In 1977, Star Wars took the country — and the world — by storm. One of its most iconic scenes was the trench run, during which X-Wing and Y-Wing fighters defy the odds to put proton torpedoes down a thermal exhaust port, running a gauntlet of Imperial fighters and gun emplacements to do so. Well, that scene wasn’t exactly original.
That’s right, folks. George Lucas lifted that scene from a 1954 movie, The Dam Busters — and if you’ve seen them both, it’s painfully obvious. Some dialogue from the classic film was lifted nearly word-for-word and put directly into Star Wars.
But the 1954 film that Lucas cribbed from portrayed an actual mission flown by real bombers.
That bomber was the Avro Lancaster. The Lancaster was RAF Bomber Command’s primary bomber in the latter part of World War II. The Lancaster entered service in 1942, had a crew of seven, packed a total of eight .303-caliber machine guns for self-defense, and could haul a lot of bombs — up to 22,000 pounds of high-explosive candygrams. These included special bombs, including the anti-dam bomb developed by Barnes Wallis, and earthquake bombs.
Outside of the 1943 “Dam Busters” mission that inspired the 1954 film that later inspired George Lucas, the Lancaster takes credit for sinking the German Bismarck-class battleship Tirpitz and for hitting a number of heavy fortifications. But it wasn’t all gloom and doom — the plane was also used to drop food to civilians in German-occupied territory.
The Avro Lancaster had a top speed of 275 miles per hour and a maximum range of 2,529 miles. Almost 7,400 of these planes were produced. They saw action over Germany but, in 1948, the Lancaster also took part in the Berlin Airlift, turning back Josef Stalin’s effort to get the Western Allies to abandon West Berlin.
Learn more about this British bombing workhorse in the video below.
The actual translation of Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak’s epic nickname might be “The White Lily of Stalingrad,” depending on the language you speak. Considering the Lily’s association with death and funerals, it’s rather fitting for such an incredible pilot.
Litvyak was only 20 years old when Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The young girl rushed to the recruiter and tried to join to be a fighter pilot. The recruiters sent her packing. In their minds, she was just a small, young girl.
In truth, she was flying solo at 15 and was an experienced pilot. A biographer estimated she trained more than 45 pilots on her own. She knew she could do this. So instead of giving up, she went to another recruiter and lied about her flying experience, by more than a hundred hours. That did the trick.
The Soviets, probably realizing that this fight was going to kill a lot of Soviet people (and it did, to the tune of 27 million), were foresighted enough to consider gender equality when it came to their military units. Where American women pilots were only allowed to transport planes, Stalin was forming three fighter regiments of all-female pilots.
Young Lydia Litvyak flew a few missions with the all-female unit before transferring to a mixed-gender unit — over Stalingrad. It was here she earned her illustrious moniker, “The White Rose of Stalingrad.” She flew around a hail of anti-aircraft fire to engage an artillery observation balloon from the rear. She shot it down in a blaze of hydrogen-fueled mayhem — a notoriously difficult task for any pilot.
Litvyak wasn’t finished; she later became one of two women to be crowned “first female fighter ace” as well. She wasn’t flawless — she was shot down more than once and bled more than her share over Russian soil.
But even when forced to make belly landings, she hopped right back into the closest cockpit.
She was so good, the Russian command chose her to be Okhotniki, — or “free hunter” — a new tactic that involved two experienced pilots who were free to hunt the skies on seek and destroy missions. She terrorized German pilots all over the Eastern Front.
“The White Rose of Stalingrad” was last seen being chased by eight Nazi ME-109 fighters on an escort mission south of Moscow. Her body was lost until 1989 when historians discovered the unmarked grave of a female pilot in the Russian village of Dmytrivka.
The next year, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev awarded Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak the title “Hero of the Soviet Union,” the USSR’s highest military honor.
Sergeant Henry Gunther was actually a private the day he charged a German machine gun nest for the last time in World War I. He had just been busted down in rank for criticizing the war in a letter he wrote home, and he wasn’t happy about it.
Luckily for millions of other soldiers and civilians in Europe, everyone knew the Armistice would come into effect on the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.
This is why so many question why Sgt. Gunter charged a German machine gun nest at 10:59 that same day.
Gunther and his unit came across a German position north of Verdun on Nov. 11, 1918. As they took cover from the machine guns, they received word that the war would be over in less than an hour.
That’s when Sgt. Gunther charged the position with a fixed bayonet.
The Germans fired a number of warning shots and tried to yell at Gunther – in English – to stop.
But Gunter wasn’t the only troop to die in that last hour of World War I. Some 3,000 men died in that short time. Some historians even speculate that Gunther was ordered to charge the machine guns.
Even though so many others died around the same time, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force General John J. Pershing declared that Gunther would be known as the last man killed in action in the war.
Sergeant Henry Gunther was engaged before the war started and just secured a job as a bookkeeper in the Baltimore area before he was drafted in 1917.
After his death was recorded at 10:59, his fellow troops moved his body and buried him near where his company was posted. His remains were moved to the United States in 1923.
On Veteran’s Day 2008, a memorial was constructed on the site where he was killed in Chaumont-devant-Damvillers, France.
Snipers are considered one of the most dangerous warfighters in the battlefield — taking out targets from concealed and undisclosed locations while homing in on prey that has no clue that they’re in the crosshairs.
During the Battle of Stalingrad, the massive damage the city suffered provided insufficient cover for ground troops, but it was perfect for sharpshooters who could hide in the crumbled buildings and wrack up kills.
Out of all the snipers that were most feared, none came close to Soviet Red Army sharpshooter Vasily Zaitsev.
Reportedly within 10 days of fighting in the streets of Stalingrad, Zaitsev’s body count reached about 40 kills. Once the Soviet press learned of the Siberian native’s incredible progress, they promoted it by releasing propaganda to anyone who would read it — even the Germans.
In response, the Germans sent their first-rate sniper, Maj. Erwin Konig into Stalingrad. Konig’s mission was to eliminate the Red Army’s most efficient marksmen and to display the Nazi’s superiority.
Word broke out that Konig was inbound after a German POW bragged to the Russian Army that it was only a matter of days before Zaitsev and the other snipers would be defeated. This news reached Zaitsev nearly immediately.
After a few days, there were no signs of Konig being in the area until three Russian snipers were wiped out within a small section of town. With a hunter’s caution, Zaitsev worked his way into the area where Konig claimed the three Russians lives for an epic duel.
On the second day of Zaitsev’s stalk, a political commissar joined him to report the news of the kill after it had occurred. But the political commissar soon saw something move down the street, and as he stood up to point it out to Zaitsev, Konig killed him with a single well-placed shot.
This kill helped Zaitsev zero in on Konig’s hide. He removed his glove from his hand and placed it on a stick. He then raised the glove up, and Konig accurately shot it — exposing his muzzle flash.
Zaitsev quickly aimed and fired scoring a direct kill shot. The story’s finale isn’t exactly what audiences saw in 2001’s feature film “Enemy at the Gates” starring Jude Law.
Check out Gun Crazy 81’s video below to hear how this epic duel between these historic snipers went down.
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.
Someone went and moneyball-ed military history. Ethan Arsht applied the principles of baseball sabermetrics to the performances of history’s greatest generals’ ability to win battles. It starts with comparing the number of wins from that general to a replacement general in the same circumstances.
The math is tricky but the list is definitive. There are just a few caveats.
First, where is all this information coming from? Although an imperfect source, Arsht complied Wikipedia data from 3,580 battles and 6,619 generals. He then compiled lists of key commanders, total forces, and of course, the outcome. The general’s forces were categorized and his numerical advantage or disadvantage weighted to reflect tactical ability. The real power is ranking the general’s WAR score, the aforementioned Wins Above Replacement.
For each battle, the general receives a weighted WAR score, a negative score for a loss. For example, at the Battle of Borodino that pitted Napoleon against Russian General Mikhail Kutuzov, the French had a slight numerical advantage against the Russians. So, the model devised by Arsht gave Bonaparte a WAR score of .49, which means a replacement general had a 50 percent chance of still winning the battle. Kutuzov gets a -.49 for Borodino, meaning a replacement for him had a 51 percent chance of losing anyway.
The more battles a commander fights and wins, the more opportunities to raise their scores. Fighting fewer battles doesn’t help, either. There were some surprises in the model, like the apparent failures of generals like Robert E. Lee and more modern generals. For the more modern generals like Patton, that can be attributed to the relatively small number of battles commanded.
For more about Arsht’s results, responses to criticism, and his findings, visit his post on Medium’s Towards Data Science. To see every general’s data point and where they sit in the analysis, check out the Bokeh Plot, an interactive data visualization. Remember, this has nothing to do with overall strategy and it’s all in good fun. Arsht does acknowledge his shortcomings, so check those out, too.
10. Alexander the Great
As previously mentioned, Alexander was a great strategist, but since his life was cut short and he had only nine battles from which to draw data, it leaves the model very little to work with. Still, the conqueror of the known world is ranked much higher than other leaders with similar numbers, including the Japanese Shogun Tokugawa, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, and Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart.
It should be noted that Alexander’s per-battle WAR average is higher than anyone else’s on the list.
9. Georgy Zhukov
Zhukov has only one more battle than Alexander and his overall score barely squeaks by the Macedonian. Interestingly enough, his score is far, far above that of Gen. Douglas MacArthur and Confederate Generals Jubal Early and John Bell Hood. That’s what overcoming the odds does for your WAR score.
8. Frederick the Great
Ruling for more than 40 years and commanding troops in some 14 battles across Europe earned the enlightened Prussian ruler the number 8 spot on this list. His per-battle average was also lower than Alexander’s but, on the whole, he was just a better tactician.
7. Ulysses S. Grant
Grant’s performance commanding Union troops in 16 battles earned him the seventh spot on the list – and the U.S. presidency. Although his performance on the battlefield is clearly much better than those of his contemporaries, it should be noted that his Civil War arch-rival, Robert E. Lee, is so far below him on the list that he actually has a negative score.
6. Hannibal Barca
Hannibal, once captured by Scipio Africanus, is believed to have given his own ranking system to Scipio, once the two started talking. His personal assessment wasn’t far off from the truth. He listed Alexander the Great and himself. Both of whom are in the top ten, even centuries later.
5. Khalid Ibn al-Walid
Khalid was a companion of the Prophet Mohammed, and one of the Islamic Empire’s most capable military leaders. In 14 battles, he remained undefeated against the Byzantine Empire, the Sassanid Persians, and helped spread Islam to the greater Middle East. Compared to others who fought similar numbers of battles, his score eclipses even Frederick the Great.
4. Takeda Shingen
Being one of the best military minds in feudal Japan is a really big deal, because almost everyone seemed to be a military mind and being better than someone else might mean you get challenged to a duel. After 18 battles, the Tiger of Kai reigned supreme – in Japan, anyway.
3. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington
It’s a pretty big deal to be the guy who delivered a solid defeat to the man they called “Master of Europe.” Napoleon’s old nemesis, the Duke of Wellington, also saw command of 18 battles, but his WAR score is considerably higher than that of Takeda Shingen, his nearest challenger.
2. Julius Caesar
Caesar didn’t have command in as many battles as Shingen or the Duke of Wellington, but his WAR score reflects a lot more risk and shrewdness in his battlefield tactics. But Caesar also couldn’t top Alexander’s per-battle WAR average.
1. Napoleon Bonaparte
Yes, you might have guessed by now, but the number one spot belongs to l’Empereur. Napoleon is so far ahead of the normal distribution curve created by the data for these 6,000-plus generals, it’s not even close. After 43 battles, he has a WAR score of more than 16, which blows the competition away. There can be no question: Napoleon is the greatest tactical general of all time, and the math proves it.
It’s hard to imagine a time when the Marine Corps made black troops drill on separate fields, but that’s how it was for African-American leathernecks who were preparing to fight during World War II.
Dubbed the “Montford Point Marines” after their segregated training grounds at Montford Point on the Marine Corps base at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, the 20,000 black Marines were finally honored July 29, 75 years after their service. The 15-foot tall memorial outside the gates of Camp Johnson is largely the result of efforts by the Montford Point Marine Association to commemorate the first African-American units in the Corps.
CAMP LEJEUNE, North Carolina – U.S. service members and guests listen to the National Chaplain of the Montford Point Marine Association, Reverend James E. Moore, as he delivers the invocation during the Montford Point Marine Memorial dedication ceremony held at Jacksonville, North Carolina, July 29, 2016.
“Today, as a result of the hard work and perseverance of so many of you here, across the country and those no longer with us, that vision is now a reality,” said Brig. Gen. Thomas D. Weidley, the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations East at the memorial dedication.
“This inspiring memorial takes it rightful place among the other silent testimonials to the courage, dedication, and sacrifice of our men and women who have worn the cloth of this nation.”
The Montford Point Marines made up the 51st and 52nd Composite Defense Battalions, which mainly operated artillery and anti-aircraft guns. They were initially trained by white officers, but soon after their enlistment, several black NCOs took over the training and drilling of the first African-American Marines.
The units saw little action in the Pacific since the 51st and 52nd were assigned to outlying islands away from the main action. But some Montford Point Marines from ammunition and depot companies did see combat on Guam, Saipan, and Peleliu.
“This is something that I never thought would be possible,” Ivor Griffin, a Montford Marine who served 23 years, told Marines.mil. “I heard about it being in the making, and I thought it couldn’t be true, I thought we were the forgotten 20,000.”
The Montford Point Marines served from 1942 until 1949 when President Harry Truman desegregated the U.S. military and abolished all-black units.
The Battle of Gettysburg is arguably one of the most important of the American Civil War. It was this battle that marked the end of Confederate attempts to take the offensive. Although there were many important battles throughout the bloody war, such as the Battle of Antietam, Gettysburg’s importance cannot be over-emphasized.
The Battle of Gettysburg was immense. As the Civil War Trust notes, over 165,000 troops engaged in combat across both sides. There was a total of 51,112 casualties (7,058 killed, 33,264 wounded, and 10,790 missing or captured). The Gettysburg National Military Park spans almost 4,000 acres — and the battle likely raged far further than the park grounds.
Even Hollywood couldn’t cover it all. The 1993 film, Gettysburg, backed by an all-star cast (Sam Elliot, Martin Sheen, Tom Berenger, and Jeff Daniels among them), ran for four hours and 14 minutes in theaters. The director’s cut added another 17 minutes. Even with more than four and a half hours to tell the tale, they still couldn’t cover the entire battle — omitting cavalry actions east of the main battle and the fighting around Culp’s Hill.
If you’ve got the time to kill, it’s not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon/evening, but we know many of you places to go and things to do. Thankfully, the Civil War Trust has the CliffsNotes version.
The four-minute video below briefly covers the highlights of this crucial Civil War battle, covering everything from the first day’s holding action by Buford’s cavalry division to Chamberlain’s stand at Little Round Top on the second day. And, of course, you can’t cover the Battle of Gettysburg without discussing the “high tide” of the Confederacy, Pickett’s Charge, on the third and final day of the battle.
On September 2nd, 1945, the foreign affairs delegation of the Japanese Empire boarded the USS Missouri and signed the Japanese Instrument of Surrender under the guidance of Emperor Hirohito, finally putting an end to bloodiest war mankind has ever seen. From that moment on, the world and Japan could start to rebuild.
The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan into an unconditional surrender, accepting all terms stated by the Potsdam Declaration. Among other stipulations, the terms of surrender meant that Japan must give up all lands outside of the mainland unless allowed by the Allied Forces, disarm their military, remove all obstacles to building a democratic society, and eliminate, for all time, “the authority and influence of those who have deceived and misled the people of Japan into embarking on world conquest.”
Despite those terms, it was Emperor Hirohito who vowed to maintain the peace — which was met with much disdain by many Americans and Japanese alike, with the exception of General Douglas MacArthur.
(U.S. Army Photo by Lt. Gaetano Faillace)
The International Military Tribunal for the Far East was set up and those responsible for the many war crimes committed were brought to justice. Prime Ministers Tojo, Hirota, Koiso, and twenty-three others were all found guilty of Class-A war crimes and sentenced to execution. Another 5,700 would be tried for Class-B and -C war crimes. Hirohito and the other members of the Japanese Imperial family were simply exonerated at the request of Gen. MacArthur.
Gen. MacArthur knew that Japanese culture was very intertwined with the throne. Since the Japanese throne was willing to cooperate fully, America was able to turn its eyes to the burgeoning communist threat lurking in Asia. This plan could only work, however, if the people of Japan believed the Emperor when he said that peace between the two nations had been achieved.
With the announcement of that newly struck peace came a photo that was taken by Gen. MacArthur’s personal photographer, Lt. Gaetano Faillace that captured the General and the Emperor’s first meeting on September 27th, 1945.
As devastating as the nuclear bombs were, the firebombings of Tokyo and the rest of Japan were just as bad.
The Japanese press was reluctant to run the photo, but the Americans insisted. At this point in Japanese history, the people had just fought and died for the Emperor because they saw him as having incarnate divinity. Suddenly, some occupying force stepped in and showed the people a picture of their 5′ 5″ Emperor next to a 6-foot-tall American general.
General MacArthur knew the significance of the photo. The Japanese people knew the significance of the photo. And yetEmperor Hirohito gave his blessing for it to be published — affirming his commitment to bringing peace and rebuilding Japan at the expense of the height comparison.
It humanized him and would allow him to stay as head of state well into the 80s.
Calls for Hirohito’s abdication were growing among the Imperial family. While most would call for Hirohito’s son (and current Emperor), Akihito, to assume the throne when of age, other family members scrambled to make cases sit on the throne themselves. Their claim was that Hirohito was, in fact, not divine if he drove the Empire into the ground. Many of those claimants could have spelled ruin for MacArthur’s rebuilding process as some harbored a strong hatred for America.
So, the Humanity Declaration was given on New Year’s Day, 1946. In it, the Emperor stated in front of his entire people that the emperor was not divine and that the Japanese people were no more superior than any other people. MacArthur was pleased because it meant that Japan would move more towards more democratization.
The declaration, in essence, meant that Emperor Hirohito went from being a divine imperial sovereign to a regular constitutional monarch.
Emperor Hirohito formalized the 1947 Constitution of Japan — officially an amendment to the Meiji Constitution — and stripped himself almost entirely of political control. In the following years, Hirohito’s commitment to Japan led to restructuring and the entering of an era called the Japanese Economic Miracle. Japan became the world’s second largest economy by the time of Hirohito’s death on January 7th, 1989.
The Soviet-built Tupolev ANT-20 – also known as the Maxim Gorky – was the largest aircraft in the world while it flew. First taking off in 1934, it was an eight-engine flying machine the size of a Boeing 747 at a time when companies were still producing biplanes.
It was also both a literal and figurative propaganda machine.
The ANT-20 was designed by the legendary Soviet aeronautical engineer Andrei Tupolev, based on the all-metal designs of another legend in the name of aircraft design, Hugo Junkers. The Soviet Union nicknamed it “Maxim Gorky” in honor of the 40th anniversary of the author’s work.
In the 1930s, the Soviet Union was still a young country though it had high hopes for the future. Premier Joseph Stalin was firmly entrenched in power in Moscow by this time and the USSR itself was undergoing a massive plan of forced, rapid industrialization.
These advancements came at a price, with the government seizing grain harvests to pay for the work of upgrading the country. People were dying by the millions in collectivized farms, forced relocations, famines and the now-infamous Soviet gulag system. But outside of the USSR, the hunger was downplayed in the world press, and no one outside of the country knew what was really happening.
With this in mind, Stalin wanted to take the disinformation and propaganda campaign further while showing off the progress being made by the country’s scientists and military. Aviation was a natural arena for this effort. The ANT-20 was built at a time when people worldwide were crazy about achievements in the air made by people like Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart, or for stories about breaking aviation records.
The Maxim Gorky was the Soviet Union’s self-aggrandizing answer to a world swept up in the love of aircraft, and Stalin was the grandfather of the Soviet aviation industry. The enormous plane was made just for propaganda purposes and even carried its own printing press aboard the plane.
The Soviets’ plan was to fly the massive machine around the USSR as a victory lap for the achievements made by the country’s communist state.
Plans called for propaganda statements created aboard the Maxim Gorky to be transmitted to news agencies in a way that we would recognize today as almost Twitter-like. The Soviets also wanted to be able to project messages onto clouds as the plane pumped out 10,000 copies of any newspaper it might want to print. It wouldn’t be limited to messages projected onto the clouds, either. It could show reels of films as it flew from a projection room in the fuselage.
On top of written and visual messaging, the plane also had the capability of playing music and news broadcasts to the populations below, for nearly four square miles.
The plan to spread the Soviet Union’s message through this monster of an aircraft worked like a charm. It flew missions back and forth across the massive expanse of land controlled by the USSR. It even visited far-flung areas of the country, and people wanted to see it. They often waited for hours and days in the freezing cold just to get a glimpse of the ANT-20.
For a population of people that were – just 20 years or so prior – serfs tied to the land, the Maxim Gorky was proof that the new communist government was bringing progress to the people of such a massive yet backward country.
One of the single worst things that plagues military forces is the phenomenon known as “friendly fire.” Some instances of friendly fire have been momentous, like the time Stonewall Jackson was shot by Confederate troops who mistook him for a Union general.
There have been tragic, modern instances as well – like the case of Army Cpl. Pat Tillman.
This was also a problem in World War II — reference the disastrous friendly fire incident off Sicily in July, 1943. In trying to prevent these terrible instances, the Navy put forth a very unique training film, featuring the fictional “Ensign Dilbert.”
No, this isn’t the same Dilbert that’s made Scott Adams very rich, although, Adams admits that the suggestion of the name was, in fact, inspired by a Navy character. This Dilbert is, well… an idiot. A real big one. The type whose sole purpose in life is to be a warning to others.
The film was called, aptly, Don’t Kill Your Friends. In the film, the main character, training to be a fighter pilot in the Grumman F4F Wildcat, looks friendly and likable enough, but he repeatedly makes bone-headed mistakes that could get people killed. It even features one disastrous incident with a supposedly “safe” dummy cartridge, which can do some very serious harm when it falls from a fighter plane.
Check out the film below, complete with a supposedly likable “Dilbert” and the chain of disasters he causes.
So, you just became friends with a Recon veteran and he’s got a decorated wooden paddle on his wall. What the f*ck is that all about? Well, it’s a tradition. Simple as that. But there’s history behind that tradition and, if you really want to really wow your new Recon Marine friend, you can throw this little tidbit out there.
In fact, there’s a good chance they don’t even know the true story behind it.
The Viking misconception
A lot of people believe Recon inherited the paddle tradition from Vikings. While there certainly are similarities between these seafaring badasses of old and today’s Marines, the paddle is not one of those traditions.
The paddle is a little more of a contemporary tradition. It got its start with the Marine Raiders of WWII.
The Raider origin
According to legend, modern Recon Marines can trace their military family tree back to the Raiders of the Pacific, who had military-issued paddles because, well, clandestine means f*ck your boat motor, you got good, ol’ fashioned manpower.
Like all most issued gear, these paddles had to be returned prior to parting ways with the unit. Thing is, after spending so much time with these paddles, they started to feel more like yours than the government’s. So, boat-mates would break into supply lockers and steal the paddles back for their “true” owners.
Upon successfully stealing your paddle back, your boatmates would decorate that sh*t and give it to you before you left as a going-away present. Today, even non-Recon Marines are gifted paddles, but the tradition started out with the Raiders.
Would you like to know more? Watch the video for the full story, as told by Brad “Ice Man” Colbert (of Generation Kill fame). Of course, there’s some explicit language in there, so be aware.
The FM-2 Wildcat safely tucked away in the hangar bay. The Stearman Model 75 can be seen the back (Commemorative Air Force)
The amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD-2) is an integral part of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force as a forward operating platform. Essex is capable of carrying up to 1,771 Marines as well as the landing craft to get them ashore.
Her aircraft suite includes AV-8B Harrier II attack aircraft, F-35B Lightning II stealth strike-fighters, AH-1W/Z Super Cobra/Viper attack helicopters, MV-22B Osprey assault support tiltrotors, CH-53E Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopters, UH-1Y Venom utility helicopters, and SH-60F/HH-60H anti-submarine warfare helicopters.
However, rather than her usual wing of modern jets and helicopters, USS Essex is currently carrying 14 WWII-era trainer, bomber and fighter aircraft.
USS Essex usually carries Marine aircraft like these Ospreys (US Navy)
The 844-foot-long ship is on her way to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii to participate in RIMPAC 2020, the world’s largest international maritime exercise. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Pentagon made the decision to cancel RIMPAC’s air exercises.
In January, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper called for a number of WWII-era aircraft to assemble in Hawaii to participate in a commemoration of the end of the war in the Pacific. Known as V-J Day for “Victory over Japan”, the event is most commonly celebrated on August 15. On August 15, 1945, (which was August 14 in America due to the time change), Emperor Hirohito announced his decree to accept the Potsdam Declaration and surrender over the radio.
Since the Marines had to leave their aircraft behind, USS Essex had plenty of room for the WWII-era aircraft since the vintage planes were unable to make the flight to Hawaii. The planes will include five AT-6/SNJ advanced trainers, two PBY Catalina flying boats, a B-25 Mitchell bomber, an FM-2 Wildcat fighter, an F8F Bearcat fighter, a Stearman Model 75 biplane, a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber and a T-28 Trojan.
The FM-2 Wildcat is lowered to the hangar deck (Commemorative Air Force)
The planes will conduct flyovers over Hawaii from August 29, the day U.S. troops began the occupation of Japan, to September 2, the day that the formal Japanese surrender was made aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Before embarking on the trip to Hawaii, the pilots, maintainers and ground crews accompanying the planes were required to spend two weeks in quarantine at Naval Base San Diego to prevent anyone with COVID-19 from boarding the ship.
The 14 planes headed to Hawaii aboard the USS Essex will return to San Diego with the ship following the conclusion of the V-J Day Commemoration and RIMPAC.