The destroyer USS Ward (DD 139/APD 16) is famous for being the first American ship to sink a Japanese vessel, a mini-sub, just hours before the main attack on Pearl Harbor. But less famous is the first American ship to sink a Nazi U-boat. That impact of that ship’s kill, incidentally, would reverberate over six decades later.
USS Roper shortly after she was commissioned in 1919. (US Navy photo)
That vessel was USS Roper (DD 147), a Wickes-class destroyer. Wickes-class destroyers were built during World War I and carried four four-inch guns, a single three-inch gun, and a dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes. These vessels were feeling their age as World War II bubbled up on the horizon but were pressed into service to hold the line until newer vessels came into the fleet.
According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the Roper had taken part in a variety of deployments in the peacetime Navy between World Wars. The vessel had been off Cape Cod when Pearl Harbor was attacked. After a quick refit, she was escorting convoys. Then came the fateful encounter.
On March 31, 1942, USS Roper rescued 70 survivors, including this mother and child. (US Navy photo)
U-Boat.net reports that on April 14, 1942, the Roper detected U-85 on the surface, about 20 miles from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, two weeks after rescuing 70 survivors from a sunken merchant ship. First, the destroyer opened fire, scoring a number of hits. As the fatally stricken U-boat slipped beneath the surface, the destroyer unleashed a salvo of depth charges to ensure a kill. None of U-85’s crew survived.
After that kill, the Roper still served, doing a number of convoy runs. Then, she was converted to a destroyer transport and re-designated APD 20. In 1945, she was damaged by a kamikaze. Repairs were still underway when Japan surrendered. She was sold for scrap in 1946.
The Viking Age spanned from the sacking of the abbey on Lindisfarne in June, 793, and is generally accepted as ending with William the Conqueror’s ascension to the English throne in 1066. The Norse traveled outward from Scandinavia, reaching everywhere from Estonia to Canada to Spain to Baghdad. Despite their many accomplishments in exploring and trading, history knows them as warriors who welcomed battle and death.
No viking warrior has a reputation for badassery quite like that of Ragnar Lothbrok. His lifestyle was so badass that it’s been made into television series on History, aptly named Vikings. According to the show, Lothbrok single-handedly lead the assaults on Lindisfarne, Paris, and Wessex, and his eventual death sparked his sons to form the Great Heathen Army.
Looking at the timeline of those events in the real-world, that would mean he had a roughly 73-year viking career. The vikings, historically, made those victorious raids in 793, 845, and 858, before his death in 865. While it’s not entirely impossible for someone to raid for 73 years, the show’s creators are open about their creative liberties. The biggest of them being that there may have been many people named Ragnar Lothbrok — or no one at all.
I mean, if your BS story makes a cold-hearted deathbringer think twice, it’s worth the risk.
(Vikings Heading for Land / Frank Dicksee / 1873)
The Norse weren’t keen on preserving their own history. They did tell stories orally, which is how they still exist today, but historical records kept by the vikings are scarce at best. As with most stories, there was room for exaggeration. Plus, the people who wrote the stories of the vikings were almost always on the receiving ends of raids, concerned more with exaggerating their ferocity and triumphs over vikings than accurately retelling their defeats.
This leads us to the biggest debate surrounding Ragnar Lothbrok: When and where he actually died. Many have claimed responsibility for death: from Carlingford Lough to East Anglia to Anglesey to where the show places his death, Northumbria, everyone wanted to be known for slaying the fearsome Lothbrok. Taking credit for such a victory could ward off potential raids, but there’s little proof to back up most of these claims.
The battles of the Great Heathen Army were entirely accurate. They destroyed the hell out of Old England.
The only legitimate source for information on Ragnar Lothbrok is the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a collection of documents detailing Anglo-Saxon history originally published around the time Ragnar was said to exist. His name does appear, but there is a debate within the historical community if that the name “Ragnar” has been attributed to several other Norse leaders and not one single badass.
This puts a new perspective on the term “Son of Ragnar,” as it might have been more of a title than an actual blood relation. In the television series, many of Ragnar’s sons are born from his multiple wives. The two sons that actually have been historically proven to exist are Bjorn Ironside and Ivar the Boneless, both from different mothers. But any stories of their exploits, once again, fall firmly in the “with-a-grain-of-salt” category, seeing as The Saga of the Sons of Ragnaris, like much of viking history, more of a collection of campfire stories than historical evidence.
Though Vikings may not be a completely historically accurate telling of events, they do the vikings plenty of justice by interweaving the vast collection of Ragnar Lothbrok tales and piecing them into a single, compelling, easy-to-follow narrative. The facts are a bit hazy, but it’s still one of the more accurate representations of vikings in modern media. It just takes some liberties with individual characters.
Of course, there was no one assuming the mantle of “Ragnar” at the Lindisfarne raid. The actual viking, Rollo, who became the First Duke of Normandy in the year 911, lived nearly fifty years after Ragnar’s death, which means it’s impossible for them to be brothers. Even his first wife, Lagertha, may also be more myth than fact.
But on the bright side, the greatest scene in the entire series — if not television history — is actually very historically accurate.
Like many heads of state who reach power through blood rather than merit, Czar Nicholas II was utterly unprepared to rule Russia as it headed into the 20th century. He made one unpopular decision after the next. His loathed intimacy with the notorious mystic Grigori Rasputin was another reason he was unpopular. The turmoil agitating the country and the world at the turn of the century proved too much for this monarch who did not want to be a Czar. In early 1917, Russia was swept over by the Revolution and the Czar deposed, signing the end of a 300 years old imperial dynasty. That was not enough for the Bolsheviks to take over Russia; they needed the royal family murdered and kept secret, but why?
The House of Special Purpose
After Nicholas’s removal from power, he was taken into custody along with his family by the Provisional Government. They were stripped of any title and placed under house arrest, first at the Alexander Palace, then in Tobolsk, Siberia, in August 1917. After the Bolsheviks came into power in October 1917, the Romanov’s conditions of detention deteriorated significantly. Finally, they were moved to Yekaterinburg’ Ipatiev House in the first half of 1918. There, they were openly considered as hostages.
All those under arrest will be held as hostages, and the slightest attempt at counter-revolutionary action in the town will result in the summary execution of the hostages.
Announcement in the local newspaper by Bolshevik War Commissar Filipp Goloshchyokin, in charge of the family’s incarceration in Yekaterinburg
In July 1918, pro-royalist soldiers from Czechoslovakia, called “Whites”, had been advancing through the country and closing on Yekaterinburg. The Bolsheviks feared they would try to rescue the Romanov and support the renewal of monarchy in Russia. So, on the evening of the 16th July 1918, during dinner, the entire family and their servants were ordered to go down to the cellar. There, amid a chaos of screams, escape attempts and bullets, they were summarily executed. Those who survived the shooting were dispatched with bayonets or the butts of guns. Over the next couple of months, many relatives and allies were assassinated around the country. The swift eradication resulted in 27 deaths in 84 days.
Bolsheviks controlled the media circus
A few days later, the murder of the former czar was publicly announced by the Bolsheviks, calling him “the personification of the barbarian landowner, of this ignoramus, dimwit and bloodthirsty savage” in the official party newspaper. However, the assassination of his family was kept secret. Although rumors began to spread, the official version was that Alexandra and her children had been moved for their protection. To prevent any recognition, the bodies were mutilated, burned with acid, and buried in a secret place in the forest. So why were the Bolsheviks happy to endorse the murder of Nicholas, but not that of his family?
It’s speculated that it was mostly an image issue. The Red Revolution already struggled with a brutal reputation outside of the country. The violent repression of any hint of opposition made the revolution quite unpopular with many governments. Socialist and communist ideas were thoroughly mistrusted by the ruling class. Moreover, king George V of England was Nicholas’s first cousin and enjoyed a friendly relationship with the former monarch. Nicholas’s murder was received with sorrow, but the massacre of the entire family might have prompted a political and military response that would have overthrown the still unstable Bolshevik government.
The cover up
The “whites” and other enemies of the communist revolution tried to use the rumors flying around on the disappearance of the family to defame the movement and its famous leader, Lenin. If speculations had turned to facts, proving the massacre beyond the shadow of a doubt, Lenin’s image as a wise and fair leader would have been severely damaged. There is no historical evidence that Lenin was the one who gave the order for the assassination. In fact, he seemed in favor of a trial, with Leo Trotsky as the main accuser.
Even a biased trial could have been used as propaganda of justice of the new regime. However, the murders, if supported by evidence, could have been laid at the leader’s door — whether he was truly implicated or not, in an attempt to weaken his newly acquired position. In addition, the mysterious fate of the family led many European monarchs on a manhunt to rescue the last Romanov. Thus squandering resources and keeping their attention away from the fate of the Russian people under Bolshevik rule.
That is why the fate of the last heirs of the Russian imperial family was kept officially hidden for decades. The truth would lay hidden until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. The bodies were eventually recovered and five of the family members have now been laid in state, resting together in the St. Petersburg Cathedral.
Monument to the Colombian veterans from the Korean War. Incheon, South Korea.
While the Korean War Battles of Old Baldy, Triangle Hill, and Geumseong may not be the first battles that come to mind when we think of the Korean Conflict, for Colombia, they were certainly important. Like their Brazilian neighbors in World War II, the Colombians saw the importance of stemming the advance of an aggressor as essential to the world’s collective security. Three Colombian frigates along with more than 5,000 troops saw action alongside their U.N. allies there.
While the country’s then-President, Laureano Gomez, was also looking for economic support from the West, the Colombians were also eager to remove the pro-German brush that had painted them during the Second World War. By 1951, for the first time in 127 years, Colombia was fully engaged in the fighting on the Korean Peninsula, attached to the U.S. 7th and 24th Infantry Divisions.
Over the course of the rest of the war, Colombia would send battalion after battalion over to fight, numbering more than a thousand men each. They were eager to prove Colombia’s bravery to the rest of the world, like the Turkish and Ethiopians before them. They were unlike any Colombian soldiers who came before them, but when returning home, they found a cold indifferent world.
Their service went largely unnoticed when they returned home. Colombians rejected many of the ideals the Korean War veterans held as they fought to earn their respect in the halls of the U.N.. They suffered the way many veterans the world over suffer after their wars end. While abroad and fighting, they found themselves honored and beloved by veterans from every nation they fought. When they came home, they found it was hard to win over their own nation.
They received no benefits, no pension. Many wounded veterans would come home and one day die without so much as a thank you from the nation for which they were willing to give their lives.
Eventually, the Colombian government would relent and offer a pension to Korean War veterans who could prove they were indigent. By then, many of those fighting men were well into their 60s and 70s. Some of those veterans were never recovered and remain in Korea to this day. The unit also suffered 213 dead and 567 wounded. They were the last force to arrive but the 9th largest to join in the effort to keep the South free. Still, the men who fought there don’t hold regrets about going.
“It was a really extraordinary experience,” said General Álvaro Valencia Tovar. “I never regretted going, despite the hardships suffered during war, the bitter winter we lived through there…resisting subzero temperatures, but that was all part of a chapter in my life that I’ve always regarded with great sympathy and with pleasant memories.”
Throughout history, Italy wasn’t known for its dominance or military strength, but these knife-wielding operators made crucial advances using only a small force.
The Arditi, meaning “the daring ones,” were a group of volunteers, chosen from the most courageous of men and considered to be Italy’s most elite soldiers during WWI. Getting their name from the Royal Italian Army in 1917, they were known for engaging the enemy with vicious hand to hand combat and swift tactical movement.
The Arditi organization was much smaller than the regular infantry units, consisting of only five officers, 41 NCOs, and 150 men. Their unique strategy relied heavily on surprise, speed, and their sheath as they strategically advanced towards their opposition behind a curtain of allied artillery fire.
According to The Great War Youtube channel, once the bombardment ceased, the men would charge forward into enemy trenches, with only daggers in their teeth and grenades in their hands, with the goal of clearing and then holding their newly-earned positions until the relief of their fellow troops arrived, which could take up to a full day.
Due to their outstanding production, they were paid almost three times what the regular Army received.
Then, a bonus system was employed for taking enemy prisoners — 10 lire for a Private, 20 for an NCO, and 50 for an officer. Not to mention there was compensation for capturing enemy weapons, ranging from anywhere between 5 to 500 lire depending on the weapon’s size and caliber.
The Arditi seized 3,600 prisoners, 63 machine guns and 26 pieces of artillery over their course of the war. The Arditi were making bank back in 1917 and deserved every cent — according to History Answers.
As their losses in personnel grew, new soldiers were assigned to Arditi units by recommendation only. Before they could officially join, they had to complete a specialized school that mimicked the dangers and conditions of the front lines.
The fatality rates among the recruits were extremely high due to the realistic training methods.
It wasn’t until Battle of Vittorio Veneto Offensive in October of 1918 when the Arditi would make its largest impact on the war. A dozen Arditi units combined, making two monstrous assault divisions. The brave men lead one another on a forceful charge on the Austro-Hungarian forces, resulting in a climatic victory.
Although the Arditi was disbanded in 1920, their bravery, patriotism, and impact on the Great War lives on in Italian military historical lore.
Churchill was a dedicated anti-Communist. Even before the war’s end, the British PM expanded his anti-Communist rhetoric. He would later employ the same anti-Stalinist zeal in his public comments to people living inside the Iron Curtain (a term he coined in a 1946 speech).
The Prime Minister’s 1946 speech argued the Soviets were determined to expand their influence across Europe and into Asia – a conclusion U.S. President Harry S. Truman also held.
This essentially meant Churchill was ready to start World War III.
Dubbed “Unthinkable” by Britain’s General Staff, the plan called for American, British, and Polish troops — as well as soldiers from the newly-defeated Wehrmacht — to completely surprise the Soviets from the Baltic to the Mediterranean.
The differential in land forces between the West and the Soviet Union could not be offset by the air and naval superiority the Americans and British would have. The West just could not muster the manpower to match the Soviets. Churchill’s Defence Minister warned him that a quick victory would be “beyond our power” and that they should be prepared for “a long, protracted war against heavy odds.”
Manpower wasn’t the only issue. The Defence Minister’s plans relied on American allies — and the Pacific War was still in full swing. The United States was preparing for the invasion of mainland Japan. The rest of Europe was in tatters and could not assist the British in their efforts.
Then there was the question of how to defend the British Isles. The Russians could not mount the same submarine threat the Germans did during World War II. And the British Defence Ministry concluded the Russians certainly couldn’t launch an invasion from the sea.
But rocket attacks were a different challenge altogether. British planners were well aware of this threat and included it in the report to Churchill. Once the Russians began making these weapons en masse, the British expected a “far heavier scale of attack than the Germans were able to develop and no way of effectively reducing this.”
With Russian superiority in mainland Europe, the hypothetical rocket-based devastation of the British Isles in the scenario, and the insistence of President Truman that the United States would not participate, Churchill shelved the idea forever.
In 1967, a 77-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower ascended to the top of the famed St. Louis Arch, the gateway to the West. It wasn’t a planned trip, but the former President decided to go visit it anyway. And he wanted to go to the top, something the Secret Service forbids Presidents, past and present, to do. But Ike was the one who signed off on the construction of the Arch in 1954 and besides – who was going to tell the Supreme Allied Commander “no?”
In case you were wondering about the answer to that question, it’s “no one.”
But he was the only one and even Eisenhower, a former President by the time he ascended to the highest peak of the 630-foot archway, had to do some sneaky work to be able to get to the top over the objections of his contingent of bodyguards. Eisenhower’s visit to the Gateway Arch came after hours, so there were no other tourists around, and it wasn’t a scheduled part of his itinerary, so potential assassins wouldn’t ever have known he would be there. He took the famed tramway up the arch over the objections of the Secret Service.
While Ike isn’t the only President to overrule the objections of the those who protect him, he’s the only one who forced his way up the St. Louis Arch. By the time he came to visit the city on the Mississippi River, two more Presidents had occupied the Oval Office after his tenure. It was a pretty safe bet.
The view inside the top of the arch.
Getting to the top is actually a pretty cleverly designed tram that is part elevator and part Ferris wheel. But the top of the arch is a very small, cramped space that doesn’t make for a lot of room to maneuver or for a lot of people to spend any significant amount of time. It also keeps people relatively close together, which is a problem for a protective unit trying to keep people out of arms reach of the world’s most powerful person.
Despite the cramped space, some 160 people can fit in the top of the arch, and a complete trip to the top takes about 45 minutes on average. That’s a lot of time, space, and opportunity to give a would-be threat.
But in reality, the Leader of the Free World is actually the one in charge, and they can do whatever they want, but the USSS really doesn’t want the President up in the Arch.
Virginia’s role in the War of 1812 is largely forgotten unless you’re a military historian. Most of us recall that this conflict was primarily fought on the Canadian border. But the truth is, if it weren’t for a few forward-thinking Freemasons (and eventual presidents), America’s role in the War of 1812 might have been very different.
Way back in 1794, Congress authorized President Washington to build a series of forts along America’s coastlines to protect our harbors. Fort Norfolk was originally built with clay and wood, mainly because those were the building materials available. Of course, clay and wood aren’t the best defenses, so eventually, Fort Norfolk got a facelift. Now the installation is the last remaining fortification initiated by Washington as part of American’s harbor defenses. In light of his forward-thinking, Washington expected to have to defend fledgling America at some point. So in true Freemason fashion, he called on some of his fellow Masons to help out.
Norfolk Lodge No. 1
Norfolk Lodge No. 1 was one of the earliest Masonic Lodges in Virginia. In fact, this Lodge can be directly traced to the development of Fort Norfolk. The Lodge opened in 1732 and within years, some of the most prominent members of Virginia society were members. As a matter of fact, three such members were instrumental in prepping Virginia for war. They were General Thomas Mathews, Major Thomas Newton Jr. and President James Monroe, all of whom were quite close.
These three Freemasons realized long before the War of 1812 the area was a vulnerable spot that needed to be reinforced. First things first, they transferred the Gosport Shipyard from Virginian to US government control. Just like Washington saw that America’s shorelines needed defense, these Freemasons thought the same. The transferring of the shipyard meant that Fort Norfolk could finally get some much-needed updates.
The Masons knew conflict was coming, they just didn’t know when. In 1807, the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair set off alarm bells. War between America and the British was about to pop off. The Chesapeake-Leopard Affair was a naval conflict involving the British HMS Leopard. HMS Leopard attacked the USS Chesapeake off the coast of Norfolk. Of course, the Freemasons were having none of that. So they stepped in and started to prepare for Norfolk’s eventual bombardment. Gone were the clay and mud fortifications from Washington’s original design. For two years, Fort Norfolk underwent serious renovations. Everything was basically torn down and the installation was rebuilt with solid (and safe!) masonry.
After the rebuilding in 1809, Fort Norfolk could house two full companies. Not too bad for what was originally just a bunch of mud and wooden buildings. The Masons in charge of reno took it a step further. They reinforced the defensive sea wall to reach 12 feet high and made it 20 feet thick. In addition, the Masons added a ravelin to the east side in prep for a land assault. Nine 18-pound cannons were at the ready for the war.
VA Citizens Ready to Go
On top of that, 60,000 Virginians took up arms and were ready to defend America. They helped defeat the British and protect Virginia in the Battle of Craney Island, just across the river from Norfolk. Fort Norfolk went from a super basic instllation to super-charged in just a matter of a few years. During the war, it was one of the key defneses to Norfolk’s inner harbor. It was even home to the frigate Constellation.
Of course, as we all know, there were no clear victors in the War of 1812. That’s despite the fact that so many American citizens were up in arms. We’d just been through war a few decades previously and were ready to go again. The Freemason involvement in preparing Fort Norfolk for war might have helped save this important historic landmark for future generations.
After the war, the installation’s value was eclipsed with the building Fort Monroe. That makes it one of the first installations to feel the stress of a BRAC. The Navy took over command in 1849 and established the 19th century equivalent of naval weapon stations. By 1923, the US Army Corps of Engineers called Fort Norfolk home.
The only things more badass than these quotes were the actions that followed them.
1. “Just hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards!” – Maj. Audie Murphy, U.S. Army
In January 1945, while fighting to reduce the Colmar Pocket, then-Lt. Audie Murphy led the depleted B Company, 15th Infantry Regiment in an attack on the town of Holtzwihr. The attack quickly ran into stiff resistance from German armor and infantry. Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw while he held his position to continue to call in artillery on the advancing Germans. The Germans were nearly on top of him, but he continued to call for fire. Fearful of firing on their own soldier, headquarters asked Murphy how close the enemy was, to which he replied: “Just hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one of the bastards!” During the same engagement, Lt. Murphy mounted a burning tank destroyer and drove off the Germans with its .50 caliber machine gun and continued artillery fire. He received the Medal of Honor for his actions.
2. “I have not yet begun to fight!” – John Paul Jones, U.S. Navy
When John Paul Jones sailed the USS Bonhomme Richard against the HMS Serapis in 1779, he was already famous in the Continental Navy for his daring in the capture of the HMS Drake. Although outgunned by the Serapis, Jones attempted to run alongside and lash the ships together, thus negating the advantage. The Bonhomme Richard took a beating, which prompted the British captain to offer to allow Jones to surrender. His reply would echo in eternity: “I have not yet begun to fight!” And he hadn’t – after more brutal fighting, with Jones’ ship sinking and his flag shot away, the British captain called out if he had struck his colors. Jones shouted back “I may sink, but I will never strike!” After receiving assistance from another ship, the Americans captured the Serapis. Unfortunately, the Bonhomme Richard was beyond salvage and sank.
3. “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?!” – Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly, USMC
Then-1st Sgt Dan Daly was leading the 73rd Machine Gun Company at the Battle of Belleau Wood. He already had two Medals of Honor and cemented his place in Marine Corps history by then. Always tough and tenacious in the face of the enemy, Daly inspired his men to charge the Germans by jumping up and yelling “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?!” The Marines attacked the woods six times before the Germans fell back. Daly was awarded a Navy Cross for his actions during the battle.
4. “I’m the 82nd Airborne and this is as far as the bastards are going.” – Pvt. 1st Class Martin, U.S. Army
As Christmas 1944 approached, the American forces in the Ardennes Forest were still in disarray and struggling to hold back the German onslaught. Versions of the story vary, but what is known is that retreating armor came upon a lone infantryman of the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment digging a foxhole. He was scruffy, dirty, and battle-hardened. When he realized the retreating armor were looking for a safe place, he told them, “Well buddy, just pull that vehicle behind me. I’m the 82nd Airborne and this is as far as the bastards are going.” They would indeed hold the line before driving the Germans back over the next several weeks.
5. “You’ll never get a Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!” – Col. Henry P. Crowe, USMC
Henry Crowe is known in the Marine Corps for his time as a Marine Gunner and his exploits in combat. He first displayed his gallantry at Guadalcanal while leading the Regimental Weapons Company of the 8th Marines. While engaged in fierce fighting with the Japanese, then-Capt. Crowe leaped up and yelled “Goddammit, you’ll never get a Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!” before leading a charge against Japanese positions. He received a Silver Star and Purple Heart for his actions on Guadalcanal and later a Navy Cross for his actions on Tarawa.
6. “Retreat, Hell!” – A number of American badasses who were told to retreat
Americans troops hate to retreat and traditionally respond with “Retreat, Hell!” when told that they should. Here are three of the most badass examples:
Maj. Lloyd W. Williams, USMC
The Battle of Belleau Wood had no shortage of hardcore Marines making a name for the Corps (literally, the moniker ‘Devil Dog’ is attributed to the battle) and then-Capt. Lloyd Williams set the tone from day one. As the French were falling back in the face of a German assault, they came across a Marine officer of the 5th Marine Regiment advancing on Belleau Wood. A frantic French officer advised the American that they must retreat. Not one to shy away from a fight, Capt. Williams responded “Retreat, Hell! We just got here!” Capt. Williams was killed in the fighting nine days later but posthumously received the Distinguished Service Cross and a promotion to Major.
Col. Rueben H. Tucker, U.S. Army
After the initial assault landings at Salerno in September 1943, the Allied beachhead was in a precarious position. The 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment conducted a combat jump to reinforce allied lines and moved out to the high ground at Altavilla to shore up the line. When a strong German counterattack threatened to dislodge the paratroopers, Gen. Dawley, VI Corps commander, called Col. Tucker and ordered his withdrawal. He vehemently replied “Retreat, Hell! Send me my 3rd Battalion!” 3/504 went in support and the regiment held the line.
Gen. Oliver P. Smith, USMC
The Battle of Chosin Reservoir is a story of incredible toughness and tenacity by American forces, particularly the 1st Marine Division. Chesty Puller had his own memorable quotes during the battle, but it was 1st Marine Division commander Oliver P. Smith who reiterated American resolve and refusal to retreat when he said “Retreat, Hell! We’re just advancing in a different direction!” And he meant it – the 1st Marine Division broke through the encirclement and fought its way to evacuation at Hungnam.
McDonnell Douglas, the manufacturer of the F-15 Eagle, knew it had a winner on its hands with the plane. It was the first U.S. fighter with greater engine thrust than weight, allowing it to accelerate vertically like a rocket. And it was highly maneuverable, so it could out fly its likely adversary in the Foxbat and other MiG jets.
But McDonnell Douglas and the U.S. Air Force wanted to prove that the F-15 was superior to anything Russia had before pilots clashed in actual combat. After all, if your enemy knows their likely to lose in a real battle, they’ll hopefully just stay home.
So they took a pre-production version of the F-15 and stripped everything unnecessary off of it, to include the bulk of its paint. It had an Air Force graphic on the fuselage, but the standard gray, anti-corrosion paint was removed to save even that little bit of weight. Their goal was to set all of the major time-to-climb records for planes.
If time-to-climb sounds like a niche record to compete on, it’s actually super important to air combat. Speed, max altitude, and acceleration are all important as well. But speed in a climb determines which plane in a dogfight is likely to get above the other while they’re maneuvering. And altitude equates to extra energy and speed in a fight, because the higher pilot works with gravity instead of against it while attacking.
The first record was shattered on Jan. 16, 1975. Maj. Robert Smith took off from North Dakota in freezing weather. Smith conducted a 5G pull-up and rocketed up past 3,000 meters, over 9,840 feet. He hit his mark in 27.57 seconds, shattering the old 34.5 record.
That afternoon, another major broke the 6,000-meter, 9,000-meter, and 12,000-meter records. Another pilot destroyed the 15,000-meter record by 37.5 seconds, breaching the altitude in just 77.05 seconds.
And yes, all three pilots were flying the same Streak Eagle. They went on to beat the Foxbat’s records for 20,000 meters, 25,000 meters, and 30,000 meters in the following two weeks. The 30,000-meter record was beaten in just under 3.5 minutes. That 30,000 meters number equates to 98,425 feet, and the pilot coasted to 103,000 feet before beginning his descent.
The Streak Eagle used in all of these record-setting flights is now in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
On May 17, 1987, a long-range luxury business jet approached the USS Stark, which was on a routine patrol in the Persian Gulf. The Iran-Iraq War was nearing its end, but attacks from both sides were still brutal and frequent. When Stark requested the plane identify itself, it instead fired two Exocet anti-ship missiles, killing 37 sailors and wounding another 21.
Most reports say the Stark was attacked by an Iraqi F-1 Mirage fighter.
The ship’s electronic surveillance systems didn’t see the missiles and neither did the radar, despite both systems being able to track the business jet. The jet made a few quick turns, coming closer with each turn. When it was 30 miles out, it fired and sped away. The second missile hit Stark 30 seconds after the first. The crew had no time to respond.
According to the Navy’s official investigation of the incident,Stark’s crew and officers believed the plane would “benignly pass them by.” The Tactical Action Officer took no action, even though he knew the Mirage fighter they believed the plane to be was capable of firing missiles from 38 miles away. The TAO tried to increase the ships readiness level in the minutes before the first missile hit, but by then it was too late.
There was plenty of blame to go around. The Weapons Control Officer was not at his station, the Fire Control Technician had already left the operations room on personal business, the automatic detector-tracker was off, the fire control radar was on standby, and the Mk-92 fire control radar was not locked onto the attacker until the missiles were already on their way.
The first Exocet penetrated the hull but did not explode, hitting right beneath the bridge. Its unspent fuel sparked a huge fire aboard the ship. The second missile hit the same spot, but this one exploded, blowing a 3×4.6-meter hole in the ship’s hull. Of the 37 sailors who died, 29 were killed immediately, two were lost at sea, and eight more died of their wounds.
Strangely enough, it was an Iranian helicopter and a Saudi Arabian ship that assisted the Navy in rescue and salvage operations.
Stark was still afloat and managed to hobble back to port in nearby Bahrain with the help of destroyers USS Waddell and USS Conyngham, along with the destroyer tender USS Acadia. Captain Glenn Brindel was relieved of command of the Stark, eventually taking non-judicial punishment and retiring early.
Iraq initially claimed the ship violated the war-zone area, but upon seeing the Navy’s evidence to the contrary, relented. They announced they would pursue their own inquiry into the incident and apologized to the United States after President Reagan called an emergency meeting of the National Security Planning Group.
“If this attack was carried out by Iraqi planes, then it ‘would have been the result of confusion by the pilots’,” the Iraqi Foreign Minister told the Guardian. It’s not known what became of the pilot but the Iraqi investigation found he thought the Stark was an Iranian tanker.
The US Air Force’s flight schools have a reputation for churning out some of the best pilots in the world. But not even with that standing, only 558 in the service’s entire history were ever able to earn the title “Bandit” — the name awarded exclusively to pilots assigned to fly the top-secret F-117 Nighthawk stealth jet.
During the first years of the Nighthawk program in the 1980s, candidate pilots were drawn from a pool of fast-jet pilots. Only fighter or attack pilots with minimum of 1,000 hours were considered for the job, though candidates with 2,000 or more hours were preferred, given their extensive piloting experience.
According to Warren Thompson in his book, “Bandits over Baghdad,” stealth program brass struck a careful balance between recruiting pilots with phenomenal service records and pilots who were known to push themselves to the edge of the envelope — constantly demonstrating their prowess in the cockpit of the latest and greatest multimillion dollar fighters in America’s arsenal.
Early Bandits already in the program, having earned their number, were allowed to refer fellow pilots from other units, based on critical evaluations of their skill and abilities as military aviators. The majority of candidates, however, came from fighter squadrons whose commanding officers were vaguely instructed to cherry-pick one or two of their very best pilots, and send them to Arizona to begin training on a new airframe.
Nobody, including the selectees themselves, had much of a clue what they were about to get involved in.
Further adding to the mystery was the fact that this “new” airframe was actually the A-7 Corsair II, an attack jet which had already been in service with the Air Force for a number of years. Nighthawk program evaluators chose the A-7 for its similarity to the F-117 in terms of handling, cockpit layout and flight characteristics. Upon the conclusion of their flight training, candidates would appear for a final series of check rides and tests in Nevada.
The 162d Tactical Fighter Group of the Arizona Air National Guard handled this segment of the selection phase on behalf of the 4450th Tactical Group. The 4450th was the cover for the Nighthawk’s existence, drafted up by the Air Force as a supposed A-7 flight test unit.
The casual observer, and even other military personnel not read into the Nighthawk program, would merely see this outfit as yet another one of the Air Force’s myriad boring units, though in reality, it was anything but that.
If the candidates survived the A-7 flight course, passed their final tests in their new jet, and were approved by the selection cadre, they were finally told what they were really there for — to be the next breed of American black operations pilots, flying an aircraft the government habitually denied even existed.
The Nighthawk was developed more as an attack aircraft than a fighter, though it was still granted the “F” designation like other fighters the USAF fields today. Built to evade and avoid radar detection, the F-117 was the deadly ghost America’s enemies didn’t see coming or going, even after it was too late and the bombs had already deployed from the jet’s twin recessed bays.
All prospective Bandits were now introduced in-person to their new aircraft at the Tonopah Test Range, a highly-guarded military facility known to play host to some of the most secretive Air Force projects ever undertaken. After strenuous classroom sessions followed by training missions flown in top-of-the-line simulators, pilots were then taken back to Arizona to Luke Air Force Base, where they would train briefly on the F-15 Eagle, learning to perform a ‘no-flap’ landing, which would simulate the Nighthawk’s handling dynamics during approaches and landings.
After passing muster, the candidates were handed the figurative keys to the F-117 and were allowed to fly for the first time. Upon their first solo in the Nighthawk, each pilot was assigned a number and were officially awarded the title “Bandit.” As no Nighthawk was ever built with a twin cockpit, instructors flew near their candidates in chase planes while maintaining constant radio contact. After further nighttime and daytime training missions which qualified pilots to operate their jets in adverse conditions, a battery of tests and evaluations followed.
By this time, the class was severely depleted in size – the starting quantity of candidates diminished over time either because pilots opted out of the program, or were dropped by evaluators and instructors just because they weren’t good enough to fly this next-level aircraft. If the candidate was successful in his very last round of testing, he would be sent for further training to become combat qualified and would be initiated as a permanent member of the Nighthawk community.
Pilots were then sent to an operational squadron, where they would go on to fly daring missions in extreme secrecy around the world, from Panama to Yugoslavia, and onward to Afghanistan and even Iraq. The Nighthawk has since been retired from service, having been replaced by the F-22 in its role as a stealth attack jet, though the Bandit number has been permanently capped at 558, forever sealing the status of these pilots as some of the most elite military aviators in history.
Almost everyone in the world has a favorite soda that they enjoy whenever they get the opportunity. But, is your favorite tasty drink worth giving up a military arsenal big enough to stock a whole country? Well, at one point in history, the Russians thought so.
In 1959, then-President Dwight Eisenhower wanted to bring our America culture to citizens of the Soviet Union and show them the benefits of capitalism.
To showcase their ideologies, the American government arranged the “American National Exhibition” in Moscow and sent then-Vice President Richard Nixon to attend the opening — but things were about to take a turn for the worse.
Nixon and Soviet leader Khrushchev got into an argument over the topic of capitalism versus communism. Their conversation got so heated that the vice president of Pepsi intervened and offered the Soviet leader a cup of his delicious, sugary beverage — and he drank it.
Years later, the people of the Soviet Union wanted to strike a deal that would bring Pepsi products to their country permanently. However, there was an issue of how they would pay for their newest beverage, as their money wasn’t accepted throughout the world.
So, the clever country decided to buy Pepsi using a universal currency: vodka!
In the late-1980s, Russia’s initial agreement to serve Pepsi in their country was about to expire, but this time, their vodka wasn’t going to be enough to cover the cost.
So, the Russians did what any country would do in desperate times: They traded Pepsi a fleet of subs and boats for a whole lot of soda. The new agreement included 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate, and a destroyer.
The combined fleet was traded for three billion dollars worth of Pepsi. Yes, you read that right. Russia loves their Pepsi.
The historical exchange caused Pepsi to become the 6th most powerful military in the world, for a moment, before they sold the fleet to a Swedish company for scrap recycling.