That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

The first World War was a horrific time to be a soldier on the frontlines. Nations were in a rush to quickly develop and implement the newest and most effective tools of destruction. Before the war, troops had no idea of the true devastation that a tank, fighter pilot, or the various gas canisters could bring. And then there were evil darts.

Flechette darts that — thankfully — never really took off. To be frank, they sound a little silly. They’re just oversized versions of the darts that troops would toss around at their local pub — what’s the big deal? In reality, they were more like something out of a freakin’ horror movie.


That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
The darts were also mostly silent. One minute, you and your platoon are fine in the trenches. The next, you’re all being turned into pincushions. (Illustration from the Petit Journal, August, 1915)

First, let’s talk about the physics behind these darts from Hell. They were roughly five inches long, weighed just over a pound, and were made of sharpened steel. When they were dropped from hundreds of feet above the ground, they’d strike the ground with enough force to pierce helmets and even vehicles.

If you filed grooves into the top or added a bird’s feather to the dull end, the dart would always land pointy-side down. Now consider the fact that a single pilot could release a canister filled with around 250 of these darts at a time and you can understand the sheer terror that these things wrought.

The Italians invented the darts before the war, but soon, countries on both sides of No Man’s Land were dropping them on opposing trenches. They were also extremely cheap to make and implement, which means they were used constantly — although the Royal Flying Corps felt they were “unsportsmanlike.” The Germans, on the other hand, were very keen on using the darts on the French. In fact, they had them specially imprinted with the text, “invention Française, fabrication Allemande.” Which roughly translates to, “a French invention, German made.”

The flechette darts didn’t last past the early years of the war when bombs were deemed more effective. But the design of sharp darts being used for war later resurfaced with the flechette rounds used in shotguns and the infamous Beehive artillery round used in the Vietnam War.

To learn more about the flechette darts, check out the video below.

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That time the Air Force dropped a ‘waterfall of bombs’

When American intelligence detected the massive buildup of North Vietnamese troops that preceded the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh in 1968, Gen. William Westmoreland gave the base priority access to all American airpower in theater, leading to Operation Niagara and a “waterfall of bombs.”


Khe Sanh was the westernmost base in a strong of installations along the crucial Route 9 in late 1967. It was in the perfect position to block North Vietnamese Army forces and other fighters moving in from Laos or other NVA areas.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
NVA Troops with Chinese SAM launcher (U.S. Air Force Photo)

But Westmoreland believed that Khe Sanh was crucial to victory and worth heavy investment despite its relatively small size as home to one Marine regiment and 5,000 support troops. To ensure the Marines could hold out against anything, he ordered improvements to infrastructure on the base and the installation of thousands of remote sensors in the surrounding jungle.

By the first week of January 1968, sensors and reconnaissance data made it clear that the NVA was conducting a massive buildup in the area of the base. All indications were that the North Vietnamese wanted to recreate their success at Diem Bien Phu in 1954 when a prolonged siege led to the withdrawal of French forces.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
Second battle for Khe Sanh began on Jan. 20, 1968 when Marines from 3/26 attacked a North Vietnamese battalion between Hill 881 South Hill 881 North. Above, Marines stack mounds of expended 105mm casings after constant pounding of enemy forces. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Artillery rounds were stockpiled at the base and intelligence was collected. The intel cells were able to get a good idea of where Communist forces were concentrating forces, artillery, and command elements. They were also able to track tunneling efforts by the North Vietnamese trying to get close to the base.

And the North Vietnamese were able to get close — in some cases within a few thousand meters.

On Jan. 21, 1968, the North Vietnamese launched a simultaneous attack against Khe Sanh itself and some of the surrounding hills. Their massed forces would eventually number 20,000, more than three times the number of the 6,000 defenders.

The U.S., with a mass of intelligence and stockpiled weapons, went on the offensive against the North Vietnamese. Artillery shells shot out of the base against pre-identified targets, and a waterfall of bombs started pouring from B-52s.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52F Stratofortress drops bombs over Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The long-planned Operation Niagara II was underway. Over the following 77 days, strike aircraft from the Air Force flew 9,691 sorties and dropped 14,223 tons of bombs, those from the Marine Corps flew 7,098 missions and dropped 17,015 tons of bombs, while the U.S. Navy strike aircraft dropped 7,942 tons of bombs over 5,337 missions.

The heavy lifters were the Air Force B-52s who dropped 59,542 tons of bombs. The combined total of ordnance dropped around Khe Sanh by air was 98,721 tons, approximately 5,700 tons more than the total weight of the USS Enterprise.

Initially, the bombs were dropped relatively far from the base. The B-52s tried to stay three miles out, but the communists figured out the restrictions and moved their fighters in close, forcing the B-52s to operate closer to the base and making the ground pounders rely more heavily on strike aircraft and the AC-47 gunship.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
Night attack of a U.S. Air Force Douglas AC-47D Spooky gunship over the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) Team 21 compound at Pleiku in May 1969. This time lapse photo shows the tracer round trajectories. (Photo: U.S. Army Spec. 5 Thomas A. Zangla)

Of course, not everything went smoothly for the Marines and their support. An enemy artillery strike by the North Vietnamese managed to hit the ammo dump, destroying 90 percent of the stockpiled rounds in a single hit.

Marines patrolling the jungle were also hard-pressed time after time. One patrol, conducted by two squads from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, on Feb. 25, 1968, was almost completely wiped out and became known as the “Ghost Patrol.” One survivor was taken captive and reported dead for nearly five years before he was released in a prisoner transfer.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
F-100 strikes close to the lines, Khe Sanh, Vietnam, on March 15, 1968. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Moore)

While the leadership did entertain the idea of calling in tactical nukes of necessary, the efforts of the Marines on the ground — sometimes conducted by nearly starving troops after 11 weeks of rare resupplies — combined with the Herculean-levels of air support were enough to keep the North Vietnamese at bay.

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‘The Suffering Bastard’ is the cocktail that beat the Nazis in Egypt

When considering the origins of legendary cocktails, it’s doubtful that Egypt is the first place to spring into anyone’s mind. Like many culinary innovations made during World War II, “The Suffering Bastard” is a concoction birthed from a world of limited supplies in which everyone had to make do with whatever they could get their hands on – and it shows.


The Suffering Bastard is a legendary beverage, created by a legendary barman, in time and place where new legends were born every day. The unlikely mixture is said to have turned the tides of the war against Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Corps in Egypt. True or not, it succeeded in its original mission: curing the hangovers of British troops so they could push Rommel back to Tunisia.

In 1941, World War II was not going well for the British Empire. Even though the previous year saw British and Imperial troops capture more than 100,000 Italian Axis troops in North Africa, Hitler soon sent in his vaunted Afrika Corps to bolster Axis forces in the region.

 

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel with staff in North Africa, 1942. (Bundeswehr Archives)

 

Up against crack German troops led by capable tank strategist and Field Marshal, Erwin Rommel, the British experienced a number of defeats in the early months of 1941. They were pushed out of Libya and the lines were within 150 miles of the Egyptian capital of Cairo. His goal was to capture the Suez Canal and cut the British Empire in two.

During the Battle of El-Alamein, Rommel was quoted as saying “I’ll be drinking champagne in the master suite at Shepheard’s soon,” referring to the world-famous Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo. Inside the hotel was the well-known Long Bar and behind that bar was bartender, Joe Scialom, whose stories could rival anyone’s, from Ernest Hemingway to Ian Fleming.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
Scialom behind the Long Bar in Cairo’s Shepheard’s Hotel.

 

Scialom was a Jewish Egyptian with Italian roots. Born in Egypt, he was a trained chemist who worked in Sudan in his formative years but soon found he enjoyed applying the principles of chemistry to making drinks. The chemist-turned-barman who spoke eight languages would eventually travel the world over, to Cairo, Havana, London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, and Manhattan, drinking alongside folks like Winston Churchill and Conrad Hilton. Much of that would come later, however. In 1941, he was the barkeep at the Long Bar and he was faced with a unique problem.

The war made it very difficult to get good liquor in Egypt. British officers resorted to drinking liquor that wasn’t made of such high quality and soon began complaining about terrible hangovers. In an effort to do his part for the British, Scialom set out to make a drink that would give them the effect they wanted while curing their inevitable hangovers. He used an unlikely combination of bourbon and gin along with added lime, ginger ale, and bitters to create a drink that did the job perfectly.

Many variations on the original recipe exist, to include ingredients like pineapple syrup and rum, but the original Suffering Bastard used bourbon and gin as its base.

The Recipe:

  • Equal parts Bourbon, Gin, and Lime Juice
  • A dash of Angostura bitters
  • Top off with ginger beer

His creation was so successful in fact, in 1942, he received a telegram from the British front lines asking for eight gallons of the cocktail to be brought to the front at El-Alamein. Scialom filled any container he could find with Suffering Bastard and shipped it off to the war.

The first Battle of El Alamein in 1942 resulted in a stalemate. The Axis supply lines from Libya were stretched out to their breaking point and Rommel could not press on to Alexandria. Before the second Battle of El Alamein, the ranking British general, Claude Auchinleck, was replaced. His spot eventually taken by one General Bernard Montgomery. The next time the two sides met at El Alamein, Montgomery was in command and British hangovers were a thing of the past. Monty and the British Empire troops turned Rommel away and pushed him westward toward an eventual defeat.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy way British pilots took out incoming V-1 missiles

One week after D-Day, Germany began launching a new, secret weapon at London. The distinctive roar of V-1 flying bombs would slowly fill the air and then suddenly cut out, followed shortly by the massive explosion as a warhead went off. Dozens would fall in the first week, and the Royal Air Force had to scramble to stop them.


This led some pilots to, after expending all of their ammunition, take more drastic measures to stop the bombs: flying wingtip to wingtip until they either crashed or tipped the bomb off course.

The V-1s had pulsejet engines, and prop-driven planes couldn’t keep up with them. But, if a pilot flew to high altitude and then dove toward a passing V-1, the speed from the descent would allow them to keep up.

The first intercept took place on June 15, 1944, the third day of V-1 attacks. A Mosquito pilot was able to shoot one down with his guns, and others soon followed.

But the pilots had limited ammunition, and it was tough to hit the fast-flying V-1s. And each bomb could kill multiple Londoners if it wasn’t intercepted.

So some pilots began to experiment with a risky but valuable alternative. If a plane flew close enough to a V-1, the wind off the plane’s wings could nudge the flying bomb off course. And if the disturbance was enough to flip the V-1 over, known as “turtling,” then it would often fail to explode.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

A Spitfire nudges a V-1 missile off course during World War II.

(Public domain)

But this had obvious risks. If the pilot accidentally bumped the V-1, they could crash into the ground alongside the bomb. A soft bump was obviously no big deal. It would just help the pilot tip the bomb over. But a harder strike was essentially a midair crash, likely clipping or breaking the pilot’s own wingtip.

Despite the risks, the work of pilots and gunners on the ground saved London from much of the devastation. 1,000 of the bombs were shot down or nudged off course in flight. And, the bombs were famously inaccurate, which was lucky for Britain. Of the approximately 10,000 flying bombs fired at the city, around 7,000 missed, 1,000 were shot down, and about 2,000 actually hit the city and other targets.

Eventually, this would result in about 6,000 fatalities and 16,000 other casualties.

In October 1944, Allied troops captured the V-1 sites targeting London and were able to stop the threat there. Unfortunately, that was right as the Germans got the V-2 program up and running, The faster, rocket-powered V-2s were essentially unstoppable with anything but radar-controlled guns.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

An American JB-2 Loon based on the German V-1 missile.

(San Diego Air and Space Museum)

After the war, Allied powers experimented with the weapons and some, including America, made their own knockoffs. Some were shot down as flying targets for pilots, but others were held in arsenals in case they were needed against enemy forces. Eventually, the invention of modern cruise missiles made the V-1s and V-2s obsolete.

MIGHTY HISTORY

John McCain learned two big things when he was a prisoner of war

Before he was a U.S. senator, and later a presidential candidate, John McCain was a naval aviator over the skies of Vietnam. But the 1958 graduate of the Naval Academy is probably known less for his flying skills and more for what he did on the ground, as a prisoner of war for more than five years.


“I hated it, and yet I made some of the most important discoveries and relationships of my life in prison,” McCain wrote in a post on Quora, in response to the question of what it was like to be a P.O.W.

When he was shot down, McCain was on his 23rd mission: A bombing run over Hanoi. “A Russian missile the size of a telephone pole came up — the sky was full of them — and blew the right wing off my Skyhawk dive bomber,” he recalled in U.S. News World Report.

 

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
John McCain being captured in Vietnam. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

With his jet traveling at roughly 575 mph, he was able to eject. But when he landed in enemy territory, he had broken his left arm, his right arm in three places, and his right leg near the knee. He was captured soon after, and taken to the infamous Hỏa Lò Prison, better known by its prisoners as the “Hanoi Hilton.”

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

In his Quora post and in his book “Faith of my Fathers,” he recounted his poor treatment and very limited contact with the outside world. But there were two big things McCain learned:

“I learned I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was, but I was strong enough,” he wrote. “And I learned there were things I couldn’t do on my own, but that nothing is as liberating as fighting for a cause that’s bigger than yourself.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The IRA created a massive propane tank cannon to fight the British

For almost 40 years, the Irish people endured a constant state of fear stemming from a low-level war that killed thousands of Irish civilians, British troops, and Irish fighters – all in a stunningly understated conflict called “The Troubles.” While British and U.K. loyalist forces were well-equipped and armed for the task, the Irish Republican Army, fighting for a united Ireland, had to improvise a little.


That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

This is why “Irish Car Bombs” are a thing.

The Irish Republican Army was a homegrown paramilitary organization that was at best outlawed, and at worst, designated a terrorist organization. They were committed to a fully united Ireland by any means necessary and resisted the United Kingdom’s occupation of Northern Ireland, also by any means necessary. This usually meant improvised guns, bombs, and even mortars. That’s how they created what British troops called the Mark 15. The IRA called it the “Barrack Buster.”

Barrack Busters first started to appear in the IRA arsenal in the 1990s and was an improvised 36-centimeter mortar capable of firing three-foot-long propane tanks filled with high explosives. The Mark 15 was usually made of a cooking gas container created for use in rural areas of Ireland. It was capable of launching one of these powerful explosive containers nearly a thousand feet.

The IRA improvised mortars of various sizes and power, and hit not only military barracks, but bases and even 10 Downing Street.

The Mark 15 was described as having the effect of a flying car bomb, that has taken down barracks, helicopters, and even Royal Air Force planes. It was the fifteenth in a line of development that stretched as far back as the early 1970s. It was the largest homemade mortar developed by the Irish Republican Army. The development does stretch to a Mark-16, but that weapon was more of a recoilless rifle than it was a traditional mortar.

Introduction of the giant mortar did have an impact on British forces. The United Kingdom was forced to pull its checkpoints away from the Irish border after the introduction of the Mark 15 mortar. It was so effective as a weapon it was adapted for use by paramilitary forces in other countries and conflicts, including the FARC in Colombia and the Free Syrian Army in Syria.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the voice of Bugs Bunny trained WW2 aerial gunners

During World War II, Hollywood joined in the war effort, big time. Then-actor — and future president — Ronald Reagan helped train pilots on how to recognize the Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” as one of the more prominent examples, but many others took part.


One was Mel Blanc. You never saw him. But you probably heard him. He was the voice of Bugs Bunny. Well, Bugs did his part for the war effort in some cartoons, including one that Warner Brothers pulled due to offensive stereotypes of the Japanese. America’s favorite “wascally wabbit” is an honorary Marine as a result of his service on the screen.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
Mel Blanc in 1976. (Photo by Alan Light via Wikimedia Commons)

But Blanc did more than just entertain. He also helped train some of the soldiers who were putting it all out there. Specifically, he helped train the gunners on heavy bombers. The B-17 Flying Fortresses had a lot of gun positions. Some of the ten-man crew manning them had other jobs (like the bombardier, the navigator, and the radio operator). Others just had to shoot.

No matter what, though, they needed to know how to aim their guns so that some Nazi or Japanese fighter didn’t shoot their bomber down. In a 14-minute film, Blanc portrays a waist gunner on one Flying Fortress who starts out with some bad habits. Over that course of time, the trainees were given a crash course and the bare essentials needed to know how to aim their machine gun.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
An Axis plane heads on its final dive thanks to Blanc’s character. (Youtube screenshot)

You can see this 14-minute film below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqoUdd9Ge4E
MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Brazil’s World War II force had the best unit patch

Brazil’s contribution to the Allied war effort is extraordinary but often forgotten. Though Brazil originally tried to remain neutral in the conflict, the United States eventually encouraged the country to break off relations with the Axis powers. As a result, German u-boats began to sink Brazilian shipping and kill Brazilian citizens.

As a result, Brazil entered the war on the Allied side in August 1942, ready to punish the Axis for killing Brazilians.


The Brazilian Expeditionary Force numbered some 25,000 men, the only ally from South America to contribute troops to the war effort. Brazil’s fighting force would play a crucial role in some of the critical European battles to come, in a way no one thought possible. Literally.

Some commenters said the world would more likely see snakes smoking than see Brazilian troops on a World War II battlefield. So when the BEF showed up to deploy with the U.S. Fifth Army, they looked a lot like the Americans in their fatigues, save for one important detail: a shoulder patch, featuring a snake smoking a pipe.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

Now proudly calling themselves the “Smoking Cobras,” the Brazilian forces were ready to fight the Italians and Germans anywhere they were needed. Meanwhile, the Brazilian Navy and Air Force were getting their revenge on the Axis Navy and Air Forces that had so damaged Brazilian shipping. After losing 36 or more ships before entering the war, they lost only three ships afterward. And despite Brazil’s Air Force only flying five percent of the war’s air sorties, they managed to destroy 85 percent of Axis ammo dumps, 36 percent of Axis fuel depots, and 28 percent of Axis transportation infrastructure.

Back on the ground, the “Smoking Cobras” of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force were fighting the Italians and Germans in the Italian Campaign in 1943 and making short work of their enemy while providing much-needed rest for units that had been fighting for months.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

A Brazilian mortar crew fires their 81mm mortar in support of infantry in the Sassomolare area of the Fifth Army front north of Florence, April 1945.

The three regimental combat teams that comprised the BEF took on the German 148th Division, soundly defeating them at the Battle of Collecchio. Other victories came in succession: Camaiore, Monte Prano, Serchio Valley. The Brazilians also took down the Italian Monte Rosa, San Marco, and Italia divisions. In all, they captured more than 15,000 prisoners and took a further 500 out of action in later campaigns.

They retreated only when they ran out of ammunition, and their losses in Italy numbered just north of 450 killed in action.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 facts every American should know about Dorie Miller, the Black sailor whose heroics changed a nation

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, Doris “Dorie” Miller was serving aboard the USS West Virginia as a Navy mess attendant 2nd class when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

As his battleship was sinking, the powerfully built 22-year-old sharecropper’s son from Waco, Texas, helped move his dying captain to better cover before manning a .50-caliber machine gun and shooting at the attacking Japanese planes until he had no more ammunition. Miller was one of the last men to leave his sinking ship, and after unloading on the enemy, he turned his attention to pulling injured sailors out of the harbor’s burning, oily water.


Miller’s legendary actions, for which the sailor received the Navy Cross, were immortalized in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! and in Michael Bay’s 2001 film Pearl Harbor. But those depictions only provide surface details of Miller’s extraordinary service and its legacy in changing the course of US history.

Here are seven facts every American should know about this American icon.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

Family members of World War II hero Doris “Dorie” Miller react after the unveiling of the future Ford-class aircraft carrier USS Doris Miller (CVN 81) at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexander C. Kubitza/US Navy, courtesy of DVIDS.

He’s the first enlisted sailor or Black American to ever have an aircraft carrier named after him.

The Navy made history Jan. 20, 2019, when it announced at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam that it would name a new Ford-class aircraft carrier, CVN-81, after Miller.

Supercarriers are typically named for US presidents, and the USS Doris Miller, which is still under construction, is the first to be named for an enlisted sailor or Black American. Navy officials said it will be the most powerful and lethal warship ever built.

“Dorie Miller stood for everything that is good about our nation,” said former acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly during the ceremony last year. “His story deserves to be remembered and repeated wherever our people continue to stand the watch today. He’s not just the story of one sailor. It is the story of our Navy, of our nation and our ongoing struggle to form — in the words of our Constitution — a more perfect union.”

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

Emrys Bledsoe, bottom, great-great-grandnephew of World War II hero Doris “Dorie” Miller, attempts to cut a cake next to acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, third from left, Mrs. Robyn Modly, left, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, right, and other Miller relatives at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day event on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexander C. Kubitza/US Navy, courtesy of DVIDS.

The carrier will be the second Navy vessel to honor Miller.

In 1973, the Navy commissioned the destroyer escort Miller, which was reclassified as a frigate two years later, according to The Navy Times. During the ship’s christening ceremony, Texas Rep. Barbara Jordan predicted that the “Dorie Millers of the future will be captains as well as cooks.”

According to KPBS San Diego, the Navy now has 10 Black admirals serving in its ranks.

As a Black sailor in 1941, Miller wasn’t even supposed to fire a gun.

As NPR reported Tuesday, “When he reached for that weapon, he was taking on two enemies: the Japanese flyers and the pervasive discrimination in his own country.”

“One of the ways in which the Navy discriminated against African Americans was that they limited them to certain types of jobs, or what we call ‘ratings’ in the Navy,” historian Regina Akers from the Naval History and Heritage Command told NPR. “So, for African Americans, many were messmen or stewards. Dorie Miller was a messman, which meant that he basically took care of an officer, laid out his clothes, shined his shoes and served meals.”

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

Miller speaks during a war bond tour stop at the Naval Training Station in Great Lakes, Illinois, on Jan. 7, 1943. Photo courtesy of the US Navy/National Archives.

Miller’s legend would have been lost if not for the Black press.

Members of the Black press knew that getting Miller proper recognition could undermine the stereotype that Black Americans weren’t any good in combat. But when journalists from The Pittsburgh Courier — one of the leading Black newspapers of the time — looked into Miller’s story, the Navy initially wouldn’t identify him, saying there were too many messmen in its ranks to find him.

Before his death in 2003, former Courier reporter Frank Bolden said in an interview with the Freedom Forum, “The publisher of the paper said, ‘Keep after it.’ We spent ,000 working to find out who Dorie Miller was. And we made Dorie Miller a hero.”

Miller’s actions initially earned him nothing more than a letter of commendation, but coverage by the Black press captured public attention, and eventually, US Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Chester Nimitz upgraded Miller’s commendation to the Navy Cross, then the third-highest honor for heroism.

Akers, the historian, told NPR, “In just like the flip of a switch, [Miller] becomes a celebrity. He becomes one of the first heroes, period, of the war, but certainly one of the first African American heroes of the war. He was on recruitment posters. His image was everywhere.”

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

Miller receives the Navy Cross from Adm. Chester Nimitz, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, during a ceremony aboard the USS Enterprise on May 27, 1942. Photo courtesy of the US Navy/National Archives.

Miller’s story changed the Navy and military forever, paving the way for desegregation in the service.

Even before Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, his story quickly effected reforms. The Navy opened up jobs such as gunner’s mate, radioman, and radar operator to Black sailors and eventually started commissioning Black officers.

“Things came together at Pearl Harbor for Doris Miller and for the civil rights movement, probably to maximum effect,” Baylor University history professor Michael Parrish told NPR.

Miller’s story inspired Black artists to produce works that spread his legend far and wide and inspired generations of activists who were determined to build a more just society. In 1943, Langston Hughes, the Black American poet best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance, wrote this poem about the trailblazing sailor:

When Dorie Miller took gun in hand —
Jim Crow started his last stand.
Our battle yet is far from won
But when it is, Jim Crow’ll be done.
We gonna bury that son-of-a-gun!

Parrish, who co-authored Doris Miller, Pearl Harbor, and the Birth of the Civil Rights Movement, said President Harry S. Truman’s executive order to desegregate the military in 1948 can also be traced to Miller’s heroics at Pearl Harbor.

“World War II was really the turning point in that long struggle,” Parrish told NPR.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson speaks during a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The congresswoman has been working to honor Miller with the Medal of Honor since she first came to Congress in 1993. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alexander C. Kubitza/US Navy, courtesy of DVIDS.

Some Congressional leaders believe Miller’s Navy Cross should be upgraded to a Medal of Honor.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, who represents Texas’ 30th Congressional District, said in a 2010 press release that she has been working to honor Miller with the Medal of Honor since she first came to Congress in 1993.

“For more than 50 years, members of Congress have been working to give Petty Officer Doris Miller a Congressional Medal of Honor,” Johnson said. “Eighteen years after I first came to the House, we are still working on it. In my judgment, Dorie Miller saved our country from invasion, and as long as I live, I will do what I can to honor this great American hero.”

Miller was later killed in action in World War II and never lived to see the lasting effects of his heroics.

After Pearl Harbor, Miller went on serving his nation in World War II, and in 1943, he was one of hundreds of sailors killed when their ship was torpedoed and sank in the Pacific. While Miller’s body was never found, his legacy lives on, and his name has graced a postage stamp, schools, roads, and community centers all over the country.

And the service that once wouldn’t even release Miller’s name to the public now honors him alongside US presidents.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

The bloodiest day in British military history

World War I is not the bloodiest war in the history of war, but rapid advances in technology as well as the failure of military leaders to adjust their tactics resulted in possibly the bloodiest day in British military history when the nation lost almost 20,000 troops on July 1, 1916.


The roots of the bloodshed of July 1 date back before the war even started as the Gatling Gun gave way to true machine guns, originally known as “gunpowder engines,” and advances in mortars, artillery, and even the standard rifle made soldiers of all types much more lethal.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
Members of the British Border Regiment rest in dugouts during the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
(Imperial War Museums)

But, importantly, many of these breakthroughs favored static defenses. Soldiers could march forward with machine guns, but they would struggle to quickly emplace them and get them into operation. Defenders, meanwhile, could build fortifications around their machine guns and mow down enemy forces with near impunity.

After the war started in 1914, Germany managed to quickly move into France before getting bogged down in a line that eventually stretched across Europe. A German attack at Verdun in early 1916 became a black hole for French troops. The attack was designed to bleed France dry and force it out of the war.

The Germans expected Britain to launch its own attack against German lines to relieve the pressure from France. And Britain did have a plan for an attack, but it would prove to be a failure.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
General Sir Sam Hughes watches a British attack at the Battle of the Somme, October 1917.
(BiblioArchives, CC BY 2.0)

A joint British-Franco assault was scheduled for the summer. The main thrust was to come along a narrow stretch of the River Somme and the first day would see approximately 100,000 British troops rushing German lines in what was hoped to be a quick advance.

The date was eventually set for July 1, 1916, and the British initiated a massive artillery bombardment for a week before the assault. But the Germans were able to move most of their troops into fortifications in the trenches, and relatively few troops were lost in the week before the British attacked.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
Staged film frame from The Battle of the Somme, a propaganda film that was likely filmed before the battle.
(Imperial War Museum)
 

When the artillery suddenly stopped on the morning of July 1, German machine gunners moved back to their positions and looked up to see thousands of British troops marching towards them.

The machine gunners opened up, artillery spotters started calling for fires, hell rained down on British troops.

The day wore on, and British troops kept marching across. Entire units took losses of 90 percent, basically wiping them out. British forces took 60 percent casualties wounded, missing, and killed. Approximately 19,240 of which were fatalities. They had taken three square miles territory.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
Soldiers with the Royal Irish Rifles sit in a communication trench on July 1, 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.
(Cassowary Colorizations, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Since France suffered 190,000 casualties during the fight in the Somme, even that is a dubious success.

But the battle wasn’t over. While small changes in tactics and the later introduction of the tank reduced the number of casualties that Britain took, the battle would wage on for five months and the combatants eventually inflicted over 1,000,000 casualties on one another.

While Britain failed to take most of its planned objectives despite throwing hundreds of thousands of men into the grinder, one part was successful. German forces were forced to move some artillery and troops from the attack on Verdun to the Somme, relieving pressure on the French defenders.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ‘Jedburghs’ were the best anti-Nazi commandos of WWII

In World War II, months before D-Day, a loudspeaker on military bases played a short recruitment message. The few men who answered it would become heroes after tackling one of the deadliest and most complicated missions of D-Day.


That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

Jedburghs train on an obstacle course in World War II.

(Office of Strategic Services)

The loudspeaker message went:

Wanted: Volunteers for immediate overseas assignment. Knowledge of French or another European language preferred; Willingness and ability to qualify as a parachutist necessary; Likelihood of a dangerous mission guaranteed.

Men who volunteered had a chance to be selected for a Jedburgh Team. The teams typically featured a mix of Canadian, British, French, and American troops, but they were tiny, typically with two to four members. So, obviously, there was just one man of each nationality in each team.

So, that was one reason that knowledge of European languages was preferred, the other was that these tiny teams would fight directly alongside resistance forces in Nazi-occupied Europe, mostly in France but also in the Netherlands and Belgium. Their motto summed up the mission well: “Surprise, kill, and vanish.”

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

Jedburgh team members in World War II.

(via CIA.gov)

Very few people were selected. A post-war accounting put the number at 276 of which 83 were Americans. There were also 90 British and 103 French troops. The most typical team size was three, but all teams were required to have at least a commander and a radio operator.

The most common third member was an officer from the country in which the team was deployed. So, French members rounded out teams in France, Dutch in the Netherlands, and Belgian in Belgium.

The Jedburghs trained hard and wanted to go into Europe two to six weeks before the D-Day invasion, but Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower restricted the Jedburgh insertions until June 5, 1944—the night before D-Day—so the sudden presence of international troops wouldn’t clue in the Nazis to the coming invasion.

So, on June 5, the teams began their insertions, and these few hundred men brought lots of extra weapons with them and rallied the resistance fighters of Europe. The Jedburghs and their allies fought far ahead of the invasion forces, in some cases taking and holding key infrastructure that the rest of the Allied forces wouldn’t reach for weeks.

The Jedburghs severed Nazi supply and reinforcement lines, and they protected key infrastructure like bridges that would be needed by the tanks and trucks of the invasion force. As volume two of the OSS War Report says:

Will well-trained, capable radio operators, the Jedburghs represented, wherever they were, a strong radio link between FFI (French Forces of the Interior) leaders and other Allied groups in the field, such as the SAS (Special Air Services) and headquarters in London … Besides the all-important task of making available … arms and supplies to the resistance and preparing landing and dropping fields, they acted as translators and interpreters, assisting in surrender arrangements, helped lead sabotage and ambush operations, provided intelligence on resistance and enemy strength and other information as well, and worked to coordinate separate resistance forces under a unified command.
That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy

Members of the Jedburgh teams prepare to insert via parachute in World War II.

(US Army Signal Corps via CIA.gov)

And yes, the rest of the Allied forces saw and appreciated these efforts. While the Jedburghs complained after the invasion that they wished they were allowed to insert earlier and do more, Allied commanders were just grateful that so many resistance members were well-armed and organized, breaking up Nazi forces and tying up German units, and that so much infrastructure survived the Wehrmacht’s destruction efforts.

The Jedburghs were broken up, but some special operation units are spiritual successors to the Jedburghs. For instance, the Army’s first operation Special Forces group, the 10th Special Forces Group, was commanded by Col. Aaron Bank, a former Jedburgh. And one of the Special Forces’ primary missions is to deploy overseas, train up and help arm indigenous forces, and then fight alongside them.

But at least ODAs typically have 12 members. Jedburghs were running around in a Three’s Company configuration, slaughtering Nazis with just their closest friends to rely on.

Fun side note: The name Jedburgh was selected because it was the name of a town near where the men trained and where Scots had conducted guerilla operations against England in the 1100s.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 little-known facts about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of the most iconic monuments in Arlington National Cemetery. The marble sarcophagus sits on top of a hill that overlooks Washington, DC. Here are five facts you might not know about the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

5 Facts you might not know

  1. In March 1921, the U.S. Congress accepted the remains of an unknown American soldier who fought in World War I to be buried in a tomb in Arlington National Cemetery. This soldier was buried with full honors.

2. On Memorial Day of 1921, four unknown soldiers were relocated from their World War I American cemeteries in France. Sergeant Edward F. Younger placed roses atop one of four identical caskets. 

3. Then on November 11, 1921, the Unknown Solider was moved to Arlington and officially interred in the Tomb of the Unknown Solider. Since 1918, November 11 had been marked by somber remembrances of the service personnel lost in WWI. President Harding led the charge by officiating the interment ceremonies at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. Then he awarded the Unknown Soldier two high military awards: the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross.

4. Three years after the Korean War ended, on August 3, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed a bill to allow unknown soldiers who fought in the Korean War and World War II to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Solider at Arlington National Cemetery.

5. In 1958, unknown Soldiers who fought in World War II and the Korean War were permitted to be buried in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as well.

The Old Guard

Members of the Old Guard have guarded the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier since April 6, 1948. Currently, The Old Guard monitors the memorial twenty-four hours a day, year-round. These Sentinels do not move from their station and are equipped to withstand all kinds of weather and extreme conditions. After a Solider has volunteered to become a Tomb Guard, they have to undergo a strict screening process and several weeks of intensive training. Every element of the Tomb Guard’s routine has a deeper meaning than what’s shown on the surface.

Guard movements harken back to the highest symbolic military honor that can be bestowed – a 21 gun salute. Tomb guards march 21 steps down the black mat behind the Unknown Tomb, then turn and face east for precisely 21 seconds. Then, they turn and face north for precisely 21 seconds, followed by 21 steps back down the mat. Each Guard carries their weapon at “shoulders-arms,” signifying that they stand between the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and any possible threat.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Najaf became the Marines’ forgotten battle in Iraq

In the Battle of Fallujah, Marines swept in to take the city away from insurgent forces, only to have politicians pull them out — and send them right back in months later. The first and second Battles of Fallujah have entered Marine Corps lore, alongside Iwo Jima and Chapultepec.


But what many don’t know is what happened at the Battle of Najaf, which played out before the 2nd Battle of Fallujah kicked off.

An Najaf is another sacred city in Iraq. It has approximately seven square miles of cemeteries — as above, so below. Under the cemeteries are miles of catacombs, haunting places where enemy fighters could be hiding, concealed in the dark.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
A U.S. soldier performs a security patrol outside An Najaf cemetery where Anti-Iraqi Forces have recently launched attacks at Multi-National Forces. The patrol’s focus was on finding weapons caches, Improvised Explosive Devises (I.E.D.s), and Anti-Iraqi Forces that might be hiding in tombs or catacombs within the cemetery. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt Ashley Brokop)

A major player in the battle was the insurgent leader, Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia cleric who brought disgruntled Iraqis together under the idea of an Islamic democracy. To enforce that idea, he created a military wing, Jaysh al-Mahdi, also known as the Mahdi Army. He suddenly turned on the coalition, demanding an immediate withdraw of all coalition forces from Iraq.

Though the mayor of An Najaf brokered a ceasefire between the coalition and the Mahdi Army in June 2004, this only lasted until the end of August. In July of that year, the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit took over operational command from Task Force Dragon. That’s when the fighting in the city started to escalate.

In August, the Mahdi Army attacked the 1st Battalion 4th Marines, starting a significant battle of the new Iraq War. The next days were long and drawn out, characterized by house-to-house fighting, open-street engagements, and fighting across open farm fields. For eight days, the battle raged through the city.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
A U.S. Marine Corps M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank (MBT), 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Special Operations Capable (SOC), in convoy along the streets of An Najaf, An Najaf Province, Iraq, on Aug. 12, 2004, during a raid of the Muqtada Militia strong points in the area. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Daniel J. Fosco)

Much like what happened in Fallujah a few months earlier, Marines and soldiers were taking the fight to insurgents. American troops were surprised by incoming small arms fire and indirect fire. Though the enemy forces were not well trained, there was a lot of them, which compensated for their lack of real infantry tactics.

At one point, the battle swept over the city’s huge cemetery, which was the stage for some of the most intense fighting of the entire Iraq War. Surrounded by the resting dead, Marines fought against extreme numbers and both sides suffered heavy casualties. Fighting on the surface was so brutal that soldiers and Marines were also forced to fight in the catacombs below.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
U.S. troops at final limit of advance during a morning of clearing operations.

Fallujah was the biggest urban battle since Hue City and An Najaf saw the first tunnel fighting since Vietnam.

The end of the battle brought with it a final tally of dead and wounded. Twelve Americans were killed in action and 94 were wounded. Iraqi soldiers also saw significant losses. The numbers for the Mahdi Army, however, are far greater, with 1,500 killed in action and an unknown number wounded, estimated to be in the thousands.

The battle removed Al-Sadr and most of those loyal to him from the city. Marines began to secure their area of operations and returned to rebuilding Najaf and the surrounding region. However, some of the Mahdi Army’s militiamen stayed in the city, challenging the 1st battalion, 4th Marines at every opportunity.

That time pilots dropped terrifying darts out of their planes at the enemy
Marines patrol the streets of Najaf in 2004.

Instead of their normal black militia uniforms, they now wore street clothing. This allowed them to blend into the local populace. Coalition troops could no longer differentiate between friend or foe when the streets turned to a battlefield.

Marines and soldiers at the Battle of Najaf should be proud of the accomplishment of securing the city. As time passes, they remain hopeful that Americans will know about the heroes that came out of the battle and the ones who fell there — that we never let this battle be lost to history.

It will be remembered, just as much as The Battles of Fallujah.

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