Every country’s military has their own version of Special Forces. However, none of them are quite like the 14th Intelligence Detachment, ‘The Det,’ which was formed as part of the British Army Special Forces during a time known as The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Det was tasked with mounting surveillance and intelligence gathering operations against the Irish Republican Army and their allies.
They worked in the shadows. No one knew who they were or what they did. They received no acknowledgement or fanfare. The world will never know who they were. But, this dedicated force of highly-trained plain-clothes operatives worked to gather the intelligence needed for the British Army and others to maintain their peacekeeping role between the IRA and the unionist paramilitary forces.
The Det was formed after the British Army’s intelligence unit, the Military Reaction Force, was compromised. The MRF was compromised when IRA double-agents were discovered and then interrogated. They spilled details about a covert MRF operation out of Four Squares laundry in Belfast. This led to an IRA ambush of a MRF laundry van, which killed one undercover soldier.
With the MRF compromised, the Det was set up in 1973. The Det was open to all members of the armed services and to both genders. For the first time, women were allowed to be a part of the UK Special Forces. Each candidate had to pass a rigorous selection process. Members of the Det were expected to have excellent observational abilities, stamina and the ability to think under stress, as well as a sense of self-confidence and self-reliance as the majority of surveillance and intelligence gathering operations were solo missions.
The IRA treated the conflict like guerilla warfare for national independence. They used street fighting, sensational bombings and sniper attacks, which led to the British government classifying their aggressions as terrorism. The Det’s main focus during this time was utilizing their unique talents and training to gather information on the members of the IRA so that the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary could then intervene.
The skills and training of the members of the Det included the disciplines of surveillance, planting bugs and covert video cameras, and close quarters combat. They were also experts in the use of pistols, sub machine guns, carbines and assault rifles. They were also trained in unarmed combat, as well as techniques to disarm and neutralize knife or gun-wielding assailants. It was important for each member to be adept in these skills in order to be able to protect themselves while undercover.
Along with this specialized training, the Det was also equipped with unique equipment much of which could be considered ahead of its time. This included a fleet of ordinary looking saloon cars called ‘Q’ cars. These vehicles were specially equipped with covert radios, video and still cameras, concealed weapons packs, brake lights which could be switched on and off, and engine cut off switches to prevent hijacking. All of these worked to aid in the surveillance missions of the operators. The Det also had their own flight of Army Air Corps Gazelles, which were referred to as ‘The Bat Flight.’ The Gazelles carried sophisticated surveillance gear which was uniquely suited to the operations of ‘The Det.’
From the time of its inception until the end of The Troubles the Det performed numerous operations, mostly following and observing suspected terrorists. These painstakingly planned intelligence operations often led to the arrest of the suspected terrorists and/or the discovery of weapons caches. Occasionally the members of the Det would find themselves in a firefight with terrorists, this was usually due to their cover being blown. Unfortunately, several Det operators tragically lost their lives in Northern Ireland.
The highly-trained members of the Det did not do what they did for glory. They didn’t do it for the accolades, as there were none offered. These elite members put themselves in danger because they believed in what they were working for. They wanted to do their part to protect their country and those they loved. They believed in justice. They believed in the greater good. They knew going into it that no one would ever know what they did or the sacrifices they made in the name of Queen and country. But, they went in anyway. They didn’t see themselves as heroic. But, the elite members of the Det can truly be considered the unsung heroes of The Troubles.
The Det has now been absorbed into the British Army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment, with a mission to fight the global war on terrorism.
Approximately two months after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the war department to relocate thousands of Japanese and force them to live in internment camps — reportedly one-half were already U.S. citizens.
In Hawaii (which wouldn’t become an American state until 1959), more than one-third of the island’s population were first and second generation Japanese. They faced similar scrutiny as those living in the continental United States.
High ranking military advisors expressed concern with the Japanese currently serving in the armed forces because they believed their allegiance was with the enemy. This ideology caused many Japanese men and women to be relieved of their military duties.
Back in the States, many second-generation Japanese men, known as Nesei, detained in the internment camps wanted to show their devotion to the U.S. and decided to volunteer for military service.
Impressed with the Japanese volunteers, the war department created an all-Nisei combat unit — the 100th infantry battalion. After a year of intense infantry training, they first deployed to North Africa and then took part in attacks on enemy forces in Monte Cassino, Italy.
In 1943, the 100th was reorganized and became part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which included Nisei volunteers from Hawaii. The next year, they moved to the battlefields of France where they fought in eight major campaigns, and played a pivotal role the rescue the Texas 36th infantry division known as the “Lost Battalion.”
The following year, the proud unit helped liberate the Jews from the first established Nazi concentration camp in Dachau, Germany.
In the Pacific, several Nisei troops worked as Japanese translators and were frequently mistaken for enemy combatants.
A Nisei troop discusses terms of surrender with a Japanese officer.
In a team, there’s a leader, a lancer, the smart guy and the lovable big guy.
In the Air Force, it’s the fighter jets, the stealth bombers, the drones and the cargo planes … except they aren’t as beloved as the big guy.
Often overshadowed by their more aggressive, quicker and sleeker cousins, the fighter jets, the heavy aircraft are the airframes that carry the US Air Force and sister-service components, and it is about time they get the love they deserve.
Some people tend to think the Air Force is all about the pilots that bring the fight to the enemy and protect America’s freedoms from the sky with sleek, supersonic fighter jets. They’re not wrong, to a point. Fighter pilots in the Air Force do exactly that.
Crew chiefs with the 421st Aircraft Maintenance Unit work on an F35A Lightning II at Hill Air Force Base, in Utah, July 31, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)
But just as an army marches on its stomach, an air force’s mobility depends on the fleet of aircraft and maintainers to handle the logistics of troop and material movement. That is where the heavies and their crew come in.
Aircraft from the modern C-17 Globemaster III and the KC-46 Pegasus — the new kid on the block — to the venerable C-130 Hercules, B-52 Stratofortress, KC-135 Stratotanker and others play a massive role in the service’s global operations, all with different purposes. Although one commonality they have is this — all of their crew chiefs start their careers with training at Sheppard AFB.
“For their first 23 days of training, its fundamentals,” said Master Sgt. Jason Ricke, section chief for 362nd Training Squadron’s Heavies Flight. “Fundamentals have a large focus. They learn a lot about fighters, heavies, some of the UAVs, bombers cargo, but if they’re going to 135s, the 52, or 130s, they’ll learn the specifics here [in the 362nd Training Squadron.]”
Ricke said students, whether coming in with some experience in mechanics or can’t tell the difference between a wrench and a hammer, will learn the heavy maintainer lifestyle and comradery in the crew chief apprentice course.
C-130 crew chief apprentice students open the cargo door of a C-130 Hercules at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, Nov. 20, 2018.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Pedro Tenorio)
“A lot of people don’t know what goes into being a crew chief specifically. It’s a lot of hours and hard work,” Tech. Sgt. Dennis Neville, 362nd Training Squadron Instructor Supervisor for the C-130 course, said. “We get students with a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Some of them who are excited to be here, some who don’t know what they will be doing yet. That’s something they’ll pick up and go with once they get out on that flight line and once they see their aircraft fly for the first time.”
Neville said there is no better feeling as a crew chief than seeing your aircraft leave with a pallet of supplies or a pallet of patients or even filled to the brim with bullets and bombs and watch it come back with nothing. Knowing that it completed its mission, but not without the help of the crew chiefs.
“Without the maintainers, and not just crew chiefs but maintainers in general, these aircraft don’t fly or at least they aren’t going to fly like they’re supposed to,” Neville said. “[The pilot] will have no guidance systems, no electrical systems, you definitely can’t fly without your engines, you gotta have fuels as well, different shops maintain those systems without them, that aircraft would just sit there and people will just admire it from the ground and it’ll never get to do its mission.”
US Air Force crew chief trainees change a tire on a KC-10 Extender at Travis Air Force Base, California, Feb. 7, 2018.
(US Air Force photo by Heide Couch)
This mission to get these aircraft in the air is exemplified in the crew chiefs that must undergo months of training learning more than three volumes of information. Information pertaining to engine pylons, navigator positions, booms, loadmaster tasks and refueling missions, the crew chief will learn all these tasks, depending on their assigned airframe.
Crew chiefs are part of the maintenance force that ensure aircraft are airworthy and mission-ready so pilots can complete their various variety of missions.
Examples of the wide range of missions for the C-130, one of USAF’s oldest and most reliable assets, can range from humanitarian missions, military supply runs to allies all over the world, transporting hardware like tanks for the Army, to being outfitted into a AC-130 “Spooky” gunship and going to battle with an array of weaponry to wreak havoc on the enemy.
The KC-135’s mission is a bit more streamlined as it is about 300 gas stations with wings. Its mission is to refuel other aircraft during flight so they can continue their mission without landing.
B-52 crew chief apprentice course students install a drag chute onto a B-52 Stratofortress at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, Nov. 19, 2018.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Pedro Tenorio)
The B-52 is the oldest bomber in the Air Force inventory, having first begun flying in the 1950s. The fortress in the sky is able to fly long distances and carry around 70,000 pounds of mixed ordnance.
All these flying giants are sustained by crew chiefs that have trained at Sheppard. Ricke said the crew chief job, while daunting at times, because of the age of some aircraft in the fleet, is also rewarding because he works on aircraft and builds camaraderie with fellow maintainers. It’s why he continues to put on the uniform.
“What our instructors instill the most within the students is the brotherhood and sisterhood between all maintainers,” he said.
Ricke said everyone who joined the Air Force, right next to their personal reason, was a desire to be part of something bigger than themselves, a desire to be part of a team or a second family. He said being an Air Force maintainer is something a student, whether or not they specifically wanted the maintainer job, will learn to and hopefully become excited about being part of this important team of unsung heroes.
“That’s probably the main things that really kept me around,” he said. “You’ll never make better friends than the ones you make in the military service. When it’s easy and nice anyone can do the job, but when it gets tough and dirty that’s when the best people show up and that’s when best friends make it fun.”
From left, Airman Greg Hogle, Airman 1st Class Daniel Miranda, Airman George Michael Singer III, and Airman Brycen Brooks, all B-52 crew chief apprentice course students, in a B-52 Stratofortress at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, July 2, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Pedro Tenorio)
Ricke said he tries to instill these values into the students who come through that while doing their job, know there’s people who are there that can help pick up the slack as being a maintainer is a hard job. He and Neville also encourage students to try to become flying crew chiefs, a position that makes all the hardships seem worth it.
“The first time they get to do their first TDY when becoming a flying crew chief, that’s really when it gets brought home and you get to see your part of this mission,” Neville said. “The biggest thing is that drive and force, needs to remember, those pilots can’t fly those without us and who doesn’t want to fly over the world as a part of your job. There’s great food all over the world.”
Ricke said the same thing about flying crew chiefs being one of the more rewarding parts of the hard crew chief life and said whether the mission is a four to five day trip just dropping supplies or working on an military training exercise with the Army for two weeks, becoming a flying crew chief is a goal any new crew chief should strive for.
Many of the aircraft in the Air Force’s heavies fleet will be on display at the SAFB Air Show this Oct. 26-27, showing off the often underappreciated heavy aircraft that are the base of our Air Force.
“For all our cargo aircraft, they will be opened up so people can walk through it, go in the flight deck, they can experience it all,” Ricke said. “That’s the thing for us, showing them one aspect of how this little thing makes all this move around, it’s all just a piece of the puzzle and to show them that we don’t just have fighters or bombers, they can learn about the cargo mission, the training mission.”
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Thanks to George Aldrich and his team of NASA sniffers, astronauts can breathe a little bit easier. Aldrich is a chemical specialist or “chief sniffer” at the White Sands Test Facility’s Molecular Desorption and Analysis Laboratory in New Mexico. His job is to smell items before they can be flown in the space shuttle.
Aldrich explained that smells change in space and that once astronauts are up there, they’re stuck with whatever smells are onboard with them. In space, astronauts aren’t able to open the window for extra ventilation, Aldrich said. He also said that it is important not to introduce substances that will change the delicate balance of the climate of the International Space Station and the space shuttle.
More than being merely unpleasant, smells in space can indicate a health threat. Even objects that give off no odor can emit dangerous chemicals by a process called off-gassing. If an object’s off-gassing has toxic effects, it can be a matter of life and death.
“Smell is brought out by confined spaces and heat,” said Aldrich, “yet astronauts have no way of escaping a smell if it becomes pervasive. If that smell comes from dangerous compounds, it’s a serious health threat.”
It is Aldrich’s job to use his sense of smell to ensure the olfactory comfort, as well as the safety, of astronauts on orbit.
When he was just 18 years old, Aldrich began working at White Sand’s fire department and was asked to be on the department’s Odor Panel. Aldrich explained that one of the requirements to get a job as a sniffer is a lack of any allergies or respiratory problems. “If you have a lot of allergies, your nasal passages are already irritated and cannot be used,” he said.
NASA calibrates and certifies its sniffers’ noses every four months using a “10-bottle test” in which seven of the bottles have odors and three of them are blanks. The seven scents must be categorized as musky, floral, ethereal, camphoraceous, minty, pungent or putrid.
According to the NASAexplores Web site, Aldrich’s team tests nearly all items that astronauts would encounter during their flight — including fabric, toothpaste, circuit boards, makeup and even the ink on their checklists.
First, the items are tested for toxicity. They are placed into individually sealed containers and then into an oven, which is heated to 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) for three days to speed up the off-gassing process. The gases are then extracted and tested to determine whether they are toxic or carcinogenic. If the gases are deemed safe, the items then undergo odor testing.
Aldrich and four other team members smell the items and rank them on a scale of zero to four, ranging from non-detectable (zero), to barely detectable, easily detectable, objectionable and offensive (four). Aldrich refers to level four as “get-me-out-of-here.” Because the sense of smell can vary from person to person, sniffers give each object its own ratings, from which an average is obtained. If an item rates more than a 2.4 on the scale, it fails the test and is not allowed on the flight. Some items that have failed are camera film, felt-tipped markers, mascara and certain types of stuffed animals. Aldrich has done 765 of these “smell missions” to date.
NASA could use dogs or “electronic noses” for this testing, but as Aldrich pointed out, the Agency would rather use human sniffers because they serve as a screening test for the also-human astronauts. The human testers can more accurately identify smells that will offend the human crewmembers than an electronic nose could.
As a result of his career, Aldrich has had some uncommon opportunities. He has served as a judge four times at the Odor-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Competition. He has also appeared on television a number of times, including appearances on two game shows.
While others may chuckle at his unusual occupation, Aldrich said he believes in its value.
“I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think it was important,” he said.
This article originally appeared on NASA. Follow @NASA on Twitter.
American and Afghan forces were briefing each other at a forward operating base on March 11, 2013, about that day’s mission when machine gun rounds suddenly rained down on them.
The group immediately looked to see where the shots were coming from. The lone airman in the group, then-Tech. Sgt. Delorean Sheridan, identified the source of the shots, which turned out to be coming from a truck in the base’s motor pool.
“Initially, everyone starts to look to see what’s going on,” Sheridan, a combat controller, later told Stars and Stripes. “We’re accustomed to shooting, so our first instinct is, ‘OK, what is the person shooting at?’ I turned and looked back and I saw this guy shooting at me, and the light bulbs hit: It’s some guy trying to kill us.”
The shooter was a new member of the Afghan National Police who had slipped unnoticed to the bed of the truck and taken control of its machine gun.
It was a so-called “green-on-blue attack” — when supposed allies attack friendly forces. Meanwhile, insurgents from outside the base joined what was clearly a coordinated attack, sending more rounds into the grouped-up men. Bullet fragments even struck Sheridan’s body armor.
Sheridan decided that Afghan National Police officer or not, anyone who fired on him from within hand grenade range was conducting a near ambush and it was time to respond with force. He sprinted 25 feet to the truck and fired at his attacker up close and personal.
Once the on-base shooter was down, Sheridan ran back into the kill zone where the machine gun and AK fire from outside the base was still coming in. He grabbed the wounded and carried them to cover and medical aid.
As medics worked to save the wounded, Sheridan called in MEDEVAC flights for the 25 men hit in the fight — an airlift that required six helicopter flights. Twenty-three of them would survive the battle.
While the MEDEVACs were coming in and out, Sheridan assisted with carrying litters and called in strikes on the insurgent forces still attacking the base. The close air support broke up the enemy’s attacks and killed four of the militants.
In the first season of Amazon’s Jack Ryan, the eponymous character begins as a low-level financial analyst within the CIA. The series is, essentially, one big prequel, connecting to what will ultimately become Tom Clancy’s Ryanverse, a fictional reality that’s the basis for many great films, like The Hunt for Red October and The Sum of All Fears.
At the series’ start, Ryan is just a lowly desk-jockey, reluctant to embrace danger — he begins the series complaining about being sent into a combat zone. Now, it’s not necessarily a plot hole, but a CIA analyst being reluctant to get into the mix is a lot like a young private complaining that they’re being sent to Afghanistan: It happens so often that they should kind of expect their number to be called.
CIA analysts often provide the Department of Defense with the actionable intelligence they need to conduct their missions. That being said, the life of a CIA analyst isn’t the fun, high-stakes adventure that films often make it out to be. Since information about specific events is rarely released to the public, we often only hear about their missions well after the fact, or in some broad, vague way.
Each analyst is specifically trained in a given field and is sent to a specific region to learn one specific thing. This is fairly well represented in the show — Ryan is sent to Yemen to learn about terrorist spending habits there. Actual analysts would be given more mundane tasks, yes, but their missions would be along those lines.
Even if it’s a tad unrealistic, upping the ante makes for a great show.
Hacking in the real world is more like using software to crack passwords than improvising lines of written code, just to demystify that one, too.
For the most part, analysts often only report local happenings to their higher ups. Sure, a deep-undercover operative sent to Afghanistan in 2000 may have been doing all that secret-squirrel stuff and agents sent to Berlin in the 70s could have been living it up like James Bond — but analysts might be sent anywhere for any reason, like to get a feel of the trends in the Kazakh media.
The whole spy world gets demystified when you realize that it’s actually kinda boring. Take the often-misunderstood CIA cyber analysts, for example. Moments where you can flex your super-hacker muscles like they do in the movies probably exists, but you’re mostly just gathering intelligence via social media analysis.
Don’t get that twisted, though. They’re still going to be involved with the cool moments you see in spy films — just not very often.
Hamid Karzai with Special Forces and CIA Paramilitary in late 2001.
Then there’re the analysts that get embedded with the troops. On one extreme, they’re working hand-in-hand with the special operations community to collect as much information as possible about any given threat, like on the Abbottabad Compound where Osama Bin Laden hid. Or they could be working with conventional forces to gather whatever the troops learn while deployed.
Everything just comes down to the second word in the CIA’s name — intelligence — and learning what they can from anywhere and everyone.
The future Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman and civil rights pioneer Jackie Robinson was a young lieutenant facing court-martial in August 1944 for refusing to give up his seat on a bus near Camp Hood, Texas, while training as a tanker.
The segregation situation at Camp Hood was arguably one of the worst for black service members in the country. The civilian buses contracted to work the routes onto and off of post were fully segregated as were nearly all of the base facilities. While there for training, Robinson had fairly regular confrontations with other officers over racial issues on the base.
Robinson was assigned to a black armored unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, as a second lieutenant. He was one of the few black officers in a unit with mostly white leadership.
On July 6, 1944, near the end of a two-year training pipeline, Robinson took a seat on a civilian bus next to a white woman on Camp Hood and the driver ordered him to move to the back of the bus.
Robinson refused and the military police were called to arrest him. While waiting for the MPs and again at the camp’s provost marshall office, Robinson was called “nigger” by both civilians and military personnel whom he outranked.
Angry from his treatment and frustrated at the rampant discrimination on the post, Robinson refused to wait in the provost marshal’s office and was escorted to the hospital under guard and under protest.
The prosecution did not charge Robinson for his actions on the bus, but they did charge him for disrespecting a military police captain and for disobeying an order from the same captain.
His trial opened on Aug. 2 and ran for 17 days. Bates testified that Robinson was an outstanding officer. Bates even told the military panel that Robinson was traveling on the bus on July 6 at his request. Robinson had reported to a civilian hospital for a medical evaluation to see if he could ship out to Europe with the 761st.
Meanwhile Robinson’s defense attorney, Capt. William A. Cline, managed to highlight inconsistencies in the prosecution’s witness testimonies and prove that Robinson’s actions only took place after he was repeatedly disrespected by lower-ranking soldiers.
Gunner Cpl. Carlton Chapman of the 761st Tank Battalion poses in his M4 Sherman tank near Nancy, France, Nov. 5, 1944. (Photo: National Archives)
The defense won its case and Robinson was freed. Rather than fight to rejoin the 761st or train with the 758th, he decided to accept the Army’s assessment that he should be medically retired from service due to a bone chip in his ankle that sometimes caused the joint to seize up.
The U.S. Army of the future needs the gear appropriate for tomorrow’s conflicts — and that means armor. Not only will that that future Army be responsible for everything it does at current, it also needs to be prepared for the unknown — situations we can’t foresee today. Who knows which country or actors will be the major threat of the coming days anyway?
The Army’s solution is the Soldier Protection System, a modular, scaleable armor that is both lightweight and adaptable to future technology and threats.
Like former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once infamously said, you go to war with the Army you have, not the Army you might wish you had. Now, the Army is prepping to go to war with the Army it wants to have. Each piece of the new armor system is designed so the wearing soldier can modify and scale it up (or down) depending on the nature of their mission on any given day.
At its most minimal, the system is a 2.8 pound vest that is capable of being worn under civilian clothing. Even at such a small weight, the new armor can still stop rounds from a sidearm. At its most protective, the armor is a mix of plates and soft kevlar that can stop blasts from explosions and shell fragments from munitions like Russian artillery shells — all without compromising the soldier’s range of motion.
Pfc. Chris Lunsford, 4-14 Cavalry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, communicates with local children during a presence patrol in Sinjar, Iraq, on May 30, 2006.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey)
Over the course of the last 15 years of war, body armor has evolved — but usually only getting bigger and more restrictive in the process. The total weight of armor added to a soldier’s carry topped out at 27 pounds in 2016. The Soldier Protection System, from its onset, has been aimed at curbing the weight, reducing it as much as one-quarter in some areas of protection. New systems also include hearing protection and a modular face shield, all without increasing the weight carried overall.
The old system was protective, but limiting in many ways. It had none of the included ear and eye protection the Soldier Protection System has and it was not very conducive to the terrain troops had to overcome in the mountains of Afghanistan. It also wasn’t very helpful in beating the blazing heat of Iraqi deserts. The clunky armor was protective, but often impaired mobility while maneuvering and bringing small arms to bear while in the heat of the moment. When facing lightly-outfitted insurgents, and the armor could impede a soldier’s ability when running to cover.
U.S. Army Soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment conduct a halt while searching mountains in Andar province, Afghanistan, for Taliban members and weapons caches June 6, 2007.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Marcus Quarterman)
Even with the new modifications, the Army’s armor doesn’t protect much against the blast-induced brain injuries so common on the battlefields of the Global War on Terror. Even firing heavy weapons at an enemy can cause traumatic brain injuries. Some studies suggest the new, lighter-weight helmet of the Soldier Protection System can help with the issues surrounding blast damage, but cannot mitigate it completely.
The recent improvements in armor design aren’t the end of the road for Army researchers. They continue to design and redesign the armor to meet the needs of today’s (and tomorrow’s) Army operations, to protect vulnerable areas not covered by even the Soldier Protection System while continuing to drop the total weight carried by U.S. troops in combat.
In the early morning hours of May 7, 1945, the remnants of Nazi Germany’s military leadership signed an unconditional surrender to Allied forces.
When the news broke the next day, soldiers and civilians around the world heralded Victory in Europe Day — the Soviet Union would mark Victory Day on May 9 — exuberant about the end of nearly six years of war that had destroyed much of Europe.
When German and Allied military officials gathered again in Berlin near midnight on May 8 to sign surrender documents, the atmosphere in the room was laden with emotional and political weight.
The Germans, characteristically severe, went through the proceedings in a mix of resignation and resentment, while the Soviets, Americans, and other Allies were relieved at the war’s conclusion.
All of them were uncertain what would come next.
Historian Antony Beevor’s sweeping history of the final months on the eastern front, “The Fall of Berlin 1945,” captured the mood in the room as victors and vanquished gathered to bring their conflict to an end:
“Just before midnight the representatives of the allies entered the hall ‘in a two-storey building of the former canteen of the German military engineering college in Karlshorst.’ General Bogdanov, the commander of the 2nd Guards Tank Army, and another Soviet general sat down by mistake on seats reserved for the German delegation.”
“A staff officer whispered in their ears and ‘they jumped up, literally as if stung by a snake’ and went to sit at another table. Western pressmen and newreel cameramen apparently ‘behaved like madmen’. In their desperation for good positions, they were shoving generals aside and tried to push in behind the top table under the flags of the four allies.”
The German delegation then entered the room — its members looking both “resigned” and “imperious.”
Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, commander of the Nazi armed forces during the final days of the war, “sat very straight in his chair, with clenched fists,” Beevor wrote. “Just behind him, a tall German staff officer standing to attention ‘was crying without a single muscle of his face moving.'”
Gen. Georgy Zhukov, a senior Soviet commander during the war’s final days, stood to invite the Germans “to sign the act of capitulation.” Keitel, impatient, gestured for the documents to be brought to him. “Tell them to come here to sign,” Zhukov said.
Keitel walked over to sign, “ostentatiously” removing his gloves to do so, unaware that the representative for the chief of Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, was lingering just over his shoulder.
“‘The German delegation may leave the hall,'” Zhukov said once the signing was complete, Beevor wrote, adding:
“The three men stood up. Keitel, ‘his jowls hanging heavily like a bulldog’s’, raised his marshal’s baton in salute, then turned on his heel. As the door closed behind them, it was almost as if everybody would in the room exhaled in unison. The tension relaxed instantaneously. Zhukov was smiling, so was [British Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur] Tedder. Everybody began to talk animatedly and shake hands. Soviet officers embraced each other with bear hugs.”
“The party which followed went on until almost dawn, with songs and dances. Marshal Zhukov himself danced the Russkaya to loud cheers from his generals. From inside, they could clearly hear gunfire all over the city as officers and soldiers blasted their remaining ammunition into the night sky in celebration. The war was over.”
The chaos of the war had ceased, but for Soviets and Germans other hardships were to come.
Zhukov, long a confidant of Stalin, earned glory for his command during the war, but he would soon find himself on the outs with the mercurial Soviet leader.
Keitel would face war-crimes charges, including crimes against humanity. He was convicted and hanged in October 1946. Like other Nazi leaders who were hanged, Keitel’s body didn’t drop with enough force to break his neck. He dangled at the end of the hangman’s rope for 24 minutes before dying.
Germans, many of them under the yoke of the Soviet Union, would struggle to rebuild both physically from the war and emotionally from their encounter with Allies forces — Soviet soldiers in particular. Berlin, buffered by two weeks of intense urban fighting, was shattered.
The Soviet Union’s drive for political vengeance and economic advantage lead it to hobble or strip much of East Germany’s infrastructure and resources.
America has 50 attack submarines in active service designed to tail and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships. China and Russia have dozens more.
Strangely enough, only one submarine battle has been fought underwater in over 100 years of modern submarine warfare — it was a World War II action that saw a British sub with limited firepower attack a much larger German adversary.
The fight took place in 1945, near the end of the war. British intelligence intercepted communications about Operation Caesar, an attempt by Germany to send advanced technology to Japan, helping it stay in the war and, hopefully, buying the Axis a few more months to turn everything around.
The Germans had loaded prototypes and advanced weapon designs as well as German and Japanese scientists onto U-864 with massive amounts of liquid mercury for transport to Japan. Some of the most exciting pieces of technology onboard were jet engines from German manufacturers.
Operation Caesar was launched on Dec. 5, 1944, under the command of Corvette Capt. Ralf-Reimar Wolfram. His rank is the equivalent of a U.S. lieutenant commander or major — fairly junior for such an important mission.
His initial plan was solid. The Allies controlled much of the water he would have to transit, and the beginning was the most dangerous. Britain had solid control of the North Sea, so Wolfram decided to stick to the coast and allow German shore installations to protect him.
Unfortunately for him, he grounded his sub while going through the Kiel Canal and had to head to drydock for repairs. While the boat was being repaired at Bergen, Norway, an attack by British planes dropping “earthquake bombs” damaged the pen and the sub, further delaying the mission.
This delay would prove fatal. Britain had intercepted early communications about the mission, and the delay gave them a chance to send a British submarine to intercept the German one. The HMS Venturer was sent to Fedje, Norway.
Venturer was a fast attack submarine, quick, but with a smaller crew and armament than its enemy. It could fire four torpedoes at once and had a total inventory of eight torpedoes to U-864’s 22.
The British sub, under command of Lt. James S. Launders, moved into position on Feb. 6, 1945. Launders was a distinguished sub commander with 13 kills to his name, including the destruction of a surfaced German submarine. The technological challenges he was facing would still be daunting, though.
The Venturer had only two methods of finding an enemy sub, hydrophones or active sonar. The active sonar would give away his position, but the hydrophones had a limited range. And the boat’s torpedoes were designed to attack ships on the surface.
Worse for Launders and his crew, by the time he arrived, Wolfram and U-864 had already passed their position. The German sub was safely beyond the British position.
But then the German sub’s diesel engines began to misfire. Wolfram had a decision: press forward with his mission and risk engine trouble or failure while sailing north past the Baltic countries and Russia and through the Arctic Circle, or double back for additional repairs.
Out of an abundance of caution, Wolfram headed back to Bergen, taking him right through Launders’ trap.
On February 9, the British crew was monitoring their hydrophones when the misfiring diesel engine on the German sub gave away its position. Launders had his sub stealthily move to the source of the noise where he first saw an open ocean, a sign that the engine noise was coming from underwater.
Then, he saw what he suspected was an enemy periscope, likely the German subs snorkel mast that allowed it to run its diesel engines while shallowly submerged. Launders knew he had his target in front of him.
The Venturer tailed the U-864 for the next few hours. U-864 began taking evasive actions, a sign that it had likely detected the British presence.
The British, running low on battery power, decided to put all their eggs in one basket, attacking with two salvos of four torpedoes. The first salvo was “ripple-fired,” with each torpedo launch coming about 18 seconds after the previous one.
The British sub dove and began re-loading its four tubes. Again, the British fired all four. Of the eight torpedoes, seven were complete misses.
One was a direct hit. The British hydrophone operators heard the torpedo impact, the explosion, the wrenching of iron as the pressure crumpled it like paper, and the dull thud as the wreckage crashed to the sea floor.
The site was undisturbed for almost 60 years until the Norwegian Navy discovered it in 2003. Mercury was leaking from damaged vials, and Norwegian authorities decided to bury the wreck under tons of sand and rocks to prevent further damage to the ecosystem.
Few feats of engineering are as impressive as a military-grade helicopter. Today worth millions of dollars each, these high-tech birds are a formidable military asset, including, among many other uses, for rescue operations — all a fact US military personnel helpfully chose to ignore during Operation Frequent Wind when they pushed several dozen of them into the sea, in one case for no other reason than to save a mother, a father, and their five children.
For anyone unfamiliar with it, Operation Frequent Wind was the name give to the final phase of evacuations during the Fall of Saigon — effectively the final days of the Vietnam War. Noted as being one of the largest military evacuations in history and the largest involving helicopters as the primary means of evacuation, Operation Frequent Wind is celebrated as a logistical success for the US due to the fact that a few dozen helicopter pilots were somehow able to evacuate over 7,000 people in around 18 hours. This is made all the more impressive when you realize that the mass evacuation was never supposed to involve helicopters much at all.
A South Vietnamese helicopter is pushed over the side of the USS Okinawa during Operation Frequent Wind, April 1975.
(US Marine Corps photo)
You see, while Operation Frequent Wind is now famous for being the most successful mass helicopter evacuation ever organised, using helicopters as the primary means of evacuation was never the original plan — it wasn’t even the backup plan. It turns out that it was the backup to the backup to the backup plan.
Known initially as Operation Talon Vise until North Vietnamese spies heard whispers of it, the plans for a mass evacuation of Vietnam had been in place for several years and were originally supposed to involve the primary use of both commercial and military aircraft which would evacuate at-risk citizens and military personnel, with the total slated to be evacuated estimated to be about 2 million people.
Failing or in addition to this, the idea was to dock ships at Saigon port and load them with as many people as possible. In the event none of these options were possible, the final, Hail Mary plan was to instead use military helicopters to transport people to ships off shore.
Of course, evacuating the original estimate of 2 million people was never an option for the helicopter plan alone, nor even the extremely whittled down number of about 100,000-200,000 that military brass eventually reduced that figure to. Instead, at this point it was just as many people as they could as fast as they could.
So why did the US have to fall back to literally their least effective option if they’d been planning the evacuation for years? Well, much of the blame falls somewhat unbelievably to the actions of a single man — Graham Anderson Martin, the American ambassador to South Vietnam at the time who steadfastly refused to agree to start an evacuation for fear of mass panic and given his unshakable faith in the notion that the threat of the “superior American firepower” would keep the enemy at bay.
Despite this, recommendations did go out in advance of Operation Frequent Wind that at risk people should leave the country, resulting in a total of around 50,000 people, including a few thousand orphans, leaving via various planes in the months leading up to an actual evacuation being started. This was mostly done via supply aircraft who would bring supplies in, and then load up as many people as they could for the trip home. Yet an official full scale evacuation, which would have seen these efforts massively ramped up, was continually stalled by Martin.
Military brass tried and failed to persuade Martin to change his mind, with Brigadier General Richard E. Carey going as far as to travel to Saigon to plead personally with with the ambassador. This was a meeting Carey would later diplomatically call “cold and non productive” and should be noted took place on April 13th, 2 weeks after preparations were already supposed to have begun for the mass evacuation.
This back and forth continued until April 28th when North Vietnamese forces bombed the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, effectively eliminating any possibility of getting people out via large aircraft capable of mass evacuation. When this was pointed out to the Martin, he still refused to call for the evacuation, deciding to wait until the next day so he could drive out to the base and confirm the damage for himself.
Upon confirming that North Vietnamese forces had indeed destroyed the air base and the best option for a mass evacuation, he finally relented.
South Vietnamese refugees arrive on a U.S. Navy vessel during Operation Frequent Wind.
This was an order that was relayed to soldiers on the ground via the official Armed Forces Radio station by the words “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising,” followed by the playing the song I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas by Bing Crosby.
As a direct result of Martin’s stubbornness, the military had no choice but to rely on the least effective means of mass evacuation — via helicopter, with the operation officially commencing later that afternoon at 14:00.
Even as the operation began, Martin’s bullheaded refusal to prepare in anyway for an evacuation caused problems for certain helicopter pilots, most notably the ones trying to evacuate him and his staff.
Well there was a large tree in the embassy courtyard that military brass had “strongly advised” Martin cut down so as to better allow helicopters to land there should the worst happen. Martin, believing that doing so would be as good as admitting the war had already been lost, absolutely refused to do this. As Henry Kissinger would later note, “Faced with imminent disaster, Martin decided to go down with the ship.”
On that note, to his credit, Martin refused to leave once the evacuation had begun, though this was much to the annoyance of the pilot, Colonel Gerry Berry, sent to fetch him. Instead, Martin continually had refugees boarded while he simply waited with his staff in his office, knowing that as long as he was there, the helicopter would keep coming back allowing more lives to be saved.
It wasn’t until the 14th trip that an exhausted Berry finally reached his wits’ end. Said Berry, “I called the sergeant over. And he got up in the cockpit. And I said, ‘This is it. Get all these people off. This helicopter’s not leaving the roof until the ambassador’s on board. The President sends.'”
With an order supposedly from the President himself, though not actually in reality, Martin finally relented and allowed Berry to complete his mission by transporting Martin and his entourage.
Of course, what the military brass had failed to remember after this supposed last flight was that they’d accidentally left almost a dozen soldiers behind at the compound… This wouldn’t be realized for many hours, but all 11 Marines were rescued after being forced to barricade themselves on the rooftop for the night in case of an attack.
Leaving the evacuations as late as Martin did understandably resulted in mass panic across Saigon with many thousands of South Vietnamese citizens fleeing in everything from cars to stolen planes and helicopters.
In addition, lack of time meant that helicopter pilots had a laughable number of people to rescue, resulting in many ignoring the “recommended” weight limit of their craft and massively overloading them to the very extremes of what they could handle given the pilot’s assessments and weather conditions. In one case, one pilot noted he was overweight to the point that he could only hover inches off the ground, but no one was willing to get off as for many it would mean their life if they could not get out of the country.
He then stated he thought if he could get some forward speed he could get the additional lift needed, so simply pitched the craft forward and took a dive off the rooftop he was on, barely recovering before hitting the rooftops below and then managing to very slowly climb from there.
As for these pilots, they were instructed to ferry evacuees to waiting ships in the South China Sea, many of which quickly began to run out of space resulting in people sleeping double in the small bunks, as well as just anywhere on the ships there was available space for someone to sit or lie down on.
On top of that, any South Vietnamese pilots that could manage to get a hold of their own helicopters and flee to sea were also crowding the decks as they arrived. This resulted in the order to push some of these South Vietnamese helicopters overboard to make more space, or orders for some pilots to simply crash their helicopters into the ocean and await rescue after they’d dropped off any passengers.
This all brings us around to the incredible story of Major Buang Lee. Knowing he and his family — a wife and five children — would in all likelihood be executed if they couldn’t find a way out of the country immediately, the Major managed to commandeer a small Cessna O-1 spotter plane. Under heavy fire, he managed to take off and flee the country with two adults and five children jam packed aboard the tiny, slow moving aircraft.
A South Vietnamese UH-1H is pushed overboard to make room for a Cessna O-1 landing.
He then headed out to sea in search of a ship to land on or ditch the plane next to. About an hour and a half off the coast and with only about an hour of fuel left, he finally found one in the USS Midway.
The issue now was there was not sufficient room to land on the ship, owing to the number of helicopters on the deck. Unable to find the right frequency on the radio to talk to those on the Midway, Buang resorted to dropping notes.
The first two notes, unfortunately blew away before anyone aboard could grab them. Buang tied the third to his gun and dropped it. When the crew aboard retrieved it, they saw it read: “Can you move the helicopters to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to move. Please rescue me. -Major Buang, Wife and 5 child.”
The captain of the vessel, one Lawrence Chambers then had a decision to make. While it was possible to move some of the helicopters out of the way, there was no room to move them all. The young captain, only appointed to that post some five weeks before, decided that there was little chance the family would all survive if they tried to ditch in the sea next to the Midway and be rescued that way.
Said Lawrence of the event, “When a man has the courage to put his family in a plane and make a daring escape like that, you have to have the heart to let him in.”
So, thinking he’d likely be court-martialed for it, he made the call to move what helicopters could be moved and dump the rest in the ocean after stripping them of any valuable gear that could be removed quickly. In total, some million (about million today) worth of helicopters were ditched in this way.
There was another problem, however. The plane in question typically needs a minimum of a little over 600 feet of runway to land and come to a full stop. The Midway itself in total was about 1,000 feet long, but the runway deck was only about 2/3 of that, meaning there was zero margin for error here.
Thus, in order to land such a craft on the deck with enough margin of safety, the ship really needed to be moving as fast as possible to make the plane’s relative speed slow enough that it could stop in time before falling off the end. Using the cable system to stop the craft faster wasn’t deemed a good option as in all likelihood it would have just resulted in the landing gear ripping off and/or the plane flipping over in a spectacular crash.
Unfortunately, Chambers had previously granted the ship’s engineers permission to take the Midway’s engines partially offline for routine maintenance. After all, helicopters did not need nor want that relative wind, especially when landing on such a crowded deck.
Said Chambers, “When I told the chief engineer that I needed 25 knots, he informed me that we didn’t have enough steam. I ordered him to shift the hotel load to the emergency diesels.”
With this, the ship was able to achieve the requested speed and Buang’s landing was also helped by another 15 knots of headwind, further reducing his needed stopping distance.
With that done and deck cleared as it could be, Buang was given the greenlight to land, ultimately doing so with textbook precision and with plenty of deck to spare, becoming a rare individual in relatively modern times to land such an aircraft aboard a military carrier.
And, thankfully for Captain Lawrence, he was not court-martialed for ditching rather valuable military hardware to save Major Buang and his family, and instead enjoyed a continuance of his successful career, eventually retiring as a Rear Admiral.
In the aftermath of Operation Frequent Wind, the U.S. ships continued to hang around for a few days off the coast, trying to pick up as many refugees from the water as they could. Finally, the order was given to head home, forcing the commanders to leave many thousands of people that had been promised evacuation behind.
This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.
Being a meal card holder has its benefits. It’s awesome to have the perfect excuse to get out at 1730. It’s food you get to enjoy without having to cook it. All you have do is overlook the fact that the meals are deducted from your pay when you’re assigned a barracks room and the fact that there’s barely any chow left by the time you get there —but outside of those details, it’s great!
That optimism starts to wane, however, after eight months of eating the same seven entrees ad nauseam. Then, one glorious day, the cooks throw you a curve-ball by turning what’s normally a grab-and-go dinner into an elaborate, fine-dining experience.
You’ll rarely hear the lower enlisted complain when they’re about to get something that’s not just decent but actually really good. (In reality, lower enlisted troops would probably complain about being given a brick of gold because it’s “too heavy,” but that’s beside the point).
It might seem like random chance, but there’s a method to the madness.
Also, your chain of command will usually pop in to serve the food on the line. Savor that moment.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Brian Lautenslager)
No one likes being stuck on-post during a holiday. If your leave form got denied or you just didn’t feel like putting in for a mileage pass, it often means your ass will be stuck on staff duty.
Thankfully, the cooks also get screwed out of block leave and work holidays with us. Even if it’s not a big holiday that revolves around a massive meal (we’re look at you, Thanksgiving), the cooks will still serve something festive.
If you thought Air Force dinging facilities were leagues above the rest during the rest of the year…
(U.S. Air Force photo by Lan Kim)
The lead-up to best-chef competitions
In the service, there’s a competition for cooks in which they’re expected to deliver a gourmet meal to a judge that has the emotionless vile of Gordon Ramsey with the knife-handing ability of a Drill Sergeant.
They don’t want to mess it up and will prepare the only way possible: by practicing. And that practice tastes delicious.
“Can we get you anything else, Specialist? Steak sauce? Another drink? Another three months in this god-forsaken hellhole? How about some cake? We got cake!”
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson)
Right before the unit is about to get bad news
It’s basic psychology. If you outright tell the troops that their deployment got extended, they’re going to flip the tables over. If you break it to them gently over a steak-and-lobster dinner that somehow found its way to Afghanistan, they’ll take it slightly better.
This is so common in the military that any time the commander shows up and asks for a crate of ice cream bars for the troops, the Private News Network and Lance Corporal Underground buzz with rumors.
You think they’ll serve the same scrambled eggs that they serve the average boot to the Commandant of the Marines? Hell no. Especially not if they get some kind of warning. That’s you cue to grab food and dash.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Mallory S. VanderSchans)
When high-ranking officials make the rounds
Not even the cooks are exempt from the dog-and-pony show that comes with a general’s visit. In fact, while the other lower enlisted are scrubbing toilets in bathrooms the general will never realistically visit, the cooks know that the mess hall is the go-to spot to bring the generals to give them a “realistic” view of the unit.
If you’re willing to stomach the off-chance of being dragged into a conversation with a four-star general about “how the commander and first sergeant 100% absolutely always treat you like a real human being and that, oh boy, do you definitely love the unit,” then you’re in for one of the best meals the cooks can offer.
Everyone loves the cooks on Taco Tuesday.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Valentina Lopez)
Taco Tuesday (and any other themed meal days)
There’s no way in hell any troop would willingly miss Taco Tuesday at the DFAC. Even if you don’t post flyers about it, troops will magically crawl out of the woodwork if it means they’re getting free tacos.
As much as everyone in the unit uses their cooks as punching bags for jokes, they can deliver some mighty fine meals when they try.
The Taliban last week released a 70-minute propaganda video, titled “Caravan of Heroes #13,” in which they imitated US special forces, the Military Times first reported.
While much of the video shows how the Taliban conducts ambushes and assaults, the first 10 minutes of it shows militants replete with tactical garb and weapons, and employing their tactics.
The video is unusual, since most Taliban videos show their fighters wearing turbans and beards, the Military Times reported.
Screengrab from released Taliban video
“The Taliban want to show their supporters and potential recruits that they are a professional force capable of defeating the Afghan government and the coalition,” Bill Roggio, editor of FDD’s Long War Journal, told the Military Times.
“The Taliban has touted its “special forces” in the past, in previous videos, however this video definitely kicks it up a notch,” Roggio said.