That time Australia fought a war against emus... and lost - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

Emus are the second largest birds in the world, right behind their cousin, the ostrich. Unable to fly but able to run at 30 miles per hour, these big creatures are considerably useless and extremely dorky. But appearances can often belie great (inadvertent) military prowess, as is proven by that time the Australian army lost a “war” to a massive herd of emus in 1932.


Western Australia, still undergoing a settlement period, found itself in an economic mess tied to an abysmal agricultural situation. Farmers, already beleaguered by falling wheat prices, were further affected by a horde of 20,000 emus converging on their lands. These emus began eating crops and seeds, destroying planted land, and causing a general ruckus.

Something had to be done, and it had to be done fast. To that end, in late 1932, Australian Defense Minister Sir George Pearce dispatched three soldiers and a pair of machine guns with the hopes of curbing the emu population, so that the settlers wouldn’t starve.

An officer of the Royal Australian Artillery, Major G. Meredith, was granted command of the operation and ordered to terminate any emu on sight with extreme prejudice. Additionally, he was to return with the skins of 100 emus so that farmers could make hats out of them — an obviously enviable mission for any military officer aspiring to higher ranks.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
An emu-ravaged farm field in Western Australia (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Placed in charge of two soldiers, Sergeant S. McMurray and Trooper J. O’Halloran, Meredith was to lead this elite emu-slaying strike team into the lands surrounding the town of Campion, set up his guns, and unleash unholy hell on the unsuspecting, dimwitted birds.

McMurray and O’Halloran carried one Lewis gun apiece — a First World War-era machine gun able to spit out between 500 to 600 rounds per minute. The team carried with them around 10,000 rounds of ammunition to feed their guns, and marched into town with a plan of merely walking up to the birds and spraying fire randomly until their pan magazines ran dry.

Oddly enough, the emus somehow outsmarted the trio.

On Nov. 2, Meredith and company happened upon a herd of approximately 50 emus just outside of Campion. Sighting them with their emu-blasters, McMurray and O’Halloran started shooting, aiming for larger groups of the flightless birds. However, the emus split up into smaller groups and used their speed to their advantage, quickly running out of the Lewis guns’ effective ranges.

When the smoke cleared, only 12 emus lay dead, the rest had successfully escaped. Undeterred, Meredith and his team carried on with their mission. On Nov. 4, another opportunity appeared near a dam. Deciding to use textbook tactics instead of random gunfire, Meredith and crew set up an ambush.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
Australian infantry training with Lewis guns (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

After spotting a herd of over 1000 emus heading in their general direction, McMurray and O’Halloran readied a gun and waited patiently. This time, they would hold their fire until the emus got closer, giving them more of an opportunity to drop their targets before they ran off.

Soon, they opened fire… and their guns jammed. The birds fled and the trio only accounted for around 12 confirmed kills. Meredith began noticing a peculiar smartness about the way the emus evacuated the kill box, saying that, “each mob has its leader… who keeps watch while his fellows busy themselves with the wheat.”

According to Meredith, as soon as the “leader” emus noticed something suspicious, they would alert the rest of the herd, which would then scramble off to safety. Weirdly, these leader emus always stayed behind until all the other birds reached safety, then ran away themselves.

Instead of giving into frustration, Meredith decided to go mobile to try and keep up with the emus as they ran off. Borrowing a truck, he mounted a Lewis gun in the rear and had his two subordinates drive and fire when chasing after their feathered prey.

And still, they proved to be no match for the emus.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
A settler holds up a dead emu, killed during one of the Australian military’s anti-emu expeditions (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The truck could neither keep up with the fast birds nor could the gunner aim and fire a round decently — the ride was far too bumpy for that. By Nov. 8, the team had expended over 2,500 rounds with the majority of the emu population surviving the conflict.

Sir George Pearce, now sarcastically dubbed the Minister of the Emu War, pulled the team from the field, signaling an unofficial victory for the emus. A stunned Meredith later commented, “if we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds, it would face any army in the world … They can face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks.”

Meredith would be sent back into emu combat soon afterward, as he was the only officer who actually had any experience in fighting these weird creatures. By mid-December, Meredith had earned the title, “Slayer of Emus,” having accounted for 986 kills. However, he was recalled once more. Repeated requests for military intervention from farmers in later years were shot down by the Australian government.

There were just too many emus.

Today, emus still roam the Australian Outback, though they’re far less of a problem to Aussie farmers today than they were to their predecessors back in the 1930s. This remains the only recorded instance in military history where birds unwittingly won a military engagement.

Interestingly enough, no military force has tried to mess with these dorky warrior-birds (or any other flightless bird) since.

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This Canadian liberated a Dutch town on his own

Canadian sniper Pvt. Leo Major could have taken a ticket home after the Normandy invasions when he lost part of his vision to a phosphorous grenade blast or later that year when his back was broken in a mine strike. Instead, he stayed in theater and went on to single-handedly liberate a Dutch town from the Nazis by convincing them that a massive Canadian attack was coming.


Major’s unit approached the town of Zolle in the Netherlands in April 1945 and asked for two volunteers to scout for enemy troops, an easy observe and report mission. Major and his buddy, Willy Arseneault, volunteered to go.

Léo_Major,_Libérateur_-Canadian sniper liberated Zwolle Netherlands Canadian sniper Leo Major liberated a Dutch town on his own during World War II. (Photo: Jmajor CC BY SA 3.0)

They were told to establish communications with the local Dutch resistance and warn them to take cover if possible, since the morning’s attack would open with heavy artillery and the Canadians wanted to limit civilian casualties.

Arseneault and Major moved forward but quickly ran into trouble. They were caught by a German roadblock and Arseneault was killed in the ensuing confrontation. Arseneault killed his attacker before he died and Major used a fallen soldier’s machine gun to kill two and chase off the rest.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
The German troops in Zwolle numbered in the hundreds but they were scared off by a single Canadian on a rampage. (Photo: German Bundesarchiv)

Major could have turned back at this point and reported the loss of his friend, or he could have carefully completed the mission and carried news of the German strength back to his command. Instead, he decided to go full commando and sow terror in the hearts of his enemies.

He captured a German driver and ordered his hostage to take him into a bar in Zwolle. There, Major found a German officer and told him that a massive Canadian attack was coming.

The Canadian then gave the German hostage his weapon back and sent him into the night on his own. As the rumor started to spread that Canadians were in the town and preparing a massive assault, Major went on a one-man rampage.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
A U.S. Army Ranger candidate fires the Carl Gustav submachine gun. (Photo: U.S. Army Spc. David Shad)

He tossed grenades throughout the town, avoiding civilians and limiting damage to structures but sowing as much panic as possible. He also fired bursts from a submachine gun and, whenever he ran into Germans, he laid down as much hurt as possible.

At one point, he stumbled into a group of eight Germans and, despite being outnumbered, killed four of them and drove off the rest.

He also lit the local SS headquarters on fire.

Major’s campaign of terror had the intended effect. The German forces, convinced they were under assault by a well-prepared and possibly superior force, withdrew from the city. Hundreds of Germans are thought to have withdrawn from the town before dawn.

German-SS-Troops World War II It took a lot to get SS troops to run, but Canadian Pvt. Leo Major turned it into a one-man job. (Photo: German Bundesarchives)

A group of Dutch citizens helped Major recover Arseneault’s body and the sniper returned to his unit to report that little or no enemy troops were present in Zwolle.

The Canadians marched into the town the next day and Major was recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. He is the only Canadian to receive DCMs for two wars.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
A U.S. infantryman receives the Distinguished Conduct Medal from King George V. The DCM is second only to the Victoria Cross in British Valor Awards. (Photo: U.S. Army Signal Corps)

He was nominated for a capturing 93 German troops in 1944 but refused it because he though Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery was too incompetent to award medals. But Major received the DCM for capturing Zwolle. In the Korean War he received another DCM after he and a team of snipers took a hill from Chinese troops and held it for three days.

He became an honorary citizen of Zwolle in 2005 and died in 2008. Soon after his death, Zwolle named a street after their Canadian liberator.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This soldier used his teeth as bullets to attack Turkish invaders

For four months in 1538, 600 Portuguese troops were holding back an attempt to capture the Indian City of Diu against 22,000 combined enemy troops. Most of those came from the Sultanate of Gujarat, but there were also 6,000 troops from the hated Ottoman Empire. Portugal had been engaged in a series of conflicts with the Turks since 1481. Diu was just a valuable possession.

Portugal’s soldiers would be damned if they were going to let some Ottoman Turk take their Indian jewel.


That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

And no Gujaratis neither.

The Ottomans had been trying to force Portugal out of its possessions all over Asia, from the Red Sea to India, and would partner with anyone who would help them. The Sultanate of Gujarat was just one more enemy aligned against them. Portugal controlled the flow of valuable spices to Europe through Diu, and the Turks were ready to take it from them, sending the largest fleet it ever sent to the Indian Ocean.

Portugal had a few things going for them the Indians didn’t have when Portugal first took control of Diu. The Portuguese built a fortress to protect the city, and its commander, António da Silveira, was an experienced fighter of Gujarati forces. Though the Portuguese would eventually win the confrontation, there are a few noteworthy things about this battle, not least of all the most provocative reply to a surrender demand ever sent when Silveira wrote a note to Suleiman Pasha in response to his second demand (keep in mind, I had to remove the worst parts of it):

“I have seen the words in your letter, and that of the captain which you have imprisoned through lie and betrayal of your word, signed under your name; which you have done because you are no man, for you have no balls, you are like a lying woman and a fool. How do you intend to pact with me, if you committed betrayal and falsity right before my eyes?… Be assured that here are Portuguese accustomed to killing many moors, and they have as captain António da Silveira, who has a pair of balls stronger than the cannonballs of your basilisks, that there’s no reason to fear someone who has no balls, no honor and lies…”
That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

“António da Silveira, has a pair of balls stronger than the cannonballs of your basilisks.” – António da Silveira

In response to that surrender demand, the Turkish commander ordered an immediate assault on the Portuguese fortress, bombarding it for nearly a month with cannons from the land and from his ships at sea. He then ordered a full assault of a small fortlet that stood in the mouth of the nearby river. Inside, just a handful of Portuguese troops were holding out against hundreds of enemy troops, some of them the feared Ottoman Janissaries.

Inside one of the bastions, a Portuguese soldier believed he was the only survivor of the fortlet. He was out of ammunition but still had the powder necessary to kill the oncoming enemy. The Turks, fully believing the man was indeed out of ammunition were surprised to get shot while trying to enter the bastion, anyway. According to a Dutch priest who was present, the man ripped his own tooth out and loaded it into his weapon so he could keep fighting.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

Actual photo of Turkish Galleys in retreat.

Though various Indian forces would attempt to retake Diu over the coming centuries, they would not be able to control the city until the Portuguese relinquished it to the Indian government in 1961.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 ships sunk at Pearl Harbor fought in World War II

While “salvage operations” aren’t usually stories of perseverance and ingenuity, the actions of brave sailors and officers after the Pearl Harbor attacks formed a miracle that is legitimately surprising. While the battleships Utah, Arizona, and Oklahoma were permanently lost after the Pearl Harbor attacks, seven combat ships that were sunk in the raid went on to fight Japanese and German forces around the world, and at least three non-combat ships saw further service in the war.


In all, 21 ships were labeled damaged or sunk after the attack. Nine of them were still afloat and were either quickly repaired for frontline duty or sent to the U.S. West Coast for repairs and new equipment. But another 12 were sunk, and some of those were even declared lost. Before the war closed, seven of the sunken ships would see combat, and another three served in peacetime roles.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

The USS West Virginia burns on December 7 thanks to Japanese attacks. It would go on to punish the Japanese forces across the Pacific.

(U.S. Navy)

USS West Virginia was declared lost three years before entering Tokyo Bay

The USS West Virginia was one of the worst hit in the raid. The “Weevie,” as it was called, had been hit by up to seven torpedoes, but no one could be certain exactly how many torpedoes hit it, really, because the damage was so severe. At least two torpedoes flowed through holes in the hull and exploded inside against the lower decks.

Salvage crews were forced to create large patches that were held in place with underwater concrete. As seawater was pumped out, it was expected that the ship’s electric drive would be unusable or would need extensive repairs but, surprisingly, it turned out that seawater hadn’t reached the main propulsion plant. The alternators and motors were repaired, and the ship headed for Puget Sound Navy Yard.

The ship received much better anti-aircraft armament and defensive armor and headed back into the fight in the Pacific. At the Battle of the Surigao Strait, Weevie fired ninety-three rounds into the Japanese fleet. It later hit Japanese forces ashore on Leyte, served at Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa, and was the first of the older battleships to sail into Tokyo Bay to witness Japan’s surrender in 1945.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

The USS Shaw explodes at Pearl Harbor on December 7. It later fought across the Pacific.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Shaw attacked Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Philippines

The destroyer USS Shaw was only 6-years old when the Pearl Harbor attack began, but the modern warship was in overhaul on Dec. 7, 1941, and had all of its ammo stored below decks. So it was unable to protect itself as dive bombers struck it, shredding the deck near gun number 1, severing the bow, and rupturing the fuel oil tanks. All this damage led to a massive fire in the forward magazines which then blew up.

The Shaw was declared a total loss, but the Navy found that much of its machinery was still good. Damaged sections were cut off, a false bow was fitted, and the ship steamed to Mare Island in California for permanent repairs just two months after the attack.

The overhauled USS Shaw fired on Japanese forces at the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands, Guadalcanal, Leyte, and the Southern Philippines. It served out the war before being decommissioned in October 1945.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

The USS Nevada fires its guns at the Normandy shore during D-Day in June 1944, about 30 months after the ship sunk at Pearl Harbor.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Nevada shelled Normandy

The USS Nevada was one of the few ships in the harbor that was ready to fight on December 7, and its official reports indicated that the crew first opened fire at 8:02, about 60 seconds after the attack started. It was able to down between two and five enemy planes, but still took one torpedo and six bomb hits that doomed the ship. An admiral ordered the ship to beach itself to protect the channel and the ship from further damage.

While Adm. Chester E. Nimitz was pessimistic as to the Nevada’s chances, salvage leaders were quite hopeful. Most of the holes were small enough to patch with wood instead of steel. It took extensive work to get the ship capable of sailing to the West Coast. When it arrived at Puget, it received new anti-aircraft guns and a full overhaul.

The Nevada took part in the Aleutian Islands Campaign just one year after Pearl Harbor before going on to fight at Normandy on D-Day. It headed back to the Pacific and fought at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

The battleship USS California sits in drydock in 1942 as crews prepare to begin major repair operations.

(U.S. Navy)

USS California slammed a Japanese Fuso-class battleship with shells

The California crew was able to get into fighting position as Japanese bombers closed in, but that just left officers in perfect position to watch the track of the torpedo that hit the ship in the opening minutes. As damage control got underway, a second torpedo hit the ship followed by a single bomb. All this was made worse when the crew had to abandon ship as the fires from the USS Arizona floated around the California.

But the crew came back and kept the ship afloat for three days before it finally sank into the mud. Salvage operators had to build cofferdams to begin repairs so that crews could access previously flooded areas. As the ship emerged from the water, caustic solutions were used to remove corrosion and seawater. It sailed for the West Coast in October 1942.

By the time the California left the Puget Sound Navy Yard in late 1943, it had nearly all new parts, from the engine to many weapons. It used these to fight at the Marianas, bombard Saipan and Guam, and then slam a Fuso-class battleship at Surigao Strait with over 90,000 pounds of munitions.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

The USS Downes on left and USS Cassin, capsized on right, sit on the partially flooded floor of Drydock No. 1 on Dec. 7, 1941, after suffering multiple bomb hits and internal explosions.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Cassin

The destroyers USS Cassin and USS Downes were in drydock on December 7. So they were essentially impossible to damage with torpedoes, but were highly susceptible to bombs. Guess what Japan hit them with? Bombs passed entirely through the Cassin and exploded on the drydock floor, and both ships were set on fire and struck by tons of fragments. Cassin even toppled off its blocks and struck the drydock floor.

The USS Cassin’s keel and hull were warped by the damage, and the hull was filled with holes. The shell plating was wrinkled. Crews disassembled the ship and sent most everything but the hull to Mare Island where they were installed in a new shell. Despite the entirely new hull, the Navy considered the resulting ship to still be the USS Cassin.

The Cassin was sent against Marcus Island, Guam, Saipan, Tinian, Luzon, Iwo Jima, Palau, and the Philippine Islands. Yeah, it had a pretty busy war for a ship “lost” on December 7.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

The USS Downes sails away from Mare Island to serve against Japan in World War II on Dec. 8, 1943, almost exactly a year after the Pearl Harbor attack.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Downes

The Downes arguably suffered worst than the Cassin in drydock as the fires caused sympathetic detonations in the Downes‘ torpedoes and other weapons. It was also twisted by damage, and it had massive holes from the explosions. Downes had aluminum plating on its deckhouse that was completely destroyed.

Like the Cassin, the Downes had its hull scrapped and most of its innards installed in another hull in the shipyard on Mare Island.

This new and improved USS Downes fought at Saipan, Marcus Island, and Luzon. Like the Cassin, it had been declared lost after the Pearl Harbor damage.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

The USS Oglala is visible in the foreground, mostly submerged on its side as other ships burned in the background on December 7 at Pearl Harbor.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Oglala

The minelayer Oglala technically didn’t suffer a hit on December 7, but a torpedo passed under it and hit the USS Helena. The blast from that crippled the old Oglala which had been built as a civilian vessel in 1906. The crewmembers took their guns to the Navy Yard Dock and set them up to provide more defenses. They also set up a first aid station that saved the lives of West Virginia crewmembers.

The ship suffered horribly, eventually capsizing and sinking until just a few feet of the ship’s starboard side remained above water. It was declared lost, and the Navy even considered blowing it up with dynamite to clear the dock it had sunk next to. But the decision was made that it could destroy the dock, so the Navy had to refloat it. At that point, it made sense to drydock and repair it.

After repair and refit at Mare Island Navy Yard, the Oglala was re-launched as a repair ship and served across the west Pacific. It actually joined the Maritime Reserve Fleet after the war and wasn’t scrapped until 1965, almost 60 years after its construction as a civilian passenger liner.

(Author’s note: Most of the information for this article came from The Navy Department Library’s online copy of Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal by Vice Admiral Homer N. Wallin. It can be found online here.)

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4 times the U.S. fought in World War II before Pearl Harbor

The U.S. officially joined World War II after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, but the U.S. knew that it would likely get dragged into the war in Europe and Asia for years before that.


For the last few months of 1941, America was preparing for an open conflict and the U.S. Navy was looking for a fight. At least four times before Dec. 7, both the Navy and the Coast Guard engaged in combat with German forces, capturing a vessel, threatening U-boats, and suffering the loss of 126 sailors.

1. The destroyer USS Greer duels with U-652 on Sept. 4, 1941.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
The USS Greer as she appeared in 1941, the year the crew engaged in what was likely the first American military action of World War II. The Greer engaged in a 3.5-hour fight with a German sub. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The U.S. destroyer USS Greer was officially delivering mail to Argentia, Newfoundland, on Sept. 4, 1941. A British anti-submarine plane signaled the Greer that it had just witnessed a German submarine diving 10 miles ahead of the Greer.

Greer locked onto the German submarine U-652 and began following it.

The British airplane fired first. It was running low on fuel and dropped its four depth charges and flew away. The Greer, still in sound contact with the sub, soon had to dodge two torpedoes from U-652. Greer answered with eight depth charges after the first torpedo and 11 more after the second.

Neither vessel was damaged in the 3.5-hour fight.

2. Coast Guardsmen capture a German vessel and raid a signals post in Sept. 12-14, 1941.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

On Sept. 12, the USCGC Northland and USCGC North Star, Coast Guard cutters assisting in the defense of Greenland, spotted a suspicious Norwegian vessel, the Buskoe, operating near a cache of German supplies that the Coast Guard had recently seized.

After questioning the men aboard the vessel, the Northland crew learned that the ship had landed two groups of “hunters” on the coast. On Sept. 13, the North Star sent a crew to take over the Buskoe while the Northland crew dispatched a team to search for the Norwegians.

The Norwegians were discovered with German orders and radio equipment on Sept. 14.

Since the U.S. was not technically at war and could not take prisoners, the men were arrested as illegal immigrants. The Buskoe spy ship was the first Axis vessel captured by Americans in World War II.

3. U-568 hits USS Kearny on Oct. 17, 1941.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
The USS Kearny suffered extensive damage from a September 1941 German torpedo attack. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

Just after midnight on the morning of Oct. 17, 1941, a British freighter of convoy SC-48 was struck by a German torpedo and began burning in the night. The USS Kearny, assigned to a task force guarding the convoy, dropped depth charges and moved to protect the convoy from further attack.

Just a few minutes later, the sub fired a spread of three torpedoes, one of which hit the Kearny near an engine room and crippled the ship. Despite the damage and the loss of 11 of the crew, the Kearny was able to navigate to Iceland under its own power.

After the first 14 hours, the USS Greer (yes, from #1 above) rendezvoused with the ship and established an anti-submarine screen.

Bonus: The Navy looks for a fight with the legendary Tirpitz in the Atlantic in October 1941.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
The German battleship Tirpitz was massive and the U.S. hoped to fight it in October 1941, but couldn’t draw it out for the fight. (Photo: U.S. Naval Intelligence)

The Navy’s Task Force 14 was launched in October 1941, with the purpose of guarding a British troop convoy headed to Singapore, a violation of the Neutrality Act.

The task force consisted of an aircraft carrier, battleship, two cruisers, and nine destroyers ,and was likely the most powerful U.S. task force assembled up to that point in history.

Atlantic Fleet Commander Adm. Ernest King wrote a memo to President Franklin Roosevelt saying that he hoped to fight an enemy capital ship like the German Tirpitz, one of the strongest battleships of the war.

Unfortunately for King, the Tirpitz didn’t take the bait and Task Force 14 found no enemy ships during its patrol.

4. USS Reuben James is sunk by U-552 on Oct. 31, 1941.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
The USS Reuben James, a destroyer and the first U.S. ship lost in World War II, sails the Panama Canal in this undated photo. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The USS Reuben James, a destroyer escorting a British convoy, was struck by at least one German torpedo that inflicted severe damage at approximately 5:30 in the morning on Oct. 31, 1941.

According to Chief Petty Officer William Burgstresser, one of only 44 survivors, the entire front section of the ship was torn off.

It quickly sank, becoming the first U.S. ship lost in the war and killing 115 crew members, including all officers onboard.

Just over a month after the sinking of the Reuben James, the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor finally propelled America into the war.

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The U.S. military’s actual plan for a moon base

Everyone is up a tizzy now about the possibility of an actual Space Corps, the sixth branch of the military. But this isn’t America’s first pass at space occupation. The Army and Air Force launched two separate studies in the late 1950s about establishing a base on the moon and permanently occupying it.


That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
The proposed U.S. Army Moon base in 1965, near the end of construction. (Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

Since America ultimately won the first round of the Space Race, it’s easy to forget that the Soviet Union spent years firmly in the lead. It launched the first man-made satellite in 1957 and landed the first man-made object on the moon in 1959.

So the U.S. looked quickly for a way to catch up. The CIA was stealing technology as quickly as it could, Eisenhower ordered the creation of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (now DARPA), and the Army and Air Force got to work planning moon bases.

While it may sound odd today, both military studies took it as a given that someone would occupy the moon relatively soon and that it should be America — even if there wasn’t a firm plan yet on what to do with it.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
(Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

The Army said:

The primary objective is to establish the first permanent manned installation on the moon. Incidental to this mission will be the investigation of the scientific, commercial, and military potential of the moon.

The Air Force was more direct, saying, “The decision on the types of military forces to be installed at the lunar base can be safely deferred for 3 to 4 years provided a military lunar base program is initiated immediately.”

But both services did have their own plans on what to do with it, even if they were relatively hazy ideas in the far future.

Both services wanted to use the moon base as a point for intercepting Soviet signals, an idea partially proven by the 1948 detection of air defense radar signals bouncing off the moon and later by “ELINT” which detected cutting-edge Soviet radar technology via lunar reflection.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
A space station would serve as a midway point for many missions to the moon under the Army plan. The Air Force plan called for direct flights from the Earth to lunar surface. (Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

The Army and Air Force were both interested in using the moon as an observation platform from which to watch activity in the Soviet Union.

But the most surprising proposed use of the moon base came from the Air Force, which twice mentioned the possibility of a “Lunar Based Earth Bombardment System,” a weapon projected to be accurate within 2-5 nautical miles.

The study doesn’t go into detail on what ordnance the LBEBS would use, but…pretty much the only weapon that can destroy an enemy installation by landing within five miles of it is a nuke.

When it came to planning the construction of the base, both services focused on their strong points.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
(Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

The Army, used to building large and complex bases around the world while under fire or during other adverse conditions, wrote up a detailed plan on how a 12-man team could bury modular containers three feet under the surface to establish a base for them to live in. They would use a special tractor and other excavation equipment to do so. It even planned out potential meals.

The Army does spend a few dozen pages discussing how to get everything to the moon, but is counting on nuclear-powered Saturn rockets to carry the heavy payloads. While the U.S. has tested nuclear-powered rocket engines a few times, it’s never made the jump to actually constructing one.

The Air Force, meanwhile, spends a lot of time and energy discussing how to send automated rocket flights with equipment payloads to specific points on the surface for later construction. But the study essentially kicks the can down the road when it comes to assembling those payloads into a functioning base.

A nuclear power plant was slated to power each base.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
The Army’s plan called for regular flights to and from the moon in cramped capsules. (Illustration: U.S. Army Project Horizon)

The timelines for the projects were ambitious, to say the least. The Air Force called for an operational lunar base by June 1969. In reality, Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the moon a month later, almost two years after the Air Force’s projection for the first manned mission.

The Army was even more optimistic, envisioning that the first people would reach the moon in 1965 and that the first outpost would be fully-functioning by the end of 1966.

Instead, here we are in the new millennium without a single moon base. The Space Corps is going to be busy playing catch up if it ever actually gets formed.

You can see all the studies at the links below:

Air Force Lunar Expedition Plan

Air Force Military Lunar Base Program

Army Lunar Outpost Summary and Supporting Consideration

Army Lunar Outpost Technical Considerations Plans

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 games World War I soldiers played in the trenches

100 years ago, our great-great grandfathers were in the trenches of France, and fighters on both sides of the war had to while away their time when they weren’t actively working or fighting. And it takes a lot to keep your morale up and your terror down when your work hours are filled with enemy mortars, artillery, and machine guns.

Here are six games and other activities they turned to:


(Note that this article uses information from the letters of British soldiers written in 1915. Unless there’s another link cited, the letters are pulled from this digital file from the British National Archives.)

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

A large crowd of World War One soldiers watching two boxers sparring in a ring during the boxing championships at the New Zealand Divisional Sports at Authie, France, in July 1918.

(Henry Armytage Sanders)

Boxing

Unsurprisingly, some of the top activities were a little violent, and boxing was a top activity. These could be tournaments where one company or platoon fought another, but they were also often just quick, relatively impromptu matchups. Soldiers talked about the fights in letters, and it seems that the more violent the fight was, the better. One British soldier wrote:

“We are having a good time here in the way of concerts, sports, boxing tournaments etc. The latter was great especially the bout between a Farrier Sergeant and a cook’s mate. They biffed at one another until neither could stand, it was awfully funny.”
That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

The “Christmas Truce” took place around Christmas, 1914, and included some sports events, like football matches.

(Illustration by A. C. Michael of the Christmas Truce created for “The Illustrated London News”)

Football (American and European)

Football was also popular, but was obviously a team-based event that lent itself well to one unit playing against another. American and European football were both played in the trenches, though it’s obvious that European football would be more popular everywhere but the American Expeditionary Force.

The famous Christmas Truce soccer game was part of this tradition, but games were commonly played between allies rather than adversaries. One soldier wrote in a 1915 letter that his unit played against a rival battery in an old cabbage patch. The patch made a bad football pitch, but the letter-writer won, so he wasn’t sore about it.

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World War I Gurkhas wrestle on the regimental transport mules.

(H. D. Girdwood, British Library)

Wrestling (sometimes on mules)

Wrestling, like boxing, was popular for the same reasons, but there is a special, odd caveat that wrestling matches were sometimes held on mules. Yeah, like the animals. This activity was featured during a special sports day in October, 1917, but it didn’t include details of the sport.

Likely, it consisted of two riders wrestling until one knocked the other off the gallant steed, but I like to imagine that the mules were combatants as well, because cartoons don’t become real as often as I would like.

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Scottish troops and other onlookers watch troops taking part in an organized sports day.

(British photo from the National Library of Scotland)

Wheelbarrow racing, pillow fights, and other improvised events

Other events on that sports day included pillow fights and “wheelbarrow” races. The events were organized to improve morale, but anyone who has spent time with troops in the field knows that games like these are common any time infantrymen get bored.

These games could include pretty much anything the soldiers could think of. The easier it is to play the game without specific gear, the better.

Plays and other performances

But when troops needed to entertain themselves in an organized way, they had more choices than just sports and fighting one another. Sometimes, this resulted in soldiers holding their own plays and concerts, but they could also enjoy performances by professionals when they came around.

Another British letter written in 1915 but digitized in 2014 was penned by a soldier who gave a short, blow-by-blow of the barracks activities. While he was writing, one soldier did a performance where he acted like a dancing monkey with a small cup for change and another soldier started playing the accordion.

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A 1929 edition of “Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht,” a game that led to the American game of “Sorry.” The German became popular in Central Powers trenches in World War I.

(Vitavia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

“Don’t Get Annoyed With Me” and other board games

Troops on both sides of the trenches used board games to pass the time because, obviously, video games weren’t a thing yet. Plenty of games were popular in the war. Checkers could be played with bits of metal or buttons on a hand-drawn board, or a travel game of Chess could be popular. And no war has been fought without playing cards since someone figured out how to paint faces on bits of paper.

But German troops could enjoy a game that had been invented just in time for the war, “Mensch Aergere Dich Nicht,” which translates to “Don’t Get Annoyed With Me.” Players moved game pieces around a board and tried to get them “Home,” but the opposing player could knock a piece off just before it reached safety and thereby piss off the other player.

If it sounds familiar, that’s because the game “Sorry” is a close descendant.

MIGHTY HISTORY

What did cruisers even DO in World War II?

World War II saw the decline of the battleship, the rise of the aircraft carrier, and the maturation of the destroyer and submarine. However, there was another type other major combat vessel in that conflict that often goes ignored: the cruiser. This ship was arguably very important for several reasons.

First, for the initial part of the war, cruisers served as heavy escorts for a carriers against surface threats. Battleships were often too slow to keep up with the carriers and destroyers packed a potent anti-ship punch in the form of torpedoes, but they couldn’t take much punishment. Cruisers were the perfect match.


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USS Galveston (CL 93), one of 27 completed Cleveland-class light cruisers. She packed 12 six-inch guns and 12 five-inch guns.

(US Navy)

Second, cruisers also were able excellent for maintaining a presence at sea. It took fewer personnel to fully crew a cruiser and they were comparatively cheaper to build than other major vessels. Despite their lower cost, they were still deadly vessels, equipped with either six-inch guns (on light cruisers) or eight-inch guns (on heavy cruisers).

Third, cruisers also fought it out when other options weren’t available. For example, during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, a force of two heavy cruisers, a light cruiser, two anti-aircraft cruisers, and eight destroyers were led by Admiral Daniel Callaghan and took on two Japanese fast battleships, a light cruiser, and a number of destroyers. Callaghan’s outnumbered ships managed to turn away the Japanese force, leaving the fatally wounded Hiei behind.

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While it’s best known for being sunk by a Japanese submarine in 1945, USS Indianapolis (CA 35) also served as the flagship of Admiral Raymond Spruance.

(US Navy)

Fourth, cruisers could serve as flagships. The Portland-class heavy cruiser USS Indianapolis (CA 35) was the flagship for Admiral Raymond A. Spruance during the Central Pacific offensive in 1943 and 1944. It was also common for Japanese admirals to choose heavy cruisers as their flagships in surface engagements instead of battleships when they had the option.

While all of the major powers had cruiser designs, the most successful was the American Cleveland-class light cruiser. There were plans to build a total of 52 of these vessels. Of those, 27 were completed. The others were either cancelled or converted into light cruisers. Other notable cruiser classes include Japan’s Mogami-class heavy cruisers and the British County-class heavy cruisers.

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Other powers in World War II operated cruisers, too. HIJMS Atago served as a flagship in several engagements, including her last one at Leyte Gulf.

(Imperial Japanese Navy)

With the end of World War II, cruisers began to fade away, especially as guided missiles emerged and submarines became more of a threat. Today, the United States Navy has the most cruisers with 22 Ticonderoga-class vessels in service.

Though the cruiser’s heyday has come and gone, there’s a chance they’ll make a comeback. The United States Navy intends to replace the Ticonderoga-class ships with a new, modern class of cruiser.

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4 outstanding things you didn’t know about Dan Daly

If you’ve joined the Marine Corps or if you’ve studied military history, then you’re likely very familiar with the legendary Dan Daly. For the uninitiated, he’s known for being one of the most decorated service members of all time. He coined an expression that will forever live on in books, movies, and among troops,

“Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?”

Sound familiar?

Although Marines of all ages are taught many incredible things about the career of this bold war hero, there are few things you probably didn’t know about Sgt. Maj. Daniel Joseph “Dan” Daly.


Daly wasn’t the bigger guy ever

The New York-native joined the Corps in January, 1899, expecting to see action during the Spanish-American War. Unfortunately for him, the war was over before he had finished his training.

Sgt. Maj. Daly stood 5 feet, 6 inches tall and reportedly weighed about 135 pounds. Regardless of his size, the prideful Marine was well-respected within the ranks and was seen as a tough, fearless man.

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U.S. Marine Cpl. Gregg Alvarez takes a drink from devil dog fountain in Belleau, France. The Memorial Day ceremony is held in honor of the 97th anniversary of the Battle of Belleau Wood. More than 1,800 Marines from the 5th and 6th Regiments lost their lives in the 21-day battle that stopped the last German offensive in 1918.
(Photo by Marine Lance Cpl. Akeel Austin)
 

He earned two Medals of Honor — and almost got a third.

Sgt. Maj. Daly was one of only two Marines to be awarded two Medals of Honor during two separate conflicts. He earned the first one during the China Relief for killing numerous enemy combatants on his own. He received his second for heroic actions done during the invasion and occupation of Haiti. Alone, he crossed a river to retrieve a machine gun while under intense enemy fire.

He almost earned a third for his part in a counterattack against the enemy in the famous Battle of Belleau Wood. Instead, Daly was given the Distinguished Service Cross and, later, the Navy Cross.

Bummer.

Daly turned down an officer commission

For his outstanding leadership, the Marines offered Daly a commission. He turned it down by saying,

“Any officer can get by on his sergeants. To be a sergeant, you have to know your stuff. I’d rather be an outstanding sergeant than just another officer.”

That’s so badass!

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The USS Dan Daly (DD-519)in honor of the Marine Corps legend.

Daly’s retirement

On February 6, 1929, Daly hung up his rifle for good and received a hero’s parade that marched from Bedford Ave. to the Williamsburg Plaza in Brooklyn in honor of his decorated military service. From then on, Daly led a quiet life as a guard at a Wall Street bank.

He never married. It just goes to show that if the Corps wanted you to find a spouse, they’d issue one.

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first aerial bombing run was made by the Italian Army

In November 1911, Italy was engaged in a costly war against the Ottoman Empire in what is today Libya. It worked out for the Italians in the end, easily defeating the Ottoman Empire, who was by then a shadow of its former glory. The war brought a number of new technologies onto the battlefield, most notably the airplane. Italian pilots were the first to use heavier than air aircraft for both reconnaissance and to drop bombs on enemy positions. One pilot was also the first to fly a night sortie.


For the Turks, who had no anti-air defenses, they were the first to shoot down an aircraft with small arms fire.

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The German-built Taube monoplane like the one flown by Lt. Gavotti over Libya.

On Nov. 1, 1911, Giulio Gavotti, an Italian war pilot, climbed into the cockpit of his Etrich Taube monoplane. His mission was to fly over the Ain Zara oasis, occupied by Turkish troops. Instead of just flying over the target, he decided he would throw bombs out of the plane and into the mass of maybe 2,000 enemy soldiers below. The lieutenant would later write to his father that he was really pleased to be the first person to try. His efforts earned him the nickname “the Flying Artilleryman.”

“I notice the dark shape of the oasis. With one hand, I hold the steering wheel, with the other I take out one of the bombs and put it on my lap…. I take the bomb with my right hand, pull off the security tag and throw the bomb out, avoiding the wing. I can see it falling through the sky for couple of seconds and then it disappears. And after a little while, I can see a small dark cloud in the middle of the encampment. I am lucky. I have struck the target.”

And that’s how one pilot ushered in the Air Power age.

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Giulio Gavotti, the first bomber pilot.

The young lieutenant had strapped a number of grapefruit-sized grenade-like bombs into a leather pouch in the cockpit. As he flew over the target, he would toss them over the side. The official history of the Italian Army in Libya says that Gavotti screwed in the detonators and flew at an altitude of just 600 feet as he made his bombing runs. He tossed three over the side at an oasis at Tagiura and then one over the Ain Zara Oasis. No one is really sure how many (if any) he actually killed on his run.

In response, the Ottoman Empire issued a formal complaint. Dropping bombs from aerial balloons was outlawed by the Hague Convention of 1899. The Italians countered that the airplanes weren’t balloons and any heavier-than-air craft was legally allowed to drop bombs as Gavotti had.

“I come back really pleased with the result,” Gavotti wrote. “I go straight to report to General Caneva. Everybody is satisfied.”

Articles

These 3 snipers had more kills than Carlos Hathcock in Vietnam

While Carlos Hathcock is perhaps the most famous sniper of the Vietnam War, he actually ranks fourth in the number of confirmed kills.


Yeah, that’s right. Hathcock was out-scored by three other snipers during that conflict. So, who are the guys who bested Hathcock’s 93 confirmed sniper kills? Let’s take a look at them.

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Carlos Hathcock | Photo: Marine Corps Archives

3rd place: Eric R. England – 98 confirmed kills

The Union County Historical Society reports that Eric England had his service in Vietnam cut short at seven months.

England also had a lengthy track record of success in competitive shooting, including winning the Leech Cup — the oldest competitive shooting trophy in the United States.

England rates as perhaps the most obscure of the snipers who out-shot Hathcock. Aside from some photos taken during the 2011 Memorial Day Parade in Union County, Georgia, few, if any, photos of this legend are publicly available.

Second Place: Chuck Mawhinney – 103 confirmed kills

Chuck Mawhinney served from 1967-1970 in the Marine Corps. According to a 2000 Los Angeles Times article, he spent 16 months in Vietnam. After leaving the Marine Corps, he worked in the United States Forest Service.

Mawhinney’s youth was spent hunting, and he chose the Marines because they allowed him to delay his entry until after deer season. Some Marine recruiter did his country a service with that call.

Mawhinney noted that every one of his kills had a weapon — with one notable exception: A North Vietnamese Army paymaster who he took out from 900 yards away.

Today, Mawhinney is talking about what he has done, seeking to dispel the many stereotypes of snipers that are in people’s minds.

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This is the M40 sniper rifle used by Chuck Mawhinney during the Vietnam War. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

1st Place: Adelbert Waldron — 109 confirmed kills

America’s top sniper of the Vietnam War wasn’t a Marine. He served with the 9th Infantry Division of the United States Army. Yeah, you read that right. Marines got all the press and the glory, but an Army guy was the top sniper shot of the Vietnam War.

Waldron had served in the United States Navy for 12 years before going to civilian life. In 1968, he enlisted in the Army. SniperCentral.com noted that Waldron spent 16 months in Vietnam. Waldron primarily used the M21 Sniper Weapon System, a modified M14.

Waldron was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross twice. He also was awarded the Silver Star and three Bronze Stars. Still, he never talked about his service with the media, and died in 1995. His total would be the top score for an American sniper until Chris Kyle totaled 160 during the Global War on Terror.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
Adelbert Waldron, America’s top sniper of the Vietnam War.

So, when it comes to Vietnam War snipers, the legendary “White Feather” ranks at number four.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Medal of Honor recipient walked 200 miles to serve in the Marines

When Mitchell Paige was a young boy, he watched Marines proudly march in a parade. From that moment on, he knew he wanted to join the Corps. On his 18th birthday, the motivated young man walked 200 miles from his home in Pennsylvania to Baltimore and enlisted.

After completing his training, Paige quickly rose up in the ranks, eventually earning command over his own platoon. Soon after, he was sent to join other troops in the ground invasion of the Island of Guadalcanal. The island housed a critical airfield — one within striking distance of Australia and New Zealand, making it extremely dangerous in enemy hands.

Paige was sent in to protect another infantry company with his deadly squad of machine-gunners, but the fight would soon take an unexpected turn.


That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
The location of Guadalcanal.
(Medal of Honor Book)

As Paige’s Marines settled into position, rain poured down. He ordered his men to remain as silent as possible. The mission was to hold the line at all costs — or risk losing control of the crucial airfield.

Then, the enemy swarmed in, engaging the Marines with everything they had. As his men fell injured, Paige ran back and forth firing his men’s weapons, making the Japanese think there were still plenty of American troops left in the fight.

As Paige continued to fire the machine guns, he was discovered by an enemy troop. That troop aimed directly at Paige and fired. The platoon sergeant leaned back and somehow dodged the incoming rounds. The hot bullets whizzed through the tiny, open space between Paige’s neck and chin, miraculously causing zero damage.

Paige returned fire, taking the enemy soldier out just as quickly as he had appeared.

That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost
Sgt. Mitchell Paige as he inspects one of his Marine’s machine gun.
(Medal of Honor Book)

Still, the Japanese troops severely outnumbered the American Marines. Paige loaded himself up with ammo and charged the enemy while holding his .30 caliber machine gun at his hip. He shot at every Japanese troop that entered his field of vision.

They dropped like flies.

Suddenly, his surroundings fell still — completely silent. Paige turned his head and saw two Marine riflemen headed his way, celebrating. Reportedly, 33 Marines fought off more than 2,000 Japanese troops during the intense skirmish.

On May 21, 1943, Mitchell Paige was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic deeds.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This one simple factor is why the US Allies won World War II

At first glance, it might seem obvious why Japan would choose to take on a country like the United States. While Americans were still struggling with the Great Depression, Japan’s economy was growing and hot. Japan had hundreds of thousands of men in uniform and a string of military victories under its belt. The U.S. was a third-rate military power whose day had come and gone in World War I – and Americans weren’t thrilled about another war.

But the Japanese seriously underestimated one important factor: The American Worker.


That time Australia fought a war against emus… and lost

Up yours, Japanese Empire.

Judging the United States’ capacity for war during the 1930s was Japan’s fatal mistake. Sure, we’d had a little too much fun at the speakeasy during the 1920s, but we were poised for the most incredible puke and rally the world had ever known, and anyone looking for it would have been able to see it. Unfortunately, the Japanese were a little high on their own supply at the time. Convinced of Japanese superiority, they thought themselves nigh-invincible and that the U.S. would crumble if it needed to unify or die.

In reality, things were much different. The U.S. had twice the population of Japan and 17 times more tax revenues. Americans produced five times more steel, seven times more coal, and could outproduce the Japanese automobile industry by a factor of 80:1. The American worker had the highest per capita output of any worker in the world.

What’s more, is we were one of very few countries willing to let women work in our very modern factories.

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So don’t f*ck with the Arsenal of Democracy.

Even before the war, U.S. industrial capacity was greater than all of the Axis countries combined. As a matter of fact, the United States’ output was almost greater than all the other major powers involved in the war. And that was before the U.S. declaration of war allowed the President to take control of American industry. By the time the U.S. entered the war, the Lend-Lease Act had already pulled America out of its depression and was basically supplying the Allied powers with American-built equipment and vehicles as it had for years.

All we had to do was start using them ourselves.

As time went on, the U.S. economy was growing by 15 percent annually, while every other belligerent saw a plateau in growth or the destruction of their economies altogether. By the end of the war, American industrial output wasn’t even close to overheating – we were just getting started.