Winston Churchill once said there was nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at and missed. Well, one crew of the SR-71 Blackbird has an authoritative take on Churchill’s famous saying.
On Aug, 26, 1981, in the midst of major exercises in North Korea that had people worried about a possible invasion, one of these Mach 3-capable spy planes was sent to track North Korea’s forces.
The United States wanted to get intelligence about missile sites in the very secretive country, and the Blackbird was often the aircraft of choice.
What made the Blackbird’s Aug. 26, 1981 mission unique though, was that this time, the regime of Kim Il-Sung took a shot at the speedy plane as it made a pass over the Demilitarized Zone, known as the DMZ. The mission profile often involved multiple passes.
Maury Rosenberg and Ed McKinn were making their third pass when they saw the rising plume of a missile. Rosenberg calmly turned his plane to the right, going away from North Korea, and he and McKinn watched the missile detonate.
Thanks to the SR-71’s high speed, the aircraft and the crew escaped the hit.
In response to the development of the the SR-71, the Soviet Union built the MiG-25 Foxbat to counter both the spy plane and the planned B-70 Valkyrie bomber. But even the Foxbat couldn’t stop the SR-71 from going where it wanted, when it wanted.
What did stop the SR-71? Budget cuts at the end of the Cold War.
But even then, there was a five-year period where the SR-71 made a comeback in the 1990s before the accountants did what no enemy could to: force the Blackbird out of the sky.
Unless you are a member of special ops, most U.S. military members these days are not allowed to rock a beard. Which is a damn shame, because it wasn’t always this way.
After shaving every day of their time in, some veterans make growing a beard their first order of business once they get out of the military. But there were times — we’ll refer to them as “the good ol’ days” — when you could grow a beard. In fact, it was often encouraged.
For about the first 66 years of its existence, the Navy didn’t really have much of a standardized grooming standard. Many sailors during the Revolution opted for clean shaves, until sideburns became a thingaround 1812. The Navy finally implemented grooming standards in 1841 that mandated “hair and beards had to be cut short,” according to the US Naval Institute.
In the early years of the Army, beards were expressly forbidden and soldiers were required to shave at least three days per week, according to this article at Defense Media Network. This of course dramatically changed during the Civil War, when everyone from Pvt. Joe Schmoe to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant was seen rocking face armor.
The Navy slightly modified its rules in 1852 to ban officers from wearing mustaches and imperials — a larger ‘stache featuring whiskers styled upward over a man’s cheeks — but it was later relaxed to allow “neatly trimmed” beards. Much like the Army during the Civil War, there was some pretty interesting interpretations of “neatly trimmed.”
Many sailors of the late 19th and 20th century followed the prevailing fashions of the day, dropping their beards for the mustache and goatee, according to Navy History. Some continued to wear beards, which was generally allowed as long as they were trimmed.
There were some notable exceptions: Sailors operating in colder climates could have full face jackets, and those on submarines didn’t have to shave more as a necessity, since fresh water was usually scarce.
For soldiers on the ground, the death of the beard came along with the need for gas masks. The first World War saw the widespread use of chemical weapons, and gas masks needed to maintain a proper seal against the skin to be effective. Having whiskers didn’t exactly inspire confidence when chlorine gas was involved.
“They were eliminated in the US military in WWI due to the need to wear gas masks,” Penny Jolly, a professor of art and art history, told the BBC. “Razors were issued in GI kits, so men could shave themselves on the battlefield.” The clean-shaven soldier eventually became the norm for the World Wars and beyond.
Still, the reasoning against soldiers having beards has often boiled down to maintaining a uniform appearance and keeping a good seal on a gas mask, and it continues to this day.
In 1970, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo Zumwalt came in and basically said to hell with grooming and uniform regs in attempt to raise morale. Zumwalt — a wearer of his own sweet set of sideburns — issued one of his famous “Z-grams” in Nov. 1970, which directed the Navy to “adapt to changing fashions” of the day, which meant beards, mustaches, and sideburns, my man.
Beards were a staple of the Navy for quite a time, although even Zumwalt figured out his changes to the regs were a bit too permissive, USNI notes:
It did not take long before Navy ships began to look like they were crewed by hippies who had crashed their bus into a military surplus store. Even Zumwalt realized that the liberalization of grooming standards had gone too far and needed to be scaled back. Hair and beards were ordered to be neat while “eccentricities” such as mutton chop sideburns were outlawed.
Besides the surface fleet, Navy SEALs operating in Vietnam were allowed to rock beards, and the “Vietnamese regarded beards as a reflection of wisdom gained with age,” wrote Maury Docton at Quora.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and the beard (even on submarines) became a thing of the past under Chief of Naval Operations Adm. James D. Watkins, who outlawed them in Dec. 1984. Beardos were outraged at the time: “‘It’s rotten,” Petty Officer Richard New told The New York Times. “I don’t think they can tell you everything to do.”
It turns out they can, and the order still remains in effect today. Across all the military services, beards are no longer allowed and even mustaches need to be trimmed within the corners of the mouth — a look so terrible even Hitler would say “what in the hell?”
The 14,000 Canadians and 200 tanks that landed at Juno Beach on June 6, 1944 fought bitterly to breach Fortress Europe and begin the long march to Berlin. Almost a year later Canada and the rest of the Allied powers celebrated the fall of Nazi Germany.
Soon after Bomb crossed into Germany near Emden, Bomb was sent to Kleve on the German side of the border with the Netherlands. In the early morning of Feb. 26, 1945 Bomb escorted a column of infantry in armored vehicles forward. German artillery opened up and pinned the column down in thick mud.
The Germans put up a smoke screen and continued their attack. But the Bomb led a counterattack that relieved the pressure. Surrounded by German anti-tank teams and under heavy mortar, artillery, and machine gun fire, Bomb and another Canadian tank held their ground for 20 minutes until infantry was able to reinforce them, stopping the Germans from destroying the Canadian column.
Neill was later awarded the Military Cross for the battle.
As the war wound to a close, the Bomb found itself in continuously heavy combat. On the last day of the European war, the Bomb was under the command of Lt. Ernest Mingo. He and his men faced off against a German officer who kept sending soldiers to try and Allied Forces.
“The land between us was covered with dead German soldiers,” he said, according to a Sunday Daily News article. “He must have known the war was over, but he just kept sending them out, I guess trying to kill Canadians.”
Despite being the only Canadian tank to serve every day of the war in Europe, the Bomb was nearly melted down as scrap in Belgium after the war. It was rescued and went on display in 1947. In 2011 the tank underwent restoration. It is currently at the Sherbrooke Hussars Armoury in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
In the hours following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the forces of the Empire of Japan also struck a number of other strategic targets. But those weren’t surprise hit and run attacks. Japan’s army and navy invaded Thailand, the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, the Gilbert Islands, Borneo, British Hong Kong, Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.
That was just in 1941. The following year, Japan also invaded New Guinea, Singapore, Burma, India, the Solomon Islands, Timor, Christmas Island and the Andaman Islands.
The defenders of these Pacific possessions had mixed success in holding off or repelling their attackers, but many fell to the surprise attacks. In all the Japanese took 140,000 Allied prisoners during the war. An estimated 36,000 were sent back to Japan but many would not survive the trip.
One of the biggest reasons for this were the transports they were packed into. These notorious transports were called “Hell Ships” by the prisoners aboard them – and for a good reason.
Prisoners taken by the Japanese were beaten and starved, if not killed outright when captured. Those who did survive captivity were often pushed into forced labor, used in mines and factories all over Imperial Japan and its newly-acquired territories.
When prisoners were taken at any one of the battles fought to “acquire” the new Japanese possessions, Allied forces expected treatment in line with the rules regarding POWs under the 1929 Geneva Convention, which forbade their use in wartime production and hostilities against their home countries. The agreement before 1949 was intended not to punish those prisoners for being taken captive, but only to prevent their further participation in the war.
When captured by the Japanese, however, POWs were not treated humanely as the Geneva Convention prescribed. The Japanese saw surrender as a dishonorable act and treated their prisoners as if they were dishonored.
As a result, an estimated 40% of American prisoners taken by Japan died in captivity. The Hell Ships that transported them to all regions of the empire are indicative of why. Like the Bataan Death March and the conditions of tropical prisons on land, prisoners on hell ships endured the harsh treatment of their overseers, a lack of food and water, and all the diseases found among large groups of forcibly incarcerated people.
Unlike the prison camps and the death march, the prisoners aboard hell ships also had to contend with little access to air and proper ventilation. They had to endure the extreme heat of being held in a cargo hold. Worst of all, the ships also carried war supplies and auxiliary troops so they couldn’t be flagged as a non-combatant ship.
As a result, hell ships were frequently targeted by Allied air and naval forces, meaning they (and the prisoners of war aboard them) could be strafed, torpedoed, and sunk but aircraft, submarines and other Allied naval ships.
These attacks happened much more than anyone would like to admit. An estimated 20,000 Allied prisoners went down aboard the hell ships, targeted by friendly forces. If they were attacked or sunk, their treatment in the situation was not guaranteed. If they survived the attacks, some were killed trying to escape the incoming water. If they were allowed to escape the sinking ship, there was no telling if the Japanese would try to rescue them.
When they did escape the sinking ship and were rescued by the Japanese, they found themselves right back to being captive, often in just the same horrifying conditions they’d just escaped.
At least 14 hell ships were sunk by the Allies during the war, killing thousands of Allied POWs.
The Cold War was a prolonged state of tension between the U.S. and the USSR, lasting from the end of World War II until December 26, 1991, the day the Soviet Union fell. The two superpowers were rivals on all fronts: political, economic, military, athletics, and, of course, in myriad Hollywood storylines. But the world’s most iconic ideological struggle doesn’t have a medal to call its own.
American veterans of this era were prepared for a potentially catastrophic war at a moment’s notice. They patrolled the Berlin Wall, the Korean DMZ, the jungles of Vietnam, and flew long patrol missions around the Arctic Circle to deter Russian aggression. Despite no direct war between the U.S. and Russia, proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam served as battlefronts between capitalism and communism while Eastern Bloc and American troops did find themselves shooting at each other on occasion. This worldwide struggle went on every day for 46 years.
Traditionally, service medals are awarded for prolonged campaigns or for those who fulfilled specific service requirements. Two such current medals are the National Defense and Global War On Terror Service Medals. Those involved in the current campaign against ISIS were just authorized the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal for the two-year-old conflict in Iraq and Syria. Yet, When the Iron Curtain fell in 1991, American military veterans serving during this period received no authorized service medal, such as a Cold War Victory Medal or Cold War Service Medal. They are not authorized to wear the National Defense Service Medal, despite the high military tension during the time period.
There have been bills introduced in several separated Congresses to authorize a medal (the most recent being 2015 – that bill has been assigned to a committee) but none of them have made it very far. The reasons vary. The Cold War was not an actual “war” but a state of political conflict, according to a 2011 letter addressed to the Senate Armed Service Committee, written by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King. The letter also states that establishment of a Cold War Service Medal would duplicate recognition of service medals already authorized during the era.
Cost was also a factor according to King’s letter. The average cost of producing, administering, and mailing a Cold War Medal would be $30 per medal. The price would exceed $440 million for 35 million eligible personnel or their next of kin.
So instead of a medal, Cold War-era veterans can apply for a Cold War certificate. The certificate is available by request for all members of the armed forces and qualified federal government civilian personnel who honorably served the United States anytime during the Cold War, which is defined as September 2, 1945 to December 26, 1991. For those who served during gaps of “peace” and never in a declared combat zone or small-scale operation, this certificate is intended to recognize their service in the era.
Organizations like American Cold War Veterans and other groups have been fighting to authorize a medal for many years. There is a Cold War Medal, but it is not authorized for all and not even official for most of the military. The Cold War Victory Medal is an official medal of the National Guard in the states of Louisiana and Texas and in ribbon form only in Alaska. This medal serves as the unofficial medal for Cold War veterans, but cannot be worn on a military uniform. Since the Cold War Service Medal Act of 2015 has zero percent chance of being enacted (according to GovTrack), a Cold War medal will not soon be authorized.
It’s not a historical secret that Stephen Decatur had balls of steel. Not literally, of course, but given his fighting record, I can see how you might think that’s possible. There’s a reason America still names houses, schools, streets, and ships after the seaborne legend.
All that and he had a sense of humor too.
(Naval History and Heritage Command)
The man who would become arguably the most legendary sailor ever to sail in the United States Navy was the youngest man ever to reach the rank of Captain. He was a stunning military leader and may have personally led the rise in prestige of the U.S. Navy’s ships and sailors in the eyes of its European counterparts. He cut his teeth as a young officer in the Quasi-War with France, where he helped take down 25 enemy ships in a matter of months.
In the First Barbary War, Decatur led a shore party who raided Tripoli’s harbor to burn the captured USS Philadelphia and deny her to the enemy. The raid was successful, and Decatur and crew returned to their ship without losing a single man. The famous British Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called it “the most bold and daring act of the age.”
By the time the War of 1812 came around, Capt. Decatur was in command of the USS United States, the ship on which President Adams commissioned him a lieutenant and started his career.
Decatur then took the fight to the British in engagement after engagement.
But upon taking command of a squadron led by the USS President during the war, Decatur suffered some bad luck. After taking numerous British prizes, including the HMS Macedonian and HMS Guerriere, the President under Decatur’s command ran aground in foul weather during a confrontation with the British West Indies Squadron. Decatur was defeated aboard President and was captured and paroled to New York City until the end of the war. By then, his name was as feared on the high seas as Lord Nelson’s was for England. Maybe that’s why President Madison sent Decatur to Gibraltar to negotiate with the Barbary Pirates to end the Second Barbary War.
Decatur was sent to “conquer the enemy into peace” as chief negotiator and enforce that peace with a squadron of American ships. The ships he chose were the perfect troll to an enemy already fearful of his name. Decatur chose to depart from New York in command of the USS Guerriere, Macedonian, Constellation, Ontario, Flambeau, Spark, Spitfire, and Torch.
They were made of wood, carried no heavy guns, and would sink at the drop of a hat. But they were fast, hard to hit, and could kill nearly anything afloat. Pound for pound, the deadliest boats of World War II weren’t the carriers or the legendary battleships, they were the humble patrol torpedo boats.
Battle Stations: PT Boats (War History Documentary)
America invested heavily in capital ships in the inter-war years, concentrating on battleships and carriers that could project power across the deep oceans. Combined with destroyers and cruisers to protect them, this resulted in fleets that could move thousands of miles across the ocean and pummel enemy shores. It was a good, solid investment.
But these large ships were expensive and relatively slow, and building them required lots of metal and manpower. There was still an open niche for a fast attack craft like the Italian motor torpedo boats that had famously sunk the SMS Szent Istvan in World War I.
Boat builders who had made their name in racing lined up to compete for Navy contracts. They held demonstrations and sea trials in 1940 and 1941, culminating in the “Pinewood Derbies” of July 1941.
PT-658 transits the water at the Portland Rose Festival in 2006. The boat was restored by volunteers and features its full armament and original engines.
(U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ralph Radford)
These were essentially races between different boats with either weapons or copper weights installed to mimic combat armament, allowing the Navy to see what designs were fastest, most nimble, and could survive the quick turns with a combat load.
Not all the vessels made it through. Some experienced hull and deck failures, but others zipped through the course at up to 46 miles per hour. A few boats impressed the Navy, especially what would become the ELCO Patrol Torpedo Boat. Higgins and Hulkins also showed off impressive designs, and all three contractors were given orders for Navy boats.
The Navy standardized the overall designs and armament, though the contractors took some liberties, especially Higgins. They were all to be approximately 50 tons, made of mahogany, and carry two .50-cal. machine guns. Many got up to four torpedo tubes and a 20mm anti-aircraft gun, while a few even got mortars or rockets.
They were powered by aviation fuel and three powerful engines.
U.S. Navy patrol boats zip through the water during exercises of the U.S. east coast on July 12, 1942.
All of this combined to create a light, powerful craft that was fast as hell. Two gunners on a PT boat at Pearl Harbor were credited with the first Japanese kill by the U.S. in World War II when they downed an enemy plane.
But it was during island hopping across the Pacific where the torpedo boats really earned their fame. As Japan’s fleet took heavy losses in 1942 and 1943, it relied on its army to try and hold islands against the U.S. advance, and the Navy’s “Mosquito Fleet” was sent to prey on the ships of the “Tokyo Express.”
Japan’s destroyers and similar vessels could slaughter torpedo boats when they could hit them, but the U.S. patrols generally operated at night and would hit the larger ships with their deadly torpedoes, using their speed to escape danger. It wasn’t perfect, though, as Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy would learn when PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, forcing Kennedy and 11 survivors to swim through shark-infested water for hours.
The patrol boats served across the world, from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and thousands of sailors from the Coast Guard and Navy served on these small vessels, downing tens of thousands of tons of enemy shipping.
The joke came on Aug. 11, 1984. Reagan was in the middle of a re-election campaign, and so he had a big announcement planned for his weekly radio address to America. He was going to be at his ranch in California, and so he asked National Public Radio engineers to do the address from there. They agreed.
But they weren’t the only ones who had heard the remarks. The audio was already being sent to some of the radio stations that would broadcast the remarks, and those stations were recording the feed in case they missed the start of the presidential address.
And not all of them were part of the agreement to hold recordings not meant for broadcast. Someone leaked the audio.
Most of the world got that it was a joke and the punditry class took on its typical role of either condemning or praising the remarks. Most condemned, especially in those countries in Europe that Russia’s missiles could reach. The Soviet Union was also predictably, not a fan.
But one group of Soviet soldiers weren’t entirely sure that it was a joke. There were reports of a low-level Soviet commander putting his troops in Vladivostok on a wartime footing on August 13, in the belief that America really was going to war with the Soviet Union.
First used by the Russians in 1891, the Mosin-Nagant was modified from a standard service weapon to a sniper rifle in the 1930s. This five-shot, bolt-action rifle was a highly effective killing tool on the battlefield because of its sturdy construction and accuracy.
The Mosin-Nagant rifle typically weighs in at 8.8 pounds and has a muzzle velocity of nearly 3,000 feet per second — but the rifle is only as good as the man or woman who pulls its trigger.
During the Battle of Stalingrad, talented Russians snipers used the Mosin-Nagant PU version to wreak plenty of havoc against their Nazi adversaries. One of those talented sharpshooters was none other than the Soviet hero himself, Vasily Zaytsev.
Zaytsev’s remarkable story was brought to life in 2001’s feature film “Enemy at the Gates” starring Jude Law. As a young boy, he learned his expert marksmanship skills while hunting game and tracking wolves near his home in desolate Siberia.
In 1937, Zaytsev was recruited into the Red Army, volunteered to be transferred to the front lines and waged a one-man war against the Nazis and reportedly killed 250 enemy troops with his Mosin-Nagant.
Reportedly, Zaitsev was involved in a historical sniper duel with Maj. Konig, the former head of the German Army’s sniper school. During an afternoon of stalking one another, Zaitsev scored a righteous kill shot eliminating the German sniper from the war — using his famous Mosin-Nagant.
Roughly, 17 million Mosin–Nagant were produced during War World II, and its devastating 7.62 x 54R round is still used today in several Russian-made weapons.
Of the over 15,000 US P-51 Mustangs built, less than 200 are still flyable – about one percent of the production run. Of 12,571 F4U Corsairs built, roughly 50 are airworthy. Of 3,970 B-29 Superfortresses built, only two are flying today.
Much of this is due to the ravages of time or accidents. The planes get older, the metal gets fatigued, or a pilot makes a mistake, or something unexpected happens, and there is a crash.
Finding the spare parts to repair the planes also becomes harder – and more expensive – as time passes. A 2016 Air Force release noted that it took 17 years to get the B-29 bomber nicknamed “Doc” flyable. Kansas.com reported that over 350,000 volunteer hours were spent restoring that B-29.
Many of the planes built in World War II were either scrapped or sold off – practically given away – when the United States demobilized after that conflict.
As David Campbell said in “The Longest Day” while sitting at the bar, “The thing that’s always worried me about being one of the few is the way we keep on getting fewer.” Below, you can see the crash of the Spitfire at the French air show – and one of the few flyable World War II planes proves how true that statement is beyond the veterans.
Luftwaffe navigators flying over 1940s England had few tools to ensure their bombs were striking the right bases and cities. They used maps, compasses, airspeed indicators, and aerial photographs to try and find their assigned targets.
Apparently, the British capitalized on this by building fake cities and airstrips to confuse the bomber crews. The effort was commanded by former British Royal Engineer Col. John Turner who employed set designers from movie studios to create the decoys.
By 1940 the Royal Air Force had already dispersed some of their planes to satellite stations, sparse outposts that hosted a dozen fighters or less with small ammo and fuel dumps. Turner and his men started by creating fake version of these satellite stations. The fake versions were positioned so attacking bombers would reach the decoy station before the real station and hopefully become confused.
Turner’s men would build a fake runway and park about 10 fake airplanes at it. A group of men were assigned to move the aircraft around every day and repair any damage done by enemy bombs. To really sell the ruse to any German spies who might be watching, RAF planes or other aircraft were sometimes sent to land at the fake stations.
After success with the satellite stations, orders for simulated aircraft manufacturing plants provided a greater challenge for the team. Full-size decoys were constructed, complete with cars in the lot. During bombing runs the men would set fires in sections of the fake factory to simulate damage, but they were crafted to be easily put out once the bombers left.
In 1940 and 1941, the British government decided to protect full cities using the decoys. The team knew they couldn’t construct an entire city, but they also knew the Germans were mostly limited to night missions. So, the team came up with a series of scaffolds and lights that looked at night like a city with poor light discipline. It gave the appearance of open doors and unshaded skylights, glowing furnaces, and train depots.
Like the decoy factories, the “cities” were rigged for simulated fires and explosions. The first wave of a German bombing raid was allowed to pass without any fireworks, but diesel fuel and paraffin wax would be dumped onto burning coals ahead of the second wave. The goal was to convince the second wave that the first had found the target and that this burning “town” was it. The second and follow-on waves would then focus on the decoy.
If it weren’t for the Japanese, the Marine Corps’ biggest enemy in the Pacific theater of World War II might well have been the U.S. Army. On at least five occasions, Army commanders were relieved of command for what the Corps deemed was a lack of proper aggression. Those commanders were given the benefit of being relieved by their Army commander. When one brigadier was relieved by his Marine commander, it caused a grudge the branches held on to for years.
Gen. Ralph Smith began World War II with a promotion to brigadier general and a command of American soldiers in the Pacific. With Smith came his experience in previous American conflicts. He served under Gen. John J. Pershing in Mexico, during the Punitive Expedition. He also fought on the Western Front of World War I and was among the first American troops to land in France. He earned two Silver Stars in combat during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive of 1918. His bravery and combat credentials were without question.
When he earned his second star, he also took command of the 27th Infantry Division, an Army unit that was soon folded into the 2nd Marine Division. The new mixed unit formed the V Amphibious Corps under Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith and its target was the Gilbert Islands. The Marines would attack and capture Tarawa while the Army did the same on Makin. The Marine Corps’ Smith thought the Army’s 6,400-plus troops should be able to overwhelm the 400 defenders and 400 laborers who held the reinforced island.
But it didn’t happen as quickly as “Howlin’ Mad” Smith though it should. This would build tensions when it came to take Saipan.
As if Saipan wasn’t tense enough.
On Saipan, the Marines and the Army would fight side-by-side on a dream team that would not be matched until the USA Men’s Olympic Basketball Team in 1992. When the U.S. began its assault on Mt. Tapochau in the middle of the island, the Marines found themselves advancing much further, much faster than their Army counterparts. The soldiers at Mt. Tapochau were tasked with taking an area known as “Hell’s Pocket.” The Army was expected to go into a valley surrounded by hills and cliffs under enemy control.
Now, if terrain is given a nickname by the Americans tasked to take it, that’s a pretty good indication of some intense fighting. But Holland Smith didn’t know that because he hadn’t inspected the terrain. The Army commander devised a plan to split his forces, using one battalion to hold the pocket while the other outflanked the Japanese defenders. Unfortunately, he would not be in command to implement it. It turns out “Howlin’ Mad” Smith was about to live up to his nickname.
The U.S. Army’s 27th Infantry Division marches to the front on Saipan.
With what he saw as a lack of aggression on Makin fresh in his mind, the inability of the Army to advance on Saipan made the Marine Corps’ Maj. Gen. Smith furious. He not only relieved the Army’s Maj. Gen. Smith of command of the Army on Saipan, he ordered Ralph C. Smith off the island. It would be the only time an Army commander would be relieved of command by a superior from another branch, and the Army wouldn’t forget it for years. The firing was so public that Smith could no longer command a unit in the Pacific and spent the rest of the war in Arkansas.
After the war, a panel of inquiry was convened. Known as the Buckner Board, it was staffed entirely by Army brass. When it looked into the Saipan incident, it found that Holland Smith had not looked at the terrain facing the Army on the island and was not in possession of all the facts. The plan hatched by the Army’s Maj. Gen. Smith to take Hell’s Pocket worked, and the Army was able to catch up to the Marines.
If you haven’t heard about the planned Area 51 raid yet, then shut up. You have definitely heard about this crap. (And if you really haven’t, then I am so sorry. Basically, 1.6 million people have signed up for a Facebook event to rush Area 51 en masse because “They can’t kill all of us.”)
Lil Nas X feat. Billy Ray Cyrus, Young Thug, & Mason Ramsey – Old Town Road (Area 51 Video)
Now, this raid will almost certainly never happen. Most of the people who are “going” probably just find the idea funny. But that begs the question of, “If a bunch of as-holes attempted to Naruto-run onto Area 51, what would happen? What would they see?”
Well, they would honestly find nothing and wouldn’t get inside any facilities because the Air Force isn’t likely to conduct any sensitive outdoor tests while a bunch of civilians are rushing the fences. They’re gonna button up the base and try to protect their secrets without having to kill civilians by the thousands.
But if they did somehow get past a bunch of blast doors or the Air Force left sensitive equipment out, the runners would most likely find the same sort of experiments that Area 51 became famous for during the Cold War. No, not alien biopsies. The actual experiments that the Air Force did at Area 51, many of which are now public knowledge: aircraft testing and experimentation.
It’s easy to forget almost 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union that, when America wasn’t the only superpower, it took a lot of work and quite a bit of secrecy to stay ahead of them. The Soviet Union had a decent spying apparatus and a robust research and development industry of its own.
And the U.S. and the Soviet Union both knew that aircraft would be important in a potential war. That’s why we worked so hard to steal each other’s aircraft and radar prototypes and more. We wanted to know what their radar could detect, and we wanted our radar to be able to detect all of their aircraft and missiles. And, we wanted to develop aircraft that could outmaneuver and fight the enemy even if it was outnumbered.
So, scientists needed to work on radar, stealth technologies, and on aircraft designs and engines. All of those benefit from having lots of open space, but aircraft designs and engines require literally hundreds of square miles to adequately test an aircraft. So, the Air Force needed a big, secret base to test their new goodies in.
The dry lake bed at Groom Lake was near the center of Area 51. The area is valuable for weapons testing and pilot instruction, but probably doesn’t host aliens.
(Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0)
And guess where many of those projects went? An old Army Air Force training area at Groom Lake in Nevada known as Area 51. It’s fairly common for old training areas to be re-purposed when the government goes shopping for an area to do some classified crap. In general, and in Area 51 in particular, these are areas where civilians already don’t live or work, where the few residents nearby are already used to loud and weird noises, and where a few light shows will be ignored.
And the Air Force went to extreme lengths to keep Area 51 secret. Nothing was allowed to leave the base, and you needed a security clearance to even get on the base. Even once you were on the base, if something was being tested that you weren’t cleared to see, you had to go sit in a building with the windows covered until the test was over.
We know all of this from court cases. People who worked at the base came down with weird cancers and material poisonings and so forth from all the weird chemicals used on the base. The military wouldn’t admit that the base existed for years before it finally said, “Yeah, it existed.” Then decades later, “Yeah, we played with planes there.”
But there are still all those rumors about aliens, right?
Well, yeah, there are rumors. But believing in aliens at Area 51 is literally insane. It requires that you believe that the government can keep massive, reality-changing secrets to itself for decades and generations of workers. And that there was either only one alien crash ever or that each crash was successfully controlled by the government. And that the government wants to keep all this secret in the first place.
So, what would the raiders find if they actually get into the testing range? Maybe aliens. But, way more likely, they’ll find some hypersonic missile prototypes, and maybe a B-21 Raider airfoil with some radars pointed at it. There’s a slight chance that they find a Stealth Hawk or some other piece of custom kit like that. But that’s only if you can find the good stuff on the 575 square mile base.
I mean, that stuff would be pretty cool to see. But is it really worth risking being shot by U.S. Airmen? Sure, they probably won’t hit you with the first round, but those dudes have A-10s. You’re not getting through that, not even if you run like Naruto.