When you think “cruise missiles,” the BGM-109 Tomahawk Land Attack Missile comes to mind. That’s not a surprise — the Tomahawk has been widely-deployed and launched from ships, subs, and ground launchers. Hell, there were even air-launched versions of the missile in development!
But it wasn’t the first cruise missile to be widely deployed by the United States military. In fact, one cruise missile family formed the basis of the Navy’s nuclear deterrence in the 1950s — years before the Tomahawk entered service.
That cruise missile was the Regulus. It got its start the year after World War II ended. Initially, the Navy had looked at trying to improve Germany’s V-1, but soon realized it was a dead end.
The first version of the Regulus, designated SSM-N-8, entered service in 1955. The ultimate version of the Regulus I had a range of 500 nautical miles, according to Designation-Systems.net. It could be equipped with a Mk 5 warhead with a yield of 40 kilotons or a two-megaton W27 warhead. The missile had a top speed of 600 miles per hour.
Like the Tomahawk, the Navy deployed the Regulus on both surface ships and submarines. The Navy also modified some of its aircraft carriers to launch the missile, although it was never operationally part of a carrier’s air wing. An improved version, the SSM-N-9 Regulus II, would’ve had a speed of Mach 2 and a W27 warhead with a range of 1,000 nautical miles if it ever saw the light of day, but the successful development of the Polaris ballistic missile killed that program.
The cruise missile concept made a comeback, though. Today, the versatile Tomahawk is one of the Navy’s preferred weapons for attacking enemy targets on land. The Tomahawk can look back at the clunky-looking Regulus, and see what paved the way. Learn more about the scrapped Regulus II project in the video below.
Hollywood tends to get military life wrong — and portrayals of helicopter pilots in the Vietnam War are no exception. Despite what you’ve seen in movies, daily operations didn’t always involve pulling troops from a hot landing zone or going in with guns and rockets blazing — and it wasn’t always done in a Huey, either.
In fact, while it’s best-known for playing a key role in Operation Enduring Freedom, the CH-47 Chinook saw a lot of action in the Vietnam War. This helicopter has served with the Army for over half a century and year and is still going strong — new variants, the CH-47F and MH-47G, are rolling off the production lines as we speak!
CH-47 Chinooks and UH-1 Hueys load troops during Operation Crazy Horse. Over 30,000 troops were moved into difficult terrain in that 1966 operation.
(US Army photo)
For a lot of helicopter pilots, especially those who flew the CH-47A, CH-47B, and CH-47C models of the Chinook, the Vietnam War was mostly about moving cargo from one part of the operating theater to another, often hauling upwards of 7,000 pounds of cargo inside its cavernous cabin. The Chinook has a history of doing precisely that, whether in Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Desert Storm, or any number of peacetime operations.
In Vietnam, CH-47s were also used to recover planes and helicopters. These would often be taken back to repair depots, like USNS Corpus Christi Bay (T ARVH 1). Chinooks were also often used for moving artillery pieces — and their crews and ammo — to new locations. It was faster and safer than going by ground, even though the helicopters sometimes found themselves overloaded by troops. In 1966, the Chinook made a name for itself during Operation Crazy Horse, during which over 30,000 troops were transported by chopper into very difficult terrain.
A CH-47F in Afghanistan. The latest versions of the Chinook carry three times as much cargo as the ones that flew in Vietnam.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Nathan Hoskins)
At least 200 CH-47s were lost during Vietnam, either to enemy action or operational losses. Those harsh experiences, however, led to improvements. Today’s CH-47s haul 24,000 pounds, more than three times the 7,000 pounds carried by early Chinooks in Vietnam.
See what a day in the life of a Vietnam War Chinook pilot was like in the video below!
One of the most prominent Confederate spies of the Civil War was none other than Belle Boyd. Credited for reshaping the Rebel’s war efforts, Maria Isabella Boyd AKA Belle, was born in modern-day West Virginia to a Southern family. Her father fought as a Confederate soldier and at least three additional family members were listed as spies for the South.
At just 17, she got a rocky start into the profession when she gunned down a drunk Union soldier. The man had spoken unkindly to her and her mother, and in anger, she grabbed a pistol and fatally wounded him. She was not reprimanded for the shooting, and instead, used the event to become a “rebel spy” in 1861. However, after the event, she was watched by soldiers, which taught her not only how to live under surveillance but how to charm enemy forces. She soon made friends with one of her first guards, who is said to have provided her with flowers and key war secrets.
From there on, Boyd was hooked. She began passing information and finding new ways to get secrets from soldiers. Her biggest tool was flirtation, using her beauty and flattering wardrobe choices in her favor. However, she was caught during one of her first spy missions, causing her to find more secretive ways to pass data. She then began using her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who traveled with information in a hollowed watch case. Hopewell would deliver the secrets, allowing Boyd to continue in the shadows.
Over the next two years, Boyd traveled between battles, earning the trust of Union soldiers through flirtation and friendship. Her efforts were so prolific she was soon known by the Union forces, with descriptions of her attire published so leaders could be on the lookout.
Her biggest claim to fame is passing along key info to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, just before he went into battle. She told him the Union force was small and to forge ahead toward triumph. It’s said Jackson wrote to her and thanked her personally for helping the cause. The event also earned her the Southern Cross of Honor.
Boyd was arrested six times before she was finally put into prison in 1862. She served a month before being released, then was imprisoned again the following year. This time she was imprisoned for five months, where, behind bars she sang Dixie — the de facto national anthem of the South, waved Confederate flags from her window, and continued to pass messages. By receiving a rubber ball via bow and arrow, she would sew messages inside the ball that was then received by other spies.
By the end of the year, Boyd was released from prison after coming down with typhoid fever. A stipulation of her release remained that she not return into Union territory. However, she, with the help of her future husband, a Union soldier, traveled to Canada, then to England where the two were married.
While in England, Boyd wrote her memoirs, which are seen as highly sensationalized to this day, Belle Boyd in Camp and Prison. The stories were performed on stage and listed as The Perils of a Spy, starring Cleopatra of the Secession.
After the death of her first husband, she returned to the United States where she married twice more and traveled the country giving dramatic performances of her involvement within the Civil War.
Boyd died June 11, 1900 in Wisconsin.
Featured photo: Civil War illustration/Canva; inset Belle Boyd/Library of Congress – Public Domain
What happens when the two sides of a war fundamentally disagree?
“Uh…well,” you’re thinking, “that’s pretty much the definition of war and you’re kind of a donut for asking, aren’t you?”
Yes, but hang with me. What I mean is, what happens when the disagreement goes beyond politics or ideology or territorial dispute, when the two sides disagree, on a basic level, about what the war they’re fighting is even about? And as a result, fail to agree on how the war will be fought?
Such cases produce quagmires of horrifying scope and duration.
One such case was the Vietnam War.
For America, Vietnam began as an earnest attempt to free a small country from unwanted and undesirable Communist conscription. As the war ground on, however, idealism gave way to a more basic agenda, to prove the rightness and righteousness of America as a function of its overwhelming military power.
For the North Vietnamese, and the Viet Cong guerrillas who aided them, the war was about finally shaking off the yoke of western colonialism. After years of occupation by the French, American military presence seemed merely the heavy hand of a new foreign master. They were fighting to reunify North and South Vietnam under the ideology of their choice, which happened to be communism.
In 1956, then Congressman John F. Kennedy was a wholehearted champion of the Cold War-era clarion call to Stop the Spread of Communism.
Vietnam represents the cornerstone of the Free World in Southeast Asia, the keystone to the arch, the finger in the dike.
But after an extensive fact-finding tour through the Middle and Far East, he returned to the U.S. convinced that preventing the threat of a new communist colonialism in Indo-China would require more than simply offering — by friendship or force — an American colonialism as the superior alternative. Much better to promote the nationalistic aspirations of the region’s native peoples, so long as those aspirations tended toward an American-style love of liberty.
But as the stakes were raised on his own Presidency by the Cuban Missile Crisis and the raising of the Berlin Wall, Kennedy felt an increasingly dire need to prove democratic righteousness and might (Mighteousness?). It was a terrifying time. The nuclear prerogative, which had once been ours alone, was now in the hands of nations whose ideals seemed to us not so much foreign, as alien. Vietnam would have to be, for the American Way, a definitive demonstration. Kennedy again:
…we have a problem making our power credible and Vietnam looks like the place.
Had he lived to serve his full term in office, who knows if Kennedy might have have been able to carry out a nuanced foreign policy in Vietnam. He was assassinated in Nov. 1963 and the Vietnam War would become the problem of two more successive administrations. The practical result was a strategy of force, bombardment and attrition that floundered in the face of an enemy who refused to fight by those rules.
The facts on the ground in Vietnam made it clear to American servicemen that there was a grave disconnect between what we thought we were doing there (and the strategy we’d devised for achieving those goals) and how the Vietnamese — allies, enemies, and civilians in between — saw things.
A 1965 skirmish near Danang in which U.S. Marines killed 56 Viet Cong guerrillas put a very fine point on the issue. Among the Vietnamese dead was a 13-year-old boy who, just a day earlier, had been hospitably selling drinks to the Marines. Found on his body were hand-drawn maps of the Marine’s positions and defenses, intelligence for the Viet Cong.
It’s a hard pill to swallow for soldiers who view themselves as a liberating force, to realize that the people they’ve been sent to help view them as the enemy, as occupiers, as aliens. It’s an issue our troops have faced every day in Afghanistan and on the fronts of the War on Terror. Righteousness is a delicate stance and a dangerous dance.
April marks the anniversary of the First Battle of Fallujah, aka Operation Vigilant Resolve, which took place in 2004. Led by I Marine Expeditionary Force commander Lt. Gen. James Conway and 1st Marine Division commander Maj. Gen. James Mattis, the battle was in retaliation for consecutive attacks in the region including the brutal killings of four private military contractors.
The fierce fighting lasted for a month before U.S. forces withdrew from the city and turned over control to the Fallujah Brigade. The battle is lesser known than Operation Phantom Fury, or the second Battle of Fallujah, but it was a key battle during Operation Iraqi Freedom as it brought attention to several facts the general public was not aware of and increased polarizing public opinion about the war in Iraq. More than a decade later, here are seven things you didn’t know about that battle.
1. The use of Private Military Contractors (PMC’s) began to see public scrutiny.
On March 31st, 2004 four Blackwater security contractors were ambushed, killed, and mutilated on the outskirts of Fallujah. Before this highly publicized incident, the general public had little knowledge of private military contractors and their role in the War on Terror, specifically in Iraq.
2. It was the first time insurgents, rather than Saddam loyalists, were considered the primary enemy of Coalition Forces.
Operation Vigilant Resolve brought mainstream attention to a growing insurgency comprised of insurgents other than Saddam loyalists.
3. The Battle of Fallujah thrust Abu Musab al-Zarqawi into the spotlight as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
4. It was the largest combat mission since the declaration of the end of “major hostilities.”
On May 1, 2003 President Bush gave a speech from the USS Abraham Lincoln in which he declared major combat operations in Iraq to be over. Although there continued to be guerrilla warfare, Operation Vigilant Resolve was the first time a major combat operation took place after the speech.
5. The Battle of Fallujah brought public attention to the Sunni Triangle.
When the battle began the term Sunni Triangle became widely known since Fallujah was only one of several cities known to be Sunni strongholds, all of which were located in triangle area of a map Northwest of Baghdad.
6. Scout Snipers were the core element of the strategy.
Scout snipers averaged 31 kills apiece during Operation Vigilant Resolve (one kill every 3-4 hours), according to Global Security.
7. During the Battle of Fallujah, one reconnaissance platoon set a record for Silver Stars awarded in Global War on Terror.
Four members of the second platoon of Bravo Company, First Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division were awarded the Silver Star — a record unmatched by any other company or platoon in the Global War on Terror, according to Military Times.
In addition, Capt. Brent Morel and Sergeant Willie L. Copeland were both awarded the Navy Cross for their heroism during the battle.
The Taiho launched on April 7, 1943, and was commissioned on March 7, 1944. With the Japanese Navy in retreat across most of the Pacific, the admirals held the Taiho in reserve until it could be sent where it would make a significant difference.
The ship was committed to combat in June as part of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, one of the largest carrier battles in history. The goal of the Japanese forces was to force a confrontation with the U.S. and wipe out the greater American numbers.
But the Taiho only participated in part of the defeat. In the opening hours of the battle, the USS Albacore spotted the carrier and launched a spread of six torpedoes right as the second wave of planes was taking off.
The blast rocked through the ship, blowing out the sides and opening holes that stretched down below the waterline. So Komatsu’s actions were one of the more heroic moments in warfare history, but it wasn’t enough to save his friends or his ship.
When most people think of World War II, they probably think of soldiers fighting in Europe or Marines island-hopping in the Pacific. But it truly was a World War, and that included combat in some of Earth’s most frigid and inhospitable waters in the Arctic Circle.
The Soviets needed plenty of supplies to fight off the Germans, and it was up to the Allies to make it happen. Beginning in 1941, the Allies began sending convoys of merchant ships packed with food, ammunition, tanks, and airplanes, along with warship escorts.
But the freezing waters of the Arctic — and the German navy — didn’t make it easy.
The cold temperature in the arctic region also posed a risk in that sea splashes slowly formed a layer of ice on the decks of ships, which over time, if not tended to, could weigh so much that ships would become top-heavy and capsize. Of course, given the state of war, the German military also posed a great danger by means of surface warships, submarines, and aircraft. The threats, natural or otherwise, endangered the merchant ships throughout the entire length of the supply route. British destroyer HMS Matabele and Soviet trawler RT-68 Enisej of convoy PQ-8 were sunk by German submarine U-454 at the mouth of the Kola Inlet near the very end of their trip, British whaler HMS Sulla of PQ-9 capsized from ice build-up three days into her journey in the Norwegian Sea, while PQ-15 suffered the loss of three merchant ships on 2 May 1942 to German torpedo bomber attacks north of Norway.
Initially the ships met little resistance, as the Nazis were unaware of the resupply route. This quickly changed after Operation Dervish, the first convoy from Iceland to Archangelsk, Russia.
“After Dervish, the Germans did wake up to what was happening,” Eric Alley, who was on the first convoy, told The Telegraph. “The Luftwaffe and U-boats moved to northern Norway, so the convoys had to keep as far north as possible.”
The convoys were dangerous due to the unpredictable nature of the frigid waters and threat of Nazi U-boats and land-based aircraft. And summer made things much worse, which left ships completely exposed since the area had 24 hours of daylight.
“That was hell. There is no other word I know for it,” wrote Robert Carse, in an account of an attack on his convoy that lasted for 20 hours. “Everywhere you looked aloft you saw them, crossing and recrossing us, hammering down and back, the bombs brown, sleek in the air, screaming to burst furiously white in the sea. All around us, as so slowly we kept on going, the pure blue of the sea was mottled blackish with the greasy patches of their bomb discharges. Our ship was missed closely time and again. We drew our breaths in a kind of gasping-choke.”
The convoys delivered more than four million tons of cargo, though at a heavy cost: 101 ships were sunk and roughly 3,000 Allied sailors lost their lives, according to The Telegraph.
In the 1950s U.S. forces were stretched dangerously thin. U.S. President Dwight D Eisenhower stated of this, “My feeling…remains, that it would be impossible for the United States to maintain the military commitments which it now sustains around the world (without turning into a garrison state) did we not possess atomic weapons and the will to use them when necessary.”
No surprise from this that, unsatisfied with the portability of their shiny new M65 nuclear cannons, which required a couple of very large trucks to transport, and further unsatisfied that firing it off in many tactical situations would be a bit like killing a mosquito with a hand grenade, in the late 1950s the U.S. military brass for once were thinking smaller. What they really wanted was a simple weapon that could launch a miniature nuclear warhead, could be carted around by a few soldiers, and be fired relatively quickly and reliably. This would allow a handful of soldiers to successful combat far superior forces on the other side, even at relatively close range, which none of the other nuclear weapons of the age could safely do — Enter the Davy Crockett.
Rumor has it the name was chosen in homage to the famed American politician owing to the legend that he once grinned a bear to death, with the idea referencing the association between Russia, and the Soviet Union in general, with bears.
Whether that’s actually the reasoning behind the name or not, the first prototype of the Davy Crockett was completed in November of 1958 and ultimately deployed about two and a half years later in May of 1961. Featuring a variant of the W54 warhead contained in an M388 round, the projectile was fired from an M-28 or M-29 smooth bore recoilless gun. This was capable of launching the 10 or 20 ton yield nuke as far as about 1.25 miles for the M28 or 2.5 miles for the M29.
As for portability, the Davy Crockett could be either deployed and fired from the back of a jeep for maximum mobility, or even broken down into its components, with the pieces of the weapon carried by five soldiers on foot.
The general procedure for firing the 76 pound nuclear round was quite simple. First a spotting round would be shot from an attached gun to ensure the weapon was aimed reasonably well. After this, in order to get the nuke to end up more or less where the spotting round did, the angle of the gun would have to be adjusted. To do this, a small book with pre-calculated tables was carried giving adjustment figures for said angle.
However, it turns out test firings with non-live nukes showed again and again that the Davey Crockett was an obscenely inaccurate weapon, possibly both because of the angle adjustment and that the weapon itself was smooth bore. Of course, the fact that the Davey Crockett was shooting a nuclear warhead helped make this inaccuracy issue not as much of a problem as would be the case with other similar weapons.
Once the target was mildly locked on, the propellant charge would be inserted into the muzzle with a metal piston placed in after as a sort of cap. This was followed by the M388 round itself containing the W54 warhead. As the M388 was far too big to fit inside the bore, instead a rod would be attached to the back, with the nuke sitting at the front.
As for how the warhead would know when to detonate, there was a timer dial that would be set based on estimated distance to the target, using figures given in the aforementioned book containing a spreadsheet of tables.
However, contrary to what is often stated, the timer was not actually the thing that triggered detonation. Rather, it simply armed the bomb once the time ran out. The actual trigger for detonation was a simple radar device in the back of the M388 that would detect how far above the ground the nuke was. There was also a high and low switch that could slightly adjust height of detonation based on the radar reading.
As you might have gleaned from all this, also contrary to what is often stated, this switch did not control the yield of the bomb, just what height it would detonate above the ground, roughly 20-40 feet AGL, depending on setting.
It should also be noted that, unlike many other nuclear weapons, this was an otherwise dumb nuke. Once the timer was set and it was fired, it would either go off or prove itself to be a dud. There was no aborting detonation after launch.
If all that is involved in firing the Davey Crockett sounds like it might take a long time, it turns out not at all given the destructive power of this weapon. One former Davey Crockett section soldier, Thomas Hermann, notes that they were actually trained and well capable of firing a nuke every two and a half minutes!
So just how deadly could this weapon be? While extremely low-powered as nukes go, the weapon nonetheless produced a blast in the ballpark of as large as the highest yield non-nuclear explosive devices of the era. But unlike many of these, it was relatively small and portable. More important than that was its potential for extended damage long after the initial blast. This was particularly useful when fired around critical routes that enemy soldiers would have to traverse. Not only would the initial blast do significant damage to any soldiers and enemy vehicles around at the time, but the radioactive fallout, which would almost certainly be fatal to anyone within about a quarter of a mile of the initial blast when it went off, would remain long after, making a given route, such as a mountain pass, impassable for several days after if one was interested in not dying of radiation poisoning. Naturally, the Soviets could defend against this simply by equipping each of their soldiers with lead-lined refrigerators, but for whatever reason they never seemed to have chosen to go this route.
On the other end of things, neither did the Americans. This was despite the fact that the Davey Crockett was also not terribly safe for those firing it. While 1.25-2.5 miles away is plenty of range to keep the soldiers who pulled the trigger safe from being harmed by the blast itself, in real world scenarios the enemy being fired upon could be closer and some of your own troops might also be even closer still.
Critical to all of this was also wind direction. With no wind, the radiation kill zone in the immediately aftermath of the blast was approximately 1,500 feet, but wind could easily blow dangerous radioactive particles towards one’s own troops. As such, crew were instructed to, if possible, only fire the gun when suitable cover behind a hill or the like was available to help reduce radiation exposure.
Photograph of a U.S. developed M-388 Davy Crockett nuclear weapon mounted to a recoilless rifle on a tripod
(Department of Defense)
That said, presumably to try to get the soldiers operating the weapon to be slightly less hesitant about firing it, the instruction manual notes that the leader of the troop should instill a great sense of urgency in the soldiers operating the Davy Crockett and to remember that, to quote, “The search for nuclear targets is constant and vigorous!”
On top of that, the manual states that if the nuke failed to detonate for some reason, the soldiers should wait a half hour and then go and recover the supposed to be armed and ready to detonate at the whim of a radar trigger nuke…
Needless to say, while the Davy Crockett was deployed everywhere from West Germany to South Korea, with well over 2,000 of the M388 rounds made and 100 of the guns deployed, it was never actually used in battle.
That said, the Army did do one test fire of the Davy Crockett with a live M388 round. This occurred during Operation Sunbeam in a test code named “Little Feller I”, which took place on July 17, 1962. The nuke flew approximately 1.7 miles and detonated successfully about 30 feet above the ground, with an estimated yield of 18 tons from the blast. Interestingly enough, this was the last time the United States would detonate a nuke in the air close to the ground thanks to the 1963 Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapon Tests in the Atmosphere, in Outer Space and Under Water. (And, yes, that is the real name of the treaty).
In the end, as cool as having a portable nuclear gun is and all, within only a few years the weapon would become antiquated, and by 1967 the Army was already beginning to phase it out, with it going the way of the Dodo completely by 1971. No doubt to the eternal relief of the soldiers tasked with firing the things should the need arise.
It took sixty five years for one member of the 101st Airborne Division Screaming Eagles to learn that his actions during the Battle of Bastogne were legendary, but not for heroism or bravery. It all started with a simple request for a beer – and the greatest beer run the world will ever see.
Vincent Speranza, Vince to all that know him, had joined the Army right after graduating high school in 1943 and was assigned to Company H, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne as a replacement soldier while the unit recovered from Operation Market-Garden.
Shortly after training, Vince found himself in a foxhole in the middle of Bastogne, Belgium – cold, short on supplies, food, and ammunition. And surrounded by German troops.
“The first eight days we got pounded” by German artillery, he recalled. “But this was the 101st. They could not get past (us). They never set one foot in Bastogne.”
On the second day, his friend Joe Willis took shrapnel to both legs and was pulled back to a makeshift combat hospital inside a mostly destroyed church. Vince tracked him down and asked if there was anything he could do for his friend.
Vince told him it was impossible. The 101st was surrounded by Germans with no supplies coming in, they were taking artillery fire every day, and the town had been bombarded. But Joe wanted a beer.
Moving through the town, Vince, from blown-out tavern to blown-out tavern, went searching until serendipity hit. At the third tavern he hit, Vince pulled on a tap and beer came flowing out. He filled his helmet – the same one used as a makeshift shovel and Porta Potty in the foxhole – with all the beer he could handle and returned to the hospital.
Mission accomplished. Vince poured beer for Joe and some of those around him. When the beer ran out, they asked him to go for more.
As he returned to the hospital, Vince was confronted by a Major who demanded to know what he was doing.
“Giving aid and comfort to the wounded,” was the paratrooper’s simple answer.
An ass-chewing about the dangers of giving beer to men with gut and chest wounds lead to Vince putting his helmet back on his head, beer pouring down his uniform, and heading out.
While that could have been the end of it, the story continues 65 years later, when Vince returned to Bastogne for an anniversary celebration and learned that his epic beer run had been turned into Airborne beer, typically drunk out of a ceramic mug in the shape of a helmet.
If you ever attend a military funeral or memorial ceremony, you may notice a group of men and women proudly holding rifles. Then, at a specific time, they aim their weapons up to the sky and fire, usually causing a slight stir in the crowd, even though everyone was expecting it to happen.
Don’t worry — those rounds are just blanks.
This practice is quite common throughout the world and, as with many traditions, it has a practical origin. Back when ships carried cannons, it was universally understood that immediately after firing, these weapons were rendered ineffective for a period of time — after all, reloading took a while. So, in order to demonstrate peaceful intent, ships would turn their cannons to the sky and discharge, telling those ashore that a ship’s weapons weren’t live.
Nobody knows why ships were designed, at one point, to carry precisely seven cannon. Some theorize that it’s related to the seven phases of the moon, others think it has to do with the biblical week, and some say it’s simply because seven is a lucky freakin’ number.
The cannon in shore batteries (with ample stores of dry, usable gunpowder) would fire three shots in return for every single shot they heard coming from the sea. For all you math geniuses out there, that equals 21 cannon shots. Upon hearing the return fire, ships at sea knew that the harbor was friendly — and the 21-gun salute was born.
It isn’t always 21, though. During a funeral ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, the POTUS, former presidents, and presidents elect receive the traditional 21-gun salute. Other high-ranking officials, however, like the Secretary of Defense, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and military officers in command over multiple branches, receive a 19-gun salute.
Although hearing the 21-gun salute typically means you’re mourning the loss of a fellow patriot, know that this is a practice rooted in peace and history. With this salute, the fallen join those who gave us traditions so long ago.
If you’ve watched documentaries about the battles of World War II, the Korean War, or the Vietnam War, then chances are you’ve seen gun-camera footage. Whether it’s air-to-air or air-to-ground action, these attention-grabbing videos give us an idea of the intensity of combat aviation — but how do we get them?
In this day and age, we’re lucky to have plenty of digital tools to easily capture footage, download it to a hard drive, and upload it to YouTube or some other cloud storage service. Back in the day, however, all they had was film — and this film was often very useful. It gave intelligence officers some idea of what the pilots actually did. After all, it wasn’t unusual for a fired-up pilot to inflate their kill counts upon return.
But it wasn’t always easy to get that film.
This gun-camera footage from a Navy F9F Panther shows a MiG-15 in its last few seconds of life.
The process was a lengthy one. The film was first taken to a central processing laboratory. To save space, the film was placed in a number of magazines and then placed into one large roll. Loading that roll had to be done in total darkness. Why? In order to view film, it must first be developed and if the film is exposed to light prematurely, it’s ruined.
The entire process included rinsing to fully process the negatives, editing the processed negatives (which was done without computers, by the way), adding timestamps, and more. All in all, there were ten steps, including a test screening.
This is the final product of a long process done by specialists who did hard work.
(Jeff Quitney / YouTube)
You can see how some Air Force specialists did this job during the Korean War in the video below. As an added bonus, after they give you a run-down of all the developmental steps, you get to see a MiG-15 in the sights of a F-86 Sabre’s gun-camera. The folks who made it possible for you to see that footage never faced enemy fire, but they certainly worked almost as hard as the Sabre’s pilot did!
Check out the video below to see how we get that intense footage.
In the first minutes of July 30, 1945, two torpedoes fired from Japanese submarine I-58 struck the starboard side of USS Indianapolis (CA 35). One ripped off the ship’s bow, followed by another that hit crew berthing areas and knocked out communications.
In the dead of night, chaos ensued. It took only 12 minutes for the decorated warship that had carried President Roosevelt in the interwar years and earned ten battle stars for its World War II service up to that point to begin a descent to the bottom of the Philippine Sea.
Around 300 crew died in the initial blasts and went down with the ship. Between 800 and 900 men went into the water.
Indianapolis had completed a top-secret delivery of atomic bomb components to Tinian, an island in the Northern Marianas, days earlier. Unbeknownst to crew at the time, this mission would in the weeks to come contribute to the end of the war.
At the time of its sinking, the ship was returning unescorted to the Philippines to prepare for the invasion of mainland Japan and to resume its role as flagship of Admiral Raymond Spruance and the Fifth Fleet. Damage prevented transmission of a distress signal and misunderstood directives led to the Navy not reporting the ship’s failure to arrive.
Shortly after completing a top-secret delivery of atomic bomb components to Tinian, the USS Indianapolis was struck by torpedo and sank 75 years ago today.
Surviving Sailors and Marines were adrift for four days before the pilot of a U.S. Navy Lockheed PV-1 twin-engine patrol bomber located them. It was by pure chance that, on the afternoon of August 2, that the bomber spotted an oil slick while adjusting an antenna.
A massive air and surface rescue operation ensued that night and through the following day. Out of 1,195 crew, 316 survived the ordeal; four additional Sailors died shortly after rescue.
The survivors faced incomprehensible misery. Some found themselves scattered miles apart in seven different groups. Some were fortunate to have gone in the water near rafts and floating rations. Others, including the largest group of around 400 men, had nothing but life vests and floater nets. Men suffered from exposure, dehydration, attacks by hallucinating shipmates, exhaustion, hypothermia, and sharks.
Hallucinations were contagious as many dived underwater thinking that they were entering their ship to drink ice cold milk, only to guzzle sea water and initiate a horrible death. Others swam off alone to reach hotels or imaginary islands. Crew supported each other as best they could, some at the expense of their own lives. The captain of the ship’s Marine detachment swam himself to death circling his group to keep them together. The crew’s beloved chaplain succumbed to exhaustion after providing days of last rites to dying shipmates. Rescue crews had to fire at sharks feeding on the dead with rifles in order to recover bThe crew that went down with the ship or died in the water are memorialized on the Walls of the Missing in the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Manila American Cemetery. At last count, fifty survivors rest at NCA locations. Interments at Riverside National Cemetery in California and Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota contain the largest groups of these Veterans.
The few remaining Indianapolis survivors, now in their 90s, will be celebrated at a virtual 75th anniversary reunion this July. A Congressional Gold Medal has been struck for the event.
On this anniversary, we reflect on the service and experience of Indianapolis‘s final crew, give thanks to those still with us, and remember those who passed. Their ordeal compelled the Navy to make safety improvements, such as mandatory movement reports and improved lifesaving equipment and training – all of which undoubtedly saved the lives of countless Sailors and Marines. Additionally, their successful final mission hastened the end of World War II.odies for identification and a proper burial at sea.
The crew that went down with the ship or died in the water are memorialized on the Walls of the Missing in the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Manila American Cemetery. At last count, fifty survivors rest at NCA locations. Interments at Riverside National Cemetery in California and Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minnesota contain the largest groups of these Veterans.
The few remaining Indianapolis survivors, now in their 90s, will be celebrated at a virtual 75th anniversary reunion this July. A Congressional Gold Medal has been struck for the event.
On this anniversary, we reflect on the service and experience of Indianapolis‘s final crew, give thanks to those still with us, and remember those who passed. Their ordeal compelled the Navy to make safety improvements, such as mandatory movement reports and improved lifesaving equipment and training – all of which undoubtedly saved the lives of countless Sailors and Marines. Additionally, their successful final mission hastened the end of World War II.
On the morning of July 4, 1989, alarm bells blared at Soesterberg Air Base in the Netherlands, home of the US Air Force’s 32d Tactical Fighter Squadron.
Within minutes, a pair of armed F-15 Eagles, manned by Capts. J.D. Martin and Bill “Turf” Murphy, were launched on a scramble order. Their mission was to intercept what appeared to be a lone fighter making a beeline from Soviet-controlled airspace into Western Europe.
Though the Cold War’s end was seemingly not too far away, tensions still ran high between the two sides of the Iron Curtain, and any incursion by an unidentified aircraft would need to be responded to swiftly.
As JD and Turf were vectored in on the aircraft, now identified as a Soviet MiG-23 Flogger supersonic fighter, ground controllers notified them that all attempts to contact the inbound jet had failed and the intentions of its pilot were unknown and potentially hostile.
When they got close the the Flogger, the two Eagles were primed and ready to shoot down their silent bogey if it didn’t respond and carried on its flight path. But when the two F-15 pilots closed in on the aircraft to positively identify it, they noticed that the pylons underneath the Flogger — used to mount missiles and bombs — were empty.
By then, the Flogger was firmly in Dutch airspace, casually flying onward at around 400 mph at an altitude of 39,000 ft.
What JD and Turf saw next would shock them — the Flogger’s canopy had been blown off and there was no pilot to be found inside the cockpit. In essence, the Soviet fighter was flying itself, likely through its autopilot system.
After contacting ground control with this new development, the two Eagle pilots were given approval to shoot down the wayward MiG over the North Sea, lest it suddenly crash into a populated area. Unaware of how long the pilotless MiG had been flying, and battling poor weather which could have sent debris shooting down the MiG into nearby towns, JD and Turf opted to let the jet run out of fuel and crash into the English Channel.
Instead, the aircraft motored along into Belgium, finally arcing into a farm when the last of its fuel reserves were depleted. Tragically, the MiG struck a farmhouse, killing a 19-year-old. Authorities raced to the site of the crash to begin their investigation into what happened, while the two F-15s returned to base. French Air Force Mirage fighters were also armed and ready to scramble should the MiG have strayed into French airspace.
Details of what led to the loss of the Flogger began to emerge.
As it turns out, the Soviet fighter had originated from Bagicz Airbase — a short distance away from Kolobrzeg, Poland — on what was supposed to be a regular training mission. The pilot, Col. Nikolai Skuridin, ejected less than a minute into his flight during takeoff when instruments in the cockpit notified him that he had drastically lost engine power. At an altitude of around 500 ft, it would be dangerous and almost certainly fatal if Skuridin stayed with his stricken fighter, trying to recover it with its only engine dead. The colonel bailed out with a sense of urgency, assuming the end was near.
But as he drifted back down to Earth, instead of seeing his fighter plummet to its demise, it righted itself and resumed climbing, its engine apparently revived.
The ensuing debacle proved to be thoroughly embarrassingfor the Soviet Union, which was forced to offer restitution to Belgium and the family of the deceased teenager. By the end of the MiG’s flight, it had flown over 625 miles by itself until it ran out of fuel and crashed.