If you ever attend a military funeral or memorial ceremony, you may notice a group of men and women proudly holding rifles. Then, at a specific time, they aim their weapons up to the sky and fire, usually causing a slight stir in the crowd, even though everyone was expecting it to happen.
Don’t worry — those rounds are just blanks.
This practice is quite common throughout the world and, as with many traditions, it has a practical origin. Back when ships carried cannons, it was universally understood that immediately after firing, these weapons were rendered ineffective for a period of time — after all, reloading took a while. So, in order to demonstrate peaceful intent, ships would turn their cannons to the sky and discharge, telling those ashore that a ship’s weapons weren’t live.
Nobody knows why ships were designed, at one point, to carry precisely seven cannon. Some theorize that it’s related to the seven phases of the moon, others think it has to do with the biblical week, and some say it’s simply because seven is a lucky freakin’ number.
The cannon in shore batteries (with ample stores of dry, usable gunpowder) would fire three shots in return for every single shot they heard coming from the sea. For all you math geniuses out there, that equals 21 cannon shots. Upon hearing the return fire, ships at sea knew that the harbor was friendly — and the 21-gun salute was born.
It isn’t always 21, though. During a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the POTUS, former presidents, and presidents elect receive the traditional 21-gun salute. Other high-ranking officials, however, like the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military officers in command over multiple branches, receive a 19-gun salute.
Although hearing the 21-gun salute typically means you’re mourning the loss of a fellow patriot, know that this is a practice rooted in peace and history. With this salute, the fallen join those who gave us traditions so long ago.
Silently gliding through frigid February water, the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley stayed just under the surface as it approached its prey. As it breached the surface, sailors aboard the Housatonic, a Union sloop-of-war, may have thought it looked like a whale coming up for air. By the time the Union sailors realized their mistake, it was too late.
Using a “spar torpedo” — an explosive spear that the sub rammed into its target — the Hunley blew a hole in the Housatonic, which sank beneath the Atlantic in less than five minutes. Most of its sailors survived, with just five out of a 155-man crew lost in the Feb. 17, 1864, attack near Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina. But the crew of the sub that fired the shot actually fared worse. The Hunley never returned to port, with all eight mariners of the Confederate Navy lost for 131 years.
The Hunley was the first submarine to see combat in America, even though it was deadliest to its own crew. Built in 1863 to run Union blockades of Confederate ports, the Hunley’s only successful combat action was against the Housatonic, causing those five casualties. But during its brief career in the Confederate Navy, the Hunley killed 21 Confederate sailors, including the eight lost in the attack on the Housatonic.
Originally built by James McClintock and Baxter Watson, the Hunley took its name from a decidedly unromantic source: the man who funded the whole thing, Horace L. Hunley, a wealthy Confederate lawyer and merchant. Upon successful demonstration, the submarine was sent immediately to use against the Union blockade off the coast of South Carolina in August 1863.
However, the Hunley quickly built a reputation as a death trap. It sank for the first time on Aug. 29, before ever leaving its moorings at the dock, killing five of its eight crewmen. John Payne, the Confederate captain who commanded the sub that day, was among the survivors.
The ship was raised, but it sank again two months later, on Oct. 15. A demonstration dive had been arranged to allow the Hunley to submerge under another ship, the Confederate bomber CSS Indian Chief.
It got the demonstration half right.
The Hunley submerged and went below the other vessel. It just never came up. Again, salvagers pulled it out of the water.
According to the Hunley Museum website, the dive ended in terrifying final moments for those on board. “Rescuers reported the forward ballast tank valve had been left open, allowing the submarine to fill with water,” according to museum history. “The sub’s keel weights had been partially loosened, which suggested the crew realized they were in danger, but not in time to save themselves.”
All eight crewmen were killed, including Horace Hunley, who had captained the submarine himself for the demonstration, making the Hunley possibly the only ship in naval history to kill its namesake.
The Feb. 17, 1864, sinking of the Housatonic was the Hunley’s first and last combat engagement. But as the Hunley sank to the floor of the Atlantic for the third and final time, it did so as the first submarine in history to successfully destroy another vessel.
Missing for 131 years, the Hunley’s final sinking was a mystery many tried to solve, as both civilians and government searchers looked for the wreck. In 1995, a team from the National Underwater and Marine Agency, led by legendary adventure novelist Clive Cussler, discovered it. Inside, artifacts revealed a time capsule of life as a Confederate soldier during the Civil War.
The Hunley’s captain, Lt. George E. Dixon, and the rest of the men aboard, volunteered for the mission. When the Hunley was found, the body of each man was found at his station, making identification of the remains easier. Sediment in the submarine left their bodies remarkably preserved, with one man’s brain still intact.
Hunley’s artifacts ran the gamut of the daily life of a Confederate soldier, with random buttons from different campaigns, differently colored clothes and boots, and even ornate jewelry. Notably, salvagers found a gold coin with a bullet indentation that belonged to Dixon. It had stopped a bullet while in his pocket at the Battle of Shiloh. Dixon appeared to have engraved the coin with the date of the battle, “April 6th 1862. My life Preserver G. E. D.”
Researchers continue to debate why the Hunley sank. The sub was found with damage to much of it, including the hull, propellers, and conning tower, as well as oddities like the forward conning tower being unlatched.
Was the Hunley too close to the torpedo explosion? Was it trapped by the tides, did it blindly collide with something, or did the Housatonic’s sailors get off a lucky shot? Researchers and nautical archaeologists at the Friends of the Hunley hope to answer these questions with more research.
The remains of the Hunley’s final crew were buried in April 2004 at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, resting next to the 13 other crew killed during the previous accidents involving the submarine.
On Aug. 2, 1939, one month before the outbreak of World War II, Albert Einstein, the famous German-born physicist, signed a two-page letter to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt that would help bring the US into the nuclear arms race and change the course of history.
Einstein was already in the US, having fled Germany when the Nazis came to power, and learned that German scientists had discovered nuclear fission, the process of splitting an atom’s nucleus to release energy.
The letter warned Roosevelt that “extremely powerful bombs of a new type” could be created in light of this discovery — and that these bombs would be capable of destroying entire ports and their surrounding areas.
The letter — which Einstein would later call his “one great mistake” — urged Roosevelt to speed up uranium research in the US.
You can read it here, or read a full transcript at the bottom of this article:
Einstein’s letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Roosevelt said, “Alex, what you are after is to see that the Nazis don’t blow us up.”
Sachs responded with a single word: “Precisely.”
Roosevelt then called in his secretary and told him that “this requires action.”
Einstein, who was Jewish, had been encouraged to write to Roosevelt by Leo Szilard, the Hungarian-born physicist who was convinced that Germany could use this newly discovered technology to create weapons.
Szilard and two other Hungarian physicists, Edward Teller and Eugene Wigner, who were both refugees, told Einstein of their grave concerns. Szilard wrote the letter, but Einstein signed it, as they believed he had the most authority with the president.
Cynthia Kelly, the president of the Atomic Heritage Foundation, told National Geographic in 2017 that while Einstein’s famous discovery that energy and mass were different forms of the same thing had set the stage for this kind of creation, “he certainly was not thinking about this theory as a weapon.”
And Einstein never gave any details about how that energy could be harnessed, once saying: “I do not consider myself the father of the release of atomic energy. My part in it was quite indirect.”
Albert Einstein in his office at the University of Berlin.
Einstein’s letter had an effect; Roosevelt created the Advisory Committee on Uranium in October 1939, the same month he received Einstein’s letter. By that point, World War II had broken out, though the US was not yet involved.
The committee later morphed into the Manhattan Project, the secret US committee that developed the atomic bombs that were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, killing an estimated 200,000 people.
Days after the bombings, Japan informally surrendered to the Allied forces, effectively ending World War II.
Nazi Germany never succeeded in making nuclear weapons — and it seemed it never really tried.
Einstein was not involved in the bomb’s creation. He was not allowed to work on the Manhattan Project — he was deemed too big a security risk, as he was both German and had been known as a left-leaning political activist.
But when he heard that the bomb had been used in Japan, he said, “Woe is me.”
Einstein later said, “Had I known that the Germans would not succeed in developing an atomic bomb, I would have done nothing for the bomb.”
He also warned that “we thus drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.”
Photo of atomic bomb mushroom cloud in Japan, 1945.
(Photo by Charles Levy)
In letter published in 2005, he wrote to a Japanese friend: “I have always condemned the use of the atomic bomb against Japan but I could not do anything at all to prevent that fateful decision.”
And he wrote in a Japanese magazine in 1952 that he “was well aware of the dreadful danger for all mankind, if these experiments would succeed.”
“I did not see any other way out,” he wrote.
So crucial was Einstein’s letter that the investing legend Warren Buffett told students at Columbia University in 2017 that “if you think about it, we are sitting here, in part, because of two Jewish immigrants who in 1939 in August signed the most important letter perhaps in the history of the United States.”
Here’s a full transcript of what Einstein sent Roosevelt:
Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. I believe therefore that it is my duty to bring to your attention the following facts and recommendations:
In the course of the last four months it has been made probable — through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America — that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.
This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable — though much less certain — that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might very well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air.
The United States has only very poor ores of uranium in moderate quantities. There is some good ore in Canada and the former Czechoslovakia, while the most important source of uranium is Belgian Congo.
In view of this situation you may think it desirable to have some permanent contact maintained between the Administration and the group of physicists working on chain reactions in America. One possible way of achieving this might be for you to entrust with this task a person who has your confidence and who could perhaps serve in an in official capacity. His task might comprise the following:
a) to approach Government Departments, keep them informed of the further development, and put forward recommendations for Government action, giving particular attention to the problem of securing a supply of uranium ore for the United States;
b) to speed up the experimental work, which is at present being carried on within the limits of the budgets of University laboratories, by providing funds, if such funds be required, through his contacts with private persons who are willing to make contributions for this cause, and perhaps also by obtaining the co-operation of industrial laboratories which have the necessary equipment.
I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsäcker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.
Yours very truly,
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
The now-iconic photo of New York on 9/11 taken by Culbertson from space (NASA)
If you were old enough, you remember exactly where you were on September 11, 2001 when you heard about the towers falling. Personally, I was on my way home from school after being let out early as a result of the attacks, when my mother told me what had happened. We had visited Washington, D.C., just a few months before, so while I wasn’t entirely familiar with the World Trade Center, I knew exactly what the Pentagon was; the fact it had been attacked shocked me. For NASA astronaut Capt. Frank L. Culbertson, Jr., who was in space aboard the International Space Station, the attacks on 9/11 were personal.
A South Carolina native, Culbertson attended the United States Naval Academy where he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering. While at Annapolis, he was also a member of the Academy’s varsity rowing and wrestling teams. Following his graduation and commissioning in 1971, Ens. Culbertson served aboard the USS Fox in the Gulf of Tonkin before he reported to NAS Pensacola for flight training.
Culbertson earned his designation as a Naval Aviator in May 1973. Flying the F-4 Phantom, he served with VF-121 at NAS Miramar, VF-151 aboard the USS Midway out of Yokosuka, and with the Air Force 426th Tactical Fighter Training Squadron at Luke AFB where he served as a Weapons and Tactics Instructor. Culbertson then served as the Catapult and Arresting Gear Officer aboard the USS John F. Kennedy until May 1981 when he was selected to attend the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River.
A VF-151 ‘Vigilantes’ F-4 takes off (U.S. Navy)
Culbertson graduated from Test Pilot School with distinction in June 1982 and was assigned to the Carrier Systems Branch of the Strike Aircraft Test Directorate. He served as the Program Manager for all F-4 testing and as a test pilot for automatic carrier landing system tests and carrier suitability. Culbertson took part in fleet replacement training in the F-14 Tomcat with VF-101 at NAS Oceana from January 1984 until his selection for the astronaut training program.
Following his selection as a NASA astronaut candidate in May 1984, Culbertson completed basic astronaut training in June 1985. Since then, he worked on redesigning and testing Space Shuttle components, served as a launch support team member on four Shuttle flights, and assisted with the Challenger accident investigations.
Culbertson’s official astronaut portrait (NASA)
Culbertson’s first space flight was a five-day mission from November 15-20, 1990 aboard STS-38 Atlantis. His second space flight was a 10 day mission from September 12-22, 1993 aboard STS-51 Discovery. On August 10, 2001, Culbertson made his third space flight as the only American crew member of Expedition 3 to the ISS. He lived and worked aboard the ISS for 129 days, and was in command of the station for 117 days. On 9/11, as the ISS passed over the New York City area, Culbertson took photographs of the smoke rising from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
He later learned that American Airlines Flight 77, the aircraft that crashed into the Pentagon, had been captained by a friend of his from the Navy. Charles “Chic” Burlingame III was the pilot of Flight 77 before it was hijacked following its takeoff from Washington Dulles International Airport. Culbertson and Burlingame had both been Midshipmen, Aeronautical Engineering students, and members of the Academy’s Drum Bugle Corps together at Annapolis. Both men also went on to attend flight school and become F-4 fighter pilots. With his trumpet aboard the ISS, Culbertson played taps in honor of his friend and all the other victims of the attacks that day. The Expedition 3 crew left the ISS aboard STS-108 Endeavour and landed at Kennedy Space Center on December 17, 2001.
Culbertson’s official mission photograph for Expedition 3 (NASA)
Culbertson retired the next year on August 24. Over his long career in the Navy and with NASA, he logged over 8,900 flight hours in 55 different types of aircraft, and made 450 carrier landings, including over 350 arrested landings. His awards and honors include the Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, and Humanitarian Service Medal. In 2010, he was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. Of all his many achievements, Culbertson is still best known for being the only American not on Earth on 9/11.
In the event World War III broke out between the Soviet Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Sweden intended to remain neutral.
After all, they’d managed to sit out World Wars I and II.
But there’s also a growing recognition that their neutrality would not be respected. A 2015 New York Times report noted that a Russian submarine sank in Swedish waters in 1916 after colliding with a Swedish vessel. In the 1980s, there were also a number of incidents, the most notorious being “Whiskey on the Rocks.” According to WarHistoryOnline.com, a Soviet Whiskey-class diesel-electric submarine ran aground off the Swedish coast in 1981, prompting a standoff between Swedish and Soviet forces that included scrambling fighters armed with anti-ship missiles.
The Soviets knew Sweden could threaten their northern flank, and the Swedes knew that they may well have to fight the Soviet Union, even though they were neutral. Should a NATO-Warsaw Pact war break out, the Swedes made contingency plans to be able to deploy their Air Force, and keep fighting in the event the Soviets attacked.
The names Elmer Keith, Jeff Cooper, and Jack O’Connor are legend in the shooting world. If you Google “famous gun writers,” they’re among the top results. If you scroll a good ways, you’ll come to a fella named Ed McGivern. The only thing he ever wrote of note is a tough-to-find book called Fast and Fancy Revolver Shooting, published in 1938. However, a lot of police officers and federal agents across the US back in the 1930s knew McGivern well from the training they received from this one-time trick shooter and legendary pistol expert.
When it came to pistol shooting, especially revolvers, there were few who wielded a hand cannon with more speed and skill than McGivern. His shooting feats were nothing short of superhuman: The man clearly had eyesight and reflexes that were far keener than the average person’s. The fantastical shooting and quick-draw abilities of fictional pistoleers were present in the very real-life McGivern, though he didn’t exactly cut the typical figure of a gunslinger. At just 5-foot-6, he was a small, barrel-shaped man who was the fastest gun on the planet during the years between the two world wars.
A traveling trick shooter
McGivern bolstered his income performing as a trick shooter in the 1920s and ’30s, traveling all over the United States to put on astonishing displays for giddy crowds. He routinely shot at an assortment of stationary and airborne targets, like clay pigeons and lead disks the size of a quarter. You want to really understand how good McGivern was? Go to a safe shooting area, throw a tin can in the air, and see if you can draw and hit it before it lands on the ground. Unless you’re Jerry Miculek or Julie Golob, you probably didn’t even get close.
McGivern could hit the can six times before it hit the dirt, on the draw. He could also throw playing cards in the air and cut them in two, edgewise, with a bullet. He could hit two aerial targets with two revolvers at the same time. Like I said, he was superhuman.
He set a revolver world record while on tour in 1932 that remains unbroken to this day and got him into the Guinness Book of World Records, until Guinness removed all shooting records a few years ago. McGivern fired two consecutive, five-shot groups from a revolver at a distance of 15 feet that “could be covered by a half-dollar piece” in a blinding 0.45 seconds (as clocked by shot timer). The diameter of a half-dollar was a hair over 1.2 inches.
But this pistol prodigy went largely unnoticed for much of his life, working primarily as a sign painter in the small Montana town where he lived for 30 years.
Unfortunately, arthritis eventually put an end to McGivern’s trick shooting career in his late 50s, so he decided to travel around and spread his knowledge instead of entertaining folks.
He worked with law enforcement personnel all over the country. He taught marksmanship to police officers and federal agents from various LE agencies, including at the FBI’s training headquarters in Quantico, translating his exhibition-shooting experience into practical skills that focused on putting a lot of rounds on a target, accurately and quickly, under varying circumstances. At the time, most law enforcement in the US were still carrying double-action revolvers, McGivern’s specialty.
When it came to training law enforcement, McGivern taught them how to shoot fast and accurately at close targets, but he was a firm believer that a .357 Magnum revolver, with proper technique, could be used to effectively engage man-sized targets with repeatable accuracy at distances of 600 yards. He preferred to use a gun outfitted with a small-diameter rear aperture sight with a gold bead front sight for this kind of shooting, though he experimented with various peep sights and telescopic scopes.
In fact, McGivern was friends with Elmer Keith and was instrumental in creating the earliest magnum revolver cartridges. While Keith was (most likely) integral to the creation of the .357 Magnum, he ultimately went on to deride it when he developed the .44 Special into what would become the .44 Remington Magnum, a superior cartridge in his mind. McGivern, on the other hand, believed the .357 Mag was the ultimate revolver cartridge and devoted a whole lot of his time and effort to pushing the round to its limits with what would have been considered a service revolver at the time, both in terms of speed and close- and long-range accuracy.
Time has proved that McGivern may have ultimately been correct in his assessment of the .357 Magnum. Despite Keith’s proselytizing, the .44 Mag was always considered too overpowered for law enforcement use, while many departments and agencies adopted .357 wheelguns as replacements for or as an alternate option to .38 Special revolvers.
Today, despite a foray into use of the more powerful .40 S&W for semi-autos, the 9 mm chambering, with modern ammunition, reigns supreme in the LE and military worlds—and the characteristics of a 9 mm +P cartridge are more similar to a .357 load than they are to a .44 Mag. Perhaps McGivern was more on the money because he focused on volume of fire and LE applications, whereas Keith was more hunting focused.
Here’s a quick list of some of McGivern’s most famous shots with a double-action revolver. Think you could pull off any of them?
Hang a target, like a clay pigeon or lead quarter, from a string. Cut the string with the first shot, and hit the falling target with a second before it hits the ground.
String up three clays, one stationary, and set the other two swinging back and forth so they cross in front of the stationary target. Break all three clays with a single shot.
Drop a coin from shoulder height, and with the same hand, draw and fire as many shots as possible before the coin lands. (McGivern could fire two to three shots.)
Lay 10 revolvers on a bench with five rounds loaded in each. Proceed to shoot them in succession in double action for a total of 50 rounds in less than 21 seconds, with no misses on the target. McGivern could also do this with 20 guns, 100 shots, and 47 seconds.
McGivern did this reaction-time display with real guns and blanks, but if you want to try it,definitely use airsoft guns, safety glasses, and protective clothing. Face an opponent who is holding an aimed, cocked airsoft revolver at about 5 yards. Draw and fire from a regulation holster before your opponent can pull the trigger.
Balance two clays on top of each other with their edges facing the shooter. Break the bottom clay with the first shot, and break the top one with the second before it hits the bench.
Throw a target in the air, have a friend toss you a pistol, and hit the target before it hits the ground.
Shoot a 5-inch bull’s-eye pasted on a 24-inch square of plywood that’s tossed in the air at distances of 25 to 50 yards.
Draw, fire, and score a lethal hit on a man-sized target 15 to 18 feet away in 0.4 seconds or less. McGivern set a one-time record with this often repeated mainstay.
McGivern died on Dec. 12, 1957, at the age of 83 in Butte, Montana.
Jerry Miculek is one of the most remarkable competition shooters of our day, and it’s a privilege to see him shoot in person, as I imagine it must have been to see McGivern put on one of his trick-shooting displays.
Miculek has broken several of McGivern’s long-standing records, but there’s one he can’t beat. When Miculek tried to top the record of 10 shots in 0.45 seconds, he couldn’t score a better time than 0.57 seconds. McGivern set that record back in 1932 when he was 57 years old — and if Miculek can’t beat it, I don’t know who can.
It may seem like attempted genocide on an international scale would have been enough for the Nazis and their dreams of racial purity. But they were proactive ethno-nationalists who were just as interested in extra-marital breeding and kidnapping as they were in mass murder. That interest led to Lebensborn, a literal Aryan breeding program.
As the Nazis cemented power in Germany in the 1930s, they instituted a series of discriminatory policies against the Jewish, Roma, and other peoples deemed immoral or undesirable by the Third Reich. On December 12, 1935, Germany instituted the Nuremberg Laws that banned intermarriage between most Germans and Jewish people. But Lebensborn was enacted in secret the same day.
The program was led by Heinrich Himmler himself. Women were recruited from the Band of German Maidens, the female wing of the Hitler Youth. (Yes, the Nazis filled their breeding roster with their version of Girl Scouts.) Women and girls who wanted to participate had to prove their racial purity going back three generations.
The “studs” of the program were primarily officers recruited from the SS and the Wehrmacht. Again, they were partnered with young women who had just made it out of the Fascist Girl Scouts. And the officers were typically partnered with multiple girls/women, sleeping with them at a time scheduled to match their peak ovulation.
A German officer with a baby at a Lebensborn Society.
(German Federal Archives)
Women could join the program whether they were wed or unwed, though Himmler stopped advertising that fact after the Germans protested the immorality of babies being bred out of wedlock.
The babies born to the mothers were quickly weened and placed in the care of the SS. Many would be adopted out to German families, but others would live in special Lebensborn houses. There were at least 26 of these spread across Nazi-occupied Europe. An estimated 20,000 children were born to Lebensborn women.
But as creepy as all of that is, there was an even darker side to the program. Potentially hundreds of thousands of children deemed “racially pure” were kidnapped from countries conquered by the Nazis and sent to Lebensborn houses where they were indoctrinated to be German and then adopted out.
Children who refused to believe that they were abandoned by their parents or who refused to identify as German were beaten. If they continued to resist, they were sent to concentration camps and eventually killed.
The Allies found the evidence of these crimes as they liberated Europe, same as the discovery of concentration camps. On May 1, 1945, 300 children were discovered—alive but abandoned—in the town of Steinhoering. When the relatives of a kidnapped child could be identified, Allied personnel sought to reunite them with their family.
But the Germans had destroyed much of the paper trail as the Allies advanced, and many children were too brainwashed to leave their adopted families. A 1946 estimate put the number of children kidnapped at 250,000. Only 10 percent—25,000—were successfully reunited.
And, unsurprisingly, there is no sign that the breeding program led to genetically superior people. The children born of these “racially pure” unions often had blond hair and blue eyes, but there wasn’t anything remarkable about them — certainly nothing that would justify such a despicable practice by the Nazis.
Britain formed a number of commando units in World War II that operated from Burma to India to Europe and even north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. The No. 14 (Arctic) Commando trained specifically to sink German ships, destroy infrastructure, and interrupt operations in order to cripple Axis efforts in the Atlantic.
But Gunnerside had also shown a shortage of suitable transportation and experienced personnel, so British leadership allowed members of the 12 Commando unit to form the ‘Fynn Force’ as well as to create an all new commando unit, 14 Commando, in 1942.
Troops were recruited from units with experience in cold climates, especially those who already knew how to ski and canoe. Yes, canoe. The unit was to be split into two, each specialized for certain operations. One group would specialize in transiting via skis, and the other would row in canoes.
Canadians were in high demand for the unit, but British and Norwegian sailors and commandos joined as well. It was a job that required steady nerves. Most missions proposed for the Arctic commandos were obvious suicide missions. One raid scheduled for the winter of 1942-1943 called for a group of skiers to parachute in and destroy a viaduct critical for iron ore transportation.
The unit commander voted against the mission on the basis that the party would almost certainly not be able to escape, but was overruled because of the value of success even if the commandos were lost. Luckily for them, weather made the mission impossible.
They went forward on a motorboat and then split up. Four men stayed with the boat while four men went forward in two canoes. The men in the canoes were able to plant a limpet mine against the hull of ships, sinking a German minesweeper before they escaped.
But the mission fell apart there. The men on the motorboat had been forced to move from the rendezvous point, and the quartets were forced to escape and evade separately. Neither group made it out. They were captured during a massive search involving German forces and Norwegian civilians.
Thanks to the new order from Hitler to kill all captured commandos, issued just months before in October 1942, all eight were sentenced to die. Seven were executed after forced labor in concentration camps while the other died of typhus.
The rest of No. 14 Commando was later absorbed into other units after the organization was disbanded.
The Battle of Verdun lasted for nearly ten months in 1916 and according to some estimates, resulted in almost 950,000 casualties. In essence, it was perhaps the epitome of the trench warfare that dominated World War I.
Indeed, trench warfare really didn’t end until the emergence of the early tanks at the Battle of the Somme. Could some of America’s most modern armored fighting vehicles do better? Specifically, the Stryker family of wheeled armored fighting vehicles.
The Germans committed over a million troops to the battle. The Stryker Brigade would have roughly 4,500 troops and 300 vehicles, most of which are M1126 Infantry Combat Vehicles. The vehicles couldn’t roam in the enemy rear — resupply would be very difficult at best. But those vehicles have technology that would enable them to decisively rout the German offensives.
The key to what the Stryker would use, would not be in mobility, but in the M151 Protector Remote Weapons Station. The Strykers primarily use the M2 heavy machine gun and Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher. These outclass the MG 08 by a significant margin. Furthermore, they can be fired from within the Stryker, which negates one of Germany’s most powerful weapons in 1916: poison gas.
This is the second advantage the Stryker would have. The NBC protection capabilities in the Strykers would enable the defense to hold despite German chemical weapons. In essence, rather than facing incapacitated – or dead – defenders, the German troops would be going across “no man’s land” into mission-capable defenders.
Worse for them, the M2 heavy machine gun and the Mk 19 automatic grenade launcher would tear massed infantry attacks apart. The optics of the Protector remote weapons stations would allow the Americans to pick out the guys with flamethrowers first. In essence, the Strykers would be able to bleed the Germans dry.
It gets worse for the Germans when the inevitable counter-attack comes. The same optics what would let a Stryker gunner pick out a machine gun position and take it out. Here, the M1128 Mobile Gun Systems and M1134 Anti-Tank Guided Missile Vehicles would also come into play, destroying bunkers. The M1129 Stryker Mortar Carrier Vehicles would be able to lay down a lot of smoke and high-explosive warheads on targets.
In essence, the Stryker would drastically alter Verdun, not by its mobility, but by virtue of being a poison gas-proof pillbox.
The communist forces of Vietnam were largely successful, and for a lot of reasons. They were willing to undergo extreme discomfort and suffer extreme losses for their cause, they were resourceful, and they became more disciplined and well-trained over time. But there was a nightmare infrastructure that they created that also led to success: Those terrifying tunnels.
The fighting in Vietnam dated back to the 1940s when corrupt democratic officials turned the population largely against it. Communist forces preyed upon this, rallying support from the local population and building a guerrilla army, recruiting heavily from farming villages.
The ruling democratic regime patrolled mostly on the large roads and through cities because their heavy vehicles had trouble penetrating the jungles or making it up mountains.
By the time the U.S. deployed troops to directly intervene, regime forces had been overrun in multiple locations and had a firm foothold across large patches of the jungle, hills, and villages.
And while U.S. forces were establishing a foothold and then hunting down Viet Cong elements, the Viet Cong were digging literally hundreds of miles of tunnels that they could use to safely store supplies, move across the battlefield in secret, and even stage ambushes against U.S. troops.
The original Viet Cong tunnels were dug just after World War II as Vietnamese fighters attempted to throw off French colonial authority. But the tunnel digging exploded when the U.S. arrived and implemented a heavy campaign of airstrikes, making underground tunnels a much safer way to travel.
And with the increased size of the tunnel network, new amenities were added. Kitchens, living quarters, even weapon factories and hospitals were moved underground. The Viet Cong now had entire underground cities with hidden entrances. When the infantry came knocking, the tunnels were a defender’s dream.
The tight tunnels limited the use of most American weapons. These things were often dug just tall and wide enough for Viet Cong fighters, generally smaller than the average U.S. infantryman, to crawl through. When corn-fed Nebraskans tried to crawl through it, they were typically limited to pistols and knives.
Even worse for the Americans, the Viet Cong were great at building traps across the battlefield and in the tunnels. Poisoned bamboo shoots, nails, razor blades, and explosives could all greet an attacker moving too brashly through the tunnel networks.
This led to the reluctant rise of the “Tunnel Rats,” American warfighters who specialized in the terrible tasks of moving through the underground bases, collecting intelligence and eliminating resistance. Between the claustrophobia and the physical dangers, this could drive the Tunnel Rats insane.
Once a tunnel was cleared, it could be eliminated with the use of fire or C4. Collapsing a tunnel did eliminate that problem, and it usually stayed closed.
But, again, there were hundreds of miles of tunnels, and most of them were nearly impossible to find. Meanwhile, many tunnel networks had hidden chambers and pathways within them. So, even if you found a tunnel network and began to destroy it, there was always a chance that you missed a branch or two and the insurgents will keep using the rest of it after you leave.
And the tunnels even existed near some major cities. Attacks on Saigon were launched from the Cu Chi Tunnels complex. When U.S. and South Vietnamese troops went to clear them, they faced all the typical traps as well as boxes of poisonous snakes and scorpions.
And the clearance operation wasn’t successful in finding and eliminating the bulk of the tunnels. The Cu Chi Tunnels were the ones used as staging points a weapons caches for the Tet Offensive.
Jacklyn Lucas did not live forever, but his memory might. He died of leukemia in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, probably because death had to wait until Lucas was 80 years old before working up the courage to come get him.
Lucas joined the Marine Corps at age 14, after bribing a notary and forging his mother’s signature. He had already been in military school for four years at this point, attending the Edwards Military Institute since he was 10.
He trained for years to become a heavy machine gunner and by 1945 was based at Pearl Harbor. Seeing that the war might end soon and itching to get into the fight, he deserted his unit and stowed away aboard the USS Deuel. The Deuel was transporting the 1st Battalion, 26th Marines to a little island called Iwo Jima.
The young boy turned himself in to rifle company commander Robert Dunlap, who took Lucas to see the battalion commander. As punishment for his desertion, Lucas was sentenced to join Dunlap’s rifle company and land on Iwo Jima.
Five days later, the men of 1/26 Marines landed on the beaches of the island and Jaclyn Lucas was with them.
While moving to assault an airstrip, his four-man fire team came upon a pillbox and series of trenches occupied by Japanese soldiers. To clear the pillbox, they first had to clear the trenches of soldiers. Fire erupted immediately and both sides lobbed grenades at one another.
Lucas dove on the grenades, smothering them with his body in order to save his fellow Marines. One of them did not explode, while the other blew Lucas into the air and onto his back, gravely wounding the entire right side of his body.
“I hollered to my pals to get out and did a Superman dive at the grenades,” he told President Truman at his Medal of Honor ceremony.
Stunned but alive, he lay motionless. The other Marines pressed on and cleared the enemy out of the area and left Lucas there. They thought he had died of his wounds but more Marines would soon follow. Noticing he was alive, the Marines called for a Corpsman, who had Lucas removed from the battlefield.
Jaclyn Lucas survived the grenade blast, but not before being filled with fragmentation. After more than 20 surgeries, doctors had to leave 250 pieces of the metal frag inside his body. There was so much that it would later set off metal detectors at airports.
Lucas received the Medal of Honor for throwing himself on those grenades, becoming the youngest Marine and the youngest person in World War II to receive the medal.
After the war, Jaclyn Lucas was still a young man and he decided to join the U.S. Army in 1961. He was afraid of heights, so he chose to go to the 82nd Airborne. On one of his early training jumps, his parachute failed to open. Then his reserve chute failed to open. He hit the ground without one. He told reporters that his “stocky build” and his last-second parachute landing fall saved him that day.
At the end of his life, Lucas was fighting leukemia and was on a kidney dialysis machine. Knowing full well what would happen if he was taken off of dialysis, he decided to finally let death have a go at him. He asked doctors to remove the machine.
He is still the youngest person to receive the Medal of Honor since the Civil War.
As in so many American conflicts, Coast Guard units and personnel in Operation Iraqi Freedom or OIF, performed several missions; including escort duty, force protection, maritime interdiction operations or MIO, and aids-to-navigation, or ATON, work. From the very outset of Middle East operations, the Coast Guard’s training and experience in these and other maritime activities played a vital role in OIF.
Late in 2002, Coast Guard headquarters alerted various units in the service’s Pacific Area and Atlantic Area about possible deployment to the Middle East. From November 2002 through January 2003, these units began activation, training and planning activities for an expected deployment in early 2003. In January, Pacific Area’s first major units deployed to the Arabian Gulf, including the high-endurance cutter Boutwell and ocean-going buoy tender Walnut. Both of these vessels had to cross the Pacific and Indian oceans to arrive at the Arabian Gulf and begin operations. Their responsibilities would include MIO and Walnut, in conjunction with members of the Coast Guard’s National Strike Force, would lead potential oil spill containment operations.
Port Security Unit 309’s port security boat underway.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Atlantic Area provided many units of its own, sending the high-endurance cutter Dallas to the Mediterranean to support and escort Military Sealift Command shipping and Coalition battle groups in that theater of operations. Atlantic Area sent four 110-foot patrol boats (WPBs) to Italy together with support personnel and termed their base of operations “Patrol Forces Mediterranean” or PATFORMED, and it sent four WPBs to the Arabian Gulf with a Bahrain-based command called “Patrol Forces Southwest Asia,” PATFORSWA.
The service also activated Port Security Units and law enforcement boarding teams, LEDETs, which had proven successful in the Gulf War in 1990. Atlantic Area sent PSU 309 from Port Clinton, Ohio, to Italy to support PATFORMED while Pacific Area sent PSU 311 from San Pedro, California, and PSU 313 from Tacoma, Washington, to Kuwait to protect the Kuwait Naval Base and the commercial port of Shuaiba, respectively. LEDET personnel initially served aboard the WPBs and then switched to Navy patrol craft to perform MIO operations.
Coast Guard Cutter Adak, a 110-foot patrol boat, interdicts a local dhow in the Northern Arabian Gulf.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
At 8 p.m. on March 19, Coalition forces launched Operation Iraqi Freedom. When hostilities commenced, all Coast Guard units were manned and ready. On March 20, personnel from PSU 311 and PSU 313 helped secure Iraq’s offshore oil terminals thereby preventing environmental damage and ensuring the flow of oil for a post-war Iraqi government. On March 21, littoral combat operations began and the WPB Adak served picket duty farther north than any other Coalition unit along the Khor Abd Allah Waterway. Adak captured the first Iraqi maritime prisoners of the war whose patrol boat had been destroyed upstream by an AC-130 gunship. On that same day, Adak participated in the capture of two Iraqi tugs and a mine-laying barge that had been modified to plant its deadly cargo in the waters of the Northern Arabian Gulf.
Once initial naval operations ceased, Coast Guard units began securing port facilities and waterways for the shipment of humanitarian aid to Iraq. On March 24, PSU 311 personnel deployed to the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr and, four days later, the WPB Wrangell led the first humanitarian aid shipment to that port facility. In addition to their primary mission of boarding vessels in the Northern Arabian Gulf, Coast Guard LEDETs secured the Iraqi shoreline from caches of weapons and munitions. Buoy tender Walnut, whose original mission included environmental protection from sabotaged oil facilities, surveyed and completely restored aids to navigation for the shipping lane leading to Iraq’s ports.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bruckenthal, a damage controlman, made the ultimate sacrifice during a boarding operation as member of a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment team.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo)
On May 1, President George Bush declared an end to combat operations in Iraq. However, in less than a year the Coast Guard suffered its first and only death associated with OIF. On April 24, 2004, terrorists navigated three small vessels armed with explosives toward Iraq’s oil terminals. During this attack, the Navy patrol craft Firebolt intercepted one of the watercraft and members of LEDET 403 and Navy crew members proceeded toward the vessel in a rigid-hull inflatable boat or RHIB. Terrorists aboard the small vessel detonated its explosive cargo as the RHIB approached, overturning the boat and killing LEDET member Nathan Bruckenthal and two Navy crew members. Serving in his second tour of duty in Iraq, Bruckenthal had already received the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal and Combat Action Ribbon. He posthumously received the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal and Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal. He was the first Coast Guardsman killed in combat since the Vietnam War and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
In OIF, the Coast Guard demonstrated the importance of a naval force experienced in shallow-water operations, MIO, port security and ATON work. The PSUs performed their port security duties efficiently in spite of their units being divided between three separate port facilities and two oil terminals. The WPBs operated for countless hours without maintenance in waters too shallow for Navy assets and served as the Coalition fleet’s workhorses in boarding, escort and force protection duties. The personnel of PATFORMED and PSU 309 demonstrated that Coast Guard units could serve in areas, such as the Mediterranean, lacking any form of Coast Guard infrastructure. PATFORSWA performed its mission effectively even though it was the first support detachment established by the Coast Guard. Fortunately, Walnut never had to employ its oil spill capability, but proved indispensable for MIO operations and ATON work on the Khor Abd Allah Waterway. Cutters Dallas and Boutwell provided much-needed logistical support, force protection and MIO operations. OIF was just one of the many combat operations fought by the Coast Guard since 1790 and its heroes are among the many members of the long blue line.
When the Department of Defense first started buying AR-15s, they were clean, fast-firing, and accurate weapons popular with the airmen and Special Forces soldiers who carried them. But as the Army prepared to purchase them en masse, a hatred of the weapon by bureaucrats and red tape resulted in weapon changes that made the M16s less effective for thousands of troops in Vietnam.
During a lull in the fighting in the Citadel, a Marine takes time out to clean his M16 rifle.
(U.S. Marine Corps)
(A note on measurements in this article: Most of the historical data in this article came from when the Army still used inches when discussing weapon calibers. The most common measurements are .22-caliber, roughly equal to 5.56mm ammo used in M4s today and .30-caliber, which is basically 7.62mm, like that used by some U.S. sniper rifles. There is also a reference to a proposed .27-caliber, which would have been 6.86mm).
The AR-15 was a derivative of the AR-10, an infantry rifle designed by Eugene Stoner for an Army competition. The AR-10 lost to what would become the M14. But a top Army officer was interested in smaller caliber weapons, like the AR-10, and he met with Stoner.
Gen. Willard G. Wyman was commanding the Continental Army Command when he brought an old Army report to Stoner. The report from the 1928 Caliber Board had recommended that the Army switch from heavy rifle rounds, like the popular .30-cal, to something like .27-caliber. The pre-World War II Army even experimented with .276-caliber rifles, but troops carried Browning Automatic Rifles and M1 Garands into battle in 1941, both chambered for .30-caliber.
These heavier rounds are great for marksmen and long-distance engagements because they stay stable in flight for long distances, but they have a lethality problem. Rounds that are .30-caliber and larger remain stable through flight, but they often also remain stable when hitting water, which was often used as a stand-in during testing for human flesh.
If a round stays stable through human flesh, it has a decent chance of passing through the target. This gives the target a wound similar to being stabbed with a rapier. But if the round tumbles when it hits human flesh, it will impart its energy into the surrounding flesh, making a stab-like wound in addition to bursting cells and tissue for many inches (or even feet) in all directions.
That’s where the extreme internal bleeding and tissue damage from some gunshot wounds comes from. Wyman wanted Stoner to make a new version of the AR-10 that would use .22-caliber ammunition and maximize these effects. Ammunition of this size would also weigh less, allowing troops to carry more.
Stoner and his team got to work and developed the AR-15, redesigning the weapon around a commercially available .22-caliber round filled with a propellant known as IMR 4475 produced by Du Pont and used by Remington. The resulting early AR-15s were tested by the Army and reviewed by Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay. The weapons did great in testing, and both services purchased limited quantities for troops headed to Vietnam.
Pvt. 1st Class Michael J. Mendoza (Piedmont, CA.) fires is M16 rifle into a suspected Viet Cong occupied area.
(U.S. Army Spec. 5 Robert C. Lafoon)
Approximately 104,000 rifles were shipped to Vietnam for use with the Air Force, airborne, and Special Forces units starting in 1963. They were so popular that infantrymen arriving in 1965 with other weapons began sending money home to get AR-15s for themselves. The Secretary of the Army forced the Army to take another look at it for worldwide deployment.
As the Army reviewed the weapon for general use once again, they demanded that the rifle be “militarized,” creating the M16. And the resulting rifle was held to performance metrics deliberately designed to benefit the M14 over the M16/AR-15.
These performance metrics demanded, among other things, that the rifle maintain the same level of high performance in all environments it may be used in, from Vietnam to the Arctic to the Sahara Desert; that it stay below certain chamber pressures; and that it maintain a consistent muzzle velocity of 3,250 fps.
A soldier with an M-14 watches as supplies are airdropped into Vietnam.
(Department of Defense)
It was these last two requirements that made Stoner’s original design suddenly problematic. The weapon, as designed, achieved 3,150 fps. To hit 3,250 fps required an increase in the amount of propellant, but increasing the propellant made the weapon exceed its allowed chamber pressures. Exceeding the pressure created serious, including mechanical failure.
But Remington had told civilian customers that the IMR 4475-equipped ammo did fire at 3,250 fps as is. The Army tests proved that was a lie.
There was a way around the problem: Changing the propellant. IMR 4475 burned extremely quickly. While all rifles require an explosion to propel the round out of the chamber, not all powders create that explosion at the same rate. Other propellants burned less quickly, allowing them to release enough energy for 3,250 fps over a longer time, staying below the required pressure limits and preventing mechanical failure.
The other change, seemingly never considered by the M14 lovers, was simply lowering the required muzzle velocity. After all, troops in Vietnam loved their 3,150-fps-capable AR-15s.
A first lieutenant stands with his M-16 in Vietnam.
The new powders increased the cyclic rate of the weapon from 750 rounds per minute to about 1,000 while also increasing the span of time during each cycle where powder was burning. So, unlike with IMR 4475, the weapon’s gas port would open while the powder was still burning, allowing dirty, still-burning powder to enter the weapon’s gas tube.
This change, combined with an increase in the number of barrel twists from 12 to 14 and the addition of mechanical bolt closure devices, angered the Air Force. But the Army was in charge of the program by that point, and all new M16s would be manufactured to Army specifications and would use ball powder ammunition.
Pvt. 1st Class John Henson cleans his XM16E1 rifle while on an operation 30 miles west of Kontum, Vietnam.
Rifle jams and failures skyrocketed, tripling in some tests. And rumors that M16s didn’t need to be cleaned, based on AR-15s firing cleaner propellants, created a catastrophe for infantrymen whose rifles jammed under fire, sometimes resulting in their deaths.