Walter Fletcher was deemed unfit to serve in the British Armed Forces during World War II and was such a nuisance to Baker Street that any jobs he had requested that involved physical effort were denied. Colin Mackenzie, the head of Force 136, the Far East branch of the Special Operations Executive (SOE), once referred to Fletcher as “gloriously fat.” All 280 pounds of him requested special aircraft accommodations to be prepared in advance since he took up two seats on a flight’s manifest. His physicality differed from what was typically seen throughout the ranks of Britain’s elite paramilitary unit — but his wit as a snarky businessman was unmatched.
Fletcher was not well liked, but he was resourceful. Hugh Dalton, the Secretary of State for War, called Fletcher a “thug with good commercial contacts.” When he pitched the idea to run a covert economic espionage mission to manipulate exchange rates on the Chinese Black Market, his expertise was worth the risk. Codenamed Operation Mickleham then later Operation Remorse, Fletcher’s program in the initial stages went from sheer failure to among the most successful economic missions of the war, establishing influence in Hong Kong and funding other covert schemes.
A mock “Cigarette Card,” front and back, for Lionel Davis, commander of “Remorse” in the field. Photo courtesy of National Archives UK.
The Bank of England provided Fletcher, who built a reputation as a wealthy rubber trader, with 100,000 pounds on Sept. 15, 1942. His bold moves for the next two years involved smuggling rubber from Japanese-controlled Indo-China, and his calculations were met with considerable losses. Internal reports authored by SOE officers were convinced their early predictions of Fletcher — the “Tragicomedy” — were correct.
As his reputation faltered, the Ministry of Supply demanded results. A lesser man would have given up, but Fletcher, both stubborn and determined, took economic intelligence learned during Operation Mickleham and adapted to the currency exchange rates to make profit.
“Then he went up to China and started negotiating in strategic materials, funny ones like tung oil and things like that,” Mackenzie told the Imperial War Museum. “Then he went on dealing in diamonds, watches, whatever the warlords wanted.”
Fletcher employed a seasoned team, including Frank Ming Shin Shu, also known as “Mouse,” one of his most trusted contacts. Shu bought £500,000-worth of Indian rupees at a lower official rate only to resell them at an inflated price on the Chinese Black Market.
Mission 204, an unconventional warfare unit comprised of primarily British and Australian soldiers, were tasked with deep penetration operations into China to undermine the Japanese. Screengrab from YouTube.
“We had a very good accountant in London, John Venner, and he helped: even in the early days I had £20,000 of diamonds across my desk in one go,” Mackenzie told the Imperial War Museum. “One estimate is that the net profit was worth £77 million [£2 billion].”
Not all of the money was invested in back-end deals that filled their pockets. In April 1945, a force of 5,500 French soldiers across eight different locations were low on food and medical supplies and lacked blankets and clothing. Over the next six weeks, some of the funds from Remorse were diverted to purchase 93 tons of aid.
“A better job was done by Mr. Davis’s organisation than could have been achieved by the combined resources of the American and Chinese services of supply,” said a British ambassador in 1945.
B. S. van Deinise, a civilian and advisor of the mission, penned a memo that determined Operation Remorse was the “masterkey” for further intelligence actions in China: “I wanted to point out that the Masterkey should be made available to some of those who want to peep in and out of various compartments without attracting undue attention.”
The billion pound endeavor, hidden behind the auspices of bank statements and a covert paper trail, was only revealed to the general public after several intelligence activities from organizations like the SOE were declassified during the 1990s.
Emus are the second largest birds in the world, right behind their cousin, the ostrich. Unable to fly but able to run at 30 miles per hour, these big creatures are considerably useless and extremely dorky. But appearances can often belie great (inadvertent) military prowess, as is proven by that time the Australian army lost a “war” to a massive herd of emus in 1932.
Western Australia, still undergoing a settlement period, found itself in an economic mess tied to an abysmal agricultural situation. Farmers, already beleaguered by falling wheat prices, were further affected by a horde of 20,000 emus converging on their lands. These emus began eating crops and seeds, destroying planted land, and causing a general ruckus.
Something had to be done, and it had to be done fast. To that end, in late 1932, Australian Defense Minister Sir George Pearce dispatched three soldiers and a pair of machine guns with the hopes of curbing the emu population, so that the settlers wouldn’t starve.
An officer of the Royal Australian Artillery, Major G. Meredith, was granted command of the operation and ordered to terminate any emu on sight with extreme prejudice. Additionally, he was to return with the skins of 100 emus so that farmers could make hats out of them — an obviously enviable mission for any military officer aspiring to higher ranks.
Placed in charge of two soldiers, Sergeant S. McMurray and Trooper J. O’Halloran, Meredith was to lead this elite emu-slaying strike team into the lands surrounding the town of Campion, set up his guns, and unleash unholy hell on the unsuspecting, dimwitted birds.
McMurray and O’Halloran carried one Lewis gun apiece — a First World War-era machine gun able to spit out between 500 to 600 rounds per minute. The team carried with them around 10,000 rounds of ammunition to feed their guns, and marched into town with a plan of merely walking up to the birds and spraying fire randomly until their pan magazines ran dry.
Oddly enough, the emus somehow outsmarted the trio.
On Nov. 2, Meredith and company happened upon a herd of approximately 50 emus just outside of Campion. Sighting them with their emu-blasters, McMurray and O’Halloran started shooting, aiming for larger groups of the flightless birds. However, the emus split up into smaller groups and used their speed to their advantage, quickly running out of the Lewis guns’ effective ranges.
When the smoke cleared, only 12 emus lay dead, the rest had successfully escaped. Undeterred, Meredith and his team carried on with their mission. On Nov. 4, another opportunity appeared near a dam. Deciding to use textbook tactics instead of random gunfire, Meredith and crew set up an ambush.
After spotting a herd of over 1000 emus heading in their general direction, McMurray and O’Halloran readied a gun and waited patiently. This time, they would hold their fire until the emus got closer, giving them more of an opportunity to drop their targets before they ran off.
Soon, they opened fire… and their guns jammed. The birds fled and the trio only accounted for around 12 confirmed kills. Meredith began noticing a peculiar smartness about the way the emus evacuated the kill box, saying that, “each mob has its leader… who keeps watch while his fellows busy themselves with the wheat.”
According to Meredith, as soon as the “leader” emus noticed something suspicious, they would alert the rest of the herd, which would then scramble off to safety. Weirdly, these leader emus always stayed behind until all the other birds reached safety, then ran away themselves.
Instead of giving into frustration, Meredith decided to go mobile to try and keep up with the emus as they ran off. Borrowing a truck, he mounted a Lewis gun in the rear and had his two subordinates drive and fire when chasing after their feathered prey.
And still, they proved to be no match for the emus.
The truck could neither keep up with the fast birds nor could the gunner aim and fire a round decently — the ride was far too bumpy for that. By Nov. 8, the team had expended over 2,500 rounds with the majority of the emu population surviving the conflict.
Sir George Pearce, now sarcastically dubbed the Minister of the Emu War, pulled the team from the field, signaling an unofficial victory for the emus. A stunned Meredith later commented, “if we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds, it would face any army in the world … They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks.”
Meredith would be sent back into emu combat soon afterward, as he was the only officer who actually had any experience in fighting these weird creatures. By mid-December, Meredith had earned the title, “Slayer of Emus,” having accounted for 986 kills. However, he was recalled once more. Repeated requests for military intervention from farmers in later years were shot down by the Australian government.
There were just too many emus.
Today, emus still roam the Australian Outback, though they’re far less of a problem to Aussie farmers today than they were to their predecessors back in the 1930s. This remains the only recorded instance in military history where birds unwittingly won a military engagement.
Interestingly enough, no military force has tried to mess with these dorky warrior-birds (or any other flightless bird) since.
There are a lot of badasses in military service. Many have proven themselves in combat, but there are some who manage real heroics without facing the enemy. Even in peacetime, some very bad accidents happen.
In January of 2013, the Avenger-class mine countermeasures vessel USS Guardian (MCM 5) hit a reef off the Philippines and was well and truly stuck. The ship was eventually dismantled in place and her commanding officer and other top personnel were relieved. There were no serious injuries among the 80 crewmen of the ship, but it wasn’t blind luck that kept everyone safe — sailors demonstrated some real heroism that day.
Heavy waves crash against the grounded mine countermeasure ship USS Guardian (MCM 5), which ran aground on the Tubbataha Reef in the Sulu Sea on Jan. 17. The grounding and subsequent heavy waves constantly hitting Guardian have caused severe damage, leading the Navy to determine the 23-year old ship is beyond economical repair and is a complete loss. (U.S. Navy photo)
Damage Controlman 1st Class Jeffrey Macatangay was one of those sailors. He, joined by Damage Controlman 2nd Class (SW) Jean Isidore and Mineman 3rd Class (SW) Matthew Pekarcik, went into a bilge where five gallons of water flooded the ship each minute. He had all of 18 inches of clearance and was in a very confined space. Despite this, he managed to shore up an air-conditioning unit, keeping the ship from losing electrical power. That bought time for the crew to get off the vessel.
One other sailor, a search-and-rescue swimmer, Mineman 3rd Class Travis Kirckof, would perform an even more amazing feat. On the day the Guardian ran aground, some of the ship’s life rafts drifted away after the furious seas snapped the lines holding them to the ship. After one sailor helped keep the remaining rafts from drifting off, Kirckof would help 46 sailors reach safety, spending five hours in the water to do so.
His actions were credited with saving at least two lives.
All four sailors received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for their actions. They may have never faced an enemy in combat, but they proved they were badass sailors when the chips were down.
Did you ever wonder why the Marine Corps is part of the Department of the Navy?
Historically, marines serve as a navy’s ground troops. In fact, the word “marine” is the French word for sea, which may be why the French military historically called English troops — who all had to arrive by sea — “marines.”
Marines Aboard USS Wasp Engage HMS Reindeer. June 1814.
(Copy of painting by Sergeant John Clymer., 1927 – 1981.)
Back in the day, there wasn’t much difference between a sailor and a soldier on a ship. After all, most sea battles ended with the ships tangled together and the crews fighting each other hand to hand. So, if you were on a ship, you had to be able to fight. But you also had to be able to fight once your ship got where it was going.
Italy was the first country to use specially trained sailors as naval infantry. Back in the 1200s, the chief magistrate of Venice put 10 companies of specialized troops on a bunch of ships and sent them off to conquer Byzantium in present-day Greece. That went well for the Italians, so they decided that having marines was a good idea and kept them around, later calling them “sea infantry.”
The idea of marines eventually caught on with other naval powers. The Spanish marine corps was founded in 1537 and is the oldest still-active marine corps in the world, while the Netherlands marine corps, founded in 1665, is the second-oldest. But, even today, marines in most countries are specially trained sailors who are part of the navy.
The British Royal Marines, which is what the U.S. Marine Corps was modeled on, were probably the first naval infantry to not actually be sailors. During the 1600-1700s, marine regiments would be formed by taking soldiers from the British Army, and disbanded when they weren’t needed. This practice continued until 1755, when England’s parliament made the Corps of Royal Marines permanent.
When the Continental Marines were founded in 1775, the Continental Congress recognized the importance “that particular care be taken, that no persons be appointed to office, or enlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required.”
Marine Capt. Brenda Amor helps to prepare an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter assigned to the “Black Knights” of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 264 (Reinforced) for flight operations on the flight deck of the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Arlington (LPD 24), Jan. 30, 2019. Arlington is on a scheduled deployment as part of the Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group in support of maritime security operations, crisis response and theater security cooperation, while also providing a forward naval presence.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Brandon Parker)
So, maritime knowledge has always been a critical part of being a marine, but the U.S. Marine Corps hasn’t always been part of the U.S. Navy.
Until 1834, the Marines were an independent service. President Andrew Jackson wanted to make the Corps part of the Army. However, the Marine Corps commandant at the time, Archibald Henderson, had proven that Marines were important in landing party operations, not just ship-to-ship battles, so Congress decided to put the Navy and Marine Corps into one department, forever linking these two “sister services.”
The Star-Spangled Banner” is known from sea to shining sea, but few know the circumstances under which Francis Scott Key wrote America’s national anthem. Oddly enough, it was penned just after the short but bloody Battle of Baltimore.
In September of 1814—two years into the war between the U.K. and the U.S.—the British navy turned its attention towards Baltimore, Maryland. As a busy port, the city would either prove a devastating American loss, or a crucial victory if they managed to thwart the attack on Baltimore Harbor’s Fort McHenry.
As 5,000 British troops marched towards Fort McHenry, they encountered an unexpected setback at the Battle of North Point. There, American troops were lying in wait, prepared to stall the British until Baltimore’s defenses could be finalized. When they were satisfied with their delay, the Americans retreated, then awaited the main attack from within the city.
At dawn the very next day, approximately 4,300 British troops began to advance, forcing the U.S. troops to fall back. Still, the battle wasn’t easy for the British: They were startled to find that the Americans had 100 cannons and over 10,000 troops. Not long after they breached Balitmore’s inner defenses, the British soldiers fled to their ships, wanting to regroup for a less frontal attack.
Meanwhile, at Fort McHenry, 1,000 U.S. troops awaited the British navy, who arrived in a rain of rockets and mortar shells. Harsh fire ensued for 27 hours, though this did not deter the Americans’ from their daily reveille: As the fighting drew to a close on the morning of September 14, an oversized American flag—made by a local woman and her 13-year-old daughter—was raised over Fort McHenry. In response to this sign of American strength, an encampment of British soldiers fired a final taunting round at the sky. With that, the Battle of Baltimore was officially over.
But prior to this, Francis Scott Key stood aboard the British ship HMS Tonnant, negotiating the release of Maryland resident Dr. William Beanes. Having succeeded in his mission, Key and the newly-freed Beanes watched the battle unfold from their enemy’s decks. At the sight of the raised American flag, Key was struck by a burst of poetic inspiration. He quickly scribbled a series of verses on a scrap of paper, not knowing these words would become an enduring symbol of American patriotism.
Originally titled “Defence on Fort M’Henry”—and then renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner” shortly thereafter—the poem became a sensation after its publication in the Baltimore American. Over 100 years later, Congress made it the national anthem of the United States.
But what exactly was going through Key’s mind as he jotted down the lyrics to the song of our country? In The Dawn’s Early Light, historian Walter Lord describes the Battle of Baltimore in vivid detail, providing intimate insight into the birth of the “Star-Spangled Banner” and the man who wrote it.
Click here to read an excerpt of The Dawn’s Early Light, and then download the book.
Before there was Lindbergh, there was U.S. Coast Guard Aviator Comm. Elmer F. Stone, a seaplane pilot who took part in an epic rescue of sailors, set the seaplane world speed record, and was part of the team that completed the first-ever trans-Atlantic flight, earning accolades for the U.S. from around the world.
Coast Guard Commander Elmer F. Stone, an aviation pioneer, world-record setter, and search-and-rescue hero.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
Stone joined the Revenue Cutter Service at the age of 23 and was assigned to study the engines of his assigned ship, quickly rising to be an engineering officer on board and paving the way for his future expertise in steam and gasoline engines. The Revenue Cutter Service and the U.S. Life-Saving Service were combined in 1915 into the Coast Guard, and some officers of the combined military branch pushed the use of aviation in search-and-rescue missions.
The young Stone was one of those visionaries, and he attended flight training at Pensacola, Florida, from April, 1916, to April, 1917, receiving designations as the Navy’s 38th aviator and the Coast Guard’s first. Soon after, he was sent to the Navy for service in World War I, taking part in cutter patrols and convoy escorts in the Atlantic.
The flight crew of the NC-4. Coast Guard Lt. Elmer Stone is the second from the right.
But it was after World War I that he really made his fame. Soon after the Armistice, Stone was assigned as the pilot of NC-4, a Coast Guard seaplane, and involved in a six-team race to conduct the first trans-Atlantic flight. There were three U.S. teams (the other two teams piloted NC-1 and NC-3), and three British teams.
The NC-4 team faced early trouble after their New York takeoff as the plane’s four massive engines were finicky at best. They were forced to land to replace a broken rod and discovered that their steel propellers had cracked. They acquired wooden replacements and flew up to Canada for their final jump off before crossing the Atlantic.
The victorious crew of the NC-4 poses with Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt after a meeting.
The three American teams headed east together but NC-1 and NC-3 lost their bearings and conducted sea landings to try and obtain celestial navigation. This was a risky move as the planes needed to skim the waves for two miles before they could take off again. Unfortunately, both planes were damaged during the landings and could not attempt the long take off, forcing them to retire from the race.
So, Stone and his team continued alone, landing in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 27, 1919, and winning the race. Team members, including Stone, were decorated with honors from the Portuguese government and received a cash prize from the London Daily Mail. Soon after, they received medals from the French, British, and American governments, and Stone received a letter from Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Eight years later, Charles Lindbergh made history for making a similar, solo flight.
The Naval Air Ship Akron was the largest man-made flying object of her time, but was tragically lost in a storm in 1933.
In 1931, he returned to aviation duty, conducting trials of seaplanes and taking command of a Coast Guard air station. While serving as the station commander, Stone went to a meeting at Naval Air Station Anacostia in 1933 and learned that the air ship Akron, a flying aircraft carrier used for reconnaissance and observation, had gone down in a storm.
Stone was personal friends with some of the Navy aviators on the Akron, and he immediately piloted his way into the same storms and rough seas that had doomed the air ship. At the time, most Coast Guard stations were reporting that their boats couldn’t safely reach the crash site due to the rough seas.
A few years later, in 1934, Stone piloted a seaplane over a course at Buckroe, Virginia, reaching 191 mph and setting the amphibian plane speed record at the time, again earning accolades from his government and helping lead to his promotion to the rank of Commander, the last promotion he received.
Tragically, he died two years later of a massive heart attack while inspecting planes at Air Patrol Detachment San Diego.
Leo Major earned notoriety in World War II by liberating the town Zwolle all by himself. For many amazing heroes of the world’s most destructive and widespread war, that might have been where their story ends. Not so for Leo Major. Major remained in the service of the Canadian Forces and soon found himself in the Korean War.
The Korean War was not just the United States fighting North Korea. It was the first test of the United Nations and the body’s resolve to be a true force on the world stage, unlike its predecessor, the League of Nations. When North Korean tanks rolled across the 38th parallel in 1950, the entire world responded, not just the U.S. Along with American forces came Britain, Ethiopia, Thailand, France, Greece, Turkey, The Netherlands, South Africa, and more. Canada was right there with her North American neighbor.
But North Korea had allies too. The Soviet Union provided help, but it was the Chinese who made the biggest difference in the war. When China intervened on the North’s behalf, UN troops had already pushed their way to the Yalu River border with China. They took the UN forces completely by surprise and pushed them back to the 38th where the front largely stayed for the rest of the war. When 26,000 Canadian Forces arrived in 1951, that’s where the battle lines were drawn.
Hill 355, also known as “Little Gibraltar,” was hotly contested in the Korean War.
In spring 1951, the Canadian 25th Infantry Brigade moved to relieve the British at the southern bank of the Imjin River. To the East was Hill 355, right on the 38th parallel, manned by the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division. Little did they know, the Chinese were preparing a massive assault on Hill 355 to secure a better bargaining position in the ongoing peace talks. They lit up the night of Nov. 23, 1951, with a huge artillery barrage and an attack from two Chinese divisions. The Americans were pushed off the hill, and a company of Canadians were surrounded by the Chinese.
Leo Major was tasked to relieve them.
Major gathered up a group of Canadians outfitted with Sten guns and sneakers, climbing the snowy hill under the cover of the next night’s darkness. They reached the top of the hill behind the Chinese defenders before opening up on them from behind their line. The Chinese panicked and fled. Hill 355 was theirs again. But the Chinese counterattacked.
New Zealand gunners attack Hill 355 during the First Battle of Maryang-san in 1951.
(Imperial War Museum)
That didn’t bother Major. He ignored an order to withdraw and took cover in a shell crater, calling for accurate mortar and machine gun fire on to the enemy, very close to his own position. His mortarmen fired until their tubes glowed red. Major ran from position to position, directing the gunners and the mortars, repelling four separate attacks. Major and his men held the hill for three more days, the Corporal fought off attack after repeated attack, holding his position until the line of demarcation was officially drawn in front of his position.
Leo Major’s effort to secure Hill 355 for the Allies earned him another Distinguished Conduct Medal, much like the one he earned capturing Zwolle in the Netherlands during his previous war.
Raymond A. Spruance gets plaudits for what he did at the Battle of Midway. And deservedly so, since he won the battle while outnumbered and against a very capable foe.
But he arguably pulled off a much more incredible feat of arms two years after Midway, when the U.S. Fifth Fleet appeared off the Mariana Islands.
When the Japanese learned the Americans were off the Aleutians, they sent their fleet — a much larger force than Spruance faced at Midway, including nine carriers with 430 aircraft, escorted by a powerful force of surface combatants. Japan also had planes based on the Marianas.
To protect the transports, Spruance had to operate west of the Marianas. His 15 carriers were equipped with the F6F Hellcat, a plane designed with lessons from combat against the Mitsubishi A6M Zero in mind (of course, finding a nearly-intact Zero on Akutan Island didn’t hurt).
According to CombinedFleet.com, Japanese admiral Jisaburo Ozawa planned to use the Japanese bases on the Mariana Islands to hit the Americans from long range — essentially shuttling his planes back and forth between the islands and the carriers. He was dealing with pilots who were very inexperienced after nearly three years of war had devastated Japan’s pilots.
Spruance, though, had enough time to hit the land-based airfields first. Then he set his cruisers and battleships in a gun line ahead of his carriers. In essence, his plan was to use the advanced radar on his ships to first vector in the Hellcats. Then, the battleships and cruisers would further thin out the enemy planes.
Spruance’s plan would work almost to perfection. According to Samuel Eliot Morison in “New Guinea and the Marianas,” between 10:00 a.m. and 2:50 p.m., four major strikes totaling 326 planes came at Spruance’s fleet. Of those planes, 219 failed to return to their carriers. The Americans called it “The Marianas Turkey Shoot.”
The worst was yet to come. On June 19, American submarines sank the Japanese carriers Taiho and Shokaku. The next day, Spruance began his pursuit. Late in the evening of June 20 the Americans sent out a strike of their own with 226 aircraft. The attack would sink the Japanese carrier Hiyo and two oilers.
A Japanese log said it all: “Surviving carrier air power: 35 aircraft operational.”
Spruance had just won a devastating victory – perhaps the most one-sided in the Pacific Theater.
On April 24, 1980, America’s best attempted the unthinkable — the rescue of 52 American hostages from inside revolutionary Tehran.
On November 4, 1979, Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took 66 Americans hostage. (Several had been released by the time the rescue was attempted.)
Furious at the US’s decision to not extradite Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — the former king of Iran who had been ousted by an Islamic revolution in January and was receiving medical care in America — the Iranian students sought to use American hostages as bargaining chips with the blessing of Ayatollah Khomeini, Iran’s new leader.
Less than a month later, the US military began training for a daring rescue. As the military’s premier hostage-rescue unit, the Army’s newly established Delta Force would spearhead the operation’s ground part.
But it was a complicated affair. Surrounded by deserts and mountains, Tehran was challenging to reach in force. The CIA flew out an Air Force commando who surveyed and approved a forward staging location about 50 miles from the Iranian capital. The site was dubbed Desert One.
Moreover, despite some intrepid close-target intelligence gathered by individual commandos inside Tehran, there was inadequate information for the operation — Delta had to rely on Iranian national TV for much of its intelligence.
The task force couldn’t pinpoint the exact location of all the hostages. Aside from the embassy — a sprawling 26-acre compound that in its prime housed 1,000 Americans — reports suggested the Iranians were holding some hostages at the Foreign Ministry.
The CIA couldn’t provide actionable intelligence since its operations in Iran were limited by President Jimmy Carter in response to the agency’s past actions.
In addition, all four US military branches wanted a piece of the action, leading to a confusing compromise: The Air Force would provide the fixed-wing aircraft (three MC-130E Combat Talons and three EC-130E Hercules) and a Special Tactics team. The Navy would furnish eight RH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters from nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz. The Marine Corps would contribute pilots for the helicopters; and finally, the Army would supply the Rangers, Delta Force, and Special Forces operators responsible for rescuing the hostages.
Operation Eagle Claw, as it was officially known, called for the MC-130E and EC-130E to fly the task force and necessary supplies 1,000 miles from Oman to Desert One. The eight RH-53 would fly 600 miles from USS Nimitz and meet them there.
After refueling, the helicopters would fly the 132 Army commandos to a hideout 50 miles from Tehran. Meanwhile, the transport aircraft would fly back to Oman.
The next night, the Delta operators and Rangers would use vehicles obtained by the Army and CIA to get to their targets.
Once the assault force had freed the hostages, the helicopter would fly them to an abandoned airbase, which a company of Rangers would have captured, 50 miles from Tehran. They would then destroy the helicopters and fly to Saudi Arabia via C-141 Starlifters.
Three AC-130 gunships would destroy any Iranian fighter jets at Tehran airport and provide close air support if the Iranians counterattacked. In all, 44 aircraft would directly or indirectly participate in the mission.
Operation Eagle Claw
From the start, the operation was plagued by misfortune. Upon landing at Desert One, the Delta operators encountered a bus full of Iranian civilians, whom they had to detain, and a fuel truck, which they had to destroy because it didn’t stop. The driver, however, managed to escape in another vehicle.
Meanwhile, two RH-53s had to be abandoned and another had to return to the ship because of mechanical failures and bad weather. The mission had to be aborted, as a minimum of six helicopters was necessary to ferry the commandos.
As the task force was preparing to depart and try again another day, disaster struck. One of the helicopters collided with an EC-130E. In the ensuing inferno, five airmen and three Marines were killed and eight aircraft destroyed.
“Some say we failed,” wrote Army Gen. James Vaught, commander of task force, after Desert One was evacuated.
“Others say it was a fiasco. It was none of that. It was the best effort try by a team of brave volunteers to accomplish a difficult and dangerous mission. Never have I seen more determined Americans try so hard to do the right thing … Those we lost did not die in vain. We will set our people free.”
As Carter took responsibility for the mission, the military was already trying to prepare for a second operation. The Iranians, however, spread out the hostages to prevent that.
An after-action report by a commission of flag officers found several issues. To begin with, the task force was a hodgepodge of units, which didn’t train together and never conducted a full dress rehearsal.
“We went out and found bits and pieces, people and equipment, brought them together occasionally, and then asked them to perform a highly complex mission. The parts all performed, but they didn’t necessarily perform as a team,” Col. Charlie Beckwith, the founder and commander of Delta Force, said at a Senate hearing.
The panel of officers also recommended that the military needed a dedicated counterterrorism joint task force and a special operations command, leading to the creation of US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), its subordinate service commands, and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which brought Delta Force and SEAL Team 6 together.
The military also created the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, also known as the “Night Stalkers,” to ensure the helicopter issues that occurred during Operation Eagle Claw never happened again.
From the ashes of disaster, America’s current special operations might was born.
A few days after the failed operation, two British airmen delivered a case of beer to their American brethren. Scribbled across the box were the words, “To you all, from us all, for having the guts to try.”
Wars are violent, brutal, and bloody. The Crusades were no exception, just one more in a long line of useless, stupid wars that people now romanticize for some reason.
The lasting legacy of the Crusades is used to support international terrorism against the West, to explain the relationship between the Christian and Muslim worlds in poorly-researched history papers, and is used as a meme on the internet by people who are “proud to be an infidel.”
With the Crusades, there was no good guy or bad guy. The truth is that European power was on the rise at the end of the first millennium. Christendom was finally able to respond to the Islamic wars of expansion that rose from the founding and spread of Islam in the Middle East.
But even with all that money and power, the Christian kings of Europe were still stupid, inbred products of the Middle Ages. The Islamic powers in the Middle East were struggling against each other for regional dominance.
The two were bound to butt heads.
Muslim armies and Christian armies could be equally brutal. I mean it when I say there is no good guy or bad guy. Between one and three million people died in the Crusades – one percent of the world’s population at the time. It doesn’t matter who started it, after nine crusades (only the first and sixth being anything close to a “success”), these wars were ridiculously destructive, even for medieval combat.
Eventually, the Crusaders were expelled from the Holy Land. And when you really read the history, it makes you wonder how they were able to stay so long.
1. Crusaders weren’t the best strategists.
In 1187, the Islamic leader, Saladin, tricked the Crusader Armies into leaving their fortified position (and their water source) in what is, today, the deserts of Israel by attacking an out-of-the-way fortress near Tiberias. After a brief war council, the Crusaders decided to march on Saladin’s army.
In an open field.
After crossing a desert.
Did I mention they left their water source to walk nine miles in full armor?
They were so thirsty, their lines broke as the knights made for the nearby springs. That’s where Saladin slaughtered them. He began his campaign to recapture Jerusalem the next day, which he did, three months later.
Arguably the greatest victory for the Crusaders came at Ascalon, after the fall of Jerusalem in 1099. The Crusaders caught the Muslims by surprise, but were still outflanked by an Egyptian army that was actually ready to fight. Luckily, the Crusaders had heavy cavalry the Muslims did not.
By 20th century standards, murdering six million Jewish people makes you history’s greatest monster, and rightfully so. To this day, no one can seriously name their child “Adolf” without subjecting it to a lifetime of sideways glances.
During the First Crusade, God supposedly sent German knights an “enchanted goose” to follow. That goose had a totally different agenda. It led them to a Jewish neighborhood, which the knights immediately slaughtered. There were anti-Jewish massacres at cities like Worms, Mainz, Metz, Prague, Ratisbon, and others. Confused about why these are still European cities? Me too. The Crusaders hadn’t even left Europe before they decided to murder Jews.
The Crusade against the Cathars amounted to a genocide. The fun doesn’t stop there. During the Fourth Crusade, Crusaders hitched a ride to Palestine on Venetian ships but ended up not being able to pay Venice for the sealift. Instead of paying them, the Venetians used the Crusader armies to sack Zadar, a city in modern Croatia. They sacked the city and its Christian population fled to the countryside.
Then, they practically broke the seat of power held by Orthodox Christians in the Byzantine Empire, which brings me to…
4. Christianity lost a lot of power because of Crusaders.
When the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Christian Byzantine Empire, the empire never recovered. By 1453, Ottoman Muslim armies were banging away at the walls and gates of the city.
Crusaders toppled the Byzantine Emperor Alexius III and when his brother tried to submit to the Pope, he was killed in a coup. It caused the Crusaders to declare war and sack the city — during Easter — murdering a lot of Christian inhabitants and destroying much of the fabled city. Which might have been Venice’s 95-year-old, blind leader’s plan the whole time.
When the Muslim Ottoman Turks took Constantinople, the last Christian empire in the Middle East was gone. Good job, Crusaders.
Muslim armies offered to give control of Jerusalem back to the Crusaders during the Fifth Crusade in exchange for the city of Damietta in Egypt. But the Crusaders refused, so the Muslims took both cities.
5. They lost a lot of important relics.
Legend says that when the Fatimid Caliph wanted to destroy Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the supposed site of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, Christians hid the True Cross that held his body. The Crusaders, geniuses they were, carried it into battle.
And, of course, lost it to Saladin at the Battle of Hattin.
On top of that, Europeans, in general, were just obsessed with holy relics during the era. So, things like the buried remains of Catholic saints and items associated with those saints were stolen en masse, many never to be seen again.
6. A lot of them just gave up.
When Frederick Barbarossa died after marching his horse into a damn river (before he could even get to the Third Crusade), many of his knights committed suicide, believing God abandoned them. Others turned around and went home.
That’s not even the end of it.
When Mehmet II conquered Constantinople, Pope Pius II tried to buy him out instead of fighting him. In exchange for Mehmet converting to Christianity, the Pope offered to “appoint you the emperor of the Greeks and the Orient… All Christians will honor you and make you the arbiter of their quarrels… Many will submit to you voluntarily, appear before your judgment seat, and pay taxes to you. It will be given to you to quell tyrants, to support the good, and combat the wicked. And the Roman Church will not oppose you.”
But these weren’t the knights and heavy infantry we’ve come to know. These were people inspired by the idea of taking up the cross — mostly conscripted, illiterate peasants. By the time they reached the Middle East, Peter already abandoned them and Turkish spies lured them out of their camp, into a valley, where the Turks just massacred them.
8. Crusaders literally ate babies.
Not only were they bad at strategy, Crusaders (like most armies of the time, to be honest) were also bad at logistics — you know, the getting of stuff to the fight. Stuff like food.
A contingent of French knights pillaged, raped, murdered, and tortured people across the Byzantine lands, a decidedly Christian empire. In the countryside near Nicea, they turned to eating the peasants as well, reportedly roasting babies on spikes. When German knights found out, they started doing the same thing.
But they did the same thing to the Muslims, too. After capturing Maara in 1098, they discovered the city they just laid siege to for a few weeks had no food. Big surprise.
Airman 1st Class William “Pits” Pitsenbarger was a Pararescueman during the Vietnam War. Less than a year after receiving orders, he would go on to fly nearly 300 rescue missions and save over 60 men before sacrificing himself to aid others during one of the most brutal battles of an already harsh war. When offered the chance to escape on the last helicopter out of the combat zone, Pits stayed behind to protect the lives of others and was later killed by Viet Cong snipers.
The Last Full Measure is the long-awaited story of how the men he saved would try to procure him the Medal of Honor — and the dark reason why the American government resisted.
Check out the final trailer, released today:
“The sacrifices of the fallen will never be forgotten,” intones Christopher Plummer, who plays the father of William Pitsenbarger. The Last Full Measure, written and directed by Todd Robinson, also stars Sebastian Stan, Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, and William Hurt.
“Todd Robinson’s riveting drama chronicles one man’s sacrifice and valor on the battlefield, and we believe it also highlights an aspect of American patriotism overdue for recognition. Everyone should know about William Pitsenbarger’s bravery and life, and it’s a privilege to bring this film to theaters where it should be seen,” said Roadside’s Howard Cohen and Eric d’Arbeloff, as reported by Deadline.
Pits was initially posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross, becoming the first enlisted Airman to receive it, before it was upgraded to the Medal of Honor.
William “Pits” Pitsenbarger
(U.S. Air Force photo)
Medal of Honor Citation
“Airman First Class Pitsenbarger distinguished himself by extreme valor on April 11, 1966 near Cam My, Republic of Vietnam, while assigned as a Pararescue Crew Member, Detachment 6, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. On that date, Airman Pitsenbarger was aboard a rescue helicopter responding to a call for evacuation of casualties incurred in an on-going firefight between elements of the United States Army’s 1st Infantry Division and a sizable enemy force approximately 35 miles east of Saigon. With complete disregard for personal safety, Airman Pitsenbarger volunteered to ride a hoist more than one hundred feet through the jungle, to the ground.
On the ground, he organized and coordinated rescue efforts, cared for the wounded, prepared casualties for evacuation, and insured that the recovery operation continued in a smooth and orderly fashion. Through his personal efforts, the evacuation of the wounded was greatly expedited. As each of the nine casualties evacuated that day were recovered, Pitsenbarger refused evacuation in order to get one more wounded soldier to safety. After several pick-ups, one of the two rescue helicopters involved in the evacuation was struck by heavy enemy ground fire and was forced to leave the scene for an emergency landing. Airman Pitsenbarger stayed behind, on the ground, to perform medical duties.
Shortly thereafter, the area came under sniper and mortar fire. During a subsequent attempt to evacuate the site, American forces came under heavy assault by a large Viet Cong force. When the enemy launched the assault, the evacuation was called off and Airman Pitsenbarger took up arms with the besieged infantrymen. He courageously resisted the enemy, braving intense gunfire to gather and distribute vital ammunition to American defenders. As the battle raged on, he repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire to care for the wounded, pull them out of the line of fire, and return fire whenever he could, during which time, he was wounded three times. Despite his wounds, he valiantly fought on, simultaneously treating as many wounded as possible.
In the vicious fighting which followed, the American forces suffered 80 percent casualties as their perimeter was breached, and airman Pitsenbarger was finally fatally wounded. Airman Pitsenbarger exposed himself to almost certain death by staying on the ground, and perished while saving the lives of wounded infantrymen. His bravery and determination exemplify the highest professional standards and traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Air Force.”
He was also posthumously awarded the rank of Staff Sergeant. Other awards and medals include the Air Force Cross, the Airman’s Medal, and two Purple Hearts. His name can be found on Panel 06E Line 102 of the Vietnam Wall.
Following the battle, Pitsenbarger’s fellow PJ’s and soldiers who he saved in combat embarked on an over 30 year effort to upgrade his Air Force Cross to a Medal of Honor. In the trailer, William Hurt, who plays a fellow PJ, describes the situation as “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Finally, in 2000, Pitsenbarger received the Medal of Honor in a cermony attended by his parents, fellow veterans and the Secretary of the Air Force. The Last Full Measure will release in theaters on January 24th, 2020.
At Fort Bragg, North Carolina, something rare and particular began in the 1970s. When — citing the growth of accidental deaths — command decided to take a different type of approach at protecting their soldiers. With song and dance. With a new type of theater show, one that incorporated actual combat soldiers performing song and dance numbers — intertwined with real, somber video recounts of soldier death. It was a merger of a real message and quality entertainment.
Known as the Soldier Safety Show, this military-meets-Broadway program took place during the 70s, 80s and 90s as part of a new approach to get young soldiers to take safety measures seriously.
Former Fort Bragg Commander, retired four-star General Carl Stiner, said that the Soldier Safety Show was born out of growing death toll rates.
“We realized we were having more casualties of all off-duty activities, mainly motorcycles, than from thousands of parachute jumps and heavy equipment drops. We just needed to do something about it,” he said in a 2015 interview with NPR’s This American Life.
Steiner added that between suicide and reckless drinking, Fort Bragg was losing 10 soldiers to every one soldier that died in a training-related event.
Briefs were scheduled, but soldiers slept through them, and other measures were taken but saw little results.
Enter the Soldier Safety Show, which not only engaged young soldiers, but dropped the accidental death rate by one-third.
It worked by employing a combination theater and screen projections of “gut-wrenching” testimonials from soldiers who had lost friends due to accidents and careless mistakes. Then it ended with soldiers standing to take a safety pledge. (This also created the opportunity for a standing ovation at the end of every show.) Viewers and performers alike called the juxtaposition of mournful renditions and live musical theater absurd and unexpected, but somehow, effective.
The Soldier Safety Show was mandatory for all stationed at Bragg. To meet this demand, performing soldiers held 3-4 shows a day around the Christmas holiday, when deaths typically peaked.
On-stage meets the military: Operation Shock and Awe
Those who worked with the program credited most of its success to the director, Lee Yopp. They said Yopp was a unique, boisterous personality with much gusto. Having become a director by accident when working as a football coach and he broke his leg, Yopp found he excelled at directing and took higher, bigger directing jobs. He ended up bankrupting a large theater — and himself — by overspending and creating a flop. However, he was offered the gig to manage the Fort Bragg Playhouse by an old Army buddy.
The running joke was the DoD was the one financial baker who could afford his visions. Yopp incorporated waterfalls, a roller skating rink, parachute rigs, cannons and machine guns (that actually fired); he planted real grass on the stage to bring in horses. And — perhaps his biggest move of all — he brought in explosive experts from Special Forces who helped them rig up loud booms in the stage floor, complete with flash pods.
But Yopp did more than that — he knew how to reach soldiers in a way that mattered. He got big, exciting performances out of his actors … including those who’d never been on stage before. When one of the soldiers’ teenage son got in a car wreck, Yopp took the crew on a field trip and filmed them in the hospital. That was the start of a new act where a young actor talked about driving too fast and losing control, spliced with the real-life footage. They paired it with the song “Tomorrow” from the musical Annie, and it was an instant hit.
Viewers and performers alike say Yopp’s unique way of making the simple overtly complicated helped bring the message together. It got attention and it struck a chord, especially with a young crowd.
Former Fort Bragg soldier Derek Brown, a paratrooper in the 1990s, performed in the Soldier Safety Show after he volunteered with his unit. Brown said he initially thought it was a joke when briefed about an audition for musical theater. (He fell into the category of performers who had never sang or danced before.) It was mandatory for his unit to send a representative, and he was the only volunteer.
Brown called the show a blend of “…the honor and discipline movements with the bravado and panache of Broadway musicals.” And with Yopp’s direction, his encouragement to be big and loud at all times, the show was able to get results.
“He had no room at all for shyness on stage. He made it a point of saying, ‘If you were going to fail, please fail loudly, please fail loudly and sing it as though your life depended on it.’”
During Yopp’s tenure as managing director of the Fort Bragg Playhouse from 1974-1993, they earned more than 35 awards, including a 1980 sweep of the U.S. Army Forces Command music and theater competition, with 15 titles, and best music and theater program among worldwide Army installations in 1981.
The Air Force is now aged well into its seventies and the branch that started as an offshoot of the U.S. Army is looking at having a child of its own — the U.S. Space Force. Even though the mere need for the U.S. Air Force is one that is still debated in some circles, it’s pretty safe to say the service is here to stay, and for good reason. The men, women, and aircraft of the U.S. Air Force have accomplished some of the most incredible feats in military history.
When you look back at the legacy of the USAF, there are so many important, pivotal events that either established the Air Force as one to be reckoned with, cemented the legendary status of some great American heroes, or made the difference when it was needed the most. There’s a reason these moments will live forever in our collective imagination. Like the mythological tales of great heroes setting out to impress the gods, these are the Air Force’s finest moments.
You have to admit, it’s ballsy to go into combat in a rig made of canvas and popsicle sticks.
(U.S. Air Force)
1. The St. Mihiel Offensive – World War I
For four years, the St. Mihiel Salient was a giant bulge in the lines of the Western Front. In 1914, the German Army managed to create a 250-square mile indentation on the front while trying to capture the fortress at Verdun. When the United States joined World War I in 1918, General John J. Pershing demanded an area of the front that was exclusively the responsibility of American forces. He got it.
An important aspect of that battle was the air war over St. Mihiel, the largest air battle of the entire war. 1,476 allied aircraft took on 500 German aircraft over four days in September 1918. The First U.S. Army Air Service took command of air elements from the United States, France, Italy, Great Britain and Portugal. Combined force air power destroyed enemy aviation, achieved complete air superiority, and aided ground forces while denying enemy air reconnaissance assets.
From the USAF’s raid on the Ploesti Airfields in Romania.
(U.S. Air Force)
2. World War II
An essential element to early Nazi successes in World War II relied on the new tactic of blitzkrieg, which required large but very fast movements of concentrated forces and massive air firepower. Before entering the war, the U.S. Army Air Forces saw the importance of air power in the skies over London and were shown that power in force at Pearl Harbor. After entering the war, the Air Forces were tasked with gaining air superiority, crushing the Germans’ ability to wage war, and prepare Fortress Europe for an allied invasion.
During World War II, being on a bomber crew was deadlier than even landing on the beaches of the Pacific with the U.S. Marines. As the war came home to Germany, the Air Force only stepped up the intensity of the bombing campaign while proving that American airmen and technology were more than a match for the Luftwaffe. By the end of the war, the Nazi air forces struggled to put up a fight as fuel, pilots, and ammunition were in such short supply against the overwhelming air power of the USAAF.
In the Pacific theater, the Air Force immediately brought the pain as fast as they could after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The daring Doolittle Raid started out the war with Japan by reminding them that they weren’t out of the United States’ long reach. The Air Force fought alongside the Navy in as many pitched air battles as were needed, but the real strength of the Air Force came at the end of the Navy and Marine Corps’ island-hopping campaign. As air bases were set up closer and closer to the Japanese Home Islands, Army Air Forces bombers pummeled mainland Japan with firebombs, crippling Japanese industry until two days in August 1945 changed the world forever: the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the Pacific War for good.
In all your life, you’ll never be this cool.
(U.S. Air Force)
3. The Tuskegee Airmen – World War II
In the days before the integration of the Armed Forces, African-Americans served primarily in support roles, and usually as enlisted men. That all changed in the lead up to World War II when President Roosevelt ordered the Army to begin training black pilots at Tuskegee Army Air Field – in the heart of the segregated South. It was a time when Americans widely believed that black people could not be trained to use advanced technological equipment, especially aircraft.
Not only were the college-educated Tuskegee Airmen able to fly and operate aviation technology, they were really, really good at it. Tuskegee Airmen flew some 15,000 sorties in the skies of Europe and North Africa during World War II, risking their lives and the reputation of their entire race on their performance. Their success rate on bomber escort missions was twice as high as other groups in the 15th Air Force and, over the course of the war, they took down hundreds of enemy planes, thousands of enemy railcars, and even sank an enemy destroyer.
The massive successes of the more than 14,000 Tuskegee Airmen led to the integration of the Armed Forces after the war and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., one of the first black Amy Air Force pilots, became the first African-American general of the newly-created U.S. Air Force.
The Original Grubhub.
4. The Berlin Airlift – Cold War
The first battle in the ideological war that pit Western Capitalism against Eastern Communism wasn’t fought with guns or bombs, it was fought with food. After WWII, Berlin was divided into four zones, each administered by one of the victorious European Allies. The area surrounding the city was entirely Soviet-dominated. The German capital was, effectively, nestled deep inside Soviet-occupied East Germany. As Cold War tensions mounted, the USSR cut off all land routes to the Western-occupied parts of the city in an effort to starve out the capitalist allies. Any help to Berlin could only come through a dedicated air corridor.
In the days before massive cargo planes, like the C-5 Galaxy, the U.S. Air Force and the Western Allies launched what became known as the Berlin Airlift, a massive coordinated cargo hauling campaign that (at its height) saw an aircraft land in Berlin every single minute. German ground crews were soon able to unload an aircraft within 20 minutes in order to make sure the city was nurtured with the 394,509 tons of food, coal, and other supplies the city would need to survive the almost year-long Soviet siege of the city.
5. MiG Alley – Korean War
During the Korean War, the Air Force was again put to the test. The Nazis developed jet-powered fighters by the end of World War II, but even then, it was an imperfect technology. By the time the Korean War saw Communist forces engage the United Nations Coalition on the Korean Peninsula, both sides were still flying propeller driven aircraft. That soon changed. As the war ground on through December of 1950, the United States still had no jet-powered answer to the Soviet-built MiG-15 jet fighter.
Then, finally, came the F-86 Sabre. The swept-wing design and the skill of UN and American pilots were able to make short work of MiG-15 fighters. In the infamous “MiG Alley” – the Northern area of North Korea, near its border with China – where Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean fighters waited at high altitudes to come down raining death on UN fighters, featured massive jet vs. jet air battles. Air Force F-86 pilots had a stunning 10-1 kill ratio.
Robin Olds is the reason for the Air Force’s “Mustache March” tradition.
6. Operation Bolo – Vietnam War
The early days of the air war over Vietnam didn’t go so well for the USAF. The Vietnam War’s kill ratio is a dismal but disputed 2-1. Air Force sorties coming to the landward side of Vietnam from bases in Thailand were picked up by superior North Vietnamese early warning radar and intercepting Communist planes were able to wait for the incoming Air Force planes. Once inside North Vietnam, Air Force pilots had only their eyes to help guide them. Air Force pilots would always end up on the defensive against skilled North Vietnamese pilots and surface-to-air missile batteries.
Air Force legend and triple ace Robin Olds devised a way to take advantage of the increasing boldness of Vietnamese pilots. In “Bolo,” Olds created what looked like a standard USAF F-105 bombing run to North Vietnam’s radar. Enemy MiG-21s made a beeline for what they thought were the usual F-105 Thunderchief bombers only to find Olds and his fleet of F-4 Phantoms ready for air-to-air combat. Without suffering a single loss, the Air Force downed seven enemy MiG-21s, changing the way the Air Force fought in the air. In the weeks that followed, North Vietnam lost half of its combat planes to U.S. airmen.
Behold: The reason the movie “Jarhead” has no climactic battle scenes.
(U.S. Air Force)
7. Operation Desert Storm
The air war of Operation Desert Stom was one of the most massive and successful air campaigns ever. Since Coalition aircraft could roam the skies in the region virtually unopposed. The buildup of men, materiel, equipment, and aircraft was one of the largest airlift operations in military history (even bigger than the Berlin Airlift). By the time the deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait came and went, the U.S. Air Force was more than ready to take the initiative.
Starting Jan. 17, 1991, the Air Force launched more than 100,000 sorties against Iraqi targets and dropped more than 88,000 tons of ordnance. Like a modern-day Noah’s Ark story, the Air Force pummeled Iraq for some 40 days and 40 nights. After the U.S. Air Force smashed some 38 Iraqi aircraft, those pilots still in the air fled to Iran (who they just finished an eight-year war with) rather than face the U.S. Air Force in combat. The Gulf War ended in Iraqi defeat on Feb. 23, 1991.