This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II

The Douglas Aircraft Company was responsible for two legends in World War II: The SBD Dauntless dive bomber, famous for turning the tide in the Pacific in a span of roughly five minutes, and the C-47 Skytrain, a version of the DC-3. That same company was responsible for the lesser-known, but no less important, A-20 Havoc.


 

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Douglas A-20A Havoc – with a glass nose for a bombardier. (USAF photo)

When the plane first flew, it didn’t even get an order from the United States. In fact, what kept this design afloat, according to aviation historian Joe Baugher, was the French. France ordered a total of 270, and received some of the planes before the country fell to the Nazis.

The Royal Air Force took on the undelivered planes, calling them, instead, “Bostons.” Then, they bought more of these planes. The United States, seeing the efficacy of this plane in action, then began to buy the plane as well, calling it the A-20 Havoc. When Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, the United States sent A-20s there.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
RAF Boston during the Dieppe Raid. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The plane saw action in the European, Mediterranean, and Pacific Theaters of Operation. According to MilitaryFactory.com, the plane had a top speed of 339 miles per hour and could fly just under 1,100 miles, carrying up to two tons of bombs.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Douglas A-20G Havoc at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The A-20 really made its mark in the Southwest Pacific. There, Paul Irvin “Pappy” Gunn began to modify the planes. These bombers started to get as many as six M2 .50-caliber machine guns in their nose. It was here, low-level tactics helped the A-20 live up to its name — “Havoc.”

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
A Douglas A-20 Havoc pulls up during the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. (Photo from DoD)

Eventually, word of Gunn’s field modifications made their way back to Douglas Aircraft Company, which began building the A-20s with the nose guns already installed. The A-20 was eventually replaced by the A-26 near the end of the war, but it had held the line against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Learn more about this very aptly-named bomber in the video below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7kEXd7XFn4

(Dung Tran | YouTube)

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the great impostor saved Korean War wounded while posing as a surgeon

Ferdinand “Fred” Waldo Demara Jr. wanted to be somebody — so he decided to be everybody. The man who could be called ‘The Great Impostor’ was at times an assistant warden at a prison in Texas, a dean of philosophy at a college in Pennsylvania, a zoology graduate, a lawyer, a cancer researcher, a teacher, and a doctor, among other professions during his 23-year career as a professional confidence man

The Massachusetts native who ran away from home at the age of 16 had initially joined a monastery to become a monk. “Now don’t worry,” Father Desmarais of the Trappist monks told his parents. “He has joined the most demanding religious order in the world and he’ll be home in several weeks.” When he returned home, he enlisted in the US Army on an impulse after enjoying food and drinks at the Union Oyster House in Boston. It wasn’t long before he went AWOL. His patterns were often spontaneous. He later enlisted in the US Navy and went AWOL again, even going as far as leaving behind a suicide note at the Navy docks in Norfolk, Virginia.

He had a world-class ability to assume fake identities and convince unsuspecting job interviewers that he was authentic. He bounced around the country and entered new career fields he certainly didn’t have the qualifications for. 

His most preposterous and famous impersonation came in March 1951 when he took a bus to St. John, New Brunswick, in Canada. The “greatest impostor” assumed the identity of Dr. Joseph Cyr, an acquaintance he’d met a year prior while he pretended to be an American lawyer named Dr. Cecil B. Hamann. He had convinced Cyr to provide him the documentation of his qualifications in order to help him get an American medical license. Naturally, he disappeared and took this precious information to steal his identity and commission as a surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN). 

Dr. Joe Cyr poses with the HMCS Cayuga
On the HMCS Cayuga, 1951-52, his fellow sailors viewed “Dr. Joe Cyr” as a hero. Photo courtesy of rcnhistory.org.

His first assignment was at an RCN hospital in the navy port of Halifax. He was to take sick calls despite having no knowledge of medicine. As any great con man would do, he presented his job as a problem to be addressed by one of his superiors. 

“I’ve been asked by some people to work up a rule of thumb guide for the people in lumber camps,” Demara told biographer Robert Crichton about the ruse he employed for The Great Impostor, a book about his life. “Most of them don’t have doctors handy and they’re pretty isolated. Could we get together a little guide that would pretty well cover most serious situations?”

“How does that look?” the superior who took on the challenge asked him. 

“Gosh, doctor,” Demara told him, “I think it’s great. You really know your medicine and how to get it across to the layman. This is great.”

His wit and intuitive ability to outsource opinions from other doctors to strengthen his cover didn’t always work. When he was reassigned to the HMCS Magnificent, an aircraft carrier in the Halifax Bay, the commanding medical officer saw right through his scheme. He wrote in a report that Cyr “lacked training in medicine and surgery, especially in diagnosis.”

His most serious undertaking was as the medical officer of the Canadian destroyer named Cayuga. He was responsible for the care of 211 enlisted sailors and eight officers. Whenever a medical problem arose, he would disappear and scour through page after page of medical books using his alleged photographic memory to learn the procedures. He performed a successful dental surgery on Commander Plomer, the Cayuga’s captain, extracting a number of sore teeth despite not having the slightest idea as to how much anesthetic to administer. The following morning, Plomer thanked Cyr for “the nicest job of tooth pulling I’d ever had.”

The great impostor movie poster
Tony Curtis played con man Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr. in the 1961 film adaptation of Demara’s biography, The Great Impostor.

While they patrolled the Korean coast near the 38th parallel, a small Korean junk filled with as many as 19 wounded troops made contact with the Cayuga

“Everything went fine to start with and then as these people [Republic of Korea soldiers] came off, they were not doing too well, some of them,” recalled Peter Godwin Chance, who served aboard the Cayuga. “They were wounded and a couple DOAs but our doctor, Joe Cyr, was the hero. And he was parading up and down the upper deck with his whites and his hat and doing this patchwork and so on and for which we were all highly impressed.”

The “doctor” also performed more critical duties including the removal of a bullet during chest surgery. Most didn’t think anything was awry. His colleagues even put Dr. Cyr in for a commendation. After a public relations specialist was contacted, all of the major outlets including The Canadian Press, The Associated Press, and Reuters learned about the citation proposal. When the real Dr. Cyr read about his medical achievements abroad, he contacted the authorities and they issued a report that there was an impostor.

“Well, we said, those crazy armchair buggers back in Ottawa, they haven’t got a bloody clue,” Chance said.

When the RCN learned Demara was a fraud and his true incompetence was revealed, he was kicked out of the Canadian military. The mystery man’s past aliases were also disclosed, and his exploits were later immortalized in the 1961 film The Great Impostor starring actor Tony Curtis. In 1979, at an RCN reunion held in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, the famed “doctor” made an appearance and was welcomed with open arms. Perhaps the greatest impostor the world had ever seen died in 1982 at 60 years old.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

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4 things you may not know about USS Constitution

The sailing frigate USS Constitution (ex-IX 21) was re-floated on July 23 in an event overshadowed by the commissioning of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).


The ship has been around for 220 years. But here are a few things you may not have known about this ship.

1. Paul Revere provided some crucial materials for the ship’s construction

According to the Copper Development Association, Paul Revere, best known for his midnight ride prior to the Battles of Lexington and Concord, provided a number of copper bolts and a copper bell for USS Constitution.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II

2. The Constitution had a hull number

In 1941, the Constitution was given the hull number IX 21, along with a number of other vessels. According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, the list included the prize USS Reina Mercedes (IX 25), the sloop USS Constellation (IX 20), the cruiser USS Olympia (IX 40), and the training carriers USS Wolverine (IX 64) and USS Sable (IX 81).

The hull number was rescinded in 1975 at the suggestion of the ship’s commanding officer, Tyrone G. Martin, who instituted a number of traditions that carry on to this day.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II

3. She is the only survivor of her class

Of the first six frigates, the Constitution is the only survivor. Sister ship USS Constellation was thought to have been converted to a sloop and preserved in Baltimore, but later research determined the Navy had scrapped the original vessel. The frigates USS Chesapeake and USS President were captured by the British. USS United States was captured by the Confederates, but eventually scuttled and scrapped.

USS Congress was scrapped in 1834.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II

4. She was the battlecruiser of her era

The Constitution and her sisters were designed to be able to outgun enemy frigates and to out-run enemy ships of the line. She had a mix of 24-pound cannons and 32-pound cannons, compared to the 18-pound cannons used on the British Leda-class frigates, built around the same time as Constitution and her sisters.

In fact, late in the war of 1812, British frigate captains were ordered to avoid combat with the Constitution and her sisters.


MIGHTY HISTORY

How the CIA recruited and handled its top KGB mole

On June 22, 1977, Aleksandr Ogorodnik killed himself with a CIA-supplied suicide pill after the KGB arrested him based on information initially provided by a mole within the Agency. Just over three weeks later, CIA officer Martha (Marti) Peterson — unaware of Aleksandr’s death — was seized in a KGB ambush while servicing a dead drop in Moscow.

The streets of Moscow were one of the most important, and dangerous, battlefields of the Cold War. American intelligence officers like Marti worked with assets like Aleksandr in the shadows to collect Soviet secrets. The Soviets, in turn, closely watched all foreign nationals and their own citizens for signs of espionage.


Although the story of TRIGON ended tragically, the intelligence Aleksandr provided gave US policymakers valuable insights into Soviet foreign policy plans and intentions. It was insights like this which ultimately helped us win the Cold War.

Recruiting a spy:

Aleksandr Ogorodnik was a mid-level official in the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) posted in Latin America and had access to information about Soviet intentions for the region. He enjoyed his life in Latin America and disliked the Soviet system, which he found oppressive.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
u200b

The CIA recruited Aleksandr in South America in 1973. Upon signing up to spy for the Agency, he was given the codename TRIGON.

TRIGON smuggled documents from the embassy and took them to a safe-house, where Agency officers photographed them. The material he provided gave unique insights into Soviet policies in Latin America, including plans to influence other governments.

Return to the motherland:

In anticipation of his recall to Moscow, CIA officers taught TRIGON operational trade-craft and techniques. He also received training in secret writing, the use of one-time pads, and dead drop techniques.

One of the first female CIA case officer to serve behind the Iron Curtain, Marti Peterson, went to Moscow to be TRIGON’s handler. At the time, the KGB discounted the ability of women to conduct intelligence operations, so Marti went unnoticed for almost 18 months.

TRIGON’s value rose significantly after he returned to Moscow in October 1974. He had agreed to continue spying for the Agency, but he asked that the US government resettle his then-pregnant girlfriend. Before leaving for the Soviet Union, TRIGON requested a suicide device in case he was caught. After high-level deliberations at Langley, his CIA handlers reluctantly gave him a fountain pen containing a cyanide capsule.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
TRIGON’S dead drop instructions made by CIA.
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)

A few months later, per his recontact instructions, TRIGON gave a “sign of life” signal in February 1975. As face-to-face meetings were too dangerous, impersonal operational encounters—using signal sites, radio messages, concealment devices, dead drops, and car drops—began in October and were scheduled monthly.

For nearly two years they worked together, Marti and TRIGON never met. They were only spies passing in the night.

Dead rats for dead drops:

Moscow was a challenging environment to operate within. Even finding one’s way around Moscow proved difficult because Soviet-produced maps of the city were deliberately inaccurate. The Agency had to get creative when communicating with assets, which regularly included the use of dead drops.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Dead drop rock intended for TRIGON.
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)

Dead drops are a way for intelligence officers to leave or receive items at a secret location in order to exchange information with an asset without having to meet directly. Everyday items like fake bricks can be used for dead drops. Packed with messages or supplies, the bricks can be deposited at a set location, such as a construction site, for later pickup.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Marti Peterson’s purse, used during dead drop operations in Moscow.

One of the more surprising concealment devices sometimes used by the CIA were dead rats. The body cavity was large enough to hold a wad of money or roll of film. Hot pepper sauce kept scavenging cats away after the “rat” was tossed from a car window at a prearranged drop site.

Marti used a purse to conceal supplies and equipment that she transferred to TRIGON via dead drop exchanges. Because of the KGB’s gender bias, the purse, like Marti herself, did not attract suspicion.

The mole:

TRIGON soon secured a position in the Global Affairs Department of the MFA that gave him access to incoming and outgoing classified cables to Soviet embassies worldwide. He provided sensitive intelligence about Soviet foreign policy plans and objectives. His reporting went to the President and senior US policymakers.

Meanwhile, Karl Koecher, a naturalized US citizen, was working at CIA as a translator and contract employee. (Unbeknownst to CIA, he was also working concurrently for the Czech Intelligence Service.) He had incidental access to information about TRIGON’s first dealings with the Agency and told his intelligence service, which then notified the KGB.

When that occurred is not known, nor is the time when the KGB began investigating TRIGON. In early 1977, however, his case officers began noticing indications—principally a marked decline in the quality of the photographs—that he had been compromised and was under KGB control.

The Krasnoluzhskiy Most

TRIGON never showed up for a dead drop encounter on June 28, 1977, so another was arranged via radio message for two weeks later.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Krasnoluzhskiy Most, Moscow Bridge site for dead drop.
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)

On July 15, Marti went to the Krasnoluzhskiy Most — a railroad bridge near Lenin Central Stadium —to set up the dead drop. The bridge spanned the Moscow River with a pedestrian walkway running along the side of the tracks. A spot was prepicked where TRIGON would receive a “drop” from Marti, and leave a package to be retrieved later that same night.

As night fell over Moscow, Marti left a concealment device in a narrow window inside a stone tower on the Krasnoluzhskiy Most. It was a trap.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
(SPYCRAFT, by Robert Wallace and H Keith Melton)

A KGB surveillance team was waiting and seized Marti. They took her to Lyubianka Prison, where she was questioned for hours and photographed with some of the espionage paraphernalia Agency officers and TRIGON had used. She was declared persona non grata (an unwelcome person) and sent back to the US immediately.

The Agency later learned that Alexander Ogorodnik had killed himself a month before Marti had been apprehended. He told the KGB he would sign a confession but asked to use his own pen. Marti wrote in her memoir, The Widow Spy, that “Opening the pen as if to begin writing, he bit down on the barrel and expired instantly in front of his KGB interrogators. The KGB was so intent on his confession that they never suspected he had poison….TRIGON died his own way, a hero.”

This article originally appeared on Central Intelligence Agency. Follow @CIA on Twitter.

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The last surviving liberator of the Auschwitz death camp just died

Time marches on and with it goes some of history’s greatest heroes. The history of World War II reached a sad but inevitable milestone in June 2021. The last surviving soldier who liberated the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz has died at age 98. The Munich Jewish Community Organization that confirmed his death gave no cause.

David Aleksandrovich Dushman drove his Soviet T-34 tank through the electrified fence of the concentration camp on January 27, 1945. He was a soldier of the Soviet Union’s Red Army, part of a force moving through Poland on its way to Berlin. 

Like much of the world, the Soviet troops knew little of the camps set up by the Germans who occupied Poland or what happened in the camps. But unlike much of the world, they found out very quickly. In a 2015 interview with a German newspaper, he described seeing skeletons everywhere. 

Still, he only saw what was in front of him and the rumors he heard among his fellow soldiers. It was only after the end of the war that he learned the magnitude of what happened in the string of Nazi camps across Europe. 

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
“Selection” of Hungarian Jews on the ramp at Auschwitz-II-Birkenau in German-occupied Poland, May/June 1944, during the final phase of the Holocaust. Jews were sent either to work or to the gas chamber.
The photograph is part of the collection known as the Auschwitz Album, which was donated to Yad Vashem by Lili Jacob, a survivor, who found it in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in 1945. See Auschwitz Album, Yad Vashem: “The Auschwitz Album is the only surviving visual evidence of the process leading to mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

“They staggered out of the barracks, sat and lay among the dead. Terrible. We threw them all our canned food and immediately went on to hunt down the fascists,” he said.

Dushman was a Russian Jew from the Free City of Danzig, later a Polish possession. He was just 21 years old that day but he knew all too well what Jewish people faced, even inside the Soviet Union. 

Auschwitz-Birkenau was one of the most notorious death camps in Germany and its occupied territories, famous for its gas chambers that ended the lives of an estimated one million Jewish prisoners from across Europe. But Jews weren’t the only ones sent there to die.

The death camps at Auschwitz were the final destination for many of Europe’s homosexuals, much of its Roma population and Soviet prisoners of war. If captured by the Wehrmacht, it’s very likely Dushman would have met his end there. 

Instead, he was the first liberator to enter the grounds (if you don’t count his T-34 as a liberator). 

Dushman was only one of 69 Red Army soldiers from his unit who survived World War II, from a unit of 12,000. He was wounded at least three times on the brutal Eastern Front, but it could have been worse for him– much worse. He and his comrades fought in some of the most intense battles of World War II, including the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Hungarian Jews march toward a gas chamber. The photograph is part of the collection known as the Auschwitz Album, which was donated to Yad Vashem by Lili Jacob, a survivor, who found it in the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in 1945. Auschwitz Album, Yad Vashem: “The Auschwitz Album is the only surviving visual evidence of the process leading to mass murder at Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

After the war, Dushman became a doctor at the behest of his mother, carrying on the family profession. But he really wanted to be a champion fencer and studied the sport intensely. He became one of the USSR’s top fencing athletes. 

The Soviet team, along with Dushman went on to win Olympic gold in the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. The decorated World War II veteran would later urge the International Olympic Committee to use its games as an instrument of international peace. 

“My biggest dream and hope for future generations is to live in a world where there is no war,” Dushman said “… use sport as a way to spread peace and reconciliation around the world. War is something that should never happen again.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Coast Guard captured 18 ships, and 8 more surprising stories from its history

The U.S. Coast Guard was officially formed in 1915, but it traces its history to 1790 through the Lifesaving Service and the Revenue Cutter Service. Formerly part of the Treasury Department and now under the Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard is generally the butt of jokes from military branches under the Department of Defense.


Despite the comments about the ‘puddle pirates,’ Coast Guard history is filled with shocking exploits.

1. The Coast Guard conducted a World War II raid nearly three months before Pearl Harbor attack

 

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Photo: US Coast Guard

The Coast Guard cutter USCG Northland was patrolling near Greenland under a defensive treaty between Greenland and the U.S. on Sep. 12, 1941, when it received a tip that a suspicious ship had put ashore a landing party in a nearby fjord. The Northland found the vessel, the Norwegian fishing boat SS Buskoe. The Northland crew boarded the ship and took the ship master to the Northland for questioning. The boarding party continued to search the Buskoe and found two sets of radio equipment, an indicator that the ship was handling communications for Nazi radio stations.

The Coast Guard conducted an interrogation of the ship master and learned the location of the landing party the ship had previously dropped off. Coast Guardsmen landed on the shore and conducted a nighttime raid against a radio station established by the enemy landing party. They captured three Norwegians, at least one acting under German orders. They also found German radio equipment, code words, and military instructions. Since the U.S. and Germany were not yet at war, the Norwegians were arrested as illegal immigrants.

2. Revenue cutters captured 18 ships during a quasi-war with France

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command

America owed a significant amount of money to France when the French crown was overthrown during the French Revolution in 1794. The U.S. told the French Republic that they would not be repaying the debt since the money was owed to the crown.

Backlash from France resulted in the Quasi War from 1798-1799. Though neither nation declared war, naval battles became common with the French seizing American merchant ships by the hundreds. The Navy, which had been disbanded after the war of 1812, was re-instituted. While the Navy was standing up, eight Revenue Cutter Service ships were pressed into service against the French Navy.

Twenty-two French navy vessels were captured during the war. Eighteen were captured by Revenue cutters unaided and another two were captured in joint Navy-Revenue Cutter Service operations. One cutter, the USRC Pickering, captured 10 French ships during two cruises of the West Indies. One capture was that of l‍ ’​Egypte Conquise, a French privateer that carried 44 guns, was crewed by 200 men, and was three times the size of the Pickering.

3. A Coast Guard lieutenant commanded an Army company in combat

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Photo: US Army

In 1855, Revenue Cutter 2nd Lt. James E. Harrison was ordered to accompany a U.S. Army company in the American-Indian Wars. In the Puget Sound area of Washington, the Army camp was ambushed by a group of Native Americans on December 3. The Army commander, Lt. W. A. Slaughter, was killed the next day in the fighting. Harrison assumed command of the company and beat off the attackers in a fierce firefight. He then led the company back to Fort Steilacoom, Washington on December 21.

4. The USRC Hudson rescued a Navy vessel while under heavy fire from Spanish artillery

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/US Coast Guard

On May 11, 1898, the USRC Hudson was part of the Navy fleet blockading Cuba during the Spanish-American War. A group of Spanish ships had attacked the blockade the day before and were now in harbor in Cardenas, a fortified port. Navy Cmdr. John Merry ordered the Hudson and the USS Winslow to enter the port and sink the ships.

The Winslow was faster and entered the port first, but was soon damaged due to fierce fire from shore batteries. The Hudson rushed to the defense of the damaged torpedo boat, laying down thick covering fire and attempting to secure a tow cable to the Navy vessel. After more than a half hour, the Winslow crew was finally able to secure the tow cable and the Hudson pulled her out of the port. The vessels sank two Spanish ships during the attack, but the Winslow suffered the deaths of an officer and multiple crewmen.

Three members of the Winslow were awarded the Medal of Honor. Revenue Servicemen were not eligible for military medals, but Congress awarded specially minted medals to the crew at the urging of President William McKinley. The ship captain, Lt. Frank H. Newcomb, was granted the only gold medal of the war. His officers were given silver medals and the crew received bronze.

5. The Surveyor crew bravely fought back against a boarding party over three times its size

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Photo: US Coast Guard

During the War of 1812, a boarding party of 50 British sailors from the HMS Narcissus used muffled oars to sneak up on the USRC Surveyor. The 15-man crew of the Surveyor saw the British approaching but could not bring the guns to bear due to the angle of approach of the boarding party.

Capt. Samuel Travis ordered his men to take two muskets each and wait quietly for the British to get within pistol range. The British were hampered by the surprise volley but kept coming, so the crew of the surveyor fought across the decks to retain control of the ship. The British were eventually able take the ship, but they suffered three dead and seven wounded to the Americans’ five wounded. The cutter’s defense was so fierce despite the numerical advantage of the British that British Capt. John Crerie returned the American captain’s sword the next morning with the following note.

“Your gallant and desperate attempt to defend your vessel against more than double your number excited such admiration on the part of your opponents as I have seldom witnessed, and induced me to return you the sword you had so ably used, in testimony of mine.

Our poor fellows have severely suffered, occasioned chiefly, if not solely, by the precaution you had taken to prevent surprise. In short, I am at a loss which to admire most-the previous arrangement on board the Surveyor, or the determined manner in which the deck was disputed inch by inch. You have my most sincere wishes for the immediate parole and speedy exchange of yourself and brave crew.”

6. A future commandant of the Coast Guard herded reindeer 1600 miles across Alaskan Arctic

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Photo: US Coast Guard

Eight whaling ships and 265 people were trapped in the Arctic ice on the north Alaskan coast in 1897 when the ice closed earlier than normal. President William McKinley learned of the men’s plight and tasked the Revenue Cutter Service with getting needed supplies to the whaling ships.

The service accepted volunteers for the mission dubbed “The Overland Expedition” which departed Dec. 16, 1897. The men made their way through the Alaskan wilderness with dog and reindeer teams pulling sleds of supplies and mail. The amount of supplies needed and the scarcity of sleds and dogs meant the men had to run alongside the sleds for most of the 1600-mile trek in temperatures as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The expedition purchased reindeer and drove them north through the nearly complete darkness of the Alaskan winterThe men arrived at Point Barrow March 29, 1898 with 382 reindeer. Though many of the whalers had become sick or emaciated before the arrival of the rescue party, only three died and the rescue was a success. When the summer thaw completed, four of the ships were able to sail south. Four had been destroyed by the ice and their crews were transported south by the USRC Bear to San Francisco. The second-in-command of the operation, 2nd Lt. Ellsworth Berthoff, would go on to become the first commandant of the Coast Guard when the Revenue Cutter Service and the Lifesaving Service were combined in 1915.

7. A beached crew fired the enemy’s own cannonballs back at them

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Photo: US Coast Guard

When the USRC Eagle found itself outmatched by the British HMS Dispatch during the War of 1812, the crew didn’t give up. They intentionally ran the cutter aground on Long Island and dragged some of its guns to a high bluff. From there, they teamed up with local militia and began firing on the British.

By mid-afternoon, they were out of shot. They reportedly began using sheets from their logbook as wadding and fired the enemy’s own cannonballs back at them. The enemy fire was so fierce, the cutter’s flag was shot off three times. The British eventually captured the Eagle.

8. Coast Guardsman destroyed a major pirate fort

Cape Breton Island in modern day Nova Scotia, Canada was a haven for pirates such as Captain Kidd for much of the 17th and 18th centuries. During operations in 1820, the USRC Alabama and USRC Louisiana attacked the pirate fort at Breton Island. Louisiana went on to capture five pirate vessels as part of a Caribbean task force with the British and U.S. navies.

9. The Coast Guard conducted more than 1,300 search and rescue missions during the Mariel Boatlift

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Photo: US Coast Guard

On April 22, 1980, Cuban President Fidel Castro opened the Port of Mariel to Cubans who wished to emigrate from Cuba. Within hours, ships were headed from Miami to pick up the refugees. Over the next 45 days, an estimated 5,000 vessels pulled more than 100,000 Cubans from the island. The vessels were usually packed over capacity and had insufficient flotation devices. Over half of the vessels needed some sort of assistance from the Coast Guard.

The Coat Guard shifted many of its active duty assets to the Straits of Florida and called up its reserves. Many vessels began running 24-hour operations just to tow damaged ships or search for lost ones. The call for Coast Guard cutters became so dire that some ships stopped being able to maintain their logs. Still, the Coast Guard logged 1,300 search and rescue missions during the operation with an unknown number not being recorded.

NOW: The Navy’s new way to launch aircraft is a slingshot on steroids

OR: 21 jaw-dropping photos of the US Coast Guard in Alaska

MIGHTY HISTORY

This museum houses the most macabre artifacts from American history

For America’s morbidly curious, there’s no more prominent mecca than the National Museum of Health and Medicine. There’s nowhere else can someone view everything from the bullet John Wilkes Booth used to kill Abraham Lincoln to a trauma bay used in the Iraq War.

For more than 150 years, the National Museum of Health and Medicine has been preserving the artifacts and displaying the impact military medicine has had on the men and women who fight America’s wars – increasing their chances of returning home.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
This is an anatomical model of the normal human brain manufactured by Anatomie Clastique Du Dr. Auzoux of Paris France in 1901.This one was used at the Army Medical School, a postgraduate medical school to train physicians their duties as medical Officers, and also at the Army Medical Museum and Library in Washington, D.C. (Image courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Facebook)

The museum was founded in the middle of the American Civil War in 1862 by U.S. Army Surgeon General William A. Hammond. The Army Medical Museum, as it was originally known, was intended to collect and preserve specimens and artifacts for trauma and pathology research – the two fields of medical science most applicable to the battlefield.

Over the next 150 years, the museum became a repository for everything related to medical research and the battlefields of every American war. These days, it’s also a member institution of the Defense Health Agency, a joint medical force that provides services to combat commands across military branches. 

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Aren’t you glad dental kits like these aren’t used today? This dental emergency kit was designed by Lt. Col. Jack L. Hartley, USAF (DC) to be used for self or buddy care during prolonged space flights.  (Image courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Facebook)

It now holds more than 25 million artifacts, even if they aren’t always on display as an exhibit for public viewing. It’s just one more way for the Department of Defense to connect with the American public. Some of the artifacts and exhibits may not be suitable for all of the general public. 

Although it was closed to the public during the global COVID-19 Pandemic, the museum contains an expansive collection of artifacts surrounding the death of President Lincoln. Aside from the bullet that ended his life, viewers can also see the autopsy kit used on the president, as well as fragments of his skull and the surgeon’s blood-stained sleeves. 

Though never on display, the National Museum of Health and Medicine also holds items made from human skin that were confiscated from the concentration camp at Buchenwald and used as evidence in the Nuremberg Trials. The items included a bisected human head and the three tattooed human skins. 

Inside the museum, viewers can see the first instance of the United States identifying the remains of the fallen through forensic dental work, a piece that dates back to one of the iconic figures of the American Revolution, Paul Revere. 

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
This is a resin model of the skull of a soldier who suffered a head injury in Iraq. Suspended next to the resin skull is a model of the cranial implant that was created for this soldier’s injury. (Image courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Facebook)

Revere was a dentist and silversmith, who created custom dental work for Maj. Gen. Joseph Warren. When Warren was killed in combat, the British buried him in a mass grave outside of Boston. Revere and others dug through the grave looking for Warren’s remains. They identified him through a gold and ivory dental work Revere created. Warren was then reinterred in his own grave. 

There are also less historic but no less morbid artifacts. The museum holds a preserved, blackened smoker’s lung, the swollen leg of someone who had elephantiasis, and hairballs that formed inside a human stomach that had to be surgically removed. 

The museum that was first established to preserve advances in battlefield medicine in the Civil War has come a long way since its inception so long ago. Now viewers can see for themselves how far medical technology has advances in terms of sanitation, human anatomy, virology and pathology.

Most importantly, we can all appreciate the large steps the medical community has taken in keeping wounded and sick soldiers alive throughout America’s modern military history. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

Operation Foxley was the 1944 Special Operations plan to kill Hitler

Even as World War II was wrapping up and Allied soldiers occupied much of Western Europe, the British Special Operations Executive was still devising plans to kill Adolf Hitler in Germany and bring the war to a swift end. 

Many different options were considered, including bombing his personal train, sabotaging railway stations, and even poisoning Hitler’s water or food, but all those were deemed too complex to ensure success. 

The planners decided it would be best and easiest to kill the Fuhrer at the Berghof, Hitler’s mountain chalet in southern Germany. 

While interviewing German prisoners taken from the Allied invasion of Europe, the SOE discovered one of the defender of the Nazi’s Fortress Europe was once a member of Hitler’s personal bodyguard, stationed at the Berghof. 

The former guard’s testimony revealed a distinct weakness in the German dictator’s morning routines while staying at the chalet. When he was staying at the Berghof, the Nazis flew a Nazi flag from the top of the house, which could be seen from Berchtesgaden, the town nearby. Every morning around 10am, he would take a 20 minute walk, always alone, out of sight of the guard houses. 

British officials decided this would be the best place to plan for an assassination attempt, as they could confirm that Hitler was at the Berghof before launching the final phases of the operation, then infiltrate the grounds and do the job. 

Another captured German also revealed that his uncle was a local in the town and was vehemently anti-Hitler and could thus be recruited to aid the commandos. Once there, the British considered a few weapons that might be used to ensure Hitler’s demise (including the use of a bazooka) but they settled on a skilled sniper to do the job.

hitler
A bazooka was one of the many weapons considered for the mission.

The Special Operations Executive devised a plan that would see German-speaking Poles and a British sniper parachute into Salzburg and be driven to Berchtesgaden by the uncle. 

Once in Berchtesgaden and disguised as German troops and carrying Wehrmacht rifles, the commandos would make their way to the Berghof grounds and wait for Hitler’s morning stroll. It would be there they take out the Fuhrer and make their way back to Berchtesgaden. 

Although the plan had the backing of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, it was ultimately abandoned for a few reasons. The first and most important is that all the Allied intelligence services considered Hitler so terrible at military strategy that they feared someone more competent would take his place and prolong the war. 

They also worried about the ramifications of the Hitler Mythology. While it was widely known among Allied leaders (and probably German leadership) that Hitler was a poor strategist, it wasn’t really known among the Fuhrer’s most fervent supporters. Planners worried that killing Hitler would leave behind a mythos similar to the end of World War I – that if Hitler had survived the war, Germany would have won. They worried such an occurrence would lead to another war. 

Finally, they didn’t want to make a martyr of Hitler and thus National Socialism as an ideology. The plan was ultimately scrapped due to the divisions of opinion it caused in the British military and intelligence leadership. 

The plan, originally scheduled for July 14, 1944 didn’t happen and a fully alive Hitler left the Berghof for the last time that day, never to return. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Air Force SLAM jet was designed to kill at Mach 5

Russia is getting a lot of attention lately for things like hypersonic missiles and nuclear doomsday weapons but all that is just old hat to the Pentagon. The United States has been working with doomsday weapons for years; we just never went around bragging about it.

Or blowing up our own nuclear reactors.


The Cold War was a pretty good time for America, especially where defense is concerned. Even though we may have thought of ourselves as trailing the Soviets with ridiculous things like “missile gaps,” the truth was we were often further ahead than we thought. Hell, we were going to nuke the moon as a warning but decided the PR would be better if we landed on it instead. If the Russians wanted to impress us, they could have taken a photo next to our flag up there.

When it came to weapons, the U.S. had no equal. We built horrifying, terrifying, and downright unbelievable devices that were an excellent show of force at best and – at worst – absolutely batsh*t crazy. Project Pluto was one of the latter.

Simply put, Pluto was a cruise missile that flew at a low altitude with a nuclear payload. Sound pretty Cold War-level simple, right? The devil is in the details. The actual acronym for the weapon was SLAM – supersonic low altitude missile. This meant a giant missile that flew around below radar, around treetop height, faster than the speed of sound, so it could penetrate enemy territory without anyone seeing it or being prepared for what came next.

Which was about 16 hydrogen bombs dropping on Russian cities. But that’s not all!

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II

The SLAM Jet’s ramjet engine.

The weapon isn’t unique because of the number of weapons it carried. Intercontinental ballistic missiles, the weapons that would eventually make SLAM jets obsolete, carried multiple warheads that could be targeted at multiple cities. No, the unique part of the SLAM jet weapon is what it is. The missile is designed around a single, nuclear-powered jet engine which is sent aloft by rocket boosters but soon becomes indefinitely sustainable via the power of the nuclear jet engine’s intake.

So, the weapon could drop its payload and then keep flying forever, creating sonic booms above the treetops, murdering anyone on the ground. The fact that the engine is just an unshielded nuclear reactor meant its exhaust would spew radioactive material all over any area unlucky enough to have it pass by overhead.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II

Luckily for everyone on the planet, this project was dumped with the invention of ICBM technology. So the United States and the Soviet Union could kill each other more directly, rather than leave a path of destruction as it went to destroy another country en masse.

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These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

If fighting the well-defended Viet Cong on their home turf wasn’t dangerous enough, imagine having to crawl your way through a series of extremely tight and narrow underground tunnels to capture or kill them.


Armed with only a flashlight, a single pistol, or maybe just a knife, a “Tunnel Rat” didn’t have much in the way of defense.

“The most dangerous part would be psyching up to get into the tunnel,” Carl Cory says, a former 25th Infantry Div Tunnel Rat. “That was the part that was most frightening because you didn’t what you were getting into.”

Related: This video shows the ingenuity behind the Viet Cong tunnel systems

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Sgt. Ronald H. Payne, a Tunnel Rat, bravely searches a tunnel’s entrance during Vietnam War. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

In 1946, the Viet Minh were the Viet Cong resistance fighters who began digging the tunnels and bunkers to combat the French, whom they would eventually defeat.

By the time the Vietnam War broke out, the Viet Cong had over 100-miles of tunnels with which to spring deadly ambushes on American and South Vietnamese forces before vanishing.

The numerous spider holes (as the tunnel entrances were sometimes called) were conveniently located and well camouflaged — nearly impossible to detect.

Also Read: American troops tried to find Viet Cong tunnels using witching rods

It was the duty of the brave Tunnel Rat to slide alone into the tunnel’s entrance then search for the enemy and other valuable intelligence. Due to the intense and dangerous nature of the job, many Tunnel Rats became so emotionally desensitized that entering a spider hole was just another day at the office — no big deal.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Sgt. Ronald A. Payne searches a Vietnamese tunnel armed with only a flashlight and a pistol. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

With danger lurking around every corner, the Tunnel Rat not only had to dodge the various savage booby traps set by the Viet Cong, but typically only carried 6-7 rounds of ammunition with him even though the tunnels were commonly used to house up to a few dozen enemy combatants.

With all those physical dangers to consider, the courageous troop still needed to maintain a clear and precise mental state of mind and not let the fear get the best of him.

After completing a search, many American and South Vietnamese units would rig the tunnels with C-4 explosives or bring in the always productive flamethrowers to flush out or kill any remaining hostiles.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This D-Day vet hit the beach strapped to a barrage balloon

As World War II raged overseas, men and women responded to the call of duty in the fight for what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called the “four freedoms” – freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want and fear. By the time the United States entered the war, more than 2.5 million African American men had signed up for the draft. In a separate-but-not-equal military at the time, the irony was not lost as the fight for these freedoms continued at home.


“[T]he sky in the distance lit up with searchlights, tracers from ack-acks and the sound of bombs,” Cpl. Waverly B. Woodson, a medic attached to the primarily African American 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion, once wrote in testimony to Congress regarding what he witnessed on D-Day.

Also read: One man dumped most of the combat footage of D-Day into the English Channel

War raged in every corner of sky, sea, and land within sight as dawn broke on the morning of June 6, 1944. The 320th was the only African-American amphibious assault unit the U.S. First Army used in Normandy. According to Woodson, they were dispersed among various landing craft for protection of unit members.

“The military personnel on our landing craft looked in awe at the spectacle in the distance and wondered, ‘What next?'” he wrote. Woodson, along with several seamen and soldiers on a Landing Craft Tank, was part of the first wave heading toward Omaha Beach.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
Army 1st Infantry Division troops land on Omaha Beach on D-Day. (Photo by U.S. Navy Chief Photographer’s Mate Robert F. Sargent)

The water was choppy and the noise deafening. As the landing craft neared the French coastline, it hit a submerged mine, which took out the motors. Within minutes, it hit another mine and endured several German 88mm artillery shells. The Germans continued to rake the ship with machine gun fire and mortar shells, preventing any nearby ship from coming to the rescue, Woodson said.

One mortar shell landed on the steel deck of the craft and exploded. Before Woodson had a chance to move, shrapnel took out the soldier next to him and more shrapnel lodged into his own thigh. After another medic dressed his injury, Woodson tended to the wounded and dead onboard. Of the 34 service members on board Woodson’s craft, only 11 survived by the time the ship hit the beach.

Related: This battleship went from Pearl Harbor to D-Day to nuclear tests

“D-Day was the most emotional and dangerous day in my life,” Woodson wrote. “As a young soldier far from home … the assault units waited patiently to begin their mission… Everyone knew the first 23 hours would be critical to the course of the war.”

Once Woodson reached the beach, he tended to the wounded and consoled the frightened. He dressed wounds, administered pain medication, and conducted amputations for the next 30 hours. He later saved and resuscitated four drowning soldiers before collapsing from exhaustion and injury. Woodson spent three days recovering in a hospital ship and then asked to be taken back to the beach to continue working.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
The Seabees land at Omaha Beach on D-Day. (US Navy photo)

A note from the assistant director in the Office of War Information to a White House aide states Woodson’s commanding officer had recommended him for the Distinguished Service Cross. This was upgraded to the Medal of Honor by the office of Gen. John C.H. Lee in Great Britain. At home, the press called him the “No. 1 Invasion Hero.”

Woodson never received the Distinguished Service Cross or Medal of Honor. After the war, he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his actions on D-Day.

Nearly one million African American service members served in World War II. In the segregated military, most African American service members were assigned to the Army for service- or combat-support roles. A small percentage held positions in combat arms.

Retired Cpl. William Dabney, now 93, is one of two surviving members of the 320th. In 1942, he was in his second year of high school when he enlisted in the Army – and only after convincing his great-aunt to sign a document granting him permission to serve. He soon found himself training to use hydrogen-filled barrage balloons, which had thin metal cables with bombs attached that would detonate if triggered by low-flying enemy planes.

More: This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

On June 6, Dabney made his way to Omaha Beach with the first wave with a barrage balloon strapped to him.

“I was dodging bullets mostly,” said Dabney with a laugh. His mission was to protect the advancing soldiers. As Dabney approached Omaha Beach, his balloon caught fire from being hit by gunfire.

“It happened just as I hit the beach, so I couldn’t move,” said Dabney. “I wasn’t equipped to do anything else because that was my job. The only thing I could do then was unstrap the cables from myself and take cover under the dead bodies so I wouldn’t get shot.”

By the end of the day, the mission of the 320th had been accomplished successfully. Dabney was awarded the Legion of Honor, France’s highest military honor, on the 65th anniversary of D-Day. His proudest moment from that day: getting a hug and a kiss from First Lady Michelle Obama, who recognized him before he could introduce himself.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
(Defense Department photo/Linda Hosek)

“Allowing my dad to share his experiences with others helps spread the information about the accomplishments and contributions of black men throughout history – specifically throughout World War II,” said Vinney, Dabney’s eldest son.

Segregation in the Armed Forces remained an official policy until 1948. The heroic actions of many African American service members went unacknowledged – due to their race – entire units, such as the 320th, were left unmentioned in history. While prejudice took a backseat during D-Day, the years ahead would see a different story, said Woodson.

Woodson spent the remainder of his career serving the medical community at then-Walter Reed Army Hospital and then-National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda. He spent 38 years working in clinical pathology at the National Institutes of Health before retiring. He passed away in 2005.

More reading: First African-American Marines finally get their own monument

In 1997, after a study commissioned by the U.S. Army investigated racial discrimination in awarding medals, President Bill Clinton presented the Medal of Honor to seven African American World War II veterans. But to the dismay of family and friends who knew Woodson, he remained missing from the list.

Many of Woodson’s military records were lost in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in Missouri. With the help of U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, his family has since started a petition to award him the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day.

“Black History Month recognizes that there are lots of Black heroes largely uncelebrated because their stories aren’t being told,” said Dabney. “I’d like people to not just remember the 320th. I would like for all African Americans that were fighting in this war to be recognized. They did a job, too, and there was quite a few of us out there.”

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How interrogation techniques are used on recruits and no one knew it

For countless years, various interrogation techniques have been used to locate the bad guys, gain confessions and convict criminals. In 1996, the CIA and Army intelligence officers were forced to release a collection of writings called “Kubark” after a Freedom of Information Act request.


This former secret document reveals practices used against the nation’s enemies to admit wrong doings and learn information to prevent future attacks.

Related: President ponders review of suspected terrorist interrogations and black sites

Section nine (shown below) describes the stages of coercive techniques used to extract vital information from sources. Once you look closely, you may realize you’ve experienced one or more of these techniques up close and personal during your stay in boot camp.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
The levels of Kubark from the original document published in 1963. (Source: NSA Archive / Screenshot)

Here’s how 8 out of 12 forms of counterintelligence interrogation techniques are used on recruits in basic training.

1. Arrest

In this case, arrest doesn’t mean being handcuffed and hauled off to jail, we’re talking about using the element of surprise to achieve the maximum amount of mental discomfort. Picture a few drill sergeants barreling into a squad bay screaming and yelling waking up their recruits at moments notice — it’s the same principle.

2. Detention

According to the NSA archive, the continuity of a man’s surroundings, appearance, daily habits, and actions define his identity. In boot camp, the recruit has no control over any of these aspects in his new military life.

3. Deprivation of Sensory Stimuli

Basic training is known for breaking down recruits before they’re built back up. So recruits are banned from anything positive at least until graduation.

4. Threats and Fears

When a DI tells you that nothing you can do is right and you’re a complete failure, it takes a toll on the mind. Even worse, if you fail you’re going to have to repeat the tough evolution if you don’t get a move on.

5. Debility

Living in close counters with up to 80 other people means getting sick is almost guaranteed. Getting a head cold and forced to hard days work can break anyone’s spirit. The interrogation doesn’t stop for a detainee if they have a little fever.

6. Pain

Everyone’s threshold to tolerate pain is different. As many would collapse and quit, others use it as motivation to push forward and fight. Boot camp is all about mental and physical toughness and so is surviving a harsh interrogation.

7. Heighten Suggestibility and Hypnosis

This state of consciousness means getting someone to accept suggestion without them thinking about it and taking action. In military terms, it’s building up muscle memory.

8. Narcosis

Today it’s mainly known as sleep deprivation. Everyone needs rest or they can make vital mistakes. Boot camp is widely known for keeping military hopefuls up for multiple hours conducting various tasks to see how they respond to the stress.

Also Read: This Navy SEAL’s intense boot camp prepares actors for movie combat

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Yes, World War II soldiers could throw mortar rounds like grenades

A few World War II movies feature incredible scenes of troops — usually soldiers or Marines — fighting tooth and nail against an enemy until they’ve expended most of their ammo, all of their grenades, and are stuck in their final defensive position.


That’s when someone does something crazy and starts throwing mortar rounds at the oncoming onslaught. The huge bursts of shrapnel wipe out groups of the enemy forces, breaking up the attack and allowing the heroes to emerge victorious.

Skip ahead to 0:28 in this clip to see this happen:

“Saving Private Ryan” was called out by some for this scene as many thought it impossible, and “Hacksaw Ridge” features a similar scene that caused a few raised eyebrows.

But most mortar rounds in World War II could be thrown this way. It was just incredibly dangerous and rarely done.

While new proximity fuzes — those which detonate a specified distance from the surface — were developed during World War II, most mortar rounds carried impact fuzes that used the physical force of the mortar striking a rock or something to trigger the charge.

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
World War II mortarmen attack German positions in 1944. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

This caused surface bursts, and most mortarmen wanted their rounds that were detonating against the surface to explode immediately. The further the main charge makes it into the ground before it explodes, the greater amount of the explosion that will be absorbed by the mud and dirt.

So weapon designers made fuzes that were very sensitive. To prevent the fuzes from exploding prematurely, designers incorporated impact fuzes with a two-step arming process. This meant a safety pin had to be removed followed by a sudden force such as the propellant exploding to fire the round from the tube.

For soldiers looking to use these mortar rounds as a grenade, they had to remove the safety pin and slam the tail of the mortar round against something solid to simulate the force of the weapon firing. After that, the round would explode from any sudden force applied to the fuze.

 

This forgotten bomber wreaked havoc on the Nazis in World War II
An American mortar crew attacks German positions on the Rhine in 1945. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

This method of triggering, combined with the greater explosive force of a mortar, made them way more deadly than grenades.

Most grenades work using a timer, meaning that a soldier throws it and hopes that the enemy can’t grab the weapon and throw it back before it detonates.

But a hand-thrown mortar round will usually explode as soon as it hits the ground or a solid object, making it nearly impossible to throw back.

At least two soldiers used this to their advantage in World War II. Technical Sgt. Beauford T. Anderson threw mortar rounds to drive off a Japanese attack on Okinawa, and Cpl. Charles E. Kelly used mortar ammunition during his final defense of a storehouse being overwhelmed by the Germans in Italy.

This procedure comes with high risks. A round that falls short of the intended throw will almost certainly go off, potentially killing friendly troops and the thrower, and a round that is dropped after arming could go off, killing the operators. Still, for a happy few, the risk was worth the reward.

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