This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history - We Are The Mighty
Articles

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

Hollywood might often showcase submarines hunting down and attacking other submarines in a variety of movies and TV shows, but it’s actually been a very rare event in history.


In fact, the only time a submarine has ever been known for successfully hunting down and destroying an enemy submarine while underwater was in February 1945, with the destruction of the U-864, a German Type IX U-boat off the coast of Norway by a Royal Navy sub.

Towards the end of the war in Europe, U-864 under the command of Ralf-Reimar Wolfram, was sent out on a secret transport mission as part of Operation Caesar to smuggle jet engine components and schematics, bottles of mercury for constructing explosives, advisors and engineers to Japan undetected by Allied warships prowling around for U-boats.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Captured German U-boats outside a Norwegian submarine pen. (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

The faltering German higher command had hoped that even if they were unsuccessful in their theater of war, the Japanese military could benefit from the advanced technology they sent over, continuing the war effort and eventually affording Germany a chance to get back in the fight.

In December 1944, the U-864 left its submarine pen in Kiel, Germany, for a trip to occupied-Norway where it would be refitted with a new snorkel before departing on its mission. The problematic refit and damage sustained from accidentally running aground pushed its deployment back until January of the next year.

Unbeknownst to the German navy, Allied forces were already aware of Operation Caesar, having cracked the Enigma code which was used by the German military to encrypt its classified communications. As a response to Caesar, the Royal Air Force and Navy bombed a number of submarine pens in Norway, including one where U-864 was temporarily housed in for repairs.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Lt. Jimmy Launders during the commissioning of the Venturer in Holy Loch, Scotland (Photo Royal Navy)

The U-864 eventually deployed on Operation Caesar, slipping away undetected by nearby Allied warships. However, a monkey wrench was thrown into the covert mission’s gears when the Royal Navy – unwilling to take unnecessary chances – tasked the HMS Venturer to hunt down and kill the U-864 before it could make a dash for the open oceans.

Venturer was commanded by Lt. Jimmy Launders, a highly-respected and brilliantly-minded tactician. Within days of reaching the U-864’s last suspected position, Launders “spotted” his quarry, thanks to noises emanating from the German warship’s engines.

Wolfram, unaware of the Venturer’s presence, had ordered his sub to turn around and head for port when it began experiencing engine troubles which created considerable noise – something he feared would easily give away their position. But by then, it was too late.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
HMS Venturer in port in 1943, two years before sinking the U-864 (Photo Wikimedia Commons)

Launders began tracking the U-864 using a hydrophone instead of his sonar, as the “pings” from the sonar system would have likely alerted his prey to his existence. After a lengthy tracking phase, Launders fired off a spread of four torpedoes — half of his entire armament — and awaited the fruits of his efforts.

Wolfram’s bridge crew realized they were under attack when the noise from the inbound torpedoes reached the ears of their own hydrophone operators. Ordering the U-864 to take evasive maneuvers, Wolfram and his crew powered their submarine up in an attempt to speed out of the area.

Out of the four torpedoes launched by the Venturer, one hit its mark directly, fracturing the U-boat’s pressure hull and immediately sending it and its entire crew to the bottom. Launders and the crew of the Venturer had just effected the first and only submarine vs. submarine kill in history — a feat that has never been matched to this very day.

The wreck of the U-864 was discovered in 2003 by the Norwegian Navy, near where the Royal Navy had earlier reported a possible kill. Its cargo of mercury has since been exposed to the sea, severely contaminating the area around the shipwreck.

In the years since its rediscovery, the U-864 has been buried under thousands of pounds of rocks and artificial debris in order to stop the spread of its chemical cargo. It will remain there for decades to come while the metal of the destroyed submarine slowly disintegrates away.

Articles

This epic British glider attack is getting the movie treatment it deserves

Operation Deadstick was the first engagement of D-Day but many people don’t know the awesome story of how a small group of British glider soldiers captured two bridges intact and held them against German counterattacks. Now, the epic fight is becoming a movie.


The idea was that holding these two vital bridges over the Caen Canal and a nearby river would give the Allies a route inland and would prevent a German counterattack on the Normandy beaches.

So, on Jun. 6, 1944, the men of D Company, 2nd Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry crash-landed in gliders at only 16 minutes past midnight. A brilliant performance by pilots put the closest group of paratroopers only 47 yards from the first objective while avoiding anti-glider poles that were still being emplaced around the bridges.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
When we say the gliders crash-landed, we mean it. Photos: British Army Sgt. Johnson

The British commander had a fright when thought he had gone blind, but he realized the crash had dislodged his helmet and slid it over his eyes. He put it on right and led his men up the nearby embankment and onto the first bridge.

There, Lt. Den Brotheridge led First platoon across the Caen Canal Bridge, firing from the hip. Brotheridge gunned down a German soldier on the bridges who fired a flare, achieving the first ground kill of D-Day. Tragically, he himself was shot just moments later and became the first Allied casualty of the day.

Still, the company was able to complete the assault only 10 minutes after landing, grabbing both bridges before the Germans could detonate the explosives on them. Sappers immediately got to work cutting wires and fuses to make sure a German counterattack would not be able to easily destroy them.

It turns out, the reason the bridges weren’t destroyed was two-fold.

First, the German commander had ordered the bridge wired to explode, but that the actual charges be stored nearby so that French partisans or an accident could not destroy the bridges unnecessarily. He had reasoned that the explosives could be placed and destroyed faster than a paratrooper assault could capture the bridges. He was wrong.

Second, only he could order the charges put into place and the bridges destroyed and he was busy visiting his girlfriend in the nearby village. He was drinking wine and eating cheese with her when he heard all the gunfire coming from the direction of the bridges.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Glider troops pose with a French girl on a captured German motorcycle in Jun. 1944. Apparently, both sides thought anytime was a good time to hit on French women.

He decided to investigate the noises but apparently thought an attack was unlikely because he packed a picnic basket and tried to bring his girlfriend. He ended up dropping her off when she begged and cried, but he continued to the bridge with little caution.

His driver approached the bridge so fast that the two Germans actually blew past the British lines and were on the bridge before they realized that the German defenders had been killed. The British quickly captured both Germans and the picnic basket while the commander started crying about having let down his fuhrer.

The British then got ready for the inevitable counterattacks. The first came quickly as a German tank made its way to a nearby intersection in an attempt on the bridges. One of the glider troops engaged it with a Piat anti-tank grenade launcher, killing it with a single hit.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Soldiers fire a Piat in Tunisia in 1943. Photo: British Army Sgt. Loughlin

Luckily for the British, larger counterattacks wouldn’t come for some time. While Lt. Col. Hans von Luck, the Panzer commander who would lead the counter assault, had his entire formation ready to go by 3 a.m., he wasn’t allowed to move forward without Hitler’s say-so. And Hitler slept in on D-Day.

Von Luck sent his grenadiers, one of the few units he could move forward without authorization, to the bridges but the British had been reinforced with paratroopers by that point. The British were able to stop the grenadiers’ advance and the Germans dug in, sure that armored support would be coming soon.

Forward German units did come to assist and were able to begin pushing the British back. The British were picked at by snipers and German rocket fire and were slowly surrounded, but they managed to hold out until the afternoon despite dwindling ammo and a limited number of men.

In the early afternoon, reinforcements in the form of British commandos finally came and the combined force held off German armored attacks, killing 13 of 17 tanks and plenty of German soldiers. They also had to fight off a German gunboat that attacked from the river.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
British forces move across the Caen Canal Bridge, later renamed Pegasus Bridge. Photo: British Army Sgt. Christie

The successful capture and defense of the bridges is a major part of British airborne history. Both bridges were renamed in honor of the British. The Caen Canal Bridge was renamed Pegasus Bridge after the symbol of the British airborne soldiers. The nearby river bridge was renamed Horsa Bridge after the Horsa gliders the first troops rode in on.

Now, Eagles Dare Films is creating a movie that covers the efforts of the British soldiers from the assault through their eventual relief on the battlefield. Their Facebook feed is full of behind the scenes photos and a few images from their recent test shoot with re-enactors in full kit. The movie is slated for release in 2017.

(h/t to Stephen Ambrose of “Band of Brothers” fame for his book on Operation Deadstick, “Pegasus Bridge.” Check it out for much more information on the battle.)

Articles

5 differences between Navy and Air Force fighter pilots

Both the Navy and Air Force fly jets, right? So what’s the difference between fighter pilots from the two branches of service?


This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
T-45 Goshawks (Photo: U.S. Navy)

1. Training

Both Air Force and Navy flight schools take just less than two years to go from indoc to winging. Air Force training starts with introductory flight training, which consists of 25 hours of hands-on flying for ROTC or Officer Training School graduates who don’t already have a civilian pilot’s license. The first phase also includes 25 hours of classroom instruction in flight techniques. This initial training takes place at one of three places: Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi, Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, or Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.

After that students go into specialized undergraduate pilot training, a year-long program of 10- to 12-hour days that include classroom instruction, simulator training and flying. Next, student go into one of four advanced training tracks based on class standing (fighter slots go to the top performers) and learn how to fly a specific type of aircraft like the T-1 or T-38.

Navy flight training starts at Training Air Wing Five at NAS Whiting Field, Florida or Training Air Wing Four at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas, where Student Naval Aviators learn to fly either the Beechcraft T-6B Texan II (JPATS) or the T-34C Turbo Mentor. This primary flight training teaches the basics of flying in approximately six months.

Upon successful completion of primary, student naval aviators are selected for one of four advanced flight training paths: E-6B Mercury, multi-engine propeller (maritime patrol) aircraft, helicopters, or tailhook aircraft. Selection is based on the needs of the service (USN, USMC, etc.), the student’s performance, and, lastly, the student’s preference.

SNAs selected for tailhook aircraft report to NAS Kingsville, Texas or NAS Meridian, Mississippi to start the advanced strike pipeline, which takes about 23 weeks.

The biggest difference between the USAF and USN training pipelines – what many would say is the biggest difference between the services period – is the fact that Navy pilots have to learn how to land on an aircraft carrier. This is very demanding and time consuming and many otherwise talented SNAs find they fall short when it comes to this requirement.

After pinning on either silver or gold wings, newly-minted fighter pilots report to a variety of operational bases to learn how to fly the airplane they will operate in defense of the nation.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
USAF T-6A Texan II (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

2. Career path

Both services try to strike a balance between operational, educational, and staff tours. Much of how a career goes is up to world events (ask those who joined just before 9/11) and individual aspirations. But, in general, pilots get two flying tours (five or six years worth) by the ten-year mark of a career and more after that if they are chosen to command squadrons or air wings.

It must also be noted that starting a few years ago, the Air Force has made more drone pilots than fighter pilots annually – something those with long-term career aspirations should keep in mind.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Amber E. N. Jacobs)

3. Missions

Currently, Air Force fighter pilots are generally more specialized and focused on the air-to-air role. That focus involves a lot of radar training and intercept work as well as some dogfighting. In the event of a conflict against an adversary that poses a valid air threat, USAF assets would assume the offensive role, manning combat air patrol stations or conducting fighter sweeps through potentially hostile airspace.

Navy fighter pilots fly multi-mission aircraft so therefore they wind up flying a lot of missions beyond air-to-air while still striving to stay proficient in the dogfighting arena.

And Navy fighter pilot missions often begin and end aboard an aircraft carrier, which involves a level of training and focus foreign to Air Force pilots. (Air Force pilots seldom stress over the stick-and-rudder skills it takes to land their jets.)

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Lobby of the Wolf Pack Lodge at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

4. Duty stations

Both the Air Force and Navy have air stations dotted along the coasts of the United States. (Air Force bases are generally nicer in terms of facilities – including golf courses.) The Air Force also has bases around the world, some in garden spots like Bagram, Afghanistan and Incirlik, Turkey. Once again, the big difference between the two services is Navy fighter pilots spend a lot of time aboard aircraft carriers at sea.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Super Hornet catching an arresting wire. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

5. Aircraft

Navy fighter pilots currently fly either the one or two-seat version of the Super Hornet. Air Force fighter pilots are assigned to fly either the F-15C Eagle or the F-22 Raptor.

In the future, both services will have the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

And the Blue Angels fly F/A-18s and the Thunderbirds fly F-16s. If you’re still on the fence, pick the service that has the flight demonstration team you like better.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

Articles

The 13 funniest military memes of the week

Mo’ memes, mo’ prob– wait, that’s not right. Whatever, check out our memes of the week. If you’ve got some great ones, bring them to our page and “Like” us while you’re there.


1. This is why you don’t sham near your unit (Via Team Non-Rec).

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Either hole up in the barracks or get way off post.

2. Maybe this is why Marines are so obsessed with pull ups (via Marine Corps Memes).

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
They’re not that challenging when you can fly.

SEE ALSO: Me as ‘vibe coordinator’ and other stories from military transition hell

3. Air Power (Via Team Non-Rec).

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Muscles developed through years of chair sitting.

4.  Just wish there was video of this (Via Sh*t My LPO Says).

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
It’d be even better if she slipped into some fuzzy slippers before walking off.

5. They’re very important tools.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Getting a drawing on the commander’s fridge is an automatic OER bullet.

6. The sound of freedom is a Rip-It can being opened.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Seriously, this might be the serum given to Capt. America.

7. Switches back and forth like a metronome (via Marine Corps Memes).

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Seriously, it’s like he’s a mole and getting to lance corporal is when he gets whacked.

8. Meh, it’ll be fine (Via Sh*t My LPO Says).

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
It looks like quality wood. What could go wrong?

9. “Why shouldn’t I be comfortable, chief?”

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Don’t worry. His hands will come out when he starts doing push ups.

10. Basic training is no reason to let yourself go.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

11. When your commander seems to have no experience (Via Air Force Memes and Humor)

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Of course, the rest of your unit is going to give you the same look if you really start talking about ribbon count.

 12. There’s nothing to do but climb trees (via Marine Corps Memes).

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Just kidding. If you climbed a tree, gunny would murder you.

13. V.A. care. Earned, not given (via Marine Corps Memes).

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
It’s a long quest to see a V.A. doctor, but at least you’ll get 800 mg ibuprofen and some water when you complete the ordeal.

NOW: The 8 most iconic Marine Corps recruiting slogans

AND: 11 steps to turning a puppy into a badass military working dog

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 ways troops accidentally ‘blue falcon’ the rest of the platoon

Every now and then, the pricks known as ‘Blue Falcons’ come and ruin things for everyone else. They break the rules and make everyone else suffer. They rat out their brothers- and sisters-in-arms. They even damage the reputation of others to make themselves look better.


Blue Falcons (also known as Buddy F*ckers) are the most hated people within the military. But as much hate as these troops get from others, most of the time, it’s not done on purpose. Even if they do it with the best of intentions, when a troop f*cks over their buddies, they’re a Blue Falcon and will receive hate accordingly.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

Just what everyone wants to do right before they were supposed to get out of there…

(Photo by Capt. John Farmer)

Reminding the chain of command anything before close-out formation

Every Friday afternoon, every troop looks to their clock, counting down the minutes. The weekend is to begin just as soon as the weekend safety brief is done. Then, the Blue Falcon chimes in with something like, “weren’t we supposed to be helping in the motor pool today?”

Okay, so it’s not always as obvious as that — that’s actively being a Blue Falcon. Most of the time, it’s something small like, “man, I can’t wait until me and my buddy Jones go out drinking tonight!” The platoon sergeant hears this and remembers Jones is in second platoon, which reminds him that second platoon is doing lay-outs because First Sergeant said so.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

And the military tends to use a sledgehammer-sized solution for a nail-sized problem.

(Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class William Cousins)

Making a mistake and saying “but we didn’t know that”

When troops mess up and accept responsibility for their actions, they get their wrists slapped, take their punishment, and move on. No one’s perfect and the chain of command knows this (even if they like to pretend otherwise).

Blue Falcons who try to cover their tracks and hide behind ignorance might get a pass if they genuinely do not know better. This, in turn, forces the chain of command to verify that everyone knows what the Blue Falcon did was wrong.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

You really can’t tell when dental appointments end. Best to assume it’s all day unless you know for sure.

(Photo by Lance Cpl. Ricardo Davila)

Telling the truth when silence is better

Honesty is a well-respected quality in a subordinate. If something is wrong, it’s great to have someone who tells the truth and speaks out to correct problems. This becomes an issue, however, if the problem isn’t that big of a deal and it involves others in the unit.

Now, don’t get this twisted. Speak out if you ever see something unsafe, criminal, or unbecoming of a service-member. But if it’s something like, “when did Sgt. Jones say that his dental appointment would end?” You don’t need to answer and screw him over. Just shrug.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

Seriously. If you must fulfill your cactus-destroying urges, do it in New Mexico.

Breaking some bizzare, off-the-wall law that nobody knows about

Certain laws are pounded into everyone’s head at every safety brief. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t physically or sexually assault anyone. Don’t do dumb sh*t. And every now and then, the commander needs to brief the entire unit because one person screwed up.

Let’s pretend that a soldier stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona accidentally destroys a saguaro cactus. That’s actually a 25-year prison sentence. If one troop screws up and gets charged, the commander must throw “don’t destroy cacti” into their weekly safety brief and everyone else has to sit and listen.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

At least with “Soldier of the Whenever” boards, just attending is good enough.

(Photo by Staff Sgt. John Etheridge)

Going above and beyond what’s required

Every leader wants their unit to be the best possible unit, both for bragging rights and for pride. When one troop does amazing work, they’re showered with praise rarely given in the military. Most troops strive to be the best they can give to earn praise and accolades. BZ! Good job! Keep up the good work!

The problem comes when leaders see how great one troop is and questions why the rest aren’t at that same level. This tip isn’t meant to discourage everyone from trying hard, it’s meant for leaders who try to push unrealistic expectations.

MIGHTY HISTORY

When did having a prisoner’s last meal be anything they want start?

If you happen to ever find yourself slated to have society as a whole decide it would be best if they killed you, the silver lining is that in many parts of the world where this is still a thing, the last meal you ever eat is likely to be significantly better than the ones you’ve been consuming up to that point in prison. So how did this rather odd meal tradition come about and is it actually true death row inmates can get anything they want to eat?


To begin with, while it’s commonly stated that the whole idea of the last meal request came about due to Christ’s famed last supper, there doesn’t seem to be any direct evidence of this.

So how did the tradition actually start?

While history is absolutely littered with various cultures having feasts associated with death, such as the public feast for Roman gladiators the night before their potential date with death, called the coena libera, it wouldn’t be until slightly more modern times where we start seeing those being executed widely granted such a courtesy en masse. Once this did start to become a thing, in the early going, while wealthy individuals slated for execution, as ever, could generally request whatever they wanted any time, and were even often allowed servants to attend them as they awaited their execution, common things granted to the poor before their execution seem to have been at best a swig of some alcohol or the like.

Things began to pick up steam considerably on this front around the 16th century, however. Or, at least, things appear to have. It is entirely possible that such courtesies were widely granted before this to even the poor, with documented evidence of it simply not surviving. On that note, things like the printing press’ invention in the 15th century began making documented history of rather mundane events like the executions of random Joe Citizens more, well, documented. Thus, it may or may not be coincidence that accounts of such courtesies started to pop up more and more around the 16th century and progressing from there.

Whatever the case, by the 18th century, particularly in places like England, such practices were definitely around and relatively common. For example, in London it was common to allow the condemned to enjoy a meal with various guests, generally including the executioner, on the eve of the execution. Further, there is record of Newgate Prison death row inmates being allowed to stop at a pub on their march to their death at the Tyburn Fair gallows. At the pub, they would typically share drinks with their guards and executioner.

Over in Germany, perhaps the best documented case of the food practice around this time was that of Susanna Margarethe Brandt of Frankfurt. On January 14, 1772, Brandt, a poor servant girl, was executed for allegedly killing her newborn child. Eight months before this murder, she’d become pregnant by a journeyman goldsmith who she never saw again after they had sex. She subsequently successfully hid her pregnancy all the way to the eighth month when she gave birth secretly and alone in a laundry room on August 1, 1771. Unfortunately, when the baby came out, whether because newborn babies are insanely slippery or she just failed to realize it was about to drop, it fell from her and smacked its head against the stone floor. The child then, according to her, wheezed momentarily and then ceased to breathe. Brandt subsequently panicked, hid the baby in a stable and fled the scene. However, having no money or means to support herself, the next day she returned to Frankfurt where she was eventually arrested for murdering the child. Whether she did or not, and even if it would have survived anyway given it was premature, is a matter of debate even today, but she was nonetheless convicted of the murder and sentenced to death.

Shortly before her execution, however, she was the guest of honor at what has been dubbed the “Hangman’s Meal”- a rather large feast prepared for the condemned and various officials who had condemned her. If you’re curious, the meal in this case supposedly was “three pounds of fried sausages, ten pounds of beef, six pounds of baked carp, twelve pounds of larded roast veal, soup, cabbage, bread, a sweet, and eight and a half measures of 1748 wine.” Of course, the young Susanna reportedly ate none of it, merely drinking a little water as the officials feasted around her. Not long after, her head was lopped off.

Moving over to the United States where the idea of the “last meal” is perhaps best known today, it would appear this tradition did not initially jump across the pond when Europeans began setting in the Americas. Or, at least, surviving accounts of executions don’t seem to mention such courtesies, with some exceptions usually having to do with drink or something to smoke. For example, in 1835, the New York Sun reported shortly before his execution, murderer Manuel Fernandez requested and was granted a bit of brandy and some cigars, courtesy of the warden at Bellevue prison.

As the 19th century progressed, this sort of thing became more and more reported, as did eventually the practice of granting last meal requests, which by the early 20th century became quite common.

This all leads us to why. Well, as far as more historic cases, such as the early known instances in Europe, it’s generally hypothesized that people did it as a way for officials and executioners to more or less say to the prisoners “We’re going to kill you, but it’s nothing personal.” In essence, offering a bit of kindness to the condemned before their death with the prisoners themselves seemingly appreciating the courtesy, at least when it came to the alcohol.

On that note, it’s widely reported from this that the practice was instituted as a way to ensure the ghosts of the executed would feel friendly towards their condemners and executioners and thus not come back and haunt them, but we couldn’t find any primary documentation backing such a notion.

Whether that’s true or not, moving on to more modern times, the underlying reason why prison officials started doing this is not any better documented and there doesn’t ever seem to have been any laws requiring it, for instance. It’s just something people did on their own and the idea spread, presumably thanks to the media’s then love of reporting everything about the last hours of those being executed, and the general public eating it up across the nation.

Whatever the case, law professor Sarah Gerwig-Moore, co-author of Cold (Comfort?) Food: The Significance of Last Meal Rituals in the United States, posits of all this,

Last meals may be an offering by the guards and prison administrators as a way of seeking forgiveness for the impending execution, signaling that ‘it’s nothing personal.’… There are standard operating procedures that put up a wall between guards and prisoners, but nevertheless, there is a fondness between them… The last meal as a tradition is really a way of showing humanity between the caregivers of people on death row who are completely powerless and who come to care about these people — they feel complicit, and conflicted. The last meal is a way to offer, in a very, very small way, a show of kindness and generosity.

On this point, she also notes from her research, “The most generous meals correlate to the states that execute the most people — except for Texas…”

Texas, of course, having executed about 1,300 people in the last two centuries and trending the opposite of everyone else- actually increasing the number of executions in recent decades. For reference here, they’ve conducted 562 executions (almost half their couple century total) since 1982- apparently doing their best to adhere to the supposed 13th century Papal decree at the Massacre at Béziers, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” This translates to, “Kill them. For the Lord knows those that are His own.” Or to put it in the form that is apparently Texas’ state motto- “Kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out.” (Joking asside, Texas’ state motto is actually the single word- “friendship”, owing to the fact that the name of the state derives from the Caddo word for “friends” or “allies”.)

On the note of Texas, last meals, and being friendly, in 2011 Senator John Whitmire very publicly pushed for an ultimately got the special meal requests for those about to be executed abolished, at least officially. He noted of this, “It is extremely inappropriate to give a person sentenced to death such a privilege… enough is enough… If you’re fixing to execute someone under the laws of the state because of the hideous crime that someone has committed, I’m not looking to comfort him… He didn’t give his victim any comfort or a choice of last meal.”

That said, proponents on the other side of that argument generally state that part of the point of offering such courtesies is to demonstrate that while the state is killing someone on behalf and with the express consent of the public as a whole, if it’s not done in a humane way, the public and the state are no better than the person being killed. As Professor Kathy Zambrana of the University of Florida sums up, “It comes down to how do you treat one human being when you’re about to take someone’s life.”

History professor Daniel LaChance of Emory University further chimes in, “These last meals — and last words — show the state is democratic and respects individuality even as it’s holding people accountable. As horrible as the deed they’ve been convicted of [is], the person still has some kind of dignity that we’re acknowledging.”

As to what drew the ire of Senator Whitmire to come against the then almost century old Texas tradition of the last meal, it was the meal request of death row inmate Lawrence Russel Brewer, who was sentenced to death for taking part in the rather horrific and senseless racially motivated murder of James Byrd Jr in 1998. So what did Brewer ask for? A couple chicken fried steaks, a triple decker bacon cheeseburger, a beef and cheese omelet, fried okra, a full pound of BBQ, a half loaf of bread, three fajitas, and a meat lover’s pizza. For dessert, he requested a container of Blue Bell ice cream and peanut-butter fudge. To wash it all down, he asked for three root beers.

When the time came, however, he ultimately ate nothing.

This all brings us to whether inmates can actually request and receive basically anything they want. While the media widely reports this is the case, including with this specific example of Brewer, this isn’t correct at all. In fact, in the vast majority of cases where inmates request something elaborate like this, what they actually get is just a simple, one-person version of it.

As famed “death row chef” Brian Price, who prepared well over 100 such meals, states, “The local newspaper would always say they got 24 tacos and 12 enchiladas, but they would actually get four tacos and two enchiladas… They only get items in the commissary kitchen. If they order lobster, they get a piece of frozen pollack. They quit serving steaks in 1994. If they order 100 tacos, they get two or three.”

That said other states and prisons sometimes do it differently. For example, in nearby Oklahoma, they allow the meal to be purchased from a local restaurant if desired, though capping it at … Other states that allow similar, such as Florida, are more generous, allowing for a budget of .

Of course, as you might have guessed from all we’ve said so far, those actually involved in making or acquiring the last meal may or may not pitch in if they so choose to go beyond. For example, in Cottonport, Louisiana, when one unnamed death row inmate requested lobster, the warden at the Angola prison, Burl Cain, went ahead and paid for a full lobster dinner, with Cain then dining with the inmate. You see, much like many historical instances of this sort of thing, before Cain’s recent retirement, he would always extend an invitation to the condemned to have their last meal with him and sometimes other select guests.

Of course, as with Susanna Brandt and Lawrence Brewer, it’s quite common for death row inmates to forgo eating their “last meal”, as the whole impending death thing generally leaves many without an appetite. To try to get around the problem, the so-called last meal is sometimes not actually the last meal at all, with it generally designated the “special meal” by prison officials. Even when it is literally the person’s last meal, it is usually scheduled far enough ahead that they might still be able to eat, but not so far away that they’ll have to go an extended time without eating before their execution. For example, in Virginia the rule is the meal must be served at least four hours before the execution. In Indiana, they go even further with the special meal often coming a few days before the big show, in a time when the person can actually enjoy it on some level.

For those who don’t have an appetite, they often share. For example, in places like Florida, in certain cases family or friends may be allowed to enjoy the meal with the condemned. Some inmates instead donate it to others. For example, in 1951, Raymond Fernandez, one of the “Lonely Hearts Killers” along with his lady love Martha Jule Beck, made a request that his meal be given to another inmate to enjoy.

On a similar note, in the early decades of this tradition in Texas, it was relatively common for the condemned to order and be given large portions of food for their special meal precisely so they could have enough to share with every other inmate on death row in the prison. This extra food request was usually honored by prison officials because it was seen not just as a mercy, but something that helped keep all those on death row in line directly before executions.

That said, not all inmates have trouble eating. Perhaps the most famous case of this was murderer Rickey Ray Rector. After committing two rather senseless murders, he attempted to kill himself by shooting himself in the head. However, he ended up living through the ordeal owing to shooting himself in the temple- a common way to kill one’s self in the movies, but in reality very survivable if medical aid is nearby, with the person effectively having just given themselves a lobotomy.

Despite his rather deficient mental faculties as a result of the whole bullet through the brain thing, Rector was controversially sentenced to death. The issue became even more of a media sensation after the fact when it was learned that while he happily ate his last meal, he chose not to eat the pecan pie that he got with it. Why? He told the guards he was “saving it for later.”

Once again showing the humanity of the guards involved, they went ahead and saved the piece of pie just in case there was a last minute stay of execution.

This all brings us to what prisoners actually usually request for their last meal. While exact fare is rather diverse (for example in one case a person simply requested a “jar of pickles” according to the aforementioned Brian Price), if categorizing this into groups, it often comes down to either things you’d find at McDonald’s or KFC (or literally McDonald’s or KFC meals in many cases), something fancy, or a favorite home cooked meal from the person’s childhood or the like.

As for the first two categories there, it’s noted that the vast majority of death row inmates come from rather impoverished backgrounds, and thus often go with favorite food items they are accustomed to and haven’t gotten while in prison- things like fried chicken, cheeseburgers, french fries, and soda, or the like. That said, some go the other way, picking foods they couldn’t really afford when in the land of the free, or may have never even tried at all, like lobster or filet mignon. As for favorite home cooked meals, the aforementioned Brian Price states when he prepared these meals, he always did his best to make it just as the inmate described, or even potentially getting a specific recipe from the condemned’s loved ones.

Regardless of what camp one goes with, some choose their last meal not on what they necessarily intend to eat, but rather to make a statement.

As for such statements, going back in time a bit in 1963, murderer Victor Feguer requested nothing more than a single solitary unpitted olive for his last meal. He then requested the seed be buried with him in the hopes that it would grow an olive tree as a symbol of peace and rebirth.

On a similar note, one Jonathan Wayne Nobles, who apparently had been on drugs since he was 8 years old living in foster homes, as an adult murdered two women while high on a cocktail of substances. In prison, however, he got off the drugs and became a devout Catholic and, not just model inmate, but model person. As one example, at one point he attempted to save the life of a random woman he heard about who was dying from kidney failure. However, while he did successfully find a doctor willing to perform the procedure to take one of his kidneys out and give it to the woman, it ultimately turned out the pair were did not have matching blood types and the woman died. Doubling down, Nobles later attempted to have all his organs donated after his execution, but this request was denied as Texas did not allow death row inmates to donate their organs. Going back to his last meal request, he simply asked for the Eucharist (communion).

To end on a lighter note- well… relatively speaking…- in the 1940s Wilson De la Roi, who murdered a man while in prison, was slated to be killed via a somewhat newly minted poison gas chamber in San Quentin. When asked what he wanted for his last meal, he merely requested a bunch of indigestion tablets. When asked why, he stated that he felt sure he was soon to have rather severe case of gas…

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

Articles

How the military uses video games to get better at killing

Troops go through seemingly endless amounts of training that can be expensive, boring, and even dangerous. In an effort to make training cheaper, safer, and more effective, the service branches have turned increasingly to video games and simulators.


Possibly the most immersive system in use today, the VIRTSIM system from Raytheon allows users to operate in an open area the size of a basketball court. Trainees wear a set of sensors and feedback gear that records their every action and feeds it into the simulator. Virtual reality goggles show them a simulated world that they move through as a team.

The system doesn’t use wires or tethers to power the suits or transmit data, so participants can move like they would in the real world.

Similarly, the Army’s Dismounted Soldier Training System allows troops to train as a squad in virtual reality. The system allows for customizable missions and incorporates all of a trainee’s movements except for actually walking. Because of the high cost of treadmills, each soldier stands on a rubber pad and moves through the environment with a controller mounted on their weapon, meaning they can’t train the muscle memory of leaping to cover or learn as well to operate with muscle fatigue.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
The Dismounted Solder Training System allows soldiers to train as a squad. Photo: US Army Maj. Penny Zamora

Still, the DSTS provides the chance for soldiers to respond to a mortar attack, react to a near ambush, or any number of dangerous situations that are impossible to train on in the real world.

One of the older simulators, the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000, has even more limitations. Troops are confined to a room and can’t move their character through the simulation at all. Instead of looking through goggles to see the virtual world, a projection of the simulated battle is displayed on one or more walls and trainees engage targets in it.

The EST 2000 does have weapons that closely simulate actual M4s, M9s, and other commons systems. The weapons keep track of how the soldier aims and fires, catching even small actions like trigger squeeze. This allows marksmanship trainers to collect detailed information about what a service member is doing right or wrong.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Soldiers train in the Engagement Skills Trainer 2000 April 6, 2015 in before heading to live-fire training at Saber Junction 15. Photo: US Army Sgt. 1st Class Caleb Barrieau

The military branches use simulators similar to the ESTS 2000 to train pilots and vehicle crew members. While not being able to walk limits training opportunities for ground troops, people in vehicles don’t have to worry about that. Warrior Hall at Fort Rucker allows new Army pilots to train on different helicopter airframes. The Navy and Air Force have similar programs for jet pilots.

While the simulators are great, the goal isn’t to replace the standard training but to augment. Troops can use the simulator to practice rifle fundamentals before heading to the range, experience hitting a building with their squad before their first visit to a shoot house.

And the military still has even more ambitious plans for simulations. The Future Holistic Training Environment Live Synthetic program would tie together different simulations and allow players to participate in massive exercises. Pilots training in New Mexico could fly support for infantrymen training in California while battle staff commanded from North Carolina.

Until then, there’s always video games.

Articles

Air Force Chief: US must be ready to fight in space

Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said the U.S. Air Force needs to be ready to engage in space combat.


“Other nations are preparing to use space as a battlefield, a big battlefield, and we’d better be ready to fight there,” Welsh said last week in Arlington, Virginia. “We don’t want to fight there but we better be ready for it because other people clearly are posturing themselves to be able to do that.”

Welsh, who will be retiring on July 1 after just over 40 years of service, made his comments Thursday morning in Arlington, Virginia, at an Air Force Association breakfast.

His comment about space as a battlefield came in the context of what the U.S. needs to be able to do to win future fights.

One of the absolutes in modern warfare, he said, is firepower – “more of it, more quickly and more precisely.” And the Air Force needs to have that not only in the air domain but in cyber and space domains.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
U.S. Air Force Gen. Mark Welsh, left, the chief of staff of the Air Force, speaks with Gen. Bob Kehler, the commander of U.S. Strategic Command, during a senior leadership council meeting hosted by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel at the Pentagon.

Welsh credited Air Force Space Command with taking the lead “in at least thinking about the space domain as a warfighting domain.”

But Space Command has been thinking about space warfare for quite some time.

In the 1990s, Air Force Gen. Joseph Ashy, then head of Space Command, told lawmakers that space would become a battleground, according to Air Force Maj. William L. Spacy II, who quoted Ashy in “Does the United States Need Space-Based Weapons?”

“Some people don’t want to hear this, and it sure isn’t in vogue … but — absolutely — we’re going to fight in space. We’re going to fight from space and we’re going to fight into space,” Ashy said.

A 1967 Outer Space Treaty stipulates that space is to be used for peaceful purposes. Just what that means has never been defined, though the 1945 U.N. Charter defined “peaceful purposes” to include the inherent right of self-defense, Spacy wrote.

That freed up space-pioneering countries including the Soviet Union and the U.S. to place military communications and early-warning system satellites into space. But both also went farther than that, developing and testing – but never deploying – anti-satellite weapons before and after the 1967 treaty was adopted.

But in recent years the idea of space engagements has grown more real as both China and the U.S. successfully demonstrated the capability to take out a satellite with a weapon.

China destroyed one of its own weather satellites with an anti-satellite weapon in 2007. A year later the U.S. took down one of its own damaged satellites using a SM-3 missile fired from the USS Lake Erie.

Articles

The military is cracking down on hazing

A U.S. Navy officer charged with hazing and maltreatment of sailors is facing a general court martial.


The Virginian-Pilot reported April 18 that the unnamed lieutenant commander is accused of verbal abuse and retaliating against a sailor who asked to stop being called Charlie Brown. Court documents say the officer told the sailor to carry a Charlie Brown cartoon figurine at all times.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Don’t laugh. (Official image of Charlie Brown, created by Charles M. Schultz)

The officer also allegedly punched a chair next to a sailor and yelled at someone for more than an hour. The officer is also accused of lying about his actions.

Also read: Lawmakers visit Parris Island after recruits death highlight’s hazing

The lieutenant commander is a reservist assigned to a cargo handling battalion in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Military hazing has drawn extra scrutiny in recent years after a series of high-profile cases.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Marines dropped helicopters in the ocean to save families

Few feats of engineering are as impressive as a military-grade helicopter. Today worth millions of dollars each, these high-tech birds are a formidable military asset, including, among many other uses, for rescue operations — all a fact US military personnel helpfully chose to ignore during Operation Frequent Wind when they pushed several dozen of them into the sea, in one case for no other reason than to save a mother, a father, and their five children.


For anyone unfamiliar with it, Operation Frequent Wind was the name give to the final phase of evacuations during the Fall of Saigon — effectively the final days of the Vietnam War. Noted as being one of the largest military evacuations in history and the largest involving helicopters as the primary means of evacuation, Operation Frequent Wind is celebrated as a logistical success for the US due to the fact that a few dozen helicopter pilots were somehow able to evacuate over 7,000 people in around 18 hours. This is made all the more impressive when you realize that the mass evacuation was never supposed to involve helicopters much at all.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

A South Vietnamese helicopter is pushed over the side of the USS Okinawa during Operation Frequent Wind, April 1975.

(US Marine Corps photo)

You see, while Operation Frequent Wind is now famous for being the most successful mass helicopter evacuation ever organised, using helicopters as the primary means of evacuation was never the original plan — it wasn’t even the backup plan. It turns out that it was the backup to the backup to the backup plan.

Known initially as Operation Talon Vise until North Vietnamese spies heard whispers of it, the plans for a mass evacuation of Vietnam had been in place for several years and were originally supposed to involve the primary use of both commercial and military aircraft which would evacuate at-risk citizens and military personnel, with the total slated to be evacuated estimated to be about 2 million people.

Failing or in addition to this, the idea was to dock ships at Saigon port and load them with as many people as possible. In the event none of these options were possible, the final, Hail Mary plan was to instead use military helicopters to transport people to ships off shore.

Of course, evacuating the original estimate of 2 million people was never an option for the helicopter plan alone, nor even the extremely whittled down number of about 100,000-200,000 that military brass eventually reduced that figure to. Instead, at this point it was just as many people as they could as fast as they could.

So why did the US have to fall back to literally their least effective option if they’d been planning the evacuation for years? Well, much of the blame falls somewhat unbelievably to the actions of a single man — Graham Anderson Martin, the American ambassador to South Vietnam at the time who steadfastly refused to agree to start an evacuation for fear of mass panic and given his unshakable faith in the notion that the threat of the “superior American firepower” would keep the enemy at bay.

Despite this, recommendations did go out in advance of Operation Frequent Wind that at risk people should leave the country, resulting in a total of around 50,000 people, including a few thousand orphans, leaving via various planes in the months leading up to an actual evacuation being started. This was mostly done via supply aircraft who would bring supplies in, and then load up as many people as they could for the trip home. Yet an official full scale evacuation, which would have seen these efforts massively ramped up, was continually stalled by Martin.

Military brass tried and failed to persuade Martin to change his mind, with Brigadier General Richard E. Carey going as far as to travel to Saigon to plead personally with with the ambassador. This was a meeting Carey would later diplomatically call “cold and non productive” and should be noted took place on April 13th, 2 weeks after preparations were already supposed to have begun for the mass evacuation.

This back and forth continued until April 28th when North Vietnamese forces bombed the Tan Son Nhut Air Base, effectively eliminating any possibility of getting people out via large aircraft capable of mass evacuation. When this was pointed out to the Martin, he still refused to call for the evacuation, deciding to wait until the next day so he could drive out to the base and confirm the damage for himself.

Upon confirming that North Vietnamese forces had indeed destroyed the air base and the best option for a mass evacuation, he finally relented.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

South Vietnamese refugees arrive on a U.S. Navy vessel during Operation Frequent Wind.

This was an order that was relayed to soldiers on the ground via the official Armed Forces Radio station by the words “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising,” followed by the playing the song I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas by Bing Crosby.

As a direct result of Martin’s stubbornness, the military had no choice but to rely on the least effective means of mass evacuation — via helicopter, with the operation officially commencing later that afternoon at 14:00.

Even as the operation began, Martin’s bullheaded refusal to prepare in anyway for an evacuation caused problems for certain helicopter pilots, most notably the ones trying to evacuate him and his staff.

How?

Well there was a large tree in the embassy courtyard that military brass had “strongly advised” Martin cut down so as to better allow helicopters to land there should the worst happen. Martin, believing that doing so would be as good as admitting the war had already been lost, absolutely refused to do this. As Henry Kissinger would later note, “Faced with imminent disaster, Martin decided to go down with the ship.”

On that note, to his credit, Martin refused to leave once the evacuation had begun, though this was much to the annoyance of the pilot, Colonel Gerry Berry, sent to fetch him. Instead, Martin continually had refugees boarded while he simply waited with his staff in his office, knowing that as long as he was there, the helicopter would keep coming back allowing more lives to be saved.

It wasn’t until the 14th trip that an exhausted Berry finally reached his wits’ end. Said Berry, “I called the sergeant over. And he got up in the cockpit. And I said, ‘This is it. Get all these people off. This helicopter’s not leaving the roof until the ambassador’s on board. The President sends.'”

With an order supposedly from the President himself, though not actually in reality, Martin finally relented and allowed Berry to complete his mission by transporting Martin and his entourage.

Of course, what the military brass had failed to remember after this supposed last flight was that they’d accidentally left almost a dozen soldiers behind at the compound… This wouldn’t be realized for many hours, but all 11 Marines were rescued after being forced to barricade themselves on the rooftop for the night in case of an attack.

Leaving the evacuations as late as Martin did understandably resulted in mass panic across Saigon with many thousands of South Vietnamese citizens fleeing in everything from cars to stolen planes and helicopters.

In addition, lack of time meant that helicopter pilots had a laughable number of people to rescue, resulting in many ignoring the “recommended” weight limit of their craft and massively overloading them to the very extremes of what they could handle given the pilot’s assessments and weather conditions. In one case, one pilot noted he was overweight to the point that he could only hover inches off the ground, but no one was willing to get off as for many it would mean their life if they could not get out of the country.

He then stated he thought if he could get some forward speed he could get the additional lift needed, so simply pitched the craft forward and took a dive off the rooftop he was on, barely recovering before hitting the rooftops below and then managing to very slowly climb from there.

As for these pilots, they were instructed to ferry evacuees to waiting ships in the South China Sea, many of which quickly began to run out of space resulting in people sleeping double in the small bunks, as well as just anywhere on the ships there was available space for someone to sit or lie down on.

On top of that, any South Vietnamese pilots that could manage to get a hold of their own helicopters and flee to sea were also crowding the decks as they arrived. This resulted in the order to push some of these South Vietnamese helicopters overboard to make more space, or orders for some pilots to simply crash their helicopters into the ocean and await rescue after they’d dropped off any passengers.

This all brings us around to the incredible story of Major Buang Lee. Knowing he and his family — a wife and five children — would in all likelihood be executed if they couldn’t find a way out of the country immediately, the Major managed to commandeer a small Cessna O-1 spotter plane. Under heavy fire, he managed to take off and flee the country with two adults and five children jam packed aboard the tiny, slow moving aircraft.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

A South Vietnamese UH-1H is pushed overboard to make room for a Cessna O-1 landing.

He then headed out to sea in search of a ship to land on or ditch the plane next to. About an hour and a half off the coast and with only about an hour of fuel left, he finally found one in the USS Midway.

The issue now was there was not sufficient room to land on the ship, owing to the number of helicopters on the deck. Unable to find the right frequency on the radio to talk to those on the Midway, Buang resorted to dropping notes.

The first two notes, unfortunately blew away before anyone aboard could grab them. Buang tied the third to his gun and dropped it. When the crew aboard retrieved it, they saw it read: “Can you move the helicopters to the other side, I can land on your runway, I can fly 1 hour more, we have enough time to move. Please rescue me. -Major Buang, Wife and 5 child.”

The captain of the vessel, one Lawrence Chambers then had a decision to make. While it was possible to move some of the helicopters out of the way, there was no room to move them all. The young captain, only appointed to that post some five weeks before, decided that there was little chance the family would all survive if they tried to ditch in the sea next to the Midway and be rescued that way.

Said Lawrence of the event, “When a man has the courage to put his family in a plane and make a daring escape like that, you have to have the heart to let him in.”

So, thinking he’d likely be court-martialed for it, he made the call to move what helicopters could be moved and dump the rest in the ocean after stripping them of any valuable gear that could be removed quickly. In total, some million (about million today) worth of helicopters were ditched in this way.

There was another problem, however. The plane in question typically needs a minimum of a little over 600 feet of runway to land and come to a full stop. The Midway itself in total was about 1,000 feet long, but the runway deck was only about 2/3 of that, meaning there was zero margin for error here.

Thus, in order to land such a craft on the deck with enough margin of safety, the ship really needed to be moving as fast as possible to make the plane’s relative speed slow enough that it could stop in time before falling off the end. Using the cable system to stop the craft faster wasn’t deemed a good option as in all likelihood it would have just resulted in the landing gear ripping off and/or the plane flipping over in a spectacular crash.

Unfortunately, Chambers had previously granted the ship’s engineers permission to take the Midway’s engines partially offline for routine maintenance. After all, helicopters did not need nor want that relative wind, especially when landing on such a crowded deck.

Said Chambers, “When I told the chief engineer that I needed 25 knots, he informed me that we didn’t have enough steam. I ordered him to shift the hotel load to the emergency diesels.”

With this, the ship was able to achieve the requested speed and Buang’s landing was also helped by another 15 knots of headwind, further reducing his needed stopping distance.

With that done and deck cleared as it could be, Buang was given the greenlight to land, ultimately doing so with textbook precision and with plenty of deck to spare, becoming a rare individual in relatively modern times to land such an aircraft aboard a military carrier.

And, thankfully for Captain Lawrence, he was not court-martialed for ditching rather valuable military hardware to save Major Buang and his family, and instead enjoyed a continuance of his successful career, eventually retiring as a Rear Admiral.

In the aftermath of Operation Frequent Wind, the U.S. ships continued to hang around for a few days off the coast, trying to pick up as many refugees from the water as they could. Finally, the order was given to head home, forcing the commanders to leave many thousands of people that had been promised evacuation behind.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

Articles

Russia is about to launch this massive military exercise as tensions with west simmer

Russia is preparing to mount what could be one of its biggest military exercises since the Cold War, a display of power that will be watched warily by NATO against a backdrop of east-west tensions.


Western officials and analysts estimate up to 100,000 military personnel and logistical support troops could participate in the Zapad (West) 17 exercise, which will take place next month in Belarus, Kaliningrad, and Russia itself. Moscow puts the number significantly lower.

The exercise, to be held from Sept. 14-20, comes against a backdrop of strained relations between Russia and the US. Congress recently imposed a fresh round of sanctions on Moscow in response to allegations of interference in the 2016 US election.

The first of the Russian troops are scheduled to arrive in Belarus in mid-August.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Putin meets with Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces and First Deputy Defence Minister Valery Gerasimov and Belarusian Defence Minister Yury Zhadobin, 2013. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Moscow has portrayed Zapad 17 as a regular exercise, held every four years, planned long ago and not a reaction to the latest round of sanctions.

NATO headquarters in Brussels said it had no plans to respond to the maneuvers by deploying more troops along the Russian border.

A NATO official said: “NATO will closely monitor exercise Zapad 17, but we are not planning any large exercises during Zapad 17. Our exercises are planned long in advance and are not related to the Russian exercise.”

The US vice-president, Mike Pence, discussed Zapad 17 during a visit to Estonia in July and raised the possibility of deploying the US Patriot missile defense system in the country. The US may deploy extra troops to eastern Europe during the course of the exercise and delay the planned rotation of others.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commander, US Army Europe, is awarded the German Federal Armed Forces Golden Cross of Honor by German Lt. Gen. Joerg Vollmer, the chief of staff of the German Army. Photo courtesy of US Army.

The commander of US Army Europe, Lt Gen Ben Hodges, told a press conference in Hungary in July: “Everybody that lives close to the western military district is a little bit worried because they hear about the size of the exercise.”

The Russian armed forces have undergone rapid modernisation over the last decade and Zapad offers them a chance to train en masse.

Moscow blames growing west-east tensions on the expansion of NATO eastwards and in recent years the deployment of more NATO forces in countries bordering Russia. NATO says the increased deployments are in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2013.

Russia has not said how many troops will participate in Zapad 17, but the Russian ambassador to NATO , Aleksander Grushko, said it was not envisioned that any of the maneuvers would involve more than 13,000 troops, the limit at which Russia – under an international agreement – would be obliged to allow military from other countries to observe the exercise.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Zapad 13. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

Russia could, theoretically, divide the exercise into separate parts in order to keep below the 13,000 limit. Western analysts said the last Zapad exercise in 2013 involved an estimated 70,000 military and support personnel, even though Russia informed NATO in the run-up it would not exceed 13,000.

Igor Sutyagin, co-author of Russia’s New Ground Forces, to be officially published on September 20 said, “unfortunately, you can’t trust what the Russians say.” He said, “one hundred thousand is probably exaggerated, but 18,000 is absolutely realistic.”

He did not envisage an attack on the Baltic states, given they are members of NATO . “Well, there are easier ways to commit suicide,” he said. But Putin is a master at doing the unexpected, he said, and Russia could take action elsewhere, such as taking more land in Georgia.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Zapad 13. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

In a joint paper published in May, Col Tomasz Kowalik, a former special assistant to the chairman of NATO’s military committee and a director at the Polish ministry of national defense, and Dominik Jankowski, a senior official at the Polish ministry of foreign affairs, wrote that Russia had ordered 4,000 rail cars to transport its troops to Belarus and estimated that could amount to 30,000 military personnel.

Adding in troops already in place in Belarus and the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad as well as troops arriving by air, it might be the largest Russian exercise since 1991.

NATO said its biggest exercise this year, Trident Javelin 17, running from Nov. 8-17, would involve only 3,000 troops. Trident Javelin 17 is to prepare for next year’s bigger exercise, Trident Juncture 2018, which will involve an estimated 35,000 troops.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
Zapad 13. Photo from Russian Kremlin.

The NATO official added: “We have increased our military presence in the eastern part of the alliance in response to Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and its military buildup in the region. We have four multinational NATO battle-groups in place in the Baltic states and Poland, a concrete reminder that an attack on one ally is an an attack on all. However, NATO’s force posture is not in reaction to Zapad 17.”

During the Cold War, Zapad was the biggest training exercise of the Soviet Union and involved an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 personnel. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was resurrected in 1999 and has been held every four years since.

Articles

It looks like the Russkis have deployed the ‘AMRAAMski’ in Syria

There’s nothing like a trial-by-combat to see if a new weapon is really worth its salt, so Russia has been using the Syrian Civil War to test out a lot of its new military technology.


In 2015, Russia’s Klub cruise missile made its combat debut, and Moscow has sent some of its most advanced planes to the war — including the Su-34 Fullback, the Su-35 Flanker, and the Tu-160 Blackjack — to carry out missions in support of Bashir al-Assad’s regime.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history
(Photo from ausairpower.net)

Now, it looks like the Russians are including the R-77 air-to-air missile among the systems being used in what has become an operational testing ground. The missiles have been seen on Syrian Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrums, a fighter that the Soviets and Russians have exported to a number of countries in the region.

The R-77 — also known as the AA-12 “Adder,” or “AMRAAMski” — is an active-homing radar-guided missile. It’s comparable to the earlier versions of the U.S.-made AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile. The Adder has a range of roughly 70 miles, and a top speed in excess of Mach 4. The Adder can be carried by just about any Russian aircraft, from the Su-35 Flanker to the Mig-21 Fishbed. It entered service in 1994.

The AIM-120 AMRAAM has a top speed of Mach 4, and entered service in 1991, although it was being delivered as early as 1988. Early versions of the missile had a range of 45 miles, but the latest variant has a range of over 100 miles. The AMRAAM has been mounted on a wide variety of combat aircraft, including upgraded F-5s for the Singaporean Air Force; the F-22; the F-35; the Tornado F.3; the JAS.39 Gripen; F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets; and even the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Russia’s move to improve its air-to-air capability is certainly intended to stymie any U.S.-led contingency plan of creating a no-fly zone over the war-torn region.

MIGHTY TRENDING

F-35s ready for war if Syrian tensions explode

The US has a small aircraft carrier hosting F-35B stealth fighter jets in the Middle East as Russia threatens US forces in Syria — and if fighting breaks out the US will have no choice but to send in the advanced fighters.

Russia and its ally, Syria, have launched a massive offensive against Idlib, the last rebel-held area in the country, and appeared to predict chemical weapons use in the process.

Syria’s government has been linked to 33 cases of chemical weapons use against its own people during the 7 year-long civil war, and along with Russia stands accused of war crimes such as the indiscriminate bombing of hospitals and schools.


Russian media has accused terrorists and groups with US-backing of plotting to stage, and to actually carry out, a chemical weapons attack on children and families in Idlib to justify attacking the Syrian regime.

But Russia has made these claims before, and it hasn’t stopped the US from striking Syria in the past. This time, as Syria and Russia eye a bloody victory over the last remaining rebels, Russia has telegraphed that it would counter-attack the US if US missiles hit Syrian targets over chemical weapons use.

Russia, a weakened military power that often bolsters its image with propaganda, sat idly by while the US hit Syria twice before, but the US has spelled out that this time its penalty would take a much “stronger” form.

With a small armada of Russian ships in the Mediterranean, Russia too appears to have taken measures to look more committed to its cause.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

F-35Bs aboard the USS Essex.

(US Navy photo)

Enter the F-35B

In the face of a massive Russian naval presence in the Mediterranean hugging Syria’s coast, the US doesn’t have a single carrier strike group anywhere near the region.

But the US does have the USS Essex, a US Navy small-deck helicopter carrier modified to carry US Marine Corps F-35B stealth fighters. The Essex and its accompanying ships across the Suez Canal from the Russian ships in the Mediterranean represents one of the greatest concentrations of naval power ever put to sea, and its main mission is simple — crisis response.

The long-awaited F-35Bs have updated software that grants them “full warfighting capability” Marine Corps spokesman Capt. Christopher Harrison told USNI News. That capability takes the F-35 beyond anything that F/A-18s, the US Navy’s standard carrier-based fighter, could do in an environment like Syria.

Syria has advanced Russian missile defenses, creating some of the world’s most challenging air spaces. Only a stealth jet with advanced sensors, like the F-35B, could safely take on the mission of fighting in the skies above Syria.

“The F-35’s ability to operate in contested areas, including anti-access/area-denial environments that legacy fighters cannot penetrate, provides more lethality and flexibility to the combatant commander than any other fighter platform,” said Harrison.

This was the only underwater submarine vs. submarine kill in history

US Marines firing a howitzer in Syria.

(US Marine Corps photo)

Russia flirting with disaster

Russia specifically threatened US forces in southern Syria with retaliation. In the past, these US forces have come under attack from Russian-aligned forces and brutally beat them back with superior air power. But in that case, Russia held back its considerable bank of fighter jets in the region from the fight.

The F-35B has never tasted combat, but the Syrian war produced a rich list of firsts over the last seven years. Missile fires have taken down Israeli, Syrian, and Russian jets over the course of the war. Syria has seen the combat debut of Israel’s F-35I and the first US air-to-air kill between manned aircraft since 1999.

If Russia is serious about backing its ally and countering a possible US attack, it would no doubt need air power to do so. But not only does the US have stealth F-35s nearby ready to hit Russia with something it’s never seen, they have considerable air bases in the region that make Moscow’s threat appear less than serious.

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

Do Not Sell My Personal Information