This firebase was once the "evilest place in Afghanistan" - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

On a high plain in the Paktika province of Afghanistan, sits a remote outpost known to many simply as Firebase Shkin. In the early days of the War in Afghanistan, it was a hotspot of insurgent activity. According to Col. Rodney Davis, by 2003 Shkin was known as “the evilest place in Afghanistan.”


The firebase, looking like a cross between an old Wild West fort and the Alamo, sat right on the border in the middle of a major infiltration route for the Taliban from Pakistan. Contact was inevitable. Making matters more difficult was the ambiguous loyalty of the Pakistani Border Guards and armed forces in the area. The remote location meant that help was a long way off if things took a turn for the worse. Finally, the high elevation, 7,700 feet, meant every patrol was grueling.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
Paktika Province in Afghanistan (Wikimedia Commons)

Patrols wound through wadis and mountain passes on dirt tracks with names like Route Saturn, Chevy, and Camaro. Friendly Afghan Militia Forces inhabited adjoining buildings and ran the dreaded South Camp – a captured insurgent’s worst nightmare.

The base had first housed Special Forces soldiers and Rangers before being handed over to conventional forces from the 82nd Airborne Division, part of Task Force Panther, in 2002. The first casualty from the 82nd in the War on Terror was incurred here on December 20, 2002 when Sgt. Checo, assigned to D Company, 2nd Battalion 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), was killed in action. The firebase was often unofficially referred to as Firebase Checo in his honor.

Task Force Panther was relieved by Task Force Devil in January 2003. The elements of Task Force Devil, particularly those operating out of Firebase Shkin, were essential in establishing the tactics and standards of conventional forces operating in low-intensity conflicts. This information would be used to great effect as the war in Afghanistan grew and more troops came into the country. For the soldiers of Task Force Devil—and those that followed—these were lessons learned the hard way.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
Sergeant Ryan Creel (Combat Camera) films soldiers attached to 1-87th, 10th Mountain Divition searching the mountian side, just outside Shkin Firebase in Afghanistan. (US Army Photo by PFC Jory C. Randall)

In April 2003, a contingent centered on elements of B Company 3rd Battalion 504th PIR, supported by gun trucks from D Company as well as artillery and other support, took control of the firebase. Contact began almost immediately. On April 25, a quick reaction force from the firebase was ambushed by Al Qaeda fighters. Using a reverse-slope ambush, a technique taught to them during their war against Russia, the Anti-Coalition Militia (ACM) inflicted significant casualties on the firebase’s most recent inhabitants.

Two Americans were killed in the exchange and several others wounded, including the company commander, a platoon sergeant, and a forward observer. One of the soldiers killed was Jerod Dennis from B Company. The airfield at Orgun-e would later be named Dennis Army Airfield in his honor. The site of the battle, Losano Ridge, took its name from an Air Force Tactical Air Controller, Raymond Losano, who was also killed that day. However, the paratroopers gave better than they got sending the Al Qaeda fighters back across the border into Pakistan with heavy casualties.

The fight was further complicated by its proximity to the border and the fact that it happened in plain view of Pakistani outposts there. The response from the Pakistani side was to deliberately block and draw weapons on the American quick reaction force that was attempting to cut off the fleeing ACM fighters.

The soldiers of Firebase Shkin continued to engage the ACM and expand on their doctrine throughout the summer of 2003. As their commander, Capt. Dave Buffaloe, put it,I was given an opportunity that no other captain in the Army was given: to fight his own combined-arms, coalition, joint, multi-agency fight in his own Area of Operations.” Ambushes were frequent and the operations tempo was demanding, especially as there were only six dismounted infantry squads at the time.  

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
U.S. Marine Sgt. Zachary Zobrist engages enemy during firefight in Afghanistan. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Ezekiel R. Kitandwe)

By the end of the summer, Task Force Devil began rotating out of the border firebases and handing over responsibility to the incoming 10th Mountain Division task force. For the soldiers of 1st Battalion 87th Infantry that meant it was their turn at Firebase Shkin.

Though contact had tapered off towards the end of the paratroopers’ tour, the ACM came back hard to test the new unit in the area. On August 31, 2003 the task force lost its first soldiers of the tour in a large scale firefight with Anti-Coalition forces. In September Afghanistan’s most intense combat in 18 months claimed the life of another soldier, Evan O’Neill, in a firefight around Shkin. The attack was more sophisticated than earlier Al Qaeda attempts against the American soldiers. This attack involved mortar rounds and what seemed to be an attempt to down an American helicopter. The whole fight, once again, took place within view of the Pakistani Border Guards, who did nothing to aid America or its allies.

The soldiers from the 10th Mountain Division would continue to battle against insurgents in the lonely reaches of Shkin, Afghanistan before they themselves were relieved. The tenacity of the American soldiers at Firebase Shkin would bring relative quiet to the area. Eventually Firebase Shkin would be overshadowed by places like the Korengal Valley and fighting such as the Battle of Wanat. But those who served there in the early days of the war will always remember the hell that was the evilest place in Afghanistan – Firebase Shkin.

popular

This insane law would force everyone who wanted a war to go fight it

In 1916, the people of the United States were not feeling good about the rest of the world. President Woodrow Wilson easily won re-election on the slogan, “He kept us out of war” as World War I raged on in Europe and elsewhere. The Mexican Revolution threatened to pull the United States back into conflict in the American Southwest. On top of all that, the U.S. military was a conscripted, third-rate power; a far cry from the professional, all-volunteer force that we enjoy today.

But it was almost an Army comprised only of those who wanted to go to war in the first place.


This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
Five months after his inauguration, we were at war. Just sayin’.

 

The Constitution of the United States says only that the U.S. Congress can declare a state of war. There are no formal rules for how and when the Congress can do so, only that they can. In one instance, the President signed the legislation for war, and in others, it simply passed as a resolution. In 1916, the Congress had only declared war three times: against Britain in 1812, Mexico in 1848, and against Spain in 1898. The American people were not looking forward to a potential war in Europe, no matter who was on the other side.

Especially a concerned group of citizens from Nebraska, who created legislation that would change how the United States declared war – and who would fight it.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
“Get in, loser. We’re going to liberate Belgium.”

 

This proposed amendment to the Constitution outlined the process of declaring war as a national referendum, a direct vote by American citizens, where the majority would decide if the country was going to war or not. If the war referendum passed, all those who voted in favor of the war would be enlisted to fight that war.

Folks in Nebraska were surprised by how much popular support their proposed amendment received. The petition to submit the amendment to Congress had so many signatures, scraps of paper had to be added after the fact to ensure they all ended up on the document. While deciding who fights a war is very important, declaring a state of war comes with many automatic legal triggers, many of which have likely kept Congress from declaring war in the past few decades. An official state of war has not been declared since World War II.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
That face you make when you can still use the Tonkin Gulf Resolution to bomb Southeast Asia.

 

While the rules for how the United States conducts itself in a declared war versus an undeclared use of military force vary greatly, the rules for who fights the wars do not. All American male citizens are required to register for Selective Service at age 18, but the draft has not been used as a means of military recruiting since 1973, and was finally ended by President Gerald Ford in 1975. Ever since, the U.S military has been an all-volunteer force.

The question that has come out of the formation of an all-volunteer military in the past few years is one of disproportionate representation. If only certain segments of the American population have to fight the wars of the future, is it easier for a political class to launch unnecessary wars if they don’t have to be personally affected by its manpower needs? Those Nebraskans might have had a good point.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

Mental torture, starvation, and daily physical beatings were just a few of the dreadful aspects American POWs had to endure on a daily basis during their stay at the “Hanoi Hilton.”


Although prisoner leadership secretly spoke of escape between one another, the odds of a successful attempt was near impossible. But what the prisoners didn’t know was that the CIA had already approved a plan to have a sub-transport take SEAL Team One to an island off the coast of North Vietnam to intercept them upon escape.

Related: 3 heroes who became POWs twice

After sending a coded message to Washington, the Hanoi prisoners asked for “an unmistakable signal from the heavens” to show President Nixon supported the mission.

So on May 2nd, 1972, three S-71s delivered that message. As they approached the Hanoi prison, they flew so close to the sound barrier that the ensuing roar alerted the prisoners of their presence, and the message was received.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
Prisoners were paraded before angry crowds in Hanoi, where loudspeakers blared insults and encouraged the crowd’s added abuse. Many from the crowd did attack the near defenseless POWs. (Source: National Museum)

Some of the Hanoi prisoners never thought the rescue mission would get approved, which caused conflict among them as they questioned whether they should take the chance.

For the next three days, the SEAL Team would monitor the coast, awaiting their American brothers.

After several intense discussions, the prisoners came to a final decision whether they should embark on the daring escape: they voted no — and with good reason.

If the attempt failed, the remaining prisoners might face even harsher punishment, and they couldn’t allow that. They made the right decision.

Also Read: Clint Eastwood once helped fund a Vietnam POW rescue mission

Towards the end of the war, Nixon ordered a bombing run to force the enemy to accept the peace terms. After the aerial attack had ceased, the North claimed the Hanoi POWs had all been killed, but with a smuggled transmitter, the brave prisoners sent out a coded message that reached the White House which read:

“Vietnamese lie, we’re okay.”

The incoming message sparked Nixon to continue the bombing raids. Then, in early 1973, the North accepted Nixon’s terms, ending the Vietnam war and the strong-willed Hanoi prisoners finally came home safely.

Watch the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to witness the heroic story unfold for yourself.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Mountain fighting was hell for Italy’s elite WWI shock troops

World War I’s western front stretched from the English Channel to the Adriatic Sea and passed through the Italian Alps. The soldiers there were miserable and the conflict was characterized by long, bloody deadlock.

Life for soldiers of the Italian Army was no different. They were poorly equipped and trained, which was even worse horrible when combined with the incompetence of many high-ranking officers. This lack of leadership and equipment is a key reason Austro-Hungarian troops were able to invade the northeast part of Italy.


This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Soldiers on WWI’s Italian front fought enemies, frostbite, and avalanches.

In 1915, a sudden breakthrough came for the Italians in the form of a special operations unit. Some Italian officers and enlisted men volunteered to go behind enemy lines to gather information and create confusion among their enemies. These volunteers took the name of “Esploratori Arditi” – or “hardy explorers.”

These men were noted for their bravery and initiative and, by the end of the year, the first companies of Arditi were ready for action. Many of their fellow soldiers called them “Companies of the Death” because of the high number of casualties they both suffered and inflicted.

The Arditi led several attacks into the enemy trenches, quite often armed only with grenades and knives. One of their actions is described in the official records relative to the Silver Medal of Honor granted to Capt. Cristoforo Baseggio.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Arditi were issued unique equipment, like this diamond visor.

In 1916, Baseggio led an isolated column of 1500 men — about 200 Arditi and the rest mountain troopers. He ordered an attack on two enemy strongholds at Saint Osvaldo, one at an elevation of 1100 meters and the second at 1440. Even though it was April, there was still snow on the mountains. Soldiers climbed their way up, sliding and falling along the way. Their hands were covered in cuts etched in by frozen crags. Donkeys followed behind, pulling the artillery pieces.

Once they arrived, the soldiers spent the night digging trenches and foxholes. Between 5am and 9am, the Beech trees that hid the Austrians became a hell of flames and metal.

Two companies of mountain troops were sent to the right and to the left sides of the Austrian trenches. The Arditi were ready to attack the center just as soon as artillery blew away the barbed wires. They engaged the enemy in furious hand-to-hand combat, forcing the defenders to fall back, inward to the second line of trenches that encircled the mountain like a crown.

From their higher position, the Austrians managed to trap the Italians in the very trenches they conquered. The first two companies sent by Capt. Baseggio should have joined the action, attacking the enemy from the sides, but never showed up. The captain decided to go look for them himself. He ran through the snow, dodging bullets and hopping over corpses.

Soon, he found the two companies of Arditi pinned down by enemy fire. By all practical measures, his pincer maneuver had failed, so he decided to return to the central section with more of his men. While the reinforcements couldn’t get close enough to the Arditi, the sight of their captain gave the the Hardy Explorers strength enough to push forward again and recapture the trench

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Fighting on the Italian Front was particularly brutal.

The two Austrian companies on higher up the hill managed to hold the attackers for a time, but without reinforcements, they were not able to hold it for very long. As was typical of World War I, the Italians gained and lost the trench several times — each advance cost them dearly. On a third attack, the Italians reached the second trench, fighting over piles of corpses made up of troops of both armies. From the nearby high ground, an Italian Lieutenant could see the battle. He wrote,

“The fight on the other side of the valley intensifies more and more, it will soon involve me and my men. I’m separated from my comrades by four hours of rough march. It has been 36 hours that we have not eaten, but we will join our brothers in arms.”

The shocking thunders of artillery were interspersed with moments of silence, during which the men fought each other with knives and bayonets. A mountain trooper named Turin used all of his grenades to clean a trench in the highest position. Then, he jumped in to find an Austrian who had stood his ground in face of the bombardment. Turin’s rifle jammed and the Austrian managed to rip off part of the Italian trooper’s skull.

His comrades arrived and killed the Austrian. Turin wanted to continue the attack, even with his face covered by a horrible mask of blood. He couldn’t stand properly because of the shock. Only the resolute order of his superior convinced him to retreat — but not before cursing the now-dead Austrian one last time.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Arditi became known for their knife-fighting skills.

Forced to step back, the Italians retreated downhill once more, the last of them was a Lt. Rabaioli, who ran back smiling — holding six rifles stolen from the enemy.

After two days of battle and with the reinforcements of Lt. Bongiovanni, Capt. Baseggio took the first of the two strongholds — and went immediately on to recon the second, which was defended by an Austrian battalion. He spent the entire next day attacking this position, using his advantage of artillery in higher position to rain hell on the enemy.

By the end of the day, only a quarter of his company of Arditi — about 50 men — were still able to fight. Exhausted, he gathered and aligned the remaining Arditi in the open and inspected the weapons. Then, they all started marching in a parade in front of the enemy, who, astonished, ceased the fire and abandoned the position.

MIGHTY HISTORY

After 75 years, members of 101st Airborne share ties to Battle of the Bulge

Seventy-five years ago in Bastogne, Belgium, German soldiers captured American Pfc. Marold Peterson of the 422nd Infantry Regiment, 106th Infantry Division. Peterson escaped from the work camp where we was held prisoner, only to be captured again and killed by Hitler Youth.

Sgt. Travis Paice, the great-grandson of Peterson, said it is surreal to be in Bastogne where Peterson lived his last moments.

“Maybe he was standing right where I stood,” Paice, a soldier with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, said.


Paice is one soldier with family ties to the World War II Battle of the Bulge who participated in the 75th anniversary commemoration ceremonies and parade. Sgt. Coleton Jones of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101 Airborne Division, is another.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

US infantrymen crouch in a snow-filled ditch, taking shelter from a German artillery barrage during the Battle of Heartbreak Crossroads in the Krinkelter woods, December 14, 1944.

(Pfc. James F. Clancy, US Army Signal Corps)

Jones’ great-uncle Ed Jones was a Sherman tanker with the 10th Armored Division during World War II. While Jones is unsure of his great-uncle’s rank, he heard stories growing up about his service from his father and uncle. During the Battle of the Bulge, three of Ed Jones’ tanks took extreme damage.

On his last time evacuating a Sherman tank, he took shrapnel from a German stick grenade in his leg and was captured as a prisoner of war. He was missing for about four months until a Canadian HAM radio operator intercepted a message from the Germans including the locations of POWs from both American and Allied forces.

“It’s amazing to feel like I am walking in his footsteps,” said Jones of walking through the streets where his great uncle served. “To see Bastogne and where he was is a sobering feeling.”

On December 14, 2019, American and Belgian soldiers, along with members of the Bastogne community and World War II veterans, marched in a parade through the town center. Guests of honor, including Prime Minister of Belgium Sophie Wilmes, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and the US Ambassador to Belgium Ronald Gidwitz threw walnuts from the balcony of the Bastogne City Center into the crowd.

The nut throwing, or “Jet de Noix,” commemorates Gen. Anthony McAuliffe’s famous response of “Nuts” when petitioned by the Germans to surrender.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Anthony C. McAuliffe, left, and then-Col. Harry W.O. Kinnard II at Bastogne.

(US War Department)

Both Jones and Paice said they felt a great sense of pride knowing their unit has lineage to World War II and the Battle of the Bulge.

Paice had the opportunity to fly his great grandfather’s flag at the 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne. He plans on gifting the flag to his grandfather, who is also a veteran.

Before arriving in Bastogne, Paice was given documents by the Army which provided an account of his great grandfather’s capture. He brought these documents with him as a reminder of what his family had endured. While Paice said the documents do not go into much detail, it is just enough to be harrowing.

“I never knew him, and my grandfather never knew him, but to get, somewhat, a little bit of closure was a little surreal,” Paice said.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Sgt. Coleton Jones of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101 Airborne Division, center, meets reenactors at a community event at the Bastogne Barracks in Bastogne, Belgium, December 14, 2019.

(US Army photo by Sgt. Erica Earl)

Paice said the most emotional part of his great grandfather’s history is knowing that American soldiers liberated the prisoner camp Stalag IX-B, also known as Bad Orb, the day after he was killed in his effort to escape.

According to Army documents, soldiers in that prison were starved, with many men weighing only between 70 and 80 pounds when they were rescued.

As soldiers lined up to prepare for the parade, there was a mixture of snow, rain and harsh winds as temperatures dropped, but participants acknowledged that was nothing compared to what Soldiers who had gone before them endured.

Jones said if he could say something to his great uncle, it would be “thank you.”

“Thank you for paving the way for us and giving everything for our values, our freedoms and our allies’ freedoms,” Jones said in heartfelt appreciation to both is late great uncle and veterans of World War II.

This article originally appeared on United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Union soldiers stole a train to wreak havoc in Georgia

By April 1862, the American Civil War was a year old and neither side had the upper hand. The fighting was particularly brutal in Tennessee, a border state heavily divided between Union and Confederate sympathizers. Grant won a pyrrhic victory at the Battle of Shiloh in western Tennessee while Union operations in the eastern part of the state stalled.


This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

One enterprising Union supporter — a civilian merchant, scout, and part-time spy, James J. Andrews — proposed a plan to Union Maj. Gen. Ormsby M. Mitchel that would cut off the supply lines to Chattanooga and allow Union forces to take the city. This would help Mitchel in his ultimate goal of cutting off Memphis from the Confederates.

The plan called for Andrews to lead a group of volunteers to Atlanta where they would steal a train and then race towards Chattanooga while laying waste to the railway, telegraph wires, and bridges.

Mitchel agreed to the audacious plan.

So Andrews gathered 22 volunteers from the 2nd, 21st, and 33rd Ohio regiments stationed in Nashville with Mitchel. He also recruited another civilian, William Hunter Campbell.

Andrews ordered his raiding party to arrive in Marietta, Georgia, by midnight on April 10th, 1862. They were to travel in small groups and wear civilian clothes. Bad weather caused a 24-hour delay and two members of the party were caught in transit. On the morning of April 12th, the rest of the raiders – minus two who overslept and missed the mission – boarded a train in Marietta.

It was one year to the day since the war had started.

The train stopped just outside of Marietta at Big Shanty (modern day Kennesaw) for fuel and to allow the passengers to eat breakfast. The town had no communication lines and couldn’t alert stations further down the track. While the others ate, Andrews and his team sprang into action. They uncoupled most of the cars leaving only three empty boxcars, the tender, and a locomotive called the General to make their escape.

As the train pulled away, The General‘s engineer and two other men ran after the train for two miles before commandeering a handcart and following the train on the rails.

As they went, the raiders cut telegraph lines and tore up tracks to slow down their pursuers and disrupt future travel.

But as the raiders crossed the Etowah River, Andrews made a potentially fatal decision. He and his men spotted another engine, the Yonah, on a spur track. One raider suggested they destroy the engine and burn the bridge over the river. Unwilling to start a fight, Andrews chose instead to continue on.

Although slowed by a missing rail, the General‘s engineer, William Fuller, was still in hot pursuit on a handcart when he came upon the Yonah. He commandeered it and continued the chase.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Andrews and his men continued cutting telegraph lines and disrupting train traffic. When they reached Kingston, Georgia, they ran into a large traffic jam. General Mitchel did not halt his advance to wait for the raiders, so trainloads of supplies and civilians were pouring out of Chattanooga, clogging the lines. This traffic jam cost the raiders an hour — with the still intact bridge across the Etowah River allowing their pursuers to catch up.

The General departed the station just as the Yonah arrived. Andrews’ raiders stopped to cut the telegraph lines and remove another section of track. During that time, Fuller and his party abandoned their train and took one that was ahead of the traffic jam at Kingston. They took off after the Union men but were stopped by the damaged track.

Abandoning their train again they continued to pursue the raiders on foot. They commandeered a southbound train called Texas but since the Southerners didn’t have a turntable to change directions, Fuller ran the train in reverse. He also picked up a small group of Confederate soldiers to help retake the train.

In an effort to slow down their pursuers, the raiders uncoupled two of their three boxcars. When this didn’t work, they tried to use the last boxcar to burn a bridge. The car ignited but the bridge itself failed to catch. The increasingly desperate raiders watched as Fuller’s train pushed the burning boxcar off the bridge and continued the chase.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

By this time the General was running out of wood and water to power its boiler. Unable to proceed with the planned destruction of Tunnel Hill – which would have completely shut down the line – Andrews ordered the train stopped and the raiders to scatter just 18 miles short of their goal at Chattanooga.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

All the raiders, including the two men who overslept and missed the train, were captured within two weeks. Andrews, Campbell, and six Union soldiers were tried as spies and executed. The rest were interred in POW camps in the South.

Six of the raiders received the first Medals of Honor ever. Their exploits would come to be known as “the Great Locomotive Chase.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The “Father of the Air Force” challenged the limits of freedom of speech and lost

Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell was an Army officer at the beginning of the 1900s who campaigned for a separate Air Force that would revolutionize warfare. While most of his predictions about American airpower ultimately came true, Mitchell was dismissed as a radical in his day and convicted of insubordination.


Mitchell joined the Army in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, seven years before airplanes were a thing and 11 years before the military bought it’s first one.

Mitchell rose through the ranks quickly and was named deputy commander of Army Aviation shortly after his promotion to major. He requested permission to become an Army pilot, but as a 38-year-old major he was declared too senior in age and rank to become a pilot.

So he paid for his own lessons out of pocket. By 1917 he was an accomplished aviator and was promoted to brigadier general. He took command of all U.S. Army aerial combat planes in France and led 1,481 planes into combat against the Germans at the Battle of St. Mihiel.

After the war Mitchell continued pushing for a separate Air Force and claimed that a flight of bombers could destroy any battleship in existence, a claim he proposed testing by bombing actual battleships captured in World War I.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
The USS Alabama is hit by a white phosphorous bomb dropped during a demonstration. Photo: US Navy History

Mitchell eventually got his wish, and a series of demonstrations were scheduled for Jun.-Jul. 1921 where Mitchell’s forces would bomb three captures German ships and three surplus U.S. ships.

The crown jewel of the test targets from the German battleship Ostfriesland, scheduled for bombing Jul. 20-21. The tests were a resounding success. In full view of Navy brass and the American press, every ship was torn apart by aerial bombardment.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

 

The Ostfriesland was hit with armor piercing, 2,000-pound bombs specially designed for use against naval ships. Unfortunately, the Navy claimed that Mitchell overstepped the parameters of the test and Congress just ignored the results.

The friction between Mitchell and the Navy and Congress grew, until two major accidents by the Navy. In one, three planes flying from the West Coast to Hawaii were lost and in another the USS Shenandoah Airship was destroyed with the loss of 14 sailors.

Mitchell took to the press to blast the Navy and Army brass who he believed had failed their subordinates.

“These incidents are the direct result of the incompetency, criminal negligence and almost treasonable administration of the national defense by the Navy and War Departments,” Mitchell said. “The bodies of my former companions in the air moulder under the soil in America, and Asia, Europe and Africa, many, yes a great many, sent there directly by official stupidity.”

Mitchell was quickly brought up on Article 96 of the Articles of War which prohibits “all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline.”

His trial was a national sensation, attended by societal elite and crowds of veterans. Mitchell’s lawyer tried to argue that Mitchell’s freedom of speech trumped his duties as an officer, but the defense easily ripped through the argument by pointing out allowing complete freedom of speech in the military could create anarchy.

Mitchell was sentenced to five years suspension without pay or duty, during which time he could not accept civilian employment. When the decision reached President Calvin Coolidge, Coolidge amended them to allow the general half pay and a subsistence allowance.

Mitchell opted to resign his commission instead. He launched a speaking tour that traveled around the country and promoted air power.

He died in 1936 and so was not able to see his prophecies come true in World War II. The Air Force Association tried to get his conviction overturned in 1955, but the secretary of the Air Force left it in place because Mitchell did commit the crimes. President Harry S. Truman authorized a special posthumous award for Mitchell in 1946, recognizing Mitchell’s work to create modern military aviation.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Landing planes on carriers in World War II took a lot of help

Landing on a carrier is perhaps one of the toughest feats in all of aviation. In fact, studies have shown that pilots are more anxious about a night-time carrier landing than they are about combat. Today, there are a number of systems in place to help a pilot get down safely, but during World War II, it was a lot harder.


Just like today, there was a landing signals officer (LSO) responsible for the safe recovery of carrier aircraft, but they didn’t have the modern tools available now. No, this guy had to use paddles and hand gestures to get a planes, like the F6F Hellcat or SBD Dauntless, back on the boat safely. The carriers back then didn’t have angled decks, either. Nope, they were as flat-topped as Essex-class amphibious assault ships.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

The 13 signals used by LSOs in World War II.

(US Navy)

The gestures outlined above were how the LSO communicated with the pilot. They didn’t have modern radios like the ones we enjoy on Super Hornets today. In fact, the radios back then were primitive. The rear gunners on the SBD Dauntless, for example, often doubled as radiomen, but the radios were only able to send Morse code. Sending code isn’t very conducive to getting urgent messages to pilots quickly and clearly.

Instead, the LSO stood in a very exposed position and used a pair of paddles to send the pilot signals and guide them into a safe landing. During World War II, the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps trained tens of thousands of pilots to make those carrier landings guided only by hand signals.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

The lack of technology in World War II forced LSOs, like Lt. Tripp in this photo, to use the paddles to guide pilots back to safety.

(US Navy)

The training film below was made in 1949, the year before the Korean War broke out and when most planes operating off of carriers were propeller-driven. Like other Navy efforts to avoid accidents, the video used humor to get the points across.

Fair warning: This film probably would not win any awards for cultural sensitivity these days. We’ve come a long way in the last 70 years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsGbPl7U5jA

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Australian special operators haunted the enemy in Vietnam

It might surprise the casual student of history to learn that the United States was not alone in supporting South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. America’s traditional list of allies joined us in trying to contain the spread of Communism in South East Asia, including Taiwan, South Korea, and Australia. Each one of them brought the pain to the enemy in their own way.

South Koreans were so zealous in their fight against Communism that everyone else actually had to restrain them at times. Aside from the powerful bombing campaigns, America employed precision special operations units, which North Vietnamese called “the men with green faces.” It was the Australians they feared most, however.

At any given moment, everything would be fine and then, suddenly, you’d see all your men killed in the blink of an eye. That’s how they knew the Aussies were in the area.


Even though Aussies had been in Vietnam since 1962, the Australian Special Air Service Regiment first arrived in Vietnam in April 1966 with the mission of conducting long-range reconnaissance patrols in the dense Vietnamese jungles.

They were so effective in the field, the NVA called the Australians the “Ghosts of the Jungle.” They even provided instructors to the United States’ Long-Range Reconnaissance Patrol school. They would operate on 24-hour missions in the areas surrounding friendly bases.

Related: You had to bet your life to graduate from the Vietnam-era ‘Recondo’ school

Small fire teams of four to six men moved much more slowly than any other unit, even other special operations units. But once in contact with the enemy, the Australians unleashed a barrage of fire, designed to make the enemy believe there were more men on the opposing side than there really were.

The slow, quiet movement and hellish raking fire the Australians brought to the NVA and VC made them the most feared enemy unit in the areas of South Vietnam. Even the most quiet VC infiltrators could easily walk into a devastating Aussie ambush.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

An SASR patrol during Operation Coburg, South Vietnam 1968.

(Australian Defense Ministry)

Each Aussie SASR unit operated with an attached New Zealand SAS trooper and each of the three “Sabre” squadrons did, at least, a one-year tour in Vietnam, operating throughout Phuoc Tuy province as well as in Bien Hoa, Long Khanh, and Binh Tuy provinces. They also deployed with American Special Forces and Navy SEALs throughout the country.

The Australian SASR first came in contact with the enemy in May, 1966, when they met a Viet Cong force in the area around Nui Dat. It did not go well for the VC. From there, the Aussies spread their recon patrol range by several kilometers. By the end of their time in Vietnam, the unit performed 1,200 combat patrols with one killed in action, one dead from wounds, three accidentally killed, one missing, and one death from illness. Another 28 men were wounded in action.

Before leaving in 1971, the ANZACs killed 600 enemy troops, the highest kill ratio of the entire war.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Legacy begun by U.S. Navy legend continues with Army Reserve pilot and beyond

RICHMOND, Va. — Every time he straps on the leather band of his watch in the morning, Phillip Brashear remembers his father.


“My dad’s famous saying is, ‘It’s not a sin to get knocked down. It’s a sin to stay down,'” Brashear said.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Those words are engraved on the back of a Swiss limited-edition wristwatch, surrounding the iconic image of a Mark V diver suit helmet. The watch was manufactured in honor of Carl Brashear, the first African-American master diver in U.S. Navy’s history who lost his leg during a tragic accident on a mission off the coast of Spain in 1966.

Two airplanes had collided, dropping a payload that included three nuclear warheads. One of them fell into the Atlantic Ocean. Carl Brashear was called to dive and recover the bomb, but during the mission a towline was pulled so tight that it ripped off a pole, dragging it across the deck with so much tension that it cut the bottom part of his leg, nearly ripping it off. Back in the United States, doctors decided to amputate the leg below the knee.

“My father is an American legend,” said Brashear. “He was the first amputee to return to active-duty service in one of the most challenging jobs in the Navy.”

His life story was depicted in the Hollywood movie “Men of Honor” which starred Cuba Gooding Jr. and Robert De Niro.

“My father overcame five barriers in his lifetime. He overcame racism. My father overcame poverty, being a poor sharecropper’s son. He overcame illiteracy. He lost the bottom part of his leg and was physically disabled. … He overcame his alcoholism, and in 1979 retired with honors,” Brashear said.

Today, Phillip Brashear is the command chief warrant officer for the 80th Training Command, which is responsible for military courses that train thousands of Army Reserve Soldiers around the country.

Brashear thanks service members like his father and the Tuskegee Airmen for the opportunities that men and women of every skin color and background have today.

“He opened the door for many others to come behind him,” he said.

Brashear has more than 38 years of military service, starting in the U.S. Navy Reserve, then the U.S. Army National Guard and now with the U.S. Army Reserve. He spent most of that time flying helicopters.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

“I used to tease my dad all the time. … I scored higher than you on the ASVAB test,” he said, referring to the aptitude test used to assign military jobs. “I get to be a helicopter pilot. I go up, not down. My daddy said, ‘Aw, get the heck out of my face. … Remember son, there’s always divers looking for pilots. There’s never pilots looking for divers.”

That banter between father and son came close to becoming a dark premonition for Phillip in 2006 while deployed to Iraq. A flash flood washed away part of a convoy, and Brashear was involved in recovering the bodies.

“That’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life was to get out of that helicopter in a combat operation to retrieve dead Americans, bring them back to safety so their families could have closure,” he said.

Though the bodies were not Navy divers in the middle of the ocean, Brashear recovered Marines whose lives were taken by water.

The rest of his Iraq tour offered no relief. He was with the Virginia Army National Guard at the time, responsible for flying personnel and material across Iraqi deserts under constant gunfire and the threat of improvised explosive attacks. Even at night, he could see the barrage of tracer rounds piercing the sky like lasers.

“I remember the heat. Constant heat. Like a blow dryer in your face. I remember the constant thirst. The constant fear from getting in that helicopter in a combat zone,” Brashear said.

Then one day, he came home from deployment on a Red Cross message. His father was ill. However, Brasher didn’t think it was severe, and during his visit home, Phillip believed his father would recover. He thought his dad was invincible. This was the man who had endured a year of recovery wearing a 300-pound suit after losing a leg to become a master diver. As a master chief petty officer later in his career, Sailors scurried out of the way whenever this legend walked onto a ship.

“He’s gonna be fine,” the son thought, so he walked into his father’s hospital room complaining about Iraq.

“I’m like, Dad, man. I’m getting shot at. The food’s bad. It sucks over there. It’s hot,” he recalled.

“Son, what are you complaining about?” his father asked.

The calm in the old man’s voice took him by surprise. Something in his father’s presence caused the younger Brashear to pause.

“He was on his deathbed. He would have traded places with me in a heartbeat … to go fly helicopters in harm’s way, but I wouldn’t have traded places with him,” Brashear said.

“A few days after, he died in my arms. … His body just gave up. He’d been through so much. He just couldn’t suffer any more. So he – he left us,” he said.

After his deployment, Brashear decided to retire from the Army, but while going through his father’s belongings, he remembered his father’s fighting words.

“It’s not a sin to get knocked down. …”

He returned to service in the U.S. Army Reserve, which he said offered him opportunities even the National Guard couldn’t have given him, including the command-level position he holds now. He continued to fly helicopters for about a decade. Over the course of his career, he’s flown the UH-1 “Huey” – recognized as the Vietnam-era helicopter – the UH-60 Black Hawk and two different models of the CH-47 Chinook.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Then, in 2014, Brashear faced adversity of his own. During his annual flight physical, he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a heart arrhythmia that took him off flight status.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world to be denied your job because of something medical. That’s like someone taking away your livelihood. So, just like my dad, I said, ‘I’m not going to let this stop me. I’m going to get back up and get my job back,'” Brashear said.

He received a procedure known as cardioversion, a medical treatment that restores normal heart rhythm through electric shocks. As it turns out, his heart doctor, Michael Spooner, also treated Brashear’s father in the last 10 years of his life. The A-Fib kept Brashear off flight status for a year, but he continued his recovery until he passed his physical and returned to flying.

Now, Brashear is among the few dozen command chiefs in the U.S. Army Reserve. He serves as the top technical expert for his command and invests his time mentoring warrant officers and Soldiers wherever he goes.

With all four of his children grown, Brashear lives with his wife, Sandra, outside Richmond, Virginia. They have three daughters – Tia, Megan, Melanie – and a son, Tyler, who is an ROTC cadet studying biology at North Carolina AT University.

“It’s just a great legacy to have my father, who in the Navy was a great legend. Then myself a combat veteran in the Army. And now my son, who is going to be following our footsteps with leadership and service to our country,” he said.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

This article originally appeared on DVIDS. Follow @DVIDShub on Twitter.

Articles

9 bombers that can shoot down a fighter

When bombers beat fighters, it is very notable. But some bombers have more tools than others in an air-to-air fight. For instance, the F-105 shot down 27 MiGs during the Vietnam War, many thanks to its M61 cannon.


Here are some bombers that an enemy fighter would not want to get caught in front of.

1. De Havilland Mosquito

While some versions of this plane were designed as out-and-out bombers, with the bombardier in the nose, others swapped out the bombardier for a powerful armament of four .303-caliber machine guns and four 20mm cannons.

It goes without saying just what this could do to a fighter. One incident saw a number of Mosquitos being jumped by the deadly Focke-Wulf FW190. The Mosquitos shot down five of the enemy in return for three of their own in the dogfight.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
The Mosquito’s heavy armament of four .303-caliber machine guns and four 20mm cannon is very apparent. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. Douglas A-20G Havoc

During the Pacific War, Paul I. Gunn, also known as “Pappy” came up with the idea to make use of the extra .50-caliber machine guns that came from wrecked fighters. He put those on A-20 bombers.

Eventually his modifications were something that Douglas Aircraft began to put on the planes at the factory. The A-20G had six .50-caliber machine guns in the nose — the same firepower of a P-51 Mustang or F6F Hellcat. Against a Zero, that would be a deadly punch. The A-20 later was used as the basis for the P-70, a night fighter armed with four 20mm cannon.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
A look at the nose of an A-20G Havoc. (USAAF Photo)

3. Douglas A-26B Invader

Designed to replace the A-20 Havoc, the Invader was equipped to carry up to 14 .50-caliber machine guns in its nose. Nope, not a misprint; this was the combined firepower of a P-47 and a P-51. That is more than enough to ruin the life of an enemy pilot who gets caught in front of this plane.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
The A-26B Invader. Note the eight ,50-caliber machine guns in the nose. Six more were in the wings. (USAAF photo)

4. North American B-25J Mitchell

The medium bomber version of the B-25J was pretty much conventional, but another version based on the strafer modifications made by “Pappy” Gunn in the Southwest Pacific held 18 M2 .50-caliber machine guns. One B-25, therefore, had the firepower of three F4U Corsairs.

Other versions of the B-25, the G and H models, had fewer .50-caliber machine guns, but added a 75mm howitzer in the nose.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

5. Junkers Ju-88

Like the Allied planes listed above, the Ju-88 proved to be a very receptive candidate for heavy firepower in the nose. Some versions got four 20mm cannon and were equipped as night fighters. Others got two 37mm cannon and six 7.92mm machine guns, and were intended to kill tanks and/or bombers. Either way, it will leave a mark, even on the P-47.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
Ju-88 in flight. Some were armed with two 37mm cannon. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

6. Vought A-7D/E Corsair

The A-7 Corsair is widely seen as an attack aircraft. It carries a huge bomb load, but the D (Air Force) and E (Navy) models also have a M61 Vulcan with a thousand rounds of ammo. While no Navy or Air Force Corsairs scored an air-to-air kill in the type’s service, if a plane or helicopter was caught in front of this bird, it wouldn’t last long.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
An A-7E Corsair from VA-72 during Operation Desert Shield. (U.S. Navy photo)

7. F-105D/F/G Thunderchief

The F-105 is probably the tactical bomber with the highest air-to-air score since the end of World War II. Much of this was due to its M61 Vulcan with 1,029 rounds of ammo. You know what Leo Thorsness did with his F-105 against a bunch of MiGs.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
Republic F-105D in flight with full bomb load. (U.S. Air Force photo)

8. F-111 Aardvark

While it was an awesome strike aircraft that could still be contributing today, it is not that well known that the F-111 did have the option to carry a M61 cannon with 2,000 rounds of ammo. That is a lot of heat for whatever unfortunate plane is in front of it.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
General Dynamics F-111F at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

9. A-10 Thunderbolt

Widely beloved for its use as a close-air support plane in Desert Storm and the War on Terror, the A-10’s GAU-8 was designed to kill tanks. That didn’t mean it couldn’t be used against aerial targets. During Desert Storm, a pair of Iraqi helicopters found that out the hard way.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
BRRRRRT. (U.S. Air Force photo)

MIGHTY HISTORY

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger

During Desert Storm, a massive portion of America’s firepower came from two floating relics, battleships of another time and age that would have to be pulled off of mothballs to take part in the war. These ships, however, provided a massive show of fire and fury that would convince Iraqi leaders that they were the source of an amphibious invasion, allowing for the Coalition’s massive victory.


Desert Shield was the 1990 military operation to prevent further aggressive acts by Iraq after it invaded Kuwait. As 1990 closed and 1991 opened, it became clear that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would not pull his forces out voluntarily, and so the massive force created to break his armies prepared for combat.

One part of that force buildup was a pair of Iowa-class battleships, the USS Wisconsin and USS Missouri. The ships had been mothballed, but they were pulled out of retirement to provide naval artillery against the Iraqi forces. Their 16-inch guns could hurl armor-piercing shells weighing up to 2,700 pounds, but they more commonly fired 1,900-pound shells with massive bursting charges, creating craters 50-feet wide.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”
The battleship USS Wisconsin has impressive 16-inch guns. (US Navy Photo by Civilian Public Affairs Officer Max Lonzanida)

When the ships were first deployed against Iraq, they conducted standard naval artillery support and also flew drones and OV-10 Bronco spotters over the battlefield to track Iraqi troop positions. But military planners would rely on them for a lethal light show that could prevent hundreds of thousands of friendly deaths.

See, the U.S. had called on lots of allies to help get Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, but Iraq had one of the largest armored corps in the world at the time. So the balance of forces was in the Coalition’s favor, but it would likely have to suffer massive losses if it pushed Iraq out solely by strength of arms.

Military planners came up with a clever trick: Launch a three-pronged assault.

There would be an amphibious assault that would look like the main invasion but was actually a diversion, a primarily infantry assault that would tie up enemy troops and secure some objectives, and a massive “left-hook” led by armored units that would strike at Baghdad.

But that meant that the first prong, the amphibious diversionary one, had to look like the real assault even though most infantry and armored units would be miles away.

So the military called on the massive battleships.

They asked for weeks of shore bombardment by the battleships’ guns as well as Tomahawk missile strikes in Baghdad and across Iraq. All of this would culminate in a withering barrage during the invasion that would demoralize and overstimulate the defenders on the beach.

As Iraqi forces suffered a dense bombardment by the Wisconsin and Missouri, they would send up damage report after damage report. And when troops started landing on the beaches, Iraq would be convinced that a true amphibious landing was underway.

And so the battleships eagerly acquiesced and attacked Iraqi targets, leading to the footage at the top. The ships were returned to retirement after the war and would go on to become museum ships. Check out the video, and if you happen to be around Pearl Harbor or Norfolk, Virginia, be sure to check out these awesome ships.


Feature image: National archives

MIGHTY CULTURE

These World War I troops claimed to be rescued by angels

In August, 1914, British troops were in full retreat from the World War I Battle of Mons in Northern France. The Germans chasing them were far greater in number, and the men were desperate. In a turn of good luck, they happened to pass a celebrated old battle site that turned the tide of their retreat, in an almost supernatural way – and that’s exactly how it was remembered.


The Battle of Mons went as well for the Brits as could be expected. It was the first test of the British Expeditionary Force in continental Europe. They fought hard, and the Germans paid dearly for their advance. But the French Fifth Army gave way to the Germans, and the British could not hold the line on their own. An orderly battle turned into a two-week rout that would end with the epic Battle of the Marne – but not unless the BEF could escape the oncoming Germans. They retreated south as orderly as possible.

On their way, they passed the site of the famous medieval Battle of Agincourt, where King Henry V’s English longbowmen devastated a French Army that outnumbered the English with estimates as high as 6-to-1. The retreating British troops of 1914 were on the run from a numerically superior German force when legend says a British soldier said a prayer to Saint George that changed the outcome of their retreat.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

St. George, the Christian dragon slayer.

George was a Roman Praetorian Guard for Emperor Diocletian, and was executed for not recanting his professed Christian faith centuries before the emperor converted the empire to Christianity. He is probably the most prominent of all soldier-saints. So, when a retreating British soldier asked St. George for help, it makes sense for the men of the retreating army to believe he may have intervened when the Germans suddenly broke off their pursuit.

After the battle, men present during the fighting chalked the sudden turn of events up to a number of supernatural explanations, each more awe-inspiring than the next. In the most prevalent retelling, the prayer to St. George caused an army of spectral English bowmen to appear, which both frightened and slaughtered the pursuing Germans.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

Looks like St. George needs to train his angels a bit.

The claims of the English soldiers were grounded by a fictional short story called “The Bowmen” written by Arthur Machen after the battle. In the book, angelic archers appear after a British soldier prays for help from St. George. Led by the patron saint of England, a thousand archers appeared and mowed down the enemy. Afterward, the German generals determined the BEF must be using a new gas weapon, as there were no wounds on the dead German troops.

Machen’s story was a fabrication, of course, based on a different story by Rudyard Kipling. That one was set in Afghanistan. But veterans of the Battle of Mons soon began to claim they were eyewitness to the spectral event. In each retelling, the story changes: German soldiers are found with arrow wounds, the ghost army was actually a team of angels in the form of medieval knights and led by St. George, or the BEF was able to retreat into a wall of clouds.

This firebase was once the “evilest place in Afghanistan”

World War I Ex Machina.

The Angels of Mons very quickly entered the lore and legends of the First World War, joined there by stories of ghouls living in No Man’s Land, crucified Canadian soldiers, and the end of the war by Christmas.

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