This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

From its origins as an alternative to the GI .45-caliber pistol to its role introducing night vision to the American fighting man, the handy M-1 carbine remained relevant even during the age of the Kalashnikov.


For more than three decades, the M-1 carbine did more than it was ever expected to do. Long overshadowed by the iconic and heavy-hitting M-1 Garand, the M-1 Carbine began its existence in 1940 when the Secretary of War issued orders for the development of a lightweight and reliable “intermediate rifle.”

Although developed to replace the venerable M1911 pistol, other factors convinced the War Department to develop a carbine. The success of the German blitzkrieg in 1939 also had convinced the Army that rapidly deployed maneuver forces such as airborne soldiers or armored columns could punch through front lines and endanger support troops.

In theory, the M-1 carbine was never intended to replace the Garand as a battle rifle – it was supposed to arm cooks and clerks.

“It was a compromise,” said Doug Wicklund, senior curator at the NRA National Firearms Museum, Fairfax, Virginia. “They called it the ‘war baby,’ the younger sibling of the Garand, and it was for soldiers who were not on the front line, something that they would have a better chance of hitting the enemy and defending themselves with.”

But by 1943, up to 40 percent of some infantry divisions were carrying the.30-caliber M-1 carbine as their primary weapon, according to The M-1 Carbine, Leroy Thompson’s history of the weapon’s development and use.

“It was an easier gun to carry than the Garand,” Wicklund said. “It was shorter, it was lighter, it was reliable, it was easier to shoot and easier to clean, and it had a 15-round magazine. It was easy to tape two magazines together and get 30 rounds to fire. Stopping power was not there with the carbine, but you could fire it more times.”

Once the United States entered into World War II, the Army issued contracts ramping up production of the M-1 Carbine. Eventually, more than six million of the weapons in both semi-automatic and select fire models poured out of factories – two million more than the number of Garands produced during the war.

Winchester was one leading producer, but as American companies turned to war production Inland Manufacturing (a General Motors division and producer of a majority of the weapons), National Postal Meter, IBM and even Underwood Typewriter Co. cranked out hundreds of thousands of the carbines.

During World War II and the Korean War, it was completely possible for the Army to issue a company clerk an Underwood typewriter and an Underwood M-1 Carbine.

 

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

In 1944, it was modified to shoot both in semi-automatic and full-auto modes. Called the M-2, it spit out bullets at a rate of 900 rounds per minute.

When German troops received the history-changing MP 44 Sturmgewehr, the Wehrmacht put increased firepower in the hands of small units that could direct fully automatic fire at U.S. troops with an assault rifle. The M-1 Garand, hard-hitting as it was, carried only eight rounds to the MP 44’s 30 rounds contained in a detachable box magazine.

Inland Division produced 570,000 M-2 select fire carbines as a solution. The weapon has a selector switch on the left side of the receiver and it can hold a 30-round box magazine.

It wasn’t a Sturmgewehr, but it was available. “The U.S. military has always used what it has already,” said Wicklund. “We had it in inventory. They were everywhere.”

It was also the ideal platform for a technological development that presaged how the United States would own the night during future wars.

During the same year, a version designed to use the first U.S. night-vision gear (the “Sniperscope”) was used by Marines against the Japanese on Okinawa, leading to one out of three enemy soldiers killed by small arms fire dying because of the carbine’s prowess as a night-fighter’s tool.

The Electronic Laboratories Co. developed active infrared night vision in the form of the Sniperscope, a 20-pound package of telescopic sight, infrared flood light, image tube, cables and powerpack. The scope had a range of about 70 yards and could be mounted on either an M-1 or M-2 carbine.

The system not only saw action in the Pacific Theater during World War II but troops used it widely during the Korean War. For example, Marines using carbines with the Sniperscope would fire tracers down on the positions of North Korean and Chinese troops mounting night attacks so machinegunners could target the enemy with heavier fire.

Once again, the M-1 Carbine so frequently described with words such as “handy” and “reliable” was in the right place at the right time. One of the reasons it was selected as the weapon of choice for the Sniperscope was the technological marvel’s weight and bulk. The lightweight carbine kept the weight penalty on an already heavy weapon system to a minimum, a boon for the GI who had to slog the battlefield with it.

In some ways, the M-1 Carbine was the weapon that refused to say “die.”

In Vietnam, even though thousands of the new M-16s had been issued to U.S. troops including the Special Forces in 1964 many Green Berets preferred the M-1 carbine, the weapon of their fathers’ wars.

What’s more, by that time the Viet Cong were was almost certainly wielding the more modern Kalashnikov assault rifle. As for the montagnard tribesman Green Berets trained and led, they can be clearly seen in photographs of the times carrying some of the 800,000 M-1 carbines the U.S. sent to South Vietnam.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Rhodesian Fireforce took airborne operations to a whole new level

By the 1970’s, the Rhodesian Security Forces were facing a growing and determined insurgency in the civil war known as the “Rhodesian Bush War.” Faced with increased threats, manpower and equipment shortages, and a large territory to cover, they needed a new tactic to deal effectively with rebel groups. This led the Rhodesian Light Infantry to the development of the fireforce, a vertical envelopment technique involving light infantry, helicopters, and paratroopers in a rapidly deployable posture.


 

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

A fireforce was equipped with four helicopters, one C-47 Dakota transport aircraft, and a light attack aircraft. The helicopters were of two types; the K-Car and the G-Car. The K-Car was so called because it was the ‘killer’ with its 20mm cannon and functioned as the command and control aircraft. The G-Cars served as gunships with machine guns and as transports for heliborne troops, though they were only capable of carrying four combat loaded troops at a time. The unit was also supported by vehicles, called the ‘Landtail’ that supported the deployment of the airborne component. Weapons were standard for Africa at the time – FN FALs and FN MAG machine guns.

A unit set to a fireforce mission was distinctly organized from standard infantry units. Instead of fire teams, squads, and platoons, the Fire Force was composed of ‘waves’ that were broken down into stops, also known as sticks, each consisting of four men, due to the space constraints on the G-Cars. Each stop had a stick leader, machine gunner, and two riflemen, one of which was also trained as a medic. The fireforce airborne component was composed of eight stops. Stops one through three were assigned to the G-Cars while stops four through eight were assigned as paratroopers. These forces, along with the light attack aircraft, constituted the first wave. The remaining men assigned to the fireforce were in vehicles as the ‘Landtail,’ or second wave.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

There were three main fireforce units located at three bases throughout the country, ready to respond to a contact or sighting of enemy forces by the Selous Scouts. That’s when the excitement began. Once contact was reported, a siren would sound alerting the fireforce. The first three stops would board helicopters while the rest would quickly don parachutes with the help of off-duty team members. The airborne component would rush to the objective where the fireforce commander would determine a drop zone and position the heliborne stops to encircle the rebels. Once on the ground, the stops would attempt to stop the enemy. They would act as blocking positions for the sweep element, usually paratroopers, creating the classic hammer and anvil movement. Combined with circling gunships and close-air support, this method proved deadly effective, resulting in a kill ratio of better than 80:1.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

The fireforce became the primary tactic of the Rhodesian security forces. By 1977, all infantrymen would be trained as paratroopers. While on a ‘bush trip’ – usually lasting about six weeks – the men on a fireforce would rotate between heliborne insertion, paratrooper, landtail, and off-duty. After a bush trip, the men were given ten days rest before returning to the field. This allowed for a very high ops tempo. As the fireforce was perfected and the insurgency gained strength, this meant that Rhodesian soldiers were called on more and more to conduct missions. In his book Fireforce: One Man’s War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry Chris Cocks tells of men making three combat jumps in a single day. This led to a truly staggering number of jumps for many members of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, unmatched by any other unit in the world.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

The fireforce was not enough to keep the Rhodesians from losing the war and the method was never adopted by other militaries. The French had used paratroopers extensively in Indochina while the Americans preferred to use only helicopters. With Rhodesia turning over to majority African control and becoming Zimbabwe, the Rhodesian Light Infantry and fireforces were disbanded. Though it would go down in history as one of the most effective counter-insurgency forces ever conceived.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Keep Women’s History Month alive with these 10 books

When you open a history book, you’re usually confronted with the faces and stories of white men of the past. And while we’re not here to diminish the accomplishments of those men, it’s also high time we shine a brighter light on the women who fought tirelessly in their shadows. Their bravery paved the way for the Michelle Obamas and Elizabeth Warrens of our present-day—an era in which female voices are finally being heard through movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp.


Also read: 11 classic banned books written by veterans

March is Women’s History Month, so we’ve curated a list of insightful reads about the powerful ladies who came before us. From tales about “witches” to those of female war correspondents, these books tell the stories of women who changed history and thus shaped the future.

1. Daughters of the Inquisition

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(Seven Springs Press)

By Christina Crawford

After years of suffering, the author of Mommie Dearest rose above past traumas by connecting with—and harnessing—an inner fortitude. But what exactly are the origins of this strength, and what was its legacy? This is the question that forms the soul of Crawford’s latest book, Daughters of the Inquisition, which examines the colorful history and indefatigable spirit of womanhood. From the Goddess-worshipping Neolithic period to the violent misogyny of the 12th century, Crawford peels back 10,000 years to reveal the roles, battles, and unique powers of the female kind.

2. The Gentle Tamers

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(Open Road Media)

By Dee Brown

Our perception of the Old West is clouded by gun-slinging cowboys, saloon brawls, and John Wayne, but its history is far richer—and far more female—than we’ve been told. In The Gentle Tamers, the author of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee wipes the dust from our eyes, revealing the forgotten but indelible marks left by the female adventurers and pioneers of the region.

3. The Women Who Wrote the War

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(Skyhorse)

By Nancy Caldwell Sorel

Take a trip back to the Second World War, and discover the astonishing tales of its courageous female correspondents. One-hundred writers are covered in The Women Who Wrote the War, and author Nancy Caldwell Sorel draws multi-dimensional portraits of familiar faces—reporter Martha Gellhorn, for example—but never overlooks the accomplishments of more under-the-radar heroines. It’s a comprehensive and inspiring chronicle of the fiercely independent ladies who were soldiers armed with mighty pens.

Related: 6 women just earned the Expert Infantryman Badge

4. To Believe in Women

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(HMH)

By Lillian Faderman Professor

Female trailblazers like Eleanor Roosevelt and Susan B. Anthony were “women who lived in committed relationships with other women”—and, according to Lillian Faderman, were likely lesbians. In her book, Faderman argues that it was these women who, bolstered by the unique power of their sexual orientation, were able to instigate the social and feminist movements of the past two centuries. Featuring the recovered, eye-opening correspondence of Faderman’s subjects, To Believe in Women is an unmissable tribute to the lesbians who changed America.

5. The Peabody Sisters

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(HMH)

By Megan Marshall

While we’re all familiar with the Brontë brood, there’s another trio of sisters worth your attention: the Peabodys. Elizabeth, the eldest, matriculated in the same social circles as Henry Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, and ultimately sparked the Transcendentalist movement of the 19th century. Mary, next in line, was a notable writer and the wife of Horace Mann, a major player in U.S. educational reform. Meanwhile the youngest, Sophia, found fame as a painter and a husband in author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Each Peabody woman comes alive in Megan Marshall’s Pulitzer Prize finalist, which is at once a three-part biography as well as an overall study of a remarkable sisterhood.

6. Once Upon a Pedestal

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(Open Road Media)

By Emily Hahn

If you don’t know the name “Emily Hahn,” it’s high-time you do. As a young woman, Hahn briefly left the arts to pursue an education in engineering. After becoming her university program’s first female graduate, Hahn traveled America disguised as a man, established herself as a writer, hiked across Central Africa, and taught English in Shanghai. Once Upon a Pedestal is Hahn’s account of these extraordinary adventures which, though not widely known, informed her novels and reshaped our perception of Asia and Africa.

7. Witches, Midwives, and Nurses

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(The Feminist Press at CUNY)

By Barbara Ehrenreich

Originally published in 1973, this feminist classic examines the complex relationship between women and the medicine. Of particular focus is the infamous persecution of “witches”—or, rather, the demonization of women healers—by male doctors wanting to maintain absolute control over the field. Thus, Ehrenreich’s book not only provides a fascinating history of female oppression in the medical community, but also sheds light on how these practices continue to effect the modern-day healthcare system.

More: The 9 best nonfiction history audiobooks you can get right now

8. When and Where I Enter

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(HarperCollins)

By Paula J. Giddings

When and Where I Enter explores black women’s contribution to the creation and evolution of present-day America—and boy, is it a large one. From activist Ida B. Wells to civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, these women instigated major social and political reform by bucking against the racism and sexism of their time. Giddings’ discussion of “white feminism” also feels especially prevalent today.

9. The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women Across the Ancient World

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(Princeton University Press)

By Adrienne Mayor

Amazons have recently come into mainstream consciousness thanks to the blockbuster film, Wonder Woman — but did the likes of Hippolyta and Antiope exist outside of Greek mythology? Adrienne Mayor’s book offers a resounding “yes.” Through an analysis of archaeological findings, cultural traditions, and ancient myths, Mayor highlights how real-life warrior women from Egypt, India, and more inspired your favorite Amazonian war and love stories.

10. The Woman’s Hour

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(Penguin Publishing Group)

By Elaine Weiss

It’s 1920, and all of America is waiting to see if women will finally be granted the right to vote—a decision that lies in the hands of swing-state Tennessee. But the country is divided: The suffragettes stand on one side while their enemy is a smattering of big-wig politicians and fearful moralists. Elaine Weiss studies this landmark moment in The Woman’s Hour, following a diverse group of women as they fight for their freedom and change the course of American history.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how a dress code change won us Guadalcanal

The spirit of the thing started with neckties.


It was the first year of full-on naval warfare in the Pacific following the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. Navy had a morale problem.

In the absence of Vice Adm. William “Bull” Halsey, overall command of U.S. operations in the region had collapsed into timorous indecision and defensive-mindedness. After a string of bold victories by sea, land, and air, the US was losing the initiative and it was entirely a question of leadership.

The opening months of the Pacific campaign against Imperial Japan were defined by a profound shift in how the naval brass regarded warfare at sea. They went into it thinking that winning sea engagements would amount to outgunning the enemy, battleship vs. battleship, while their aircraft carriers provided defensive air support against submarines and shore-based bombers.

That proved to be firmly 19th century thinking, as vessel-based aircraft quickly proved themselves deadly against ships of all sizes and armaments.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
Naval air power was where it was at. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
The USS Enterprise endures an attack from a Japanese bomber during the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons )

Halsey was an early adopter of the aircraft carrier’s offensive potential, summing up his preferred strategy as follows:

…get to the other fellow with everything you have as fast as you can and…dump it on him.

Halsey was a born brawler.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

He made his name going punch for punch with the Japanese, always on offense, always pressing the message that, far from being cowed by its losses at Pearl Harbor, the U.S. was energized and hungry for a fight.

Halsey’s Carrier Division 2 had spent the spring of 1942 executing a series of run-and-gun raids that had captured the imaginations of the public and the momentum of battle for the U.S. His audacity culminated with the Doolittle Raid, the retaliatory bombing run against Tokyo, which shattered Japanese certainty that their homeland was unassailable.

But Halsey was sidelined that summer by the mother-of-all tropical skin conditions, causing him to miss out on the Battle of Midway, where the U.S. decisively crippled the Imperial Japanese Navy. And as the war in the Pacific shifted to a series of amphibious assaults on Japanese-held islands, the momentum that Halsey had gained for the U.S. began to falter.

Nearly 11,000 Marines were dug in deep on Guadalcanal but were struggling to hold the position and it was becoming clear that Vice Adm. Robert L. Ghormley, the man in charge of Pacific operations, was catastrophically unfit for his job. He was tactically indecisive, wedded to defensive posturing and perhaps worst of all, was suffering from a deep malaise that was spreading to the soldiers, sailors and Marines in his command.

On Oct. 18, 1942, Adm. Nimitz sent the recuperated Halsey in to replace Ghormley as Commander of the South Pacific. And one of Halsey’s first moves in that capacity was to issue an order stripping neckties from the uniforms of all naval officers.

Imagine the power of the message that order sent to sailors demoralized by weeks of stalemate and command-chain confusion. Like a gentleman who’d endured one insult too many, the Navy would now remove its finery and invite the Japanese to settle this little disagreement outside. All bets were off. All points of civility were suspended. Halsey’s Navy would be settling things old school, bare knuckles and mean. Reinvigorated by Halsey’s leadership, the Navy went on to win a series of pitched naval engagements that helped secure Guadalcanal for America.

Halsey’s strategy of pure aggression would get him into trouble in the later stages of the war, but the importance of his leadership at a critical phase of the War of the Pacific is undeniable. His ability to fire the fighting spirit, to boost morale in his command, was indispensable as the U.S. vied for control of the Pacific against the most implacable enemy it had every faced.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Centurion tank was tough enough to survive a nuclear blast

The British-made Centurion tank was first developed in 1945 but came much too late to be used in World War II. The British needed a larger, heavier version of the Comet. The Centurion also had sloped armor and a more powerful main turret.


 

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
The British Centurion in Korea. (Australia War Memorial photo)

 

The tank was also an effective deterrent in postwar Western Europe. NATO planners saw it as a perfect counter to the Russian T-34. The Centurion served in the Korean War, a dominant partner in the UN forces’ breakout from Pusan. The tank operated in the subzero temperatures and even on the tops of mountains. Australians in the Vietnam War also used it, as did India and Pakistan (their wars pitted Centurion tanks against other Centurion tanks), Sweden, South Africa, Jordan, and Israel. The British used the Centurion through the 1991 Gulf War.

 

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
Centurions of the Israeli Defence Forces in the Negev (photo by Fritz Cohen)

The Nuclear Test

Besides powering through the high mountains and subzero temperatures in North Korea and fighting through the dense, sweltering jungles of Vietnam, the biggest testament to the Centurion’s toughness came in Australia in 1953. An Australian Army Centurion Mark 3 was left at ground zero of a 9.1 kiloton nuclear detonation — engine running and loaded down with ammo, supplies, and a mannequin crew.

When test crews inspected the tank after the blast, they found the vehicle intact, if heavily sandblasted. The only reason the engine stopped was because the tank ran out of fuel. While the blast wave would have killed a real tank crew at that distance from the epicenter, the researchers realized they could have driven the tank off the test site.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
The actual post-blast Atomic Tank

The actual tank that withstood the nuclear blast, naturally nicknamed The Atomic Tank, was used by the Australians in the Vietnam War. It took an RPG and stayed in the fight during an engagement with the North Vietnamese.

Israel, Jordan, Libya, and South Africa still use variants of the Centurion today.

Articles

This is what made ancient Roman gladiators so fierce

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  The sport of gladiator fighting in the arenas of ancient Rome was just as popular as boxing and MMA are today. Gladiator combat was slightly more gangsta, though, seeing as how those warriors fought to the death during brutal tournaments.

Some historians believe the gladiator games started as ceremonial offerings for the funerals of wealthy aristocrats. At the height of the sport, the fighters were mostly made up of prisoners of war, slaves, and sentenced criminals, but they could even be pitted against animals like tigers or crocodiles.

The Coliseum in Rome was even home to aquatic battles, when the arena was flooded and fighters attacked from boats.

They lived in privately-owned schools that doubled as their training and prison grounds. Reportedly, after Spartacus led an uprising in 73 B.C., the empire began to regulate the gladiator schools to prevent further rebellions.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic.

During the games, each gladiator fought with various weapons and levels of armor.

A “Secutor” was a heavily armored fighter who competed using a short sword. A “Retiarius” battled his foes wearing light armor, a trident, and occasionally a weighted net. The “Vremea” wore a helmet with a stylized fish on the crest.

The gladiators ate a high energy diet consisting of barley, beans, oatmeal, dry fruit, and ash, which was believed to fortify the body. Very few of them fought in more than 10 battles or made it past the age of 30 before getting killed.

The Roman empire housed more than 400-arenas and displayed over 8,000 gladiator deaths per year. Learn more about their fighting in the video at the top.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This fighter pilot shot down more than 20 enemy aircraft, earning him the title ‘Quad Jungle Ace’

Sitting in the driver’s seat with his foot on the gas, Major Gerald “Jerry” Johnson drove to the Alert Tent in the early morning hours of Oct. 13, 1943, as jeeps carrying other pilots from the 9th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group, Fifth Air Force trailed in a column behind. On his mind were the names of other pilots who were lost in a mission the night before, friends of his with whom he had shared pancakes in the mornings and gambled his valuables away in late-night poker games. They were briefed on the mission and sat around for hours in boredom at Horanda Air Field, a large stretch of land that was formerly just another patch in the New Guinea jungle.

When Johnson and his squadron of eight P-38 Lightnings were alerted, they took to the air to intercept a massive aerial convoy of 18 dive bombers supported by 20 agile fighters. They were outnumbered and outgunned, but Johnson wasn’t entirely concerned about that as all he could focus on was reaching the enemy before they dropped their payload over Oro Bay, an advanced military shipping installation.


This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

9th Fighter Squadron, 49th Fighter Group. Squadron posing in front of a P-38 Lightning commemorating the first USAAF pilots to land and operate in the Philippines after the landing on Leyte, October 1944. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As his plane climbed through the clouds, the bombers came closer into his sights. He maneuvered his aircraft and issued orders over the radio to communicate their approach. The Japanese were unaware that they were being trailed in the air when Johnson and his squadron ambushed the enemy, walking his rounds from the nose of the aircraft into one of the dive bombers, igniting the plane’s fuselage.

Black smoke and a flash of flames burst through the plane’s side as the bomber plummeted out of the sky. The Japanese zeros peeled off, and an all-out dogfight ensued. On numerous passes, Johnson evaded the tracers shot by Japanese fighters, diving and climbing, rolling and tilting before his rounds struck and downed a second enemy bomber. Their surprise attack netted him three aerial victories, two bombers and one enemy fighter, a solid day’s work that impeded the enemy formation from reaching its target.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

A P-38 Lightning prepares to land after flying a heritage flight with the F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter April 3, 2016, during the Luke Air Force Base air show, 75 Years of Airpower. Photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller/U. S. Air Force, courtesy of DVIDS.

The large enemy force diverted away from their intended target as Johnson’s small but ferocious display of aerial finesse surprised and overwhelmed the Japanese. For his actions on this day he was awarded his first of two Distinguished Service Crosses. In his following tours, Johnson was a nightmare for the Japanese in the Pacific, earning 22 aerial victories with 21 probables to secure his status as a quadruple ace (five aerial victories are required to achieve “ace” status).

Sadly, while on a courier mission after the war, the B-17 or B-25 he was in entered severe weather, and a violent mixture of rain, lightning, and turbulence knocked out all radio communications. One of the passengers neglected to bring along a parachute, and knowing the consequences of giving up his own, Johnson handed it to the passenger, who then bailed out of the plane. Everyone with a parachute was rescued and survived, while Johnson fought with the controls until he perished. Accounts vary as to whether he was the pilot or a passenger on the plane.

Johnson’s remains were lost with the rest of the aircraft. Since he wasn’t on a combat mission, his heroic last act on Oct. 7, 1945, did not warrant a posthumous Purple Heart; however, he was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for heroism at the risk of life in a non-combat-related incident. A hero in the sky even on his final flight. Gerald R. Johnson is sometimes confused with Gerald W. Johnson, another ace pilot during World War II, but the latter’s aerial dominance was in the European Theater and not the Pacific.

Butch O’Hare: The Irish-American Who Became the US Navy’s First Combat Ace

www.youtube.com

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


MIGHTY HISTORY

How leftover WWII jeeps kicked off a public transportation craze

The U.S. Army Truck, 1/4-ton, 4×4, Command Reconnaissance, better known as the jeep, was the primary light wheeled transport vehicle of the U.S. military during WWII. President Eisenhower called it, “one of the three decisive weapons the U.S. had during WWII.” By the end of the war, nearly 650,000 Jeeps had been produced. They saw use across the globe from Africa, to Europe and Asia. After the war, many jeeps were sold to or given to locals, or simply left behind rather than having to be transported back to the states. In the Philippines, hundreds of jeeps made their way into the hands of locals.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
U.S. troops with jeeps in the Philippines (Public Domain)

Reportedly, the Philippines saw a huge black market for surplus jeeps after WWII. Regardless of how they were left behind, the local Filipinos saw the jeep as a rugged, dependable and adaptable vehicle. These qualities made it perfect for the post-war Filipinos who were still recovering from years of Japanese occupation. Many Filipinos lost their mode of transportation, be it car, horse or bicycle, during the war.

The Filipinos stripped the military jeeps down and rebuilt them to suit their needs. The soft-top utilitarian trucks were given metal roofs for shade from the tropical sun, painted with vibrant colors, and adorned with chrome-plated ornaments. The decoration of the jeeps helped to return some element of beauty to the country’s capital, Manila. Known as the Pearl of the Orient, the city saw heavy fighting and suffered a great deal of damage during WWII.

The backs of the jeeps were also altered. The two side-by-side rear seats were replaced with parallel benches in order to accommodate more passengers. Over time, the vehicles were lengthened and given a longer wheelbase to increase their passenger capacity. The stretched jeeps became a popular form of public transportation and started to operate on regular routes like buses. Operating like jitneys, the jeeps became known as jeepneys.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
A jeepney in Davao City, Philippines (University of Hawaii at Mānoa)

Through the second half of the 20th century, the jeepney became a cultural icon of the Philippines. It was used by school children and adults alike and served as a major form of public transportation across the country, and especially in Manila. Fares were posted on the jeepney itself and people could hop on and off at their leisure. Passengers hanging on to the back or riding on top of a full jeepney was a common sight. Jeepneys are also heavily decorated and even themed by their drivers.

The heavy use of and increased demand for the jeepney quickly stretched the supply of WWII-surplus jeeps. Modern jeepneys are produced and maintained with imported parts, generally from Japan or South Korea. However, the stretched jeep appearance is maintained from the original jeepneys.

Seeing the widespread use of the jeepneys, the Philippine government began to regulate them. Drivers must now obtain a special jeepney license, routes are prescribed, and fares are fixed. However, private jeepneys still operate outside of this governmental oversight.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
There’s still room for a few more (Loyola Marymount University)

Though indigenous to the Philippines, the jeepney has been exported. Nearby Papua New Guinea determined that importing new buses and vans for their public transportation would be too expensive. The cheap and reliable jeepneys were suggested as a more affordable alternative to conventional vehicles. In 2004, 4,000 jeepneys were exported from the Philippines to Papua New Guinea.

Today, there are many threats that could lead to the removal of the old jeepneys. Increased restrictions and regulations on emissions have led to many builders abandoning jeepney production for other products or going bankrupt entirely. Modern mini-buses and ride-sharing services also cut into the traditional jeepney passenger market. Despite these factors, the jeepney continues to drive the roads of the Philippines and carry on the legacy of the WWII jeep.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
A collection of jeepneys in Manila (Stanford University)
MIGHTY HISTORY

How ‘having guts’ actually meant being an able U.S. troop

These days, having the guts to do something just means someone is brave enough to take on what seems to be an overwhelming undertaking. Any herculean task could require guts: quitting a job, suing city hall, or voting third party could all require a gut check by today’s standards. In days past, however, a gut check was only required by the soldiers who were about to fight in combat.


This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

For the record, it still is.

Armies in the days of yore – before the 20th Century – faced very different problems than the ones deployed American troops face today. Where we have been known to wince every time we see a runner missing his reflective belt or wonder why I always get the goddamned vegetarian MRE, the Army of the pre-World War I days was more worried about things like clean drinking water, cholera, and dysentery.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

It’s amazing how they can smile even when the stupid chow hall is out of Diet Coke *again*

In days gone by, if someone asked a soldier if they had the guts to fight the coming day or the next day, it wasn’t just an affirmation of macho willpower, it was a real question of a soldier’s ability to maintain his position and discipline in the ranks instead of running off to the latrine every ten minutes to evacuate his bowels.

The asker’s “gut check” was real – and literal – checking to see if his comrade in arms was suffering from diarrhea or a similar illness of the bowels that would keep him from performing at the front lines. Maintaining the integrity of certain infantry formations used to be integral to the survival of the whole unit.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

“Jesus, what is that smell, Kenneth?”

At the time of the U.S. Civil War, microbes were only just being accepted as cause for disease. In that war, 620,000 men were killed, but disease actually killed two-thirds of those men. A single illness such as measles could wipe out entire units. Battlefield sanitation was the order of the day, but if Civil War troops chose to ignore an order, that would be the one. Latrines were dug near camps, wells, and rivers as horse and mule entrails and manure permeated their camps.

As a result, dysentery was the single greatest killer of Civil War soldiers. Having the guts to fight only meant you were one of very few troops not suffering from the trots.

Articles

This animated map shows Gettysburg in a whole new way

The Civil War Trust, known for its great maps and historical accounts of the war, has branched into animated maps that show move-by-move accounts of important battles like Antietam, Vicksburg and Shiloh.


The trust’s still maps are known for their accuracy and detail, and these new animated maps continue that tradition. The big difference is the motion; it’s like watching the battle play out on a sand table during a ROC drill.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(GIF: YouTube/Civil War Trust)

A narrator provides context for the action, telling viewers everything from how the crippling heat affected the repeated clashes at Little Round Top to why Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles made his ill-advised deployment of artillery on the Union’s front.

Meanwhile, short video clips try to put the viewer on the ground with soldiers during the most fierce and important events, showing things like when Maj. Gen. John Reynolds was shot in the neck and killed.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
(GIF: YouTube/Civil War Trust)

The full videos for each battle are a little long, about 15-20 minutes each. But they let you get a better understanding of each battle that you can knock out in a lunch break. Check out Gettysburg below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUKreep2P1M
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Vietnam War bridge raid was a lesson in adaptive air combat

It was like trying to hit a needle in a haystack, kill a fly with a sledgehammer, or whatever analogy you prefer for using brute force to apply surgical precision in the middle of a swirling ambush.

By analogy and history, the attack on Dragon’s Jaw is a bizarre mismatch of weapons to mission. It is another hard lesson for U.S. air power in the ’60’s. Several decades of evolving doctrine and aircraft development have led the U.S. Air Force in a different direction from how air wars will actually be fought in the future. Instead of long range strategic nuclear attack, tactical precision anti-insurgent strike is the emerging mission. The U.S. will continue to learn that hard lesson on this day.


By any measure this is an impressive air armada: Sixty-six advanced supersonic fighters and strike aircraft from America’s “Century Series”. The main strike package is 46 Republic F-105 Thunderchiefs with massive bomb loads. The defensive escort is 21 North American F-100 Super Sabres holstering a covey of air-to-air missiles. The strike and escort fighters are supported by an enormous number of tanker, surveillance, rescue and reconnaissance planes. They all have one objective: to kill “The Dragon”.

The Dragon is the Thanh Hóa Bridge, near the geographic center of North Vietnam. The North Vietnamese nicknamed the bridge “Hàm Rồng” or “Dragon’s Jaw” since its massive steel and concrete construction seem like a row of sturdy teeth set in the mouth of a deadly dragon. The Dragon itself is made up of one of the most sophisticated integrated air defense networks on earth modeled closely after the most sophisticated, the Soviet Union’s.

Ironically, if this same task force had been attacking the Soviet Union with nuclear weapons their results would have almost certainly been better. That is the mission these aircraft were actually designed for. But the Dragon is a small, critical target, and an elusive one. Even though it’s not an all-out nuclear war with the Red Menace, the Dragon must be slayed in the ongoing proxy war that is Vietnam.

The Thanh Hóa Bridge would be a tough target to hit even without an advanced, integrated network of radar guided anti-aircraft guns, SAMs and MiGs surrounding it. The bridge has only a single one-meter wide railroad track on its deck. It is 540 feet long and 54 feet wide at its widest point. From the attack altitude of about 10,000 feet it is difficult to see well at high-speed.

The flight of F-105 Thunderchiefs break into sections of four aircraft each. Today they are armed with 750 pound “dumb” bombs. The day before a nearly identical strike also failed to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw when the Thunderchiefs attacked with crude AGM-12 Bullpup guided missiles and 750 pound dumb bombs. The AGM-12 missiles, an early attempt at “smart” weapons, failed significantly. Remarkably, even though some of the 750 pounders did hit the bridge, they had little effect. The first attempt at breaking the Dragon’s Jaw on April 3rd failed spectacularly. The bridge proved sturdier than expected, the weapons less precise than hoped.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
Front view of the F-105.
(US Air Force photo)

Having abandoned the AGM-12 Bullpup missiles from the day before the F-105 Thunderchiefs would strike with only dumb bombs today.

The F-105 was originally designed to carry a nuclear weapon enclosed within its streamlined fuselage using an internal bomb bay. It was supposed to attack a target from low altitude at Mach 2, “toss” the nuclear weapon at the target in a pop-up attack, and escape at twice the speed of sound.

Today the big F-105 “Thuds” lug a junkyard of dumb bombs under their sleek swept wings and below their sinewy Coke-bottle curved fuselage. The yardsale of external bombs and bomb racks creates enormous drag on the needle-nosed “Thud”, slowing it to below supersonic speed and making it vulnerable.

As predictably as a firing line of advancing redcoat soldiers facing off against Native American insurgents in the Revolutionary War, the Thunderchiefs returned the very next day, marching across the aerial battlefield in broad daylight. The North Vietnamese had been ready the day before. Today they were angry, battle hardened and ready.

According to historical accounts ranging from Air Force Magazine to Wikipedia, four of eight lightweight, nimble, subsonic MiG-17s (NATO codename “Fresco”) of the North Vietnamese 921st “Sao Do” (Red Star) Fighter Regiment led by North Vietnamese flight leader Trần Hanh visually acquired an attack formation of four F-105Ds at 10:30 AM.

The Thunderchiefs were just starting to drop their bombs and already committed to their attack run. Flight leader Trần Hanh ordered his wingman, Pham Giay, to cover his attack on the F-105s. Hanh dove in through light cloud cover, achieving complete surprise. He opened fire on the F-105 with his heavy 37mm cannon at extremely close range, only 400 meters. Having attacked from above and behind in a classic ACM (Air Combat Maneuvering) scenario, Hanh preserved energy and positioning. The hapless F-105, piloted by USAF Major Frank E. Bennett of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, was pummeled by the MiG’s cannon shells. It erupted in a comet of plunging fire and hurtled downward toward the Gulf of Tonkin. Major Bennett did not survive.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
North Vietnamese MiG-17 pilot Tran Hanh shown after the war.

A small, nimble, lightweight fighter had just gotten the better of a large, heavily loaded fighter-bomber despite having a substantial escort from F-100 Super Sabres. The Super Sabre fighter escort was out of position to respond to the MiG-17 ambush. A brutally hard lesson in the future of air combat was in session.

The melee continued when another North Vietnamese MiG-17 pilot reportedly named “Le Minh Huan” downed a second F-105D, this one piloted by USAF Capt. J. A. Magnusson. Capt. Magnusson reportedly radioed that he was heading for the Gulf of Tonkin after being hit. He struggled to maintain control of his heavily damaged Thunderchief as he tried to escape North Vietnam. Capt. Magnusson was forced to eject twenty miles from the island of Hon Me, and was eventually listed as missing in action, then killed in action after a 48-hour search turned up nothing.

Painfully, the U.S. Air Force confirmed they had lost two F-105s and pilots in the second attack on the Dragon’s Jaw. Even worse, the bridge remained intact, a straight, iron grin at the futile attack of the Americans.

After the failed F-105 strikes and aircraft losses the Americans were desperate to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw bridge. Author Walter J Boyne wrote in Air Force Magazine that the U.S. developed a bizarre, massive pancake-shaped bomb weighing two and a half tons and measuring eight feet in diameter but only thirty inches thick. The gigantic, explosive Frisbee was dropped from the back of a lumbering C-130 Hercules transport and was intended to float down river toward the bridge where it would be detonated by a magnetic fuse. Several of the weapons were actually dropped, one C-130 was lost.

The bridge remained intact.

Early laser guided bombs were also employed against the Dragon’s Jaw with modest success. An attack on May 13, 1972 by a flight of 14 F-4 Phantoms used early “smart” bombs and actually knocked the bridge surface off its pilings, briefly rendering it inoperable and forcing repairs.

But the bridge still stood.

Attacks on the Dragon’s Jaw continued until October 6, 1972. A flight of four Vought A-7 Corsair attack aircraft from the aircraft carrier USS America (CV-66) was finally successful in breaking the bridge in half. They used the AGM-62 Walleye guided bomb and 500-pound Mk.84 general purpose “dumb” bombs. The bridge was finally severed at its center piling.

Author Walter Boyne wrote about the final strike, “At long last, after seven years, 871 sorties, tremendous expenditure in lives, 11 lost aircraft, and a bewildering array of expended munitions, the Dragon’s Jaw was finally broken.” The key lesson from the brutal campaign to destroy the Dragon’s Jaw was that tactics and equipment need to be adaptable and precise in the modern battlespace.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
USAF reconnaissance photo of the Thanh Hu00f3a Bridge in North Vietnam.
(US Air Force photo)

The F-105 Thunderchief was an impressive aircraft, but was forced into a brutal baptism of fire over Vietnam during an era when air combat was in transition. As a result, the F-105 suffered heavy losses. The history of the aircraft went on the include an unusual accident with the U.S. Air Force Flight Demonstration Team, The Thunderbirds. On May 9, 1964 Thunderbird Two, an F-105B piloted by USAF Captain Eugene J. Devlin, snapped in half during the pitch-up for landing at the old Hamilton Air Base in California. The Thunderchief only flew in six official flight demonstrations with the Thunderbirds.

Interestingly, and perhaps ominously, the U.S. Air Force’s F-35A Lightning II shares a remarkable number of similarities with the Republic F-105 Thunderchief used in the raid on the Dragon’s Jaw in 1965.

According to author Dr. Carlo Kopp, the F-35A dimensions are oddly similar to the F-105. But among several critical differences is the wing surface area, with the F-35A having larger wing surface area and the resultant lower wing loading than the F-105. Other major differences are the F-35A’s low observable technology and greatly advanced avionics, data collecting, processing and sharing capability. Finally, the F-35A is purpose-built for a wide range of mission sets, whereas the F-105 was predominantly a high-speed, low-level nuclear strike aircraft poorly suited for conventional strike.

Lessons learned from the F-105 strike on the Dragon’s Jaw, the success of the nimble, lightweight North Vietnamese MiG-17s and the need for better precision strike capability are now deeply ingrained in U.S. Air Force doctrine. But revisiting this story is a vital part of understanding the evolving mission of the air combat warfighter and the high cost of failing to adapt in the constantly evolving aerial battlespace.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only Marine Corps Commandant without a portrait

The house of the Commandant of the Marine Corps is one of the oldest continuously-occupied buildings in the capital of the United States. Steeped in American history, the house was spared the torch when the British captured and burned Washington, D.C., during the War of 1812. All but the first two Commandants have lived in the 15,000 square-foot house and, since 1916, all the historical occupants of the house were honored with portraits by order of then-Secretary of the Navy, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

All but one, that is. There have been 37 Commandants of the Marine Corps but the house holds just 36 portraits.


The conspicuously missing spot belongs to Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, the fourth Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was the only Commandant ever to be fired from the position and the one with the fewest surviving records. No one knows what he looked like or even knows the location of his final resting place.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

This is not Lt. Col. Anthony Gale, this is Archibald Henderson, his successor.

Luckily for us, it’s not so much of a mystery anymore. The Marine Corps Association and Foundation’s Robert T. Jordan did an exhaustive work on the life of Lt. Col. Gale. He was born in Dublin, Ireland, around 1782 and his tenure as Commandant lasted from March 1819 until October 1820. In the decades that followed, Gale fell off the map. He’s seldom-mentioned in the annals of USMC history because the events surrounding his dismissal were said to have brought “embarrassment” upon himself and the United States Marine Corps. And so, he was pretty much lost to history entirely.

Until 1966, that is. General Wallace M. Greene Jr., the 23rd Commandant of the Marine Corps set up an investigation into the history of the Marine who fell from grace.

What was learned, however, was still very little. Anthony Gale arrived in the nascent United States in 1793. When President John Adams rebooted the Marine Corps (which was disbanded after the American Revolution), Gale was among the first to sign up as an officer. He commanded Marines guarding French prisoners of the quasi-War in Philadelphia and took to sea aboard the USS Ganges, where he fought Barbary Pirates and British sailors alike.

Gale cared deeply for his Marines and when a Naval officer, Lieutenant Allan MacKensie, arrested one of them aboard ship, Gale slapped the officer and challenged him to a duel — the duel that killed MacKensie. That’s not what got him the boot from the Corps, though. Superiors in Washington believed the duel would force Navy officers to treat Marines with respect.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

This is also not Gale. This is Maj. Gen. Charles Heywood, 9th Commandant and Medal of Honor Recipient.

His career continued, and soon he was married and saw service aboard the USS President and USS Constitution. By 1804, Gale was brevet Major Anthony Gale and his duties became focused on the recruitment and training of Marines. But soon, there was a new sheriff in town: Commandant Lt. Col. Frank Wharton took over for Commandant William Ward Burrows and Burrows looked at Gale with a much sharper eye than his predecessors.

Gale’s once squeaky-clean reputation soon became tainted by notes of alcoholism, sloppy management of the Marine Corps Barracks, and allegations that Gale used Marine Corps funds to renovate his personal home. Wharton took Gale to trial, but Gale was cleared of any wrongdoing. Still, Wharton sent Gale to the then-backwater of New Orleans – perhaps not the best place for a potential alcoholic, even in the early 19th Century. Still, when Wharton died in 1818, Anthony Gale was the most senior Marine Corps officer.

That did not mean he was promoted instantly.

No one forgot the charges filed against Gale, whether he was cleared or not. Others tried to have him removed from consideration to become the next Commandant. Gale was less concerned with the succession crisis and more concerned with keeping his head down and retaining his command. Even though he was not trying to be Commandant, that’s exactly what happened. He was promoted to Lt. Col. Commandant of the Marine Corps on March 3, 1819.

Gale had trouble with the position immediately. The Marine Corps became disorganized and undisciplined in the six months since Wharton died and he found himself spending more time fighting to re-organize it while the Navy Secretary and President Monroe would frequently counter his orders whenever it suited them — at the request of Gale’s subordinates. Overwhelmed and frustrated, Gale turned again to booze.

His mental state deteriorated as he became a drunkard, a womanizer, and verbally abusive toward his subordinates. Eventually, he was accused of drunkenness, conduct unbecoming an officer, signing false documents, and leaving his quarters without permission and was placed under house arrest. He was court-martialed and plead mental instability during the inquisition.

The court still found Gale guilty and removed him as the Commandant on Oct. 16, 1820, less than two years into his tenure.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

This is Maj. Gen. Ben Hebard Fuller, the 15th Commandant, who is both not Gale and consolidated the Fleet Marine Force Concept.

After being helped out of the service, Gale moved to his home in Philadelphia, but found no peace there. He eventually moved his family to a log cabin in Kentucky where he found that being a farmer was not in his blood, either. He turned back to his old friend, alcohol. He fought to be granted a pension for his instability, earning one 15 years later in what might be one of the earliest veteran disability claim suits.

According to Kentucky records found by the Marine Corps, Gale died of Lung Cancer in 1843 in Kentucky. A number of his sons also joined the Marine Corps, some of whom served in the Civil War. They apparently had no idea he served as Commandant, believing he was a quartermaster in the Corps. But Gale’s sons are also lost to history, so even if a supposed burial site is ever found, there’s no way to definitively prove it.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A look at President Reagan’s Star Wars program, 33 years later


Thirty-three years ago, the Star Wars program was easily the most elaborate and complex defense system ever conceived.

“I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete,” President Ronald Reagan said on March 23, 1983. The speech announced the creation of a new missile defense called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which quickly became known as Star Wars.

It envisaged a vast network of laser-armed satellites, air-based missiles, and ground-based interceptors missiles and electromagnetic railguns. These would be used to intercept incoming nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles from the Soviet Union and other enemies, all coordinated through advanced sensors linked to supercomputers, and protect the United States from direct nuclear attack. By being able to neutralize at least most of the incoming nuclear warheads, the U.S. hoped to show the Soviet Union that any potential nuclear confrontation was hopeless.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks
Graphic of how SDI would work.

The United States and the Soviet Union had flirted with anti-ballistic missile systems in the past.

The U.S. developed the Nike Zeus series of missiles in the early 1960s, which had some ABM capability, and the Soviet Union installed similar missiles around Moscow as protection against limited nuclear strikes. Neither could begin to effectively cope with large-scale nuclear attacks, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty of 1972 strictly limited the number of missile interceptors allowed. The U.S. closed its only missile defense system, called Safeguard, in 1976 after it had only been in operation for a few months and at enormous expense. But by the early 1980s, concerned with advancements in Soviet missiles, the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff revisited the idea, and presented it to Reagan. The idea of a defensive measure to nuclear war beyond simply building more nuclear warheads appealed to to the president.

The technical hurdles for a defense shield like Reagan proposed would be on a scale exceeding any defense project attempted before. The majority of the technology involved, such as weaponized lasers and electromagnetic railguns firing projectiles at extremely high speeds, did not even exist yet and might not be developed for decades. It entailed hundreds, if not thousands of advanced satellites and radars to even begin to aim all the weapons required to make a dent in the Soviet’s vast arsenal. Reagan himself admitted that SDI could easily take until the end of the century to be put into place.

The skepticism towards the program was intense from the beginning. Besides the clear violations of the ABM treaty such a system would represent, it would also extend the arms race even deeper into space.

Swarms of hunter-killer satellites and space-based lasers would be a frightening new frontier, and the Soviet Union would almost certainly try to respond in kind. The projected costs of the system ran into the hundreds of billions of dollars, and the inevitable cost overruns would balloon the Star Wars program to a huge percentage of the U.S. military budget. In the event of an a nuclear attack, unproven technology would have be coordinated on an unprecedented scale and work perfectly the first time. The hurdles involved were well-nigh insurmountable. Nevertheless, by 1987 more than $3 billion was being appropriated annually by Congress to start developing the technology, roughly $6.5 billion in today’s dollars.

This popular battle rifle was actually designed to arm clerks and cooks

There has been much debate about what sort of affect the Star Wars program had running up to the end of the Cold War, but there is little doubt that the Soviet Union took the program very seriously, and were genuinely concerned about an expanded arm’s race which had immense costs they could not begin to afford. But by the end of the Cold War, a missile-defense system on the scale of SDI was still a pipe-dream. In 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the idea was scaled back to a much more limited system capable of defending against small-scale strikes.

The simple fact was that the program was never going to be feasible against as many weapons as an opponent like the Soviet Union could put into play. By 1986 the Soviet’s had over 40,000 nuclear warheads stockpiled, including nearly a thousand ICBM’s with up to 10 warheads a piece that could shower and overwhelm any target within 30 minutes of launch. Soviet submarine’s armed with nuclear missiles could get close enough to U.S. coasts that their payloads could strike hundreds of targets faster than any conceivable system could detect and intercept them. Even if SDI could stop 90 percent of the Soviet’s warheads, the 10 percent that made it through would leave the United States in radioactive ruin.

Though scaled back, development on weapons envisaged in Star Wars continued throughout the 1990s. Its legacy can be seen in today’s Missile Defense Agency. The MDA has cost more than $100 billion since 2002, and the test results of its missile interceptors have been decidedly mixed.

After more than three decades of advances in technology, however more modest our nuclear defense program is now, it still might not be any more realistic than its Cold War forebears.

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