That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

When Navy Blimp L-8 crashed in August 1942, rescue workers and medical personnel were at the scene in minutes.


But what they found there surprised them.

The blimp’s gondola was empty, its two-man crew was missing.

L-8 took off from Treasure Island Navy Base in San Francisco Bay that morning and answered the call of a possible submarine. Two hours later, the blimp, sagging sharply in the middle, was seen floating slowly over beaches south of the city. It snagged briefly on a cliff, broke loose, scraped the roofs of houses, and dropped one of its depth charges on a local golf course before crashing in the 400 block of Bellevue Avenue in Daly City, Calif.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared
The crewless U.S. Navy blimp, L-8 floats aimlessly over Dale City, Calif.

Parachutes were found properly stored in the gondola, but two lifejackets were missing (crew members were required to wear life jackets whenever on patrol). The airship’s life raft was still on board. The radio was found to be working. There was fuel, but the batteries were depleted — a classified file on still in the gondola.

So, what happened?

There were two men aboard when the ship was launched, Lt. Ernest Cody, 27, an Annapolis graduate who won his pilot’s wings the previous December, and Ensign Charles Adams, 38, who was the more experienced of the two with over 2,200 hours aboard lighter-than-air vehicles. The L-8 flight, however, was his first as an officer. He received his commission only the day before.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared
Navy Blimp L-8 at the crash site.

Over the years, it has been suggested the two men staged an elaborate desertion plot or were taken prisoner by a Japanese submarine, or maybe one of the two men had murdered the other and then disappeared. Others have suggested that the two men were killed by a stowaway or abducted by a UFO or that they simply — somehow — fell out of the blimp. There have even been “sightings,” including one by the mother of Lt. Cody, who claimed to have seen her son in Phoenix a year later with his eyes looking “peculiar, as though he were suffering from shock or a mental illness.”

But all these “suggestions” have remained just that — unproven suggestions.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared
The pilots of Navy Blimp L-8.

What is known for sure is that, as L-8 was preparing to launch that morning at 6 a.m., it was discovered to be overweight and a third crewmember, flight mechanic J Riley Hill, was taken off the airship. Cody and Adams remained and the ship launched at 6:03 a.m. on what was scheduled to be a four-hour patrol off the California coast. At 7:42 a.m., L-8 radioed in that it had spotted what may have been an oil slick — and therefore possible evidence of a submarine — near the Farallon Islands and was going in for a closer look.

It was L-8’s last transmission. 

Witnesses on two vessels in the area later reported seeing L-8 circling the area for about an hour, including one pass within about 30 feet of the water. At that time, the witnesses said, they could see the two men in the gondola.

About 9 a.m., L-8 was seen to break off its search and float away in the direction of San Francisco. About the same time, the base became concerned about the extended radio silence and sent search aircraft to look for the blimp and broadcast an alert asking other vessels and aircraft in the area to report any sightings. A commercial airline pilot radioed in about 10:50 a.m. that he had seen the blimp near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and it appeared, he said, to be “under pilot control.”

At 11 a.m., search planes reported seeing L-8 soar up to about 2,000 feet — but still apparently remain under control.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared
The wreckage of the blimp.

Finally, at 11:15 a.m., L-8 was seen hovering near Ocean Beach with a noticeable sag in the middle and its motors off.  Seemingly propelled only by the wind, it then floated ashore and settled in Daly City. Neither Lt. Cody or Ensign Adams — nor their bodies — were ever seen again and no evidence about what happened to them has surfaced. Their disappearance remains today as unsolved as it was 75 years ago.

Lt. Cody and Ensign Adams were officially declared dead a year later.

History has dubbed L-8 “the Ghost Blimp.”

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 a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

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

That time the British torched the White House

It’s hard to imagine that anyone could ever come close enough to set fire to the White House. Well, at least, it’s tough to imagine that in today’s world. But back in 1814, the White House wasn’t as heavily guarded or fortified, making it an easy target for retaliation-hungry British troops.

In fact, British troops just walked up to the house and set it on fire on a fateful day in August 1814. The Burning of Washington was a retaliation attack for the American burning of Toronto and much of America’s capital was set on fire. Little remained of the original city, including the original White House.

Causes and Reasons for the War of 1812

The year was 1814. The United States was engaged in the War of 1812 against the British Empire. We’d been fighting them and their allies for two long years. Battles were rough and fierce, and it seemed like the war would never end. Then some British troops decided to burn down the White House – which had serious consequences.

There were lots of reasons for the war, but there were two big reasons. First, there were really strict regulations on American trade and secondly, the UK was falsely imprisoning American seamen. Plus, the Brits weren’t exactly happy about the fact that America was pushing its boundaries and trying to expand in all directions.

The War of 1812 had serious impacts on all things in America. And since the country was still so fresh and new, it also had lasting consequences. Along with significant defeats by the British, Canadian, and indigenous armies, the War of 1812 brought about one of the most monumental moments of American history – the burning of the White House.

America is all about rebuilding

Even though the White House almost completely burned to the ground, America wasn’t going to give up that easily. Or that quickly. Only the south wall remained standing after the fire, but that didn’t deter those early Americans, because that’s what our country is all about – facing adversaries and coming out stronger. Of course, that was a little easier said than done.

Of course, it wasn’t just the loss of the White House that was devastating. Adding insult to injury, the British soldiers completely ransacked the place before they set it on fire. Of everything they took, only two items have been recovered to this day. A portrait of George Washington has been returned along with a jewelry box that apparently belonged to America’s first president. (No one knows if that’s true or not, but it makes a fun bit of American lore.)

Reconstruction on the White House took until 1817. During that time, President James Madison lived in the Octagon House and a residence called the Seven Buildings. The south portico was built in 1824, and the north portico was added in 1830.

Today’s White House might not be the original structure, but it still stands for the same things – democracy, freedom, and America.

MIGHTY HISTORY

After 75 years, members of 101st Airborne share ties to Battle of the Bulge

Seventy-five years ago in Bastogne, Belgium, German soldiers captured American Pfc. Marold Peterson of the 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division. Peterson escaped from the work camp where we was held prisoner, only to be captured again and killed by Hitler Youth.

Sgt. Travis Paice, the great-grandson of Peterson, said it is surreal to be in Bastogne where Peterson lived his last moments.

“Maybe he was standing right where I stood,” Paice, a soldier with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, said.


Paice is one soldier with family ties to the World War II Battle of the Bulge who participated in the 75th anniversary commemoration ceremonies and parade. Sgt. Coleton Jones of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101 Airborne Division, is another.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

US infantrymen crouch in a snow-filled ditch, taking shelter from a German artillery barrage during the Battle of Heartbreak Crossroads in the Krinkelter woods, December 14, 1944.

(Pfc. James F. Clancy, US Army Signal Corps)

Jones’ great-uncle Ed Jones was a Sherman tanker with the 10th Armored Division during World War II. While Jones is unsure of his great-uncle’s rank, he heard stories growing up about his service from his father and uncle. During the Battle of the Bulge, three of Ed Jones’ tanks took extreme damage.

On his last time evacuating a Sherman tank, he took shrapnel from a German stick grenade in his leg and was captured as a prisoner of war. He was missing for about four months until a Canadian HAM radio operator intercepted a message from the Germans including the locations of POWs from both American and Allied forces.

“It’s amazing to feel like I am walking in his footsteps,” said Jones of walking through the streets where his great uncle served. “To see Bastogne and where he was is a sobering feeling.”

On December 14, 2019, American and Belgian soldiers, along with members of the Bastogne community and World War II veterans, marched in a parade through the town center. Guests of honor, including Prime Minister of Belgium Sophie Wilmes, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and the US Ambassador to Belgium Ronald Gidwitz threw walnuts from the balcony of the Bastogne City Center into the crowd.

The nut throwing, or “Jet de Noix,” commemorates Gen. Anthony McAuliffe’s famous response of “Nuts” when petitioned by the Germans to surrender.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

Anthony C. McAuliffe, left, and then-Col. Harry W.O. Kinnard II at Bastogne.

(US War Department)

Both Jones and Paice said they felt a great sense of pride knowing their unit has lineage to World War II and the Battle of the Bulge.

Paice had the opportunity to fly his great grandfather’s flag at the 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne. He plans on gifting the flag to his grandfather, who is also a veteran.

Before arriving in Bastogne, Paice was given documents by the Army which provided an account of his great grandfather’s capture. He brought these documents with him as a reminder of what his family had endured. While Paice said the documents do not go into much detail, it is just enough to be harrowing.

“I never knew him, and my grandfather never knew him, but to get, somewhat, a little bit of closure was a little surreal,” Paice said.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

Sgt. Coleton Jones of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101 Airborne Division, center, meets reenactors at a community event at the Bastogne Barracks in Bastogne, Belgium, December 14, 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Erica Earl)

Paice said the most emotional part of his great grandfather’s history is knowing that American soldiers liberated the prisoner camp Stalag IX-B, also known as Bad Orb, the day after he was killed in his effort to escape.

According to Army documents, soldiers in that prison were starved, with many men weighing only between 70 and 80 pounds when they were rescued.

As soldiers lined up to prepare for the parade, there was a mixture of snow, rain and harsh winds as temperatures dropped, but participants acknowledged that was nothing compared to what Soldiers who had gone before them endured.

Jones said if he could say something to his great uncle, it would be “thank you.”

“Thank you for paving the way for us and giving everything for our values, our freedoms and our allies’ freedoms,” Jones said in heartfelt appreciation to both is late great uncle and veterans of World War II.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Shia hits the fan: Understanding Iran’s role in the Middle East

The Islamic Republic of Iran was America’s original nemesis in the Middle East before Saddam’s Iraq stole the spotlight from 1990-2003. (Saddam and the Iranians, by the way, fought a bloody 8-year war against each other in the 1980s.) A casual observer might assume that the Islamic Republic of Iran must be best buddies with the infamous Islamic State (ISIS)…but no, they share a mutual hatred of each other.


Yeah, it’s all a bit complicated and messy, so strap in, and we’ll clear things up a bit.

Iran is a theocracy, meaning the country is governed by religious law. Rather than a single strongman dictator, Iran is ruled by a group of religious clerics who control the country’s “elected” leaders like former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (remember him?) Iran became the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 after religious fundamentalists overthrew the secular government of Shah Reza Pahlevi.

The Shah was a dictator, albeit one less brutal than the current regime, who came to power in 1954 with the help of the American CIA. It was a bad look for Uncle Sam, and many Iranians never forgot it.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

American hostages in Iran following the Islamist takeover of 1979.

(Source: Associated Press)

The Iranians are not Arabs like their neighbors to the west. Rather, they are Persians. Instead of Arabic, they speak a dialect of Persian called Farsi. The Iranians are predominantly Shia Muslims, whereas most Arabs are Sunni Muslims.

Theologically, Shias and Sunnis are akin to Protestants and Catholics in the Western world. 85-90% of Muslims worldwide are Sunni and, while the world’s Shia are concentrated in Iran, there are Shia minorities throughout the Arab world. Iraq is unique because it has both an Arab majority and a Shia majority, giving Iran a prime opportunity for heavy influence there (check the news…)

Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are Sunni jihadist groups, whereas Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and many of the large militias in Iraq are Shia.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

(Source: Pew Research Center)

So the Iranians are Persians and not Arabs, and their leaders are fundamentalist Muslims but from the opposite branch of Islam than bin Laden and the Islamic State.

So what’s Iran’s game plan? In a nutshell, Iran wants to preserve and spread its “Islamic revolution” by boxing out the Sunni Arabs and supporting Shia groups across the Middle East (they also work with certain Sunni groups like Hamas.)

To dominate the Middle East, Iran’s leaders want to exploit the “Shia Crescent,” a network of Shia populations stretching from the Persian Gulf to Lebanon. Iran’s message to these Shia populations is “Big Brother Iran is here to save you from the Sunnis, the Israelis, and the Americans.”

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

(Source: Geographic Intelligence Services)

You can think of the fight against ISIS as World War II, with ISIS filling the role of Nazi Germany. During WWII, the Western Allies and the Soviet Union set aside their rivalries to defeat a common threat. The Defeat-ISIS campaign was similar in that Iran’s Shia coalition shared a mutual enemy with the American/Sunni alliance, even though the two sides weren’t officially partners.

But now, like in 1945, the old rivalries are back in play once again. On one side, Iran leads Syria, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and other Shia factions in the region. Opposing them are the Sunni Arab countries aligned with the United States.

Fear and mistrust of Iran runs deep in countries like Saudi Arabia- so deep, in fact, that Saudi Arabia has reportedly made secret arrangements with Israel to counter the Iranian threat (that’s, uh, a plot twist…to put it mildly.) Iraq, with its Shia majority but close and complicated relationship with the United States, remains stuck in a tug-of-war between the rival coalitions.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

Alleged secret plan for Israeli aircraft to use Saudi airspace to strike Iran. Saudi Arabia publicly denies this.

(Source: Rick Francona)

Iran was once the great ancient empire of Persia, and there is more to modern Iran than its leaders’ ambitions. Iran has a population of over 80 million, and resentment toward the regime is widespread. Strict religious tyranny and a weak economy cause frequent protests which the Iranian regime suppresses with ruthless violence. It’s unclear if this unrest will eventually put the regime’s power in serious jeopardy.

Iran’s economic problems are driven in part by economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and Europe. These sanctions, in turn, are imposed partly as a result of Iran’s nuclear program- a program which, the regime insists, is strictly for domestic energy production. Iran’s alleged quest for nuclear weapons is concerning because an atomic Iran could lead its Sunni rivals to pursue their own nuclear weapons.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

Iranian protesters in 2009.

(Source: Getty Images)

Further Iranian vs. American bloodshed seems to have been averted in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, but violence between the two countries is nothing new.

The infamous 1983 Beirut bombing, which killed 241 U.S. servicemen, was perpetrated by an Iranian suicide bomber and 1988’s “Operation Praying Mantis” pitted the U.S. Navy against the Iranian Navy in the largest American naval combat operation since WWII. The whole region remains a Game of Thrones-tier snake pit of conflicting loyalties, religious conflict, and political scheming.

Hopefully now, however, you better understand what led to the U.S. government ordering a drone strike on that guy who looked like Sean Connery.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

Iranian Quds Force general Qasem Soleimani, killed by a U.S. drone strike in January 2020.

(Source: Getty Images)

Articles

This is why some Marines wear the ‘French Fourragere,’ and some don’t

You may have noticed a select few Marines and sailors walking around in their uniforms with a green rope wrapped around their left arm — it’s not just for decoration.


That green rope is called a “French Fourragere,” and it was awarded to the members of the 5th and 6th Marine Regiments for their heroic actions during the Battle of Belleau Wood from the French government in WWI.

This rite of passage extends to Marines who serve in those respected units today to commemorate their brothers in that historic battle.

The Fourragere is authorized on all service uniforms, and dress coats or jackets where medals or ribbons are prescribed.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

During the bloody summer months of 1918, the Marines and the Germans fiercely fought one another just northwest of the Paris-to-Metz road. For weeks, German Gen. Erich Ludendorff had his troops attack U.S. forces with artillery, machine guns, and deadly gas.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

Although the Marines sustained thousands of casualties during the skirmish, the infantrymen charged their opposition through the wooded area with fixed bayonets.

It’s reported the French urged the Marines to turn back, but the grunts proceeded onward frequently engaging the enemy in hand-to-hand combat.

By June 26, 1918, the war-hardened Marines confirmed that they secured the woods from German forces and took many prisoners.

And the French Fourragere reminds Leathernecks in this storied units of their World War I bravery.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the ‘unluckiest’ U-boat of World War II

U-505 was a near absolute failure as a killer, failing to sink a single ship for multiple combat tours in a row, suffering the only suicide of a commanding officer in the German undersea service until the final days of the war, and becoming the first submarine captured in the war despite failed attempts to scuttle the ship.


Yeah, the crew couldn’t even sink the sub properly.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

The “unluckiest” U-boat, U-505, after its capture by sailors of Task Group 22.3.

(U.S. Navy)

The boat, U-505, would earn the moniker “unluckiest” for its struggles, though some of its former crew members have pushed back against that, saying that the boat should not be blamed since it got nearly all of its crew home every tour despite its struggles.

Kapitänleutnant Axel-Olaf Loewe commissioned the boat in August 1941 and led it on three tours, sinking seven ships. (Kapitänleutnant is roughly equal to a U.S. Navy lieutenant, the O-3 grade.) Loewe did have one black spot on his record, though.

On July 22, 1942, a misunderstood command led to the ship shooting off the mast of a sailing boat with no flag and then sinking it. The ship belonged to a Columbian diplomat, and Columbia declared war after the incident. Berlin wasn’t exactly worried about Columbia, but that still ended up being Loewe’s last patrol.

Loewe then relinquished command to Kapitänleutnant Peter Zschech who had a much rougher time on the boat.

Zschech had been a successful officer before his command, and he held two Iron Crosses when he arrived on the U-505. He was expected to be a star. But his first two patrols had resulted in only one sinking. Before he could leave for his third patrol, French dockworkers sabotaged the U-505. They were executed, but their sabotage had the desired effect.

The U-505 struggled on its sixth patrol and sank no ships. Its seventh, eighth, and ninth patrols were cut short as the crew kept hearing strange noises that likely represented ongoing problems from the sabotage, and the boat turned back from each tour.

Zschech was professionally embarrassed. He was supposed to be a star of the submarine service but had sank one ship over the course of six patrols. On Oct. 9, 1943, Zschech took the crew on its 10th overall patrol, his seventh. Fifteen days later, the U-505 was spotted and came under heavy, determined depth charge attack.

The Capture of U-505 – 1944

www.youtube.com

Zschech pulled his pistol and took his own life. It was the only suicide of a submarine commanding officer during a war patrol for all of World War II. (Three other U-boat commanding officers would take their lives on shore during or after the war, but Zschech was the only to do so during a combat patrol.)

The Oberleutnant zur See Paul Meyer got his crew out of the depth charge attack and led them back to port. The ship received a new commanding officer, Oberleutnant zur See Harald Lange. His first patrol on the boat lasted only nine days with little effect. But his next patrol, launched March 16, 1944, would go for 81 days. But it would end horribly.

It wasn’t entirely Lange’s or the crew’s fault. The U.S. Navy Task Group 22.3 had successfully sunk U-515 on its previous tour, and the task group commander had gotten an idea for a greater coup. U-515 had, after suffering extreme damage, come to the surface in the middle of the task group. The task group quickly sank it with all the guns it had, but the commander wanted to try using only machine guns next time, hoping to save the sub and capture it.

Unluckily for the U-505, it was the next sub that Task Group 22.3 got its teeth into. The group had found no radar contacts on its May 1944 patrol and was headed back to refuel on June 2 when the group got a radar hit 50 miles east. That was followed by a June 4 sound contact in the area.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

Survivors of the U-505 await their transportation to POW camps in 1944.

(U.S. Navy)

The USS Chatelain was the first to attack after Wildcat fighters from the USS Guadalcanal spotted the U-505, and it’s depth charges quickly forced the sub to surface. U-505 began circling to the right, and the gunners of the task group began laying into it out of fear it was lining up for a torpedo attack. This quickly proved false as submariners started leaping into the ocean, and the group commander ordered the larger caliber weapons to cease fire.

He broadcasted, “I want to capture that bastard, if possible.” He allowed the anti-aircraft gunners and machine gunners to fire a little longer, then ordered his boarding parties to attack the sub.

It was the first capture of an enemy ship by a U.S. Navy vessel since 1815. The boarding parties quickly got classified materials and the enigma machine out, and then set about trying to save the boat. This required closing the scuttling vents, disabling the charges, and then pumping water out of the boat.

And the U-505, in either a final slap in the face of its German crew or a final act of supporting sailors, depending on who you ask, the boat’s pumps successfully cleared the water, and it was towed to the Caribbean for study. The surviving crew members sat out the rest of the war in a POW camp.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How one pilot became Santa Claus to the kids of West Berlin

After the Second World War ended, Germany was split in two. The Allies took control over Western Germany while the communists shrouded the eastern half behind the Iron Curtain. Berlin, Germany’s capital, was also famously split in two. The city is nestled deep into the heart of Eastern Germany, leaving the West Germans living there to fend for themselves in a war-torn city without supplies.

Starting in June of 1948, the communists tried their best to cut West Berlin off from the outside world. In what was later dubbed the “Berlin Blockade,” the Soviets shut down all railway, road, and canal access to Western citizens. Just as quickly, allied humanitarian missions were carried out to get food and supplies to the starving people of West Berlin. Between June 24th, 1948, and September 30th of the following year, 278,228 air missions, collectively called “Operation Vittles,” delivered over 2,326,406 tons of supplies to keep the city alive.

But one man, Lt. Gail Halvorsen, went behind his commander’s back to deliver a little extra and help raise the children’s spirits. His personal mission was dubbed Operation Little Vittles.


That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

For this, the kids gave him the exceedingly clever nickname, “Uncle Wiggle Wings.”

(National Archives)

Lt. Gail Halvorsen arrived in Germany in July, 1948, and was given orders to fly one of the C-54 Skymasters into the city to ferry supplies. On his day off, he decided to walk around the airfield with a camera to get a couple good shots of aircraft taking off and landing. When he made it to the fence at the end of the runway, he noticed that a group of children were gathered to watch the planes.

They asked him all sorts of questions about the planes and their mission and, as a demonstration of good faith, he gave them the two sticks of gum he had in his pocket. The impoverished kids divvied the two sticks, splitting it evenly amongst the large gathering — they didn’t fight over who got the biggest piece. In fact, it was said that the kid missed candy so much that just smelling the wrapper was good enough.

Halvorsen was heartbroken. He promised the children that he’d return with more. He told them that he’d always “wiggle his wings” when he was flying overhead with candy.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

Among all the fan mail and shipments of candy, Halvorsen also received plenty of marriage proposals from the ladies back home. Take notes, fellas.

(National Archives)

The very next day, he tied a bunch of candy to handkerchief parachutes and tossed it out of his plane to the kids waiting below as he took off. Halvorsen continued to do this every single day and, as he did, the daily gathering of kids grew larger.

His commanding officer, Lieutenant General William H. Tunner, heard of what he was doing and was reportedly upset. It wasn’t until every newspaper in the region (and back home) started reporting on the heroics of “Uncle Wiggly Wings” or “The Chocolate Flier” that the general officially allow Halvorsen to continue.

Soon enough, people began sending candy to Halvorsen’s unit. Folks back in the States started sending candy by the box, large candy makers donated to Halvorsen’s cause, and the West German children shared the bounty amongst themselves.

As Christmas, 1948, drew nearer, Halvorsen knew he’d have to do something big. By this point, candy makers had supplied him with 18 tons of candy and another 3 tons was given by private donors. In a single night, instead of tossing it to the kids gathered by the runway’s end, Halvorsen spread it across the entire city.

For one night, the spirit of Christmas was brought to the people of West Berlin. The kindness of Lt. Halvorsen, his crew, and the innumerable candy donors would never be forgotten.

To more on this story, listen to the silky smooth narration of Tom Brokaw below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A Virginia dairy farm that used to hold Army spies is now a winery

Fauquier County, Virginia, might not be the place you think of when you imagine covert ops training, but that’s exactly what’s happened at an isolated farmhouse and working dairy.

In use since 1803, “Vint Hill,” as it was initially known, had several owners before the Army purchased it in 1942 – just in time to train a group of service members in the fine art of espionage. Reframed and repurposed throughout the years, Vint Hill has served as one of the most essential intel-gathering sites you’ve probably never heard of.


History

Vint Hill is situated near the Signal Intelligence Service headquarters in Arlington but was far away enough from the city that its location and its purpose remained a secret. It was here that the Army housed its Monitoring Station No. 1, a covert spy base.

Established by the Army’s Signal Intelligence Service, the 701-acre farm was built in part because the Army needed a secure location near the SIS and a cryptography school.

The geography of Vint Hill was key in the Army’s decision to train there. Not only did it boast a quiet countryside vibe where trainees could really get into their coursework, but it also provided “quiet electromagnetic geology,” which made it the perfect place for intercepting radio signals. During WWII, that’s exactly what service members stationed at Vint Hill did.

Perhaps the most famous is the interception of a message from a Japanese ambassador to Germany. That message, sent in 1943, described German fortifications, contingency plans, and troop strength information.

Once the message was decoded, the information was instrumental in planning the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.

The NSA recently released documents that further detail the influence that Vint Hill had on WWII planning. It was a crucial intelligence-gathering station throughout all of WWII and beyond.

After WWII

After WWII, Vint Hill became the first field station of the Army Security Agency, an arm of the NSA. The facility conducted signals intelligence operations.

Declassified Army intelligence lists Vint Hill as one of the largest intercept facilities in the world.

Not only did it serve as an intercept facility, but Vint Hill was also a signal school, signal training center, and a refitting station for selected signal units returning from or heading to deployments.

During and following the Korean War, the station’s footprint was expanded significantly, making it a major intelligence hub during the Cold War. Vint Hill personnel intercepted key Soviet diplomatic and military communication sent over teleprints that helped form and shape America’s military posture.

In 1961, the Army Electronic Material Readiness Activity moved to Vint Hill and took over the management of signals intelligence and electronic warfare maintenance for the Army Security Agency.

By 1973 however, Vint Hill’s mission had changed to research. Its main goal was to aid and assist in the development and support of intel and electronic warfare info gathering for the Army, DoD, and our partner allies. The EPA took over operations of Vint Hill’s photographic interpretation center from the DIA, and Vint Hill was renamed as the Environmental Photographic Interpretation Center.

However, that didn’t last long. By the late 1979s, Vint Hill was on the list of installations to be closed, and all projects on site were halted. A change in policy in 1981 reversed that decision, and Vint Hill remained open.

Serving as the “giant ear” of the NSA was the core focus of Vint Hill in the early 1980s and eventually became a development and testing site for signal equipment for the CIA and FBI. IN 1993, Vint Hill was once again on the chopping block. This time, the closure stuck. Most personnel were reassigned to Fort Monmouth and Fort Belvoir.

Vint Hill closed officially on September 30, 1997. Now, the site hosts several engineering and tech companies, including the FAAs Air Traffic Control System Command Center. There’s a Cold War museum open on-site, but most notably, the former intel-gathering installation is home to the Vint Hill Craft Winery and the Old Bust Head Brewery. There’s even a dance school and a gymnastics school run on the property. Talk about reinvention after time in service.

Articles

That time two countries went to war over soccer

Honduras won the first game (in Honduras). Then El Salvador won the second game (in El Salvador). When El Salvador won the third game in Mexico, all hell broke loose. Literally.


El Salvador was and is one of the most densely populated countries in the Americas. Honduras, in comparison, was and is sparsely populated. By the end of the 1960s, over 300,000 Salvadorians were living and working (often illegally) in Honduras.

The dilemma posed by these immigrants, many of whom cultivated previously unproductive land, was addressed through a series of bilateral agreements between the two Central American nations. The last of these agreements, conveniently, expired in 1969.

To make matters worse, the government in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, initiated land reform that effectively kicked Salvadorians off the land. Thousands fled back to El Salvador.

Then, El Salvador started claiming the land that had previously been held by its citizens in Honduras as El Salvador’s. It was in this climate that the two countries met on the soccer field to determine who would qualify for the 1970 World Cup in Mexico.

The first game was played in Tegucigalpa. Hondurans made sure their rival team did not have a good night’s rest by creating as much noise as possible outside their hotel rooms. El Salvador lost. Then the media in San Salvador started reporting that a young woman, so distraught after the loss, had shot herself in the heart. 

El Nacional wrote, “The young girl could not bear to see her fatherland brought to its knees.” She was given a televised funeral and the President himself walked behind her casket. By the time the Honduran team got to San Salvador to play the second game, tensions were at an all-time high.

At the game, which El Salvador won, the Honduran flag was not flown during the opening ceremony. In its place, Salvadorian officials placed a rag.With the threat of all violence at the last game (it was to the best of three) a very real possibility, FIFA officials decided to hold the third game in Mexico City.

5,000 Mexican police officers kept both sides fairly under control. El Salvador went on to win the Mexico City game. Hours later, El Salvador severed all diplomatic ties with its northern neighbor. A mere two weeks later, the Salvadorian air force dropped bombs on Tegucigalpa.

La guerra del fútbol was obviously not fought over simply over soccer. But the games were used as incredible and very effective propaganda tools. The war lasted one hundred hours. Blocked by a U.S. arms embargo from directly purchasing weapons, both sides had to buy outdated military equipment from World War II. This war was the last time the world saw fighters armed with pistols dueling one another.

After the Organization of American States brokered a cease-fire, between 1,000 to 2,000 people were dead. 100,000 more were displaced. A formal peace treaty was not signed until 1980.

Although the war only lasted four days, the consequences for El Salvador were immense. Thousands of Salvadorians could no longer return to Honduras, straining an already fragile economy. Discontent spread, and just ten years later the country plunged into a twelve-year civil war that left 75,000 dead.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Navy’s next ship will be named for this Korean War hero

On December 1, the Navy will commission a new Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named for Capt. Thomas Hudner, a pilot who landed his plane in contested territory to save his wingman who was shot down during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.


That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

A Corsair fires rockets at Okinawa in World War II.

(U.S. Navy Lt. David D. Duncan)

Hudner would later receive the Medal of Honor for his actions, and now an entire destroyer crew will serve on a ship named for him.

Hudner’s wingman was Ens. Jesse L. Brown, the Navy’s first black aviator. They were piloting F4U Corsairs in support of Marines on the ground during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Chinese forces had joined the war after the U.S. and democratic Koreans had nearly won it. And so, previously victorious U.S. forces were conducting a fighting withdrawal south.

Aviators had to fight tooth and nail to buy time for the withdrawing ground forces. Corsairs and other planes were sent to drop bombs and fire rockets at enemy armor and formations, then strafe for as long as they could, then re-arm, re-fuel, and re-attack.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

Ensign Jesse L. Brown, the Navy’s first black aviator, died after being shot down in December, 1950.

(U.S. Navy)

On December 4, 1950, Hudner, Brown, and four other pilots were searching for camouflaged Chinese troops in the snowy mountains. They finally found them when the snow started blinking with the muzzle flashes of Chinese riflemen firing at them.

With the Corsairs flying so low, the rifles were actually an effective anti-aircraft weapon, and Brown’s Corsair started streaming vapor. It was oil from the damaged engine, and Brown’s plane wasn’t going to make it. The ensign was going down 17 miles behind enemy lines.

The crash was rough, and the pilots in the air were worried that Brown died on impact. That was, until they saw him move. Still, Hudner was worried about Brown on the ground, exposed to the elements, especially when Brown didn’t emerge from the cockpit.

So, Hudner crash-landed his own plane.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

Lt. j.g. Thomas Hudner received the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman for his attempted rescue of Ens. Jesse Brown.

(U.S. Navy)

Hudner rushed to Brown’s Corsair, only to find him trapped inside. He attempted to get him out while taking breaks to pack snow around the engine and prevent a fire. When he was unable to get Brown out, he radioed for a rescue, but even then, they couldn’t save him.

Brown died in the cockpit, and Hudner was nominated for the Medal of Honor, which he would later receive for his efforts.

The new destroyer which will bear his name is of the Arleigh Burke Class. These guided-missile destroyers use the Aegis Combat System, which can fire all sorts of missiles and rockets to target enemies on land, on the sea, under the water, and in the air. They often pop up in the news during ballistic missile tests because they can shoot down missiles in flight and even hit satellites in space.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

Members of the 1804 Concord Independent Battery render honors as the future Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) arrives in Boston, Massachusetts on November 26, 2018..

(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Joshua Hammond)

But they’re also often used in Tomahawk missile strikes. The USS Higgins, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, fired 23 missiles from the North Arabian Gulf into Syria during that large strike in April.

While the destroyers cost over four times as much as littoral combat ships, smaller vessels with a similar mission set and armament, the destroyers’ eye-watering billion cost per ship is generally considered well worth the price. That’s partially because the Aegis system on the destroyer is so much more capable, but also because the Arleigh Burkes are thought to be much more survivable than the LCS variants.

The USS Thomas Hudner will be the 66th Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the U.S. Navy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Sea Harrier defeated more superior fighters during the Falklands War

When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in April, 1982, the Royal Navy sent two carriers — the HMS Invincible and the HMS Hermes — to support the forces that would have the job of taking those islands back.


According to an Air Force study of Argentinian air power, the Argentinians committed 122 combat aircraft – a mixture of A-4 Skyhawks, IAI Daggers (copies of the Mirage V), Super Etendards and Mirage III interceptors. Against this, the Royal Navy had two squadrons of British Aerospace Sea Harriers totaling 20 aircraft, with later reinforcements of eight Sea Harriers and 10 RAF Harriers.

In essence, the ability of the British to take back the Falklands rested on pilots and aircraft fighting while outnumbered six-to-one.

 

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared
Argentinean Air Force Mirage III fighters (Youtube Screenshot)

The Sea Harrier pilots did have an advantage. The Argentinians only had two aerial refueling aircraft – and that shortage meant only so many planes could be sent on a given strike. Furthermore, their most capable fighters, the Mirages and Daggers, were not equipped for mid-air refueling.

One of the most notable dogfights involving the Sea Harrier took place on June 8, 1982. A pair of RAF Sea Harriers, lead by RAF Flight Lt. David Morgan, engaged four A-4 Skyhawks following up on an attack that had inflicted severe damage on the landing ships HMS Sir Galahad and HMS Sir Tristan.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared
Gun-camera footage of an Argentinean Air Force A-4 Skyhawk being shot down by RAF Flight Lieutenant David Morgan. (Youtube Screenshot)

Morgan engaged the Skyhawks first, firing two Sidewinders and scoring two kills. His wingman shot down a third. The last Skyhawk fled. Morgan and his wingman then returned to the carrier HMS Hermes. Morgan would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions.

Six days after that engagement, the Argentinean forces on the Falkland Islands would surrender. The Sea Harrier had proven it was capable of winning a war, even when badly outnumbered. Below, check out this clip from the Smithsonian Channel, which shows footage from Morgan’s engagement with the Argentinean Skyhawks, and see how the Fleet Air Arm was Britain’s 1982 version of “The Few.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the first military helicopter rescue ever

In April 1944, an intrepid pilot swooped into the jungle in Burma and scooped up three wounded British soldiers and began to fly them out. It would have been a grand escape, a small part of the growing story of air ambulances in World War II. But this story isn’t about that pilot, Tech Sgt. Ed Hladovcak.


That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

An L-1A Vigilant similar to the plane piloted by Tech. Sgt. Ed Hladovcak before he went down.

​(U.S. Air Force Museum)

Or at least, it’s not primarily about him, because he crashed. He would later acknowledge that he might have been flying too low, but he couldn’t be sure. And, regardless of the cause, Hladovcak’s landing gear snapped off during the landing. His plane wasn’t taking off again, and the group was 100 miles behind Japanese lines. He moved the three wounded into the jungle before Japanese patrols found the wreckage.

They were alone behind enemy lines. Low-flying planes of the 1st Air Commando Group, of which Hladovcak was a member, found the struggling survivors. But while the air commandos had planes specially made for jungle and short airstrip operations, even those planes couldn’t get the four men out of the jungle they were in. So the order was given to send in a YR-4B, the first military production helicopter.

The YR-4B was an experimental aircraft, but it worked and went into production. The early models had bomb racks and were used in a variety of combat trials while the later R-4 had the racks stripped off. There were so few helicopter pilots in the world in 1944 that there was only one qualified pilot in the China-Burma-India Theater: 1st Lt. Carter Harman.

That time a Navy blimp crew mysteriously disappeared

1st Lt. Carter Harman, standing at left, and other members of the 1st Air Commando Group medical evacuation mission.

(U.S. Air Force)

Harman had joined the Air Corps to avoid being drafted into the infantry, but fate steered him into helicopter flight. Despite Harman’s martial misgivings, he took to the “whirlybirds” and became just the seventh Army pilot to fly a helicopter solo. When he shipped to India, he was the only one who could fly the “eggbeater.”

And he was needed 600 miles away, over mountains and through thin air which his helicopter could barely traverse, as fast as possible if the four men on the ground were going to get away without being captured or killed by the Japanese troops already searching for them.

Harman packed the YR-4B with extra fuel and took off on a marathon flight, hopping through the terrain until he reached a jungle airstrip known as “Aberdeen.” Then, despite the jungle air inhibiting the performance of his air-cooled engine and the lift of his rotors, he took off over the trees.

A liaison airplane, one of those models built to perform in the jungle, led Harman to the downed airmen. But thanks to that jungle air mentioned above, Harman could only lift one patient at a time. So, he landed April 24 and spoke to Hladovcak, and Hladovcak helped load a British soldier. It was Hladovcak’s first time seeing a helicopter.

Harman carried him and then a second British soldier back to Aberdeen and came back for the third man, but his engine gave out under the strain. He was forced to land on a small sandbank as Japanese troops prowled the nearby jungle, searching for him. Alone behind enemy lines, Harman slowly repaired his engine. On the morning of April 25, he was back in the air.

He quickly got the third British soldier to a waiting liaison plane and then pulled out Hladovcak, flying his 1st Air Commando counterpart to Aberdeen. Harman would later receive the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions. This and other rescues in World War II proved the value of helicopter evacuation, leading to its extensive use in Korea and then Vietnam.

It was there, in the jungles of Vietnam, that the helicopter cemented its place in military aviation. It didn’t just serve medical evacuation; it was used extensively to move supplies and troops, and Bell Helicopters sold the Army its first dedicated attack helicopter, the AH-1 Cobra.

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