This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

In 1981, the United States accused the Soviet Union of providing chemical weapons to Communist countries in Southeast Asia to test a new kind of toxin for use in the ongoing arms race. Hmong tribesmen who fought with the US and South Vietnamese before the end of the Vietnam War described a kind of “yellow rain” pouring down on them from the skies.

The truth was a relief to both the villagers and the bees – and was actually kind of worse, in some ways.


This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

Today is the day you readers learn that bees poop.

Refugees fleeing the reprisals from the Communist governments of Laos and North Vietnam reported to their American allies that low-flying helicopters had dumped an oily yellow liquid on them en masse. Those hit by the liquid claimed to have suffered from seizures, headaches, and blindness, as well as some internal bleeding. The United States didn’t know exactly what the substance was, but they believed it was a chemical agent the Soviets were testing on these unwitting refugees.

President Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig accused the Soviet Union of doing as much in 1981:

For some time now, the international community has been alarmed by continuing reports that the Soviet Union and its allies have been using lethal chemical weapons in Laos, Kampuchea, and Afghanistan. … We have now found physical evidence from Southeast Asia which has been analyzed and found to contain abnormally high levels of three potent mycotoxins—poisonous substances not indigenous to the region and which are highly toxic to man and animals.
This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

We’ll give him partial credit.

The Soviets, of course, denied every word of this. They would have denied it even if it was true. And you can’t blame Haig, this totally sounds like something the Soviet Union would do. But to get the international community behind the accusation, the United States needed to prove it – that would prove to be a huge problem.

The refugees were inconsistent with their stories, and the so-called samples of the agent proved inconclusive in laboratory testing. Furthermore, the sufferers of the effects of the “toxin” were actually suffering from fungal infections in their skin. No one knew exactly what was happening until a Harvard researcher decided to check it out once and for all. Biologist Matthew Meselson traveled to the affected areas to do his own legwork, separate from the official investigation. Traveling to Laos, he recreated the events surrounding the alleged attack and found that it wasn’t a strange chemical substance. It wasn’t even strange. In fact, it was fairly common.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

Because everybody poops.

Meselson’s team found the yellow raindrops clinging to leaves in northern Laos. Once they concluded that this is what the refugees were describing, they conducted a test on the matter and found many kinds of pollen grains in it, typical of those digested by bees. It was, in fact, bee poop. Huge clouds of bee poop fell on those people.

When his study went up for peer review, it was found that villages in China had the same experience, only instead of chemical weapons, the villagers thought the yellow rain foretold a dangerous earthquake.

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President Trump proclaims Armed Forces Day

In a proclamation signed before he left on the first foreign trip, President Donald Trump proclaimed the third Saturday of May to be Armed Forces Day.


“For almost 70 years, our Nation has set aside one day to recognize the great debt we owe to the men and women who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard,” Trump said in a statement. “On Armed Forces Day, we salute the bravery of those who defend our Nation’s peace and security.  Their service defends for Americans the freedom that all people deserve.”

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
(DOD Poster)

According to the Department of Defense website, the celebration of Armed Forces Day first began in 1950, following a proclamation on Aug. 31, 1949, by then-Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson. Johnson’s intention was to replace separate holidays for the Navy, Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

“I invite the Governors of the States and Territories and other areas subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to provide for the observance of Armed Forces Day within their jurisdiction each year in an appropriate manner designed to increase public understanding and appreciation of the Armed Forces of the United States.  I also invite veterans, civic, and other organizations to join in the observance of Armed Forces Day each year,” Trump said in the proclamation, which has been issued by his predecessors in virtually the same form, including George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
West Point U.S. Military Academy cadets march in the 58th Presidential Inauguration Parade in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)

Trump’s proclamation did make special note of the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I, citing the 4.7 million Americans who served in that conflict. Trump also re-tweeted a Defense Department tweet featuring a video.

“Finally, I call upon all Americans to display the flag of the United States at their homes and businesses on Armed Forces Day, and I urge citizens to learn more about military service by attending and participating in the local observances of the day,” Trump’s proclamation concluded.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the toolkit spies carried in their butts

Spies have had all sorts of great tools and gadgets, from self-inflating blow-up dolls during the Cold War to special listening devices deployed around the world today. But perhaps one of the most surprising devices was the rectal toolkit issued to some CIA officers deployed into Soviet-era Europe.


A CIA-Issued Rectal Tool Kit For Spies

www.youtube.com

As more and more CIA officers were sent into dangerous places in Europe, including the democratic enclave of West Berlin, the dark times called for dark solutions that could be stored in a dark place — a place so dark the sun don’t shine.

Talkin’ about butts. The CIA turned to officers’ butts.

There was a high chance that CIA officers and assets could and would be jailed by secret police, even if it was just on suspicion of being aligned with the U.S. or other western countries. So, the CIA wanted to give these people the best possible chance of escaping custody. But since assets would likely be strip searched, there was really only a couple places left to hide the tools.

And so the large capsule was created, filled with tiny tools that would help officers pick locks and cut through fine materials. The exact tools and materials used varied between different “rectal toolkits,” but all of them were made with materials that were thought unlikely to splinter. They were also very carefully made to prevent leaks that would allow, uh, outside materials into the capsule.

If an officer were captured, he would go through the search, hopefully retain his toolkit, and then fish it out after the guards had left. Not exactly the moment that anyone dreams about when joining an espionage service, but still way better suffering a prolonged hostile interrogation.

Searches of the CIA history archives have not shown a specific case where a U.S. asset fished out this toolkit and used it to make good their escape, so it’s not clear if it saved any specific person’s life or government secrets from Soviet spies.

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This is how to fire a Civil War cannon, step-by-step

With ATACMS, MLRS, HIMARs, the M109A6, and the M777, American artillery can and does deliver a huge punch at a distance. Compared to them, Civil War cannons look downright puny.


Don’t take that to the bank, though. These old cannon were pretty powerful in their day. The Smithsonian Channel decided to take a look at how to fire a Civil War cannon from start to finish using the Model 1841 12-pound howitzer.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
Model 1841 12-pound howitzer. (Photo by Ron Cogswell)

According to Antietam on the Web, the howitzer of the time had a 4.62-inch bore (117 millimeters) and a 53-inch long barrel. It had a range of 1,072 yards – or about the same distance an M40 sniper rifle chambered in 7.62mm NATO can reach out and touch someone.

It had three types of ammo: canister, which was essentially a giant shotgun shell; spherical case shot, which became known as a shrapnel shell; and a common shell, which was your basic impact-fused or time-fused explosive shell.

Without further ado, here’s the video from the Smithsonian Channel showing how to fire this cannon, using an authentic replica.

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This is how one Marine earned a Navy Cross fighting in the ‘Punchbowl’

Intense firefights, mortar attacks, and rough terrain were just some of the many threats the Marines faced as they battled their way across the 38th Parallel of the Korean War.


In the fall of 1951, the infantrymen of 3rd Battalion 5th Marines dealt with overwhelming odds as they occupied an extinct volcano known as the “Punchbowl” located in the Taebaek Mountains.

While taking enemy contact, a Chinese mortar struck a Marine bunker near where replacement Marine Cpl. Salvatore Naimo was engaging opposing forces. From this position, he heard the screams of his wounded comrades coming from inside the newly-damaged area.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
Salvatore Naimo’s boot camp graduation photo. (Source: Salvatore Naimo)

Naimo, who joined the Marines to avoid being drafted into the Army, dashed over to aid his brothers, exposing himself to enemy fire.

Related: These ax murders along the DMZ almost started another Korean War

As mortars continued to destroy the surrounding area, Naimo spotted two severely wounded Marines and scooped up one of them up, protecting him with his own body. Soon after, Naimo dropped off the first injured Marine at the aid station and headed right back for the second man as waves of incoming enemy fire blanketed their position.

After returning to the aid station with the second wounded Marine, Naimo informed the corpsmen that he was going to head back to the bunker and continue to fight.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
Salvatore Naimo in Korea. (Source: Salvatore Naimo)

Upon his arrival at the unmanned bunker, he was lucky to discover the Marines before him had stockpiled it with machine guns, ammo, and extra grenades. As the next wave of Chinese attacks throttled, Naimo fired the arsenal of weapons into the enemy — who closed within 15 yards of his position.

Also Read: The ‘Chosin Few’ gather to dedicate a monument to Korean War battle

Hours later, Marine Lt. Walter Sharpe came across Naimo’s bunker, where he found 36 dead soldiers from the 65th Army Group of Mongolian laid out. Sharpe decided to recommend Naimo for the Navy Cross but sadly was killed in action two days later. He never filed the proper paperwork to get Naimo his Navy Cross.

More than six decades after his heroic efforts, then-Lt. Bruce F. Meyers (who was injured in that same battle) filed the necessary paperwork to award Cpl. Salvatore Naimo the well-deserved Navy Cross.

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4 Reasons why the first-ever jet fighter didn’t make an impact on World War II

Legendary test pilot and World War II veteran Chuck Yeager once commented, “Nov 6, 1944: First time I saw a jet, I shot it down.” He was referring to the Messerschmidt 262, the first operational jet aircraft. 

The Me-262 first appeared in the skies over Europe in April 1944. It’s impact on the German Luftwaffe was huge, especially coming so late during World War II. In just one year, the Germans estimated that Me-262 pilots shot down  more than 500 aircraft, which isn’t bad considering the Luftwaffe was pretty irrelevant at that point. 

Nazi Germany probably hoped it would help stem the Allied advance by denying the oncontested air superiority the Allies enjoyed later on in the war. In some ways, it did but in every way that matters, it didn’t make much of a difference.

1. There weren’t enough in the air

The German air force produced around 1,400 Me-262s during World War II but due to the lack of skilled pilots, restrictions on the availability of raw materials and spare parts, and constant Allied bombing, the Luftwaffe could only get 200 or so airborne at any time. 

Major production facilities were bombed and destroyed by Allied air power, so the Germans had to move the production to more low-key areas and disparate places. As a result, the parts of the planes had to come together at another facility entirely. The Germans even started using abandoned mines to shield them from Allied attacks. Eventually, they were all overrun.

2. The Me-262 was not a durable aircraft

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
An Me-262 being shot down, seen from gun camera of a P-51 pilot
(U.S. Army Air Force)

Luftwaffe planners were not prepared for the wear and tear the jet engines would take during drawn-out dogfighting and bomber raids. The planes had a lot of quirks that would also put wear on the new engine. It had trouble maneuvering at high speeds, which was its primary attraction to the Luftwaffe.

A Me-262 jet engine would typically wear out after just 10-20 flight hours, and would need to be replaced or repaired with parts that weren’t always widely available. If they weren’t maintained well, the engines could flame out or even blow up mid-flight. 

3. Allied pilots knew when to attack the Me-262

While the initial introduction to fighting one of the Messerschmidt jets might have been a shock to the Allied air forces at first, these were some of the smartest guys in the war. It doesn’t take a fighter pilot long to assess the strengths and weaknesses of an enemy aircraft and learn when is the best time to go in for the kill. 

Once in the air, the jet fighter was a formidable opponent, so Allied airmen began targeting the Me-262 during takeoffs and landings. The best way to defeat an enemy is making sure it can’t fight in the first place. Even when the Me-262 was airborne, the much slower P-51 Mustang was still deadly against the jet. Fighter pilots learned the Me-262 had to slow down to take a turn, and the much more maneuverable Mustangs would be ready when it did. 

4. It was over-engineered 

Hitler wanted the jet to be able to perform many roles, so what it became was a jack of all trades – and a master of none. The Me-262, when compared to other fighters at the time, was not an agile airframe. It lacked agility, acceleration, and climb; all things a fighter needed when engaged in air combat. 

When used as a high-speed interceptor aircraft, there was no World War II-era equal. The top speed of a Me-262 was at least 100 miles per hour faster than anything the Allies could fly, but once engaged by enemy fighters, the Me-262 became a target like any other Luftwaffe plane. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Lt. Col Hackworth is a legend…now, that is.

David Hackworth, affectionately known as “Hack,” was a one-of-a-kind American soldier and a legend among the troops. His military acumen both on and off the battlefield are rivaled by few. His service spanned nearly three decades and began at the age of fourteen during World War II when he lied about his age to join the Merchant Marine. After his time with the Merchant Marine in the Pacific, his lust for adventure and the military life was not satisfied so he again lied about his age to join the U.S. Army as an infantryman, a job at which he would excel. Hackworth was stationed on occupation duty in Trieste with the 88th Infantry Division before volunteering for a combat unit in Korea.


It would be in action in Korea that then-Sergeant Hackworth would start to make a name for himself and to start his collection of Silver Stars and Purple Hearts. He served with numerous elite units while in Korea, including the 8th Ranger Company, 25th Recon Company, and the 27th Wolfhound Raiders. He also set a precedent he would follow for the rest of his career in combat: lead from the front, attack aggressively, ignore overwhelming volumes of fire, and when necessary shrug off wounds to continue the attack.

 

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

Because Hackworth reached the rank of sergeant because he lied about his age in 1945, he was still only 19 years old in February 1951 when he earned his first Silver Star and Purple Heart leading troops in Korea. His gallantry in action and aggressive leadership style also earned him a battlefield promotion to second lieutenant and an offer from the commander of the 27th Infantry Regiment to create a special unit, the Wolfhound Raiders. After being promoted, Lt. Hackworth continued his aggressive leadership, volunteering for dangerous patrols and missions, earning two more Silver Stars and two more Purple Hearts. At one point, he refused a direct order to evacuate due to his wounds and stayed on the field until all of his wounded men had been retrieved. At the age of 20, he was promoted to Captain, the youngest in the Army. He also volunteered to stay for another tour in Korea, this time with the 40th Infantry Division.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
David Hackworth receives the Silver Star from Gen. Bradley for heroism under enemy fire in Korea on Feb. 6, 1951.

Between the wars, Capt. Hackworth completed his bachelor’s degree and served in a variety of positions. When the announcement was made that military advisors were being sent to Vietnam, Hackworth immediately volunteered but was denied on the grounds that he had too much combat experience. He would eventually deploy to Vietnam in 1965 with the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division as a major, first as the Battalion Executive Officer and the Battalion Commander.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
Col. David Hackworth being interviewed on the front line in Vietnam by Gen. S.L.A. Marshall following the Battle of Dak To in 1967.

Maj. Hackworth was once again asked to establish an elite unit, the Tiger Force, to “out-guerrilla the guerrillas” or “out G-ing the G,” as he called it. During this tour, he added a new component to his leadership style, using his command and control helicopter to insert right into the fight where he was needed most, again leading his troops from the front. During Hackworth’s first tour in Vietnam, he earned two more Silver Stars, as well as the first of two Distinguished Service Crosses he would earn there. After Maj. Hackworth returned to the states he was stationed at the Pentagon briefly, promoted to lieutenant colonel – once again the youngest in the Army, and the sent back to Vietnam with S.L.A. Marshall to conduct research for a book they would co-author called “the Vietnam Primer.” In the book, Hackworth advocated for his counter-insurgency tactics of “out G-ing the G” but more importantly that the fundamentals of combat never change and that a well-trained grunt is the most lethal weapon an army can employ.

In 1969, Lt. Col. Hackworth was given a unique opportunity – to take the poorly trained and demoralized 4th Battalion 39th Infantry Regiment and to apply his knowledge and turn it into a formidable fighting force. Training the unit in counter-insurgency tactics, Lt. Col. Hackworth’s leadership transformed the unit in the “hardcore recondo” battalion that was soon routing enemy main forces. Though initially there was talk of ‘fragging’ their new ‘lifer’ commander, the men soon found their improved tactics and training improved their lives and many credit Hackworth with saving their lives. During his tenure as commanding officer of 4/39, Lt. Col. Hackworth was awarded an additional five Silver Stars and another Distinguished Service Cross. He consistently braved enemy fire (and had his pilot do so as well) to reach wounded soldiers, direct operations and fire support, and when need be, to join the fight himself. His soldiers have pushed for the Medal of Honor for an action in which he had his helicopter land virtually on top of an enemy position while he hung from the strut and pulled his pinned down troops to safety. During his tours in Vietnam Hackworth was wounded an additional five times – for a total of eight Purple Hearts – tying him for the second-most received by a single person.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

Lt. Col. Hackworth was next assigned as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army. However, his views on the war had taken a turn for the worse. Dissatisfied by his experiences with S.L.A. Marshall and the U.S. military’s failure to learn from the lessons in Vietnam, he also came to see the ARVN officers as corrupt and incompetent. In 1971 though, after being promoted to Colonel and turning down a second opportunity to attend the Army War College, he gave an interview in which he spoke disparagingly about the war in Vietnam. He criticized U.S. commanders and called for a withdrawal of troops. This effectively ended Hackworth’s career. He retired after 26 years of service, seven of which he spent in combat zones, owning an exemplary record for heroism and the love and respect of all those who served under him.

For more information about David Hackworth’s amazing exploits read his books, About Face and Steel My Soldiers Hearts.

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The world’s most expensive bomber traces its roots to World War II

The B-2 Spirit is the most expensive bomber ever built, with a $500 million fly-away cost that climbs much higher when the RD costs are taken into account. The B-2’s story, though, really starts in World War II – because the B-2 was the culmination of an idea.


Aviation historian Joe Baugher notes that Jack Northrop, the founder of Northrop Aviation, had been pursuing the flying wing since 1923. By 1940, he got a technology demonstrator up.

The next year, the U.S. Army Air Force was looking for a long-range bomber that could hit Europe from bases in the U.S. in the event England were to be knocked out of the war.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
XB-35. (USAF photo)

Northrop submitted a four-engine propeller-driven design that the Army Air Force designated the B-35. It was to have a range of 8,150 miles, a top speed of 391 miles per hour, and a maximum bomb load of 51,070 pounds. Production versions were to have up to 20 .50-caliber machine guns for defense.

The plane had a difficult development, and fell behind schedule. The Army Air Force, though, saw potential and kept it as a research project. Northrop was asked to develop a jet-powered version known as the YB-49, replacing the propeller-driven engines with eight jet engines. While this increased the top speed to 493 miles per hour, it cut the range down to about 4,000 miles.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
YB-49 takes off. (USAF photo)

The plane had its share of problems. Keeping the plane steady was very difficult in the best of times, and it was missing targets when it dropped bombs. Then, one of the YB-49s crashed on June 5, 1948, killing all four crew, including United States Air Force Capt. Glenn Edwards.

There were also hot disputes over the plane’s manufacturing. Northrop insisted on having his company build the B-49 and its variants, while the Air Force wanted Northrop to work with Convair, which had designed and built the B-36 Peacemaker and B-32 Dominator bombers. Jack Northrop would later claim that the Secretary of the Air Force had demanded that Northrop agree to a merger of his company and Convair.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
Photo by U.S. Air Force

Northrop would abruptly retire and sell off his interest in the company he founded. However, shortly before his death in 1981, he was returned to Northrop, where Air Force officials took the extraordinary step of showing him a scale model of what would become the B-2 Spirit. The B-2 would be able to reach operational status in 1997, largely because by this time, the technology to address the stability issues had been developed.

Today, 20 B-2s are in service with the Air Force, and the service plans to buy another flying wing, the B-21 Raider.

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The first combat qualified female naval aviator died in a crazy accident

When Lt. Kara Hultgreen died while trying to land on the USS Abraham Lincoln, the event touched off a national debate about women in combat roles and the military pushing women who weren’t ready into active service. Except Hultgreen was more than qualified to be a naval aviator – she was just a victim of a well-known deficiency in the F-14’s Pratt & Whitney engine.


This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

“Top Gun” doesn’t mention engine deficiencies.

Hultgreen’s mom thought she would be the perfect debutante. Instead, her little Kara set out to be a Naval Aviator, flying the F-14 Tomcat. The goal didn’t stop at the F-14; Kara Hultgreen wanted to be an astronaut one day. But she didn’t start with the Tomcat, she started her career flying the less-pretty EA-6A. She made it to the Tomcat 18 months later.

“Yes, it’s a macho job in a number of ways,” she told Woman Pilot magazine before she died. “But that’s not why I wanted to do it. I did this to become a fighter pilot. It makes me feel no less feminine and it should not make men feel less masculine. The F-14 is a humbling jet and I’ve been humbled.”

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
Call Sign: “Revlon.” US Naval Institute
 

What she meant by being humbled is that Hultgreen narrowly failed her first attempt at F-14 carrier qualification. But she passed easily her second time around, ranking third in her class overall. Tragically, it was a similar event that would result in her death.

On Oct. 25, 1994, she was attempting to land her F-14 aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. She overshot the landing area’s centerline and attempted to correct the mistake. Her correction disrupted the airflow into her Tomcat’s left engine, which caused it to fail. This was a known deficiency in that particular engine. What she did next caused the plane to tilt over to the left. When her Radar Intercept Officer realized the plane was not recoverable, he initiated the plane’s ejection sequences. He was fired out, and .4 seconds later, Hultgreen was fired out of the plane.

But by then, the Tomcat had turned over by 90 degrees and Hultgreen was launched into the ocean, killing her instantly.

By the time she died, Lt. Hultgreen had more than 1,240 hours of flying time in the F-14 Tomcat and had landed on a carrier some 58 times, 17 times at night. She was ranked first in defending the fleet from simulated attacks by enemy aircraft and in air refueling, and second in tactics to evade enemy aircraft and in combined familiarization with tactics and aircraft. The Aerospace Engineer was a Distinguished Naval Graduate of Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

Yet, despite all of her achievements, training and preparation, there were some who blamed the military for her death, alleging her superiors overlooked her mistakes in training in trying to beat the Air Force in training the first female fighter pilot. One group, the Center for Military Readiness, claimed to have obtained Hultgreen’s training records in 1995, records which they said would have disqualified her as an aviator.

These records are contradicted by records released from Hultgreen’s family the year prior, however. Her colleagues and fellow pilots praised her performance as a naval aviator and reminded people that 10 F-14 pilots were killed in accidents between the years of 1992 and 1994. Hultgreen once even brought an EA-6A Intruder to a safe landing, despite flying it with crippled landing gear.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Writing funny stuff on ammo is over 2000 years old

Do you have that buddy who scratches messages into his M4 rounds? Or maybe you’re the sailor who Sharpies “This one’s for you” onto JDAMs destined for a flight over the Gulf. Regardless, it turns out that you’re part of a tradition that dates back to a few hundred years before Jesus.

Yeah, we’re all comedians.


This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

(Air Force Master Sgt. Dave Nolan)

Writing messages on bombs, missiles, and other munitions is a common and long-standing tradition. After the 9/11 Attacks, messages of solidarity for New York and vengeance against al Qaeda and the Taliban started popping up on bombs headed for Afghanistan. Hussein and the Ba’ath party were favorite targets for graffiti over Iraq in the early 2000s.

More recently, bombs headed for Iraq and Syria have had messages for ISIS and Baghdadi, and messages supporting Paris were popular after the attacks in 2015.

Obviously, there’s about zero chance in Hell that anyone on the receiving end will actually read the messages. After all, the bomb casings will get obliterated when they go off. But it’s fun for the troops and lets them get a little steam out. Most service members will never fire a weapon, drop a bomb, or throw a grenade in anger.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

(Imperial War Museum)

So it can sometimes be hard for support troops to connect their actions to dismantling ISIS, defeating Saddam, or destroying al Qaeda. It helps the ordnance crews reinforce their part of the mission, and they can imagine their Sharpie-soaked pieces of shrapnel shredding enemy fighters.

But this tradition really dates back. In World War II, British troops designated bombs to destroy the German battleship Tirpitz. And these Americans were hoping their bombs would be great party favors for the Third Reich.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

(U.S. Army Signal)

But the British museum has sling shot, the actual projectiles used in slings and slingshots, that have funny little messages carved into them. Messages like “Catch!” But, you know, the messages are written in Ancient Greek because they were carved 300 or so years before Jesus was born.

So if you ever get a chance to write one of these messages, do it. Just think of something pithy and fun, “Catch!” is old news by now.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Jimmy Carter saved Canada from nuclear destruction

In 1952, an accident at Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories near Deep River, Ontario caused a partial meltdown in an experimental nuclear reactor. Hydrogen explosions followed and hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive water flooded the core, heavily damaging the reactor.  When the Canadian government turned to U.S. nuclear experts for help, “Father of the Nuclear Navy” Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover sent his protégé – Lieutenant James Earl “Jimmy” Carter – to lead a team of maintainers into the reactor core to shut it down.


 

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
Jimmy Carter in his 1947 class portrait from the U.S. Naval Academy yearbook.

The admiral was famous for the demands he put on the people who worked for him. His unorthodox methods almost kept him from making flag rank, but President Truman intervened on his behalf. It was a good call: the Navy’s 300 nuclear warships have never had a single nuclear incident.

Rickover’s team had access to the latest in nuclear energy technology because they were developing nuclear-powered ships for the U.S. Navy (the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, was completed in 1955). The Navy knew the technology the Canadians were using and how best to fix it.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
The Chalk River Labs site.

Rickover volunteered Carter to the Canadians to take the failing reactor apart so it could be replaced, a testament to the extraordinary faith and training the U.S. Navy places in its sailors – and to the good judgment of Adm. Rickover. First, the reactor had to be shut down, then it could be disassembled and replaced.

Carter, then 28 years old, had been in the Navy for six years. He was assigned to the Naval Reactors Branch of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Washington, D.C. Rickover’s demanding perfectionism was as instilled in Carter as it is today’s nuclear sailors.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

Rickover (left) served 61 years on active duty and saw Carter get elected President.

In his book “Reflections at Ninety,” Carter recalls preparing for the task. The team built a replica of the reactor on a nearby tennis court to practice their next move and track the work they’d already finished. Every pipe, bolt, and nut was rebuilt exactly as it was in the damaged reactor area.

Lieutenant Carter divided himself and his 23 guys into teams of three. Each worked 90-second shifts cleaning and repairing the reactor as per what they practiced on the tennis court. A minute and a half was the maximum time the human body could handle the amount of radiation in the area.

By today’s standards, it was still way too much radiation – Carter and his men were exposed to levels a thousand times higher than what is now considered safe. He and his team absorbed a year’s worth of radiation in that 90 seconds. The basement where they helped replace the reactor was so contaminated, Carter’s urine was radioactive for six months after the incident.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop
The USS Jimmy Carter (U.S. Navy photo)

It makes sense that the ship named after President Carter would be a Seawolf-class nuclear submarine, as Carter helped develop the nuclear Navy and was the only U.S. President to be qualified for submarine duty. The USS Jimmy Carter was commissioned in February 2005.

The effects of this exposure eventually caught up to him. Carter developed cancerous tumors on his liver and brain at age 91 but was screened as cancer-free a year later.

MIGHTY HISTORY

When Britain secretly saved 83,000 men from likely death, capture

Britain attempted a bold strategy early in the first World War: Knock the Ottoman Empire out of the war by defeating it at home, restricting the number of troops that the Central Powers could muster on the eastern and western fronts. It was a gamble that, if successful, could have seen the initial landing of five divisions knock an empire out of the war and reduce enemy forces by millions of troops.

Unfortunately for the UK, the strategy failed, leaving leadership to decide between reinforcing the Gallipoli Peninsula or evacuating the more than 80,000 troops strung along the front under the fire of Turkish guns.


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The original invasion in February, 1915, had become quickly bogged down in the peninsula’s sharp terrain of ridges and valleys, and a stalemate starting in August poured fuel on the fires of calls for evacuation. On October 11, London asked Sir Ian Hamilton, the operation’s commander, what he thought his losses in an evacuation would be.

He responded that he would lose 50 percent — over 40,000 men.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

Luckily, London had a general who had recently returned from France that was in better standing at that moment. By October 16, just five days later, Hamilton was out and Sir Charles Munro was headed to the front.

Munro was in favor of an evacuation of Gallipoli because he knew how badly reinforcements were needed in France. Sending any more troops to fight the Ottoman Empire would mean further shortages in France while an evacuation would allow for tens of thousands of more troops to head where many leaders thought they were more badly needed.

What Munro saw in his tours of the three major troop concentrations cemented his position. All three beachheads, Helles, Anzac, and Suvla, were deemed too tough to defend. Meanwhile, the Turks were winning the logistics war and now had 315,000 troops with increasing access to heavy artillery against Munro’s 134,000 men. Munro recommended a complete withdrawal.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

Troops move supplies off of the beaches of Gallipoli.

London disagreed, ordering Helles to be defended while troops pulled out of Anzac and Suvla.

The task of planning the withdrawal fell to Australian Brig. Gen. Brudenell White. His proposal, soon adopted, called for a three-stage evacuation that focused on maintaining appearances for as long as possible.

“It is upon the existence of perfectly normal conditions,” White said, “that I rely for success.”

In phase one, nonessential personnel would slowly pull back to the ships at night under absolute quiet. At the front, defenders would remain silent until Ottoman patrols wandered close to see what was going on, then the defenders would open up with machine guns, rifles, and whatever else was at hand.

This secret Russian weapon turned out to be harmless bee poop

The drip rifle allowed troops to hide their withdrawal.

Meanwhile, during the day, groups of men were ordered to light extra campfires, to march in pre-determined patterns, and to move from ships to shore like they were newly arriving reinforcements. Starting December 8, these men acted like “Groundhog Day” characters, repeating all their actions like clockwork to give the impression that nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

This allowed the British and their allies to get the number of evacuees down to roughly 40,000 troops.

Phase two, which began December 15, included all the same subterfuge as phase one, but even essential personnel and supplies were moved to the shore and evacuated, once again under the cover of night. To maintain the impression of full manning and operations, stacks of boxed supplies were emptied from the inside out, leaving hollowed out squares of bandages, ammo, and other materiel. The last remaining defenders continued to fire their weapons in massive bursts at any Ottomans who got too close.

Finally, phase three was a two-night evacuation of the last defenders from the last hours of December 18 to 4 a.m. on December 20. To take some of the heat off of the barely-manned defenses at Suvla and Anzac, troops from Helles launched a series of attacks and feints.

To further mask the withdrawal, the final defenders to pull out of positions would leave “drip rifles,” weapons positioned at firing positions with two tins of water and a candle positioned so that they would fire a few minutes after the soldier departed, giving the impression that the men were still in the trenches.

As for the men on the beaches, they miraculously escaped with almost no loss of life. White’s tricks were so successful that the Ottomans basically treated the situation like it was “winter quarters,” where both sides hunker down for limited contact until the weather improves.

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These battleship vets bring the USS North Carolina back to life through combat stories

The USS North Carolina was what they called a “fast” battleship, designed for long range shooting matches with other ships of war. She was faster than any other ship in the U.S. fleet when she was built.


“I was 17 when I came aboard this thing,” says James Bowen, a World War II veteran and USS North Carolina sailor. “I saw that thing and said ‘Nothing can hurt me on that thing.’ So I think of this as my second mother.”

“It brings back a lot of memories, if you walk around the ventilators,” says Louis Popovich, another USS North Carolina veteran. “It’s amazing how you can be reminded of an area by breathing some of the air.”

By the end of WWII, submarine warfare and aircraft carriers made the more expensive heavy gun warships like North Carolina all but obsolete. The last use of a battleship in combat was in Desert Storm, but by then they were firing Tomahawk missiles. Slowly over the next 50 years, the battleships of WWII were decommissioned one by one.

The North Carolina was opened to the public in 1963 and is now moored at Wilmington, N.C, where those interested in hearing more stories from the men who fought aboard her can visit.

While the ship will be there for the foreseeable future, the veterans’ firsthand stories will not. An estimated 430 WWII veterans die every day and by 2036, they will all be gone — but not forgotten.

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