This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

“Patton’s Panthers” was one of the most effective tank battalions in World War II, fighting a continuous 183 days at the front and inflicting heavy casualties on the Germans while crews racked up accolades from their peers, including three Medal of Honor nominations in their first month of combat.


In the end, the men of the 761st Tank Battalion were awarded a Medal of Honor, 11 Silver Stars, and about 300 Purple Hearts despite facing racism as the first black armored unit in combat and the second in U.S. military history.

 

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Tank Commander Harvey Woodard of the 761st Tank Battalion assesses terrain near Nancy, France, in November 1944. (Photo: Gen. George Patton Museum and Center of Leadership)

The first black armored unit was the 758th Tank Battalion which received 98 black enlisted men in 1941. The 761st followed in March 1942 as a light tank battalion but converted to medium tanks in September 1943.

At a time when most tank units were getting months of training, as little as three months in some cases, the 761st received over two years before shipping to France in October 1944. A historian for the unit, former Sgt. Wayne D. Robinson, theorized that this extended training time came because big Army couldn’t decide what to do with black forces.

But the Panthers got called to the show in 1944 and landed in France that October. Immediately, they made an impact on the attitudes of their peers in other units. Its first day of combat came on Oct. 31 when it fought for a vital hill. After just over a week of fighting, it was tasked with hitting German-held towns on Nov. 8.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Tank crews from the 761st Tank Battalion await orders to clean out scattered Nazi machine gun nests in Coburg, Germany, April 25, 1945. (Photo: National Archives)

It was on that day that the battalion struck a German roadblock that could spell doom. The tanks were forced to stop, making them easy targets for German guns.

Despite fierce German fire, Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers rushed out of his tank and attached a cable to the roadblock before dragging it out of the way. The American tanks pushed forward through the opening and the attack was successful.

The next day, Charlie Company 1st Sgt. Samuel Turley found his company under heavy German fire with wrecked tanks. He ordered the crews to dismount and organized a resistance before climbing from a ditch to lay down cover fire. His gamble saved his men, but he was cut down by German machine gun fire.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Soldiers from Dog Company of the 761st Tank Battalion check equipment before leaving England for combat in France in the fall of 1944. (Photo: Gen. George Patton Museum and Center of Leadership)

The day after that, on Nov. 10, Sgt. Warren G.H. Crecy fought his way forward to save his men under fire until his tank was destroyed. He then commandeered another vehicle and killed his attackers with a .30-caliber machine gun before turning the weapon on German artillery observers.

On Nov. 11, Crecy was back at it. His tank was immobilized and he attempted to get it going until he saw German units attacking the nearby infantry. So he climbed onto his .50-cal. and gave them cover. Later that day, he destroyed machine gun nests and an anti-tank weapon.

Rivers was back in the spotlight Nov. 16-19. A mine shot fragments through his leg and destroyed his knee on Nov. 16. Despite the recommendation that he immediately evacuate, Rivers led the way across a brand-new bridge the next day and took on four German tanks, killing two and driving two more back.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Lt. Gen. George Patton awards the Silver Star to Pvt. Ernest A. Jenkins of the 761st Tank Battalion. (Photo: Gen. George Patton Museum and Center of Leadership)

By Nov. 18, Rivers’ leg was infected but he still refused to go home. The next day, Rivers directed fierce fire onto German anti-tank guns until two rounds pierced his own tank and went through his head, killing him instantly.

All three men, Rivers, Crecy, and Turley, were nominated for the Medal of Honor but only Rivers received it.

The next month the 761st conducted assaults aimed at breaking up the German forces at the Battle of the Bulge, slowing German resupply and taking the pressure off the units under siege despite the fact that the 761st was fighting a numerically superior enemy.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Gunner Cpl. Carlton Chapman poses in his M4 Sherman tank near Nancy, France, Nov. 5, 1944. (Photo: National Archives)

After another month and a half of fighting, the 761st threw itself against a dug in and numerically superior enemy once again while leading the armored spearhead through the Siegfried Line and fought “the fiercest of enemy resistance in the most heavily defended area of the war theater” for 72 hours according to its Presidential Unit Citation.

On May 5, 1945, the 761st linked up with Russian Forces in Steyr, Austria. Over the course of the war, the unit had lost nearly 50 percent of its starting forces and 71 tanks. It was also credited with inflicting 130,000 casualties.

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This is how Israeli pilots saw the Six-Day War

Fifty years ago, Israel was backed into a corner. Egypt had closed the Strait of Tiran – essentially denying Israel access to the Red Sea. The situation was dire, and Israel knew it had to act.


On June 5, 1967, Israel launched Operation Focus. The objective was to neutralize the Arab air forces, particularly those from Egypt. According to the Israeli Air Force web site, the operation was a smashing success.

You can now see that operation — as well as other parts of the Six-Day War — the way Israeli Defense Force pilots saw it.

During that war, the Israeli Air Force carried out strikes on air fields and other ground targets. They also were in a fair number of dogfights. The best plane the Israelis had at that time was the Dassault Mirage III, a single-seat fighter that had a top speed of 1,312 miles per hour, a range of 1,000 miles, and the ability to carry up to 8,800 pounds of ordnance along with two 30mm cannon.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
An Israeli Mirage III at a museum. Giora Epstein scored the first of his 17 kills, a Su-7, in a Mirage III. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Six-Day War saw Israeli Mirage IIIs take on MiG-21 Fishbeds, MiG-19 Farmerss, Hawker Hunters, MiG-17 Frescos, Su-7 Fitters, Il-28 Beagles, and a variety of transports and helicopters.

The Israelis lost 46 aircraft and 24 pilots, but in return had killed almost 400 enemy planes, and had control of the skies within hours of the conflict starting.

You can see what it was like for Israeli pilots in the video below, taken from the Israeli gun camera films. The compilation starts with the airfield strikes that were part of Operation Focus. Not just bomb runs, but also the strafing passes on aircraft that were caught on the ground.

The gun-camera footage then shows the Israeli pilots as they score kills in dogfights. Finally, the video shows the interdiction strikes against Arab ground forces.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time US scientists launched a manhole cap towards space

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1, the first satellite into an elliptical, low-Earth orbit. It was only 184lbs with a 23″ diameter and managed to stay in orbit for 21 days before the battery powering the transmitter ran out. It burned up in the atmosphere three months later. This marked the beginning of what would be known as the “Space Race” between the Soviets and the U.S. However, according to legend, America may have accidentally beaten the Soviets at launching something into space — a manhole cover.


In the summer of 1957, during Operation Plumbob, American scientists were testing the capabilities of nuclear explosions in all fashions at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory. They tested different alloys, various yield sizes, and, controversially, how troops react to exposure, but this story’s all about using a nuclear explosion as a propellant.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

During the Pascal-A test on July 26, scientists tested a nuclear warhead underneath the surface of the Earth, marking the first U.S. underground nuclear test. The test yield was 50,000 times greater than expected and the blast spewed out of the 500-foot, deep-cased hole. It destroyed the five feet of concrete that was used to cap the explosion.

Like every good scientist, they tried it again on Aug. 27 to test “safety.” Instead of the 55-ton yield of the previous test, they used 300 tons and placed a 2-ton concrete cap just above the bomb. Sitting atop the hole was the destined-for-greatness manhole cover. Scientists expected the concrete plug to vaporize, but when the vapors expanded, the pressure was forced up the shaft and blew the 4-in thick, 500lb, steel manhole into the air. The only high-speed camera, capturing one frame per millisecond, was only able to capture the manhole cover in a single frame.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Fun Fact: Many tourists came from Las Vegas to witness the nuclear blasts. Probably not the best idea. (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

When asked about the manhole cover, Dr. Robert Brownlee, the designer of the experiment, said that there was no way to account for all the variables at play and determine the fate of the steel cover. When pressed by a supervisor, he said that it must have reached six times the escape velocity of Earth (which is 11.2km/sec). A more modern estimate puts the speed of the steel cap at around 56 km/sec. For comparison, the speed of sound in air is 0.33 km/sec — or if you need a more veteran-friendly comparison, the muzzle velocity of an M4 is 0.9km/sec. The fastest man-made thing is the Helios 2, which travels 70.2km/sec.

There was no way to verify any of this, as the manhole cover was never found, but if the math was right and the manhole cover survived the extreme pressure and heat, Dr. Brownlee may have made it to space first, created the fastest object while in Earth’s atmosphere, and the third-fastest object known to man.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The longest-held Vietnam POW was missing for 8 years

After enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1947, Ernest Brace thought he was going to be a simple radio technician in a calmer, postwar world. None of those things happened. He was sent to flight school for the Corps instead and was sent to Korea, where he became a dive bomber. After flying more than 100 missions, he left the military for the civilian sector, only to be shot down while running arms – over Vietnam.

He would be held captive in Hanoi for almost eight years, making him the longest-held American POW in the entire war.


This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

Adm. Noel Gayler, right, greeted Ernest Brace in March 1973 on his release as a prisoner of war.

By the time he earned his flight wings as a mustang military officer, the United States was committed to the war in Korea. Marine Attack Squadron 121 and Ernest Brace were sent there to fight in 1952. Brace would be there for almost the rest of the war. He flew more than 100 fighter missions over Korea in that time, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross for taking incredible surface fire while raiding a power plant. He crashed into the Sea of Japan, but was rescued by the Navy.

Having enlisted at age 15, Brace was only 22 when his time in Korea ended. He was sent stateside in Maryland to train when he abruptly ended his own military career. He was accused of trying to fake his own death by crashing a trainer aircraft into a cornfield. Brace allegedly wanted his wife to collect his life insurance payout. When his flight uniform and other articles were found, he turned himself in. He was soon court-martialed and out of the military. But good men the military could trust were hard to find in the middle of the Cold War, so Ernest Brace wasn’t grounded for long.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

Brace after returning from captivity in Vietnam.

Brace began flying planes for Bird Son, a company that supported government operations in Thailand, as well as USAID operations in the region. Most importantly, Bird was a contract operator for the Central Intelligence Agency at the time. In May 1965, Brace was the pilot of a PC-6 Porter civilian aircraft that took small arms fire while on the ground in Laos. Unable to take off, he was captured by the Pathet Lao and handed over to the North Vietnamese. After being tortured and held in stress positions for years on end, he finally found himself in the notorious Hanoi Hilton prison. He had attempted escape numerous times but was recaptured every time. After attempting suicide, Brace was sent to Hanoi with the other high-value POWs. His neighbor in the cells got him through by teaching him the POWs’ tap code.

Though he never saw his neighbor’s face, they were crucial to each others’ sanity and survival. It wasn’t until the two men met after their release in May 1973 that Ernest Brace met Lt. Cmdr. John McCain face-to-face for the first time. Their first meeting was at the White House.

Also: The largest formal White House dinner ever was for Vietnam POWs

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

Just desserts for a man whose service to his country never ended.

During his captivity, Brace’s wife had accepted that he was dead and had since remarried. So when he met a nurse in San Diego Naval Medical Center and fell in love, he could marry her after his recovery. They were married the rest of his life and had three kids of their own. Brace lived to the age of 83, dying in 2014.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Nuclear torpedoes are a ridiculously awesome thing

Of all the nuclear weapons in all the world, quite possibly the weirdest, most ridiculous is the nuclear torpedo which has been envisioned and developed as everything from an anti-submarine weapon to a city-ending doomsday weapon. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin even claims that he’s brought it back (more on that later).


After the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the entire world realized that a new paradigm existed. It was like the morning the first Dreadnought battleship was built. Once the Dreadnought existed, every ship built before it was essentially obsolete. Same with the nuclear bombs. Your massive armored corps don’t mean jack when a single bomb could’ve won the Battle of Kursk.

But where the construction of the Dreadnought kicked off a battleship race, the dropping of Little Boy and Fat Man kicked off a nuclear arms race. In addition to the nuclear bombs you would expect, designers in the U.S. and Soviet Union got creative, eventually creating everything from atomic cannons and recoilless rifles to atomic “mines.”

The underwater nuclear test Hardtack Umbrella was an 8-kiloton explosion. Most nuclear torpedoes were 10-kilotons or greater.
(U.S. Navy)

Another weird weapon on that list: the nuclear torpedo. The Soviet Union was the first to investigate the concept and came up with two designs dubbed the T-5 and T-15 from 1951 to 1952. The T-5 was a sort of tactically useful weapon, fitting in standard 21-inch torpedo tubes but featuring a nuclear warhead with a 5-kiloton payload.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
A Mark 45 nuclear torpedo previously in service with the U.S. Navy.
(Cliff, CC BY 2.0)

But the T-15 was supposed to be an absolute beast. It would require a specially modified submarine with a 61-inch diameter torpedo tube elongated to carry the weapon. Inside its shell would’ve been a thermonuclear warhead capable of creating a tsunami at a targeted shore, destroying the city or naval base there.

But the project was kept secret, even from the Soviet Navy, until July, 1954. When Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, Fleet Adm. Nikolai Kuznetsov, was briefed on the concept, he reportedly said, “I don’t need that kind boat.” One of his major sticking points: Most U.S. cities were either too well protected or too far inland for the T-15 to work.

Apparently, purpose-building a submarine with a large crew in order to carry a weapon that likely could never be used in combat is a bad idea. Who knew?

But Kuznetsov was cool with the T-5 which would fit in a standard tube. It was a new option for commanders without straining logistics or construction outside of building the weapon itself. And so the Soviets got a nuclear torpedo into testing in 1955, detonating a 3-kiloton warhead.

The weapon was primarily aimed at destroying surface ships, but was thought to be plenty capable of taking out enemy subs by compressing their hulls. One of these torpedoes was almost used during the Cuban Missile Crisis when a Russian sub was bombarded with training depth charges by U.S. destroyers trying to force it to surface.

If the nuclear torpedo had been launched, it likely would’ve destroyed the American warships and could’ve pushed the crisis into a full war.

The U.S. developed their own nuclear torpedo, the Mark 45. The Mk. 45 was designed in 1957 and first produced in 1959, though the design was tweaked in 1960. These torpedoes fit in standard tubes but had an 11-kiloton W-34 warhead on the front. They were made to travel up to 12,000 yards before being triggered by an operator.

At the moment of the blast, the weapons would crush the hulls of ships and submarines as well as crack the keels of enemy ships if detonated properly. This is like breaking a ship’s back, and it drastically increases the speed at which a ship will typically sink.

Russia later developed an even more powerful nuclear torpedo. The Autonomous Special Combat Warheads boasted a 20-kiloton warhead. Luckily, neither it nor its U.S. and Russian predecessors were ever used in combat.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
A nuclear depth charge delivered via anti-submarine rocket detonates with an approximately 20-kiloton warhead, similar to Russia’s highest-yield nuclear torpedo during the Cold War.
(U.S. Navy)
 

But, of course, Russia once bragged that it has a new nuclear torpedo, a city killer that could wipe out U.S. coastal cities and make their surrounding area radioactive for decades. It was originally announced during a speech by Putin where he bragged about a number of supposedly functional doomsday weapons.

While the hypersonic nuclear missile famously was lost in a failed launch soon after the announcement, the nuclear torpedo isn’t nearly as technically challenging as the nuclear hypersonic missile.

The torpedo was called Status Six, later renamed Poseidon, and is remotely guided. So, it’s basically a drone and carries a warhead of up to 100 megatons. And it has an insane range and speed, capable of being launched from 6,200 miles away and swimming at 56 knots, faster than most U.S. torpedoes. And, it’s supposedly stealthy to boot, nearly undetectable.

Putin has desperately overhyped all of the weapons from that press conference, and so it’s unlikely that all the braggadocio will hold up, but nuclear torpedoes are technically very feasible, and so there’s no reason to think that Russia can’t build and launch one. A 100-megaton warhead is pretty feasible as well. A stealthy, fast, large torpedo is pretty unlikely though.

The good news is, though, that a strategic nuclear torpedo isn’t actually a game-changer, anyway. Russia has a history of overestimating U.S. missile defenses, and so they compensate by trying to create weapons that can pierce them. The nuclear torpedo is one of those, a city-killer designed to keep us from firing out city killers.

But it’s just a different flavor of mutually assured destruction, similar to ballistic missile silos and nuclear missile subs or nuclear bombers. Except nuclear torpedoes are, actually, just a little weaker since they can only engage coastal cities.

So, sleep tight, unless you sleep on the water.

Articles

4 incredible women in military history you need to know about

International Women’s Day has been celebrated across the world since 1909, and is used as a day to laud the important contributions women make.


Women have long-since served in the U.S. military, even before they were officially allowed to enlist. From covert spy operations to battles on the front lines, women have been there for all of it.

Nancy Morgan Hart

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Public domain image

During the American Revolution, Hart was supposed to stay and take care of her children at their Georgia home while her husband fought in the war, like many military spouses today do. However, Nancy couldn’t sit idly by while a war raged around her.

Related: The only 7 women to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross

Pretending to be a crazy man, Hart was able to gain access to British camps in Augusta, where she successfully gathered intelligence and reported it back to the Continental Army. Hart also wasn’t afraid to defend her home against the enemy, as evidenced when six Loyalist soldiers entered her home and demand she feed them. While they were occupied with food, she hid their weapons and held them hostage with one, killing two when they tried to overpower her, until her husband and a neighbor came home.

Dr. Mary E. Walker

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Library of congress photo

Walker volunteered her expertise as a surgeon with the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War, despite women not being allowed to serve as doctors. She was captured and became a prisoner-of-war after she was caught crossing enemy lines to treat wounded soldiers. She was considered a spy by the Confederates and was held until eventually released in a prisoner exchange.

For her bravery and willingness to confront the enemy to save Union soldiers, President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor, after a recommendation by Gen. William Sherman, becoming the first and only women ever to be awarded the highest military honor.

Col. Eileen Collins

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
NASA photo

Collins became the first female to pilot a shuttle in space in 1995, and was also the first female commander of a U.S. spacecraft in 1999.

During her time in the Air Force, Collins served as an instructor for the T-38 Talon at Vance Air Force Base, and eventually transitioned to an assistant professor role at the U.S. Air Force Academy, teaching mathematics and instructing T-41 pilots.

Sarah Emma Edmonds

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Public domain image

Edmonds fled to Michigan from Canada, escaping an abusive marriage. While traveling, she found that dressing like a man made life considerably easier, and eventually joined the military as a male nurse out of a sense of obligation. Edmonds used the alias “Franklin Thompson,” and served as a spy for Union soldiers until she was confronted with a bout of Malaria. Knowing she would be punished if Army doctors discovered she was a woman, Edmonds abandoned her male disguise and continued to serve as a female nurse in Washington D.C.

After she wrote a memoir about her time as a spy, Edmonds contributions to the war were accepted, and she received an honorable discharge, as well as a government pension for her service.

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What is the big deal about Kwajalein?

According to a report by UPI, an LGM-30 Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile was taken from Minot Air Force Base and launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base to test America’s land-based deterrence force.


The missile landed at the remote Pacific base of Kwajalein Atoll. Now, the United States has used these islands for atomic tests and as a place for missiles to land for years.

But Kwajalein has a bit more significance to the U.S. than most other atolls out there. You see, it was one of the many islands American forces had to take from Japan during World War II – and thus, it is consecrated ground.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Diagram of the American plans to attack the Marshall Islands. (USMC graphic)

During World War I, Japan had taken the Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, and Caroline Islands from Germany. According to an official Marine Corps history of the 4th Marine Division, the islands were soon fortified with bunkers, air strips, a lot of firepower, and very fierce troops.

In Nov., 1943, the United States had taken Tarawa in the Gilberts – and paid a heavy price. According to Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls, published by the Center for Military History, 3,301 Marines were killed, wounded, or missing after the effort to take Tarawa. Kwajalein was expected to be even tougher, prompting legendary commanders like Raymond Spruance, Richmond K. Turner, and Holland Smith to oppose hitting Kwajalein at all.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Troops of the 24th Marines near the beach on Namur, thankful for having made it safely ashore, are now awaiting the inevitable word to resume the attack. (USMC photo)

Admiral Nimitz overruled their objections, and Kwajalein it was. Taking into account the lessons of Tarawa, this time, the United States brought overwhelming force. The major targets were Roi Island, Namur Island, and Kwajalein Island. For almost two months, air strikes were launched, including some with B-24 Liberators and others by carriers, on the Marshalls.

When the attack on Kwajalein came, it still took time, but only 142 American military personnel were killed in attacking Kwajalein Island proper.  Another 190 died while taking the islands of Roi and Namur. Total casualties in those assaults – dead, wounded, and missing – were 1,726.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Map of the Reagan Test Site. (DOD graphic)

After World War II, most of the American forces left, but Kwajalein today serves as part of the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site.  332 Americans paid the ultimate price to take it 73 years ago. Today, it helps America develop systems that can save hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of lives.

MIGHTY HISTORY

In a military exercise, try not to really shoot anyone


There are a couple things that everyone going into a military exercise absolutely has to get right. First, get good training and look for ways to improve both personal and unit performance. Second, and perhaps more importantly, don’t really shoot anyone.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Hint: U.S. Navy pilots aren’t supposed to do this to U.S. Air Force pilots. (Photo: Public Domain)

Guess which thing Navy Lt. (j.g.) Timothy Dorsey, an F-14 pilot, messed up while shadowing an Air Force RF-4C Phantom over the Mediterranean on Sep. 22, 1987?

Dorsey and his radar intercept officer, Lt. Cmdr. Edmund Holland, were taking part in an exercise testing the defenses of the Navy carrier USS Saratoga against enemy attacks. The Air Force had provided a jet and aircrew, Capt. Michael Ross and 1st Lt. Randy Sprouse, to act as the opposing force.

Ross took off from Aviano Air Base, Italy, and began searching for the carrier. The unarmed jet would need to get within visual distance of the Saratoga and read off its hull number to count a “kill” against it in the exercise.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
The RF-4C Phantom was a reconnaissance plane and typically carried only cameras. (Photo: US Air Force)

The exercise orders called for Dorsey and another F-14 to be unarmed as well, but both Navy jets were actually carrying live missiles. The Navy pilots would have to simulate an attack on the opposing force jet to win.

The Air Force crew faced trouble early on when its equipment for hunting the Navy carrier and its fleet electronically malfunctioned. Ross and Sprouse began conducting a visual search instead. The Navy jets got lucky early when the combat controllers sent them after a radio contact that turned out to be the RF-4C refueling from an Illinois Air National Guard KC-135 tanker.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
A Navy F-14 prepares to link up with a tanker for fuel. (Photo: US Air Force Staff Sgt. Michael D. Gaddis)

Dorsey’s flight joined up on the tanker and picked up fuel. Ross and Sprouse flew away first and returned to searching for the carrier. Dorsey and Holland, obviously believing that they had spotted their quarry, pursued the Phantom.

The Air Force jet found the carrier, but also knew that a Navy jet was on its tail. Sprouse, the backseater on the Phantom, alerted Ross to the Navy presence.

“There`s a Navy F-14 sitting on our left wing at about 8 o’clock,” Sprouse said.

“Okay, he’s a good guy,” Ross said.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
The USS Saratoga’s hull number was 60. There, now no one has to be shot down to get it. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Meanwhile, Dorsey was tracking the Air Force jet’s progress toward the carrier. When the RF-4C got to about 15 miles from the Saratoga, Ross initiated a diving turn at the carrier, simulating the start of an attack run. Dorsey called out the threat to Holland and they alerted the Saratoga.

So far, everything is good. The Air Force is simulating an attack on the carrier, the Navy is simulating the protocol for attacking a threat to the carrier.

The Saratoga responded, “Red and free on your contact.” And that was where everything got messy. Dorsey, relatively new to the Saratoga and with only a couple hundred hours of flight time under his belt, was under the impression that “red and free” was a command to fire that was only used in real-world, “Shoot that guy right now!” situations.

Still, he hesitated and asked for guidance.

“Jesus, do they want me to shoot this guy?” he asked.

The phrase, “red and free,” was commonly used around the Saratoga in exercises. Holland, thinking that Dorsey still understood that everything was taking place within the limits of the exercise, not an actual fight, responded with, “Yes. Shoot!”

Dorsey armed one sidewinder and attempted to fire, but the missile failed. So, he fired another and this one slammed into the back of the recently-fueled Air Force jet.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Again: These aren’t meant for friendly jets. (Photo: Public Domain)

Holland later said of that moment, “I heard a ‘whish’ sound from the right side of the aircraft, and I looked out and I said, ‘What was that?’ I saw the front end of an F-4 and the back end was in flames. I said, ‘You shot him down!’ and I was absolutely amazed.”

It was Holland’s shock and sudden questions that alerted Dorsey to the fact that he had done something very wrong.

Ross and Sprouse, meanwhile, we’re going through their own sudden crisis. They mistakenly believed that they had collided with the F-14 that was tailing them. The RF-4C was shaking violently and parts of it were on fire.

Ross gave the order to eject.

“I’m gone,” Sprouse said as he pulled the ejection handle. Both airmen got clear of the dying jet and Holland radioed for an at-sea rescue.

“Mayday! Mayday! Got a kill on a Fox 4!”

For obvious reasons, Navy commanders immediately started asking what had happened. Ross and Sprouse were fished out of the water and questioned by Navy lawyers. They both gave full statements before the commander of the Saratoga, Navy Capt. David Frost, told them what really happened and apologized. (Probably something like, “oh, by the way, we shot you down. Sorry. Okay, who’s up for some great Navy chow?”)

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Probably some awkward dinner conversation on the Saratoga that night. Photo: US Navy

Sprouse and Ross received medical attention, Navy uniforms, and a swag bag. They were given the best dinner on the ship and good spots to sleep until they could be sent back to the Air Force.

Dorsey was grounded but allowed to stay in the Navy. He made it to the rank of captain in the reserves as an intelligence officer and then an inspector general. In 2012, he was recommended for promotion to admiral. When Congress heard about his 1987 incident, they declined to vote on his promotion, effectively rejecting it.

Many suspect that Dorsey wouldn’t have been allowed to stay in the Navy if it weren’t for the fact that his father was James Dorsey, a prominent figure in the Naval aviation community. In 1987, Dorsey was the captain of the USS America, a supercarrier.

Ross’s injuries from the shootdown appeared slight when he was rescued from the ocean, but grew steadily worse as he aged. He received 32 surgeries and became fully disabled.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This how the Army introduced the plastic explosive in the 1960s

Today, plastic explosives are a given. But 50 years ago, they were the latest in demolition technology. One of the most notable, of course, is C4.


Officially, it is called the M118 demolition charge, and was called Flex-X back then. Prior to the introduction of Flex-X, explosives had to be secured to what the engineers wanted to blow up.

C4, though, was more like Play-Doh or used chewing gum in that it could be stuck to whatever needs to go away.

 

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Composition C-4 demolition charges await use as explosive ordnance disposal technicians conduct demolition operations supervisor training. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Kathryn Whittenberger)

The explosive had some other advantages as well. It could be used underwater, which means that divers could plant it on a pier without having to surface and risk being seen.

The explosive was also very insensitive. The video below shows troops dropping a weight on the Flex-X to no effect. It wouldn’t even go off when shot by multiple rounds from a M14 service rifle or when tossed into a campfire.

It also took much less time to set up – almost 60 percent less – when compared to earlier explosives, thanks to that Play-Doh/chewing gum consistency. That would save the lives of the engineers, who would spend less time away from cover.

Cold weather had little effect on the explosive’s ability to stick to whatever needed to be blown up. Other explosives needed to be taped or otherwise secured to the target.

According to the Federation of American Scientists, the M118 came in a box of 20 charges, each of which had four eight-ounce sheets of C4. A sales sheet from one manufacturer notes that the M118 is intended for breaching, ordnance disposal, demolition, and cutting metal.

The explosive replaced stocks of TNT, dynamite, and PETN in U.S. military stockpiles.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The “White Feather Sniper,” Carlos Hathcock

At a young age, Carlos Norman Hathcock II would go into the woods with his dog and the Mauser his father brought back from World War II to pretend to be a soldier. Hathcock dreamed of being a Marine throughout his childhood, and on May 20, 1959, at the age of 17, he enlisted.

In 1966, Hathcock started his deployment in South Vietnam. He initially served as a military policeman and later, owing to his reputation as a skilled marksman, served as a sniper.


This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

The Hathcock brothers and a friend, shooting as children.

USMC Photo

During the Vietnam War, Hathcock had 93 confirmed kills of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Viet Cong personnel. However, kills had to be confirmed by an acting third party, who had to be an officer, besides the sniper’s spotter. Hathcock estimated that he actually killed between 300 and 400 enemy soldiers.

In one instance, Hathcock saw a glint reflecting off an enemy sniper’s scope. He fired at it, sending a round through the enemy’s own rifle scope, hitting him in the eye and killing him.

Hathcock’s notoriety grew among the Viet Cong and NVA, who reportedly referred to him Du kích Lông Trắng (“White Feather Sniper”) because of the white feather he kept tucked in a band on his bush hat. The enemy placed a bounty on his head. After a platoon of Vietnamese snipers tried to hunt him down, many Marines donned white feathers to deceive the enemy. Hathcock successfully fought off numerous enemy snipers during the remainder of his deployment.

Hathcock did once remove the white feather from his bush hat during a volunteer mission. The mission was so risky he was not informed of its details until he accepted it. Transported to a field by helicopter, Hathcock crawled over 1,500 yards in a span of four days and three nights, without sleep, to assassinate an NVA general. At times, Hathcock was only a few feet away from patrolling enemy soldiers. He was also nearly bitten by a snake. Once in position, Hathcock waited for the general to exit his encampment before shooting. After completing this mission, Hathcock came back to the United States in 1967. However, missing the service, he returned to Vietnam in 1969, taking command of a sniper platoon.

On September 16, 1969, an AMTRAC Hathcock was riding on struck an anti-tank mine. He pulled seven Marines from the vehicle, suffering severe burns in the process. Hathcock received the Purple Heart while he was recuperating. Nearly 30 years later, he received a Silver Star for this action.

After returning to active duty, Hathcock helped establish the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School at the Marine base in Quantico, Virginia. However, he was in near constant pain due to his injuries, and in 1975, his health began to deteriorate. After diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, he medically discharged in 1979. Feeling forced out of the Marines, Hathcock fell into a state of depression. But with the help of his wife, and his newfound hobby of shark fishing, Hathcock eventually overcame his depression. Despite being retired from the military, Hathcock continued providing sniper instruction to police departments and select military units, such as SEAL Team Six.

Hathcock passed away Feb. 22, 1999, in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

We honor his service.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This fake amphibious assault saved hundreds of lives in Desert Storm

Deep into night on Feb. 23, 1991, the U.S. military and its coalition partners launched the long-anticipated invasion of Iraq with a three-pronged attack that crippled Iraqi command and control, isolated and devastated enemy units, and resulted in one of the fastest land wars in military history as the U.S. secured victory in 100 hours.


But the three-pronged attack consisted of two real prongs — an infantry assault as well as the famous “left hook” of tanks cutting through the Kuwaiti and Iraqi deserts — and one ruse attack. The ruse was an amphibious assault of Marines hitting the beaches of Iraqi-occupied Kuwait and pushing west towards Baghdad.

 

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
The USS Wisconsin fires a Tomahawk cruise missile during Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

If the ruse was successful, the Iraqi units would continue to look east, orienting defenses and their attentions towards a fake amphibious assault as light infantrymen and paratroopers secured positions to their rear and one of history’s greatest armored thrusts smacked them right in the capital.

The Navy called on two of its greatest weapons to ensure that the Iraqis looked east, the USS Wisconsin and the USS Missouri, massive battleships taken out of retirement in the early 1980s by Ronald Reagan.

The two Iowa-class battleships bristled with guns and had already seen heavy fighting in the mine-laden waters off the coast of Iraq and Kuwait. They took part in the initial Tomahawk cruise missile attacks that January. They also provided naval artillery support to American and coalition troops on the ground by hurling shells of up to 2,700 pounds against Iraqi artillery and bunkers.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
The USS Missouri fires during Operation Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Dillon)

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, U.S. commanders kept everyone’s eyes on the big ships, calling in shots from the battleships throughout the fighting and getting the effects of those 16-inch guns onto the front pages of newspapers like The New York Times.

The NYT even reported on the likelihood that America would invade by sea, saying in the second paragraph of an article on February 4:

Powerful guns aboard the battleship Missouri lobbed 2,700-pound shells against Iraqi command bunkers near the Kuwaiti coastline, military command officials said, describing the shore bombardment as a further indication that an American-led amphibious assault on occupied Kuwait might be drawing near.

On Feb. 23, the battleships cleared their throats once again. A targeting drone from the Wisconsin was flying over the coast as the shells ripped into Iraqi positions once again, softening up the coast and sowing panic into the defenders.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
The Pioneer drone is moved on the USS Wisconsin during Desert Storm. The small aerial vehicle was used to observe naval artillery and its effects during the war. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photographer’s Mate John Kristoffersen)

The bombardment was so effective that, when the drone flew back over the target, Iraqi troops attempted to surrender to it by waving small white flags.

But the U.S. wasn’t done.

Just a few hours later, the ground offensive began. The British Special Air Service was the first military unit to cross into Iraqi territory, but multiple troops poured over the border by the thousands throughout the morning.

Throughout the day on Feb. 24, coalition forces hit ground target after ground target and American tanks began tanking out bunkers in the armored thrust that would stun the world.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
USS Wisconsin fires her main battery during Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

But America still wanted Iraqi commanders too scared to pull their forces back from the coast to counter the growing threat of armor and infantry. And so the battleships were called up once again.

On Feb. 25, the Missouri once again fired into Iraqi-occupied Kuwait. And this time, the Marine Corps sent in 10 helicopters to simulate a landing force. The Iraqis launched anti-ship missiles at the Missouri, but a British ship shot down the only one that actually threatened the battleship. Coalition planes quickly found the launch site and destroyed the missiles based there.

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Abrams tanks and a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle move out during Operation Desert Storm. (Photo: U.S. Navy D. W. Holmes II)

The Iraqis near the coast stayed put even as coalition armor was slamming into their best units. On Feb. 26, then-Cpt. H.R. McMaster fought the famous Battle of 73 Easting that saw one armored cavalry troop of Abrams and Bradleys wipe out 44 enemy tanks and armored vehicles with no losses.

A ceasefire was declared on Feb. 28, halting the fighting until Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein accepted the terms of the peace deal. The coalition forces lost 300 troops in the fighting, much fewer than they would have lost if the Iraqi forces had been able to concentrate on the real threat.

The Iraqi forces lost an estimated 8,000-10,000 killed.

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11 best-ever nicknames of military leaders

A lot of people get nicknames in the military, usually something derogatory. But not these guys. These 11 military leaders got awesome nicknames by doing awesome stuff.


Here’s what they are and how they got them:

1. Group Capt. Sir Douglas “Tin Legs” Bader

 

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
(Photo: Royal Air Force photographer Devon S A)

Group Capt. Sir Douglas Bader was a Royal Air Force hero of the second World War known for his exploits in the air and frequent escape attempts as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany. He did all of this despite the fact that he lost his legs in 1931 in an air show accident. He was drummed out of the service due to disability but returned when Britain entered World War II. He wore two prosthetic legs and earned his insensitive but inarguably awesome nickname.

2. Capt. Michael “Black Baron” Wittmann

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Capt. Michael Wittman was an evil Nazi with an awesome nickname. (Photo: German military archives)

Michael Wittman was an SS-Hauptsturmführer, the SS equivalent of an army captain, in command of a tank crew in World War II. From his time as a young enlisted man to his death as a captain, he was known for his skill in tanks and scout cars. As the war ground on, Wittman became one of the war’s greatest tank aces, scoring 138 tank kills and 132 anti-tank gun kills.

He was recognized with medals and a message of congratulations from Adolph Hitler. He was giving the nickname “The Black Baron” as an homage to the World War I flying ace, “The Red Baron,” Manfred Von Richtofen.

3. General of the Armies John “Black Jack” Pershing

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
(Photo: US Army)

General of the Armies John “Black Jack” Pershing led the American Expeditionary Forces through World War I and became one of America’s highest ranked officers in history, second only to President George Washington.

Pershing’s nickname was originally a horrible epithet given to him by students while he instructed at West Point. They angrily called him “[N-word] Jack” in reference to his time commanding a segregated unit. The name was softened to “Black Jack” and has become a part of his legacy.

4. Gen. Norman “The Bear” Schwarzkopf

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
(Photo: US Army)

Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf is probably best known for his leadership of Desert Storm. He sported two colorful nicknames. He didn’t like the most famous one, “Stormin’ Norman,” probably because it alluded to his volatile temper. But he seemed to have a fondness for his second, “The Bear,” an allusion to his 6ft., 4in. height and nearly 240-pound size.

In his autobiography, he described his wife as “Mrs. Bear” and he named one of his dogs “Bear” as well.

5. Lt. Gen. James “Jumpin’ Jim” Gavin

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

Lt. Gen. James Gavin is probably best known for the same achievement that gave him his nickname, commanding one of America’s first airborne units and literally writing the book on airborne operations, FM 31-30: Tactics and Technique of the Air-Borne Troops.

Even after he rose to the rank of general officer ranks, he kept conducting combat jumps with his men. He landed in Normandy as a brigadier general and jumped in Operation Market Garden as a major general, earning him another nickname, “The Jumping General.”

6. Gen. Sir Frank “The Bearded Man” Messervy

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

Gen. Sir Frank Messervy was a successful cavalry officer in the British Indian Army in both World Wars and later served as the first commander of the Pakistan Army. In garrison, he had the appearance of a stereotypical, well-groomed Englishman. But he famously neglected to shave during battles, leading to a thick beard when he was engaged for more than a few days.

7. Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

One of the greatest heroes of the Korean War, Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller tried to join World War I but the conflict ended just before he could ship out. Instead, he fought in anti-guerilla wars, World War II, and the Korean War. But for all of his battlefield exploits, he received a nickname for his physical appearance. His impeccable posture and large frame made him look “chesty,” so that became his name.

8. Maj. Gen. Smedley “The Fighting Quaker” Butler

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler was born into a Quaker family in Pennsylvania in 1881. Despite the Quakers’ aversion to violence, Butler lied about his age to become a Marine Corps second lieutenant in 1898, developed a reputation for being fierce in a fight, and made his way to major general while receiving two Medals of Honor in his career.

Butler also received a brevet promotion to captain when he was 19 for valorous action conducted before officers were eligible for the Medal of Honor. In recognition of his huge brass ones, his men started calling him “The Fighting Quaker.”

9. “The Constable” Gen. Charles de Gaulle

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

Gen. Charles de Gaulle was the highest ranking member of France’s military in World War II and led Free French Forces against the Nazis after the fall of France.

De Gaulle gained the nickname “The Constable” on two occasions. First, in school where he was known as the “Grand Constable.” After the fall of France, the nickname was bestowed anew when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called him “The Constable of France,” the job title of ancient French warriors who served Capetian Kings until the 10th century.

10. Staff Sgt. William “Wild Bill” Guarnere

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor
Photo: US Army

Staff Sgt. William Guarnere fought viciously against the Germans as a paratrooper in Europe and gained a reputation for it, leading to his nickname “Wild Bill” and his portrayal in Band of Brothers.

Because of his exotic last name, he also gained the unfortunate nickname of “gonorrhea.”

11. Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

Brig. Gen. Francis Marion was best known for leading guerilla fighters through the woods and swamps of the southern colonies during the American Revolution. After repeatedly being harassed by Marion and his men, the British sent Col. Banastre Tarleton to hunt him down.

Marion evaded Tarleton over and over again. When a 26-mile chase through the swamps game up empty, Tarleton complained that he would never find that “swamp fox” and the name stuck.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Tale of Two Bases – JBLM’s interesting history

Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) is the combined base of the Army’s Fort Lewis and the Air Force’s McChord Air Force Base. Both sections of the base are just south of Tacoma, Washington on the far west side of the state. IIn fact, JBLM’s strategic location provides quick access to the nearby deep-water ports in Tacoma, Seattle, and Olympia. Of course, this allows for quick-deployment of equipment and personnel. Additionally, McChord Field and Sea-Tac Airport can deploy units, giving the base the ability to engage in both combat and humanitarian airlift. 

A Tale of Two Bases 

After the Great Depression left Tacoma Field in shambles, it was donated to the US War Department. There, the US government built McChord Field, officially opening in June 1940. 

McChord Field was an active and productive base during World War II. B-17, B-24, and B-29 Superfortress crews trained here. Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs) frequently stopped at McChord Field as well to ferry crews to the bomber unit or an east coast gathering base. 

Meanwhile, Fort Lewis Army Base was already next door and had been for a while. It was established in 1917 as Camp Lewis when around 60,000 men immediately moved in to train for World War I. When the war ended, Fort Lewis didn’t see much action again until World War II. Interestingly, it served as an internment program for prisoners of war from 1942-1943. 

McChord Field leaves the nest

This black tank battalion earned 11 Silver Stars and the Medal of Honor

The two installations of Fort Lewis and McChord Field, both operating as one base at the time, were very busy places throughout the second World War. Then, in 1947, the National Security Act established the US Air Force and the two officially separated. Naturally, that’s when McChord Field became McChord Air Force Base.

As separate entities, the size and military significance of both Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base grew throughout the Cold War and other global conflicts. McChord had three important duties: air defense, humanitarian support, and transport and airlift. 

Vigorous training and troop deployment continued at Fort Lewis. In the 1970s, the base started developing the Volunteer Army. Then in the 1980s, Fort Lewis took over I Corps, providing administrative oversight of the Army across all units in the Asia-Pacific region. It also began training Rapid-Response Units and developed the country’s first Striker Combat Teams. It sounds like between the two bases, they sure had their work cut out for them.

In the end, they were meant to be together

In 2010, Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base merged into JBLM in response to recommendations by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The idea was to get the services and management of the two neighboring bases streamlined for better efficiency. JBLM was among the first joint bases across the nation. Today, it is the only one led by the Army. More than 7,200 active-duty troops and civilians support this joint base. 

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