This raid was one of the Americas's first overseas military operations - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations

A daring raid launched to recover or destroy a captured ship 212 years ago marks the most celebrated episode of the United States first overseas military operations. Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and a small group of volunteers composed mostly of U.S. Marines covertly entered the port of Tripoli and successfully burned the captured USS Philadelphia.


 

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Stephen Decatur, American Naval Officer, badass.

 

Corsairs from what were known as the Barbary States, composed of of Morocco, Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli, had been ravaging the Mediterranean for centuries, capturing merchant vessels and enslaving or ransoming their crews. Some estimates place the number of Europeans sold into slavery between the 16th and 19th centuries by the Barbary pirates at well over a million.

American shipping had traditionally relied on British naval protection, but following the American Revolution the British let the Barbary States know that U.S. vessels were fair game. In 1785 Dey Mohammed of Algiers seized several American vessels and held their crews for ransom. The weak U.S. government at the time could not raise the money or the naval power to get the sailors back.

Though the U.S. managed to successfully conclude a treaty with Morocco, it wasn’t until until 1795 that an agreement to pay exorbitant tribute to Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis bought the captured sailors back. These tributes and later payments eventually began to consume up to 10 percent of the national budget.

Due to the situation with Algiers, Congress had authorized the construction of the first six ships of the U.S. Navy. When Tripoli declared open season on U.S. ships in 1801 over late payments of tribute, newly elected President Thomas Jefferson dispatched a small fleet to enforce a blockade of Tripoli and sent envoys to Sicily in order to secure a base to operate from.

After several skirmishes the U.S. Navy was largely able to maintain the blockade, its ships unchallenged at sea. But in October of 1803 the brand-new frigate USS Philadelphia ran aground a reef while patrolling the port of Tripoli. The captain and crew were captured and taken ashore for later ransom, and the Philadelphia was anchored in the harbor.

In order to deny the use of the Philadelphia to Tripoli, Lt. Decatur, commander of the schooner USS Enterprise, came up with an elaborate plan. A small vessel from Tripoli had recently been captured and rechristened as the USS Intrepid. Decatur would disguise the Intrepid as a regular merchant ship, enter the harbor at night, and lead a small force of mostly U.S. Marines to recapture or burn the Philadelphia; a raid. The USS Syren would stand by to offer fire support.

 

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Philadelphia burning in Tripoli harbor.

 

On the night of Feb. 16, 1804, the raid plan was a go. Sicilian volunteers who could speak Arabic functioned as pilots for the Intrepid, and they called out in Arabic as the Intrepid entered the harbor to allay the harbormasters suspicions. Decatur and his men were disguised as Maltese seamen and Arabs.

When the Intrepid pulled alongside the Philadelphia, they took the Tripolitan guards completely by surprise with swords and boarding pikes. Without the loss of a single man they recaptured the ship, killing many of the guards and sending the rest overboard, but the Philadelphia was in no condition to return to sea. After the raiders set the Philadelphia on fire, they reboarded the Intrepid and made their escape as the Syren and Tripolitan shore batteries exchanged fire. The operation had been a spectacular success and was widely celebrated back home.

The U.S. ransomed the crew of the Philadelphia back in 1805, and Decatur went on to have a distinguished career through the War of 1812, and as fleet commander led a second operation against the Barbary States in 1815. After defeating the Dey of Algiers, Decatur negotiated a series of treaties that ended the Barbary threat to U.S. ships for good, and marked the end of one the first overseas operations by the United States. Even today, the raid is one of the most memorable in US history.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Leaked documents reportedly show the CIA secretly bought an encryption company and used it to spy on clients — while turning a profit

In leaked documents, newly published by The Washington Post and ZDF, the CIA describes how it pulled off “the intelligence coup of the century:” for decades, a company that sold encryption devices to more than 120 countries was secretly owned and operated by the CIA itself.


The company, Crypto AG, was acquired by the CIA at the height of the Cold War. Through a classified partnership with West Germany’s spy agency, the CIA designed Crypto AG’s encryption devices in a way that let the agency easily decrypt and read all messages sent by the company’s clients.

Some details of Crypto AG’s coordination with US intelligence agencies had been previously reported — a 1995 investigation by The Baltimore Sun revealed that the National Security Agency reached an agreement with Crypto AG executives to secretly rig encryption devices. However, the newly-published CIA report unveils the full extent of the US’ operation of Crypto AG.

For decades, Crypto AG was the leading provider of encryption services. It boasted hundreds of clients ranging from the Vatican to Iran, generating millions of dollars in profits. The CIA maintained control over the company until at least 2008, when the agency’s confidential report obtained by The Post was drafted.

Crypto AG was liquidated in 2018, and its assets were purchased by two other companies: CyOne Security and Crypto International. Both have denied any current connection to the CIA, and Crypto International chairman Andreas Linde told The Post that he “feels betrayed” by the revelation.

“Crypto International and Crypto AG are two completely separate companies without any relationship,” a spokesperson for Crypto International said in a statement to Business Insider. “Crypto International is a Swedish owned company that in 2018 acquired the brand name and other assets from Crypto AG … We have no connections to the CIA or the BND and we never had.”

A representative for CyOne Security did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s requests for comment.

In a statement to Business Insider, CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett declined to confirm or deny the report, saying the agency is “aware of press reporting about an alleged U.S. government program and do not have any guidance.”

Crypto AG began selling encryption devices in 1940, marketing a mechanical device that was powered by a crank. The CIA reportedly purchased the company with a handshake deal in 1951, which was renewed with a secretive “licensing agreement” in 1960.

In the decades that followed, the CIA oversaw technical advances in Crypto AG’s devices, shifting to electronic devices. The company reportedly contracted with Siemens and Motorola to modernize its gadgets.

The CIA’s surveillance continued through the 1990s and 2000s, even as Crypto AG’s revenue began to dwindle. It was ultimately dissolved in 2018 and sold for between million and million, according to anonymous current and former officials quoted by The Post.

Read the full report by The Washington Post and ZDF here.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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That time the entire Dutch naval fleet was captured by French dudes on horses

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations


In the winter of 1795, a French cavalry regiment captured 14 Dutch ships and 850 guns without a fight. How’d they do it? They simply trotted across the ice. Universally regarded as one of the strangest victories in the history of warfare, the Battle of Texel is the only documented occurrence of a “naval” skirmish between warships and cavalry.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Capture of the Dutch fleet by the French hussars, Léon Morel-Fatio | Public Domain

Why were the French at war with the Dutch?

By 1792, Revolutionary France was looking to pick a fight with Europe’s monarchist powers. On 20 April, the Legislative Assembly declared war against the King of Bohemia and Hungary (meaning the Hapsburg Empire). Their plan worked. They ignited a twenty-three year conflict between France and the rest of the continent. In January 1795, the French Revolutionary Army invaded the Dutch Republic. They were met with little resistance.

What went down during the battle?

The winter of 1794-5 was particularly brutal. Stationed near the village of den Helder, the Dutch fleet was immobilized when the Zuiderzee bay froze overnight. It didn’t take long for the French commander to take stock of the situation—all the calvary had to do was gallop across the ice. The Dutch admiral was left with the embarrassing task of surrendering his ships to a handful of soldiers on horseback. A.G.M. Macdonell describes the French advance in his book Napoleon and his Marshals:

The ragged men carried the Three Colours and sang the terrible song of Marseilles from Fleurus to the Rhine, and captured the fortresses of Flanders and the fortresses of Holland and Brabant…and entered Antwerp and Rotterdam and the Hague, and thundered on their horses across the ice to capture with naked swords the battlefleet of Holland.”

What happened afterwards?

The United Provinces of the Netherlands became the Batavian Republic. The French puppet state lasted until 1806, when it was replaced by the Kingdom of Holland after Napoleon decided to put his brother Louis on the throne.

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4 lopsided battles lost because of excessive pride

Leading a massive military force must be a huge ego booster for its commander. Wielding that much military power in one place has to make anyone feel confident of victory. Still, it’s always important to check yourself before you wreck yourself because even history’s greatest leaders can fall victim to hubris. 

In Pulp Fiction, Marcellus Wallace was right when he said “Pride only hurts you, it never helps.” It’s amazing how generally wise and experienced leaders can fail because their own overconfidence undermines that wisdom and experience. Here are four cautionary tales along those lines.  

1. The Battle of Red Cliffs (208 AD)

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
A mural showing chariots and cavalry, from Dahuting Tomb of the late Eastern Han Dynasty (Wikimedia Commons)

This battle is not just monumental for its outcome, but also for who was involved, where it took place and how the battle was won. It happened on the Yangtze River in 208 AD during China’s Three Kingdoms period. It was also one of the largest naval battles in history, if not the largest. It pit legendary Chinese warlord Cao Cao, who wanted to unify China under his rule, against an alliance of two other greats from Chinese history, Liu Bei and Sun Quan. 

The two sides first met at Xiakou, but Cao Cao’s rush to meet his enemies pushed his army too hard and they were forced to retreat to Wulin. There, the two sides met on the water, with Cao Cao’s 250,000 men (who were largely not sailors) aboard a massive fleet of chained-together ships. The allies opposite had a force of 50,000 marines. 

When the fighting started, the allies had replaced the men and material aboard a number of boats with scarecrows, kindling, and fatty oil and sailed right at Cao Cao’s flotilla. His men fired fire arrows at the ships, which set them on fire. When they approached Cao Cao’s ships, they exploded, setting fire to his ships. Half his men were lost and the warlord was forced to retreat. 

2. The Battle of Carrhae (53 BC)

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Relief of a mounted Parthian archer (Wikimedia Commons)

Greed and ego claimed the loser at Carrhae. Marcus Licinius Crassus believed that he could overwhelm the Parthians at Carrhae at the head of 43,000 legionnaires. He was looking for an easy win that would give him the same military glory enjoyed by the other members of his triumvirate, Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great, while expanding the Roman treasury. Instead, it was one of the worst losses of all time. 

The Roman legions were literally showered with thousands of arrows from mobile Parthian horse archers. The deadly rain sliced through the Roman lines and when they moved to retreat, they were met by Parthian cataphracts, heavy horse cavalry with long spears. Crassus and the Roman leadership met with the Parthians to discuss surrender terms, but were killed instead. 20,000 legionnaires were killed in the fighting and 10,000 more were taken prisoner. The Parthian losses were so minimal, they weren’t recorded. 

3. The Battle of Morgarten (1315)

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Illustration of the Battle of Morgarten by Johannes Stumpf (Wikimedia Commons)

In 1315, the Habsburgs were divided among two camps for who would claim the title of Holy Roman Emperor. To assert its military dominance over three Swiss cantons who had recently sacked a monastery to assert their own autonomy, Habsburg Duke Leopold I led 9,000 of the family’s best troops to put them back in their place and capture an easy route to Italy. It didn’t work out the way he planned. 

Instead of crushing the Swiss Confederates, who only mustered 1,500 poorly armed peasants, they marched through a bottleneck at Morgarten Pass, which put the army between a mountain and a swamp. As the tightly-packed Habsburgs marched through, the Swiss dropped rocks and arrows at them, devastating the elite knights. When they moved to retreat, they ran into the force of peasants who slaughtered 1,500 of them and scattered the rest to the winds. 

4. The Battle of Hattin (1187)

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
(Wikimedia Commons)

In 1185, crusader Raynald of Châtillon raided a Muslim caravan, violating the uneasy truce between the Crusader States and the Islamic leader Saladin. In response, Saladin assembled the largest force he ever led and laid siege to the city of Tiberias. To relieve the siege, Raynald marched his own massive Crusader army away from its fortified camp near the springs of Sepphoris to meet Saladin – which is exactly what Saladin wanted. 

The Crusaders marched in the heat of the desert by day without enough water to sustain them on their way. They decided to divert south to the springs of Kafr Hattin. There, they found Saladin’s Army standing between them and the water. Parched with thirst the Crusaders settled down for the night, but were harassed by smoke from fires set by Saladin’s forces, exacerbating their thirst. 

When the fighting started, the demoralized Crusaders were decimated by arrows. They formed their army but were swiftly routed. They tried to break for Lake Tiberias but were blocked on that road too. With nowhere to move, no possibility of retreat and much of their infantry deserted, the surrounded Christians were defeated. The 20,000-strong army was annihilated, its nobles were taken prisoner, and Raynald was executed for breaking the truce.

MIGHTY HISTORY

England’s strike plane that could have been

Several countries have planes that torture aviation aficionados — airframes that showed so much potential but never made it to the field due to complicated politics, technical failures, or other reasons unknown. For the United States, it’s the XB-70 Valkyrie, A-12 Avenger, or the YF-23 Black Widow. For Canada, it is the Avro Arrow interceptor.


This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
One plane that might have been: The A-12 Avenger. (U.S. Navy graphic)

The United Kingdom has one as well. It’s called the TSR.2, although it never got an official designation because this plane barely got off the drawing board and into prototype stage. Which is a shame, because the Royal Air Force was looking at a strike plane that would have made the Tornado seem second-rate.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
An XI(B) Sqn Tornado GR4 training for deployment to Afghanistan. Among its weapons load is a Brimstone missile on the lower left portion of the fuselage. (British Ministry of Defence photo)

The U.K. was developing the TSR.2 with aims to replace both a now-legendary plane, the English Electric Canberra, and their V-bombers (the Vulcan, Valiant, and Victor). One of the primary objectives of this project was to counter the rise of the surface-to-air missile, which took center-stage in the world’s consciousness when a SA-2 Guideline shot down a U-2 flown by Francis Gary Powers.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
A Romanian SA-2 Guideline is launched during an exercise in 2007. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Petrică Mihalache)

The plane that emerged from years of development was the TSR.2. According to MilitaryFactory.com, it had a two-man crew (a pilot and weapons officer), was designed to have a top speed of Mach 2.35 (it hit 835 miles per hour in test flights), could carry up to 10,000 pounds of bombs, and had a maximum range of 2,877 miles.

After a test flight, the plane was deemed ready for production, and the line had 23 airframes in various stages of completion before politics intervened. To be specific, the Labour Party won elections and quickly proceeded to cancel the TSR.2.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
The engines of the TSR.2. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Paul Simpson)

To learn more about this plane that could have been, watch the video below. Do you think the TSR.2 could have succeeded?

 

(Curious Droid | YouTube)
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6 reasons the Vikings were so successful at raiding villages

Imagine one day you’re sitting along the coast of Northern England, taking a rest from farming in a bog, fishing, or whatever it was ancient villagers did up there back then. Chances are good you had a hard day of farming or catching fish and the end of the day was a welcome respite, even though you knew you’d probably have to go right back out and do the same thing the next day. But maybe you wouldn’t, because Viking raiders were going to burn everything you love and there’s nothing you could do about it.


That got real dark, real fast. Just like a Viking raid.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
“It’s a special operation because we steal the gold and it becomes ours.”

 

They were like today’s special operators

Viking raids usually consisted of a small number of ships and limited manpower, headed for a very specific, small objective. They weren’t out to capture towns or topple governments, they wanted food, booty, women, plunder, gold… you get the idea. The effectiveness of their raids hinged very much on their ability to surprise the opposition. They would move just over the coastal horizon, with their sails drawn down to mask their approach. Once inland, they would hit hard and fast, leaving before reinforcements could be brought to bear.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
There should be about 4,000 more arrows in this painting.

 

 They weren’t trying to sink ships.

You can’t sell or reuse a sunken ship, after all. Though Viking naval combat was not very common, it happened. And like their land attacks, Viking longboats would swarm a target to overwhelm it, or they would attempt to ram the enemy in the open sea. Rather than have a distant naval battle, Vikings threw that doctrine out, preferring to move in close and kill the enemy crew with archers, hidden behind a hastily constructed shield wall.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Pictured: all the f*cks the Vikings gave for military doctrine.

 

 Ambushes!

In an age where tight formations and discipline in combat were all the rage, it was unlikely anyone expected a Viking horde to ambush their army as it marched through the woods. But here they were. Vikings used to lie in wait in the wooded areas along the roadsides, in order to get the drop on an enemy unit.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Shield Walls help. (screen capture from YouTube)

 

 Adapting to the battle quickly.

Even the best plan can get tossed out the window once the sh*t hits the fan. The Vikings weren’t perfect and would occasionally get their asses handed to them. On the occasion where that occurred, they adapted to the situation as quickly as they could. Once confronted by real opposition, raiders would take on infantry formations, especially the wedge, with berserks at the tip of the spear. They would then drive this into an enemy formation, negating the enemy’s use of their archers or other ranged weapons.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
A book is a terrible defensive weapon.

 

 Nothing was sacred. Sometimes literally.

These days, we talk about military norms that we all hold to be true – doctrine – as if it came from the gods themselves. Well, the Vikings didn’t care much for your gods or your doctrine and pretty much flaunted both. They shook off the sacrilege of sacking religious sites because religious sites are where the best loot was kept. They shook off the doctrine of combat formations, fighting seasons, and times to do battle because that’s when you were expecting them and it’s so much easier to surprise you.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
“Reach out and crush someone.”

 

 They wanted to get in close.

Many, many weapons of the middle ages were ranged weapons, designed to get into action at a distance and keep the enemy from smashing your squishy skull in. The longer one army could pummel another with arrows and boulders, the less likely their infantry or cavalry would die fighting. The Vikings, on the other hand, like the up-close-and-personal touch of smashing in your squishy skull and designed their battle tactics to get all up in your face, scare the crap out of you, and either kill you or make you run away.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the top brass actually tried to prevent Pearl Harbor attack

Army Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short and Navy Adm. Husband Kimmell, the senior Army and Navy defenders at Pearl Harbor, certainly fell short in December, 1941, and their failures compounded others in the weeks leading up to the infamous battle.

But the fact that they received nearly all of the blame for the failures at Pearl Harbor is a miscarriage of justice that overlooks their many requests for additional weapons, land, equipment and troops. Such requests, if granted, would have allowed defenders on the island to much more quickly and effectively sling lead back at their Japanese attackers.


Take, for starters, Then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall’s letter to Short on the day Short took command, Feb. 7, 1941 — exactly 10 months before the attack.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short commanded Army forces in Hawaii for the 10 months before the Pearl Harbor attack.
(National Archives)

In the letter, Marshall opens with an assessment of Short’s new Navy counterpart, Kimmell, and how Kimmell had recently complained about shortages of defensive Army materiel.

Marshall explains, point-by-point, when he will provide certain pieces of equipment to Short and why other pieces cannot be found. He acknowledges a shortage of:

  • Anti-aircraft guns, especially .50-cal. machine guns and 3-inch anti-aircraft guns
  • Planes, especially fighter and pursuit planes, but also medium bombers
  • Barrage balloons, of which the U.S. had only just began real manufacture

Short accepted Marshall’s timeline for new equipment delivery and immediately started working with Kimmell on a wishlist for improving their defenses. The list got continuously longer as the men identified additional weak points in their position.

In meetings that also included Rear Admiral Claude C. Bloch, the men decided that they needed additional land over which to disperse aircraft, a move that would’ve drastically reduced the number of planes that could be damaged in a single enemy wave.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Army Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, left front, and Navy Admiral Husband Kimmell, right front, visit with British and American Navy officers.
(U.S. National Park Service) 

The three men also called for improvements of harbor defense and anti-aircraft defense as well as the purchase of spotlights.

Similarly, the group agreed upon new rules for air operations around Hawaii, specially noting how important coordination would be for pursuit and intercept of an enemy air attack as well as how bombers would be controlled when leaving Hawaii to attack an enemy fleet.

As the meetings were going on, Short had already dispatched two of his highest subordinates to the mainland to watch intercept operations. The idea was to learn how to best set up operations on Hawaii with new equipment being put in at Pearl, including radars for identifying attacks from as far as 80 miles from shore. They returned December 4, too late for their ideas to be implemented before the surprise attack.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
If you often have to line your aircraft up and can’t properly disperse them, you really want well-trained air defense crews.
(U.S. Air Force archives)

Not that the radars would have completely changed the situation on the ground, since air defense crews were often not allowed to practice emplacing their guns in position during exercises because most of their positions were on private property. And almost none of them had engaged in live gunnery practice due to ammo shortages and the prioritization of sending what ammo was available to the Philippines or the Azores.

As all this was happening, Marshall was recommending to President Franklin Roosevelt that Hawaii was near impregnable and that planes and other important assets could be moved off of the islands to reinforce other positions. As a result, Short lost 9 of his 21 heavy bombers to the Philippines.

Then, Short received the Nov. 27, 1941, “Do or Don’t” message, which essentially told him that an attack could come at any time, but that he must prepare for it while ensuring that absolutely none of his preparations alert the local populace or appear to be aimed at Japan, since that could sway public opinion should war break out.

Negotiations with the Japanese appear to be terminated to all practical purposes with only the barest possibilities that the Japanese Government might come back and offer to continue. Japanese future action unpredictable, but hostile action possible at any moment. If hostilities cannot, repeat cannot be avoided the United States desires that Japan commit the first overt act. This policy should not, repeat not be construed as restricting you to a course of action that might jeopardize your defense. Prior to Japanese action you are directed to undertake such reconnaissance and other measures as you deem necessary, but these measures should be carried out so as not, repeat not, to alarm the civil population or disclose intent. Report measures taken. Limit the dissemination of this highly secret information to minimum essential officers.

The telegram carried Marshall’s name, but had actually been written by committee in Washington while Marshall was in Louisiana.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
The delayed warnings on December 7 took it from unlikely to impossible that interceptor planes and bombers could make it into the air before the Japanese planes got to them.
(U.S. Air Force archives)

Finally, though Washington knew for hours before the attack that it would likely start at 1 p.m., they waited to send word to Short and only used telegram when they did.

Short and Kimmell saw the telegram after the attacks.

In the end, American planes on Hawaii were concentrated in too few places for effective dispersal; air defenders were under-trained, under-equipped, and under-supplied; defense infrastructure was underdeveloped; and what improved defense measures Short and Kimmell were able to implement despite supply shortages were still a few months (or, in some cases,a few weeks) from full maturity.

The general officers cannot sidestep the fact that their respective commands took massive losses in an attack which had been proven possible by American forces almost a decade previous.

But it is not fair for the American public and Washington to lay the blame solely on them when priorities and complacency in Washington, as well as breakdowns of important communications, left the commands under-supplied and under-informed at the start of American involvement in one of mankind’s bloodiest conflicts.

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See what it was like to fight in a WWII Sherman tank

The Sherman tank of World War II is both legendary and infamous. It was selected for World War II by Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. himself, America’s first tank officer and a pioneer of armored strategy.


The traits for which Patton loved the Sherman, its speed and agility, ease of transport, and decent gas mileage, made it a general’s tanks. The tanks could reliably be manufactured in large numbers and easily be deployed into transport.

 

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
American M4 Sherman tanks advance during fighting in the European Theater of World War II. (Photo: Public Domain)

But the tradeoffs that made those traits possible came at a cost of what crews wanted in tanks. Their speed and gas mileage came from — relative to most of their German counterparts — light guns and armor. The Sherman’s engine was designed for aviation use and was light and powerful but used a more flammable fuel than other tanks of the era.

So, while the Sherman could support friendly infantry and annihilate enemy infantry, they were vulnerable to attack from enemy armor.

The war in Europe was therefore a nightmare for the tank crews who fought their way east from Normandy. They fought in cramped quarters, had to desperately vie for close shots on the flanks and rears of German tanks, and often had to reinforce their own armor with items stolen off the battlefield.

Get a look at what the crews in World War II Shermans had to live with in the video below:

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This fake stealth fighter helped secure the real one

As we all know by now, the F-117 Nighthawk was America’s first combat-capable stealth aircraft. According to an Air Force fact sheet, it entered service in 1983, and was retired in 2008. It had a very effective career, serving in Operations Just Cause, Desert Storm, Allied Force, and Iraqi Freedom.


But one reason the F-117 was effective was because the Americans managed to keep it secret for the first five years it was in operation. As a result, many figured America’s stealth fighter would be named the F-19 – and in two techno-thrillers, the F-19 had major roles.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Photo: Air Force Master Sgt. Edward Snyder

It was best-known as the F-19 Ghostrider in Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising.” In that novel, the planes carry out a daring raid to destroy Soviet Il-76 “Mainstay” radar planes, enabling NATO to secure air superiority in the early stages of the war. One F-19 crew later takes out a Soviet theater commander.

Clancy’s F-19 was very different from the F-117. It had a crew of two, and was capable of breaking Mach 1. It also carried weapons externally, including Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and had a radar. While some sources, like Combat Aircraft Since 1945, credited the F-117 Nighthawk with the ability to carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder, most sources claim that the F-117 has no air-to-air capability.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
A three-view graphic of what the F-19 was believed to look like. (Graphic from Wikimedia Commons)

The other appearance of the F-19 was in Dale Brown’s “Silver Tower.” This time, it had the right name, Nighthawk, but it also had a crew of two. Brown didn’t go into the detail of his F-19 that Clancy did in Red Storm Rising. Brown’s F-19s had one notable success, where they bluffed their way in to attack a Soviet base in Iran during Silver Tower. Both planes were shot down and their crews killed.

After the F-117’s public reveal, the speculative F-19s were largely forgotten. But the “F-19” speculation helped keep the F-117 secret – and that secrecy was critical to the battlefield success of America’s first stealth fighter.

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How the ‘Hunt for Red October’ would go down if it happened today

When it hit the streets in 1984, the “Hunt for Red October” marked the invention of the military techno-thriller genre.


The conclusion featured an underwater game of cat and mouse between the Red October (a modified Typhoon-class submarine manned by a skeleton crew), the Los Angeles-class submarine USS Dallas (SSN 700), and the Sturgeon-class submarine USS Pogy (SSN 647) on one side against the Alfa-class submarine V.K. Konavolov.

As any fan of Tom Clancy novels knows, the Red October made it, and the Konavolov ended up on the bottom. But what would happen today?

Let’s start by updating the ships in question. Let’s replace the Typhoon with Russia’s new Borei-class SSBN. In one sense, we still get a very quiet, hard-to-detect vessel. While much smaller than the Red October (24,000 tons to 48,000), the Borei features pumpjet propulsion. This system has been used on British and American submarines for decades.

But the American submarines also will improve. Instead of a Flight I 688 like USS Dallas (now destined for the “Nuclear Ship-Submarine Recycling Program” – a fancy way of saying scrapyard), we’ll use a Virginia-class SSN (let’s go with USS Illinois (SSN 786) for the sake of discussion. We’ll replace the Pogy (already “recycled”) with USS Connecticut (SSN 22), a Seawolf-class submarine.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
The Seawolf-class attack submarine USS Connecticut is underway in the Pacific Ocean. (Photo from U.S. Navy).

Now, what do we replace the Alfa with? Back in 1984, the Alfa was a mystery. It was known to have high speed and a titanium hull. Today, we know two things about this alleged super-submarine.

First, the Alfa was louder than a teenager’s stereo system playing Metallica. Second, its sonars, like those on most Russian combat vessels, were crap. The successor to the Alfa was the Sierra-class submarine. While not as fast, it did feature a better armament suite (four 650mm torpedo tubes and four 533mm torpedo tubes compared to six 533mm tubes for the Alfa). It also was somewhat quieter (given the Alfa’s noise level, that’s easy to do).

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
A Russian Sierra-class attack submarine. (Photo from Wikimedia commons)

How might that final confrontation go? Given what we know about the (lack of) performance Russian sonars were capable of, it is highly likely that the 2016 version of the Hunt for Red October would be far less, shall we say, novel-worthy. It’s highly probable that the Sierra would not even pick up the Borei-class Red October and her escorts. Perhaps, at most, USS Connecticut would fire a decoy or two – sending the Sierra on a wild goose chase.

Thus, the Soviets would never even know America had the Red October.

Articles

This is how the Pentagon had over 120,000 extra Purple Heart medals

Since 9/11, almost 58,000 American troops have either been killed or wounded in the war on terrorism. And according to the Pentagon, each of those casualties qualifies for the Purple Heart medal — whether awarded in person or posthumously.


But it turns out that most of those pinned with the distinctive badge would wear an actual medal that’s been in DoD stocks for over 70 years.

How is this possible? Believe it or not, according to a Dec. 2003 report by HistoryNewsNetwork.com, the military had over 120,000 Purple Heart medals in stock at the time, even after suffering almost 81,000 killed in action and nearly 257,000 wounded in action between the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
The Purple Heart, the oldest American military decoration for military merit, is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who have been killed or wounded in action against an enemy. It is also awarded to soldiers who have suffered maltreatment as prisoners of war. Purple Heart day is dedicated to honoring service members, past and present, who have received the Purple Heart medal.

How did the Department of Defense end up with so many spare Purple Hearts on hand? The answer goes back to 1945.

We may remember it as the year the war ended, but back then, the question was how it would end.

The United States was planning for the invasion of Japan, codenamed Operation Downfall. The fight was expected to be very nasty. A 1998 article in Air Chronicles cited one estimate of 394,859 casualties. The Department of Defense ordered nearly half a million Purple Heart medals to award to casualties.

According to a 2015 post at HotAir.com, Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyushu involving 14 divisions of troops, was slated to take place on Nov. 1, 1945. Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu with 25 divisions, would have begun four months later.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
(Photo: AP)

Thanks to a pair of airplanes named Enola Gay and Bock’s Car, the invasion of Japan never took place. Many of the implements used to win World War II were either scrapped, sold off, or disposed of. But the medals were kept. The book “Blood Trails” by Christopher Ronnau described how Vietnam vets received Purple Hearts originally meant for use two decades earlier.

HistoryNewsNetwork.com reported that in 2000, the government finally ordered the production of more Purple Heart medals, but only to re-stock what was then known as the Defense Supply Center in Philadelphia.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy

Necessity is the mother of invention. If a certain need exists and the thing that satisfies such a need does not, then some endeavoring soul is bound to create it. Richard Davis embodied this mentality when he took some Kevlar and fashioned it into a lightweight vest — and his revolutionary design changed war fighting forever. With just a few slight modifications, Davis’ design became the body armor that police officers and troops wear into combat today.

You might be wondering why Davis, a pizza guy from Detroit, would need such a thing. Well, what would you do if you were tired of getting shot at while delivering pies?


This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations

You had comfort and maneuverability or mild protection from small arms and fragmentation. Your choice.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

Body armor, in one form or another, has been around for as long as war itself. But when gunpowder and firearms took the place of swords and arrows on the battlefield, standard metal plates no longer did the trick — incoming rounds from muskets would pierce most metals. But as firearms shrank from the cannons of old to the rifles we know today, metal-plate armor made a comeback.

During World War II, Col. Malcolm C. Grow of the British Army created the flak vest out of nylon and manganese steel plates. It weighed 22lbs, only worked where the plates were, and wasn’t comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but it was reasonably effective. This style was used until the Vietnam War.

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations

I mean, if it works… Right?

(Photo by Michel Curi)

After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Richard Davis opened a pizzeria off 7 Mile in Detroit. One night, a delivery took him through a back alley and he was held up at gunpoint. Weeks later, another order came in for the same address (it was even the same order of two pepperoni and ham pizzas). This time, however, he came prepared with a .22 revolver hidden under the pies.

The same robbers tried the same stunt, but he was ready. A gunfight broke out. Davis took one round to the back of the leg and another grazed his temple. He managed to get four shots off at his attackers, leaving two of his three attackers wounded. In the weeks he spent recovering, his pizzeria was burnt to the ground.

He had nothing but to his name.

Meanwhile, over at DuPont Co. Labs, they had just made a breakthrough in tire technology. They were using a new, lightweight, super-strong synthetic fabric called Kevlar. It was flexible and five-times stronger than steel.

Davis got his hands on some of this new material and fashioned some of it together into a body armor vest using ballistic nylon. He called it the “Second Chance” vest and created it with the intentions of putting it in police hands.

He worked on the vests throughout the day and tried to sell his life-saving wares to police at night — with little success. He needed a bigger ploy to get their attention. His method? He gathered up the police to watch a demonstration. He was going to shoot himself in the chest — despite the fact that his vest had never been tested on a person.

The vest worked like a charm. Davis shot himself and while it hurt like hell — because, you know, the vests can’t stop inertia — that didn’t matter. His pitch was so effective it later became standard among all police in the nation. Variations on his original body armor design are used by troops to this day.

To watch the Smithsonian’s interview with Richard Davis, check out the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Trial by cheese? Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals

Life in ancient Germany was rough, to put it lightly. You knew who your second cousins were, because you never knew when someone and his cousins were planning to kill you. Maybe you stole some of his family’s livestock, maybe you accidentally insulted his father or maybe one of your ancestors killed one of his generations ago, and he still wants revenge.

In these ancient tribes, blood feuds and violence were all too common. To address this problem people came up with innovative solutions to settle disputes and pass judgments: trial by ordeal. An ordeal required the accuser and the accused in a dispute to perform an action to “test” the gods, asking them to come down on the side of the righteous. Even after the Germanic peoples became Christian, these ordeals were retained, sometimes to the chagrin of Church authorities. Here are 6 of the craziest medieval ordeals.

1. Trial by combat

Everyone knows this one, in no small part due to its popularity in historical or fantasy dramas, like Game of Thrones. The idea was that in a battle between the accuser and accused, God would intervene on the side of the innocent and grant them victory. Interestingly, the Germanic peoples appear to have been the only ones on the European continent with this practice; there is no such record of the Greeks, Romans and Celts practicing trial by combat 

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Battle of the Catalaunian plains, between Attila, Aetius, Meroveus and Theodoric I; from Jacob van Maerlant’s Spieghel Historiael (KB KA 20, fol. 146v). (Wikimedia Commons)

2. Trial by the cross

Trial by combat wasn’t popular with everyone, however. Charlemagne encouraged the “ordeal of the cross” in its place, which required the accuser and accused to reach out their arms in the position of the crucifixion, and whoever lowered his arms first lost. Charlemagne’s son Louis the Pious later banned the practice, since it seemed a little impious to imitate Jesus Christ on the Cross for the sake of a minor human problem.

3. Trial by fire

If you thought trial by combat was unpleasant, just wait until you see this. In the trial by fire, the accused would have to hold a burning red-hot piece of iron in their hands and walk a full nine paces before letting go. Their hands would then be wrapped and bandaged, and in three days would be examined by a priest. If their hands were healing properly, then they were innocent, but if the wound became infected, then God was not on their side, and they were guilty.

4. Trial by hot water

Medieval Europeans couldn’t get enough of the heat. A pot would be filled with boiling water (or sometimes oil) and a stone dropped into it. The accused would have to reach into the pot to remove the stone, and their burnt hands would be bandaged for three days. Like with the trial by fire, if their hands started the healing process properly, then the priest would proclaim that the accused was innocent.

5. Trial by cold water

This raid was one of the Americas’s first overseas military operations
Miniature of the Battle of Cresson Bibliothèque Nationale FR. 5594 Fol. 197, Sebastian Mamerot, Les Passages fait Outremer, vers 1490. (Wikimedia Commons)

It was believed in the early Middle Ages that water was pure, especially water used for baptism. In this trial, the accused would be thrown into a body of water to see if he would float or sink, but the best water was the one he was baptized in. If he sank, then the water had accepted him because he was innocent, and if he was guilty, he would float because the water was rejecting him. Many modern people might think this was a catch-22, because you would either be found guilty or you would drown, but not so. People were usually attached to ropes that could easily pull them out if they sank.

6. Trial by… cheese?

One of the strangest medieval ordeals required a man to stuff his mouth full of dry cheese and then take an oath of innocence. If the man accidentally spat some of the cheese out or choked on it, then he would be found guilty. The trial could also be conducted with bread, which was probably no less dry than the cheese.

Though these ordeals were prominent throughout the early Middle Ages, these never sat well with everyone. Plenty of people in the Church opposed these ordeals, claiming that it was sacrilegious to “test God” with ordeals that had their origin in older pagan traditions. By the thirteenth century, popes and kings were starting to discontinue the ordeals, and these nearly disappeared until the witch-hunts of the early modern period.

The next time you’re frustrated thinking about jury duty, be thankful that in our system you only have to risk your time, not your life.

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