It’s no secret the military trains the way they fight — which is pretty hardcore. Marines and sailors train in the terrible heat and rough terrain of the Mojave Desert to prepare them to face the enemy in the harsh conditions of Afghanistan.
During their pre-deployment workup, troops pretend to get hurt so that nearby medics can practice rendering proper treatment. This training only goes so far, though, as the semi-stressful situations can’t compare to the real vigors of war.
So, to get young medical professionals ready for bloody working conditions overseas, some of the troops are sent to a live-tissue training course stateside where they must keep wounded pigs or goats alive for hours — or fail the course.
These animals are chosen specifically due to their tissue similarities to humans.
Before heading down to the live-tissue training grounds, young troops go through three days’ worth of brutal training missions throughout Camp Pendleton. These missions consist of hunting down mock “high-value targets,” several hours of intense physical training, and miles of foot patrols with little to no sleep. Then, troops board a bus that takes them to an undisclosed location — the live-tissue training grounds.
“The instructors worked us hard all day and night,” one former hospital Corpsman recalls. “We all were completely exhausted before the lab even started.”
Once at the training ground, the troops gear up in full battle rattle, place their highly anesthetized agricultural animal on an Army litter, and carry it up a steep hill where the training begins. After dropping the animal off at the first station, medics seek cover until signaled to retrieved their severely wounded patient.
Once the troops retrieve their patient, the docs make lifesaving interventions.
Three or four battle-themed stations and several massive wounds later, the troops enter a large metal container and load their “patient” on board as if it were a medical evacuation helicopter. After being locked in for several minutes, the container’s door opens to a mock-hospital, where the troops continue to care for their patient.
If the animal dies throughout this process, the student fails.
Compared to a computer simulator, the “pig lab,” as many refer to it, puts actual life into the student’s hands, forcing them to think on their toes to keep their patient alive.
Although humans control the stimulator, this lab comes with an extreme level of unpredictability and is considered “great training.”
“It was the best damn training I’ve ever received,” the former hospital Corpsman remembers. “I felt much more confident to take care of one of my Marines if they got hurt.”
Although considered to be “great training,” PETA, or the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has voiced, on many occasions, that they are entirely against using agricultural animals for military training.
Future-President Harry S. Truman was a hero in World War I who technically broke orders when, as a captain, he ordered his men to fire out of sector during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, eliminating German artillery batteries and observers in order to protect U.S. troops. But his first battle saw his men break ranks until Truman, shaking from fear, rallied them back to their guns.
The fight came in the Vosges Mountains in eastern France. Truman had recently been promoted to captain and given command of Battery D, 129th Field Artillery Regiment. His battery was known as a smart, athletic, but undisciplined lot. He managed to wrangle influence over them.
But he was still untested in battle when his battery moved into position Aug. 29, 1918, and began their bombardment of German positions. The battery’s four 75mm guns sent rounds downrange, and it was great—at first. As Pvt. Vere Leigh later said, “We were firing away and having a hell of a good time doing it until they began to fire back.”
Truman had been in command for less than two months, and his men began to melt away under the cover of rain and darkness. Rumors that the German shells contained gas agents sent the men scrambling to get masks on themselves and their horses.
In all this chaos, it was easy for the artillerymen, especially the support troops, to run into the woods and rocks of the area. Truman was afraid himself and had to struggle to remain in place. He would later write to his wife, “My greatest satisfaction is that my legs didn’t succeed in carrying me away, although they were very anxious to do it.”
Truman was on his horse, trying to keep his unit organized and in place until he rode into a shell crater and tumbled with his horse to the ground. A soldier had to help get him out from under the horse, and Truman watched the fleeing men around him and had to decide whether to run as well.
But he did hold position, and he began insulting and cajoling his troops to get them back on the guns. “I got up and called them everything I knew,” he said. The language was surprising coming from the relatively small and bespectacled captain, but it worked. Gun crews began shifting back to their weapons, other troops got horses back in line in case the battery needed to move, and American rounds screeched through the air to thunder home in German positions.
Most of his men, of course, refused to admit if they ran. So the men began referring to it as the “Battle of Who Ran.”
Truman’s poise under fire helped endear him to the men, even if he had secretly been terrified. This would later help them stick together in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive when Truman ordered them to kill German artillery batteries and observers that were technically out of the division’s sector. Truman got in trouble for firing out of sector, but he protected his men and the armored units of Lt. Col. George S. Patton Jr. that Battery D was supporting.
Seems like the behavior should’ve been expected from the guy who managed to wrangle Battery D into a unit that would stand and fight.
The “boat people,” as they came to be known, are an oft-forgotten footnote at the end of the Vietnam War. In the years following the U.S. withdrawal and the subsequent fall of South Vietnam to the Communist north, refugees packed ships leaving the southern half, bound for anywhere but there.
Between 1975 and 1995 some 800,000 people faced pirates, traffickers, and storms to escape the grip of Communism and make it to a new life in places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, or elsewhere. Images of boat people adrift on any kind of ship routinely made the nightly news. Rescued refugees would be resettled anywhere they would be accepted, many of them ending up in the Western United States. One of those people was Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Asan Bui.
Vietnamese “Boat People” being rescued while adrift at sea.
Asan Bui was born on one of those vessels, adrift in the ocean, bound for nowhere, some 44 years ago. He was a citizen of no country. His father took his then-pregnant mother out of Vietnam because he had served in South Vietnam’s army as an artilleryman. Against all odds, he, his wife, and five children all escaped the iron curtain as it came crashing down.
Bui, like many who fought for anti-Communist South Vietnam, faced persecution and execution at the hands of the oncoming Communists in 1975. The fall of the southern capital at Saigon was imminent, and many were looking for a way to flee. Asan Bui’s father took his family by boat.
Air Force Reserve, Lt. Col. Asan Bui was born at sea 44 years ago while adrift in the ocean aboard a wooden boat.
(U.S. Air Force Reserve photo by Senior Airman Brandon Kalloo Sanes)
Bui’s family was just the tip of the iceberg. The fall of Saigon caused 1.6 million Vietnamese people to flee South Vietnam. The elder Bui was not happy to leave and wanted to fight the Communists every inch of the way. His sense soon got the better of him, though. If he were captured, he would likely have been tortured and killed.
“Anyone that fought alongside the United States would be killed or imprisoned in re-education camps,” Bui told the Air Force Reserve. “I have personally spoken with individuals that have gone through this brutal ordeal and survived. Some were not released for over a decade and still carry the traumatic scars.”
Lt. Col. Bui’s father, Chien Van Bui, calls in artillery fire during the Vietnam War.
(Photo provided by Lt. Col. Asan Bui)
If they did survive the capture and torture, Southern fighters could look forward to hard time in Communist labor camps, re-education centers, or worse. Instead of all that, Chien Van Bui fled with his family. When the family was rescued, they were taken to Camp Asan in Guam, naming their newborn child after the camp they called home.
Asan Bui joined the United States Air Force in his mid-twenties, now serving his 19th year for the country that took him in and allowed him to start a family of his own. Lt. Col. Asan Bui is the commander of the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick AFB, Fla. He is dedicated to continued service.
“I want to honor those (military and sponsors) that have sacrificed so much for my family and the Vietnamese refugees,” said Bui. “Especially the Vietnam veterans.”
The Habiru were described as a group of Asiatics wandering about the Levant, much like the Hebrews. The Sumerians were the first to mention this group as the SA.GAZ as far back as 2500 BCE. Hittite texts also refer to them as SA.GAZ. Texts found at Boghazkoi in Anatolia use both names, Habiru and SA.GAZ, interchangeably. The term also is associated with the Akkadian habbatu (“plunderer” or “robber”) or saggasu (“murderer”).
Instead, SA.GAZ means “one who smashes sinews;” this is typically in reference to a small band of soldiers who are employed as local mercenaries. This wandering body lived on the social fringes of civilization.
The Habiru were indeed an enemy to many, but a useful and complex one.
The philosopher Martin Buber described them as, “…people without a country, who have dissociated themselves from their national connections and unite in common journeys for pasture and plunder; semi-nomadic herdsmen they are, or freebooters if opportunity offers.”
While it’s well documented that the Habiru were viewed as landless undesirables who at times served as mercenaries in military ranks throughout the Near East and Egypt, it was their civil skills that were often overlooked and most desired. While it is tempting to correlate the Habiru with the Bedouin, that’s not always accurate.
The Habiru traveled in much larger groups and their social structure was complex. They were highly skilled pastoral people who were tenders of cattle, vintners, stonecutters, stockbreeders, agriculturalists, merchants, construction workers, skilled government employees, and fishermen.
4. The Ten Thousand
The “Mighty” Ten Thousand were mentioned in Xenophon’s Anabasis. The Ten Thousand, according to Xenophon, were a mixed bag of motley Greek warriors hired by Cyrus the Younger to help oust his brother King Artaxerxes II from the Persian throne.
In 401 B.C., the hardened Greek veterans of the Peloponnesian War fought alongside Cyrus near Baghdad against the Persian forces led by Artaxerxes. While the Ten Thousand fought bravely, it was not enough; Cyrus was killed in the battle. Afterwards, Tissaphernes, a local satrap (governor), met with the Greek commanders to negotiate new terms, but Tissaphernes refused their services and they were murdered.
Once word of the event got out, the Greeks elected new leaders and fled.
As the forces of Artaxerxes were pursuing them, the Ten Thousand banded together and fought their way out of enemy territory. Once Xenophon had been elected as one of their new leaders, the mercenary army embarked on a grueling nine-month journey that took them from the province of Babylonia all the way to the Greek Black Sea port at Trapezus.
During their journey, they fought off bad weather, famine, ambushes, and hallucinogenic honey. Once back on friendly soil, only three-fourths of their numbers remained.
3. The Varangian Guard
The Varangians were an elite guard that one served as the personal bodyguards of Byzantine rulers from the 10th to the 14th centuries. When not protecting the ruler, they were sent to the front in times of war to protect and expand the borders of the Byzantine Empire.
The Varangians were Swedish merchants who penetrated eastern Russia. Their story begins in 874 when the Kievan Rus and Constantinople established a peace treaty in which the Kievan Rus was obliged to send the Byzantines military assistance, but it would not be for some time. The first appearance of Varangians acting in the interest of the Byzantine state was during the reign of Emperor Michael III (842–867), in which they served as his personal security entourage. This peace opened the door for the Kievan Rus not only economically but also militarily. The establishment of the Varangian guard as permanent security organization started in 911.
What made the guard so exceptional was their loyalty to the emperor. Of course, if one is being paid a substantial wage while allowing the best pickings of loot from pillage cities, ones loyalty is hard to sway. They were instrumental in keeping the empire together and requiring lost territory, but also in protecting the Byzantine throne. However, the Varangians’ time would soon end after the sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by Western Europeans during the Fourth Crusade; the Varangians never fully regained their once regal position and eventually faded away.
2. The White Company
The famed mercenary leader John Hawkwood was in charge of the infamous White Company. The White Company was one of the most notorious mercenary groups of the so-called “free companies” to conduct warfare in 14th century Italy. The unit first rose to prominence in the 1360s under the leadership of Albert Sterz before falling under the command of Sir John Hawkwood. John Hawkwood was an Englishman who served in the English army during the Hundred Years’ War, and he was knighted for his service.
Once Hawkwood took command of the White Company, they soon became known as an elite (if not the elite) mercenary army in Italy. The cultural makeup of the White Company was an amalgamation of English, German, Breton, and Hungarian adventurers. These well-trained mercenaries provided a combined arms approach to warfare. Their swift tactics and willingness to fight in harsh conditions terrified opponents.
What made the White Company so effective in 14th Century Italy is because Italia was fractured into many small provinces and city-states. Loyalties swayed as quick as the wind and because of this, Hawkwood saw the lucrative benefits awaiting him. From 1363 and 1388, Hawkwood’s While Company fought nearly nonstop, for and/or against the Papal States, the city of Milan, and the city of Florence.
1. Henry MacIver
Henry Ronald Douglas McIver (1841–1907) was a soldier of fortune who fought for 18 countries. (Image courtesy of Richard Harding Davis’ “Real Soldiers of Fortune”)
MacIver was born in Virginia in 1841. Much later in his life, his family sent him to finish his education with his uncle General Donald Graham. The reason for this is once MacIver had finished with school he would be sent to West Point. However, MacIver ditched West Point and joined the army of the East India Company. He was only 16 years old.
While with the East India Company, he would see his first action at age 17 during the Sepoy Mutiny. MacIver nearly died after being seriously wounded in the arm and head. Not long after, he made his way to Italy, where he fought alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi.
After mixed success, he found his way under the command of the Don Carlos, who was the pretender for the Spanish crown. In 1861, Civil War broke out in the United States and MacIver made his way to join the Confederacy, in which he served with distinction.
After the war was over, MacIver fled to Mexico and joined Emperor Maximilian and his war against the Juarez rebels. However, his fighting was short-lived. He was captured by Indians, but he would escape three months later and rejoin Maximilian’s forces. He would be given the title of Count for his valiant efforts on the field of battle at Monterrey.
Soon after, the Juarez rebels won the war and executed Emperor Maximilian. MacIver fled for South America and laid low for a time.
When the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878) broke out, MacIver made his way to the Balkans and offered his services to the Serbians. He was given the rank of colonel and led a company of volunteers but would soon rise to the rank of general and cavalry commander of the Serbian contingents. MacIver considered this the highest point of his career and was his happiest.
After Serbia, MacIver raised more volunteers and planned further expeditions in Central America. Before that could happen, however, he found himself serving as the United States Consul. He would offer his services once again to President McKinley during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
By this time, he had grown older and his services on the field of battle were not needed. MacIver would go on to find more lucrative enterprises elsewhere in the America’s but as Davis says, MacIver’s “…life is, and, from the nature of his profession, must always be, a lonely one. Still he has his sword, his blanket, and in the event of war, to obtain a commission he has only to open his tin boxes and show the commissions already won. Indeed, any day, in a new uniform, and under the Nineteenth Flag, the general may again be winning fresh victories and honors.”
MacIver would die the following year in 1907, but is remembered as a true soldier of fortune.
A unit’s colors are held in near-sacred regard by the chain of command. The seemingly simple piece of cloth is steeped in rich symbolism and represents nearly every award and conflict that the unit has ever seen.
Even simply brushing against the unit colors while it’s hoisted at the battalion building could result in a younger soldier doing push-ups until sergeant major gets tired. And if it’s dropped while the battalion is out for a run, you might as well send that poor soul to the guillotine — at least that’d be quicker.
While the symbol of a unit’s legacy is held in extreme esteem by the troops it represents, the soldiers of the 2nd Engineer Battalion (which is now a part of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division), has a tradition of their own that involves setting fire to their beloved colors.
As odd as it sounds, there’s actually a very valid reason for it, even if it means the battalion needs to get a new one made every 12 months.
This was the turning point in the war and the engineers found themselves at the worst place at the worst time.
(U.S. National Archives)
This tradition has its roots back in the Korean War’s Battle of Kunu-Ri. The 2nd Infantry Division and UN allies had pushed the North Koreans back to the Yalu River, which separates China and North Korea. The moment China came to North Korea’s aid with a massive army, however, the Americans needed to retreat back south.
The unfortunate duty of pulling rear guard fell solely on the shoulders of the 2nd Engineer soldiers in the little town of Kunu-Ri. It was a lopsided battle that the troops knew they had no chance of winning — let alone surviving. It was a single battalion versus three entire, well-armed, well-trained, and completely fresh divisions.
This ultimate act of defiance towards an overwhelming enemy still lives on.
It was in the early morning of November 30th, 1950. The remainder of the 8th Army had successfully gotten to safety and the 2nd Infantry Division was slowly making its way out. As each battalion was fighting out, the 2nd Engineers stood their ground to save their brothers.
In this regard, their mission was a success. But by nighttime, their window of opportunity to safely escape had closed. The Chinese had flanked their escape route and their numbers had dwindled. They were down to just 266 out of the 977 men they had at the beginning of the war.
Lt. Col. Alarich Zacherle had to face the grim reality that every commander fears — the complete and utter destruction of his entire unit. The men regrouped for one last time and Zacherle gave the orders. Everything would be destroyed so that it would never fall into the hands of the enemy — nothing was spared.
The last thing to go was the colors. Zacherle made sure that even if they were all defeated and all of their men were lost, the Chinese would never be able to take their battalion colors as a war trophy. They set it ablaze and whoever was left ran like hell.
Their heroic deeds that night saved the lives of many 2nd ID soldiers and held the Chinese off long enough for the Americans to stage a proper defense. Very few men made it out of that battle — it’s been said that just a single officer made it out without being killed or captured.
To honor the men who gave their lives for their brothers, every year on November 30th, the 2nd Engineer Battalion recreates that heart-stopping moment with a solemn ceremony. The memory of the men who fought at Kunu-Li lives on as the names of each and every one of those 977 men are called off in formation by the current 2nd Engineers.
And, just as it happened in 1950, they set fire to their battalion colors in memorium.
Considered the deadliest sniper of all time, Simo Hayha joined Finland’s Civil Guard at the age of 17 and quickly established himself as an excellent marksman. It was here that he honed his skills with the Mosin-Nagant, developing a talent that the Soviets would soon come to fear.
Hayha regularly practiced his warfighting craft by accurately firing his bolt-action rifle 16 times per minute at a target 500-feet away — which is a challenging task.
In 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland in what would become known as the “Winter War,” or the Russo-Finnish War.
Although the Finns were highly outnumbered, they had the home-field advantage and turned to guerrilla-style fighting to defend their territory from the encroaching Red Army.
In the beginning, Hayha found himself fighting against an enemy force of 4,000 with just 31 other men at his side.
On Dec. 31, 1939, Hayha scored 25 kill shots while dressed in all white to perfectly camouflage himself among the snow-covered terrain. The talented marksman would stalk his targets in freezing temperatures for several hours. Using the surrounding snow, Hayha packed himself deep within the frozen ground to decrease his chances of being noticed.
Hayha preferred using iron sights instead of optic scopes as other snipers had grown to favor. Although it was harder to get a fix on a target, using iron sights helped him avoid detection from light reflected off the scope.
As Hayha tallied up his kills, he was given a nickname that would write him into the history books — “The White Death.”
He tallied 505 kills, the highest count from any significant war. All of the kills were accomplished in fewer than 100 days — meaning he averaging over five per day. Hayha ended up getting wounded in the war; shot by an explosive bullet which nearly took off his lower left jaw.
He survived the wound and continued to live a long life. Hayha passed away in a veteran’s nursing home in 2002 at the age of 96.
Check out Simple History’s video below to learn more about this talented sniper’s record-setting life.
When Elvis Presley turned 18 years old in 1953, he registered for the draft – just like every other young American male during that time. The rules governing the draft stated that all young men that were in good health were required to serve in the United States military for a minimum of two years. When he signed his name on that line, promising to serve, he had no idea of the superstar fame that would soon be coming his way.
After signing up for the draft, he graduated high school and soon began his entertainment career. Three years later in 1956, he was a film and recording star. Presley was in the middle of filming King Creole when he received his draft notice. He requested a delay so he could finish filming, which he was granted.
On March 24, 1958, with his family and friends by his side, The King reported to the Memphis draft board. Once he was sworn in and processed with others into the Army, he boarded a bus to Arkansas.
He would go on to coin the phrase “hair today, gone tomorrow” after he received his G.I. haircut.
Once Presley finished his basic training, he was on leave and managed to do a concert and recording session in Nashville. He then headed back to Ft. Hood, Texas, to complete his advanced training. His mother became ill during this time and passed away and Presley was granted leave to be with her.
When he returned to Ft. Hood, he was assigned to the Third Armored Spearhead Division. He soon boarded the U.S.S. Randall and sailed for Germany. Upon arrival, he served in Company C, which was a scout platoon. He was declared off limits to the press.
Presley would be right there in the thick of things alongside his unit. He completed all required duties. Some research suggested that he did more than what was required of him because he didn’t want people to assume he got special treatment. He would go on to earn a medal for expert marksmanship and rise to the responsibility of an NCO, all without seeking celebrity treatment.
He was honorably discharged from active duty in 1960.
In the early days of the Cold War, the United States was working on developing advanced surface-to-air missiles to intercept Soviet bombers. The first and only missile for a while that fit the Air Force’s bill was dubbed the “Bomarc.”
According to Designation-Systems.net, the missile was first called the XF-99, as the Air Force was trying to pass it off as an unmanned fighter. Eventually, the Air Force switched to calling the Bomarc the IM-99.
The system made its first flight in 1952, but development was a long process, with the IM-99A becoming operational in September 1959. The IM-99A had a range of 250 miles, a top speed of Mach 2.8, and could carry either a 1,000-pound high-explosive warhead or a 10-kiloton W40 warhead.
The IM-99A had a problem, though – its liquid fuel needed to be loaded into the booster before launch, a process that took about two minutes. The fueling was not exactly a safe process, and the fuel itself wasn’t entirely stable. So, the Air Force developed a version with a solid booster. The IM-99B would end up being a quantum leap in capability. Its speed increased to Mach 3, it had a range of 440 miles, and only carried the nuclear warhead.
The Bomarc also has the distinction of making Canada a nuclear power. Well, sort of. Canada bought two squadrons’ worth of the missiles, replacing the CF-105 Arrow interceptor. Canada’s Bomarcs did have the nuclear warhead, operated under a dual-key arrangement similar to that used by West Germany’s Pershing I missiles.
The Bomarc, though, soon grew obsolete, and by the end of 1972 they were retired. However, the Bomarc would end up sharing the same fate as many old fighters, as many of the missiles were eventually used as target drones since their speed and high-altitude capability helped them simulate heavy Russian anti-ship missiles like the AS-4 Kitchen and AS-6 Kingfish.
Over 700 Bomarcs were produced. Not a bad run at all for this missile.
For World War I pilots, the most terrifying song that relates to their experience may not be Seven Nation Army but 99 Luftballoons, because going against barrage and observation balloons in the Great War was terrifying.
Barrage balloons over London in World War II.
Pilots with the balls and skill to attack these balloons were known as balloon busters, and ones that had shot down more than five of the balloons were known as balloon aces. And yes, shooting down a balloon counted as a “kill,” same as shooting down a piloted enemy plane.
But what made them so hard to shoot down? After all, they were just a bunch of floating bags of air. Pop ’em with a needle and get on with your day, right?
First, military balloons weren’t made of cheap Mylar or latex. Many in World War I were made of tightly woven fabric, though vulcanized rubber and Thiokol rubber were prominent in World War II. All of these materials could take plenty of hits without splitting, meaning bullets that passed through them caused them to leak instead of to pop.
A row of spherical barrage balloons used for suspending aerial nets
(Australian War Memorial)
So they couldn’t simply be popped, and it often took a lot of rounds to bring one down. But if a fighter did manage to slay the beast, he wasn’t out of danger yet. While American balloons in World War II were sometimes filled with helium, none of the early Great War combatants had access to that gas, and hydrogen was the preferred gas for barrage balloons anyway.
Why? Well, for the same reason it was bad for the Hindenburg. Observation balloons had people in them, people who would’ve loved helium instead of hydrogen over their heads. But barrage balloons were empty, and filling them with hydrogen meant that, when destroyed, the balloons had a tendency to go out in massive fireballs. This was a huge threat to the fighters attacking it.
It also meant that fighters had one advantage though: Incendiary rounds were very effective against the balloons. But in World War I, pretty much only the British had incendiary rounds in planes. Everyone else was slinging cold metal. And incendiary rounds didn’t stay hot forever, generally traveling only 300 to 400 yards while still burning. You did not want to be 300 yards from an exploding balloon and still flying towards it as you would have to be to effectively shoot at it.
Barrage balloons and their crews in World War II.
(Royal Air Force)
Fine, fine, fine. The balloons were hard to shoot down and, when shot down, might explode in a big fireball and kill the attacking fighter. Fine. Just fly around them, right? Let the Germans have their balloons over their lines, maybe bring in some air defense artillery to shoot at it. But let the fighters avoid them.
Nope. For two reasons. First, those observation balloons were an enduring threat from the moment they went up until the moment they went down. Artillery observers sat in them and reported troops positions and movements to their friendly artillery for hours, allowing German crews to hit English, French, and U.S. positions all day. They had to be killed.
American pilot Frank Luke poses with his 13th confirmed kill.
So observation balloons and barrage balloons were lethal, terrifying, and absolutely had to be destroyed, and some of America, England, and France’s top aces proved their mettle by flying at the things, especially in World War I. In fact, some of the top decorated fighter pilots of World War I had few wins against human-piloted planes, but a dozen or more against balloons.
Will Coppens, a Belgian pilot, personally awarded a medal by King Albert I had only shot down two enemy planes in his career, but he had taken down an astounding 35 enemy balloons. The next highest scoring pilot after him was Frenchman Leon Bourjade with 27. So, yeah, Coppens earned that medal from his king.
America’s top balloon buster was Frank Luke, a mouthy pilot who was looked down upon by his peers when he arrived in France. He claimed his first fighter kill in August 1918, but no one else had witnessed the feat, and he was written off as a blowhard. So, after hearing how hard balloons were to take down, he attacked one on September 12 and, after three passes, destroyed it right before it reached the safety of the ground where the observers could clamber out.
German observation balloons allowed for intelligence gathering and highly accurate artillery fire, and barrage balloons created persistent threats to enemy fighters.
(State Library of New South Wales)
Luke bagged another two balloons two days later. His wingman that day, 1st Lt. Joseph Wehner, formed a team with him that specialized in balloon busting and turned the whole thing into a traveling show, sending invitations to VIPs to witness German balloons blowing up at set times and places. But it was too bold to last, and Wehner was shot down on September 18 while taking down his fifth balloon, giving him balloon ace status in death.
Distraught, Luke went off the deep end, taking more and more risks in flight to the point that his superiors grounded the already famous pilot who, by that point, had 11 victories against balloons and four against fighters, making him America’s ace of aces. On September 29, he stole a plane and dropped a note to the ground that told observers to watch German balloons over the Meuse.
Luke flew into the teeth of the enemy, dodging ground fire and eight enemy fighters as he took down one balloon after the others, destroying all three in the area before he was shot down. He survived the wreck and pulled his pistol, fending off a German patrol and killing multiple members of it until a German round drilled him in the chest.
He was awarded two Distinguished Service Crosses and the Medal of Honor for his heroics in September 1918, going to his grave as America’s best-ever balloon buster with 14 kills against balloons and four against fighters.
There were two reasons that the Japanese Navy found itself on the wrong end of the Marianas Turkey Shoot. One was the F6F Hellcat, which proved to have much better performance than the Mitsubishi A6M Zero. But just having the Hellcat wasn’t enough.
The real key to the overwhelming victory in the skies above the Philippine Sea was how well a pilot could operate their plane. During the Battle of the Coral Sea, Stanley Vejtasa earned the second of his two Navy Crosses by destroying three Zeroes while flying a Douglas SBD Dauntless dive bomber. Later in 1942, Vejtasa would score seven kills in one day during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands while flying the F4F Wildcat. Vejtasa would find himself sent back Stateside, his kill total for World War II frozen at 10.5, as he became a test pilot.
Many other aces were sent back, some as test pilots, but most were responsible for training up-and-coming pilots. The combination of the user-friendly F6F Hellcat and skilled, veteran pilot instructors made this fighter a superb weapon. It scored 5,165 kills during World War II. David McCampbell would score 34 of them to become the Navy’s leading ace. Japan kept its pilots on the front lines, so when they were shot down, they were often killed.
One reason the Hellcat racked up such a high total was that its contemporary, the Vought F4U Corsair, was difficult to fly – earning the dubious nickname, “Ensign Eliminator.” By contrast, the Hellcat was a relatively simple plane to land — a big plus when it came time to land on a carrier. As a result, the Corsair was relegated mostly to land bases.
In leaked documents, newly published by The Washington Post and ZDF, the CIA describes how it pulled off “the intelligence coup of the century:” for decades, a company that sold encryption devices to more than 120 countries was secretly owned and operated by the CIA itself.
The company, Crypto AG, was acquired by the CIA at the height of the Cold War. Through a classified partnership with West Germany’s spy agency, the CIA designed Crypto AG’s encryption devices in a way that let the agency easily decrypt and read all messages sent by the company’s clients.
Some details of Crypto AG’s coordination with US intelligence agencies had been previously reported — a 1995 investigation by The Baltimore Sun revealed that the National Security Agency reached an agreement with Crypto AG executives to secretly rig encryption devices. However, the newly-published CIA report unveils the full extent of the US’ operation of Crypto AG.
For decades, Crypto AG was the leading provider of encryption services. It boasted hundreds of clients ranging from the Vatican to Iran, generating millions of dollars in profits. The CIA maintained control over the company until at least 2008, when the agency’s confidential report obtained by The Post was drafted.
Crypto AG was liquidated in 2018, and its assets were purchased by two other companies: CyOne Security and Crypto International. Both have denied any current connection to the CIA, and Crypto International chairman Andreas Linde told The Post that he “feels betrayed” by the revelation.
“Crypto International and Crypto AG are two completely separate companies without any relationship,” a spokesperson for Crypto International said in a statement to Business Insider. “Crypto International is a Swedish owned company that in 2018 acquired the brand name and other assets from Crypto AG … We have no connections to the CIA or the BND and we never had.”
A representative for CyOne Security did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s requests for comment.
In a statement to Business Insider, CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett declined to confirm or deny the report, saying the agency is “aware of press reporting about an alleged U.S. government program and do not have any guidance.”
Crypto AG began selling encryption devices in 1940, marketing a mechanical device that was powered by a crank. The CIA reportedly purchased the company with a handshake deal in 1951, which was renewed with a secretive “licensing agreement” in 1960.
In the decades that followed, the CIA oversaw technical advances in Crypto AG’s devices, shifting to electronic devices. The company reportedly contracted with Siemens and Motorola to modernize its gadgets.
The CIA’s surveillance continued through the 1990s and 2000s, even as Crypto AG’s revenue began to dwindle. It was ultimately dissolved in 2018 and sold for between million and million, according to anonymous current and former officials quoted by The Post.
Read the full report by The Washington Post and ZDF here.
Five other members of the Bounty crew were rescued by other helicopters. The captain and one crew member died.
5. A pilot twice braved volatile ice to pull out stranded allies
Coast Guard Lt. John A . Pritchard was assigned to duties on the USCGC Northland in 1942 when the ship was operating near the Greenland Ice Cap.
On Nov. 23, he led a motorboat crew through the ice, under a shelf liable to collapse at any moment, onto the shore, and across a dangerous glacier in the middle of the night to rescue three Canadian airmen. He would posthumously receive the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for his actions.
Later that same month, he flew onto the ice cap to rescue downed American airmen. On Nov. 28, he landed on the ice and then took off with two Army fliers, saving them both.
3. The coxswain who navigated an exploding ship to rescue survivors
When the USNS Potomac caught fire in 1961 while discharging aviation fuel, the sea quickly became a hellscape. Explosions on the ship repeatedly sent shrapnel across the surface of the water and burning fuel heated the surrounding air and filled it with noxious gasses.
Coast Guard Boatswain’s Mate First Class Howard R. Jones piloted a lifeboat under the stern of the Potomac and rescued five crew members. He delivered those to a nearby hospital and then returned to the still-burning vessel where he searched for other survivors, finding another missing crew member.
The reserves of fuel on the ship kept it burning for five days before it sank.
2. Three Coasties volunteer to rescue over 30 survivors in a horrendous storm
The Coast Guard often refers to the events of Feb. 18, 1952, as their “Finest Hours,” and a movie based on the events came out in 2016. Two 520-foot ships, the Fort Mercer and the Pendleton, broke apart in a massive nor’easter. The Pendleton broke first, but a short circuit stopped it from reporting the damage.
The Fort Mercer crew was rescued and the crews finally spotted the beleaguered Pendleton. A crew of four volunteers motored past the sandbars off Massachusetts and made it to the bow section of the Pendleton.
1. Two signalmen save Marines under fire at Guadalcanal
Chief Signalman Raymond Evans and Signalman First Class Douglas Munro were attached to the 1st Marine Division in 1942 when they were sent to Guadalcanal as part of the invasion. The two men were there on different missions, but both were asked to pilot boats to land Marines on another part of the island.
The initial landings were uneventful, but soon after the Coasties returned, they heard that the Marines were under heavy fire and were signaling for help. They both volunteered to return in Higgins boats, a few panels of slapped together plywood filled with gasoline and ammunition, and rescue the Marines.
Miraculously, the Coasties were able to suppress many of the Japanese guns as the Marine withdrew to the boats, but Munro was tragically hit in the head by a Japanese machine gun burst while helping a beached craft en route back to the beach.
He survived just long enough to famously ask, “Did the Marines get off?” before succumbing to his wounds.
On June 22, 1977, Aleksandr Ogorodnik killed himself with a CIA-supplied suicide pill after the KGB arrested him based on information initially provided by a mole within the Agency. Just over three weeks later, CIA officer Martha (Marti) Peterson — unaware of Aleksandr’s death — was seized in a KGB ambush while servicing a dead drop in Moscow.
The streets of Moscow were one of the most important, and dangerous, battlefields of the Cold War. American intelligence officers like Marti worked with assets like Aleksandr in the shadows to collect Soviet secrets. The Soviets, in turn, closely watched all foreign nationals and their own citizens for signs of espionage.
Although the story of TRIGON ended tragically, the intelligence Aleksandr provided gave US policymakers valuable insights into Soviet foreign policy plans and intentions. It was insights like this which ultimately helped us win the Cold War.
Recruiting a spy:
Aleksandr Ogorodnik was a mid-level official in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) posted in Latin America and had access to information about Soviet intentions for the region. He enjoyed his life in Latin America and disliked the Soviet system, which he found oppressive.
The CIA recruited Aleksandr in South America in 1973. Upon signing up to spy for the Agency, he was given the codename TRIGON.
TRIGON smuggled documents from the embassy and took them to a safe-house, where Agency officers photographed them. The material he provided gave unique insights into Soviet policies in Latin America, including plans to influence other governments.
Return to the motherland:
In anticipation of his recall to Moscow, CIA officers taught TRIGON operational trade-craft and techniques. He also received training in secret writing, the use of one-time pads, and dead drop techniques.
One of the first female CIA case officer to serve behind the Iron Curtain, Marti Peterson, went to Moscow to be TRIGON’s handler. At the time, the KGB discounted the ability of women to conduct intelligence operations, so Marti went unnoticed for almost 18 months.
TRIGON’s value rose significantly after he returned to Moscow in October 1974. He had agreed to continue spying for the Agency, but he asked that the US government resettle his then-pregnant girlfriend. Before leaving for the Soviet Union, TRIGON requested a suicide device in case he was caught. After high-level deliberations at Langley, his CIA handlers reluctantly gave him a fountain pen containing a cyanide capsule.
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)
A few months later, per his recontact instructions, TRIGON gave a “sign of life” signal in February 1975. As face-to-face meetings were too dangerous, impersonal operational encounters—using signal sites, radio messages, concealment devices, dead drops, and car drops—began in October and were scheduled monthly.
For nearly two years they worked together, Marti and TRIGON never met. They were only spies passing in the night.
Dead rats for dead drops:
Moscow was a challenging environment to operate within. Even finding one’s way around Moscow proved difficult because Soviet-produced maps of the city were deliberately inaccurate. The Agency had to get creative when communicating with assets, which regularly included the use of dead drops.
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)
Dead drops are a way for intelligence officers to leave or receive items at a secret location in order to exchange information with an asset without having to meet directly. Everyday items like fake bricks can be used for dead drops. Packed with messages or supplies, the bricks can be deposited at a set location, such as a construction site, for later pickup.
One of the more surprising concealment devices sometimes used by the CIA were dead rats. The body cavity was large enough to hold a wad of money or roll of film. Hot pepper sauce kept scavenging cats away after the “rat” was tossed from a car window at a prearranged drop site.
Marti used a purse to conceal supplies and equipment that she transferred to TRIGON via dead drop exchanges. Because of the KGB’s gender bias, the purse, like Marti herself, did not attract suspicion.
TRIGON soon secured a position in the Global Affairs Department of the MFA that gave him access to incoming and outgoing classified cables to Soviet embassies worldwide. He provided sensitive intelligence about Soviet foreign policy plans and objectives. His reporting went to the President and senior US policymakers.
Meanwhile, Karl Koecher, a naturalized US citizen, was working at CIA as a translator and contract employee. (Unbeknownst to CIA, he was also working concurrently for the Czech Intelligence Service.) He had incidental access to information about TRIGON’s first dealings with the Agency and told his intelligence service, which then notified the KGB.
When that occurred is not known, nor is the time when the KGB began investigating TRIGON. In early 1977, however, his case officers began noticing indications—principally a marked decline in the quality of the photographs—that he had been compromised and was under KGB control.
The Krasnoluzhskiy Most
TRIGON never showed up for a dead drop encounter on June 28, 1977, so another was arranged via radio message for two weeks later.
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)
On July 15, Marti went to the Krasnoluzhskiy Most — a railroad bridge near Lenin Central Stadium —to set up the dead drop. The bridge spanned the Moscow River with a pedestrian walkway running along the side of the tracks. A spot was prepicked where TRIGON would receive a “drop” from Marti, and leave a package to be retrieved later that same night.
As night fell over Moscow, Marti left a concealment device in a narrow window inside a stone tower on the Krasnoluzhskiy Most. It was a trap.
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)
A KGB surveillance team was waiting and seized Marti. They took her to Lyubianka Prison, where she was questioned for hours and photographed with some of the espionage paraphernalia Agency officers and TRIGON had used. She was declared persona non grata (an unwelcome person) and sent back to the US immediately.
The Agency later learned that Alexander Ogorodnik had killed himself a month before Marti had been apprehended. He told the KGB he would sign a confession but asked to use his own pen. Marti wrote in her memoir, The Widow Spy, that “Opening the pen as if to begin writing, he bit down on the barrel and expired instantly in front of his KGB interrogators. The KGB was so intent on his confession that they never suspected he had poison….TRIGON died his own way, a hero.”