As far as modern conventional warfare is concerned, the bullet or small explosive device are the standard, go-to weapon. And even today, many units around the world still adapt a bayonet into the unit crest.
But no weapon turns more heads while cracking the most skulls quite like the shovel.
To the uninformed, the shovel seems casual enough. It’s even played up for comic effect in cartoons, usually with a wacky sound effect. There’s even a video game called Shovel Knight that treats the titular character’s weapon as a joke.
Young privates don’t believe the shovel’s history as a weapon because they don’t know military history and only heard it used as a weapon from an salty old Sergeant First Class who has a story about his buddy “getting an e-tool kill.”
This isn’t like those stories about a guy killing three men in a bar with a pencil. The spade had many uses back in the day, especially during the trench warfare of WWI and WWII. It wasn’t the most effective melee combat weapon, but damn was it handy.
But the bayonet has practically lost its importance. It is usually the fashion now to charge with bombs and spades only. The sharpened spade is a more handy and many-sided weapon; not only can it be used for jabbing a man under the chin, but it is much better for striking with because of its greater weight; and if one hits between the neck and shoulder it easily cleaves as far down as the chest. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
Much of the fighting was done between opposing trenches and occasionally the unfortunate bastards who found themselves in no-man’s land. But to even take an inch from the enemy, you had to over take their trench.
Raiding parties generally cleared portions of the trenches with hand grenades and shotguns. When it came time to fight the stragglers, the longer rifle and bayonet combo just wasn’t effective in narrow and often swamped trenches. Even the beauty of the trench knife – which included a knife for stabbing, brass knuckles for punching, and a spiked pummel for puncturing the enemy’s head– just didn’t have the range or power needed.
Troops being raided quickly adapted the tool they used to dig those trenches into a deadly weapon to defend those trenches. The sharp edge, originally purposed to cut through roots, found it’s way into the necks of their enemy. The additional weight behind it meant it could also break bones where the bayonet just pierced.
If the bayonet became the successor to a spear with a firearm, the spade was a mix of a battle ax with a club. Of course, troops would carry both into battle. But if one were to get lodged too deep in the enemy, which would make more sense to leave on the battlefield?
Stories about troops using a shovel as a weapon continue well through the Vietnam War. Even the modern E-Tool is designed as a call back to the glory days of it being an unexpectedly deadly weapon.
For more information on and the inspiration for this article, watch the video below.
The Russian pipe-laying vessel Akademik Cherskiy at anchor in northern Germany on May 10.
WASHINGTON — The United States has threatened to sanction any individual or company helping Russia build a controversial natural gas pipeline to Germany as the Kremlin moves to complete the last kilometers of the nearly $11 billion project.
“Get out now — or risk the consequences,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said July 15 during a press conference in Washington announcing the new sanction guidelines for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
The State Department essentially removed language that excluded the pipeline from the powerful Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which was passed in 2017.
Unable to use CAATSA, the United States in December passed legislation to sanction any vessel laying underwater pipes for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, forcing Swiss-based Allseas to quit the project with just about 160 kilometers remaining.
The pipeline, which consists of two parallel lines running under the Baltic Sea, is a combined 1,230 kilometers in length.
Russia is now trying to use its own vessels to finish Nord Stream 2 after receiving permission from Denmark earlier this month. The unfinished portion of the pipeline lies in Denmark’s economic waters.
However, the Russian ship would still need to use the services of Western companies, such as port facilities and insurance, giving the United States the potential to hamper their efforts.
CAATSA allowed Congress to sanction Russian energy export pipelines but contained guidance put in by Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson, that grandfathered in Nord Stream 2 and the second leg of TurkStream, which runs under the Black Sea to Turkey.
Pompeo said the State Department is updating the public guidance for CAATSA authorities to include the two Russian-led projects, which he described as “Kremlin tools” to expand European dependence on Russian energy supplies and undermine Ukraine.
Pompeo is set to visit Denmark on July 22 to discuss the pipeline, among other issues.
Nord Stream 2 would pump up to 55 billion cubic meters of natural gas to Germany annually upon its completion, doubling the European nation’s import of Russian gas.
The project enables Moscow to significantly reduce natural gas shipments through Ukraine, which currently earns billions of dollars annually in transit fees.
“They are winding up and laying the ground for the imposition of additional sanctions if Russia attempts to deploy its pipe-laying vessels,” said Dan Vajdic, an adviser to Ukraine’s state-owned energy firm Naftogaz, which lobbied Washington to impose more sanctions.
The United States is seeking to export more natural gas to Europe while helping Eastern and Central Europe develop the necessary infrastructure to reduce their dependence on Russian oil and gas.
Congress last year approved up to id=”listicle-2646417365″ billion in financing for energy infrastructure projects in the region.
James Carafano, a national security and foreign policy fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told a congressional hearing on July 14 that the completion of Nord Stream 2 would destroy the economic rationale for such U.S.-backed projects.
The State Department has denied that the threat of new sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream are designed to help U.S. exporters of natural gas.
The State Department has denied that the threat of new sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and TurkStream are designed to help U.S. exporters of natural gas.
Nonetheless, State Department Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told RFE/RL in an interview that Russia and Gazprom are in a “difficult position” to be able to finish Nord Stream 2.
“Companies basically have to choose – you can do business with the Russians and Gazprom or you can do business with the United States. We think that companies will make the decision that it is more lucrative to do business with the United States,” she said.
Senator Ted Cruz (Republican-Texas) urged Congress to give the White House more firepower to stop Nord Stream 2 by passing legislation that would impose more sanctions on the pipeline, including on insurance and certification companies.
“The Kremlin will no doubt continue its frantic efforts to circumvent American sanctions, and so it is imperative that Congress provide the administration the broadest possible authorities to counter these ever-changing attempts at evasion,” he said in a statement.
Cruz’s home state of Texas is the largest producer of natural gas in the United States and a key energy exporter.
Apologies for spoiling the ending, but the upcoming World War II movie “Midway” is about one of the United States’ greatest military victories in our war with Japan.
The film opens in theaters Nov. 8, 2019, just in time for Veterans Day weekend.
Director Roland Emmerich (“The Patriot,” “Independence Day” and “White House Down”) has spent decades trying to get “Midway” made, and improving technology has finally allowed him to match the movie to his vision.
The studio debuted a new trailer, and you can watch it below.
Midway (2019 Movie) New Trailer – Ed Skrein, Mandy Moore, Nick Jonas, Woody Harrelson
“Midway” stars Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz and features an epic cast that includes Luke Evans, Patrick Wilson, Mandy Moore, Dennis Quaid, Nick Jonas, Aaron Eckhart and Darren Criss.
The Battle of Midway was truly a turning point in World War II. If the Japanese had won, the entire West Coast would have been exposed, and the alternate history imagined by a show like “The Man in the High Castle” would have been a real possibility.
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.
US Marines consult in a desert and protein graphic
Remember that LS3 Mule robot the Marines tested but then decided against deploying because it was just too noisy for use on the frontlines? That was sort of crazy, right? But Army researchers are doing a large amount of work to make quiet, robotic muscles to reinforce soldiers, exoskeletons, and robots of the future.
LS3 Robotic Pack Mule Field Testing by US Military
It might sound sort of odd that the servos on a robot could be too noisy for the place where mortars and machine guns are fired. But Marines and soldiers try to stay quiet and stealthy until the fight starts. Then they start firing, and it’s fine to be super noisy. But a new problem pops up, then: you don’t want any systems to run out of power in the middle of a firefight. And firefights are some of the worst times to change out batteries. You need to be efficient.
But those two problems with the Legged Squad Support System, as the robot program was officially known, could be fixed with one—albeit major—breakthrough. Humans can move without any sound of motors and can go for days or even weeks when necessary with little new energy input. All it takes is muscles instead of motors.
And muscles can use chemical fuels much more efficiently than most motors and other machines. A gallon of gasoline contains 31,000 calories, enough to propel a fit human 912 miles on the bicycle or 260 miles running.
Muscles are very efficient both in terms of energy consumed and weight. That makes them very attractive to engineers, especially ones that need to make stealthy machines.
And scientists are working on that. So, yeah, welcome to the future.
So, the first group is seeking to reverse engineer biological muscles, and that second group is basically studying ways of making plastic muscles.
BTW, if that first group sounds like a bunch of flunkies, “How do they not know how muscles work? I eat carbohydrates and proteins, and I get bigger muscles. Not complicated,” then realize that none of us know how muscles really work on a micro level, the level needed to really engineer a muscle. One of the researchers put it well. Dean Culver said:
These widely accepted muscle contraction models are akin to a black-box understanding of a car engine. More gas, more power. It weighs this much and takes up this much space. Combustion is involved. But, you can’t design a car engine with that kind of surface-level information. You need to understand how the pistons work, and how finely injection needs to be tuned. That’s a component-level understanding of the engine. We dive into the component-level mechanics of the built-up protein system and show the design and control value of living functionality as well as a clearer understanding of design parameters that would be key to synthetically reproducing such living functionality.
Both the projects would result in chemically powered muscles. One group would just create the muscle “fibers” out of plastic instead of proteins. Either way, future warriors could use the extra muscles from the scientists.
But the science is still in the nascent stages, so the real muscle suits probably won’t be available until you need them more for getting around the retirement home than the battlefield.
Until then, you can always get a sweet Halloween muscle suit instead.
American and Afghan forces were briefing each other at a forward operating base on March 11, 2013, about that day’s mission when machine gun rounds suddenly rained down on them.
The group immediately looked to see where the shots were coming from. The lone airman in the group, then-Tech. Sgt. Delorean Sheridan, identified the source of the shots, which turned out to be coming from a truck in the base’s motor pool.
The shooter was a new member of the Afghan National Police who had slipped unnoticed to the bed of the truck and taken control of its machine gun.
It was a so-called “green-on-blue attack” — when supposed allies attack friendly forces. Meanwhile, insurgents from outside the base joined what was clearly a coordinated attack, sending more rounds into the grouped-up men. Bullet fragments even struck Sheridan’s body armor.
Sheridan decided that Afghan National Police officer or not, anyone who fired on him from within hand grenade range was conducting a near ambush and it was time to respond with force. He sprinted 25 feet to the truck and fired at his attacker up close and personal.
Since the Cold War, the US and Russia have drawn up plans on how to best wage nuclear war against each other — but while large population centers with huge cultural impact may seem like obvious choices, a smarter nuclear attack would focus on countering the enemy’s nuclear forces.
So while people in New York City or Los Angeles may see themselves as being in the center of the world, in terms of nuclear-target priorities, they’re not as important as places in states like North Dakota or Montana.
This map shows the essential points Russia would have to attack to wipe out the US’s nuclear forces, according to Schwartz:
Skye Gould/Business Insider
This map represents targets for an all-out attack on the US’s fixed nuclear infrastructure, weapons, and command and control centers — but even a massive strike like this wouldn’t guarantee anything.
“It’s exceedingly unlikely that such an attack would be fully successful,” Schwartz told Business Insider. “There’s an enormous amount of variables in pulling off an attack like this flawlessly, and it would have to be flawless. If even a handful of weapons escape, the stuff you missed will be coming back at you.”
Even if every single US intercontinental ballistic missile silo, stockpiled nuclear weapon, and nuclear-capable bomber were flattened, US nuclear submarines could — and would — retaliate.
According to Schwartz, at any given time, the US has four to five nuclear-armed submarines “on hard alert, in their patrol areas, awaiting orders for launch.” Even high-ranking officials in the US military don’t know where the silent submarines are, and there’s no way Russia could chase them all down before they fired back, which Schwartz said could be done in as little as five to 15 minutes.
But even a strike on a relatively sparsely populated area could lead to death and destruction across the US, depending on how the wind blew. That’s because of fallout.
The US has strategically positioned the bulk of its nuclear forces, which double as nuclear targets, far from population centers. But if you happen to live next to an ICBM silo, fear not.
There’s a “0.0 percent chance” that Russia could hope to survive an act of nuclear aggression against the US, according to Schwartz.
So while we all live under a nuclear “sword of Damocles,” Schwartz said, people in big cities like New York and Los Angeles most likely shouldn’t worry about being struck by a nuclear weapon.
The Carolina Panthers are fighting for their lives. With their divisional rival, the New Orleans Saints, clinching the NFC South and a playoff spot in the Thanksgiving Day win over the Atlanta Falcons, the Panthers are still in the hunt – but barely. Their Dec. 8th game against the Falcons could mean the difference between a playoff berth of their own or waiting until next season. Even with so much riding on their next few games, Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey has something else on his mind: America’s wounded warriors.
And he’s all set to raise money and support for the Wounded Warrior Project through the NFL’s My Cause, My Cleats campaign.
Even though the NFL’s Salute to Service month has passed, the spirit of honoring veterans of the U.S. military never stops. For the fourth year in a row, the NFL and its Salute to Service partner, USAA, are teaming up to support veterans through the annual philanthropic events. In Week 14, NFL players from around the league choose a cause to celebrate and support. Coaches and players have commissioned special cleats to be worn in support of these causes that will be worn during the game and then auctioned off for their charities. Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey’s cleats will support the Wounded Warrior Project.
The cleats were custom-made by Miami, Florida-based Marcus Rivero of Soles by Sir, who has custom made cleats in previous years for players like the Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald, who honored deceased NFL player and Army ranger Pat Tillman with his 2018 My Cause My Cleats campaign.
McCaffrey greets military members before each home game.
“It really hit me when they told me that watching football was their getaway…. you wanna put on a show for them. It makes football more than just a game.” McCaffrey told USAA. “It’ll definitely be a constant reminder for me of why I play and who I play for.”
But McCaffrey’s support doesn’t stop at the cleats. The running back and the Carolina Panthers hosted a few wounded warriors at their offices and at the stadium earlier in 2019. He took the veterans through a typical day as a Panthers football player, from the morning meeting at 8:00 a.m. and through a visit to the team locker room. They then went out to the playing field and threw a football around to talk shop.
“That’s the reason why we’re out there, fighting the fight,” one veteran said, admiring the Panthers playing field. “So stateside can be like this.”
“Our missions are different,” said another vet of McCaffrey. “But at the end of the day, he respects what we do and we’re fans of what he does. Picking the Wounded Warrior Project shows you the kind of character that he has.”
The cleats McCaffrey will wear on Week 14 will honor all five military branches. On one shoe, five members of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard are featured, saluting in uniform. On the other shoe, the featured prominently is the distinctive black-and-white logo of the Wounded Warrior Project one half and an NFL game field on the other, with the stars and stripes centered in midfield and a large THANK YOU in the watching crowd.
If you like McCaffrey’s cleats, anyone is able to bid on the shoes when auctioned off. One hundred percent of the money raised goes toward the cause designed on the cleats.
The name Giora Epstein might not ring a bell at first, but it is one you should know.
After all, he is the top-scoring jet ace of all time.
According to the Israeli Defense Forces web site, Epstein has 17 confirmed kills. The Jewish Virtual Library breaks them down as follows: two were MiG-17 “Fresco” fighters; one was a Mi-8 “Hip” helicopter; three were Su-7 “Fitter” ground attack planes; two were Su-20 “Fitter” attack planes; and nine were MiG-21 “Fishbed” fighters.
The site notes that Epstein’s first five kills were in the Mirage III, the rest in the Nesher (a “pirated” Mirage 5).
Eight of those kills came over two days during the Yom Kippur War.
It is an impressive total. To make it even more impressive, Epstein, who flew until 1997, was skunked in the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot of June, 1982.
Perhaps his most impressive aerial feat was when he ended up on the wrong end of a 1-v-11 dogfight against Egyptian MiG-21s. According to the “Desert Aces” episode of the series “Dogfights,” Epstein’s flight of four Nesher fighters was jumped by over a dozen MiG-21s, just after Epstein shot down one of two Fishbeds that had drawn the assignment of being the decoy pair.
Epstein’s wingman shot down one MiG, but his engine was damaged by the exhaust from his Shafrir-2 air-to-air missile. Another of Epstein’s flight ran low on fuel, and headed back to base, while another of the Nesher pilots chased a MiG out of the main dogfight.
That left Epstein alone against 11 Fishbeds. It was not a fair fight… for the MiGs.
Epstein shot down the lead MiG of the decoy pair, then managed to outduel the other five pairs of MiG-21s shooting two of the Fishbeds down. When he returned to base, having scored four kills that day, ground crew had to lift him from the plane. Four days later, Epstein bagged three more Fishbeds, giving him 11 kills in less than a week.
Oak Ridge, Tennessee, isn’t a secret anymore, but in 1942, Tennessee’s fifth largest town didn’t exist on a single map. Adding to the mystery – residents weren’t allowed to talk about it, either. So what was going on in Oak Ridge that was so important that the government needed to keep it top secret? Well, it turns out, a lot.
The History of Oak Ridge
Before it was the Atomic City, Oak Ridge was just a sleepy blip of a town in Tennessee. The earliest settlers to the region probably never thought it would the future home of the nuclear bomb. But that’s exactly what happened in WWII when the American government needed a place to conduct top secret atomic bomb research.
Nicknames like the City Behind the Fence and the Secret City were all deployed to keep the true nature of Oak Ridge a secret. Now it’s just a suburb of Knoxville, but Oak Ridge was a major nuclear development powerhouse during WWII.
Established in 1942, Oak Ridge was the production site for the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. It has a pretty spooky origin story if you believe in that kind of thing. Legend has it that after his wife and daughter’s death, local resident John Hendrix started telling anyone who would listen that he saw visions. In one of these visions, Hendrix reportedly described a pretty accurate depiction of what Oak Ridge would come to be. Relatives and neighbors have all reported Hendrix saying that eventually Bear Creek Valley would be filled with buildings and factories with one mission to help win the “greatest war that will ever be.”
Hendrix’s visions even went so far as to describe where roads would be during the development of Oak Ridge.
Whether or not his “visions” have been embellished over the years will forever remain a mystery. But what we do know is the government chose Oak Ridge with care.
Location, location, location
As with all real estate, it’s location location location. And that’s exactly what Oak Ridge had to offer. Not only was it nestled deep in a valley, but there were also very few people who called the region home. That meant that the government bought the land super cheap. Adding to that, Oak Ridge is accessible by both road and land. Those are very important details when you’re trying to build the world’s deadliest bomb, which is exactly what happened with the Manhattan Project.
And since no one was living in Oak Ridge, Tennessee and those who did weren’t too keen on asking questions, the government set up shop without a lot of fanfare or fuss.
By 1943, the region was officially a military district making it off-limits to anyone without confirmed access. Cut off from the rest of the state and country, Oak Ridge really was a complete and total secret. At least it was until the end of WWII. Now it’s still a hotbed site for tech and scientific development – but there aren’t any top-secret projects … that we know of.
The new Marvel Cinematic Universe movie, Black Widow, comes out this May. The standalone film will revolve around the Avenger Natasha Romanoff, otherwise known as the Black Widow.
The former assassin turned superhero has a dark and mysterious past that has been alluded to several times during the MCU run. Now, fans get to dive into that story and learn what made Black Widow and why her past haunts her.
The new trailer also featured more of the movie’s villain, the Taskmaster. The Taskmaster has the ability to learn and mimic the fighting style of anyone he faces. In the first trailer we see him take aim with a bow and arrow which means he must have gone up against Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye.
But in the new trailer, we see other Avengers mimicked by the Taskmaster. At the 1:12 mark, we see Taskmaster give the ole Wakanda Forever salute, prompting fans to wonder if there will be an appearance by Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, also known as Black Panther.
Also, we see Taskmaster pull out a very iconic tool of one of the Avengers.
That’s right, he uses (pretty proficiently) a shield as a weapon just like Captain America.
Taskmaster is considered Marvel’s ultimate copycat
In the new #BlackWidow trailer you can see him:
– Studying Natasha’s moves in ‘Iron Man 2’
– Throwing a shield like Cap
– Mimicking Black Panther
– Shooting a bow and arrow like Hawkeye
Speaking of the Captain, the movie features his old Soviet counterpart. Played by Stranger Things star David Harbour, the Red Guardian has a big role in the movie as one of Black Widow’s family members. The premise of the movie seems to be that the Taskmaster has taken control of the Red Room (used to create Black Widow assassins) and Black Widow and her family must do battle to stop him. Rounding out the superhero family are Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh.
The movie is supposed to be set after Captain America: Civil War, and has Romonoff alone and dealing with a sinister force that is using her past against her. She must battle both the Taskmaster and her past in order to prevail.
It sounds like this will be another great Marvel action flick!
In the Korean War, the rat problem emerged in the later stages of the conflict when lines stabilized. After a year’s worth of fighting up and down the peninsula, the U.S.-led United Nations Command fought North Korea and its Chinese allies over territory near the 38th parallel. In the fateful summer of 1951, the war transformed from one of movement into a war to take strategic positions among hills protected by bunkers and trench lines.
Rats proved dangerous to servicemen’s health. As U.S. and Allied Forces came into greater contact with the rodents, many contracted a mysterious disease that caused a viral hemorrhagic fever, kidney problems, and a host of other maladies. Approximately 10% of the 3,000 who caught the disease died from it. The outbreak initially puzzled researchers. Some thought it could be a disease carried into Korea by Chinese soldiers. Others thought it might be carried by mites on rats. The mystery of how the disease spread wasn’t solved until years after the armistice was signed. In 1976, South Korean researcher Dr. Ho Wang Lee and his team discovered the virus was spread from rat saliva, feces and urine. They named the disease the Hantaan virus, after a river near the demilitarized zone in Korea, the area of much fighting over hills and bunkers during the later stages of the Korean War.
Hantaan and its family of related viruses has never gone away. In the last 30 years there have been sporadic small outbreaks of the disease. The most recent iteration was in March 2020. In the midst of the current viral crisis, authorities reassured the public that the disease is not likely to spread due to person-to-person contact.
The COVID-19 outbreak, suspected by many to have originated from zoonotic (animal-to-person) transmission, reminds many of the ways that animals have always shaped the lives of humans. Animal–human relationships are especially important in wartime. And fewer reminders are as vivid as the history of rats and the Korean War.
During the second world war, the size of the U.S. military swelled significantly and became far larger than even during World War I.
With technology advancing so significantly in the interwar years and the military growing more diverse, the need arose for a rank higher than four-star general. The U.S. needed an equivalent to the British and Russian Field Marshal.
But they declined. Instead, the five-star “General of the Army” and “Fleet Admiral” for the Navy were created by act of Congress.
The reason was ultimately that the name of U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall would have sounded ridiculous with this new rank. Still, the Americans were now the senior partner in the alliance against the Axis and its commanders were technically outranked by British Field Marshals.
Admiral Ernest King was a well-known stickler for things like uniform wear (he even introduced a new Navy uniform during the war), awarding fewer medals so that they meant something when awarded, and – especially – for rank. The longtime officer hated the idea of using British terms like “Admiral of the Fleet.” He suggested other terms, like “Arch Admiral” and “Arch General.” His suggestions were so odd, his contemporaries thought he was joking.
President Franklin Roosevelt thought “Chief General” and “Chief Admiral” would be good names for the new positions. The debate ended when Congress revived the five-star ranks with their new names in 1944.
Only one American officer ever held the title of “Field Marshal.” Douglas MacArthur was appointed as Field Marshal of the Army of the Philippines in 1936 when the island nation achieved a semi-independent status. MacArthur was tasked to create an operational army for the fledgling country and wore a special uniform, complete with a Field Marshal’s baton.
In the early evening of April 24, 1943, Coast Guardsmen braved leaping flames and saved New York City from what could have been the largest man-made explosion in history to that point, a blast that would’ve wiped out sections of the harbor and, potentially, large swaths of the larger city and parts of New Jersey. Instead, just one ship was lost and zero lives.
Painting of the El Estero fire by Austin Dwyer.
(Austin Dwyer via U.S. Coast Guard)
While all the other branches rib the Coast Guard for being a band of puddle pirates, it’s important when really looking at its history to remember that, first, they actually have conducted a ton of deepwater missions. And, more importantly for this discussion, the shallow waters of the world are home to vital and dangerous missions that the Coast Guard does well.
The Coast Guard often takes on a large role during conflicts to help to ensure that war materiel is safely moved from industrial powerhouses in the U.S. to theaters of war overseas. During World War II, this included loading many of the Liberty Ships and other vessels that plied the Atlantic and Pacific.
But logistic expediencies created real hazards. It made sense in terms of speed and efficiency to move all the munitions, vehicles, and other vital supplies to a handful of ports and load it on ships from there. But doing so meant that strings of railroad cars and ships filled with explosive materials would be stored right next to each other.
Investigations would later reveal that the boiler had likely been leaking fuel oil into bilge water in the compartment below it, and a boiler flashback ignited the pooled fuel and started a fire. But once the fire was going, it would be able to boil oil to give itself more fuel and heat up the ammo until it started to explode.
The engine room crew immediately started fighting the flames with handheld extinguishers, but it wasn’t enough, so officers went to the Coast Guard barracks for volunteers. Could someone, anyone, please climb onto the burning ship, descend into its belly, and fight flames in the hopes of it not blowing up?
A graphic tried to tackle the level of damage if the ship had exploded. This high traffic area would have made an explosion of the El Estero especially catastrophic.
(New York Daily News illustration via U.S. Coast Guard)
But the Coast Guardsmen knew what was at stake. The loading docks were always filled with ammo and fuel and, on April 24, there were two other nearly full ships nearby, there were railroad cars loaded with ammunition waiting to unload, and there was a fuel farm that served the departing ships. A detonation on the El Estero would likely trigger a chain reaction.
Another World War I explosion, this one on a ship with 5,000 tons of TNT in Halifax Harbor in Canada, had killed 1,500 people leveling a large section of Halifax, Canada, in 1917. The combined loads of the El Estero and nearby ships and trains, somewhere around 5,000 total tons of explosives, dwarfed the size of the Halifax explosion. And an El Estero explosion would’ve been on the doorstep of New York City and could’ve flattened everything for five miles around.
Coast Guardsmen on a fireboat. Small vessels like these assisted in controlling the El Estero fire.
(U.S. Coast Guard)
And so 60 Coast Guardsmen, most of them in dress uniforms while awaiting their Easter Day liberty passes, rushed to the ship. New York firefighters arrived soon after with a firefighting ship, and they began passing hoses into the holds of the El Estero, but it was Coast Guardsmen who descended into the smoke and fire.
Survivors would describe a heat that overwhelmed them. The hot deck plates warmed and then burned their feet, paint peeled off the walls, and the heat continued to build. The Coast Guard officer in charge was Lt.j.g. Francis McCausland. It was his first day of work at the station.
But he was able to get tugboats to move the other ammo ships away and ordered Army soldiers to shift as many of the train cars out of range as they could move. By the time that additional fire trucks and Coast Guard fireboats arrived at 5:35, the fiercely burning El Estero was largely isolated, but still surrounded by the city, fuel stores, and warehouses of ammo.
The Coast Guard seemed to get the upper hand on the ship for a few minutes as the oily black smoke gave way to yellow and white streaks of flames, a signal that streams of water were hitting the major source of the fire. But the oily smoke returned, and the heat continued to rise.
About 40 volunteers were ordered off the ship, and a crew of 20 stayed onboard to try and keep the fire contained as long as possible while the ship was towed to a safe detonation point. Those 20 passed their personal effects to the men ordered off, some of whom wanted to stay and keep working. These included an engaged man who had to personally be ordered off the decks.
The further the ship was out of the harbor, the more lives would be saved in New York City and in the surrounding harbor from the pending explosion. Coast Guardsmen shoved anti-aircraft shells from the decks into the water and kept directing the water from the tugs onto the hot ammo as they traveled.
(The ship was designed so that it could only be scuttled from one spot that was directly underneath the burning boilers, so the Coast Guardsmen could only sink it by flooding it.)
Once the hull of the ship was under the waves, the threat of a full ammo explosion was largely dissipated. Firefighters kept water pouring onto the still burning superstructure for hours until, finally, the threat was gone. No one had died in a crisis that was later found to have threatened as many as one million residents with death, injury, or extreme property damage.
All the Coast Guardsmen involved were given special medals for their efforts, and the U.S. government overhauled ammo-handling procedures to move dangerous operations away from population centers. This would save lives in June 1944, when an ammo ship with 4,600 tons of ammunition exploded northeast of San Francisco, killing 300 sailors on the ship and nearby, but leaving the city untouched.