The Office of Strategic Services Detachment 101 was a predominantly Army unit set up to conduct guerrilla operations in Burma during World War II. Originally ordered to conduct limited sabotage and reconnaissance missions, the unit grew to lead almost 10,000 local fighters that killed thousands of Japanese, rescued hundreds of Allied pilots, and enabled the success of Merrill’s Marauders.
The detachment began by sabotaging infrastructure in the area. The first operation, three simultaneous strikes against key bridges, went badly as only one bridge was destroyed and the U.S. teams suffered casualties. The next two operations suffered from rushed planning and little reconnaissance and failed.
One of the Kachins’ preferred methods for killing Japanese were to set up ambush areas. They planted improvised bamboo spikes known as pungyi sticks in the undergrowth and then carefully placed their weapons in concealment.
When the Japanese arrived, the Rangers would attack, forcing the Japanese to decide between taking heavy machine gun and rifle fire in the open or diving into the undergrowth where pungyi sticks awaited them.
Initially, there was a small number of U.S. personnel leading a small number of guerrillas, but as the mission became more successful it got better funding and drew more local recruits. One Catholic missionary, Father Dennis MacAllindon, could speak Kachin and helped the Americans recruit.
So the Kachins carefully watched the Japanese and noted the locations of airfields, supply caches, headquarters, troop buildups, and other threats. American radio operators then relayed this targeting data to bomber units that would strike.
In once case, a Japanese force had hidden their planes in holes covered in sod at an old airbase, making it appear unused from the air. Detachment 101 sent a heads up to the rest of the Army and they bombed the whole thing into ancient history.
Detachment 101 grew to encompass almost 10,000 Americans and locals, still mostly Kachins. When the rest of the Army became serious about retaking sections of Burma, mostly to reopen routes into and out of China, Detachment 101 was a key part of the mission.
The famed Merrill’s Marauders formed the core of Operation Galahad, but Kachin forces protected their flanks, guided patrols, and even helped move equipment by elephant.
The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and crust adorns your bright eyes as you open them to your earliest taste of freedom. Your room is decked out according to how you want it and what mommy and daddy say or think is no longer the deciding factor in what you will or won’t do for the day.
This day could easily belong either to Private Joe from Anytown, America or Johnny Freshman in any university dorm. There are some surprising similarities between those earliest days in the military and the typical freshman year of college.
When you first encounter military instructors, as a military member, it is anything but pleasant.
Go this way! Go that way! Pick it up! Put it down!
Add that to the fact that you have zero idea where you’re going (and sometimes even where you’re coming from) and confusion is the only real outcome.
6. You have no idea what to do now that you’re away from home
The first time away from home can be extremely frightening for many. Even if your parents and/or guardians empowered you with freedom and responsibility, chances are that going to college or joining the military is your first time being away from home in a real way.
This isn’t taking a break for a few days or weeks, you have left the nest and flying solo can be scary.
Newness is very exciting but it also carries a certain measure of suck.
5. Boot camp is like pledging a fraternity/sorority
No disrespect to any fraternity or sorority, but actual military boot camp is one of the toughest things anyone will ever do, but there are similarities to rushing. There is information cramming, adapting to a new culture, an embarrassing haircut, frowned-upon hazing, and the list goes on.
Truthfully, the brotherhood of arms is very much a fraternity for some and a sorority for others. Our letters aren’t Greek but they do all start with “U.S.”
4. Dorm rooms
The only way to avoid time in a dorm room is getting married but, chances are, being fresh to the military means you aren’t ready for marriage. That doesn’t stop many young troops from walking down the aisle, but I digress…
Regardless of which service you join, the early stages of your enlistment will involve some type of dorm life. You simply can’t avoid it.
3. The “freshman 15”
Besides the Marines, no other service as a whole just stays in shape. Every single service has physical training programs, sure, but not every branch will ride you and expect you to stay in the same shape you achieved in basic/boot.
This makes gaining weight too easy. Even if you adhere to the same standards training-wise, the availability of good eats can lead to a military version of the infamous “freshman 15.”
2. Underage drinking
Yes, as a military member, you end up shouldering a lot of weight that most civilian teenagers wouldn’t. There is no denying that.
There is also no denying that a dorm party in the military looks a lot like a dorm party in college. There are kegs, there are guys and girls, there are food platters, and there are a lot of people alternating between throwing up and turning up. You know what there isn’t a lot of, though? Anyone checking identification!
Although it’s a rampant and completely normalized part of early enlisted life, underage drinking is 100% illegal in America and is a punishable offense.
Eventually, you learn your way and you become who you’ll be. Now, I’m not saying this happens by the end of that first year, but it does happen after some time. Until then, life is basically a series of hard knocks, adaptations, and semi-pleasant surprises.
It works out for most of us… well, for some of us.
When it comes to military history, the Guinness Book of World Records – like the rest of the public – only knows what it’s allowed to know. For the longest time the Guinness Book gave the award for the longest continuously submerged patrol to the HMS Warspite – one of the Royal Navy’s storied names.
While there have been longer patrols the mission of the Warspite happened at the height of the Cold War, prowling the waters around the Falkland Islands after the end of the UK’s war with Argentina.
This Warspite was the eighth vessel to carry the name.
The Warspite had a number of innovations that made it perfect for its 1983 submerged mission. It was the first Royal Navy vessel navigated entirely by gyroscope. Its nuclear-powered engines, along with air conditioning, purification systems and electrolytic gills allowed it to be submerged for weeks at a time. The longest time below the waves wasn’t even its first record. During a 6,000-mile journey in the far east, the submarine did the entire run submerged, earning the then-record for longest distance submerged. But breaking records wasn’t the Royal Navy’s mission, it was countering the Soviet Union.
No naval force on Earth was better at penetrating the USSR’s maritime boundaries than the Royal Navy. Warspite was specially suited for spy missions in the cold waters of the Arctic. Its ability to sneak into the areas undetected allowed them to watch the Soviet Navy at work and listen to their uncoded communications. But its record-breaking underwater patrol didn’t come against the USSR, it came while watching Argentina.
The now-decommissioned HMS Warspite.
The ship had just completed a complete, three-year refit after a massive fire nearly caused the captain to scuttle the ship. It was finished just in time for the United Kingdom to go to war with Argentina over the latter country’s invasion of the Falkland Islands. In a rush to get into the action, the crew of the Warspite shrugged off the six-month trial period and dashed for the war.
She didn’t see much action in the war, but its patrol afterward was the stuff of legend at the time. The ship and its crew spent more than 112 days aboard ship and underwater, keeping the Argentine Navy at bay.
Military history is full of battles fought against unbelievable odds. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. The story of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae is likely the most famous outnumbered fighters. Poland’s cavalry charge against Nazi armor at Krojanty is famed for its technological disadvantage.
But whatever success the Poles and Spartans saw against their formidable foes came because of sheer will and determination, not because of any equalizing circumstances. Sometimes, that’s just what it takes. Sometimes, success means never giving up. With a little bit of luck, even the most unprepared, obsolete or foolhardy fighter can win the day.
Some of today’s most powerful weapons might make that kind of winning more difficult, but it can still be done. A North Korean discovered the power of dumb luck while flying over a United Nations base on a night raid.
North Korea’s air force isn’t known for its technological superiority and it never has been. Even today, more people know the Korean People’s Air Force more for training with the power of imagination rather than anything else.
Even when they’re fighting a real war with real enemies, they are still a couple of decades behind technological advancement. During the 1950-1953 Korean War, North Korea was still flying Polikarpov PO-2 biplanes to make bombing runs. This is a plane that was built in the 1920s and was used by the Soviet Union as a trainer until World War II.
During World War II, the Soviets began to use it for reconnaissance, resupply missions, and the occasional night bombing. It was one of the planes used by the all-women Soviet fighter group nicknamed the “Night Witches,” who would bomb German barracks with their engines shut off.
The Soviet Union didn’t use it after World War II, because by then the world had moved on from biplanes and propellers to aluminum and jet engines. But North Korea found a use for them. It was on one of these night raids that a PO-2 Polikarpov managed to down a jet fighter over North Korea.
Except the Polikarpov didn’t so much shoot down the jet fighter. The aging biplane was the instrument of the plane’s destruction, though.
After one of the Polikarpovs’ feared night raids, an advanced Lockheed F-94 Starfire was dispatched with the mission of taking down the raiders. The Starfire was an all-weather, day and night interceptor fighter that was so advanced, it wasn’t even allowed to fly in North Korea, because the U.S. was worried one might get shot down and captured by the communist forces.
It was more dumb luck that allowed this Polikarpov to beat the Starfire. With a top speed of 94 miles per hour, the wood and canvas “fighter” was flying much too slow for the jet fighter, with a top speed of 640 miles per hour.
Unable to lock onto the target with radar (either due to its slow speed or the fact that plywood doesn’t bounce back radar waves), the jet fighter had to slow down enough to hit the North Korean, which proved to be the Starfire’s undoing.
The Starfire slowed to 100 miles per hour, which was lower than its stall speed. Once it dipped below that speed, its engine sputtered and stalled, causing the plane to crash.
I would write an intro about how, in the end days of World War II, Germany was short on manpower, territory, and resources, but nearly every article about Germany’s failed super weapons starts that way. So, just, you know, remember that Germany was desperate at the end of World War II because Hitler was high on drugs and horrible at planning ahead when he invaded his neighbors.
So, on the list of harebrained schemes that the Nazis turned to in order to stave off their inevitable defeat, the Natter has to be one of the craziest. Basically, because they were low on metal and airstrips and they thought rockets seemed awesome, the Nazis made a single-use, vertically launched, rocket-powered plane that only fired rockets. These were supposed to be “grass snakes” that rose from the forests of Germany and slaughtered Allied bombers.
…because of a special SS initiative, a defensive surface-to-air rocket aircraft is supposed to be forced into production. And they will be propelled by C-Agent as well. That is the height of stupidity, but it’s also fact.
“Eh, needs more rockets.”
(Anagoria, CC BY 3.0)
Oh, and, worst of all, the planes couldn’t land without breaking apart.
Assuming everything didn’t go to hell during that not-at-all-dangerous process, the pilot could then maneuver onto incoming bombers and fire up to 24 rockets at them. Since the Natter flew at over twice the speed of a B-17’s max, the pilots really needed to fire their rockets accurately and quickly before they overshot their target.
Once they were out of ammo, the pilot would release the nose and deploy the parachutes. The nose would fall separately from the rest of the plane and, hopefully, the parts would land safely. The parts and the pilot would be recovered and ready for another round.
“This will save the war.”
(San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
It, uh, did not work properly. On the second unmanned test flight, the flight components hit the ground with fuel remaining. That fuel blew up, destroying the plane. But because the blast wouldn’t have—necessarily—killed the pilot, they went ahead with a manned flight.
That flight went worse. No offense to the Nazi test pilot. On March 1, 1945, Lothar Sieber took off in a Ba-349, but it immediately started flying inverted and climbed into cloud cover. It emerged from the clouds a few minutes later and crashed into the ground, miles away.
The pilot was dead, either from the shock of takeoff, the canopy flying off in flight, or the crash. The plane was destroyed. And everyone finally gave up on the idea of the Natter.
Not that it would have changed much if it had been controllable. The western Allies crossed into Germany about two weeks later, and a few rocket-powered fighters wouldn’t have stopped the advance. But, hey, “Grass Snake” at least looks cool on a T-shirt.
In 1862, the Union Army was in striking distance of Richmond and the Union commander hoped to wrap up the entire war with just a few more engagements, but surprising aggression by the Army of Northern Virginia’s new commander would cause a Union defeat, leading to two more years of warfare.
Union Gen. George B. McClellan had been making his way towards Richmond as part of the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, but Gen. Robert E. Lee attacked and managed to turn the skittish McClellan south.
(James F. Gibson, Library of Congress)
In May 1862, the Union’s top officer was Gen. George B. McClellan, a railroad man turned military officer. While he had many drawbacks, his organizational skills were top notch and he had managed to fight way into position just miles east of Richmond, the political and industrial heart of the Confederacy. If he could capture the city, the Confederacy would fall apart or be forced to withdraw south to Atlanta or another city while losing massive amounts of manufacturing power.
And, the Confederacy had just fought a stalemate at the Battle of Seven Pines. Both sides claimed victory, but the Confederate commander was wounded and the Southern president promoted Gen. Robert E. Lee to the position. Lee was known for caution at this point in the war, and McClellan decided to take time to wait for good weather and reinforcements before pressing his attack home.
It was a hallmark of McClellan’s actions during the war, and it gave Lee time to order a large network of trenches dug, allowing him to defend the city with a small force while preparing the larger portion of his army for a much more aggressive move. Lee didn’t want to just defend Richmond, he wanted to attack the Union force’s supply lines, forcing a retreat.
A sketch and watercolors depiction of the Battle of White Oak Swamp, one of the Sevens Days Battles.
(Alfred Waud, Library of Congress)
The Union Army in the field was much larger than the Confederates’, 100,000 facing 65,000. But the Union Army was fighting far from home and needed over 600 tons of supplies per day, almost all of it shipped by rail and packtrain from northern cities.
Lee began his assault when the Union Army was sitting astride the Chickahominy River with a third of it on the northern side and two-thirds on the southern side. That meant that Lee could attack the northern side and potentially even destroy the railroad there before the rest of the Union forces could get into position to fight him.
On day two, Jackson once again ran into trouble and Union forces were able to regroup, forming a united front against the Confederate forces. But McClellan still didn’t press home his numerical advantage, withdrawing under the assumption that the aggressive Lee outnumbered him.
On June 28 and 29, the Confederate forces were able to launch successful attacks against the retreating Union forces, but they were unable to land a crippling blow. And so, McClellan was able to reach a great defensive position on July 1. From Malvern Hill, he could defend against any number of Confederate attacks.
In the end, the Confederacy lost approximately 20,000 men while the Union lost 15,000.
McClellan’s failure to capture Richmond in 1862 caused the Civil War to drag on for two more years.
(Kurz Allison, Library of Congress)
But while Lee had failed at his goal of landing a significant blow against Union forces, but he had succeeded in his larger goal. McClellan had been mere miles from Richmond and on the offensive, but one week later he was driven south, begging for more troops and supplies before he would attack again. Instead, he let Lee rebuild his forces and move north, achieving another victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run and opening the door for Lee’s first invasion of the North.
Lee, previously known for his caution, had gone on the offensive despite being outnumbered, and it had saved the capital and its industry. McClellan would later lose his command, partially because of the failure to attack Richmond and his failure to attack off of Malvern Hill.
Lincoln would have to go search for his own Lee, his own aggressive general to carry the attack against the enemy, to force the initiative. It took Lincoln another few years to get him into position, but this would eventually be Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, a man known at the time for his alcohol consumption and his butchery, but now possibly known best for receiving Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, propelling Grant to a successful 1868 presidential run.
Larry Walters had a few lifelong dreams. The first was to be a pilot in the United States Air Force. The second was a crazy idea he had as a teenager. It turns out the Air Force had all the crazy it needed in its test pilot corps, but Walters opted to go for the first choice nonetheless — he was going to be a pilot.
It was a TWA pilot that first reported Walters’ triumphant taking to the skies. He did so by radioing the tower about a man in a lawn chair hovering at 16,000 feet.
Larry Walters didn’t join the Air Force. He couldn’t. It turns out, to join the Air Force as a pilot, you need excellent vision. It was truck driver Larry Walters’ one failing. His eyesight was terrible. So, he opted to finally try out the other choice — his crazy teenager idea — and that’s how Larry Walters made history.
He set about constructing his own flying machine, a craft he called Inspiration I. It was an idea he came up with as 13-year-old teen. He saw weather balloons hanging from the ceiling of a local Army-Navy store and was suddenly inspired. It was his “flux capacitor moment.” He did nothing with this inspiration for 20 years… until his rejection from the Air Force made it seem like he would never touch the wild blue yonder.
On Mar. 23, 1982, the Los Angeles native attached 42 helium-filled weather balloons to an ordinary Sears lawn chair. Attached to the bumper of a car, he packed a BB gun with him to shoot individual balloons as a means of slowly lowering his altitude. His intended course would take him over the Southern California desert and into the Rocky Mountains in just a few days’ time. But, surprisingly, things went wrong from the start.
Walters aboard Inspiration I.
First, one of the tethers holding the craft to the ground snapped early, propelling Walters into the air at 1,000 feet per minute. It caused him to lose his glasses. Secondly, at a cruising altitude of 16,000 feet it not only got much colder than expected, the currents took Walters over the restricted airspace above Los Angeles International Airport and Long Beach Airport.
REACT (a CB radio monitoring organization): What color is the balloon? Larry: The balloons are beige in color. I’m in a bright blue sky which would be very highly visible. Over. REACT: [Balloon] size? Larry: Size approximately, uh, seven feet in diameter each. And I probably have about 35 left. Over. REACT: You’re saying you have a cluster of 35 balloons?? Larry: These are 35 weather balloons. Not one single balloon, sir. It is 35 weather balloons. REACT: Roger, stand by this frequency.
Eventually, Larry started to take out some of the balloons, but he was losing feeling in his hands and soon lost his BB gun as well. He finally landed at 432 45th Street in Long Beach, more or less unharmed.
He gave the chair to a local kid named Jerry, who kept the chair for the next 20 years in the same condition.
“Jerry” with Larry Walters’ lawn chain. The water jugs were used as ballast.
“By the grace of God, I fulfilled my dream,” Walters told the Associated Press. “But I wouldn’t do this again for anything.”
Walters didn’t do it again, but his legacy lives on in the handful of civilian aviation enthusiasts who practice the art of cluster ballooning. Some of these enthusiasts have reached altitudes of higher than 20,000 feet — and some of them were never seen again after take off.
There’s something romantic about being a knight — and no, we don’t mean sweep-a-fair-lady-off-her-feet kind of romantic. Between the tall tales of heroic deeds and depictions of gleaming, glorious suits of armor, the life of a knight has been made into something grander than it actually was.
The desire to take up sword and shield and live the life of a knight immediately goes out the window once you learn a little more about what that life was actually like. While your the experience of knighthood varied greatly between kingdoms, no matter which banner you bore, they all shared one common quality: life flat-out sucked.
14 years of training and you’re just given a nice pat on the back and maybe a piece of land — not a castle, though, because those are expensive.
Your journey usually began at as young as seven years old
It wasn’t entirely impossible for a peasant-turned-warrior to be recognized for greatness and rise in status, but that was exceedingly rare (for reasons we’ll get into shortly). For the most part, knights were generally are born into the role. If your father was a knight or if you were of noble birth but far from the line of succession, knighthood was for you.
This meant that, for the most part, from the moment of your birth, you’d be expected to become a knight and fight for your lord. The process typically began at age seven. You’d be given off to a noble to learn as much as you could. The quality of this childhood hinged entirely on the whims of said noble. Then, at age 14, you’d become a squire.
Squires were, essentially, interns for proper knights who’d do all of the unpleasant or mundane tasks. Be a knight’s errand boy for seven more years, and you’ll finally earn your knighthood.
At least the jousting would be fun…
You’re do far more than just fighting — and none of it was fun.
Being a knight meant far more than just showing up to do battle whenever summoned by your liege. At times of war, or if their number didn’t get called to go fight in some battle, they were expected to be local leaders among the large peasant society.
So, take all those years of learning to fight and throw ’em out the window, because you’re now the lead farmer until someone decides to raid your village. Occasionally, you’d do police duty and, more often, you’d be the mediator of local disputes, but that’s about it until it’s crusading time.
Still the best break down for how stupid chivalry actually was, read Don Quixote and remember that it was written intentionally to be a satire.
You had to follow a strict code of “chivalry”
The word “chivalry” derives from the Old French word, “chevalerie” which meant “horseman.” Over time, the gallant knights, typically astride horses, took on their own code of ethics. The word “chivalry,” over the years, then became synonymous with “gentlemanly,” but it meant much more than just treating ladies right (and, in this case, “ladies” refers exclusively to women of noble birth).
This code dictated much of your life. How strict was it? Well, knights were almost always godly men. So, if you were to skip church for one day, you may find yourself stripped of your knighthood entirely — but, of course, it’d all depend on if you come from noble status or not.
You could basically rob or kill anyone of a lesser status and no one would blame you. Tough break.
(Photo by Christopher Favero)
Your compatriots were usually always snobby nobles who rarely followed the code
The honorable few that earned their way into knighthood would be held to a much different standard than the knights who got their position from being the king’s second cousin’s kid.
Knights who got their position from a noble birth could do whatever they felt, facing little-to-no consequences. Even if the kingdom was very religious, noble-born knights could attack members of the clergy and get away with it if they had a good-enough excuse. You? The guy who earned it? There’s no way you’d be able to talk yourself out of that.
On the bright side, the more ornate the armor, the more likely it was that the person had no idea how to actually fight.
(Photo by Patrick Lordan)
You had to buy your own gear
The biggest barrier to entry for those warriors-turned-knights was the absurdly high cost of equipment. Remember, this was centuries before governments decided to arm their troops for combat. Since being a knight meant that you were paid in land ownership (or sometimes just the “glory of your lord”), you probably didn’t even get paid actual money.
So, any armor or weapons you needed had to be purchased on the side — with money you were never given. It was no problem for the knights of noble birth, but other knights would have to work the land and sell goods to earn enough just to fight.
Then again, being a knight is so easy that a penguin could do it.
Your title meant little after gunpowder was introduced
From the days of Charlemagne onward, knights were highly respected and highly revered across the lands. Then, this fancy new gadget called the “firearm” showed up and made your skill in battle immediately and entirely pointless.
During the Tudor period, armies learned that firearms and cannons could shred through a knight’s heavy plate armor with ease. All of that hard work, dedication, and money put toward becoming a knight was rendered meaningless by whoever had a bullet handy. As everyone focused on using firearms, the need for a literal knight in shining armor quickly dwindled.
That’s not to say that the title of being a knight is entirely worthless. It’s just more of an honorary title that’s given to great people who bring credit to their homeland — not just skilled fighters.
Birkenhead, England, is an odd place for a discussion of the U.S. Civil War, but two ships built in the Laird and Sons Shipyard there nearly provided the seapower necessary for the South to break the blockade, get recognized as a sovereign nation, and win their war for independence.
All that stood in the South’s way was a group of dedicated diplomats and spies who managed to get the ships seized, guaranteeing Union naval superiority and helping end the war.
The most famous Laird ship ordered by Bulloch for the Confederacy was the CSS Alabama. The Alabama was technically ordered as a British merchant ship but was outfitted with a Confederate crew and weapons after launch. It went on to destroy 67 Union vessels — mostly merchant ships — before it was sunk.
The two ships are often described as the most powerful in the world at that time and they were custom-built for breaking the Union blockade of the South and with it the Union’s grand “Anaconda Plan” for the war. The Anaconda Plan rested entirely upon Union control of the seas and rivers.
The “Laird Rams” — as they were known — were nearly identical copies of one another. Each ship was 242 feet long and equipped with a seven-foot ram at the front that would allow them to punch holes in enemy ships below the waterline. Each ship also boasted iron armor and two turrets carrying 220-pounder Armstrong cannons.
For those unfamiliar with naval armaments, “220-pounder” doesn’t refer to the weight of the gun, it refers to the weight of each shell. And each gun was “rapidly firing” for the time.
And that iron armor was a game changer in the Civil War. Sufficient iron armor made a ship nearly invulnerable, as the navies learned after the first battle between ironclads took place in 1862. The three-hour battle on March 9, 1862, ended as a tie because neither ship could sufficiently damage the other.
You must stop them at all hazards, as we have no defense against them … As to guns, we have not one in the whole country fit to fire at an ironclad…it is a question of life and death.
Early indications were that the British would allow the rams to launch and eventually join the Confederate cause, but diplomats pressuring Great Britain to follow its neutrality obligations slowly made headway.
At the start of the war, the British position was that it couldn’t allow its shipbuilders to sell any warships to a belligerent in war, but that they could sell unarmed merchant ships to anyone without concern as to whether the ship would be later outfitted with weapons.
This was how the Confederacy received many of its early ships. But the Union State Department pressured the English government to start blocking the launches of ships that were destined for wartime duty by basically threatening war if they didn’t.
But the British required a high threshold of proof that a ship was destined for the war before they would seize it from the shipyards. American consuls and spies in England gathered information on every ship as fast as they could.
Their first major target, the CSS Florida, was still able to reach the water because the evidence against the ship was improperly collected and documented and therefore inadmissible. The consuls and spies tried again with the Alabama and were successful, but not in time. The Alabama launched just before British forces could arrive to seize her.
When it came to the two Laird rams, though, the U.S. pulled out all the stops. They bribed dock officials, recruited spies and informants, and even promised a young mechanic help getting a job in America if he first worked in the Laird shipyards and collected information for them.
The mechanic agreed but was just a boy. When the child’s mother learned of the plan, she threatened to expose the spy operation and the U.S. backed off.
The first ram, the El Tousson, was launched into the water and was being equipped for sea while its sister ship was receiving final touches in the shipyard in October 1863. The U.S. made its final, last-ditch case to the British that the ships were destined for the Confederate war effort.
To add to the pressure, the U.S. ambassador promised war if the ships were allowed to launch, and the English government gave in.
Two nearly indestructible ships capable of sinking almost any ship in the blockade would have allowed the Confederacy to sweep it away, re-opening the smuggling trade that helped finance the land war early on. The Union Army would have been hard pressed to win with the two rams erasing the Union’s naval dominance.
If this weapon was your sibling, it would be the rude, crude, and socially unacceptable little brother who helped you curb-stomp the neighborhood bullies. Nobody really loved the M3 submachine gun dubbed “the Grease Gun” by GIs. But nobody really hated it, either.
It was so cheaply made it looked like a mechanic’s tool rather than the product of advanced American industrial know-how.
“By the Korean War, the M3 and M3A1 were used in greater numbers than the Thompson,” said Alan Archambault, former supervisory curator for the U.S. Army Center of Military History and former director of the Fort Lewis Military Museum at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash.
It was supposed to serve as a replacement to the iconic and expensive Thompson submachine gun, but developed a reputation of its own that kept it in the U.S. military inventory from World War II all the way through Desert Storm.
“Although unattractive and cheaply made, it was a practical weapon,” said Archambault, a U.S. Army veteran who is also an artist and illustrator who specializes in military subjects. “The weapon did have close-range stopping power: A visitor to the Fort Lewis Museum once told me the story of shooting a Chinese soldier at close range and knocking him out of his boots like in a cartoon or a Three Stooges movie.”
During World War II, there was almost a desperate urgency to manufacture vast quantities of weapons as quickly and cheaply as possible – particularly submachine guns.
In the 21st century, we are used to weapons made from exotic materials and possessing high-technology features that maximize killing power. Back then, the materials used for these hastily produced SMGs looked like they were purchased on sale at the corner hardware store.
The British did it by producing the Sten Gun, a 9 x 19-mm submachine gun made of steel tubing and sheet metal that bears a similarity to a piece of plumbing. In fact, one of its nicknames was “the plumber’s nightmare.”
So did the Russians when they made the PPSh (pronounced “puh-puh-shaw” because of the sound of the Cyrillic letters in the weapon’s name), a 7.62 x 25-mm submachine gun that was often produced in auto shops by unskilled labor.
The United States was no different when it came to producing a quick-and-dirty alternative to the Thompson. The M3 is an ugly hunk of metal – words like “crafted” or “elegant” simply are not applied when discussing the looks or pedigree of the weapon.
Made of stamped metal parts like a General Motors car – not surprising when you remember it was produced by the same division that made metal automobile headlights – the M3 is not a submachine gun noted for its fine tolerances and sleek design.
It has no adjustable sights, no selector switch, no fine-grained wood furniture, and few milled-steel components. It was welded together, and the user could see the welds on the weapon’s exterior.
Even the butt stock is simply a bent, U-shaped length of heavy wire.
“The advantage was that the M3 was easy to manufacture and much cheaper to make than the Thompson submachine gun,” said Archambault, who said only the barrel, breech block and parts of the trigger mechanism were made of machined steel. Yet, that simplicity allowed the manufacture and distribution of more than 600,000 M3s during World War II alone.
Besides, it saved the government money. The iconic Thompson submachine gun – a sleek, well-made weapon highly prized by any GI who could get his hands on one – cost Uncle Sam about $225 each.
That is about $3,000 a weapon today when you adjust for inflation. A new Grease Gun cost the government about $20 each, or about $260 a weapon in today’s dollars.
It is a beast to carry. It weighs nearly 11 pounds when it has a full 30-round magazine inserted, and the extra magazines weighed several pounds each when loaded.
But it spewed .45-caliber ACP bullets at 450 rounds per minute, was simple to operate, compact because the butt-stock collapsed, and it was disposable.
Yes, disposable: Until 1944, soldiers and Marines who had M3s that had been damaged during battle simply threw them away and drew a new weapon from the armory because no one who made supply decisions thought it was worthwhile to manufacture spare parts for the gun.
No wonder it was also nicknamed “the poor man’s Tommy Gun.”
However, soldiers didn’t embrace it at first. The M3 had some initial problems with an awkward cocking handle, but in 1944 the cocking handle was eliminated and a flash hider added – the M3A1. Once they discovered its stopping power and the weapon’s kinks were worked out, GIs and Marines developed a sort of grudging affection for the gun.
It was not only used during the Korean War but also by both U.S. and South Vietnamese troops during the Vietnam War. U.S. helicopter pilots often carried one in their cramped cockpits because it was smaller than an M16 and offered more firepower than a pistol.
It even developed a kind of “bad boy” reputation because of its prominence in the popular film “The Dirty Dozen.” In one famous scene, Lee Marvin‘s character fires a Grease Gun at the criminals and misfits he is transforming into a fighting unit while they train on an obstacle course. Throughout the movie, the M3 is carried by most of the cast members.
The reality is the M3 was probably the easiest and least expensive weapon for the movie’s armorers to obtain. Yet, the image stuck.
The last time the Grease Gun went to war as an official member of the U.S. inventory was 1991 during Desert Storm. Tank crews carried them as a backup weapon – nearly 50 years after it was first introduced to save money and kill Nazis.
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.
You get into a mammoth fight with another country, and you both have to go for every advantage you can get. In some cases, that means fighting for resources that most people may not realize are all that important. While everyone knows that steel and oil can make and break campaigns, it turns out that everything from coal to fish oil to guano can be important too:
So, that hopefully explains why the Allies and Germans launched raids against coal reserves in and around Europe, often north of the Arctic Circle. The German war machine desperately needed enough fuel to fight on multiple fronts, especially when they began losing their oil fields in North Africa and the Balkans.
British commandos, like these two in a photo from the St. Nazaire Raid, launched a daring mission to secure Antwerp’s diamonds before the Germans could seize them. (Photo: Public Domain)
Like coal, diamonds are valuable during war for their use in industry. Their physical strength is needed for the manufacture of important items like radar as well as the tools for manufacturing weapons and vehicles.
So, this one is probably the most surprising, but large deposits of bat and bird feces were actually a huge deal from soon after the invention of gunpowder through World War I. That’s because the animals have diets filled with insects and their feces are often filled with saltpeter, one of the key ingredients for gunpowder.
Not the stuff you get in capsules from nature made, we’re talking about huge vats of fish fats. The chemicals in the fish fat included glycerine, a crucial propellant for modern weapons. And that high flammability turns fish oil fires into massive columns of black smoke.
For hundreds of years, the country we know today as Vietnam has been invaded and occupied by outsiders the world over. At the end of World War II, the Vietnamese had enough of colonialism and external rule by a foreign power. They were going to gain independence by any means necessary.
In the annals of military history, the occupiers and invaders of Vietnam most often remembered are the French and the Americans, neither of which truly succeeded in subduing Vietnam. Even China’s invasion of the country was short-lived.
For a short period of time after the end of World War II the United Kingdom went to war in Vietnam. The only difference was they were successful in achieving their wartime aims.
The United States spent almost 20 years aiding South Vietnam and preventing a Communist takeover of the country from its northern neighbor. Before that, Vietnam fought a war for independence from French colonial rule in the years following World War II.
What neither country could fully grasp from the locals was that the Vietnamese saw themselves as fighting for freedom from outside rule. They wanted a Vietnam run by the Vietnamese, and they were willing to pay any price to get it. That price was very high.
War with the west wasn’t always the one way forward for Vietnam. During World War II, Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh fighters sided with the United States and the Office of Strategic Services to harass Japanese forces and rescue American pilots. After the war’s end, Ho declared independence for Vietnam, directly quoting the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Ho used the excerpt to get American support in keeping the French out of Vietnam after the war. It didn’t work. Just 11 days after the official surrender of Japan aboard the USS Missouri, fighting broke out in South Vietnam between the Viet Minh under Ho Chi Minh and a surprising mix of allies set to impose colonial rule on the country.
Before World War II ended, it was decided that the Chinese under Chiang Kai Shek would receive the Japanese surrender in Northern Indochina while the British would accept a Japanese surrender in the South. Just before the Allies arrived, the Viet Minh had taken control of the government and imprisoned a French garrison as POWs.
The POWs were eventually released, rearmed, returned to control of Saigon. But the Viet Minh began cutting off the city from the rest of the country. The impending return of French rule had turned the once-friendly communist forces against the Allies.
By October 1945, Allied forces formed a motley crew of British, Indian, and French troops along with Nepalese Gurkhas and Japanese POWs to launch a campaign to push the Viet Minh away from Saigon and back north. The Viet Minh saw some successes in small unit combat, but were devastated by British air power and machine guns and, on one occasion, a Gurkha kukri knife charge.
In the last major battle of the campaign, the Viet Minh were cut down in overnight fighting, losing 100 troops to British machine gun nests. The defending British and Indian troops didn’t have a single fatality. The Viet Minh spent the rest of the conflict conducting ambushes and hit-and-run attacks.
The British left Indochina in mid-1946 and the French took back control over the country. The win was fleeting, however. The French would have nominal control over Vietnam, fighting the Viet Minh until being forced to withdraw in 1954.