What do you think are major spy targets? Troop movements? Strategic plans? New weapon designs?
Sure, those are all great choices, but what about space shuttles and planetary probes?
Rivals have always kept a close eye on America’s space program, especially after the U.S. edged ahead of the Soviets in the ’60s by first copying their manned orbit of the earth in 1962 and then beating them to the Moon in 1969.
For the Soviet Union, this presented a dire threat.
After all, while NASA and the Soviet’s Federal Space Agency — now reorganized as a corporation and known as Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities — were both scientific enterprises, both did a little moonlighting for spy agencies and provided a lot of important technical know-how to spooks.
The Russians needed their own version of the craft — and quickly — if they were to remain competitive in space. But they burned up four years in bureaucratic squabbling.
In 1976, senior Soviet leadership finally signed the decree authorizing the program, and the Soviet-designed “Spiral” space plane was quickly removed from contention. Russia specifically wanted a weapon with all the same capabilities as the Shuttle, including the imagined ability to bomb enemy capitals.
“It is no secret to anyone in our sector … that the Energia-Buran system was ordered from us by the military,” said Yuri Semenov, who worked on the boosters for the Soviet craft. “It was said at meetings on various levels that American shuttles, even on the first revolution, could perform a lateral maneuver and turn to be over Moscow, possibly with dangerous cargo. Parity is needed, we needed the same type of rocket-space system.”
What resulted from all of this was a craft known as the Buran, Russian for ‘blizzard,’ that looked almost identical to the Space Shuttle.
But it actually had some nifty capabilities not found on the American version. For one, the Buran could conduct automated flights with no human occupants. In fact, it did so in its one and only flight in space in 1988.
Second, the Buran used Energia boosters, liquid-fueled boosters that were safer and more powerful — but more costly — than American solid-propellant boosters.
Following their surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of America into WWII, the Japanese began to implement unconventional weapons in combat. During the Philippines campaign in March 1942, the Japanese planned to release roughly 150 million fleas carrying plague to root out the American defenders. However, the surrender at Bataan preempted their use. By the end of the war, the Japanese were itching to use their biological weapons.
Developed by the infamous Unit 731 in Japanese-occupied China, a stockpile of plague was weaponized and ready to be deployed. To deliver the disease, the Japanese developed the Uji bomb. The bomb was incredibly simple and made of a ceramic container filled with corn and plague-infected fleas. A few hundred feet over the ground, a small charge would shatter the ceramic container and shower the ground below with corn and fleas. The corn would attract local rat populations and the fleas would then mount the rats who would spread the disease throughout the target area. Unit 731 tested the Uji bomb in Manchuria to devastating effect. In some cases, entire villages were wiped out by the plague. The leader of the Unit 731, Surgeon General Shirō Ishii, was especially keen to field the weapon.
During the Battle of Iwo Jima in early 1945, the Japanese planned another plague attack against the Americans. Two gliders would be towed from mainland Japan to an airfield in the Pingfang District of China. There, they would be equipped with their Uji bombs, towed over the island, and released to deliver the pathogen over the invasion forces. However, the gliders never made it to China and the pathogen was not released.
Instead, Ishii devised a long-distance strike on San Diego, California. Using five of Japan’s new long-range aircraft carrier submarines, the I-400-class, planes would be launched off the California coast to drop Uji bombs on the city. The plan was finalized on March 26, 1945. “I was told directly by Shiro Ishii of the kamikaze mission ‘Cherry Blossoms at Night’, which was named by Ishii himself,” recalled Ishio Kobata, one of the pilots selected for the mission. “I was a leader of a squad of seventeen. I understood that the mission was to spread contaminated fleas in the enemy’s base and contaminate them with plague.”
Like most Japanese operations in 1945, Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night was a one-way suicide mission for both the pilots and submariners involved. The operation was scheduled to begin on September 22 following the completion of the necessary I-400-class submarines. Though the plan was approved, Chief of the Army General Staff Yoshijirō Umezu vetoed it for logistical reasons. However, he re-approved the plan in early August 1945 when he saw that the submarine construction was on schedule. It was only the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the subsequent Japanese surrender on August 15 that canceled Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night.
By the time the Japanese surrendered, three of the I-400-class submarines had already been built with at least two more to be completed by September 2. Arata Mizoguchi, a navy commander in Unit 731, believed that Cherry Blossoms at Night would have launched if the war had gone on. If the plan had been successful, the resulting epidemic would have been catastrophic.
If you’ve seen the 1960 classic, The Gallant Hours, starring James Cagney as Admiral William F. Halsey, then you saw a very dramatized version of how the United States Navy got the information that would eventually lead to the demise of Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto. But Hollywood blockbusters have a way of twisting history for the sake of entertainment.
In the movie, Capt. Frank Enright, an intelligence officer, passes on the information to Halsey who then flies to Guadalcanal, where he gives the command to Thomas G. Lanphier, Jr. Lanphier would later bring justice to Isoroku Yamamoto in the skies over the island of Bougainville.
Historically, Halsey didn’t get the information about what would be Yamamoto’s last flight directly from the officer who recommended the mission. In fact, the officer who urged the mission to go ahead was in Pearl Harbor, right by the side of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz. That officer was Lieutenant Commander Edwin T. Layton.
In his memoirs, “And I Was There,” Layton related his service as a naval attache in Tokyo prior to the war. He was one of a number of officers fluent in Japanese — the most notable of the others being Joe Rochefort, best known as the officer who saved Midway. Layton had been assigned as the chief intelligence officer for the Pacific Fleet in 1940 and witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nimitz chose to retain Layton, who would be the one officer Nimitz kept by his side throughout the war.
By April of 1943, Rochefort had been sidelined from code-breaking by jealous Washington bureaucrats, but Layton was still at Pearl Harbor when the message with Yamamoto’s itinerary was decoded. Having met Yamamoto a number of times in Japan (he had even played cards with him), Layton had a knowledge of the Japanese commander. He told Nimitz,
“Aside from the Emperor, probably no man in Japan is so important to civilian morale. And if he’s shot down, it would demoralize the fighting Navy.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Eighteen P-38s were slated to carry out the mission of intercepting the Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers carrying Yamamoto and his staff. Two of the P-38s had to turn back. The rest tangled with Japanese forces, gunning for aircraft containing the mastermind of the Pearl Harbor attack. Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier landed the shot that ended Yamamoto.
After World War II, Layton served in the Navy until 1959, taking up his position as chief intelligence officer during the Korean War. He died in 1984, before his memoirs were published. Even though Layton played a crucial, yet unheralded role in America’s victory over Japan, no ship has been named in his honor.
The tank is one of the most important weapon systems on the battlefield. Few weapons strike enemy soldiers with the fear that a fully loaded tank rolling towards them does.
After their trial by fire on the fields of Europe in World War I, tanks have become a necessity for any army that wants to be considered a serious foe.
In the one hundred years since its invention, tanks have been the winning factor in a number of battles. Entire wars have depended on their successful use.
Take a look at how 10 of the biggest tank battles in history went:
Battle of Cambrai: November 20 – December 8, 1917
The Battle of Cambrai was the first time tanks were used on a large scale for a military offensive. The objective was to take the commune of Cambrai, an important supply point for the Germans at the heart of the Hindenburg Line, in order to reduce the pressure on the French.
Nineteen British divisions were assembled for the battle, including 476 tanks and five horsed cavalry divisions.
The initial attack on November 20th was met with huge success. The British had torn through four miles of German defenses and captured up to 7,500 prisoners with low casualties.
But by the end of the day, more than half of the tanks were out of action due to mechanical failure. The German Army launched a massive counterattack, and brutal trench warfare ensued.
By the end of the battle, almost all the British gains were lost, over 100 tanks were lost or destroyed, and both sides suffered around 40,000 casualties each.
Battle of Hannut: May 12 – 14, 1940
The Battle of Hannut was fought during the Battle of Belgium, Nazi Germany’s invasion of the Low Countries. It was part of the Wehrmacht’s thrust into the Ardennes region, and was meant to tie down the French First Army.
It was both the largest tank battle of the campaign, and the largest battle in armored warfare history at the time. Over 600 German tanks and 25,000 soldiers squared off against 600 French and Dutch armored vehicles and around 20,000 soldiers.
The battle was technically inconclusive. Some of the French First Army was able to fight their way through the Germans to reunite with their British comrades at Dunkirk, but they had lost well over 100 of their tanks and armored vehicles.
German losses were much lighter, with only around 50 tanks lost. While the French SOMUA S35 tank was considered as one of the best at the time, German tactics and communication technology made the Wehrmacht better.
Battle of Raseiniai: June 23 – 27, 1941
The Battle of Raseiniai was a large tank battle fought at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union. The battle was fought in Lithuania, then part of the Soviet Union’s Northwestern Front.
Some 240 German tanks from the 4th Panzer Group were tasked with destroying almost 750 Soviet tanks of the 3rd and 12th Mechanized Corps.
Despite their numerical advantage over the Wehrmacht, the result of the battle was an utter catastrophe for the Soviets. Some 700 Soviet tanks and their crews — almost the entirety of the Soviet Union’s deployed mechanized units on the Northwestern Front — were destroyed, damaged, or captured.
A large part of the German victory was due to their use of airpower. The Luftwaffe was unchallenged during the battle, and the close tank formations of the Soviets were easy targets for Ju 88 aircraft.
Also fought during the beginning stages of Operation Barbarossa, the battle saw some 1,000 German panzers of the 1st Panzer Group’s III Army Corps smash into 3,000 Soviet tanks from the six mechanized corps of the Soviet 5th and 6th Armies.
Again outnumbered, the Wehrmacht proved that superior training, tactics, communication technology, and air support make all the difference.
The exact number of casualties is not known, but estimates put Soviet tank losses at somewhere between 800 to over 1,000. The Wehrmacht also suffered heavy casualties, with anywhere between 200 to 350 tanks destroyed.
“This, in fact, is the biggest tank battle in World War II, and sparsely a word has been written on it,” according to David Glantz, a historian of the Eastern Front and Soviet military.
Second Battle of El Alamein: October 23 – November 11, 1942
The Second Battle of El Alamein saw two legendary generals, Britain’s Bernard Montgomery, and Germany’s Erwin Rommel — who was nicknamed the “Desert Fox” — fight for the fate of North Africa.
North Africa had been a battleground since Fascist Italy’s invasion of Egypt in 1940. Germany’s Afrikakorps had to step in to prevent their defeat in 1941, and were able to push the British all the way into Egypt.
They were stopped at the First Battle of El Alamein, which, though technically a stalemate, did prevent the Afrikakorps from rolling through the rest of Egypt, and by extension the Middle East.
Montgomery assembled a force for a counterattack, including around 190,000 men and over 1,000 tanks. Rommel commanded a force of 116,000 German and Italian soldiers, and 540 tanks.
After days of hard fighting in the Egyptian desert, Montgomery was victorious. Five hundred German and Italian tanks, almost all of Rommel’s force, were destroyed or captured.
With the Americans launching Operation Torch in November 1942, the tide against the Germans began to turn in North Africa.
But that is not to say it was small or insignificant. The battle saw over 600 Soviet tanks from the 5th Guards Tank Army smash head on into around 300 German tanks from the II SS-Panzer Corps.
The fighting was some of the most intense in the history of armored warfare. The Soviets lost around 400 tanks, more than half of their force. German tank losses were smaller by comparison, up to 80 tanks and assault guns destroyed.
The Germans were unable to take Prokhorovka, and although it was not destroyed (the original goal of the Soviets), the II SS-Panzer Corps was exhausted, and prevented from continuing their offensive.
Thus, the momentum swung to the side of the Soviets, who eventually won the Battle of Kursk
Operation Goodwood: July 18 – 20, 1944
Operation Goodwood was a British offensive that was part of the Battle for Caen, one of the main inland targets that was part of Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy. The goal was to break through to Caen so that it could be liberated.
The British had mustered as many as 1,100 tanks for the battle. The Wehrmacht had only around 370 tanks at their disposal, but they included the fearsome Tiger and Tiger II tanks.
The battle did not go the way the British intended. Their casualties were 5,000 men and 250 to 300 tanks destroyed. German losses were 75 tanks destroyed, mostly by airstrikes.
Operation Goodwood did cause some controversy. Montgomery claimed that all the objectives were achieved and that the mission was a success. But the British had only managed to penetrate roughly seven miles or so East of Caen.
But Goodwood did draw valuable German tanks away from the Western part of Caen, where the Americans were making their push to the city.
Battle of Chawinda: September 17 – 22, 1965
The Battle of Chawinda was one of the largest tank battles fought since World War II. It was part of the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, fought over control of Jammu and Kashmir.
After the Pakistani Army’s attempt to foment an insurgency (Operation Gibraltar) was discovered and subsequently foiled, India retaliated with an outright attack along the Pakistani border.
The Indian military had planned to take the city of Sialkot, an important railway hub and central part of the Grand Trunk Road, so that they could use it as a beachhead for further operations into Pakistan.
But the Indian force of 80,000 to 150,000 soldiers and 230 tanks was met outside of their objective at Chawinda by a Pakistani force of 30,000 to 50,000 men and 132 tanks.
After more than a day of intense fighting, a UNSC resolution was signed and an unconditional ceasefire was implemented. India lost anywhere between 29 to 129 tanks, whereas Pakistan lost up to 44 tanks.
Battle of the Valley of Tears: October 6 – 9, 1973
The Battle of the Valley of Tears was fought between Israel and Syria during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. The war had started on the holiest day in Judaism, when Syrian soldiers supported by 1,400 tanks crossed the border and invaded the Jewish state.
Just one Israeli armored brigade, roughly 100 or so tanks and armored vehicles stood in the way of the Syrian 7th Division, a force of 1,400 tanks, including 400 T-62s, at the time the most modern Soviet tank in the field.
The Israelis were manning British and American-made Centurion tanks, known for their good gunner sights. Unable to call in effective air support, the Israeli defenders dug in and fought off wave after wave of Syrian tank attacks.
Some Syrian tanks broke through, causing the Israeli tanks to turn their turrets backwards to destroy them. But one by one, the Israeli Centurions were knocked out.
But on the fourth day of the fighting, Israeli reinforcements arrived, and the Syrians were forced to withdraw. Almost all of Israel’s tanks were destroyed, but they gave far more than they got — Syrian armored vehicle losses were around 500, around 250 of which were tanks.
Battle of 73 Easting: February 26 – 27, 1991
The Battle of 73 Easting saw American and British tanks go up against Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Republican Guard Tawakalna Division. Saddam had been warning his people that the “mother of all battles” was on the horizon, and the battle of 73 Easting was certainly part of it.
The main part of the battle was fought between the US 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment and Iraq’s 18th Mechanized Brigade and 37th Armored Brigade.
The ensuing battle saw the Iraqi forces be completely decimated. Over 160 tanks and armored personnel carriers were destroyed, damaged, or captured by US forces. Up to 1,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed or wounded, and over 1,000 more were taken prisoner.
US losses were just six killed, 19 wounded, and one Bradley infantry fighting vehicle destroyed. Historian and author Rick Atkinson described the battle:
“Here could be seen, with almost flawless precision, the lethality of modern American weapons; the hegemony offered by AirLand Battle doctrine, with its brutal ballet of armor, artillery, and air power; and, not least, the élan of the American soldier, who fought with a competence worthy of his forefathers on more celebrated battlefields in more celebrated wars.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Army Maj. Gen. “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell was at the top of the list for high commands as America entered World War I. A 1904 West Point graduate with lots of intelligence experience in World War I and extensive time in the Pacific, he was expected to take on some of the most important commands and win.
Instead, Stilwell spent most of the war in what was an important backwater, the Chinese-Burma-India Theater. Stilwell was in the middle of preparing Operation Gymnast, the landings of North Africa which would later be conducted as Operation Torch, when he learned that he was on the short list to command U.S. forces in CBI.
Stilwell didn’t want the job. He hoped to invade North Africa. From there, he would have a decent shot at commanding the European theater or at least all troops taking the fight to Italy.
This was a reasonable expectation. Operation Gymnast became Operation Torch and was passed to then-Brig. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower’s success in North Africa led to an appointment as Supreme Allied Commander Europe. A few years later, he used his status as a war hero to run for president.
He was facing a tough job, but Stilwell dove into it. He assumed control of an integrated force in Burma in 1942 and prepared an offensive against the Japanese.
But it was too late for that. Before Stilwell could lay the groundwork, a new Japanese thrust overcame Chinese forces and sent them reeling back. The rest of the Allied forces in the area, mostly Americans under Stilwell, were forced to follow. This caused the loss of Burma and a severing of important logistical corridors.
But Stilwell didn’t want to disrupt the Japanese in Burma, he wanted it back. In 1944, he was able to lead a force that retook the region. One of the most famous units in the effort was Merrill’s Marauders, led by Maj. Gen. Frank Merrill. Merrill was one of the survivors that left Burma with Stilwell. Merrill had survived the evacuation despite suffering a heart attack.
Stilwell was finally removed from CBI in 1944, mainly due to staff and national politics. He was sent to the Ryukyu Islands where he took over the 10th Army on Okinawa. It was in this position that he was tapped to lead the invasion of Japan, Operation Downfall.
Luckily for him and his men, though not for his career and legacy, the invasion was made unnecessary by the Japanese surrendering to MacArthur in 1945.
The helicopter is seemingly tied forever with the Vietnam War, so it’s easy to forget that it actually got its start in World War II, hit its stride in Korea, and that Vietnam was just an expansion on those earlier successes. But while helicopters are often forgotten in the context of Korea (except for you MASH fans), there were six different models flying around the frozen peninsula.
The U.S. Marine Corps and Air Force were heavily invested in Sikorsky’s S-51 helicopter, dubbed the H-5 by the Air Force and the HO3S-1 by the Marine Corps and Navy, when the war broke out. The Air Force and Marines quickly sent their helicopters into combat where they provided aerial platforms for commanders and conducted frequent rescues. They also served as observers for naval artillery and scooped up pilots who had fallen in the sea.
(U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Robert E. Kiser)
The H-19 Chickasaw was used by Marine Corps and Army units to airlift supplies and troops into combat as well as to shift casualties out. These were large, dual-rotor helicopters similar to today’s Chinook. While not as strong as its modern counterpart, the Chickasaw could carry up to six litter patients and a nurse when equipped as an air ambulance, or eight fully equipped soldiers when acting as a transport.
The HUP-1 began its life as a Navy bird when it was designed in 1945 to satisfy a requirement for carrier search and rescue. The initial HUP-1 design gave way to the HUP-2 which also served in anti-submarine, passenger transport, and cargo roles. The Air Force helped the Army buy the helicopter in 1951 as a cargo carrier and air ambulance designated the H-25 Mule, and it served extensively in Korea in these roles.
When Hirohito assumed the role of Emperor of Japan, the country was at the top of its game. A great world power, fresh off a victory over the Russian Empire, Japan enjoyed a booming economy, the third-largest navy, and a permanent seat at the head of the League of Nations. It soon began to unravel.
A swath of assassinations of government officials, attempts on the Emperor’s life, and a failed coup by a faction of the Japanese military may have left Hirohito suspicious and paranoid. He did little to stem to the rising tide of militarism in the Japanese government and did nothing to stop the military from ending civilian oversight of the Imperial Japanese Military. Most of us know what happened in the years that followed.
Hirohito toward the end of his life.
After World War II, much of Japan was able to move forward. Hirohito was not deposed but remained Emperor. Just how much control he was able to exercise over the governing of the empire is still a subject of debate in Japan to this very day. He claimed he was little more than a figurehead but many believe his god-like status in Japanese society could have done more. Only he, and perhaps those around him, knew for sure.
One of those around him published a book about his time with the Emperor.
Hirohito, now known as Emperor Showa in Japan, lived until 1989, just shy of his 88th birthday. A recently-published diary penned by Shinobu Kobayashi, then one of the Emperor’s chamberlains, one of the men who managed the Imperial household functions, says the Emperor was by no means happy about Japan’s entry in the war or how it was conducted in his name.
It is true that once many in the military government of Japan learned that the Emperor would broadcast a surrender order via the use of his voice recorded on vinyl, they attempted to depose Hirohito and destroy the record. The conspirators were thwarted by the layout of the Imperial Palace and the record was smuggled out by a laundry woman and broadcast the next day. But over the years, evidence and other memoirs have been published that paint a contradictory view of the man, who was certainly one of the 20th Century’s most important, controversial figures.
Kobayashi says the Emperor felt “anguish” over Japan’s entry into World War II, and feared that as his life continued, he would only attract more blame for his country’s actions. When the royal household attempted to reduce his workload after the death of his brother Prince Takamatsu, Hirohito was dismissive.
Hirohito next to Gen. Douglas MacArthur in the days following Japan’s surrender. Many Japanese were offended by this photo, given the General’s casual stance in the face of the Emperor’s formality.
(U.S. Army photo)
“There is no point in living a longer life by reducing my workload,” the then-86-year-old Emperor said. “It would only increase my chances of seeing or hearing things that are agonizing.” Kobayashi tried to console the emperor by pointing to Japan’s miraculous postwar recovery in the intervening decades.
“It’s a page in history,” he wrote. “You do not have to worry.”
Hirohito managed to avoid being tried as a war criminal because Gen. Douglas MacArthur trusted that even the Emperor’s most fervent believers would adopt democracy after the war – with the Emperor’s blessing. Hirohito’s continued presence on the Chrysanthemum Throne became a unifying symbol of postwar Japan.
After Hirohito’s death in 1989, his son, Akihito, assumed the throne as the 125th Emperor of Japan. The line of monarchs can be traced back to 680 BC, with varying degrees of power and responsibility.
In an action that has been long overdue, Congress has approved the award of the Congressional Gold Medal to members of the famed Merrill’s Marauders of World War II. The House passed the resolution last week after the Senate had approved it last fall. It is expected that President Donald Trump will sign it shortly.
Only one Congressional Gold Medal is awarded each year to a person or institution. It is deemed, “the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions” according to the award’s official website.
Merrill’s Marauders were named after General Frank Merrill. The 3,000-strong unit was officially the 5307th Composite Unit. It was trained to work behind Japanese lines during the Burma campaign of World War II.
Marauders move under fire against Japanese positions.
Unfortunately, combat, disease, and time have taken their toll. Today there are only eight surviving members of the famed unit. When the push for awarding the medal began in 2016, there were still 28 Marauders still alive.
“I feel like I’m floating on air,” Robert Passanisi, a 96-year-old veteran of the unit, who is also the spokesman for the surviving members and a historian, said when hearing the news.
“It has been a long journey, and we’ve had to struggle through three congressional sessions to obtain this great honor,” Passanisi said. “My one regret is that only eight of us are alive to enjoy this historic honor.”
Some individual members of the unit, including Japanese-American interpreters as well as OSS troops who fought with the Merrill’s Marauders in Burma, had already been awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The House passed the bill one day after the 77th anniversary of 2,000 volunteers boarding the SS Lurline on Sept. 21, 1943, in San Francisco to ship out to New Caledonia. There, another 1,000 veterans from the South Pacific front joined them.
After the U.S. troops had been driven out of Burma by the Japanese in 1943, the Americans decided that they needed a “Long Range Penetration” mission behind Japanese lines. The plan was to disrupt and destroy the enemy’s supply lines and communications, to attack him from behind, and to try to regain the Burma Road.
General Joseph “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell grimly summarized the campaign: “I claim we got a hell-of-a-beating. We got run out of Burma, and it is as humiliating as hell. I think we ought to find out what caused it, go back, and retake [Burma].”
The call went out for volunteers for “A Dangerous and Hazardous Mission.” Over 3,000 men answered that call, some from far-flung bases in Panama and Trinidad; others were veterans from New Guinea, Guadalcanal, and elsewhere. Thus the 5307th Composite Unit (Provisional) was born.
Merrill (holding the map) with members of his staff.
The unit got its nickname from Time correspondent James R. Shepley. Reporters sent to cover the fighting in Burma were looking for a hook to capture the imagination of the American public back home. Nicknaming the unit served that purpose.
Frank Merrill didn’t look like a man whose job it was to lead a Special Operations Task Force behind enemy lines. Although he was a powerfully built man, he was plagued with a bad heart and poor eyesight. He had graying hair and smoked his pipe non-stop. He had little experience commanding troops but was a brilliant and unshakable leader.
During training and operations, Merrill drove himself even harder than his men; because of that, they loved, respected, and believed in him. The Chinese troops, part of General “Vinegar Joe” Stillwell’s command, loved him nearly as much as General Chenault, the commander of the “Flying Tigers.”
Merrill was born in the small town of Hopkinton, Mass. (the starting point for the Boston Marathon.) He tried unsuccessfully to get into West Point before joining the Army as a private. Working his way up to Staff Sergeant, he was finally accepted to the U.S. Military Academy on his sixth application. He graduated and was commissioned as a cavalry officer.
Merrill spent time in Japan as an assistant military attaché and learned Japanese while stationed there. Just prior to Pearl Harbor, he was assigned to the Chinese-Burma Theater and was with Stillwell on his long march out of Burma.
He trained his unit hard, working them for three months with Orde Wingate’s Chindits, the British unit that had already carved a name for themselves in the theater.
The Marauders were divided into three battalions and formed into six combat teams (400 per team), color-coded Red, White, Blue, Green, Orange, and Khaki. There were two teams to a battalion. The rest of the men formed the H.Q. and Air Transport Commands.
During the next four months, Merrill’s Marauders would take part in five major and 30 minor engagements with the Japanese veteran 18th Division which had taken both Singapore and Malaya.
In their first action against the Japanese 18th Division, they moved to set up blocking positions at Walawbum 10 miles behind the Japanese lines. General Tanaka, who commanded the Japanese forces, fearing that Stillwell was trying to encircle his forces, promptly attacked the Marauders.
The Americans beat back several bayonet attacks and caused significant casualties. The Japanese had 650 dead and as many wounded. The Americans had just seven killed and 36 wounded.
In the south, Wingate’s Chindits were hitting Tanaka hard cutting the railway lines and forcing him to withdraw northward. After two months of near-constant fighting, the Marauders were reeling; many of them were already sick with malaria. But their biggest mission lay ahead.
Less than a year after its creation, the unit was tasked with conducting a long and dangerous mission over the mountains. They had to trek across nearly 1,100 miles over the mountainous, nearly impenetrable jungle, in the foothills of the Himalayas, with no tanks or heavy artillery, to attack the Japanese. Their goal was to capture the important Japanese airfield at Myitkyina. The Operation would be known as “End Run.”
Capturing the airfield would benefit the supply aircraft since it would no longer have to fly over “the Hump” to ferry supplies to Kunming, China. It would also allow the Allies to construct the Ledo Road through which supplies could also travel to Kumming.
Augmenting the Marauders, who were down to about 50 percent strength due to casualties and tropical diseases, were two Chinese regiments and 300 Kachin tribesmen who were led by the OSS.
Merrill, having just returned to duty after his second heart attack, was beside the men and encouraging them all the way. The trek was so steep, muddy, and treacherous. Merrill’s men would lose half of their pack animals, along with their necessary equipment. And nearly half of the men became sick with amoebic dysentery after drinking water from streams that the Chinese were using the streams as a latrine.
After wiping out a small Japanese garrison at Ripong, 149 of the men came down with typhus. Several of the men died including Colonel Henry Kinnison, one of the team leaders. The Marauders arrived at their target location on the night of May 16.
The next morning they began their assault which was led by Lt. Colonel Charles Hunter. The Marauders and two Chinese regiments snuck past the Japanese undetected and attacked the airfield from the north, south, and west. They took the Japanese completely by surprise.
Not only did they seize the airfield but the Chinese troops also took a ferry landing on the Irrawaddy River. By 1530 hrs on the 17th of May, Merrill had radioed the code words “Merchant of Venice” which meant that the airstrip was already set for taking in C-47 transport aircraft.
Lord Mountbatten sent Stillwell the following message:
“By the boldness of your leadership, backed by the courage and endurance of your American and Chinese troops, you have taken the enemy completely by surprise and achieved a most outstanding success by seizing the Myitkyina airfield.”
The airfield seizure was considered a brilliant military move. Yet the Americans had lost a major opportunity in not capturing the town of Myitkyina. The town was only defended by about 700 Japanese troops but Hunter had been given no orders to take it.
Additionally, a fresh division, the British 36th, could have easily joined the Americans but Stillwell wanted no part of the British in this operation. This was a big mistake. Stillwell then sent anti-aircraft crews and engineers to fix an airstrip that was already totally operational, instead of securing badly needed arms and ammunition. By the time Merrill’s Marauders’ 2nd Battalion attacked the town, the Japanese had been reinforced and now had 3,500 well dug-in troops. The Marauders’ attacks failed.
Merrill and Stillwell in Burma.
Diseases, typhus, malaria, and dysentery, kept reducing the Marauders’ numbers until only 200 effective riflemen were left. In response, Stillwell scraped together more engineers and support troops; yet these men were totally green.
The Japanese managed to hold onto the town of Myitkyina until late summer. By then, the Marauders were no longer an effective fighting outfit. They were pulled out of the line finally in June and disbanded by August.
But by the excellent efforts of both the Marauders and the Chindits, the airfield at Myitkyina saved the transports from flying over the dangerous “Hump” into China. And with the Ledo Road complete, the 1,100-mile supply route to Kunming was now open.
Merrill was promoted to Major General and was transferred to the Pacific Theater. He was the Chief of Staff of the 10th Army under General Buckner during the Okinawa campaign. Later he held the same position for the Sixth Army in the Philippines. He was present on the battleship Missouri for the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.
After the war, he was briefly the Deputy Chief for the Military Advisory for the Philippines but a third heart attack forced him into retirement. He returned to his native New England and retired in New Hampshire where he was given the job of State Highway Commissioner by the governor. Merrill died of a heart attack in Fernandina Beach, Florida on December 11, 1955. He was only 52 years old. He was buried at West Point next to General Stillwell per his wishes.
On August 10, 1944, the surviving Merrill’s Marauders were consolidated into the 475th Infantry, which continued service in northern Burma until February 1945. In June of 1954, the 475th Infantry was redesignated as the 75th Infantry. Thereby, the men of Merrill’s Marauders became the parents of the 75th Infantry Regiment, from which descended the 75th Ranger Regiment of today. This is why the six colors that represented the Marauders’ combat teams are now worn on the beret flash of the Ranger Regiment.
Merrill was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame in 1992. In his honor, Camp Frank D. Merrill in Dahlonega, Georgia, is home to the 5th Ranger Training Battalion and the mountain phase of the U.S. Army Ranger School.
Civil War POW camps were some of the most terrible, squalid places of the entire war. Massachusetts’ Fort Warren was an exception, however. It was used to house Confederate political prisoners and other high-value persons. Among those held here was Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice-President, as well as Confederate diplomats and even the Confederacy’s Postmaster General.
Legend has it that Melanie Lanier, the devoted wife of a captured Confederate troop, discovered his location via a letter he mailed her from the island prison. She immediately moved from Georgia to just outside Boston, Massachusetts, in the first step of an attempt to free her husband from the fortress.
One night, she boarded a boat that would take her to George’s Island – where the infamous prison camp and fortress were located. With the boat, she took a pickaxe, a pistol, and a length of rope in order to free her husband. She sat in the boat just offshore, waiting to hear any kind of signal from her beloved. That’s when she heard a common southern song, the signal that her husband was ready for action. But tragedy would soon strike.
As she and her husband made their way off the island and back to the waiting boat, she was surprised by a Union guard. She was able to subdue the sentry at first, using her pistol. But the guard only went along with the plot for so long. He attempted to overpower the woman and snatch the pistol away. In the scuffle, the gun went off, shooting her husband and killing him. She was overcome by the sentry and captured. Sent to the gallows, she requested to die in women’s clothing. All that could be found for her was a black mourner’s dress.
Melanie Lanier died by hanging not long after the botched escape attempt. Her body is said to be buried on George’s Island with others who died there. But unlike the others, Melanie is said to still be seen around the island at times, still clad in black and mourning her husband.
While many have claimed to see Fort Warren’s “Lady in Black” over the years, some doubt she existed at all. Such an escape attempt would have certainly ended up in Northern newspapers at the time, but no evidence of Lanier could be found. Furthermore, there’s another apocryphal story that could also be just as true. After World War II, the U.S. government was selling off all of its military possessions, and Fort Warren was one of those sales. Some say that in order to keep the historic fort from falling to a developer’s bulldozer, Edward Rowe Snow made up the story of the Lady in Black to make the island seem like much less of a steal.
It was later turned over to the National Parks Service.
During World War I, France created the Croix de Guerre to decorate its bravest troops, and it gave the decoration to members of foreign armies who took great risks or who achieved great things in service of liberating France from German occupation.
In the years following the Battle of Verdun, France issued the Croix de Guerre to units with 2,500 White Company trucks and named the vice president of the company, Walter C. White, as a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor in recognition of how important a humble truck was in France’s ultimate victory over Germany, especially at Verdun.
White Motor Company trucks at Fort Riley. Full panoramic image available here.
(Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General)
The story of the White Motor Company is a strange one. In 1902, it was the White Sewing Machine Company, and the Surgeon General proposed that the Army Quartermasters purchase a motor vehicle to serve as an Army ambulance in future conflicts. R. H. White, already looking to diversify the company’s offerings, pushed the company to take part in the competition.
But the company wasn’t done. They developed more truck designs and, in 1916, one of their trucks was upgraded with armor and sent on the Mexican Punitive Expedition. By the time World War I rolled around, White trucks were trusted by plenty of military men.
The automotive business proved to be a great investment for the company, and the White Sewing Machine Company opened itself a second company, the White Truck Company. This particular confederation of engineers and businessmen found themselves a ready market for reliable trucks and sold thousands of Model A trucks to France and other allied militaries.
From 1914 onward, France was sending these “Little trucks” into combat and seemed to have been more than pleased with the trucks’ performance. In the 1916 Battle of Verdun, the trucks were used to transport supplies and troops. At the Battle of Château-Thierry in 1918, the trucks moved U.S. troops into position in time to stop a German advance.
But it was at the 1918 Battle of Verdun, when many of the same trucks returned to that blood-soaked stretch of land, that the trucks earned their major laurels.
White Trucks of Cleveland advertisement
(Thoth God of Knowledge)
It was there that France needed to move hundreds of thousands of troops to the front over a stretch of just a few days, and they turned to the 2,500 Model A trucks of Great Headquarters Reserve No. 1. The drivers and trucks carried 200,000 troops to the front, some for over 100-mile stretches.
The task was tremendous, the crisis very grave. A supreme effort was necessary to stop the German advance last March on the British front. Without this unprecedented movement of French reserves right into the teeth of the fighting, the issue might have been serious indeed for the Allies.
According to the same article, drivers often drove for 24 hours straight. One unit averaged driving 20 hours a day, and another pulled 60 hours straight of duty.
It was the only time that a motor convoy unit would be awarded the medal, and some chalked it up to the service of the trucks. According to Time Magazine in 1932, the only White trucks to break down in the battle were those disabled by shells and so, “The result was that 2,500 of them received the distinction of France’s Croix de Guerre.”
The fantasy genre has captured the imagination of millions around the world. The middle ages are romanticized with images of knights bending the knee to serve their King or Queen on and off the battlefield. Historically, the rank came with the privileges of land, title, and wealth. Militarily, knights had to be trained from an early age to become feared instruments of warfare. Dawning their Coat of Arms they fearlessly charged the battlefield in the name of God, King, and Country.
Modern day knights may participate in wars in the name of the realm, without the suits of armor. Foreigners may also be invested as honorary knights contingent on customs and contributions to the realm. The Grand Master of a Knight Order is usually the Monarch, President, or Prime Minister of the country the Order resides in. There are several countries that still have Knight Orders that we, not born a noble birth, can ascend to by completing extraordinary achievements.
There is, however, a country that you can become a knight of today. As in right now, today.
Americans and Briton Who Thwarted Train Attack Get France’s Top Honor | Mashable News
The Ordre National de la Légion d’honneur was founded in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte. The purpose of this award was to unify France after the French Revolution and award his soldiers for bravery in combat. It is a 216-year-old Order of merit that can be awarded through high civil or military conduct.
To enter as the first rank of Chevalier or Knight, one must have served a minimum of 20 years of public service or 25 years of exceptional professional distinction. However, foreign individuals who perform acts of valor on French soil are also eligible for membership.
Three Americans, two of which are Air Force and Army service members, received the award in 2016. The President of France personally awarded our brothers in arms France’s highest honor after foiling a terrorist attack.
The image is used to identify the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity, a subject of public interest.
Italy – Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity
Stella della Solidarietà Italiana was founded by Enrico De Nicola in 1947 in pursuit of the reconstruction of Italy. This knighthood was created specifically for foreigners and expats who made an outstanding contribution to the reconstruction of Italy after World War II.
Giorgio Napolitano, the 11th President of Italy, refocused the scope of the award to promote friendly relations with other countries and improve ties with Italy. If you do something that is a positive reflection of Italy and promotes Italian culture, you too may become a Knight or Dame of this Order.
Mida d’aquesta previsualització
The United kingdom – Order of the British Empire
The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire was founded in 1917 by King Geroge V to reward civilian and military service members for meritorious service to the United Kingdom. This Order also selects members who contribute artistically to British culture, like most knighthood orders, men and women are conferred the title equally. A member’s ascension to the two highest ranks grants the member a knighthood and the right to the title of ‘Sir’ or ‘Dame.’
Appointments are made on the recommendation of the British Secretary of State for Defense and the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Foreigners may be granted an Honorary knighthood but do not have the right to place ‘Sir’ or ‘Dame’ as a prefix to their name.
Spain – Order of the Golden Fleece
The Distinguished Order of the Golden Fleece, Insigne Orden del Toisón de Oro in Spanish, was founded in 1430 by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. It has stood for over 589 years, and it is currently constituted and active. This order has two Grandmasters, the King of Spain Felipe VI and Archduke Karl of Austria. This knighthood order is the most prestigious and exclusive in the world with as few as 1,200 members since its founding.
This knighthood is only granted for the lifetime of the recipient and the collar, the symbol of your status, must be returned to the ruling monarch after one’s death. To become a member one must either be of a royal bloodline tied to Spain or be an exceptional individual in either politics or academics. For example, Víctor García de la Concha, who is a Philologist that became the Director of the Royal Spanish Academy, is one of the 17 living members of this Order.
I’m now Sir Ruddy Cano Hernandez, first of his name and lord of a square foot tile. Bow ya sh*ts.
The Principality of Sealand – The Knights of the Sovereign Military Order of Sealand
There is good news for the impatient!
You can become a knight of Sealand right now. There are add-ons that you may include with your purchase such as a Sealand ID card and a square foot ‘plot’ of land that will total £154.96 or 0.01 at the writing of this article. Technically Sealand isn’t a country because it is not recognized by the majority of other countries.
However, there is a case that technically allows it to be considered a country without recognition from England. The Prince of Sealand declared Sealand’s independence from the UK on September 2,1967.
In support of the Principality of Sealand’s sovereignty, Prince Roy fired warning shots at a buoy repair boat that came close to Sealand. The Prince was charged by the British government with unlawful possession and discharge of a firearm. The Essex court proclaimed that they didn’t have jurisdiction over the tower and the British government chose to drop the case due to mockery by the media. – ThoughtCo.com
If you wanted to become a knight and do not want to do anything more than buy your way in, that’s now an option. I don’t think you’ll be receiving any invitations to a royal ball, though.
French President Emmanuel Macron said April 22, 2018, that he is bringing a living tribute to “Devil Dog” Marines who fell in the World War I battle of Belleau Wood to the White House as a symbol of the two nations’ enduring ties.
The oak sapling from the battle site will be presented to President Donald Trump in hopes that it will be planted in the White House garden, Macron said in an interview on the “Fox News Sunday” program from the Elysee Palace in Paris.
Macron arrives in the U.S. April 23, 2018, on a three-day visit that is expected to focus on the way forward in Syria following the April 13, 2018 missile strikes, and on France’s concern that Trump may pull the U.S. out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to halt Iran’s nuclear programs.
“Retreat? Hell, we just got here”
The battle of Bois de Belleau, or Belleau Wood, about 60 miles north of Paris near the Marne River in the Champagne region, has entered Marine Corps lore. It’s best known among Marines as the place where they were first called “Devil Dogs” for their fierce defense in June 1918, that blunted the German spring offensive.
A dispatch from the German front lines to higher headquarters described the Americans blocking their way and mounting counter-offensives as fighting like “Teufel Hunden,” or “Hounds of Hell.”
At one point, French forces moving to the rear to regroup urged the Marines to join them. The response from a Marine, attributed to either Capt. Lloyd W. Williams of the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, or Maj. Frederic Wise, was, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.”
(Illustration by Georges Scott)
Once they consolidated their positions, the Marines would attack six times through mustard gas and withering machine-gun fire before the Germans were driven from the wood. An estimated 2,000 Marines were killed.
An official German report later described the Marines as “vigorous, self-confident, and remarkable marksmen.”
Army Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, marveled at the tenacity of the “Devil Dogs” of Belleau Wood in a quote that has also become part of the Marine legend.
“The deadliest weapon in the world is a United States Marine and his rifle,” Pershing said.
He added that, “the battle of Belleau Wood was for the U.S. the biggest battle since Appomattox and the most considerable engagement American troops had ever had with a foreign enemy” to that time.
The oak sapling Macron will give to Trump was taken from a site near the so-called “Devil Dog Fountain,” where U.S. troops gathered after the battle of Belleau Wood. The fountain’s spout is in the shape of the head of a bull mastiff.
(Photo by G.Garitan)
The gift of the sapling is not the first time Macron has sought to firm up relations with a world leader by playing to their affections for the armed forces and military pageantry.
During a state visit to China early 2018, Macron gave Chinese President Xi Jinping a horse from the elite French Republican Guard. Macron had remembered that Xi was impressed with his official escort of 104 horsemen during a visit to Paris in 2014.
July 2017, in Paris, Trump was similarly impressed by the military formations and fly-bys at the annual Bastille Day Parade. The parade in France was believed to have been a factor in Trump’s decision to order a military parade in Washington, D.C. on Veterans Day 2018.
Trumps, Macrons to dine at Mount Vernon
On April 23, 2018, Macron and his wife, Brigitte, will join Trump and First Lady Melania Trump for a private dinner at the historic Mount Vernon, Virginia, estate of George Washington. Macron will also address Congress and attend an official state dinner at the White House.
Although they have had differences on climate change, tariffs, and Syria, Macron said he was committed to working with Trump and he sidestepped the possible repercussions from the long-running special counsel investigation swirling around the White House.
“I never wonder [about] that,” Macron said of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. “I mean, I work with him. I work with him because both of us are very much at the service of our country on both sides,” Macron said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“Here, in this office, I’m not the one to judge and in certain way, to explain to your people what should be your president,” Macron said. “I’m here to deal with the president of the United States. And people of the United States elected Donald Trump.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
French tank designers had an ambitious idea before World War I: What if they could create a vehicle with the protection of an armored car but the firepower of an artillery gun?
The design that eventually emerged packed a massive 75mm artillery gun into the nose of a tank named the Saint Chamond, but the offensive focus of the designers left glaring oversights in mobility and armor, allowing even pistol rounds through in some circumstances.
While French officers had considered designing an armored weapon platform before the war, the outbreak of hostilities put the effort on old. As Britain started building their first tanks, France got in on the action with two heavy tank designs of their own, the Schneider and the Saint Chamond.
But the design compromises needed to make space for the massive cannon were significant. The vehicle drove on relatively thin and short treads, and the weight of the vehicle pushed it hard against the soil, making it questionable whether the tank would be able to navigate the muddy craters of No Man’s Land.
Worse, the cannon needed to be mounted at the front, and it couldn’t fit properly between the treads while leaving room for the cannon’s crew. So, instead, the entire length of the cannon had to sit forward of the treads, causing the tank’s center of balance to be far forwards of the center of the vehicle. As the French would later learn, this made it nearly impossible to cross trenches in the St. Chamond. Instead, crews would tip into the trench and get their gun stuck in the dirt.
Thanks to the limited traction from the treads, the tank couldn’t even back away from the trench and get back into the fight. Once tipped forward, they usually needed towed out.
But, worst of all, in an attempt to keep the already-heavy vehicle from getting too much heavier, they opted for light armor on the sides of the tank. While the front was only a little thicker, it was, at least, sloped. Col. Jean Baptiste Eugene Estienne, a French artillery officer who is now known as the Father of French Tanks, saw the Saint Chamond and tested its armor by firing his pistol at it.
The pistol round passed through the quarter-inch armor.
In the designers’ defense, the St. Chamond’s armor was soon upgraded to 11mm at a minimum, a little under a half-inch. The front armor was up to 19mm, almost .75 inches.
But still, when the British and French tanks made their combat debuts, the shortcomings of early tank design were quickly made apparent. Crews from both countries complained of bullets punching through the sides or, nearly as bad, impacting the armor so hard that bits of metal exploded off from the hull and tore through the crew.
French tanks had even worse trouble crossing muddy sections than their British counterparts, getting bogged down quickly. And that was if the engines held up. Often, they would breakdown instead.
As the war continued, though, France did find a successful design: the Renault FT, a light tank with a rotating turret, 37mm gun, and decent speed. It did have even lighter armor than the St, Chamond, but its configuration allowed the road wheels to help protect the crew from the sides, and the speed let them overwhelm German defenses before too many rounds could hit them.
Best, the Renault FT could be produced in much higher numbers, meaning that German defenders couldn’t often concentrate fire on any single target.
The design was so successful that it was one of the designs America licensed for its tank corps as it joined the war and stood up its armored forces. America ordered over 4,000 of the tank, known in American inventories as M1917s, but none of them reached the actual forces in France until after the armistice.
Still, the design was liked by U.S. Army Capts. Dwight D. Eisenhower and George S. Patton, officers who would create America’s armored strength and later rise to even greater fame in World War II.
Today, the closest modern equivalent to the St. Chamond isn’t even a tank. After all, the vehicle was created to carry a large cannon into battle, and, by the end of the war, it was used more as mobile artillery than to directly attack enemy trenches. As such, it’s more like the M109 Paladin than the M1 Abrams.
And, as artillery, the St. Chamond wasn’t bad. Its weak armor wasn’t a big deal when far from the front lines, and it wasn’t important that an armored artillery platform couldn’t quickly cross a trench.