The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’ - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Going to any bartender that knows their craft and ordering a “torpedo juice,” means you’ll get a cocktail that’s two parts alcohol (any alcohol) and three parts pineapple juice. It’s not a bad drink, but it’s not exactly refined.

Neither were the World War II sailors who created the concoction. These guys had to do something to mask the harsh kick of the liquor by any means necessary. It just so happened that juice was the most readily available. 

In Mike Ostlund’s 2011 book, “Find ‘Em, Chase ‘Em, Sink ‘Em: The Mysterious Loss of the WWII Submarine USS Gudgeon,” he details how sailors were able to drink the grain alcohol carried by submarines, even after the Navy tainted the supply.

Even during the best days of World War II, a good stiff drink was hard to find. For U.S. Navy submarine crews, it was next to impossible – to find one. So they would make their own, using the fuel that fed the submarine’s deadly torpedoes. 

Torpedo tubes on a US destroyer

One might think Americans would be used to either having to distill their own booze or to go completely without. The United States had only emerged from Prohibition less than a decade before the start of the Second World War. But no, Americans enjoyed their drinks and sailors were already known for their love of the hard stuff. 

Since there were no bars, pubs or stills aboard the submarines – and there wasn’t room for anything of the sort anyhow – they made the best of their situation. They converted to fuel used to drive their torpedoes into 180-proof alcohol. 

At first, the sailors could just pop open the fuel and start drinking, but it wasn’t always that way. Torpedo fuel was made from pure grain alcohol back then and the Navy brass knew it. They also knew that once the sailors aboard ship realized it, there would soon be a significant lack of fuel for torpedoes. 

Soon, Ostlund writed, Navy leadership began to add croton oil to the fuel stores. Drinking the alcohol with the oil additive gave sailors extreme stomach pains and diarrhea. Unlike the wood alcohol used by the government to poison industrial ethyl alcohol during Prohibition, the croton oil wouldn’t kill or blind sailors. They were still needed to fight the war, after all. The pain and suffering would soon pass. 

The Navy thought its fuel troubles were over and its fuel stores safe from thirsty sailors. They were wrong. There’s nothing more resourceful than a sailor in need of a drink on long haul sea voyages. 

Aboard the USS Gudgeon, sailors figured out how to separate the croton oil from the alcohol. The fuel was stored in five gallon cans and poured into a 50 gallon vat for use in the torpedoes. The sailors smuggled the fuel in their original five gallon containers back to anywhere they could set up a still, usually a hotel in a port city. 

They then simply distilled the oil from the alcohol, using the same method used to make grain alcohol in the first place. The stuff was then mixed with any kind of juice the sailors could find.

Operating a still in a random hotel wasn’t entirely without risk. The makeshift still setups can – and did – explode, setting fire to the hotel, buildings, and whatever happened to be nearby. A small price to pay for a bit of relaxation away from one of the world’s deadliest jobs. 

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why troops in Vietnam could write on their helmets

One of the enduring images of the Vietnam War is one of the Army or Marine Corps’ infantry troops, sitting out in the jungle or around a rice paddy, wearing a helmet covered in graffiti. Maybe it’s ticking off the number of days he’s been in country. Maybe it’s announcing to the world that the wearer is a bad motherf*cker. Or it could be simply the troop’s blood type and drug allergies.


Truth be told, troops in Vietnam didn’t “get away” with writing on their issued helmets, and neither do the troops who do it today.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Some things never change.

As one might imagine, it would be considered counter to good order and discipline to write on one’s helmet cover. The helmet is, after all, a uniform item, usually owned by the government. To deface it would be defacing government property while at the same time violating the rules of wearing your uniform properly. But none of this ever prevented the troops from doing it.

Some troops in Vietnam only ever wore their helmets when doing perimeter duty or moving materiel from one area to another and didn’t really have the downtime with their helmets to make any sort of writing on it. For those who did write on their helmet covers, they’ll tell you there were more important things happening than worrying about what was written on their helmets.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

What are they gonna do, send them to Vietnam as punishment?

Of course, the difference between troops back then and troops today is that yesteryear’s combat troops could be draftees, which means they’re not the professional army the United States uses as the backbone of its military power. Even so, those who wrote on their helmets were not allowed to wear the helmet with its cover on while in the rear. The MPs would make sure of that. In any case, soldiers were required to wear a cap while in the rear, and the helmet would go back on only when they went back into the sh*t, where no one cared what they wrote anyway.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Vietnam veterans say the graffiti depended on which outfit you were moving with, and was usually okay as long as it didn’t defeat the purpose of camouflage in combat. Others say that as long as the graffiti didn’t disparage the Army, the United States, or the chain of command, it didn’t matter what you wrote or how you wrote it.

If a new NCO or lieutenant was coming into Vietnam for the first time and all he cared about was helmet covers, his troops would call him “dinky dao” anyway.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Win the first War on Terror by backing ‘Shores of Tripoli’ on Kickstarter

It was the first time the United States fought a pitched battle on foreign soil and, as a sign of things to come, came out the victor. In 1805, Arab mercenaries and United States Marines under the command of William Eaton and Marine Lt. Presley O’Bannon marched on the Tripolitan city of Derna. Their mission was to capture the city, then restore the rightful (American friendly) ruler of Tripoli to the throne. The Marines were outnumbered by nearly ten to one and made an overland march of 500 miles before they could even attack.

Well, do you have a better idea? A new strategy game on Kickstarter invites you to give it a shot.


In Shores of Tripoli, a new game from Washington, DC’s Fort Circle Games, take one or two players to take up arms as either the United States or the Bashaw of Tripoli in a game of wits and maneuvers designed to bend your opponent to your will. Tripolitania wants to keep conducting pirate raids that have brought it so much wealth in gold and slaves. The United States is out to end the reign of Barbary terror and restore the freedom of American ships at sea.

With cards representing significant events and the most important players in these events, players use dice and in-game figurines to start battles, start diplomatic talks, and get more troops to the fight. To win, the Americans must force the Tripolitans to submit to a peace treaty or forcibly install a pro-American ruler.

Guess which route the Marines chose.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

“Lolz” – Lt. Presley O’Bannon.

To win as Tripoli, you have to inflict enough shock and damage on the Americans and their squadron of ships as possible, sinking four frigates or capturing 12 merchantmen.

Shores of Tripoli the board game honestly looks like any history buff’s greatest wet dream. Along with educational information about the conflict, the game comes with a high-quality game map, 82 wooden game pieces, and a lot of other high-quality elements. One historian’s review of the game called it “historically accurate” and “sophisticated” as well as “beautifully designed” and – most importantly, “very fun.

Now learning about military history doesn’t have to mean memorizing a bunch of boring dates. Now it means taking down the first terrorists with the United States Marine Corps.
The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Which looks like everything I’ve ever wanted in any game anywhere.

(Shores of Tripoli on Kickstarter)

You won’t get it in time for Christmas 2019, but for a backing of .00 you can get a copy of this amazing-looking historical strategy game. Or in true Marine Corps fashion, you can donate your copy to Toys for Tots. As you donate more money, you get more copies of the game, presumably one for yourself and up to 30 to donate to schools and Toys for Tots.

William Eaton just declared himself general and commander of the force that attacked Derna. For id=”listicle-2641249602″,000 you can declare yourself the Executive Producer of Shores of Tripoli game. Head on over to its Kickstarter page to find out how.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How legendary battleships could come back, and why they won’t

The battleships of yore maintain a special place in the hearts of Navy enthusiasts — and it’s easy to see why. Imagine the massive broadside salvos from the USS Iowa, each hurling 15 shells against an enemy force, smacking Communists with 18 tons of steel and explosives with each volley from as far as 20 miles away. Every few years, there’s a new call to bring these behemoths back. Today, the Navy could, but they won’t.

Why?


First, let’s look at the role battleships were intended to play in naval warfare. These ships were floating fortresses, equipped with massive, long-barreled naval artillery. The idea was that these ships would form “battle lines” at sea. Battleships would line up, present their broadsides, and overwhelm an enemy force with firepower.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, battleships proved this strategy could work. The side that typically won a fight during that war was the one that got their battleships properly lined up against the enemy’s formation first. The best success comes when one fleet can “cross the T,” sailing their line of ships perpendicular to the front of the enemy line so they can fire all broadsides while only a few enemy ships can fire from forward turrets.

Japanese success added fuel to an arms race already playing out across the world’s shipyards. The British launched the HMS Dreadnought in 1906, only a year after construction began. It was the most powerful weapon of war at the time and could fire 4-foot-tall shells at ranges of up to 10 miles.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

HMS Dreadnought underway

(US Navy)

It redefined naval warfare. All the powerful nations of the world began building copycats, leading to these ships taking on a huge role in World War I.

Except fights between battleships were actually fairly rare in World War I. This was partially because they cost so much to build that it was considered foolhardy to risk them when victory wasn’t essential. Instead, battleships were often used to support operations on shore or to secure trade and supply lines.

But there were clashes between battleships, the largest of which was the Battle of Jutland in 1916 — by some metrics, the largest naval battle ever fought. Over 250 ships participated, including 50 battleships. The British had more and better ships, but suffered from poor gunnery and debatably poor tactics. Germany won the tactical exchange but Britain was victorious strategically.

It was the golden hour of battleships, still the kings of the ocean. But during World War I, a new weapon was introduced that would change naval warfare: the carrier. It would take decades for bombers to be effective weapons against capital ships, but the change was already underway by the time Germany invaded Poland, and arguably complete by the time Pearl Harbor was attacked.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

After landing a Royal Navy Grumman Martlet of 888 Squadron, Fleet Air Arm is seen taxiing along the flight deck of HMS Formidable (67) to the forward hangar.

Once naval aviation was capable of delivering repeated torpedo and bomb attacks hundreds of miles from their ship, the battleships’ maximum ranges,, which hovered around 20 miles, made them too vulnerable for front-line fighting. Even super battleships, like the Yamoto, and their support vessels were forced to turn back when they thought they were facing even a single carrier fleet.

In fact, the Yamoto only fired its guns against a surface target in one battle before it was sunk in 1945. It was sunk by… let me check my notes here… carrier-based aircraft. But its sister ship, the Musashi… oh, that also saw minimal fighting before sinking due to damage sustained from carrier-based aircraft.

Instead, battleships took on a role supporting amphibious landings, raining steel on enemy positions as Marines and soldiers pressed ashore.

And that’s the role battleships filled for decades, supporting landings in Korea, Vietnam, and even a fake amphibious attack in Iraq in 1991.

So, what role would a re-commissioned or newly built battleship play today? Not much of one. The Navy could re-commission a battleship, but they require tons of fuel and manpower — often needing over 1,500 crewmembers. And the best conventional naval guns still only shoot about 20 miles.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

The Office of Naval Research-sponsored Electromagnetic Railgun at terminal range located at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division.

(US Navy photo by John F. Williams)

There is one game-changing technology that could resuscitate naval artillery: railguns. They can provide massive firepower at ranges of over 100 miles and speeds of over mach 7, all without conventional explosives that increase the risk of catastrophic damage during a fight.

It’s not too hard to imagine a nuclear battleship with multiple railguns powered by the reactor and massive capacitor banks. But even then, the battleship wouldn’t have the range to hit Chinese shore installations without venturing deep into the defender’s anti-ship missile range.

So, the future is likely to lie in extended range missiles, carrier drones, and aircraft, all still capable of attacking targets hundreds of miles further out than even a battleship with a railgun could.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This intelligence officer was the forgotten hero of Midway

Joseph John Rochefort, the man whose decoding of the Japanese codebook led to the American victory at the Battle of Midway, had enemies other than the Empire of Japan. His feats at cryptanalysis were phenomenal, but not universally appreciated, particularly by the codebreakers in Washington, D.C. Naval jealousy and internal machinations would rob Joseph Rochefort of the honor that was due to him for his brilliant work in predicting where the Japanese fleet would strike after Pearl Harbor.

Rochefort, who had not gone to the Naval Academy, was an outsider from the beginning of his naval career. He was still in high school when he enlisted in the Navy in 1918 with the goal of being a naval aviator. He claimed to have been born in 1898 so that he would seem old enough for a military career, and didn’t even have a high school diploma when he was commissioned as an ensign after graduating from the Navy’s Steam Engineering School at Stevens Institute of Technology.


He wasn’t looking for a career in codebreaking. He served as a staff officer for senior admirals and and enjoyed doing crossword puzzles. Years later, when Commander Chester C. Jersey was posted to Navy Headquarters in Washington, D.C., he remembered Rochefort’s affinity for crossword puzzles. It was 1925 and the Navy was looking for people who could work with codes. The newly created codebreaking outfit of the Navy, OP-20-G, at that time consisted of one man, Lieutenant Laurance F. Stafford, today credited as the father of U.S. Navy cryptology, who had been assigned to develop new codes for the Navy. Rochefort showed up and Safford conducted a six-month cryptanalyis course: Safford provided him with cryptograms to solve and Rochefort solved them. But when Stafford was assigned to sea duty the following year, Rochefort, just twenty-five years old, was the officer in charge of a staff of two.

By June 1941, Rochefort was at Pearl Harbor. By this time, the codebreaking unit had more people and, more relevance. The Japanese didn’t know that their code had been broken years before when a previous American Director of Naval Intelligence used a secret naval intelligence slush fund to finance break-ins during the early 1920s at the Japanese consulate in New York City. The Japanese Navy’s code book was furtively photographed and, over the years, translated. By the time he was sent to Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor, Rochefort had the codebook. But he didn’t have the additive tables, which the Japanese frequently changed. Rochefort’s assignment was to create an accurate additive table using the raw messages that went out over the airwaves by the Japanese Navy.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Joseph John Rochefort.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, was a devastating blow to the Navy, but it also galvanized the nation and its military forces into the war effort. Restoration began immediately on the naval fleet. But in order to defeat the Japanese and their intention of becoming the dominant naval power in the Pacific, the Navy knew that codebreaking was a crucial priority. Fortunately, in Joseph Rochefort, they had a codebreaker who worked tirelessly to decipher the messages of the Japanese.

Joseph Rochefort and his crew had been given the order to begin the decryption of JN-25, the central Japanese communications system. As it turned out, breaking the Japanese code would prove easier than addressing the friction between Station HYPO at Pearl Harbor and OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Captain Edwin Layton was the Pacific Fleet’s intelligence officer. But, because OP-20-G had given Rochefort the assignment and was more or less overseeing the network of the intercept stations, there was a turf war between Rochefort and Washington, D.C. The D.C. office wanted central control over all of the radio intelligence units.

Rochefort, who was not always as tactful as might have been politic, believed that he answered solely to Admiral Nimitz, who had been named commander of the Pacific Fleet. Layton had a great deal of respect for Rochefort’s factual reports and hard work; he, like Rochefort, was fluent in Japanese and Layton knew how much work was going into the messages that were being translated. In fact, of the five hundred to one thousand messages per day that were being deciphered, Rochefort was personally translating more than one hundred of them. Layton trusted Rochefort’s translation and his assessment, so when Rochefort called Layton on May 14, 1942, to say that he had translated part of a message which included the words “invasion force”, Layton knew it was legitimate. But the message also include an unknown reference, AF, indicating a location. But where was AF? Rochefort was convinced that the location was Midway.

Nimitz agreed with Rochefort’s analysis and ordered three aircraft carriers to return from the South Pacific. Midway was covertly warned of the threat. The Seventh Air Force at Hawaii was placed on alert, its B-17 bombers loaded with bombs ready to strike enemy ships.

Commander John Redman, who commanded OP-20-G, refused to believe that Midway was the next Japanese target, disputing Rochefort’s assertion that AF was Midway. OP-20-G said the target was more likely to be the Hawaiian Islands but thought that the real target was the American West Coast and everything else was merely a decoy.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Captain Edwin Layton.

But Nimitz had complete confidence in Rochefort’s analysis. If Rochefort was wrong, Nimitz’s career would be imperiled. Rochefort devised a plan that would confirm that Midway was the target. The radio operators at Midway were instructed, via undersea cable, to send an uncoded message that the island’s distillation plant, which was responsible for the desalination of the island’s water supply, had broken down. Two days after the message was sent, the Japanese reported that the AF Air Unit needed to be resupplied with fresh water.

The Navy intercept unit in Australia informed Washington that AF was now confirmed to be Midway. Rochefort spent the night before Nimitz’s May 27, 1942 staff meeting reviewing all the messages. He showed up at the meeting to let them know that HYPO had broken the final piece of the JN-25 puzzle; he had a message dated for May 26 ordering the destroyer escorts for the Japanese troopships to arrive at Midway on June 6. Another decoded message said that the air attacks would begin northwest of the island several days before.

Rochefort’s reports came in the nick of time. On May 27, both the code books and the additive tables were changed and radio silence was imposed by the Japanese, denying American codebreakers access. Fortunately, Nimitz had his cues, knowing where and when the Japanese would strike.

Nimitz was not a codebreaker, but he had an instinct for the future of naval warfare and he held the radical view that carriers, and not battleships, would lead to victory. Instead of relying on the few battleships that had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, he focused on the ability of the carriers to deliver hit-and-run attacks against the enemy. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the mastermind of the December 7 ambush, had an elaborate plan for the Midway attack.

Nimitz had a simpler approach: get there first and surprise the Japanese. The tactics worked. As British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, formerly First Lord of the Admiralty, put it, “The annals of war at sea present no more intense, heart-shaking shock…the qualities of the United States Navy and Air Force and the American race shone forth in splendour”.

After the victory, Station HYPO celebrated for what Rochefort described as a “drunken brawl” for three days. The codebreakers then returned to work to decode JN-25’s new codebook and additives. They had done splendid work that had resulted in a gamechanging victory at sea. But Washington was not so charitable in its response. Rochefort was resisting Redman’s crusade to place all the radio intelligence under the control of OP-20-G in Washington, D.C. Although both HYPO and OP-20-G had been vigorously involved in the codebreaking, it was HYPO which had performed the analysis that had led to victory. As author Stephen Budiansky points out in his book Battle Of Wits: The Complete Story Of Codebreaking In World War II, if Nimitz had followed Washington’s direction, the Japanese would have had a much greater chance of winning at Midway.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.

When Nimitz told Joseph Rochefort that he wanted to nominate him for a Navy Distinguished Service Medal for the role he played in the victory, Rochefort was not encouraging. It would only make trouble, he told Nimitz.

John Redman claimed that Midway was solely the achievement of OP-20-G. Because of that, he could not, would not accede to Nimitz’s intentions of awarding the Distinguished Service Award to Rochefort. Redman’s brother Joseph Redman was the Director of Naval Communications and he took exception to the fact that, in his words, Station HYPO was under the command of someone who was not technically trained in naval communications.

Instead of Rochefort, Captain Redman said, HYPO should be commanded by a senior officer who was trained in radio intelligence. The Redman brothers were effective in their behind-the-scenes efforts and Rochefort did not receive a medal because he had only used the tools that had been provided. It was Washington, not HYPO, the Redmans asserted, that had evaluated the intentions of the Japanese.

Over his desk, Rochefort had a sign which read We can accomplish anything provided no one cares who gets the credit. But no one could have expected that Washington would so completely steal credit from those who deserved it.

The battle for centralization of the radio intelligence units continued. Nimitz authorized his embattled codebreaker to send a memo that Rochefort answered only to Nimitz, not to Washington. A month after he sent the memo, Rochefort was ordered to the Navy Department for temporary additional duty that quickly became permanent. Nimitz was enraged at John Redman, who at this time was now the fleet communications officer for Nimitz. The excuse was that Rochefort’s advice was needed, but Rochefort was no fool. He had told Nimitz that he would not be allowed to return to HYPO.

Rochefort never again worked in coding. At the end of his career, he was placed in command of the San Francisco floating dry dock ABSD-2. Rochefort died in 1976, but the battle to reward him for his work did not end with his death, and Secretary of the Navy John Lehman, responding to renewed efforts to honor the codebreaker who helped to win the Battle of Midway, supported those efforts. Joseph John Rochefort received the Navy Distinguished Service Medal almost a decade after his death, on November 17, 1985.

This article originally appeared on Argunners. Follow @ArgunnersMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Salvation Army deployed with the troops

Around this time of year, you’ll find volunteers with the Salvation Army standing outside countless shops and malls, ringing a bell and asking for whatever donations shoppers can spare. Because of their charitable efforts, millions of children will have presents to open and many others will enjoy a much-needed Christmas dinner.

Most people don’t know, however, that the “Army” part of their name isn’t just a reference to the massive volume of volunteers they organize. During both World Wars, the Salvation Army was right there with troops in the trenches, much like today’s MWR and USO. The unpaid volunteers of the Salvation Army put their safety on the line to improve the lives of our nation’s defenders.


The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

There was no one more in need of help than the soldiers fighting on the front lines.

(National Archives)

The Salvation Army was founded in 1852 when William Booth, a Methodist minister, took his teachings of “loving thy neighbor” from the pulpit to the streets to help the less fortunate of East London. It was his belief that everyone in need should be given the love and care they need.

While it still remains a Christian organization to this day, the Salvation Army’s main focus has always been doing good for others, regardless of who they are or what they believe. They adopted a military rank structure to organize their members — mostly pastors and businessmen — to keep within theme of working in “God’s Army.”

The organization’s charitable spirit was put to the test when Canada entered the First World War and many Canadian Salvationists saw their nation’s fighting men dragged through the hell that is trench warfare.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

(National Archives)

The Salvation Army provided troops with many minor comforts that civilians often take for granted, like the materials to write loved ones back home, hot cups of coffee, and the chance to watch a movie. They also gave the troops a nice, home-cooked meal, which was gourmet when compared to the “chow hall special” that was normally offered.

The Salvation Army aimed to provide comforts to those who needed them most — and those who needed them most were on the front lines. So, the Salvationists were right there with them in the trenches. It didn’t matter whether you were carrying a rifle, the volunteers were subjected to the same, awful living conditions and the constant threats of gas attacks, stray bullets, and artillery shells.

The hard work meant a lot to the troops. A quick bite to eat gave them time to clear their heads before jumping back into the fray.

And it was all worth it to put a smile on a war-weary soldier’s face.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time two legendary heroes went to the South Pole

I’m sure that after going on incredible journeys to far-out places, like Mount Everest or the Moon, that everyday life would seem a little… meh. Which is probably why, in 1985, the first man to walk on the Moon, Neil Armstrong, and the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary, agreed to go to the North Pole.


The idea for the ultimate guys’ trip was the brainchild of professional explorer, Mike Dunn, who wanted to enlist the greatest explorers of the time to go to the North Pole. Dunn was known to be outgoing, so no one thought twice about him calling up famous astronauts and mountaineers saying, “wanna go to the North Pole?”

The adventurous group also included Steve Fossett, the first man to fly a balloon around the world, and Patrick Morrow, the first person to climb the highest peaks of all seven continents. Sir Edmund’s son, Peter Hillary, who himself forged a new route to the South Pole among other feats, was there, too.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzig Norgay after their first summit of Mount Everest.

The explorers ran into few issues as they puddle-hopped their way up north with the help of Canadian bush pilots, and, on April 6, 1985, they touched down at the North Pole. Safely sitting at True North, they popped a bottle of champagne — which immediately froze, but that did nothing to dampen anyone’s spirits. In particular, Edmund Hillary, who had just become the first person to stand at both poles (he went to the South Pole in 1958) as well as the summit of Everest.

Related: This is what it takes to walk on the moon

The trek south, was a different story, however. White-out blizzard conditions and temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, stranded the group for three days in a Quonset hut on Ellesmere Island (approximately 700 miles from the pole). Luckily, this was a group that definitely had great stories to tell around a fire.

Peter Hillary said it was ”thrilling” and ”incredible” to hear the stories, but the most exciting stuff came from Armstrong, who was famously shy and intensely private. He didn’t open up easily to his new friends, but the two weeks out in the wilderness had forged a bond, and he soon took part in philosophical discussions about the nature of exploration and shared mind-blowing stories about his time in space.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
Neil Armstrong in his natural habitat.

Patrick Morrow later recalled that Armstrong read aloud the account of Salomon Andree of his attempt to reach the North Pole by balloon in 1897:

Is it not a little strange to be floating here above the Polar Sea, to be the first to have floated here in a hydrogen-filled balloon? How soon, I wonder, shall we have successors? Shall we be thought mad, or will our example be followed? I cannot deny but that all three of us are dominated by a feeling of pride. We think we can well face death, having known what we have done is not the whole, perhaps the expression of an extremely strong sense of individuality which cannot bear the thought of living and dying like a man within the ranks, forgotten by the coming generations? Is this ambition?

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
Sir Edmund Hillary (second from left) with Neil Armstrong (far right) at the North Pole (Image via The Sydney Morning Herald)

Morrow said that the quote was an “eerie coda” for this adventure, but what better way to cap off what was the ultimate man’s-man getaway?

 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The legendary engines that won World War II

Jay Leno has a truly historic engine that he wants to show you: A Merlin 1650-1 engine used in fighters like the P-51 Mustang and Lancaster Bombers used across Europe to drive Germany back toward Berlin.

The engine got its start before the war. It underwent initial testing in 1933 and first took to the skies in 1935. Early models generated about 800 horsepower but increasing requirements in the pre-war years caused Rolls Royce to keep redesigning it, giving it more power and reliability.


The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

The De Havailland Mosquito was powered by two Merlin engines.

(Photo by Wallycacsabre, CC BY 2.0)

Aircraft manufacturers in England kept reaching for the Merlin for their new designs. In 1939, the first production Spitfire rolled off the line packing a Merlin Mk. II engine capable of 1,030 horsepower.

This engine would go on to be used in everything from the Lancaster bomber, which sported four of these beasts, to the De Havilland Mosquito and the P-51 Mustang.

The engine was constantly upgraded with new superchargers and designs, increasing horsepower to 1,150 then 1,480 then 1,515. More importantly, the engines got upgrades in reliability and airflow, helping pilots win fights in altitudes low and high.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

The Lancaster bomber boasted four of the massive Merlin engines.

(Royal Air Force photo by Fleet Lt. Miller, IWM)

The low-altitude upgrades would prove essential during the Battle of Britain where English and German planes clashed in fights as low as 6,000 feet.

As it was, the Merlins suffered one big problem that came up during the Battle of Britain and other struggles: it used a carburetor while contemporary German engines were fuel-injected. This meant that the Merlin had a tendency to cut out during dives while the fighters they were opposing did not.

Still, the engine was a literal lifesaver for RAF pilots, and both the Brits and Americans wanted to buy more of them.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

A P-51 flies over Virginia. The P-51 was first built with an Allison engine but quickly transitioned to the Merlin with great results.

(U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Ben Bloker)

Britain inked a deal with Ford motor company to start mass producing the engine on the American side of the Atlantic, but Ford later backed out of the deal. The offer was made to Packard, then a luxury car brand in the U.S., who turned out their first Merlin engines in August 1941.

It’s one of these early Packards that Leno is showing off in his garage. They were delivered across the Atlantic both in boxes and already installed in planes like the P-51.

The P-51 was originally ordered by the Royal Air Force in 1940 and sported an Allison engine that produced 1,200 hp, but proved unreliable above 15,000 feet. Since it was supposed to escort bombers, that was a huge issue. The switch to the Merlins greatly increased their power and altitude ceilings.

And, in a lucky coincidence, the Merlin changed the center of gravity of the plane, shifting it slightly back. The engineers added a fuel tank to the front to level it out, also increasing the plane’s range.

World War II buffs love the engine for its effect on the war, but gearheads like Leno can find a lot to love in the engine’s massive power output and throaty sound. As Leno points out in the video below, he actually bought two cars built around the Merlin engine — and both are massive hotrods.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

8 books about the Iraq War that will give you something to think about

The morning of March 19, 2003, marked the beginning of the Iraq War that would eventually lead to devastating loss for both countries. With its roots in the first Persian Gulf War, some argue that the Iraq/U.S. conflict was inevitable, while others consider it an unnecessary war.

After dictator Saddam Hussein’s refusal to abandon Iraq in 2003, U.S. and allied forces launched a full-scale attack. What followed were years of American occupation, a large number of Iraqi and American casualties, and a growing tide of opposition to the seemingly unending war. The Iraq War spanned nearly the entirety of two presidential administrations in the United States, leading to shifting strategies and new technologies. Eventually, the Obama administration withdrew the final troops in 2011, but the long years of warfare continue to affect the Iraqi nation. These Iraq War books recount, analyze, and revisit the effects and experiences of a war that some have deemed preventable.


The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

(The Feminist Press at CUNY)

1. Dreaming of Baghdad

By Haifa Zangana

A humane approach to Middle Eastern affairs, Dreaming of Baghdad is a hauntingly beautiful memoir that will leave you with a new perspective on the “War on Terror”. We follow Haifa Zangana’s experience as a political activist during Saddam Hussein’s reign in Iraq. She — along with a small group who resisted Saddam’s rule — was eventually captured and imprisoned at Abu Ghraib.

There is a stark illumination on the psychological disturbances experienced by individuals under dictatorship. Zangana is brutally honest when retelling her story of exile and incarceration; she experienced the agonizing loss of friends and comrades through torture and death in prison. A first-hand account that shifts between time, place, and subjectivity to comment on how the trauma of power and war affect our memory.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

(Skyhorse)

2. Packed for the Wrong Trip

By W. Zach Griffith

The relatively unknown prison at Abu Ghraib garnered global attention once photos of the abuses inflicted on prisoners were released. Abu Ghraib quickly became the focal point of a worldwide scandal. Just a few months after the photographs were released, the 152nd Field Artillery Battalion of the Maine National Guard arrived to serve as guards. Originally trained and meant to serve in Afghanistan, the soldiers were deeply unprepared for the scrutiny they would receive and the attacks they would soon endure. The group of citizen-soldiers were forced to rely on each other in order to survive one of the darkest prisons in the world and change it for the better.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

(Open Road + Grove/Atlantic)

3. The Finish

By Mark Bowden

Get inside the political choices that brought down Osama bin Laden. Bowden’s narrative takes the reader all the way back to President Clinton’s administration to discover the many seemingly minor actions that allowed al-Qaeda to grow. After Bin Laden’s terrorist organization wreaked havoc through the 1990s and early 2000s, taking him down became a top priority for foreign intelligence services around the world.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

(HMH)

4. Why We Lost

By Daniel P. Bolger

Firsthand experience and understanding brings a new perspective to American actions in the Iraq War. With a career as an army general that spanned over 35 years, Daniel Bolger provides a candid look into U.S. led campaigns with an insider look into the meetings, strategies, and key players of the war.

Bolger’s main argument is that we lost the Iraq War because the American forces never knew who they were truly fighting. As Bolger puts it, “Every man shot by U.S. soldiers wore civilian clothes. If he had an AK-47, was he getting ready to shoot you or merely defending his family? If he was talking on a cell phone, was he tipping off the insurgency or setting off an IED, or was he phoning his wife?”

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

5. The Iraq War: The Military Offensive, from Victory in 21 Days to the Insurgent Aftermath

By John Keegan

His background as a military historian with extensive knowledge on warfare gives Keegan’s discussion a refreshing, objective perspective. Keegan collated a well-detailed look into Iraqi history, from its origins in the Ottoman Empire to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship. The Iraq War, despite its broad title, primarily recounts the 21-day invasion by the United States and allies that removed Hussein from power. As an explanation of the factors that led to the war, this is an unmissable resource.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

(Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

6. The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan

By J. Kael Weston

This powerful 2016 book examines the relationship between warfare and diplomacy. Like many of the other authors on this list, Weston had an inside look into the U.S. government during the Iraq War. Weston was a State Department official — serving over seven years in Iraq and Afghanistan. Weston uses this experience to show both the war and his own personal journey throughout the narrative. As a firsthand witness, he saw the sacrifice and casualties caused by a devastating war. The book follows Weston as he visits families, memorials, and the grave sites of 31 soldiers who perished in a helicopter crash on January 26, 2005 — an operation he personally ordered. This deeply affecting tale reckons with Weston’s and the country’s actions in Iraq.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

(Bloomsbury Publishing)

7. Run to the Sound of the Guns: The True Story of an American Ranger at War in Afghanistan and Iraq

By Nicholas Moore

This eyewitness account of the Iraq War is presented through a series of vignettes as Nicholas Moore recounts the development of the Ranger Regiment. He chronicles the challenges troops had to face and adapt to while hunting for Iraq’s Most Wanted. Serving in an elite special operations unit, Moore was intimately involved in the war on terror, spending over a decade with the U.S. Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.

Moore discusses the search and rescue of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell and the devastating loss of the Chinook helicopter crash, which killed 38 men and one military working dog. Moore sees the events both as a soldier and as a husband and father who nearly lost his life in a global war against terrorism.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

(Random House Publishing Group)

8. The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq

By Bing West

This is a straightforward recapitulation of the Iraq War that reconfigures the reader’s understanding of the long-lasting conflict. Whatever your political stance, West puts it all under the microscope and leaves you questioning what you thought you knew. From the United States’s entrance into the war to the brink of defeat in 2006, to the unimaginable turnaround in 2007, West criticizes the Bush administration and Army generals as he travels between the Pentagon and Ramadi. In the end, West asks us to reflect on our mistakes to avoid repeating history.

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

World War I wounds were horrific, as an opening in the skin created easy access for all the nasty diseases that swam through the trenches and crawled through the mud of No Man’s Land. A bullet wound, shrapnel puncture, or even a few scratches from barbed wire could get infected quickly. And so Britain looked to history and other countries for potential methods of quickly producing a higher quality material for bandages. A surprising solution was found in peat moss, the layer of plants that grow on top of many bogs and peat fields. So, they wanted to pack their wounds with plants that grew from decay-filled ground. Seems legit.


The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
British troops march into Tsingtao after capturing it from German troops in 1914.​
(British Government)

But there’s actually a long history of packing wounds with plants, especially moss. Ancient Irish warriors used mosses, as did French and German soldiers in the 1890s. Germany was even using moss bandages during World War I, and Britain decided to copy their foes.

So what made moss so great a bandage material? A few things. First, there weren’t conflicting needs for moss. While cotton was also a great material, belligerent countries needed cotton cloth for uniforms and gun cotton for ammunition, so there wasn’t enough to go around.

Next, some species of moss were actually more absorbent than cotton. Spaghnum moss, by weight, can hold twice as much liquid as cotton can, meaning that a similarly sized bandage can sop up a lot more blood while protecting the wound. This is thanks to how moss grows, basically creating cells and allowing them to die in order to create reservoirs for storing water. Those tiny reservoirs can hold blood as well, drying out the wound and allowing it to clot faster.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Sphagnum moss was a valuable bandage material in World War I.

(Katja Schulz, CC BY 2.0)

Even better, some species of moss have special cell walls with an electrical charge that, long story short, makes them naturally antiseptic. These bandages kill bacteria without the need for any fancy chemical solutions or coatings. They were also naturally resistant to mildew.

But, then why wasn’t Britain already using this miracle material? Because it was crazy hard to collect. When the British decided to start using the moss as a bandage material, British and Canadian organizers started hosting events just to go walk the peat bogs and collect the material. One man even made the news for walking over 1,000 miles to collect the goods. And these workers were nearly always volunteers.

But the bandages did make a difference on the front, outperforming cotton bandages to the point that America, the only combatant still flush with cotton, traded gas masks components to get its hands on the moss because the plant-based bandages were better.

When the war ended, there were obviously much fewer volunteers willing to walk through the elements for no pay or willing to assemble the final bandages, so they fell out of favor. But some medical manufacturers continued to make the bandages and sell them. They were rare, though.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
The Sphagnum Moss Sanitary Napkins were for when you wanted to take ‘all natural’ way too far.
(Smithsonian Museum)

For some reason, U.S. manufacturers experimented with using moss-based materials for feminine hygiene products. For some reason, women weren’t super into it, and the product largely disappeared. If you are into it, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History actually has a box of them in their collections.

Just go full National Treasure and you, too, can enjoy the benefits of sphagnum moss bandages. That was the most popular moss for bandages in World War I, so they’re even the most relevant historically.

Now, scientists in Europe are looking for ways to cultivate plants like sphagnum moss without damaging the peat bogs that they grow on most easily, preferably by getting them to grow in controlled conditions on farms. Trampling peat bogs is labor intensive and very harmful to the environment, releasing lots of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere. Growing moss somewhere else might make it commercially viable without threatening the environment.

So, in World War III, you might get to use moss-filled bandages, just like great-great-great grandpa in The Great War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Buried in a casino wall, a dark secret from Romania’s Communist past

BUCHAREST — When she was growing up in a small town in southern Romania, Laura Voicila was stigmatized by her father’s past.

In 1949, as the communists tightened their grip on the Eastern European country, Nicolaie Voicila, 17, was arrested and later sentenced to four years of hard labor for “plotting against the social order.”

His crime was joining a literary club at which members discussed the relatively new communist regime led by Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej and hoped it would disappear.


The high school student was one of the thousands the communists incarcerated in prisons and labor camps after World War II, often simply because they had fallen afoul of the communist regime.

There are no universally accepted figures, but a 2006 presidential commission established to study the communist dictatorship said more than 600,000 Romanians were sentenced for political crimes between 1945 and 1989. Thousands died from beatings, illness, exhaustion, cold, or lack of food or medicine.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

The secret note with political prisoners’ names written in charcoal that was found inside the casino wall.

Early Days Of Communism

Andrei Muraru, a historian and adviser to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, told RFE/RL that in the early 1950s some 100,000 prisoners were sentenced to hard labor on a project called the Black Sea Canal, a 70-kilometer waterway connecting the Danube to the Black Sea. It was also known as the “Canal of Death.”

Voicila toiled there, transporting heavy loads of rock before he was sent to work restoring a casino, an architectural monument to art nouveau in the nearby port of Constanta that had been bombed by the Germans during the war.

He didn’t talk much about those experiences after his release — actually being forbidden from talking about his imprisonment — and his fear of discussing those hard times lingered even after communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu was ousted and executed during the 1989 Romanian Revolution.

But he did tell family members that political prisoners had scribbled notes and buried them in the walls of the casino.

“When I was growing up, Dad told us: When they renovate the casino, go there and find the documents,” Laura Voicila told RFE/RL.

“Under communism, we discussed things very quietly and never in public,” she said. “Dad listened to Radio Free Europe and I would say ‘Dad, what are they saying in Germany (RFE was based in Munich from 1950-1995)? I even remember the jingle [that went with the news].”

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Nicolaie Voicila in the 1960s after his release from prison.

Secret Note

At school in the town of Gorgota, Laura had top grades, but her father’s past meant she suffered discrimination.

“My teacher told me: ‘You should be the class leader, but we can’t make you one,” she said. “[My father] told me to study and to leave the country if I wanted a chance [in life].”

Laura kept the story about the hidden notes in the back of her mind, until one day in May this year.

Her mother called saying she had seen on the news that restorers had unearthed a scrap of paper hidden in a wall of the casino that was signed by political prisoners.

“When my mom heard a note had been found, she said ‘You have to go and see it.’ She was moved to tears. It was a moment of moral reparation for her [after nearly 70 years]. People saw [the note] was there and it was real,” she told RFE/RL.

In mid-May, after Romania lifted a state of emergency imposed to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Laura went with Apollon Cristodulo — the son of Ion Cristodulo, an architect and political prisoner in charge of restoring the casino — to Constanta to see the note firsthand.

The note — a scrap of paper torn from a cement sack with the names of 17 political prisoners written in charcoal and dated December 31, 1951 — is not much in itself, were it not for the dire circumstances that it was created under and its historical importance.

“It was found rolled up in a ball by a stained-glass window restorer. He was looking for some old shards of glass in the wall and he came across the paper. He felt there was something [special] about it,” Apollon Cristodulo said on July 23.

“It was miraculous that this note was found,” he said. “I wrote about the [hidden note at the] casino many years ago, but nobody believed it; they thought it was just a story, a legend…. But now everything I’ve written has come true.”

Cristodulo’s father died in 1991 aged 66, his health damaged by the harsh years of detention.

“His heart, liver, and lungs were all shot. He died after his fourth heart attack,” Cristodulo told RFE/RL.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Laura Voicila and Apollon Cristodulo outside the casino in Constanta on May 19.

Romania’s Political Prisons

Muraru, the former director of the governmental Institute for the Investigation of Communist Crimes, secured the first ever prosecutions of former prison commanders in Romania.

Alexandru Visinescu, who was in charge of the notorious Ramnicu Sarat prison, was sentenced in 2016 to 20 years in jail for the deaths of 12 prisoners at the institution. One year later, Ioan Ficior received the same term for crimes against humanity for his role in the deaths of 103 prisoners at the Periprava labor camp. Both have since died serving their sentences.

Muraru said the fact that the detainees managed to write the note was remarkable.

“This is a rare piece of testimony because prisoners didn’t have access to paper or pencils, but…there was less supervision and the presence of ordinary workers and more humane figures who could provide them with something to write with, and that made it possible for this scrap of paper to be secreted away and put [in the wall],” he told RFE/RL.

“It took decades for the traumatic memory of communism to finally settle,” he added.

Alexandra Toader, the current director of the institute said: “After 70 years, we have material confirmation of what happened [at the casino].”

She said the Securitate communist secret police conducted excavations at the casino in 1986 and may have found other documents which were archived, something Cristodulo also thinks is likely.

“We have 26 kilometers of Securitate archives, a sea of documents; but I’m not sure whether they are digitized or documented,” Toader told RFE/RL.

The institute will hold an exhibition at the casino “dedicated exclusively to this episode,” she said. “Hopefully we can obtain objects they used, letters they wrote to their families, their tools.”

Researchers are investigating the estimated 100 prisoners who worked on the casino, tracking down biographical information to try to find out what happened to them.

“Most prisoners were there for the flimsiest of reasons and they were there for years on end regardless of their age,” Toader said. “It was a pretext to get rid of the so-called ‘enemies of the people.'”

Cristodulo told RFE/RL that the documents about the Black Sea Canal are still classified by the secret service.

“There were 100,000 people who carried out forced labor…the documents need to be declassified,” he said.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

Architect Radu Cornescu, Apollon Cristodulo, and Laura Voicila (left to right) at the shell wall inside the casino where the secret political prisoner note was found.

Harsh Conditions

Nicolaie Voicila, who died in 1999 at the age of 66, dreamed of becoming an architect but the communists wouldn’t let him complete his education. He managed to qualify as a sub-engineer and became the manager of a cement site, forever inspired by the work he had done with the architects on the casino.

But he was traumatized his entire life by his past as a prisoner.

“He wasn’t allowed to speak or write down what happened and he thought they’d come and get him, so he had a lack of trust,” Laura Voicila said. “He didn’t trust people. He thought maybe a neighbor would find out about his past and he’d be in trouble.”

He did tell us that when he worked on the canal, prisoners were beaten “and others [were forced] to eat feces,” she said.

“Prisoners had to transport rocks and they’d walk along a 30-40 centimeter piece of wood over the canal with a wheelbarrow full of rubble. And if a prisoner fell off, nobody bothered to rescue him,” Laura Voicila said.

“There are many human bones buried in that canal,” she said.
Muraru added that it is known as “the Romanian Siberia.”

Disappointment

The collapse of communism failed to bring the changes that Nicolaie Voicila and many others had hoped for.

“He realized the old communists had come to power and he lost hope he’d ever see real democracy,” the 42-year-old Laura Voicila, who runs a family fruit and vegetable supply business, said.

“He saw miners attacking anti-government protesters in 1990 and he said: ‘You see? People are being beaten and killed. It’s still the same old people.'”

It’s a sentiment shared by Paul Andreescu, the head of the Association of Former Political Prisoners in Constanta.

Andreescu was a political prisoner for five years because he joined a youth organization that wanted to “free Romania from the Russians and their demands, such as making Russian a mandatory language at school and learning the history of the Soviet Union,” he told RFE/RL.

“We are free, but far from what we dreamed of and what we had hoped for in 1989.”

As head of the Constanta branch, Andreescu said: “It’s very important we have this proof [of the note from the casino], even if there are just a few names. They show the ugly past of the Romanian people, when people had to perform forced labor under all kinds of conditions.”

He added: “They are witnesses, even if they are buried in a wall.”

A Warning

Toader says it’s important that Romania knows its past.

“This subject is still largely unknown in schools and books, and detainees didn’t speak of their detention; even their memoirs are truncated out of fear or an attempt to forget,” she said.

“This is very relevant for the young generation, as some are nostalgic about communism,” she said in an interview at her Bucharest office.

“Extremes can’t be allowed, neither left nor right. The rule of law must prevail.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

Articles

This is how the B-52 rained fire in Vietnam

When the B-52 was originally conceived, its express purpose was the delivery of nuclear weapons against the Soviet Union. However, America’s Cold War interventions had other plans for the venerable aircraft.


As America’s role expanded in Vietnam, so too did the B-52’s.

This came in the form of Operation Arc Light — the initial deployment of B-52’s from the United States to Guam to support missions in Vietnam. These bombers, in the B-52’s combat debut, first struck North Vietnamese targets in June 1965 using standard 750 and 1,000 pound bombs.

The B-52’s expanded role led the Air Force to modify numerous existing B-52D models under a program called Big Belly. This modification turned the B-52 into an absolutely devastating conventional bomber.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52F Stratofortress drops bombs over Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo))

The improvements allowed the B-52 to carry 84 500-pound bombs internally as well as another 24 750-pound bombs mounted on wing pylons. This gave the bomber a total of 108 bombs or 60,000 pounds of bombs to drop on the enemy.

By comparison, the B-17G, America’s bombing workhorse of WWII, could only carry about 9,600 pounds of bombs on missions.

Also read: B-52s are blasting ISIS targets

When flown in a pair of cells — or a group of three B-52s in formation — the bombers could leave behind a swath of destruction a mile long and a half mile wide.

In addition to the B-52’s massive bomb load, it was especially effective for another reason: ground-directed bombing.

Air Force technology had come a long way since the days of carpet-bombing the Third Reich and Imperial Japan. This meant that the destruction the B-52s could be brought to bear was much more accurate than ever before.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
B-52D hailing 500-lb bombs. (Image: Wikimedia)

This was accomplished using Combat Sky Spot, an interlinked system of radar sites, utilizing the MSQ-77 radar/computer system, to accurately direct bombing missions.

These sites were manned by airmen of the Combat Evaluation Group. With numerous sites located throughout the region, they provided guidance across the entire battlefield.

The MSQ-77, or Miscue 77 as it was often referred to, was revolutionary because it used an algorithm to determine exact bomb impact points, rather than specific release points for aircraft as earlier versions had done.

This meant that bombers and fighter-bombers operating at night, in bad weather, or near friendly troops could be directed to where their bombs would land.

Related: How does the B-52 get more awesome? With lasers, that’s how

This level of accuracy meant that large scale bombing runs could safely be made within 1,000 meters of friendly forces, closer with the approval of a Forward Air Controller.

This ability would be used to devastating effect against the North Vietnamese in numerous battles.

During Operation Harvest Moon, the Marines used the giant B-52 bombers against stubborn Viet Cong resistance.

The B-52s also helped the 1st Cavalry Division troopers fighting in the Ia Drang.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
The B-52 and the 70,000 pounds of munitions it can carry. Photo: U.S. Air Force

By 1966, B-52 bombers flew over 5,000 missions against targets in Vietnam, accounting for more than 8,000 tons of bombs per month. Besides just supporting ground troops the bombers also flew interdiction missions against North Vietnamese convoys on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

By 1967, the number of Arc Light missions had nearly doubled with most missions being in direct support of troops in contact.

In 1968, Arc Light B-52s flew numerous close air support missions in support of the Marines under siege at Khe Sanh. Flying high above the monsoon rains that had grounded the fighters, and aided by the MSQ-77, the B-52s put 60,000 tons of the proverbial warheads on foreheads.

This round-the-clock punishment helped to break the siege.

Because the B-52s flew so high as to remain unseen and unheard by the enemy, they had to find other ways to counter. This meant the men of the Combat Evaluation Group at the Combat Sky Spot sites were the most likely target.

The North Vietnamese realized if they could take out the radar sites then they could impair American bombing efforts. This led to the largest loss of airmen on the ground when the North Vietnamese overran Lima Site 85 and took out its Combat Sky Spot.

Despite the dangers to all involved, the Arc Light missions were a great success and continued through the end of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how General Pershing’s ‘favorite doughboy’ earned the Medal of Honor

Samuel Woodfill already had a lengthy career in the U.S. Army by the time the United States declared war on Germany in 1917. The son of a Mexican-American War and Civil War veteran, he enlisted in 1901 at the age of 18 and left his native Indiana.


After basic training, Pvt. Woodfill found himself assigned to the 11th Infantry Regiment stationed in the Philippines. He saw action in various campaigns against the rebellious Moros and earned accolades as a crack shot and for his “honest and faithful service.” In 1910, Woodfill left the Philippines for a number of duty stations. Over the next seven years, he would see service in Alaska, Kentucky, and on the Mexican border. But he would not see any more combat in that time.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
Samuel Woodfill served in many places over his long career.

Then, everything changed. America declared war on Germany. Woodfill, then a sergeant, attended an officer training course and received a temporary wartime rank of 2nd lieutenant. Soon after, he was given command of a machine gun company of the 60th Infantry Regiment, 5th Division. Finally, in April 1918 his unit sailed for France.

However, the 5th Division stayed in the rear until October 1918 when they were sent to the front to take part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

Woodfill was leading his company in an attack near the village of Cunel when they came under heavy German machine gun fire from multiple positons. He ordered his company to take cover while he moved forward alone to scope out the situation.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
The fighting in the Meuse-Argonne area was muddy and brutal.

He quickly spotted three German machine gun nests that were firing on his men. Using the stalking skills he learned hunting in the backwoods of Indiana, he approached the Germans unseen and prepared to take them out.

The three German positions were well concealed in some bushes, an old barn, and a derelict church, respectively. Woodfill took aim at the machine gunner firing on his men in the church tower about 300 yards away. Unable to make out the gunner, he simply took aim at a position behind the muzzle flash and pulled the trigger. The gun fell silent. This was repeated four more times, as each German crewmember stepped forward to take their place on the gun.

Woodfill dropped another five-round clip in his Springfield and moved on to the next target. A single shot at the German in the barn put an end to the firing from that position.

He next maneuvered on a third machine gun position. In doing so, he took cover in a shell hole filled with lingering mustard gas. He approached to within ten yards of the position. Then, in rapid succession, he dispatched three of the crew members with his rifle. A fourth, a German officer, charged Woodfill and engaged him in hand-to-hand combat. He overcame the officer and killed him with a M1911 pistol.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’

With this line of machine guns silenced, Lt. Woodfill’s company continued their advance until they were again held up by a German machine gun nest. The officer once again raced forward to single-handedly attack the position. He killed the entire machine gun crew with his rifle before capturing three ammunition carriers from the position.

As the advance continued, Woodfill’s men again ran into murderous German machine gun fire. And once again their leader charged forward to handle the situation. Woodfill dispatched this crew with five shots from his rifle before drawing his pistol and charging the position to take on the remaining men. He killed one man with his pistol before grabbing a nearby pick axe and bludgeoning the other to death.

By this time, Woodfill was suffering heavily from exposure to mustard gas and was limping from a shrapnel wound. He was evacuated from the front lines and sent to Bordeaux to recover.

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
An American machine gun position during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. German positions were similarly manned and hidden.

 

On Jan. 22, 1919, Woodfill was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions the previous fall. The next month, Gen. John Pershing personally presented the award to the young lieutenant.

In 1921, Gen. Pershing bestowed two more honors on Woodfill. When asked that year to name the outstanding American soldier of the Great War, Pershing surprised everyone by naming Lt. Samuel Woodfill, claiming he had always considered him “America’s Greatest Doughboy,” over the likes of Alvin York, Charles Wittlesey of the Lost Battalion, and even Eddie Rickenbacker.

Pershing then named Woodfill as a pallbearer, this time along with Alvin York, for the internment of the first Unknown Soldier.

The legendary soldier, having reverted to his pre-war enlisted status, retired from the Army as a Master Sergeant in 1923. However, he served his country again during World War II. Then commissioned a Major, he trained and inspired young officers as they prepared for the great challenges ahead.

 

The World War II origins of Navy ‘Torpedo Juice’
Master Sgt. Samuel Woodfill, wearing his Medal of Honor.

Woodfill’s final service to his country was to once again act as a pallbearer, this time for his former commanding officer and supporter, Gen. Pershing. Woodfill himself passed away at the age of 68 in August 1951.

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