Oregon Sen. Edward Dickinson Baker was a veteran of the Mexican-American War, friend of President Abraham Lincoln, and respected legislator when he appeared before the Senate in full military uniform and delivered an impassioned speech on the Union cause to his colleagues.
Baker’s “Call to Arms” became famous and included the impassioned line:
We will rally the people, the loyal people, of the whole country. They will pour forth their treasure, their money, their men, without stint, without measure!
This was the second time that Baker had addressed the American legislature in uniform. Before shipping off to the Mexican-American War, Baker was a representative from Illinois and had addressed the House of Representatives in full dress.
Unfortunately for Baker, his Civil War adventure did not go as well as his trip to Mexico.
On Oct. 20, 1861, he and his brigade camped along the Potomac River. Another unit was sent at night to scout enemy positions on the other side and reported that they had spotted a Confederate camp that was completely unguarded.
A force was raised to attack the camp but it discovered that the “rows of tents” spotted by the scouts had actually seen a row of short trees that they confused for tents in the dark. Confederate sentries spotted the Union troops and quickly set up a skirmish line.
Baker was sent to figure out what was going on and take command of the Union forces in the battle. He and his men began moving across the river but there were precious few boats to ferry troops.
Active duty service by congress members was banned by the War Department in World War II. Modern legislators are forbidden from serving on active duty by the Incompatability Clause of the Constitution which prevents members of Congress from holding office in another branch of government.
The Allied invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, was the largest amphibious invasion in history. The scale of the assault was unlike anything the world had seen before or will most likely ever see again.
By that summer, the Allies had managed to slow the forward march of the powerful German war machine. The invasion was an opportunity to begin driving the Nazis back.
The invasion is unquestionably one of the greatest undertakings in military history. By the numbers, here’s what it took to pull this off.
• Around 7 million tons of supplies, including 450,000 tons of ammunition, were brought into Britain from the US in preparation for the invasion.
• War planners laying out the spearhead into continental Europe created around 17 million maps to support the operation.
• Training for D-Day was brutal and, in some cases, deadly. During a live-fire rehearsal exercise in late April 1944, German fast attack craft ambushed Allied forces, killing 749 American troops.
American troops landing on beach in England during Exercise Tiger, a rehearsal for the invasion of Nazi-occupied France.
(United States Library of Congress)
• D-Day began just after midnight with Allied air operations. 11,590 Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties during the invasion, delivering airborne troops to drop points and bombing enemy positions.
• 15,500 American and 7,900 British airborne troops jumped into France behind enemy lines before Allied forces stormed the beaches.
• 6,939 naval vessels, including 1,213 naval combat ships, 4,126 landing ships, 736 ancillary craft and 864 merchant vessels, manned by 195,700 sailors took part in the beach assault.
Allied landing craft underway to the beaches of Normandy.
(Universal History Archive)
• 132,715 Allied troops, among which were 57,500 Americans and 75,215 British and Canadian forces, landed at five beaches in Normandy.
• 23,250 US troops fought their way ashore at Utah Beach as 34,250 additional American forces stormed Omaha Beach. 53,815 British troops battled their way onto Gold and Sword beaches while 21,400 Canadian troops took Juno Beach.
• The US casualties for D-Day were 2,499 dead, 3,184 wounded, 1,928 missing, and 26 captured. British forces suffered about 2,700 casualties while the Canadian troops had 946.
Troops in an LCVP landing craft approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
• Total casualties for both sides in the Battle of Normandy (June 6 – 25, 1944) were approximately 425,000.
• By the end of June 11 (D+5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been unloaded in France. By the end of the war, those figures would increase to 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles, and 4 million tons of additional supplies.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Believe it or not, some of the greatest pioneers in the use of military helicopters were Coast Guardsmen. These early breakthroughs took place during World War II when the Navy was too busy expanding traditional carrier operations to focus on rotary wing, and the Army had largely sequestered helicopters to an air commando group. The Coast Guard, meanwhile, was working on what would be the first-ever helicopter carrier.
USCGC Governor Cobb underway after its conversion into a helicopter carrier.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
Obviously, we’re talking about a ship that carries helicopters, not an aircraft carrier that flies like a helicopter. The Avengers aren’t real (yet).
The potential advantages of helicopters in military operations were clear to many of the military leaders who witnessed demonstrations in the early 1940s. Igor Sikorsky had made the first practical helicopter flight in 1939, and the value of an aircraft that could hover over an enemy submarine or take off and land in windy or stormy weather was obvious.
But the first helicopters were not really up to the most demanding missions. For starters, they simply didn’t have the power to carry heavy ordnance. And it would take years to build up a cadre of pilots to plan operations, conduct staff work, and actually fly the missions.
The Army was officially given lead on testing helicopters and developing them for wartime use, but they were predominantly interested in using it for reconnaissance with a secondary interest in rescuing personnel in areas where liaison planes couldn’t reach.
So, the Coast Guard, which wanted to develop the helicopter for rescues at sea and for their own portion of the anti-submarine fight, saw a potential opening. They could pursue the maritime uses of helicopters if they could just get a sign off from the Navy and some money and/or helicopters.
The commandant of the Coast Guard, Vice Adm. Russell R. Waesche, officially approved Coast Guard helicopter development in June 1942. In February 1943, he convinced Chief of Naval Operations Navy Adm. Ernest King to direct that the Coast Guard had the lead on maritime helicopter development. Suddenly, almost every U.S. Navy helicopter was controlled by the Coast Guard.
A joint Navy-Coast Guard board began looking into the possibilities with a focus on anti-submarine warfare per King’s wishes. They eventually settled on adapting helicopters to detect submarines, using their limited carrying capacity for sensors instead of depth charges or a large crew. They envisioned helicopters that operated from merchant ships and protected convoys across the Atlantic and Pacific.
The Coast Guard quickly overhauled the steam-powered passenger ship named Governor Cobb into CGC Governor Cobb, the first helicopter carrier. The Coast Guard added armor, a flight deck, 10 guns of various calibers, and depth charges. Work was completed in May 1943, and the first detachment of pilots was trained and certified that July.
Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Frank A. Erickson stands beside an HNS-1 Hoverfly and his co-pilot Lt. Walter Bolton sits within.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
The early tests showed that the HNS-1 helicopters were under-powered for rough weather and anti-submarine operations, but were exceedingly valuable in rescue operations. This was proven in January 1944 when a destroyer exploded between New Jersey and New York. Severe weather grounded fixed-wing aircraft, but Coast Guard pilot Lt. Cmdr. Frank A. Erickson took off in an HNS-1s.
He strapped two cases of plasma to the helicopter and took off in winds up to 25 knots and sleet, flew between tall buildings to the hospital and dropped off the goods in just 14 minutes. Because the only suitable pick-up point was surrounded by large trees, Erickson had to fly backward in the high winds to get back into the air.
According to a Coast Guard history:
“Weather conditions were such that this flight could not have been made by any other type of aircraft,” Erickson stated. He added that the flight was “routine for the helicopter.” The New York Times lauded the historic flight stating: It was indeed routine for the strange rotary-winded machine which Igor Sikorsky has brought to practical flight, but it shows in striking fashion how the helicopter can make use of tiny landing areas in conditions of visibility which make other types of flying impossible….Nothing can dim the future of a machine which can take in its stride weather conditions such as those which prevailed in New York on Monday.
Still, it was clear by the end of 1944 that a capable anti-submarine helicopter would not make it into the fight in time for World War II, so the Navy slashed its order for 210 helicopters down to 36, just enough to satisfy patrol tasks and the Coast Guard’s early rescue requirements.
This made the helicopter carrier Governor Cobb surplus to requirements. It was decommissioned in January 1946. The helicopter wouldn’t see serious deployment with the Navy’s fleet until Sikorsky sent civilian pilots in 1947 to a Navy fleet exercise and successfully rescued four downed pilots in four events.
But the experiment proved that the helicopters could operate from conventional carriers, no need for a dedicated ship. Today, helicopters can fly from ships as small as destroyers and serve in roles from search and rescue to anti-submarine and anti-air to cargo transportation.
War is brutal. It makes people do harsh things. Then, it makes the other side retaliate against those harsh things. But war is also a fight with rules and when sides don’t play by those rules, tempers flare, emotions run high, and that’s when the sh*t really starts to fly.
Now, the third Geneva Convention governs the treatment of POWs. No POW can be tried for fighting in war, though they can be tried for war crimes — but they certainly aren’t supposed to be executed immediately. Unfortunately, not everyone follows the laws of armed conflict like they should.
The following 7 troops would be executed immediately after capture.
7. Anyone with a trench gun.
During WWI, American troops used what came to be known as a “trench broom,” a Winchester model 1897, modified for trench warfare. The shotgun fired buckshot pellets and could be slamfired, meaning if the user holds the trigger as he pumps a new round in the chamber, the round will fire automatically. Needless to say, the trench broom killed a lot of Germans.
The Germans lodged a formal protest against the use of the weapon, saying it was illegal under the 1907 Hague Convention definition of any “arms, projections, or materials calculated to cause unnecessary suffering.” When the American continued using it, the German High Command threatened that any POW found with a trench gun or trench gun shells would be shot on site.
This one’s another Hitler order. The man was not a fan of Communism and so issued the “Commissar Order,” which stated that Soviet political officers captured on the Eastern Front would be separated from their units and executed. He believed their sole purposed was to spread “Judeo-Bolshevism” and that they needed to be eradicated.
The order extended to anyone in the Soviet service who either bought into Bolshevism or was there to spread the ideology.
Countries don’t like it when soldiers only fight for money. You at least need to have a flag to which you pledge your allegiance. It doesn’t matter if you’re an American — if you’re not fighting with the American army, you better not get captured.
In 1976, four mercenaries – including one American Vietnam veteran who was recruited in Soldier of Fortune Magazine — were captured fighting against the government in Angola’s civil war. When captured, then-President Agostinho Neto ordered their execution, ignoring clemency pleas from the Pope, Queen Elizabeth, and Henry Kissinger.
Yeah, it’s on here twice. The flamethrower was a nasty weapon. If I were a troop where facing a flamethrower was a possibility, I’d be scared sh*tless, too. But the flamethrower guy didn’t ask to be given the flamethrower. I mean, I assume… who’s going to ask to carry around a very shootable tank full of explosively flammable liquid that only gives you about six or seven seconds of firepower?
There’s no “stop drop and roll” when you’re covered in napalm. So, it was pretty well-known that every side hated you so much they would shoot you just for being the guy with the flamethrower. For the Nazis, this extended to flamethrower tank crews.
1. The Waffen SS.
It was not an official order, but among the Allied ground troops, there is a ton of anecdotal evidence that captured Waffen SS members were usually “shot while trying to escape.”
The Russians hated them because they found many of their Eastern Front POWs in concentration camps, shot or slowly worked to death. The Canadians hated the SS for the Ardennes Abbey Massacre. The SS slaughtered American POWs at Malmedy during the Battle of the Bulge. British and French POWs were massacred numerous times by Waffen SS troops.
World War II was a time of great hardship for our military and our country. But in that hardship, the U.S. military found improvements in technology and training to address how we moved our wounded around inside and out of the theater of operations, away from combat situations.
In the first world war, there was no system in place to rapidly evacuate the wounded or injured. The survival rate of the critically injured dwindled, while those that did survive waited to be sent home to their families.
To make matters worse, the wounded did not leave the point of injury until the war was almost over (this could have be upwards from 6-12 months). Field hospitals had to be set up near the battlefield and the injured were cared for by the women of the Army Nurse Corps until the fighting had come to a halt, or they made a significant recovery.
At the beginning of WWII, it was clear that there needed to be a system or operation set up to help bring our wounded back to home station safer, faster, and more efficiently.
Luckily, a woman named Lauretta Schimmoler, one of the first female pilots (and the first woman to command an American Legion Post), had an idea to use airplanes as ambulances (picture a giant ambulance in the sky). She founded the Aerial Nurse Corps of America and created a system that trained flight nurses who specialize in patient aircraft setup and medicine. They would provide expert care to the injured as they were transported back to home station.
The military also needed to find aircraft that could support that kind of movement from wherever they were in the war. But there was no aircraft at the time that was specially built for aeromedical evacuation. So the Army Air Forces appointed certain aircraft already in circulation to perform the task. The C-54 Skymaster, C-64 Norseman, and the C-87 Liberator express were some of the planes utilized for aeromedical evacuation.
Schimmoler’s model of patient care and flight nurse program set the foundation for current-day aeromedical operations and drastically improved the survival rates of troops in WWII (although she didn’t get recognition until 1966). Without the development of Nurse Aerial Nurse Corps of America, AE would not have been born into existence and our troops today might still be waiting out wars in field hospitals.
In 1928, the Army asked itself how it could make its rifles, and therefore its riflemen, more lethal in case all those building tensions in Europe and Asia eventually boiled over and triggered a new world war. After years of study and design, they came up with a rifle design that some leaders thought would be capable of tipping battles, but it never saw combat.
This allowed the weapon to fire reliably, and it allowed infantrymen and cavalrymen to maintain a high rate of fire. A demonstration of the weapon pleased senior Army leaders, and they asked when they could take prototypes to the field for testing.
But the Pedersen did have some drawbacks. The weapon was very precisely machined, and even small errors could throw off its operation. Also, its rounds had to receive a thin coating of wax to guarantee that they’d properly feed through the weapon. Finally, its clips could only be fed in one direction into the rifle, meaning riflemen reloading under fire would have to be careful to get it right.
So, other weapon designers thought they had a chance to win the Army’s business. Other .276-caliber designs entered competition, including the Garand.
The Garand could take a beating, was easier to manufacture, and didn’t need lubricated rounds. The Pedersen was still the frontrunner in many eyes, but the Garand posed a real threat to it.
An even greater blow to the Pedersen was coming. As the move to a .276-caliber continued, the Army Ordnance Department was putting up fierce resistance. The department didn’t want to have to set up the whole new supply chain, get the new tools, or prepare the new stockpiles of ammunition required to support the switch.
The Ordnance Department argued, successfully, to Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur that the change would be expensive and present logistics challenges. MacArthur ordered that any new rifle had to use the .30-caliber ammunition already in use by the Army.
Most of the competitors, including Pedersen, didn’t think they could re-configure their weapons quickly to accept the larger ammunition, but the Garand team could. They quickly swapped in new parts, and entered a .30-caliber Garand and it won the competition, going on to become the M1 Garand of World War II legend.
A U.S. Marine with his trusty M1 Garand in World War II.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
But it’s easy to imagine an alternate history where the Pedersen or the .276-Garand went into production instead. The .30-caliber ammunition and older weapons would’ve still seen action, sent forward with Free French, British, and Russian forces under the Cash-and-Carry system and then Lend-Lease.
Meanwhile, American troops would’ve carried a slightly lighter rifle and much lighter rounds, giving them the ability to more quickly draw their weapons and the ability to sustain a higher rate of fire with the same strain on individual soldiers and the logistics chain.
And, best of all, more lethality per hit. The .30-caliber rounds, the same size as 7.62mm, are more likely to pass through a target at the ranges in which most battles are fought. But .276-caliber rounds are more likely to tumble a time or two after hitting a target, dispersing their energy in the target’s flesh and causing massive internal bleeding.
So, if the 1928 Ordnance Board and the modern minds behind 5.56mm and the potential 6.8mm weapons were right, each successful rifle hit by American soldiers was more likely to cause death or extreme wounding.
The universe has been finding ways to mess with people long before Edward A. Murphy uttered his famed statement in the aftermath of Dr. John Paul Stapp strapping himself onto a rocket powered sled. One of the earliest instances of this “law” being stated explicitly happened in 1877 where Alfred Holt, in an address to the Institution of Civil Engineers, said, “It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later…”
By 1908, it had become a well-loved maxim among magicians as well, as explained by Nevil Maskelyne in The Magic Circular: “It is an experience common to all men to find that, on any special occasion . . . everything that can go wrong will go wrong…”
This was reiterated by Adam Hull Shirk in The Sphinx in 1928, “It is an established fact that in nine cases out of ten whatever can go wrong in a magical performance will do so.”
This all brings us to our unsung hero of the hour, Dr. John Paul Stapp — a man whose work has saved hundreds of thousands of lives since, and who Joseph Kittinger — who famously did a high altitude jump from 102,800 ft — called the “bravest man I’ve ever met… He knew the effects of what he was getting himself into… And he never hesitated.”
Dr. John Paul Stapp.
Born in Brazil, the son of American missionaries there, Stapp eventually became an English major in college, but he changed career paths due to a traumatic incident that occurred during his Christmas break of 1928 when a 2 year old cousin of his was severely burned in a fireplace. Stapp helped to try to nurse the child back to health, but efforts failed and, 63 hours after getting burned, the toddler died. Said Stapp, “It was the first time I had ever seen anyone die. I decided right then I wanted to be a doctor.”
Unable to afford to go to medical school initially, after he earned a Master’s Degree in Zoology, he instead started teaching chemistry and zoology at Decatur College in Texas while he saved up money. Two years later, he attended the University of Texas where he got a PhD in Biophysics. Next up, he went to the University of Minnesota Medical School and got a Doctor of Medicine degree while working as a research assistant there.
Initially planning on becoming a pediatrician, Stapp changed career paths after joining the Army Medical Corps during WWII. While working as a flight surgeon, among other things, he was heavily involved in designing high altitude oxygen systems as well as studying the effects of high altitude/high speed flight on the human body. The end goal of all of this was to create better safety systems for pilots. During this time, he became puzzled at how some people would survive crashes, even extreme ones, while others in similar or lesser crashes would receive fatal injuries.
This all brings us around to Project MX-981 at the Edwards Air Force Base in 1945.
Up until this point, the prevailing theory was that a human body could not withstand more than 18Gs of force without suffering a fatal injury. The problem here was that airplanes of the age were flying faster and higher than ever. As such, the military wanted to know if their pilots could safely eject at these high velocities without being killed, as well as to try to design the safest possible system for doing so.
Testing towards this end was overseen by Dr. Stapp, using a rocket powered sled called the “Gee Whiz”. This was placed on rails on a 2000 foot track, at the end of which was an approximately 50 foot long section where a hydraulic braking system would stop the 1500 lb sled in its tracks.
Stapp rides the rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base.
The passenger aboard the cart was to initially be a 185 lb dummy named Oscar Eightball and then later chimpanzees. Stapp, however, had other ideas. He wanted to see what an actual human could handle, stating of Oscar Eightball at the project’s onset, “You can throw this away. I’m going to be the test subject.”
David Hill, who was in charge of collecting the test data throughout the experiments and making sure all the telemetry gear stayed working, said of this, they all thought Dr. Stapp must be joking as “We had a lot of experts come out and look at our situation. And there was a person from M.I.T. who said, if anyone gets 18 Gs, they will break every bone in their body. That was kind of scary.”
Dr. Stapp, however, used his extensive knowledge of human physiology, as well as analyzing various crashes where people must have survived more than 18Gs of force, and determined the 18G limit was absurdly low if a proper restraint system was designed and used.
That said, Dr. Stapp wasn’t stupid, but rather an excellent and meticulous researcher, who would soon earn the nickname, “The Careful Daredevil”.
Thus, step one was first to design a proper restraint system and work out all the kinks in the testing apparatus. Towards this end, they conducted nearly three dozen trial runs using the dummy, which turned out to be for the best. For example, in test run number one, both the main and secondary braking systems didn’t work owing to the triggering teeth breaking off, and, instead of stopping, Gee Whiz and Oscar Eightball shot off the tracks into the desert. Funny enough, after the teeth were beefed up, the braking cams engaged, but themselves immediately broke…
In yet another catastrophic failure, the forces were so extreme that Oscar broke free from his restraints. The result of this was his rubber face literally being ripped off thanks to the windscreen in front of his head. As for the rest of his body, it went flying through the air well over 700 feet (over 200 meters) from where the Gee Whiz stopped.
This brings us to about two years into the project on December 10, 1947 when Dr. Stapp decided it was his turn to be the dummy.
Initially strapping himself in facing backwards — a much safer way to experience extreme G-forces — the first run with a human aboard was a rather quaint 10Gs during the braking period.
After this, they continued to improve the restraint system as Dr. Stapp slowly ramped up the Gs all the way to 35 within six months of that first run. He stated of this, “The men at the mahogany desks thought the human body would never take 18 Gs; here we’re taking twice that with no sweat!”
And by “no sweat”, of course, he no doubt meant that throughout the tests, he’d suffered a hemorrhaged retina, fractured rib, lost several fillings from his teeth, got a series of concussions, cracked his collarbone, developed an abdominal hernia, developed countless bloody blisters caused by sand hitting his skin at extreme velocities, severe bruising, shattering his wrists, and fracturing his coccyx. But, you know, “no sweat”.
While recovering, if further tests needed conducting in the interim, he did begin allowing other volunteers to do the job, but as soon as he was healthy enough again, Dr. Stapp was back in the seat instead. One of his coworkers on the project, George Nichols, stated that Stapp couldn’t bare the idea of someone being seriously injured or killed in experiments he was conducting, so whenever possible made himself the guinea pig instead.
Of course, in order for the research to be as useful as possible and for other scientists to believe what Dr. Stapp was managing to endure, extremely accurate sensors were needed, which is where one Captain Edward A. Murphy comes in.
For a little background on Murphy, beyond very briefly helping out on this project, the highlights of his career included working on the SR-71, XB-70 Valkyrie, X-15 rocket plane, and helping to design the life support system for the Apollo missions.
Going back to Dr. Stapp’s project, at the time Murphy was working on a separate project at Wright Field involving centrifuge, including designing some new sensor systems in the process. When Dr. Stapp heard about this, he asked if Murphy wouldn’t mind adapting the sensors for use in Project MX-981, to which Murphy happily complied. More specifically, Murphy’s sensor system would allow them to directly measure the G forces on the passenger, rather than relying on measuring the G forces on the sled body itself.
Now, before we go any further, we should point out that exact details of what occurred over the two days Murphy was directly involved in the project have been lost to history, despite many first hand accounts from several people. You might think it would make it easy to sort out given this, but human memory being what it is, the accounts from those who were there vary considerably.
This acrobatic airplane is pulling up in a +g maneuver; the pilot is experiencing several g’s of inertial acceleration in addition to the force of gravity.
Illustrating this point in the most poignant way possible we have a quote from Chuck Yeager, who was good friends with Dr. Stapp. In the quote, Yeager was responding to the widely reported idea that Yeager had sought out Dr. Stapp to clear him for his famous flight where he broke the sound barrier. As to why he chose Dr. Stapp, Yeager supposedly felt that no other doctor but Stapp would clear him on account of Yeager’s supposedly broken ribs.
Yeager’s response to this almost universally reported story is as follows: “That’s a bunch of crap!… That’s the way rumors get started, by these people…who weren’t even there…”
He goes on,
that’s the same kind of crap…you get out of guys who were not involved and came in many years after. It’s just like Tom Brokaw’s book if you’ll pardon the analogy here, about the best of the breed or something like that. Well, every guy who wrote his story about World War II did it fifty years after it happened. I’m a victim of the same damn thing. I tell it the way I remember it, and that’s not the way it happened. I go back and I read a report that I did 55 years ago and I say, hmm, I’d better tell that story a little bit different. Well, that’s human nature. You tell it the way you believe it and that’s not necessarily the way that it happened. There’s nothing more true than that.
During this impressive and extremely accurate rant about how difficult it is to get an accurate report of some historic event, even from those who were there, he notes of those writing about these things after, “Guys become, if you’ll pardon my expression, sexual intellectuals. You know what the phrase is for that? Sexual intellectuals. They’re fucking know-it-alls, that’s what.”
And, we’re not going to lie, we mostly just included that little anecdote because we’re pretty sure “Sexual Intellectuals (Fucking Know-It-Alls)” is the greatest description of the staff and subscribers of TodayIFoundOut we’ve ever come across, and we kind of wish we’d named the channel that (and are pretty sure we’re going to make a t-shirt out of it…)
In any event, that caveat about the inherent inaccuracy of reporting history out of the way, this finally brings us around to the story of how Murphy and his law became a thing.
The general story that everybody seems to agree on is that Murphy or another worker there installed Murphy’s sensors and then a chimpanzee was strapped into the sled to test them out. (Note here, that years later in an interview with People Magazine, Murphy would claim it was Dr. Stapp that was strapped in.) After the test run, however, they found the sensors hadn’t worked at all, meaning the whole expensive and dangerous test had been run for nothing.
As to exactly why the sensors hadn’t worked, there are a few versions of this tale. As for the aforementioned David Hill, he states that it was one of his own assistants, either Jerry Hollabaugh or Ralph DeMarco, he couldn’t remember which, who installed the sensors incorrectly. As Hill explained in an interview with Nick T. Spake, author of the book A History of Murphy’s Law, “If you take these two over here and add them together. You get the correct amount of G-forces. But if you take these two and mount them together, one cancels the other out and you get zero.”
Cover of “A History of Murphy’s Law.”
George Nichols, however, claimed Hill and DeMarco had both double checked the wiring before hand, but had missed that it had been wired up backwards. That said, Nichols stated it wasn’t DeMarco nor Hill’s fault, as the wiring had been done back at Wright Field by Murphy’s team.
Said Nichols, “When Murphy came out in the morning, and we told him what happened… he was unhappy…” Stating, “If that guy [his assistant] has any way of making a mistake… He will.”
Nichols, however, blamed Murphy as Murphy should have examined the sensor system before hand to ensure it had been wired correctly, as well as tested the sensors before they were ever installed in the sled, and on top of it all should have given them time to test everything themselves before a live run on the sled. However, as Murphy was only to be there for two days, he’d supposedly rushed them. Nichols stated this inspired the team to not repeat Murphy’s mistakes.
Said Nichols, “If it can happen, it will happen… So you’ve got to go through and ask yourself, if this part fails, does this system still work, does it still do the function it is supposed to do? What are the single points of failure? Murphy’s Law established the drive to put redundancy in. And that’s the heart of reliability engineering.”
Hill also claims this ultimately morphed into the mantra among the group, “if anything can go wrong, it will.”
As for Murphy himself, years later in an interview with People Magazine, he would state what he originally said was, “If there’s more than one way to do a job, and one of those ways will result in disaster, then somebody will do it that way.” He then claimed when Dr. Stapp heard this, directly after the failed sled run, he shortened it and called it “Murphy’s Law”, saying “from now on we’re going to have things done according to Murphy’s Law.”
In yet another interview, Murphy painted an entirely different picture than accounts from Hill and Nichols’, stating he’d sent the sensors ahead of time, and had only gone there to investigate when they’d malfunctioned. He stated when he looked into it, “they had put the strain gauges on the transducers ninety degrees off.”
Importantly here, contrary to what the other witnesses said of how Murphy had blamed his assistant, in the interview, Murphy said it was his own fault, “I had made very accurate drawings of the thing for them, and discussed it with the people who were going to make them… but I hadn’t covered everything. I didn’t tell them that they had positively to orient them in only one direction. So I guess about that time I said, ‘Well, I really have made a terrible mistake here, I didn’t cover every possibility.’ And about that time, Major Stapp says, ‘Well, that’s a good candidate for Murphy’s Law’. I thought he was going to court martial me. But that’s all he said.”
Murphy then went on to explain to the interviewer that he actually didn’t remember the exact words he said at the time, noting “I don’t remember. It happened thirty five years ago, you know.”
This might all have you wondering how exactly this statement that nobody seemed to be able to remember clearly came to be so prevalent in public consciousness?
John Paul Stapp Fastest man on Earth – rocket sled Pilot safety equipment 1954
It turns out, beyond being incredibly brave, brilliant, and hell-bent on saving lives, even if it cost him his own, Dr. Stapp was also hilarious from all accounts from people describing him. He even wrote a book with jokes and various witty sayings called For Your Moments of Inertia. For example, “I’m as lonely as a cricket with arthritis.” or “Better a masochist than never been kissed…”
Or how about this gem from an interview where he was asked about any lasting effects on him as a result of the experiments — Dr. Stapp wryly responded, the only residual negative effect was “all the lunches and dinners I have to go to now…”
Beyond all this, he was also a collector of “Laws”, even coming up with one of his own, Stapp’s Law — “The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.”
When collecting these laws, he would name them after the person he heard them from, though often re-wording them to be more succinct, which, for whatever it’s worth, seems to align most closely to Murphy’s own account of how “his” law came about.
And as for this then becoming something the wider public found out about, during one of his interviews about the project, Dr. Stapp was asked, “How is it that no one has been severely injured — or worse — during your tests?”
It was here that Stapp stated, he wasn’t too worried about it because the entire team adhered to “Murphy’s Law”. He then explained that they always kept in mind that whatever could go wrong, would, and thus, extreme effort was made to think up everything that could go wrong and fix it before the test was actually conducted.
Going back to Project MX-981, having now reached 35 Gs after 26 runs by himself and several others by 11 volunteers, Dr. Stapp needed a faster sled. After all, at this point humans were flying at super sonic speeds and whether or not they could survive ejecting at those speeds needed to be known.
Enter the Sonic Wind at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico. This sled could use up to 12 rockets capable of producing a combined 50,000 pounds of thrust, resulting in speeds as high as 750 mph. The track was about 3,550 feet long, with the braking system using water scoops. The braking could then be varied by raising or lowering the water level slightly.
This now brings us to December 10, 1954, when Dr. Stapp would pull off his most daring and final experiment.
Previous to this run, Dr. Stapp stated, “I practiced dressing and undressing with the lights out so if I was blinded I wouldn’t be helpless”, as he assumed he would probably be blind afterwards, if he survived at all. He would also state when he was sitting there waiting for the rockets to be fired, “I said to myself, ‘Paul, it’s been a good life.'”
In order to stop his arms and legs from flapping involuntarily in the wind during the test, they were securely strapped down and a mouth guard was inserted to keep his teeth from breaking off.
All set, he then blasted off on his 29th and final sled run, using nine solid fuel rockets, capable of producing 40,000 pounds of thrust.
As an interesting aside here, beyond ground based cameras, none other than Joe Kittinger piloted a T-33 over head with a photographer in back filming it.
As for the sled, it accelerated from 0 up to 632 miles per hour (1,017 kilometers per hour) in a mere 5 seconds, resulting in about 20 Gs of force on the acceleration phase. Then, in the span of just 1.4 seconds, he came to a full stop, experiencing 46.2 G’s of force in the other direction, meaning his body weighed almost 7,000 pounds at the peak G force! In the process, he had also set the record for highest landspeed of any human.
Col. John Paul Stapp aboard the “Gee Whiz” rocket sled at Edwards Air Force Base.
(Air Force photo)
Said Kittinger of watching this, “He was going like a bullet… He went by me like I was standing still, and I was going 350 mph… I thought, that sled is going so damn fast the first bounce is going to be Albuquerque. I mean, there was no way on God’s earth that sled could stop at the end of the track. No way. He stopped in a fraction of a second. It was absolutely inconceivable that anybody could go that fast and then just stop, and survive.”
Nevertheless, when he was unstrapped from the chair, Dr. Stapp was alive, but as Nichols would observe, “His eyes had hemorrhaged and were completely filled with blood. It was horrible. Absolutely horrible.”
As for Dr. Stapp, he would state, it felt “like being assaulted in the rear by a fast freight train.” And that on the deceleration phase, “I felt a sensation in the eyes…somewhat like the extraction of a molar without anesthetic.”
He had also cracked some ribs, broken his wrists, and had some internal injuries to his respiratory and circulatory systems.
And on the note of his eyes, he was initially blind after, with it assumed that his retinas had detached. However, upon investigation, it was determined they had not, and within a few hours his sight mostly came back, with minor residual effects on his vision that lasted the rest of his life.
Apparently not knowing when to quit, once he had healed up, he planned yet another experiment to really see the limits of human endurance via strapping himself to that same sled and attempting to reach 1,000 mph this time…
When asked why, he stated, “I took my risks for information that will always be of benefit. Risks like those are worthwhile.”
To lead up to this, he conducted further experiments, going all the way up to 80Gs with a test dummy, at which point the Sonic Wind itself ripped off the tracks and was damaged.
It is probably for the best that it was here that his superiors stepped in. As you might imagine given his end goal was seemingly to figure out the extreme upper limit of G forces a human could survive with a perfected restraint system, and to use himself as the guinea pig until he found that limit, Dr. Stapp had previously run into the problem of his superiors ordering him to stop and instead to use chimpanzees exclusively. But while he did occasionally use chimpanzees, he went ahead and ignored the direct order completely. After all, he needed to be able to feel it for himself or be able to talk to the person experiencing the effects of the extreme Gs to get the best possible data. And, of course, no better way to find out what a human could take than use a human.
Rather than getting in trouble, he ultimately got a promotion thanks to the extreme benefits of his work. However, after his 46.2G run, they decided to shut down the experiment altogether as a way to get him to listen. After all, he had already achieved the intended goal of helping to develop better restraint and ejection systems, and proved definitively that a human could survive ejecting at the fastest speeds aircraft of the day could travel.
Now, at this point you might be thinking that’s all quite impressive, but that’s not Dr. Stapp helping to save “hundreds of thousands” of lives as we stated before. So how did he do that?
Well, during the experiments, Dr. Stapp became acutely aware that with a proper restraint system, most car accidents should be survivable, yet most cars of the age not only didn’t have any restraint systems whatsoever, they also were generally designed in ways to maximize injury in a crash with unforgiving surfaces, strong frames and bodies that would not crumple on impact, doors that would pop open in crashes, flinging occupants out, etc.
In fact, Dr. Stapp frequently pointed out to his superiors that they lost about as many pilots each year to car accidents as they did in the air. So while developing great safety systems in the planes was all well and good, they’d save a lot of lives simply by installing a restraint system into the cars of all their pilots and requiring they use them.
The military didn’t take this advice, but Dr. Stapp wasn’t about to give up. After all, tens of thousands of people each year in the U.S. alone were dying in car accidents when he felt many shouldn’t have. Thus, in nearly every interview he gave about his famous experiments almost from the very beginning of the project, he would inevitably guide the conversation around to the benefits of what they were doing if adopted in automobiles.
Not stopping there, he went on a life-long public campaign talking to everyone from car manufacturers to politicians, trying to get it required that car manufacturers include seat belts in their vehicles, as well as sharing his team’s data and restraint system designs.
Beyond that, he used his clout within the Air Force to convince them to allow him to conduct a series of experiments into auto safety, test crashing cars in a variety of ways using crash test dummies and, in certain carefully planned tests, volunteer humans, to observe the effects. This was one of the first times anyone had tried such a scientifically rigorous, broad look into commercial automobile safety. He also tested various restraint systems, in some tests subjecting the humans to as high as a measured 28 Gs. Results in hand, in May of 1955 he held a conference to bring together automobile engineers, scientists, safety council members and others to come observe the tests and learn of the results of his team’s research.
He then repeated this for a few years until Stapp was reassigned by the Air Force, at which point he requested Professor James Ryan of the University of Minnesota host the 4th annual such event, which Ryan then named the “Stapp Car-Crash and Field Demonstration Conference”, which is still held today.
Besides this and other ways he championed improvement in automobile safety, he also served as a medical advisor for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, in both heavily pushing for better safety systems.
It is no coincidence that not long after Dr. Stapp started these campaigns, car manufacturers started installing seatbelts as a matter of course, as well as started to put much more serious thought into making cars safer in crashes.
In the end, while Dr. Stapp got little public credit for helping to convince car manufacturers to prioritize automobile safety, and provided much of the initial data to help them design such systems, he was at least invited to be present when President Johnson signed the bill that made seat belts required in cars in 1966.
Besides ignoring direct orders to stop using himself as a guinea pig, other ways Dr. Stapp apparently used to frequently flout the rules was to, on his own time, freely treat dependents of people who worked at Edwards’ who were nonetheless not eligible for medical care. He would typically do this via doing house calls to airmen’s homes to keep the whole thing secret, including apparently attending to Chuck Yeager’s sons in this way according to Yeager.
It turns out Murphy was also good friends with none other than Lawrence Peter, remembered today for the Peter Principal — people inevitably get promoted until they reach their level of incompetence. According Murphy’s son, Robert, at one point Peter and Murphy tried to get together with Cyril Northcote Parkinson of Parkinson’s Law — “Work expands to meet the time and money that is available.” However, Robert claims that fateful meeting ended up getting canceled when other matters came up to prevent the get together.
One other strong safety recommendation Dr. Stapp pushed for, particularly in aviation, was to turn passenger seats around to face backwards, as this is drastically safer in crashes. And, at least in aviation would be simple to do on any commercial airline, requiring no modification other than to turn the seat around in its track. As Stapp and subsequent research by NASA shows, humans can take the most G-forces and receive fewer injuries overall with “eyes back” force, where the G-forces are pushing you back into your seat, with the seat cushions themselves also lending a hand in overall safety. This also insures tall people won’t smack their heads and bodies against anything in front of them in a crash. Despite the massive safety benefits here for people of all ages, outside of car seats for babies and toddlers, nobody anywhere seems interested in leveraging the extreme benefits of rear facing passengers to increase general safety.
If you’re wondering about the safest place on a plane to sit, funny enough, that’s the rear. In fact, you’re approximately 40% more likely to survive a plane crash if you sit in the back of the plane, rather than the front. The other advantage to the rear is that most passengers choose not to sit in the back. So unless the plane is full, you might get a row of seats to yourself. (Of course, a bathroom is also often in the rear on planes, soooo.) Another factor to consider is where the closest exit is. As a general rule, studies examining accidents have shown you’ll want to be within six rows of an emergency exit to maximize your survival chances. So if the plane doesn’t have a rear exit, that’s something to be factored in.
During Joe Kittinger’s then record leap from about 102,800 feet on August 16, 1960, the following happened during the ascent:
At 43,000 feet, I find out [what can go wrong]. My right hand does not feel normal. I examine the pressure glove; its air bladder is not inflating. The prospect of exposing the hand to the near-vacuum of peak altitude causes me some concern. From my previous experiences, I know that the hand will swell, lose most of its circulation, and cause extreme pain…. I decide to continue the ascent, without notifying ground control of my difficulty… Circulation has almost stopped in my unpressurized right hand, which feels stiff and painful… [Upon landing] Dick looks at the swollen hand with concern. Three hours later the swelling disappeared with no ill effect.
His total ascent took 1 hour and 31 minutes, he stayed at the peak altitude for 12 minutes, and his total decent took 13 minutes and 45 seconds, so his hand was exposed to a near vacuum for quite some time without long term ill effects. Incidentally, during his fall, he achieved a peak speed of 614 mph, nearly as fast as Dr. Stapp had managed in his little rocket sled. His experience, however, was very different than Dr. Stapp’s. Said Kittinger,
There’s no way you can visualize the speed. There’s nothing you can see to see how fast you’re going. You have no depth perception. If you’re in a car driving down the road and you close your eyes, you have no idea what your speed is. It’s the same thing if you’re free falling from space. There are no signposts. You know you are going very fast, but you don’t feel it. You don’t have a 614-mph wind blowing on you. I could only hear myself breathing in the helmet.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
The Marines have always tried to ensure that the grunts on the ground get reliable support from other assets, whether that asset is naval gunfire, artillery, or aircraft. Historically, they’ve been willing to consider solutions that might seem completely outside the box in order to get the grunts the support they need to survive — and win — a firefight.
In the earlier years of the Cold War, the Marines turned to a ballistic missile for close support — the MGM-18 Lacrosse. This missile was to supplement artillery by taking out specific targets on the battlefield.
To get this missile into the theatre of operations, the Marines developed a mobile ballistic missile that could be mounted on the back of a truck. The Lacrosse had a range of 12 miles and could be armed with a selection of warheads — either a 540-pound shaped charge or a W40 nuclear warhead. Regardless, whatever this missile hit was sure to feel it.
The United States Army was intrigued by the MGM-18 and quickly took over the program — though the Marines stayed involved. The Lacrosse was guided by forward observers using radio control. Not bad for the late 1950s, but it was very cumbersome, and if the signals were jammed, it could put friendly troops at risk.
The MGM-18 Lacrosse was decades ahead of its time. Ultimately, the Marines decided not to buy the system, but the Army put it to work from 1959 to 1964. Today, sophisticated evolutions of this concept are still used. Troops can designate targets for laser-guided missiles, like the AGM-114 Hellfire, and artillery rounds, like the Copperhead. They also have weapons like the BGM-71 TOW missile and the FGM-148 Javelin. The Lacrosse may not have been the right solution at the time, but today, the idea behind it is going strong.
Learn more about this advanced missile by watching the video below.
In the summer of 1966 the United States was ramping up operations in Vietnam.For the Marines of the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion, this meant deep infiltration and reconnaissance into the Que Son Valley.
Dubbed Operation Kansas, the recon teams moved deep into enemy-held territory to observe and strike at the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong operating in the area.
This mostly consisted of calling for artillery or air support to take out small concentrations of enemy fighters. When larger groups were observed, they were dealt with by calling in reinforcements in the form of Marine rifle companies and battalions.
There was little intention of the recon Marines making direct contact.
Thus, 18 Marines from Team 2, C Company, 1st Recon inserted onto Hill 488 to begin their observation mission.
Jimmie E. Howard was a Staff Sergeant when he led the defense of His 488. (U.S. Marine Corps)
The team was led by Staff Sgt. Jimmie E. Howard. Howard had enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1950 and was assigned to the 1st Marine Regiment in Korea.
While serving as the forward observer to the regimental mortar company in 1952, Howard was awarded a Silver Star and two Purple Hearts while defending outposts along the Main Line of Resistance.
After his tour in Korea, Howard stayed in the Marine Corps and entered Marine Reconnaissance. In early 1966 he returned to combat in Vietnam, leading a platoon of Reconnaissance Marines.
On the night of June 13, 1966, Operation Kansas began with the insertion of numerous recon teams into the Que Son Valley. Team 2 on Hill 488 quickly set up positions to observe the valley. Over the course of the next two days, the recon teams disrupted enemy activity with air and artillery strikes. Howard and his team were doing so well that they turned down an offer to be extracted in order to remain one more day.
Unfortunately, the accuracy and effectiveness of the firepower Howard’s team brought to bear also served to alert the Viet Cong that these were not simply random attacks; they were being watched. The enemy had also surmised that the observation must be coming from Hill 488. Alerted that a Viet Cong battalion of approximately 200-250 men was heading their way, the Marines prepared to defend themselves.
As the Marines waited for the inevitable, the Viet Cong were creeping up the hill toward the Marine positions. Howard had ordered his men to pull back to a rocky knoll at the top of the hill the moment contact was made. Under the cover of darkness, the first Viet Cong made it to within 20 feet of the Marine perimeter. The first shots from the Marine defenders rang out. Under a hail of gunfire and grenades, the Marines fell back to the final defensive position.
The Marines took casualties almost instantly but they responded with determined resistance. Grenades and mortars rained down on their position as heavy machine gun and rifle fire covered the advance of the attackers. But the Marines mowed down the first wave of attackers and blunted the advance. The remaining enemy took a more cautious approach and searched for an opening.
Howard used the brief lull in fire to call for extraction. Before help could arrive, the Viet Cong mounted another determined charge to take the hill but were again driven back. By this time the Marines were out of grenades, running low on ammunition, and all eighteen had been wounded or killed. But there was still more fighting to do.
After some three hours of fighting, air support arrived overhead. As Air Force planes dropped flares to illuminate the valley, gunships and fighters made strafing runs. They dropped napalm on the advancing enemy. To say the air support was danger-close would be an understatement. Despite the air attack, the enemy was persistent and continued to charge the hill.
At one point the Viet Cong began yelling at the Marines, taunting them. The young Marines of the recon team looked to Howard who gave them the go ahead to yell back.
Then, with the enemy still shouting taunts, the remaining Marines literally looked death in the face and laughed their heads off. The whole team joined in a chorus of laughter that silenced the Viet Cong.
The Viet Cong came again.
With the enemy still probing their lines, the beleaguered Marines relied on their expert marksmanship and a little trickery to even the odds. Out of grenades, the Marines would watch for movement and then hurl a rock at the enemy.
Intending to escape the impending explosion the Viet Cong would expose their position. Then with deadly accuracy the Marines would take a single shot, conserving ammunition and racking up the body count.
Two UH-1s were shot down by the Viet Cong forces during medevac and air support attempts. (U.S. Army)
A rescue attempt at dawn resulted in one lost helicopter, with a medevac waved off due to the intense fire. Eventually it was decided to bring in a Marine infantry company to clear the hill and allow the recon team to be pulled out. Reportedly there remained only eight rounds of ammunition between the survivors; the rest had picked up enemy weapons.
Howard’s steadfast leadership and cool under fire during the battle for Hill 488 earned him the Medal of Honor. He was also awarded a Purple Heart, along with every other member of the team. Thirteen members of the team were awarded the Silver Star for their bravery. The remaining four members of the team received the Navy Cross. Six of the Marines of Team 2 received their awards posthumously. The recon platoon was the most decorated unit for its size ever in the history of the American military.
But for modern combat, nations have bureaucratic conditions that must be met in order to officially declare war on one another (the United States hasn’t officially declared war since 1942). Whether it’s the biologically aggressive nature of males, ideological fundamentalism, or something else that causes diplomatic negotiations to break down can only be theorized. The bottom line is that humans have been fighting and killing each other throughout our entire history.
I’d like to think that there are noble reasons to go to war — for example, defending your homeland or stopping the Nazis from murdering millions of innocent civilians.
In the video below, The Infographics Show breaks down five of the dumbest reasons people went to war. I don’t want to spoil anything, but one war on the list started over a soccer game. DUDES DECIDED TO KILL OTHER DUDES BECAUSE OF A GAME.
Check out the other dumb reasons people went to war right here:
In the early days of World War II, battleships were still considered kings and all of the combatants hunted for their enemies’ greatest ships. The battleship Bismarck, the largest battleship in commission at the start of 1941, was the pride of the German Kriegsmarine and an epic combatant. Britain desperately wanted to sink her before she could break into the open Atlantic.
Luckily for Britain, a badly timed, badly encoded radio transmission allowed British warships to find and kill the vessel.
The Bismarck fires during the Battle of the Denmark Straits in May, 1941. It sank the pride of the Royal Navy, the HMS Hood, during the engagement.
(German federal archives)
In May, 1941, the U.S. and Russia had not yet joined the Allies as combatants, and Britain had already been pushed entirely off the continent. Morale was low in Great Britain, and its control of the seas was challenged by German U-boats that preyed upon convoys from the U.S.
One of Britain’s greatest fears was that Germany would starve the island kingdom out, potentially by sending more and larger ships into the Atlantic to prey on shipping. One of the most frightful possibilities was the Bismarck, a massive craft that was, at the time, the largest battleship in active service in the world (Japan’s Yamato-class and America’s Iowa-class would later beat its records).
The Bismarck had 16-inch guns and thick armor, and it could hit most convoys with impunity if it ever broke out of the Baltic and North seas. In May, 1941, it attempted to do just that.
Spoilers are above, but this story originally played out over 70 years ago, so you should’ve seen it already by now.
(Citypeek, CC BY-SA 3.0)
The Bismarck left port on May 18 and attempted to slip out undetected. It made it through the North Sea with the Prinz Eugen as well as a number of smaller vessels. But when the flotilla passed between Denmark and Sweden into the North Sea, Norwegian resistance members and Swedish forces got a good look at the ships, and someone passed the report to Britain.
It’s unsure how much detail Britain received (Norwegian resistance members only identified “two unidentified major ships”), but British naval officers immediately suspected that the Bismarck was breaking out.
On May 21, the ships were spotted, and the British gave chase. The full story is great, from British cruisers tailing the massive vessel to attackers hiding in fog banks to when the Bismarck sank Britain’s pride and joy, the HMS Hood, with a single hit from the Bismarck’s main guns. The YouTube channel Extra History has a great series on the hunt, available here for all who want to watch it.
But we’re going to skip ahead to the final days of the chase.
By dawn on May 25, the Hood was sunk, the Prinz Eugen had escaped into the Atlantic, and the Bismarck had evaded the British cruisers in pursuit. But the Bismarck had been wounded and was now leaking oil across the ocean, limiting its range and speed.
The British, more desperate than ever to prevent the Bismarck from joining the war in the Atlantic as well to avenge the loss of the Hood, had called every available ship into the hunt.
But the days of naval maneuvering had left the Bismarck hundreds of miles out to sea, and the British didn’t know if the ship would head to Norway or France for repairs. Britain didn’t have enough ships to search both routes.
Hunting the Bismarck – A Chance to Strike – Extra History – #3
The British commander sent most of the fleet north to search the route to Norway, leaving one battleship and a few other vessels within range of the route to France.
This problem was compounded when the Bismarck made a monumental mistake, sending two 30-minute radio transmissions, but some of the British intercept officers made a mistake and pinpointed the transmission as coming from the route to Norway, when the transmission actually came from the route to France. It would take them hours to catch the mistake.
At this moment, the Bismarck’s path into France was relatively clear. The German vessel had the lead, and the British fleet was headed the wrong way. But the rumors of the Bismarck’s fighting had made it to the continent, and a concerned father made one of the worst mistakes of the war.
The general had a son on the Bismarck, and he asked after his son’s status. The request was transmitted to the Bismarck, and the Bismarck responded. Then, that response was relayed back to the general. It said the Bismarck had suffered no casualties and was now headed to Brest, a port city in France.
When the message was relayed, though, it was done on a Luftwaffe enigma machine with only four wheels instead of the more secure, five-wheel model used by the Admiralty. The British quickly decoded the message, and the entire British fleet turned back south to intercept the Bismarck before it could reach Brest.
On May 26, the HMS Ark Royal, an aircraft carrier, was chasing down the Bismarck as night came on. It was mere hours till darkness would halt any more attacks. By morning, the Bismarck would be under the protection of Luftwaffe planes taking off from France.
It was now or never, and the Swordfish planes flying from the Ark Royal had just enough time for two attacks. But the first attack was a ridiculous catastrophe. The British planes made a mistake, attacking the British ship chasing the Bismarck instead of the Bismarck itself. Luckily, they were equipped with magnetic detonators that set off the torpedoes as they hit the water.
The Swordfish returned to the Ark Royale to re-arm, and then headed back out for Britain’s last chance at the Bismarck before it was safely in France.
The HMS Ark Royal sails with its swordfish overhead.
The planes chased down their quarry, and the Swordfish flew into the teeth of the Bismarck’s guns. The rounds shredded the canvas wings of the planes, but the planes managed to drop a spread of torpedoes anyway.
There were two hits. One struck the Bismarck’s armor belt and did little damage, the other struck low in the water but did no visible damage. The Swordfish pilots turned home in dismay.
But when they landed, they learned glorious news. The Bismarck had been in a hard turn to port when the second torpedo struck, and the strike had knocked out rudder control. Since the Bismarck had been in a hard turn at the time, it was now stuck turning in tight circles in the Atlantic, out of range of Luftwaffe protection.
The HMS Dorestshire rescues survivors of the Bismarck. Only about 114 sailors made it out.
The rest of the British fleet barreled down on the stricken foe, and eventually, four battleships and cruisers were circling the Bismarck, pounding it with shell after shell. They knocked out turrets, they shredded the decks, and they terrified the crew.
It only ended when the British fleet ran low on fuel. It was under orders to sink the Bismarck at all costs, so as most of the ships headed to refuel, the HMS Dorsetshire was left to finish the job. It dropped torpedoes into the water, and finally, the Bismarck suffered holes beneath the waterline. The Bismarck sank. The pride of the German fleet was done. Just over 100 sailors survived of the 2,200-man crew.
If the general had loved his son a little less, or, you know, if signals officers had been more careful to use the best available encryption or leave the ship’s destination out of the message, the Bismarck likely would have made it to France without further damage.
Battle flags were a big thing during the American Civil War. Perhaps the most famous (and now most notorious) is the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia. Often mistaken for the official flag of the Confederate States of America, the crossed stars and bars flag was flown for Robert E. Lee’s Army – and grew more popular than the actual Confederate flag.
The Union had its own battle flags as well. In fact every general, it seems, had their own battle flag, with some more popular than others. The Army of the Potomac’s battle flag was a swallow-tailed flag featuring a golden eagle and wreath on a magenta background.
Custer had one. Sheridan had one. So did Burnside, Breckinridge and Cumming. Even the most famous Civil War general (or notorious, depending one which side of the Mason-Dixon line you’re on) had one. Except William Tecumseh Sherman’s flag never saw any fighting. In fact he created his flag as a symbol of peace.
To quickly recap, the Civil War career of Gen. Sherman, he had a nervous breakdown early on in the war. After being relieved of military command of Kentucky, he went home to Ohio to recover. He returned to duty that same year and was eventually placed under the command of his good friend, Ulysses S. Grant.
This proved to be the entire South’s undoing. Not just the Confederate Army and not just the Confederate States or America: for the entire South, Sherman’s return to duty was the beginning of the end. As Sherman saw successes on the battlefields of the south, he rose in rank. When Grant took command of the Union Army, he promoted Sherman to his old job.
It was this renewed Gen. Sherman who said such famous lines like:
“War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.”
“War is cruelty. There is no use trying to reform it. The crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”
“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end.”
“I am satisfied, and have been all the time, that the problem of this war consists in the awful fact that the present class of men who rule the South must be killed outright rather than in the conquest of territory.”
“I regard the death and mangling of a couple thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash — and it may be well that we become so hardened.”
and finally: “I will make Georgia howl.”
Sherman was basically the last guy anyone would want invading their country at the almost 100,000 angry Union troops, but that’s exactly what Georgia got. He proceeded to burn down large areas of the rebel state.
Sherman’s flag wasn’t created in the Civil War, though. He commissioned it in 1880, 15 years after the war’s end when he was General of the U.S. Army. His original flags was made of blue silk and was full of symbolism meant to represent the unity between states.
It featured a flying golden eagle with a white head in the center of the flag, it’s head turned toward the olive branch in its talons, a symbol of peace between states. Above the eagle were 13 stars, representing the original 13 colonies, along with a shield covered by 13 stripes. It was a look back at the days when the country had unity of purpose.
General Sherman died in 1891, and his flag was placed in the care of his daughter, Mary Elizabeth. She donated it to the Smithsonian Institution in 1918, folded in an envelope and warning the museum that it was in pretty rough shape. It stayed in the envelope until 2013, waiting for the right expert to restore it.
The United Kingdom’s Unknown Warrior, much like the United States’ Unknown Soldier, arose from a movement to honor the unknown war dead who perished on the battlefields of World War I. When he was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey, he was surrounded by a throng of women whose only uniting thread was that they had lost their husbands and all their sons in the Great War.
When the British Empire decided to bury its war dead with France, the Commissioner for the Imperial War Graves encountered a shoddy battlefield grave. On its hastily-constructed wooden cross were just the words, “An Unknown British Soldier,” crudely written in pencil. The Commissioner took it upon himself to take the matter of unknown war dead first to the Prime Minister and later, King George V himself. He wanted to create a national memorial to the scores of unknown war dead killed in the service of their country.
As the Empire’s new Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was born, other countries began to honor their unknown dead with symbolic tombs of their own. France followed suit, as did the United States, and a number of other countries. In England, the Unknown Warrior was buried in one of the most revered places in British history.
Westminster Abbey is more than just a church, it is the burial site of more than 3,300 famous Britishers – from Prime Minister and Royals to artists and scientists – and has been the site of every coronation for the English throne since William the Conqueror captured the country in 1066. It also houses hundreds of priceless works of art and historical documents.
It is truly “Britain’s Valhalla.”
The Abbey also houses Britain’s Tomb of the Unknown Warrior, who was entombed here on Nov. 20, 1920, at the same time as his French counterpart was entombed at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. After being chosen from four possible Unknown Warrior candidates, the current Unknown Warrior was guarded by the French 8th Infantry throughout the night. King George chose a Medieval Crusader sword to affix to the lid of the specially-made casket, along with an iron shield bearing the words: “A British Warrior who fell in the Great War 1914–1918 for King and Country.”
The next day, a military procession a mile long escorted the warrior to the harbor, where it was loaded aboard the HMS Verdun and set sail for London.
“Burial of The Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey.” 1920.
After landing at Dover, the remains were carried by rail to London, where its new, British military parade received a Field Marshal’s salute in front of an otherwise silent crowd. Eventually, the funeral procession was met by the King at Whitehall, who, along with the Royal Family and other government ministers, walked with the procession to Westminster. There, it was protected by an honor guard of 100 Victoria Cross recipients. After a ceremony, the body was interred in the floors and covered with a black marble slab.
To this day, it’s the only part of the floor visitors cannot walk over.