This raid became the US Navy's 'most bold and daring act' - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

The USS Philadelphia, a 1,240-ton, 36-gun sailing frigate, was built by the residents of Philadelphia who collected $100,000 to fund her construction during one week in June 1798. She was completed in November 1799 and was commissioned under the command of Capt. Stephen Decatur Sr.


Three years later, during the First Barbary War, the Philadelphia ran aground in Tripoli harbor and was captured. A year after that, Capt. Decatur’s son, Lt. Stephen Decatur Jr., devised a plan to keep the enemy from using the ship.

He was going to board her and retake her.

British Lord ­Horatio Nelson, then a vice admiral, would call the raid that followed “the most bold and daring act of the Age.” It would also make Lt. Decatur a national hero in the fledgling United States — its first military hero since the Revolution.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Lt. Stephen Decatur

As darkness fell on Feb. 16, 1804, Lt. Decatur and eighty volunteers, most of whom were Marines, sailed into Tripoli harbor aboard the USS Intrepid, a captured Tripolitan ship that had been disguised with short masts and triangular sails. She flew a British flag. On her deck were Sicilian volunteers who spoke Arabic while the Marines, dressed as Maltese sailors and Arab seamen, huddled below decks. The Intrepid had sailed with the USS Syren, which remained outside the harbor but would supply supporting fire if needed.

To avoid calling attention to the raid, the Marines were told that the use of firearms was prohibited.

As the Intrepid approached the Philadelphia, one of the Arabic-speaking volunteers called out that their ship had lost her anchors. They wanted to use the harbor to rig a replacement but needed a place to tie up for the night. Before her capture in 1803, the Philadelphia’s commander, Commodore William Bainbridge, had jettisoned some of the ship’s guns and three anchors, moved other guns forward, and had had her foremast cut down in an unsuccessful attempt to free her from the reef she was on. He had then tried to scuttle the ship but that, too, failed, and he and his crew became prisoners.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Commodore William Bainbridge

Bainbridge later called his capture “humiliating.”

The Philadelphia had not yet been fully repaired, and her upper yardarms and sails had also been removed.

The guard aboard the Philadelphia gave the disguised Intrepid permission to tie up alongside. When she did, Decatur yelled “Board!” He and his volunteers flooded aboard the captured US vessel armed with pikes and cutlasses.

“Not a man had been seen or heard to breathe a moment before,” the Intrepid’s Surgeon Mate Lewis Heermann later wrote; “at the next, the boarders hung on the ship’s side like cluster bees; and, in another instant, every man was on board the frigate.”

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Decatur boarding Philadelphia

In ten minutes of bloody, hand-to-hand fighting, the US volunteers killed twenty of the Tripolitan crew and captured one. The rest had fled the ship by jumping overboard. One American had been wounded.

Decatur had hoped to sail the Philadelphia out of the harbor after he had taken her but quickly realized that’d be impossible because of her condition. He also realized the smaller Intrepid would not be able to tow the Philadelphia. To keep the ship from being used against American vessels, there was only one alternative and his orders had been clear: If he couldn’t bring her out of the harbor, he was to burn her.

Decatur’s men fired the ship.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
They burned it well.

As the flames grew, the Americans returned to the Intrepid. Lt. Decatur was the last man to leave the Philadelphia, which he did with a dramatic leap into the Intrepid’s rigging.  As the Intrepid pulled away and headed toward the harbor entrance, the flames spread throughout the Philadelphia. The guns still aboard her, which were primed and ready, began firing in the heat, some of the discharges striking the town. The ship also began drifting as her ropes gave way. She finally grounded herself, still burning, on rocks near the entrance to the harbor. By then, the enemy in the town had realized what was happening and began firing on the Intrepid from the shore and preparing to launch small boats.

The American Syren replied with fire from the harbor mouth as Decatur and the Intrepid sailed out of the harbor, the American crew cheering.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The unbelievable survival of the USS Franklin

The Essex-class aircraft carrier is arguably one of the most successful carrier designs in the history of the world. None of these vessels were lost in combat, and the United States built 24 of these ships. Eight more were cancelled at the end of World War II, including two, USS Reprisal (CV 35) and USS Iwo Jima (CV 47) that had been partially completed.


Some of these ships had close calls. None more so than USS Franklin (CV 13). Even though she had the fifth hull number in the class, GlobalSecurity.org notes that she was the eighth to be commissioned.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

According to the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, the Franklin just missed the Battle of the Philippine Sea, arriving to join the Pacific Fleet on the last day of June. During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, she helped to sink the Japanese super-battleship Musashi, the destroyer Wakaba, and the carriers Chitose and Zuiho.

Shortly after that battle, Franklin was hit by a kamikaze, killing 56 of her crew and wounding 60. She ended up sailing back to Bremerton, Washington, for repairs. By February, she was ready to rejoin the fleet in time for the invasion of Okinawa. She arrived on March 15, 1945.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
The U.S. aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13) pictured burning in the waters off Japan after being hit during an air attack on March 19, 1945. The light cruiser USS Santa Fe (CL-60) is alongside. (US Navy photo)

Four days later, the Franklin was hit again. This time, it would create a catastrophic inferno. Two semi-armor piercing bombs went deep into the ship, one detonating in the hangar deck, the other causing ammunition, bombs, and rockets to explode. Of the ship’s crew, 724 were killed, 256 were wounded. Many survivors were either forced to abandon the ship or were blown overboard.

But the 106 officers and 604 men who were left followed the Navy’s famous admonition: Don’t Give Up the Ship. Numerous acts of individual heroism by many individuals, including Lieutenant Commander Joseph T. O’Callahan, ChC (SJ) USNR, the ship’s chaplain, and Lieutenant (junior grade) Donald A. Gary, got the ship back to New York, where she was repaired and remained in reserve until 1964.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
USS Franklin (CV 13) being moved while in reserve. (US Navy photo)

You can see a newsreel about this gallant carrier’s epic tale of survival below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-GcXXKON_Y
Articles

6 of the largest humanitarian missions in US military history

The U.S. has made a name for itself launching humanitarian missions around the world when disaster strikes. The operations save thousands of lives, relieve suffering, and burnish America’s reputation.


Here are six of the largest relief operations the U.S. has launched outside of its borders:

1. Japan

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
U.S. sailors and Marines aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan load humanitarian assistance supplies to support Operation Tomodachi. (Photo: U.S. Navy Seaman Nicholas A. Groesch)

In Operation Tamadachi, Marines rushed into the Sendai Airport and cleared broken vehicles and tons of debris from from runways to reopen the airport. The Navy sent in the USS Ronald Reagan and 21 other ships to help ferry supplies from international donors and relief agencies and to search the ocean for survivors swept into the sea.

Navy aircraft also moved Japanese personnel when necessary.

Unique to Operation Tamadachi was a nuclear component as the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant were heavily damaged. The U.S. assisted with coordinating and conducting aerial monitoring while Japanese forces evacuated the surrounding areas and worked to stabilize the facility.

The relief effort helped save thousands of lives, but the country still lost more than 20,000 people to the three earthquakes and follow-on tsunami in 2011.

2. Pakistan

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Local men assist U.S. Marines in offloading hundreds of bags of flour aboard a KC-130J Super Hercules aircraft at Gilgit Air Base, Pakistan, Sept. 8, 2010. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Andy M. Kin)

Massive floods in Pakistan in 2010 drove people from their homes, wiped out fields, and increased the spread of diseases. The U.S. and other nations responded with a massive relief effort that helped ferry needed supplies. The U.S delivered its first 5 million tons of supplies in just over a month of relief and delivered 20 million tons before the end of operations.

Thirty military helicopters were pressed into the effort alongside a fleet of C-130s and C-17s. The C-17 is the U.S. military’s second-largest plane and can carry 90,000 pounds per lift.

3. Haiti

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
(Photo: U.S. Navy Daniel Barker)

The USS Carl Vinson sailed to Haiti in January 2010 after a massive earthquake killed 230,000 people and devastated the local infrastructure. Air Force special operators controlled a huge amount of air traffic while the Navy assisted with logistics and Marines helped shore up buildings and clear debris.

The Navy employed over 30 ships to provide help and the USNS Comfort provided medical care, fresh water, and needed shelter. The Army later deployed paratroopers to help prevent outbreaks of disease and to continue rebuilding key infrastructure and homes.

4. Indonesia

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Photo: U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st class Bart A. Bauer)

In 2009, Indonesia was once again rocked by earthquakes. This time, a special operations group was already present in the country when the earthquakes hit and it provided coordination for follow-on forces. Emergency supplies quickly flowed into the country.

The U.S. deployed a Humanitarian Assistance Rapid Response Team for the first time. It’s a rapidly deployable hospital, but the medical operation arrived too late to treat many trauma victims. Still, the hospital treated 1,945 people and the operation delivered 640,000 pounds of supplies during 12 days of operations.

5. Indonesia

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
(Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Scott Reed)

When an earthquake in the Indian Ocean sent a massive tsunami into 14 countries in late 2004, the Republic of Indonesia was the worst hit. Over 280,000 people were killed but the USS Abraham Lincoln ferried food, water, and medical supplies to the worst hit areas.

Over the entire region, 30 Navy ships served emergency needs and the USNS Mercy, a 1,000-bed hospital ship, provided critical medical care to 200,000 survivors.

6. Germany

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The largest humanitarian assistance operation in history was actually launched to overcome a man-made shortage, not recover from a natural disaster. The Soviet blockade of West Berlin caused a massive food shortage in the Western-government occupied sectors of the city.

So the U.S. and Britain launched the Berlin Airlift, an 11-month operation that moved over 2 million tons of supplies and $224 million past the blockade. The Soviet Union eventually gave in and lifted the blockade.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This American President started his day in the most veteran way possible

Our first president, George Washington, sold whiskey from one the country’s largest distilleries after leaving office — but reportedly never drank his own supply. Instead, Washington sipped a dark porter style of beer mixed with molasses that was brewed in Philadelphia. His presidential successor, John Adams, loved drinking hard cider, rum, and Madeira wine during his time off. The eighth President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, drank so much whiskey that he earned the nickname, “Blue Whiskey Van.”

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

Many of our Presidents turned to their alcohol beverage of choice in order to relax after a long day’s work. However, one president flipped the script and decided to start his days by knocking back a shot of his favorite: bourbon.


It’s reported that President Harry S. Truman liked to start his days with a nice, brisk walk and a shot of Old Grand Dad (bourbon).

Truman appreciated a strong Old Fashioned and, reportedly, would complain to his staff if he felt the cocktail was too weak. Although it may seem unhealthy for a person of his position to consume such a potent drink so early in the morning, he actually prided himself on maintaining a nutritious diet.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Truman sitting at a table with Roosevelt discussing some presidential stuff.

In a diary entry, dated January 3, 1952, Truman wrote:

“When I moved into the White House, I went up to 185. I’ve now hit an average of 175. I walked two-miles most every morning at a hundred and twenty-eight steps a minute, I eat no bread, but one piece of toast at breakfast, no butter, no sugar, no sweets. Usually have fruit, one egg, a strip of bacon and half a glass of skimmed milk for breakfast, liver & bacon or sweetbreads or ham or fish and spinach and another non-fattening vegetable for lunch with fruit for dessert. For dinner, I have a fruit cup, steak, a couple of non-fattening vegetables, an orange, pineapple, or raspberry for dinner. So, I maintain my waistline and can wear suits bought in 1935!”

On behalf of the veteran community, we say well done, sir.

Articles

This is how Patton smashed his way out of Normandy

When Allied troops landed in Normandy, Gen. George Patton had two jobs. One had been to lead the fictional First United States Army Group, a part of Operation Fortitude, to deceive the Germans as to the Allies’ actual intentions against Normandy. His second was training his real unit, Third Army.


Once the Allies had secured a beachhead, Patton took Third Army to Northern France where it became operational on August 1, 1944. By the time Third Army went into action, the Allies had spent nearly two months fighting for a breakout to no avail.

The thick Norman hedgerows and stiff German resistance had slowed progress to a crawl. Patton had other ideas.

Following on the heels of Operation Cobra opening a path, Patton turned Third Army “east, west, and south behind the German lines and went looking for trouble.”

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

As Third Army broke free of the restrictive hedgerows, Patton showed that he was truly a master of maneuver warfare and combined arms tactics.

Patton would use armored reconnaissance scouts to range ahead of his forces to find the enemy. Once found, he used his armored divisions to spearhead the attacks. Armored infantry, supported by tanks and self-propelled artillery, would attack in force.

Every breach in German lines was exploited by more armor which kept the Germans from being able to effectively regroup.

Patton also pioneered the use of tactical air support, now known as close air support, by having tactical fighter-bombers flying cover over his advancing columns. This technique is known as armored column cover and used three to four P-51s or P-47s, coordinated by a forward air controller riding in one of the tanks on the ground.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
P-51 fighters. Photo from DoD.

Patton’s Third Army headquarters also had more staff dedicated to tactical air support and conducting air strikes against the enemy than any other formations in Europe.

Making the best of these new techniques, much like the Germans had with the Blitz, Patton’s first moves were to drive south and west to cut off the Germans in Brittany and open more ports on the coast to Allied shipping.

Using speed and aggression, Third Army had reached the coast in less than two weeks.

Those forces then turned around 180 degrees and raced east across France.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
The 28th Infantry Division on the Champs Élysées in the “Victory Day” parade on 29 August 1944. Photo under public domain.

Patton’s forces moved so fast that normal tactics were insufficient.

Light aircraft that normally served as artillery spotters were pressed into the airborne reconnaissance role.

To keep up with his troops, the 4th Armored Division’s commander, Maj. Gen. John Wood, would often task one of his aerial artillery observers, “Bazooka Charlie” Carpenter, to fly ahead to his armored columns so he could personally deliver orders.

Carpenter was famous for mounting bazooka’s on his light aircraft and attacking German armor – just the kind of fighting man Patton wanted in his army.

As Patton’s troops pushed east, they continued to drive the Germans back. Along with actions by the Canadians and Poles to the north, they were beginning to form a pocket around the German Army Group B.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
General Eisenhower reviews damage (including a wrecked Tiger II) in the pocket at Chambois. Photo under public domain.

The neck of the pocket was closing at Falaise, which was held by the Canadians. Patton was driving his men hard to effect a link-up and trap Germans attempting to retreat from Normandy.

Much to Patton’s dismay, Gen. Omar Bradley, commander of the Twelve US Army Group, called him off. Due to the fact that his forces were fighting the Germans all over Northern France, Patton could only commit four divisions to blocking German escape to the south. Bradley was worried that stretching Patton’s line further could lead to him being overrun by German forces desperate to escape the trap.

As Bradley would put it later, “I much preferred a solid shoulder at Argentan to the possibility of a broken neck at Falaise.”

Undeterred, Patton consolidated his forces and continued his drive out of Normandy.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, Lieutenant General George S. Patton, and Major General Manton S. Eddy being shown a map by one of Patton’s armored battalion commanders during a tour near Metz, France, November 13, 1944.

With the Germans retreating from the area, Patton set his Third Army to give chase.

Depleted German units were easily overcome.

The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions, recalled to England the month before, lamented that Patton continually overran their drop zones and kept them out of the action.

On August 25, 1944, the 4th Infantry Division, a lead element of Patton’s Third Army, arrived at the outskirts of Paris. Allowing the French 2nd Armored Division to take the lead in the liberation of their capital, the division moved into the city.

Just five days later, Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Northern France, was declared over.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Operation Overlord in full swing on the beaches of Normandy. Photo under public domain.

Patton, however, was not done. He had his eyes set on Germany and continued to push his forces.

As Third Army drove hard towards the French province of Lorraine, they finally outran their supply lines. On August 31, Patton’s drive ground to a halt. Patton assumed that he would be given priority for supplies due to the success of his offensive, but was dismayed to learn that this was not the case.

Eisenhower favored a broad front approach and allocated more incoming supplies to Montgomery for his bold plan – Operation Market Garden.

Despite their success in defeating German units all across France and driving further than any other force, the men of Third Army would have to wait for their chance to drill into Germany.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How machine guns on World War I biplanes never hit the propeller

There was a lot of new technology brought to the battlefield during World War I. Two of those were used in tandem – and somehow managed to perfectly compliment each other. It was the fighter plane and the machine gun, mounted perfectly for the pilot’s use, without shooting up the propeller that kept the bird aloft.


Was it the gun that was designed to fire through the propeller or the propeller designed to be used with the machine gun? Yes.

The system worked because of its synchronization gear which kept the gun from firing when the propeller would be hit by the bullet. While airborne the prop would actually be spinning five times as fast as the weapon could fire, so there was little margin of error. The problem was solved by the addition of a gear-like disc on the propeller that would only allow the gun to fire in between the blades’ rotation.

Often called an “interrupter” the disc did not actually interrupt the firing of the weapon, it merely allowed it to fire semiautomatically instead of at an even pace. When the prop spun around to a certain position, it would allow the weapon’s firing mechanism to fully cycle and fire a round. Usually, when the round was supposed to be interrupted, the weapon was actually just in the process of cycling.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

Synchronization gear was also needed for later planes, such as the German Me-109 fighter, seen here in World War II.

So pulling the trigger would essentially connect the weapon to the propeller, and the prop would actually be firing the gun. Letting the trigger go would disconnect the weapon from the propeller.

Later versions, such as the Kauper interrupter used on the Sopwith Camel, allowed for multiple machine guns at different rates of fire. The interrupter was a welcome change from the early days of combat aviation, where props were sometimes metal plated just in case mechanically uncoordinated rounds hit the propeller, so the bullet would ricochet.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a truck driver helped solve one of WWII’s most enduring mysteries

The USS Eagle 56 was only five miles off the coast of Maine when it exploded.

The World War I-era patrol boat split in half, then slipped beneath the surface of the North Atlantic. The Eagle 56 had been carrying a crew of 62. Rescuers pulled 13 survivors from the water that day. It was April 23, 1945, just two weeks before the surrender of Nazi Germany.

The United States Navy classified the disaster as an accident, attributing the sinking to a blast in the boiler room. In 2001, that ruling was changed to reflect the sinking as a deliberate act of war, perpetuated by German submarine U-853, a u-boat belonging to Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine.


Still, despite the Navy’s effort to clarify the circumstances surrounding the sinking, the Eagle 56 lingered as a mystery. The ship had sunk relatively close to shore, but efforts to locate the wreck were futile for decades. No one could find the Eagle 56, a small patrol ship that had come so close to making it back home.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

German submarine U-853 and crew.

Then, a group of friends and amateur divers decided to try to find the wreck in 2014. After years of fruitless dives and intensive research, New England-based Nomad Exploration Team successfully located the Eagle 56 in June 2018.

Business Insider spoke to two crew members — meat truck driver Jeff Goodreau and Massachusetts Department of Corrections officer Donald Ferrara — about their discovery.

Goodreau and Ferrara, along with their crewmates Ryan King, Danny Allan, Bob Foster, Nate Garrett, Josh Cummings, and Mark Bowers, are featured in “The Hunt for Eagle 56,” a Smithsonian Channel documentary series set to air at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019.

Goodreau works as a meat truck driver in Massachusetts. But diving has been his passion since the age of 18, after his employer hosted a number of scuba excursions.

“I was hooked from the first dive,” Goodreau said. “It was really cool. I found out early shipwrecks are what I’m meant to do. I really believe that that’s what I was put here to do, to find shipwrecks.”

Ferrara said he was first sucked into the world of diving by watching famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau on television, as a kid.

Sunken Navy warship found off Maine coast

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Goodreau described becoming interested in pursuing “deeper and darker” dives as time went on; or, as Ferrara puts it, “crazier and stupider” underwater adventures. They became immersed in the world of technical diving, which National Association of Underwater Instructors defines as “a form of scuba diving that exceeds the typical recreational limits imposed on depth and immersion time (bottom time).”

King, Allan, and Goodreau first teamed up to find the Eagle 56 in 2014. The rest of the crew came together in the subsequent years. The Eagle 56 was an obvious choice for the for the Nomad team.

“I’m a shipwreck nerd, always have been,” Goodreau said. “The Eagle 56 was always the shipwreck to find. That was the great ghost of New England. A lot of people looked for it. Nobody could find it.”

But the Eagle 56 was never going to be an easy find. Goodreau described the ocean floor north of Cape Cod as a labyrinth of rocky mountains and canyons. The Eagle 56 was a “fairly small” boat. And, though the crew didn’t know this at the time, it was lodged in a trench.

“It’s kind of like the equivalent of dropping a soda can into canyon and putting on a blindfold and going and finding it, because you can’t just look down and see it,” Goodreau said. “Visibility’s 10 feet. It’s pitch black.”

Even worse, the crew’s expensive magnetometer ended up being somewhat of a bust, thanks to the undersea terrain.

“It turns out that the rocks off of Maine aren’t only big, they’re full of iron,” Goodreau said.

Again and again, the crew would finish out a summer diving season empty-handed. They spent the winters intensively reading up on the sinking, trying to pinpoint the ship’s coordinates. That research had an unintended side effect.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’


A plaque on the grounds of the Portland Head Light at Cape Elizabeth, Maine, describes the loss of USS Eagle-56.

“You kind of get to know these guys,” Goodreau said, of the Eagle 56 crew members.

Ferrara added that, as a Marine veteran, he feels an affinity for the crew members who died in the attack. He said that most of the men on board were quite young.

“They were lost for 73 years,” he said.

But the team stuck with the search and, ultimately, found the wreck in June 2018. Goodreau and Ferrara say that, as a result, they’ve gotten to know plenty of relatives of the lost crew members.

The Nomad team members were even invited to the July 2019 Purple Heart ceremony for Seaman 1st Class James Cunningham, who died in the Eagle 56 sinking. Cunningham was 21-years-old at the time of the sinking. Goodreau and Ferrara say that Cunningham came from a family of Tennessee sharecroppers, and that he enlisted in the Navy when he was 18. Cunningham sent them his Navy paychecks so that they could buy a house, a property which the family still owns today.

Sadly, one group that the Nomad team will never be able to share their discovery with are the 13 survivors of sinking. They have all died.

“Some of the survivors were engineers,” Goodreau said. “Some went to their graves feeling that people blamed them for the explosion.”

The Nomad diving team will now search for the torpedo that took down the Eagle 56. And, in the meantime, they will remain cautious when diving in the area where the ship sank.

“You don’t want to disturb them,” Ferrara said. “You want to be very respectful, when you’re there.”

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Actually, the Maginot Line was a good idea

The Maginot Line is a historic meme, a shrine to the failure of fixed defenses in the age of tanks and planes. But modern historians are increasingly making a bold claim: It wasn’t the Maginot Line that failed, it was diplomacy and French armored tactics.


The Maginot Line: Actually a Good Idea

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YouTube channel Historigraph has a pretty great primer on this concept that you can check out above, but we’re going to go over his arguments and that of historians below.

The purpose of the Maginot Line was to secure France’s border with German so well that, even accounting for Germany’s much larger population and birth rate, no attack over the border could succeed. This was to be achieved with strong defenses and massive concentrations of artillery.

And so it was constructed with thick concrete — reaching 12-feet thick in the most secure bunkers — and artillery and machine guns with overlapping fields of fire along a 280-mile front. The defenses were so imposing that military planners counted on second-rate troops to man them in case of a war.

But why would French planners place second-rate troops on the border with their greatest nemesis, even if they had great defenses? Because the French knew that Germany wasn’t limited to attacking over its shared border with France. And the military wanted its best troops available to fortify the less built-up grasslands in Belgium.

France had a deal with Belgium that, in case of a likely or actual invasion by a foreign army, would allow French troops to operate on Belgian soil. The plan was for the best French divisions to form a battle line with their Belgian counterparts along the River Meuse and Albert Canal.

The River Meuse was a great, natural bit of terrain for defenders that, when combined with the Albert Canal, would allow Belgian and French forces to hold back an attacking army for an extended time. It had seen fighting in World War I, and it always went bad for the attacker.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

A French Char B1 tank destroyed by its crew. The Char B1 was a good tank with thick armor, a strong 75mm gun, and acceptable speed. But French armor was not used effectively in the defense of France despite France having about as many tanks as Germany did.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

Nearly all of France’s tanks and most of her best troops would man this barrier and prevent a German invasion from the north. But, German forces would be forced to come against this defensive line because the only alternative was attacking against the Maginot Line — suicide.

But there were two flaws in France’s assumptions that wouldn’t be revealed until too late. The first was that Belgium was a neutral state in Europe prior to 1914. When Belgium was formed in 1830, it was as a neutral buffer state and all the major European powers gave some guarantee towards that neutrality. Most of the pledges stopped short of saying they would necessarily defend Belgium if it were invaded, but that was the general understanding.

So, Belgium was not actuallysuper comfortable with being an ally of a major European power in case of war. The country preferred neutrality instead. The other big problem was that Belgium in 1936 had a young and inexperienced king who headed a small military. King Leopold III needed strong guarantees of French resolve.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

A Panzer IV pushes through France in 1940.

(Bundesarchiv Bild)

And so when Germany violated the Treaty of Versailles by moving their own troops into the Rhineland, German territory that was off limits to its military under the terms that ended World War I, Leopold III became scared. Rather than count on France to hold up its end of the bargain, he broke the pact with France and reasserted Belgian neutrality.

And that is what made the Maginot Line suddenly much less useful. Sure, it would still force the Germans to go around it, allowing 943 miles of border to be guarded with lower-tier troops. But France now had hundreds of miles of border, most of it bare plains, that were guarded by nothing but Belgian hopes and dreams.

Hitler invaded and France raced to set up a defensive line as deep into Belgium as they could. But the Germans broke through Belgian defenses even more quickly than anyone could have guessed, partially because the Belgians had under-supplied one of the world’s best forts.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

The Fort Eban Emael as it was captured by German troops.

Fort Eban-Emael was the anchor of defenses on the Albert Canal, but Germany landed a bare 87 paratroopers on top of the fort, which was built into a hill, and captured it. The defenders had machine guns and artillery that could sweep the top of the hill, but their weapons maintenance was shoddy and the artillery lacked the canister shot that would have been most effective.

The fort fell in the first day, and the three bridges it guarded were soon lost as well. The Germans swept east and finally encountered the French digging in on the River Dyle. And here was where French armored doctrine failed. French tanks were only slightly outnumbered, but were committed to battle piecemeal while German armor was formed into strong columns capable of forcing opening in French lines and then exploiting them.

And the French also underestimated the ability of modern tanks to navigate the tough terrain of the Ardennes Forest, failing to send either a counterattack or bombers to the forest despite multiple reports that German armor was making its way through.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

American troops look at Maginot Line defenses during the drive to Berlin in 1944.

(U.S. Army Signal Corps)

And so, the Maginot Line stood, strong and proud and funneling German troops north just like it was supposed to. The Maginot Line allowed France to choose its ground. But because of diplomatic missteps and a failure by French generals to understand the changing role of the tank, the defensive lines to the north failed.

The general argument against the Maginot Line is that the money should have spent on tanks, planes, and other modern equipment instead, but those were the exact assets which France failed to properly employ.

Today, fixed defenses are out of vogue as strategic bombing and bunker busters have made them nearly impossible to man for long. But they had one last hurrah in them in the Battle of France — if only their successes had been combined with good combined arms maneuvering.

Articles

This massive air offensive had an adorable name

As the Allies put their plans into action in 1944 preparing for the eventual D-Day landings, they knew that they needed to break German logistics in Normandy. As part of the process, Gen. Jimmy Doolittle and the 8th Air Force targeted the rail networks that crisscrossed France.


But while the landings would be known as Operation Overlord and the evacuation of the Dunkirk was called Operation Dynamo, the rail bombings were named Operation Chattanooga Choo Choo.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
The generals had a lot of choices for operation names, and they choo- choo- choosed that one. (GIF: YouTube/Simpsons Channelx)

The operation wasn’t named after the “The Simpsons” episode. That would be ridiculous, reader who apparently doesn’t understand that World War II happened before “The Simpsons.”

No, it was named after a popular song of the day. Glenn Miller had recorded the song “Chattanooga Choo Choo” in 1941 and someone on the staff must have liked it. That would be similar to the missile strikes on Syria having been named after a Katy Perry or Taylor Swift song.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
B-17 formation over Schweinfurt, Germany, Aug. 17, 1943. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Despite the silly name, the operation was a huge success. The air forces wanted to limit German logistics while obscuring the site of the upcoming landings in Operation Overlord. So they dropped bombs all over occupied France but stipulated that two bombs be dropped at Pas de Calais for every one that hit in Normandy.

Adolph Hitler and his cronies were convinced the landings could come at Calais. The bombs ripped through German railways, marshaling yards, wireless radio stations, and other key infrastructure, softening up Normandy for the invasion.

All thanks to Operation Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Articles

That time a pilot survived his plane’s disintegration at Mach 3

Supersonic ejections are dangerous — and the faster the flight the worse it is.


They’re so dangerous that pilots are trained to ride out a failing plane for as long as possible, lowering their speed and altitude to more manageable levels before pulling the ejection handle.

That’s what makes Bill Weaver’s story so insane. He was a test pilot in the SR-71 Blackbird. During a Mach 3 flight, his right engine suddenly died. The enormous thrust from the left engine put the plane into an uncontrollable spin. It began to literally disintegrate around him and the flight test specialist riding with him.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Leaving any aircraft in flight is risky. Doing it in an SR-71 at Mach 3 is especially so. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Weaver passed out. He and Jim Zwayer, the flight test specialist, continued to fly through the air, propelled by their own inertia at hundreds of miles an hour. Weaver passed out before the plane even broke apart.

When he woke up, he was flying through the sky high above the earth. Initially, he thought he was dreaming, then he realized that it wasn’t a dream so he must be dead. And finally realized that he was neither dead nor dreaming.

A layer of ice covered his visor, but he could tell he wasn’t tumbling so the stabilization chute must have deployed. His emergency oxygen tank had functioned as well, inflating his suit to compress his blood and feed him breathable air.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
The compressed suit pilots wear in the SR-71 helps them resist g-forces and keeps their blood from boiling in such high altitude flight. It also acted as a personal escape capsule for Bill Weaver. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Brian Shul)

As Weaver reached for his main chute, it deployed on its own. He got his frozen face plate open and was able to spot Zwayer who he would later learn had died.

He landed a few miles from the wreckage of his burnt up plane and collapsed his chute, preparing for a long night in the freezing winter weather of the desert. Then he heard a voice asking, “Can I help you?”

Turns out, Weaver had landed on a large ranch, and the owner had flown his helicopter to go check out the wreckage that had just crashed on his land.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
If this thing broke apart in your backyard, you would go check on it, too. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Weaver later learned that the straps from his seat were still fully attached to him, but the ejection seat had stayed with the plane. When the plane broke apart, the entire cockpit, including Weaver’s seat, had broken up around him as his seat belt and harness continued to hold on to him.

The thing that saved him was the pressurized suit which had acted like a tiny escape capsule. An inspection of that suit revealed that one of the oxygen canisters had broken off, nearly removing what little protection Weaver had during his flight through the air at multiple times the speed of sound.

Weaver placed a collect call to Lockheed, letting the crew in the control area know that he had survived and surprising many of them. Weaver got behind the controls of another SR-71 only two weeks later.

You can see a video about the incident below, and read more of Weaver’s story in his own words at Road Runners International.

MIGHTY FIT

These sports icons served during the Battle of the Bulge

(Featured image courtesy of War History Online)

Sports, in large part, were halted when the U.S. military became involved in World War II. The Indy 500 was canceled to save gasoline, and the U.S. Open golf tournament was scrapped favoring resources in rubber, which typically made golf equipment. Several professional athletes, managers, owners, and even rules officials across many leagues enlisted, commissioned, or were drafted.



These sports icons sacrificed the prime of their careers for a cause bigger than themselves. On the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, we celebrate the lives of some of sports’ greatest stars who served during this time.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

(Courtesy of World Golf Hall of Fame)

Lloyd Mangrum

“I don’t suppose that any of the pro and amateur golfers who were combat soldiers, Marines, or sailors will soon be able to think of a three-putt green as of the really bad troubles in life,” Mangrum said when he returned from World War II. Mangrum was both a veteran of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. Before he left for war to fight with General Patton’s Third Army, he made a pact with his friend, Sergeant Robert Green. Each ripped a id=”listicle-2641582160″ bill in half, vowing to each return it when the war ended. Green was killed in action, thus the pair never rekindled their promise.

Mangrum and his brother spent their childhood in the backyard where his thirst for competition began. “A small creek ran behind our house,” he told the NY Times. “My brother, Ray, and I built a crude green on the opposite bank and had [sic] pitching contests with a rustyblade old mashie somebody had discarded.” Soon he was a caddie learning how to approach the game through judgment. He took first place in the first US Open (1946) golf tournament since its hiatus during World War II. He became known as “Mr. Icicle” for his calmness on the links, which he credits how nothing on the golf course could rattle him like the battlefield.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

Ralph Houk

Ralph Houk is not a name that is first mentioned when thinking of a New York Yankee, but he should be. His commanding officer, Caesar Flore, spoke of his battlefield fearlessness when he sent Houk out in a jeep to do reconnaissance on enemy scouting positions. He didn’t return until two nights later, and Flore listed him as ‘missing in action.’ “When he had returned, he had a three day growth of beard and hand grenades hanging all over him,” Flore said. “He was back of the enemy lines the entire time. I know he must’ve enjoyed himself. He had a hole in one side of his helmet, and a hole in the other where the bullet left. When I told him about his helmet he said, ‘I could have [sic] swore I heard a ricochet.'”

Houk rose from Private to Major in four years and earned a Silver Star, a Bronze Star with oak leaf cluster, and a Purple Heart for when he was wounded in the calf during the Battle of the Bulge. After the war, he secured the back-up catcher’s position behind Yogi Berra and became a manager where players referred to him as “The Major” for his wartime discipline.
This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

(Courtesy of the New York Times.)

Gino Marchetti

Gino Marchetti was known primarily for two things: being a Hall of Fame defensive end for the Baltimore Colts and an entrepreneur who co-owned a restaurant called Gino’s with teammate Alan Ameche. Their influence was so great that members of the community, including New England Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick, often muttered their slogan “Gino’s, oh yeah!” while they visited players at their favorite hamburger joint.

What most don’t know is that Gino Marchetti served as a machine gunner with Company I, 273rd Regiment of the 69th Infantry Division during the Battle of the Bulge. “You don’t realize that you are going to see some of your friends go down,” Marchetti told ESPN. “You don’t realize any of it. For example, the first time I ever saw snow, I slept in it. It’s hell.” Marchetti credits joining the Army as the greatest thing he had ever done because it gave him the discipline and toughness to compete in the NFL.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

Nestor Chylak

Nestor Chylak’s career behind home plate almost never came to be. While serving as a Technical Sergeant in the US Army’s 424 Infantry Regiment, Chylak was severely wounded on January 3, 1945, in the Ardennes Forest. While his battalion braced artillery fire in the blistering cold and blanketed snow, an artillery shell exploded a tree, which sent splinters traveling the speed of bullets into his face. He was blind for ten days, but ultimately regained his eyesight. He was awarded both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.

Chylak would go on to become one of the most legendary MLB Umpires in the history of the game. He was never one to cower to a feisty manager’s tirade, nor did he get flustered from loud boos from fans. He umpired baseball’s bizarre promotion games like the infamous “10-Cent Beer Night” promotion in Cleveland and Bob Veeck’s “Disco Demolition Night” in Detroit. Both promotions ended in similar flair — a forfeiture and a flying chair. Chylak, however, umpired for 25 years in five World Series and was respected for his fairness.

At the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, a bronze plaque in the Umpire Exhibit says in his jest, “This must be the only job in America that everybody knows how to do better than the guy who’s doing it.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

The deadliest sniper ever averaged 5 kills per day

Few soldiers are as legendary as Finland’s Simo Häyhä. Known as the deadliest sniper in history, Häyhä served for just under 100 days during the 1939-1940 Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union.

In that short time, he is credited with killing over 500 men.

At long range Häyhä was lethal; his M28/30 sniper rifle (the Finnish version of Russia’s legendary Mosin-Nagant) accounted for half his estimated 500-542 kills. At close quarters, he was equally deadly with his Suomi KP-31 sub-machine gun, with some 250 Soviets falling victim to it. Not surprisingly, Soviet troops soon assigned Häyhä an appropriately sinister nickname: White Death.


Häyhä’s transformation into history’s most accomplished sniper traces back to 1925, when at twenty years old he served his mandatory year in Finland’s Army and afterward joined Finland’s volunteer militia known as the White Guard. Häyhä’s time with the militia sharpened what were already remarkable shooting abilities; a farmer and hunter, he was a natural marksman who regularly collected trophies at local shooting competitions.

When the Winter War broke out on November 30, 1939, Häyhä was nearly 34 years old. By the war’s end on March 13, 1940, he would become a legend. While most snipers used telescopic sights, Häyhä did without. Using a scope forced a sniper to lift their head a few inches higher than ordinary sights, making them an easier target for enemy snipers. Telescopic sights were also vulnerable to extreme cold. Häyhä’s solution was simple: Even in the poor light of a Finnish winter, he would rely on iron sights and the naked eye.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Simo Hu00e4yhu00e4

As the Soviets soon realized, the dim lighting didn’t affect his aim.

Finnish Army documents (as cited on Wikipedia) reveal just how deadly Häyhä was as a soldier. The war began on November 30, 1939. According to these documents, Häyhä had racked up his first 138 kills by December 22–only 22 days for 138 kills. The entry for January 26, 1940 ups his count to 199, an extra 61 in 35 days. By February 17, he was up to 219. In the 18 days after that, Häyhä killed another 40 enemy soldiers.

These stats reflect his sniping kills. Häyhä was just as deadly up close. His sub-machine gun accounted for another 250 kills. By March of 1940, he’d racked up an astonishing 500+ kills. Yet on March 6, his military career came to a sudden and near-fatal end.

Häyhä was a primary target of the Red Army; Soviets were keen to eliminate this seemingly unstoppable soldier who had spread so much fear, injury, and death among their ranks.

They’d tried everything, pummeling Häyhä’s presumed locations with artillery fire. Soviets also employed counter-sniping, flooding an area with snipers whose primary mission was to kill the White Death.

On March 6, 1940, the Red Army nearly succeeded. A Soviet sniper spotted Häyhä and shot at him with an explosive bullet, striking him in his lower left jaw.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Hu00e4yhu00e4 in the 1940s, with visible damage to his left cheek after his 1940 wound

The shot should have killed him. Häyhä, though severely wounded, somehow survived. Found by Finnish troops, he was brought into a field hospital. He wasn’t a pretty sight. One of the soldiers who brought him in bluntly described his injuries, saying “half his face was missing”. But once again, Häyhä had beaten the odds: permanently disfigured, but alive nonetheless.

Häyhä was lucky. Only days after he was shot, the Winter War ended on March 13, 1940 — the same day Häyhä regained consciousness. Finland honored the soldier for his service. Starting as a private in 1925, he’d only made ‘Alikersantti’ (corporal) when the Winter War started. After it ended, Corporal Häyhä was commissioned, becoming a “Vanrikki” (second lieutenant) with multiple decorations. He would spend the next few years recovering from the shot to his head, but Häyhä would eventually regain his health.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’
Retiredu00a0Simo Hu00e4yhu00e4

After the war, he became a successful moose hunter and dog breeder. Against him, the moose stood no chance. Finland’s President Urho Kekkinen was also a keen hunter and Häyhä, once a nobody from the Finnish border country, became one of the President’s regular hunting partners.

Entering a veteran’s nursing home in Hamina in his old age, Häyhä spent his remaining years quietly. He died on April 1, 2002 aged 96, a national hero in his native Finland and a legend in military history. Asked how he’d been so successful he answered simply: “Practice.”

This article originally appeared on Explore The Archive. Follow @explore_archive on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The body of the first female veteran of the Revolutionary War is now missing

Remains believed to be of a Revolutionary War hero buried at West Point don’t belong to a woman known as “Captain Molly” after all, but to an unknown man.


The U.S. Military Academy said Dec. 5 the discovery stems from a study of skeletal remains conducted after Margaret Corbin’s grave was accidentally disturbed last year by excavators building a retaining wall by her monument in the West Point Cemetery. Tests by a forensic anthropologist revealed the remains were likely those of a middle-aged man who lived between the Colonial period and 19th century.

Corbin was known for bravely stepping in to fire a cannon in 1776 during a battle in New York City after her husband was killed. She was severely wounded during the Battle of Fort Washington, but lived another 24 years. She became the nation’s first woman to receive a pension for military service.

This raid became the US Navy’s ‘most bold and daring act’

The location of Corbin’s remains is a mystery. Ground-penetrating radar around the gravesite failed to turn up any signs.

The Daughters of the American Revolution received approval in 1926 to move Corbin’s remains from nearby Highland Falls to the hallowed ground of West Point’s cemetery. The leafy lot near the Hudson River is the resting place for thousands, including Gulf War commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, U.S. commander in Vietnam Gen. William Westmoreland, and Lt. Col. George Custer.

The DAR used records and local accounts from the community to locate the remains believed to be Corbin, according to the Army.

“The remains were verified back in 1926. And you have to consider the gap between 1926 and today. Technology has changed tremendously,” said Col.Madalyn Gainey, spokeswoman for Army National Military Cemeteries.

Read More: Meet the badass Revolutionary War heroine who mowed down Redcoats with a cannon

The remains of the unknown man were reinterred at West Point’s cemetery. A re-dedication ceremony for the Corbin monument at the cemetery is scheduled for May.

“Nearly 250 years after the Battle of Fort Washington, her bravery and legacy to American history as one of the first women to serve in combat in the defense of our nation continues to transcend and inspire women in military service today,” said ANMC Executive Director Karen Durham-Aguilera.