During World War II, the P-51 Mustang emerged as a superb long-range escort fighter. There was a problem, though. While it had long range, it also only had one pilot, and that pilot could get very tired by the end of a long mission. Sometimes, after flights, the ground crew would need to lift an exhausted, sweat-drenched pilot out of the cockpit — and sweat might not be the only thing the pilot was drenched with.
The Army Air Force had begun to address that need in 1943 as a tool for the Pacific Theater of Operations. They sought a fighter with a crew of two so one pilot could relieve the other when fatigue set in. North American Aviation came up with an interesting idea — use two Mustang fuselages on one wing. That took some serious re-design work.
The North American F-82E Twin Mustang — used as an escort. (USAF photo)
The plan was to have one cockpit with the usual instruments for the pilot. This was to be on the left fuselage. The cockpit for the co-pilot/navigator, on the right fuselage, was to have a more basic set. The six M2 .50-caliber machine guns would be in the center wing that joined the two fuselages. An additional eight guns could be added in a gun pod underneath. Initially tested with the famous Packard Merlin engine, the Twin Mustang was soon equipped with older Allison engines. Later versions were equipped with radars to serve as night fighters.
The plane entered service in 1948; only 273 were built. At the start of the Korean War, the Twin Mustang was thrown into action, where it escorted transports and bombers and carried out a number of other missions. On June 27, 1950, the F-82 scored the first kills for the United States Air Force in that conflict. But the beginning of the Jet Age — and the very short production run — meant the F-82 wasn’t going to stick around.
Your grandparents and great grandparents fighting in World War II were hit with just as much safety rules as troops are today, it’s just those rules rarely make it to the history books.
But they weren’t always given their safety rules in boring briefings. When the 1940s War Department and Department of the Navy really wanted to drive safety rules home, they made snazzy safety videos and posters.
The Navy used “Ensign Dilbert,” a soup-sandwich who always breaks safety rules, to highlight the grisly results of incompetency in aviation.
And Dilbert does some truly stupid stuff. He mishandles his weapons, tows aerial targets into ground crews, and even accidentally kills a civilian his first flight of the day. And the Navy isn’t afraid to show the (PG-13) bodies of his victims.
Though the latest explosive ordnance tech may trace an innovation curve toward tiny/powerful similar to that of the smartphone, for the purposes of terrorism, a few sacks of the right garden-variety chemicals packed in a vehicle is all it takes to cause mass destruction and appalling casualties. A car bomber doesn’t even necessarily need to die behind the wheel to detonate it. He or she can live to attack again.
That was certainly Timothy McVeigh’s thinking on Apr. 19, 1995, when he lit timed fuses to a massive homemade explosive device in the yellow Ryder truck he’d parked in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The ensuing detonation, registered by seismometers at the nearby Omniplex Science Museum at approximately 3.0 on the Richter scale, destroyed one third of the building, killed 168 people (including 19 children) and wounded over 680 others.
McVeigh’s truck bombing was, to date, the deadliest act of domestic terror in U.S. history. It was the deadliest terror attack on U.S. soil prior to the September 11th attacks, which would eclipse the memory of McVeigh’s villainy just three months after he was executed by lethal injection on June 11th, 2001.
Terrible as it was, the Oklahoma City bombing paled in comparison to the strength and lethality of the 1983 car bombing of the U.S. Marine barracks at Beirut International Airport. In that attack, a suicide bomber drove a truck packed with over 2,000 lbs. of explosives directly into the heart of the facility.
The blast, which FBI investigators later qualified as the largest non-nuclear detonation since WW2, killed 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and 3 soldiers. Estimated to have delivered an explosive force equivalent to 21,000 pounds of TNT, it was the largest car bomb ever detonated. Eyewitnesses reported seeing the building levitate off its support columns on a cloud of concussive fire before thundering down into a plinth of stratified rubble.
The 1st Battalion 8th Marines stationed there was part of a multinational peacekeeping force supervising the withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Organization from Beirut. Under the peacetime rules of engagement, security around the barracks was relatively light, with sentry’s weapons unloaded and on safe. However, given the size of the explosive device, investigators concluded that the barracks would have been destroyed even if the bomber had been stopped at the last checkpoint and detonated it there.
Converting cars into mass-casualty weapons has been repeatedly demonstrated as an effective, go-to tactic for insurgent forces and terror organizations. It works to create chaos and inflict collateral damage and serves to erode the momentum of the mission wherever the U.S. deploys its armed forces.
But the sowing of terror has as much to do with the conversion aspect as the deaths that result from the bombs. The psychological shock of a terrorist act is heightened in the imaginations of those left alive by the awareness that a common token of peaceful, everyday life — a yellow box truck, a commercial jet, some dude’s underwear — has been turned, by fanatical human creativity, into a weapon of mass destruction. It’s a move tailor-made to mess with the mind of comfortable society. And even though it’s been happening with increasing frequency since the turn of the 20th century, the shock of the vehicle bomb never seems blunted or dulled, and the dread of it, never fully absorbed.
We can’t get used to the horror of it. To the moral mind, it smacks of such desperation and depravity, we won’t allow it to become normal. And in that, there’s some small hope to be had.
Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
“Well, they sure favor their Earth tone clothing over here; every color is … dark, dingy, and just… gray. It’s like this whole city is trapped inside a gray balloon,” my brother observed and commented. “What the hell is with all the dark clothing, seriously?” he puzzled. “I mean is there some kind of extra import tariff on $hit that is red, yellow, or orange — the longer wavelength colors — always with the shorter waves, Moriarity; ALWAYS WITH THE SHORTER WAVES!”
Sarajevo is the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina in former Yugoslavia. The boys and I came here shortly after a United Nations (UN)-induced cease-fire. The tide of homicide, genocide, fratricide, and suicide along the countryside… had all just become so, so, so over the top for the world theater’s pallet.
The suffering on the ground was hellish but what the real world didn’t know and we only learned on the ground was that we were here because of a doll. Yep, that’s right journalists were placing dolls in the scenes of carnage which when seen by coffee-talkers around the world sparked global outrage — time to send in some troops!
“They’re ripping babies out of mothers’ arms and then gunning both down right there in the streets… and I think that’s just wrong, you know?” bleat the crestfallen Gladys Pumpernick of Sheboygan, Wisconsin. “Oh, but what of the children??”
And so it went; that’s how me and the boys ended up in a C-130 Herc out of Germany, junked-up with body armor and helmets. Ground fire was an indeed thing in and around the Sarajevo airport. No slow shallow glide to the flight line; that would lend undue exposure of the aircraft to ground fire. Ours was a fast approach with a sudden steep dive and flare onto the tarmac.
Air Force likes to tell you that a dive gives you a chance. The Army tells you to throw on body armor. Despite both schools of wisdom, you’re still stuck in a metal tube with absolutely nothing you can do. We looked and felt stupid in our armor, with nothing protecting us from bullets coming up through the floor of the aircraft.
“In Nam the Air Cavalry sat on their steel pots!” recalled a brother, and we all quickly removed our armored vests and helmets. We lay our vests on our red nylon seats, the K-Pot helmets on the vests, then sat on top of the combo, grinning back and forth at each other the grin you grin when you have saved your testicles for yet another day.
Once on the ground, were attached to the in-country commanding general’s group of the UN-titled Implementation Force (IFOR). All soldiers from all nations wore the IFOR badge on their uniforms. Our badges, being with the command element read “ComIFOR” the Command of IFOR, a title that lent prestige in countless areas as well as free parking spots.
We wore only functionally rugged civilian clothes and carried a concealed M-1911 pistol on our person. Parking along a curb on our first day we were immediately approached by a fireplug of a hateful U.S. Military Police person. She huffed and she puffed and sought to blow us down:
“You can’t park there!”
Our team lead, D-man, neatly closed the driver’s door of our SUV as he replied: “Yes we can.”
“No you can’t — IFOR!” huffed the MP as she jammed an indicating index finger into the IFOR badge on her chest.
D-Man tapped his badge on his chest: “Yes we can — ComIFOR.”
The MP’s eyes flashed a “been-got” flash, and she stewed momentarily. “Well, don’t take all damned day!” was all she had.
“Yeah, we’ll be sure and not take all damned day, sweetheart,” was how D-Man dismissed our host.
I can tell you that it was dark in Sarajevo at night, so dark. My first night there I counted from up high a grand total of five lights coming from some sources in the city, not even bright ones. Two of them were traffic lights… just two traffic lights on main street in the entire city. It was dark in Sarajevo at night, yeah.
Night in a shopping district of modern-day Sarajevo
The country’s infrastructure was simply destroyed from the years of bombing and shelling. There was no dependable electric grid, fuel or transportation was rare. People were forced to spend long days well into night, mostly on foot just trying to take care of their basic needs.
And at night our headlights revealed the ghost people as they moved through the streets. Clad mostly in black; light black and dark black. A splash of gray to compliment the dark something-or-other, an ensemble pulled together with a black pleather jacket.
And the women, dark on dark with pallid skin, long raven hair, black lipstick, and dark eyeshadow… looking like a hoard of listless Morticia Addams’ sulking their way to somewhere. They shuffled as singletons or couples arm in pleather arm. Goth was just the untimely trend for the young there. It just made for an even more macabre ambiance in the city at night.
The original Morticia Addams
Back at our little compound, I had a chance to meet one of the ghost people face to face: Rado, short for Radovan, had been a newspaper editor before the war in just his early 20s. He was since rounded up by Serbian troops and held for many months in a barn with the other men of his neighborhood and tortured beyond logical description, to the brink of a ghost person.
Subject to his calamity he became as simple as a little child in both thought and action. He did odd jobs around the American Embassy for food and pennies. He smoked like a meat house and wore the same unlaundered pullover sweater the entire three months I was there.
The team and I really came to question the ghost people: why were they walking in the street at night in dark clothes, in the middle of the street even?! It’s like they’re begging to be killed… they’re stoned freaking crazy — all of them! Yes, it sure seemed that way to me too. I have to reckon that after all they have been through these last years nothing really lights their fuses.
What can I tell you? These souls have been treading in Lucifer’s backyard for over four years now, the longest siege of a major city in modern history. Day after day of pacts with the devil to stay alive, scratching and screaming to stay living, promising all and everything to the Creator for just one more day above ground… do we honestly expect them to worry over their dark wardrobe while they stroll the street shoulders of their peace-time home??
An American Colonel gave Rado his used New Balance running shoes the day he signed out; he just walked up and stuffed them in Rado’s chest and walked away. Rado stood stunned, gradually sinking to the ground crying and hugging his now most prized possession, his (used) American shoes. “Even and they are my number!” he cried out in fractured English, meaning they were just his size, “Even and they are my same number!”
Driving on patrol or even on the base was always a challenge for us with the Ghost people lurking in the shadows. “I swear to God “Sarajevo” is the Bosnian word for ghost people! They need to move out of the freakin’ way!!” =HONK — HONK — HOOOOOONK= “I’m going to run one of these sons-of-bitches over and it’s not going to be my fault!” Tough talk, but we would continue to always yield to the ghost people, our rage notwithstanding.
Rado got hit by an IFOR HMMWV (hummer) and died on Alipašina Ulica (street). It was night, and the street was dark. Rado was dark and too simple, the driver American and so irate, irate with the ghost people of Sarajevo.
I didn’t see the accident, but I raced there when I heard the news, as it was very close by. Rado lay still where he died, wearing his same rancid pullover sweater, and now the Colonel’s used running shoes, his same number, Rado’s, the simple child… Rado, the ghost of Sarajevo.
Radovan Bozhić served his sentence in Hades. He was finished with his sentence, and now it was time for him to live; it was someone else’s turn to stagger the green mile to death for a fair spell.
Somewhere, somehow, some clerk made an errant entry in the wrong row, the wrong column of a divine dispatch log, and mistakenly put Rado wrongfully back on the mortal path… my, but I did hate it so.
U.S. Army Rangers are some of the most storied warriors in history. The 75th Ranger Regiment traces its lineage back to World War II where it served with distinction in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Modern Rangers are masters of warfare, using advanced technology and their extensive training to overwhelm their enemies.
But how would a battalion of 600 modern killers do in the Civil War? We started thinking of what this might be like, inspired by the Reddit user who wrote about a battle between the Roman Empire and modern-day Marines. Ironically enough, some of the world’s best infantrymen would make the biggest difference in the Civil War by becoming cavalry, artillery, and doctors.
The Cavalry Ranger on the Civil War battlefield
Rangers who suddenly found themselves at the start of a Civil War battlefield would be able to choose a side and then straight up murder enemy skirmishers. Most Civil War battles opened with small groups of skirmishers taking careful, aimed shots at one another. Rangers equipped with SCAR rifles that can effectively fire up to 800 meters or M4s that are effective past 600 meters would have a greater range than most of their enemies. And the Rangers’ ability to fire dozens of rounds per minute vs. the enemy’s four rounds would be decisive.
But, their enemy would be firing using black powder. Once the artillery and infantry opened up, everything near the front line would quickly be covered in too much smoke for the Rangers to sight targets. Also, the huge disadvantage the Rangers faced in terms of numbers is unavoidable. Attempting to kill each enemy infantryman would quickly eat away at the Rangers’ irreplaceable ammo. So, the Ranger infantry couldn’t fight for long as infantry. Their skills as shock troops would still be invaluable.
The Rangers could jump in their vehicles and begin maneuvering like ultra-fast, mounted cavalry. Riding in Ranger Special Operation Vehicles or Humvees, the Rangers would quickly breach enemy lines and fire on reserve troop formations, communications lines, and unit leaders. The Rangers heavy and light machine guns and automatic grenade launchers would decimate grouped soldiers. Riflemen could dismount and begin engaging the tattered remnants that remained.
Enemy command posts would be especially vulnerable to this assault, giving the Rangers the ability to cut the head off the snake early in the battle.
Alternatively, they could simply wait out the first day and attack at night, sneaking up to the enemy camp on foot using their night vision and then assaulting through to the enemy commanders. This would conserve needed fuel and ammo, but it would increase the chances of a Ranger being shot.
Rangers and indirect-fire
Mortarmen in the Rangers would quickly become a terrorizing force for enemy artillery batteries. Civil War artillery was moved with horses, fired with smoke-creating black powder, and fired only a few rounds per minute. Depending on the artillery piece, their range was anywhere from 500 to 5,000 meters. But, relatively rare rifled cannons could reach over 9 kilometers.
The Ranger mortars would have maximum ranges between 3,500 meters for the 60mm and 7,200 meters for the 120mm mortars. They would have a slight range disadvantage against some guns, but they would have a huge advantage in volume of fire, stealth, and mobility. The mortars could be mostly hidden in wooded areas or behind cover and fired safely, as long as the overhead area remained clear. Since modern mortars create much less smoke, enemy artillery batteries would be unlikely to see them. If the enemy were able to find and engage the mortarmen, the mortars could rush to another firing position and begin engaging the artillery battery again. In a fight of Ranger mortars vs. any single battery, the Rangers would quickly win.
But, the Rangers would be at a huge numerical disadvantage. By doctrine, Ranger battalions are assigned four 120mm mortar systems, four 81mm systems, and 12 60mm for a total of 20 mortars. Meanwhile, 393 guns faced off against each other Gettysburg. The Rangers would have to rely on mobility to stay alive and concentrate their fire when it was needed by friendly infantry.
After the ammo and fuel runs out
Of course, a modern Ranger battalion eats through ammunition, fuel, and batteries. The Rangers would dominate a couple of battles before their vehicles would need to be parked for the duration of the war. The ammunition could run out in a single battle if the men weren’t careful to conserve.
When the rifles and vehicles ran dry, the Rangers would still be useful. First, their personal armor would give them an advantage even if they had to capture repeating rifles to keep fighting. Also, all Rangers go through Ranger First Responder training, an advanced first aid for combat. Ranger medics go through even more training, acquiring a lot of skills that are typically done by physician’s assistants. This means any Ranger would be a great medical asset for a Civil War-era army, and Ranger Medics would outperform many doctors of the day. Just their modern knowledge of germs and the need for sterilization would have made a huge difference in cutting deaths due to infection.
Even without supply lines, 600 modern Rangers would have been extremely valuable to a Civil War general. They’d have single-handedly won early battles and remained strategically and tactically valuable for the duration of the war.
But would Rangers ultimately change the outcome of the Civil War? Unless you have a time machine, we’ll just have to settle for debating that in the comments section.
Every Tuesday before Thanksgiving, there’s a ceremony held in which the President of the United States gives an official proclamation before a large crowd, pardoning a turkey for all the crimes they may have committed.
The turkey pardon is a fun — albeit goofy — ceremony that helps the country get into the holiday spirit, even if it began in ’87 as a means of distracting people from the Iran-Contra Affair. Since then, every president has kept the tradition going because, well, America seems to love turkeys this time of year.
As strange as this tradition might seem, it’s really not all that out of place. The relationship between Americans and turkeys has been weird since the beginning.
In those days, the meal was “scraping together what they had.” By today’s standards, a feast of venison, lobster, and duck is far more fancy than a deep-fried turkey.
(“The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth.” 1914. Painting. Jennie A. Brownscombe)
Long before the Europeans arrived in the Americas, indigenous peoples had sort of domesticated the turkey and started breeding them, making them plumper so that they’d make for a better meal. And it made good sense to do so. Turkeys are simple creatures that, when nourished, develop into large birds with plenty of delicious meat and they’re covered in large feathers that are great for crafting.
Furthermore, wild turkeys can survive in a range of environments. They were found all across the New World, from the Cree peoples’ lands near the Hudson Bay in Canada to the lands of the Aztecs in Mexico. Columbus himself even once remarked on how great the birds tasted. Eventually, turkey became a staple in most settlers’ diets… which makes it all the more odd that there wasn’t any turkey served for dinner at the first Thanksgiving.
The Wampanoag people were well known for their hunting skills and brought venison because it was showcased their talents as hunters. The pilgrims brought lobster and water fowl because they were much more common. Since the settlers didn’t really leave Plymouth, turkey was of off the menu unless they ventured into native territory.
This myth got its start just two years after the creation of the Great Seal of the United States when Benjamin Franklin wrote a letter to his daughter about the design choices. He jokingly said that bald eagles had “bad moral character.” He also said the bird of prey was more of a scavenger (they’re not). He went on to praise the seal of the Order of the Cincinnati, a fraternity of military officers, that had a turkey on it.
In case you were wondering, Franklin’s actual recommendation for the Great Seal was of Moses parting the Red Sea with fire raining everywhere and the motto of, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”
These loud, slow-moving, flightless birds will wreak havoc on farms in the spring time when the seeds are sewn. That’s why turkey season falls around then… in most states, anyway. Some states hold it in fall so that citizens can hunt down their own Thanksgiving dinner. Happy Thanksgiving!
(U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.)
Soon after the United States became the United States, Americans quickly started hunting down and eating wild turkeys. They hunted them so thoroughly that pioneers would almost drive them to extinction wherever they went. The turkeys survived westward expansion and steadily climbed — then, the Great Depression hit and, for obvious reasons, they almost went extinct again in the 1930s.
After World War II, some troops returning from war went on to become game wardens, and began relocating turkeys en masse to avoid their being hunted into extinction. But how did these military veterans manage to catch large quantities of elusive turkeys in the wild? With modified howitzers shells that launched nets, of course!
No, seriously. These turkey-net cannons actually worked. The turkey populations went from just under 500,000 across the entire U.S. in 1959 to the roughly seven million that are fair game for hunting each and every year.
During the seven months of the Guadalcanal campaign, 60,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers killed about 20,000 of the 31,000 Japanese troops on the island.
The main objective of the fighting was a tiny airstrip that the Japanese were building at the western end of Guadalcanal, a speck of land in the Solomon Islands. The airstrip, later named Henderson Field, would become an important launching point for Allied air attacks during the Pacific island hopping campaign.
Scholars and history enthusiasts can tell you why troops fought there, but only someone who was actually there can truly describe what it was like to storm the island. Hear, first-hand, a Marine’s experience at Guadalcanal:
Now check out these 7 interesting facts you didn’t know about the battle.
Every branch of the U.S. military fought in the battle
The Air Force didn’t yet exist, but the Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines all fought in the battle.
The Army provided infantry to assist the Marines in the landings and sent planes and pilots to operate out of Henderson Field. The Navy provided most logistics, shore bombardments, and aviation support. The Marines did much of the heavy lifting on the island itself, capturing and holding the ground while their aviators provided additional support.
The only Coast Guard Medal of Honor ever bestowed was for service at Guadalcanal
Signalman First Class Douglas Munro was one of the Coast Guardsmen operating landing craft for the Marines. After the initial invasion, the U.S. controlled the westernmost part of the island and the Japanese controlled the rest. A river ran between the two camps and neither force could get a foothold on the other side.
Maj. Gen. Roy S. Geiger poses with then-Capt. Joseph J. Foss who achieved 26 kills at Guadalcanal.
Guadalcanal was a “who’s who” of Marine legends in World War II
In addition to Chesty Puller, many Marine legends were at the island. Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone earned his Medal of Honor there. Master Gunnery Sgt. Leland Diamond drove off a Japanese cruiser with a mortar. Brig. Gen. Joe Foss earned a Medal of Honor and became a fighter Ace after downing 26 enemy aircraft around the island.
US Navy ships fight back against Japanese planes during the battle of Guadalcanal.
Guadalcanal was viciously fought at sea, in the air, and on land
Most battles are at least primarily fought in one domain. A ground battle is backed up by air power, or an air engagement has some defense from ships — but Guadalcanal was total war.
Ships clashed in the straits around the island and provided shore bombardments. Planes engaged in dogfights and strafed enemy troops and ships. U.S. Marines fought for every inch, but also used mortars and artillery to engage the Japanese Navy. There were three major land battles in the campaign, seven naval battles, and constant aerial dogfighting.
The first landings were helped by the weather
Japanese reconnaissance flew near the U.S. fleet as it approached the islands, but the Americans got a lucky break as storms limited visibility and the U.S. Navy wasn’t spotted until it was bombarding the beaches. Planes and naval artillery provided support as the Marines assaulted the surprised defenders.
Two of the carriers lost in the Pacific were lost during the Guadalcanal campaign
The Imperial Japanese Navy sunk ten aircraft carriers and escort carriers over the course of the war. One, the USS Wasp, was sunk near Guadalcanal on Sep. 15, 1942 by a Japanese sub. The sinking of the Wasp was captured on film.
The USS Hornet was sunk near the Santa Cruz islands, to the southeast of Guadalcanal. Hornet was lost during a major battle with a Japanese carrier fleet that was pulling back from Guadalcanal. The Japanese aircraft got the jump on the Americans as the engagement started, and the Hornet was irreparably damaged by two torpedoes, two crashed Japanese planes, and three bombs.
The USS Iowa and the USS Missouri transfer sailors ahead of the Japanese surrender ceremony.
The battle was a major turning point
While Midway and Iwo Jima get most of the glory as turning points where America got an upper hand on the Japanese, it was at Guadalcanal that Marine, Navy, and Army aviators took out elite Japanese air crews, allowing America to achieve air superiority more easily in future battles.
The island itself became a launching point for the American military to move north, crawling their way up to the Japanese homeland.
When you picture the Continental Army — as commanded by General George Washington — you see scrappy colonials in ragtag uniforms, made as much of buckskin as breaches, lining up to trade musket volleys with orderly squadrons of Redcoats. You picture young, frostbitten officers fending off ice blocks in the Delaware River.
You picture this:
What you probably don’t picture is this:
You don’t really picture Minutemen grunts grovelling in groundhog holes or Washington commanding from behind a berm. But, at the climactic battle of the War of Independence, that’s exactly how it went down.
The engagement that ended the Revolutionary War —- the 1781 Siege of Yorktown — hinged on the disciplined execution of an early version of trench warfare. It’s a surprising historical tidbit.
We tend to associate trench warfare with World War I and the terrible mechanisms of death dealing shunted into that conflict by the Industrial Revolution. But as early as the Renaissance, siege tactics for breaching fortifications with artillery were designed around the clever engineering of trenches to great martial, as well as psychological, effect.
Before gunpowder and artillery, besieging a fortress was an arduous proposition. If you were really in a hurry, you’d bust out the siege towers and battering rams, doing your best to dodge hailstorms of rocks, arrows and boiling oil.
If that seemed unsavory, and you were happier killing time than your own soldiers, you’d simply blockade the fort and starve out its defenders. No muss, no fuss, but slow.
The explodey stuff changed all that. Cannons (once the diabolical death mongers had managed to dial them up to 11) made mincemeat of castle walls the world over: witness the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The defensive architects responded with burlier walls, but given enough time, nothing made of stone could keep out a cannon ball. Trenches became essential for buying your bombardiers time to operate.
At Yorktown, British Lt. Gen. Charles Cornwallis and 7,000 Redcoats were dug in behind a series of redoubts and batteries, waiting for reinforcement. Washington, joined (and thoroughly out-monikered) by the Marquis de Lafayette and the Comte de Rochambeau, had Cornwallis surrounded by land and sea.
Showing the tactical facility that made him America’s only six-star general, Washington initiated an artillery-enabled siege protocol by digging a first parallel, or bombardment trench, just out of range of British musket fire. From that position, he was able to blast the relentless crap out of the British encampment.
Under this continuous fusillade, American engineers dug a zigzagging trench forward to within 150 yards of the British earthworks fortifications and then dug a second parallel. From this position, their artillery would make rubble of the two redoubts that stood between Washington and victory.
But even before they began their next barrage, the psychological impact of the American advance impelled British soldiers to begin deserting in large numbers. Washington’s disciplined encroachment through his trench system bore with it the air of inevitability.
By Oct. 15, 1781, both redoubts had been captured and Yorktown was in check. Cornwallis capitulated on Oct. 19, effectively ending hostilities and signalling the beginning of autonomous nationhood for the United States. And all because of Washington’s willingness to get his hands dirty.
From groundhog marauder to Founding Father, the man was put on this Earth to shake it.
When Navy Blimp L-8 crashed in August 1942, rescue workers and medical personnel were at the scene in minutes.
But what they found there surprised them.
The blimp’s gondola was empty, its two-man crew was missing.
L-8 took off from Treasure Island Navy Base in San Francisco Bay that morning and answered the call of a possible submarine. Two hours later, the blimp, sagging sharply in the middle, was seen floating slowly over beaches south of the city. It snagged briefly on a cliff, broke loose, scraped the roofs of houses, and dropped one of its depth charges on a local golf course before crashing in the 400 block of Bellevue Avenue in Daly City, Calif.
Parachutes were found properly stored in the gondola, but two lifejackets were missing (crew members were required to wear life jackets whenever on patrol). The airship’s life raft was still on board. The radio was found to be working. There was fuel, but the batteries were depleted — a classified file on still in the gondola.
So, what happened?
There were two men aboard when the ship was launched, Lt. Ernest Cody, 27, an Annapolis graduate who won his pilot’s wings the previous December, and Ensign Charles Adams, 38, who was the more experienced of the two with over 2,200 hours aboard lighter-than-air vehicles. The L-8 flight, however, was his first as an officer. He received his commission only the day before.
Over the years, it has been suggested the two men staged an elaborate desertion plot or were taken prisoner by a Japanese submarine, or maybe one of the two men had murdered the other and then disappeared. Others have suggested that the two men were killed by a stowaway or abducted by a UFO or that they simply — somehow — fell out of the blimp. There have even been “sightings,” including one by the mother of Lt. Cody, who claimed to have seen her son in Phoenix a year later with his eyes looking “peculiar, as though he were suffering from shock or a mental illness.”
But all these “suggestions” have remained just that — unproven suggestions.
What is known for sure is that, as L-8 was preparing to launch that morning at 6 a.m., it was discovered to be overweight and a third crewmember, flight mechanic J Riley Hill, was taken off the airship. Cody and Adams remained and the ship launched at 6:03 a.m. on what was scheduled to be a four-hour patrol off the California coast. At 7:42 a.m., L-8 radioed in that it had spotted what may have been an oil slick — and therefore possible evidence of a submarine — near the Farallon Islands and was going in for a closer look.
It was L-8’s last transmission.
Witnesses on two vessels in the area later reported seeing L-8 circling the area for about an hour, including one pass within about 30 feet of the water. At that time, the witnesses said, they could see the two men in the gondola.
About 9 a.m., L-8 was seen to break off its search and float away in the direction of San Francisco. About the same time, the base became concerned about the extended radio silence and sent search aircraft to look for the blimp and broadcast an alert asking other vessels and aircraft in the area to report any sightings. A commercial airline pilot radioed in about 10:50 a.m. that he had seen the blimp near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, and it appeared, he said, to be “under pilot control.”
At 11 a.m., search planes reported seeing L-8 soar up to about 2,000 feet — but still apparently remain under control.
Finally, at 11:15 a.m., L-8 was seen hovering near Ocean Beach with a noticeable sag in the middle and its motors off. Seemingly propelled only by the wind, it then floated ashore and settled in Daly City. Neither Lt. Cody or Ensign Adams — nor their bodies — were ever seen again and no evidence about what happened to them has surfaced. Their disappearance remains today as unsolved as it was 75 years ago.
Lt. Cody and Ensign Adams were officially declared dead a year later.
There’s an old military saying that goes, “if it’s stupid and it works, it isn’t stupid.” As enlisted personnel rise through the ranks, they tend to encounter more and more questionable practices that somehow made their way into doctrine. This isn’t anything new. Most of the veterans reading this encountered at least one “WTF Moment” in their military careers. Few of these bizarre scenarios will get a troop wounded or worse.
Then there are the tactics that could mean the difference between life and death – and you have to wonder who decided to do things that way and why do they hate their junior enlisted troops so much? These are those tactics.
“Walking Fire” with the Browning Automatic Rifle
When introduced in the closing days of World War I, the Browning Automatic Rifle – or “B-A-R” – was introduced as a means to get American troops across the large, deadly gaps called “no man’s land” between the opposing trenches. The theory was that doughboys would use the BAR in a walking fire movement, slowly walking across the ground while firing the weapon from the hip.
Anyone who’s ever used an automatic weapon has probably figured out by now that slowly sauntering across no man’s land, shooting at anything that moves will run your ammo down before you ever get close to the enemy trench. It’s probably best to stay in your own trench, which is what the Americans ended up doing anyway.
Soviet Anti-Tank Suicide Dogs
The concept seems sound enough. In the 1930s, the USSR trained dogs to wear explosive vests and run under oncoming tanks. In combat, the dogs would then be detonated while near the tank’s soft underbelly. It seems like a good idea, right? Well, when it came time to use the dogs against Nazi tanks in World War II, the Soviets realized that training the dogs with Soviet tanks might have been a bad idea. The USSR’s tanks ran on diesel while the Wehrmacht’s ran on gasoline.
Soviet tank dogs, attracted to the smell of Soviet diesel fuel, ran under Soviet tanks instead of German tanks when unleashed, creating an explosives hazard for the Red Army tanks crews.
Flying Aircraft Carriers
In the interwar years, the U.S. military decided that airpower was indeed the wave of the military’s future, and decided to experiment with a way to get aircraft flying as fast as possible. For this, they developed helium airships that housed hangers to hold a number of different airplanes. It seemed like a good idea in theory, but it turns out the air isn’t as hospitable a place as the seas and flying, helium-borne craft aren’t as stable as a solid, steel ship on the waves.
After the two aircraft carriers the Navy built both crashed, and 75 troops were dead, the military decided to go another way with aircraft.
In World War II, there wasn’t always a metal detector around. Sometimes, troops had to get down and dirty, literally. In areas where land mines were suspected, soldiers would get down on the ground, with their heads and bodies close to the ground and – without any kind of warning or hint of where mines might be, if there were any at all – poke into the ground at a 30-degree angle.
The angle helped avoid tripping the mines because the trigger mechanisms were usually located at the top of the mines. If the terrain was a bit looser, the mines could be raked up by the prodders instead.
Though we’re all familiar with the animated female warrior turned Disney princess, Hua Mulan has a much larger background and story than what we see on screen. Like most Disney films, both the animated and live-action versions of Mulan are based on folklore. Unlike Cinderella and Rapunzel, however, Mulan could very well have been a real warrior.
Hua Mulan is deeply rooted in Chinese culture.
Definitive proof has yet to be found of Mulan’s existence, but many believe she was a real person. The legend of Mulan inspired the construction of shrines, tomb sites, statues and tablet inscriptions in her name, immortalizing her presence in Chinese culture.
The best evidence for Mulan’s existence is an ancient poem.
Mulan is projected to have existed between 420 and 589 CE, during the Northern and Southern Dynasties. The most well-known and oldest written documentation of her story is in “The Ballad of Mulan,” a 360-word poem that was most likely written around 400 AD during the Northern Wei Dynasty.
In the original Ballad, Mulan’s story sounds eerily familiar to Disney’s version. In it, a teenaged Mulan dresses as a man to take her father’s place in the army. That’s where the similarities end.
Unlike the Disney movie version, in the Ballad, Mulan receives the consent of her mother before leaving for active duty. Instead of her gender-swapping scheme being discovered, she maintains the charade throughout the war. When she returns home after many years of service, her younger siblings and parents prepare a feast as a welcoming gift. They invite her many fellow soldiers to the celebration as well. When the party commences, however, Mulan sheds her menswear for traditional female dress and makeup, much to the surprise of her former brothers-in-arms.
Although she is offered awards and promotions from the Emporer, Mulan refuses and retires in her hometown. Little is known about her actual home province, but the Ballad points to the Yellow River and the Yan Mountain, which many people assume is her birthplace.
Another version of Mulan’s story is a 16th-century play.
In this version, 17-year-old Mulan is still a female warrior who also takes her father’s place, but with the addition of having bound feet. Foot-binding was a popular practice in China at the time, and in this Mulan morph plays a dramatic part in her character’s symbolism. As if it wasn’t hard enough going beyond her place to enlist, she had to do it on tiny, broken feet.
Unlike in other versions, Mulan is already well versed in martial arts, archery, and sword fighting, after being trained by her father since birth. He initially disapproves of her decision to take his place in the war, so she challenges him to a sword fight and wins him over with her knowledge of combat.
Though the play does depict some rather progressive character traits for a woman of traditional ancient China, it sticks to most traditional gender standards of the time. Mulan unbinds her feet in order to wear men’s shoes for her military attire, but upon returning from service, she rebinds them. After her return from war, she enters an arranged marriage.
Subsequent retellings illustrate how military gender norms have evolved.
Many later versions of Mulan’s story exist. For centuries, her popularity centered around challenging gender norms in a non-threatening way.
In a 17th century novel, the Historical Romance of the Sui and Tan Dynasties, once Mulan returns home from battle and reveals her gender, she is summoned by way of imperial order to become a palace consort. In order to preserve her purity, Mulan commits suicide. This particular plot details how female purity was prioritized over all else during the period.
Mulan’s story was been held up by traditional Chinese authors throughout the years for her virtue, commitment, courage, and filial piety. Though her story leaves room for plenty of variation, her fundamental societal wrongdoing is to take on a traditionally male role. The story justifies it because of Mulan’s motives; She defies gender norms, but only to save her father and to serve her country.
During the 1930s, her story began to depart from its traditional message. First, she became a national icon and morale booster for the fight against Japanese invasion. Later, she effectively became a national mascot during China’s Communist era for gender equality within the country.
When the 20th century hit, Mulan was introduced to Western literature in Maxine Hong Kingston’s book, Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood among Ghosts, published in 1976. The book sparked a new era for the legend in which she was a victorious, bold, gender-defying hero. By the time Disney’s animated Mulan came out in 1998, her story had a considerably more empowering message than its literary predecessors.
The real Mulan was an icon of cultural change, inside the military and out.
Whether or not she was a real person, her story was relatable and empowering to women of service throughout the centuries. Even during the 20th century, women were often expected to return to traditionally female roles as soon as their military commitment was over– much like Mulan did.
Today, Mulan stands as an inspiration to children and adults alike. While the US military welcomes women into many of the same service roles as men, female service members still face criticism from those who believe a woman’s first duty is to be home with her children. Because of challenges like these, her story will likely remain relevant for many years to come.
You may never have heard of Basil Zaharoff. He’s not the Lord of War depicted by Nic Cage in the 2005 film; Zaharoff was actually around much, much earlier. Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, the “Lord of War” the Nic Cage movie is based on, has nothing on the original “Merchant of Death.”
It didn’t matter that they didn’t often work as directed.
Basil Zaharoff, the world’s richest arms dealer… eventually.
In the days before anyone actually cared about international arms trafficking, men like Zaharoff were renowned for their salesmanship. The Greek gun dealer and industrialist would become one of the richest men to live in his lifetime, selling weapons to anyone who was willing to purchase them, even if they were on opposing sides of a conflict. But his business cunning didn’t stop with getting people to buy. He was also adept at edging out his competition, selling the latest and greatest in military tech.
By the late 1880s, countries like the U.S., Britain, the Ottoman Empire, Germany, and Russia all sought out the Maxim Machine Guns, which Zaharoff had just gotten the rights to produce, along with the new submarines he was suddenly able to sell. While many of the world’s major powers eventually lost interest, the sub was especially interesting to Greece, the Ottoman Empire, and the Russian Empire.
Isaac Peral’s submarine in 1886.
Until this time, the use of submarines was intermittent and untrustworthy in combat. But when a Spanish sailor created one that was actually functional, useful, and fired weapons without killing the crew, it raised some eyebrows. After Zaharoff was able to sell one to the Greek Navy, it wasn’t long before the Ottoman Turks, Greece’s longtime nemesis, noticed. The arms dealer was able to convince the Turks the submarine was a game-changer. He later told the Russian Tsar the same thing, and that Russia needed two of its own to balance power in the region.
The only thing was, no one needed Isaac Peral’s submarine. While it was an advanced invention, none of the models Zaharoff sold to the Greeks, Turks, or Russians actually worked as advertised. It still had a few bugs to work out, and besides – Zaharoff didn’t have the actual submarines; he was working from stolen plans.
None of the submarines actually worked like Peral’s original.
How you walk when you sell five useless submarines to three countries who will never tell out of sheer embarrassment.
For all his failures of morality, Basil Zaharoff didn’t stoop to cheating the Allies out of much-needed cash after World War I broke out. Far from it. He used his skills as a merchant and salesman to further the Allied cause, ensuring Greece would stay in the Entente alliance and convincing the new Greek government to open a front against the Ottomans.
Of course, after the war ended, he went right back to his old tricks. He was selling weapons until the day he died in 1936, providing weapons to the Spanish government during the Spanish Civil War.
The Aletti Hotel bar was reserved for field-grade officers. The bartender served drinks to an out-of-place group of muscular soldiers; one had a pair of jump boots slung over his shoulder by the laces. Their antics over the next hour grew too much for the other bar patrons to handle, and they were asked to leave, not the proper send-off for their last Saturday in Algiers before they would receive new assignments in war-torn Europe.
Jim Russell — an Office of Strategic Services (OSS) Jedburgh who had three combat jumps into North Africa, Italy, and Sardinia to his name — hopped into the driver’s seat of their three-quarter-ton truck. A pair of jump boots sat next to his leg. John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway had purchased them earlier in the evening at the Allied Forces Headquarters PX. Hemingway, simply known as “Jack,” was the eldest son of Ernest Hemingway, widely proclaimed as one of the greatest American literary figures of the 20th century. He was leaving for jump school in the coming days and had managed to convince Russell to grab a nightcap at a civilian sidewalk cafe located on the outskirts of town.
The rumbustious group of OSS commandos funneled into the cafe. Hemingway would bring his jump boots with him everywhere but decided to leave them within his view on the truck’s dashboard. The commandos were soon engulfed by curious “threadbare urchins” who begged to shine and polish their footwear, in a clever diversion. Hemingway’s prized jump boots were snatched from his sight, and the thief disappeared around the corner of a back alley. Hemingway, Russell, and the others gave chase and watched as the Arab thief threw the jump boots over a wall and into a courtyard.
Now the commandos were furious, as their drunken night turned from a celebration into a violent encounter. Three of the thief’s friends arrived holding knives. In an instant, all of the thieves were disarmed, sprawled flat on their backs, and on the receiving end of a well-choreographed lesson in hand-to-hand combat. The thieves had picked the wrong set of American soldiers that night because despite their heavy drinking, all were unarmed combat instructors for the OSS.
Hemingway never found his beloved jump boots, and he ended his night with a court-martial. An Arab workman threw a rock at their truck while they were returning to the OSS training base in Chréa. The commandos jumped out and beat the man senseless. The man reported the incident, and although Hemingway and Russell didn’t take part, they were threatened with being thrown out of the OSS.
An upcoming airborne operation was their saving grace because the planning stages were moving forward and they couldn’t be replaced. Hemingway’s orders to jump school were canceled, and he reported to a colonel leading a Jedburgh mission.
The Fly-Fishing Commando
Jim Russell had experience as a seasoned radio operator. Hemingway described Russell as “the complete antithesis of an OSS staff person.” The OSS had gained two reputations since its inception in 1942, one as an extremely competent paramilitary force and another as “Oh So Social” for its staff officers’ participation in diplomatic cocktail outings.
“Part of our OSS team at Le Bousquet, with a downed U.S. flier, seated left. I am in the center, Jim Russell, right, and two French ‘Joes.'” Photo courtesy of The Hemingway Project.
Russell and Hemingway, however, wouldn’t be handling the radios on this mission. Two French noncommissioned officers named Julien and Henri were tasked with the job. Their mission was to parachute into occupied France, take over existing information networks, and support the local resistance forces in their insurgency against the Germans.
France wasn’t some foreign land to Hemingway. His boyhood infatuation with fly-fishing materialized as he explored the rivers and streams around Paris with his father. His childhood was spent surrounded by his famous father’s friends: Pablo Picasso, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein. His first words were spoken in French, then English, Austrian, and German. The joys of running through the French countryside as a boy and fighting imaginary battles had become a devastating reality.
Their four-man team spent hours in their safe house studying maps, memorizing drop zones and names of contacts, and identifying intelligence on German troop movements. Hemingway had also assisted in previous planning phases to become familiarized with the process of how agents, including a woman and a one-armed man, were dropped into occupied France.
On the airfield’s tarmac, a British officer approached Hemingway before their jump and said, “You can’t take THAT with you, you know?” He was referring to Hemingway’s fly rod, which he deliberately packed in his gear wherever he went. “Oh, it’s only a special antenna,” he lied. “Just looks like a fly rod.”
Two B-17s took to the air. They were loaded with containers filled with weapons, ammunition, explosives, and radio equipment. One B-17’s belly gun turret had been removed, and the commandos used the hole in the floor to parachute safely to the ground. Hemingway’s first jump from a perfectly good airplane was during a real-world Jedburgh mission over France with zero training, and towing along his fly-fishing rod.
Capt. J.H.N. Hemingway, far right, training officer with the 10th Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Screenshot from Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
On the ground they linked up with the French resistance. While Russell and the French commandos were preoccupied with jury-rigging a radio transmitter, Hemingway ventured to a nearby water hole. “Limestone means rich aquatic life and healthy, well-fed trout,” Hemingway wrote in his autobiography. “I was in khaki, civilian garb not uncommon at the time, but wore no cap and there was a U.S. flag sewn to my right shoulder, but no insignia on the left.”
An overwhelming emotion of glee swept over him as he skipped down the mountainside with his fly rod, reel, and box of flies. As he entered the water, he didn’t study the flow of the stream as he normally would have and was oblivious of the world around him. A German patrol with their rifles and machine pistols marched toward him.
“They were all looking toward me and making what sounded like derisive, joking comments as they went along,” Hemingway wrote. “For the first time in my life I made a silent wish that came as close to a real prayer as I had ever come.”
He wished to not catch a fish because if he had, the German patrol would have stopped to watch and, under closer inspection, realized the fisherman had a US flag on his arm. They had mistakenly assumed he was the professional fly fisherman who fished for the local inn at Avesnes and continued their patrol.
This close call wasn’t the fly-fishing commando’s only brush with potential violence.
Escaping a German POW Camp
In October 1944, Hemingway took another assignment to recruit, infiltrate, and train allied resistance forces. While he traveled to his safe house with Capt. Justin Greene, who commanded the OSS team with the 36th Infantry Division, they stepped past a dead tank and into a German hornet’s nest. Greene walked up the slope and then immediately turned around and dove for cover, as if he had seen a ghost. Small arms fire and explosions followed close behind, and two German alpine soldiers appeared in Hemingway’s field of fire.
“After a hectic courtship, I finally got Puck to the altar in Paris, 1949.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
Another German opened fire from above Hemingway’s position, and he was hit with a single round. He dropped to the ground and tried to hide in a ditch as two more bullets ripped through his right arm and shoulder; grenade fragments peppered his side. He called out in German, surrendered, and immediately told them his cover story while they attended to his wounds. A German surgeon later threatened to amputate his arm, but he refused because, he reasoned, it was his casting arm.
Hemingway and Greene boarded the Luft Bandit en route for a German hospital prisoner of war (POW) camp. German civilians called their passenger train the Luft Bandit because it stopped often in tunnels and dense forests to escape American planes.
While in the POW camp, the commandos prepared for their escape. On March 29, 1945, US Army tank divisions broke 50 miles behind enemy lines to free US officers held in POW camps. Their intelligence, however, anticipated only 300 soldiers were being held in these camps — instead, the number averaged close to 3,000. Hemingway hitched a ride on one of these tanks as they rolled through an area the Germans used for army maneuvers and artillery practice.
“Preparing to net the catch on England’s Itchen River.” Screenshot from Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
From a distance of no farther than 3 yards, Hemingway was knocked off the tank’s turret by a Panzerschreck bazooka. He jumped onto another tank as American infantrymen decimated the hedgerow with their rifles and automatic weapons. Instead of staying with his rescuers, Hemingway decided to leave the tanks and travel on foot with another soldier. The next morning, six German Tiger tanks surprised and destroyed all 57 armored vehicles of the American tank division with overwhelming firepower.
Hemingway evaded German patrols for two days, surviving off raw rabbit and gardens of abandoned homes. He was nearly shot by a patrol of German teenagers who nervously trained their weapons on the unknown Americans. Hemingway spoke slowly in lousy German and was captured unharmed. For 10 more arduous days he and other prisoners death marched away from the evacuated Nürnberg POW camp to Bavaria. After a P-51 Mustang mistakenly strafed their position, they were forced to spell “US POW” on the ground. Once they arrived at their new home, which Hemingway called the biggest POW camp he had ever seen, they spent the next six months as POWs before being liberated on April 29, 1945. His once fit and healthy 210-pound body at the beginning of the war was a gaunt 140 pounds by war’s end.
Field & Stream
After World War II, Hemingway debriefed with X2, the OSS counterintelligence section, and took a commanding officer position at a German POW camp in Camp Pickett, Virginia. Hemingway kept alive his passion for fly-fishing after his service. He wrote for National Wildlife Magazine, describing his adventures hunting in Africa and trolling a fly behind a deep-sea fishing boat off the coast of Tanzania.
Screenshot from Jack Hemingway’s autobiography Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman.
“All together, while trolling and casting from shore and around a small atoll on the edge of the Pemba Channel, I caught twenty-seven different species of fish on the fly, including everything from small, brightly-colored reef species to dolphin in the blue water, and I had one big shark for a short while which had swallowed a tuna I was fighting,” he wrote in his autobiography.
In his 40s, Hemingway became the Northwest field editor for Field Stream, “which meant contributing an annual roundup of fishing prospects in my region and any other pieces I could produce that might fit,” he wrote in his autobiography. Hemingway also influenced decision making through the Federation of Fly Fishermen. As the commissioner of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, he successfully swayed the state to adopt a catch-and-release fishing law.
Jack Hemingway was the son of a famous writer and the father to famous children, but he was also a legend in his own right. The former OSS commando, American POW, fly fisherman, conservationist, editor, author, husband, and father died of heart complications in 2000 at age 77.