How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

“The Codebreaker,” premiering this week on PBS’ “American Experience,” tells the story of Elizebeth Friedman, a visionary American codebreaker who established our decryption programs during World War I, helped break the codes used by gangsters during Prohibition and led our efforts to break the Enigma code during World War II.

Wait, you’re saying, if this cryptanalyst was so great, how come we’ve never heard of her? “The Codebreaker” delves deep into her story, utilizing government files that weren’t declassified until decades after her death to reveal the truth about a person who deserves recognition as a pioneer of American military intelligence.

The program will premiere on most PBS stations on Monday, Jan. 11, and be available to stream via the PBS app and website. As with all PBS programs, check your local listings for exact dates and times and streaming options.

The documentary was inspired by the book “The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies” by Jason Fagone. “The Codebreaker” was written and directed by Chana Gazit, who made the 1998 documentary “Surviving the Dust Bowl,” which remains one of the greatest “American Experience” episodes ever made.

How did Friedman and her young husband William come to play such a huge role in the United States’ war effort? It’s a weird story. Both had been recruited by millionaire industrialist George Fabyan to help him prove his theory that English nobleman Francis Bacon was the true author of the so-called “Shakespeare” plays.

A popular theory in the early 20th century held that Bacon had embedded an elaborate code in the text of the plays, and Fabyan established a research institute to prove his theories. He recruited a young Elizebeth Smith. She met and married William Friedman while working at the estate.

As they worked on the project, the two young researchers realized that the Bacon theory was completely unsupported by evidence and were looking for a way to leave when Fabyan volunteered his staff’s services for codebreaking during World War I.

We’ve got a clip from the episode that explores how the Friedmans contributed to the war effort.

American Experience ‘The Codebreaker’ – World War I and the Rise of Military IntelligenceWhen the United States entered the Great War, the country had no dedicated codebreaking units. The task of decrypting enemy radio messages fell to Elizabeth Friedman and her husband, William.

Friedman was the primary codebreaker for our military during that war and pioneered many of the techniques that were used so successfully during the next generation’s war. In the interim, she worked with Coast Guard intelligence to combat rum running during Prohibition, decoding criminal messages and often testifying in trials to help convict the bootleggers.

During World War II, she worked with the Navy but was not allowed to lead her codebreaking unit. As a woman, she was required to report to a junior male officer because women weren’t allowed those positions of authority then.

Her intelligence work helped take down Nazi cells in South America and prevented Germany from bringing the war to our hemisphere in hopes of diluting American strength on the European fronts. Since the work was secret, Friedman sat by quietly as J. Edgar Hoover claimed credit for her work as the FBI took down the enemy intelligence networks.

William Friedman suffered from depression during the later years of his life, and Elizebeth supported the family while she wasn’t getting credit for her work. Friedman never went public with her role during her lifetime, and she died in a New Jersey nursing home in 1980.

Stories like this one suggest that there are dozens or hundreds or perhaps thousands of untold heroes that we don’t know about yet and who deserve to be honored for their contributions to the country. “The Codebreaker” is a strong contribution to that cause and a documentary that’s worth your time.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

Articles

3 examples of how battlecruisers sucked in a fight

There are some battlecruisers that might have lasted for a bit, but all too often, battlecruisers had a very short combat career — usually ending in a spectacular fashion.


They had originally been designed to carry a set of big guns to blast apart enemy cruisers, but they also had a very high top speed, so they could outrun anything that could give them a fair fight.

The Royal Navy was familiar with battlecruisers blowing up when hit. They saw it happen at Jutland and the Denmark Strait. But Japan had its own bad experience with battlecruisers. Here are three case studies.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
HIJMS Akagi (US Navy photo)

1. HIJMS Akagi

Okay, technically, this is an aircraft carrier, but she was converted from a battle cruiser. Akagi was impressive – ww2db.com notes she displaced 36,500 tons and was over 850 feet long. She carried as many as 90 planes.

She went down because of one bomb. Granted, it was a 1,000-pound bomb, but it was still just one conventional bomb.

According to the book “Shattered Sword” by Jon Parshall and Anthony Tully, that bomb (plus the presence of aircraft being armed and fueled) lead to catastrophic fires that eventually forced Isoroku Yamamoto to order his old command to be scuttled.

Akagi had packed a powerful punch in six months of combat – including credit for wrecking the battleship USS Oklahoma (BB 37) and damaging the USS West Virginia (BB 48). But she proved to have a glass jaw.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
Battlecruiser HIJMS Hiei at Saesbo in 1926. She was sunk in 1942. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. HIJMS Hiei

On paper, the HIJMS Hiei (along with her sister ship HIJMS Kirishima) should have torn through Daniel Callaghan’s force at Guadalcanal like a kid through Christmas presents. They were two of the four Kongo-class battlecruisers, and brought the biggest guns to the fight.

But instead, it was Dan Callaghan who triumphed that night (at the cost of his life). As for Hiei? She took an 8-inch armor-piercing shell in the steering compartment, and was left a cripple. The next morning, planes from Henderson Field finished her off.

Crippled by a cruiser, then sunk by planes from the airfield she was supposed to bombard, makes Hiei a classic loser.

Her sister, Kirishima, didn’t fare much better. She went toe-to-toe with the USS Washington (BB 56) two nights later, and was reduced to a wreck before she was scuttled.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
Two views of HIJMS Kongo as she looked in 1944, the year she was sunk by USS Sealion (SS 315). (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

3. HIJMS Kongo

The lead Kongo-class battlecruiser lasted longer, mostly because during World War II, carriers were rightly seen as the more valuable targets. But when the USS Sealion (SS 315), commanded by Lt. Cdr. Eli Thomas Reich, got her in its sights, Kongo ended up as just another battlecruiser statistic.

Here sources disagree on how many hits she took. Anthony Tully notes at CombinedFleet.com that the Kongo took at least two hits, leading to an eventual capsizing and explosion.

Rear Adm. Samuel Eliot Morison said in the “History of United States Naval Operations in World War II” that a single hit lead to the explosive end of Kongo.

So, there you have it. Three more reasons why battlecruisers are losers — provided by the Japanese Navy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Vietnamese and U.S. Navy SEALs worked together in this famous rescue

During the famous rescue of navigator “Bat 21 Bravo,” a U.S. and a Vietnamese Navy SEAL took the lead role in a dangerous operation behind enemy lines during the Vietnam War, rescuing two aviators with no friendly losses despite running into enemy patrols and positions during the 11-day ordeal.


How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Numerous attempts to destroy North Vietnamese resistance from the air and rescue the downed aviators by helicopter failed, causing 14 American deaths and additional casualties before air rescue was outlawed for the men.

(U.S. Air Force)

While the rescue was widely popularized in a movie and book, both named Bat 21, the stories told were written before the events were declassified, so they were highly fictionalized to ensure that no sensitive information was inadvertently released.

But the true story is more amazing. Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton was forced to eject over Vietnam on April 2, 1972, triggering a mad dash by the U.S. to recover him before he was captured. Then, multiple rescue attempts went sideways in the first week. Seven more aircraft were lost, 14 Americans were killed, two were captured, and a new aviator was missing behind enemy lines. The theater commander forbid more helicopter extractions and the SEALs were ordered up.

A U.S. Navy SEAL, Lt. j.g. Tom Norris, led the mission alongside a Vietnamese Sea Commando team with its own lieutenant team leader.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

An Air Force composite photo shows the tough terrain that the downed aviators had to cross to reach the river in hopes of rescue in April 1972.

(U.S. Air Force)

The men started by swimming their way up the river as the two targets of their rescue were directed to move to the river and start floating down. The aviators were given coded directions that combined landmarks from their home states and their hobbies. Clark was rescued on April 10, but Hambleton had trouble reaching the river.

Hambleton finally reached the river on the night of April 11, but the SEAL command post, meanwhile, had come under artillery barrage and two of the Vietnamese commandos had to be evacuated. The rest of the team was increasingly hesitant to risk their necks for American service members.

An April 11 rescue attempt with four members failed, and two of the Vietnamese commandos were obviously too frightened to continue.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Viet Cong irregulars move through a river in shallow boats like the one used by U.S. and Vietnamese commandos during the rescue of Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton in April 1972.

(U.S. Army)

So, Norris asked for volunteers to make another, even deeper penetration into NVA territory. Nguyen was the only volunteer. The two men stole a sampan from a bombed-out village, disguised themselves as fisherman, and started making their way back upriver during the night of April 13.

The two commandos nearly ran into enemy troops multiple times despite the dark, but managed to get their hands on Hambleton, weak and confused from his ordeal in the jungle. They started back towards friendly lines, but were spotted and had to fight a running gun battle down the river.

They were forced to pass NVA position after position, taking fire at each point and trying to keep their wounded, sick, and delirious package alive. Norris was forced to call in multiple airstrikes, and the Air Force dropped smoke bombs after their explosives to create a screen for the SEALs to maneuver behind.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Air Force Lt. Col. Iceal Hambleton after his rescue.

(U.S. Air Force)

Finally, the three men made it back to friendly lines and were able to get Hambleton to medical care. For their efforts, both the Vietnamese and the U.S. SEAL would be awarded medals for valor.

Nguyen received the Navy Cross while Norris was awarded the Medal of Honor for his days of risky search and rescue.

Nguyen was ineligible for the Medal of Honor because he was not an American service member. He was admitted to U.S. SEAL schools following the ordeal, though, and graduated the underwater demolition team course and the SEAL advanced course. He later became an American citizen.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the story of the last AC-130 lost in combat

Spirit 03 is a revered name in the AFSOC community, often spoken of in hushed and pained tones. It was the call sign of the last AC-130 gunship shot down in combat.

The story of Spirit 03, whilst sad, was also one of heroism — the kind you’d find in the US Air Force Special Operations Command community. It was a story of American airmen putting the lives of their brothers in arms engaged in grueling ground combat above their own.


How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

The city of Khafji before the battle

(Photograph by Charles G Crow)

On January 29, 1991, over 2000 Iraqi troops under the direction of Saddam Hussein streamed into the Saudi Arabian city of Khafji in an attempt to draw American, British, and Saudi forces into a costly urban battle which would tie up Coalition troops until the Iraqi military had time to reorganize and get themselves back in the fight.

Just days before Khafji fell, American surveillance jets had detected large columns of mechanized Iraqi units pouring through Kuwait’s border in a mad dash towards the city. Though the warning was passed on, Coalition commanders were far more focused on the aerial campaign, which had seen the virtual annihilation of the Iraqi Air Force.

Thus, Khafji fell… but it wouldn’t be long until Saudi forces scrambled to action, barreling towards their seized city to drive the occupiers out. American and British aerial units were soon called into the fight, and in record time, engines were turning and burning at airbases within reach of Khafji while ground crew rushed around arming jets for the impending fight.

Among the aerial order of battle was a group of US Air Force AC-130H Spectre gunships — converted C-130 tactical transport aircraft that were armed to the teeth with a pair of 20 mm M61Vulcan rotary cannons, an L60 Bofors 40 mm cannon, and a 105 mm M102 howitzer. These Spectres, based out of Florida, were eager to be turned loose, planning on adding any Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles they caught around Khafji to their kill tallies.

On the 29th, Iraqi mechanized units moved towards the city under the cover of night, repeatedly engaging Saudi elements set up to screen inbound enemy ground forces coming in from Kuwait. The Spectres were already in the air, racing towards the fight and running through checklists in preparation for the destruction they were about to dish out on Saddam’s armored column.

Within minutes of appearing on station, the AC-130s leapt into action, tearing into the Iraqi column with impunity. What the enemy forces had failed to realize was that Spectres — living up to their name — operated exclusively at night so that they were harder to visually identify and track, and the gunners aboard these aircraft were incredibly comfortable with that. Spectres began flying race track patterns in the sky, banking their left wing tip towards the ground as their cannons opened up.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

An AC-130H Spectre in-flight with its guns visible towards the right side of the picture

(US Air Force photograph by TSgt. Lee Schading)

Despite the AC-130s inflicting casualty after casualty, the resilient Iraqi invasion force continued to advance to Khafji and managed to briefly take over and lay claim to the city. American and Saudi ground combat units, including Navy SEALs, Army Special Forces, and Marine artillery and infantry elements responded in kind, and launched a blistering offensive against the Iraqis as night turned to day and the AC-130s returned to base to rearm, refuel and wait for nightfall to resume hunting.

On January 30th, Spirit 03, one of the AC-130s, was loaded for bear and launched with the intent of providing Marine forces with heavy-duty close air support. Spirit 03 arrived on station and started hacking away at targets. In the hours around dawn on the 31st, the AC-130s were recalled to base when radios lit up with numerous calls for fire support from the beleaguered Marines on the ground.

An Iraqi rocket battery needed to be dealt with quickly.

The crew of Spirit 03 took charge of the situation immediately, judging that they had enough fuel and ammunition left for a few more passes. Not quite out of the combat zone, the aircraft turned around and pointed its nose towards its new target. It was then that all hell broke loose. A lone shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missile arced towards the AC-130, detonated and brought down the aircraft.

There were no survivors.

In the months and years that followed, the loss of Spirit 03 was investigated and then quickly hushed up. Some indicated that the official report blamed the crew for knowingly putting themselves in danger by continuing to fly in daylight, allowing themselves to be targeted.

Others knew that the story was vastly different—that the 14 men aboard the AC-130 knew that they were the only ones in the area able to provide the kind of fire support the Marines needed, and so paid the ultimate sacrifice while trying to aid their brothers in arms.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Germany scuttled its own navy in sneaky scheme

In June 1919, the bulk of the German High Seas Fleet was sitting at anchor at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. The cruiser Emden sent out the message, “Paragraph 11; confirm.” Then, all 74 of the warships in the natural harbor attempted to scuttle themselves en masse, and 52 successfully destroyed themselves before British sailors were able to beach them or stop their sinking.


21st June 1919: The German fleet is scuttled at Scapa Flow

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It’s important to remember for this story that wars have two ending points. There’s the armistice that stops the actual fighting, and then a lengthy peace process will usually result in a full treaty ending the war. After the armistice ended World War I fighting on Nov. 11, 1918, a large portion of the German navy was interned for the treaty process.

The navy had been largely sidelined during the war thanks to a British blockade, so it was largely intact that November. And the Allied powers, in order to ensure that Germany went through with the peace process, demanded that the nation’s most powerful and modern fleet be sequestered at a neutral port.

But, no nearby neutral port agreed to accept the ships, and so 70 of Germany’s best vessels were sent to the British harbor at Scapa Flow, a natural harbor that housed one of the British fleets. Four other German ships would later meet them there.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Three German ships, the Emden, Frankfurt, and Bremse, enter Scapa Flow on November 24, 1918.

(Royal Navy)

When the German ships were officially handed over on November 21, literally hundreds of ships and thousands of people were present to watch the event. Over 190 Allied ships escorted the first batch of 70 German ships to surrender, making that day the largest concentration of naval power in the history of mankind, even if 70 of the ships had breech blocks in their guns to prevent a sudden return to hostilities.

But the fleet languished there for months. Morale on the German ships was bad during the war and worse while they were confined to ships on short rations in British territory. And the German commander had an order from his superiors to prevent the seizure of the ships by any means necessary.

The German navy seems to have believed that the ships would eventually be returned, Britain wanted to see them scrapped, and the rest of the Allies wanted to divvy them up. But as the negotiations in France made it clear that Germany would not get the ships back, German Adm. Ludwig von Reuter planned for how to destroy his own fleet.

A German destroyer largely flooded at Scapa Flow in 1919.

(Royal Navy)

He knew that the deadline for Germany to sign the treaty or face a resumption of hostilities was June 21, 1919. So, at 10:30 a.m., after he saw the bulk of the British fleet at Scapa Flow depart for maneuvers, he sent out the innocuous-sounding signal to scuttle the fleet, “Paragraph 11; confirm.”

He didn’t know that the deadline had been extended to June 23, but this actually worked out well for him. The British commander had plans to seize the German ships on June 23 if the German diplomats still hadn’t signed the treaty by then.

And so the ships suddenly began to sink. The German sailors raised their German navy flags from their masts for the first time since they had arrived in the harbor. British sailors in the harbor quickly alerted their own fleet as to what was happening, and the fleet rushed back to save what it could.

The sight they met when they re-entered the harbor was surreal. As Sub-Lieutenant Edward Hugh Markham David said when he wrote to his mother of the events:

A good half of the German fleet had already disappeared, the water was one mass of wreckage of every description, boats, carley floats, chairs, tables and human beings, and the ‘Bayern’ the largest German battleship, her bow reared vertically out of the water was in the act of crashing finally bottomwards, which she did a few seconds later, in a cloud of smoke bursting her boilers as she went.

The German admiral proceeded to the British flagship and declared that he had “come to surrender my men and myself. I have nudding else.”

British sailors were quickly dispatched to the sinking ships to re-close the valves and pump water out. Some British sailors nearly drowned in this endeavor, but they saved 22 of the ships as 52 settled into the mud at the bottom.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

A salvage crew works on the largely underwater German battleship Baden after the Scuttling at Scapa Flow. The partially submerged ship at the left is the cruiser Frankfurt.

(Royal Navy)

The British sailors were under orders to only kill those Germans who refused to close valves when ordered or who resisted British actions to save the vessels. Nine German sailors were killed, but there is some controversy over whether all these sailors had resisted or not.

Still, it was the single largest loss of naval power in one day in human history, even though it was a calm day and no battle had actually taken place.

Salvage operators bought some of the ships in the later decades. One man, Ernest Cox, successfully ran the salvage of 30 ships before calling it quits. But many of the vessels sunk that day still remain on the harbor floor where they are now popular spots for divers.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Armistice Day became Veterans Day

Growing up, learning about World War I usually involved learning about three things: trench foot, poison gas, and bloody stalemate. Right before the history teacher moves on to World War II, we learn the old mnemonic device — on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, ‘The War to End All Wars’ ended with an armistice.


Then, there was one kickass, worldwide party.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
And then…u00a0the sequel.

Obviously, glossing over one of the deadliest, most expensive, and most avoidable wars in American history does the Doughboys of the American Expeditionary Force an injustice. We need to remember that World War I was more than just a prelude to World War II. The horrors of WWI led to the annual recognition of those the who had to fight it. The day The Great War ended came to be remembered thereafter as Armistice Day.

But, when the 11th day of the 11 month rolls around, we all celebrate Veterans Day. What happened?

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

This is what Armistice Day 1938 looked like in Omaha, Nebraska.

The first public celebration of Armistice Day came in November, 1920. Much like how we celebrate Veterans Day today, the occasion was marked by speeches, parades, and exchange of drinks and stories between veterans of the war. The exception came when that 11th hour rolled around. For a moment, there was a pause in all activities across the country.

In that moment, mere years ago, millions of armed men stopped butchering each other over control of several yards of No Man’s Land.

In 1926, Congress made Armistice Day official, resolving that the “recurring anniversary of November 11, 1918, should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace between nations.” In 1938, Armistice Day became a Federal Holiday.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Literally.

As we all know, the “War to End All Wars” didn’t actually end all wars — or any wars. It actually led very directly to the next war, World War II. Which led to the next war, the Korean War, which was part of a greater war, the Cold War. You get the point. By the time the Korean War ended, there was a whole new generation of war veterans who felt deserving of recognition for a job well done.

Veterans of those war lobbied Congress to change Armistice Day to Veterans Day in 1954, in order to honor veterans of every war. Congress agreed and President Eisenhower signed on to it, too.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Gerald Ford, the voice of reason.

In 1968, Congress acted again. This time, they wanted to give federal employees a couple of three-day weekends throughout the year, so they changed the dates of some major holidays to fall on certain Mondays. Columbus Day, Memorial Day, and Washington’s Birthday were all given Mondays. And Veterans Day was moved from the historic date of November 11 to “the fourth Monday in October.”

The states rightly thought that was a stupid idea and refused to recognize the movement of Veterans Day until President Ford changed it back in 1975.

Veterans Day is currently celebrated nationally on November 11, as it has been for decades. When the day was originally changed to Veterans Day in 1954, it was just in time for then-104-year old Albert Woolson, the last surviving veteran of the Civil War, to celebrate it. With him were two veterans of the Plains Wars, veterans of the Spanish-American War, and vets from the Philippines War.

States, local municipalities, and other governments have declared their own Veterans Days, some dating as far back as the end of World War II, recognizing the courage and sacrifices of every U.S. citizen who answered the country’s call to arms.

Articles

7 awesome airpower quotes from General Curtis LeMay

The most powerful weapon in the United States’ Cold War arsenal was likely not its hundreds of nuclear warheads — it was the man whose job it was to deploy them.


There are few men in Air Force history as noteworthy and controversial as Gen. Curtis LeMay. He earned the nickname “Iron Ass” for his stubbornness and shortness once his mind was made up. When he did speak, the stout, cigar-chomping, stone-faced general had a reputation for his outspoken manner. Though not always remembered fondly by history, some of his image as a shoot-first-ask-questions-later, caveman may be undeserved.

He was the youngest general to wear a fourth star. When he retired, he had served as a four-star general longer than anyone in American history; a big deal for a general who didn’t go to a service academy, instead graduating from Ohio State. At the height of his career, he was the symbol of American military might. A bit more about one of the U.S. Air Force’s most influential founding generals can be gleaned through his more noteworthy quotes.

1. “We should always avoid armed conflict. But if you get in it, get in with both feet and get out as soon as possible.”

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Despite his gruff, cold image, every operational goal, in LeMay’s mind, was a means to an end. Ending a war quickly meant saving American lives. During World War II, LeMay was responsible for the firebombing of Japanese cities which completely destroyed most major Japanese cities. It was his command that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Official estimates from the United States Strategic Bombing Survey determined at least 330,000 killed, 476,000 injured, 8.5 million people made homeless, and 2.5 million buildings destroyed. Almost half of 64 Japanese mainland cities were completely destroyed. The destruction was not lost on LeMay. He acknowledged that if the Japanese had won the war, he would have been tried as a war criminal.

Later he would reveal that dropping the atomic bombs was totally unnecessary, given the level of destruction he had already waged on Japan. He said he only dropped them because of President Truman’s authority. After the war, Japan’s former Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe confirmed that the decision to surrender was based on the prolonged bombing wrought by General LeMay’s Marianas-based air forces. LeMay took command of the Marianas in January 1945. The Japanese surrendered in August of 1945.

2. “War is never cost-effective. People are killed. To them, the war is total.”

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

He was known as a tough commander, but a fair one. He earned a reputation for being stone-faced, uncaring about the needs of his men but LeMay actually suffered from Bell’s Palsey, which literally immobilized his face. When a Harvard study found Army pilots were aborting bombing missions over Germany out of fear, LeMay personally led every bombing sortie and ordered any crew who didn’t go over the target be court martialed.

The gruff general took combat losses to heart, knowing he’d sent men to die, but firmly believed if the death of one American could save a thousand, then it was the right decision to make. In The Fog of War, a documentary about the life of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, McNamara quoted LeMay: “Why are we here? Why are we here? You lost your wingman. It hurts me as much as it does you. I sent him there. And I’ve been there, I know what it is.  But you lost one wingman, and we destroyed Tokyo.”

3. “Successful offense brings victory. Successful defense can now only lessen defeat.”

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

This is an “extremely belligerent, many thought brutal” man who believed in the power, threat and use of nuclear weapons. He wanted SAC to be able to deliver every nuclear warhead in the American arsenal on the Soviet Union at once. This military rationale earned LeMay the image of a cold man who was obsessed with starting any kind of war with the Russians.

It was Gen. LeMay who inspired the character of Buck Turgidson in “Doctor Strangelove,” willing to pay for a victory over the Soviet Union with unlimited American lives. As a bomber pilot, LeMay’s point of view was one of overwhelming force. At its height, the SAC had 1600 bombers and 800 missiles in its arsenal.

4. “We can haul anything.”

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

As the commander of U.S. Air Forces In Europe, LeMay was asked by the Commander of all U.S. forces in Europe, Lucius D. Clay, about the feasibility of an airlift (later known as the “Berlin Airlift”) to break the Soviet blockade of West Berlin.

Gen. Clay asked LeMay “Can you haul coal?” Even though he preferred the more aggressive response of an armed convoy backed by bomber aircraft, Gen. LeMay enthusiastically began the 5,000 ton per day airlift operation within weeks. He was so instrumental in its startup, it was initially called “The LeMay Coal and Feed Delivery Service.” LeMay’s response to Clay’s hauling question represents the can-do attitude and spirit of the U.S. Air Force.

5. “If I see that the Russians are amassing their planes for an attack, I’m going to knock the shit out of them before they take off the ground.”

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Robert McNamara, who served under LeMay during WWII and over him as Secretary of Defense during the Kennedy Administration, called him the finest combat commander there ever was. While he was convinced a war would happen at some point and believe the U.S. should fight it on the grounds most favorable to it, LeMay’s military upbringing taught him that true readiness required constant training and this readiness was to be in place when the civilian leaders of the military deemed it necessary to use them.

His solution was to create a force so powerful no one would dare sneak an attack. He would always advocate for a heavy military response, most notably during the thirteen-day Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, but always loyally and diligently carried out the orders and policy of his civilian superiors.

6. “To err is human, to forgive is not SAC policy”

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

When he took control of Strategic Air Command in 1948, most of his bomber crews couldn’t hit Ohio with a mock atomic bomb during exercises. The SAC under Gen. LeMay became one of the most effective military units in the world on the basis of relentless training.

One officer was quoted as saying: “Training in SAC is harder than war … it might be a relief to go to war.” Within two years, the procedures, checklists, and training implemented by General LeMay gave SAC one of the best safety records in U.S. military history.

7. “The price of failure might be paid with national survival.”

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

After retiring from the Air Force in 1965, LeMay ran with George Wallace on his segregationist party ticket. It led many to conclude that LeMay agreed with Wallace’s racial views. In truth, LeMay agreed to run with Wallace because he believed in a hard line against Communism, and an end to the War in Vietnam, and didn’t see any of the potential candidates doing these things.

LeMay was no racist. During his tenure as a commander in the Air Force, he had actually promoted the integration of units well before Truman’s executive order. Protesters would attend Wallace rallies shouting “Sieg heil” at the man who designed the bombing plans that crippled Nazi war production, even personally leading the most dangerous missions.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Japan wanted to protect Margaret Thatcher with ‘Karate Ladies’

Few British politicians are as controversial as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Still, it was incumbent upon foreign governments to protect her when she traveled abroad. When preparing to visit Japan for an economic summit, Thatcher received the strangest offer for protection – Japan wanted to protect the Iron Lady with a team of twenty “Karate Ladies.”


It may sound like a silly offer, but at the heart of it, the Japanese were doing their best to accommodate Thatcher on the basis of her gender. In June 1979, the British Prime Minister was due to visit Tokyo for an economic summit and Thatcher had just won the post of Prime Minister – the first woman in the United Kingdom’s history to hold the position. She beat out the male Labour candidate James Callaghan just one month prior. The Japanese public were interested in Maggie Thatcher’s status as Britain’s premier working mother.

Thatcher was not interested in attending the conference as a woman, but rather wanted to attend as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

“If other delegation leaders, for example are each being assigned 20 karate gentlemen, the Prime Minister would have no objection to this; but she does not wish to be singled out. She has not had in the past, and does not have now, any female Special Branch officers.”
How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Thatcher with Japanese Crown Prince Akihito.

Sir John Hunt, Thatcher’s Cabinet Secretary, raised the issue with his Japanese counterpart when discussing the Prime Minister’s security detail.

“Sir John said that Mrs. Thatcher will attend the summit as prime minister and not as a woman per se and he was sure that she would not want these ladies; press reaction in particular would be unacceptable.”

The bodyguard force was supposedly made up of 20 or so all-female bodyguards who were trained in unarmed combat, among other skills. Thatcher’s objection wasn’t to the offer of a security detail, but rather the idea of an all-female unit. They wanted to avoid the embarrassment of even getting such an offer, but the offer reached the British press anyway. Thatcher attended the 1979 summit, where no Karate Ladies were present or required.

Articles

This is why ‘peaceful nukes’ ended in utter disappointment

When Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in 1956, there were talks of creating a secondary canal. As U.S. and British officials were considering how it could be built, someone in the room must have said something along the lines of, “Why not nukes?”


No matter how it went down, something sparked the testing of Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNEs) and Operation Plowshare.

The codename “Operation Plowshare” comes from Isaiah 2:4: “And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
Proposed canal would have connected the Pacific to the Caribbean through Lake Nicaragua (Photo via Rotary Club)

The Suez Crisis ended after nine days and plans for a second canal were abandoned, but the idea of using nuclear warheads for non-military purposes stuck.

Between 1961 and 1973, twenty seven nuclear detonations were used for various purposes. Experiments were done to see if detonations could stimulate the flow of natural gas. They also helped with excavation for aquifers, highways, more canals, and an artificial harbor in Cape Thompson, Alaska, under Project Chariot.

Project Chariot was the most ambitious out of all of the tests. The idea was to detonate five hydrogen bombs to give the population of just over 320 a harbor. It was ultimately scraped — the severe risk and expense couldn’t be justified for how little potential it offered.

The United States didn’t followed through with any of the testing of PNEs, but they weren’t the only nation who played with nuclear experiments. The Soviet Union had their own version in the “Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy.”

The Soviets performed 239 tests between 1965 and 1988. One of the few tests that yielded positive results was the Chagan nuclear test (which created a 100,000 m3 lake that’s still radioactive to this day). Another was the sealing of the Urtabulak gas well that had been blowing for three years.

This was later cited as a possible alternative to sealing the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
Geiger reading at Lake Chagan. For comparison, the center of the Fukushima disaster was 7.47 microsieverts per hour in 2011 (Photo via Wikimedia)

Peaceful Nuclear Explosions were regulated in 1974 by President Gerald R. Ford and then banned entirely by the multilateral Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty in 1996 by the United Nations. This treaty prohibits all nuclear explosions, peaceful or not.

Nuclear energy is still being researched, however, most notably in nuclear pulse propulsion for spacecrafts.

Check out the video below to learn more about Plowshare in a (very campy by today standards) 1960’s atomic science educational film.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0F6HQfzjvA

(YouTube, Tomorrow Always Comes)

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Marine Corps ensured Union victory in the Civil War

Before World War I, the U.S. Marine Corps wasn’t the true expeditionary warfighting branch that it is today. It was frequently neglected, underfunded, and at one point entirely disbanded.


The Civil War Marine Corps usually had just a little over 3,000 men but manned the guns at vital points in the Union war machine, helping usher in the victory.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
A group of U.S. Marines guards the Washington Naval Yard. (Photo: Library of Congress)

First, in the immediate aftermath of the Articles of Secession, Marine detachments were sent to reinforce federal garrisons in seceding states, including Fort Sumter. While the Marines were unable to reach Sumter, they did reinforce Fort Pickens in Florida which, though threatened by Florida secessionists throughout the war, never fell from Union control.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
A group of 348 Marines took part in the first battle of Bull Run as support for a Union artillery battery. (Image: Library of Congress)

But the Marines didn’t just defend backwater outposts. A battalion of 348 Marines under the command of Maj. John Reynolds fought at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. The Marines were credited for brave action through most of the day but were routed with the rest of the Union forces in the afternoon.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of the Marines to the war effort was their manning guns on Navy ships and guarding Union positions on America’s rivers, helping ensure the success of the Anaconda Plan, which called for the Confederacy to be split in two and starved for supplies.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
The Monitor fighting the CSS Virginia at the Battle of Hampton Roads. Marines were manning guns on many of the wooden ships seen in the background. (Image: National Archives)

One of the most stunning naval battles the Marines took part in was the Battle of Hampton Roads, the first clash of iron vessels in the history of naval warfare. The Marines manned guns on the Union Navy ships USS Cumberland, USS Congress, USS Minnesota and others.

The Cumberland fought bravely against the ironside CSS Virginia, pumping cannon rounds through open portholes on the Virginia, destroying two cannons and killing 19 of the crew. But the Cumberland was eventually doomed by a ram strike from the Virginia. The USS Monitor, also an ironside, arrived and drove off the Virginia from the other wooden-hulled ships.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
Vice Adm. David Farragut’s naval attacks at New Orleans were facilitated with Marines at some of the guns. The attack eventually closed the important port to Confederate supplies. (Painting: Mauritz de Haas/Public Domain)

The next month, Marines took part in Navy Capt. David Farragut’s attack on New Orleans. On April 24, 1862, Farragut led his flotilla through a gauntlet of Confederate guns and gunships and captured the city. At one point in the naval battle, Marines stabbed Confederate sailors through the gunports on two ships jammed together and exchanging cannon fire.

Marines later stood guard as the state banner in New Orleans was cut down and the American flag raised.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
Cpl Mackie aboard the USS Galena at Drewry’s Bluff. (Painting: U.S. Marine Corps)

On May 15, 1862, Marine Cpl. John Mackie took the first actions for which a Marine would be awarded the Medal of Honor. He was on the USS Galena at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff. When Confederate fire from the shore damaged the ship and knocked an important gun out of action, Mackie got it back into service and led the crew in its operation.

The Marines under Farragut’s command distinguished themselves again when then-Vice Adm. Farragut sent his ships past Confederate torpedoes and Fort Morgan to threaten Mobil Bay, Alabama. It was in this battle, with Marines firing their muskets into enemy portholes, that Farragut uttered his famous curse, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” The attack was ultimately successful.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps flickr)

Finally, the Marines helped close the Confederacy’s last major port through which it received supplies from blockade runners. Fort Fisher held open the port at Wilmington, North Carolina. In January 1865, a naval brigade of sailors and 400 Marines assaulted the fort under heavy fire. While their attack was easily beaten back, it served as a diversion for a second attack by the Army.

The Army was able to take the fort in large part due to the sacrifice of the Marines and sailors. The fall of Fort Fisher closed Wilmington’s port and shut down the last major supply route into the Confederacy. The surrender of Confederate units came faster after this loss of supplies and Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Virginia at Appomatox Court House only three months later.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was Nazi Germany’s primary fighter

Unlike the United States, which threw at least a half-dozen outstanding fighters at the Axis in World War II (the F4F Wildcat, the F4U Corsair, the F6F Hellcat, the P-38 Lightning, the P-47 Thunderbolt, and the P-51 Mustang, just to name a few), Nazi Germany relied heavily on two major fighters throughout the war.

One of those planes was produced in staggering numbers, especially when compared to some of today’s planes. Its time in service extended two decades beyond the end of World War II and, in a stroke of irony, this plane actually went on to help a new country stand up against genocidal foes.

That plane was the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke Bf 109.


Many know this plane as the Messerschmidt Me 109, but that’s a misnomer. While it was designed by Willy Messerschmidt, the planes designed through the early stages of World War II had the prefix ‘Bf,’ which stands for Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, or “Bavarian Aircraft Factories” in English. It was only later that the company took the name of Messerschmidt — and with it, the ‘Me’ prefix.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Nazi Germany built over 33,000 Bf 109 fighters.

(German Federal Archives)

The Bf 109 had a top speed of 359 miles per hour and a maximum range of 680 miles. Depending on the variant, Bf 109s were equipped with either 7.9mm machine guns or autocannons. Over 33,000 Bf 109s were produced during the war, making it the most-produced fighter aircraft in history. Even more Bf 109s were designed and built after the war in Spain and Czechoslovakia as well.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Czech-built versions of the Bf 109, known as the S-199, served in the Israeli Air Force.

Some of the Czech versions, known as the Avia S-199, found their way to Israel where they served in the 1948 Israeli War for Independence. There, they fought against Arab forces in what the Secretary-General of the Arab League called a “war of extermination.” A plane that was once the arm of history’s most infamous genocide stood in opposition of the next.

The planes proved difficult to fly, however, and were replaced by 1950.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Licence-built Bf 109s in Spain had a variety of engines, including the Rolls Royce Merlin.

(Photo by Alan Wilson)

Spain’s Hispano HA-1112, a designed based on the Bf 109, stayed in service until 1965. These variants were notable for using a variety of engines, the Rolls Royce Merlin famously used by the P-51 Mustang.

Learn more about this classic German fighter in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiRi1hmbz_0

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

The largest war at sea fought by the US Navy since WWII was against Iran


The 1980s “Tanker War” in the Persian Gulf, which saw Iraq and Iran attempt to disrupt each other’s oil shipments as part of the Iran-Iraq war, prompted the U.S. Navy to launch its largest surface action since World War II against Iranian naval targets.

By 1987, with the ground war at a stalemate, both Iran and Iraq ramped up their targeting of each other’s oil infrastructure. Hundreds of ships traversing the Gulf were damaged, and the U.S. Navy stepped up its patrols of the area. On May 17, an Iraqi warplane launched two Exocet missiles at the frigate USS Stark, badly damaging it and killing 37 American sailors. Iraq claimed it had mistaken the Stark for an Iranian tanker, and the United States accepted the apology.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
Iranian Navy ship burns after taking some hits courtesy of American A-6 bombers. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

When Kuwait requested its oil tankers be re-flagged as American vessels for protection against Iranian attacks, the U.S. initiated Operation Earnest Will and started escorting Kuwaiti shipping. The Iranians saw this protection of Iraqi/Kuwaiti oil shipments as a direct intervention by the U.S., and stepped up their sea mine program in the Gulf.

The guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts struck one of these mines on the April 14, 1988, nearly sinking it. Other mines found in the area confirmed it was Iranian, and the U.S. Navy started planning the reprisal Operation Praying Mantis. Several groups of frigates and destroyers supported by aircraft from the USS Enterprise were tasked for the response.

A U.S. Surface Action Group was ordered to destroy the guns and military facilities on the Sassen oil platform, which was being used to launch speed boat attacks on shipping in the Gulf. After an exchange of gunfire between the Sassen and U.S. ships and Cobra helicopters, the Iranians abandoned the platform and U.S. Marines occupied it before destroying it with explosives. A second SAG destroyed another nearby platform with naval gunfire.

The Iranians retaliated by sending Boghammar speedboats to attack shipping, including a U.S.-flagged ship, damaging several vessels. After American A-6 bombers used cluster munitions to sink one speedboat and damage several others, the conflict swiftly escalated, with Iran despatching several of its larger ships along with aircraft to confront the SAG’s. One Iranian F-4 fighter was damaged by a missile after it strayed too close and barely managed to make it back to base.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence
Aircraft carrier-based A-6E Intruder dropping a string on anti-ship mines during Operation Praying Mantis. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The Iranian fast-attack ship Joshan was sunk by missiles and gunfire after attacking U.S. ships with Harpoon missiles, which were diverted by chaff. The Iranian frigate Sahand was totally destroyed by laser-guided bombs and Harpoons launched from A-6s after it had fired surface to air missiles at them. A second Iranian frigate, the Sabahan, was left crippled and burning by a laser-guided bomb and had to be towed back to port.

The Iranians launched land-based Silkworm anti-ship missiles against several U.S. ships across the Gulf, but all of them missed their targets. Considering the retaliation a success, the U.S. disengaged their ships with the loss of only one helicopter which crashed that night in an accident, leaving 3 dead. Iranian casualties from their destroyed frigates, speedboats, and platforms were nearly a hundred.

There was to be a tragic aftermath to the mining of the Samuel B. Roberts, which had triggered the action. The cruiser USS Vincennes, which had been dispatched to escort the Roberts home, shot down Iranian Flight 655, killing all 290 crew and passengers, after believing the civilian airliner was an Iranian F-14 fighter on an attack run. The U.S. government did not formally apologize, but in 1996 agreed to pay $61 million in compensation to the families of the victims.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The man who saved North Carolina from nukes speaks out

Jack ReVelle, an Air Force munitions expert during the Cold War, recently went to a sound booth to record an interview with his daughter where the pair discussed one of the most harrowing moments of Jack’s life: That time he was called to North Carolina to defuse two hydrogen bombs that had plummeted to earth with a combined potential explosive power equivalent to 500 Hiroshima bombs.


How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

A Mark 39 nuclear bomb rests with its nose buried in the mud near Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1961 after a B-52 broke up in mid-air.

(U.S. Air Force)

In 1961, a B-52 bomber was flying over the great state of North Carolina when it began to break apart. Its entire right wing failed and the plane began falling towards earth. The order was given to abandon the plane, and eight crewmembers attempted to escape. Five survived.

But two other objects joined the crew in the air with parachutes. Two Mark 39 nuclear bombs, one with a successfully deployed parachute and one with a failed chute, fell from the sky. The Air Force sent a team out relatively quietly to find and defuse the nukes. Jack ReVelle told his daughter about getting the mission:

“One night, I get a phone call from my squadron commander. And instead of using all the code words that we had rehearsed, he says, ‘Jack, I got a real one for you.’ You don’t often have two hydrogen bombs falling out of aircraft onto U.S. property.”
How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Air Force technicians dig through the mud near Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1961 after a B-52 broke up in mid-air.

(U.S. Air Force)

There was precious little preparation done for such an insane mission, and the airmen found themselves scrambling to get everything they needed to do the mission:

“Ten – we call them the Terrible 10. I knew all of them very well. But nobody was cracking jokes like they usually did. And the first couple of days there, they didn’t even have food for us – nothing. It was snowing. It was raining. It was frozen. That’s why we worked in shifts, sometimes on our hands and knees.”

The first bomb was quickly found hanging from a tree. The parachute had kept its descent reasonable, and it had stuck vertically in the ground, buried only partially in the dirt. The team found that three of its four safeguards had either failed or triggered. Only one safety, the actual safe/arm switch, had prevented a nuclear explosion.

How a suburban housewife became a pioneer of military Intelligence

Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians remove components of a Mark 39 nuclear bomb from the deep hole that the bomb buried itself in.

(U.S. Air Force)

But the second bomb, the one with an improperly deployed parachute, had hit the ground at 700 mph and plunged 18 feet into the ground. It was Jack and his men’s job to dig in, find as many of the 92 detonators as they could, and recover the warhead.

Most of the detonators were found and recovered, one at a time. But the team got a horrendous surprise when they found the safe/arm switch:

“And as we started digging down, trying to find the second bomb, one of my sergeants says, “hey, Lieutenant, I found the arm safe switch.” And I said, “great.” He says, “no, not great. It’s on arm.” But we all knew what we were there for and the hazards that we were facing. So, we pulled it up out of the mud and brought it up over this wooden rickety ladder that we had, to the surface of the ground, in a safe condition.”

Yeah, the switch had been the only thing that prevented the first bomb from detonating. It had failed on the second bomb. As they recovered the rest of it, they found no safeguards that had properly survived. The bomb should’ve exploded. Engineers wrote in a classified report in 1969 that a single electrical jolt could’ve triggered a weapon. The lead on the study, Parker F. Jones, recommended that Mark 39 bombs no longer be used in an airborne role since they almost gave us Goldsboro Bay.

But Jack and his team were able, through painstaking work, to recover most of the bomb, including the nuclear core. If even one of them had gone off, it could have killed approximately 28,000 people. 60,000 live there today and would, obviously, not be able to live there if the bombs had irradiated the whole area in 1961.

Jack ReVelle’s interview is available on StoryCorps and NPR.

(This article was updated on Feb. 4, 2019. The article originally stated that seven of the eight steps needed to detonate a Mark 39 bomb had been taken and cited a Stanford paper from 2018. But the Stanford paper cites a Guardian article for that claim, and the Guardian article only supports that three of the four major safeguards had failed. This post was changed to reflect this more solid information.)

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