These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75 - We Are The Mighty
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These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75

A Navy Seabee is probably the one sailor that Marines love the most — next to the platoon doc, of course.


Camouflage is their typical working uniform. They spend most of their time in the field and dirt. They don’t shy away from messy jobs. As one Marine captain once told a journalist in Iraq: Seabees build things, they blow things up, and they shoot straight.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3, engage a simulated force during NMCB 3’s Final Evaluation Problem (FEP). (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Michael Gomez/Released)

The Navy’s “Can Do” sailors do a lot. They build field toilets and bunkers, construct camps and pour concrete, fix damaged utilities and buildings, help civilians in distress and even kill the enemy when required. Their work building airfields and camps across the Pacific during World War II undoubtedly helped in the allied victory.

A fraction of that force today, Navy Seabees are the backbone of the Naval Construction Force that includes 11 naval construction battalions and two amphibious construction battalions. Battalions send detachments of Seabees to as many as a dozen countries, and missions vary from repairing water lines, building schools and roads or pulling camp security.

Seabees serve in one of seven ratings – builder, construction mechanic, engineering aide, equipment operator, steelworker and utilitiesman – but every one will tell you they’re a Jack-of-all-trades among warfighters. Seabee ingenuity gets things done.

The classic round Seabee logo of the “Fighting Bee” holding a Tommy gun, wrench, and hammer — one of only a few Navy-approved insignias that sailors can wear on their uniforms — is as relevant today, 75 years after the first Seabee units were formed, as it was on March 5, 1942.

Combat readiness is a critical a mission because Seabees training for, say, a western Pacific rotation to Okinawa might be sent to a combat zone elsewhere. “You could be building a schoolhouse in the Philippines… and go to war,” said Chief Utilitiesman Phil Anderton, 31, a Seabee with Naval Construction Battalion 3 based at Port Hueneme, Calif.

Anderton learned that lesson as an 18-year-old Seabee in 2005. His battalion prepared to deploy to Rota, Spain, but ” they canceled leave, and for three weeks we trained to go to war,” he recalled. “It’s like that fast. Three weeks.” They ran scores of convoy security missions across volatile Iraq.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
Seaman Jonathan Rosa and Petty Officer 2nd Class Leroy Jimmy, both assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 18 (NMCB 18) return fire during a training evolution as part of a field training exercise (FTX). (U.S. Navy Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ian Carver/RELEASED).

It’s little surprise that Seabees going through their battalion final training exercise, required to certify as combat-ready, looks like they’re already in the hot zone. “This right here is the culmination of ‘be ready for war.’ It’s awesome,” Anderton said as he escorted a journalist through an expeditionary forward operating camp NMCB-3 built on an empty lot for its final training exercise at Fort Hunter-Liggett, Calif., last fall.

The air hummed with the sound of diesel trucks, generators and heavy machinery. Dust kicked up from medevac Humvee. The sound of gunfire echoed. Helping set that combat mindset was an opposing hostile force that kept trying to sneak along a creek to infiltrate perimeter lines and attack the camp. For three days since they arrived, and with little sleep, the battalion’s 550 Seabees grappled with an indirect fire attack from the mock enemy that wounded 17 and damaged the nearby airfield.

“Lately we’ve been seeing the small-arms attacks in the dark,” said Master-at-Arms 1st Class Matthew Lundeen, the quick reaction force commander.

In the midst, civilian-actors pleaded in their native language for the Americans to leave while others wanted their help, or so it seemed.

All Seabees get combat tactics training, and they have to learn what seasoned grunts do by instinct. “We put a lot on our E-4s and E-5s to make very sound, tactical decisions, putting bullets down the range to keep us safe,” said Anderton, the Bravo Company operations chief and a former drill instructor. “The first line of defense is them. They’re the ones in the pit when the aggressions happen.”

“Making that tactical decision that is either going to put him in jail or save his life,” he said. “That’s the most critical, that they would pull the trigger at the right time.”

“This is a pressurized environment that really tests the leaders,” said Cmdr. Laurie Scott, NMCB-3’s commander, especially for junior Seabees who haven’t yet served overseas. “This is a lesson in sleep deprivation,” he said. “You kind of get the sense of how people react under pressure.”

The night before, a Seabee spotted some infiltrators in the scrub and bushes who had been harassing them. “We walked down to the lines and, sure enough, there was someone out there and we started shooting,” said Steelworker 2nd Class Shianne Chlupacek with Charlie Platoon. “It was pretty cool.”

A half-dozen or so enemy tried to infiltrate the camp. “We saw them with the thermals setting up,” Builder 3rd Class John Skoblicki[cqgf] said. “They set up right in between (Pit) 4 and 3, and then they opened up. We shot back.”

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 15, pour concrete as they work to complete a runway expansion project. NMCB 15 is currently mobilized in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and is an expeditionary element of U.S. Naval Forces that support various units worldwide through national force readiness, civil engineering, humanitarian assistance, and building and maintaining infrastructure. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Garas)

“We’d been tracking them for awhile,” as enemy flashlights prodding the pit line gave them away, said Steelworker Seaman Korey Benton[cqgf], 20. “We engaged and fired back,” added Skoblicki. No casualties among the Seabees, but Skoblicki blew through the first can of ammo with the M240 machinegun before it jammed with the blanks. “It tends to do that,” he said. Benton provided covering fire with the M16 rifle until they could get the 240 up and running. “You just have to keep racking,” he said.

Chlupacek stood in an M16 pit the Seabees carved from the brown-mocha dirt with their E-tools and the help of a Catepillar 420 backhoe. (To a Marine, it’s a fighting hole. To Seabees, it’s a “defensive fighting pit.”) “It’s definitely part of being a Seabee,” said Chlupacek, who grew up around farms and hunting and got into welding in her small Nebraska town.

This was her third FTX. A cold front had blown chilly rain through the region just as the Seabees arrived to build their FOB. “It was the first day when we started doing trenching. It was hard to keep morale up,” she said. “I’d walk the lines for about 16 hours, and I’d keep telling the troops that it’ll be over soon. It was wet and it was cold.”

“Once you get entrenched, it’s pretty easy,” she said. “We didn’t get entrenched until the third day we were here. At first, it was just sitting on the ground, in like a skirmish room.”

Perhaps more than most seagoing sailors, Chlupacek is comfortable in the rugged outdoors. “I love tactics, so this is one of my favorite things to do,” she said. “You get in the game, and you feel it. OK, there’s enemy out there, and let’s kill ’em. I like it.”

Living like a grunt isn’t for every Seabee. Others take well to the “build-fight” life. “I love either side, tactics or building. I joined to be a Seabee,” said Builder 2nd Class Harlee Annis, 23, of Ukiah, Calif., who enlisted after he saw a pamphlet about Seabees while at a junior college. “I got my first gun when I was 7 years old.”

On this day, Annis was the gunner who manned the M16 service rifle, a qualification he earned during NMCB-3’s “homeport” period at Port Hueneme. “This is probably the funnest part, to get to fire it,” he said. He wasn’t on shift during the attack the previous night and was eager to get this first shot off. “I was hoping,” he said. “Today. Maybe.”

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Today in military history: Belfort Ruse in WW1

On Aug. 30, 1918, American Capt. (later Col.) Arthur L. Conger, with French support, deceived the Germans into believing an Allied attack near Belfort, France, was imminent.

In what would become known as the Belfort Ruse, the Allies drew German forces away from the actual upcoming offensive near St. Mihiel, France, planned for September.

Directed to devise and execute a plan to mislead the Germans as to the true location of the planned American attack, Conger, a Harvard graduate and German linguist, “traveled to Belfort, a hot bed of German sympathizers and spies, where he dropped hints to local inhabitants and conveniently left ‘confidential’ papers in plain sight. He arranged for reconnaissance flights over enemy lines, sent borrowed French tanks to drive around open fields and dispatched agents to scout rail lines, roads and hospital facilities. Signal units set up large antennas and proceeded to dispatch a flurry of messages,” according to an article from the U.S. Army.

Throughout the execution of his deception plan, Conger expressed pessimism on its chances for success, doubting “that the enemy takes this reconnaissance very seriously; … [he won’t] be deceived by a mere ‘paperwork’ demonstration or reconnaissance of officers, unaccompanied by actual preparations of guns, munitions, materiel and subsistence….” And he was right. German intelligence officers doubted the legitimacy of the information they received out of Belfort but felt it was too important to ignore completely. After all, Belfort might very well have been the true site of the upcoming attack and the American preparations at St. Mihiel the ruse. — Lori S. Tagg

The extent to which the trick was successful is debatable. German forces did divert to the Belfort region, but those in the St. Michael salient withdrew, allowing the American Expeditionary Force to control the area relatively uncontested. 

It was the first significant operation of the war under U.S. command and while it may have had little impact on the offensive at Mihiel, it was successful enough to encourage U.S. commanders to request additional deception operations throughout the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the first steps of the War in Afghanistan unfolded

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the United States led a coalition of forces to invade Afghanistan. The mission, known officially as Operation Enduring Freedom, was intended to destroy the al-Qaeda terrorist organization that had masterminded the 9/11 attacks and to topple the Taliban regime that had sheltered Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda within its fundamentalist stronghold. The Taliban had held most of Afghanistan in thrall since 1996, imposing its extreme version of Islam on the populace and perpetrating a well-documented list of human rights abuses.


The invasion began on Oct. 7, 2001 with air strikes against Taliban defensive positions and al-Qaeda training grounds in Kabul, Kandahar, and Jalalabad. Most of the Taliban’s outdated surface-to-air missiles, radar, and command units were destroyed on the first pass, along with its modest fleet of MIG-21 and Su-22 fighters. Having crippled the Taliban defensive response, the Coalition Forces Command gave the Afghan Northern Alliance the go-ahead to begin a ground invasion, with U.S.-led coalition forces providing air and ground support.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
Members of 10th Mountain in Afghanistan during Operation Mountain Serpent on 12 September 2003. | US Army photo

The groundwork for large-scale military action in Afghanistan had been laid in secret in the weeks following 9/11 by a small CIA liaison team codenamed ‘Jawbreaker.’ The team had staged covertly in the Panjshir Valley, north of Kabul, in order to coordinate with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. During the same period, President George W. Bush formally demanded that the Taliban relinquish bin Laden to the U.S. for prosecution and destroy al-Qaeda bases, brooking no discussion nor negotiation of terms.

They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.

The Taliban refused to comply and “The War on Terror” began in earnest.

By November 12th, the Taliban was routed in Kabul. Three weeks later, Kandahar, the last Taliban stronghold, was captured, driving Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar into hiding and the remaining al-Qaeda forces into the mountains of the Tora Bora region. Skirmishes continued between al-Qaeda and anti-Taliban indigenous forces, as U.S. Special Forces teams worked to locate the mountain caves into which al-Qaeda leadership had retreated. However, by the time the caves were captured, Osama bin Laden had escaped into neighboring Pakistan. He would remain at large until 2011, when he was finally apprehended and killed by SEAL Team 6.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
A U.S. Navy Corpsman searches for Taliban fighters in the spring of 2005. | US Marine Corps photo

In the vacuum of governance left by the expelled Taliban, a grand council of Afghan tribal leaders was assembled under the leadership of Hamid Karzai. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established by the U.N. Security Council to handle security in the region. Karzai was elected President in 2004 in Afghanistan’s first ever democratic elections. But even as Afghanistan began to take its first wobbly steps as a young democratic nation, the Taliban was regrouping on the Pakistan border. Soon they launched a wide-ranging insurgency, conducting guerilla-style attacks on Afghan Security Forces and targeting members of the new administration. Despite the continued intervention of U.S. military might in the region, the insurgency continues.

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Here are the best military photos for the week of June 24th

The military has very talented photographers in the ranks, and they’re always capturing what life as a service member is like during training and at war. Here are the best military photos of the week:


Air Force:

A U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fires flares during a flight in support of Operation Inherent Resolve June 21, 2017. The F-15, a component of U.S. Air Forces Central Command, supports U.S. and coalition forces working to liberate territory and people under the control of ISIS.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Trevor T. McBride

U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Fesler, 1st Fighter Wing commander, looks back to his wingman during his final F-22 Raptor flight over Charlottesville, Va., June 21, 2017. The Raptor is a 5th-generation fighter jet that combines stealth, supercruise, maneuverability and integrated avionics.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Natasha Stannard

Army:

Soldiers of the 100th Battalion donned Ghillie suits, June 18, 2017, in preparation for their mock ambush on opposing forces during their annual training at Kahuku Training Area.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
Photo by Staff Sgt. Gail Lapitan

An M1A1 Abrams from Task Force Dagger plays the role of Opposing Forces at Fort Hood, Texas, to provide the 278th Armored Brigade Combat Team with a near-peer opponent during the unit’s eXportable Combat Training Capability rotation May 30 – June 21. Task Force Dagger consisted of the 116th Brigade Engineer Battalion’s forces and was supplemented by units from five other states during the exercise.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
Photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle Warner

Navy:

The Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler USNS Yukon (T-AO 202) is underway alongside the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd (DDG 100) during a replenishment-at-sea. Kidd is underway with the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group on a scheduled deployment to the western Pacific and Indian Oceans.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jacob M. Milham

Sailors aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan (LHD 5) prepare to participate in an M9 pistol shoot on the ship’s port aircraft elevator. The ship and its ready group are deployed in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations designed to reassure allies and partners, and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Evan Thompson

Marine Corps:

Marine Special Operations School Individual Training Course students fire an M249 squad automatic weapon during night-fire training April 13, 2017, at Camp Lejeune. For the first time, U.S. Air Force Special Tactics Airmen spent three months in Marine Special Operations Command’s initial Marine Raider training pipeline, representing efforts to build joint mindsets across special operations forces.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ryan Conroy

U.S. Marines of Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, exit a CH-53E from Heavy Marine Helicopter Squadron 772, 4th Marine Air Wing, MARFORRES, to perform a rehearsal for the Air Assault Course as a part of the battalion final exercise for Integrated Training Exercise 4-17 at Camp Wilson, Marine Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, June 21, 2017. ITX is a Marine Air Ground Task Force integration training exercise featuring combined arms training events that incorporate live fire and maneuver.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Stanley Moy

Coast Guard:

A 25-foot Response Boat-Small boatcrew from Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu (91107) conducts a coastal safety and security patrol while escorting Hōkūleʻa, a Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe, back to Magic Island, Oahu, June 17, 2017. The Hōkūleʻa returned home after being gone for 36 months, sailing approximately 40,000 nautical miles around the world.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle

A member of the U.S Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard’s silent drill team waits prior to performing at a sunset salute program, Tuesday, June 20, 2017, at Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. The team performed in front of the Coast Guard Cutter Eagle as part of the festivities surrounding Sail Boston.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Barresi

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Here’s why the maker of the Army’s new handgun is suddenly playing defense

The company that makes the Army’s new handgun is in hot water over concerns that the pistol the new M17 is based on has a potentially serious safety flaw.


About a week ago, news trickled out that the Dallas Police Department had banned its officers from carrying the Sig Sauer P320 pistol after one of them had discharged a shot after it was dropped. Other reports disputed that claim, suggesting the department banned the P320 for carry because of a legal disclaimer in the user manual that stated a discharge could happen if the gun is dropped in extreme situations — a legal ass covering common to most handgun user manuals.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
A photo taken by Soldier Systems Daily at a recent briefing by Sig officials on the -30 degree drop tests. (Photo linked from SSD)

The P320 is Sig’s first so-called “striker-fired” handgun, which uses an internal firing pin to impact a round rather than an external hammer. Various internal safeties are supposed to keep this type of handgun “drop safe,” making it suitable for duty carry where an officer or service member might accidentally fumble it out of a holster or during a shot.

WATM friend Eric Graves at Soldier Systems Daily reports that there are five known incidents of an accidental discharged from a dropped P320 among the over 500,000 sold on the commercial market.

While at first Sig denied it had a safety problem, later tests showed some of the company’s P320s could discharge a round when dropped at a -30 degree angle from a certain height onto concrete. The company says such a condition is extremely rare and that under typical U.S. government standards, the P320 will not discharge if dropped.

“Recent events indicate that dropping the P320 beyond US standards for safety may cause an unintentional discharge,” Sig said in a statement. “As a result of input from law enforcement, government and military customers, SIG has developed a number of enhancements in function, reliability, and overall safety including drop performance.”

Sig said the version of the P320 that’s being deployed with the Army and other U.S. troops has a new trigger assembly that make discharges from a drop at any height and angle impossible.

That’s why the company is issuing a “voluntary” upgrade of some of its P320s to install the so-called “enhanced trigger” that comes directly from the Army’s new M17 handgun.

“The M17 variant of the P320, selected by the U.S. government as the U.S. Army’s Modular Handgun System, is not affected by the voluntary upgrade,” Sig said.

popular

The US plan to survive a Soviet nuke was absolutely bonkers

A sudden flash. A mushroom cloud. A sudden expanding pressure wave. In the event of a thermonuclear attack, seeing these things means its probably too late to survive. So the U.S. developed warning systems to give Americans a heads up before the bombs landed. But that begs the question: What do you do if you have just an hour or so until your city blows up?


Coordinating protection and relief for civilians in war falls to civil defense workers, and America’s civil defense program underwent an overhaul after World War II. Many of the funding and legislative changes were focused on responding to atomic and nuclear threats.

But hearings in 1955 revealed that civil defense was, uh, let’s say, far from robust. How far?

Well, Administrator Val Peterson told Congress that Americans should learn to dig holes in the ground and curl up in them to escape nuclear fallout. But he did also offer that the government could dig trenches next to highways for about .25 per mile and then cover the trenches with boards and soil for additional protection. In some areas, the boards and dirt could be replaced with tar paper.

Even at the time, the public realized a huge shortcoming of this plan: Ditches don’t last. They have to be dug for a specific attack, and the diggers would need at least a few days notice to provide shelter for a significant portion of a city.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75
(Seattle Municipal Archives)

 

And people in the 1950s were also familiar with pissing and pooping. These trenches would have no sanitation, water, or food, and people would have to stay in them for days. At the time, it was believed that a few days might be enough time for the radioactivity to fall to safe-ish levels. We now know it’s a year or more for the longer-lasting radioactive isotopes to get anywhere near safe.

But meanwhile, even a few days in trenches is problematic. For the first few hours, radiation is at peak strength, and any dust that makes its way from the surface into the trench is going to have levels of radiation high enough to threaten imminent death. This dust needs to be washed off as quickly as possible, something that can’t happen in a trench surrounded by more radioactive dust with no water.

Oh, and, btw, canned food and bottled water will become irradiated if not shielded when the bomb goes off.

But there was another plan that, um, had many of the same problems. This called for laying long stretches of concrete pipe and then burying it in a few feet of dirt. Same sanitation and supply problems, worst claustrophobia. But at least less irradiated dust would make it into the civilians huddling inside.

Duck And Cover (1951) Bert The Turtle

 

Most of this information was learned by the public in 1955 during those public hearings. Though, obviously, portions of the hearings were classified, and so the public wouldn’t learn about them for decades. One of the items that came out in closed session was that the irradiated zone from a hydrogen bomb would easily stretch for 145 miles with the right winds. A serious problem for the farmers who thought they were safe 40 miles from the city.

Things did get better as the Cold War continued, though. Government agencies, especially the Federal Civil Defense Administration, encouraged the construction of hospitals and other key infrastructure on the perimeters of cities where it would be more likely to survive the blast of a bomb (though it still would have certainly been irradiated if downwind of the epicenter).

Educational videos gave people some idea of what they should do after a bomb drop, though, like digging trenches next to highways, most of the actions an individual could take were marginal at best. Those old “Duck and Cover” cartoons from 1951? Yup, ducking and covering will help, but not enough to save most people at most distances from the bomb.

What you really need to do is find a nice, recently dug trench.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a fire destroyed millions of military personnel records

The National Archives and Records Administration recently marked the 45th anniversary of a devastating fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri, that destroyed approximately 16–18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF) documenting the service history of former military personnel discharged from 1912 to 1964.

Shortly after midnight on July 12, 1973, a fire was reported at the NPRC’s military personnel records building in St. Louis, Missouri. The fire burned out of control for 22 hours and it took two days before firefighters were able to re-enter the building. Due to the extensive damage, investigators were never able to determine the source of the fire.


The National Archives focused its immediate attention on salvaging as much as possible and quickly resuming operations at the facility. Even before the final flames were out, staff at the NPRC had begun work toward these efforts as vital records were removed from the burning building for safekeeping.

“In terms of loss to the cultural heritage of our nation, the 1973 NPRC fire was an unparalleled disaster,” Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said. “In the aftermath of the blaze, recovery and reconstruction efforts took place at an unprecedented level. Thanks to such recovery efforts and the use of alternate sources to reconstruct files, today’s NPRC is able to continue its primary mission of serving our country’s military and civil servants.”

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75

A fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 12, 1973, destroyed approximately 16–18 million Official Military Personnel Files.

(National Archives photo)

Removal and salvage of water- and fire-damaged records from the building was the most important priority, according to NPRC Director Scott Levins. Standing water—combined with the high temperatures and humidity—created a situation ripe for mold growth. This work led to the recovery of approximately 6.5 million burned and water-damaged records, Levins said.

The estimated loss of Army personnel records for those discharged from November 1, 1912, to January 1, 1950, was about 80 percent. In addition, approximately 75 percent of Air Force personnel records for those discharged from September 25, 1947, through January 1, 1964 (with names alphabetically after Hubbard, James E.) were also destroyed in the catastrophe.

However, in the years following the fire, the NPRC collected numerous series of records (referred to as Auxiliary Records) that are used to reconstruct basic service information.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75

(National Archives photo)

Bryan McGraw, access coordinator at the NPRC, emphasized the gravity of the loss of the actual primary source records. “Unfortunately, the loss of 16–18 million individual records has had a significant impact on the lives of not only those veterans, but also on their families and dependents,” McGraw said. “We can usually prove eligibility for benefits and get the vet or next of kin their entitlements; however, we cannot recreate the individual file to what it was—we don’t know what was specifically in each file, and each of these was as different as each of us as individuals. So from a purely historic or genealogical perspective, that material was lost forever.”

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75

Recovery efforts at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, salvage documents after a fire on July 12, 1973, destroyed approximately 16–18 million Official Military Personnel Files.

(National Archives photo)

In the days following the fire, recovery teams faced the issue of how to salvage fire-damaged records as well as how to dry the millions of water-soaked records. Initially, NPRC staffers shipped these water-damaged records in plastic milk crates to a temporary facility at the civilian records center where hastily constructed drying racks had been assembled from spare shelving. When it was discovered that McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis had vacuum-drying facilities, the NPRC diverted its water-damaged records there for treatment using a vacuum-dry process in a chamber large enough to accommodate approximately 2,000 plastic milk cartons of water- and fire-damaged records.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75

Preservation staff must restore and preserve documents nearly destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center staff in St. Louis, Missouri, on July 12, 1973 .

(National Archives photo)


“This is a somber anniversary,” Levins said. “In terms of the number of records lost and lives impacted, you could not find a greater records disaster. Although it’s now been 45 years since the fire, we still expend the equivalent of more than 40 full-time personnel each year who work exclusively on responding to requests involving records lost in the fire.”

Much has been written about the fire and its aftermath. A white paper, The National Personnel Records Center Fire: A Study in Disaster, provides an extensive account. It was originally published in October of 1974 in The American Archivist, Vol. 37, No. 4. In addition, Prologue magazine published “Burnt in Memory: Looking back, looking forward at the 1973 St. Louis Fire.”

Each year, the NPRC connects more than a million veterans with their OMPFs as part of the National Archives’ services to the nation.

This article originally appeared on National Archives. Follow @USNatArchives on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Tokyo Raiders didn’t bomb the Japanese emperor

In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was very angry and very eager to kick some ass — hence the decision to carry out the Doolittle raid. America wanted to take the fight to the enemy, and we wanted to do so as soon as possible. Enter the Tokyo Raiders. 


We all know the story: Then-Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle recruited volunteer crews to fly 16 North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8). Of the 80 men aboard the planes, three died in crashes or while bailing out, eight were captured (three of which were executed, one died as a POW), and the rest made their way back to friendly lines. Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75

A 1979 aerial view of the Imperial Palace.

(Photo by Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism)

As depicted in the movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (based on the book of the same title by Ted Lawson), each of the raiders were allowed to pick their own targets. Several requested one particular target, but Doolittle denied the request each time. The target in question: The Imperial Palace.

Now, with America in a fight for survival, why would Doolittle deny that request? There’s good reason. Although history tells us that Hirohito made the decision to surrender in the wake of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a traditional bombing wouldn’t have had the same effect. No, Doolittle and the Tokyo raiders had a very practical reason to not hit the Imperial Palace.

These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75

Emperor Hirohito during a Japanese Army parade.

During World War II, the Japanese people viewed their emperor as a god — and it had been that way ever since Jimmu took the throne over 26 centuries prior. Hitting the Palace — and harming the Emperor — would have been very bad news for American troops. That didn’t stop some of the raiders, however, from buzzing the Palace.

The raid had frightful consequences for the Chinese civilians caught under Japan’s rule — over 250,000 were killed by the Japanese in retaliation. American POWs held by Japan were also in for a rough time. The raid also prompted Japan to move to take Midway Island — leading to the Battle of Midway, which turned the tides in the Pacific in favor of the Allied Forces.

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Defense budget spotlight: What do weapons really cost?

Editor’s note: With news of the Air Force potentially awarding the contract for the next-generation bomber and Congressional Republicans reaching an agreement with the White House on the defense budget, WATM presents a short primer by our friend Winslow Wheeler on how the Pentagon tends to complicate how much things actually cost.


These tough, grungy sailors are turning 75

On Wednesday March 25, 2009, an F-22 crashed near Edwards Air Force Base in California. Sadly, the pilot was killed. The news articles surrounding this event contained some strange assertions about the cost of the crashed airplane. Based on the price asserted in the Air Force’s “fact” sheet on the F-22 that was linked to a Pentagon news release on the crash, the press articles on the crash cited the cost per aircraft at $143 million.

It was incomplete, to put it charitably, but the media passed it on nevertheless. The extant “Selected Acquisition Report” (SAR) from the Defense Department is the definitive DOD data available to the public on the costs for the F-22. The SAR showed a “Current Estimate” for the F-22 program in “Then-Year” dollars of $64.540 billion. That $64.5 billion was for 184 aircraft.

Do the arithmetic: $64.540/184 = $350.1. Total program unit price for one F-22 calculates to $350 million per copy. So, where does the $143 million unit cost come from? Many will recognize that as the “flyaway” cost: the amount we pay today, just for the ongoing production costs of an F-22. (Note, however, the “flyaway” cost does not include the pilot, fuel and other consumables needed to fly the aircraft away.)

The SAR cost includes not just procurement costs, but research and development (RD) and some military construction, as well. At about the same time as the crash, a massive lobbying effort had started to buy more F-22s, to reverse Secretary of Defense Robert Gates impending announcement (in April 2009) that he wanted no more. F-22 advocates were asserting the aircraft could be had for this bargain $143 million unit price. That was, they argued, the “cost to go” for buying new models, which would not include the RD and other initially high production costs already sunk into the program.

Congressional appropriations bills and their accompanying reports are not user-friendly documents, but having plowed through them for decades, I know many of the places and methods that Appropriations Committee staff like to use to hide and obscure what Congress and the Pentagon are actually spending. Let’s check through the 2009 congressional appropriations for the F-22. Most – but not all – of the required information is contained in HR 2638, which contained the Department of Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2009.

In the “Joint Explanatory Statement” accompanying the bill, the House and Senate appropriators specified that $2.907 billion was to be appropriated for 20 F-22s in 2009. The math comes to just about what the Air Force said, $145 million per copy. So, what’s the problem?

Flipping down to the section on “modification of aircraft” we find another $327 million for the F-22 program. Switching over to the Research and Development section, we find another $607 million for the F-22 under the title “Operational System Development.” Some will know it is typical for DOD to provide “advance procurement” money in previous appropriations bills to support the subsequent year’s purchase.

In the case of the 2009 buy of 20 F-22’s, the previous 2008 appropriations act provided “advance procurement” for “long lead” F-22 items to enable the 2009 buy. The amount was $427 million.  Here’s the math: $2.907 + $.327 + $.607 + $.427 = $4.268 billion for 20 aircraft. That’s $213 million each.

Do not think these data represent an exceptional year. If you check any of the annual buys of F-22s, you will find the same pattern: in addition to the annual “procurement” amount, there is additional “modification,” RD” and advance procurement.

A few weeks later, F-22 advocate Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R–Ga., attempted to amend the 2010 DOD “authorization” bill coming out of the Senate Armed Services Committee to buy seven more F-22s for $1.75 billion, or $250 million each. The Chambliss effort, almost certainly worked out in close association with Lockheed Martin – a major F-22 plant is in Marietta, Ga. – surely sought to pay Lockheed the full amount to procure more aircraft: not $143 million each, but $250 million.

Clearly, Chambliss and Lockheed knew about some additional F-22 costs not included in my estimate of $213 million. The pathology of low-balling a weapon’s costs goes far beyond the F-22 example cited here; it is a basic tenet of bureaucratic behavior; it helps a program acquire support by top DOD management and Congress.

Understatement of cost does not occur in isolation in the Pentagon; it is accompanied by an overstatement of the performance the program will bring, and the schedule articulated will be unrealistically optimistic. Once the hook is set in the form of an approved program in the Pentagon (based on optimistic numbers) and an annual funding stream for it from Congress (based on local jobs and campaign contributions), the reality of actual cost, schedule and performance will come too late to generate anything but a few pesky newspaper articles.

(This post was excerpted from The Pentagon Labyrinth: 10 Short Essays to Help You Through It.)

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About the author: Winslow T. Wheeler focuses on the defense budget, why some weapons work and others don’t, congressional oversight, and the politics of Pentagon spending. Before joining the Center for Defense Information in 2002, he worked on Capitol Hill for four U.S. Senators from both political parties and for the Government Accountability Office. At GAO and the Senate, Wheeler focused on Pentagon budget issues, weapons testing, the performance of U.S. systems in actual combat, and the U.S. strategic “triad” of nuclear weapons.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

John A. asks: Are there any real examples of medieval castles having alligators in the moat to keep out intruders?

A common image in pop-culture is that of a castle moat filled to the brim with water and hungry crocodiles. So did anyone ever actually do this?

The short answer is that it doesn’t appear so. That said, while there’s no known documented instance of crocodiles intentionally being put into moats, we do know of at least one castle that had (and has, in fact) a moat full of bears…


Before we get to that and why crocodiles in moats are probably not the best idea in the world, or at least not a very efficient use of resources if your concern was really defense of a fortress, we should address the fact that the common image most people have in their heads of a moat isn’t exactly representative of what historical moats usually looked like.

To begin with, moats have been around seemingly as long as humans have had need of protecting a structure or area, with documented instances of them appearing everywhere from Ancient Egypt to slightly more modern times around certain Native American settlements. And, of course, there are countless examples of moats being used throughout European history. In many cases, however, these moats were little more than empty pits dug around a particular piece of land or property- water filled moats were something of a rarity.

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Bodiam Castle, a 14th-century castle near Robertsbridge in East Sussex, England.

(WyrdLight.com, CC BY-SA)

You see, unless a natural source of water was around, maintaining an artificial moat filled with water required a lot of resources to avoid the whole thing just turning into a stinking cesspool of algae and biting bugs, as is wont to happen in standing water. As with artificial ponds constructed on certain wealthy individuals’ estates, these would have to be regularly drained and cleaned, then filled back up to keep things from becoming putrid.

Of course, if one had a natural flowing water source nearby, some of these problems could be avoided. But, in the end, it turns out a water filled moat isn’t actually that much more effective than an empty one at accomplishing the goal of protecting a fortress.

And as for putting crocodiles (or alligators) in them, introducing such animals to a region, beyond being quite expensive if not their native habitat, is also potentially dangerous if the animals got out. Again, all this while not really making the act of conquering a fortress that much more difficult- so little payoff for the extra cost of maintaining crocodiles.

Unsurprisingly from this, outside of a legend we’ll get to shortly, there doesn’t appear to be any known documented cases of anyone intentionally putting crocodiles or alligators into their water filled moats.

It should also be mentioned here that while at first glance it would appear that the key purpose of a moat is to defend against soldiers attacking at the walls, they were often actually constructed with the idea of stopping soldiers under the ground. You see, a technique favoured since ancient times for breaching cities, fortresses and fortified positions was to simply dig tunnels below any walls surrounding the position and then intentionally let them collapse, bringing part of the wall above that section tumbling down. Eventually this was accomplished by use of explosives like gunpowder, but before this a more simple method was to cart a bunch of tinder into the tunnel at the appropriate point and set the whole thing ablaze. The idea here was, after all your diggers were out, to destroy the support beams used to keep the tunnel from collapsing while digging. If all went as planned, both the tunnel and the wall above it would then collapse.

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North view of the fortress of Buhen in Ancient Egypt.

To get around this very effective form of breaching fortifications, moats would be dug as deeply as possible around the fortification, sometimes until diggers reached bedrock. If a natural source of water was around, surrounding the fortress with water was a potential additional benefit over the dry pit at stopping such tunneling.

Either way, beyond making tunneling more difficult (or practically impossible), dry and wet moats, of course, helped dissuade above ground attacks as well thanks to moats being quite good at limiting an enemy’s use of siege weaponry. In particular, devices such as battering rams are rendered almost entirely useless in the presence of a large moat. Though the later advent of weapons such as trebuchets made moats less effective overall, they still proved to be formidable barrier capable of kneecapping a direct assault on a castle’s walls.

All this said, it wasn’t as if proud moat owners didn’t put anything in them. There are plenty of ways to beef up moat defences without the need for water and crocodiles. Pretty much anything that slows an enemy’s advance works well. And, better year, anything that is so daunting it deters an attack at all.

In fact, archaeological surveys of moats have found evidence of things like stinging bushes having once grown throughout some moats. Whether these were intentionally planted on the part of the moat owners or just a byproduct of having a patch of land they left unattended for years at a time isn’t entirely clear. But it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think this may have been intentional in some cases. As you might imagine, wading through stinging or thorny plants while arrows and rocks and the like are raining down at you from above wasn’t exactly tops on people’s lists of things to do.

As for moats that were filled with water, while filling them with crocodiles or alligators wasn’t seemingly something anyone did, some savvy castle owners did fill them with fish giving them a nice private fishery. (As mentioned, artificial ponds built for this purpose were also sometimes a thing for the ultra-wealthy, functioning both as a status symbol, given maintaining such was incredibly expensive, and a great source of food year round).

Moving back to the dry bed moats, when not just leaving them as a simple dug pit or planting things meant to slow enemy troops, it does appear at least in some rare instances fortress owners would put dangerous animals in them, though seemingly, again, more as a status symbol than actually being particularly effective at deterring enemy troops.

Most famously, at Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic there exists something that is most aptly described as a “bear moat”, located between the castle’s first and second courtyard. When exactly this practice started and exactly why has been lost to history, with the earliest known documented reference to the bear moat going back to 1707.

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(Flickr photo by Soren Wolf)

Whether designed to serve as a stark warning to potential intruders, a status symbol, or both, the castle’s grizzliest residents were tended to by a designated bearkeeper until around the early 19th century when the practice ceased. This changed again in 1857 when the castle’s then resident noble, Karl zu Schwarzenberg, acquired a pair of bears from nearby Transylvania intent on reviving the tradition. From that moment onward, outside of a brief lapse in the late 19th century, the castle’s moat has almost always contained at least one bear.

Today the bears are most definitely completely for show, and each year bear-themed celebrations are held at Christmas and on the bears’ birthdays during which children bring the bears presents.

If bears aren’t you thing, Wilhelm V, the Prince Regent of Bavaria, in the late 16th century supposedly kept both lions and a leopard in the moat of Trausnitz Castle while he lived there. However, again, it appears that Prince Wilhelm kept the animals more for show and fun than he did for defence. Beyond dangerous creatures, his moat also contained pheasants and a rabbit run.

Moving back to crocodiles being put in moats, the earliest reference to something like this (though seemingly just a legend), appears to be the legend of the Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo.

This story is recounted by the 19th and 20th century historian and politician Benedetto Croce in his “Neapolitan Stories and Legends“:

In that castle, there was a moat under the level of the sea, dark, humid, where the prisoners, who they want to more strictly castigate, were usually put. When, all of a sudden, they started to notice with astonishment that, from there, the prisoners disappeared. Did they escape? How? Put a tighter surveillance and a new guest inside there, one day they saw, unexpected and terrifying scene, from a hole hidden in the moat, a monster, a crocodile entering and, with its jaws, it grasped for the legs the prisoner, and dragged him to the sea to eat him.

Rather than kill the creature, the guards decided to make the fearsome creature an “executor of justice”, sending prisoners condemned to death to meet their end in its toothy maw. Exactly where the crocodile came from and when this supposedly happened depends on which version of the legend you consult, though our favourite version suggests that Queen Joanna II smuggled it over to Naples from Egypt sometime in the 15th century with the sole intention of feeding her many, many lovers to it.

A consistent element in most versions of the legend is that the beast bit off more than it could chew when it tried to eat a leg of a giant horse, ultimately choking on it.

Of course, this is generally thought to be nothing more than a legend, with no evidence that it actually occurred or even exactly when. At least the story does show that the idea of a crocodile in a moat isn’t just something found in modern pop culture.

Bonus Facts:

  • Moats are starting to make a bit of a comeback in modern times, such as used to protect certain embassies from car bombings. There’s also a concrete moat around the parts of Catawba Nuclear Station that isn’t bordered by a lake, again for the purposes of protecting against car bombings and the like.
  • On the note of poky plants planted in moats, there are variations of a popular Scottish legend that have the thistle playing a key role in foiling the attack of an invading force. In one such version of the legend, a nighttime raid on Slains castle in modern day Aberdeenshire was foiled when sneaking Norsemen stepped on the thistles and cried out in pain, alerting the guards that a surprise attack was eminent. It is sometimes further stated that this is how The Most Noble and Most Ancient Order of the Thistle of Scotland was established and how the national flower of Scotland was chosen. Of course, there isn’t any documented evidence that exists to support the various versions of this legend.

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

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Movies and shows you forgot featured key milspouses

Fellow milspouses, you are not alone. In fact, you are more well-represented on the big screen than you likely realize. On TV shows, in movies and of course, virtually every war-related film, you’re represented on-screen. Milspouses who show the rest of the world what it’s like — at least on a small scale — to live as a military spouse.

Take a look at these films that feature key milspouse roles, and if you haven’t seen them already, don’t forget to add them to your watch list! 

  1. American Sniper, 2014
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Warner Bros.

No surprise here — the movie is about the life of Chris Kyle and is based off his book, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.” Of course, his wife is prominently featured! However, American Sniper takes it a step further. Throughout the film, Taya is shown taking devastating phone calls, raising her kids alone and carrying on with her life as her husband fights a war. You know, the real stuff. We love this representation of a milspouse life and how accurate it is.

2. We Were Soldiers, 2002

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Icon Entertainment

Set during the Vietnam War, We Were Soldiers tells the story of Army Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore during the Battle of la Drang. But while the men are off fighting, the women are stateside, planning events of their own. Moore’s wife, Julia, leads fellow milspouses at Fort Benning, helping them support one another and make it through the war while waiting back home. Think of it as an insider look at Soldier and Family Readiness Groups.

3. Little Women, 1994

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IMDB

This famous book title was brought to life on-screen in the mid-’90s, showing the world what it was like to be a military spouse — and a brat — while their patriarch was at war. Little Women takes place during the Civil War while milspouse, Marmee, raises her four daughters and keeps everyone sane during the dramatic sequences of a war on the homefront. It’s hardships at their realest while women handle life at home. 

4. Army Wives, 2007-2014

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ABC

This infamous TV show ran for seven series on Lifetime, bringing a name to military spouses everywhere. While the show didn’t get everything right — it’s made for entertainment over informational purposes, after all — this was a huge step for milspouses and being represented on-screen. The series is based on the non-fiction book, “Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives,” by Tanya Biank. Another win for milspouses, whether enjoying the world seeing what it’s like, or just having something to binge-watch on Netflix. 

5. Pearl Harbor, 2001

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Buena Vista

This long-loved classic covers the WWII bombing of Pearl Harbor and the pilots who fought on that fateful day. It also tells the story of a milsig — military significant other — and what it’s like to be waiting to learn if your loved one is ok. Pearl Harbor shows us loss, love and how to move forward without forgetting what we went through. No wonder it remains as a classic war flick!

6. Gone with the Wind, 1939

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MGM

Another book that’s a household name, this epic film, Gone with the Wind takes place during the Civil War. Milspouse, Scarlett, loses her husband to the war. Her sister-in-law, Melanie, is a fellow Confederate milspouse. The movie follows the women dealing with loss and uncertainty, including the fall of the Confederacy. 

These movies and shows told just some of the insider moments of what it’s like to be a military spouse. Through ups, downs, and triumphs, we got to see what life was like behind the scenes on some of the world’s most epic battles. 

What milspouse movie is your favorite? Tell us below. 

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US Air Force pilots donned Santa hats during Christmas Day airstrike on ISIS

The US-led coalition air campaign against ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria has dragged on for months, but the US airmen mounting the raids haven’t lost track of time.


During Christmas Day airstrikes against the terrorist group, some US pilot donned Santa hats, photos of which were shared by the US Air Force, as first spotted by international monitoring group Airwars.

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A US F-16 pilot over Iraq wears a Santa hat during strikes against ISIS on Christmas Day, December 25, 2016. US Defense Department photo.

Coalition air forces mounted 18 strikes against ISIS targets in Iraq in Syria on December 25.

Near Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital city in Syria, 11 strikes were directed at ISIS tactical units, fighting positions, vehicles, and weapons, including ISIS’ apparent go-to of late: A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device.

Near Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq and the terror group’s last stronghold in that country, two strikes were directed at ISIS tactical units, fighting positions, vehicles, weapons, and infrastructure.

According to a release from Operation Inherent Resolve, all aircraft involved in Christmas Day strikes returned to base safely.

The US-led coalition has mounted hundreds of strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, targeting the terror group’s vehicles, weapons, buildings, fighting positions, resources, and tunnel networks.

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An F-16 pilot over Iraq can been seen wearing a Santa hat during a Christmas Day operation, December 25, 2016. US Defense Department photo.

Progress against ISIS in Syria appears to have been set back by the Syrian and Russian governments’ concentration on Aleppo, which fell earlier this month after years of resistance.

Moscow and Damascus’ focus on the city reportedly allowed the terrorist group to make progress elsewhere in the country, while a campaign against Raqqa in the east is still in its early stages.

The six-week-old offensive against Mosul, led by Iraqi government forces, appears to have been paused, holding in what one US official called an “operational refit” period earlier this month.

Progress against ISIS in Mosul has been slow, as the confines of the city and the immense number of civilians still in it make military advances hard to come by.

Iraq forces have only retaken about one-quarter of the city since launching their offensive in mid-October.

US forces on the ground in Iraq appear to be stepping up their involvement in the fight for Mosul.

As a recent Reuters report quotes the commander of the main US unit on the ground in Iraq:

“We have always had opportunities to work side-by-side, but we have never been embedded to this degree … That was always a smaller niche mission. Well, this is our mission now and it is big and we are embedded inside their formations.”

Many civilians have found themselves in the cross-fire, especially in Iraq, where they have been caught between ISIS and Iraqi fighters on the ground as well as in the path of ongoing airstrikes.

In the 10 days before Christmas, Airwars documented reports — some of them contested — indicating that more than 50 civilians were killed by air and ground fire from coalition and Iraqi forces.

ISIS continues to menace civilians as well.

The terrorist group has fired on civilian areas of Mosul, including liberated sections of the city, and a Human Rights Watch report issued on Tuesday states that the terror group executed at least 13 people — including two boys — in villages south of Mosul where locals mounted an effort to expel the group’s fighters.

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4 military disguises that were just crazy enough to actually work

1. That time French soldiers hid inside papier-mâché horse carcasses

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Looking back, trench warfare has to be one of the most insane methods of warfare ever carried out. Between the torrential mud, staggering levels of trench foot, and other diseases that ran rampant, it’s a wonder that everyone didn’t just give up and get the hell out of the ground.

But World War I was still, in some respects, a gentleman’s war. And gentlemen don’t let mud get them down. Gentlemen also don’t complain about their lack of protective cover — at least not if you’re France. While other platoons were bemoaning the crumbling, barren landscape that made up infamous “No Man’s Land” — a stretch of charred earth, tangled barbed wire and broken bodies between opposing trenches — a few French soldiers set up camp right in the middle of it.

They weren’t alone, though. They were using a very special kind of shelter … the hooved kind. Don’t worry, no one was actually crawling inside of dead horse bodies to hide from enemy artillery fire. Though a dead horse is what started this whole thing.

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Maybe it was this one

Horses were a huge part of combat in WWI. They pulled ambulances, carried soldiers into cavalry charges, and were the primary means of transporting weapons, ammunition and food supplies for each nation involved. They were also large, bulky and loud, making them primary targets for enemy scopes.

This, as you can imagine, left a lot of dead horses everywhere. Eventually, someone searching for shelter in No Man’s Land probably cuddled up next to one in what he thought were his final moments, only to realize that this decaying Seabiscuit actually made for a pretty awesome barrier.

Enter France’s big idea: hollow, papier-mâché horses large enough for a man to crawl inside and aim his gun through.

Once night fell, the French drug away the dead horses that lay right in front of the German trenches and replaced them with the dummies. Then they ran a telephone wire from inside the horse back to the French trenches, so the sniper who would hide inside the horse would be able to report back on German movements.

This worked for a few days. Then a German soldier spotted a French sniper climbing out of one of the dead horses, and the jig was up. The method quickly became popular though, and “dummy horses” would appear on battlefields throughout Europe for the duration of the war.

2. The sailors who cross-dressed and pretended their warship was a cruise liner

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World War II had its share of out-of-the-box camouflage as well. While a Dutch warship was busy disguising itself as an island to hide from Japanese bombers, the British fleet was brainstorming its own method of deception.

German U-boats were becoming more and more of a problem for the Allied merchant fleet. With little means of fighting back, the small ships were sitting ducks for the German watercraft, who could pluck them off easily with their superior weapons and speed. This gave England an idea: if the King’s warships disguised themselves as merchant boats, they could lure them into an ambush, destroying the German U-boats and the submarines that surfaced alongside them during their attacks.

But England wasn’t about to do this deception halfway. If they were going to pull this off, their disguise would have to be elaborate, reflective of the other (hijinks) they had pulled off earlier in the war. So the sailors got creative, and boy did they deliver.

Not only did the British officers don civilian costumes, some dressed in drag, pretending to be ladies sunning themselves on the deck of a cruise liner. When the Germans looked through their periscopes to take in the ship, they would see men and “women” flirting aboard a civilian ocean liner, walking around the deck and taking in the views over the rail.

They would also have to act the part. When a German U-boat was spotted, some ships went as far as pretending to panic, running around the deck and tripping over themselves for the benefit of the German’s view. There are even accounts of sailors haphazardly deploying their lifeboats and “accidentally” leaving one of their own behind, then scrambling to retrieve them as the unlucky “civilian” screamed for help.

The ship, of course, was actually outfitted with plenty of hidden weapons. When the U-boats would close in, the ruse would be over, and they would destroy the enemy ships and submarines as they began to close in.

3. The German soldier who hid inside of a fake tree

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Man-sized horse piñatas weren’t the only thing soldiers were hiding inside of during WWI. In 1917, a platoon of German soldiers in Belgium needed to find a way to gain visibility through a small patch of dead trees that blocked their view of the Allies on the other side.

The cluster of dry wood was optimistically named the Oosttaverne Wood, one of the last clumps of nature left in the battlegrounds near Messines. It actually looked like a bunch post-apacolyptic metal posts, which gave the Germans an idea. They couldn’t send a sniper in to hide amongst the trees because there weren’t enough branches to cover him, but they could send them inside their own tree.

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A plan was set into motion. The Germans would build a 25-foot-tall tree out of steel pipe, painting it so it looked like it had bark. Then a solider would hide inside, using a small hidden window to spy on the British forces in what was probably one of the most cramped snipers’ nests ever.

Just like the French horse-creators did, the Germans waited until nightfall to get things moving. With artillery fire ringing out to disguise the sounds of sawing and chopping wood, they cut down the real tree and set up their new steel lookout, hoping it wouldn’t draw any unwanted attention.

It didn’t. For several months the Germans were able to spy from their wartime treehouse, with the tree-spy crawling out of his post under cover of darkness each evening to report on his findings. It wasn’t until the British tunneled under the German lines and destroyed their trenches from the ground up in the Battle of Messines  that the tree was abandoned. Once they had captured the trenches, the British lived and worked alongside the fake tree for several months before discovering it was a fake. The steel tree can now be found in The Australian War Memorial.

4. Israeli special forces used fake boobs to trick the PLO

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Wonder where they got the idea from… (Photo: Variety)

Thus far, all of our disguise contenders have been relatively believable. When you have shells exploding next to your trench and artillery fire screaming in your ears, you’re probably not going to spend much time debating the validity of a slightly iron-looking tree, or a particularly limp dead horse. No one has time for that kind of daydream. And even though the cross-dressing sailors were doubly ridiculous, they had the advantage of distance from enemy scopes.

This story, however, is just plain insane. In 1973, a group of Israeli special forces commandos entered Beirut on a mission to take out three key leaders of the [Palestine Liberation Organization] who were responsible for the Munich massacre of the 1972 Olympics. The mission, dubbed “The Spring of Youth,” was incredibly risky, and the operatives knew that some deception would be in order if they were to get in and out of the area safely.

So, the Israeli commandos did the logical thing — they dressed up as women. Besides being confident in their ability to infiltrate the PLO, they were also apparently confident that their enemies had never seen a woman before. Or that they could really rock a pair of heels, who knows.

With wigs, fake boobs and matching shoes all in place, the muscled members of the Israeli special forces strolled down the street on the arms of other members of their secret group, who were normally-dressed men.

The fake couples were able to pass right by bodyguards and police without inciting any suspicions, and the hidden team was able to walk up to the apartment building of the PLO leaders and wait right outside their doors. Once safely inside, the men and “women” burst through the doors and pulled out their hidden guns and explosives, shooting and killing the stunned PLO members and avenging the deaths of their murdered countrymen.

The story gets even crazier from here. One of the femme fatales who carried out the high stakes mission was Ehud Barak, who would eventually serve as Prime Minister of Israel and currently serves as Defense Minister. Just goes to show you that dressing in drag could help you make it to the top.

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