Seventy-five years ago, the destroyer USS Roper sank the Nazi submarine U-85 with all hands going to a watery grave. This was not an unusual occurrence. During World War II the Nazis lost 629 U-boats to a number of hostile acts, from being depth-charged by ships to hitting mines to being bombed while pierside at a port.
But in 2003, U-85 briefly hit the news when its Enigma machine was “retrieved” by some divers. Eventually the Naval Historical Center managed to arrange the machine’s donation to a North Carolina museum, but it highlighted a problem. The Navy also got a public-relations black eye over a recovered Brewster F3A. The Navy didn’t like having to hand over the plane – even if it was a Corsair In Name Only.
As part of the 2004 defense authorization bill signed by then-President George W. Bush the “Sunken Military Craft Act” became the law of the land. The rules are intended to ensure that sunken wrecks of American military vessels (or aircraft) aren’t tampered with.
The law does that by setting up very steep civil penalties — we’re talking a $100,000 for each violation. What is a violation? Well, according to the text available at the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command, engaging or attempting to engage in, “any activity directed at a sunken military craft that disturbs, removes, or injures any sunken military craft.”
Oh, and they consider each day a separate violation – those penalties will be adding up. Furthermore, the provisions also state that “vessel used to violate this title shall be liable in rem for a penalty under this section for such violation.”
Or in other words, your boat is subject to confiscation.
And if you think you’re gonna be safe by looting something like U-85… think again. Any foreign government can ask the Navy to protect their wrecks off our shores. So, looting a foreign warship wreck can get you in just as much hot water as if you’d looted one from the United States Navy.
All is not lost for would-be looters. According to the law, there is an eight-year statute of limitations. But given that you face huge civil penalties, it’s better to ask permission. Or better yet, leave the wreck alone.
In 1992, Jim Valvano – a former basketball player, coach of the 1983 champion North Carolina State men’s basketball team, and broadcasting personality – was diagnosed with metastatic cancer that had spread to his spine.
Up until this point, the charismatic Queens, N.Y.-native was best known for his celebration after defeating the Houston Cougars in the 1983 NCAA championship game. You can see “Jimmy V” running onto the court about 9 seconds into the video below:
“Time is very precious to me. I don’t know how much I have left and I have some things that I would like to say. Hopefully, at the end, I will have said something that will be important to other people, too.”
It was just a decade later that his life was tragically cut short. But before he went, even knowing the end could be near, he was able to accept the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY Awards. It was a speech that echoed for years to come and remains one of the most memorable.
Those are words appropriate for fighting cancer, being the underdog in the country’s biggest basketball tournament, or even fighting alongside your brothers and sisters in arms, far from your family and loved ones.
“To me, there are three things we all should do every day… Number one is laugh. You should laugh every day. Number two is think. You should spend some time in thought. Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy… think about it: If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
But about a week or so before, Jimmy V gave a speech commemorating the Wolfpack’s 1983 NCAA championship to the team, current players, and Wolfpack fans. That speech was one for the ages. It will keep you shouting the mantra of, “Don’t give up! Don’t ever give up!” during any rough time in your life.
Jim Valvano died from the cancer he was determined to fight just a month or so after his legendary ESPY Awards speech. His name and spirit live on through the V Foundation for Cancer Research.
In September 2005, Mexican Marines arrived under the Mexican flag to Harrison County, Miss. It was the first time in 159 years that Mexican troops operationally deployed inside the United States. There, they met U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy sailors. But they weren’t there to do battle; they were there to clear the debris.
Harrison County was hit by one of the most intense hurricanes ever to hit the United States. Harrison County was devastated by the strongest winds of the whole storm.
Hurricane Katrina making landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast, August 2005.
Hurricane Katrina was the fourth most intense storm ever to hit the United States. The storm killed more than 1,800 people, making it the deadliest to hit the United States since 1928. It was also the costliest hurricane in terms of physical damage done to the areas affected by the hurricane. In all, the total price tag for Katrina’s damage came to a whopping 5 billion – but just throwing money at a problem doesn’t fix it.
Damage wrought on communities by storms like Katrina require an all-hands approach to recovery, especially in the immediate aftermath. Charitable organizations like the American Red Cross, Oxfam, and Habitat for Humanity responded. So did many members of the international community, even those considered to be at odds with American foreign policy at the time. Those who offered assistance included traditional allies Germany, the UK, and Canada. But even those who did not have the considerable resources of the West, like Mexico. That’s how Mexican Marines ended up clearing timber from schools around Mississippi.
Sailors from the Dutch and Mexican navies distribute water and Meals, Ready to Eat (MREs) to residents of D’Iberville, Miss.
(FEMA photo by Mark Wolfe)
In the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, then-President of Mexico Vicente Fox sent a message to the United States, saying:
“In the name of the people and of the government of Mexico, I assure you of my deepest and most sincere condolences for the devastating effects caused by Hurricane Katrina.”
Mexico’s Red Cross sent Rescue Experts to New Orleans while the Mexican Navy deployed off the American Gulf Coast with helicopters, ATVs, amphibious ships, tankers, medical personnel, and tons of food aid. The Mexican Air Force later flew 200 more tons of food in as a convoy of trucks from Mexico shipped hundreds of tons more. It was the first time since the Mexican-American War (which ended in 1848) that Mexico’s troops were inside the United States, and they were here to help.
The Mexicans also helped clear debris and distribute supplies to Harrison County, hit especially hard by Katrina’s intense winds. Gulfport, Miss. took the brunt of the damage, but the surrounding areas were devastated as well. The following month, having finished cleaning up and distributing supplies, the mission ended, and Mexico went home.
Typically, when there’s a deadly terrorist attack, the tragic news spreads around the world almost instantly and hangs in the global consciousness for years to come. But history shows us that covering up one of these terrible events might be as easy as finding something to pin it on.
In 1916, Germany was getting tired of the United States’ double talk. The U.S. continuously stated its intent to remain a neutral party while supplying weapons to allied forces throughout World War I. So, the Germans wanted to send America a bloody message — they needed to showcase their anger.
German spies targeted Black Tom Island, a large, man-made island off the coast of Jersey City, New Jersey that housed ammunition for the government. They laid time-delayed glass bombs at the site, waited, and then…
Boom! The delayed fuses set off 100,000 pounds of TNT.
The blast was so powerful that it sent hot shrapnel more than 2,000 feet in all directions — flying far enough to damage the famous torch of the Statue of Liberty. Although it’s estimated that the Statue gets nailed by lighting close to 600 times per year, this was the first time it was struck by metal fragments. As a result of the damage, the torch portion of the statue closed to tourists. It hasn’t been opened since.
After the smoke finally cleared, the damage was assessed. Hundreds of civilians were injured from the blast and five people were reported dead.
The next day, The New York Times covered the terrorist attack on the front page. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed the event wasn’t an attack, but an accident.
One of the early assumptions was that a swarm of mosquitoes were at fault. Guards on the island lit smug pots to get rid of the insects and that’s what they believed caused the explosion.
Determined to remain neutral during the ongoing war, President Woodrow Wilson labeled the sad event as a “regrettable incident at a private railroad terminal.”
The story of Dunkirk is often relayed as an evacuation that saved the British army from complete disaster. Christopher Nolan’s new movie portrays just that — the herculean effort and incredible fear of those on the beach, at sea, and in the air.
The original hope for the evacuation at Dunkirk was to get some 40,000 men off the beach and back to England to regroup for a possible German invasion. In the end, the British were able to evacuate over 300,000 soldiers from multiple countries.
That would not have been possible if brave men hadn’t held their positions to defend the perimeter, holding off the German onslaught to allow their brothers to escape.
These are the men that stayed behind and made the evacuation possible:
1. Capt. Marcus Ervine-Andrews
Ervine-Andrews was leading a company of the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, defending 1,000 yards of line along the Canal de Bergues in front of Dunkirk. Positioned directly in front of the German onslaught of his comrades on the beaches, Ervine-Andrews endeavored to hold them off.
As the Germans crossed the canal, the defenses began to break so he moved to the front line and ordered troops into the gaps. He then climbed atop a straw-roofed barn and, under withering fire, began engaging the enemy. Ervine-Andrews “personally accounted for seventeen of the enemy with his rifle, and for many more with a Bren gun.”
Unfortunately, even Ervine-Andrews’ daring was not enough to hold back the Germans. With his company decimated, he ordered the wounded to the rear in the last available vehicle while he and his remaining eight men covered the retreat.
He then led his men safely back to friendly lines, often times swimming or wading through neck-deep water to get there, before once again taking up position on the lines with the rearguard.
Ervine-Andrews and the rest of the rearguard were evacuated the night of June 2, the last British troops to leave. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery.
2. 2nd Battalion, Royal Norfolk Regiment
As the evacuations began, the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment, along with the rest of the British 2nd Infantry Division, were ordered to hold the line along the La Bassée Canal. Their prospects for retreat, rescue, or evacuation were grim.
On May 27, the Royal Norfolks holding the line at the village of Le Paradis were attacked by the German 3rd SS Panzer Division Totenkopf (Death’s head). As the Germans closed in, the Brits gave them hell, even killing the commanding officer of the attacking regiment. However, at 1130 that morning, the Royal Norfolks received their last orders: “Do the best you can.”
Gallantly they fought on. After the farmhouse they were using as a headquarters and shelter was destroyed, they took up positions in a cowshed. At 1715 that evening, the remaining 99 men had run out of ammunition. They had no choice but to surrender.
Unfortunately, the British surrendered to the sadistic SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) Fritz Knöchlein and his company. The British were stripped of their weapons and marched to another barn where they were machine-gunned to death.
Two men managed to survive by playing dead and later testified against Knöchlein, who was hanged for his crimes.
The sacrifice of the Royal Norfolks held up the German advance for an entire day, allowing the evacuations to begin.
3. French 12th Motorized Infantry Division
While the initial prospects for the British soldiers were grim, the “miracle at Dunkirk” had allowed nearly all remaining personnel of the British Expeditionary Force to escape back to England. The same would not be true of their French counterparts.
While some French units were able to cross the channel, many took up the positions of the retreating British rearguard. After engaging in a fighting retreat to the Dunkirk perimeter, the men of the 12th Division, now numbering less than 8,000, made their way to the Fort des Dunes on the eastern end of the line on June 1.
For four days, the French endured bombings from the Luftwaffe and attacks against their defenses. Their commanding officer, Gen. Gaston Janssen, was killed on June 2.
They made their way to the evacuation beaches on June 4, the final day of the withdrawal; however, they were too late and had missed their opportunity.
The men of the 12th Motorized Infantry Division were taken prisoner on the beaches they had defended so that 338,000 of their comrades might live to fight another day.
On Sept. 22, 1917, a British Lewis gun team was hit by an incoming German shell during the third Battle of Ypres, near Passchendaele, Harry Patch was a member of that team. He was blown away by the blast, but his other three teammates were completely vaporized. He never saw them again. Patch struggled for years to tell that story, which he finally did before he died in 2009.
At his death, the last British Tommy to see World War I combat was 111 years, one month, one week, and one day old.
A Canadian soldier tests out a Lewis Gun similar to the one Harry Patch worked in World War I.
With Patch went our collective connection to a bygone era. While other Great War veterans outlived Patch, Patch was the last among them to fight in the mud, the wet, the disease-ridden trenches of World War I’s Western Front. He was born in 1898 and drafted into the British Army at age 18. After a brief training period, Private Patch was sent to the Western Front with the other members of his Lewis Gun team during the winter of 1916. The next year is when the German artillery round hit his position and killed his friends.
Patch was still wounded and recovering by the time of the Armistice in November 1918. For the rest of his life, he considered September 22 to be his remembrance day, not November 11.
Patch with Victoria Cross recipient Johnson Beharry in 2008.
By the time World War II rolled around, Harry Patch was much too old to join the Army and served as a firefighter in the British city of Bath instead. Patch never discussed his wartime experiences with anyone, let alone journalists, so he declined interviews until 1998, when the BBC pointed out to him that the number of World War I veterans still alive was shrinking fast. His first appearance was World War I in Colour, where he recalled the first time he came face to face with an enemy soldier. He shot to wound the man, not kill him. Patch was not a fan of killing, even in warfare.
“Millions of men came to fight in this war and I find it incredible that I am the only one left,” he told the BBC in 2007.
Six pall-bearers from the 1st Battalion The Rifles bear the coffin of World War I veteran Harry Patch into Wells Cathedral in 2009.
Before his death, Harry Patch returned to the fields of Passchendaele where his three best friends met their end. He was going to once again meet a German, but this time there would be only handshakes. At age 106, Patch met Charles Kuentz, 107-year-old German World War I veteran who fought the British at Passchendaele. The two exchanged gifts and talked about the futility of war.
Patch wrote his memoirs at 107, to become the oldest author ever, and later watched as World War I-era planes dropped poppies over Somerset in memoriam to those who served. He died in 2009, aged 111 years, one month, one week, and one day. The bells of Wells Cathedral in Somerset were rung 111 times in his honor.
Shortly after I was married, I was chatting with my new father-in-law, Dick Kennedy, and out of the blue asked him if he’d fought in World War II — only because he looked too young to have done so. And for the next couple hours he told me this amazing story, something he’d never really told anyone else before, including his five children.
He’d grown up in the Bronx, and after his own father had died a young man, Dick remembered his mother dragging him and his siblings from one Bronx tenement to another — trying to dodge the landlord. When World War II broke out, his older brother George enlisted right away—doing his part. That’s when Dick decided he had to do his part, too. He was a very determined individual and even at a young age he knew Germany and Japan had to be stopped. As he told me that day, he would have felt unpatriotic if he wasn’t able to contribute in some way.
He started his quest at the age of 14, trying and failing a number of times to enlist by falsifying his deceased older brother Raymond’s birth certificate. His persistence finally paid off at age 15, when the Marines were taking just about anyone. One moment Dick was a sophomore in high school, and the next he was on Guadalcanal. He wound up in the first wave to hit the beach on Okinawa — the last, and bloodiest, battle of the Pacific War. The date was April 1, 1945, both Easter Sunday and April Fool’s.
“Talk about irony,” Dick said.
: What was it like growing up?
: I grew up in the Bronx. I had two brothers and two sisters. My brother Raymond died in 1928, the year I was born; he was two. My father died of tuberculosis when I was very young and all I can remember is my mother carting us from one tenement to another, one step ahead of the landlord.
What prompted you to enlist in the Marines?
My older brother George went in the Army Air Corps. He would call home and tell us how things were going. I wanted to be in the service, too. I wanted to contribute. I started trying to enlist when I was a sophomore at Sewanhaka High in Floral Park, New York.
How did your family feel about that?
I was the baby of the family, so my mother was up in arms. I went to the post office to pick up forms for us both to sign. And I had to get my birth certificate and school records. Mom signed, but she didn’t speak to me for two weeks. My birth certificate read 1928, so I tried using Raymond’s birth certificate, but that didn’t work. Finally, they took me because they needed warm bodies. In early September 1943, I went in at the Jamaica Post Office in Jamaica, Queens. I was 15.
How much older were the guys you served with?
Most were 18 or so, but we were all just kids. One guy was married and had a child. We called him “Pop” but he wasn’t much older than us.
Did you ever meet any Marines as young as you?
No. But I did meet a guy who’d been ahead of me at Sewanhaka High. He couldn’t figure out what the hell I was doing there.
What unit were you in?
6th Marine division 4th Marines 3rd Marine battalion, I Company, Second Platoon.
What was it like being the youngest guy in boot camp?
Boot camp was a big adjustment. I was scrawny. I had to build myself up — walking for miles. The first couple of weeks, we’d march around this huge ballfield where they had parades. We’d walk it, over and over. In the beginning it was no packs, just the rifle. Then we’d go with full pack, about 60 pounds. We marched all the time. It was tiring, but I was very gung-ho and I got in shape. Our instructors weren’t much older than we were. “Where’s Long Island?” one said to me. “I never heard of it.” Anyone in the same position as me they’d call a “city boy.” When we got our rifles, they told us, “Guard it with your life and clean it every day.” At first taking apart the rifle was hard. There were 13 parts to it and you had to know them all and be able to disassemble and reassemble it quickly. But I kept practicing; I was always trying to get it right. Then you had to learn to put it together in the dark. That was another challenge.
Before we left boot camp we had to go to the doctor so he could check us off. The only flaw I had was a space between my teeth. “Do you think you can stop a bullet with that?” the doctor asked me. Then he laughed. He said I was perfect but for my teeth. We wound up in San Diego, and then sailed for the South Pacific on an Army ship. You did your wash by tying your clothes on a rope and hanging the rope over the side. You had to tie everything tight or you’d lose it. The Army didn’t seem to want to do us any favors. They kept us supplied with enough food, but just enough. Breakfast was oatmeal. Lunch an apple or an orange. Supper, maybe a chicken leg. We only got the three small meals; the Army guys got more.
Where did you land first?
On Guadalcanal, in two boats, about 1500 guys in all. The Army guys put us on phony assignments. Guarding their posts. Guarding a big gun. Checking the explosives. We had to constantly check the explosives and protect them. We trained there almost a year, and it was a miserable place.
Did you carry anything other than a standard rifle?
So many guys in my platoon got killed on Okinawa I was given the BAR, the Browning Automatic Rifle. I remember how it felt on my shoulder — different from my rifle. Then I found out what power I had in my hands.
What was landing on Okinawa like?
It was April 1 — April Fool’s Day and Easter Sunday. Talk about irony. But we were excited. We wanted to see the amphibious tanks float. We were betting on whether they would make it or not. Half the regiment was on barges and the other half was on tanks. I was on a barge. Some tanks were like tractor-tanks they’d specifically built for invading Japan itself. They had 10,000 of them ready to go to Tokyo. I hit the beach in the first wave, which meant feeling your way because you are going into enemy territory and you don’t know what you will find. We had a shootout that afternoon. I don’t remember the rest of the day. We were on bombing alert that night, but nothing happened. They didn’t shoot at us.
What do you remember about the battle?
We went into this valley, where the Japanese ambushed a platoon of ours. We surprised the enemy, and they took off. There were dead Marines all around, a platoon of 35-40 guys, half of them killed, many of them mutilated. It ripped your heart out. We went after the Japanese but they were too cat-like, they knew where all their bunkers were — and we didn’t know anything. And this was only day two. But I never thought, “Why am I doing this?” Or, “How did I get mixed up in this?” It just had to be done.
Okinawa sounds like hell on Earth…
The days just went on. We were sent on patrol up north; it was beautiful scenery. We got a report of enemy soldiers in a cave. A Marine thought he saw soldiers inside and started shooting, so the whole platoon started shooting. Mothers and children started coming out of the cave and we all felt horrible. It never should have happened, but we couldn’t really blame the guy who started it, but we all got read out. Our first lieutenant took the blame.
Another time, we walked into an ambush and were pinned down. The lieutenant got hit. They pumped him full of morphine and he started shouting orders. Because I was the littlest guy, he told me to run for help. I started to when this big sergeant pulled me down. “Don’t listen to him,” he said. “He’s full of morphine.” That guy saved my life. I would have been killed for sure.
How did you find out the war had ended?
I was at morning chow on a transport ship. A little radio announced that the Japanese had been hit with a special bomb at Hiroshima. We didn’t know it was a big deal. We thought we were going to fight on Taiwan. It took a week and another 100,000 killed for the emperor to wake up. Meantime, we were floating along in a huge fleet, thousands of ships of all sizes. We tied up at a naval station where we heard about the armistice, about three weeks before the signing on the USS Missouri. We couldn’t believe the Japanese were going to honor the surrender.
Did you go right home?
No — we went to Japan. We were like the cops, walking up and down the streets with our weapons, making sure everything was secure. We were constantly on alert. But it was peaceful. The people couldn’t have been nicer. They would do their ritual bowing and everything. We didn’t have much trouble at all. It was months before they started to send us home, based on length of time there. I came home early May 1946. Mom was still living in the same apartment. It was good to see the family. Everyone was there. “Oh, my baby is home,” my mother was crying. “What did I do letting him go?”
You went back to high school?
I went back to Sewanhaka High, into a 12th grade homeroom, but I mostly took 10th grade classes.
What was high school like after being in combat?
It was funny. I was surrounded by kids 14 and 15. I never talked about the war with them. They thought I was an oddball. I was good at baseball, but the school wouldn’t let me play. They thought I was “too much of a man.” I graduated with the class of 1947.
And after that?
I went to Hofstra on the GI Bill and became an English teacher on Long Island. I married my sweetheart and had five lovely kids. So, no complaints.
Note: This interview took place in February 2016, shortly before Dick Kennedy’s death.
A native Bostonian, Maloney received a bachelor of science degree in journalism at Suffolk University and a master of arts degree in film at Emerson College. He is the host of a national radio show, Mack Maloney’s Military X-Files.
The landings on D-Day have become iconic in the minds of many people who think about World War II in Europe. But the landings at Normandy were not the only invasion of France that the Allies carried out. There was a second invasion – and it is not as widely recognized. In fact, if Winston Churchill had his way, it wouldn’t have happened.
In the planning for D-Day, one of the biggest concerns had been to keep the Germans unaware as to the actual location of the invasion for as long as possible. Much of the decoy efforts were focused on the Pas-de-Calais region of France, but other areas were targeted as well. According to Volume XI of Samuel Eliot Morison’s “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II,” The Invasion of France and Germany, one of the decoy locations was the Mediterranean coast of France.
However, Eisenhower saw the proposed Operation Anvil as a way to supplement Overlord with a second amphibious operation within days of the Normandy landings. Winston Churchill, though, was opposed to that idea, and that opposition strengthened after the landings at Anzio bogged down. But the port of Marseilles was seen as a valuable logistics hub – and Southern France was closer to the German border than Normandy.
Finally, to get the British to approve Operation Anvil, it was delayed for two months. By then, it wasn’t so much a second front as it was the second part of a one-two-punch, and the codename was changed to Operation Dragoon. On Aug. 15, 1944, over 880 ships arrived off the southern coast of France. Three divisions, the 3rd Infantry Division, the 36th Infantry Division, and the 45th Infantry Division, went ashore. The landings faced much less opposition than the Normandy landings, and these forces helped send the Germans into full retreat from France.
While Winston Churchill paid a visit to the landing beaches, he was never thrilled with the operation. However, it was a smashing success, described by Morison as “the nearly faultless [amphibious landing] on a large scale.”
There were two reasons that the Japanese Navy found itself on the wrong end of the Marianas Turkey Shoot. One was the F6F Hellcat, which proved to have much better performance than the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. But just having the Hellcat wasn’t enough.
The real key to the overwhelming victory in the skies above the Philippine Sea was how well a pilot could operate their plane. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Stanley Vejtasa earned the second of his two Navy Crosses by destroying three Zeroes while flying a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber. Later in 1942, Vejtasa would score seven kills in one day during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands while flying the F4F Wildcat. Vejtasa would find himself sent back Stateside, his kill total for World War II frozen at 10.5, as he became a test pilot.
Many other aces were sent back, some as test pilots, but most were responsible for training up-and-coming pilots. The combination of the user-friendly F6F Hellcat and skilled, veteran pilot instructors made this fighter a superb weapon. It scored 5,165 kills during World War II. David McCampbell would score 34 of them to become the Navy’s leading ace. Japan kept its pilots on the front lines, so when they were shot down, they were often killed.
One reason the Hellcat racked up such a high total was that its contemporary, the Vought F4U Corsair, was difficult to fly – earning the dubious nickname, “Ensign Eliminator.” By contrast, the Hellcat was a relatively simple plane to land — a big plus when it came time to land on a carrier. As a result, the Corsair was relegated mostly to land bases.
After World War II, the Allied powers divided Germany, giving the eastern part of the country to the Soviet Union and the Western part to the United States, Britain, and France. The capital city of Berlin was also divided, but in 1948, the Soviets established a blockade to ensure Germany could not reunify and rise to invade them again.
Refusing to withdraw, the Allies began to supply their sectors of Berlin with food, fuel, and necessities in Operation Vittles — perhaps best known as the Berlin Airlift.
True to his word, Halvorsen collected candy rations from his fellow pilots and, on his next mission to Tempelhof, he wiggled the wings of his C-54 Skymaster and instructed his Flight Engineer to drop three parcels of the candy out the flight deck. They floated to the ground in handmade parachutes made of white handkerchiefs and, when he checked on the children later, three handkerchiefs waved back.
“Uncle Wiggly Wings” was born.
Once newspapers learned about Halvorsen’s “Operation Little Vittles,” pilots were flooded with candy donations from the United States. A humanitarian mission launched — and it continued well after Halvorsen returned home.
Halvorsen’s gesture — and the humanitarian mission that followed — built a bridge of healing between the American people and war-torn Germany, which paved the way for the friendship that would follow in the years to come.
People on the sidewalks of San Diego and at several nearby military facilities stared, transfixed, into the sky as a Marine R2D-1 transport plane slowly circled the area with what one witness later called “a queer whirligig” dangling beneath its trail.
That “whirligig” was Marine 2nd Lt. Walter S. Osipoff.
It was 9:30 in the morning May 15, 1941 when Osipoff, a member of the first group to go through the new Marine parachute school in Lakehurst, New Jersey, was jumpmaster on a training flight. He successfully launched his eleven jumpers, jettisoned a cargo pack, and was attempting to jettison a second when the ripcord of his parachute became entangled with the cargo pack’s ripcord. His parachute opened and dragged him out of the plane along with the cargo pack, leaving him dangling, head-down, 100 feet beneath the transport, which was flying at 800 feet.
He was held only by the leg straps of his parachute. The plane’s pilot, Capt. Harold Johnson, could immediately feel the downward pull from the rear of the plane and was quickly notified of what was going on. He slowed down to 110 mph, the slowest he could safely go, and struggled to keep the plane’s nose down.
Crewmembers’ attempts to pull Osipoff back into the plane were unsuccessful.
Osipoff continued to twist, his eyes pressed closed and his arms and legs crossed. He suffered burns and cuts from his parachute’s shrouds and his left arm and shoulder had been injured when he was violently yanked out of the plane.
On the ground at Naval Air Station North Island, Marine lieutenant and test pilot William Lowrey had seen what was happening above. He yelled to Aviation Chief Machinist’s Mate John McCants to quickly fuel a Curtiss SOC biplane, called the control tower by telephone for clearance (the biplane, like the R2D-1 from Osipoff dangled, had no radio), and then took off with McCants in the rear cockpit.
When the two men caught up with the transport plane, Lowrey matched its speed as best he could and slowly inched up on Osipoff — but it wasn’t working. Johnson was having trouble holding the transport steady and Osipoff was twice hit by the biplane’s wing.
McCants later said he could see blood dripping off of Osipoff’s helmet and knew the jumpmaster had been badly hurt.
Johnson moved up to 3,000 feet, where he found more stable air, and the transport evened out. By this point, the larger plane had enough fuel left for only ten minutes.
Again, Lowrey approached the dangling Osipoff.
As he worked up below the jumpmaster, McCants stood up in the open, rear cockpit of the biplane and was finally able to reach Osipoff. He grabbed him by the waist and eased the man’s head into the open cockpit while Lowrey struggled to hold the biplane steady. The cockpit was too small to carry both McCants and Osipoff. McCants started to cut the parachute shrouds and ease Osipoff onto the fuselage of the biplane, just behind the rear cockpit.
Suddenly, then the biplane jumped and its propeller hit a piece off the larger plane. Miraculously, in doing so, the propeller also sliced through the remaining shrouds of Osipoff’s parachute and he settled onto the biplane’s fuselage.
Osipoff was free.
McCants continued to hold the jumpmaster in place while Lowrey took the biplane down, fighting to control its rudder which had been damaged in the collision with the transport plane, and landed safely at the air station.
Osipoff had been hanging beneath the transport for thirty-three minutes. Among his other injuries, he had suffered a fractured vertebra is his back that would keep him in a body cast for the next three months. He went on to win a Bronze Star in World War II and ended the war as a lieutenant colonel.
Both Lowrey and McCants were awarded Distinguished Flying Crosses.
The Navy information bulletin announcing Lowrey’s decoration referred to the incident as “one of the most brilliant and daring rescues within the annals of our Naval history.”
The Battle of the Philippine Sea was the kick that broke down the door to the Philippines and the Japanese home islands during World War II. The American 5th Fleet squared off against the Imperial Japanese Navy’s 1st Mobile Fleet in a fight that would help decide the success of the ongoing Marine invasion of the Marianas Islands and determine which side controlled the air surrounding Japan.
This footage from the Smithsonian Channel shows what sailors and pilots actually experienced during the largest ever carrier-to-carrier battle.
It was to be a gamble for the Japanese no matter what, but it’s impossible that Jisaburo knew just how badly the next two days would go for him and the rest of the Japanese forces. The Japanese chose this engagement as the “decisive battle,” and pitted all serviceable ships and planes in range into the fight in order to break the back of the American amphibious forces.
But problems for Japan began before the battle. On June 15, an American sub spotted the Japanese fleet headed toward the islands, allowing the U.S. commanders to favorably redistribute their forces for the massive surface and aerial fight to come.
A plane lands on the USS Lexington during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
The American fleet had a thick screen of anti-aircraft guns on battleships and heavy cruisers positioned ahead of the escort and fleet carriers. They had almost twice as many carriers and about 20 percent more planes. U.S. pilots and crews were well-trained veterans flying against predominantly green, under-trained pilots that were rushed into place after previous losses, like the Battle of Midway.
These fuses used radar to determine their distance from a plane and then detonated at an optimal range, drastically increasing the chance that shrapnel would kill the pilot or destroy the targeted plane.
The Imperial Japanese Navy’s 1st Fleet tries to maneuver out of harm’s way June 20, 1944, during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
And then the U.S. planes took to the air. The Americans, with better crews and radar, facing Japanese wings broken up by anti-aircraft fire, were able to absolutely slaughter the enemy. It would later be described as the “Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.” The Japanese units suffered so much damage that some lost their way back to ship and were attacked while trying to reach the friendly airfield on Guam.
But of course, a group of naval aviators in a carrier battle don’t want to just take down the enemy planes — they also want a piece of the carriers. Sinking just one of those can set the enemy industry back a few years’ worth of mining, smelting, and ship construction.
American planes failed to find the Japanese fleet on the first day of battle, but U.S. submarines spotted two fleet carriers, the Taiho and Shokaku, and sank them with torpedoes.
A Japanese carrier attempts to outmaneuver American bombs and other ordnance during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
Overnight, the two fleets maneuvered around one another and put planes up once again the following morning. Again, the forces clashed and America came away the clear winner. The American planes hunted for the fleet and, this time, spotted it late in the afternoon.
Despite the setting sun, America decided to press it’s luck and a torpedo plane managed to sink a third Japanese fleet carrier, the Hiyo.
All told, America destroyed well over 500 aircraft, sank five ships (including three carriers), and protected the invasion forces at Saipan. The engagement cost the U.S. over 100 sailors and aircraft as well as a battleship, but so weakened the Japanese navy that it was seen as a sort of second Midway, permanently tipping the balance of power even further in America’s direction.
When the Red Army crossed the border into Finland in 1939, along with them came a battalion of remote-controlled tanks, controlled by another tank some 1000 meters behind them. Along with the usual heavy armaments, the tank drones shot fire from flamethrowers, smoke grenades, and some were even dropping ticking time bombs, just waiting to get close to their target.
It’s a surprising technological feat for a country that had only just recently undergone a wave of modernization.
The Soviets had this remote technology in its pocket for a decade, having first tested the tanks on a Soviet T-18 in the early 1930s. While the earliest models were controlled with a very long wire, the USSR was soon able to upgrade to a more combat-friendly radio remote. By the time the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, the Red Army had two battalions of the drones, which it called teletanks. At this time, the teletank technology was in Soviet T-26 tanks, called the Titan TT-26, and there was a big list of tanks, ships, and aircraft on which the Soviets wanted to equip with tele-tech.
Unfortunately, the TT-26 wasn’t able to fully participate in the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War. In the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s Luftwaffe was able to destroy the vast majority of the Red Army’s TT-26 teletanks. In the months that followed, it proved to be more economical and timely to produce a regular version of the T-26 and man them with human crews.
T-20 Komsomolets Teletanks
It would have been unlikely that the teletank technology would have made the difference on the Eastern Front of World War II anyway. They were notoriously unreliable in unfamiliar terrain and were easily stopped by tank spikes. If a teletank managed to outpace the range of its controller, it simply stopped and did nothing. The Soviets mitigated this by mining the hatches of the tanks, but an inoperative tank is still not very useful to the Allied cause.
Eventually, the USSR’s remaining teletanks were converted to conventional tanks in order to join the fight against the Nazis. Perhaps the emerging technology of the time was an interesting aside for military planners before the war, but the fun and games must stop when you have to start fighting for survival.