The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

Britain’s Challenger-1 tank was originally designed to be sold to the Shah of Iran, but with the Iranian Revolution in 1979, that sale was cancelled. Britain developed the tank for its own use instead, and it’s a good thing it did. The Challenger 1 became one of the most effective tanks in the history of armored warfare. 

The British didn’t even realize what a powerful weapon system they built until it was battle-proven in combat fighting Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in desert combat. The Challenger was about to make combat history. 

In 1991, the United Kingdom deployed 221 of its Challenger tanks to Saudi Arabia as part of the Gulf War. The Challengers were its contribution to the Coalition to oust Iraq from nearby Kuwait, Operation Granby. During Desert Shield, the UK’s 1st Armoured Division was the easternmost unit of the famed “left hook” that outflanked the Iraqis in Kuwait while protecting the invasion force’s main flank.

A British Challenger 1 main battle tank moves along with other Allied armor during Operation Desert Storm.

The chief concern of British commanders were the Iraqi’s Soviet-built T-72 tanks. The British made special modifications to their tanks that would increase its survivability in desert combat. They even flew out engineers from Vickers, the company that manufactured the Challenger tanks, to make the modifications. 

On the morning of Feb. 24, 1991, the ground campaign of Operation Desert Storm was launched and the British 1st Armoured Division rolled along with it. Over the course of the next two days, British Challenger tanks knocked out an estimated 300 Iraqi tanks. Their fears over the T-72 were overblown. The Iraqi Republican Guard wasn’t even present, having been withdrawn before the battle. 

According to some historians, Iraq’s main battle tank was no match for the Challenger. With improved reactive armor and some carrying powerful depleted uranium shells, the Challenger easily cut through its enemies. Moreover, the Iraqis were totally unprepared for a tank of its ability, with one Iraqi commander claiming he’d never seen a Challenger until it was rolling up to his doorstep that February morning. 

To top off its offensive and defensive capabilities, the Challengers also featured an advanced global positioning system and a Thermal Observation and Gunnery System that allowed it to see at night, through smokescreens and in the poor visibility of the battlefield caused by massive oil fires, lit by retreating Iraqi troops. 

A Challenger 1MBT Mk 3 (Simon Q, Flickr)

The Challenger 1’s most significant tank kill came at this time, and has been (mostly) well-documented. A Challenger with the callsign 11B fired at an Iraqi main battle tank from a distance of more than 5,100 meters – just above three miles – with an armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding-sabot round, the longest tank-on-tank kill ever. 

Although the 5,100 meter distance is what is often recorded in history books, at least one British tanker who was in the battle says the kill came at only 4,700 meters, just shy of three miles. If he’s right, It would still be the longest tank-on-tank kill and would be no less impressive, considering the tank’s operation range is 1,200 meters, more than a third of that distance. 

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
A British Army Challenger 1 Main Battle Tank (MBT), the command tank of the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards 

Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi Army failed to take out a single Challenger 1 tank and the only ones that didn’t make it through the entire battle did so because of technical issues, not due to enemy action.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Man of honor: The US Navy’s 1st African American master diver & amputee diver Carl Brashear

The US Air Force lost a nuclear bomb off the coast of Palomares, Spain. It was on Jan. 17, 1966, when a K-135 refueling aircraft collided midair with a B-52G long-range bomber carrying a payload of four 70-kiloton hydrogen bombs. Three parachutes deployed and the nuclear devices were located on land, while a fourth plummeted into the Mediterranean Sea. The Air Force asked for the Navy’s help to retrieve it.

The salvage ship USS Hoist and her crew responded. “We searched for the bomb close to the shoreline for about two and a half months, and all we were getting was pings on beer cans, coral heads, and other contacts,” recalled Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Carl Brashear, the US Navy’s first African American Navy diver

Each time their sonar technology picked up a contact, the Navy sent divers to check it out. A fisherman who had witnessed the bomb entering the water told officials how close they were, and even used his fingers as a means of measurement. They were that close.

“So one day Admiral Guest said we would try it,” Brashear said in an interview in 1998. “So they made a replica of the bomb on the tender and then dropped it to see how it would show up on the screen, same dimension, same length, same diameter. Then we went out 6 miles, and the first pass, there the bomb was, 6 miles in 2,600 feet of water.”

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
Navy salvors recover the lost hydrogen bomb on April 7, 1966, two weeks after Navy diver Carl Brashear was injured during the salvage operation. Photo courtesy of the United States Naval Undersea Museum.

The Alvin submersible was made for this type of operation. It managed to attach grapnels to the parachute shrouds connected to the bomb before it ran out of batteries and was forced to surface. Using the Cable-controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle (CURV) developed to salvage torpedoes, Brashear began to hoist the bomb up from the deep. As Brashear was bringing it up, a lifting cable snapped and the boat broke loose. Brashear scrambled to manhandle another sailor out of the way as the boat yanked on the pipe that had the mooring line tied to it.

“That pipe came loose, flew across the deck, and it struck my leg below the knee,” he said. “They said I was way up in the air just turning flips. I landed about two foot inside of that freeboard. They said if I’d been two foot farther over, I’d have gone over the side. I jumped up and started to run and fell over. That’s when I knew how bad my leg was.”

At that time, Brashear had 18 years of service in the US Navy, joining in 1948 and becoming the first African American Navy diver in 1954. He was now in the fight for his life. Corpsmen aboard the Hoist secured two tourniquets around his leg, but by the time he got to a hospital he had no pulse or heartbeat due to blood loss. The medical staff administered 18 pints of blood, restarted his heart, and brought him back from the dead.

He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for heroism in saving another sailor’s life at the risk of his own personal injury. His doctors told him it would take three years before he could walk again. The infection was so bad he agreed to have his leg amputated below the knee to fast-track his grueling rehabilitation.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
Brashear trains with his prosthetic leg to climb diving ladders, loaded with weights to simulate the heavy MK V diving rig. Photo courtesy of the United States Naval Undersea Museum.

Brashear was outfitted with his own prosthetic leg in December 1966, but amid the inequalities African Americans faced in the military, his prosthetic was painted to match white skin. That was not out of the norm for his personal experiences, as for his entire career he was subject to discrimination, harassment, threats, and ill treatment by his fellow service members. Despite it all, he persevered to become a pioneer in the diving industry. 

“It took more willpower than I ever thought I had, to accept the fact that I had lost a leg,” he later said. “Once I accepted that, I knew I would win the fight to become a master diver.”

The native of Kentucky who was raised attending segregated schools refused to submit to the medical survey board’s attempts to retire him, as they believed he was unfit for duty. Chief Warrant Officer Clair Axtell Jr., his old friend from salvage school, granted Brashear the opportunity to train at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia. Even on the weekends he practiced diving in a MK V deep-sea rig, a shallow-water diving suit, and scuba gear. 

“It is not a sin to get knocked down,” he would often say. “It’s a sin to stay down.” 

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
To achieve his dream of becoming a US Navy Master Diver, Carl Brashear had to prove his diving aptitude post-amputation. Photo taken either at the Norfolk diving school or the Deep Sea Diving School in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of the United States Naval Undersea Museum.

He led daily calisthenics and suffered greatly, but he did not give up. Sometimes after he returned from a run, the end of his prosthetic would have a puddle of blood at the bottom. It was evidence he pushed his body beyond his limits. 

“In that year, if I had gone to sick bay, they would have written me up,” he said. “I’d go somewhere and hide and soak my leg in a bucket of hot water with salt in it — an old remedy. Then I’d get up the next morning and run.”

Against all odds, Carl Brashear qualified as the first Black Master Diver and first amputee Navy diver in US military history. He didn’t make a mistake during his evaluation. The next nine years Brashear lived out his dream as a Master Diver working on the submarine USS Hunley and on the salvage ship USS Recovery. 

He struggled with alcohol before achieving sobriety and retired from the Navy in 1979 with 31 years of military service. Actor Cuba Gooding Jr. immortalized his remarkable story in the 2000 movie Men of Honor. Brashear passed away in 2006 at the age of 75. He has since received further tributes, including a 700-foot cargo ship commissioned in 2008 called the USNS Carl Brashear. The Carl Brashear Foundation exists to share his achievements with as many people as possible.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a day in the life of George Washington went

George Washington is widely regarded as the father of the United States.

It’s not surprising why. Not only did the general-turned-president ensure the survival of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, he also laid down a number of massively important precedents in his two terms as US president.

So how did he spend his days? Well, that likely varied a bit when he was commanding his army from 1775 to 1783. And, as it turns out, we know a bit more about the breakdown of his daily schedule when he resided at Mount Vernon, his estate on the banks of the Potomac River.

Here’s a breakdown of how a day in the life of George Washington unfolded at Mount Vernon:



The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

In a letter to his grandson, Washington acknowledged that an early wake-up could be “irksome.”

Source: “George Washington: The Man of the Age

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

(Virginia State Parks / Flickr)

Still, he added that “… the practice will produce a rich harvest forever thereafter.”

Source: “George Washington: The Man of the Age

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

(Meryl / Flickr)

Washington himself awoke early, frequently rising at dawn. He would start off his day with a meal of three small cornmeal cakes and three cups of tea, without cream.

Source: “George Washington’s Leadership Lessons: What the Father of Our Country Can Teach Us About Effective Leadership and Character

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

He would also bathe, shave, and have his hair brushed by Will Lee, his enslaved valet. When Washington died in 1799, the enslaved population of Mount Vernon was 317.

Source: Mount Vernon, “George Washington: First in War, First in Peace

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

Washington would then saddle up and ride around his 8,000-acre estate on horseback.

Source: Mount Vernon

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

(Ben Clark / flickr)

He would return home around 7 a.m. to eat breakfast with his family and any guests who had stopped by the estate.

Source: Mount Vernon, “George Washington: First in War, First in Peace

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

According to historian James A. Crutchfield, the Washingtons entertained hundreds of visitors every year.

Source: “George Washington: First in War, First in Peace,” “George Washington’s Leadership Lessons: What the Father of Our Country Can Teach Us About Effective Leadership and Character

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

Washington would also spend time in the morning catching up reading newspapers and magazines.

Source: Mount Vernon, “George Washington: The Man of the Age

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

Washington wasn’t a big eater, although he did enjoy a glass of Madeira wine with dinner. After his main meal of the day, he would continue riding around his estate.

Source: Moland House Historic Park, Mount Vernon, “George Washington: The Man of the Age

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

At Mount Vernon, dinner took place at 2 p.m. The first president would prepare for the dinner by changing and powdering his hair.

Source: Mount Vernon

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

Topics of conversation typically focused on agriculture, as well as current events. As an afternoon snack, he would indulge in a glass of punch, a draught of beer, and two cups of tea.

Source: “George Washington: First in War, First in Peace,” Mount Vernon

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

(Photo by Jeff Nelson)

He spent at least part of his day writing. According to Crutchfield, he was a prolific writer, authoring 20,000 letters.

Source: “George Washington: First in War, First in Peace,” Moland House Historic Park

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

(Mariya Prokopyuk / Flickr)

According to historian John P. Kaminski, Washington would have tea with guests at 7 p.m.

Source: “George Washington: The Man of the Age

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

During the Revolutionary War, Washington’s habits understandably varied a bit. If he had a free moment in the evening, he would relax with his aides, drinking Madeira wine and snacking on nuts, cheese, and bread.

Source: Moland House Historic Park

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

Benjamin Franklin

Dubious signs boasting that “George Washington slept here” have long been a common occurrence at historical buildings throughout the East Coast. But when it came to the man’s sleeping habits, he seemed to adhere to the “early to bed, early to rise” advice of his fellow Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.

Source: Smithsonian, The New York Times

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

(Photo by Kai Schreiber)

Washington preferred not to idle away the evening with his guests. And 9 p.m., he would retire to bed, and “read and write until the candle burned low.”

Source: “George Washington: The Man of the Age

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How US troops responded to liberating the Dachau Concentration Camp

On April 28, 1945, just 25 days after the United States Army discovered Hitler’s terrible secret, the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp. The 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, commanded by Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, came upon a similar camp.

This camp was near the Bavarian city of Dachau, and and human feces. 

Unlike at Ohrdruf, the American GIs were going to make sure some of the surviving Nazi SS camp guards paid a price for what they did there. 

When the Americans first arrived, the SS guards were still firing at them in short bursts. The 45th was soon joined by the 42 Infantry Division under the command of Brig. Gen. Henning Linden. The Nazi garrison was substantial but no match for both Infantry Divisions. Most of the prison complex’s SS garrison and leadership had already fled. 

A Swiss representative of the International Red Cross was called in to negotiate the camp’s surrender. 

dachau
Prisoners of Dachau cheering on American soldiers.

On April 29th, SS Lieutenant Heinrich Wicker surrendered to Gen. Linden and the Americans began to secure the main camp. Once inside, the U.S. troops were horrified and enraged by the scene. There were hundreds of corpses strewn throughout the prison complex, along with rooms full of stacked, emaciated bodies. 

They took 100 SS guards prisoner amid a growing typhus infection among the camps inmate population, which numbered as many as 32,000. But not all of the SS soldiers had surrendered. Those who were still fighting were manning the guard towers. Sparks left some of the Nazi POWs under the watchful eyes of a machine gun team and began to make his way toward the fighting. 

Almost as soon as he’d begun to walk away, he heard a young private shout that the SS guards were trying to get away, before an eruption of machine gun fire split the silence. Returning to the scene, he found a dozen or more SS prisoners gunned down by the team. Elsewhere in the camp, U.S. troops were looking the other way when former inmates began to assault the camp guards.

Some SS troops attempted to get away, but were chased down by the former prisoners and severely beaten or killed. 

In all, Sparks estimates that around 30-50 SS camp guards were either killed by American troops or allowed to be killed by former Dachau inmates. The rumor about Americans killing all the SS guard was later spread, but Sparks disagrees with the rumor. 

“The regimental records of the 157th Field Artillery Regiment for that date indicate that over a thousand German prisoners were brought to the regimental collecting point. Since my task force was leading the regimental attack, almost all the prisoners were taken by the task force, including several hundred from Dachau,” he wrote.

An Army investigation of the incident alleged 21 deaths were perpetrated by U.S. troops, with another 25 attributed to the former prisoners. General George S. Patton, as military governor of Bavaria, received the report and the charges of Sparks being complicit in the reprisal but tore up the charges.

For his part, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had personally witnessed the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp liberation along with Patton, simply cabled Washington that the camp had been taken by Americans and that 300 SS guards were “neutralized.” 

Sparks noted that the “good citizens” of the nearby city of Dachau were forced to assist with burying the remains of the murdered prisoners. The 45th Infantry Division was soon on its way to Munich, the capital of Bavaria, and was fighting in the streets the next day.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the plane that nearly killed Chuck Yeager

Ask around — every veteran pilot has a few stories involving close calls. Some of these terrifying near-misses happen in combat and others during peacetime. Chuck Yeager, however, has the displeasure of experiencing both. In fact, his closest call had nothing to do with the enemy.


Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the United States Air Force was testing a number of planes, always trying to reach for the higher and faster. One such plane was the NF-104A Starfighter, a modification of the baseline F-104 that had a short career with the United States Air Force, but saw decades of service with other countries.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

A West German F-104 Starfighter. In 1962, this plane crashed with three others, killing four pilots (one of them American).

(US Army)

The purpose of the NF-104A was to test reaction control systems for use in space (since conventional control surfaces need air to function). The F-104 was a great choice for this test. As a high-performance fighter, it could reach a top speed of 1,320 miles per hour, had a maximum range of over 1,000 miles, and maintained the ability to carry two tons of weapons. However, it also proved to be very difficult to fly, earning the nickname “Widowmaker” among the West-German Luftwaffe.

To reach the altitudes required for such a test, engineers paired a rocket with 6,000 pounds of thrust with the J79 engine (the same engine used by the F-4 Phantom). The NF-104A was able to reach altitudes as high as 12,000 feet. It was called the Aerospace Trainer.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

A NF-104 Starfighter lights off its rockets to zoom to altitudes of as much as 120,000 feet.

Lockheed modified three F-104As taken from the boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for the Aerospace Trainer program. Two of the three NF-104s crashed. Yeager’s was the first among them and perhaps the most dramatic. His NF-104A, delivered less than six week prior to the nearly fatal flight, went into a flat spin. Yeager fought the plane as it fell almost 10,000 feet before he ejected. He suffered burns, but lived to eventually command a fighter wing in Vietnam.

Learn more about the plane that nearly killed one of the most famous pilots in history in the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgToX-Fy42U

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why General Schwarzkopf wore two watches

The idea of wearing two watches today seems like an unnecessary bit of showing off. In fact, with the prominence of smartphones and smartwatches, the idea of wearing a traditional time-keeping device on your wrist sounds entirely antiquated. For General “Stormin’ Norman” Scharzkopf, however, the 1991 Gulf War necessitated the wearing of two wristwatches.


The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

(US Army)

“I always wore two watches during the [Gulf] war. The one on my left arm was set on Saudi Arabian time and the Seiko on my right arm was set on Eastern Standard Time. That way I could quickly glance at my watches and instantly know the time in both Saudi Arabia and Washington, D.C. Sincerely, H. Norman Schwarzkopf, General, U.S. Army, Retired.” General Schwarzkopf penned these words in a letter to the Antiquorum auction house in the late 1990s when he donated one of his personal wristwatches to a charity auction.

Listed as “Seiko ‘Desert Storm, Diver’s watch,’ No. 469576 Stainless steel, centre second, water-resistant to 150m. gentleman’s quartz wristwatch with day and date, rubber strap and stainless steel buckle”, the donated watch was most likely a Seiko Quartz reference 7549-700F. While the watch is commonly believed to be the venerable Seiko SKX009 made famous by Robert Redford in All is Lost, the detail of the quartz movement rules out the SKX and its iconic automatic movement.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

(US Army)

General Schwarzkopf’s second wristwatch is a bit more of a mystery. Though his letter to the auction house described the watch on his right wrist as a Seiko, the General is pictured wearing both watches on opposite wrists at different times. This makes it unclear if the Seiko in the letter refers to the dive watch sold at auction or this mystery second watch.

At first glance, the two-tone gold and stainless steel construction gives the impression of a Rolex Datejust which was extremely popular during that time. However, upon closer inspection, the bracelet appears to be a 3-piece link design like the Rolex President rather than the 5-piece design of the Datejust’s Jubilee bracelet. The links are also too small to be a Rolex Oyster bracelet. However, the Rolex President has only ever been made in solid gold or platinum. Being that the General’s watch sports a two-tone bracelet and case, this rules out the Rolex President. Instead, it’s more likely that the watch in question is another Seiko like the model 3E23-0A60. Although it’s billed as a ladies watch, the Seiko fits the bill of having a two-tone gold and stainless steel construction and a matching President-style bracelet.

While it’s not terribly popular across society as a whole, the act of wearing a wristwatch on both wrists has become a practice known as “Schwarzkopfing” by the internet watch community. That said, even amongst watch enthusiasts, the “Schwarzkopf” is not a common sight.

It is also worth noting that Fidel Castro employed a similar practice. The Cuban dictator famously wore two Rolexes on the same wrist. Like with General Schwarzkopf, the practice is attributed to Castro’s need to track multiple time zones. However, one of Castro’s watches was a Rolex GMT-Master which is famous for being able to track up to three time zones. Perhaps the dictator needed to keep track of the time in Cuba, Nicaragua, Moscow and Angola. It’s also worth noting that, at the time, Rolex was a utilitarian brand that made reliable tool watches rather than the luxury status symbol that it is today.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

(Public Domain)

In a way, General Schwarzkopf’s practice of wearing two watches has returned to the military. Front line troops will often wear a G-Shock watch on one wrist to keep time and a Garmin GPS watch on the other to track their grid. Very few service members will reach the rank of four-star General, but if you ever want to imitate one, pull a Schwarzkopf and throw on two watches. Just be sure to put them on different wrists. No one wants to imitate Castro.


MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Americans won a battle using only bayonets

The British position at Stony Point, New York was really just an attempt to force George Washington out of the mountains and into a pitched battle – one the British could win. The American War of Independence had been going on for years, and by 1778, the British were languishing in New York City. To get things moving, General Sir Henry Clinton sent 8,000 men north to keep the Americans from using King’s Ferry to cross the Hudson.

But the Americans weren’t stupid. Assaulting a fortified position against overwhelming numbers was a bad call no matter how you try to justify it. So when the British Army left Stony Point with just a fraction of its troops as a garrison, that’s when Washington saw his opportunity.


The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

If there’s anything Washington excelled at, it was picking his battles.

The setup was so grand and well-made, the British began to refer to their Stony Point position as the “Gibraltar of the West.” The fort used two lines of abatements, manned by roughly a third of the total force in each position. To top it all off, an armed sloop, the HMS Vulture, also roamed the Hudson to add to the artillery guns already defending Stony Point. It seemed like a suicide mission.

But when the bulk of the troops left to return to New York, Washington knew his odds were never going to get better than this. The British left only 600-700 troops at Stony Point. The defenses were intimidating, but Washington wasn’t fielding militia; he had battle-hardened Continental Soldiers, and a General they called “Mad Anthony” to lead them.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

This is not some tiny stream.

The American plan seemed as Mad as Gen. Anthony Wayne. The Americans discovered that the British abatements didn’t extend into the river during low tide, so they could just go around the defenses if they timed their attack right. They created a three-pronged plan. Major Hardy Murfree would lead a very loud diversionary attack against the British center and create alarm in the enemy camp. Meanwhile, Gen. Wayne and Col. Richard Butler would assault either side of the defenses and flank the British. But they had to do it in total silence.

They unloaded their muskets and fixed bayonets to surprise the British.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

They don’t call him “Mad” Anthony Wayne for nothing.

And the British were surprised. They were completely flanked on the sides of their abatements. As Murfree attacked the center, the other Americans completely rolled up the British defenses and cut off the regiments fighting Murfree in the center. They stormed the slopes of Stony Point and completely routed the British positions. They captured almost 500 enemy troops, and stores of food and weapons.

In a dispatch to Washington, Anthony wrote that the fort and its garrison were now theirs and that “Our officers men behaved like men who are determined to be free.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 times the Army destroyed Japanese troops in the Pacific

The general narrative of World War II credits the Marines and Navy for the victory in the Pacific and the Army and U.S. Army Air Corps for victory in Europe. In reality, there are actually a few Marine veterans of fighting in Europe and a massive number of Army veterans who fought in the Pacific.

Here are six times that U.S. soldiers took the fight to the Japanese and and laid waste.


The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

U.S. Army artillerymen fire a 155mm rifled field gun on Guadalcanal on Dec. 7, 1942.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

1. Battle of Guadalcanal

Yes, that Battle of Guadalcanal. In fact, Army forces on the island actually outnumbered Marine forces. Each branch had two divisions on the ground, but the Army had an additional regiment. The 1st Marine Division made the initial landings on August 7, 1942, but Army troops were pouring onto the island by October.

It was Army troops who first received the “Banzai” attacks against Henderson Field in late October, holding the Japanese back despite armor, artillery, air, and naval support pitted against the U.S. troops. On November 4, the soldiers took part in pushing 1,500 Japanese troops against the sea.

In December, the 1st Marine Division pulled out, and an Army general took over command on the island. He sent his forces against the Japanese headquarters on Mount Austen and it was Army soldiers who fought from mid-December to January 2 to find and destroy that headquarters. In the following months, it was predominantly Army troops who eradicated Japanese opposition on the island, fighting which resulted in three Army Medals of Honor.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

The 32nd Infantry Division, a National Guard unit made up of soldiers from Michigan and Wisconsin, fought side-by-side with Australian forces to take key positions on Papua, New Guinea from November 1942 to January 2, 1943.

(U.S. Army National Guard illustration by Michael Gnatek)

2. Papuan Campaign

As the Battle of Guadalcanal raged, U.S. and Australian Army units led the fight in Papua, New Guinea, against Japanese forces there. As with Guadalcanal, a key strategic objective was the island’s airfield, but this time, the Japanese were on the attack and the Allies on defense. Unfortunately for the Japanese, their losses to the U.S. Navy at the Battle of the Coral Sea and Midway forced them to attack overland through treacherous mountain passes.

The combined force pushed Japanese foes back and then went on the offensive, attacking at Milne Bay and across the Japanese lines in late August, forcing them into general retreat on September 4. The Army launched a clearance operation on October 4, resupplying units by air as they pushed deeper into formerly Japanese territory. The final Japanese forces proved stubborn, and the Army was forced to fight desperately to take each bunker.

Finally, from mid-December the mid-January, Allied forces led by U.S. Army units brought in fresh tanks and troops, and they launched an innovative combined-arms campaign to break the Japanese backs. In one section where tanks couldn’t operate, two Army infantrymen earned posthumous Medals of Honor for heroism while clearing Japanese positions. The last resistance fell by January 22.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

The second battalion of U.S. paratroopers is dropped near Nadzab, New Guinea, Sept. 5, 1943.

(U.S. Army)

3. Capture of Nadzab, New Guinea

While Australian troops did the bulk of the fighting on New Guinea and western New Britain in 1943, U.S. Army paratroopers were tapped to take a key airfield in the city of Nadzab on September 5, 1943.

This was the first American airborne operation of the Pacific. Army Air Corps bombers strafed the drop zones and dropped fragmentation bombs before the paratroopers jumped into a well-timed smokescreen. From there, the paratroopers fought all day, receiving resupply from the air and assaulting one Japanese position after another.

It worked. Australian forces were able to use the airfield for their own operations the very next day, and it was grown into a major air base that supported Australian operations for the rest of the war.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

U.S. Army troops navigate the mountains of Attu Island in Alaska in May, 1943.

(Australian Army)

4. Aleutian Campaign

In June, 1942, Japanese forces took two of the Aleutian Islands that are part of Alaska. While their forces lacked the numbers to truly threaten Alaska proper, they were still a problem as they threatened U.S. cities and raided trade and supply routes.

Army soldiers assaulted the beaches on Attu on May 11, 1943, with air and naval support. Despite desperate Japanese defenses, the island fell in a matter of weeks with nearly every Japanese soldier killed by May 30.

On August 15, the Army launched an even larger landing with Canadian support on the island of Kiska, but the Japanese forces had withdrawn in thick fog before the allies arrived. This Japanese withdrawal opened a northern route to attack towards the Japanese home islands, forcing Japan to send some forces north, away from where soldiers and Marines were killing them on other fronts.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

U.S. Army soldiers fight at Bougainville in the Pacific Theater of World War II, Feb. 29, 1943.

(U.S. Army)

5. Island hopping towards The Philippines

During the island hopping campaign back across the Pacific in 1944, the Army actually played a huge role. The Army almost single-handedly took three beaches simultaneously on April 22 on New Guinea, capturing key airfields there within days. On May 18, they took Wakde Island and its airfield. Nine days later, they hit Biak Island, a fierce fight that continued until August 20 as the Japanese repeatedly reinforced the island.

These island assaults also tied up Japanese naval assets, reducing the pressure on Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s forces until Japan decided to protect the Marianas at all costs, withdrawing their fleet from fighting Army units ashore and sending it North to the Mariana Islands where the Navy achieved one of its greatest victories at the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division soldiers at Baleta Pass on Luzon Island in the Philippines in 1945.

(U.S. Army)

6. Recapturing The Philippines

On October 20, 1944, the Army landed four divisions at once in an effort to retake Leyte, one of the major islands in the Philippines. The Army’s efforts were mostly aimed at retaking the Philippines, but it was hoped that, as the Army put pressure on Imperial Japanese land forces, it would force the Japanese Navy into another decisive engagement which Nimitz would, hopefully, win.

What resulted was a fierce land and sea battle October 23 to 26, during which Army forces were fighting bitterly for every yard of ground with limited naval support as the fleets fought each other tooth and nail. It was touch and go for a bit, but the U.S. was eventually victorious on land and at sea, liberating the Philippines and effectively eradicating the bulk of remaining Japanese naval forces.

After this large offensive, the Army took part in the capture of the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, but it was predominantly a Marine show. The Army was slated for a huge role during the invasion of the Japanese home islands, but the surrender of Japan following the dropping of two atomic bombs and the entrance of Russia into the Pacific Theater ended the war and the necessity of another amphibious assault.

MIGHTY HISTORY

President Eisenhower painted a portrait of British general he called a ‘psychopath’

British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery was a difficult man to get along with. American Generals Omar Bradley and George S. Patton couldn’t stand the guy and even the Royal Navy’s Adm. Sir Bertram Ramsay thought promoting Montgomery to Field Marshal was “stupid.”  It’s surprising that the United States’ Supreme Allied Commander and later President Dwight Eisenhower disliked him most of all. Even more surprising is probably Ike’s hand-painted portrait of “Monty.”

Historian Anthony Beevor tells the story of Eisenhower’s 1952 portrait of his British counterpart, which Eisenhower signed, “’To my friend Monty from Ike,” by noting that the two men didn’t get along from the moment they met. Eisenhower was incensed at Montgomery’s smoking in his presence. Montgomery didn’t think much of Eisenhower’s abilities as a soldier. 

The general Eisenhower painted a portrait of

Of course, Montgomery didn’t think any less of himself, no matter what his war record looks like. His men famously took heavy losses when they didn’t need to, due to Monty’s attention to detail, especially in taking the city of Caen. Before the disastrous failure of Operation Market Garden, however, Prime Minister Winston Churchill still prompted him to Field Marshal – a rank above the Supreme Allied Commander’s.

But the invasion of Europe didn’t happen without Ike, and when the American landed in France he took command of the ground forces there. Monty was furious, but there was little he could do. Eisenhower was in charge. 

Rank didn’t stop Montgomery from rankling anyone though. The Field Marshal took credit for American wins in the Battle of the Bulge and, as Beevor points out, the British command was told that no American would agree to serve under Montgomery ever again. 

Eisenhower painted Montgomery some seven years after World War II ended, probably just enough time to be able to forgive and forget – until Montgomery’s autobiography hit bookshelves.

Monty’s 1958 memoirs were filled with criticisms of his American counterparts, especially Ike. But they didn’t stop at criticizing Americans. Montgomery almost faced a lawsuit for suggesting that British Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck wanted to retreat during the First Battle of El-Alamein in 1942. His lie was so egregious that he was forced to recant it on the BBC that same year.

Having Bernard Montgomery criticize him in memoirs was too much for then-President Eisenhower. Ike railed about Montgomery until the day he died, referring to the Field Marshal as an “egocentric” and a “psychopath.” 

MIGHTY HISTORY

These are the jets that the last man to walk on the moon flew

With the passing of Gene Cernan, a retired Navy captain and NASA astronaut on Jan. 16, 2017, the last man to walk on the moon has left us. While many remember him for that, it should be noted that Cernan was also a naval aviator.


According to his NASA biography, Cernan had over 5,000 flight hours in jets. While NASA notes that Cernan served with VA-26 and VA-112, his Popular Mechanics obituary has him flying with VA-126 and VA-112, and his memoirs place him with VA-126 and VA-113. According to airportjournals.com, during his basic flight training, Cernan flew the T-34, T-28, and F9F Panther.

 

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
John Glenn standing beside the damage to the tail of his F9F Panther from antiaircraft fire after a mission during the Korean War. Gene Cernan flew the F9F Panther during flight training. (Ohio State University)

 

According to seaforces.org, VA-126 was a Fleet Replacement Squadron, and equipped with the FJ-4B Fury, and the F9F-8 and F9F-8T versions of the Cougar. According to aviation historian Joe Baugher, the F9F-8 Cougar was quickly rendered obsolete as a front-line jet due to new designs, but it did provide service as a fighter-bomber.

The F9F-8T was a two-seat trainer version of the F9F-8, Baugher notes that it stayed in service far longer than its single-seat counterpart. They were later re-designated F-9J and TF-9J in 1962.

 

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
A F9F-8 Cougar with two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles. Gene Cernan flew the F9F-8 during his time with VA-126. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

The FJ-4B Fury was a modification of the FJ-4 Fury, which was a navalized version of the famed F-86 Saber, the air-superiority fighter that controlled the skies over the Korean Peninsula during the Korean War. According to Baugher, the FJ-4B was a fighter-bomber, armed with four 20mm cannons and able to carry up to 6,000 pounds of bombs and missiles, including the AGM-12 Bullpup. The FJ-4B could also carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder.

 

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
FJ-4B Fury with VA-126. During his time with that squadron, Cernan flew the FJ-4B. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

When he was assigned to the fleet, Cernan flew the legendary A-4 Skyhawk with either VA-112 or VA-113, depending on the source. According to seaforces.org, both squadrons were equipped with the A-4B Skyhawk (then designated the A4D-2) when Cernan deployed on board USS Shangri-La in 1958 and in 1960.

Joe Baugher notes that the A-4B was capable of carrying a Mk 28 nuclear warhead. It also could carry the AGM-12 Bullpup, had two 20mm cannons, and the ability to haul up to 5,000 pounds of bombs.

 

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
An A-4B Skyhawk. Gene Cernan made two deployments with VA-113 and flew the A-4B. (U.S. Navy photo)

 

As a NASA astronaut, Cernan also flew T-38 Talon supersonic trainers. According to a NASA release, the T-38s are used to keep astronauts current, and pilots are required to have 15 hours per month of flight time.

 

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
Two NASA T-38s fly past the Space Shuttle launch pad. Gene Cernan got 15 flight hours a month in the T-38 to maintain proficiency as an astronaut. (NASA photo)

Gene Cernan walked on the moon, but let’s not forget the fact that he also flew a lot of cool planes much closer to Earth.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why there is no Cold War medal

The Cold War was a prolonged state of tension between the U.S. and the USSR, lasting from the end of World War II until December 26, 1991, the day the Soviet Union fell. The two superpowers were rivals on all fronts: political, economic, military, athletics, and, of course, in myriad Hollywood storylines. But the world’s most iconic ideological struggle doesn’t have a medal to call its own.


 

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
SF-88 Nike Missiles with Fort Cronkhite visible, circa 1959. (U.S. Air Force photo)

American veterans of this era were prepared for a potentially catastrophic war at a moment’s notice. They patrolled the Berlin Wall, the Korean DMZ, the jungles of Vietnam, and flew long patrol missions around the Arctic Circle to deter Russian aggression. Despite no direct war between the U.S. and Russia, proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam served as battlefronts between capitalism and communism while Eastern Bloc and American troops did find themselves shooting at each other on occasion. This worldwide struggle went on every day for 46 years.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
Infographic: VFW Southern Conference

Traditionally, service medals are awarded for prolonged campaigns or for those who fulfilled specific service requirements. Two such current medals are the National Defense and Global War On Terror Service Medals. Those involved in the current campaign against ISIS were just authorized the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal for the two-year-old conflict in Iraq and Syria. Yet, When the Iron Curtain fell in 1991, American military veterans serving during this period received no authorized service medal, such as a Cold War Victory Medal or Cold War Service Medal. They are not authorized to wear the National Defense Service Medal, despite the high military tension during the time period.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
Soldiers of the Berlin Brigade in 1983 (U.S. Army photo)

There have been bills introduced in several separated Congresses to authorize a medal (the most recent being 2015 – that bill has been assigned to a committee) but none of them have made it very far. The reasons vary. The Cold War was not an actual “war” but a state of political conflict, according to a 2011 letter addressed to the Senate Armed Service Committee, written by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King. The letter also states that establishment of a Cold War Service Medal would duplicate recognition of service medals already authorized during the era.

Cost was also a factor according to King’s letter. The average cost of producing, administering, and mailing a Cold War Medal would be $30 per medal. The price would exceed $440 million for 35 million eligible personnel or their next of kin.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
Serving on the DMZ… just not during declared conflict.

So instead of a medal, Cold War-era veterans can apply for a Cold War certificate. The certificate is available by request for all members of the armed forces and qualified federal government civilian personnel who honorably served the United States anytime during the Cold War, which is defined as September 2, 1945 to December 26, 1991. For those who served during gaps of “peace” and never in a declared combat zone or small-scale operation, this certificate is intended to recognize their service in the era.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
Cold War veterans Lynn Olson, 75, and Tom Cameron, 76, hold up Cameron’s Certificate of Recognition for his service in the U.S. Army.

Organizations like American Cold War Veterans and other groups have been fighting to authorize a medal for many years. There is a Cold War Medal, but it is not authorized for all and not even official for most of the military. The Cold War Victory Medal is an official medal of the National Guard in the states of Louisiana and Texas and in ribbon form only in Alaska. This medal serves as the unofficial medal for Cold War veterans, but cannot be worn on a military uniform. Since the Cold War Service Medal Act of 2015 has zero percent chance of being enacted (according to GovTrack), a Cold War medal will not soon be authorized.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why grave-robbing Confederate generals is big business

In April, 2013, an iron casket was found pulled out of its grave and its contents were spilled all over the Old Church Cemetery near Waynesboro, Ga. A man, later found to be Ralph “Bubba” Hillis, and a partner had taken to digging up graves in the cemetery.

Why target this little cemetery? Because it was filled with the remains of Confederate and Revolutionary War soldiers.


The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away
(Sgt. Sean Cochran, Burke County Sheriff)

The issue of grave robbing by those searching unique, ancient artifacts is a huge problem the world over, especially in places like Egypt, Peru, and Cambodia. These are areas filled with archaeological treasures and a steady flow of individuals who are struggling economically and are willing to risk punishment to go dig up said artifacts for the right price.

And that price can always be found. Illegally-sold Egyptian antiquities are found all over the world as they make their way from the Valley of the Kings to Syria to Dubai to New York and, finally, to whatever buyer is waiting at their final destination. Eager collectors are just waiting to find the right artifact from the right seller at the right price. The same technology that brings the world closer together also brings looters and grave robbers closer to these buyers.

Online sales and auction sites like eBay make it possible for individuals to make these transactions in short order, while the popularity of television shows like Pawn Stars and American Pickers show just how easy it is to profit from a few authentic pieces of history. The ease of selling ill-gotten items and the interest garnered by their value and origins are making grave robbing a profitable crime right here in the United States, too.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

A sword like this one, which belonged to Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, is worth tens of thousands of dollars. This example was never dug up from a grave, however.

The value of Civil War-era artifacts has lead to the growth of a booming black market. A single button from a Confederate uniform can net as much as 0. Full uniforms and medals can fetch anywhere from 0 to thousands of dollars for the right collector. According to Southern antiques brokers, an officer’s sword is worth anywhere from ,000 and ,000 — it doesn’t even matter if that officer was a general.

Two big things make dealing in black-market Confederate artifacts so profitable. The first is how rarely these sorts of things are available at auction. Electronic tracking, official dealers, and mandatory identification make it very difficult to illegally transport Civil War relics. The second is the inability to track the authenticity of the artifacts themselves. As you can imagine, Confederate records were kept only for as long as the Confederacy existed, which means there are plenty of legitimate artifacts that lack a kept record.

As a result, there is treasure literally buried all over the South.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

Archaeologists carry out a dig at New Mexico’s Fort Craig cemetery, where the remains of dozens of soldiers and children were secretly exhumed after an informant tipped them off about widespread grave-looting.

(U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

And people are starting to go dig for it — risking stiff prison terms.

But don’t be concerned that your local Civil War museum or historical society is dealing in stolen goods or housing grave-robbed artifacts. You can be reasonably certain that anything accepted by a legitimate museum was purchased with a clear record of ownership and was probably tracked through INTERPOL.

Authorities are now taking to hiring archaeologists to exhume grave-robbed Civil War-era sites in order to preserve the history entombed there while keeping them from being looted again in the future.

MIGHTY HISTORY

When the Coast Guard saved New York from a huge blast

In the early evening of April 24, 1943, Coast Guardsmen braved leaping flames and saved New York City from what could have been the largest man-made explosion in history to that point, a blast that would’ve wiped out sections of the harbor and, potentially, large swaths of the larger city and parts of New Jersey. Instead, just one ship was lost and zero lives.


The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

Painting of the El Estero fire by Austin Dwyer.

(Austin Dwyer via U.S. Coast Guard)

While all the other branches rib the Coast Guard for being a band of puddle pirates, it’s important when really looking at its history to remember that, first, they actually have conducted a ton of deepwater missions. And, more importantly for this discussion, the shallow waters of the world are home to vital and dangerous missions that the Coast Guard does well.

The Coast Guard often takes on a large role during conflicts to help to ensure that war materiel is safely moved from industrial powerhouses in the U.S. to theaters of war overseas. During World War II, this included loading many of the Liberty Ships and other vessels that plied the Atlantic and Pacific.

But logistic expediencies created real hazards. It made sense in terms of speed and efficiency to move all the munitions, vehicles, and other vital supplies to a handful of ports and load it on ships from there. But doing so meant that strings of railroad cars and ships filled with explosive materials would be stored right next to each other.

On Saturday, April 24, Coast Guardsmen working on explosive loading details finished loading 1,365 tons of ammo onto the Panamanian freighter El Estero. But before they could even get fully aweigh, smoke started to come up out of the ship’s passageways.

Investigations would later reveal that the boiler had likely been leaking fuel oil into bilge water in the compartment below it, and a boiler flashback ignited the pooled fuel and started a fire. But once the fire was going, it would be able to boil oil to give itself more fuel and heat up the ammo until it started to explode.

The engine room crew immediately started fighting the flames with handheld extinguishers, but it wasn’t enough, so officers went to the Coast Guard barracks for volunteers. Could someone, anyone, please climb onto the burning ship, descend into its belly, and fight flames in the hopes of it not blowing up?

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

A graphic tried to tackle the level of damage if the ship had exploded. This high traffic area would have made an explosion of the El Estero especially catastrophic.

(New York Daily News illustration via U.S. Coast Guard)

But the Coast Guardsmen knew what was at stake. The loading docks were always filled with ammo and fuel and, on April 24, there were two other nearly full ships nearby, there were railroad cars loaded with ammunition waiting to unload, and there was a fuel farm that served the departing ships. A detonation on the El Estero would likely trigger a chain reaction.

And explosions like this had happened before. Before the U.S. joined World War I, American firms sold arms to each side under equal terms, but British buyers were able to secure more credit while German ones were unlikely to even be able to get their purchases to the fighting thanks to a British blockade. So, German saboteurs blew up the shipping facilities at Black Tom Island in New Jersey, killing at least five people, destroying over million in property, and partially excavating the island.

Another World War I explosion, this one on a ship with 5,000 tons of TNT in Halifax Harbor in Canada, had killed 1,500 people leveling a large section of Halifax, Canada, in 1917. The combined loads of the El Estero and nearby ships and trains, somewhere around 5,000 total tons of explosives, dwarfed the size of the Halifax explosion. And an El Estero explosion would’ve been on the doorstep of New York City and could’ve flattened everything for five miles around.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

Coast Guardsmen on a fireboat. Small vessels like these assisted in controlling the El Estero fire.

(U.S. Coast Guard)

And so 60 Coast Guardsmen, most of them in dress uniforms while awaiting their Easter Day liberty passes, rushed to the ship. New York firefighters arrived soon after with a firefighting ship, and they began passing hoses into the holds of the El Estero, but it was Coast Guardsmen who descended into the smoke and fire.

Survivors would describe a heat that overwhelmed them. The hot deck plates warmed and then burned their feet, paint peeled off the walls, and the heat continued to build. The Coast Guard officer in charge was Lt.j.g. Francis McCausland. It was his first day of work at the station.

But he was able to get tugboats to move the other ammo ships away and ordered Army soldiers to shift as many of the train cars out of range as they could move. By the time that additional fire trucks and Coast Guard fireboats arrived at 5:35, the fiercely burning El Estero was largely isolated, but still surrounded by the city, fuel stores, and warehouses of ammo.

The Coast Guard seemed to get the upper hand on the ship for a few minutes as the oily black smoke gave way to yellow and white streaks of flames, a signal that streams of water were hitting the major source of the fire. But the oily smoke returned, and the heat continued to rise.

About 40 volunteers were ordered off the ship, and a crew of 20 stayed onboard to try and keep the fire contained as long as possible while the ship was towed to a safe detonation point. Those 20 passed their personal effects to the men ordered off, some of whom wanted to stay and keep working. These included an engaged man who had to personally be ordered off the decks.

The further the ship was out of the harbor, the more lives would be saved in New York City and in the surrounding harbor from the pending explosion. Coast Guardsmen shoved anti-aircraft shells from the decks into the water and kept directing the water from the tugs onto the hot ammo as they traveled.

The longest tank-to-tank kill was fired from three miles away

The El Estero rests mostly below the waves.

(Public Domain)

Miraculously, their work was enough, and the ship was towed out as the nearby cities prepared for an explosion that never came. Fuel barrels on the decks popped and boomed open, but the burnt and exhausted Coast Guardsmen onboard were eventually able to build up enough water in the ship to sink it.

(The ship was designed so that it could only be scuttled from one spot that was directly underneath the burning boilers, so the Coast Guardsmen could only sink it by flooding it.)

Once the hull of the ship was under the waves, the threat of a full ammo explosion was largely dissipated. Firefighters kept water pouring onto the still burning superstructure for hours until, finally, the threat was gone. No one had died in a crisis that was later found to have threatened as many as one million residents with death, injury, or extreme property damage.

All the Coast Guardsmen involved were given special medals for their efforts, and the U.S. government overhauled ammo-handling procedures to move dangerous operations away from population centers. This would save lives in June 1944, when an ammo ship with 4,600 tons of ammunition exploded northeast of San Francisco, killing 300 sailors on the ship and nearby, but leaving the city untouched.

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