The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived

These days, action movie actor Steven Seagal is best friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin and trains Serbia’s Special Forces police in hand-to-hand combat. But when his movie career was at its peak, the tough guy image might have been just a front.

There’s no doubt that Seagal has the skills to back up his action movie street cred – at least, the martial arts parts of his persona. He is a 7th-dan black belt in aikido and spent his early adult life as a martial arts instructor in Japan before making it big on the silver screen. 

Though the actor is known for good career decisions in the martial arts world, he’s not really known for making good career decisions in Hollywood. 

One of Seagal’s biggest producers, Julius R. Nasso, helped create a string of action film hits in the early 1990s that kept Seagal’s star shining bright. After Seagal’s 1992 film “Under Siege,” which takes place aboard the famed USS Missouri, Seagal was the go-to action movie actor. But it was his relationship with Nasso that would slowly bring down his career.

Nasso produced six of the aikido expert’s most popular films, including “Marked for Death,” “Fire Down Below,” and the sequel to “Under Siege,” “Under Siege 2: Dark Territory.” But soon the relationship soured and Nasso claimed that Seagal broke a $60 million deal for four more films. What happened next is something out of one of Seagal’s action films.

The producer was connected to one of New York’s five mafia families, and called on a Gambino family associate to help straighten out the action movie star. Seagal had no idea the mob was out for justice until mobsters forced him into a car in Brooklyn in 2001. 

The actor claimed that wiseguys took him to a well-known mob restaurant and threatened him. Seagal didn’t break any arms or throw people through windows, as one might expect from his movies. Instead, he handed over at least $700,000.  

During an investigation into mob activities on New York’s waterfront involving Peter Gotti, brother to mafia boss John Gotti and by then the boss of the Gambino family, investigators were able to corroborate Seagal’s claims. On federal wiretaps, the FBI heard mob enforcers joking about shaking down Seagal and making references to his movies. 

Nasso denied the claims that he was a Gambino family associate, telling reporters that all he wanted was the $500,000 that Seagal owed him after reneging on the contract deal. 

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
An old chart of the Gambino family hierarchy from the 1990s. (Image courtesy of Gunnar Sigurður Zoega Guðmundsson, Flickr)

But the FBI reports and wiretaps say otherwise. The mafiosi involved with Seagal’s kidnapping were some of the Gambino family’s most notorious capos and street soldiers, including Richard Bondi, Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone, and Primo Cassarino. 

The actor knew he was on deadly ground when Cassarino and Ciccone accompanied Nasso on a visit to the actor’s Los Angeles home. The actor eventually paid Nasso and the mafiosi and the money was never traced to whomever actually received it. 

Rather than hunt down and kill the Gambino capos and underboss in revenge for the shakedown – something one of his action movie characters would certainly do – Seagal went to authorities, who used the FBI wiretaps to force a guilty plea from Nasso.

In 2003, the former action movie producer was sentenced on extortion and conspiracy charges. He spent a year in prison and was forced to pay a $75,000 fine. Seagal went on to make a series of direct-to-video action movies, averaging about two per year since 2003, along with training foreign special operators and becoming a Russian citizen.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy’s most successful World War II sub also killed an enemy train

The Gato-class, diesel-powered US Navy submarine USS Barb is known for a lot of things. In 12 war patrols, she sank the third most tonnage in World War II, had eight battle stars, and fired the first submarine-based ballistic missiles on Japan. It earned her crew a Presidential Unit Citation, among numerous other awards and decorations.

But one of its proudest moments was also its most daring. Crewmembers aboard the Barb were also the first American combatants to set foot on Japanese home soil — in order to “sink” an enemy train.

They did all of this without losing a single man.


On Jul. 23, 1945, eight members of Barb‘s crew landed on mainland Japan under intense cloud cover and a dark moon. Their mission was to rig a Japanese train track to explode when a train crossed a switch between two railroad ties. Immediately, their best-laid plans went right out the window, forcing the crew to improvise.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived

The USS Barb off the coast of Pearl Harbor, 1945.

The mission of the USS Barb was to cut the Japanese fleet’s supply lines by sinking enemy ships out of the island of Karafuto in the Sea of Okhotsk. This was the ship’s 12th war patrol, and the fifth for her skipper, then-Commander Eugene Fluckey. They could see as Japanese shipments moved from trains on the island to the ships. Once the ships were at sea, they were easy pickings for crews like the Barb’s.

But why, Fluckey thought, wait for the ships to get to sea? Why not just take them out before the trains ever reach the port? That’s exactly what Fluckey and his crew set out to do.

They couldn’t just place charges on the tracks, it would be too dangerous for the shore party once the Japanese were alerted. Instead, the U.S. Naval Institute tells us how Engineman 3rd Class Billy Hatfield devised a switch trigger for an explosive that, when set between the rails, would go off as the train passed over it.

That was the goal as the crew manned their boats and made it ashore that night, but they accidentally landed in the backyard of a Japanese civilian. So, they ended up having to struggle through thick bulrushes, cross a freeway, and even fall down drainage ditches on their way to the railway. Once there, a crewman climbed to the top of a water tower — only to discover it was a manned lookout post. Luckily, the guard was asleep and their work continued.

They dug holes for the 55-pound bomb as quickly and as quietly as possible, even having to stop as a freight train rumbled by. But they did it, put the pressure switch into place, and booked it back to the ship as fast as possible. At 1:47 am, a 16-car train hit their planted explosive and was shot into the sky. Five minutes after that, the crew was back aboard the Barb.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived

The Battle Flag of USS Barb, the train is located bottom middle.

Barb’s battle flag could now boast one enemy train “sunk” in combat, along with six Navy Crosses, 23 Silver Stars, 23 Bronze Stars, and a Medal of Honor earned by members of its crew.


MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the secret story of South Dakota’s nuclear missile silo explosion

Bob Hicks was spending a cold December night in his barracks 53 years ago at Ellsworth Air Force Base near Rapid City when the phone rang.


It was the chief of his missile maintenance team, who dispatched Hicks to an incident at an underground silo.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
The personnel access hatch at a nuclear-missile silo site in South Dakota. Image from Library of Congress.

“The warhead,” the team chief said, “is no longer on top of the missile.”

Hicks eventually learned that a screwdriver used by another airman caused a short circuit that resulted in an explosion. The blast popped off the missile’s cone — the part containing the thermonuclear warhead — and sent it on a 75-foot fall to the bottom of the 80-foot-deep silo.

The courageous actions Hicks took that night and over the next several days were not publicized. The accident was not disclosed to the public until years later, when a government report on accidents with nuclear weapons included seven sentences about it. The report listed the accident as the nation’s first involving a Minuteman missile.

Further details are reported publicly for the first time here, drawn from documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests by the Journal and others, and from Hicks himself, who is now 73 years old and living in Cibolo, Texas.

When Hicks was sent to the accident on Dec. 5, 1964, he was only 20 years old, and the cryptic statement from his team chief was the only information he was given.

“That was enough,” Hicks recalled, “to cause me to get dressed pretty quickly.”

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
A Minuteman I missile prepared for test launch. Photo from USAF.

Explosion

The trouble began earlier that day when two other airmen were sent to a silo named Lima-02. It was 60 miles northwest of Ellsworth Air Force Base and 3 miles southeast of the tiny community of Vale, on the plains outside the Black Hills.

Lima-02 was one of 150 steel-and-concrete silos that had been implanted underground and filled with Minuteman missiles during the previous several years in western South Dakota, where the missiles were scattered across 13,500 square miles. There were hundreds more silos in place or soon to be constructed in North Dakota, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska, eventually bringing the nation’s Minuteman fleet to a peak of 1,000.

The original Minuteman missiles, called Minuteman I, were 56 feet tall and weighed 65,000 pounds when loaded with fuel. The missiles were capable of traveling at a top speed of 15,000 miles per hour and could reach the Cold War enemy of the United States, the Soviet Union, within 30 minutes.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
A static display of ICBMs. From left are the Peacekeeper, the Minuteman III, and the Minuteman I. USAF photo by R.J. Oriez.

Each missile was tipped with a thermonuclear warhead that was many times more powerful than either of the two atomic bombs that the United States dropped on Japan during World War II. One government agency reportedly estimated that the detonation of an early 1960s-era Minuteman warhead over Detroit would have caused 70 square miles of property destruction, 250,000 deaths, and 500,000 injuries.

The two airmen who visited the Lima-02 silo on Dec. 5, 1964, were part of a young Air Force missile corps that was responsible for launching and maintaining the missiles. The two airmen’s names are redacted – as are many other names – from an Air Force report that was filed after the accident.

Read more: 6 weapons that allow the US to strike anywhere in the world

At noon that Saturday, the airmen received orders to troubleshoot and repair the Lima-02 security system. They made the long drive and arrived at 2 p.m.

The rectangular, north-south aligned, 1-acre silo site was surrounded by a chain-link fence that was topped with strands of barbed wire. The unremarkable-looking place consisted mostly of a flat expanse of gravel. Toward the south end were several low-slung tops of underground concrete structures.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
There were 150 silos located in South Dakota during the Cold War. They were man-less sights surrounded by 8 foot cyclone fences topped with barbed wire. Inside concrete and metal structures housed and protected the Minuteman missiles. This is Delta-09 at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Photo from National Park Service.

One of the structures was a 3½-foot-thick, 90-ton slab that covered the missile and would have been blasted aside during a launch. A couple of paces away from that was a circular, steel-and-concrete vault door, about the diameter of a large tractor tire. The door concealed a 28-foot-deep shaft leading to the underground work area known as the equipment room.

Working in 24-degree conditions above ground, the airmen began a series of steps with special tools and combination locks that allowed them to open the massive vault door. Next, they climbed the ladder down to the equipment room, which encircled the upper part of the silo and missile like a doughnut.

The airmen worked in the roughly 5 feet of space between the steel launch tube and the equipment-room wall, among racks of electronics and surfaces painted mostly in pale, institutional green. Though the launch tube was between them and the missile, the missile was not much more than an arm’s length away.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
A ladder extends into a 28-foot-deep shaft toward the equipment room that encircles the upper part of an underground missile silo. Image from Library of Congress.

According to the Air Force report on the accident, one of the airmen removed a fuse as part of a check on a security alarm control box. The report says the airman was “lacking a fuse puller,” so he used a screwdriver to pry the fuse from its clip.

When the fuse was re-inserted, the report says, it was supposed to click. The sound of a click indicated good contact with the holder. But there was no click, so the airman repeated the procedure. Still not certain he heard a click, he pulled the fuse out a third time and pushed it back into the holder again.

“At 1500 hours MST,” the report says, referencing 3 p.m. Mountain Standard Time, “simultaneously with the making of this contact, a loud explosion occurred in the launch tube.”

‘Broken arrow’

Hicks arrived at the silo later and heard a simpler story from his team chief. According to that story, it was merely the removal of the fuse with a screwdriver – not the pushing-in of the fuse – that caused the problem. Hicks said the metal of the screwdriver contacted the positive side of the fuse and also the fuse’s grounded metal holder, causing a short circuit that sent electricity flowing to unintended places.

“It would be just like you taking your car battery and you touch a screwdriver to the positive terminal on the battery and you touch the frame of the car,” Hicks explained in a recent interview. “You have just put voltage potential on your entire car.”

Hicks and the accident report agree that the wrong tool was used. In the language of the report, “The technician did not use the authorized, available tool to remove the fuse.”

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
Racks of electronics in an underground equipment room in the upper part of a missile silo. Image from Library of Congress.

The resulting short circuit might not have been problematic had it not been for some wiring in one of the missile’s retrorockets that was later found to be faulty. According to Hicks, some weakly insulated or exposed wiring may have been in contact with the metal casing of a retrorocket, allowing for a jolt of electricity that caused the retrorocket to fire.

The retrorockets were housed below the cone of the missile. They were supposed to fire when the missile was in outer space, to separate the third and final fuel stage from the cone, allowing the cone and its warhead — which were collectively called the “re-entry vehicle” — to fall toward the target.

When one of the retrorockets fired inside the missile in the Lima-02 silo, pressure built up in the space where the retrorockets were housed, and the cone of the missile — which was about 5 feet tall, nearly 3 feet in diameter at its base, and about 750 pounds in weight — burst off and fell down in the few feet of space between the missile and the silo wall.

The cone hit the wall of the silo, bounced back toward the missile and grazed it in two spots along the second fuel stage, hit two of the three suspension cables that supported the missile, and finally crashed to the concrete floor of the silo and came to rest on its side. Luckily, the cone did not do enough damage to the missile to cause the missile to explode.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
A diagram outlining the different sections of a Minuteman I ICBM. Image from USAF.

Neither of the airmen immediately knew what had happened. The bureaucratically written accident report says they “expeditiously evacuated” after hearing the explosion, as the silo filled with gray smoke.

In later years, Buddy Smith, who now lives in Texas and is a friend of Hicks, received training about the South Dakota accident before working in the missile fields of Wyoming.

“I wasn’t there,” Smith said of the explosion, “but I know there were two technicians who ruined their underwear. ‘Cause that ain’t supposed to happen.”

Bob Dirksing, who was Hicks’ roommate at Ellsworth and now lives in the Cincinnati area, said the two airmen who were in the silo when the explosion happened were lucky to survive.

“It could’ve been a lot worse,” Dirksing said. “If the short had gone to the missile instead of to the retrorockets, it would’ve been a completely different story. I’m sure there would’ve been fatalities. The boys who were down there would’ve been fried.”

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
Nuclear weapon test Bravo (yield 15 Mt) on Bikini Atoll. Photo from US Department of Energy.

The explosion triggered a flurry of activity over the next seven hours. A potential “broken arrow” was declared, which is military-speak for an accident involving a nuclear weapon. A strike team was deployed to set up a 2,000-foot cordon around the silo, including a roadblock. Medics were dispatched to the scene. Three sergeants were flown in by helicopter.

The sergeants went down to the equipment room after the smoke cleared and made two observations: Everything was covered in gray dust, and the missile was missing its top.

A radiation-monitoring team went down next and did not detect alarming radiation levels but did find the missile’s cone, which contained the warhead, damaged and lying at the bottom of the silo.

By about 10 p.m., the scramble to assess the situation was over. Nobody was injured. The missile was slightly damaged but otherwise intact. The warhead was safe inside its cone, although the cone was damaged. And except for some Vale-area residents who probably saw the commotion and wondered what was going on, the public knew nothing.

The emergency was over, and it was time to plan a salvage operation. Sometime before midnight at Ellsworth, the phone rang for Bob Hicks.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
Minuteman I test silo. Image from USAF.

Into the silo

Hicks had enlisted less than two years earlier as a skinny, 6-foot-tall, 19-year-old farm boy from Somerset, Texas, a small town about 20 miles south of San Antonio. He was the youngest in a family of 13 children, which included six boys who served more than a combined 90 years on Air Force active duty from World War II to Vietnam and beyond.

After basic training, Hicks had been sent to nuclear weapons maintenance school in Colorado. By October 1963 – eight months after his enlistment – he was installing warheads and guidance packages atop Minuteman missiles in the silos of western South Dakota.

Also Read: North Korean nuke fears prompt interest in abandoned ICBM sites

The silos had been rushed into existence after a groundbreaking ceremony in 1962, with Americans still reeling from the shock of seeing the Soviets launch their Sputnik satellite in 1957. If the Soviets could put a satellite into orbit, American leaders reasoned, it would not be long until they could launch a missile on an arcing path through outer space to the United States.

When Hicks got the call about the accident on Dec. 5, 1964, he and another airman jumped into the specially equipped truck-and-trailer rig that they typically used to transport warheads. They sped into the night, traveling on the newly constructed Interstate 90 toward Sturgis. It wasn’t long before Hicks had to pull over when he saw a state trooper’s cruiser lights flashing in his rear-view mirrors.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
Sputnik. Image from Wikimedia Commons user Lokilech.

“He said, ‘Ya’ll seem to be in a hurry,'” Hicks recalled.

Hicks did not divulge that he was en route to a potential nuclear disaster, and the trooper inquired no further.

But the trooper did mention some smoke emitting from one of the rig’s wheels. Hicks and his companion traced the problem to some bad brake hoses. They made an impromptu fix and sped off again toward Sturgis.

After passing through Sturgis and heading east, Hicks steered the rig north around the hulking, dark mass of Bear Butte and motored across the quiet countryside to Vale before finally reaching the silo.

There were perhaps a dozen people at the scene.

“As we later joked,” Hicks recalled in his slight Texas drawl, “They were standing around not knowing whether to scratch their watch or wind their butts.”

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
Map showing the 44th Missile Wing of Ellsworth Air Force Base which was operational from 1963 until deactivation in the 1990’s. L2, encircled in pink, is the Lima-02 site. Map from National Park Service.

According to Hicks, the missile had not yet been rendered safe, and his team chief said somebody had to do it. Hicks volunteered.

When he saw the missile was fully upright, Hicks was relieved. If it had fallen against the silo, the missile might have been weakened to the point of a collapse and explosion. But that disaster had been avoided.

Incredible as it may sound to a civilian, Hicks said he spent no time worrying about the thermonuclear warhead. He had been convinced by his training that it was nearly impossible to detonate a warhead accidentally. Among other things, he said, the warhead had to receive codes from the launch-control officers, had to reach a certain altitude, and had to detect a certain amount of acceleration and G-force. There were so many safeguards built in, Hicks later joked, that a warhead might have been lucky to detonate even when it was supposed to.

That’s not to say his trip down the silo was without danger. The missile, which contained a load of fuel, had been grazed and damaged by the falling cone. And with only a few years of history behind the Minuteman missile program and no known nuclear accident involving a Minuteman until the one Hicks was confronting, he was heading into the unknown.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
A Minuteman II Missile resting in its launch tube. Image from National Park Service.

Nevertheless, he climbed down the shaft and into the equipment room that encircled the upper part of the underground silo. Next, he lowered the so-called “diving board,” which extended from the launch tube toward the missile and allowed Hicks to essentially walk the plank at a height of about 60 feet above the silo floor.

He also installed a work cage, which was a man-sized steel basket that could be hung from motorized cables on the inner wall of the launch tube. The cable assembly not only moved the cage vertically but could also move horizontally on a track around the launch tube, allowing airmen to access every part of the missile.

Hicks maneuvered the cage down the side of the missile and started the procedure to “safe” it. At each point between the missile’s three fuel stages, Hicks inserted a long metal rod with a socket-like head and turned the rod to break the electrical connections between the stages, rendering them incapable of firing.

With the missile “safed,” it was time to figure out what to do about the warhead.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
The Minuteman I missile in the Restoration Hangar at the National Museum of the USAF, broken into stages. Photo from USAF.

‘Up very slowly’

Hicks said there was a particularly high-ranking officer at the scene who’d been flown in by helicopter. After Hicks had rendered the missile safe, Hicks came back to the surface and heard the officer asking some other men how to retrieve the warhead.

Hicks heard no response, so he piped up. Cargo nets were sometimes used to move heavy equipment in and out of the silo, he said. He suggested that a net could be lowered to the bottom of the silo, and the cone with its warhead could be rolled into the net. The net could then be hoisted up on a cable by a crane.

Related: Watch the Air Force launch a Minuteman missile

The officer did not appreciate the boldness of Hicks, whose rank was airman second class.

“He said, ‘Airman, when I want an opinion from you, I’ll ask you,'” Hicks recalled.

Hicks retreated to his truck and awaited further orders. Later, Hicks said, he was recalled to the officer’s side and asked to explain the idea again.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
Staff Sgt. Isaiah Miller, 341st Missile Maintenance Squadron, uses a guided missile maintenance platform May 7, 2010, to remove bolts securing the reentry system on a mock-up of a Minuteman III missile during a maintenance training exercise at Malmstrom Air Force Base’s T-9 launch facility maintenance trainer. USAF photo by John Turner.

The cargo-net method was eventually chosen as the plan, but Hicks said the Air Force wanted the procedure to be practiced in another silo. The practice proceeded over the next couple of days.

Following the practice, the operation was green-lighted, and a crew assembled at Lima-02 on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 1964 – four days after the accident – to retrieve the damaged missile cone and its thermonuclear warhead.

First, some jagged edges on the cone that were caused by its violent separation from the missile were covered in padding, and the cone was hoisted about a foot off the silo floor while a mattress pad was slid underneath it. Next, two cargo nets, which were layered one on top of the other under the pad, were pulled up around the cone and hooked to the cable.

Then began the painstaking process of raising the cone up out of the 80-foot-deep silo, in the few feet of space between the missile and the silo wall, without hitting the missile and causing an explosion. The crane did the lifting, but three men also held tight to a hemp rope that was connected to the cone in case of any problems with the crane, cable or net.

“Up very slow,” reads a portion of a minute-by-minute account of the operation, as printed in the later accident report. “Dead slow. Stop. Up very slow. Stop. Up slow. Stop ”

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
Restoration crews install the Minuteman IA missile in the Missile Space Gallery at the National Museum of the USAF.

And on it continued like that for about two hours until the cone emerged from the silo late that afternoon. The cone and its inner warhead were placed on top of some mattresses, Hicks said, in a truck-and-trailer rig. There the cone and warhead sat overnight, in the trailer.

The next day – Thursday, Dec. 10 – a convoy assembled to escort the truck to Ellsworth Air Force Base. According to Hicks, he drove the truck, in part because nobody else at the scene seemed to know how.

The warhead was eventually transported to Medina Annex at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for disassembly. The written record is not as clear about the fate of the missile, but the accident report indicates it may have been removed from the silo the next day, Friday, Dec. 11.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
Air Force Commendation Medal. Image from USAF.

Aftermath

Also on Dec. 11, 1964, the Air Force appointed a board of officers to investigate the accident. The board filed its report seven days later, on Dec. 18, and listed “personnel error” as the primary cause. The report said the cost of the damage was $234,349, which would equate to about $1.85 million in inflation-adjusted 2017 money.

Large sections of the report’s findings and recommendations are redacted, and the non-redacted portions do not disclose the fate of the two airmen who were at the silo when the explosion happened.

Several months after the accident, in March 1965, Hicks was selected as the maintenance man of the month for his division. A short article about the honor in the base newspaper did not disclose that a missile accident had occurred, but it vaguely referenced Hicks’ role in rendering a missile safe and transporting “damaged components.”

That same month, Hicks was awarded an Air Force Commendation Medal for acts of courage. The written citation with the medal briefly summarized the accident and the role Hicks played in responding to it.

“By his personal courage and willingness to risk his life when necessary in the performance of dangerous duties,” the citation said, in part, “Airman Hicks has reflected credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.”

The accident did not scare Hicks away from dangerous jobs. Shortly after receiving his medal, he trained in explosive ordnance disposal and was eventually sent to Guam during the Vietnam War, where he disarmed and extracted bombs that failed to release from B-52 planes.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 419th Flight Test Squadron flies with eight PDU-5/B leaflet bombs connected to an external Heavy Stores Adapter Beam. USAF Christopher Okula.

Hicks went on to work for the Office of Special Investigations, which is the Air Force equivalent of the FBI. He retired from active duty during the 1980s and was hired to work as a civilian agent for OSI until his final retirement in 2005. Along the way, he and his wife, Janet, had two sons.

The missile silos in western South Dakota were decommissioned following the 1991 signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the United States and the Soviet Union. By 1996, all but one of South Dakota’s silos had been imploded. The last remaining silo, called Delta-09, is now host to an unarmed missile and is part of the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site, which includes three attractions spread out along Interstate 90 east of Wall – the silo, a preserved launch-control center called Delta-01, and a visitor center.

The former Lima-02 silo site near Vale has passed into private ownership and is now home to a honey-extracting business. The fence that formerly surrounded the silo complex is still there, kept intact by the landowner.

Although South Dakota’s Minuteman missiles now belong to history, the United States still has 400 Minutemans ready to launch from silos in North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska. Each of the missiles is a Minuteman III – two generations advanced from the Minuteman I that was in the Lima-02 silo in 1964.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
The doors have been painted at the Delta-01 launch silo. Photo from South Dakota Public Braodcasting.

The Minuteman III fleet is just one part of the US nuclear-weapons triad, which comprises 5,113 nuclear warheads in all, including some in storage and others that are deployed and ready for use from land, sea, or air.

To opponents of nuclear armament, that’s a lot of accidents waiting to happen. The US government has officially acknowledged 32 accidents involving nuclear weapons since the 1950s, while additional accidents, incidents, mishaps, and close calls have been uncovered by journalists and activists.

And accidents continue to happen. In 2014, three airmen were conducting maintenance on a Minuteman III missile at a silo in Colorado when an accident caused $1.8 million worth of damage to the missile – roughly the same amount of damage, taking inflation into account, as the 1964 accident in South Dakota. The few known details of the 2014 accident were revealed only after persistent requests for information from The Associated Press.

None of the accidents suffered by the nation’s nuclear-weapons program has ever caused a nuclear detonation. That there was not a detonation at Lima-02 in 1964 is an indication of the safety and reliability of the Minuteman missile program, according to Bob Hicks, who did not sour on nuclear weapons after the accident.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived
An unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. DoD photo by Senior Airman Ian Dudley.

Hicks views the nuclear triad as a necessary and effective deterrent against attacks from nations such as North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un is provoking worldwide anxiety about his development of nuclear weapons.

As the future of nuclear weaponry unfolds, the world may need more unflappable people like Hicks, who considers himself lucky rather than unfortunate to have been called to the site of a nuclear missile accident.

“A career is made up of opportunities,” Hicks said. “Being in the right place, at the right time.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

These historical sidearms of the US military perfectly show its evolution

A good sidearm is the ultimate plan B. You don’t want to have to use it, but if you do have to — it better work. They’re kind of the last line of defense for American freedom and they’ve come a long way in 240-plus years.

The sidearm has gone from a smoothbore, muzzle-loaded, single shot to SIG Sauer’s new, modular, 59-round monster which is also customizable for every user. No matter what your opinion of them might be, if they’ve ever kept you in the fight for even a minute longer, then they did their job.

These are most important sidearms the U.S. military has adopted over the last couple hundred years.


The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived

1. Harper’s Ferry Model 1805

This was the first pistol ever made by a U.S. national armory. It was a flintlock pistol that lasted well into the Mexican War – but not for any particular reason besides apathy. They were heavy and tended to misfire. The Military Police Corps insignia still bears crossed 1805s to this day.

The Gambino Mafia family once shook down Steven Seagal – and lived

I think we missed our chance for the Chuck Norris-Clint Eastwood movie about the 1847 Walker…

2. Colt M1847 Walker

Welcome to the dawn of a new era. This was the first mass-produced revolver and, at an astonishing 15 inches long, it was able to make its way down south in time to win the Mexican War. The “Walker” in its name comes from the Texas Ranger who helped design the .44-caliber weapon (no, it was not Chuck Norris).

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“Colt: Now explosion free.”

3. Colt M1848 Dragoon

The 1847 held a lot of black powder, so when they exploded (as they sometimes did), it turned people off to the idea of buying another Colt firearm, which was bad for business. The 1848 revolver didn’t require so much powder — for a .44-caliber pistol, anyway. This weapon lived on all the way through the Civil War.

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4. Colt M1860 Army

This is a more powerful, updated version of a similar model Colt made for the U.S. Navy. It was widespread in the American Civil War by anyone who carried a sidearm (and by many who weren’t supposed to).

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5. Remington New Model

Colt’s weapons production factory burned down in 1864 and the Army was still in the middle of fighting the Civil War, so they had to turn somewhere. Meanwhile, Remington’s sidearms had became more accurate without sacrificing the stopping power needed to tame the American frontier.

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6. Colt M1873 Single Action Army

Remington had a good run, but when it comes time to win the west, you need an American classic. And what could be more classic than a name that’s still known over 100 years later? We’re talking, of course, about the Colt .45. It was the standard-issue sidearm until 1892 and “The Peacemaker” also became synonymous with cowboys. This sidearm was commonly seen well into the 20th Century.

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7. Colt M1892 Double Action Army-Navy

This was Colt’s first double-action sidearm with a swing-out cylinder made for the U.S. military. The caliber was reduced to a .38, which was fine in most cases, but it famously was unable to stop charging Filipino freedom fighters, even with multiple shots, even at close range.

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8. Colt M1911

The legend. This weapon is more than 100 years old and is still used by Army and Navy special operators. They sure don’t make ’em like they used to. Easily one of the most common firearms in the world to this day, this bad boy fought in almost every conflict from World War I to today.

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9. Beretta M9

The Beretta had a troubled history. From the ammunition pressure to slide failure injuries to a lack of confidence in the weapon’s performance and stopping power, the M9 was generally not accepted as one of the premiere firearms in American history. It had the lowest approval rating of any weapon used by troops in Iraq or Afghanistan.

The M1911 is a tough act to follow.

MIGHTY CULTURE

5 reasons to plant your Victory Garden

America didn’t just call on the troops to wage war, she called upon all her people to fight food shortage and a depression with gardens — “Victory gardens” — to be specific. In the early 1940s, when food rationing came into place, everyday Americans were turning up their yards to produce not just enough food for their families, but for their neighbors as well.

It’s safe to say a worldwide pandemic has given us cause to unearth the history of Victory Gardens and take the matter of a potential food shortage into our own, capable hands.

Here’s a thing or two you need to know about how to raise your shovels as your grandparents or great grandparents did long ago.


Canned food was limited 

Canned food was rationed both to preserve tin for military use but also to decrease the strain on food transportation. Reducing “food miles” with sustainable urban agriculture was exactly how families and friends stayed supplied with fresh produce. Put down the can of lima beans you’re never going to eat and pick up some seeds instead.

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The know-how

Victory gardens were pushed at a national level, and informational pamphlets (pre-internet) were distributed. Community committees were organized to both assist newcomers and inform neighbors of what was being grown and where. Luckily for us, there’s a whole internet full of information, and local agricultural extensions to call, ensuring social distancing is still met.

So easy a child could do it 

Children participated in gardening both out of necessity and to ensure all that good food knowledge didn’t go to waste. Need something for your kids to do? Let them tend to your budding garden at home; it’s a delicious form of education.

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It doesn’t take a farm

The average American lawn has more than enough space to grow everything your family needs and more. Learning what plants like to cohabitate in the soil will maximize your growing potential.

Never forget 

How to rely on ourselves has been a skill lost to the “lazy” days of supermarkets stocked to the brim with internationally-grown produce. It may have taken a pandemic, but re-educating America on how to fend for themselves needs to be a skillset we value once again. We need to pass down precious knowledge of food and to become aware once again of the immense value food has in our lives.

Great things have happened throughout history during times of struggle. Every single one of us has the opportunity to make this world better, stronger and more resilient than ever before.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 ways troops accidentally ‘blue falcon’ the rest of the platoon

Every now and then, the pricks known as ‘Blue Falcons’ come and ruin things for everyone else. They break the rules and make everyone else suffer. They rat out their brothers- and sisters-in-arms. They even damage the reputation of others to make themselves look better.


Blue Falcons (also known as Buddy F*ckers) are the most hated people within the military. But as much hate as these troops get from others, most of the time, it’s not done on purpose. Even if they do it with the best of intentions, when a troop f*cks over their buddies, they’re a Blue Falcon and will receive hate accordingly.

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Just what everyone wants to do right before they were supposed to get out of there…

(Photo by Capt. John Farmer)

Reminding the chain of command anything before close-out formation

Every Friday afternoon, every troop looks to their clock, counting down the minutes. The weekend is to begin just as soon as the weekend safety brief is done. Then, the Blue Falcon chimes in with something like, “weren’t we supposed to be helping in the motor pool today?”

Okay, so it’s not always as obvious as that — that’s actively being a Blue Falcon. Most of the time, it’s something small like, “man, I can’t wait until me and my buddy Jones go out drinking tonight!” The platoon sergeant hears this and remembers Jones is in second platoon, which reminds him that second platoon is doing lay-outs because First Sergeant said so.

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And the military tends to use a sledgehammer-sized solution for a nail-sized problem.

(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Cousins)

Making a mistake and saying “but we didn’t know that”

When troops mess up and accept responsibility for their actions, they get their wrists slapped, take their punishment, and move on. No one’s perfect and the chain of command knows this (even if they like to pretend otherwise).

Blue Falcons who try to cover their tracks and hide behind ignorance might get a pass if they genuinely do not know better. This, in turn, forces the chain of command to verify that everyone knows what the Blue Falcon did was wrong.

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You really can’t tell when dental appointments end. Best to assume it’s all day unless you know for sure.

(Photo by Lance Cpl. Ricardo Davila)

Telling the truth when silence is better

Honesty is a well-respected quality in a subordinate. If something is wrong, it’s great to have someone who tells the truth and speaks out to correct problems. This becomes an issue, however, if the problem isn’t that big of a deal and it involves others in the unit.

Now, don’t get this twisted. Speak out if you ever see something unsafe, criminal, or unbecoming of a service-member. But if it’s something like, “when did Sgt. Jones say that his dental appointment would end?” You don’t need to answer and screw him over. Just shrug.

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Seriously. If you must fulfill your cactus-destroying urges, do it in New Mexico.

Breaking some bizzare, off-the-wall law that nobody knows about

Certain laws are pounded into everyone’s head at every safety brief. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t physically or sexually assault anyone. Don’t do dumb sh*t. And every now and then, the commander needs to brief the entire unit because one person screwed up.

Let’s pretend that a soldier stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona accidentally destroys a saguaro cactus. That’s actually a 25-year prison sentence. If one troop screws up and gets charged, the commander must throw “don’t destroy cacti” into their weekly safety brief and everyone else has to sit and listen.

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At least with “Soldier of the Whenever” boards, just attending is good enough.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. John Etheridge)

Going above and beyond what’s required

Every leader wants their unit to be the best possible unit, both for bragging rights and for pride. When one troop does amazing work, they’re showered with praise rarely given in the military. Most troops strive to be the best they can give to earn praise and accolades. BZ! Good job! Keep up the good work!

The problem comes when leaders see how great one troop is and questions why the rest aren’t at that same level. This tip isn’t meant to discourage everyone from trying hard, it’s meant for leaders who try to push unrealistic expectations.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Donner Party really should have taken the Army’s advice

At some point while growing up, every kid is issued a stern warning from their parents to not touch the hot stove when it’s on. Most kids take that advice at face value and never risk it. But then there are the other kids; the ones who repeatedly try to poke at the red hot coils. Eventually, there comes a time where the curious kids get burnt. This is basically what happened to the ill-fated and infamous Donner Party in 1847. History often paints the pioneers as unfortunate travelers, but it also often glosses over the fact that they were issued repeated warnings by the United States Army, who told them to stay away.

Spoiler alert: They didn’t stay away and it didn’t end well for thirty-nine of them — and if they were petty enough, the Army could’ve issued the survivors a “so, what did we learn?


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This information in important to the rest of the story.

(“Battle of Churubusco,” John Cameron, lithograph, 1846)

Manifest Destiny was in full force during the 1840s and countless pioneers moved out west in search of greener pastures. When Mexico saw the influx of new settlers coming into and setting up shop in disputed territory, their army attacked American troops in March, 1846, along the Rio Grande River, beginning the Mexican-American War.

The Army knew full well that the coming battles could stretch across the West and into places where settlers were building new lives. So, they issued a warning to pioneers, advising them to either wait for the war before venturing into the southwest or to proceed with extreme caution. After all, the soldiers had a war to fight; they couldn’t dote on individual settlers.

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Just take a wild guess who they listened to: the grizzled Ranger or the sketchy salesman?

(“Advice on the Prairie,” William Ranney, painting, 1857)

That warning didn’t stop George Donner and James Reed from saddling up the wagons to make their way along the Oregon Trail and find new homes in California. The path was well-traveled and would take them through Wyoming, Idaho, and, eventually, down the California Trail near Ft. Hall, Idaho. This was the prescribed route made by the Army for all travelers. The route was generally pleasant, had several Army posts along the way, was seldom ambushed by Natives, and took about four to six months to traverse.

But they caught wind of a faster route that saved time by cutting through Utah. This information came from a writer/salesman, Lansford Hastings, who’d never actually been on his so-called Hastings Cutoff. This new route cut about 300 miles from the trip. Accounting for an average speed of about 12 miles per day, that would theoretically save them about a month of travel. It was important to make it to California before the winter, because as the Army told them, the winter would be deadly.

On their travels, the party randomly met James Clyman, an old Army Ranger turned mountain man. He strongly advised against this alternate route. Clyman had traveled all across the United States and her territories — he even wrote about Hugh Glass (you know, the guy from The Revenant) because he was there with him. There wasn’t a human being alive more suited to give counsel about these lands. He was very serious about them turning around and taking the established route.

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Let this be a lesson for you. If a bunch of people with years of experience tell you something… maybe listen.

(“Encampment,” Daniel A. Jenks, watercolors, 1858)

You know this story doesn’t have a happy ending, so you know which advice they followed. The shortcut, turns out, was absolutely horrible and added months to their journey. Instead of making it to the Pacific Ocean by early September, they found themselves in Truckee Meadows (near present-day Reno, Nevada) by late October.

One of the party’s scouts, William Bryant, had taken the regular route ahead and made it safely to the Army’s Fort Sutter. He heard about their new route and the soldiers sent a dire warning. The warning implored them stay in Reno for the winter and to not even think about crossing the Sierra Nevada in this weather.

Truckee Meadows was beautiful. It had bountiful food, sturdy trees, flowing water in the winter. In a word, it was perfect! They could have as easily made their new lives there. They could’ve been happy. But wintering in Reno would have made too much sense, so they decided to try and push through the terrible wintry mountains — in spite of all of the warnings.

Now, it’s hard to say if they actually had to resort to cannibalism or not — some survivors suggested they did, others said they didn’t, and historical evidence is inconclusive — but it was still the definition of a sh*tshow. It took the Army months to find them (since they were kind of busy with the aforementioned war) but at least forty-eight people made it out.

Thirty-nine did not.

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This Revolutionary War battle was fought in lard with swords

When a revolution starts, there eventually comes a time for everyone to start picking sides. For the southern colonies in the American Revolution, the time to choose came in 1776. Both loyalist and patriot armies began recruiting drives for soldiers to fight for their respective goals – would the colonies free themselves from tyranny or would the unruly Americans be put in their place?

In the months that followed the revolution’s start, the British hoped to recruit brave Scotsmen who were still loyal to the crown in North Carolina. The patriots weren’t going to just let that happen.


After the shooting battles at Lexington and Concord touched off the powder keg that would eventually become the United States of America, patriot and loyalist leaders scrambled to shore up their supporters, whether they were providing money, arms, or soldiers. In 1776, almost a full year after the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” North Carolina’s governor raised a militia of loyalist Scotsmen to join a force of British regulars in the Carolinas, then led by Gen. Henry Clinton. They were successful in raising the men, but the local committee of correspondence – the patriot shadow government and intelligence network – got wind of the plan and was determined to prevent the two groups from linking up.

North Carolina’s loyalist governor managed to raise an army of about 6,000 strong, which was no small feat. This militia force was supposed to meet 2,000 regulars and then march to the sea in preparation for fighting the patriots. But when the British didn’t make the rendezvous, loyalists began to desert the army rather than fight patriot militias every step of the way.

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Historical marker drawing attention to the location of a rendezvous of Tories, or British loyalists, just prior to the battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in February, 1776, during the American Revolution. (Wikimedia Commons)

When the Committee of Correspondence got wind of the loyalist plans, they put a similar plan of theirs to work. The Continental Congress raised a force of Continental Army regulars while North Carolina raised forces of patriot militia – each in a hurry. Their goal was to meet the mixed British force before it could reach the coast. After some maneuvering, the two met at Moore’s Creek Bridge, a battle across a creek the British tried to avoid.

For both sides, that meant a war council to determine if fighting in that place was really the best course of action. They both decided that it was, but the patriots took it a step further. After night fell, they sabotaged and greased up the bridge, coating it with a layer of lard that the Scottish loyalist militia wouldn’t soon forget – those who would survive, anyway.

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What the bridge likely looked like during the 1776 battle (Pender County Public Library)

The Scottish troops approached the bridge and decided to identify themselves in the mists of the early morning. The only reply they received was a patriot sentry firing a shot to warn the patriot army that the British were on the move. The battle was on for the patriots, and the Scottish snipers’ leadership also decided this was the time and place. A force of 100 or more swordsmen hopped off their mounts and rushed the bridge.

When the Scots got within 30 paces of the bridge, a body of colonials hiding behind earthworks on the other side opened up on the loyalists, ripping through formations and devastating the army’s ranks. The leaders of the swordsman militia were torn to shreds by the musket fire, and the Scotsmen retreated in a hurry. The entire army dissipated and broke, never fighting another battle.

Moore's Creek Bridge
Moores Creek National Battlefield, North Carolina, USA. The picture shows the restored earthworks of the patriotic militia in the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge (Wikimedia Commons)

Even if the Scottish conscripts actually made their way to the Atlantic coast, there would have been no reinforcements to meet them. The British forces that were supposed to link up with them didn’t even make it to the Carolinas until May of 1776, a full three months later. As for the Scottish loyalists in North Carolina, their support was only vocal from that point forward. Never again would they answer the call to arms for the British.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the Battle of Hue City was so intense

The Vietnam War is one of the most controversial conflicts embarked upon by the United States. The Marines that retook the city of Hue City are the gold standard of urban warfare. Battalions of Americans, South Vietnamese, and the Viet Cong faced off fighting for every inch of the city. Essentially fighting with one hand tied behind their back, they triumphed over an overwhelming, well trained enemy. The battle was close, it was up to who wanted victory more – the communists or the Marines.

Communists massacred civilians

Not only were government and military officials massacred, but so were innocent civilians, including women and children, who were tortured, executed or buried alive.

Olga Dror, The New York Times

The battle for Hue City happened during the Tet Offensive, a nationwide coordinated assault on U.S. and allied controlled areas. During the initial days of the attack, communists massacred as many as 5,700 civilians. The victims are buried in mass graves when the city fell into enemy hands. The Viet Cong occupied the city for close to month before the Marine Corps liberated the city.

Supporters of the failed Struggle Movement escaped from the city in two years before the battle. Those same people would turn on their neighbors when they returned with the communists. With their help, the communists gathered intelligence of the city and selected people for death.

Politics attempted to restrict the Marines

Due to the historic aspect of many of the buildings in Hue, the usage of heavy weapons was significantly restricted during the initial days of fighting on both sides of the river. As friendly casualties mounted, and as initial estimates of the size of the enemy force in the Hue City area was significantly increased, fire restrictions were ultimately lifted. In our respectful opinion, our ability to successfully complete the mission was, initially, severely impacted by the rules of engagement.

Lessons Learned, Charlie 1/5, Operation Hue City, 31 January 1968 to 5 March 1968

To the uninitiated in Rules of Engagement, they’re a set of rules established by high command that dictate what weapons and tactics may be used. Anyone in violation of that can be charged with a war crime. In the example of the Battle of Hue City, also known as the Siege of Hue, the Marine Corps is forbidden to damage the buildings. That is absurd. This is war. The reasoning is that the city was the home to the Nguyen Dynasty, the last dynasty in Vietnam until 1883, and historically significant to Vietnamese culture.

Any commander worth his salt knows that the life one Marine, let alone an American, is worth ten thousand times the value of a structure. The Vietnam War was often hindered by policy makers micromanaging the boots on the ground. You wanted a war? Let the Marines fight it and shut up.

House to House, Street to Street

…Even with proper support of heavy weapons, which was ultimately provided to the Marines, we faced “hard corps” North Vietnamese Army troops who fought from prepared positions, moved to secondary positions, fought again, and finally, very reluctantly, died. In the capture of each room, each floor, each rooftop, each building, each street, it was ultimately the Marine rifleman who won the battle.

Lessons Learned, Charlie 1/5, Operation Hue City, 31 January 1968 to 5 March 1968

The fighting was so intense that Alpha company lost their Commanding Officer and many of their lieutenants. Charlie Company lost every single officer for the exception of two. The ferocity of combat and the escalating casualty rates saw PFC’s as platoon commanders in the thick of the fighting. Combat promotions were a common sight on the battlefield.

The Marine Corps’ sent three battalions to face off against 15 to 18 NVA battalions for domination of Hue. Initially supported by small arms and the South Vietnamese Army and Marines, it took everything to defeat the determined Viet Cong. The combined allied casualites at the conclusion of the battle climbed to over 3,800. The enemy sustained over 5,000 dead and an unknown amount of wounded.

The Marines adapted their tactics and with heroic determination drove the NVA and Vietcong from Hue despite being spread too thin and fire support being largely restricted  – Richard Camp’s (Col. Ret). Death in the Citadel: U.S. Marines in the Battle for Hue City, 31 January to 2 March 1968 (2017)

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Life aboard WWII submarines was brutal

No one has ever claimed that life aboard a U.S. Navy ship was luxurious. Even on the most advanced warships on the planet life can still be cramped. Though today amenities are much improved, the sailors patrolling the oceans in World War II had a much different life than their modern counterparts.


For one thing, the submarines of World War II were much smaller. Though only about 60 feet shorter than a modern submarine, the Gato and Balao-class submarines the U.S. Navy operated in World War II had a displacement of only about one third that of modern Virginia class submarines.

In that small space, the submariners — some 60 to 80 in all — had to store themselves, their gear, and provisions for 75 days.

 

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Real World War II galley attire: T-shirt and apron over dungarees. This June 1945 snapshot is of George Sacco, a cook and baker in USS Cod (SS 224). (Courtesy of the USS Cod Submarine Memorial)

 

Each crewmember had only about one cubic foot of personal storage space aboard the sub. Each crewmember also had a bunk, scattered throughout the many compartments of the boat, including in the torpedo rooms. As many as 14 men crammed into the forward torpedo room along with 16 torpedoes.

A submarine of that size simply could not fit all of the necessary provisions for a long war patrol in the appropriate spaces. To accommodate, the crew stashed boxes of food and other things anywhere they would fit — the showers, the engine room, even on the deck until there was space inside to fit it all.

Also read: 27 incredible photos of life aboard a U.S. submarine

There was one upside though. Because of the dangerous and grueling nature of submarine duty, the Navy did its best to ensure that submariners got the best food the Navy had to offer. They also found room to install an ice cream freezer as a small luxury for the crew.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much time or space to enjoy that food. Most of the time the men were lucky to get ten minutes to eat as the boat’s three “shifts” all had to pass through the tiny galley in a short amount of time.

The serving of food was often times also dictated by restrictions on the submarines movements. Submarines were under strict orders not to surface during the day when they were within 500 miles of a Japanese airfield in order to avoid aerial observation and attack. In the early days of the war in the Pacific this meant just about everywhere as the Japanese were in control of vast swaths of territory and ocean.

This meant that the submarines stayed submerged during the day and only surfaced at night. In order to compensate, many crews flipped their schedules doing their normal daily routines at night. The crews called this “going into reversa.” This allowed the crew to take advantage of the time the sub was on the surface.

This was important because once the submarine dove after running its diesel engines for hours, the boat would quickly heat up. The engine room temperature could soar to over 100 degrees before spreading throughout the sub. Combine that with the 80 men working and breathing and the air inside could quickly become foul.

The men knew the air was getting bad when they had trouble lighting their cigarettes due to the lack of oxygen (oh the irony).

To make matters worse, there was little water available for bathing and on long patrols most men only showered about every ten days or so. Laundry was out of the question. Because of these conditions submarines developed a unique smell – a combination of diesel fuel, sweat, cigarettes, hydraulic fluid, cooking, and sewage.

On older submarines, the World War I-era S-boats — often referred to as pigboats — the conditions were even worse. Without proper ventilation, the odors were even stronger. This also led to mold and mildew throughout the boat as well as rather large cockroaches that the crews could never quite seem to eradicate.

 

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The USS Grayback was one of the WWII submarines lost to enemy action during the war. (Photo: National Archives)

 

If the conditions themselves weren’t bad enough, the crews then had to sail their boats into hostile waters, often alone, to attack the enemy.

Submarines often targeted shipping boats, but sometimes would find themselves tangling with enemy surface vessels. Once a sub was spotted, the enemy ships would move in for the kill with depth charges.

Of the 263 submarines that made war patrols in World War II, 41 of them were lost to enemy action while another eleven were lost to accidents or other reasons. This was nearly one out of every five submarines, making the job of submariner one of the most dangerous of the war.

A further danger the submarines faced was being the target of their own torpedoes. Due to issues with the early Mk. 14 torpedo that was used, it had a tendency to make a circular run and come back to strike the sub that fired it. At least one submarine, the USS Tang, was sunk this way.

Despite the dangers, American submarines performed admirably. In the Pacific, American crews sank almost 1,400 Japanese ships of different types, totaling more than 5.5 million tons.

They also rescued 504 downed airmen from the sea. Submarines also evacuated key individuals from danger areas, including the U.S. High Commissioner and President Quezon from the Philippines.

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

On special missions, submarines landed reconnaissance parties on enemy shores, and in a few cases used their 5″ deck guns to bombard enemy positions.

The bravery of the submarines was well-known in World War II. Presidential Unit Citations were awarded 36 times to submarine crews. Seven submarine skippers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions at sea.

American submariners in World War II set a tradition of duty and bravery that is carried on by American submarine crews today.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Air Force SLAM jet was designed to kill at Mach 5

Russia is getting a lot of attention lately for things like hypersonic missiles and nuclear doomsday weapons but all that is just old hat to the Pentagon. The United States has been working with doomsday weapons for years; we just never went around bragging about it.

Or blowing up our own nuclear reactors.


The Cold War was a pretty good time for America, especially where defense is concerned. Even though we may have thought of ourselves as trailing the Soviets with ridiculous things like “missile gaps,” the truth was we were often further ahead than we thought. Hell, we were going to nuke the moon as a warning but decided the PR would be better if we landed on it instead. If the Russians wanted to impress us, they could have taken a photo next to our flag up there.

When it came to weapons, the U.S. had no equal. We built horrifying, terrifying, and downright unbelievable devices that were an excellent show of force at best and – at worst – absolutely batsh*t crazy. Project Pluto was one of the latter.

Simply put, Pluto was a cruise missile that flew at a low altitude with a nuclear payload. Sound pretty Cold War-level simple, right? The devil is in the details. The actual acronym for the weapon was SLAM – supersonic low altitude missile. This meant a giant missile that flew around below radar, around treetop height, faster than the speed of sound, so it could penetrate enemy territory without anyone seeing it or being prepared for what came next.

Which was about 16 hydrogen bombs dropping on Russian cities. But that’s not all!

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The SLAM Jet’s ramjet engine.

The weapon isn’t unique because of the number of weapons it carried. Intercontinental ballistic missiles, the weapons that would eventually make SLAM jets obsolete, carried multiple warheads that could be targeted at multiple cities. No, the unique part of the SLAM jet weapon is what it is. The missile is designed around a single, nuclear-powered jet engine which is sent aloft by rocket boosters but soon becomes indefinitely sustainable via the power of the nuclear jet engine’s intake.

So, the weapon could drop its payload and then keep flying forever, creating sonic booms above the treetops, murdering anyone on the ground. The fact that the engine is just an unshielded nuclear reactor meant its exhaust would spew radioactive material all over any area unlucky enough to have it pass by overhead.

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Luckily for everyone on the planet, this project was dumped with the invention of ICBM technology. So the United States and the Soviet Union could kill each other more directly, rather than leave a path of destruction as it went to destroy another country en masse.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time when British Commandos rode an AH-64 Apache helicopter to combat

“No one left behind” is an often-heard mantra in military units. Popularized by feats like the ‘Black Hawk Down’ operation, it enhances esprit de corps in a unit. It also emboldens warriors to perhaps go a step further during combat, assured that they wouldn’t be left alone in case things turn sour. But how far would a unit go to recover one of its own?

Helmand Province, Afghanistan, January 15, 2007.

Royal Marines Commandos from Z Company of 45 Commando launch an assault on a Taliban fort. The 200 Commandos enjoy armor and 155mm artillery support. Overhead, U.S. B-1 bombers and British Apache Longbow AH-64 helicopters provide a silent assurance with their potent arsenal and infrared cameras.


The Jugroom Fort, a strategically vital position in Garmsir, Southern Helmand, overlooks the Helmand River. Today, it’s packed with Taliban fighters.

The Marines ford the river in their Viking APCs and assault the fortified structure. Heavy combat ensues. Despite their overwhelming firepower, the Commandos are forced to withdraw. Once back in their launching position, a muster goes around, and a grim discovery is made: Lance Corporal Mathew Ford is missing.

Using its infrared camera, one of the AH-64 Apaches spots a lone figure pulsing with a weak heat-signature tucked away in a corner of the Fort. The Taliban all around seem impervious to its existence—but for how long?

A rescue operation must be shift before the insurgents realize what’s going on.

The Commando officers argue for a ground rescue operation, but the higher-ups back in Camp Bastion waiver fearing more casualties. Meanwhile, LCpl. Ford’s brothers-in-arms fume. They decide to take the situation into their own hands. Alongside some of the Apache pilots, they devise a bold rescue plan. Four Commandos strap themselves to the wings of two of the Apaches. A third chopper will follow and try to suppress any Taliban.

The Army Air Corps’ pilots fly their Apaches just 20ft above the ground, at 60mph.

The British Commandos land within the Fort’s walls. The Commandos jump from the wings and begin searching for the missing comrade. A few of the pilots join them armed with their personal sidearms.

They find LCpl. Ford—he is unconscious.

Recovering their fallen comrade, they re-mount the choppers and safely fly back to their positions.

It was later discovered that the 30-year-old Ford was dead when the rescue force arrived. But the grimmest discovery came in the autopsy. Ford had been zipped by friendly-fire. It later became known that one of his buddies mistook a hand-grenade flash close to Ford’s position for gunfire and shot him.

Despite rumors of a court-martial for their actions, the whole rescue team was honored. Two of the Apache pilots received the Distinguished Flying Cross, one of the highest military awards. The rest of the pilots alongside the four Commandos received the Military Cross.

So, if you find yourself alongside Royal Marines Commandos or any British Apache pilots, you can rest assured that they won’t leave you behind.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the largest battleship ever planned but never built

In the days before naval aviation and submarines, the battleship was the unchallenged king of the seas. Building a bigger and better ship with more and bigger guns was basically the order of the day, and it continued all the way up until the days before World War II, when the world reached peak battleship, and airplanes proved to be deadlier than the Navy ever imagined.

But America almost reached peak battleship before World War I was even a possibility, and it was possibly the biggest battleship ever conceived – it also might have been an ironic joke from someone who hated the Navy.


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Benjamin Tillman, famous racist and Navy hater.

Benjamin Tillman was a U.S. Senator from South Carolina and a member of the Senate Naval Affairs Committee. He was annoyed at the Navy for coming to Congress every year to request money to build more and bigger battleships. Despite this pretty much being what the Navy is supposed to do, Tillman decided it would be best to just get the whole arms race out of the way and build the biggest possible battleship they could at the moment. This led to the creation of the Maximum Battleship design.

No, that’s really what they called it.

Tillman hated the Navy’s battleships, and everyone knew it, but when he requested the Department of the Navy just submit the plans for the biggest battleship they could, the Navy obliged him anyway. There were, however, restrictions on U.S. ship designs at the time. Namely, they had to fit through the Panama Canal.

The first design submitted was a massive 70,000 tons – almost 50 percent heavier than the modern Navy’s USS Missouri – and this was in 1916. It carried 12 16-inch guns and had an armor thickness of 18 inches. In comparison, the Iowa-class battleships of World War II would carry just nine 16-inch guns and have a maximum armor thickness of 14.5 inches. The next iteration of Maximum Battleship designs would have 24 16-inch guns and an armor thickness of 13 inches. It was the third design that really took the cake, however.

Maximum Battleship III – also known as the Tillman III design – weighed 63,000 tons. It had the armor of the second design and the guns of the second design. It could even move at an absurd 30 knots, which is almost as fast as an Iowa-class ship and an insane speed for a ship of that size in 1916. This is a weight equal to the largest battleships ever actually built that moves even faster and was supposed to be built 20 years earlier. That wasn’t the end of the attempt, though. There would be another.

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The largest of the Tillman Designs.

The fourth design for Tillman featured the 24 guns and even thicker armor, coming in at 19 inches. It was clear by now the Navy wasn’t expecting to get funding for these. The fourth design would displace 80,000 tons and was practically impossible to build with the technology of the day. In all, six designs were made, each bigger and more ridiculous than the last. It would be as big as the modern American supercarriers and carry the most and biggest weapons of anything on earth, on land, or on the oceans. And it would have been sunk just as easily with the advent of naval aviation.

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