The pop culture lexicon often depicts troops from WWII and Vietnam as having a playing card, usually the Ace of Spades, strapped onto their helmet. Although the Vietnam-era “Death Card” is an over-exaggeration of Screaming Eagles believing the urban legend that Vietnamese feared the Spade symbol (they didn’t) and later as a calling card and anti-peace sign, it remains a symbol for unit identification.
Most specifically within the 101st Airborne Division.
The practice of painting the symbol onto a helmet was created in England just before the Normandy Invasion. The purpose was that when a soldier jumped or glided into Normandy and got separated from a larger portion of the unit, the easily identifiable symbol would easily mark a soldier as being apart of a specific regiment and a small dash at the 12, 3, 6, or 9 o’clock position specified the battalion.
Spades were designated for the 506th Infantry Regiment, Hearts for the 502nd, Diamonds for the 501st, and clubs for the 327th Glider Infantry. The ‘tic’ marks went from 12 o’clock meaning HQ or HQ company, 3 o’clock being 1st battalion, 6 o’clock being 2nd, and 9 o’clock being 3rd battalion.
Today, the symbols are still used as a call back to the 101st Airborne’s glory days in WWII.
The regiments are more commonly known by as Brigade Combat Teams and the symbols are each given as Clubs to the 1st BCT, Hearts to the 2nd BCT, Spades to the now deactivated 4th BCT, and Diamonds to the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade along with the 1st Battalion, 501st out of Alaska under the 25th ID. The Rakkasans of the 101st Airborne’s 3rd BCT wear a Japanese Torii for their actions in the Pacific and being the only unit to parachute onto Japanese soil at the time.
When the Great War began in 1914, the armies on both sides brought new technologies to the battlefield the likes of which the world had never seen. The destruction and carnage caused by these new weapons was so extensive that portions of old battlefields are still uninhabitable.
World War I saw the first widespread use of armed aircraft and tanks as well as the machine gun. But some of the weapons devised during the war were truly terrifying.
The flamethrower was especially useful because even just the idea of being burned alive drove men from the trenches into the open where they could be cut down by rifle and machine gun fire.
The terrible nature of the flamethrower, Flammenwerfer in German, meant that the troops carrying them were marked men. As soon as they were spotted, they became the targets of gunfire. Should one happen to be taken prisoner, they were often subjected to summary execution.
The British went a different way with their flamethrowers and developed the Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector. These were stationary weapons deployed in long trenches forward of the lines preceding an attack. The nozzle would spring out of the ground and send a wall of flame 300 feet in the enemy’s direction.
These were used with great effectiveness at the Somme on July 1, 1916 when they burned out a section of the German line before British infantry was able to rush in and capture the burning remnants.
2. Trench Knife
Even with the advent of the firearm, hand-to-hand combat was still a given on the battlefield. However, with the introduction of trench warfare, a new weapon was needed in order to fight effectively in such close quarters. Enter the trench knife.
The most terrifying trench knives were developed by the United States. The M1917, America’s first trench knife, combined three killing tools in one. The blade of the weapon was triangular which meant it could only be used for stabbing, but it inflicted terrible wounds.
Triangular stab wounds were so gruesome that they were eventually banned by the Geneva Conventions in 1949 because they cause undue suffering. The knife also had a “knuckle duster” hand guard mounted with spikes in order to deliver maximum damage with a punching attack. Finally, the knife had a “skull crusher” pommel on the bottom in order to smash the enemy’s head with a downward attack.
Along with the trench knife the Allies developed other special weapons for the specific purpose of trench raiding. Trench raiding was the practice of sneaking over to enemy lines’ and then, as quietly as possible, killing everyone in sight, snatching a few prisoners, lobbing a few explosives into bunkers and high-tailing it back to friendly lines before the enemy knew what hit them.
As rifles would make too much noise, trench raiding clubs were developed. There was no specific design of a trench raiding club, though many were patterned after medieval weapons such as maces and flails.
Others were crude handmade implements using whatever was around. This often consisted of heavy lengths of wood with nails, barbed wire, or other metal attached to the striking end to inflict maximum damage.
When Americans entered the fight on the Western Front they brought with them a new weapon that absolutely terrified the Germans: the shotgun. The United States used a few different shotguns but the primary weapon was the Winchester M1897 Trench Grade shotgun. This was a modified version of Winchester’s model 1897 with a shortened 20″ barrel, heat shield, and bayonet lug.
The shotgun, with 6 shells of 00 buck, was so effective that American troops referred to it as the “trench sweeper” or “trench broom.”
The Germans, however, were less than pleased at the introduction of this new weapon to the battlefield. The effectiveness of the shotgun so terrified the Germans that they filed a diplomatic protest against its use. They argued that it should be outlawed in combat and threatened to punish any Americans captured with the weapon.
America rejected the German protest and threatened retaliation for any punishment against American soldiers.
5. Poison Gas
Of course any list of terrifying weapons of war has to include poison gas; it is the epitome of horrible weapons. Poisonous gas came in three main forms: Chlorine, Phosgene, and Mustard Gas.
The first poison gas attack was launched by the Germans against French forces at Ypres in 1915. After that, both sides began to develop their chemical weapon arsenals as well as countermeasures.
The true purpose of the gas was generally not to kill — though it certainly could — but to produce large numbers of casualties or to pollute the battlefield and force the enemy from their positions.
Gas also caused mass panic amongst the troops because of the choking and blindness brought on by exposure causing them to flee their positions. Mustard gas was particularly terrible because in addition to severely irritating the throat, lungs, and eyes, it also burned exposed skin, creating large painful blisters.
Though artillery had been around for centuries leading up to WWI, its use on the battlefields of Europe was unprecedented. This was because of two reasons.
Second, because the world had never seen such concentrations of artillery before.
Artillery shells were fired in mass concentrations that turned the earth into such a quagmire that later shells would fail to detonate and instead they would simply bury themselves into the ground. Massive bombardments destroyed trenches and buried men alive.
Artillery bombardments were so prolific that a new term, shell shock, was developed to describe the symptoms of survivors of horrendous bombardments.
This article was sponsored by Midway, in theaters November 8!
In 1942, a Japanese fleet of almost 100 ships, led by the architect of the Pearl Harbor attack, attempted an even more overwhelming attack that would have kicked the U.S. out of the Central Pacific and allowed the empire to threaten Washington and California. Instead, that fleet stumbled into one of the most unlikely ambushes and naval upsets in the history of warfare.
Thanks to quick and decisive action by key sailors in the fleet, the U.S. ripped victory from the jaws of almost-certain defeat.
The first big decision that saved Midway Atoll came as Pearl Harbor was still burning. Intelligence sailors like Cmdr. Edwin Layton had to figure out what Japan would do next.
Patrick Wilson as Cmdr. Edwin Layton in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Naval intelligence knew that Japan was readying another major attack. Layton was convinced it was aimed at Midway, but Washington believed it would hit New Guinea or Australia. Layton and his peers, disgraced by the failure to predict Pearl Harbor, nevertheless pushed hard to prove that the Japanese objective “AF” was Midway.
A clever ruse where they secretly told Midway to report a water purification breakdown, then listened for whether Japan reported the breakdown as having occurred at “AF” proved that Midway was the target and allowed the Navy to concentrate valuable resources.
Next, Layton’s new boss, Adm. Chester Nimitz, agreed with his intelligence officers and prepared a task force to take on Japan. But Japanese attacks and other priorities would make that a struggle. The daring Doolittle Raid in April against Tokyo proved that American airpower was capable of striking at the heart of Japan, but it tied up two aircraft carriers.
Woody Harrelson as Adm. Chester Nimitz in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Then, America lost a carrier at the Battle of the Coral Sea and suffered near-catastrophic damage to another, the USS Yorktown. With only two carriers ready to fight but the attack at Midway imminent, Nimitz made the gutsy decision to prepare an ambush anyway. He gave repair officers at Pearl Harbor just three days to repair the USS Yorktown even though they asked for 90.
Still, Nimitz would have only three carriers to Japan’s six at Midway, and his overall fleet would be outnumbered more than three to one.
If this under-strength U.S. fleet was spotted and destroyed, Japan would finish the victory begun at Pearl Harbor. Cities in Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast would be wide open to attack.
After a few small strikes on June 3, the Battle of Midway got properly underway in the early hours of June 4. The opening clash quickly proved how easily the base at Midway would have been steamrolled without the protection of the carriers. The 28 Marine and Navy fighters on the atoll were largely outdated and took heavy losses in the opening minutes. It quickly fell to the carrier-based fighters to beat back the Japanese attack.
But something crucial happened in this opening exchange: A PBY Catalina patrol plane spotted two of the Japanese carriers. The U.S. could go after the enemy ships while Japan still didn’t know where the U.S. fleet was. The decision to search this patch of ocean and report the sighting would change history.
American bombers and torpedo planes launched from 7 am to 9:08 and headed to the Japanese carriers in waves.
When Ensign George Gay Jr. took off that morning, it was his first time flying into combat and his first time taking off with a torpedo. But he followed his commander straight at the Japanese ships, even though no fighters were available to cover the torpedo attack.
The torpedo bombers arrived just before the dive bombers, yet the Japanese Zeros assigned to defense were able to get to Gay’s squadron. An estimated 32 Zero planes attacked the Douglas TBD Devastators, and all 15 planes of Gay’s squadron were shot down.
Gay survived his crash into the sea and was left bobbing in the middle of the Japanese fleet for hours. But the decision of the torpedo pilots to attack aggressively despite having no fighter cover and little experience drew away the squadron of Mitsubishi Zeroes guarding the Japanese carriers. This risky gambit would allow the dive bombers to be lethal.
One of the dive bomber pilots was Navy Lt. Dick Best. A faulty oxygen canister injured him before he ever saw an adversary, and then a co-pilot suffered a mechanical failure, but he kept his section of planes flying against the Japanese carriers.
Ed Skrein as Dick Best (left) and Mandy Moore as Anne Best in 2019’s ‘Midway’
Best was forced to decrease altitude and ended up at the lead of the dive bombers right as they reached the Japanese fleet. He took his section through a series of violent maneuvers before they released their bombs over the carrier Akagi at full speed. Two bombs destroyed planes taking off, and another did serious damage to the deck. One of the hits jammed the carrier’s rudder, forcing it into a constant turn that made it useless until it sank. Another two carriers were destroyed in that attack as Gay bobbed in the ocean.
The Japanese aircraft carrier Soryu circles to avoid bombs while under attack by Army Air Force B-17 bombers from Midway Atoll on the morning of June 4, 1942. Soryu suffered from some near misses, but no direct hits during the attack.
(U.S. Air Force)
Best was injured, and mourning lost friends, but he took part in a later attack that afternoon and bombed the carrier Hiryu despite curtains of fire coming from the carrier and a nearby battleship. Hiryu was the fourth Japanese carrier lost in the battle, and it created a sea change in the war.
Japan was forced out of the Central Pacific, and America was on the warpath, all thanks to the decisions of U.S. sailors like Best, Gay, Nimitz, and Layton.
This article was sponsored by Midway, in theaters November 8!
“Some with faces bloated and blackened beyond recognition, lay with glassy eyes staring up at the blazing summer sun; others, with faces downward and clenched hands filled with grass or earth, which told of the agony of the last moments.
“Here a headless trunk, there a severed limb; in all the grotesque positions that unbearable pain and intense suffering contorts the human form, they lay.”
The burial parties put the bodies in shallow graves or trenches near where they fell — sometimes Union and Confederate soldiers together. Others, found by their comrades, were given proper burials in marked graves.
Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Gregg Curtin visited the battlefield soon after, and was appalled by the devastation and the stench of death.
“Heavy rains had washed away the earth from many of the shallow graves. Grotesquely blackened hands, arms and legs protruded from the earth like “the devil’s own planting… a harvest of death” while the stench of death hung heavy in the air,” writes John Heiser of the Gettysburg National Military Park.
Curtin went on to fund the creation of a special cemetery for the civil war dead, and also to recover and rebury the remains on the battlefield.
This grisly job was entrusted to a series of teams, led by local merchant Samuel Weaver.
He described how poles with hooks were used to search the clothing on exhumed corpses for identification — how the color and fabric of uniforms was used to distinguish Confederate from Unionist corpse.
1st Massachusetts Monument.
Initially, Confederate bodies were left were they lay in the ad-hoc graves, and only Union soldier exhumed to be reburied in the new National Military Park Cemetery, then called the Soldiers National Cemetery.
It was at the consecration of the cemetery on November 19 that President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address, where he praised the sacrifice of the soldiers.
He called on Americans to pledge “that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
About a decade later, Weaver’s son helped Confederate families exhume the remains of the 3,000 Confederate dead, who were reburied in Richmond, Raleigh, Savannah and Charleston.
Gettysburg National Military Park.
So many bodies were buried in the fields of Gettysburg that not all were found, and remains were still being discovered almost a century and a half later.
In 1996, a tourist found human remains in territory called Railroad Cut, about a mile outside town. It was the first time more or less complete human remains had been found on the battlefield since 1939, reported the Baltimore Sun at the time.
The remains were examined by the Smithsonian, and found to belong to a man about 5 foot 8 or 9 tall, in his early 20s, who had been shot in the back of the head.
In 1997 the remains were given a military burial in Gettysburg National Military Park Cemetery alongside partial remains of other other soldiers found over the years.
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.
Though often called “the Forgotten War,” the Korean War saw many advances in aviation. The war ushered in the jet age and saw the first widespread use of the helicopter in combat. The aviators of the war, many of which were veterans of WWII, knew the bravery necessary to win in aerial conflict. These are six of the bravest aviators of the Korean War.
1. John Walmsley
Flying the dangerous — but effective — missions of Operation Strangle, Capt. Walmsley piloted a B-26 invader with a massive, mounted searchlight for illuminating enemy convoys at night. On September 14, 1951, Walmsley and his crew embarked over North Korea, where he attacked and damaged a heavily-armed supply train.
When his bombs and ammunition were expended, he stayed on target to direct follow-on attacks through intense anti-aircraft fire. On his third pass, the train was destroyed, but his aircraft was severely damaged and crashed. Walmsley was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
2. Col. George Andrew Davis, Jr.
Already an ace with seven victories in WWII, Davis had racked up another twelve kills by February 1952. On that day, Davis and his wingman attacked a group of a dozen MiG-15s moving in on American bombers. Approaching the group from behind, Davis blasted the first MiG he came upon before they realized he was there.
Speeding through the formation, he engaged and downed a second MiG. Despite drawing heavy fire from the other MiGs, Davis bore down on a third enemy fighter. A burst of cannon fire sent Davis’ plane spiraling to the ground. Davis received the Medal of Honor for his selfless sacrifice.
3. Lt.(jg) John K. Koelsch
On July 3, 1951, Koelsch responded to a downed Marine aviator near Wonsan, North Korea. Due to heavy fog, his air support was unable to provide covering fire and, during the pickup, his helicopter was downed by enemy fire. He rescued the other two men from the burning aircraft and then led them in evading communist patrols for three days.
After six more days, the men made their way to the coast where they were captured before they could be rescued. Koelsch later died as a POW due to malnutrition and illness. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.
4. Louis Sebille
Having flown light bombers in Europe during WWII, Sebille transitioned to fighter-bombers and was stationed in Japan at the outbreak of the Korean War. During the Battle of the Pusan Perimeter, Sebille flew F-51s in close-air support and ground attack roles. On Sept. 5, 1950, he led a flight of three planes to attack an advancing armored column. Diving on the column, he intended to release both bombs, but one stuck. When he attempted to pull away, his plane was struck by anti-aircraft fire.
Mortally wounded, Sebille turned and dove again at the column. He fired all of his rockets and emptied his machine guns into the communist vehicles. This time though, he had no intention of turning away. With his remaining bomb still attached to his wing, he slammed his crippled plane into the lead vehicle, sacrificing himself and holding up what remained of the column. Sebille’s sacrifice earned him the Medal of Honor.
5. Charles Loring
Major Loring was already a veteran of ground attack missions in WWII when he joined American forces fighting in Korea in 1952. Flying F-80 Shooting Stars, Loring provided close air support and conducted ground attack missions against the communists. On Nov. 22, 1952, Loring led a flight in an attack against a massive Chinese artillery battery that was putting devastating fire on UN positions.
As Loring began his dive bombing run, his aircraft was struck and disabled. His wingman called for him to turn away and return to friendly lines. Instead, Loring, with a steely determination, ignored his wingman’s pleas and continued his dive. He never pulled up and crashed his plane straight into the Chinese battery, destroying it entirely. Loring received the Medal of Honor posthumously for his actions.
6. Thomas Hudner, Jr.
On Dec. 4, 1950, Hudner, then a Lieutenant Junior Grade, and his wingman, Ensign Jesse Brown – the first African-American naval aviator, took off as part of a six-plane flight flying close air support for the Marines engaged at the Chosin Reservoir. After taking enemy fire and trailing fuel, Brown crash-landed his plane. Still alive, but pinned in his plane, Brown tried unsuccessfully to extricate himself as his plane caught fire. Hudner, unwilling to leave his stricken friend, crash-landed his own plane and worked to extract Brown while they waited for a rescue helicopter to arrive.
Working frantically, Hudner and the rescue pilot were still unable to remove Brown as he began to lose consciousness. With darkness approaching and Brown’s condition deteriorating, Hudner finally abandoned his effort. Two days later, Navy planes bombed the wreckage to keep Brown’s body out of the enemy’s hands. For his efforts to save Brown, Hudner was awarded the Medal of Honor.
The average life expectancy of a Marine with a flamethrower on any given battlefield is about five minutes, according to Medal of Honor recipient and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Herschel “Woody” Williams. Those tanks made tempting targets – and they weren’t bulletproof.
Woody Williams was one such flamethrower. He not only earned his Medal of Honor, he’s the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Pacific War.
Williams was on the battlefields of Iwo Jima, an all-out slugfest that took place near the end of the war. But just because the end was nigh, that didn’t mean the Japanese were going to make it easy on the Americans. By the time Woody Williams began torching Japanese pillboxes on the island, the Marines had been fighting for days. Williams had the idea to form a five-man team with him bearing the flamethrower and four Marines providing cover for him as he moved.
The idea was a brilliant success, one he repeated many times over the course of four hours, much longer than the five minutes he would have normally given himself.
He had a lot going against him. The fuel inside a flamethrower weapon will give its user just a few blasts, lasting a couple of seconds at best, so he had to be judicious with his targets; Moreover, the fuel tank weighed roughly 70 pounds, so running with the clunky behemoth would be a challenge. On top of that, he would have to get in close, as the range of the weapon was severely limited. As if that weren’t bad enough, if he wasn’t killed outright and was instead captured by the Japanese, he would be executed as a criminal immediately.
It was not a rosy outlook but time and again Woody crept up on the enemy positions, cooked them very quickly, and returned to base to take up a new, fully loaded flamethrower. To the young Marine, he was just doing his job, even when a bullet ricocheted off his fuel tank. To the Marine Corps, he was a hero.
Woody Williams careful bravery on the battlefields of Iwo Jima allowed the Marines to advance inland after days of being stymied by enemy fortifications and bayonet charges that had begun to take its toll. Within a few weeks, Iwo Jima belonged to the Marines. Corporal Williams would soon receive the Medal of Honor from President Truman himself.
“You go in automatic drive when something like that happens, I think,” Williams told Stars and Stripes. “Much of that four hours, I don’t remember. I attribute that to fear. Because to say I wasn’t scared would be the biggest lie that’s ever been told. Because you do experience fear.”
One of the single worst things that plagues military forces is the phenomenon known as “friendly fire.” Some instances of friendly fire have been momentous, like the time Stonewall Jackson was shot by Confederate troops who mistook him for a Union general.
There have been tragic, modern instances as well – like the case of Army Cpl. Pat Tillman.
This was also a problem in World War II — reference the disastrous friendly fire incident off Sicily in July, 1943. In trying to prevent these terrible instances, the Navy put forth a very unique training film, featuring the fictional “Ensign Dilbert.”
No, this isn’t the same Dilbert that’s made Scott Adams very rich, although, Adams admits that the suggestion of the name was, in fact, inspired by a Navy character. This Dilbert is, well… an idiot. A real big one. The type whose sole purpose in life is to be a warning to others.
The film was called, aptly, Don’t Kill Your Friends. In the film, the main character, training to be a fighter pilot in the Grumman F4F Wildcat, looks friendly and likable enough, but he repeatedly makes bone-headed mistakes that could get people killed. It even features one disastrous incident with a supposedly “safe” dummy cartridge, which can do some very serious harm when it falls from a fighter plane.
Check out the film below, complete with a supposedly likable “Dilbert” and the chain of disasters he causes.
A few years after the onset of the War of 1812, the British Army marched into Washington D.C and set it ablaze as many Americans fled. The Redcoats then hiked their way to one of the most historic buildings in the world, the White House, and torched it to avenge an American attack on the city of York in Ontario, Canada, just a few years prior.
Before the British arrived, President James Madison had left the area to meet with his military officials. While many fled in terror of the anticipated Redcoats, First Lady Dolley Madison bravely stayed behind, ready to retrieve important documents and irreplaceable valuables.
As dawn broke, Dolley and some of the White House staff kept a close eye out as they waited for either Madison or the British to return. Once the British Army came into view, Dolley made preparations to leave.
Instead of taking her personal belongings, Dolley Madison made it her priority to retrieve a full-length portrait of George Washington — to keep it out of British hands. Since the painting was screwed to the wall, members of the White House staff broke the frame and rolled the canvas up.
Dolley managed to escape safely and later met up with her husband at a secondary location.
Soon after Dolley’s departure, the British stomped their way to the White House. They went up the iconic front steps and through double doors. Upon entering the house, British troops were surprised to discover that dinner had been laid out for about 40 patrons. So, like any hungry set of soldiers, they sat down to eat. They enjoyed a civilized meal before setting the presidential manor on fire.
President Madison and his wife returned a few days later; the British had already moved on, leaving only ashy rubble in their wake. Most of the walls survived the brutal heat of the flames, but the majority of the President’s home had to be rebuilt.
This historical act of destruction is the first and only time the enemy has successfully brought harm to the White House.
For as long as there have been men sailing the high seas, there have been tales of ghost ships. From legends of the Flying Dutchman appearing near ports during inclement weather to the very real tale of the Mary Celeste, which was found adrift in the Atlantic Ocean in 1872 completely abandoned and in good working order, it can be hard not to be drawn into these tales of mysterious happenings on the great waterways of our planet.
Of course, it makes perfect sense that men and women would occasionally go missing during an era of long and often grueling voyages across the high seas. For all of mankind’s domination of nature, the sea has long been too vast to manage and too treacherous to tame. For much of humanity’s history, traveling across the ocean was always a risky endeavor.
But by the early 1940s, however, sea travel had become significantly less hazardous, and mankind had even managed to find new ways to avoid the ocean’s wrath — like flying high above it in aircraft or hot air balloons. At the time, Americans had largely moved past their fear of the high seas in favor of new concerns about what was lurking within them: German U-Boats.
The Navy’s L-8 blimp was a former Goodyear Blimp repurposed for naval duty.
Concerns about encroaching Nazi U-Boats near American shores had led to a number of novel sub-spotting approaches. One was using L-Class rigid airships, or blimps, to float above coastal waterways and serve as submarine spotters.
On themorning of August 16, 1942, Lieutenant Ernest Cody and Ensign Charles Adams climbed aboard their L-8 Airship, which was a former Goodyear Blimp that the Navy had purchased a few months prior to deliver equipment to the nearby carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) out at sea. Their mission that day was simple: head out from their launch point on Treasure Island in California to look for signs of U-Boats beneath the surf in a 50-mile radius around San Francisco.
A bit more than an hour into their patrol, the two sailorsradioed that they had spotted an oil slick on the water and were going to investigate.
“We figured by that time it was a submarine,” said Wesley Frank Lamoureux, a member of the Navy’s Armed Guard Unit who was aboard the cargo ship Albert Gallatin. “From then on, I am not too positive of the actions of the dirigible except that it would come down very close over the water. In fact, it seemed to almost sit on top of the water.”
This image of the L-8 was taken prior to the mission that would see Cody and Adams go missing.
In Lamoureux’s official statement, he recounted seeing the blimp drop two flares near the slick and then circle the area — which was in keeping with sub-hunting protocols of the day. The nearby Albert Gallatin cargo ship, seeing the blimp’s behavior, sounded their submarine alarms and changed course to escape the area. Unfortunately, these reports would be the last time anyone would see the blimp with the crew onboard.
A few hours later, the former Goodyear Blimp appeared sagging and uncontrolled over the shores of Daly City, California. It drifted over the town until it finally dipped low enough to become snagged on some power lines and come crashing down onto Bellevue Avenue. Crowds quickly formed around the downed blimp, and a number of people ran to the wreckage in hopes of saving the crew… only to find the cabin was completely empty.
The pilot’s parachute and the blimp’s lifeboat were both right where they belonged. The pilot’s cap sat on top of the instrument panel, and the blimp’s payload of two bombs were still secured. A briefcase containing confidential documents that the crew had orders to destroy if they feared capture remained onboard as well.
The Navy’s L-8 Blimp, crashed and crew-less.
The L-8’s crew had seemed to vanish without a trace, prompting a slew of differing theories. Some assumed both the pilot and ensign had simply fallen out of the airship, though for such a thing to happen, they would have had to both fall overboard at the same time. If there was something damaged that required both men to address on the external hull of the vessel, there was no evidence to suggest what it could have been in the wreckage.
Anothertheory suggested the two men lowered their blimp enough to be taken prisoner by the crew of the U-Boat or a Japanese vessel in the course of investigating the oil slick. Still, others wondered if the two men may have been entangled in some sort of love triangle that drove one to kill the other and then escape by diving into the sea. Despite a thorough investigation, no conclusion could ever be drawn.
So what really did happen to the two-man crew of the L-8? Did they simply fall out of their blimp and die? Were they captured by Nazis that didn’t bother to check for any classified material on the blimp? To this day, their remains have never been found, and no other details have surfaced. For now, it seems, the legend of the L-8 “ghost ship in the sky” will live on for some time to come.
Lieutenant Thomas “Pete” Ray, a member of the Alabama Air National Guard, was shot down during the disastrous 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba. When he was found by Cuban soldiers on the ground, he was shot along with his flight engineer Leo Baker. Unlike Baker, Ray’s body was frozen for the next 18 years.
Castro wanted to prove the Americans were not only responsible but they were providing real support to the invasion. That’s why he kept the airman on ice. But the U.S. government would not take responsibility and so could not repatriate Ray’s body.
The CIA would have to admit they were involved. Which meant they would have to admit their failure. Cuba told the world it had Ray’s body, so the body was no secret. The Cubans, according to the LA Times, were puzzled. In December 1979, the cuban government learned that Ray’s daughter was attempting to negotiate the release of her father’s body.
Ray’s body was held for 18 years. The CIA denied involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion until 1998 when they admitted U.S. pilots were shot down. But the agency never owned up to knowing where Ray’s body was. The LA Times forced the CIA to admit that Ray was one of theirs.
The CIA waited until the events surrounding the death of Ray and other members of their secret air force were declassified. They also revealed that Ray was awarded the CIA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Intelligence Cross, and his name was added to the Book of Honor in the foyer of CIA headquarters.
When American forces stormed ashore at Saipan on June 15, 1944, they knew they were in for a fight. Saipan was strategically important to both the Americans and the Japanese. It is the largest island in the Marianas chain and close enough to the Japanese mainland for American B-29’s to launch bombing missions.
Though it is often overshadowed by other battles, the battle of Saipan was the most costly operation for the Americans in the Pacific up to that point. 31,000 Japanese stood ready to defend the island from some 71,000 Americans of the 2nd and 4th Marine Divisions and the Army’s 27th Infantry Division.
Through June and into July, American forces made slow but steady progress across the island. Brutal fighting occurred in places that earned names such as “Death Valley” and “Purple Heart Ridge.”
By July 6, the situation was desperate for the Japanese. With the defeat of the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of the Philippine Sea, there was no hope of rescue or reinforcement for the remaining defenders on Saipan.
Gen. Saito, the Japanese commander on Saipan, ordered all remaining defenders, wounded or not, and even civilians on the island to conduct a massive banzai charge against the American positions. “There is no longer any distinction between civilians and troops,” Saito said. “It would be better for them to join in the attack with bamboo spears than to be captured.”
Saito would not join his troops in the attack, though. After transmitting an apology to Tokyo for his failure, he committed ritual suicide.
Leading the way were soldiers carrying a massive red flag, followed by sword-wielding officers and the rest of the infantry. Behind them came the wounded and what civilians decided to join the attack. There was an insufficient number of rifles for all, so many wounded came with bamboo spears, rocks, or anything else they hoped could do damage.
As some 4,000 Japanese swarmed over the American lines, intense close quarters combat broke out.
Leading the 1st Battalion was Lt. Col. William O’Brien. Since the first days his unit had landed on Saipan, he had shown his bravery and skill as a commander. O’Brien had personally led several assaults to reduce Japanese strongpoints while continually exposing himself to enemy fire.
When the Japanese came at the 1st Battalion that morning, O’Brien was once again in the thick of the fighting and leading from the front.
As the enemy swept over his lines, O’Brien steadfastly held his ground and rallied his men. Like a modern-day Call of Duty character, he dual-wielded two .45 caliber pistols and shouted encouragement to his men as he blasted the onrushing attackers.
As the attack continued, O’Brien received a painful wound to his shoulder but refused to quit. When his pistol ammunition was exhausted, he picked up a discarded rifle and continued to fight. When he again ran out of ammunition, he manned a .50 caliber machine gun and poured fire into the advancing Japanese.
O’Brien was last seen alivesurrounded by sword-wielding Japanese, blasting the .50 caliber machine gun and yelling at his men, “Don’t give them a damn inch!”
Elsewhere on the 1st Battalion line, one Thomas Baker, a private in A Company, was also giving the Japanese hell. Like O’Brien, from the early days of his unit’s involvement on Saipan he had exhibited tremendous bravery in fighting the Japanese.
As the Japanese rushed his position, Baker delivered deadly fire with his rifle. When he was wounded he refused to be evacuated and continued to fight on. With his ammunition exhausted, Baker turned his rifle into club and desperately fought off the Japanese attackers until his weapon was battered beyond use.
At this point, a fellow soldier withdrew him from the line, but in carrying him from the field was himself wounded. Baker refused to be taken any further due to the risk to his friends. He made a simple last request — to be left propped against a tree, facing the Japanese, with a .45 pistol with eight shots.
When friendly forces retook the position in the following days, they discovered Baker’s body, just as they had left it, with eight dead Japanese laying in front of him — each killed with a single shot from his .45.
Further down the line from the 1st Battalion, the 2nd Battalion was having problems of its own. Japanese forces had breached the perimeter and were attacking the battalion aid station just behind the front lines.
As Japanese continued to infiltrate his aid station, Salomon, with the help of wounded soldiers, expertly dispatched them until he realized the situation was untenable. Ordering the wounded to make their way back to the regimental aid station, Salomon joined the defenses and manned a machine gun.
Salomon was later found slumped over the machine gun, his body riddled with bullet and bayonet wounds, with scores of Japanese dead in front of his position. It was later determined that he had been wounded over 20 times and had moved the machine gun four times in order to get a clear field of fire around the bodies before he was overcome.
The battle for Saipan would be declared over two days later. Afterwards, O’Brien, Baker, and Salomon would all be awarded the Medal of Honor.
On the night of Aug. 5 through Aug. 6, 2011, one of the worst tragedies in modern special operations history occurred. By this point in the war, the men who made up the special operations community were some of the most proficient and combat-hardened warriors the world had ever seen. Even so, the enemy always has a vote.
The men of 1st Platoon, Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment were on a longer-than-normal deployment as the rest of their company was on Team Merrill and they surged ahead with them.
Coalition security members prepare to conduct an operation in search of a Taliban leader. Photo by SGT Mikki L. Sprenkle, courtesy of Department of Defense.
They had yet another raid mission in pursuit of a high-value target in the Tangi Valley, which was in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, on the night of August 5.
The mission was not easy. The Rangers took contact not only during their movement to the target but also on the target. Despite the tough fight that left some wounded, the enemy combatants were no match for the Ranger platoon. They secured the target and were gathering anything of value for intelligence when it was suggested by the Joint Operations Center (JOC) back at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) that a platoon of SEALs from a Naval Special Mission Unit be launched to chase down the three or four combatants that ran, or squirted, from the target.
This was a notoriously bad area, and the Ranger platoon sergeant responded that they did not want the aerial containment that was offered at that time. The decision was made to launch anyway. The platoon-sized element boarded a CH-47D Chinook, callsign Extortion 17, as no SOF air assets were available on that short of notice.
U.S. Special Forces Soldiers, attached to Special Operations Task Force-Afghanistan, alongside Afghan agents from the National Interdiction Unit, NIU, load onto CH-47 Chinooks helicopters for their infiltration prior to an operation in the Ghorak district, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Sept. 12, 2016. Photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez, courtesy of U.S. Army.
As Extortion 17 moved into final approach of the target area at 0238 local time, the Rangers on the ground watched in horror as it took a direct hit from an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade). The helicopter fell from the sky, killing all 38 on board. The call came over the radio that they had a helicopter down, and the platoon stopped what they were doing to move to the crash site immediately. Because of the urgency of the situation, they left behind the detainees they fought hard to capture.
The platoon moved as fast as possible, covering 7 kilometers of the rugged terrain at a running pace, arriving in under an hour. They risked further danger by moving on roads that were known to have IEDs (improvised explosive devices) to arrive at the crash site as fast as they could, as they were receiving real-time intelligence that the enemy was moving to the crash site to set up an ambush.
Upon their arrival, they found a crash site still on fire. Some of those on board did not have their safety lines attached and were thrown from the helicopter, which scattered them away from the crash site, so the platoon’s medical personnel went to them first to check for any signs of life. With no luck, they then began gathering the remains of the fallen and their sensitive items.
Footage of the Extortion 17 crash site revealed mangled weapons and melted metal. Screen capture via YouTube.
Similar to the Jessica Lynch rescue mission almost a decade prior, the Rangers on the ground decided to push as many guys as possible out on security to spare them from the gruesome task. Approximately six Rangers took on the lion’s share of the work. They attempted to bring down two of the attached cultural support team (CST) members, but had to send them back as they quickly lost their composure at the sight of it all. On top of that, the crashed aircraft experienced a secondary explosion after the Rangers arrived that sent shrapnel into two of the medics helping to gather bodies.
Despite their injuries, they kept working. Later in the day they had to deal with a flash flood from enemy fighters releasing dammed water into the irrigation canal running through the crash site in an attempt to separate the Ranger platoon, cutting them in half. Luckily, because of the sheer amount of water heading toward them, they heard it before it hit them and were moved out of the way before anyone was hurt. If that wasn’t enough, there was also an afternoon lightning storm that was so intense it left some of their equipment inoperable and their platoon without aerial fire support.
Meanwhile, 3rd Platoon, Delta Company from 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment was alerted after coming off a mission of their own. They took a small break to get some sleep before they flew out to replace the other platoon, which would hold the site through the day. Once they awoke, they were told to prepare to stay out for a few days. They rode out and landed at the nearest Helicopter Landing Zone (HLZ), 7 kilometers from the crash site, and made their way in with an Air Force CSAR team in tow.
Austin Williams visits the gravesite of U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher C. Campbell in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day, May 30, 2016. Campbell was one of 30 Americans killed when a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, with the call sign Extortion 17, crashed in Afghanistan. Photo by Rachel Larue, courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery.
After arriving, the platoon from 2/75 had to make the 7-kilometer trek back to the HLZ, as that was the nearest place a helicopter could land in the rugged terrain. The men were exhausted, having walked to their objective the night before, fighting all night, running to the crash site, securing it through the day only to execute another long movement to exfil.
New to the scene, the platoon from 1/75 did what they could to disassemble the helicopter and prepare it to be moved. The last platoon evacuated the bodies and sensitive items on board, so now the only thing left was the large pieces of the aircraft spread out across three locations. They were out for three days straight, using demolitions as well as torches to cut the aircraft into moveable sections and then loading them onto vehicles that the conventional Army unit that owned the battlespace brought in.
Despite the gruesome and sobering task, Rangers worked until the mission was accomplished. The third stanza of the Ranger Creed states that you will never fail your comrades and that you will shoulder more than your fair share of the task, whatever it may be, 100 percent and then some. The Rangers of these two platoons more than lived the Creed in response to the Extortion 17 tragedy.
From its origins as an alternative to the GI .45-caliber pistol to its role introducing night vision to the American fighting man, the handy M-1 carbine remained relevant even during the age of the Kalashnikov.
For more than three decades, the M-1 carbine did more than it was ever expected to do. Long overshadowed by the iconic and heavy-hitting M-1 Garand, the M-1 Carbine began its existence in 1940 when the Secretary of War issued orders for the development of a lightweight and reliable “intermediate rifle.”
Although developed to replace the venerable M1911 pistol, other factors convinced the War Department to develop a carbine. The success of the German blitzkrieg in 1939 also had convinced the Army that rapidly deployed maneuver forces such as airborne soldiers or armored columns could punch through front lines and endanger support troops.
In theory, the M-1 carbine was never intended to replace the Garand as a battle rifle – it was supposed to arm cooks and clerks.
“It was a compromise,” said Doug Wicklund, senior curator at the NRA National Firearms Museum, Fairfax, Virginia. “They called it the ‘war baby,’ the younger sibling of the Garand, and it was for soldiers who were not on the front line, something that they would have a better chance of hitting the enemy and defending themselves with.”
But by 1943, up to 40 percent of some infantry divisions were carrying the.30-caliber M-1 carbine as their primary weapon, according to The M-1 Carbine, Leroy Thompson’s history of the weapon’s development and use.
“It was an easier gun to carry than the Garand,” Wicklund said. “It was shorter, it was lighter, it was reliable, it was easier to shoot and easier to clean, and it had a 15-round magazine. It was easy to tape two magazines together and get 30 rounds to fire. Stopping power was not there with the carbine, but you could fire it more times.”
Once the United States entered into World War II, the Army issued contracts ramping up production of the M-1 Carbine. Eventually, more than six million of the weapons in both semi-automatic and select fire models poured out of factories – two million more than the number of Garands produced during the war.
Winchester was one leading producer, but as American companies turned to war production Inland Manufacturing (a General Motors division and producer of a majority of the weapons), National Postal Meter, IBM and even Underwood Typewriter Co. cranked out hundreds of thousands of the carbines.
During World War II and the Korean War, it was completely possible for the Army to issue a company clerk an Underwood typewriter and an Underwood M-1 Carbine.
In 1944, it was modified to shoot both in semi-automatic and full-auto modes. Called the M-2, it spit out bullets at a rate of 900 rounds per minute.
When German troops received the history-changing MP 44 Sturmgewehr, the Wehrmacht put increased firepower in the hands of small units that could direct fully automatic fire at U.S. troops with an assault rifle. The M-1 Garand, hard-hitting as it was, carried only eight rounds to the MP 44’s 30 rounds contained in a detachable box magazine.
Inland Division produced 570,000 M-2 select fire carbines as a solution. The weapon has a selector switch on the left side of the receiver and it can hold a 30-round box magazine.
It wasn’t a Sturmgewehr, but it was available. “The U.S. military has always used what it has already,” said Wicklund. “We had it in inventory. They were everywhere.”
It was also the ideal platform for a technological development that presaged how the United States would own the night during future wars.
During the same year, a version designed to use the first U.S. night-vision gear (the “Sniperscope”) was used by Marines against the Japanese on Okinawa, leading to one out of three enemy soldiers killed by small arms fire dying because of the carbine’s prowess as a night-fighter’s tool.
The Electronic Laboratories Co. developed active infrared night vision in the form of the Sniperscope, a 20-pound package of telescopic sight, infrared flood light, image tube, cables and powerpack. The scope had a range of about 70 yards and could be mounted on either an M-1 or M-2 carbine.
The system not only saw action in the Pacific Theater during World War II but troops used it widely during the Korean War. For example, Marines using carbines with the Sniperscope would fire tracers down on the positions of North Korean and Chinese troops mounting night attacks so machinegunners could target the enemy with heavier fire.
Once again, the M-1 Carbine so frequently described with words such as “handy” and “reliable” was in the right place at the right time. One of the reasons it was selected as the weapon of choice for the Sniperscope was the technological marvel’s weight and bulk. The lightweight carbine kept the weight penalty on an already heavy weapon system to a minimum, a boon for the GI who had to slog the battlefield with it.
In some ways, the M-1 Carbine was the weapon that refused to say “die.”
In Vietnam, even though thousands of the new M-16s had been issued to U.S. troops including the Special Forces in 1964 many Green Berets preferred the M-1 carbine, the weapon of their fathers’ wars.