The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

Aerial combat has been around for a little over 100 years, and during that time there have already been plenty of epic air battles in the skies. Here are 7 of the most intense:


1. Battle of the Philippine Sea

 

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
A Japanese bomb nearly hits an American ship during the Battle of the Philippine Sea. (Photo: US Navy)

The Japanese fleet securing the Marianas Islands in 1944 was in a tough spot. If it gave up any more ground, America would have bases to attack Japan and the Japanese-occupied Philippines. So, when the U.S. Fifth Fleet was spotted on its way to Saipan, the Japanese attacked it.

The 430 Japanese aircraft were spotted by naval radar operators and the U.S. planes launched to fight over the Pacific. In the end, the American fleet lost 29 planes but downed a stunning 365 and sank two Japanese carriers, sending an estimated 115 more planes to the deep.

2. The Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
(Photo: U.S. Air Force, Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway)

96 Israeli fighters and a squadron of UAVs moved to destroy Syrian surface-to-air missile sites on Jun. 9, 1982, successfully knocking out 17 of the 19 missile batteries in the first two hours. The Syrians launched their own jets to fight back, 100 of them.

And the Israelis stomped them. The air battle ran for two days and the Israelis scored 29 jet kills the first day and 35 the second without the loss of a single fighter.

READ MORE: This dogfight with nearly 200 jets was like the Battle of Britain on steroids

3. The Battle of Britain

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
Photo: Royal Air Force B.J. Daventry

In Sep. 1940, Britain had already endured months of Luftwaffe attacks with over 1,000 bombers striking the country nearly every day. But on Sep. 15, the British launched a counterattack to cripple the Luftwaffe.

At the end of the battle, 40 Royal Air Force planes and many crews were lost, but 56 German craft were downed and Germany was forced to cease daylight bombing raids.

4. Black Tuesday over MiG Alley

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
US Air Force F-86 Sabres flying over Korea. Photo: US Air Force

On Oct. 23, 1951, nine U.S. bombers with 89 jets escorting them stumbled into a group of 150 MiG-15s over MiG alley in Korea. The furious 20-minute battle resulted in six downed bombers and an escort lost. The Americans were able to down four of the Russian MiGs attacking them.

5. The Ofira Air Battle

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
Mig-17 wreckage from the Ofira Air Battle. Photo: Israel Defense Forces

In one of the first engagements of the Yom Kippur War, Syrian and Egyptian jets moved to bomb the Israeli aircraft at a base near Ofira. Two Israeli F-4s were in the air and took insult at 28 MiGs thinking they could just bomb Israelis whenever they liked.

So, the two Israeli jets turned into the enemy formation and downed seven of them in six minutes. The attackers decided seven was enough and bugged out.

6. The first jets fight the Allies over Berlin

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
A captured Me-262 was test flown by the US. Photo: US Army Air Force

In the dawn of jet combat, a group of German Me-262 jet fighters attacked an Allied formation of 1,329 bombers and 700 fighters. The numbers reported for the German jets vary, but most estimates are between 35 and 60.

The small German force used air-to-air rockets and jet engines, both new technologies at the time, to down 13 bombers and six fighters. Two German aircraft were shot down.

7. The air battle over the St. Mihiel Salient in WWI

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
Photo: US Army Air Force

In one of history’s largest and earliest air battles, nearly 1,500 Allied planes under the command of the First U.S. Army Air Force.

From Sep. 12-16, 1918, 610,000 men fought for the ground at St. Mihiel as the air forces clashed overhead. Despite a limited number of fighters and severe losses on the ground, German gave as good as they got in the air battle. They fought for control of the air for the first two days of the battle and killed 62 enemy aircraft while losing 63 of their own birds. The Germans did lose 30 balloons to the Allied loss of 4 though.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the rebel wars where Chesty Puller got his start

Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Lewis “Chesty” Puller is probably known best for his legendary actions in World War II where he led Marines at Guadalcanal and in Korea when he and his men broke out from the Chosin Reservoir.


But Puller originally enlisted in the Corps to fight in World War I.

He was eventually assigned to train new Marines and then sent officer school — which combined to keep him away from the front lines of The Great War.

But in 1919 he was offered a deployment to Haiti if he came back to active duty.

 

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

 

The trip was described to young Marine officers as a sort of consolation prize after their trip to France was canceled. Writing about Puller and another Marine officer in Counterinsurgency and the United States Marine Corps, Leo J. Dougherty III wrote:

They saw service in Haiti as a means of compensation for not having served in the World War, and, as then Capt. William H. Rupertus told the young second lieutenants, as a way to “make money and have some fun.”

But Haiti was a real war zone.

Most of the recent Marine Corps officer training graduates were sent to Haiti as American noncommissioned officers who held officer ranks in the Gendarmerie d’Haïti. This was basically a police and counterinsurgency force whose enlisted ranks were filled with local soldiers but whose officers were mostly Marine Corps officers and noncommissioned officers.

 

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler served as the commander of Nicaragua’s national guard when he was a major. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

 

The first commander of the Gendarmerie d’Haïti was then-Maj. Smedley Butler, another Marine Corps legend. And the Marines and their gendarmerie fought tooth and nail against determined Caco rebel attacks.

The rebels would hit targets — usually government buildings and forces — and then escape into the jungle.

To catch the rebels, Puller and other gendarmerie officers led their men on hard marches through the jungle and into the mountains, fighting off ambushes along the way.

Puller — who was deployed to Haiti from 1919 to 1924 — later estimated that he fought in about 40 engagements against the Caco rebels in Haiti and learned a lot of lessons, which helped him later in Nicaragua.

Puller was promoted to second lieutenant in 1924 and deployed to Nicaragua for the first time in 1926.

Nicaragua had been racked by political turmoil for over a decade despite an American intervention in 1912, causing instability in Latin America and headaches for American fruit companies. The Marines arrived in 1927 to protect American interests in the country.

 

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

 

In 1928, Puller arrived and again led a local force, this time it was an element from the Guardia Nacional of Nicaragua. These government forces and their Marine mentors were tasked with disrupting rebel operations.

During his first tour of Nicaragua, Puller served for over two years and was awarded a Navy Cross for leading his men through five major engagements from February to August of 1930. Puller’s element was successful in each of the engagements, killing nine of the enemy and wounding more.

After a year break for training at Fort Benning, Puller returned to Nicaragua and commanded local forces once again. He received a second Navy Cross for actions taken in 1932. Puller was leading 40 Nicaraguans alongside Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. William A. “Iron Man” Lee.

 

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

The men forced their way into rebel territory a full 80 miles from their base and any reliable reinforcements or lines of communication. Rebels ambushed them, and Puller was in the center of the first attack. When a Nicaraguan fell right next to him and Lee was hit with what were thought to be mortal wounds, Puller quickly rallied the men and got them fighting against the 150 or more rebels.

Despite the fact that they had been ambushed by a numerically superior force, the Marines and Nicaraguans were able to throw off the attack. They killed 10 of the enemy.

Puller led his men back to their base to the south, a full hundred miles away.

But on Sept. 30, 1932, 10 days after the first ambush, the rebels attempted two more attacks designed to wipe out Puller and his men. Both attacks were rebuffed with heavy losses for the rebels, allowing the American-Nicaraguan patrol to arrive at the base on Oct. 31.

Lee survived his wounds and later fought in World War II where he became a prisoner of war. He was awarded the Navy Cross three times for his actions in Nicaragua.

Puller would later take a series of staff and command positions, including a deployment to guard Americans in China, before leading Marines throughout the Pacific in the World War II and Korea battles that made him an icon of the Corps.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 last-minute decisions that changed American military history

The former special operators who responded to the 2012 Benghazi attacks on the U.S. State Department in Libya didn’t hesitate, they just reacted. They aren’t alone. People in the military are famously trained to “move with a sense of purpose” at all times. This means they are taught to think fast, move fast, and act fast. It’s just good practice – who knows when you might need to have a quick reaction time. Sometimes, we just have to make a quick judgment call and accept the consequences. Those consequences can be severe. It’s the nature of the work we’re in.

For better or for worse, the following six examples illustrate the need for decisive action.


The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

The Confederates needed new shoes.

In 1863, things weren’t looking good for the Confederate Army in the Civil War. Despite their early successes, time was not on their side. The North was ramping up war production and outfitting its men with clothes, food, and, most importantly, shoes. In an effort to resupply his forces at the Union’s expense, Robert E. Lee decided to send a party north looking for railway depots that might be hoarding supplies for the Union Army. They didn’t find as much as they’d hoped, and the entire Army of Northern Virginia stopped at a town in Pennsylvania called Gettysburg.

Before the entire massive army could arrive, Confederate cavalry began skirmishing with Union troops until it turned into full-on fighting. Lee was obliged to send reinforcements piecemeal before he could use his entire force. By the time he was ready, a Union Army had already arrived. What started out as a search for shoes became the turning point of the entire war.

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

Ulysses S. Grant declined a trip the the theater.

Just a few days after accepting the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House, a Union victory was all but assured. The surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia would sap the will of the Confederates to continue fighting and lead to the era of Reconstruction. There was nothing that would revive the hopes of the Confederate States… unless the entire Union leadership were to be taken out in one fell swoop – and it nearly was.

On the night President Lincoln was assassinated, Secretary of State William Seward was brutally attacked in his home by John Wilkes Booth’s co-conspirators, and Vice President Andrew Johnson was targeted but not attacked. One more person was to be targeted in the conspiracy: General Grant. Lincoln had invited the general to the theater with his wife, but too tired from years of Civil War, Grant declined. He later recounted in his memoirs having seen Booth tail him to the train station.

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

One Russian officer decides not to blow up the planet.

In September 1983, the Soviet Union’s early warning system used to detect nuclear missile launches from the United States suddenly started going off. There was a very good chance the Americans had just launched a first strike against Soviet missile sites, precipitating a full-scale nuclear war. This required the officer on duty to return fire using the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal. The computer told that officer the Americans had launched five nuclear weapons, and he was obliged to return fire using the USSR’s 35,000-plus weapons.

The officer on duty that day was Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov, and he wasn’t as concerned about the nuclear exchange as some other officers might have been. Instead of launching an attack that would have turned into a U.S. counterstrike and potentially killing hundreds of millions of people. He just did nothing. For his troubles, the Russians interrogated him mercilessly.

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

The U.S. and USSR decide not to blow up the planet.

Even though the entire course of events lasted some 13 days, the entire course of events could have precipitated a nuclear exchange at almost any time. When the United States discovered the Soviet Union setting up a nuclear missile site in Cuba, it was too much for the Americans. President Kennedy told the Russians to move them off and set up a total blockade around the island. The next move belonged to the Soviet Union, and their response was anyone’s guess. The United States mobilized for World War III.

It was later revealed in the documentary the Fog of War that Fidel Castro recommended a full nuclear first strike to the Soviet Union, but Nikita Khrushchev was much smarter than that, apparently. The White House received two messages from Moscow, the first was written very cordially and offered a peaceful solution. The second was written by a “bunch of hard-liners” that threatened the destruction of the United States. President Kennedy was forced to choose which message to respond to and which to ignore. Of course, he chose the diplomatic one.

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

The Kaiser changed the course of the 20th Century.

It’s a well-known fact that World War I was entirely avoidable. With that goes World War II, the Cold War, nuclear arms races, communism, etc. Everything that happened in the 20th Century can be traced back to Germany’s push for war in 1914. There was one man who could have just side-stepped the whole thing: Kaiser Wilhelm II.

As German and Russian allies declared war on each other, the Kaiser and the Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, exchanged a flurry of personal telegrams aimed at stopping the tide of war just days before what would become known as “the Great War” would begin. Reading what “Nicky” wrote, the Kaiser (addressed by the Tsar as “Willy”) was flustered about whether or not to actually attack and almost called the whole thing off. Instead of that, the German General Staff convinced him their plans were already in motion and could not be stopped for any reason. With this in his ears, he allowed the attacks to go forward, and the rest is history.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The freak accident that saved a carrier at Pearl Harbor

Most Americans know the story of Pearl Harbor, how the Japanese planes descended from the clouds and attacked ship after ship in the harbor, hitting the floating fortresses of battleship row, damaging drydocks, and killing more than 2,300 Americans. But the most coveted targets of the attack were the aircraft carriers thankfully absent. Except one was supposed to be there that morning with a future fleet admiral on board, and they were both saved by a freak accident at sea.


The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

The USS Shaw explodes on December 7, 1941, during the Pearl Harbor attack.

(U.S. Navy)

Vice Adm. William Halsey, Jr., was a tough and direct man. And in November 1941, he was given a top-secret mission to ferry 12 Marine F4F Hellcats to Wake Island under the cover of an exercise. Wake Island is closer to Japan than Hawaii, and Washington didn’t want Japan to know the Marines were being reinforced.

The mission was vital, but also dangerous. Halsey knew that Japan was considering war with the U.S., and he knew that Japan had a long history of beginning conflicts with sneak attacks. He was so certain that a war with Japan was coming, that he ordered his task force split into two pieces. The slower ships, including his three battleships, were sent to conduct the naval exercise.

Halsey took the carrier Enterprise, three heavy cruisers, and nine destroyers as “Task Force 8” to deliver the planes. And those 13 ships would proceed “under war conditions,” according to Battle Order No. 1, signed by the Enterprise captain but ordered by Halsey.

All torpedoes were given warheads, planes were armed with their full combat load, and gunners were prepared for combat. Halsey had checked, and there were no plans for allied or merchant shipping in his path, so he ordered his planes to sink any ship sighted and down any plane.

If Task Force 8 ran into a group of ships, they would assume they were Japanese and start the war themselves. That’s not hyperbole, according to Halsey after the war:

Comdr. William H. Buracker, brought [the orders] to me and asked incredulously, “Admiral, did you authorize this thing?”
“Yes.”
“Do you realize that this means war?”
“Yes.”
Bill protested, “Goddammit, Admiral, you can’t start a private war of your own! Who’s going to take the responsibility?”
I replied, “I’ll take it! If anything gets in my way, we’ll shoot first and argue afterwards.”
The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

The USS Enterprise sails in October 1941 with its scout planes overhead.

(U.S. Navy)

Equipped, prepared, and looking for a war, Halsey and his men sailed until they got within range of Wake Island on December 4, dispatched the Marines, and then headed for home.

There is an interesting question here about whether it would have been better if Task Force 8 had met with the Japanese force at sea. It would surely have been eradicated, sending all 13 ships to the bottom, likely with all hands. But it would have warned Pearl of the attack, and might have sunk a Japanese ship or two before going down. And, the Japanese fleet was ordered to return home if intercepted or spotted before December 5.

But the worst case scenario would’ve been if Task Force 8 returned to Pearl on its scheduled date, December 6. The plan was to send most of the sailors and pilots ashore for leave or pass, giving Japan one of its prime carrier targets as well as additional cruisers to sink during the December 7 attack.

Luckily, a fluke accident occurred at sea. A destroyer had split a seam in rough seas, delaying the Task Force 8 arrival until, at best, 7:30 on December 7. A further delay during refueling pushed the timeline further right to noon.

Because of that single, slightly odd occurrence, 13 less ships, including one of America’s most valuable carriers, were present when the Japanese attack began. And the Japanese pilots were looking for the three carriers assigned to Pearl. As Imperial Japanese Navy Lt. Cmdr. Mitsuo Fuchida later described his arrival with the first wave:

I peered intently through my binoculars at the ships riding peacefully at anchor. One by one I counted them. Yes, the battleships were there all right, eight of them! But our last lingering hope of finding any carriers present was now gone. Not one was to be seen.
The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

USS Enterprise sailors watch as “scores” go up on a board detailing the ship and its pilots combat exploits.

(U.S. Navy)

And the Enterprise would go on to fight viciously for the U.S. in the war. Halsey spent December 7-8 looking for a fight. While it couldn’t make contact in those early moments of the war, it would find earn 20 battle stars in the fighting. It was instrumental to the victories at Midway, the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the Philippine Sea, and Leyte Gulf.

It suffered numerous strikes, but always returned to the fight. Its crew earned the Presidential Unit Citation and the Navy Unit Commendation. The ship, and much of the crew, survived the war. But the Enterprise was decommissioned in 1947.

Two great articles, linked above, were instrumental in writing this article. But a hat tip also goes out to Walter R. Borneman whose book The Admirals inspired this piece.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Marine division never set foot in the United States

When American military units are established or disestablished, it’s usually done on American soil. There are exceptions, but, for the most part, it is done in the United States. But one Marine division has the distinction of never setting foot in the United States for the duration its service.


During World War II, the Marine Corps underwent a massive expansion. The 1st Marine Division was established in February of 1941. Eventually, the Marines grew to six infantry divisions (today, there are four – three active and one reserve). Five were formed in the United States, but the 6th Marine Division was formed on the Pacific island where Marine legends, like John Basilone, made their mark on history – Guadalcanal – on September 7, 1944, a little over two years after the invasion of that island.

 

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
Marines from the 6th Marine Division on a patrol during the Battle of Okinawa. (USMC photo)

The division trained until it was sent to help take the island of Okinawa from Japan. The Japanese troops on that island didn’t give up easily. The battle spanned almost three months, leaving 12,520 Americans dead, including Lieutenant General Simon Buckner. Over 110,000 Japanese troops and at least 40,000 civilians were killed during the fighting.

During the fight for Okinawa, five Marines and one sailor with the 6th Marine Division were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions. The entire division was recognized with the Presidential Unit Citation. After Okinawa, the division was pulled back to Guam in order to prepare for the invasion of Japan — on an American territory, but not in the United States. Soon thereafter, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and forced Japan’s surrender. The division was instead sent to Tsingtao, China, where it was disestablished in 1946.

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
With the captured capital of Naha in the background, Marine Maj. Gen. Lemuel Shepherd, commanding general of the 6th Marine Division, relaxes on an Okinawan ridge long enough to consult a map of the terrain. (Marine Corps)

 

Today, the 6th Marine Division remains inactive. To learn more about what their courageous actions on Okinawa, watch the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: Welcome to Offutt, the only military installation you’ll find in Nebraska

Did you know there’s only one military installation in the entire state of Nebraska? Okay, maybe that’s not super surprising, since the state’s population is only around 1.9 million people. While there are National Guard facilities, the only installation you’ll find in the state has its roots as an old Army post.

Fort Crook is over 100 years old and got its start as a dispatch point for conflicts between the early American military and the indigenous peoples who lived on the Great Plains. Fort Crook’s first building was a blacksmith shop built in 1893, which is still standing today. Its barracks are still standing as well, only now they are used as offices for military personnel. Now, the area is known as Offutt Air Force Base. It’s located just south of Omaha, Nebraska.

The old houses of Generals Row face the barracks just across the lawn and are homes to current generals just as they were homes to many military officers throughout the years. All of the homes are on the National Historic Register. And the history of Offutt Air Force Base doesn’t end there. The oldest continuously working prison in the entire U.S. is on Offutt’s grounds. 

Fort Crook Begins its Transformation

In 1918, Fort Crook transformed into an airfield for use during World War I. Then in 1924, the US government changed its name to Offutt Field, honoring a fallen World War I pilot from Omaha, First Lieutenant Jarvis Offutt. 

It continued as a Military aviation center during World War II tasked with producing aircraft. The aircraft were built at the Martin Bomber Assembly Plant. Today, this plant has other uses. Building D is a bowling alley, the Logistics Readiness Squadron, and the Defense POWMIA Accounting Agency, just to name a few. The Martin Bomber Modification Center also remains standing, though today it is known as Offutt Field and is one of the Air Force’s largest gyms. 

Gaining Official Air Force Base Status

When World War II was over, Offutt Field officially turned into Offutt Air Force Base, taking on a different role once again. This time, it would serve as a host to Strategic Air Command which oversaw the arsenal of the country’s nuclear weapons. Its major facility looks like a pretty small building from the outside, though there’s a lot more where that came from. Underground is where much more of the facility exists. 

The Indispensable Offutt 

In 1966, Offutt Air Force Base began to host the 55th Wing, which it continues to host in the present. It is the largest wing of the US Air Force’s Air Combat Command. So, you might say that it’s a pretty big deal. How could you not? It houses the US Strategic Command Headquarters and the Air Force Weather Agency, its only weather wing. 

Offutt Air Force Base has 10,000 personnel, more than any other in US Air Combat Command and second in the entire Air Force. Around 16,000 family members and 11,000 retirees also reside in the area. The base is pretty much a small town, as most working military bases are. It has everything a person or family could need right there on its grounds. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The CIA’s Special Activities Division rescued the Dalai Lama from the Chinese communists

There aren’t a lot of places in the world that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency hasn’t been. Communist China became one of those places almost as soon as the agency was created. But for the Dalai Lama, they made an exception.

For much of the CIA’s formative years, it was locked in a struggle to stop the spread of Communism anywhere in the world. One of its earliest stops was the newly “liberated” Chinese Autonomous Region of Tibet. 

In 1950, China and Tibet were in diplomatic talks over the future of an independent, sovereign Tibet. China, now headed by the Chinese Communist Party, held that Tibet was part of China and sought to incorporate it. Anything else would lead to war. It was either a great negotiation tactic or a terrible one. 

A map of Tibet where the Dalai Lama is from.
The area in red represents Tibet, the region that has been fiercely disputed for decades.

But Chairman Mao would soon have an ace up his sleeve. As the talks continued, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army advanced into Tibet, captured the town of Qamdo, and occupied it. The Tibetan Army was weak and obsolete in the face of PLA forces fresh from winning the Chinese Civil War. The PLA held their positions as word got to the Tibetan delegation at the ongoing talks in India.

Negotiators were sent to Beijing in 1951, where they were presented with the Seventeen Point Agreement. Under threat of force, Tibet would become part of China.For its part, China guaranteed religious freedom and that the government, including the Dalai Lama, would remain in place. The Chinese Communist Party run Tibet’s defense and international affairs.

The Chinese did not allow for negotiations or for the delegates to confer with the Tibetan government.

The mountains of Tibet, where the Dalai Lama is from
The mountains of Tibet

With the agreement signed, the PLA marched into the Tibetan capital at Lhasa in what the Chinese call the “Peaceful Liberation of Tibet.” As Communist land reforms began to be implemented, however, Tibetans began to fight back.

Those resistance fighters were trained by the CIA’s Special Activities Division, who had been in Tibet for years. Tibetan fighters were trained in Colorado, Saipan, Nepal, and India in order to slow the spread of Chinese authority and sap the strength of the PLA. The 60,000 troops necessary to occupy Tibet required massive resources from Beijing and the CIA was happy to keep those troops busy.

Gyalo Thondup, brother to the 14th (and current) Dalai Lama reached out to the Americans from exile in India and helped coordinate the effort. Fighting broke out in 1956, as Tibetan rebe;s began destroying Chinese government offices and killing Communist officials. China responded by bombing a monastery. 

In 1959, rumor spread that China was planning to kidnap the Dalai Lama and remove him from the country. Tens of thousands of Tibetans took to the streets in protest and revolt. Though the PLA responded by killing scores of them in retaliation, the rebels were able to shuttle the Lama out of Lhasa. 

The Dalai Lama in his red robes

Tibetan resistance fighters smuggled him out of the city dressed as a common soldier and into the countryside where rebels had taken control of the area. There, they met with CIA-trained rebels who secured passage to India for the Tibetan leader. Only the CIA knows how he managed to escape the country.

When the Chinese discovered the Dalai Lama escaped, they killed even more Tibetans, allegedly stacking bodies in the street like “cordwood.”

After the 1959 uprising, China began to aggressively expand Communist influence in Tibet’s government while turning the tide against the Tibetan rebels. As the PLA began to advance, Tibetans fled their country for India and Nepal. The CIA stepped up its efforts in Tibet, supplying trained commandos, along with arms, munitions, and other supplies.

The clandestine undermining of Chinese efforts there continued until 1974, when President Richard Nixon changed U.S. policy toward China.

Articles

Medal of Honor recipient and former POW dies at 85

Air Force Col. Leo K. Thorsness, an F-105 pilot awarded the Medal of Honor for multiple feats of bravery in an aerial engagement who was later shot down and held as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton for six years, died May 2 at the age of 85.


His death was announced by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which did not disclose the cause of death.

Thorsness was deployed to Vietnam as a Wild Weasel, an aircrew that deliberately baited enemy missile and radar sites with their own jets. Once the site gave itself away by tracking the American plane or firing on it, the Weasels or accompanying aircraft would bomb the site.

Thorsness was leading a flight of four F-105s on April 19, 1967, when the dangerous mission went sideways. Thorsness and his electronic warfare operator had taken out two sites when another member of the flight was hit by an enemy missile.

The two-man crew was able to eject, but the pair was descending into hostile territory. Thorsness flew circles so that he could pinpoint where they landed to facilitate a rescue, but spotted an enemy MiG as he maneuvered.

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
Then-Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, at left, poses with his electronic warfare operator, Capt. Harold Johnson, next to their F-105 Fighter-Bomber. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Rescue crews were en route and Thorsness quickly attacked and killed the first MiG before flying to the tanker for fuel. Immediately after he refueled, he heard that the helicopter crews attempting the rescue were being threatened by a flight of four MiGs, and Thorsness flew through enemy anti-aircraft fire to reach the fight.

Thorsness and his EWO were on their own when they initiated the attack against the four MiGs. Thorsness quickly downed one and engaged the other three in aerial combat for 50 minutes, outnumbered and low on ammo but flying fiercely enough to drive them off.

Once again low on fuel, Thorsness headed back to the tanker but learned that another plane was lower than his. He gave up his fueling spot to allow the other to dock and so ran out of gas, forcing him to glide his aircraft back to friendly lines.

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history
Then-Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, second from left, stands with other Wild Weasels. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Only 11 days later, Thorsness and his EWO were shot down during a mission and became prisoners of the Hanoi Hilton. Thorsness was kept for years with another famous POW, Arizona Senator John McCain, a Navy pilot at the time.

Thorsness spent six years in the prison, three of them under nearly constant and brutal torture before international pressure relieved the conditions somewhat. His Medal of Honor was approved during that time, but it wasn’t announced until after his 1973 release for fear that the North Vietnamese would torture him worse if they knew about the medal.

MIGHTY HISTORY

New year, new you? Thank Caesar for that.

Many of us will collectively roll our eyes as we scroll our social media in January. Between the “New Year, New Me” posts and detailed resolutions our friends and family will be sharing, you may be over it. But rather than approaching your feed with a pessimistic and hardened heart, maybe a little bit of history will help you understand why people flock to do this every year.

New Year’s resolutions have been around a long time. Research has shown that the first resolutions can be traced 4,000 years past, to the ancient Babylonians. Back then they were said to have 12-day celebrations in honor of the new year, making promises to the gods in hopes that they would grant them favor throughout that year. These promises were serious too! The Babylonians felt that if they didn’t keep their promises and pay debts, they could fall out of favor. Much more serious than our failed commitments to going to the gym more often.

Julius Caesar was known for a lot of things but you may not be aware that it was he who constructed our traditionally recognized calendar, making January 1 the first day of the new year. He did this around 43 B.C. and felt like it made sense, with the word January coming from Janus, a two-faced God. The Romans believed that Janus looked backwards to the previous year and forward for the new. The Romans also began celebrating the New Year with promises to the gods along with some questionable sacrifices. Thankfully that practice went away, to the excitement of livestock everywhere.

Fast forward to 1740, the new year began to have some implications for Christians. The beginning of the year began to evolve into a way to think about ones past mistakes and resolving to do better in the future. There was even a special ceremony or service for this practice, something that many modern churches still do.

Although the root making resolutions have a strong religious foundation, it is definitely something now practiced widely by everyone in modern society. Around 45 percent of Americans make resolutions but only around 8 percent will actually follow through with them. Don’t let those odds discourage you, however. After the year-which-shall-not-be-named we all just experienced, a little hope and positivity is absolutely needed. Here are three simple ideas for obtainable resolutions to aspire to reach in 2021.

Give more grace

Do this not only for others but for yourself as well. The stressors of life and the ongoing pandemic didn’t go away with the flip of the calendar month, but how you approach them can. Instead of striving for perfection or certain hard-line expectations, look for ways to give grace when you or others come up short instead. We all deserve it.

Increase your generosity

This doesn’t mean to open your wallet – it refers to opening your heart instead. Look for ways to be kind or give your time to those in need. It will create moments of joy in your life and has been proven to support better overall health and well-being.

Don’t make crazy health resolutions

Add two more glasses of water to your day and resolve to spend 15 minutes outside moving in some way. If you decide to take this resolution further, that’s great! But if this is all you do – it’s huge. As a society we are notorious for too many lattes and not enough water, this is an obtainable goal to improve your health. Being outside and moving is attacking your physical and mental health at the same time. Doable!

History has taught us so many things. Although we no longer make resolutions to ensure our crops are successful, the intent and hope behind the New Year resolution hasn’t changed. Even when you see cringe-worthy resolutions on your social media feed, hope is still at the root. As we approach 2021 with the knowledge of that “other year” burned in our brains, let us do it with nothing but good vibes. We’ve had enough bad ones to last a lifetime.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the telephone helped pay for America’s 20th century wars

Wars are expensive. There’s just no way of getting around that fact. Men, weapons and supplies cost money and countries need a means of paying for them all. To do that, the United States has tried all kinds of ways to raise funds, from the use of War Bonds to forcing draft dodgers to pay an exorbitant fee. 

Even before the turn of the 20th century, the federal government found its ways of filling the war chests with enough gold to fight and win. While today’s perpetual wars are most often paid for in deficit spending, the government of old had to get creative. So it picked up the telephone. 

When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, the American federal government did not have an income tax. Times were simpler then and the federal government didn’t have the need for so much income or spending. Times definitely have changed and you can see that every April 15th. Those days are long gone and the income tax is here to stay. 

Instead, the United States relied on tariffs from international commerce to fund much of the federal budget. But that didn’t help in times of war, when extraordinary spending measures were required to fund military operations. 

So when Spain declared war on the United States and Congress turned around and did the same to Spain, it decided to levy a three percent tax on telephone service. At the time, it was believed to be a patriotic war tax for a luxury that few Americans had access to. Telephones in the days before the turn of the 20th century were expensive and rare. Many Americans wrote it off as a kind of luxury tax.

For a quick recap, this is what the Spanish-American War was all about. And it’s indirectly responsible for income tax. Thanks for that.

But as anyone who was ever owed money by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service knows, once the government has your money, it’s incredibly difficult to get it back. That tax that started in 1898 largely remained in place until 2006. 

That’s not to say that Boomers, Generation-Xers and Millennials have been paying for the Spanish-American War for much of their lives. The tax used to fund that war was rescinded in 1902. The Spanish-American War was not the last war the United States had to pay for. 

In 1914, war in Europe was looming and global trade was disrupted in the outbreak of World War I. The war cut deep into the profits of American companies, hurt tariff revenues, and forced the federal government to once again levy the tax on the telephone. When the United States actually entered World War I, the tax only increased. 

The wartime economic boom soon led to a post-war bust that again hurt businesses and revenue collections, so the World War I telephone excise tax didn’t go away until 1924. But the economy was a bust just five years later and in 1932, the telephone tax returned. By 1954, the tax was raised to 10 percent for local and long-distance calling. 

By the 1960s, more Americans had telephone service, so the excise tax dipped back to three percent in 1966. As U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War began to ramp up, so did the excise tax levied to pay for it. It was pretty much there to stay, but the only question was how much the telephone tax charged American telephone users. 

Eventually, the anti-war movement caught on to the fact that simply using the telephone was funding American military adventures abroad, and it was thus labeled the “war tax.” It hovered between 1-3%, but even in 2000, President Bill Clinton would veto a measure to cut it. 

Even though the tax wasn’t levied on anything but landline phone usage, if there was one thing the left and right could agree on, it was the phone tax had to go – it can’t be a luxury tax if everyone needs a phone. Conservative and liberal groups alike criticized the IRS for the tax, and after a 2006 lawsuit, the phone tax/war tax/luxury tax was finally gone. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 things you didn’t know about Operation Market Garden

It’s been 75 years since the launch of Operation Market Garden – the World War II mission to secure key bridges across Belgium and the Netherlands while pushing an Allied advance over the Rhine into Germany and ending the war in Europe by Christmas 1944. Unfortunately, many of Market Garden’s main aims failed, and the Christmas victory was not secured.

That doesn’t mean this brainchild of British Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery was a total failure, it was just slightly more ambitious than the Allies were prepared for. Here’s why.


The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

It was actually two operations.

Market Garden was divided into two sub-operations. The first was “Market,” an airborne assault that would capture the key bridges Allied forces needed to advance on German positions and cross into Germany. The second was “Garden,” where ground forces actually crossed those bridges and formed on the other side. In the north, the push would circumvent the Siegfried Line, creating the top part of a greater pincer movement of tanks inside Germany’s industrial heartland, as well as a 64-mile bulge in the front line.

Getting there would be slow going.

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

Six American paratroopers of the First Allied Airborne Army receive a final briefing from their commanding officer before Operation Market Garden.

(Imperial War Museum)

It was the largest airborne operation ever.

The British 1st Airborne Division and Polish 1st Independent Parachute Brigade were dropped around Oosterbeek to take bridges near Arnhem and Grave. The U.S. 101st Airborne was dropped near Eindhoven, and the 82nd was dropped near Nijmegen with the aim of taking bridges near there and Grave. In all, some 34,000 men would be airlifted into combat on the first day, with their equipment and support coming in by glider the next day. In the days that followed, they would be relieved by Allied troops zooming North to cross the river.

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

British POWs captured by the Germans at Arnhem.

The Allies thought the Nazis weren’t going to fight.

Isn’t that always what happens in a “surprise” defeat? Underestimating the enemy is always a mistake, no matter what the reason. In this case, the Allies thought German resistance to the invaders would be minimal because the Nazis were in full retreat mode after the Allies liberated much of occupied France. They were wrong. Hitler saw the retreat as a collapse on the Western Front and recalled one of his best Field Marshals from retirement, Gerd von Rundstedt. Von Rundstedt quickly reorganized the German forces in the West and moved reinforcements to the areas near key bridges and major cities.

Even though Dutch resistance fighters and their own communications intercepts told the Allies there would be more fighting than planned, they went ahead with the operation anyway.

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Cromwell tanks speed toward Nijmegen, Sep. 20, 1944.

Speed was essential and the Allies didn’t have it.

The surprise of using 34,000-plus paratroopers definitely worked on the German defenders. But still, some attacks did not proceed as planned, and though most bridges were taken, some were not, and some were demolished by their defenders. The British were forced to engage their targets with half the men required. What’s worse is that the paratrooper’s relief was moving much slower than expected, moving about half of its planned advance on the first day. To make matters worse, British Gen. Sir Brian Horrocks halted his advance on the second day to regroup after assisting in the assault on Nijmegen Bridge.

It was the halt that would keep British troops at Arnhem from getting the forces they needed to be successful and spell the ultimate failure of Market Garden.

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British Engineers remove explosives set by German engineers on a bridge near Arnhem.

The British took the brunt of the casualties.

Overall, Market Garden cost the Allies between 15,000 and 17,000 killed, captured, or wounded. The British 1st Airborne Division was the hardest hit, starting the battle with 10,600 men and suffering 1,485 killed and some 6,414 captured. They failed to take and hold the bridge at Arnhem, encountering stiff resistance and reinforcement from the Nazi troops there. Because of that bridge, the invasion of Nazi Germany over the lower Rhine could not proceed.

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

“Monty” still saw Market Garden as a success.

British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was a steadfast supporter of the operation, even after considering all its operational successes and failures. Despite the lack of intelligence and overly optimistic planning in terms of the defenders, Montgomery still considered the operation a “90 percent” success.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why US troops didn’t use drum magazines in tommy guns

The World War I-era U.S. Army was unprepared for fighting a global confrontation in the 20th Century. Hell, it was unprepared for any modern confrontation at the turn of the century. As America prepared to enter the Great War, the War Department called on its military minds to develop a lightweight, short-range, trench-clearing game changer. The result was the Thompson submachine gun.


The “Tommy Gun,” as it came to be called, used the Colt M1911 grip and its dependable .45-caliber ammunition. By 1919, the fully-automatic weapon was perfected, and it was capable of using a 20-round block magazine or a 50- to 100-round drum magazine. But the war was over and the surplus was sold on the civilian market to anyone who could afford one – including notorious gangsters.

It was the outlaws and gangsters who made the Tommy Gun iconic.

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Legendary gangster John Dillinger with Tommy Gun.

In nearly every photo of the era, the gangsters can be seen using the drum magazines, which provided them more ammunition for the weapon’s high rate of fire. It makes sense for an outlaw to use more ammo when trying to make a quick, clean getaway from the fuzz. Shouldn’t it make sense for U.S. troops to do the same when advancing in World War II?

The answer is no, and not just because a 100-round magazine will help deplete ammunition much faster than having to conserve 20- or 30-round box mags. It turns out, the Thompson was really bulky and not so easy to carry while slung with a drum magazine. More than just being unwieldy, the rounds tended to rattle inside the drum magazine and produced a lot of unwanted noise, noise that could get an entire unit killed in combat.

But the most important reason was reloading.

The 7 most intense air battles in aviation history

Yeah, gangsters look cool and all, but have you ever seen Marines fighting to take Okinawa?

Switching between a drum magazine and a box magazine required an extra set of tools. To load a drum magazine also required the user to have a special tool that would lock the bolt back to the rear. And, unlike spring-loaded box mags that were already under tension, reloading a drum magazine required a tool to rotate the spring in the magazine enough to put the rounds under the necessary tension.

Worst of all, if you lost any of the tools needed to reload the weapon, you would be hard-pressed to actually be able to do it without assistance. Drum mags also weighed more and took up more space in a very limited kit. Whereas the box magazine could be loaded and dropped from the rifle in seconds, shared with a buddy, and reloaded just as fast.

The difference between 30 second and 3 seconds under fire in World War II could have been the difference between life and death. In gangland Chicago, all you needed was time for your V8 Packard to speed away before the Untouchables swooped in.

Articles

This American tractor became the world’s first-ever tank

Benjamin Holt was a proud industrialist creating tractors and other farming equipment when World War I broke out. While he prided himself on innovation, he stuck to creating better and better farming equipment rather than trying to create arms for the war effort.


But it turns out his farming equipment was actually destined to become one of the greatest innovations of war to emerge from that conflict.

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The original Caterpillar Tractor from Holt. (Photo: HoltCat.com)

That’s because Holt had developed a new tractor design in 1904, the “Caterpillar,” which used treads instead of wheels, allowing it to stay above the mud of the San Joaquin River Delta near Sacramento, California.

Holt replaced the steam engines of his original design with gasoline power ones in 1908, and the design took off. When World War I opened, horses butchered in front line fighting were slowly replaced with tractors, including Holt’s.

His design was actually a favorite on the front lines because the amazing grip of his caterpillar treads allowed the tractor to operate in heavy mud and to pull itself out of shell craters.

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An early Caterpillar Tractor from Holt pulls artillery in World War I. (Photo: HoltCat.com)

So there was little surprise when the British government placed an order for about 1,000 Holt Caterpillar tractors.

But when those same tractors rolled onto the battlefield, there was plenty of reason for German soldiers to sh-t their pants.

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(Newspaper: Evening Public Ledger/Library of Congress)

That’s because those tractors had undergone the “Mad Max” treatment courtesy of the Royal Navy, who covered them in thick metal plates, packed them with machine guns and cannon, and sent them crawling across the battlefield at a whopping 4 mph.

And that’s how the first-ever tank was born.

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(Photo: Public Domain/British Government)

The British Mark I Tanks, built on the Holt Caterpillar tractor, were custom-made to end the stalemate of trench warfare. Their long bodies and treads allowed them to roll over many trenches and barbed wire obstacles like they weren’t there while their guns wiped out enemy defenses and infantry.

Behind them, infantrymen poured through the gaps created by the tanks and quickly seized German trenches and territory.

While the first attack at Flers Courcellette had its issues — mostly that the tanks broke down and were too slow to reposition themselves after the advance to prepare for the German counterattack — their rapid drive toward the objective served as their proof of concept.

British Gen. Douglas Haig, the commander of Allied forces at the Somme, requested hundreds more of the makeshift tanks, and armored warfare quickly became a new standard.

Better French and British tank designs soon followed the Mark 1, but it was an American tractor that carried the first tanks to fight in war.

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