. Hood, William Hardee and Joseph E. Johnston. His goal was to capture the city and cut off Southern supply lines.
In what would become known as the Battle of Jonesboro, confederate troops attempted to block Sherman’s army and were soundly defeated, forcing them to retreat from Atlanta, a demoralizing loss for the South. Sherman’s men would hold the city until November, when he began his infamous March to the Sea.
Sherman’s behavior has been notorious throughout history. The man known for burning Georgia to the ground was unforgiving to his enemies and he earned a fearsome reputation. He used Confederate POWs to clear minefields. His order was more than rushing them into the middle of the field to be blown up, however. His logic was that those troops had buried those mines near Sandersville and they should be the ones to dig them up. He did the same thing outside of Savannah later in the campaign.
A complex character, he also fed citizens from his army’s stores and allowed emancipated slaves to follow his army as it marched from Atlanta to Savannah. Sherman was very dedicated to the laws of war, even if he was pushing the envelope of those laws. He even challenged his critics to “see the books” of those laws for themselves.
With the Mobile Protected Firepower program in the testing and evaluation phase, the Army is getting closer to adding a light tank back into its inventory. The XM8 Armored Gun System was the last tank to come close to filling the role. However, it was cancelled in 1997 before it left the experimental phase. Here are 7 light tanks that did see service with the Army.
1. M1 Combat Car
The introduction of the tank during WWI changed the face of war forever. However, America didn’t have a tank of its own during the war. Instead, U.S. soldiers like George S. Patton crewed French tanks like the Renault FT-17. After the war, America got to work developing its own armored doctrine and vehicles. Light tanks were defined as weighing five tons or less so that they could be carried by trucks. Then-Chief of Staff of the Army General Douglas MacArthur promoted the mechanization of the Army to equip cavalrymen with armored fighting vehicles as well. Designated as combat cars, these light tanks allowed cavalry units to exploit opportunities on the battlefield rather than being tied to the infantry in a support role. Despite its name, the M1 Combat Car was a bonafide light tank. Developed and built by the Rock Island Arsenal, it had tracks, light armor and a turret. Armed with just one .50-cal M2 Browning machine gun and two .30-cal M1919 Browning machine guns, the M1 was not well-suited for direct combat. By the time WWII started, the M1 was obsolete. Still, it paved the way as America’s first light tank.
2. Light Tank, M2
Another inter-war design, the M2 went through a number of variants before WWII. However, the most common was the M2A4 equipped with one 37mm M5 gun and five .30-cal M1919 Browning machine guns. Before WWII, the most common variant was the M2A2. It was only equipped with machine guns. The Spanish Civil War showed that tanks armed only with machine guns were ineffective, so the U.S. added the 37mm M5 gun. By the time WWII broke out, the Army had moved on to the M3 light tank. The only American unit to field the M2 in combat was the Marine Corps’ 1st Tank Battalion.
3. M3/M5 Stuart
An evolution of the M2, the M3/M5 Stuart was the main American light tank of WWII. The tank was also supplied to British forces under the Lend-Lease Act. It was British forces who named the tank Stuart after American Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart. The M3 featured thicker armor, modified suspension, and an upgraded 37mm M6 gun over the M2. The M5 was given an updated engine and an automatic transmission. It was also quieter, cooler, and more spacious inside than the M3. Initially designated the M4 light tank, it was redesignated the M5 to prevent confusion with the M4 Sherman tank. In the African and European theaters, the Stuart was outgunned by the heavier German tanks and deadly anti-tank units. However, it excelled at traditional cavalry missions like scouting and screening. In the Pacific theater, the Stuart saw more direct action. Japanese tanks were a rare sight and were generally outgunned by American tanks. Moreover, the dense jungles of the Pacific islands were more easily navigated by the smaller M3/M5 than the larger M4 Sherman.
4. M22 Locust
Officially designated the Light Tank (Airborne), M22, the Locust was the first light tank of its kind. In 1941, the British War Office requested that America develop a light tank that could be transported via glider to support airborne troops. The result was an exceptionally small tank. Weighing just 7.4 metric tons and measuring 12 feet 11 inches long, 7 feet 1 inch wide, and 6 feet 1 inch tall, the Locust was truly a light tank. Crewed by 3 men, it was equipped with a 37mm M6 gun and one .30-cal M1919 Browning machine gun. However, the Locust was not ready to fight as soon as it landed. The turret was removed during flight in order to fit inside a glider. Upon landing, it took six men about 10 minutes to unload and assemble the Locust. As a result of this, its light armor, and small gun, the M22 performed poorly in British service during Operation Varsity in 1945. Of the eight tanks flown in to support the airborne operation, only four made it to the rendezvous point. Of those four, only two were undamaged and fit for service. Although a small number of Locusts were delivered to U.S. Army units, they never saw combat.
5. M24 Chaffee
Officially designated the Light Tank, M24, the Chaffee also owes it name to the British. While serving with the British Army, the M24 was named after U.S. General Adna R. Chaffee Jr. who is often referred to as the Father of the Armored Force for his work in developing the use of tanks in the U.S. Army. The British use of the M3 in North Africa demonstrated the shortcomings of its 37mm gun. However, the larger 75mm gun proved to be a more capable anti-tank weapon. In 1943, the Ordnance Corps started a project to develop a new light tank equipped with a 75mm gun. In order to keep the new tank under 20 tons, its light armor was heavily sloped to maximize its effectiveness. First delivered in October 1943, the M24 was equipped with a 75mm M6 main gun, one .50-cal M2 Browning machine gun, and two .30-cal M1919 Browning machine guns. The tank first saw action during the Battle of the Bulge and entered widespread use in December 1944. It was well-received for its improved off-road performance, reliability, and firepower over the M3/M5 Stuart. The M24 went on to serve during the Korean War where it suffered in direct combat but excelled in the reconnaissance and support roles alongside heavier tanks.
6. M41 Walker Bulldog
The M41 is unique in that is was developed independently by Cadillac and marketed to the U.S. military to replace the M24. First produced in 1951, the M41 was capable both as a reconnaissance vehicle thanks to its high speed and mobility, but also as a support tank with its 76mm M32A1 rifled cannon. The tank was named for the late General Walton Walker who was killed in a jeep accident in 1950. It was also the first American postwar light tank to see worldwide service and was heavily exported. Although the M41 was adopted too late to see use in the Korean War, five M41s were given to democratic Cuban forces for use during the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The Cubans received training at Fort Knox in March 1961 and were transported to Playa Girón on April 17. Despite heavy resistance, all five tanks made it ashore. Although they had initial successes, knocking out several communist T-34/85 tanks, heavy armored counterattacks meant that the tank crews expended all of their ammunition by noon. The surviving tanks were abandoned on the beach when the invasion failed.
7. M551 Sheridan
Entering service in 1967, the M551 Sheridan was a light tank developed for armored reconnaissance and airborne operations. Named for Union Civil War General Philip Sheridan, the M551 was designed to be dropped from a plane via parachute. It was also amphibious and capable of crossing rivers before heavy bridge-laying vehicles could be driven onto the battlefield. The Sheridan also featured a unique gun. Its 152mm M81 gun could fire conventional tank rounds. However, it also doubled as a launcher capable of firing the new MGM-51 Shillelagh guided anti-tank missile. The Sheridan performed well in Vietnam. Its light weight meant it was less prone to getting stuck in the mud compared to the heavier M48 Patton. The tank also excelled in direct-fire support of infantry. With its M657 High Explosive and M625 Canister rounds, it was an effective anti-personnel weapon. The Sheridan saw limited use during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. It saw its first combat air drop during Operation Just Cause in Panama where it also saw limited use. The Sheridan was retired from service in 1996 without a replacement. However, it did see limited use as a training aid for the Armored Officer Basic Course and as a simulated Soviet armored opposition force at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin until 2003.
On June 15, 1917, the United States Congress passed the Espionage Act.
Two months after entering World War I, the United States feared saboteurs and infiltrators could severely damage the American war effort. Congress sought to prevent anyone from interfering with military operation, supply, or recruitment – in any way.
The Espionage Act outlawed the sharing of information that might disrupt American intervention in the Great War. This included promoting the success of any of America’s Central Power enemies – Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire.
Violation of the Espionage Act was punishable by 20 years in prison and a $10,000 fine (about $200,000 today).
A controversial amendment known as the Sedition Act was added in 1918, which forbade the use of “disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language” about the United States government. The Sedition Act was repealed in 1921, but the rest of the Espionage Act remains largely intact to this day. The constitutionality of the law and its relationship to free speech have been contested in court since its inception.
Notable persons charged with offenses under the Act include communists Julius and EthelRosenberg and National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden, who released documents that exposed the NSA’s PRISM Surveillance Program.
Featured Image: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, separated by heavy wire screen as they leave the U.S. Court House after being found guilty by jury. (Library of Congress image)
Long before the United States was an independent nation, the people of the British Empire were constantly on guard for anything that might disrupt their way of life. This, in part, meant witches, and lots of them. Literally thousands of alleged witches were hunted down and executed under a series of witchcraft laws that made it nice and legal.
Eventually, Parliament had to step in and say enough was enough. In 1735, it passed the Witchcraft Act that made it a crime for a person to claim that any human being had magical powers or was guilty of practicing witchcraft. Surprisingly, it worked in Britain and eventually people stopped invoking the law.
That doesn’t mean the law was no longer on the books. Almost 200 years later, a self-professed medium named Helen Duncan was convicted under the Witchcraft Act of 1735, amid fears that she might actually be able to divulge intelligence about upcoming operations of World War II.
In November of 1941, Duncan held a seance in England where she claimed the ghost of a sailor aboard the HMS Barham visited her. The Barham was in the Mediterranean in 1941, fighting Axis ships attempting to cut off the resupply of the island of Malta. She was actually sunk off the coast of Egypt earlier that year. A German U-boat torpedoed the battleship, taking most of the crew down with it.
The problem was Helen Duncan wasn’t supposed to know that. The Royal Navy wouldn’t announce the sinking until 1942. The only people who were told were naval personnel and the families of those killed aboard the Barham. It caught the ears of naval intelligence, who decided to keep a close watch on Duncan the medium.
She was later arrested in January 1944 under the Witchcraft Act, an act that many believe happened because military leaders were concerned she might actually be able to talk to spirits. Some of her followers contended that superstitious military officers were afraid that, through her ghosts, she might be able to reveal the secret plans for Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe.
That might have been the case, but the nail in the coffin for Helen Duncan did come in 1944. In January of that year, two Royal Navy officers attended one of Duncan’s seances. Duncan attempted to spook one of the men by “manifesting” first his deceased aunt, and then his deceased sister. The officer’s aunts and sisters were all still very much alive.
He reported Duncan to the police, who raided one of Duncan’s later seances. They found a hat band from a sailor’s uniform supposedly manifested from the HMS Barham. But the medium’s lack of uniform regulations did her in. The hat bands of British sailors at the time only read “HMS” and not the name of the vessel on which they served.
Duncan was tried and convicted of claiming to perform fraudulent spiritual activity, defrauding people of their money and generally being a public nuisance.
The real reason for Duncan’s arrest was likely the revelation of the sinking of the HMS Barham and her sources of information. Intelligence authorities weren’t worried about her getting information from ghosts, they were worried about the very real person from which she gained classified information. Most importantly, they were concerned about how she was spreading that information.
The fight for Mosul has been expected for some time and the U.S. military has built up logistics and command and control capabilities at nearby bases to assist the Iraqis in their fight. Army Col. Brett G. Sylvia commands some of the soldiers operating in Northern Iraq. He sent a Facebook update to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team “STRIKE,” 101st Airborne Division’s families on Oct. 3 to prepare them for the Battle of Mosul:
The tireless work of STRIKE Soldiers has set the conditions for the final push against Daesh in Iraq. In the coming months, your Soldiers will advise and assist the Iraqi army from disparate locations, working together as one team towards the final objective: the liberation of Mosul, defeat of this cowardly enemy, and the establishment of a stable environment for the peace loving citizens of Iraq.
American, Iraqi, Kurdish, and other forces are expected to slowly push ISIS from the city in the coming weeks.
During the George H. W. Bush Administration, the Navy and Marine Corps were pursuing two revolutionary aircraft. One was the V-22 Osprey, a tilt-rotor intended to replace the CH-46 Sea Knight. The other was the A-12 Avenger, the planned replacement for the A-6 Intruder, the classic attack airplane made famous in the book and movie Flight of the Intruder.
Early on in the first Bush Administration, the Berlin Wall fell, thanks in no small part due to the Reagan defense build-up and more covert efforts (Peter Schweizer’s Victory tells that tale). For the world, the collapse of communism was a good thing. But for the V-22 and A-12, things started to get rough, as a “peace dividend” was eyed by politicians inside the Beltway. Then-Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney soon put both aircraft projects on the chopping block — the V-22 because of developmental test failures that resulted in several high-profile mishaps, and the A-12 for massive cost overruns well before a single airframe was ready to launch.
Congress acted to save the V-22 (over Cheney’s objections). The Marines then stuck with the plane during a lengthy RD effort. What the Marines got as a result of that decision was a game-changer, particularly when compared to the CH-46 Sea Knight, as the included graphic from the Government Accountability Office shows. The V-22 can carry half of a Marine infantry platoon almost 400 miles from its base at speeds of up to 275 knots. Compare that to the CH-46E’s 184-mile combat radius, and top speed of 166 miles per hour, and the fact it could carry only a third of a Marine infantry platoon.
Marines found the V-22 to be effective in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Air Force Special Operations Command proved their version’s mettle in a raid against ISIS in Syria. To put it bluntly, the V-22 proved Cheney wrong, while the Marines and AFSOC were rewarded for their perseverance and faith in the new technology. In fact, the V-22 could even add a new mission not planned for in the initial specs: Aerial refueling.
As we know from history, the A-12 Avenger was not so lucky. Trying to make a point with his budgeteers about fiscal responsibility, Cheney made that cut stick.
So what did the Navy lose out on? For starters, let’s look at the plane the A-12 was supposed to replace.
The A-6 Intruder was an all-weather attack plane that was designed to carry a large bomb load (up to 18,000 pounds). At the time it was designed, stealth technology and smart bombs weren’t in the picture. But the plane gave valuable service, both during the Vietnam War and Desert Storm, as well as also seeing action in smaller conflicts like the 1986 clashes with Libya and Operation Preying Mantis in 1988.
While the Avenger’s actual performance will not be known, some estimates are available, including a range of just over 900 miles, a top speed of 578 knots, and a bomb load of 5,000 pounds. Notable in this is that the plane was also slated to carry two AIM-120 AMRAAMs and two AGM-88 HARMs for self-protection in addition to its bombload.
But the real game-changer was its stealth technology. The A-12, like the F-117, B-2, and F-22, would be able to evade detection by most radars, and deliver precision-guided weapons on to targets. Would it, like the V-22, have been able to do more? Again, we will never know.
These days, developing a new combat aircraft takes longer than it used to, as the F-35, V-22, and F-22 have proven. Part of it is because that to survive in a modern environment, the aircraft is, in one sense, a flying computer, running as much on software as it does jet fuel. There is a major implication to this. When your laptop has a software hiccup, it’s an inconvenience. When a software hiccup happens on a modern combat plane, it means the loss of an airframe, and possibly the pilot as well. So, the required level of reliability gets higher, and reaching that level of reliability will take longer and cost more money.
In an age where both Russia and China have become more hostile to the United States, and their militaries are bringing new weapons systems on line, one has to wonder if the presence of the A-12 would have helped.
A UH-60 Black Hawk has crashed in southern Maryland.
According to a report by the Washington Times, the crash occurred near Leonardtown, Maryland, about 60 miles southeast of Washington, DC. The helo went down between the third and fourth holes of the Breton Bay Golf and Country Club, avoiding populated areas.
Two Maryland State Police medevac helicopters have been sent to the scene. An employee of the golf course told the Washington Times the helicopter was flying low, then started spinning.
FoxNews.com reported that the Black Hawk was based out of Fort Belvoir and had a crew of three on board. One was injured and taken to a local hospital, the other two were reported to be okay.
But missile interceptors are far from a guarantee, Lauren Grego, the senior scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said on Twitter last week.
The “single shot kill probability” of an ICBM is unknown, according to Grego, but is unlikely to be higher than a 50% even in “optimistic conditions.”
Of course, the US wouldn’t fire a single interceptor. Missile Defense Agency previously told Business Insider that in a real-world combat scenario, the US would fire multiple interceptors at a single threat.
Grego further calculated that, assuming that 50% probability, if the US shot 4 interceptors at a single threat, it would have a 94 percent chance of taking down the missile.
But North Korea would be foolish to commence nuclear war with the world’s foremost nuclear power by firing a single missile. Grego said that if North Korea fired 5 missiles, the probability that the US can defend against them all shrinks to 72 percent, even in a best-case scenario, which she called “uncomfortably high.”
Multiple missiles aren’t the only issue. North Korea could send decoys or employ countermeasures, which could confuse or disrupt US missile defenses by presenting multiple, false targets for each launch. This would effectively make missile defenses useless and allow all warheads to hit US targets unhindered.
Increasing the US’s number of interceptors beyond 44 does little to erase the fundamental problems with hit-to-kill missile defense.
“Discrimination of warheads from decoys is an unsolved but clearly fundamental issue,” wrote Grego, who sees “little point” in spending more on the already $40 billion ground-based midcourse defense before addressing its clear, conceptual limitations.
So while missile interception doesn’t promise much by way of defense yet, the best defense in nuclear war remains a good offense.
An unarmed LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBM launches during an operational test Feb. 20, 2016, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (USAF photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford)
By the time the US detected the launches and verified their origin and bearing, a salvo of more reliable, more powerful missiles would streak across the sky towards North Korea before its missiles even landed.
Moments after US cities rose into mushroom clouds, the entirety of North Korea would do the same. North Korea has no missile defenses, and could do nothing to stop the US from flattening every inch of its sovereign territory.
This assured destruction of the entirety of North Korea has a deterrent effect, making it far less likely that North Korea would ever strike the US.
Not only would the US bomb North Korea into oblivion, the US would hunt down North Korea’s leadership from hidden bunkers and caves before bringing them to justice.
For these reasons, a North Korean missile attack on the US remains unlikely, but nearly impossible to stop.
We all know that when you leave the military, it can be a cruel employment world out there.
Despite the confusion that often comes with transitioning from service, there’s potentially never been a better time to take a stab at becoming your own boss. And fortunately, there is a host of organizations out there to help former service members crack the code on starting a successful business.
At the end of March, the organizers behind VETCON are hoping their roster of A-Listers in the tech and business world will open more than a few veterans’ eyes to the opportunities out there. Billed as an “annual gathering of visionaries, hustlers, and game-changers from around the world,” the folks at VETCON say they represent a wide community of so-called “vetrepreneurs” that want to pass on their secrets to their military brethren.
“Military veteran entrepreneurs are an untapped market with huge potential,” said Ian Faison, VETCON co-founder, West Point graduate and former U.S. Army Captain. “Despite mutual interest from both venture capitalists and veteran founders, there’s never been a conference that delivers true ROI to entrepreneurs, mentors, and investors at the same time – until now.”
Hosted in Redwood City, California, this year’s VETCON is slated to feature more than 200 veteran entrepreneurs and more than 35 professional investors, including “The Godfather of Silicon Valley” Steve Blank, Mike Maples of Floodgate Ventures, Trae Stephens of the Founders Fund, as well as leaders from Andreessen Horowitz; Facebook; GrowthX; Wildcat Ventures; HubSpot; IBM; Salesforce; and Indiegogo.
Held between March 23 and March 25, the conference is intended to “develop a 30-day plan to take your business to the next level … [with] a mixture of fireside chats, workshops, solo talks, networking events, and Action Hours.”
“VETCON changes the game for veterans and investors alike,” VETCON’s Faison said. “With programming that rivals any startup event in the country, we’re catalyzing the nationwide veteran ecosystem, providing investors with genuine business opportunities and helping entrepreneurs boost their customer pipeline and raise funding faster in 2017.”
For five years, the young Special Forces officer spent most of his time in a cage and wasn’t allowed more than 40 yards from it. Limited to two cans of rice per day, Rowe and fellow prisoners would capture snakes and rats whenever they could. Rowe also tried to escape three times.
Angry at his deceit and the training he had provided South Vietnamese soldiers, the North Vietnamese sentenced Rowe to death. A Viet Cong patrol took Rowe into the jungle for the execution.
As they were heading to the execution point though, Rowe heard a flight of helicopters. He shoved a guard to the ground and sprinted into a nearby clearing, waving his arms to get the pilots’ attention.
They were American helicopters, but the first pilot to spot Rowe saw his black pajamas and nearly fired on him. Then he noticed Rowe’s beard that had grown out during his captivity. After realizing that Vietnamese men were incapable of growing a thick beard, the helicopter scooped Rowe up and carried him to safety.
Rowe returned to the states as a major. He left the military for a short period before returning in 1981 as a lieutenant colonel stationed at Fort Bragg. There, he developed the Army’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape Course using the lessons he learned in captivity.
Rowe later deployed to the Philippines as the ground forces director for the Joint U.S. Military Advisory group for the Philippines where he provided counterinsurgency training for Philippine forces.
Abraham Wald, a Jewish mathematician, was driven out of Romania and Europe by the Nazi advance and emigrated to the U.S. where he would serve in the Statistical Research Group, a bunch of egg heads who used math to make the military better at everything from firing rockets to shooting down enemy fighters. And Wald was the one who convinced the Navy that they were about to armor the completely wrong parts of their planes, saving hundreds of flight crews in the process.
To understand how Wald, sitting in New York for most of the war, saved so many lives, it’s important to understand what role academics and subject matter experts had in the war. The U.S. and Britain especially, but really all the great wartime powers, put some stock in the ability of their academics to solve tricky problems and make warfighters more efficient, more lethal, or more safe.
But Wald was a statistician, and his job was to look at wartime processes and figure out how they could be improved. Wald was still, technically, an enemy alien, so he had an odd setup at the Statistical Research Group.
As Jordan Ellenberg wrote in How Not To Be Wrong, there was a running joke in the SRG that Wald’s secretaries had to rip notepaper out of his hands as soon as he finished writing on it because he didn’t have the clearance to read his own work.
But Wald was an amazing mathematician, and it’s not like he was the type of Hungarian who might harbor sympathies for Hitler. Remember, he had fled Austria because Hitler would have had him killed, same as Albert Einstein and plenty of others. So, Wald used math to try to help the Allies kill the Axis, and he was in the SRG when the Navy came to them with a seemingly straightforward problem.
The Navy, and the Army Air Corps, was losing a lot of planes and crews to enemy fire. So, the Navy modeled where its planes showed the most bullet holes per square foot. Its officers reasoned that adding armor to these places would stop more bullets with the limited amount of armor they could add to each plane. They wanted the SRG to figure out the best balance of armor in each often-hit location.
(Adding armor adds weight, and planes can only takeoff with a certain amount of weight that needs to be balanced between plane and crew, ammo, fuel, and armor. Add too much armor, and you have a super safe bomber that can’t carry any bombs.)
But Wald picked out a flaw in their dataset that had eluded most others, a flaw that’s now known as “survivor bias.” The Navy and, really anyone else in the war, could typically only study the aircraft, vehicles, and men who survived a battle. After all, if a plane is shot down over the target, it lands on or near the target in territory the enemy controls. If it goes down while headed back to a carrier or island base, it will be lost at sea.
So the only planes the Navy was looking at were the ones that had landed back at ship or base. So, these weren’t examples of where planes were most commonly hit; they were examples of where planes could be hit and keep flying, because the crew and vital components had survived the bullet strikes.
What he found was that the Navy wanted to armor the least vulnerable parts of the plane. Basically, the Navy wasn’t seeing many hits to the engine and fuel supply, so the Navy officers decided those areas didn’t need as much protection. But Wald’s work found that those were the most vulnerable areas.
And that makes sense. After all, if you start leaking gas while still far from home, you likely won’t make it home. Have an engine destroyed even a few miles from home, and you likely won’t make it home. So the military took Wald’s work and applied armor to the areas he had defined as most vulnerable, primarily the engines, instead of putting armor on the areas with the most observed hits. And, guess what? Planes started surviving more hits.
Now, it didn’t win the war on its own, of course. Just like giving the Navy proximity fuses to make gunners more effective against enemy planes didn’t stop every Japanese dive bomber or Kamikaze attack, the armor didn’t save every plane and crew.
But winning a war isn’t about winning every engagement. It’s about paying less than you are willing to pay for victory and suffering less than you’re willing to suffer for each defeat. If you can do that, you’ll eventually win.