The Marine Corps wrote the book on 'small wars,' literally - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally

As the United States came into its own as a world power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States Marine Corps became the primary tool for power projection into troubled areas. The Marines deployed all over the world, fighting everywhere from the Boxer Rebellion in China to the Banana Wars in Central America. During this time, the Marines and a few Army units gained valuable experience. A few USMC legends such as Dan Daly and Smedley Butler gained prominence. It makes sense that in the 1930’s, the Marines published the Small Wars Manual, documenting their experiences and providing guidance for units engaged in such conflicts. Unfortunately, just as the Marines were perfecting their craft, World War II broke out. With the ensuing Cold War, these ideas were very nearly lost to history.


The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
This group of U.S. Marines was part of the international relief expedition sent to lift the siege of Peking in 1900. (National Archives)

Operations known to the military today as “low-intensity conflicts” were deemed ‘small wars’ by the Marine Corps in the early 20th Century. In the Small Wars Manual, they defined small wars as “operations undertaken under executive authority, wherein military force is combined with diplomatic pressure in the internal or external affairs of another state whose government is unstable, inadequate, or unsatisfactory for the preservation of life and of such interests as are determined by the foreign policy of our Nation.” Also, due to the fact that special operations forces had yet to be conceived, those missions were carried out by the Marines, sailors, and soldiers deployed in small wars. Their missions often ran the gamut from direct action, bordering on conventional warfare to foreign internal defense and unconventional warfare. During the occupation of Haiti, Marines were instated as officers in the Haitian Gendarmerie, which included the likes of a young Cpl. ‘Chesty’ Puller and Smedley Butler.

During these various interventions around the world, the U.S. military gained a wealth of knowledge and experience. They not only learned how to conduct combat operations against weak states and guerrillas, but also how to properly support these operations and how the force could be self-sufficient while deployed for long periods of time in a foreign country. This included everything from what types of weapons troops should carry to how to employ horses and mules for transportation and logistics. The military even learned how to work with the state department and how to establish effective civilian-military relations. The manual also makes recommendations for the best composition for forces depending on the circumstances of the operation and how to employ those forces in all types of situations.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
U.S. Marines in the occupation of Haiti in 1915.

What makes the Small Wars Manual stand out is the practicality which it embodies and the way it almost comes across as a how-to book. Many of the recommendations are not only unique to the manual but also went against the conventional wisdom of the time. Some of it even went against what would have been good order and discipline. In fact, in its recommendations for outfitting infantry patrols, the manual states “personal comfort and appearance must always be of secondary importance as compared with the efficient accomplishment of the assigned mission” and goes on to say “the value of canvas leggings in the field is questionable. The woolen sock pulled over the bottom of the trouser leg is a satisfactory substitute.” Anyone who has served in the last decade and remembers the white sock crisis knows that such a suggestion from an official Marine Corps publication is borderline blasphemy. Beyond this, the manual describes in detail how to field the most effective and efficient fighting force in some of the most austere conditions. There are even details for how to modify equipment to be of the most use in small wars.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
Sandino’s Flag. Nicaragua, 1932. (Marine Corps)

After years of occupations, deployments, and fighting the Marines began releasing reports and studies in the 1920’s that would eventually lead to the publication of the Small War Manual. These reports and articles were collected into a single book, “Small Wars Operations” in 1935. An updated, and final, version was released in 1940 as the Small Wars Manual. The following year, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States entered World War II. Even though much of what the Marines had learned fighting in small wars came in very useful in fighting the Japanese in the Pacific, the shadow of World War II and the Cold War pushed the Small Wars Manual into obscurity. With the exception of a few efforts to at least keep the manual in the Marines repertoire of publications it was mostly lost to history. That is, until it reappeared on Gen. James Mattis’ reading list for officers deploying in the War on Terror. The truly unfortunate part of this is that with a few updates to the weapons and tactics, much of the material covered in the Small Wars Manual could have been used to inform operations in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the most fearsome army in the Vietnam War

It might come as a surprise to some that the fighting in Vietnam wasn’t limited to the Soviet-backed North or the U.S.-back South Vietnamese forces. Along with Communist China and other Communist movements in the region, who were fighting to reunite the Vietnams under the red banner, there were other belligerent, free countries in the region who had an interest in keeping South Vietnam away from the Commies. Among them was South Korea, whose tactics were sometimes so brutal, they had to be reined in by American forces.

But brutality doesn’t always inspire fear, and fear is what struck the hearts of Communist forces when they knew they were up against the Australians. The Aussies brought a death the Viet Cong might never see coming.


The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally

(Australian War Memorial)

Today, the picture of the Vietnam War is often American troops on search-and-destroy missions, fighting an often-unseen enemy who blends in with the jungle. When the North Vietnamese Army or the Viet Cong do attack the Americans in this perception, it comes as an unseen, unexpected ambush, routing the Americans and forcing them back to their fire bases. This is not actually how the Vietnam War went – at all. In Vietnam, much of the fighting was also done in the cities and in defense of those firebases. There were even often pitched battles featuring tanks and artillery. In fact, the 1972 Easter Offensive was the largest land movement since the Chinese entered the Korean War, and featured a three-pronged invasion of the South.

So let’s not pretend it was rice farmers vs. American soldiers.

But the North Vietnamese forces in the jungle did have to worry about a mysterious fighting force, moving silently to close in on them and murder them. They weren’t Americans — they were Australians, and they came to Vietnam to win.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally

Centurion Mark V/1 tanks of C Squadron, 1st Armoured Regiment, Royal Australian Armoured Corps (RAAC), taking up position on the perimeter of Fire Support Base (FSB) Coral, shortly after their arrival at the Base.

(Neil James Ahern)

Australian special operations units would go out into the jungles of Vietnam for weeks at a time, often without saying a word to one another in order to maintain complete silence as they stalked the Northern troops through the jungles. The Australians committed more forces to the war in Vietnam than any other foreign contributor (except for the United States, that is). It was the largest force Australia had ever committed to a foreign conflict to date and was its largest war. But they conducted themselves slightly differently, especially in terms of special operations.

Just like the image of U.S. troops moving through the jungle, dodging booby traps and getting ambushed, the North Vietnamese forces had to face the same tactics when operating against the Australians. Aussies routinely ambushed NVA patrols and booby trapped trails used by the Viet Cong. When they did engage in a pitched battle, such as places like Binh Ba, the Australians weren’t afraid to fight hand-to-hand and move house-to-house. In fact, the NVA was beaten so badly at Binh Ba, they were forced to abandon the entire province.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally

A US Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter delivering stores to 102 Field Battery, Royal Australian Artillery, at Fire Support Base Coral, which is just being established.

(Keith Foster)

The Vietnamese didn’t have much luck on the offensive against the Australians, either. When assaulting Firebase Coral-Balmoral in 1968, the Communists outnumbered the Aussies and New Zealanders almost two-to-one. They hit the base with a barrage of mortars in an attempt to draw the ANZAC forces out of the base and chalk up a win against the vaunted Australians. When the 120 Australians came out to clear the mortars, they found way more than a mortar company – they found 2,000 NVA troops surrounding them.

The Aussies fought on, calling sometimes dangerously close artillery strikes from New Zealand and U.S. positions. The outnumbered fought, surrounded, until an Australian relief force came out of the base to help their beleaguered mates. The NVA pressed an attack on the firebase using an entire regiment but were repulsed. Rather than sit and wait to be attacked again, the Aussies and New Zealanders went out to meet the enemy, this time with Centurion tanks. The battles for Coral-Balmoral went on like that for nearly a month: attack, counter-attack, attack counter-attack. The NVA had strength in numbers but the Aussies had pure strength.

Eventually the NVA would be routed and would avoid Nui Dat Province for as long as the Australians were defending it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Coasties killed a German sub and saved their convoy

The U.S. Coast Guard has an under-recognized place in World War II history, fighting German spies before the U.S. entered the war and immediately taking on convoy escort duties, weather patrols, and anti-submarine missions after America declared war on the Axis Powers. One of the Coast Guard crews that bravely shouldered the load was the USCGC Campbell which, in icy Atlantic waters, took bold action to finish off a German U-boat that attempted to attack it.


The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally

Crewmembers of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Campbell pose with their mascot, Sinbad, in World War II.

(U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office)

The Campbell was part of a class of 327-foot Coast Guard cutters specially designed for high-speed service on the high seas. It spent much of World War II protecting convoys and, in February 1943, was one of the escorts for Convoy ON-166. This was before the bulk of German submarines were chased from the Atlantic in “Black May,” and the wolf packs were on the prowl to cut off supplies to Europe and starve Britain into submission.

On February 21, one of those wolf packs found and engaged the convoy. Over a dozen subs fired torpedoes and shells into merchant vessels as the Coast Guard and Navy vessels rushed to protect them.

The Campbell’s involvement started with rescuing 50 merchant mariners from the water. It had to dodge a German torpedo during the rescue, and then it pressed the attack against U-753, heavily damaging it and forcing its withdrawal. It spent the rest of the night driving off German U-boats until it finally attempted to get back to the convoy.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally

Crewmembers load a Mk. VII depth charge onto the HMS Dianthus, another escort of ON-166, during World War II.

(Imperial War Museums)

In the pre-dawn darkness, Campbell was 40 miles behind the convoy, essentially alone and attempting to catch up and help kill more German submarines. But then a shape emerged from the inky blackness. U-606 was bringing the fight to the Campbell and attempting to engage it before it could meet up with the convoy.

U-606 had three kills to its name, including two ships of ON-166. But it had been damaged while sinking those earlier ships, and attacking the Campbell was a greedy and potentially risky move. Attacking from the surface exposed its position to the American crew and would allow the Campbell to employ its gun crews as well as depth charges.

When the Campbell spotted the sub, it went one step further. Cmdr. James A. Hirshfield ordered a ramming maneuver, swinging the ship about to slam its hull against the submarine.

The Campbell’s bold maneuver came at a cost, though, as the side plating ruptured and salt water began to pour in. Cmdr. Kenneth K. Cowart supervised damage control while also helping to ensure that sufficient engine power was on hand for the continued maneuvering and fighting.

Meanwhile, on the deck, the men controlling the depth charges had managed to drop two during the ram, damaging U-606 further. And deck gun crews began pouring fire onto the stricken sub, attempting to disable or kill it before it could unleash its own deadly barrage against the cutter.

In this melee, an all-Black gun crew of a three-inch gun battery distinguished itself for bravery, accurately concentrating its damage on the sub’s deck and conning tower.

But the salt water took its toll, finally shorting out Campbell’s power. The German sub was defeated, and the cutter took five prisoners, but Campbell was liable to sink at any moment. Hirshfield ordered the prisoners, the merchant mariners, and all non-essential personnel off the ship.

He led the remaining crew through four days of damage control without engine power before finally receiving a tow back to port for repairs. The Campbell survived the war. Hirshfield received the Navy Cross for his actions, and Cowart and Cmdr. Bret H. Brallier received Silver Stars for their parts in saving the cutter.

Louis Etheridge, the man who led that all-Black gun crew on the three-inch battery, later received a Bronze Star for his work that February.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The highest-ranking African American in the American Expeditionary Force

When people think of African Americans serving in WWI, the famous Harlem Hellfighters often come to mind. What may come as a surprise is that the highest-ranking African American in the American Expeditionary Force, Otis Beverly Duncan, was not part of this unit.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
Duncan as a Major (Public Domain)

Otis Beverly Duncan was born on November 18, 1873 in Springfield, Illinois. His family was a long-established African American family in the city. In fact, his maternal great-grandfather, William Florville, was Abraham Lincoln’s friend and barber. Duncan attended public school and went on to work as the business manager for an African American newspaper in Springfield called the State Capitol. In 1897, he went to work in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a precursor to the State Board of Education. Duncan would remain in the department for the rest of his career.

Wishing to expand his public service, Duncan joined the Illinois National Guard. Illinois was unique during the Jim Crow era in that it was one of the few states that organized and paid for the training of an all-black regiment in its National Guard. Duncan joined the unit, the 8th Infantry Regiment, as a Lieutenant. He continued his National Guard service alongside his civilian career and rose through the ranks. By 1904, Duncan had reached the rank of Major. In 1916, the 8th Infantry Regiment was called up for national service during the Pancho Villa Expedition into Mexico. During the campaign, Duncan served on the regimental staff.

When America entered WWI in April 1917, the 8th Infantry was still in national service and was reorganized as the 370th Infantry Regiment. The 370th was one of the few black units to join the AEF and retain most of its all-black command structure. As the unit made preparations to deploy, Duncan was promoted to Lt. Col. and given command of the 3rd Battalion. When the regimental commander, Col. Franklin A. Denison, was relieved of his command and replaced by a white officer, Duncan became the highest-ranking African American in the AEF.

In May, the 370th arrived in France. However, the Army’s racist policies restricted black units from fighting alongside white units on the front. Like the Harlem Hellfighters, the 370th was assigned to the French Army. Duncan and his battalion became part of the French 10th Army in the Argonne Forrest. During the fighting, their German enemies gave them the nickname the “Black Devils” for their ferocity in combat.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
Duncan (center) with other black officers wearing their Croix de Guerre (National Archives and Records Administration)

Despite being faced with racism from their own army and bitter fighting from their enemy, the men of the 370th succeeded in pushing the German lines back. They were among the first allied troops to cross into occupied Belgium before the war ended. Duncan’s battalion pursued the Germans all the way until the Armistice on November 11.

Duncan was one of 60 officers in the 370th who were awarded the French Croix de Guerre for valor. “We have given our full contributions to this war, that we have fought, bled, and died for the grand and noble principles of the war,” he wrote in a letter home.

On February 17, 1919, the 370th returned home to a welcoming parade in Chicago. Many African Americans from Springfield made the trip north to attend it. When Duncan and the other Springfield natives returned to their hometown, they were greeted by Governor Frank O. Lowden and a celebratory banquet at the Leland Hotel.

For his successful command of the 3rd Battalion during the war, Duncan was promoted to Colonel and given command of the regiment. He was tasked with reorganizing the reformed 8th Infantry back into the Illinois National Guard. He also resumed his civilian career.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
Duncan was featured in the New York Tribune on February 10, 1919 (Library of Congress)

Col. Duncan retired from public service in 1929. He died eight years later on May 17, 1937 and was buried at Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield. Col. Duncan broke a color barrier at a pivotal moment in American and world history and blazed a trail for colored military leaders in the wars to come.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A hidden Civil War fort in Queens, NY is the reason the Corps of Engineers have the insignia they do

What does a building supposedly designed by Robert E. Lee have to do with the US Army Corps of Engineers insignia? More than you think.

Fort Totten is a stunning piece of land located on Cross Island Parkway between Totten Avenue and 15 Road in Queens, New York, which is actually an abandoned Civil War fort – hidden in plain sight. 

It’s even on the MTA subway map, even though it’s partially obscured by the legend explaining the different symbols on the map mean. 

The underfunded and almost obscure city park is located in the Bayside area of Queens. As a military installation, it was built in 1862 to protect against Confederate ships from approaching New York via the East River. 

Civil War History

Fort Totten was initially called Fort at Willets Point. The government purchased the land in 1857 from the Willets family, but the name was changed to Fort Totten in 1898. The original intent of Fort Totten was to defend the East River, but it was also to add auxiliary support to Fort Schuyler, which faces the East River in the opposite direction. Fort Totten was part of several installations of seacoast defense in the US that started during the first year of the Civil War. The initial design was created by Robert E. Lee in 1857 and modified by Chief Engineer Joseph G. Totten, where the installation got its name.

Fort Totten was designed with four tiers of cannons facing the water, for a total of 68 defensive guns. The only other installations in the US to share this feature are Castle Williams, Fort Wadsworth, and Fort Point. 

Construction on Fort Totten was abandoned after the Civil War, in part because masonry forts were considered obsolete after the war. Only one tier and part of a second tea of the two seacoast walls were completed.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
(NYC Parks)

WWI and onward 

When the United States entered WWI, coastal defensive installations got an upgrade. Because threats from German shifts seemed unlikely, these installations became mobilization and training centers. Garrisons were reduced to provide trained heavy artillery crews for the Western Front. 

After WWII, Fort Totten’s last heavy armament, the mortars of Battery King, were removed, and the Harbor Defenses of Eastern New York were inactivated. 

In December 1941, Fort Totten became the headquarters for the anti-aircraft portion of the Eastern Defense Command. Then in 1954, the installation became a Project Nike air defense site. No Nike missiles were located at Fort Totten, but it was the regional headquarters for the New York area. By 1966, it was home to the 1st Region, Army Air Defense Command. It also headquartered the 66th Anti-Aircraft Missile Battalion and the 41st AAA Gun Battalion. 

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
(NYC Parks)

Currently, the 77th Sustainment Brigade, subordinate units, and the 533rd Brigade Support Battalion of the Army Reserve call Fort Totten home. But most of the installation is a public park and open for tours. Most of the Civil War-era buildings are in ruins, giving Fort Totten an old world-new world sort of offset vibe. Visitors can also explore the Cold War era buildings, including a movie theater, former officer’s quarters, a laboratory, and a hospital. The entire area has a spooky stopped-in-time feel, especially if you’ve never seen any old military ruins. 

In the middle of the part is a building called The Castle, which was once the officer’s club. Now it’s home to the Bayside Historical Society. The Castle hosts historical exhibitions, cultural programs, and events. In 1986, The Castle was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Like the rest of the Civil War buildings, The Castle was designed by Robert E. Lee in his pre-Civil War capacity as a military engineer. Some historians suspect that Lee didn’t actually design it, just signed off on the plans. 

The building was designed in a neo-Gothic style and wasn’t created specifically for Fort Totten but was the approved generic design for use in all military installations during that time. Identical structures could be found at installations around the country during that time, and the Corps of Engineers eventually adopted the design as their insignia.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Ever wonder what the first day at West Point is like for a new cadet? Watch this.

Every July, more than 1,200 cadet candidates arrive at West Point, the US military academy in West Point, New York. Established in 1802, it’s around 50 miles north of New York City. The location of the academy has significance in US history. Say what you want about West Pointers (or military academies in general) but getting into West Point is a pretty significant feat!

Located on the western point of the Hudson River right where it bends, West Point has historical significance in America’s quest for independence from the British. During the War of Independence, the British had to attack coming down the Hudson River. From West Point, they could see them coming. 

Reception day, also known as R-Day, is always on a Monday and marks the first of each student’s four-year journey to graduation. In that journey, Cadets will follow through four programs: Character, Academic, Physical and Military.

west point
Clip from video footage of a West Point graduation ceremony.

Their civilian days are officially over right from the start 

The first day at West Point involves a transformation from civilian status through a series of activities. At the end of the day, the Military Academy requires them to take an oath to serve in the US Army. Upon arrival, cadet candidates and their families begin the day with an orientation. However, when that’s over, they have just 60 seconds to bid their families farewell. After that, they will have extremely limited contact with the outside world for six weeks. 

That obligatory West Point haircut is all the rage 

Walking out the door of Eisenhower Hall, students officially become “new cadets” and receive their physical training uniforms and a bag. That bag holds everything they are permitted to carry during their first six weeks. Immediately after, new cadets must head to the barbershop. Male cadets have to pretty much shave their heads, though females do not

After that, new cadets get their assignments at companies that teach them the basics of taking orders and how to properly march. Upperclassmen help to lead the new cadets, operating as a learning environment for both. New cadets learn the basics of leadership skills while upperclassmen practice them. R-Day ends with the Oath Ceremony, where everything the new cadets have learned is reiterated. 

Nothing’s truly free

Attending West Point is free, but it’s not easy to get in. Aside from being a US citizen, students must also be in good physical condition, pass a specific medical exam and show a history of high academic achievement. Also, that free tuition comes with a different kind of debt: service. This includes five years of active duty in the Army and three years as Reserves. All who complete the initial six weeks of basic training are then formally accepted into the corps of cadets. 

Related: Navy intelligence once launched an investigation to find Bill the Goat

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The mathematician who saved hundreds of flight crews

Abraham Wald, a Jewish mathematician, was driven out of Romania and Europe by the Nazi advance and emigrated to the U.S. where he would serve in the Statistical Research Group, a bunch of egg heads who used math to make the military better at everything from firing rockets to shooting down enemy fighters. And Wald was the one who convinced the Navy that they were about to armor the completely wrong parts of their planes, saving hundreds of flight crews in the process.


The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
Abraham Wald, a mathematician who helped save hundreds of air crews by writing brainiac papers. (Mathematisches Forschungsinstitut Oberwolfach, CC BY-SA 2.0)

To understand how Wald, sitting in New York for most of the war, saved so many lives, it’s important to understand what role academics and subject matter experts had in the war. The U.S. and Britain especially, but really all the great wartime powers, put some stock in the ability of their academics to solve tricky problems and make warfighters more efficient, more lethal, or more safe.

Some of this was having physicists and engineers create better weapons, like how the Applied Physics Laboratory was created to develop proximity fuses that made artillery and anti-aircraft weapons more effective. Some of this was having mathematicians figure out the best mix of rounds to load into machine guns of different types for the gunners to more quickly kill their targets. One great example is all the physicists and other scientists who worked on atom bombs.

But Wald was a statistician, and his job was to look at wartime processes and figure out how they could be improved. Wald was still, technically, an enemy alien, so he had an odd setup at the Statistical Research Group.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
Planes hit in the fuel supply and engines often didn’t make it back to base, throwing off Navy and Army Air Corps data. (U.S. Air Force)

As Jordan Ellenberg wrote in How Not To Be Wrong, there was a running joke in the SRG that Wald’s secretaries had to rip notepaper out of his hands as soon as he finished writing on it because he didn’t have the clearance to read his own work.

But Wald was an amazing mathematician, and it’s not like he was the type of Hungarian who might harbor sympathies for Hitler. Remember, he had fled Austria because Hitler would have had him killed, same as Albert Einstein and plenty of others. So, Wald used math to try to help the Allies kill the Axis, and he was in the SRG when the Navy came to them with a seemingly straightforward problem.

The Navy, and the Army Air Corps, was losing a lot of planes and crews to enemy fire. So, the Navy modeled where its planes showed the most bullet holes per square foot. Its officers reasoned that adding armor to these places would stop more bullets with the limited amount of armor they could add to each plane. They wanted the SRG to figure out the best balance of armor in each often-hit location.

(Adding armor adds weight, and planes can only takeoff with a certain amount of weight that needs to be balanced between plane and crew, ammo, fuel, and armor. Add too much armor, and you have a super safe bomber that can’t carry any bombs.)

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
While doomed planes did, sometimes, manage to land, they were usually lost at sea or in enemy territory. Abraham Wald successfully argued that the military should estimate where they were hit when determining what parts of planes they should armor. (U.S. Navy)

But Wald picked out a flaw in their dataset that had eluded most others, a flaw that’s now known as “survivor bias.” The Navy and, really anyone else in the war, could typically only study the aircraft, vehicles, and men who survived a battle. After all, if a plane is shot down over the target, it lands on or near the target in territory the enemy controls. If it goes down while headed back to a carrier or island base, it will be lost at sea.

So the only planes the Navy was looking at were the ones that had landed back at ship or base. So, these weren’t examples of where planes were most commonly hit; they were examples of where planes could be hit and keep flying, because the crew and vital components had survived the bullet strikes.

Now, a lot of popular history says that Wald told the Navy to armor the opposite areas (or, told the Army Air Corps to armor the opposite areas, depending on which legend you see). But he didn’t, actually. What he did do was figure out a highly technical way to estimate where downed planes had been hit, and then he used that data to figure out how likely a hit to any given area was to down a plane.

What he found was that the Navy wanted to armor the least vulnerable parts of the plane. Basically, the Navy wasn’t seeing many hits to the engine and fuel supply, so the Navy officers decided those areas didn’t need as much protection. But Wald’s work found that those were the most vulnerable areas.

And that makes sense. After all, if you start leaking gas while still far from home, you likely won’t make it home. Have an engine destroyed even a few miles from home, and you likely won’t make it home. So the military took Wald’s work and applied armor to the areas he had defined as most vulnerable, primarily the engines, instead of putting armor on the areas with the most observed hits. And, guess what? Planes started surviving more hits.

Now, it didn’t win the war on its own, of course. Just like giving the Navy proximity fuses to make gunners more effective against enemy planes didn’t stop every Japanese dive bomber or Kamikaze attack, the armor didn’t save every plane and crew.

But winning a war isn’t about winning every engagement. It’s about paying less than you are willing to pay for victory and suffering less than you’re willing to suffer for each defeat. If you can do that, you’ll eventually win.

And Wald had driven down the price of success and the likelihood of failure for airplanes. Ironically, he died five years after the war in a plane crash, robbing us of his expertise in Korea and Vietnam, though his papers written during World War II continued to influence military decisions for decades.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan to avenge his father’s death

Relatives of Osama bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda leader behind the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, spoke out in an interview with The Guardian published Aug. 3, 2018, about their family’s dark legacy — and they suggested that the family’s involvement with terrorism hadn’t ended with bin Laden’s 2011 death.

Living sheltered lives as a prominent but controversial family in their native Saudi Arabia, several of the family members opened up about bin Laden’s childhood and his eventual transformation into one of the most notorious figures in recent history.


But while bin Laden’s career as a terrorist and head of Al Qaeda came to an end at the hands of US Navy SEALs in a midnight raid on his hideout in Pakistan, his militancy seems to have taken root in his youngest child.

Bin Laden’s family believes his youngest son, Hamza, has followed in his father’s footsteps by traveling to Afghanistan, where the US, Afghanistan’s national army, and NATO have been locked in a brutal war with Islamic militants since shortly after the Twin Towers were destroyed.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally

The scene just after United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower on Sept. 11, 2001.

Hamza, officially designated a terrorist by the US, apparently took his family by surprise with an endorsement of militant Islam.

“We thought everyone was over this,” Hassan bin Laden, an uncle of Hamza, told The Guardian.

“Then the next thing I knew, Hamza was saying, ‘I am going to avenge my father.’ I don’t want to go through that again. If Hamza was in front of me now, I would tell him: ‘God guide you. Think twice about what you are doing. Don’t retake the steps of your father. You are entering horrible parts of your soul.'”

After the September 11 attacks, some members of bin Laden’s family remained in touch while others led a quiet life under the supervision of the Saudi government and international intelligence agencies.

Many of the bin Ladens have sought to put their history behind them by avoiding media and politics, but Hamza’s apparent support of his father’s ideas suggests Osama bin Laden’s embracing of terrorism may have come back to haunt them.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This pioneer is considered the founder of the Navy SEALs

During WWII, Adolf Hitler knew that American forces would invade somewhere on the coast of France and fight their way inland. To prevent the invasion, the Germans constructed a massive Atlantic wall full of dangerous obstacles along the beachheads to combat amphibious vehicles from pulling up landing onto the shoreline.


U.S. forces had no internal expertise on how to breach Hitler’s solid barriers — so they turned to one man — Draper Kauffman.

After Kauffman graduated from the Naval Academy years before the invasion, he was denied an officer’s commission due to having poor eye-sight. Wanting to serve in the military, Kauffman traveled overseas and became an ambulance driver for the British. After a short period as a German POW, he went to London to join the fight as “The Blitz” was in full swing.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally

Related: This SEAL was shot 27 times before walking himself to the medevac

On the first day, German bombers had dropped 377 tons of ordnance onto the city — many of the explosives did not detonate. The government asked for volunteers to help with bomb disposal, Kauffman stepped up to volunteer and raised his hand.

Kauffman learned all he could about his new field and rapidly excelled at it. His advanced bomb disposal knowledge earned him a transfer from the British Navy to the American one.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
Draper Kauffman (left)

Soon after entering the American Navy, an event took place that would change our history forever — the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Navy gave Kauffman orders to create a bomb disposal unit; he went right to work.

One of his first tasks was to disarm a 500-pound bomb located in the harbor. He completed the deadly mission and received the Navy Cross for his excellent work.

Also Read: This sailor has one of the most impressive resumes you’ll ever see — and he’s not done yet

In 1943, Kauffman received a life-changing phone call during his honeymoon that was to report to Washington as directed. His newest assignment was to create a plan to mitigate Hitler’s beach obstacles.

He would go from disarming bombs to now planting them. Along with a few other Naval officers, the “U.S. Navy Combat Demolition” unit was born.

Kauffman and his officers began training “frogmen” out of the swampy and mosquito infested area in Fort Pierce, Florida — the first BUD/s class started training. Kauffman and the instructors taught the Navy’s bravest men how to sneak up onto an obstacle undetected and take it out.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
U.S. Navy Combat Demolition

In 1962, the Navy SEALs were officially declared when former President John F. Kennedy had them established to conduct Unconventional Warfare — and they’ve been kicking a** ever since.

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This legendary pilot fought to his last bullet after being shot down

Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., arguably America’s greatest fighter pilot of World War I, was finally downed after taking out 14 German observation balloons and four combat planes. But he took as many Germans with him as he could, strafing ground troops as he crashed and unloading his pistol into the infantry trying to capture him.


Luke enlisted in the Army on Sept. 25, 1917, for service in the aviation field. He took his first solo flight that December, received his commission the following January, and was in France by March.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke Jr. with his biplane in the fields near Rattentout Farm, France, on Sept. 19, 1918. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

After additional instruction there, Luke was ready to go on combat patrols. In an April 20, 1918, letter home, Luke described a severely injured pilot who later died and the constantly growing rows of graves for pilots. In between those two observations, he talked about what fun it is to fly.

Luke claimed his first kill in August, but the reported action took place after Luke became separated from the rest of the flight and few believed that the mouthy rookie had actually bagged a German.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
Army 2nd Lt. Frank Luke had a short career on the front lines of World War I, but was America’s greatest fighter pilot for a short period. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

But the intrepid pilot would get his first confirmed victory less than a month later. He had heard other pilots talking about how challenging it was to bring down the enemy observation balloons that allowed for better artillery targeting and intelligence collection.

Flying on Sept. 12, 1918, Luke found one of the heavily defended balloons while chasing three German aircraft. He conducted attack passes on the balloon and it exploded into flames on Luke’s third pass, just as the balloon was about to reach the ground.

The flaming gas and bladder fell upon the ground crew and the winch mechanism that held the balloons, killing the men and destroying the site. Two more American officers at a nearby airfield confirmed Luke’s balloon bust.

Two days later, the Arizona native brought down a second balloon in a morning patrol, but he still wasn’t liked by other members of his unit. The same afternoon, he was designated to take the risky run against another balloon as the rest of the formation fought enemy fighters. One, a friend of Luke’s named 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, would cover Luke on his run.

Luke once again downed the enemy balloon and was headed for a second balloon when eight enemy planes chased him. His guns were malfunctioning so he ran back to friendly lines rather than risking further confrontation.

Wehner and Luke became a team and specialized in the dangerous mission of balloon busting. Over the following weeks, they pioneered techniques for bringing down the “sausages.” The pair grew so bold that they scheduled exhibitions for well-known pilots like then-Col. William Mitchell, inviting the VIPs to witness German balloons going down at exact times along the front.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
Army pilot 1st Lt. Jospeh Wehner was a balloon buster partnered with 2nd Lt. Frank Luke, Jr. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Services)

But the men’s partnership was short-lived. Wehner had first covered Luke on Sept. 14, and over the next few days they each achieved “Ace” status and Wehner took part in two actions for which he would later receive two Distinguished Service Crosses.

On Sept. 18, the two men scored one of their most productive days including the balloon downing that made Wehner an ace, but Wehner was shot down during the attack on the second balloon. Luke responded by charging into the enemy formation, killing two, and then heading for home and killing an observation plane en route.

Luke was distraught at the loss of his partner and took greater risks in the air. His superior officers attempted to ground him, but Luke stole a plane and went back up anyway.

At that point, he was America’s highest-scoring ace with 11 confirmed victories, ahead of even Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker’s record at the time.

On his final flight on Sept. 29, he dropped a note from his plane that told the reader to “Watch three Hun balloons on the Meuse. Luke.”

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
German observation balloons allowed for intelligence gathering and highly accurate artillery fire. (Photo: State Library of New South Wales)

The pilot flew across the battlefield, downing all three but attracting a patrol of eight German fighters. Sources differ on exactly what happened next, but the most important details are not in dispute.

Luke’s plane was damaged and he himself was hit, likely from machine gun fire from the ground. As he lost altitude, he conducted a strike against German troops, most likely with his machine guns, though locals who witnessed the fight reported that he may have used bombs dropped by hand.

After landing his plane in German-controlled territory, Luke made his way to a stream and was cornered by a German infantry patrol that demanded his surrender. Instead, Luke pulled a pistol and fired, killing an unknown number of Germans before he was shot in the chest and killed.

All of Luke’s confirmed victories had taken place in September 1918. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Sept. 12-15, a second for his actions on Sept. 18, and the Medal of Honor for his final flight on Sept. 29.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A Purple Heart was donated — can you help find its owner?

Sometimes things are donated because they’ve lost their value. Sometimes, they’re donated because their value isn’t understood.


MIGHTY HISTORY

The Curtiss Helldiver’s other nickname was way better

Some of the iconic photos of the combat in the Pacific theater feature the Douglas SBD Dauntless. This dive-bomber was the plane that won the Battle of Midway in June 1942, fatally damaging three Japanese carriers in a span of five minutes. What may not be as famous, however, is the SBD’s successor.


The Curtiss SB2C Helldiver was in the works at the start of World War II but didn’t really see combat until November 1943. While the SBD was a popular plane — proving to be not only a capable Japanese ship killer, it was also a deadly air-to-air combatant in the hands of pilots like Stanley “Swede” Vejtasa — it was relatively old, having entered service in 1938.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
Bomb’s away! The Helldiver could carry a 2,000-pound bomb in its bay. (US Navy photo)

That replacement was the Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. This far-more-modern plane could carry a greater payload and was faster than its predecessor. The problem was, however, that the plane wasn’t the easiest to fly, which helped it earn a dirty nickname — one that claimed it had some canine ancestry.

Yes, they called it the “Son-of-a-Bitch Second Class.”

Despite the moniker, the SB2C became a very good plane in its own right. Not only could it carry a heavy bomb in its bomb bay, rockets could also be carried under the wings when necessary. This is very useful when you want to suppress the enemy’s anti-aircraft fire. The SBD, despite its superb track record in combat, couldn’t do that. The SB2C also had two 20mm cannon that were forward firing, giving it a far greater punch than the SBD could provide with two M2 .50-caliber machine guns.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally

The dive-bomber, though, was in its twilight. One big reason was that fighters like the F6F Hellcat and Vought F4U Corsair were both capable in air-to-air combat and very proficient in dropping bombs. On a carrier deck, space is limited, and the multi-role fighters proved to be better, more efficient investments than dive-bombers. Still, the Helldiver played its part in bringing victory over the Axis in World War II.

Learn more about this plane with a nasty nickname in the video below.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj8nPN5bkO0
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This is how the USS Arizona memorial made Elvis the King

In the early hours of Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service, killing 2,403 service members and launching President Roosevelt’s decision to enter World War II.


Although the event was catastrophic, only two ships were beyond repair — USS Oklahoma and Arizona. The Oklahoma was eventually refloated to the surface, but the battle damage was too overwhelming to repair and return to service.

However, the USS Arizona took four devastating direct hits from 800kg bombs dropped from high altitude Japanese planes. One of the bombs ripped into the Arizona’s starboard deck and detonated. The explosion collapsed the ship’s forecastle decks, causing the conning tower to fall thirty feet into the hull.

Related: This American admiral planned the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1932

Talks of constructing a permanent memorial started as early as 1943, but it wasn’t until several years later that the effort would take shape. After the creation of Pacific War Memorial Commission, plans of how to commemorate the ship’s memory began rolling in.

Admiral Arthur Radford ordered a flag to be installed on the wreck site and have a colors ceremony conducted every day.

In 1950, requests for additional funds were denied by the government, as their top priority was to focus on the war efforts in Korea.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
USS Arizona after being struck by Japanese in Pearl Harbor.

In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower inked Public Law 85-344 allowing the PWMC to raise $500,000 for the memorial construction. But after two years of fundraising, only $155,000 in total proceeds had been collected — they needed a lot of help.

Little did they know, they were about to get it.

Tom Parker read about the PWMC’s struggling endeavor and came up with a genius plan. Parker just happened to be Elvis Presley’s manager and was looking for ways to get his client back on top after being drafted by the Army in 1957 — Elvis was discharged from service in 1960.

Reportedly, Parker approached Elvis to perform at a benefit to help boost the memorial campaign — and his music and acting careers.

Elvis, who was not only patriotic but loved the idea of performing for a cause, agreed to help with the campaign. The PWMC agreed to Parker’s plan, and a performance date was set — March 25, 1961.

The Marine Corps wrote the book on ‘small wars,’ literally
The flyer for Elvis’ fundraising performance.

Also Read: 5 times the US was attacked at home during WWII (besides Pearl Harbor)

Although the performance brought in $60,000 in revenue, the campaign was still well short of its goal. But from the publicity of Elvis’ show, donations from outside sources rolled in, and the PWMC finally raise the $500,000 they needed.

On May 30, 1962, the USS Arizona Memorial officially opened thanks to Elvis and the PWMC.

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