Tucked away in a rural corner of western New York is a survivor of D-Day. It is a C-47A Skytrain — an airplane that delivered paratroopers over drop zones around Normandy on June 6, 1944 — that has the distinction of being perhaps one of the few – if not the last – of its kind still in flying condition.
Named Whiskey 7 because of the large W7 painted on its fuselage, the Skytrain was the lead aircraft of the second invasion wave in the skies above France.
“That C-47 is one of our stars,” said Dawn Schaible, media director for the National Warplane Museum, the organization that gives Whiskey 7 a home and maintains it both for flying demonstrations and public viewing.
Skytrains have a storied history. None other than Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme Allied commander in Europe, called the Douglas aircraft one of the four “Tools of Victory” that won World War II for the Allies along with the atom bomb, the Jeep, and the bazooka.
The museum is proud of the fact that the aircraft is a true C-47, not a DC-3 conversion. The twin-engine, propeller-driven aircraft was built in 1943, one of more than 10,000 produced during World War II.
Skytrains like Whiskey 7 were the standard transport aircraft of the old U.S. Army Air Corps but also saw service with the British, who called the plane the Dakota.
The statistics regarding the Skytrain are impressive. When used as a supply plane, a C-47 could carry up to 6,000 pounds of cargo. It could also hold a fully assembled Jeep or 37-mm cannon.
When serving in its role as a troop transport, the C-47 carried 28 soldiers in full combat gear. As a medical airlift plane, it could accommodate 14 stretcher patients and three nurses.
On D-Day, Whiskey 7 transported paratroopers from the 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
The aircraft was actually one of the few that made it to the drop-zone assigned to the paratroopers: the town of Sainte-Mère-Église.
After D-Day, Whiskey 7 served for the balance of the war. Missions included towing gliders carrying men and equipment during Market Garden, the ill-fated airborne operation in Holland that was the largest airborne battle in history but which ended disastrously for the Allies.
After World War II, a civilian aviation company purchased the plane as surplus and converted it to an airliner. The plane then flew both passengers and cargo for decades.
Purchased by a private collector in 1993, it was eventually donated to the National Warplane Museum where it was restored to its D-Day configuration in 2005.
In 2014, Whiskey 7 participated in the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion when it flew to France so historical re-enactors could jump from the plane.
The group also included Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr., one of the paratroopers the plane carried on D-Day. According to the museum, he was the last surviving member of his unit who jumped from Whiskey 7 when it was above Normandy in 1944.
Now, Whiskey 7 helps educate visitors to the National Warplane Museum about Operation Overlord and World War II.
Located in Geneseo, N.Y., the museum is a labor of love started by a grassroots group of historic aircraft enthusiasts who fly old war birds and restore airplanes. The museum has more than 15,000 visitors a year who come to view exhibits or attend the annual air show.
“We have amazing artifacts here,” said Schaible. “We figure out how we connect those artifacts with people and help them move beyond the idea that it’s just cool stuff. It’s the men and women and the stories behind the aircraft that make them historical.”
But missile interceptors are far from a guarantee, Lauren Grego, the senior scientist in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said on Twitter last week.
The “single shot kill probability” of an ICBM is unknown, according to Grego, but is unlikely to be higher than a 50% even in “optimistic conditions.”
Of course, the US wouldn’t fire a single interceptor. Missile Defense Agency previously told Business Insider that in a real-world combat scenario, the US would fire multiple interceptors at a single threat.
Grego further calculated that, assuming that 50% probability, if the US shot 4 interceptors at a single threat, it would have a 94 percent chance of taking down the missile.
But North Korea would be foolish to commence nuclear war with the world’s foremost nuclear power by firing a single missile. Grego said that if North Korea fired 5 missiles, the probability that the US can defend against them all shrinks to 72 percent, even in a best-case scenario, which she called “uncomfortably high.”
Multiple missiles aren’t the only issue. North Korea could send decoys or employ countermeasures, which could confuse or disrupt US missile defenses by presenting multiple, false targets for each launch. This would effectively make missile defenses useless and allow all warheads to hit US targets unhindered.
Increasing the US’s number of interceptors beyond 44 does little to erase the fundamental problems with hit-to-kill missile defense.
“Discrimination of warheads from decoys is an unsolved but clearly fundamental issue,” wrote Grego, who sees “little point” in spending more on the already $40 billion ground-based midcourse defense before addressing its clear, conceptual limitations.
So while missile interception doesn’t promise much by way of defense yet, the best defense in nuclear war remains a good offense.
An unarmed LGM-30G Minuteman III ICBM launches during an operational test Feb. 20, 2016, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (USAF photo by Senior Airman Kyla Gifford)
By the time the US detected the launches and verified their origin and bearing, a salvo of more reliable, more powerful missiles would streak across the sky towards North Korea before its missiles even landed.
Moments after US cities rose into mushroom clouds, the entirety of North Korea would do the same. North Korea has no missile defenses, and could do nothing to stop the US from flattening every inch of its sovereign territory.
This assured destruction of the entirety of North Korea has a deterrent effect, making it far less likely that North Korea would ever strike the US.
Not only would the US bomb North Korea into oblivion, the US would hunt down North Korea’s leadership from hidden bunkers and caves before bringing them to justice.
For these reasons, a North Korean missile attack on the US remains unlikely, but nearly impossible to stop.
Okay let’s be honest, it’s the combat planes that get most of the attention.
What airplane did “Top Gun” turn into a star? The F-14 Tomcat. “Iron Eagle’s” sex appeal came from the spritely F-16 Fighting Falcon. Even “Flight of the Intruder” made the portly A-6 Intruder attack plane the belle of the ball.
An E-2D Hawkeye and a C-2A Greyhound assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20 fly over USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000) as the ship travels to its new home port of San Diego, California. Zumwalt was commissioned in Baltimore, Maryland, Oct. 15 and is the first in a three-ship class of the Navy’s newest, most technologically advanced multi-mission guided-missile destroyers. (U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt/Released)
So, where does that leave some of the support planes? Out in the cold, and that just ain’t fair.
A Navy release on Oct. 21 centers on one of the most important planes in a carrier’s air wing – the E-2 Hawkeye airborne radar and control plane. Specifically, the new E-2D, which is making its Pacific Fleet debut with Air Wing 11 on board USS Nimitz (CVN 68), is a game-changer for the Sea Service.
The E-2D made its debut with the fleet last year with VAW-125 when USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) deployed to the Middle East, Mediterranean Sea, and in the Western Pacific.
The E-2 has been in service since 1964 – sharing the same airframe as the C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery, or “COD,” aircraft. Initially, it used the AN/APS-138 radar, which was later replaced with the AN/APS-145. The E-2C entered service in 1971, and since then has been continuously upgraded.
The E-2D, though, adds a new radar, the AN/APY-9. This Active Electronically Scanned Array radar not only provides more detection capability, it makes it harder for an opposing plane to know if it is being seen.
The E-2D has far more than better eyes, though. It also can help guide missiles like the AIM-120 AMRAAM and the RIM-174 SM-6 against aerial targets.
But wait, there’s more! The E-2D also has some other upgrades that will help make this plane even more of a game-changer than it was before. It will gain a mid-air refueling capability, enabling it to stay aloft longer. It also will feature a glass cockpit, which not only improves situational awareness for the crew, but will allow the plane’s co-pilot to serve as a tactical controller in emergencies.
So, give the E-2 its due. Without this plane, it’s a safe bet that Maverick and Iceman would probably have no idea where the bandits were until it was too late.
Few things in this world are stronger than the bonds forged by troops who fought together in combat. Those who survive life-threatening ordeals on the battlefield become closer in ways that others may never understand. When one of them loses their closest friend, it’s a tragedy that hurts forever.
What could be a more fitting for the coming Memorial Day than to write about what that friend means to you?
This memorial day, AARP is collecting stories about
the friendships forged in war. Close friendships forged on the front lines of Vietnam and in the Nazi POW camps of World War II all the way to the remote combat outposts of Iraq. Veterans are writing stories of the best friends they met during these trying times. Two crewman stationed aboard the ill-fated USSIndianapolis, Marines fighting in the frozen wastes around the Chosin Reservoir, a young lieutenant and his radioman in the jungles of Vietnam.
Some survived the war. Many did not. What they have in common is that they’ll never be forgotten. Corporal Charles Thomas was that buddy for Lt. Karl Marlantes.
Marlantes was a newly-christened Marine in Vietnam when Thomas was assigned to be his radioman. Like any good young officer, Marlantes listened to his more experienced corporal when he made suggestions. The young man even saved his lieutenant’s life on a mission in the mountains near the DMZ. Marlantes told AARP The Magazine:
“In early December 1968, we were on a long mission, high in the mountains, and it was monsoon time. We couldn’t get resupplied and were without food for three or four days. It was also cold, but we had no extra clothes, just the stuff rotting on us. One night I got hypothermic, really hypothermic. I couldn’t think and started shivering. Everybody knew hypothermia kills you. And Thomas just laid me on the ground and wrapped a quilted poncho liner around us and hugged me. And then his body heat got me back. Saved my life.”
(Courtesy of Karl Marlantes)
Corporal Thomas was an outstanding Marine in combat and a talented radioman. Sadly, during an assault on an NVA position in 1969, Marlantes had to send Cpl. Thomas around the hill to set up an ambush. Following his orders, Thomas left the safety of his cover and made a dash for the objective with his squad. That’s when three rocket-propelled grenades struck, killing him and one other. Marlantes, now 73, recalled the moments afterward for AARP:
“I had to go through all the guys’ bodies to pull out, if you can believe this, anything like pictures of naked girls, so their parents wouldn’t be upset — it’s bad enough that their kid comes home in a body bag. And I pulled a letter out of Thomas’ pocket from his mother and remember it said, “Don’t you worry, Butch.” We knew each other only by last names and nicknames. I never knew he was Butch, that his mother called him that. “Don’t you worry, Butch, you’ll be home in just 11 more days.”
Watch Karl Marlantes look back and tell the story of Cpl. Charles Thomas.
Three war graves have vanished – looted in the name of the almighty dollar.
Or in this case, the currency in question is the Indonesia rupiah. And others — including two of the most famous losses of World War II — are at grave risk.
The HNLMS Java. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
According to a report by NavalToday.com, three Dutch vessels lost during the Battle of the Java Sea have now been completely looted. Nothing is left of the cruisers HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java, or the destroyer HNLMS Kortenear, which were the graves of almost 900 Dutch sailors who perished when they sank.
The Battle of the Java Sea was a serious defeat for the Allies in the early stages of World War II.
In a night-time surface battle, Japanese ships sank the De Ruyter, Java, Kortenear, and the British destroyers HMS Jupiter and HMS Electra. The British heavy cruiser HMS Exeter was badly damaged in the battle, which cost the lives of 2,300 Allied personnel.
The Dutch vessels are not the only ones at risk.
The USS Houston in the 1930s. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The Australian light cruiser HMAS Perth and the American heavy cruiser USS Houston (CA 30), sunk in the Battle of the Sunda Strait, also have been looted for scrap metal, although not to the extent of the Dutch vessels.
Also, two capital ships sunk in the early days of the war — the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser HMS Repulse, both war graves, have been desecrated by looters.
Even wrecks off the United States have not been immune to looters paying a visit.
According to a 2003 U.S. Navy release, the Nazi submarine U-85, sunk in 1942 by the destroyer USS Roper (DD 147) about 15 miles off the coast of North Carolina, was visited by private divers who took the vessel’s Enigma machine.
The divers claimed to not realize they weren’t supposed to take items from the wreck. The United States Navy eventually allowed the code machine to be donated to the Altantic Graveyard Museum.
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.
When the last Perry-class frigate, the USS Simpson, lowered her flag for the last time in 2015, it left only one ship in the active fleet which sank an enemy in combat. The USS Constitution sank an enemy ship, the British HMS Guerriere, during the War of 1812. The target sank by theSimpson was much more recent than that. She sank an Iranian patrol boat in the Persian Gulf in 1988.
There are just no more deepwater targets threatening the American Navy these days.
Russia’s garbage scow of a carrier can go sail off the edge of the world.
In 1988, the war between Iran and Iraq was winding down but could still break out in hot spots here and there. But the Iranian Navy’s most intense battle of the war came against the U.S. Navy, not Iraq’s. For the United States, it was the most explosive surface battle it faced since World War II. When the USS Samuel B. Roberts struck a mine in the Persian Gulf, the Navy launched Operation Praying Mantis, a massive retaliation that destroyed half the Iranian Navy and a number of the Islamic Republic’s oil drilling platforms.
The cost to the U.S. Navy was just two Marines, who died in a helicopter accident that day.
Iran’s oil platforms burning during Praying Mantis.
It was a long day for the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Navy. U.S. Marines were raiding oil platforms with precision that would have made Chesty Puller proud. Naval aviators were dropping precision bombs down the enemy’s smokestacks. It was a free-for-all as the United States just unleashed the full power of the Navy in the Gulf. Frigates, gunboats, speedboats, and more all became target practice.
One of those targets was the Joshan, a Kaman-class fast attack craft that decided to run head-on against an entire surface action group. By itself.
Yeah, they all died.
Joshan engaged the USS Simpson and USS Wainwright after the latter ship’s skipper warned the Iranians that further movement would cause for the Americans to sink her. Her response to the warning was to fire a harpoon missile at the ships. Wainwright and Simpson evaded the missile using chaff and then turned their attention back to the Iranian gunboat.
It only took four missiles from the Oliver Hazard Perry-class missile destroyers to put the Joshan at the bottom of the Gulf.
The .50 caliber M2 machine gun was designed in 1918, near the end of World War I by John Browning.
Production began in 1921 and the weapon was designed so a single receiver could be turned into seven different variants by adding jackets, barrels or other components.
Roughly 94 years after the first production run of M2 machine guns came off the assembly line, the 324th weapon produced made it to Anniston Army Depot for overhaul and upgrade.
In more than 90 years of existence, the receiver with serial number 324 has never been overhauled.
“Looking at the receiver, for its age, it looks good as new and it gauges better than most of the other weapons,” said John Clark, a small arms repair leader.
Despite the fact that the weapon still meets most specifications, it may be destined for the scrap yard.
Modifications made to the weapon in the field mean part of the receiver would have to be removed through welding and replaced with new metal, a process which usually means the receiver is scrap.
“I’d rather put this one on display than send it to the scrap yard,” said Clark, adding the weapon’s age makes it appealing as a historical artifact.
Currently, the 389th M2 is on display in the Small Arms Repair Facility. There is an approval process the older weapon would have to go through in order to be similarly displayed. Clark and Jeff Bonner, the Weapons Division chief, are researching and beginning that process.
In 2011, the depot began converting the Army’s inventory of M2 flexible machine guns to a new variant.
The M2A1, has a fixed headspace, or distance between the face of the bolt and the base of the cartridge case, and timing, the weapon’s adjustment which allows firing when the recoil is in the correct positon.
In the past, every time a Soldier changed the barrel on the M2, the timing and headspace had to be changed as well. If that wasn’t done properly, the weapon could blow apart. The fixed headspace and timing eliminates this risk to Soldiers.
“It only takes 30 seconds to change out the barrel on the M2A1 and you’re back in business. The M2 Flex version could take three to five minutes, depending upon your situation,” said Jeff Bonner, weapons division chief.
Bonner said this is the first major change to the M2 weapon system since the machine gun was first fielded.
Since the overhaul and upgrade work began in fiscal year 2011, the depot has brought more than 14,000 of these .50 caliber machine guns to better than new, and upgraded, condition.
Once the weapon is rebuilt, it has to be readied to be fired, repeatedly, without jamming or suffering other mechanical difficulties.
To assist with this process, a machine known as the exerciser is used to ensure the new parts work well with the old.
After all, the older parts of the weapon could be nearly 90 years old.
The exerciser simulates charging the weapon, or preparing it to be fired, 700 times.
The Court Martial is one of the oldest institutions of justice in the world today. We can draw a direct line of descent from the modern military trial all the way back through the British Articles of War, and from there, to the tribunals of the ancient Romans. Granted, the procedures have changed a bit, but at its core, the court martial remains a direct progeny of the Roman Tribunal.
Of course, America’s history doesn’t span quite that far back. But even in our short 250 years or so, our military has brought charges against over 1.5 million soldiers. The offenses range from the most minor military offenses, to treason, to bloody war crimes so psychotic it’s difficult to imagine them. But war is, itself, a psychotic business – and at no point in history will you run out of precedents for that.
The following examples of people who were court martialed includes at least one man whose name is synonymous with “treason,” and quite a few more whose names are known little at all. It contains legendary neurosurgeons and pilots, and more than a couple men who straddled the line between hero and villain. Not all of these soldiers were disgraced for their deed – but all were military men who broke the law. Check out this list of the most high profile court martial stories below, and be sure to let us know what you think in the comment section.
The basic story goes like this. On November 4, 1979, Iranian radicals stormed the American embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. The hostages were held for 444 days, and not released until minutes after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president.
However, as always, there is more to the story.
The storming of the embassy came about eight months after the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni seized power in Iran after the outser of the country’s leader, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. But the Shah had taken power after a coup d’etat by royalist officers backed by the United States and Great Britain deposed prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, resolving an ongoing power struggle between the two.
While the Shah’s rule saw the Iranian economy improve significantly, he soon backed a secret police known as SAVAK. The growing repression, though, helped make the Shah more and more unpopular. By January 1979 he and his family left on a “vacation” and never returned.
After the Americans were taken hostage, Khomeni gave his approval to the capture of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Following that, the U.S. attempted a hostage rescue mission that failed. The crisis crippled then-President Jimmy Carter, who eventually lost to Ronald Reagan in a landslide.
Reagan’s administration would proceed to launch a major peace-time military buildup, and the eventual end of the Cold War.
This History Channel video discusses the hostage crisis and its impact on U.S. policy in the decade that saw the end of the Soviet Union.
Clarence L. Tinker wasn’t always an airman, but he was always a warrior. I don’t mean that in the way that we call everyone in the military a “warrior” these days. I mean Tinker was not only an infantry officer, he was an Osage warrior from Oklahoma, and it makes perfect sense that the Air Force Base in Oklahoma City is named after him.
Spoiler alert: Maj. Gen. Clarence Tinker was killed in World War II. He was actually the first general officer to die in the war. Before flying his last mission, however, he had the storied career of an old-school badass.
Tinker was born on the Osage nation in Oklahoma in 1887. He grew up speaking his native language and living like an Osage. He loved the old stories about Osage warriors and the Osage scouts who rode with American cavalry units. Though he had a traditional upbringing, he attended federally-funded schools for Native Americans, including Missouri’s Wentworth Military Academy, where his career began.
After a stint in the Philippine Constabulary, a national police force designed to take over the duties of Spain’s Guardia Civil during the American occupation of the islands, he was commissioned into the U.S. Army infantry in 1912.
He never made it to the trenches of World War I, but within a year after the war’s end, he was training for the future of the Army: the Air Service. He started flying lessons in 1919 and was officially transferred to the Air Service in 1922.
After graduating from the Army’s Command and General Staff School in 1926, he became the Assistant Military Attaché for Aviation in London. Shortly after arriving in Britain, he was flying with the U.S. Naval Attaché when the plane started having engine trouble. It went down near some cliffs and burst into flames.
Tinker, dazed, got up from the burning fuselage and ran clear. When he realized that his co-pilot was still in the flames, he went to rescue the unconscious man. Despite terrible burns and flames so hot that he couldn’t get closer at times, he managed to pull the man out and clear.
He would become the Commandant of the Air Corps Flying School in Texas, and would lead countless air units as their commander. By October 1940, he was promoted to Brigadier General. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor shook the islands’ defensive posture, the Army sent Tinker to command the 7th Air Force and reorganize Hawaii’s defenses.
Like many airmen and Army generals in the Air Corps, Tinker believed that air power was the future of warfare and only a strong air force would turn the Japanese back, end the threat of Japanese aggression through long-range bombing and ultimately bring the Japanese Empire to its knees.
In 1942, Tinker was promoted to Maj. Gen. Tinker, becoming the first Native American to hold the rank and the highest ranking Native in the Army. He finally got his chance to show what strategic long-range bombing could do in combat in the Pacific Theater, but it would also be his undoing.
During the Battle of Midway, Tinker decided to fly a squadron of B-24 Liberator Bombers to meet the retreating Japanese ships, and deliver a heavier blow than their loss at MidWay already was. Somewhere along the way, his fellow airmen watched in horror as Tinker’s plane dove out of control and crashed into the ocean below.
Tinker and his 10 crew members were never found. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and six months after his death, the airfield in Oklahoma City was named Tinker Field, soon to be Tinker Air Force Base.
To this day, Osage natives sing songs about the Osage warriors who served in the U.S. military. Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker has a song of his own.
Featured photo: Tinker Air Force Base/Air Force Photo; inset: Clarence Tinker, Wikimedia Commons
At least 84 people, including at least 10 children, were killed in the southern French city of Nice when a man drove a truck into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday late Thursday night.
Authorities are now trying to determine how the attacker — who has been identified as a 31-year-old Tunisian national residing in Nice — evaded French counterterrorism efforts, as France grapples with its third major terrorist attack in the past 18 months.
The country’s counterterror measures were ramped up after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in January 2015 and heightened even further after November’s Paris attacks.
A question that has emerged in the immediate aftermath of these attacks is whether anything more could have been done to detect and preempt them — or whether so-called lone-wolf attacks such as that of Nice, Dallas, and Orlando, Florida, have long since exceeded the capabilities of current counterterrorism tactics.
“We have moved into a new era,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in a statement. “And France will have to live with terrorism.”
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel echoed Valls’ sentiment from Brussels, which was attacked by terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State in March.
“Zero risk does not exist,” he said. “We are now faced with a different modus operandi.”
“Current counterterrorism capabilities are not designed to prevent attacks like these,” The Soufan Group, a strategic security firm, wrote in its daily briefing on Friday. “Absent tell-tale communications or travel — or alerting behavior beyond the merely ‘suspicious’ — there is little authorities can do to detect and deter attacks of this nature.”
It continued: “Such attacks can be considered intentionally spontaneous, in that they take some forethought, but little to no planning or training. The results are mass-casualty terrorist attacks.”
Antiterror prosecutors have taken over the investigation into the attack, which occurred at about 10:30 p.m. local time Thursday as pedestrians were dispersing after watching Nice’s Bastille Day fireworks.
“What can you do against this?” Andre Jacob, a former head of counterterrorism at Belgium’s State Security service, told Reuters. “It’s impossible to prevent. Even if there were clues.”
The French “can add more counterterrorism resources — the numbers of people actually tasked with monitoring those on the terrorist watch list,” geopolitical expert Ian Bremmer, president of the geopolitical risk firm Eurasia Group, told Business Insider on Friday.
“Short of that, near term, you’re talking about measures that would truly change the nature of a liberal and open democracy — the sorts of automatic detentions being discussed by the Front Nationale,” he added, referring to France’s far-right, nationalist party known for its anti-immigrant, anti-Islam, and eurosceptic policies.
“Long term the only real fix is true integration … or a move to a selective police/surveillance state. There’s little appetite for either at present.”
‘The weaponization of everyday life’
France has become a target for Islamic State sympathizers and militants for many reasons, including the war France declared on the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh, in Iraq and Syria last year.
“Today, France is clearly the most threatened country,” the head of France’s General Directorate for Internal Security (DGSI) said on Friday. “The question about the threat is not to know ‘if’ but ‘when’ and ‘where’.”
On Friday, French President Francois Hollande said France would “reinforce” its actions in Iraq and Syria in response to the violence.
“We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil,” he said.
France declared a state of emergency after November’s Paris attacks, which were carried out by ISIS militants who had trained with the jihadist group in Syria. The mandate was still in place — set to expire on July 26 — when the Nice attacker carried out Thursday night’s rampage. It will now be extended for another three months, Hollande said.
The Soufan Group said the “heavy-handed” policies that inevitably accompany a nationwide state of emergency are necessary but damaging — and probably futile — in the long run.
“Persistent states of emergency are unhealthy for democratic societies, yet the nature of the threat yields a slippery slope of well-intended but heavy-handed policies,” the group wrote. “The uncomfortable reality is that few counterterrorism laws or measures can address the weaponization of everyday life due to the unrelenting call to terror .”
Andre Jacob of Belgium’s state security service echoed that sentiment, saying “you can’t turn everywhere into a ‘fan-zone,’ behind barriers and police checkpoints.”
“This seems like the act of an isolated individual where it’s impossible to prevent anything in the sense that terrorists will adapt to their targets,” Jacob told Reuters.
Alan Mendoza, executive director of the conservative think tank The Henry Jackson Society, put it even more bluntly.
Mendoza said: “France has been on high terror alert for months with troops on the street yet still could not prevent this atrocity.”
‘Operate within France’
US officials told The Daily Beast that ISIS is a top suspect in the latest attack. As Business Insider’s Pamela Engel has noted, both ISIS and Al Qaeda have publicly called for supporters to use vehicles as weapons.
“If you are not able to find an IED or a bullet, then single out the disbelieving American, Frenchman, or any of their allies,” ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnani said in a statement in September 2014. “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him.”
“If you are unable to come to Syria or Iraq, then pledge allegiance in your place — pledge allegiance in France,” a French ISIS member said in a video released in 2014. “Operate within France.”
As Bremmer of Eurasia Group said on Twitter, “1,700 French citizens have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria. 250 have returned.”
Last year, the French department of Alpes-Maritimes, which contains Nice, began training “teachers, social workers, doctors, policemen, prison officers and others to watch for signs of radicalisation and sound the alert,” according to The Economist. The program was called Entr’Autres.
“The objective is to bring someone back from the edge from the point at which the radicalised mind turns to terrorism,” Patrick Amoyel, a psychoanalyst and co-founder of Entr’Autres, told The Economist.
Still, Bremmer noted, ” France is already arresting as many Islamist terrorist suspects as the rest of the EU combined.”
Amedy Coulibaly, one of the gunmen behind the worst militant attacks in France for decades, declares his allegiance.
Amedy Coulibaly, for example — an ISIS militant who attacked a kosher supermarket in Paris in January 2015 — met Chérif Kouachi, one of the two Charlie Hebdo shooters, in a French prison in 2006.
To respond to and combat this trend, France enacted a compulsory re-education program in four prisons earlier this year, the Economist reported.
Bouhlel, the suspect in the Nice attack, has not yet been linked to a terrorist group and was alone in the refrigerated truck that was used to carry out the attack. He was, however, on law enforcement’s radar, having been previously accused of assault with a weapon, domestic violence, threats, and robbery, according to reports.
Dozens of bodies covered in blue sheets still lined the pavement next to the Promenade des Anglais on Friday morning as the police continued to investigate the scene of yet another attack in their country.
It’s always brought up as a fun fact that, at one point in history, Australia sent troops on an “all-out” assault against emus that were destroying the Western Australian Outback. A while later, it was decided that the humans wouldn’t win and the history books marked a big ‘L’ for the Aussies in the Great Emu War of 1932.
When it’s put like that, it’s funny and makes a great fun fact that can be brought up whenever Australia’s military might is in question. But the thing is, Australia’s military kicks ass — and saying, “Australia lost a war against a bunch of flightless birds,” while sort of true, doesn’t really do what actually happened justice.
If there’s anyone who could actually be blamed for the perceived failure of the Great Emu War, it’s this guy, Sir George Pearce. The man who decided to set up the Australian Army for a lifetime of jokes.
The Australian government didn’t just decide to go on a mass Emu-killing spree out of the blue. It was in response to the destruction of farms caused by emus in their search for food and water. After WWI, Australia rewarded its returning veterans with farmland to call their own. The only stipulation was that this farmland was basically barren Outback that was plagued with native animals. The terrible soil didn’t leave farmers with many options in terms of crops, but wheat grew fairly well given the conditions. Unfortunately, wheat also attracted emus.
Of the nearly 5000 veterans who participated in the program, very few were able to grow crops without having them destroyed by hungry birds. Even fewer could afford to build fences to keep the emus at bay. The government, not willing to address the problem of terrible land quality, decided that the emu was entirely at fault for crops not growing.
It was declared by Western Australian Senator, Sir George Pearce, that veterans and troops should tackle the problem head-on and hunt the birds.
Good luck fighting an enemy too stupid to know it’s been shot four times with only enough ammo to take out half the population even if your aim is perfect.
The biggest misconception about the Emu War is that it was a massive assault staged by the Australian military. It wasn’t. It was literally just three men, a pick-up truck, two Lewis machine guns, and 10,000 rounds. There were veteran farmers who also took up arms, but only Major G.P.W. Meredith and his two gunners were officially at war.
That’s three men versus 20,000 massive birds.
Emus aren’t just large turkeys. They stand at an average height of six feet four inches, can run up to 31 mph, have the strongest legs of any animal, and can easily shred apart metal fences with their talons. As the three Aussie hunters found out, emus can take roughly five bullets before realizing they’ve been shot and ten rounds before they finally die.
Emus naturally flock in hordes of hundreds, which means that any time the hunters unloaded into the horde, the birds would quickly disperse into smaller mobs that scattered in different directions. With only so many guns, the hunters could only focus on those smaller mobs while the rest took off running.
If they aren’t in mobs, you’ll be searching for hours just to find one.
In that respect, the hunters were technically efficient. They managed to gun down a confirmed 986 emus over the span of a few weeks. Of the 9,900 rounds they used, they averaged out about one kill per ten or so rounds — the estimated number required to kill an emu. The three men also faced constant backlash from the news and local farmers during their hunt.
The media laughed at them for the absurdity of it all and dubbed it the “Great Emu War” to make light of the situation. It give readers a moment of levity during the otherwise-grim Great Depression. While the general population thought it was silly to send any troops after birds, the farmers were upset that the government sent only three guys to go solve a problem spanning an Australian state that’s twice the size of Alaska.
The hunters tried to give up several times because they knew how pointless it was — but each time, they were pushed back into hunting emus. Eventually, they gave up on December 9th, 1932, and everyone laughed at the three men for failing to do the impossible.
The only logical way to deal with the emus was what happened eventually. The government placed a bounty on the emus and let the farmers handle it — which they did very well. Over time, the farmers would collect a bounty on over 57,000 emus and the farms turned profitable again. It should also be noted that some farmers were smart enough to breed emus and collect a bounty on the birds they’d raised, but that was bound to happen.
All in all, the Aussies would eventually prevail over the emus. It just took more than three guys in a pick-up truck to do it.