The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

By the 1970’s, the Rhodesian Security Forces were facing a growing and determined insurgency in the civil war known as the “Rhodesian Bush War.” Faced with increased threats, manpower and equipment shortages, and a large territory to cover, they needed a new tactic to deal effectively with rebel groups. This led the Rhodesian Light Infantry to the development of the fireforce, a vertical envelopment technique involving light infantry, helicopters, and paratroopers in a rapidly deployable posture.


 

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

A fireforce was equipped with four helicopters, one C-47 Dakota transport aircraft, and a light attack aircraft. The helicopters were of two types; the K-Car and the G-Car. The K-Car was so called because it was the ‘killer’ with its 20mm cannon and functioned as the command and control aircraft. The G-Cars served as gunships with machine guns and as transports for heliborne troops, though they were only capable of carrying four combat loaded troops at a time. The unit was also supported by vehicles, called the ‘Landtail’ that supported the deployment of the airborne component. Weapons were standard for Africa at the time – FN FALs and FN MAG machine guns.

A unit set to a fireforce mission was distinctly organized from standard infantry units. Instead of fire teams, squads, and platoons, the Fire Force was composed of ‘waves’ that were broken down into stops, also known as sticks, each consisting of four men, due to the space constraints on the G-Cars. Each stop had a stick leader, machine gunner, and two riflemen, one of which was also trained as a medic. The fireforce airborne component was composed of eight stops. Stops one through three were assigned to the G-Cars while stops four through eight were assigned as paratroopers. These forces, along with the light attack aircraft, constituted the first wave. The remaining men assigned to the fireforce were in vehicles as the ‘Landtail,’ or second wave.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

There were three main fireforce units located at three bases throughout the country, ready to respond to a contact or sighting of enemy forces by the Selous Scouts. That’s when the excitement began. Once contact was reported, a siren would sound alerting the fireforce. The first three stops would board helicopters while the rest would quickly don parachutes with the help of off-duty team members. The airborne component would rush to the objective where the fireforce commander would determine a drop zone and position the heliborne stops to encircle the rebels. Once on the ground, the stops would attempt to stop the enemy. They would act as blocking positions for the sweep element, usually paratroopers, creating the classic hammer and anvil movement. Combined with circling gunships and close-air support, this method proved deadly effective, resulting in a kill ratio of better than 80:1.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

The fireforce became the primary tactic of the Rhodesian security forces. By 1977, all infantrymen would be trained as paratroopers. While on a ‘bush trip’ – usually lasting about six weeks – the men on a fireforce would rotate between heliborne insertion, paratrooper, landtail, and off-duty. After a bush trip, the men were given ten days rest before returning to the field. This allowed for a very high ops tempo. As the fireforce was perfected and the insurgency gained strength, this meant that Rhodesian soldiers were called on more and more to conduct missions. In his book Fireforce: One Man’s War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry Chris Cocks tells of men making three combat jumps in a single day. This led to a truly staggering number of jumps for many members of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, unmatched by any other unit in the world.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

The fireforce was not enough to keep the Rhodesians from losing the war and the method was never adopted by other militaries. The French had used paratroopers extensively in Indochina while the Americans preferred to use only helicopters. With Rhodesia turning over to majority African control and becoming Zimbabwe, the Rhodesian Light Infantry and fireforces were disbanded. Though it would go down in history as one of the most effective counter-insurgency forces ever conceived.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A US civilian tried to get revenge in Afghanistan with a sword

Gary Brooks Faulkner, a construction worker from Colorado, was detained by police with a pistol and a sword. Except for the sword, this would not be unusual in Colorado. But he wasn’t in Colorado. He was in Pakistan, and he was there to avenge the 9/11 terrorist attacks by taking a sword to the world’s most wanted man.


When the U.S. Army adopted the motto “Army of One,” a lot of soldiers laughed. But one American civilian seemed to have taken it to heart. He wasn’t ashamed of his self-imposed mission. He was proud of it. Even when he was arrested in the Chitral District of Pakistan while trying to cross into Afghanistan, he didn’t hide it.

“He told the investigating officer he was going to Afghanistan to get Osama. At first we thought he was mentally deranged,” said Muhammad Jaffar Khan, the Chitral police chief. But the gun-toting, sword-wielding Californian was totally serious. He even brought along night vision goggles. The American was even under armed guard while staying in Pakistan under the guise of being an everyday tourist. One night, he slipped away from his guard and made a run for the border.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

Faulkner was arrested in Pakistan back in 2010 and had no idea – like the rest of the world – that Osama bin Laden wasn’t even in Afghanistan at the time. Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was just a ten-hour drive from the Kalash Valley, where Faulkner was staying. There wasn’t even a border to cross or policemen to arrest him or take away his samurai sword.

But the American had no idea where he was going. He told police he brought the Bible along with him and that God would guide him to where Osama bin Laden was hiding, and allow him America’s vengeance. Or at least allow him to capture the world’s most wanted terrorist. But of course, we all know how OBL’s story ends.

Faulkner’s ends with a Nic Cage movie.

Gary Brooks Faulkner, however, was turned over to the U.S. State Department in Pakistan and repatriated home to Colorado, where he was a guest on various talk shows, including The View and The Late Show with David Letterman, before going back to a regular life of managing his brother’s apartment complex. Then one day, a tenant who was being evicted tried to break into his apartment with three of her friends. She tried to intimidate a man who hunted Osama bin Laden with a sword.

He fired a shot at his assailants, but that shot brought the police, who confiscated his weapons and discovered he was a convicted felon. That shot eventually landed Faulkner in jail.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A French village was abandoned and rebuilt so no one would forget a Nazi war crime

In April 1944, an American B-17 Flying Fortress was shot down by flak over occupied France. Its navigator, Raymond J. Murphy landed relatively safely, and with the help of some Frenchmen, he was able to evade the Germans until August when he was able to make it back to England. 

When he was debriefed by his leadership, he mentioned coming upon a village just a four-hour bike ride away from the farm where he was hiding. The village was eerily quiet and Murphy quickly discovered why. He saw more than 500 men, women, and children who had been massacred by the retreating Germans. 

The village was Oradour-sur-Glane, a hamlet with a population of just under 650. Weeks prior, the townspeople became victims of the Nazi SS as they retreated in the face of the Allied invasion of Normandy.

village
The village has since been opened to the public. (Davdavlhu, Wikipedia)

On Jun. 10, 1944, SS-Sturmbannführer Adolf Diekmann of the 1st battalion, 4th SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment was told by informants that a captured SS officer was being held in a village nearby, along with other items intended to fight the Nazis in France.. 

The tip came from the Milice, an internal security force operated by Nazi collaborators in the Vichy French government. 110 soldiers of the “Der Fuhrer” Waffen SS tank Regiment approached the town and prepared to raid it, going house by house. They were looking not just for a German officer, but also a supposed arms and ammunition cache being concealed in the bourg by the French Resistance. Things were about to go from bad to worse for the people of Oradour-sur-Glane.

The women were herded into a church and locked inside. The men were taken to a barn, where they were mowed down by machine guns, covered in fuel and then set on fire. The church was set ablaze as well, with the women locked inside. Six men managed to escape from the barn, and only one woman survived the church.

The SS soon departed but returned later to destroy the rest of the village. Survivors of the massacre had to wait days to come back and bury their neighbors. 

Even the Germans were shocked at the atrocity. Both the Nazi military command and the French Vichy government opened an investigation into the incident, but Diekmann would never face a courtroom. He was killed as the Allies advanced into France. Much of the battalion was killed as well. 65 more were charged years later, but many were safe behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany.

In 1983, one surviving member of the unit who escaped justice was finally caught by the East German secret police and brought to trial in Berlin. Then 63, Heinz Barth was given a life sentence, of which he served 14 years. 

After the war, President Charles de Gaulle ordered that the village never be rebuilt, in case the rebuilding should conceal what happened there. A new village called Oradour-sur-Glane was built near the massacre site. 

Today, the village sits the same way it did in 1944, half-destroyed but lying in state as a permanent memorial to the 642 people who died there. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the US military launched a half a billion needles into space

In the early 1960s, international communications were limited to transmissions through undersea cables or occasionally unreliable radio signals bounced off of the ionosphere. As you might imagine from this, many in the Western world weren’t too keen on the state of the situation given that were to someone, say, the Soviet Union, cut those cables before launching an attack, international communications with overseas forces and foreign allies would have to rely on the mood of said ionosphere.

For those unfamiliar, the ionosphere is a layer of the upper atmosphere about 50 to 600 miles above sea level. It gets its name because it is ionized consistently by solar and cosmic radiation. In very simple terms, X-ray, ultraviolet, and shorter wavelengths of radiation given off by the Sun (and from other cosmic sources) release electrons in this layer of the atmosphere when these particular photons are absorbed by molecules. Because the density of molecules and atoms is quite low in the ionosphere (particularly in the upper layers), it allows free electrons to exist in this way for a short period of time before ultimately recombining. Lower in the atmosphere, where the density of molecules is greater, this recombination happens much faster.


What does this have to do with communication and radio waves? Without interference, radio waves travel in a straight line from the broadcast source, ultimately hitting the ionosphere. What happens after is dependent on a variety of factors, notable among them being the frequency of the waves and the density of the free electrons. For certain types of radio waves, given the right conditions, they will essentially bounce back and forth between the ground and the ionosphere, propagating the signal farther and farther. So clearly the ionosphere can potentially play an important part in the terrestrial radio and communication process. But it is the constantly shifting nature of the ionosphere that makes things really interesting. And for that, we’ll have to get a little more technical, though we’ll at the least spare you the math, and we’ll leave out a little of the complexity in an effort to not go full textbook on you.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

To begin with, the ionosphere’s composition changes most drastically at night, primarily because, of course, the Sun goes missing for a bit. Without as abundant a source of ionizing rays, the D and E levels (pictured right) of the ionosphere cease to be very ionized, but the F region (particularly F2) still remains quite ionized. Further, because the atmosphere is significantly less dense here then the E and D regions, it results in more free electrons (the density of which is key here).

When these electrons encounter a strong radio wave of certain types, such as AM radio, they can potentially oscillate at the frequency of the wave, taking some of the energy from the radio wave in the process. With enough of them, as can happen in the F layer, (when the density of encountered electrons is sufficient relative to the specific signal frequency), and assuming they don’t just recombine with some ion (which is much more likely in the E and D layers in the daytime), this can very effectively refract the signal back down to Earth at sufficient strength to be picked up on a receiver.

Depending on conditions, this process can potentially repeat several times with the signal bouncing down to the ground and back up. Thus, using this skywave certain radio signals can be propagated even thousands of miles and, most pertinent to the topic at hand, across oceans.

Of course, given the unpredictability of this form of communication, and potentially even times when communication would be impossible, military brass during the Cold War wanted another option.

Developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Labs, the project was initially called “Project Needles” by Professor Walter E. Morrow in 1958 when he first dreamed up the idea. It was later re-named “West Ford”, presumably after Westford, Massachusetts, a nearby town. The idea was to place potentially even billions of tiny (1.78 centimeters 0.7 inches long and microscopically thin) copper antennae or dipoles in a medium Earth orbit to be used for communication signals at 8 Ghz.

The first set of well over a hundred million needles was launched on Oct. 21, 1961, but unfortunately this test failed when the needles didn’t disperse as planned.

On a second attempt in May 9, 1963, a batch of 350 million needles was placed on the back of an Air Force satellite and sent into orbit. Once dispersed, properly this time, the needles spread to form a sparsely concentrated belt with approximately 50 dipoles per cubic mile.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

Needles from “Project Needles” compared to a stamp.

While you might think surely this wouldn’t be dense enough to be effective for use in communication, in fact early results of the experiment were extremely promising, with communication established using the needle array from California to Massachusetts, some 3K or so miles or 4,800 km apart. As such, there were reports that the Air Force was considering launching two more belts to be placed more permanently in orbit.

There was a problem, however. Beyond the Soviets, allies and even Americans opposed the further deployment and continuance of this program.

Why? Astronomers, in particular, were afraid that the belt would interfere with their observations. The outrage of scientists and the reason for it was perhaps best expressed by Sir Bernard Lovell of the Jodrell Bank Radio Observatory who said: “The damage lies not with this experiment alone, but with the attitude of mind which makes it possible without international agreement and safeguards.” After all, the space above the Earth is not the United States’ alone to do with as it pleases without consulting other nations of Earth.

While you might consider this a bit of an overreaction, it’s important to understand the context here, with the U.S. up to and around this point having done a series of things in space without oversight that the international community was more than a little upset about. For example, consider that also smack dab in the middle of this time, the United States was busy accidentally nuking Britain’s first satellite, among many, many others.

The satellite in question was the Ariel-1, which was developed as a joint-venture between the United States and Britain, with Britain designing and building the core systems of the satellite and NASA launching it into orbit via a Thor-Delta rocket.

Around nine months after the launch of the first batch of needles, on July 9, 1962, mere weeks after Ariel-1 was put into orbit and had successfully begun transmitting data about the ionosphere back to Earth, British scientists were shocked when the sensors aboard Ariel-1 designed to measure radiation levels suddenly began to give wildly high readings.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

Ariel-1 satellite.

As it turned out, as Ariel-1 was happily free-falling around the Earth, the US military had decided to detonate an experimental 1.4 megaton nuclear weapon named Starfish-Prime in the upper atmosphere as part of Project Fish Bowl.

The explosion, which happened on the other side of the planet to Ariel-1, sent a wave of additional radiation around the Earth that ultimately damaged some of the systems on Ariel-1, particularly its solar panels, killing it and about 1/3 of the rest of the satellites in low-Earth orbit at the time.

Most pertinent to the topic of communications, this famously included the Telstar satellite, which was the first commercial communication relay satellite designed to transmit signals across the Atlantic and managed around 400 such communications before the U.S. accidentally nuked it. Funny enough, the Telstar actually wasn’t in orbit at the time of the explosion, being put there the day after the Starfish-Prime detonation. However, the additional ionizing radiation created by the explosion took years to dissipate and was not anticipated by the designers of this particular satellite. The immediate result being the degradation of Telstar’s systems, particularly the failure of several transistors in the command system, causing it to stop working just a few months after being placed in orbit. They were eventually able to get it back online for a short period via some clever software workarounds, but it didn’t last thanks to the extra radiation further degrading its systems.

It’s also noteworthy here that The Starfish explosion was actually supposed to have happened a couple weeks earlier on June 20th, but the rocket carrying it failed at about 30,000 feet. Once this happened, the self-destruct on the nuclear warhead was initiated and it broke apart, raining its radioactive innards down on Johnston and Sand Islands, as well as in the ocean around them.

It should also be noted that the effects of Starfish-Prime weren’t just limited to low orbit.

The electromagnetic pulse created by the blast ended up being much larger than expected and, in Hawaii some 900 or so miles away from the blast, the pulse ended up knocking out a few hundred street lights and damaged the telephone system. Today in our digital world, of course, a similar electromagnetic pulse would have much more catastrophic effects, especially if near more populated centers, potentially even revealing the Lizard people’s Matrix, which would be catastrophic to our Draconian overlords’ (may they reign forever) plans…

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

The flash created by The Starfish explosion as seen through heavy cloud cover from Honolulu 1,445 km away.

Needless to say, this, the needles in space, and other such projects had many in the international community concerned with the lack of any oversight on the United States’ activities in space. (Presumably it would have been even worse had everyone realized the United States had, a few years before this, planned to nuke the moon, more or less just because they could…)

Going back to the needle issue, a compromise measure was reached thanks to incorporating a sort of planned obsolescence; that is, none of the needles would remain in orbit longer than five years. (Or so they thought, more on this in a bit.)

Thinking more long term, several groups of scientists, including the International Astronomical Union (IAU) and the Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) demanded access and consultation in this and other such projects in the future. Ultimately an agreement was reached which granted the scientists the ability to participate in the planning and evaluation of space projects.

Of course, this particular issue quickly became moot as shortly after the second group of needles was dispersed, the military deployed its own first communication satellite system in 1966, making the needle system, while effective, obsolete. With this deployment of one object instead of hundreds of millions, the furor died down and people, for the most part, forgot about West Ford.

That said, while the project is largely forgotten, its effects are not with the consultation provisions of the original West Ford agreement with the IAU included in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, an agreement entered into by ninety-nine countries, that was designed to protect against the militarization and degradation of outer space. Among other things, in a nutshell, it provides that no country can claim ownership of space nor any celestial bodies; all countries will avoid contaminating both and are liable for any damage they cause; no weapons of mass destruction (WMD) will be deployed or placed in orbit or on any celestial body; and no military bases may be placed on any celestial bodies, including the Moon, something that unfortunately saw a planned military installation by the U.S. fully scrapped, as we covered in our article: That Time the U.S. was Going to Build a Massive, Death Ray Equipped, Military Moon Base.

On the bright side, the treaty also includes a Good Samaritan law that provides that astronauts are “envoys of mankind in outer space and [all] shall render to them all possible assistance in the event of accident, distress, or emergency landing.”

Going back to the needles, in case you’re wondering, despite the planned obsolescence, as of 2019, a few dozen clumps of them remain in orbit and are closely tracked to make sure they don’t cause any problems with all the other stuff floating around our little beautiful home space craft known as Earth.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

Bonus Facts:

  • Given AM radio signals can propagate for thousands of miles via the aforementioned skywaves, particularly at night, this can become a major problem as there are only a little over 100 allowed AM radio frequencies (restricted to keep signals interfering too much with one another), but around 5,000 AM radio stations in the United States alone. As a result, at night, AM stations in the United States typically reduce their power, go off the air completely until sunrise the next day, and/or possibly are required to use directional antennas so their specific signal doesn’t interfere with other stations on the same frequency. On the other hand, FM stations don’t have to do any of this as the ionosphere doesn’t greatly affect their signals, which has the side benefit (or disadvantage, depending on your point of view) of severely limiting the range of the FM signals, which rely on groundwave propagation.
  • Speaking of Radio and space, while not a job ever mentioned by my school career counselor, it turns out “Space DJ” is a thing, if you work at NASA, going all the way back to 1965 during the Gemini 6 mission on December 16th, likely initially as a joke. During this mission, astronauts Walter Schirra and Tom Stafford were woken up by a recording of singer Jack Jones and Hello Dolly. This musical wake-up call quickly became a regular occurrence intended as a way of bolstering morale while allowing astronauts a few minutes to wake up slowly before having to respond to ground control. Over the years, wake-up calls became one of NASA’s most beloved traditions, with the role of picking the songs given to the mission’s Capsule Commander (CAPCOM)… Yes, just to be clear, not only do these people get to put CAPCOM for NASA on their resume, but they can also add in “Space DJ”. Thanks Career Councilor…
    If you’re wondering, the songs chosen over the years have been wildly eclectic, ranging from classical music by composers like Bach and Beethoven to Metallica and the Beastie Boys. Thanks to the extensive records NASA keeps, we not only know every song played for astronauts in orbit since 1965, we also have the astronaut’s responses to some of the more unusual choices played. For example, for a 2008 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, officially designated as STS-123, CAPCOM played a brief snippet of the theme song from the presumably epic film Godzilla VS Space Godzilla as well as part of the Blue Oyster Cult song, Godzilla, for Japanese astronaut Takao Doi, signing off by saying:
    Good morning Endeavour. Doi san, ohayo gozaimasu, from mission control here in Houston, take on today like a monster.
    An amused Doi responded that he was “happy to hear Godzilla,” before himself signing off to get to work. According to Fries’ extensive archives, Godzilla’s iconic theme song is apparently a popular choice for Japanese astronauts, as are the themes from other well-known films like Star Wars, Star Trek and Rocky.Predictably, songs with a space theme are also popular choices, with David Bowie’s Space Oddity and Elton John’s Rocket Man being noted as some of the most commonly played.In addition to songs, NASA has, at various points, played private messages recorded by the astronauts’ loved ones (including the occasional singing of “Happy Birthday” where applicable) and even occasional messages from celebrities. Notable examples of the latter include personalised greetings from William Shatner, Paul McCartney and Elton John, a skit performed by Jim Henson involving Miss Piggy, and even a song sung by Darth Vader set to backing music from The Beatles.Perhaps best of all was the crew of Atlantis on November 25, 1991 being woken to none other than Patrick Stewart stating (with Star Trek: The Next Generation theme music playing in the background),
    Space: the final frontier. This is the voyage of the Space Shuttle Atlantis. Its ten-day mission: To explore new methods of remote sensing and observation of the planet Earth… To seek out new data on radiation in space, and a new understanding of the effects of microgravity on the human body… To boldly go where two hundred and fifty-five men and women have gone before!Hello Fred, Tom, Story, Jim, Tom, and especially Mario — this is Patrick Stewart, choosing not to outrank you as Captain Jean-Luc Picard, saying that we are confident of a productive and successful mission. Make it so.
    As for today, with the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, this wake-up call tradition has partially been left in the dustbin of history, though occasionally is still observed on the International Space Station, and presumably will be reinstituted as a regular activity once NASA begins sending people to space themselves again.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

The raid on Camp Bastion was a bloody first for some Marine aviators

On Sept. 14, 2012, 15 heavily armed Taliban fighters disguised in U.S. Army uniforms infiltrated Camp Bastion, a large Marine Corps and British forces base and Afghan National Army training complex. Camp Bastion could accommodate some 30,000 people, so when the Taliban split into three teams to wreak havoc on the base’s interior, things could have gone very badly for the Marines.

The infiltrators made it all the way to the flight line, where their coordinated, complex attack began by targeting the Marines’ Harrier aircraft. It would be the single biggest loss of American airpower since the Vietnam War. It would also be the first time that the maintainers and pilots of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211 (VMA-211) operated as riflemen since World War II.


The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

A video released later showed the attackers dressed for the assault.

The fighting began at 10pm local time with one Taliban team engaging the flight line personnel, another targeting the refueling area, and a third focusing on destroying aircraft using explosives and RPGs. It was an aircraft explosion that signaled the start of the attack.

Within minutes, six Harriers were burning on the tarmac, the Marine helicopter area was surrounded by fires, and the cryogenics and fuel pit areas were on fire as small arms crackled and tracers lit up the night sky. The Taliban brought everything from hand grenades to heavy machine guns and caught the Marines completely off guard.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

Lt. Col. Christopher Raible’s memorial.

Marines scrambled to protective barriers as RPGs exploded around the flight line. They initially believed it was an attack of opportunity from outside the base — a random, lucky hit from rockets or mortars. But after ten explosions, one every ten seconds, it was clear that this was more than a few lucky shots. The Troops in Contact alarm began to sound. They called in the British quick reaction force, but they were on the other side of the base and the Marines would have to hold their own until they arrived.

The Marines quickly moved to don their flak jackets and retrieve their rifles. The Taliban weren’t going to stop at the aircraft. They fired RPGs at the building that housed Marine workstations while another hit a building that contained the medical section. An anti-personnel RPG killed the commander of VMA-211, Lt. Col. Christopher Raible, before he could organize a defense. Shrapnel from one of the RPGs lodged in his neck as he was leading a crew full of mechanics and maintainers out into the night as a rifle unit.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

By this time, every Marine was operating as a rifleman. Weapons and ammo were doled out to anyone without one and Marines began taking up their fields of fire. The air wing was a total, confusing mess as the fuel bladders blew up, temporarily turning the night into day.

A Huey aircraft commander and two enlisted Marines were the ones who brought the weapons to the flight line area. They went to check on the entry control point and began to take fire from the cryogenics area. A Huey crew chief manned an M240 to suppress the enemy fire.

At the same time, Marines were struggling to get remaining aircraft in the air to provide close-air support. All they could muster was two Hueys and a Cobra, but the Marines managed to get them ready to fly in the midst of the confusing, intense attack. Thick smoke, burning ordnance, and enemy fire loomed as flight line Marines took up defensive positions to cover the helicopters’ takeoff.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

One of the Harrier jets destroyed in the raid.

When the helicopters were airborne, things changed quickly on the ground. They told the JTAC to concentrate fire toward the enemy position in the cryogenics facility. When the southern wall of that building lit up with tracers, the AH-1 Cobra helicopter peppered the building with 20mm rounds and UH-1V Venom Hueys tore through it with 300 .50-cal rounds while a gunner on the ground hit it with 600 rounds from a GAU-17.

After the aerial hit, the British quick reaction force arrived and cleared out the infiltrating Taliban in the cryogenics facility with 40mm grenade launchers. That left four Taliban hiding in the T-walls near the flight line. As Marines on the ground attempted to converge on the remaining Taliban attackers, guns from the helicopters eliminated the last of the threat.

When the smoke cleared, two Marines, Lt. Col. Raible and Sgt. Bradley Atwell, had been killed. Allied wounded numbered 17, six Harriers were completely destroyed, and another two were damaged, along with an Air Force C-130E. Three fuel bladders and a few sunshade hangars were also destroyed. All but one of the attacking Taliban fighters were killed in action. The attack caused some 0 million in damages.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

Maj. Gen. Charles M. Gurganus, left, and Maj. Gen. Gregg A. Sturdevant were forced to retire just one year after the raid.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

The story doesn’t end there. The Marine Corps wanted to know how 15 heavily armed Taliban fighters were able to get onto the base in the first place. It turned out the commander of Bastion, Maj. Gen. Charles Gurganus, reduced the number of Marines patrolling the base of 30,000 from 325 to 100 just one month before the attack, leaving the base guarded by troops from Tonga. He and Maj. Gen. Gregg Sturdevant were forced to retire in the days following the incident. Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James Amos, said the two failed to accurately assess the strength and capabilities of the enemy in the area and failed to protect their troops.


Sturdevant was the Marine aviation commander of the base and was blamed for inadequate force protection measures on the flight line area that night. The two Marines who went to check the entry control point found it unmanned before they started taking fire from the cryogenics facility. Meanwhile, the British review of the attack found that only 11 of 24 guard towers were manned that night. Both generals retired with fully pay and benefits.

Later, it would be revealed that the attackers spent months posing as poppy farmers, probing the base defenses and testing reactions from perimeter guards. They were able to map out the base, its defenses, its fuel farms, and the airfield. They were even trying to target Prince Harry, who was stationed on the base at that time.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Teddy Roosevelt’s prize pistol was stolen and returned 16 years later

When you go to Sagamore Hill — the home (and now museum) that President and Medal of Honor recipient Teddy Roosevelt had on Long Island — you may see a .38-caliber Model 1892 Army and Navy revolver. This was a six-shot revolver chambered in .38 Long Colt.


As a standard revolver, many were produced, but Teddy’s gun was important to him. It had been recovered from the wrecked battleship USS Maine (ACR 1). He famously used the revolver to rally the troops (as seen in artwork about the charge up San Juan Hill), but he also pulled the trigger, taking out the enemy with it at least once during that charge.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level
Photo: U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command

 

Roosevelt kept the gun, and after his death in 1919, his house became a museum; the revolver remained in the home for display. It was stolen in 1963 and recovered, but according to a 1990 New York Times article, it was swiped again. Valued at $500,000 at the time, it had not been insured.

Oddly enough, for a revolver that was clearly inscribed “From the Sunken Battle Ship Maine” and “July 1st, 1898, San Juan, Carried and Used by Col. Theodore Roosevelt,” it was missing for 16 years until it was turned in to the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

 

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level
Teddy Roosevelt’s M1892 revolver. (FBI photo)

The pistol is now back in the Dagamore Hill museum — presumably well-protected against theft. The thief who took the gun in 1990, though, is still at large.

Below is a video by Brad Meltzer about the gun’s history — and its 1990 theft.

Articles

New ‘Dunkirk’ trailer focuses on pilots, civilians who saved thousands

The main trailer for ‘Dunkirk’ is out, and it seems that Christopher Nolan will be telling the amazing story of Operation Dynamo from all angles as weekend sailors, Royal Air Force pilots, nurses, fishermen, and others appear in the footage.


Operation Dynamo, often called “The Miracle at Dunkirk,” was the evacuation of nearly 400,000 British and allied troops from the coast of France in 1940 after the German blitzkrieg cut through Allied defenses much faster than anyone anticipated.

The German invasion was expected to take months, but Nazi forces slashed a corridor through France to the English Channel in just over two weeks before they halted their advance. But the Nazis hadn’t been stopped by force of arms.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level
French troops fill a ship evacuating Dunkirk. (Photo: Public Domain)

Rather, the high command decided that they didn’t want to risk panzers in pitched fighting near Dunkirk. So the German army kept the expeditionary force pinned down on the beach and sent the Luftwaffe to kill British ships in the English channel and strafe and bomb survivors on the beaches.

On May 26, the British launched Operation Dynamo, a Hail Mary attempt to rescue those dying troops through Royal Navy assets and, when those proved to be too few, hundreds of small fishing and pleasure boats piloted by civilians. Nearly 340,000 troops were evacuated from May 26 to June 4.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

Previous trailers for Nolan’s movie about the event have focused on the plight of soldiers on the beach who waited for days, sometimes in shoulder-deep water while under fire from the Luftwaffe, for rescue. The new trailer shows them, but it also spends a lot of time on a father crossing the channel with his sons, as well as the nurses and pilots who made the mission possible.

It looks like World War II buffs may get to see one of the war’s most miraculous moments played out on the screen through perspectives of everyone who made it possible. Many of the troops rescued from the beaches went on to fight in North Africa, the D-Day landings, and on to Berlin.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The true story behind the recovery of Extortion 17

The following passage is an excerpt from “Violence of Action: The Untold Stories of the 75th Ranger Regiment in the War on Terror.” It has been edited for clarity.

On the night of Aug. 5 through Aug. 6, 2011, one of the worst tragedies in modern special operations history occurred. By this point in the war, the men who made up the special operations community were some of the most proficient and combat-hardened warriors the world had ever seen. Even so, the enemy always has a vote.

The men of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment were on a longer-than-normal deployment as the rest of their company was on Team Merrill and they surged ahead with them.


The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

Coalition security members prepare to conduct an operation in search of a Taliban leader. Photo by SGT Mikki L. Sprenkle, courtesy of Department of Defense.

They had yet another raid mission in pursuit of a high-value target in the Tangi Valley, which was in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, on the night of August 5.

The mission was not easy. The Rangers took contact not only during their movement to the target but also on the target. Despite the tough fight that left some wounded, the enemy combatants were no match for the Ranger platoon. They secured the target and were gathering anything of value for intelligence when it was suggested by the Joint Operations Center (JOC) back at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) that a platoon of SEALs from a Naval Special Mission Unit be launched to chase down the three or four combatants that ran, or squirted, from the target.

This was a notoriously bad area, and the Ranger platoon sergeant responded that they did not want the aerial containment that was offered at that time. The decision was made to launch anyway. The platoon-sized element boarded a CH-47D Chinook, callsign Extortion 17, as no SOF air assets were available on that short of notice.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

U.S. Special Forces Soldiers, attached to Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, alongside Afghan agents from the National Interdiction Unit, NIU, load onto CH-47 Chinooks helicopters for their infiltration prior to an operation in the Ghorak district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 12, 2016. Photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez, courtesy of U.S. Army.

As Extortion 17 moved into final approach of the target area at 0238 local time, the Rangers on the ground watched in horror as it took a direct hit from an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade). The helicopter fell from the sky, killing all 38 on board. The call came over the radio that they had a helicopter down, and the platoon stopped what they were doing to move to the crash site immediately. Because of the urgency of the situation, they left behind the detainees they fought hard to capture.

The platoon moved as fast as possible, covering 7 kilometers of the rugged terrain at a running pace, arriving in under an hour. They risked further danger by moving on roads that were known to have IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to arrive at the crash site as fast as they could, as they were receiving real-time intelligence that the enemy was moving to the crash site to set up an ambush.

Upon their arrival, they found a crash site still on fire. Some of those on board did not have their safety lines attached and were thrown from the helicopter, which scattered them away from the crash site, so the platoon’s medical personnel went to them first to check for any signs of life. With no luck, they then began gathering the remains of the fallen and their sensitive items.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

Footage of the Extortion 17 crash site revealed mangled weapons and melted metal. Screen capture via YouTube.

Similar to the Jessica Lynch rescue mission almost a decade prior, the Rangers on the ground decided to push as many guys as possible out on security to spare them from the gruesome task. Approximately six Rangers took on the lion’s share of the work. They attempted to bring down two of the attached cultural support team (CST) members, but had to send them back as they quickly lost their composure at the sight of it all. On top of that, the crashed aircraft experienced a secondary explosion after the Rangers arrived that sent shrapnel into two of the medics helping to gather bodies.

Despite their injuries, they kept working. Later in the day they had to deal with a flash flood from enemy fighters releasing dammed water into the irrigation canal running through the crash site in an attempt to separate the Ranger platoon, cutting them in half. Luckily, because of the sheer amount of water heading toward them, they heard it before it hit them and were moved out of the way before anyone was hurt. If that wasn’t enough, there was also an afternoon lightning storm that was so intense it left some of their equipment inoperable and their platoon without aerial fire support.

Meanwhile, 3rd Platoon, Delta Company from 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was alerted after coming off a mission of their own. They took a small break to get some sleep before they flew out to replace the other platoon, which would hold the site through the day. Once they awoke, they were told to prepare to stay out for a few days. They rode out and landed at the nearest Helicopter Landing Zone (HLZ), 7 kilometers from the crash site, and made their way in with an Air Force CSAR team in tow.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

Austin Williams visits the gravesite of U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher C. Campbell in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 30, 2016. Campbell was one of 30 Americans killed when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, with the call sign Extortion 17, crashed in Afghanistan. Photo by Rachel Larue, courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery.

After arriving, the platoon from 2/75 had to make the 7-kilometer trek back to the HLZ, as that was the nearest place a helicopter could land in the rugged terrain. The men were exhausted, having walked to their objective the night before, fighting all night, running to the crash site, securing it through the day only to execute another long movement to exfil.

New to the scene, the platoon from 1/75 did what they could to disassemble the helicopter and prepare it to be moved. The last platoon evacuated the bodies and sensitive items on board, so now the only thing left was the large pieces of the aircraft spread out across three locations. They were out for three days straight, using demolitions as well as torches to cut the aircraft into moveable sections and then loading them onto vehicles that the conventional Army unit that owned the battlespace brought in.

Despite the gruesome and sobering task, Rangers worked until the mission was accomplished. The third stanza of the Ranger Creed states that you will never fail your comrades and that you will shoulder more than your fair share of the task, whatever it may be, 100 percent and then some. The Rangers of these two platoons more than lived the Creed in response to the Extortion 17 tragedy.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

Modern body armor was created by an irate pizza guy

Necessity is the mother of invention. If a certain need exists and the thing that satisfies such a need does not, then some endeavoring soul is bound to create it. Richard Davis embodied this mentality when he took some Kevlar and fashioned it into a lightweight vest — and his revolutionary design changed war fighting forever. With just a few slight modifications, Davis’ design became the body armor that police officers and troops wear into combat today.

You might be wondering why Davis, a pizza guy from Detroit, would need such a thing. Well, what would you do if you were tired of getting shot at while delivering pies?


The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

You had comfort and maneuverability or mild protection from small arms and fragmentation. Your choice.

(U.S. Air Force photo)

Body armor, in one form or another, has been around for as long as war itself. But when gunpowder and firearms took the place of swords and arrows on the battlefield, standard metal plates no longer did the trick — incoming rounds from muskets would pierce most metals. But as firearms shrank from the cannons of old to the rifles we know today, metal-plate armor made a comeback.

During World War II, Col. Malcolm C. Grow of the British Army created the flak vest out of nylon and manganese steel plates. It weighed 22lbs, only worked where the plates were, and wasn’t comfortable by any stretch of the imagination, but it was reasonably effective. This style was used until the Vietnam War.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

I mean, if it works… Right?

(Photo by Michel Curi)

After serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, Richard Davis opened a pizzeria off 7 Mile in Detroit. One night, a delivery took him through a back alley and he was held up at gunpoint. Weeks later, another order came in for the same address (it was even the same order of two pepperoni and ham pizzas). This time, however, he came prepared with a .22 revolver hidden under the pies.

The same robbers tried the same stunt, but he was ready. A gunfight broke out. Davis took one round to the back of the leg and another grazed his temple. He managed to get four shots off at his attackers, leaving two of his three attackers wounded. In the weeks he spent recovering, his pizzeria was burnt to the ground.

He had nothing but to his name.

Meanwhile, over at DuPont Co. Labs, they had just made a breakthrough in tire technology. They were using a new, lightweight, super-strong synthetic fabric called Kevlar. It was flexible and five-times stronger than steel.

Davis got his hands on some of this new material and fashioned some of it together into a body armor vest using ballistic nylon. He called it the “Second Chance” vest and created it with the intentions of putting it in police hands.

He worked on the vests throughout the day and tried to sell his life-saving wares to police at night — with little success. He needed a bigger ploy to get their attention. His method? He gathered up the police to watch a demonstration. He was going to shoot himself in the chest — despite the fact that his vest had never been tested on a person.

The vest worked like a charm. Davis shot himself and while it hurt like hell — because, you know, the vests can’t stop inertia — that didn’t matter. His pitch was so effective it later became standard among all police in the nation. Variations on his original body armor design are used by troops to this day.

To watch the Smithsonian’s interview with Richard Davis, check out the video below.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The incredible stand of the Irish Army in the Congo

In September 1961, the Irish Army under the United Nations flag was engaged in operations against Katanga, a breakaway region in Congo. Some 155 Irish troops were stationed at a little base near Jadotville in order to protect the citizens of the small mining town. But the locals in Jadotville wanted nothing to do with the Irish, believing the U.N. had taken sides in the conflict between the Congolese government and Katanga.

For five days, the 155 Irish fought for their lives against as many as 4,000 mercenaries and rebels who tried to take them captive.


The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

Commandant Pat Quinlan, leader of the Irish Defence Forces led a team that was not prepared for the battle ahead.

The enemy came at the Irish in the middle of a Catholic Mass. Luckily for the Irish, one of their sentries, Pvt. Billy Ready (seriously, his name was “Ready”), fired the shots that alerted the Irishmen to their enemy. What they saw when they went to their posts was 3,000-5,000 hired guns ready to take down their position – the Irish numbered just 155. The mercs brought with them not only heavy machine guns, but also artillery and heavy mortars. They also had air cover in the form of an armed trainer aircraft. It didn’t rattle the Irish one bit, as they later radioed U.N. headquarters:

“We will hold out until our last bullet is spent. Could do with some whiskey.”

As far as weapons go, the Irish had only light machine guns and 60 mm mortars to defend their position. But in a testament to warfighting fundamentals, the Irishmen were able to shut down their enemy’s mortar and artillery capabilities using just accurate mortars and small arms. It was the pinpoint accuracy of the U.N. troops that would sufficiently level the playing field. This exchange lasted four days. Now, down to 2,000 men, the Katangese asked the Irish for a cease-fire.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

“And that’s when they asked us to stop killing them for a few minutes. Damndest thing.”

Meanwhile, a U.N. relief force of Swedes and Indian Army Gurkhas were making a move on the Katangese positions from the other side. They were held down at a bridgehead on the road from the main U.N. base at Elisabethville and despite inflicting heavy losses on the defending Katanga fighters, they could not breakthrough. Meanwhile, the Irishmen could not break out. They were running out of water and ammunition. With no help forthcoming, they were forced to surrender.

Luckily, the mercenaries didn’t slaughter the Irishmen, despite the brutality of the fighting. They were taken prisoner and held captive to extort the United Nations for favorable cease-fire terms. They were released after a month and returned to their Elisabethville base and eventually sent home. The Irish surrender was considered a black eye to the Irish Defence Forces, despite Commandant Pat Quinlan’s brilliant defensive perimeter tactics, which are now taught in military textbooks worldwide. Quinlan also ensured each of his men survived and came home.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

When you see them at airports, you probably don’t give them a second thought. Cessna aircraft are very common and are, typically, privately owned. But what you may not know is that the United States military — and a fair number of allies — used basic Cessnas for nearly a quarter-century. In fact, these planes saw service in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Now, the Department of Defense didn’t call them Cessnas. Their official designation was the L-19 (later the O-1) Bird Dog. The Army ordered this plane in the wake of the 1947 divorce with the Air Force (and the establishment of the 1948 Key West Agreement). At the time, the Army was looking for a scout plane that could also serve as an artillery spotter.


The Cessna design was slated for introduction in December, 1950. Just six months before then, the Korean War broke out — and the artillery spotter, though effective in its primary mission, quickly proved capable of much more, handing a variety of missions ranging from medical evacuations to general liaison.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level
One of the most famous O-1s — this plane made a landing on USS Midway (CV 41) as South Vietnam fell.
(US Navy)

The Army and Marine Corps bought over 3,200 of these planes. While the planes proved useful in Korea, it was in Vietnam that they would become legends. There, the Bird Dogs were used by forward air controllers, or FACs, to accurately spot for close-air support. The jets bringing that support to troops on the ground were very fast. Without the guidance provided by the Bird Dogs (who had a much more clear view), they stood a greater chance of missing the intended target — in the worst cases, this resulted in landing air strikes on American troops.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level
The rockets this Bird dog packs aren’t to kill the enemy – they just provide an aiming point.
(US Air Force)

In Vietnam, the Bird Dog also acquired some armament in the form of rocket pods. These weren’t to attack enemy forces, but instead served as a means to mark targets for jets carrying the heavy firepower. Over 500 Bird Dogs were lost in Vietnam.

In 1974, the Air Force retired this plane, but it was passed down to other countries, including South Vietnam.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This British aircraft carrier served in the US Navy

Beginning on June 30, 1943, American soldiers, marines and sailors would endure three months of hard fighting to retake the New Georgia Islands from the Japanese in the Pacific. While the ground troops slugged their way through the thick jungles, the pilots above provided air support and tangled with Japanese fighters, keeping them at bay. And they needed a British aircraft carrier to help.

Beginning two days earlier and 300 miles offshore in the Coral Sea, aircraft carrier-based fighter planes flew combat air patrols from the USS Robin in order to intercept any Japanese carrier groups that might oppose the landings. After 28 days of constant air operations, launching 614 sorties and steaming 12,233 miles at an average of 18.1 knots, Robin returned to port to rest her crew and resupply—a record for a Royal Navy carrier.


After the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands, the U.S. Navy was in a poor fighting state. USS Wasp had been sunk earlier at Guadalcanal and at Santa Cruz, USS Hornet was sunk and USS Enterprise was taken out of action to repair the damage she sustained during the battle. This left USS Saratoga as the only operational carrier to keep the Japanese and their four carriers at bay in the Pacific. In order to augment their strength, the U.S. Navy received a loan from Great Britain. In December 1942, at the highest possible level of negotiation, an agreement was made between Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt. To bolster their ally, the British Admiralty would loan the aircraft carrier HMS Victorious to the U.S. Navy to operate in the Pacific.

 

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

USS Wasp burns and lists after being torpedoed. (U.S. Navy photo)

Victorious arrived at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in January 1943 and was refitted for service with the U.S. Navy and operations in the Pacific theater. Now under American control, she was given the codename USS Robin. In dry dock, she was given new communications systems, surface and air radars, and an aircraft homing system to allow interoperability with the U.S. fleet. Her stern was also extended by 10 feet with an added gallery of twenty 20mm anti-aircraft guns to better counter the threat of Japanese air attack.

The Fleet Air Arm Fairey Albacore Torpedo-Bombers that she carried were replaced with TBM Avengers. The new planes were registered as American and bore U.S. Navy markings—however, they were crewed by Brits. Her Grumman Martlets (the British name for the F4F Wildcat) were also given U.S. Navy markings. The U.S. Navy sent aviators to train the British pilots on American procedures and tactics, and even sent American uniforms (though the crew is still pictured wearing their Royal Navy tropical uniform shorts).

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

USS Robin crewed by British sailors carrying USN Avengers. (U.S. Navy photo edited by Joseph Tremain/Pulled from ArmchairGeneral.com)

After transiting the Panama Canal on February 14, Robin joined the U.S. Pacific Fleet and arrived at Pearl Harbor in March 1943. She underwent shakedown operations which revealed that her arrestor wires were not sufficient to stop the heavy Avengers. Heavier arrestor wires were fitted along with even more AA guns. At Pearl, she was also repainted in U.S. Navy blue grey to further disguise the British involvement with the U.S. Navy from the Axis Powers and prevent her from being mistaken as a Japanese ship. On May 8, she departed Pearl Harbor and sailed for the South Pacific where she joined up with USS Saratoga and formed Carrier Division 1 on May 17.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

The solid paint scheme of USS Robin (top and center) versus the disruptive camouflage of HMS Victorious (bottom) (Illustration from British and Commonwealth Warship Camouflage of WWII, Volume 2, Battleships and Aircraft Carriers by Malcolm Wright)

While conducting air operations in the Coral Sea in support of the New Georgia campaign, it was noticed that Robin handled her fighter wings well, but still had issues with the heavier Avengers. Commanding the carrier division, Rear Admiral DeWitt Ramsey transferred the Avengers of 832 Squadron FAA to the Saratoga and the F4F Wildcats of U.S. Carrier Air Group 3 to Robin. Neither carrier saw any engagement with the Japanese and the division returned to Nouméa on July 25. With the two newest Essex-class carriers, USS Essex and USS Lexington, arriving in Pearl Harbor and the Japanese withholding their carriers, Robin was returned to British control and recalled home.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

USS Robin carrying FAA Avengers, FAA Martlets, and USN Wildcats all bearing USN markings but different paint schemes. (U.S. Navy photo)

She left her Avengers in Nouméa as replacements for the Saratoga and departed for Pearl Harbor on July 31. She sailed with the battleship USS Indiana and carried aboard a handful of U.S. pilots who had finished their tours and two Japanese POWs. Victorious made a brief stop in San Diego and sailed through the Panama Canal on August 26. She arrived in Norfolk on September 1 where her specialized U.S. equipment was removed. On September 26, she arrived at Greenock, Scotland and began refit for her return to Royal Navy service.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

USN Wildcat pilots of VF-3 pose aboard USS Robin. (U.S. Navy photo)

Victorious would finish the rest of the war with the Royal Navy. She participated in an attack on the German battleship Tirpitz, sister ship to the infamous Bismarck, with the British Home Fleet. In June 1944, she joined the Eastern Fleet and attacked Japanese installations in Sumatra. Victorious continued to conduct air operations in the Indian Ocean until February 1945 when she joined Task Force 113 at Sydney in preparation for the invasion of Okinawa.

TF113 joined the U.S. 5th Fleet at Ulithi in the Caroline Islands on March 25 as Task Force 57. Victorious conducted airstrikes against Japanese airfields on the Sakishima Islands and Formosa in support of the invasion until May 25. During these operations, she was hit by two kamikaze planes. However, unlike the wooden decks of her American counterparts, Victorious‘ armored flight deck resisted the worst of the impacts. She would go on to attack Japanese shipping and even seriously damaged the Japanese escort carrier Kaiyo before the end of the war.

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

FAA Avenger pilots pose aboard USS Saratoga. (U.S. Navy photo)

After the war, Victorious was refitted and modernized with an angled flight deck. She continued her service in the Royal Navy until a fire broke out aboard in 1967. Although the damage was minor, the Defense Ministry was cutting its budget and the Royal Navy was facing a shortage of manpower, and Victorious would not be recommissioned. She was sold for scrap in 1969.

Though her time with the U.S. Navy saw no action, Victorious played an important role in bolstering the American air arm in the Pacific. Her sailors and airmen showed their American counterparts that they could do their job just as well and filled a critical shortage at a crucial point of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Cannonballs literally bounced off the USS Constitution

If you look at the USS Constitution today, berthed at the Boston Navy Yard, you might find yourself wondering how a wooden ship got the nickname, “Old Ironsides.” The answer to that question is actually very simple: Cannonballs used to literally bounce off the hull of the Constitution in battle, falling harmlessly into the sea below.

The Constitution is currently the oldest active ship in the US Navy today. Launched in 1797, it was one of the earliest ships to enter service with the fledgling Navy. Ordered as a heavy frigate as part of the Naval Act of 1794, the Constitution and five other similarly-configured ships were to be the backbone of the new Navy — heavy warships that other, smaller, ships could support and rally around.

Though slated to carry 44 guns (cannon of varying sizes), sailors often crammed more than 50 aboard the vessel when it put out to sea. Three masts, decked out with massive sails, would provide the propulsion needed to drive the nearly 1600-ton ship through the rough Atlantic waves.


 

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level
USS Constitution under pursuit (Painting by Anton Otto Fischer)

It was during the War of 1812 that the Constitution earned her now-famous nickname, under the command of Isaac Hull. Well-liked and revered by those who served under him, Hull took it upon himself to personally ensure that the Constitution and her crew were ready for combat at all times. In mid-July, 1812, the heavy frigate encountered a small squadron of British ships, who gave chase. With a bit of planning and a little creativity, Hull managed to maneuver his ship away to safety.

The following month, the Constitution encountered one of those pursuing ships — the HMS Gurriere, commanded by James Dacres. This time, battle was inevitable and the two ships began trading blows. Hull quickly repositioned his ship, giving his gunners a clear view of the Gurriere.

Scrambling over the upper and the gun decks of both ships were sailors and Marines, frantically reloading their weapons for the next salvo. Aboard Constitution, sailors watched as 18-pound cannonballs whistled through the air, bracing for an impact that would certainly penetrate the walls of the ship, killing and maiming anybody in their way.

And then, nothing happened.

Though some of the cannonballs did inflict damage, others bounced off and fell into the roiling sea, much to the bewilderment of both sides. An American sailor notably yelled out, “Huzzah, her sides are made of iron!” and thus, the nickname, “Old Ironsides” was born.

 

(US Navy)

A combination of different types of oak layered around each other made the ship’s surfaces dense and difficult to pierce. The multiple layers of wood absorbed the cannonballs’ impacts of the and dissipated the forces quickly. Extra ribbing and bracketing on the internal walls also contributed to making the Constitution so sturdy.

By the end of the battle, the Guerriere was beyond salvage, much to the disappointment of Hull. Broadside after broadside had done the frigate in. The British crew was taken aboard Constitution and salvage parties took what they could off the smoldering Royal Navy vessel before lighting it afire and setting the ship adrift to descend to its watery grave.

Old Ironsides sailed into Boston Harbor, packed with prisoners of war, as jubilant American sailors and Marines celebrated their triumphant return home. After doing battle with more British ships in the following years, Constitution was briefly laid up in mothballs while her future was decided by the Department of the Navy.

Amidst fears that the Constitution would be scrapped, having long outlived its original intended lifespan, public outcry spurred on by a poem written by Oliver Wendell Holmes, entitled Old Ironsides after the ship’s nickname. The powerful poem motivated the Navy to fund a refit and refurbishment of the battle-scarred frigate. The nickname has since stuck, even through the Constitution‘s years of obscurity in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

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