That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

A sub surfacing can happen pretty fast. And pretty violently.


Even at its calmest and slowest pace, that’s still almost 9,000 tons of titanium-hulled, nuclear-powered Russian sub coming at you at 8 miles per-hour.

In February 1992, the crew of the USS Baton Rouge was probably pretty surprised to find out their secret spy mission had been uncovered. How it was discovered was both surprising and entirely by accident, recounted in a paper from MIT’s Defense and Arms Control Studies Program.

The Baton Rouge was assigned to monitor the Russian Navy near the port city of Murmansk. The Soviet Union fell just a few months prior, but the U.S. Navy was still very interested in what the nascent – but still formidable – former Soviet Navy was up to.

All was going well off the coast of Murmansk as the Baton Rouge conducted its mission silently and unnoticed, until the crew was rocked by an impact from outside the boat. A Russian Sierra I-class sub, the Kostroma, collided with Baton Rouge from below as the Russian sub was trying to surface.

The American’s hull was scratched and had tears in its port ballast tank. The Kostroma’s conning tower slammed into the American sub at 8 miles per-hour as the Russian moved to surface. Its sail was crushed from the impact.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
(Russian Navy photo)

Embarrassing? Yes. Deadly? Thankfully no. Both American and Russian subs get much bigger and much heavier the Sierra I-class Kostroma and the Los Angeles-class Baton RougeBoth can carry nuclear-capable cruise missiles, but neither were equipped with those weapons at the time.

After ensuring neither submarine required assistance both returned to port for repairs. In 1995 the U.S. Congress determined that repairing the Baton Rouge would be too costly and the boat was decommissioned.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
The Kostroma underway (Russian Navy)

The Kostroma, however, returned to active service – with a kill marker, celebrating the defeat of the Baton Rouge

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 German designs used by Japan in WWII

Although the Japanese feudal period ended at the turn of the 17th century, isolationist policies delayed the country’s advancement compared to western nations. The shogunate and samurai culture persisted until the mid-19th century with the opening of Japanese ports and the restoration of the imperial family. While literacy and numeracy flourished under the shogunate, Japan was technologically inferior to the countries that it engaged with.

The country quickly transitioned to an industrial economy and adopted western technology and ideas. Following successful wars with China and Russia, Japan expanded its empire and validated its new industrial military. Moreover, Japan’s participation as an ally in WWI allowed it to seize former German colonies in the South Pacific. Leading up to WWII, Japan continued its military conquest in East Asia with a second war against China.

Japanese aggression in the Pacific prompted economic sanctions on the country by the United States. In response, Japan joined the Axis forces in 1940. Through the Tripartite Act, Nazi Germany gained an ally in the Pacific and access to crucial raw materials like rubber from Indonesia and Malaya. In turn, Japan gained access to much of Germany’s military technology. These are four German designs used by Japan in WWII.

1. Messerschmitt Me 262 — Nakajima Kikka

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
The Kikka was smaller than the Me 262 and used straight wings


After the Japanese military attaché in Germany witnessed the Me 262 trials in 1942, the Japanese Imperial Navy requested that Nakajima develop a similar aircraft, once again based on German designs. The new plane was intended to be used as a fighter-interceptor and fast-attack bomber. The Imperial Navy also required that the aircraft be able to be built largely by unskilled labor and possess foldable wings. These features were included in anticipation of the defense of the Japanese islands. Using German design photographs and cut-away drawings of the Me 262, Nakajima engineers built Japan’s first jet aircraft. Development took so long that the first flight didn’t take place until the day after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. The prototype was damaged on its second test flight and was not repaired before the war ended.

2. Messerschmitt Me 163 — Mitsubishi Shūsui

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
The Shūsui used German rocket propellants


Another aircraft borrowed from the Luftwaffe, the Shūsui was a rocket-powered interceptor built for both the Army and Navy. Based on one of the German designs, Komet, the Shūsui was designed to intercept high-altitude allied bombers. One Komet was disassembled and sent to Japan in 1944. All submarines carrying the aircraft’s components were sunk though. Instead, the Shūsui was reverse-engineered from a flight operations manual. Mitsubishi built seven operational variants of the Shūsui. Test flights were troubled, but the engineers persisted. The aircraft was close to full-scale production by the time Japan surrendered. No Shūsuis were flown operationally during the war.

3. Junkers G.38 — Mitsubishi Ki-20

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
The Ki-20 had a wingspan of over 144 feet


The Ki-20 differs from the previous two aircraft. The heavy bomber was based, not on a WWII-era military aircraft, but a late-1920s airliner. When it was built, the Junkers G.38 was the largest land-based plane in the world. In 1932, Mitsubishi licensed the G.38 and redesigned it; instead of carrying passengers, the plane would carry bombs. Using Junkers-made parts, two Ki-20s were built and flown later that year. Four more aircraft were built from 1933 to 1935 using Mitsubishi-built parts. Capable of carrying 5,000 pounds of bombs, more than twice the bomb load of the B-17 Flying Fortress, the Ki-20 was the largest aircraft flown by the Japanese Army Air Service during WWII. Only one of the six aircraft survived the war.

4. Tiger I

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
Japanese officers test their Tiger I in Germany


Yup, the Japanese had a Tiger tank…technically. Japanese tanks were inferior to the M4 Sherman and M3 Lee tanks that the allies fielded in the Pacific. Japan sought to even the odds by buying German panzers. In 1943, a delegate of Japanese officers was sent to Germany to make the purchase. A deal to acquire two Panzer III variants, one Panther, and one Tiger I was struck. The Japanese officers spent a month testing their new tanks in Germany. Afterwards, the Tiger was disassembled and prepared for shipment to Japan. However, Japan’s I-400 super submarine was not yet finished and the existing submarine fleet was not capable of transporting the heavy tank’s components. The Tiger was stored in Bordeaux until it could be shipped to Japan. However, following D-Day, Germany needed every available tank to repel the allied invasion. The Japanese Tiger was bought back and sent it into battle. Although the tank never made it to Japan, this German design helped to influence late-war Japanese tank development.

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The first American shots in WW1 were actually fired in Guam

After receiving information that war was near, German Vice-Adm. Maximilian Von Spee sent a message to his Imperial navy colleagues in the Pacific to rally up for a fight.


Spee was aboard the SMS Scharnhorst docked near the Pacific island of Pohnpei when he sent his message to Tsingtao,  at the time the administrative center for the German Pacific colonies.

The battle damaged German ship SMS Cormoran geared up and was ordered to disrupt enemy supply lines. But after months at sea and under constant pressure by the Japanese, the Cormoran began running low on coal and needed a safe place to dock.

The Cormoran reached Apra Harbor in Guam — which had recently become a U.S. protectorate — on Dec. 14, 1914, hoping for some aid by the neutral Americans there.

Related: Here’s why flamethrowers were so deadly on the battlefield for both sides

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
The Naval officer stationed in Guam sitting with the natives. (Source: The Great War/YouTube/Screenshot)

Interestingly, until the 1950s, Guam’s governor’s office was held by American naval officers.

Guam’s Gov. William Maxwell initially refused to help the Germans because America wanted to stay neutral in the war, but since the Cormoran nearly was out of fuel, the ship wouldn’t leave.

The two sides finally came to an agreement and the German could stay but must live under restriction. The Cormoran’s crew had to stow their weapons on the ship, and the firing pins of the 10.5 cm guns had to be removed from service.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
The Germans were allowed to live on the ship or could stay in these tents featured in the image above. (Source: The Great War/YouTube/Screenshot)

Letting the Germans live on the island was extremely risky as the small amount of Americans were now outnumbered.

But during the time the Germans inhabited the small island alongside their soon to be American enemy, there weren’t any known reports of violent incidents — but that peace wouldn’t last forever.

Also Read: The Browning Automatic Rifle cut down enemies from WWI to Vietnam

In 1916, Guam’s new governor received a message that the US just entered the war. A small group of Marines assembled and demanded the German’s surrender right away. When the Germans refused, the Marines fired two warning shots across the Cormoran’s bow.

The warning shots were fired just two hours after the US entered the Great War, thus making history as the first shots fired by Americans at their new German enemy happened in Guam.

Check out The Great War‘s video to learn about this incredible story.

(The Great War, YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

‘Shoot it down!’: The tragic tale of two American balloonists over Belarus

It was the fourth day of the 1995 Gordon Bennett Cup, one of the world’s most prestigious balloon races and one of the most challenging as well.

Alan Fraenckel, 55, and John Stuart-Jervis, 68, were over the skies of Poland before dawn on September 12, 1995, heading toward Belarus with a real chance of winning.

The two Americans, residents of the U.S. Virgin Islands, were excited by the prospect of flying over the former Soviet republic, which was mostly off limits until gaining independence following the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Race organizers said Belarusian authorities had been informed about the Americans’ plans and had cleared them, along with four other American racers who were also planning to fly over Belarus in two other balloons.

However, as Fraenckel, an airline pilot by profession, and his copilot, Stuart-Jervis, headed into Belarus, they were tracked for more than two hours by Belarusian air-defense system before a military helicopter sprayed the balloon – which was filled with some 900 cubic meters of highly flammable hydrogen — with machine-gun fire, sending it crashing into a forest in western Belarus and killing both men.

Belarusian authorities said the balloon – registered in Germany as D-Caribbean — had strayed too close to a military airbase and missile-launch site and had failed to respond to radio calls or warning shots.

The International Aeronautical Federation would later say that Belarusian authorities had known about the race since March, had authorized the balloon of Stuart-Jervis and Fraenkel as well as those of J. Michael Wallace, Kevin Brielmann, David Levin, and Mark Sullivan. Moreover, race officials said the pilots had provided specific flight plans during the race.

Belarus did express regret over the tragedy, but stopped short of issuing a formal apology. Washington slammed Minsk for dragging its feet on notifying them of the incident and was further incensed when Belarusian authorities issued fines of $30 to the other balloonists – who had been forced to land — for not having visas.

“This is a farce,” said State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns at the time. “We expected an apology from the Belarusian government and instead we got a bill.”

The incident came a year after Alyaksandr Lukashenka — a former collective farm manager who cast himself as a crime and corruption buster — had been elected president of Belarus, a post he would hold for decades as he erected an authoritarian system much like the former Soviet one, crushing all opponents who stood in his way.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (center) with his American and Russian counterparts, Bill Clinton (right) and Boris Yeltsin, shortly after he came to power in 1994.

Spirits High

Hours before tragedy struck, Fraenckel and Stuart-Jervis were in radio contact with Wallace and Brielmann, who were only 20 kilometers away after more than 60 hours of flight.

“We have 12 bags [of ballast] left,” said Fraenckel, “and all our water. We’re going to do a fourth night.”

“If you can’t find your crew,” answered Wallace, a close friend of Fraenckel’s, “you could still land now. My guys are right under you.” Half joking, half serious, Wallace was aware that the other balloon stood a good chance of winning if it stayed aloft.

“I don’t think so,” chuckled Fraenckel.

The Gordon Bennett Balloon Race, named for the millionaire sportsman and owner of the New York Herald newspaper, is the premier event among balloon racers. In principle, it is a simple event — the winner is the balloon that flies the furthest from the starting point without landing.

But it is literally a killer, and dozens have fallen victim to it over the years. In the 1923 race, which was held in Europe, five balloonists were killed by lightning, and a half dozen more were seriously injured in storms.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
The 1995 Gordon Bennett Cup, which Stuart-Jervis and Fraenckel had high hopes of winning before tragedy struck.

In 1995, the year of the Belarus tragedy, German balloonists Wilhelm Elmers and Bernd Landsmann set the race record for longest flight time, remaining aloft for more than 92 hours before touching down in Latvia on September 13.

That year, the race began on September 9 when 17 balloons lifted away from the starting point at Wil, Switzerland. By the evening of September 10, six of the balloons had landed in various locations in Western Europe, ending their bid for the trophy.

Witness To A Tragedy

As the Americans were traversing the skies of western Belarus, Vasil Zdanyuk, editor in chief of the Belarusian newspaper Svododnye Novosti and a correspondent for the Moscow-based Military Journal, sat down for an interview in his Minsk office with Belarusian Air Force commander Valery Kastenka.

“About 20 minutes into our interview, the operative on duty at the Air Defense Forces called and said: ‘We have the following situation: an unidentified object has appeared not far from our facilities, not far from an airfield.’ There is a military airbase nearby,” recounted Zdanyuk to Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

In fact, according to Zdanyuk, Kastenka was at that moment explaining the nuisance that low-flying probes — mostly weather balloons — posed for Belarus’s air defenses.

“Kastenka recounted how one of these balloons flew right over Minsk and almost caused a panic, although there was no danger,” he recalled. “And he says, ‘See how lucky you are. We are discussing it, and there is a balloon in the air.'”

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The gunship that shot down the balloon was a Russian-made Mil Mi-24 combat helicopter. (file photo)

Kastenka ordered a military helicopter – a Mil Mi-24 — up in the air to check out the object.

As the military gunship got closer to D-Caribbean, Kastenka flicked on the speakerphone, letting Zdanyuk hear the conversation between Kastenka and the helicopter commander.

“After five more minutes, when the helicopter had flown around [the balloon], the operative asked: ‘What should we do with it?’ ‘What should we do? Let’s shoot it down,’ [Kastenka] added a few tough expletives. And I’m sitting there, doing the interview, and all of this is being recorded,” Zdanyuk said.

Zdanyuk said he could even hear the fusillade of machine-gun fire as Kastenka allegedly boasted to him: “You see, this is how we work. This is how we serve.”

The bodies of Fraenckel and Stuart-Jervis were later found in a forest near the town of Byaroza, after having fallen some 2,000 meters.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
The balloon Stuart-Jervis and Fraenkel were traveling in was shot down near the town of Byaroza in western Belarus.

Zdanyuk told Current Time in his December 2019 interview that he was confident Kastenka did not know the balloon was manned, speculating things may not have taken a tragic turn had Kastenka waited some 20 minutes until the other two American balloons appeared.

“Then he would have been more cautious: Why are they flying one after another,” Zdanyuk said. “And it would have become clear that a world ballooning championship from Switzerland was taking place.”

The Other Americans

Of the two remaining U.S. balloons, the first to land was the N69RW, navigated by David Levin and Mark Sullivan.

“At first we stuck to a more northern route: we headed to a small part of Russia near Latvia and climbed over the Baltic. But when in the morning the balloon began to rise due to solar energy, we turned east to Belarus,” Sullivan later recounted.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
Competitors line up a the start of the Gordon Bennett Cup in September 1995. Stuart-Jervis and Fraenkel’s balloon can be seen in the foreground.

Two hours before crossing the border, the balloonists tried to contact the Minsk air traffic control center. Their signal was confirmed, but they were answered in Russian, although English is normally used in international aviation communication.

Wallace and Brielmann landed in Belarus after being ordered to do so by the Belarusians. Levin and Sullivan ignored a similar order, but also landed in Belarus because of deteriorating weather.

A Mockery?

The Belarusian government expressed regret for the incident but stopped short of offering a formal apology.

“We would call upon the Belarusian government to get its act together and to make sure that all the entities of the Belarusian government…begin to understand that the way they are handling this incident and the way they are treating American citizens is really a mockery,” the State Department’s Burns said on September 16, 1995.

“Whatever the circumstances may have been, and whether or not the balloon was able to answer radio calls from the Belarus military, the shooting was absolutely indefensible,” he said. “Moreover, the Belarus government took 24 hours even to notify us of the incident. We are strongly protesting and demanding a full investigation by the Belarus government.”

The Interstate Aviation Committee of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) — a loose grouping of former Soviet republics — investigated the incident with representatives of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and German aviation authorities also participating.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
Balloonist John Stuart-Jervis in 1986.

In its final report, the committee concluded the causes of the shooting were: “Unauthorized flight into the airspace of [Belarus] by an unidentified balloon, with no radio communication [between the balloon crew and Belarus air traffic control (ATC)0],” and “errors by [Belarus] anti-aircraft defense elements in the identification and classification of the airship that violated [Belarus] airspace.”

Yury Sivakou, head of the Belarusian Security Council at the time of the incident, defended Belarus’s actions, telling Current Time in 2019 that any country under similar circumstances would have done the same.

“If an unidentified aircraft appears in foreign space — in any country — first they negotiate with it, then they raise the appropriate air defense forces, which either enter into communication or force it to land,” said Sivakou, now blacklisted by the EU for his alleged role in the abduction and killings of opposition leaders in Belarus in the 1990s. “Even if radio communication does not work, there is a whole range of various [actions]: flapping wings and so on to force it to land, or indicating manually, ‘Follow me.’ In this case, the balloon did not react at all, and that was very strange at the time.”

According to Sivakou, the military assumed there could be “anything” in the balloon gondola. They came to this conclusion because there was an air base and other military facilities nearby.

He dismissed reports that the crew involved in the downing had been awarded medals as “speculation and rumors.”

“People died – it’s a tragedy,” he said. “Who awards anything in such cases? This was no act of aggression. It was just an accident.”

‘Forgive Us’

While families of the victims have never received a formal apology or any compensation from Minsk, many ordinary Belarusians expressed sorrow and shame for how its government had acted.

Alyaksandr Artsyukhovich, studying at a U.S. university at the time, expressed hope the shooting would be the last such tragedy.

“My country is a mess now,” he wrote at the time. “Millions of people feel themselves manipulated and frustrated. I only hope that the [recent] incident [will] be the only tragedy. Only removal of the artificial barriers built by the West to our integration into the world’s community can normalize things in Belarus.”

On the first anniversary of the tragedy, activists in Belarus placed a simple stone at the crash site with a cross, the date of the accident, and the phrase in Belarusian: “Forgive us.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

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This is what Mongol MREs looked like

It is believed that Napoleon who coined the phrase “An army marches on its stomach.”


The adage was as true then as it was in ancient times, and for the Mongols who traveled thousands of miles to conquer and plunder, eating was a daunting task.

Because of their lineage as nomads and herders, the Mongols perfected how to travel light and still be able to fill their bellies. Sure they lived off their conquered lands, but between engagements they had their own version of berserker Rip-Its.

For Mongols on the move, the food they carried was usually dried. The hordes would carry dehydrated foods like dried meat, dried curd, and 10 pounds of milk dried down to a paste.

Take the dried milk for instance. To make it, the Mongols would evaporate the milk in the sun in which it turned into a chalk-like substance that made it easy to transport. Once mixed with water, the dried milk paste turned into a low-carb fatty and quite possibly the world’s first protein shake that would suppress his appetite.

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The Mongols used mares milk to build their version of a protein shake

Another use of the milk was turning it into an alcoholic drink known as ” kumiss” or “airagh.” This was their preferred drink and was made from mare’s milk. Rubruck mentions that the Mongols made kumiss by using “a great quantity of milk, which is as sweet as cow’s as long as it is fresh, they pour it into a big skin or bottle, and they set to churning it with a stick prepared for that purpose, and which is as big as a man’s head at its lower extremity and hollowed out; and when they have beaten it sharply it begins to boil up like new wine and to sour or ferment.”

But when winter arrived, food became scarce for the horses, so they drank up all the milk themselves. With the lack of dairy, the Mongols sought other foods — ones that at time appeared stomach churning. The diet of a Mongol warrior involved just about everything that walked or crawled. According to Marco Polo:

They live off meat, milk and game and on Pharaoh’s rats (marmots or jerboa), which are plentiful everywhere in the steppes. They have no objection to eating the flesh of horses and dogs and drinking mare’s milk. In fact they eat flesh of any sort.

According to the 13th-century traveler Giovanni da Pian del Carpini:

They eat dogs, wolves, foxes and horses, and, when in difficulty, they eat human flesh. Thus, when they attacked a particular Chinese city, and their emperor himself conducted the siege, they found after they had besieged it a long while that the Tartars had used up all their supplies and did not have enough for all the men to eat, so they took one of every ten men to eat. They even eat the afterbirth which comes out of a mare with the foal. Furthermore, we saw them eat lice. They would say, ‘Why should I not eat them when they eat my children and drink their blood?’ We actually saw them eat mice.

If rations really got low, Marco Polo states that on “occasion they will sustain themselves on the blood of their horses, opening a vein and letting the blood jet into their mouths, drinking till they have had enough, and then staunching it.” However, a Mongol warrior knew not to do this or to drink from the horse too long. Horse blood was the last resort.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
Dogs, horses, bugs…even people sometimes made up the Mongol horde diet. (Photo By Matthew Paris – Chronica Majora, Public Domain)

Mongols lived on what we call today a paleo diet, but calling it “ketogenic” diet sounds more accurate, as it consists of high-fat, adequate-protein, and low-carbs. Such a diet based on protein leaves one full. Moreover, the Chinese who ruled the Jin Empire in northeastern China noted to their surprise that no puff of smoke came from the Mongol encampment and noticed that the warriors were able to survive off little food and water for long periods.

What the Chinese soon learned is that their soldiers could not go as long as the Mongols due to their dependence on carbs. Without a steady amount of carbs to stay energized, the Mongols could go for a few days before hunger set in since their bodies used the fats and proteins as energy. Overall, the Mongols were not fussy eaters as the accounts show.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the trench knife was the most stupidly awesome weapon ever issued

Every issued weapon in military history was inspired by asking the same question: “How can we make our boys kill better?” Around the turn of the 20th century, one engineer answered that question with, “hold my beer” before rolling up their sleeves going on to invent the Mark 1 trench knife.


Knives, in one form or another, have been used in combat for as long as people have been sharpening things and, pretty soon after that, people have put metal guards on their blades to prevent their hands from getting sliced up while stabbing.

But it was during World War I when the fine folks at Henry Disston & Sons took a pair of brass knuckles and added a knife and a spiked pommel to it because… f*ck it. Why not?

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Raids, and knives, were only really employed during the night.

(Signal Corps Archives)

Fighting in the trenches of WWI was brutal. During the day, opposing fortifications hurled shots at one another and No Man’s Land, the space between opposing trenches, was a hellscape under constant barrage by artillery fire. So, any kind of advance was likely done under cover of night.

Once raiders made it into the enemy line, they would need to keep quiet for as long as possible as to not give away their position, alerting more than just an enemy sentry. They needed something both quiet and lethal to get the job done. Bayonets were plenty, but the trenches were way too narrow to properly utilize what is, essentially, a long spear. This is where detachable bayonet knives came into play.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

Troops kept their knife (on the left) on them and used it for pretty much anything, like digging out mines, or cutting cheesecake, or stabbing people in the throat.

(National Archives)

By the time the Americans arrived in WWI, the American Expeditionary Forces decided to adapt the M1917 trench knife. It wouldn’t have the signature knuckleduster just yet, but it did sport spikes where they’d eventually go. The knife also had the infamous triangular tip that was hell for a medic to suture (and would probably be illegal today under the Geneva Convention’s rule against “unnecessary suffering”).

The blade was extremely flimsy and it was meant exclusively for stabbing. This was (mostly) improved with the introduction of the M1918 trench knife that everyone knows and loves today. This new version sported proper brass knuckles and a dual-sided blade. Unlike the earlier knife, the M1918 could be used for both slashing and thrusting. This knife was upgraded once again, using a more durable steel that was less likely to snap the first time it struck a German, and it was dubbed the the Mark I Trench Knife.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

A man can dream…

(United States Army)

The spikes weren’t just for punching people, despite what you’ve seen in movies. They were designed more to prevent anyone from simply taking the knife out of your hand.

Finally, there’s the never-manufactured, but still-patented trench knife called the Hughes Trench Knife. Take all of the lethal features of previous designs and then turn it into a spring-loaded switchblade. You can see why it never made it past the design phase.

Trench knives lived on through WWII, were issued sparingly in the Korean War, and again in the tunnels of Vietnam — today, they’re are only sought after by collectors.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This train thief earned the first Medal of Honor

Army Pvt. Jacob Parrott was only 19 when a civilian spy and contraband smuggler proposed a daring plan, asking for volunteers: A small group of men was to sneak across Confederate lines, steal a train, and then use it as a mobile base to destroy Confederate supply and communications lines while the Union Army advanced on Chattanooga.


That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

It was for this raid that the Army would first award a newly authorized medal, the Medal of Honor. Jacob Parrott received the very first one.

The military and political situation in April, 1862, was bad for the Union. European capitals were considering recognizing the Confederacy as its own state, and the Democrats were putting together a campaign platform for the 1862 mid-terms that would turn them into a referendum on the war.

Meanwhile, many in the country thought that the Army was losing too many troops for too little ground.

It was against this backdrop that Union Gen. Ormsby Mitchel heard James J. Andrews’ proposal to ease Mitchel’s campaign against Chattanooga with a train raid. Mitchel approved the mission and Andrews slipped through Confederate lines with his volunteers on April 7, 1862.

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An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the theft of the “General” locomotive by Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The men made their way to the rail station at Chattanooga and rode from there to Marietta, Georgia, a city in the northern part of the state. En route, two men were arrested. Another two overslept on the morning of April 12 and missed the move from Marietta to Big Shanty, a small depot.

Big Shanty was chosen for the site of the train hijacking because it lacked a telegraph station with which to relay news of the theft. The theory was that, as long as the raiders stayed ahead of anyone from Big Shanty, they could continue cutting wires and destroying track all the way to Chattanooga without being caught.

At Big Shanty, the crew and passengers of the train pulled by the locomotive “The General” got off to eat, and Andrews’ Raiders, as they would later be known, took over the train and drove it north as fast as they could. Three men from the railroad gave chase, led by either Anthony Murphy or William Fuller. Both men would later claim credit for the pursuit. Either way, “The Great Locomotive Chase” was on.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

An illustration for The Penn publishing company shows Andrews’ Raiders conducting sabotage.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

For the next seven hours and 87 miles, the Raiders destroyed short sections of track and cut telegraph wires while racing to stay ahead of Fuller, Murphy, and the men who helped them along the way. The Raiders were never able to open a significant lead on the Confederates and were forced to cut short their acquisition of water and wood at Tilton, Georgia.

This led to “The General” running out of steam just a little later. The Raiders had achieved some success, but had failed to properly destroy any bridges, and the damage to the telegraph wires and tracks proved relatively quick to repair.

Mitchel, meanwhile, had decided to move only on Huntsville that day and delayed his advance on Chattanooga. All damage from the raid would be repaired before it could make a strategic difference.

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An illustration for The Penn publishing company depicting the Ohio tribute to Andrews’ Raiders.

(Illustration by William Pittenger, Library of Congress)

The Raiders, though, attempted to flee the stopped train but were quickly rounded up. Eight of them, including Andrews, were executed as spies in Atlanta. Many of the others, including Parrott, were subjected to some level of physical mistreatment, but were left alive.

Parrott and some of the other soldiers were returned in a prisoner exchange in March, 1863. Despite its small impact on the war, the raid was big news in the North and the men were received as heroes. Parrott was awarded the Medal of Honor that month, the first man to receive it. Five other Raiders would later receive the medal as well.

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“The General” went on an odd tour after the war, serving as a rallying symbol for both Union and Confederate sympathizers. “The General” was displayed at the Ohio Monument to the Andrews’ Raiders in 1891. The following year, it was sent to Chattanooga for the reunion of the Army of the Cumberland.

In 1962, it reprised its most famous moments in a reenactment of the raid to commemorate the centennial of the Medal of Honor. It now sits in the Southern Museum of Civil War Locomotive History in Kennesaw, Georgia, the same spot from which it was stolen and the chase began.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Coast Guard took the first Nazi prisoners of World War II

Built in the early 1930s, the 165-foot “B”-Class cutters were often referred to as the Thetis-Class. The Thetis-class cutters proved good sea boats becoming the backbone of the Coast Guard’s coastal patrol and convoy force during World War II.


Among these cutters was the Argo, which escorted Nazi Germany’s last surrendered U-boats into captivity and the Thetis, one of 11 Coast Guard cutters credited with sinking a U-boat. However, the most honored of these cutters was Icarus, which sank U-352 and captured its crew at the beginning of World War II.

Icarus and its sister cutters were designed for Prohibition enforcement, specifically tracking down rum running ships outside U.S. territorial waters. These cutters required excellent sea-keeping qualities, long-term accommodations for crew, and greater fuel capacity. Icarus was built by Bath Iron Works in Maine and commissioned on April 1, 1932.

The cutter reported for duty at Stapleton, New York, on Staten Island, and served as part of the New York Division’s Special Patrol Force, which conducted law enforcement patrols in support of Prohibition regulations. After passage of the 21st Amendment repealing Prohibition, Icarus continued sailing out of Stapleton on law enforcement and search and rescue patrols.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
Official photograph of Lt. Cmdr. Maurice Jester and his family. (Coast Guard Collection)

After war erupted in Europe in 1939, the Coast Guard assigned Icarus to Neutrality Patrols protecting merchant vessels from attacks by European combatants. With the 1941 U.S. entry into World War II, Icarus joined its sister cutters in escorting coastal convoys and anti-submarine patrols in American waters.

On the morning of Friday, May 8, 1942, Icarus departed Staten Island for Key West, Florida. On Saturday at about 4:20 p.m., while off the coast of North Carolina, Icarus’s sonar operator picked up a “mushy” contact 2,000 yards off its port bow. The cutter’s crew went to general quarters and assumed battle stations.

Ten minutes after the first sonar contact, an explosion believed to be a torpedo rocked the cutter about 200 yards off the port side. Reversing course, Icarus sped toward the contact, which was heading toward the spot where the explosion had occurred. The underwater contact sharpened and, for the first time, propeller sounds were heard by the sonarman. The contact was lost at 180 yards but, after a calculated interval, Icarus dropped five depth charges in a diamond shape with one charge in the center.

The sonar operator next determined that the contact was slowly moving west, so the cutter altered course to intercept it. Two more charges were dropped in a “V” pattern at a point leading the contact’s underwater track and, as roiling water from the explosions subsided, large bubbles were observed on the surface. Icarus reversed course again and dropped a single charge on the spot where the air bubbles had surfaced. Six minutes later, the cutter dropped a second charge in the same location.

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At 10 minutes past 5:00 p.m., shortly after the last charge had been dropped, a U-boat broke the surface 1,000 yards from Icarus. The heavily armed sub emerged bow first and down by the stern. The cutter’s crew was ready, opening fire with all machine guns that could bear on the sub. Meanwhile, the U-boat’s crew began abandoning ship. Icarus’s commanding officer, Lt. Maurice Jester, altered course to ram and the cutter’s 3-inch main battery was brought to bear on the submarine. The first 3-inch round fell short ricocheting off the water and through the conning tower. The second round overshot the sub, but the next 12 rounds hit the U-boat or came close, with seven of them hitting home. Minutes later, the damaged U-boat began to subside into the sea.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
Coast Guard Cutter Icarus disembarking U-352 crew members at the Charleston Navy Yard in Charleston, S.C. (Coast Guard Collection)

As the submarine sank, Icarus ceased firing, but the cutter circled the spot where the U-boat had disappeared. Icarus re-established sonar contact with the submerged sub and the cutter’s sonarman heard propeller noises again. Taking no chances, Jester ordered one last depth charge dropped over the U-boat, which brought a large air bubble to the surface. No further noises were heard from sub; the vessel had finally been vanquished. Meanwhile, 35 Germans were struggling on the surface to avoid the cutter’s path and its deadly depth charges. Expecting to be machine-gunned in the water, many yelled, “Don’t shoot us!”

At 5:50 p.m., the Icarus crew began rescue operations and retrieved Germans from the water. Except for the wounded survivors, the prisoners were placed under guard in the cutter’s forward crew compartment. The U-boat’s commanding officer, Kapitänleutnant Helmut Rathke, was among the survivors. At this point, it was learned that the submarine was U-352, carrying a complement of 48 men. Seven of the crew went down with the U-boat while others died in the water after abandoning ship. By 6:05, 33 survivors had been rescued and the cutter proceeded to Charleston Navy Yard as ordered.

Also Read: How Hitler terrorized the seas with U-boats during World War II

The German prisoners exhibited good discipline and were surprised by the fine treatment they received on board Icarus. Several of the U-boat’s crew spoke English and talked freely on personal matters, but disclosed no military information. Three of Icarus’s crew also spoke German and conversed with the prisoners. The prisoners wished to know how much money the Coast Guard crew would receive for sinking a submarine and if crewmembers received promotions for doing so. The Germans related that they received medals and bonuses for sinking ships, the amount depending on the size and tonnage of their victims. Four of the prisoners also mentioned they had relatives living in the U.S.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
Hellmut Rathke (bearded, standing left) and a junior officer after disembarking in Charleston, S.C. (Courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

On Sunday morning, Icarus arrived at the Navy Yard. There, the cutter delivered 32 prisoners and one prisoner who died of his wounds en route to Charleston. To keep the enemy in doubt about the U-boat’s fate, naval authorities did not disclose the sinking of U-352 until almost a year later, on May 1, 1943. For the remainder of the war, Icarus continued its convoy escort work, search and rescue duties and anti-submarine patrols. In the fall of 1946, the ship was placed in reserve status and stored at Staten Island. The Coast Guard decommissioned Icarus in 1948 and sold it to the Southeastern Terminal and Steamship Company.

Icarus was the second American warship to sink a U-boat and the first to capture German combatants. For his command of Icarus in the attack and sinking of U-352, Jester received one of only six Navy Cross Medals awarded to Coast Guardsmen during the war. Icarus was one of numerous combat cutters that served the heroic Coast Guardsmen of the long blue line during World War II.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Britain unveils drone that will protect vulnerable warships

Britain’s Ministry of Defence has announced the successful testing of a new kit that turns small combat boats into drones that can protect larger warships, warning them of drones, small enemy vessels, and shore defenses, among other threats.


The British Royal Navy attached a kit to the Pacific 24 rigid inflatable boat. The resulting Maritime Autonomy Surface Testbed was 13 meters, or 43 feet, in length, so it is known as MAST-13. Because Britain likes to name their things simply.

The MAST-13 was demonstrated at the Defence and Security Equipment International Conference on September 10 in London as senior members of the British defense community looked on. The MAST-13 was tasked with protecting the HMS Argyll in the London Docklands. The MAST-13 detected threats on the riverbed and transmitted them back to Argyll.

“MAST-13 is pioneering the future of Unmanned Surface Vehicles for our world-leading navy,” said U.K. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace. “The development of unmanned technology is vital for success in modern warfare, going beyond the capability of traditional ships to attack and defend in uncertain environments.

“As more advanced technology and new threats continue to evolve, collaborative technology development ensures we are constantly pushing the boundaries to give our armed forces the best capabilities possible,” he continued.

Britain is investing heavily in protecting large ships as its navy has constructed new carriers that it can ill-afford to lose. This makes force protection a key mission for the Royal Navy moving forward, and the MAST-13 could be perfect for that mission.

In addition, the Royal Navy expects to use the program in anti-piracy and border control operations.

The technological developments necessary for MAST-13 fall under Britain’s NavyX program to develop autonomous vessels. The Programme Director for NavyX, Royal Navy Commander Sean Trevethan, said, “Ultimately this will change the way we fight, through integrated command and control, and lead to the development of new tactics, techniques, and procedures.”

He also said, “This is much more than an autonomous surface vessel demonstration for the Royal Navy. What we are doing is the first step of exploiting system architecture in a complex warship to integrate an unmanned system into the ship.”

Vessels like the MAST-13 would be highly valued in the potential, but still unlikely, war with Iran. Iran has historically put pressure on the international community by restricting movement through the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian territory dominates the narrow waterway.

The MAST-13 could help larger ships moving through the strait avoid mines and other threats in the case of open conflict.

BAE Systems, the company which makes the PAC24 RIB, has also created an autonomous system for the Pacific 950 RIB.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Coasties killed a German sub and saved their convoy

The U.S. Coast Guard has an under-recognized place in World War II history, fighting German spies before the U.S. entered the war and immediately taking on convoy escort duties, weather patrols, and anti-submarine missions after America declared war on the Axis Powers. One of the Coast Guard crews that bravely shouldered the load was the USCGC Campbell which, in icy Atlantic waters, took bold action to finish off a German U-boat that attempted to attack it.


That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

Crewmembers of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Campbell pose with their mascot, Sinbad, in World War II.

(U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office)

The Campbell was part of a class of 327-foot Coast Guard cutters specially designed for high-speed service on the high seas. It spent much of World War II protecting convoys and, in February 1943, was one of the escorts for Convoy ON-166. This was before the bulk of German submarines were chased from the Atlantic in “Black May,” and the wolf packs were on the prowl to cut off supplies to Europe and starve Britain into submission.

On February 21, one of those wolf packs found and engaged the convoy. Over a dozen subs fired torpedoes and shells into merchant vessels as the Coast Guard and Navy vessels rushed to protect them.

The Campbell’s involvement started with rescuing 50 merchant mariners from the water. It had to dodge a German torpedo during the rescue, and then it pressed the attack against U-753, heavily damaging it and forcing its withdrawal. It spent the rest of the night driving off German U-boats until it finally attempted to get back to the convoy.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

Crewmembers load a Mk. VII depth charge onto the HMS Dianthus, another escort of ON-166, during World War II.

(Imperial War Museums)

In the pre-dawn darkness, Campbell was 40 miles behind the convoy, essentially alone and attempting to catch up and help kill more German submarines. But then a shape emerged from the inky blackness. U-606 was bringing the fight to the Campbell and attempting to engage it before it could meet up with the convoy.

U-606 had three kills to its name, including two ships of ON-166. But it had been damaged while sinking those earlier ships, and attacking the Campbell was a greedy and potentially risky move. Attacking from the surface exposed its position to the American crew and would allow the Campbell to employ its gun crews as well as depth charges.

When the Campbell spotted the sub, it went one step further. Cmdr. James A. Hirshfield ordered a ramming maneuver, swinging the ship about to slam its hull against the submarine.

The Campbell’s bold maneuver came at a cost, though, as the side plating ruptured and salt water began to pour in. Cmdr. Kenneth K. Cowart supervised damage control while also helping to ensure that sufficient engine power was on hand for the continued maneuvering and fighting.

Meanwhile, on the deck, the men controlling the depth charges had managed to drop two during the ram, damaging U-606 further. And deck gun crews began pouring fire onto the stricken sub, attempting to disable or kill it before it could unleash its own deadly barrage against the cutter.

In this melee, an all-Black gun crew of a three-inch gun battery distinguished itself for bravery, accurately concentrating its damage on the sub’s deck and conning tower.

But the salt water took its toll, finally shorting out Campbell’s power. The German sub was defeated, and the cutter took five prisoners, but Campbell was liable to sink at any moment. Hirshfield ordered the prisoners, the merchant mariners, and all non-essential personnel off the ship.

He led the remaining crew through four days of damage control without engine power before finally receiving a tow back to port for repairs. The Campbell survived the war. Hirshfield received the Navy Cross for his actions, and Cowart and Cmdr. Bret H. Brallier received Silver Stars for their parts in saving the cutter.

Louis Etheridge, the man who led that all-Black gun crew on the three-inch battery, later received a Bronze Star for his work that February.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Robert E. Lee wore a colonel’s rank during the Civil War

When Robert E. Lee left the Union Army to command the Army of Northern Virginia, he was just a colonel – a far cry from being the military leader the Confederate forces needed him to be. Despite his promotion in the army of the Confederacy and his rise to prominence as the most able leader the southern states had, he still wore the rank conferred upon him by his former country.


Even as he negotiated the surrender of his new country.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

Judging just by ranks, the guy holding Robert E. Lee’s chair almost matches his rank.

Every time we see the leader of the Confederate army in photos or paintings, he’s wearing the rank we’ve come to know as Lieutenant General, a design of three gold stars in the Union Army. But when the Confederacy broke away from the Union, they didn’t just adapt every American military custom and design. Much of the Confederate leadership, especially in the military, were men from West Point who had devoted their lives to military customs and courtesies. Of course, they’re going to change things up.

That was especially true for military uniforms. They took on the color gray for their uniforms in general and did keep a lot of customs held by the Union Army, but they completely revamped the officers’ rank symbols.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

A general of Robert E. Lee’s stature in the Confederate Army would still be wearing gold stars, but his gold stars would have a golden wreath around them and would have a different sleeve design. Instead, the three gold stars he wore every day in Confederate uniform were the equivalent of his last rank in the Union Army, a colonel, despite being named one of the Confederacy’s first five general officers. But Lee didn’t just want to be conferred to a General’s rank.

Instead, Lee had hoped that he could be properly promoted after the Civil War, assuming the Confederacy won its independence. He wanted to be promoted to full General during peacetime, presumably so he could celebrate his new promotion properly, instead of having to push McClellan back from within six miles of Richmond, Va. though some speculate at first it was the highest rank he felt qualified to wear.

Strange reasoning for the man who would essentially take command of the entire war for the South. It’s more likely the man just preferred the simple design of the colonel’s uniform and chose to wear that because he could. Who’s going to argue with Robert E. Lee?

MIGHTY HISTORY

This failed assassin was North Korean special forces’ ‘Lone Survivor’

The year was 1968, one of the most tumultuous years in American military history. The North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive and North Korea captured the American spy ship Pueblo outside its territorial waters. Riding high on his “victory” over the United States, Kim Il Sung and the North Korean military mounted its most daring provocation to date.


That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
Kim Il-Sung was a pretty big a-hole.

 

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They were going to assassinate South Korea’s president at his home.

The North Koreans trained an elite group of 31 special operations commandos to infiltrate the South across the demilitarized zone. They were led by Kim Shin-jo, a proud revolutionary who was ready to liberate the south from the heel of American occupation.

“We thought the president there was a stooge, an American collaborator,” Kim told the LA Times in a 2010 interview. “I hated him.”

 

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
Kim shin-jo, after his capture. (Wikimedia Commons)

 

He formed the 124th Special Forces unit. Their goal was to make it to the Blue House, South Korea’s version of the White House, where President Park Chung-hee lived and worked. They were then to take photos to prove he was dead.

They broke into teams of six, dressed as South Korean troops, and crossed the border through barbed wire, observation posts, and minefields. They traversed the steep mountains and deep valleys only to immediately run into South Koreans near the DMZ.

Instead of killing their Southern cousins, Kim and the elite unit warned them not to give away their presence and sent the Southerners on their way. Of course, the South Koreans immediately told the authorities. The South Korean military launched a massive search for the commandos.

Within 200 yards of their objective, one South Korean soldier halted them to check their IDs. The North Koreans unloaded on the unprepared South Koreans — like an ISIS offensive 200 yards from the White House.

 

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
So maybe 100% ID check isn’t as annoying as we thought.

They killed 35 and wounded another 64 people. Kim Shin-jo took cover near the woods, and never even fired his weapon. He wasn’t interested in killing civilians — he wanted Park Chung-hee.

He never got the chance.

All but two of the 124th Special Forces were killed. One of them managed to evade capture, eventually returning home across the border. Kim was captured. He was shown on television in handcuffs for all of South Korea to see.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine

 

Kim was interrogated for months and eventually broke down, seeing the South Korean military’s compassion through a high-ranking officer, who convinced him the fight was between them and the North Korean regime, not the North Korean people.

Since he had not fired his weapon, Kim was forgiven for the actions of his comrades.

Eventually, Kim gave his services (and information) to the military, became a citizen, and married a South Korean. For this, the North Korean regime executed his immediate family, and — as is customary in the North — sent three generations of relatives to its Siberian prison camps.

Kim Shin-jo was reborn in many ways: he renounced his Communist upbringing and became a born-again Presbyterian minister. He leads a church of 70,000 outside of Seoul, one of the largest congregations in the world, right under the shadow of North Korean artillery.

Articles

How this ‘dog’ blasted Axis subs to smithereens

Just before America’s official involvement in World War II, Fido was born. It took a while for Fido to be ready to serve, though. Only 4,000 were fielded – down from a planned 10,000 — largely because Fido was so effective.


For Fido, though, the mission was a one-way trip.

Now, you dog lovers out there, don’t go flying off the handle. Fido wasn’t some poor canine conscripted for use in war to be blown to bits while killing the enemy. No, this “Fido” — as the sailors who used it against enemy subs took to calling it — was purely machine. A torpedo, to be exact.

Okay, technically Fido’s designation was as the Mk 24 Mine, but this torpedo was unique in that it could sniff out enemy submarines.

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
Diagram of the Mk 24. (US Navy graphic)

According to UBoat.net, Fido’s “nose” consisted of four hydrophones placed at equidistant points around the body of the Mk 13 aerial torpedo. These gave the torpedo steering directions as they detected the skulking submarine and guided the torpedo to a direct impact on the hull. That’s when a 100-pound high-explosive warhead would do its job. The result should be a sunken enemy submarine.

Fido could go at a speed of 12 knots and its batteries would last for 15 minutes. It could be dropped from up to 300 feet high by planes going as fast as 120 knots. Submarines could increase their speed to try to outrun it, but their batteries would run out very quickly, forcing them to the surface, where they’d be sitting ducks to American guns. If they didn’t go fast, the torpedo would catch them.

Fido was used on anything from a TBF Avenger to the PBY Catalina. It took a little less than a year and a half for Fido to make it from the drawing board to its first enemy kill. Fido claimed 33 Axis submarines in the Atlantic (32 German, one Japanese), and four more in the Pacific (all Japanese).

That time a surfacing Russian sub slammed into an American spy submarine
USS Roosevelt (DG 80) launches a Mk 54 MAKO torpedo, the evolutionary descendant of the Mk 24 Fido. (US Navy photo)

Fido was, in one sense, the progenitor of today’s advanced air-dropped anti-submarine torpedoes, the Mk 46, the Mk 50 Barracuda, and the Mk 54 MAKO. Such is the legacy of a torpedo that sniffed out Axis subs.

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