This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

The US Army’s highly secretive counterterrorist unit, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta, is without a doubt among the best counterterrorism units in the world. But it wasn’t the first.


While Delta is extremely well known, if only by its name, it wasn’t actually the first American counterterrorist force in existence. That honor goes to a different unit — now long lost to history — known as “Blue Light.”

Colonel Charlie Beckwith, a former Green Beret and the brains behind 1st SFOD-D, discussed the parallel history of Blue Light in his co-written book, “Delta Force.” Beckwith, after serving an exchange tour with the British Special Air Service, returned to the US with an idea for a dedicated counterterrorist unit, similar to the SAS.

With terrorism on the rise throughout the 1970s, it became imperative for the US military to create a force that would deal with terror threats with precision and extreme effectiveness.

 

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

The firebrand colonel would go on to outline his concept to the Pentagon, particularly Army generals and fellow colonels with enough sway to allocate funding for such a unit. Beckwith encountered resistance — especially from “old guard” officers who disagreed with allowing Delta to exist on its own with its own funding.

Rather, they felt that Delta needed to remain within an already established pecking order in the asymmetric warfare community — the US Army’s Special Forces.

Despite its official title, Delta Force had absolutely nothing to do with Army Special Forces Operational Detachments, also known as “A-Teams.” The title was just another vaguely-misleading cover for the unit’s real purpose.

Delta, instead, would have a direct line through the Department of Defense to the president’s office, circumventing Special Forces altogether. Further incensing the brass was the fact that Delta would be given free rein to recruit whoever interested them, including experienced Green Berets from the groups.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force
Graduates of one of Delta Force’s Operator Training Courses in 1978. Blue Light would be disestablished that same year (Photo US Army)

Inner-Army politicking quickly led to Special Forces brass deciding it would create a counterterrorist unit of its own, ostensibly as an interim solution while Delta was getting up to speed, but with the inward hopes of it being a more permanent fixture.

The new unit — Blue Light — was staffed with commandos brought in directly from 5th Special Forces Group’s 2nd Battalion into a subordinate unit. There, they would be trained in an array of skills necessary for counterterrorist mission and be readied for real-world operations. Colonel Bob “Black Gloves” Mountel would be responsible for helming the new unit in its infancy.

Blue Light would only be equivalent to a company-sized element of troops, but would still draw its funding from Special Forces, and would push its members through further airborne and dive training, weapons courses and more.

It was assumed that because Green Berets were already highly-trained for asymmetric warfare, they would be ready to fight far quicker than Delta.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force
Members of 5th SFG with ARVN troops in Vietnam (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

In the meanwhile, Beckwith and his cadre got to work designing and training the founding members of Delta Force, still very aware of the potential for Blue Light to completely take over their mission and tank 1st SFOD-D before it could even get off the ground.

Blue Light was beefed up with the presence of veteran operatives with significant combat experience under their belts, including Joseph Cincotti, a Vietnam-era Green Beret who would later go on to head up the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, and who was responsible for creating the curriculum all Special Forces candidates undergo today.

In their book, “Special Forces: A Guided Tour of US Army Special Forces,” authors Tom Clancy and John Gresham claim that Blue Light was somewhat handicapped from the start. While Delta was designed to operate in every conceivable environment, using a multitude of mission-relevant skills, Blue Light was, in reality, only prepared for a few contingencies.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force
Members of 10th Special Forces Group training alongside Lithuanian counterparts (Photo US Army)

Little by little, Delta Force took shape at Fort Bragg, NC, and by the end of the 1970s, Delta was ready for action. Bragg was also the home of Blue Light, and the rivalry between the two counterterrorist units was palpable. Former operator Eric Haney discusses the animosity between Blue Light and the 1st SFOD-D in his book, “Inside Delta Force.”

When Delta was declared fully operational, Blue Light faded into the shadows, eventually being disbanded in 1978. Its former members were either transferred to other units within the Army’s various Special Forces groups, or decided to retire altogether.

Beckwith, not willing to let an opportunity pass, extended invites to Blue Light commandos to try out for Delta Force, and at least four of the former counterterrorist unit’s operatives successfully passed selection and the arduous Operator Training Course to become Delta Force operators.

Former Blue Light officers would later play a part in planning Operation Eagle Claw, the failed mission to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Navy veteran recounts island-hopping in the Pacific after D-Day

Julius Shoulars is 94 and resides in a cozy second-floor apartment in a Virginia Beach retirement community.

During an oral-history interview, he recounted his service in the US Navy as a coxswain during WWII with the 7th Naval Beach Battalion during the D-Day invasions. He later went island hopping in the Pacific aboard an attack transport and returned to Norfolk after serving in both theaters of war.

He started off with, “Well, I got a letter from Uncle Sam saying to report to Richmond.” It was 1943, and the Maury High School graduate reported for screening.


While seated in a room with other recruits, he recalled that, “they asked for 30 volunteers for the Navy and I raised my hand. In the Navy, you get three square meals, a clean bed to sleep in and water to take a shower each day.”

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

Julius Shoulars, a 94-year-old US Navy veteran, recalls his service during WWII as a coxswain who took part in the D-Day invasion and fought across the Pacific.

(US Navy photo by Max Lonzanida)

Training took him to Camp Sampson, New York and Camp Bradford, Virginia. Bradford was on the Chesapeake Bay, and he recalled mustering at the commandeered Nansemond Hotel in the Ocean View section of Norfolk.

At Bradford, “we were assigned to an experimental outfit called a Naval Beach Battalion. We were issued paratrooper boots, Army jackets, Army pants, Army helmets, and Navy underwear.”

His parents resided in Norfolk, and he visited often. With a smile, he recalled that a friend of his had joined the Army, and left his girlfriend, Ruby back in Norfolk. He was instructed not to talk to her, “but by hell I did. You had to be a fool not to.” This blossomed into a relationship that endured.

By January 1944, they crossed the Atlantic. In England, he recounted, “you know the phrase over here, over paid and over sexed. I think somebody made that up.”

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

An LCM landing craft, manned by the US Coast Guard, evacuating US casualties from the invasion beaches, brings them to a transport for treatment on D-Day in Normandy, France June 6, 1944.

(U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives)

At the “end of May 1944, we were transported to ships taking part in the invasion. We headed out on the 6th aboard anything that would float, even fishing boats from England.”

On the morning of June 6th, 1944 at H-hour, troops hit the “blood red” beaches of Normandy, in an operation that liberated Europe.

While crossing the English Channel, he recalled that, “some of the men were happy, some were anxious, some were sad, some were scared to death. I felt it was going to happen, and there was nothing I could do, so why cry or be joyful; just take it.”

His unit was attached to the 29th Infantry Division, who took Omaha Beach on June 6-7, 1944. Nearly a month was spent there directing landing craft, clearing obstacles, moving supplies, and clearing and burying the dead; a solemn task he recalled with tears in his eyes.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

Shoulars, seated, recalls his service as a coxswain assigned to the 7th Naval Beach Battalion, which went ashore during D-Day in June 1944.

(US Navy photo by Max Lonzanida)

His unit headed stateside, and a period of leave was spent in Norfolk with his parents and girlfriend, before joining the crew of the newly commissioned USS Karnes (APA-175) on the West Coast.

He served 18 months on the Karnes, “island hopping” in the Pacific for a total of 76,750 miles. This took him to Pearl Harbor, Midway, Guam, Tinian, Okinawa, Eniwetok Atoll, Ulithi, Subic Bay and Lingayen Gulf, Philippines, among other ports of call while transporting cargo, evacuating the wounded, and transporting service members.

After the Japanese surrendered, the Karnes made its way back to San Francisco. He boarded a train back to Norfolk and was discharged. One of the first things he did was get married, and “eat a 30-cent hamburger at Doumars.”

Doumars on Monticello Avenue was where he first met Ruby. They didn’t want to get married during the war, for fear of making Ruby a widow. They got married upon his return home and spent 66 years together before she passed in 2013.

As for the friend who instructed him not to talk to her, Julius recalled that, “well, me and him never spoke again.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

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6 times ‘Murphy’ was an uninvited guest on special operations missions

When special operators (or any armed force, for that matter) goes on an operation, Murphy (of “Murphy’s Law” fame) can be an uninvited and very unwelcome guest — whether with last minute changes in the plan, an inopportune discovery by civilians, or gear breaking down.


America’s highly-trained commandos have an amazing track record of achievement, wracking up huge wins with very few losses over the decades since World War II. But their missions are often so high stakes that when Murphy does pay a visit, the damage has an outsized public impact.

Here are some of the more notable instances where Murphy’s Law sent spec ops missions into a tailspin.

1. Desert One

On April 24, 1980, the newly established Delta Force attempted a daring rescue mission of the 66 Americans being held hostage in Iran.

At the initial landing site codenamed “Desert One,” the mission went south in a big way. Ultimately, eight special operators died in the abortive effort, which contributed to the undoing of the Carter administration. The mission did become the backdrop used for the opening of the Chuck Norris classic, “The Delta Force,” which was also Lee Marvin’s last role.

2. Operation Urgent Fury

After a Marxist coup seized power of the small Caribbean nation of Grenada in 1979, tensions between the country (essentially a Cuban puppet) and the United States increased. After an internal power struggle ended up leaving the island nation’s president dead, President Ronald Reagan ordered American forces to settle the matter.

Unfortunately the SEALs involved with the invasion really had a rough time of it.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

The Navy SEAL Museum notes that a drop that was supposed to be in daylight and calm seas got delayed to night. A bad storm resulted in the loss of four SEALs. The lack of reconnaissance and bad comms (SEALs who rescued the island’s governor, had to use a phone to call HQ for support) created problems, but the operation was successful.

The SEALs at the governor’s mansion were eventually rescued by Force Recon Marines. Other SEALs managed to destroy a radio tower and swim out to sea, where they were picked up. Grenada was a success, and many of the lessons learned were applied in the future.

3. Operation Just Cause

The SEALs again were involved in an op where Murphy paid a visit when the United States decided to remove Manuel Noriega from power after Panamanian troops killed a U.S. Marine.

SEAL Team 4 drew the assignment of taking Punta Paitilla airport and disabling Noriega’s private jet. According to the Navy SEAL Museum’s web page, Noriega’s jet had been moved to a hanger.

As a result of the move, the SEALs ended up into a firefight that left four dead. One of those killed in action. SEAL Don McFaul would receive a posthumous Navy Cross, and have an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, USS McFaul (DDG 74), named in his honor.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

4. ODA 525 – Desert Storm

In this special op, Murphy took the form of children discovering the hide site of nine Green Berets lead by Chief Warrant Officer Richard Balwanz. Balwanz made the decision to let the kids, go, and his force found itself under attack.

Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Daily Caller noted that Balwanz brought his entire team back. In this case, the special operators overcame Murphy in an outstanding feat of arms that few Americans have heard about.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

5. Mogadishu

If you’ve seen “Black Hawk Down,” you pretty much know the story of how the firefight in Mogadishu went down. In this case, a 2013 article at RealClearDefense.com noted that two MH-60 Blackhawks from the 106th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (the “Nightstalkers”) were shot down. Murphy had a lot of room to maneuver when armor and AC-130 support was denied.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

6. Operation Red Wings

If you read the book, “Lone Survivor” (or saw the movie), you have a very good sense as to what went wrong here. Lieutenant Michael Murphy’s team of SEALs was discovered by civilians, a force of insurgents launched an attack and three SEALs were killed in the harrowing firefight.

It got worse when a Chinook helicopter carrying a quick reaction force was shot down by insurgents, killing 11 SEALs and eight Nightstalkers.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

MIGHTY CULTURE

That time India took half of Pakistan to pay for a motorcycle

In 1947, British officer Yahya Khan offered his colleague 1,000 rupees for his spiffy red motorcycle. His colleague, Sam Manekshaw, agreed. But before Khan could pay, he was off to what was going to become Pakistan. The British split its Indian colony, and things on the subcontinent have been pretty tense ever since. To top it all off, Yahya Khan didn’t pay for the motorbike.

But he would, even if it took almost 25 years.


This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

Manekshaw (middle) whose mustache game was top notch.

The Partition of India was much more than the splitting of the British Raj into two independent states. It was a catastrophic split that tore apart the country and created millions of refugees, cost millions of lives, and split the armed forces of the country in two, all based on religion. Violence erupted almost immediately between the two groups on such a large scale that much of it has never been forgotten or forgiven. Animosity continued between both sides for decades, and the two have fought war after war because of the myriad issues left unaddressed.

By 1970, Sam Manekshaw was a Field Marshal, the Chief of Staff of India’s Army, and war hero known to the people as “Sam the Brave.” Yahya Khan was a General who fought for Pakistan against India in 1947 and again in 1965. Now he was the president of Pakistan who had taken power using the Pakistani military. East Pakistani refugees were flooding into India because Yahya would not accept the most recent elections, and India’s President, Indira Gandhi, told Manekshaw she wanted Pakistan split into two by force, creating the new country of Bangladesh. Gandhi gave him free rein to do it however he could.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

Khan would be deposed and die under house arrest after being stripped of his honors during the rest of the decade.

In Pakistan, the ever-present tensions with India were ready to boil over once again. But the Pakistanis didn’t send the Army to India; they sent it into East Pakistan – where the Pakistanis immediately began slaughtering Bengalis in East Pakistan. By 1971 Bengalis in Pakistan declared independence from Pakistan in response. India immediately supported the new country, first vocally, then though training the Bangladeshis, and next with air support. Finally, in 1971, Manekshaw was ready. He had spent much of the year readying and positioning Indian armor, infantry, and air units. On Dec. 3, 1971, he struck.

The Pakistani Navy’s fuel reserves were destroyed. The Indian Air Force hit Pakistan with almost 6,000 sorties in the next two weeks, destroying much of Pakistan’s Air Force on the ground as the Indian Army advanced, capturing some 15,000 square kilometers. Within two weeks, Pakistan folded like a card table. All Pakistani forces in East Pakistan surrendered to India, the genocide ended, and Bangladesh was born.

After the surrender agreement was signed, Manekshaw was said to have remarked:

“Yahya never paid me the 1,000 rupees for my motorbike, but now he has paid with half his country.”
MIGHTY CULTURE

How Prince Charles got all his medals without fighting in a war

When decked out in his full royal regalia, the Prince of Wales looks much like what you think a 69-year-old aristocrat might — much like what you think a stereotypical soon-to-be king might. His military uniform is emblazoned with medals, ropes, pins, patches, and other decorations worthy of someone who may soon occupy the biggest seat in the entire United Kingdom.

Which is amazing, considering he hasn’t seen combat once in his life.


Britain itself has not been devoid of conflict, even within Charles’ relatively short lifetime. He was born three years after the end of the Second World War, but broke royal tradition by going straight to university instead of joining the military after his secondary education. When he did join the armed forces in the 1970s, he did stints in both the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Even though he was late to the game, there was still plenty of action to see.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

Armed British soldiers in Northern Ireland during The Troubles.

During Charles’ service window, the UK saw a number of shooting conflicts, most notably the Falklands War with Argentina and The Troubles, a military occupation of Northern Ireland. He saw action in neither conflict.

While the Prince of Wales didn’t see combat duty, he still trained vigorously with the members of units to which he was attached. He has trained in undersea warfare and commanded a Royal Navy Destroyer and has learned to fly helicopters and twin-engine jet fighters with the RAF. Charles also successfully completed the parachute regiment’s jump training at an age much older than the average recruit.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

Charles, tasked to lead the parachute regiment in 1978, decided he would be unfit to lead them without undergoing the training himself. He was 30 years old.

(Clarence House)

Charles also commands the Welsh Guards, leading the annual Trooping the Colour ceremony on Horse Guards Parade, marking Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

The Prince wears the ceremonial uniform of Colonel of the Welsh Guards during the Trooping the Colour Ceremony.

(Clarence House)

So, this isn’t to say Charles’ medals are somehow unearned. He wears no medals for valor in combat. Instead, he wears the appropriate regalia, given his service, ranks in the Navy and Air Force, and appropriate titles. He wears the Order of Merit, the Order of the Bath, and the Queen’s Service Order, all for service to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

Other decorations of note include medals related to the Queen herself, including the Queen’s Coronation medal, Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal, and the Queen’s Golden Jubilee medal, all awarded for a celebration of his mother ascending to the throne and her continued reign as Queen. He also wears awards from Canada and New Zealand, and wears the Order of the Garter, chosen and awarded by the Queen herself.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

The Prince of Wales and Prince Harry presented Operational Medals to the 2nd Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

(Buckingham Palace)

It’s a tradition for men in the Royal family to serve in the military. Charles’ father, Prince Philip, served in World War II and his sons, William and Harry, both served. Harry famously deployed to combat duties in Afghanistan in recent years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the trebuchet was the superior siege engine

Throughout the history of combined arms, artillery has played a key role in supporting the infantry. Commanders laying siege to fortified cities would call upon their engineers to identify weak points in defensive walls. Resources and manpower were then allocated to construct trebuchets, the medieval great-grandfathers of modern artillery.

There were two classes of trebuchets to choose from: the traction trebuchet and the more commonly known counterweight trebuchet. Both were made-to-order siege engines of battlefield superiority.

And they kicked copious amounts of ass.


Siege Weapons – Perriere

youtu.be

The design for the traction trebuchet was born in Asia and spread throughout Europe and the middle east. It saw service from 1,000 AD to 1,300 AD, mostly during the crusades, used to liberate cities in the Holy Land.

The trebuchet had three 4 parts: a static frame, a dynamic beam on an axle, a sling to hold the payload, and ropes on the opposite side to pull down the beam to ‘fire.’ It was manned by a team of 20 to 140 troops, depending on its size.

Projectile were between 2lbs and 130lbs. The firing range changed from shot to shot, based on the strength of those pulling the ropes. This model was faster to build, transport, and cheaper to make with a high rate of fire. Unfortunately, to use it, you had to pull exorbitant numbers of troops away from the battlefield.

Trebuchet Siege Artillery – Battle Castle with Dan Snow

youtu.be

The counterweight trebuchet was invented in the Mediterranean region in the late twelfth century and it was adopted in northern Europe and deep into Islamic-controlled areas. To this day, historians cannot reach a consensus on whether it was invented in Europe or the Middle East.

The new counterweight mechanism pulled the beam down to launch the projectile instead of relying on men to pull it down with ropes. The sling that held the payload was extended to improve range and the beam was made thicker than its predecessor — all because more power didn’t necessarily mean more manpower.

Battles in the 14th century saw payloads as massive as 510 to 560lbs, but something between 100-200lbs was most common. These massive payloads could reach ranges of as far as 900ft. Some sources say that trebuchets were also used to fling diseased corpses over city walls — an early form of chemical warfare.

The counterweight trebuchet could consistently deliver heavier munitions at longer distances than its predecessor. It was, however, a very complex machine to build properly and specialists were few and far between.

Both the traction trebuchet and the counterweight trebuchet could be modified to include wheels, but the former could only be fired from a locked position due to its size. Regardless, once constructed and fortified, there were few disadvantages to the trebuchet.

Traction trebuchet were most often used to fire at buildings outside of city walls, while the counterweight trebuchet had the range and destructive capabilities to assault walls directly.

The trebuchet could provide whatever a given battle required. They were versatile machines, capable of different ranges, fire rates, and power, depending the situation. The trebuchet was such a successful piece of engineering that it solidified its place as the superior siege engine — far more powerful and reliable than the inferior catapult.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Celebrate freedom with a real Revolutionary War cocktail

One of the reasons Prohibition failed in America is probably because America was founded on and was fueled by booze from the get-go. The Pilgrims stopped at Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer. The U.S. Marine Corps was founded in a bar. There just isn’t a lot Americans won’t do to keep the party going a little longer. The best example of this is the legendary Revolutionary War leader Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys.


This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

That face when you decide to take a British fort just because you can.

Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys were the first to deliver a crushing defeat to the British during the American Revolution. They captured the guns at Fort Ticonderoga, along with two other forts in the area. Ticonderoga was the key to Lake Champlain, which denied the British entry from that point and became the staging area for patriot incursions into Canada. More importantly, the cannons seized at the fort were moved to Boston, where the British occupied much of the city since April 1775. Despite inflicting heavy casualties on the redcoats at places like the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Continental Army needed the help.

In November 1775, Ethan Allen and his Vermonters moved the forts supplies and guns overland to Boston, where General George Washington and his artillery commander Henry Knox used them to force the British to withdraw from Boston after holding it for almost a full year.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

This is the fort they wanted to take.

What prompts a gaggle of armed good-ol’ boys from Vermont to take on a heavily armed and fortified position of professional soldiers in the world’s largest, best-equipped, and seasoned army of veterans? Alcohol, of course. The night before Allen and the boys seized the fort, they all met at Remington’s Tavern in Castleton, Vermont. There, they sat down with Benedict Arnold who was sent by the Continental Congress to capture the fort and its guns. The Green Mountain Boys were there because they were going to take the fort anyway, sanctioned or not – so Arnold and his regulars might as well join in.

The liquid courage being poured at the tavern was what was common for the area during that time period: hard cider. Colonists planted apples in the new world primarily for the purpose of drinking it. The crop thrived here and kept people healthy, as it was often safer than the drinking water. In fact, cider was pretty much used as currency. But back then, drinking men needed more of a kick, so they added shots of rum to their cider, two shot of it to every pint of cider. They called the drink a “stone fence” because it felt like you were running down a hill into one.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

For America.

After the ragtag group downed enough bravery, the two commanders led the crossing of Lake Champlain in the early morning hours, with 83 of the Green Mountain Boys. But dawn was coming fast, and Allen and Arnold worried that if they waited for the whole force, they might lose the element of surprise. So with just 83 Vermonters, they stormed Fort Ticonderoga, catching the garrison completely by surprise, capturing the guns for use elsewhere in the Revolution.

If they hadn’t captured them, the rebellion might have died in its cradle by diminishing hopes and expectations for the Continental Army’s chances. So down a few of these spiked ciders for Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, who might have just saved the future U.S., fueled by liquid courage.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 incredible facts about ‘Flying the Hump’ in World War II

“The Hump” was the nickname Allied pilots gave the airlift operation that crossed the Himalayan foothills into China. It was the Army Air Force’s most dangerous airlift route, but it was the only way to supply Chinese forces fighting Japan — and things weren’t going well for China.

World War II began in 1937 for Chiang Ki-Shek’s nationalist China. By the time the United States began running supplies to the Chinese forces fighting Japan, the Western part of the country was firmly controlled by the invading Japanese. The Japanese also controlled Burma, on India’s Eastern border, cutting off the last land route to the Chinese. Aid would have to come by air and American planes would have to come from the West — over the “Roof of the World.”

But getting there was terribly inefficient.


This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force
The state of China in 1941.

As a matter of fact, the original plan to bomb targets on the Japanese mainland involved flying B-29s loaded with fuel over the Hump from India into China. But when the planes landed at Shangdu, they would often have to take on fuel to ensure they could make the flight home, as recounted by then-Army Air Forces officer and later Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in the film The Fog of War.

Beyond the inefficiency of flying the Hump, it was incredibly dangerous. More than 1,000 men and 600 planes were lost over the 530-mile stretch of rugged terrain, and that’s a very conservative estimate. It was dubbed the “Skyway to Hell” and the “Aluminum Trail” for the number of planes that didn’t make it.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

Some 14 million Chinese died and up to 100 million became refugees during the eight years of fighting between China and Japan.

1. Flying the Hump was central to winning the war.

When reading about World War II’s Pacific Theater, what comes up most often is the gallantry and bravery of Marines, Sailors, and Coasties who were part of the island hopping campaign. We also hear a lot about the bomber groups of airmen who devastated the Japanese home islands. What we seldom hear about is the U.S. Army in the China, India, Burma theater who were busy building a 1,000-mile road and flying over the Himalayan foothills to keep China in the fight.

And this was vitally important.

China is a vast country and when the Communists and nationalists joined forces to take on the Japanese, they were a massive force to take on. Three million Chinese soldiers kept 1.25 million Japanese troops in China, away from the ever-creeping Allies who were taking island after island, slowly getting closer to the Japanese mainland.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

China was fighting for survival.

2. Extreme weather took down more U.S. pilots than the Japanese.

Forget, for a moment, that American pilots were flying planes dubbed “The Flying Coffin” — the Curtiss C-46 Commando — at times. The mountain ranges of the Himalayas caused jetstream-strength winds and dangerous weather at extreme altitudes. And when that doesn’t take you, a Japanese Zero will be there to try.

Pilots would plod along at ground speeds of around 30 miles per hour while the wind lifted their planes to 28,000 feet and then back to 6,000 shortly after. If pilots weren’t fighting ice storms or thunderstorms, they were fighting the Japanese.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

Where dreams (and air crews) go to die.

3. Many pilots flying the Hump were newbies.

Although the China National Aviation Corporation ran the route before the war and its pilots continued to run cargo over the Hump, the Army’s pilots were newly-trained flying officers with little experience flying in anything, let alone extreme weather. Even General Henry “Hap” Arnold — the only General of the Air Force ever bestowed such a title — got lost due to lack of oxygen flying the Hump.

This may have added to the fatality rate on the route — a full one-third of the men flying it died there.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

There’s reality.

4. If the weather didn’t get them, the terrain might.

Pilots traversing the route had to fly the Kali Gandaki River Gorge, a depression much wider and deeper than the Grand Canyon. The mountains surrounding the gorge were 10,000 feet higher than most of the planes could fly. The pass to escape the gorge was 15,000 high — but pilots couldn’t often see it.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

It looks cold even in black and white.

5. Inside the plane wasn’t great either.

Pilots were issued fleece-lined jackets, boots, and gloves to keep their extremities from freezing during the flight. Lack of oxygen could cause pilots to veer off-course and into an almost certain death. C-46 cargo planes did not glide, their heavy engines causing an almost immediate dive. Once out of fuel, crews would have to bail out with minimal protection, cold weather gear, and nine rounds of a .45-caliber pistol.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

When you’re flying your next Hump mission and just want to see the sights before you die.

6. That last bullet is for you.

Whether crashing or bailing out into the freezing cold or jumping into enemy-held territory, there would be no search and rescue mission coming for crews flying the Hump. A rescue crew would be subject to the same extreme cold weather and fuel issues as any other plane. In enemy territory, Japanese patrols would capture American pilots, torture them, then kill them. Part of the training regimen for Hump pilots included the right way to use the last bullet on oneself.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US is obligated by treaty to defend these 67 countries

There are Americans who are sick and tired of the United States playing “policeman to the world.” There’s good news and bad news for these people. The good news is that the U.S. isn’t actually the world’s policeman. The bad news is that they’re actually the world’s policeman, fire department, emergency medical technicians, doctors, nurses, and any other global-scale first responder analogy you can think of.

The U.S. military is basically the Avengers.


This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

“Avengers Assemble.”

While the United States doesn’t respond to every trouble spot on the planet they sure respond to a lot of them. Of the 195 officially recognized countries in the world, the United States has military members deployed to 150. So if there is a trouble spot, there’s a very good chance that U.S. troops could go handle a large percentage of them. Luckily, Earth’s mightiest heroes are usually reserved for bigger problems, like keeping North Korea in check, punishing ISIS, and trying to bring food to hungry people.

But some of those countries are actually protected by the United States military, even if that protection isn’t specifically promised. For example, the U.S. military has long been considered a pillar of Saudi Arabia’s stability, because Saudi Arabia’s military can’t invade and win against a much-smaller neighbor, even when 20 other countries are helping them.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

Seriously, the Salvation Army could have invaded Yemen and won by now.

But despite how terrible the Saudis are at things like strategy, tactics, and planning, they will never have to worry about being overcome by Iranian interference or military force because they have a substantial force they can rely on to protect their homefront: the United States military. And they aren’t alone.

Treaty obligations tie the U.S. to come to the defense of 67 different countries around the world, going well beyond the 29-member NATO alliance. The U.S. has bilateral defense agreements with six different countries, as well as every individual member of the Organization of American States and the ANZUS agreement.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

While the United States is no longer required to defend New Zealand and West Germany doesn’t exist as West Germany anymore, the United States military still has a pretty big job on its hands. And even though relations with some of the members of the Organization of American States aren’t so hot with the U.S. right now, it’s still a way for Americans to find themselves fighting alongside the likes of Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela or helping defend countries with no military at all, like Costa Rica, Panama, or Haiti.

It might be worth noting that our Venezuelan allies have asked Russia to help with whatever it is they’re planning to do down there, rather than ask the United States. But along with Venezuela, the U.S. has promised to defend a full one-quarter of all the humans on the planet.

That’s a big job.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Why names are added to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

Known simply as “The Wall” to the men and women who can find the name of a loved one inscribed on it, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall lists the names of those who fell during the Vietnam War. The names are arranged first by date, and then alphabetically. There are more than 58,000 names on more than 75 meters of black granite, memorializing those who died in service to that war.


The eligibility dates span Nov. 1, 1955, through May 15, 1975, though the first date on The Wall during its dedication was from 1959. A service member who died in 1956 was added after The Wall was dedicated – and names have actually been added on multiple occasions.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

(Hu Totya)

When The Wall was completed in 1982, it contained 57,939 names. As of Memorial Day 2017, there were 58,318 names, including eight women. There are veterans still eligible to have their names inscribed with their fellow honored dead. The Department of Defense decides whose name gets to go on The Wall, but those inscribed typically…

  • …died (no matter the cause) within the defined combat zone of Vietnam (varies based on dates).
  • …died while on a combat/combat support mission to/from the defined combat zone of Vietnam.
  • …died within 120 days of wounds, physical injuries, or illnesses incurred or diagnosed in the defined combat zone of Vietnam..

Currently, victims of Agent Orange and PTSD-related suicide are not eligible to have their name inscribed on the memorial wall. You can request to have a name added at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund website.

10 more names were added to The Wall in 2012 and the statuses of 12 others were changed. The 10 servicemen came from the Marine Corps, Navy, Army, and Air Force, and died between 1966 and 2011. The Department of Defense determined that all deaths were the result of wounds sustained in Vietnam.

As for the status changes, the names are still recorded on The Wall. For those who’ve never seen The Wall in person, each name is also accompanied by a symbol. A diamond means the person was declared dead. A name whose status is unknown is noted by a cross. When a missing person is officially declared dead, a diamond is superimposed over the cross. If a missing person returned alive, the cross would be circumscribed with a circle.

The latter has never happened.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial features more than just The Wall, it also includes the Women’s Memorial and “The Three Soldiers” statue.

Status changes happen all the time, as the remains of those missing in action are found, identified, and returned home.

While the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall doesn’t include the names of service members who died through diseases related to Agent Orange exposure, other state and local memorials may include them. As recently as October, 2018, the California Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall began to include those who died through such illnesses.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Looking back on the 100-year-old Battle of Belleau Wood

It is 100 years to the day, June 26, 1918, since an obscure wood 50 miles from Paris, the Bois de Belleau, was captured by U.S. forces in a protracted battle of World War I. During those weeks the wood had become a focal point of American military hopes, an early and vital display of the American Expeditionary Force’s capability on the battlefield. The bloody encounter occupies a special place in the annals of U.S. military history. Patrick Gregory looks at what happened there and asks why the battle still stands out.

In late April 2018, a photo opportunity featuring the presidents of the United States and France and their wives planting a tree was beamed across the world. What seemed to attract as much publicity at the time was the fact that the young tree in question was removed soon after the ceremony, taken into temporary quarantine. What achieved less attention was where the sapling had come from or why — Belleau Wood.


As with most such scenes of slaughter of the First World War, the Bois de Belleau is as quiet now as it doubtless was before the fighting which erupted there in June 1918. And that fighting was brutal. What happened there was an important moment in the contribution of the United States in the First World War. It was also an important moment in the development of the U.S. Marine Corps.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force
Strong dugouts in holes under huge rocks, in Belleau Woods, France.
(Library of Congress photo )

By May 1918 the U.S. had been a combatant in Europe for over a year; yet American troops, still arriving in France, had to date only played a supporting role. That was all going to change. American Expeditionary Force commander John Pershing had stubbornly resisted Allied efforts to co-opt his men — a regiment here, a regiment there — to add to their own ranks, remaining determined to train and assemble a fully-fledged army of his own.

The moment of truth now arrived to test those men in battle: May 28, 1918, the first full U.S.-led offensive of the war. Led by Pershing’s trusted First Division, the ‘Big Red One’ under Robert Bullard attacked at Cantigny in northern France, 20 miles from Amiens. Of limited strategic value, perhaps, but the three-day battle was a success, demonstrating that the Americans could fight. It was a shot in the arm for the AEF, a much needed psychological boost after all the months’ waiting.

However, of more immediate concern to the Allies was a new and deadly enemy offensive which had been unleashed during this time 50 miles south-east: one cutting easily through Allied lines and driving further south towards the river Marne, leaving German forces within striking distance of Paris.

On May 30 two separate American divisions, the 2nd & 3rd, were ordered into the Marne area, arriving from different directions east and west. A machine gun battalion of the latter secured the south bank of the river at the key bridgehead of Château-Thierry, as other of their number began to take up position.

But the main action of the weeks ahead would lie north-west of the town, involving men of the 2nd Division; in particular, two of their regiments, a brigade of Marines led by Pershing’s old chief of staff James Harbord. It would be their efforts to secure a woodland there that would capture headlines, helped in part by the purple prose of journalist Floyd Gibbons.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force
Lt. Col. James Harbord, right, with Gen. John Pershing, 1917.
(Library of Congress photo )

Belleau Wood was barely more than a mile long and half a mile wide, yet it would cost many lives to capture and would be reported across the world. “It was perhaps a small battle in terms of World War I,” says Professor Andrew Wiest of the University of Southern Mississippi, “but it was outsized in historic importance. It was the battle that meant that the U.S. had arrived.”

Yet as operations go — as brave and resolute as the troops were throughout — it was poorly planned and badly commanded, certainly in its opening phases. After adjacent areas were captured on the morning of June 6, the decision was taken to advance on the wood that afternoon from two directions, west and south. The former was led by a battalion of 5th Marines under Benjamin Berry; the southern attack undertaken by Berton Sibley’s battalion of 6th Marines, supported on their right by 23rd Infantry from the division’s other regular army brigade.

But little reconnaissance had been carried out in advance as to what to expect when they got there and only scant artillery fire was laid down beforehand. Inside, German machine gunners had taken up positions in defensive holes, behind rocky outcrops and shielded by dense undergrowth. Worse, the Marines now advanced towards them in rank formation over the exposed ground outside, with Berry’s western advance particularly exposed. They were slaughtered. By nightfall 222 were dead and over 850 wounded.

Bloodied but remaining focused on the task, the men went again the next day. And the one after that. Yet little headway was made. An intense 24-hour artillery barrage was belatedly ordered, followed by yet another assault. Headway was finally made but casualties continued to mount as the German troops clung on in the farthermost reaches of the wood. The 7th Infantry from the neighboring 3rd Division was called in for some days to help lighten the load.

The fighting labored on for three weeks and in its final stages, foot by foot, hand to hand, it intensified in savagery. Artillery shells and guns now gave way to bayonets and “toad-stickers,” 8-inch triangular blades set on knuckle-handles, as the Marines slashed their way through the last of their enemy. But finally word came through on the morning of June 26 from Major Maurice Shearer: “Belleau Wood now US Marine Corps entirely.”

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force
In Belleau Wood where Americans gave Germany her first fatal check
(Library of Congress photo )


As the story goes, German officers, in their battle reports, referred to the Marines as Teufelshunde “Devil Dogs”; and journalist Floyd Gibbons also helped, singling out one gunnery sergeant in dispatches as “Devil Dog Dan.” Either way, the name and image stuck and went on to become a celebrated symbol of the Marines.

“It was the day the U.S. Marines went from being a small force few people knew about to personifying elite status in the US. military,” says Andrew Wiest. The corps had roots dating back to the American War of Independence, but from Belleau developed much of the corps’ modern lore and myth.

More significantly, and of strategic importance, their intervention at Belleau and that of their 2nd and 3rd Division colleagues in the surrounding area on the Marne put paid to the German advance, at what was a dangerous moment in the war for the Allies.

The commander of the U.S. First Division Robert Lee Bullard subsequently declared: “The Marines didn’t win the war here. But they saved the Allies from defeat. Had they arrived a few hours later I think that would have been the beginning of the end. France could not have stood the loss of Paris.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the shovel became a deadlier weapon than a bayonet

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 long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force

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.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force
Even though the only thing deadlier than a Marine is a pissed-off Marine with a knife. (Image via LIFE Magazine)

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?

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force
These Brits with capes and shovels are far more of a bad ass than any butterbar who learns they’re authorized to wear a cape to events.

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.

(YouTube, InRangeTV)

Articles

How the farm tractor inspired the creation of the tank

The trenches of World War I were a vicious place, but it was the No Man’s Land between opposing trenches that became killing fields. Attackers from either side had to cross hundreds of meters of machinegun-swept territory under artillery assault to initiate an offensive against the other.


Several British officers were developing ways to protect infantry on the assault, and British Lt. Col. Ernest Swinton came up with the idea to weaponize a recent American invention, the Holt Caterpillar Tractor.

(Video: YouTube/History)

Invented by Benjamin Holt in 1904, the machine used tracked wheels to cross soft sand, mud, and other obstacles on the farm. Swinton figured that the tractor could be put to better use attacking German machine gun and artillery positions with armor plating and its own mounted artillery.

The British brass were largely unimpressed with the idea, but the suggestion eventually made its way to First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. Churchill sent the project to the Royal Navy and “Landships” were born.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force
(Newspaper: The Ogden Standard/Library of Congress)

To keep the project a secret, the British filled out shipping documents that claimed the cargo was water tanks.

The weapon was first debuted at Flers Courcelette during the Battle of the Somme. It had issues with reliability but became a hit on both the frontlines and the home front. Newspapers created graphics and illustrations of what they thought the tank looked like and ran them on front pages.

This long-forgotten unit was the direct predecessor to Delta Force
Army Lt. Col. George S. Patton with a Renault tank. He became America’s first-ever tank officer the previous year as a captain. (Photo: U.S. Army)

It came too late to save the World War I career of Churchill, who resigned after championing catastrophic offensives at Dardanelles and Gallipoli.

But the tank was destined for a bright future. America assigned two of its best young officers, Capt. Dwight D. Eisenhower and Capt. George S. Patton, Jr., to creating tank schools and Patton even led the first American tanks into combat.