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.
The 83rd Infantry Division, nicknamed Thunderbolt, first entered combat in Normandy in late June 1944. Generally fighting as part of Patton’s Third Army, they were involved in major combat across Northern France and Europe.
Their first action was as a part of Operation Cobra to breakout of the Normandy hedgerows. They then fought against stiff resistance until they finally entered Germany.
This is where the 83rd would come to notoriety as the “Rag-tag Circus.”
Once American forces crossed the Rhine in March 1945, it became an all-out sprint for Berlin with the fast-moving Armored Divisions of the 12th Army Group leading the way.
But the 83rd was a light division with very little in the way of organic transportation assets.
According to the After Action Report of the 329th Infantry Regiment, the Rag-tag Circus was born of necessity when the regiment’s ten non-organic trucks were detached for other duties. As the battalion commanders protested, word came down from the division commander, “utilize to the fullest extent the captured German transportation they had in their possession.”
The 83rd took the idea and ran with it.
Any German vehicle they could get their hands on got a coat of OD green paint and some white stars and was pressed into service.
They commandeered all manner of vehicles: trucks, staff cars, motorcycles, buses, German tanks, and even a Messerschmitt BF 109 was confiscated and piloted by a member of the division.
These commandeered vehicles complemented the already-taxed vehicles the 83rd had. Pushing the limits of reason, tanks carried more than 30 troops on top while jeeps, with and without trailers, were carrying more than a dozen.
Men were packed on so tight that the assistant division commander quipped, “it looked like the men were sprayed on the tanks.”
But this motley crew of vehicles and men that made up the Rag-tag Circus wasn’t the only amazing thing about the 83rd Infantry Division’s drive across Germany.
The Rag-tag Circus had the Germans on the run and was moving at a blistering pace. Pockets of German resistance were quickly overcome and the division moved on.
Oftentimes, division headquarters would displace forward as much as five times per day. The grunts on the ground almost never stopped.
They moved so fast that the lead elements of regiments were often moving out of the other side of a town before the Germans had even had a chance to retreat.
This led to some rather comical instances.
As the Rag-tag Circus sped east through yet another town, an erratic driver entered their column. The vehicle was just another German staff car like so many others in the convoy and since speed was the order of the day, it might not have otherwise drawn much attention. But the erratic driving and continual horn-honking alerted some of the GIs. PFC David Webster took a closer look as the car sped by his vehicle and noticed there was something different about this German car – it still had Germans in it. In fact, sitting in the rear was a Wehrmacht General who was oblivious to the fact that the column he was speeding through was actually American — not German. The GIs stepped on the gas and blocked the path of the Germans, leading to the capture of a German general by almost sheer luck.
In another instance, the Rag-tag Circus was simply travelling so fast that they overtook a column of German vehicles attempting to retreat to the east. This time, the 83rd bagged themselves a German Colonel to go with their prized General.
But those weren’t the only prisoners the 83rd took. In their fourteen day, 280-mile dash across Germany from the Rhine to the Elbe, they captured some 12,000 German POWs and 72 German towns. They also liberated over 75,000 Allied POWs from German camps and liberated a number of concentration camps as well.
The Rag-tag Circus was also the first unit to cross the Elbe River on April 13, 1945, securing a bridgehead after engineers built a treadway bridge across the river.
Despite Berlin being less than 50 miles away and German resistance virtual nonexistent, the 83rd was told to hold their position.
Although they were known as the Rag-tag Circus during their courageous run up to the Elbe, the division sought a more appropriate name to commemorate the achievement. The men of the division settled on “Thunderbolt,” which became the official division nickname.
The Elbe would end up being the closest the Americans would get to Berlin before the war ended and on April 25, 1945, elements of the 65th Infantry Division linked up with Russians advancing from the east.
Despite its heroic and record-breaking efforts, the 83rd was denied a Presidential Unit Citation. After occupation duty in German, the 83rd returned to the United States in March 1946 and was inactivated the following month.
The U.S. Marine Corps didn’t allow black men into its ranks until 1942, months after America joined World War II and decades after the Army and Navy began accepting black troops. But that delayed start means that cameras were common when the first black Marines earned their Eagle, Globe, and Anchors. Here are 15 photos from those first pioneers.
(Writer’s note: These images come from the National Archives which have a whole section dedicated to black troops in World War II with over 250 images. The captions below were updated for language and clarity, but the information contained comes from that archive. You can find more images and historical context by visiting them here.)
It is always interesting to dive on wrecks. This can include wrecks of sunken warships, which can serve as an eerie glimpse into the past. Some ships, like the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34), are old warships being put to use as artificial reefs.
Others were sent to Davy Jone’s Locker the hard way during the war. One such vessel is the German U-boat U-85. According to U-Boat.net, this sub sank three vessels during its wartime service before it ran into USS Roper (DD 147). The Roper put U-85 on the bottom of the Atlantic. All hands went down with the German sub less than twenty miles off the coast of North Carolina.
The story, though, doesn’t end there. According to Outer Banks Sentinel’s web site, in 2001, divers Jim Bunch, Roger Hunting, and Rich Hunting retrieved the sub’s Enigma machine. The site claimed that Navy divers had attempted a similar objective shortly after the U-boat sank in 1942. The Sentinel noted that the Enigma was worth as much as $200,000, although appraisals supposedly for tax purposes were in the range of $50,000 to $75,000.
A 2003 release by the United States Navy’s Naval Historical Center noted that “the retrieval of the Enigma machine by the private divers was illegal without proper authorization from the German government to do so.” The Navy, the divers, and the German government later arranged for the Engima machine in question to be donated to the Atlantic Graveyard Museum, where it is today.
The looting of war graves has become an epidemic in the East Indies, including the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, and a number of other allied vessels.
It almost seems like something out of a James Bond movie — heavily armed submarines suddenly disappearing without a trace while underway.
But sadly, in 1968, the truth would turn out be far worse than fiction when four countries reeled after the successive losses of four submarines. 318 sailors from Israel, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States were tragically committed to their eternal rest in the Atlantic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, and the Mediterranean Sea.
While some details have surfaced over the years, the causes behind the losses of each of these four submarines remain unclear to this day, posing a mystery for historians, researchers, and naval engineers alike.
The Dakar, an Israeli vessel, was the first of the four submarines to go missing that fateful year. Originally produced for the British Royal Navy in 1943 during the Second World War, Dakar was a diesel-electric submarine sold to Israel in the mid-1960s after being put through a considerable refurbishment which streamlined the sub’s hull and superstructure, upgraded the engines, and diminished the sub’s noise while underwater.
After spending most of 1967 undergoing a refit and sea trials after being sold to the Israeli navy, Dakar set sail on its trip across the Mediterranean Sea to Israel in mid-January of the following year, where she would be formally welcomed into active service with a large ceremony. Expected back by Feb. 2, Dakar never arrived.
Transmissions from the sub ceased after Jan. 24. Immediately, all nearby naval vessels from a number of countries, including Great Britain, the United States, Turkey, and Greece, began a sweeping search-and-rescue mission to find the Dakar. Despite finding one of the sub’s emergency buoys in 1969, Dakar remained hidden in the murky depths of the Mediterranean, lost with all hands.
It wasn’t until 1999 that Dakar was be found, laying on the seabed near Crete and Cyprus. Parts of the submarine were raised to the surface, including its conning tower and a few smaller artifacts. To this day, a number of theories on the loss of Dakar exist, though none of them appear to be the definitive answer behind why the submarine went down.
Minerve, another diesel-electric submarine, was the second loss of 1968, going down just two days after Dakar in January. Typically staffed with a crew of 50 sailors, the Minerve was a smaller patrol sub, though retooled to conduct experiments on behalf of the French Navy. Able to carry missiles, it could stay submerged for 30 days before resurfacing to recharge its batteries and resupply.
On Jan. 27, Minerve was roughly 30 miles from base when its crew made contact with a French Navy aircraft to confirm their arrival time of less than an hour. After that transmission, the Minerve went silent. Now with their submarine overdue and unresponsive, the French Navy kicked into high gear, launching a large search-and-rescue operation including an aircraft carrier and smaller research submersibles.
To this day, the Minervehas never been found, even though it was lost a relatively short distance from its homeport. The sub’s entire crew of 52 sailors perished with their ship.
Built for the Soviet’s Pacific Fleet as a ballistic missile submarine, K-129 had been active for over 7 years by the time it was lost in early March of 1968. With sharp and sleek lines, the K-129 looked more like a shark than it did a traditional submarine. Armed with nuclear-tipped torpedoes and missiles, it was far more dangerous than the average diesel-electric submarine in service at the time.
While on a combat patrol in the Pacific Ocean, the submarine went unresponsive, having failed to check in on assigned dates. The Soviet Navy began a frantic search for their lost sub, worried that it was lost with all hands. After sweeping the area where K-129 was supposed to conduct its patrol for weeks, the search was called off and the sub was declared lost with its 98-man crew.
That, however, wasn’t the end of the K-129’s story. The U.S. Navy, with its SOSUS intelligence system, was able to triangulate the location of the missing sub, having detected an underwater “bang” on March 8.
After the K-129’s loss, the Central Intelligence Agency saw a major opportunity in finding the wreck and extracting code books and encryption gear from the sub’s bridge. It would give them a huge advantage in snooping on Soviet military and espionage activities. Code-naming the operation “Project Azorian,” the CIA used a gargantuan ship called the Glomar Explorer, outfitted with a big mechanical claw to grip and collect the submarine.
Project Azorian proved to be something of a mixed bag of results. While attempting to raise the K-129 from the seabed, the large grappling claw holding the stricken submarine malfunctioned and the vessel cracked in two. The forward half of the submarine was lifted into the Glomar Explorer, but the aft fell back into the ocean, taking with it the control room and all-important code books and cryptographic gear.
Nevertheless, the bodies of six of the sub’s lost crew were recovered and buried by the CIA at sea with full military honors. The CIA has still kept silent on what else they recovered from the front section of K-129. The sub’s missiles remain in the ocean.
Commissioned in 1960, the Scorpion was a Skipjack-class fast attack submarine designed to prowl around near Soviet patrol sectors, waiting to hunt down and destroy enemy surface and subsurface warships. In early 1968, Scorpiondeparted for the Mediterranean from Norfolk, Virginia after undergoing a hasty 9-month refit.
In May, the Scorpion and its crew found themselves at Rota, Spain, where they provided a noise cover for a departing Navy ballistic missile submarine by making high-speed, “loud” dashes as the larger missile sub slipped away. This was to keep nearby Soviet subs and spy ships from monitoring and recording the Navy’s newest nuclear deterrent’s noise signature for further reference.
Less than a week later, Scorpion went missing. Overdue by nearly a week for its return to Norfolk, its homeport, the Navy began searching for its submarine. Five months later, the remains of the attack submarine were found on the ocean floor near the Azores. It had been lost with all hands.
A number of differing theories exist on the destruction of the Scorpion, with some claiming that the sub was deliberately torpedoed by the Soviet Union in retaliation for supposed American involvement in the loss of K-129. The last received transmission from the submarine seems to lend a margin of credibility to these claims — the sub’s captain reported contact with Soviet vessels and declared his intention to reconnoiter the area.
Others say that the unusually fast refit that Scorpion underwent in 1967 left considerable room for technical error, thanks to Navy contractors cutting corners to get the sub back out to sea. As a result, mechanical failure was to blame. Further groups of researchers and historians believe that the submarine could have gone down due to a malfunctioning torpedo exploding aboard the vessel.
Even to this day, the majority of Scorpion’s last patrol is still classified, and the Navy’s official position on the loss is “inconclusive.”
For the first time in 14 years, one of the most iconic planes in American history has earned its wings.
Restorers have reattached the wings to the B-17F Memphis Belle, under restoration at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Wednesday, the museum provided a behind-the-scenes look as aircraft workers reattached more pieces to the bomber’s wings in preparation for a public unveiling next year.
“It’s amazing,” said Casey Simmons, a restorer who has labored on the project since 2008 . “I don’t know if there’s words that really say it because you’re little and you build this kit as a little model (airplane) and now you’re actually doing the real thing.
“My favorite part about working on it is just the fact that I get to work on it,” added Casey, 36, of Dayton. “It’s the Memphis Belle. It’s one of the most famous planes. Everything about it, it doesn’t seem like a job. It’s what I’d be doing in my free time if I got to do whatever I wanted to do.”
The Army Air Forces plane is set to make its debut among fabled aircraft inside the World War II gallery at the museum on May 17, 2018, the date that marks the 75th anniversary of the 25th and final wartime mission of the storied bomber that battled Nazi Germany.
The final crew and the bomber gained fame on a nationwide wartime bond tour, which stopped in Dayton, and for a 1944 movie “Memphis Belle” that documented its combat exploits over Europe.
“The big significance of the Belle is it’s an icon and it represents those heavy bomber crews that helped win the war against Germany,” said Jeff Duford, a museum curator.
The Memphis Belle will sit as the centerpiece of a large-scale exhibit on strategic bombing. Archival footage of the historic plane’s missions retrieved from the National Archives, crew artifacts flown in combat and interactive screens will tell the tale of thousands of bombers and their crews in the bloody aerial battles that killed more airman than any war American airmen have fought in.
Crews have roughly 13,000 hours of work left, said Greg Hassler, restoration supervisor. The museum was not able to provide a cost estimate or how many hours workers and volunteers labored so far to bring the Belle back to its former end of combat luster.
Restorers have labored to meticulously off and on to scrape paint, bend metal and fabricate parts since the Boeing built-bomber arrived in 2005 hauled in on a truck from near Memphis, Tenn.
“You get lots of parts and boxes and things that aren’t marked and it’s trying to figure out where things go (you) look at the drawings and it’s like a puzzle,” Simmons said.
The plane will be repainted to reflect how it looked at the end of its combat bombing runs and before flying across the nation on the war bond tour, Duford said. The paint on the plane today is not the original markings, he said.
“The skin all over the the fuselage is engraved with the names when it went on its war bond tour so you want to try and keep all that as much as you can because if you replace that, that’s history gone,” Simmons said.
The reborn Belle will have a woman in a red dress on one side of the plane and in a blue dress on the other side of the nose to reflect the original look. A row of swastikas added for the war bond tour will be removed because they weren’t on the bomber immediately after it finished its days in combat, Duford said
The wings were last attached in 2003, officials said.
Long before the first bombs fell on Baghdad Jan. 16, 1991, the man who would be in charge of one of the most effective air campaigns in history was hearing whispers from another war.
Then-Lt. Gen. Charles A. Horner, who, as a young captain, flew Wild Weasel missions attacking radar sites during two tours in the Vietnam War, was determined to avoid the same strategic mistakes in the Persian Gulf that plagued the U.S. military in Southeast Asia. Fortunately, his boss – Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf – and other military leaders executing Operation Desert Storm had Vietnam, and the hard lessons learned there, in their memories, as well.
An oil storage tank at a refinery that was attacked by coalition aircraft during Operation Desert Storm continues to burn days after the air strike. The refinery is located approximately seven miles west of the Kuwaiti border.
Twenty-five years later, Horner, now a retired four-star general residing in northwest Florida, looks back on the Air Force that struck Saddam Hussein’s forces in Kuwait and Iraq during Desert Storm as perhaps the best-trained force to date. Five days after Iraq invaded Kuwait Aug. 2, 1990, a U.S.-led coalition of about 30 nations placed more than 900,000 troops in the Arabian Peninsula in what became known as Operation Desert Shield, the campaign to prevent Iraqi incursions into Saudi Arabia, and build up forces to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait should diplomacy fail to secure a peaceful solution. When the United Nations Security Council for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait came and went the following January, Desert Storm kicked off with an air campaign that would become the largest employment of U.S. airpower since the war in Vietnam.
“When I think back on the past 25 years after Desert Storm, I see the immense impact that particular war had on how we planned to fight in the future and the kind of equipment we would need,” Horner said. “But most of all, I think about the spirit and attitude of our young warriors who were going to be faced with the next battle.
“I’m so proud of the way we performed in Desert Storm because of the leadership we had from Schwarzkopf and (Gen. Wilbur L. “Bill” Creech, former Tactical Air Command commander), and the way we had equipment that worked. We had all of the advantages the world had not seen before Desert Storm.”
A framed photo on a bookshelf, of then Colonel, and now retired Gen. Charles A. Horner and his wife Mary Jo, in front of his F-15 at Luke AFB, where he was wing commander in March of 1981. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
One of Horner’s first priorities, while planning the air strategy as Schwarzkopf’s joint force air component commander, was to avoid making what he considered the main mistake from Vietnam. He didn’t want bombing target selection to come from the president or defense secretary. As the architect of the air campaign against Iraq, Horner wanted targeting decisions to be made by commanders directly involved in the area of operations. “Washington was not the place to plan a war,” he had said. “If people there wanted to fight, let them come to the theater (of combat).
“That is the lesson of Vietnam,” Horner said in “Airpower Advantage: Planning the Gulf War Campaign 1989-1991,” a book by Diane Putney for the Air Force History and Museums Program. “Remember our great president (Lyndon B. Johnson) saying, ‘They don’t bomb a shit house in North Vietnam if I don’t approve it.’
“Well, I was the guy bombing the shit houses, and I was never going to let that happen if I ever got in charge because it is not right. If you want to know whether war is going to be successful or not, just ask where the targets are being picked. If they say, ‘We picked them in Washington,’ get out of the country. Go to Canada until the war is over because it is a loser.”
The day Horner, then the commander of 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, received the call that eventually launched Desert Storm, he was flying his F-16 Fighting Falcon on an air-to-air training mission near the North Carolina coast with two F-15 Eagles from Langley AFB, Virginia.
He’d expected the call from Schwarzkopf since the invasion of Kuwait. But once the call came from the Federal Aviation Administration to notify him to return to Shaw AFB, he instantly knew what it meant. He and his staff had to prepare the air portion of a CENTCOM briefing for President George H.W. Bush at Camp David, Maryland, the next morning.
After the invasion of Kuwait, the coalition’s first priority was protecting Saudi Arabia. Horner developed friendships with the Saudis earlier in his career during Operation Earnest Will in 1987-88 and other exercises and remained in Saudi Arabia after he and Schwarzkopf went there a few days after the invasion of Kuwait. The coalition organized for Desert Shield and Storm gave the U.S. military an opportunity to work closely with each other, as well as with forces from other nations, as they would later do during Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom.
A massive prepositioning of equipment, supplies, munitions and fuels around the Persian Gulf, begun by the Joint Rapid Deployment Force in the 1980s, expedited preparations to conduct military operations in the area of responsibility, Horner said.
“When our aircraft landed in the Gulf airfields, they were met with spares, fuel, munitions, living facilities and all the other things they would need to survive and fight,” he wrote in “Desert Storm: A View From the Front.” “This material had been stored on ships anchored in theater and in leased warehouses throughout the AOR.”
Well before the crisis in the Gulf began, the military had trained for an eventual showdown with Iraq. A month before the invasion, a CENTCOM war game used a scenario of a “Country Orange” attacking Kuwait and Saudi Arabia from the north. When Schwarzkopf, who died in 2012, accepted command of CENTCOM in November 1989, he told his military leaders that since a war with Russia wasn’t likely to happen, “we have to find a new enemy or go out of business,” Horner said.
At the time Iraq invaded Kuwait, it fielded the world’s fifth-largest army at a million soldiers; larger than the U.S. Army and Marine Corps combined, according to a Los Angeles Times article on Aug. 13, 1990. The weaknesses coalition military planners hoped to exploit included an incompetent senior staff chosen for their devotion to Hussein rather than their military prowess, and only about one-third of its soldiers were experienced combat troops, according to U.S. officials quoted in the article.
After its eight-year war with Iran, Iraq owed a huge debt to Kuwait and many other Arab nations, which funded Iraq’s purchase of high-tech weapons, according to an American Patriot Friends Network article published in 2004. Kuwait’s oil made it one of the richest countries in the world and cash-strapped Iraq wanted it.
Pilot gazes out into the wild blue yonder.
“When General Schwarzkopf took command of (CENTCOM), he said we have to plan for an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia because Iraq came out of the Iran-Iraq War very powerful militarily,” Horner said. “So, of course, they were sitting right next to the Fort Knox in the Middle East. So when it happened, I wasn’t surprised. We’d anticipated it was going to happen, but the speed with which we had to react was surprising.”
A United Nations Security Council deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait passed on Jan. 15, 1991, with no action from Iraq, so at 2 a.m. Jan. 17 (Baghdad time), coalition forces began a five-week bombardment of Iraqi command and control targets, beginning with eight Army AH-64 Apache helicopters led by two Air Force MH-53 Pave Hawks that destroyed radar sites near the Iraq-Saudi Arabia border, according to Putney. About an hour later, 10 Air Force F-117 Nighthawk stealth bombers, protected by three EF-111 Aardvarks, and Navy BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles struck targets in Baghdad. The initial attacks allowed the coalition to gain control of the air for its fighter aircraft.
At the cessation of hostilities, coalition forces had destroyed 3,700 of Iraq’s 4,280 tanks and 2,400 of its 2,870 armored vehicles. The bomb tonnage dropped by U.S. planes per day equaled the average tonnage dropped on Germany and Japan during the entirety of World War II, according to the “White Paper – Air Force Performance in Desert Storm, Department of the Air Force,” published in April 1991.”
“The things that guided our strategy was to be unrelenting and to bring such a powerful force, so quickly and so thoroughly on the enemy, that they would be forced to leave Kuwait,” Horner said. “It was not going to be piecemeal. It was not going to be to play Mr. Nice Guy. It was going to be as vicious as possible, and that drove the strategy. The second part of our strategy was to get control of the air first and foremost, which we did not do in Vietnam.”
Civilian and military officials pose for a group photograph prior to discussing U.S. military intervention in the Persian Gulf during Operation Desert Shield. Dignitaries include, from left: P. D. Wolfowitz, under sec. of defense for policy; Gen. C. Powell, chrm., Joint Chiefs of Staff; R. Cheney, sec. of defense; Gen. N. Schwarzkopf, cmdr-in-chief, USCENTCOM; Lt. Gen. C. Waller, dep. chief of staff, USCENTCOM; and Maj. Gen. R. Johnston. Back row: Lt. Gen. C. Horner, cmdr., 9th AF, TAC; Lt. Gen. J. Yeosock, cmdr., 3rd Army; Vice-Adm. S. Arthur, cmdr., Seventh Flt. and Col. Johnson.
The result was a prolonged air campaign that set up a short but decisive ground campaign. As the air war kicked off the first night of Desert Storm, Horner watched from the tactical air control center in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as coalition aircraft flew north. At first, he wasn’t completely confident about how successful the attack would be or the cost it would take in aircraft and personnel.
However, Horner knew it was going well when he saw CNN’s live feed from Baghdad disappear. As CNN’s television satellite transmission equipment was not allowed entry into the highly controlled, secretive, authoritarian state, they had to transmit through antennas atop the ATT building in downtown Baghdad. It was the same building that housed Iraq’s air defense operations and from which communications emanated from Iraq’s air command control system. It was the target of one of the first bombs dropped from U.S. planes. When CNN reporter Peter Arnett went off the air at the precise moment the strike was scheduled, cheers went through the air operations center, Horner said. If CNN was off the air, so was Iraq’s air defense system.
“So as the sun came up the next morning and all of our airplanes were coming home except one, we became aware that this was going to go a lot better than even the best critics thought it might,” Horner said.
By Feb. 23, the air campaign was mostly complete and coalition ground forces swiftly drove the Republican Guard from Kuwait and advanced into Iraq, forcing a ceasefire within 100 hours. Desert Storm was won at a much lower cost than even in the most optimistic prognostications, with 148 Americans killed in action and another 145 non-battle deaths. The Defense Intelligence Agency numbered the Iraqi casualties at about 100,000, although later the figure was disputed to be more in the 20,000 to 40,000 range.
Horner said bombing campaign proved most productive attacking Republican Guard and armor units because Hussein depended on them to retain power. The attacks to gain control of the air, coupled with medium-altitude operations, air-to-air excellence and defense suppression attacks were also effective, he said.
“When the ground war started, I expected rapid gains given the fact that we had reduced the Iraqi ground units to a level of ‘not combat ready,’ using our Army’s definition,” Horner said. “What surprised most of us was the surrender rate. That was beyond our expectations. Once I became certain, early in the war, that our losses were manageable, I knew the ground war would go well, but I underestimated how well.”
Horner, who co-wrote his account of the air war with the late Tom Clancy in “Every Man a Tiger,” gives much of the credit for the training of the force he led during Desert Storm to Creech and Marine Corps Gen. George B. Crist, Schwarzkopf’s predecessor as CENTCOM commander-in-chief, who both placed great importance on making training as close to real world as possible. They led the push for more realistic exercises, an emphasis on aircraft maintenance, bomb scores, and the right tactics, which all came together during Desert Storm.
A close-up view of M-117 750-pound bombs loaded onto the pylon of a B-52G Stratofortress aircraft prior to a bombing mission against Iraqi forces during Operation Desert Storm.
Another lesson from Crist that played into Horner’s strategy was to force decisions down to the lowest level and hold those people responsible. Horner saw the benefits of that policy during a meeting with a munitions technical sergeant. Horner was visiting the bomb dock where munitions were built and saw the NCO sitting on a dust-covered wooden crate, and he asked him how things were going and if he was running into any problems.
“He said, ‘Well, those dumb guys in Riyadh, (Saudi Arabia), meaning me, told me one day to load 2,000-pound bombs on each F-16,” Horner said, smiling. “Those dummies didn’t know that I didn’t have any 2,000-pound bombs, so I went ahead and put four 1,000-pound bombs on each of the airplanes, and the mission flew. If he had not been empowered, all he had to do was say I don’t have two 2,000-pound bombs, and we would have never gotten those two planes off. It was empowerment that made the difference, and that was one of the secrets we saw in Desert Storm.”
F-16A, F-15C and F-15E flying during Desert Storm. (U.S. Air Force photo)
Iraq’s air force was almost non-existent during Desert Storm. Hussein hoped to wait out the coalition bombardment, which he didn’t expect would last more than four or five days. As a result, gaining control of the air almost immediately allowed the coalition forces to interdict supply lines and degrade command and control links, according to a GlobalSecurity.org article. Air supremacy also drastically destroyed the will of the Iraqi army; they surrendered in droves when the ground war began 38 days later.
Aside from the superior training that was on display during Desert Shield and Storm, Horner believes another legacy of the first war in the Gulf was the technological advances it put on display for the Air Force.
Retired Air Force Gen. Charles Horner had a major role in the air power strategy of the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Horner commanded U.S. and Allied airpower during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm. He had previously served as a combat pilot flying F-105s in Vietnam where he was awarded a Silver Star. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Lee)
“I think the American public and the world were amazed at the technology that was exposed by Desert Storm,” he said. “The stealth of the F-117 and its ability to go anywhere in heavily defended areas of the world and carry out its mission with absolute precision, the training of our air-to-air combat people and the ability to defeat a very sophisticated surface-to-air missile threat all came into play, and they weren’t appreciated because of our experiences in previous wars such as Vietnam. It served us very well and created an illusion that we were more successful than we really were. But I’ll accept that.”
When America joined the Great War, the British Fleet was holding most of the German Navy in the North Sea, meaning that American warships and troop ships rarely faced severe opposition. But one ship did fall prey to an unknown assailant: The USS San Diego, sank off the U.S. East Coast due to a massive explosion from an unknown source.
The USS San Diego in March 1916.
But the ship is now a fish sanctuary, and researchers looking at the wreck and at historical documents think they’ve figured out what happened all those years ago.
On July 19, 1918, the armored cruiser was sailing from Portsmouth Naval Yard to New York with a full load of coal in preparation to strike out across the Atlantic. But, as it was coming up the coast, an explosion well beneath the waterline suddenly tore through the ship, hitting so hard that it warped the hull and prevented the closure of a watertight door.
USS San Diego sinks in this 1920 painting by Francis Muller.
(Naval History and Heritage Command)
His working theory was that they had been hit by a German torpedo, and he wanted to both kill the bastard who had shot his ship and save the vessel. Unfortunately, he could do neither. The ship sank in 30 minutes into water 110 feet deep, and the crew never spotted the vessel that attacked them.
Six sailors died in the incident. They were Engineman Second Class Thomas E. Davis, Engineman 2nd Class James F. Rochet, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Frazier O. Thomas, Seaman 2nd Class Paul J. Harris, Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Andrew Munson, and Fireman 1st Class Clyde C. Blaine.
It was a naval mystery for years, but there was a theory competing against the torpedo one: The ship might have struck a mine placed there by a submarine that was long gone when the San Diego arrived.
The proud USS San Diego, also known as Armored Cruiser 6.
Researchers created a 3-D map of the wreck, and found damage that was most similar to the larger explosive load of a torpedo, but could have been caused by a large mine. And so they turned to naval records handed over by Germany after World War I.
In those records, they found reports from the U-156, a German submarine that did operate on the East Coast that month. But it wasn’t concentrating on finding ships to torpedo. She was carrying mines.
The mine explosion took place well below the waterline and against relatively thin plating. The mine detonated against a half inch of steel. If it had contacted at the armored band, it would’ve done paltry damage against the ship’s 5-inch thick armor belt.
Because of the limited ships the Central Powers could put to sea in the later years of World War I, the Navy concentrated on protecting and conducting logistics operations rather than chasing elusive fleet action. The Navy delivered more than 2 million soldiers to Europe without losing any soldiers to U-boats.
In World War II, it would be forced to conduct fleet actions while also delivering troops and supplies across the Pacific, Europe, and Africa.
Some planes have long had a reputation for being deadly in air-to-air combat. That is an arena built for the fast and evasive — and planes get faster and more evasive all the time. But what do we do about the older fighters? Retirement or being passed on, second-hand, to other countries happens to some models, and some of these designs are so good, they last for decades (the P-51 served in a military role until 1985). Other planes, however, undergo a little role change and start dropping bombs instead.
In fact, when you look at the most prominent fighters from World War II (the P-51, the F6F Hellcat, the F4U Corsair, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and the P-38 Lightning), they were all multi-role fighters. The jet age was no different — many planes designed for air-to-air became very good at dropping bombs on the enemy on the ground. Here are some of the most prominent.
1. North American F-86 Sabre
The F-86 Sabre dominated the skies during the Korean War, but as the war went on, this plane also had a significant impact as a fighter-bomber. This plane did so well dropping ordnance that the Air Force eventually bought the F-86H, a dedicated fighter-bomber version of the F-86, which served until 1972.
2. North American F-100 Super Sabre
Like the F-86, the F-100 was initially intended for air-to-air combat. But the F-100A had its teething problems, and it never saw much combat as a fighter. The F-100D version, however, became a very reliable fighter-bomber. In fact, a later model, the F-100F operational trainer model, was among the first of the Wild Weasels — Vietnam-era bombers that were responsible for taking out enemy air defenses. The F-100 fighter-bombers stuck around until 1979.
3. McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom
The Navy’s version of the Phantom, the F-4B, was an all-weather interceptor. The Air Force was the first branch to use this airframe as a tactical fighter, and the others quickly followed suit. As F-14s and F-15s emerged into service, F-4s took on more ground-attack missions. Today, those still in service with Turkey and other countries are primarily used for bombing.
4. Grumman F-14 Tomcat
Lessons learned from Vietnam and the development of new Soviet bombers spurred the development of the F-14 as a pure fighter. It had quite the long reach, too. With the end of the Cold War, though, the Tomcat quickly ran thin on targets in the air and was quickly retooled to attack ground targets. Sadly, it also saw its production ended shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union and was retired in 2004. It leaves us to wonder just what could have been for carrier air wings.
5. McDonnell-Douglas F-15 Eagle
While the Navy replaced its F-4s with the F-14, the Air Force chose to replace them in the air-to-air role with the F-15. The F-15 dominated as an air-superiority fighter (it still hasn’t lost a for-real dogfight). Then, the Air Force sought to replace the F-4 for the ground-attack missions – and the F-15 was selected. Today, the F-15E is still going strong, bringing the fight to ground forces.
The fact is, an air-superiority fighter need not despair when newer jets come along. It can earn a second lease on life by dropping bombs on the bad guys. It might not be as thrilling as a dogfight, but it’s plenty effective.
Camp Hale, located in Colorado’s Eagle River valley near Leadville, was constructed in 1942 during World War II. It served as a training facility for the US Army known as the 10th Mountain Division.
At 9,200 feet above sea level, Soldiers at Camp Hale trained in Nordic and Alpine skiing, mountain climbing, and cold weather survival, in addition to the more standard military training. The cold weather warfare tactics used by the Finnish Army during the Winter War between Finland and the USSR between 1939 and 1940 informed the training. It was an intelligent move on the part of the US government, that’s for sure.
The Birth of the Ski Troopers
Soldiers who trained at Camp Hale, called Ski Troopers, helped lead the Allied Forces to victory in World War II. They remain the only US military division of its size to receive specialized arctic and mountain warfare training. At its peak, 15,000 Soldiers trained at Camp Hale, enough to fill three regiments. All were deployed upon completing their training.
After 1945, when the war was over, the US government decommissioned Camp Hale. Its only military use after World War II was in the 1960s when the CIA used the area to secretly train Tibetans. Then in 1965, it was officially dismantled and the deed to the land was transferred to the US Forest Service.
Mountain Soldiers Turned Ski Resort Entrepreneurs
Just a few years earlier in 1962, Camp Hale Veteran Pete Seibert came back to Colorado and founded Vail Resorts just a hop, skip, and a jump from his former mountain warfare training. And there’s lots more where that came from.
Overall, America has the 10th Mountain Division to thank for developing the modern-day ski industry. The Soldiers took the skills they learned at Camp Hale and used them for something a lot more fun than fighting a war: recreational skiing! Now, skiing has become a popular winter pastime for many Americans.
The Fight To Protect Camp Hale
In order to protect 40,000 acres of Colorado land, 30,000 of which include Camp Hale, legislators have been pushing the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act. The act passed in the House in 2019 but remains to pass through the Senate.
If it passes, it would turn the camp into the first National Historic Landscape in the nation. A National Historic Landscape is a hybrid classification combining preservation of the terrain and education about its history. This would be the perfect designation for Camp Hale’s combination of history and natural beauty.
No one has ever claimed that life aboard a U.S. Navy ship was luxurious. Even on the most advanced warships on the planet life can still be cramped. Though today amenities are much improved, the sailors patrolling the oceans in World War II had a much different life than their modern counterparts.
For one thing, the submarines of World War II were much smaller. Though only about 60 feet shorter than a modern submarine, the Gato and Balao-class submarines the U.S. Navy operated in World War II had a displacement of only about one third that of modern Virginia class submarines.
In that small space, the submariners — some 60 to 80 in all — had to store themselves, their gear, and provisions for 75 days.
A submarine of that size simply could not fit all of the necessary provisions for a long war patrol in the appropriate spaces. To accommodate, the crew stashed boxes of food and other things anywhere they would fit — the showers, the engine room, even on the deck until there was space inside to fit it all.
There was one upside though. Because of the dangerous and grueling nature of submarine duty, the Navy did its best to ensure that submariners got the best food the Navy had to offer. They also found room to install an ice cream freezer as a small luxury for the crew.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time or space to enjoy that food. Most of the time the men were lucky to get ten minutes to eat as the boat’s three “shifts” all had to pass through the tiny galley in a short amount of time.
The serving of food was often times also dictated by restrictions on the submarines movements. Submarines were under strict orders not to surface during the day when they were within 500 miles of a Japanese airfield in order to avoid aerial observation and attack. In the early days of the war in the Pacific this meant just about everywhere as the Japanese were in control of vast swaths of territory and ocean.
This meant that the submarines stayed submerged during the day and only surfaced at night. In order to compensate, many crews flipped their schedules doing their normal daily routines at night. The crews called this “going into reversa.” This allowed the crew to take advantage of the time the sub was on the surface.
This was important because once the submarine dove after running its diesel engines for hours, the boat would quickly heat up. The engine room temperature could soar to over 100 degrees before spreading throughout the sub. Combine that with the 80 men working and breathing and the air inside could quickly become foul.
The men knew the air was getting bad when they had trouble lighting their cigarettes due to the lack of oxygen (oh the irony).
To make matters worse, there was little water available for bathing and on long patrols most men only showered about every ten days or so. Laundry was out of the question. Because of these conditions submarines developed a unique smell – a combination of diesel fuel, sweat, cigarettes, hydraulic fluid, cooking, and sewage.
On older submarines, the World War I-era S-boats — often referred to as pigboats — the conditions were even worse. Without proper ventilation, the odors were even stronger. This also led to mold and mildew throughout the boat as well as rather large cockroaches that the crews could never quite seem to eradicate.
If the conditions themselves weren’t bad enough, the crews then had to sail their boats into hostile waters, often alone, to attack the enemy.
Submarines often targeted shipping boats, but sometimes would find themselves tangling with enemy surface vessels. Once a sub was spotted, the enemy ships would move in for the kill with depth charges.
Of the 263 submarines that made war patrols in World War II, 41 of them were lost to enemy action while another eleven were lost to accidents or other reasons. This was nearly one out of every five submarines, making the job of submariner one of the most dangerous of the war.
A further danger the submarines faced was being the target of their own torpedoes. Due to issues with the early Mk. 14 torpedo that was used, it had a tendency to make a circular run and come back to strike the sub that fired it. At least one submarine, the USS Tang, was sunk this way.
On special missions, submarines landed reconnaissance parties on enemy shores, and in a few cases used their 5″ deck guns to bombard enemy positions.
The bravery of the submarines was well-known in World War II. Presidential Unit Citations were awarded 36 times to submarine crews. Seven submarine skippers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions at sea.
American submariners in World War II set a tradition of duty and bravery that is carried on by American submarine crews today.
The date was April 23, 1975, the war in Vietnam was winding down and the world was waiting to see what America would choose to do. President Ford gave a speech to the people from Tulane University. During that speech he told the citizens of the U.S. and the rest of the world that as far as America was concerned, the war was over.
He stated, “Today, America can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war.” With these words he made it very clear that he would not be sending troops back over, despite the pleas for support from the South Vietnamese.
At this time, North Vietnam was surrounding the city of Saigon, preparing for a final assault on the capital city. The military leaders of South Vietnam ordered their troops to withdraw to the Highlands to a more defensible position. The biggest issue was that the South Vietnamese were largely outnumbered by the North Vietnamese. When they met in battle at Xuan Loc on April 21, it was clear that the end was near. Between the loss at that battle and President Ford’s speech at Tulane, South Vietnam had little hope that they could emerge victorious.
By the time April 27 dawned, North Vietnam forces had completely surrounded Saigon. They soon began their final push and assault on the city. On April 30, when North Vietnamese tanks burst through the gates of the Presidential Palace, the South Vietnamese were battered and beaten, and surrendered there and then. The war in Vietnam was officially over.
The Vietnam War was controversial from day one, especially in the U.S. It remained so through its duration, and beyond. President Ford made the choice to pull the American troops out of Vietnam and not send them back, even though South Vietnam pleaded with him to do so. This too was surely a controversial decision. The Vietnam War was an instance where no matter what was done, someone felt it was the wrong choice. The people of the United States at that time were not shy about shouting their opinions from every rooftop, either.
Those who were against the war, which was a good portion of the country, even made sure the soldiers returning home knew how they felt. The soldiers were not met with fanfare and welcome homes as were the soldiers of past wars, or as the soldiers of future wars would be. They were not given help or support in adjusting back to their lives at home. It seemed the people, the government and the country as a whole were perfectly happy to sweep the entire war and all those involved under the rug and simply move on.
Even now, 45 years after the war ended, the Vietnam War is still considered one of the most controversial wars in history. It is still often talked about in whispers, or not talked about at all. While there have been movements over the past two decades to give the Vietnam Veterans the recognition they deserve, it is still a fight everyday against the stigma felt during that time.
America as a country did as Ford said, “Regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam.” For those who fought in the war, however, there was no sense of pride found. They each had no choice but to go through the process of living a ‘normal’ life. For many this proved impossible, the war having taken every piece of them away.
It’s been 45 years since Saigon fell, 45 years since the war in Vietnam ended. Many of those men who fought in those jungles still live with the realities of that war every day. Now is the time to give them the recognition and appreciation they have always deserved. They didn’t choose to fight that battle. But, they answered the call when heeded. Today and every day, thank our Vietnam Veterans and show them the appreciation they never and should have received when they came home.
There’s just something about two people in a fistfight that’s irresistible to watch. We can’t look away. There’s something about the sound of a sliding barstool, the rising tide of voices shouting, and the sudden rush of action in one spot that is just pure entertainment.
But there shouldn’t be any reason to stop and watch two soldiers fistfight in the middle of war.
That’s why it’s surprising that it actually happened. And all the onlookers were Americans – it was during the Civil War.
In May 1864, Union and Confederate armies clashed in a dense wooded area known as “The Wilderness” over the course of three days. More than 120,000 Yankees fought some 65,000 Rebels to an ultimately inconclusive result. Both sides took tens of thousands of killed and wounded, and the Union Army of the Potomac pushed further into Virginia.
Before anyone knew the outcome of the battle, however, one small skirmish captured everyone’s attention, Union and Confederate.
In the middle of the Wilderness, between the two armies’ centers, was a clearing called Saunders Field. Being the only real clearing in the area between two opposing armies meant that it was full of artillery shells and the holes made by those shells, along with bullets. Just tons of and tons of bullets.
As the two sides clashed near a gully in the field, a Union soldier hid there to avoid being captured by the enemy. Then a Confederate soldier threw himself into the gully to avoid the hail of Union bullets coming toward him. They were the only two in the gully and didn’t even see one another.
Until they did see one another. And then they started “bantering” to one another.
Eventually the two had enough of one another and decided to take it outside…of the gully. They stepped into the road for a good ol’ fashioned “fist and skull fight.” Whoever won would take the other as prisoner.
They were halfway between both sides of the battle, in full view of everyone in each opposing army. And the men in each of those armies stopped fighting the Civil War to watch a fistfight. All the other soldiers even ran up to get a better view of the fight.
Did I mention the Civil War stopped to watch this fight?
The account, written by a cavalryman of the Virginia Infantry, doesn’t mention how long the fight lasted, only that “Johnny [Reb] soon had the Yank down.” The Union soldier, true to his word, surrendered. They both returned to the gully, fighting resumed, and the man was taken back to Confederate lines.