Today's Springfield Armory isn't your grandpa's Springfield Armory - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

When people think of American firearm manufacturers, legendary names like Colt, Smith & Wesson and Springfield come to mind. However, the modern firearms that today’s Springfield Armory makes like the M1A, SAINT AR-15s, XD pistols and Hellcat sub-compact pistol have little, if any, relation to classic American firearms like the M1903 Springfield and M1 Garand rifles that served in the World Wars. To explain, we have to go back to America’s fight for independence.

In 1777, George Washington was searching for a suitable location for an arms repository. General Henry Knox, chief artillery officer of the Continental Army, recommended Springfield, Massachusetts. Though the town was small and possessed little industrial capacity, it was not meant to host any sort of firearms manufacturing facilities. Rather, the Continental Army needed a central location to store and distribute firearms and munitions throughout New England. Springfield lay at the intersection of three rivers including the Connecticut River and four major roads that led to New York City, Boston, Albany, and Montreal. After scouting the site, Washington approved the location and the Springfield Armory was born.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Shays’ Rebellion is driven away from Springfield Armory (National Archives)

Although the armory did not produce any firearms, musket cartridges and gun carriages were produced there to support the war effort. As intended, the armory continued to stockpile and distribute muskets, cannons, and other weapons throughout the war. By the 1780s, Springfield Armory was America’s premiere ammunition and weapons arsenal. This made it a prime target for Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays and his Regulators.

Burdened by debts and taxes from the war, Shays and other veterans felt betrayed by the government that they had fought to establish. In an effort to overturn it, Shays and his followers marched on Springfield Armory on January 25, 1787. The armory was defended by state militia who fired grape shot at the rebels, forcing them to flee. Four Regulators were killed and 20 were wounded. The rebellion was routed and eventually put down and the armory was untouched.

In 1794, construction of manufacturing facilities began at Springfield Armory. The next year, the armory began producing its first firearms. Though the it employed just 40 workers and produced 245 muskets, it was the start of American national firearms manufacturing. Congress would later establish a second national armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). However, Harpers Ferry would never grow to match Springfield and would be destroyed during the Civil War.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Springfield Armory c. 1850 (National Park Service)

Throughout the 19th century, Springfield became a hub for firearm design, research, and production. This national armory model mirrored European nations who had dedicated facilities that were funded, maintained, and operated by the government. Under this model, military firearms like the Trapdoor rifle, M1903 Springfield, and M1 Garand were designed and primarily built by the Springfield Armory. Though private companies like Winchester and Remington were contracted to produce rifles during wartime, the manufacturing processes and procedures were all developed and standardized by Springfield.

By WWII, Springfield Armory had over 15,000 employees and was producing a majority of military firearms. However, employment and production was scaled down significantly after the war. Though Springfield did develop and build the M14 to replace the M1 in 1959, U.S. defense policy was changing.

The idea of maintaining a national armory at the expense of the tax-payer was brought into question in the 1960s by then-Defense Secretary Robert McNamara. He believed that it would be more economical to contract private industry for the design and manufacture of military firearms. Rather than having to constantly scale a national armory between peace and wartime, private companies could be lobbied and compete for government contracts when necessary. Under McNamara’s guidance, the Springfield Armory was slowly scaled back.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Springfield Armory’s experimental shop where John Garand developed the famous M1 (National Park Service)

By 1968, Springfield Armory was completely shut down. Future rifles like the M16/M4 were designed and built by private companies like Armalite, Colt, and FN. However, just a couple years later, the Springfield Armory name was trademarked by Elmer Balance. Through his Texas-based company, LH Manufacturing, Balance had the idea to build a civilian version of the military M14 rifle and market it with the Springfield name. Using surplus M14 parts, Balance created what we know today as the Springfield M1A.

In 1974, Balance sold his entire enterprise, tooling, trademarks, and all, to the Reese family in Geneseo, Illinois. Springfield relocated from Texas to Illinois where it remains today. Though the M1A is a derivative of the M14 that was designed and manufactured by the original Springfield Armory, the rifle is the closest relation that the modern Springfield Armory has to its Revolutionary War-era namesake.

Despite this, Springfield Armory, Inc. maintains the federal logo of two crossed cannons with a cannonball and the writing “Since 1794”. Moreover, many of the company’s firearms are sub-contracted to other manufacturers including the XD pistol series and Hellcat pistol which are made in Croatia.

Today, the actual Springfield Armory facility in Massachusetts is owned and maintained by the National Park Service as a historic landmark. Though the national Springfield Armory is gone, its impact on American history is undeniable. In addition to designing and building war-winning weapons like the M1903 and M1 Garand, Springfield also revolutionized the manufacturing industry with innovations like interchangeable parts and the Blanchard lathe. The national armory also introduced modern business practices like hourly wages. While the modern private company is a cornerstone of the American firearms market, it’s important to note the difference between it and the national armory that it draws its name from.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How Japan was suckered into revealing Midway was a target

The Battle of Midway is remembered as one of the greatest naval victories in American history. The big moments — whether it was the heroic sacrifice of Torpedo Squadron 8 or dive bombers catching three Japanese carriers exposed and vulnerable — are well known. But those moments wouldn’t have happened without a single undersea cable and a brilliant idea.


In the weeks before the Battle of Midway, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was fighting his own battle — and it wasn’t with the Japanese. Instead, it was against bureaucrats in Washington who were proving to be the bane of Nimitz’s existence. With the attack on Pearl Harbor still fresh on everyone’s mind, a fierce debate raged over a single question: Where will the Japanese strike next?

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Wilfred J. Holmes (call him “Jasper”) was the man responsible for the gambit that led Japan to reveal Midway as their target.

Nimitz needed to know the answer to this question for two reasons: One, the Pacific Fleet was outnumbered — big time. Two, he wanted the bureaucrats in Washington off his back. If he followed their advice and things went wrong (as in losing Midway and/or the carriers), he knew who’d take the heat — and it wasn’t gonna be the folks in Washington. It was then that an intelligence officer, Jasper Holmes, came up with a plan.

Long before World War II, America laid an undersea cable to send messages across the ocean. Nimitz used this line to broadcast an unencrypted message, saying that the fresh-water condensers on the atoll were broken and they needed a shipment of H2O.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

The Battle of Midway, where Japan lost the heavy cruiser Mikuma and four carriers, was one of America’s greatest victories.

(US Navy)

The hope was that the Japanese would pick that message up and pass it on. They did — and the Americans were listening in. Surprisingly, the Japanese didn’t give pause as to why such an operational vulnerability would be revealed via radio broadcast. Nimitz had the proof he needed that Midway was, indeed, the next Japanese objective.

The rest was history. One of America’s greatest victories had come about because an American commander got the enemy to help him get Washington off his back.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 reasons why the Winged Hussars are among the greatest fighters of all time

Everyone always remembers the sheer bad*ssery and battle prowess of the vikings, the samurai, and the Roman legionnaires — but the Winged Hussars of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth a rarely find a way into the conversation.

Don’t let the flamboyant wings fool you. These shock troops were some of the most devastating cavalrymen to ever mount a horse.


Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Creighton Abrams may be remembered for it, but Polish-Lithuania lived by the mantra, “they’ve got us surrounded again? The poor bastards…”

They defeated nearly every “unstoppable” empire that came at them

When history buffs bring up the three most formidable empires in history, they’ll often include the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Khanates. Smack dab in the middle of those three was the little commonwealth of Polish-Lithuania. As history buffs also know, everyone always tries to come grab a piece of Poland. What kept them at bay for so long were Winged Hussars.

The Ottomans? The Hussars charged through Vienna like it was nothing. The Russians? They toppled Ivan the Terrible in the dead of winter. The Khanates? There’s a reason the Mongols, and, eventually, the succeeding khanates, never made it past Poland and into Europe.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Marching into battle looking like Roman angels was steeped religious symbolism. After all, Polish-Lithuania was (and Poland remains) a very Roman Catholic nation.

Their wings weren’t just for decoration

It might sound silly that heavily armored cavalrymen felt the need to include giant, feathery wings on either their saddles or their backs, but it wasn’t just a fashion statement — it was an effective strategy.

Hussars were shock troops, meaning that they needed to instill as much fear as they could as fast and effectively as they could — before the enemy has a chance to realize what’s going on. In an era when it was unlikely that you’d ever even see a neighboring city, what were you supposed to make of the rapidly approaching, heavily armed legion of vengeful, glittering angels?

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Best thing about a sword is that you never have to reload it.

They adapted extremely well to firearms

As new technologies are introduced to the battlefield, old tactics get thrown out. No single piece of military tech changed warfare quite like firearms.

Firearms instantaneously made arrows obsolete and swords pointless — if you can keep your distance. The Hussars never really got the memo, though, and they’d still charge into battle, decked-out in armor that could take a bullet or two and close the distance before their enemy got a chance to reload.

The Hussars eventually got their own firearms, which meant their enemies now had to deal with a heavily armored Hussars charging at them with spears, swords, warhammers, and rifles.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Seriously, Hollywood? Why isn’t this a movie yet?

They put the Battle of Thermopylae to shame.

Everyone praises the Spartans for pitting 300 troops against the mighty Persian army. But when you start looking deeper into it, you’ll quickly realize there are plenty of things they left out for the sake of the comic (and, later, film adaption), like the actual numbers of Greeks aiding them and how poorly trained most of the Persians were. The Spartans were bad*sses, yes, but some elements of their most famous tale are questionable.

Want to know who undoubtedly pulled off a heroic victory when faced with 62-to-1 odds? The Polish Winged Hussars.

A 400-strong Hussar unit was being attacked on two fronts by the 25,000+ Crimean Khanate forces and they were backed into the tiny village of Hodow. The Hussars had only a single night to turn the town into a fortress, to defend themselves with no supplies and no backup.

The Crimean forces raided the half-defended town and ran out of ammunition so fast that they needed to turn enemy arrows fired at them into improvised rounds for their long rifles. Six hours of intense fighting later and the Crimean Khanate started to retreat. The dust settled and thousands of the Khanate Tatars lay dead on the floor while less then a hundred Hussars had fallen.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

The famous winged banners weren’t needed.

They never really went away

As tanks took over the battlefield, people generally stopped riding into battle on horses. For the Polish, that was kind of true. Officially, the Winged Hussars ended in the 1770s because of political reforms, but heavily geared-out, horse-mounted, Polish troops existed throughout World War I and World War II.

Since Poland was being attacked from all sides and had little room to breathe, local militias needed to pick up some of the slack. The militias didn’t have tanks, but the farmers did have horses, rifles, and an undying will to fight.

Today, their spirit lives on with the Polish Land Forces’ 11th Armored Cavalry Division.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 US Marines who went above & beyond the call of duty

The U.S. Marine Corps is rooted in tradition, discipline, and legacy — both on and off the battlefield. For their 244th birthday, we put together a short but noble list of badass Devil Dogs that you may not have heard of before!

From Marine Raiders in the Pacific to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) officers in North Africa to a World Series champion and a Hollywood heartthrob — this list reminds us that Marines are some of the best the United States has to offer.


1. William A. Eddy 

William A. Eddy was an enigmatic figure. He was well-traveled, well-spoken, and had knowledge that many Americans during World War II lacked: an immersion in Islamic culture. Eddy was the son of missionaries and spent his childhood in Sidon, Syria (now Lebanon). He later immigrated to the United States and received an education from Princeton University.

At Princeton, Eddy studied 18th-century literature and Islamic customs, and he developed a fascination with “Gulliver’s Travels” from author Jonathan Swift. During World War I, he exchanged academia for bravery when he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Cross, two Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and the French Fourragère as an intelligence officer. The Battle of Belleau Wood left him severely wounded when an explosive shell peppered his hip, an injury that plagued him for life.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Following the war, Eddy took a job teaching English at American University in Cairo, Egypt, and taught basketball and tennis to students after hours. He wrote the first basketball rulebook in Arabic. In 1941, after professors resigned in protest because of his school curriculum, Eddy said, “College presidency is a job with which I am definitely out of love. I want to be a Marine.” A year later he was commissioned as a major in the Marine Corps, and William Donovan — the founder of the OSS — gave him a cover job as a naval attachè. This cover provided him the access needed to lead all Allied Intelligence across North Africa.

In 1944, he resigned from the Marines to pursue a career that would enhance his love for research, writing, and building relationships. President Franklin Roosevelt asked him to become minister plenipotentiary to Saudi Arabia. Since he spent much of his childhood in the Middle East, Eddy was proficient in the Arabic, French, and German languages. All three are spoken in North Africa, which was an asset in his diplomatic career. He once personally acted as a translator between Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia on the deck of a naval destroyer in the Suez Canal. At the time, he was the only person who could speak both English and Arabic.

A year later, he served in Yemen to develop a U.S. treaty despite not being allies. From 1946 to 1947, he served as special assistant to the secretary of state and was in charge of research and intelligence. When Eddy wasn’t pioneering rapports with Middle Eastern leaders, he and his wife, Mary, enjoyed birdwatching, skiing in Switzerland, and aimlessly traveling the deserts of Lebanon and Beirut. In 1962, he died from a sudden illness at 66 years old. Eddy left behind a legacy as an Arabian Knight who secured the U.S.-Saudi alliance, as well as a war hero, intelligence officer, teacher, and diplomat.

2. Evans Carlson “Carlson’s Raiders”

Like many Marines, Evans Carlson gained his education and life experience through intense combat. Military historian John Wukovitz referred to Carlson as “an intellectual who loved combat; a high school dropout who quoted Emerson; a thin, almost fragile-looking man who relished fifty-mile hikes; an officer in a military organization that touted equality among officers and enlisted; a kindly individual with the capacity to kill; the product of small New England towns who sought adventure in vast reaches of the world; a man who believed in decency and love and fairness, but whose actions generated bitterness hatred and empathy.”

After running away from his Vermont home at age 14 and lying about his age at 16, Carlson enlisted in the Army in 1910 and matured as a man in a time of war. His duration in the Army was short, though worth noting because his service in the Pacific resulted in many promotions. He advanced to sergeant major and later was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, deploying to Europe just in time for the armistice agreement to be approved. In 1919, he left the Army and mingled around the civilian world before enlisting in the Marine Corps with a reduced rank.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Evans Carlson in uniform with a chest full of medals from his time in 2nd Raider Battalion.

(Wikipedia photo)

As an officer, Carlson proved himself in Nicaragua with a team of just 12 Marines. They repelled 100 bandits, and he was awarded his first Navy Cross. Later, between 1937 and 1939, he was a witness to the developments of the Chinese army. While living among their forces, Carlson traveled thousands of miles on horseback through difficult terrain. He jotted down his findings and studied the tactics of Japanese foot soldiers. As an author of two books — “The Chinese Army” and “Twin Stars of China” — Carlson was an advocate for the Chinese, who he thought could be an ally in the Pacific against the aggressive Japanese military.

In 1941, he led the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion and called his unit the “Kung-ho (Work Together)” or “Gung-ho Battalion.” Others called them Carlson’s Raiders. He valued each man by their merit, not by their title. Carlson utilized his past experiences from his three trips to China to build rapport with allied-native forces and hit the Japanese in shock-and-awe violence.

While aboard two submarines — the USS Nautilus SS-168 and the USS Argonaut SM-1 — traveling from Pearl Harbor, the Marine Raiders were tasked with a secret mission to attack the island of Butaritari (sometimes referred to as Makin Island). Although they trained for this mission using light rubber boats, Murphy’s Law always has a say in real-world operations. At 3:30 AM, the Raiders launched 20 boats from the submarine — 11 men each — into the heavy surf and rain. Some of the equipment, such as mortars and mission essential supplies, were lost at sea because they weren’t tied down.

It’s Who We Are: Logan Stark

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Adding to the confusion, one soldier accidentally discharged his weapon, which erased the element of surprise. Carlson phoned the submarine on the radio with a SITREP and said, “Everything lousy.” Alongside legendary Chinese Marine Sergeant Victor Maghakian — who served in the famed Shanghai Municipal Police — the Raiders successfully deceived the Japanese into believing this amphibious landing was the main assault, thus drawing attention from Guadalcanal. For his decisive leadership, Carlson received a Gold Star for his second Navy Cross.

In November, the Carlson’s Raiders reached Guadalcanal and hiked 18 miles through dense jungle foliage. This hike was later called Carlson’s patrol or the long patrol and has since reached legendary battlefield status. Led by native scouts — and in just 29 days — 488 Japanese soldiers were killed, 16 Americans killed in action (KIA), and 18 Americans wounded. The success of the operation was largely due to the guerilla warfare tactics the unit employed, the understanding of the Japanese fight-to-the-death mantra, and the effectiveness of small units and their capabilities.

3. Merritt A. Edson 

Merritt A. Edson’s path was similar to Evans Carlson’s. Both were commanders of a Marine Raider Battalion — Edson leading the 1st and Carlson leading the 2nd. Prior to World War II, Edson pursued an aviation career but made the transition as a grunt from 1928 to 1929. During that span, he fought 12 separate ground engagements against Nicaraguan bandits, which earned him his first Navy Cross. This is where his nickname, “Red Mike,” was born because he wore a long, red beard during the fighting. This is also where his platoon of specially trained Marines honed a capability they would use during World War II.

Edson is most notably remembered for his heroism on what was later described as “Edson’s Ridge” (Lunga Ridge) near the captured Japanese airfield later renamed Henderson Field on Guadalcanal on Sept. 13-14, 1942. Edson’s Raider Battalion, enforced with two companies from the 1st Parachute Regiment, were hunkered down to rest on a warm August evening. A numerically superior force of 2,500 heavily armed and determined Japanese launched an all-out ambush that initially overwhelmed the estimated 800 Marines. Edson called for his men to push back to avoid being overrun.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Merritt “Red Mike” Edson, Medal of Honor Recipient and Marine Raider during World War II.

(photo courtesy of www.arlingtoncemetery.net.)

Edson told his Marines to prepare for their final stand as they began mowing down the waves of charging Japanese soldiers. They effectively repelled the attack, and Edson’s fierce leadership was awarded with the Medal of Honor. After World War II, Edson was promoted to major general before retiring from the military in 1947. However, his service didn’t end there — he became the first commissioner of the Vermont State Police, the state in which he grew up. The state police uniform was modeled after the Marines, and the troopers were structured in a paramilitary-type ranking system. When Bennington College student Paula Weldon disappeared in 1946, Edson helped establish the Department of Public Safety. The case has remained unsolved, but it was a driving force in creating an organization to effectively solve crimes in a unified manner rather than allocating help from outside state and federal resources.

Edson’s practices and innovation in the police force encouraged other departments and agencies to follow suit. In 1948, the first state police radio system allowed stations and patrol cars to communicate with each other. And in 1949, an Identification and Records Division was established, which ultimately changed the future of policing. After four years of dedicated service, Edson retired in 1951. Four years later, he committed suicide by carbonmonoxide poisoning in the garage of his home in Washington, D.C. At the time, he was working for the National Rifle Association.

4. Sterling Hayden 

To his fellow Marines, Hollywood heartthrob Sterling Hayden was known by his alias, John Hamilton. At age 22, Hayden had already secured a master’s certificate in sailing, and his passion was at sea. He used his acting career to fund his adventurous sea voyages. “I just laughed it off at the time,” he said in an interview in 1972. “But a year or so later, when I had finally managed to buy my own ship only to see her irreparably damaged on her first voyage, a few months in Hollywood seemed like a quick and easy way to get enough dough and buy another one.”

Hayden thought his acting chops were lacking and was waiting for someone to tap him on the shoulder and ask what he was doing there. Others, especially women, saw a 6-foot-4, blonde, and handsome character actor with a soft smile who was easy on the eyes. He married British actress Madeleine Carroll, who was known for her roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s “39 Steps” and “Secret Agent.” The pair were a fair match as both had resentments about Hollywood, but for Hayden, who grew up idolizing World War I ace fighter pilot Eddie Rickenbacker, more adventures were waiting. He was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Marines during World War II as a secret intelligence and paramilitary organization was being created for which they were in search of Marines with advanced skills.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

Sterling Hayden at the helm of the Wanderer.

(Photo courtesy of Sausalito Historical Society.)

In order to operate undercover at the OSS, he adopted an alias, which was common practice for OSS officers. As John Hamiliton, Hayden was sent to commando school in Britain to learn parachute skills and tradecraft from the Special Operations Executive (SOE). He then assumed his pastime as a sailor, except this time he was running guns through German-patrolled waters to Josip Broz Tito’s partisan forces in Yugoslavia. From Christmas Eve 1943 to Jan. 2, 1944, Captain Hamilton operated clandestine missions through hazardous waters and scouted enemy positions for reconnaissance. He was awarded the Silver Star for his actions.

When Hamilton first met OSS officers, he said it was “the first time since joining the OSS that I was associated with men who were actually doing a job.” Hamilton later sailed another mission carrying food and nourishment to the Yugoslav people, who were cut off from outside assistance. Captaining a 50-foot Italian fishing vessel, their crew crept through the Adriatic Sea off the Albanian coast completely unarmed. Between February and April, they made 10 trips. Hayden later commented: “By plunging through the Allied minefield late of an afternoon a schooner always had a fighting chance of reaching Vis at dawn—barely in time to be backed into a precipitous cove where she could be hastily camouflaged with pine boughs festooned in her rigging, unloaded the following night, the camouflage repeated, and then driven toward Italy as soon as the weather served.”

In the summer, he was tasked with transporting 40 tons of explosives near the shores of Croatia, but the mission was passed to the SOE at the last minute. When the war ended, Hayden returned to his old habits, sailing the world with legendary seafarer Spike Africa and his children, writing of his adventures in his popular autobiography “Wanderer” and his novel “Voyage,” and acting in popular movies. He appeared in “The Godfather” as the chief of police and in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” and “Dr. Strangelove.” He died in 1986 at age 70.

5. Hank Bauer 

Hank Bauer was a New York Yankees all-star who played on the same team as baseball icons Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, and Mickey Mantle. One sportswriter described him as having “a face like a clenched fist.” Bauer holds the record for the longest hitting streak in World Series history, with at least one hit in 17 consecutive games. He is also a World Series Champion, both as a player and as a manager for the Baltimore Orioles.

Despite all his success as an athlete, Bauer said his brother, Herman, who was killed in action in France in 1944 during World War II, was the family’s best player. Like his brother, Bauer served during the war, but with the elite unit known as the Marine Raiders. While serving with the 4th Raider Battalion in the Pacific, Bauer’s immune system had a problem with malaria — or that’s what outsiders would tell you, since he contracted and fought the disease 23 times. This was largely due to his stubbornness as he refused to take atabrine pills to prevent it.

Bauer saw action on the islands of New Georgia, located north of Guadalcanal, and he recalled it as “indescribable — the worst [place he had] ever seen.” As the Marines island-hopped across the Pacific, Bauer was wounded by shrapnel on two separate occasions. During the Battle of Okinawa, Bauer was the platoon leader for 64 Marines. Only six of them survived the hellacious fighting. In 32 months of combat, he was awarded two Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.

Steve Fredericks, one of the Marines in Bauer’s platoon, said, “On Guadalcanal when things quieted down, he had a baseball glove and I’d go out and have a catch with him. You could tell he played, but it didn’t enter my mind [that he could be professional]. When I got back to the states I heard him on the radio and watched him on TV. But it didn’t surprise me; he was built. He was all muscle. He was a strong man.”

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Remembering D-Day with World War II Vets in Normandy

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the anti-aircraft tank more likely to attack toilets than jets

The M247 Sgt. Alvin York was pitched to officials and lawmakers alike as a precision shooter in the same vein as its legendary namesake and the silver bullet that would stop all Soviet aircraft — especially the feared Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter — that dared fly too low and close to ground troops.


Instead, it was an expensive boondoggle that couldn’t fight, couldn’t shoot accurately, and couldn’t tell the difference between a toilet and an enemy aircraft.

 

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
Not a great record for a weapon named after one of the Army’s greatest sharpshooters from history. (Photo: Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0)

The M247 came from a requirement for a “Division Air Defense” weapon, a platform that could move forward with armored and infantry divisions and protect them from air-to-ground attacks. But the program was opened when the U.S. was already in the middle of five large weapons programs, and money was tight.

So the military asked manufacturers to keep to a few reasonable rules. Importantly, as much technology as possible needed to come from existing commercial or military surplus sources to keep the weapon relatively cheap to manufacture and maintain.

The winning design came from the Ford Aerospace Communications Corp. and featured two Swedish-made 40mm cannons mounted in a turret and controlled by the Doppler radar from the F-16. The whole thing rode on an M48 Patton tank chassis.

Every part of the weapon had a demonstrated history of performance, and so the anti-aircraft Frankenstein monster was expected to perform. But the F-16’s radar was never designed to deal with the amount of ground clutter that the York would have to deal with. And the M48’s chassis were getting worn out after years of service.

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
An M247 sits behind an M108 105mm self-propelled howitzer at Yuma Proving Grounds,Arizona. (Photo: Mark Holloway, CC BY 2.0)

 

So the first M247s hit the field and performed horribly in tests. They frequently failed to spot targets. Software changes made it more sensitive, but also caused it to start identifying ground clutter as probable enemies.

Second, the old chassis sometimes broke down under the increased weight of the larger York turret and the engines weren’t strong enough to propel the weapon quickly.

In fact, the York weighed 62 tons, 17 tons more than the original Pattons. The extra weight slowed the M247 so much that it couldn’t keep pace with the M1 Abrams tanks and M2 Bradleys that it was designed to primarily protect.

Third, the awesome Swedish cannons on the York provided their own problems. While capable, they were mounted in such a way that a weapon pointing high in the sky would confuse the already troubled radar.

And finally, the weapon wasn’t even accurate. In some tests, it failed to hit helicopters hovering completely still.

 

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory
An M247 Sgt. Alvin C. York Division Air Defense gun on display in Camp Robinson, Arkansas. (Photo: Mark Holloway, CC BY 2.0)

So, it couldn’t keep up with the vehicles it escorted, couldn’t properly find low targets because of ground clutter, couldn’t find high targets because of its own gun, and then couldn’t accurately hit anything it could find.

Army and Ford engineers worked hard to iron out the kinks, but they still had to resort to gimmicks like attaching radar-bouncing panels to targets to get the system to pass basic tests.

In one important display, VIPs from the military and Congress were invited to watch the York perform. The system failed to spot its target and instead locked onto something in the stands. It swung its own gun around to track it and several visitors suffered injuries in the scramble to escape the stands.

After total spending of $1.8 billion, the Army had received 65 unsatisfactory weapons and sent the request to the Secretary of Defense for the funding for $417.5 million for another 117 weapons. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger withheld the funds until an ongoing test was completed.

The York once again failed, and Weinberger canceled the program in August 1985.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 people in military history who were the hardest to kill

When Prince Felix Yussupov went to murder Russia’s “mad monk” and advisor to the last Tsar, he wanted to make sure the job was done. He wrote that he had poisoned Rasputin’s wine with cyanide. When that didn’t do the trick, he then shot the monk at least six times. Refusing to die, he was then beaten, stabbed, and, finally, his body was tossed in a freezing river.


Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

If Russia had an army of Rasputin-like unkillable Hulkamaniacs, they could have poured over the German lines and ended World War I in a hurry.

They didn’t, but there were other nations who grew their own tough-as-nails hardasses who did join the military.

7. Adolf Hitler

People were trying to kill this guy well before he ever kicked off World War II. On the Western front of World War I, Hitler was hit by a British mustard gas attack near Ypres in 1918. Then, he admitted to stumbling in front of a British sharpshooter, who allegedly saved his life.

Related: This British soldier may have spared Hitler’s life during WWI

Today’s Springfield Armory isn’t your grandpa’s Springfield Armory

After the First World War, Hitler’s own bodyguards tried to blow him up in a beer hall. German officers also failed to blow up his plane. Then, of course, there was the Valkyrie conspiracy. It’s like the guy walked around with an anti-explosion field around him.

6. George Washington

Washington’s invincibility must have really come from a cheat code because this dude didn’t even get hit. During the 1755 Battle of the Monongahela, Washington rode ahead against a French onslaught to boost the resolve of his collapsing lines. As he did, his horse was shot out from under him. When he remounted to resume command, that horse was shot, too.

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As if twice surviving horrific possible injuries like the one that crippled Superman wasn’t enough, he also found four bullet holes in his coat after the battle.

5. Gabriel Garcia Moreno

Moreno was the President of Ecuador in the middle of the 19th century. Although elected, he ruled like a dictator, launching religious and scientific reforms that earned him some enemies. After being elected to a third term as president, those enemies took action.

As he left a cathedral in Quito, they hacked off an arm, a hand, parts of his brain and skull, and embedded a machete in his neck – and when they were done, he was still standing.

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Eventually, someone decided to unload a revolver into him. After he finally fell, he gave his last words. Some say he spoke them, others say he used his dying breath to scrawl it on the ground in his own blood. The message was clear: “God does not die.”

4. Steven Toboz

Petty Officer Toboz is a Navy SEAL who went in search of a missing U.S. troop in Afghanistan with about two dozen others. Toboz and 11 more were injured, six were killed. The first bullet Toboz took hit him in the right calf, which shattered his ankle and foot. He refused pain-numbing drugs so he could stay sharp and support everyone until they were extracted.

Once he was in a hospital, doctors had to give him three liters of blood to replace what he had lost. And when he realized he would heal faster if doctors amputated his leg, he ordered them to do it.

To top it all off, once he was healed, he went back to Afghanistan with an advanced prosthetic. Why? Because “Neal Roberts was my closest friend.” These days, he trains SEALs.

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3. Charlie Beckwith

What do the North Koreans, Chinese, North Vietnamese, Russians, Leptospirosis, Iranians, an exploding C-130, and a .50-cal bullet to the stomach have in common?

They all failed to kill the founder of Delta Force, Charles Beckwith.

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Read More: The founder of Delta Force was nearly impossible to kill

2. Blackbeard

The British Navy hunted Edward Teach, a pirate known as “Blackbeard,” who had a freaking fleet and 200 men under his command. He was known to light his beard on fire in combat to intimidate his enemies. But by the time he was cornered near Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, he was down to one ship and a handful of men.

The British lured his party into boarding a ship where they were horribly outnumbered. The pirate was shot at least five times and stabbed another 20 and he still fought on.

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Robert Maynard, the British commander, broke his sword off in Blackbeard. It wasn’t until they cut his freaking head off that Teach finally stopped pirating.

1. Josip Tito

Tito began his epic survival story as a partisan against the Nazis in World War II. When the war ended, he came out on top, and he would rule Yugoslavia until his death… but when would that be? Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin wanted it to be sooner rather than later.

And if Stalin wanted someone dead, they usually ended up that way.

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Stalin sent so many assassins to kill Tito that he had to write a letter telling him to stop. It read,

“Stop sending assassins to murder me… if this doesn’t stop, I will send a man to Moscow and there’ll be no need to send a second.”

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Just a few years later, Stalin died of a sudden, massive heart attack. Tito lived on for almost thirty more years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

7 things you didn’t know about the First Battle of Fallujah


April marks the anniversary of the First Battle of Fallujah, aka Operation Vigilant Resolve, which took place in 2004. Led by I Marine Expeditionary Force commander Lt. Gen. James Conway and 1st Marine Division commander Maj. Gen. James Mattis, the battle was in retaliation for consecutive attacks in the region including the brutal killings of four private military contractors.

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The fierce fighting lasted for a month before U.S. forces withdrew from the city and turned over control to the Fallujah Brigade. The battle is lesser known than Operation Phantom Fury, or the second Battle of Fallujah, but it was a key battle during Operation Iraqi Freedom as it brought attention to several facts the general public was not aware of and increased polarizing public opinion about the war in Iraq. More than a decade later, here are seven things you didn’t know about that battle.

1. The use of Private Military Contractors (PMC’s) began to see public scrutiny.

On March 31st, 2004 four Blackwater security contractors were ambushed, killed, and mutilated on the outskirts of Fallujah. Before this highly publicized incident, the general public had little knowledge of private military contractors and their role in the War on Terror, specifically in Iraq.

2. It was the first time insurgents, rather than Saddam loyalists, were considered the primary enemy of Coalition Forces.

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Operation Vigilant Resolve brought mainstream attention to a growing insurgency comprised of insurgents other than Saddam loyalists.

3. The Battle of Fallujah thrust Abu Musab al-Zarqawi into the spotlight as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.

4. It was the largest combat mission since the declaration of the end of “major hostilities.”

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On May 1, 2003 President Bush gave a speech from the USS Abraham Lincoln in which he declared major combat operations in Iraq to be over. Although there continued to be guerrilla warfare, Operation Vigilant Resolve was the first time a major combat operation took place after the speech.

5. The Battle of Fallujah brought public attention to the Sunni Triangle.

 

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When the battle began the term Sunni Triangle became widely known since Fallujah was only one of several cities known to be Sunni strongholds, all of which were located in triangle area of a map Northwest of Baghdad.

6. Scout Snipers were the core element of the strategy.

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Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. James J. Vooris

 

Scout snipers averaged 31 kills apiece during Operation Vigilant Resolve (one kill every 3-4 hours), according to Global Security.

7. During the Battle of Fallujah, one reconnaissance platoon set a record for Silver Stars awarded in Global War on Terror.

 

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Four members of the second platoon of Bravo Company, First Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division were awarded the Silver Star — a record unmatched by any other company or platoon in the Global War on Terror, according to Military Times.

In addition, Capt. Brent Morel and Sergeant Willie L. Copeland were both awarded the Navy Cross for their heroism during the battle.

NOW: Medal Of Honor Hero Kyle Carpenter Just Gave An Inspiring Speech That Everyone Should Read

MIGHTY HISTORY

A brief history of helicopter warfare and the future of air assault operations

Carrying troops into combat, or at least close enough that they can walk to it, was a fairly basic art for thousands of years. Horses or boats did the job until motorized vehicles started to be used in large numbers in the beginning of the 20th century. 

During World War II, airborne and glider troops made mass assaults with thousands of troops possible at long ranges. While this was a huge leap forward, airborne operations came with some major liabilities. As seen during the D-Day landings, the accuracy of these drops was lacking, and troops could end up far from their intended drop zones. Just as importantly, parachutes and gliders were both one-way trips, and troops were largely on their own until their leg counterparts could catch up.

Helicopters promised to change all that. Which helicopter was officially “first” is subject to some dispute, but vertical flight was largely a novelty for many years. Toward the end of World War II, some primitive rotary-wing aircraft saw limited action in the Pacific doing rescue missions, but they were far from a decisive arm.

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Retired Sgt. Maj. Mike Zacker, secretary of the board of directors and docent at the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum and Historical Foundation, poses in front of an HRS-1 at the museum aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., September 2014. Zacker spent 18 years of his 30-year career working on the HRS-1 and similar helicopters. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher Johns.

After World War II, the Marine Corps first saw the utility of helicopters in an air assault role. As the service contemplated how amphibious assaults would remain viable in the Atomic Age, it concluded that the ability to cover much greater distances would be necessary. The Corps stood up Marine Helicopter Squadron One, HMX-1, and experimented with employing helicopters in amphibious warfare, developing the first doctrine on the subject.

The Korean War launched the helicopter from infancy to adolescence. The Marine Corps performed the first mass resupply via helicopter on Sept. 13, 1951. Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron 161 (HMR-161) used HRS-1 helicopters to deliver 74 Marines and more than 18,000 pounds of supplies to an area known as the Punchbowl. A week later, they performed the first combat troop lift, delivering 224 Marines to a hilltop in the area.

It took nearly two more years for the Army to perform its first helicopter assault, but true to form, it was bigger than the Marines’. On July 13, 1953, Army H-19 helicopters of the 1st Transportation Helicopter Battalion lifted more than 800 Republic of Korea troops.

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An American Huey helicopter spraying Agent Orange over Vietnam in 1963. Army photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The Kennedy administration’s focus on “brushfire wars” and shift to a doctrine of “flexible response” contrasted with Eisenhower’s “massive retaliation” and gave birth to what the Army would call “air assault.” Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara insisted on increasing the tactical mobility of the US Army. Under Lt. Gen. Hamilton Howse, the Army conducted a series of experiments at Fort Bragg in the early 1960s, leading to the formation of the 11th Air Assault Division at Fort Benning, which soon became the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).

The “1st Air Cav” became one of the most storied units of the Vietnam War, which became known as the “helicopter war.” Given the terrain and the enemy insurgency in that conflict, helicopters — usually the UH-1 “Huey” — gave US forces a tactical advantage. Large insertions of troops into “hot” landing zones would become a trademark of the conflict, and ultimately, more than 5,000 of the roughly 12,000 helicopters used during that war were lost. 

After Vietnam, the Marines returned to their traditional focus on amphibious assault and using helicopters accordingly. The Army returned to focusing on Europe and deterring the Soviet bloc. Helicopters, now mostly the UH-60 Black Hawk instead of the Huey, formed the most mobile element first in “Active Defense” and later in “AirLand Battle.”

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A UH-60 Black Hawk lifts off during the Ghazni offensive in Afghanistan in support of soldiers from 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, Sept. 2, 2018. Army photo by 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team.

Fortunately, Europe never needed American helicopter assaults to save it, but 1991 gave those aircraft a chance to shine. The 101st Air Assault Division mounted a brigade-sized lift to envelop the northern flank of Iraqi troops defending Kuwait as part of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s famous “left hook” attack. The operation validated the utility of helicopter-borne forces in maneuver warfare, as opposed to the counterinsurgency role they served in Vietnam.

In almost a “back to the future” moment, after 9/11, helicopters once again became the preferred tool to maneuver quickly against enemy insurgents, first in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. While generally on a smaller scale than the largest assaults of the Vietnam era, tactical movement by helicopter has been essential throughout what became known as the Global War on Terror. 

Modern helicopter insertions look different from those in Vietnam. Insertions into hot landing zones are rare, and losses are less common. This can be attributed to improvements in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) technology, as well as tactics. While there have been some failures, such as Operation Anaconda, by and large, helicopters have been key to major successes, including the raid that killed Usama bin Laden in 2011.

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The MV-22 Osprey’s mission for the US Marine Corps is the transportation of troops, equipment, and supplies from ships and land bases for combat assault and assault support. Photo courtesy of the US Navy.

As the military exits Iraq and Afghanistan and shifts toward potential threats in the Pacific, the role of the helicopter will undoubtedly change once again. The mobility helicopters provided in the geographical constraints of Vietnam and Afghanistan seems limited in comparison with the vastness of the Pacific. 

Vietnam-era Hueys could fly around 120 knots for about 275 miles. The Black Hawks that succeeded them in the US Army can reach 150 and about 300 miles in a basic configuration. A big leap in performance will be necessary if rotary-wing aircraft are to remain a part of future war plans.

The Marine Corps, with its amphibious mission, had to face this problem much sooner. The Marines invested in the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, which cruises nearly twice as fast and flies twice as far as traditional helicopters. The Marines first deployed the Osprey in 2007 and replaced the last of its CH-46 helicopters with it in 2017.

The Army will have to invest in a similar capability to prepare for the type of conflict envisioned in the National Defense Strategy. It is moving ahead with the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft program, which aims to produce an aircraft with the necessary speed and range to fight in tomorrow’s battlefields. Both Bell and a joint Sikorsky-Boeing team are competing, but whichever wins, it’s a certainty that air assault will continue to have a long future.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Thud dominated the enemy in the air and on land

The Republic F-105 Thunderchief could go fast — it had a top speed of 1,390 miles per hour. But this “fighter” was, in reality, a powerful tactical bomber. But despite being designed to put bombs on land targets, the F-105 proved to be a deadly adversary to those who attacked from the sky — it was a rare bird; it was a bomber that could kill a fighter.


The F-105‘s design process started in 1950 as the intended replacement for the F-84F Thunderstreak, a plane that hadn’t yet made its first flight. The YF-105A prototype first flew in 1955 and was soon followed by the first production version, the F-105B. However, the F-105B was quickly deemed out-dated, as it could only operate in daylight and in good weather.

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A look at the wide variety of weapons the F-105 Thunderchief could carry into battle.

(USAF)

The main weapon of the F-105 was supposed to be a B28 or B43 “special store” — a nuclear bomb. The later B57 and B61 nukes were later made options for the plane as well. Thankfully, these were never used in anger. But what did get use was the F-105’s ability to carry up to 14,000 pounds of ordnance — not to mention AIM-9 Sidewinders and a M61 Vulcan gun with 1,028 rounds of ammo.

With the onset of newer models, specifically the F-105D, the Thunderchief became a lethal plane in any weather condition, day or night. The F-105D was the workhorse during the early days of the Vietnam War. The plane successfully pummeled land targets, like the Paul Doumer bridge, while excelling in air-to-air combat. The F-105 scored 27.5 kills in the skies.

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The F-105G Wild Weasel version of the Thunderchief was used to kill or suppress enemy surface-to-air missile sites.

(USAF)

The F-105F, intended as a combat trainer, instead became the basis for the most notable Wild Weasel of the Vietnam War – the F-105G. One Wild Weasel pilot, Leo Thorsness, would earn the Medal of Honor in the F-105 for taking on North Vietnamese MiGs during an effort to rescue a downed air crew.

The F-105 stayed in service until 1984, marking nearly three decades of service. Learn more about this lethal multirole fighter in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlFgmfrvE-c

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the exact moment that sparked the Cold War

On Sept. 5, 1945, a young Soviet cipher clerk in Ottawa, Canada packed his things to leave the office and go home for the day. It was a day like any other day, for the most part, except this time as he put on his coat, he also stuffed a number of top-secret documents underneath. It was just days after the end of World War II in Europe, and the young clerk was hoping these documents would buy him asylum in Canada.

Igor Gouzenko had evidence the Soviet Union was operating an extensive spy operation in Canada. It was the first time the West was forced to come to terms with the idea that the Soviet Union was not their friend.


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Igor Gouzenko would appear in television interviews with his identity hidden by a cloth bag.

The documents held by Gouzenko did indeed earn him asylum in Canada. Meanwhile, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were able to round up 11 of the 24 suspected spies as the Parliament began investigation and prosecution proceedings. Prime Minister Mackenzie King then informed the world about the raids and the spy operation. Gouzenko was subsequently interrogated by MI5, the British internal security service, and the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, to whom Gouzenko was able to reveal the names of 20 or so spies.

Soviets spies had infiltrated universities, the military, and even the Canadian Parliament, all in search of nuclear secrets. Canada was playing a role in the Manhattan Project, the U.S. development of an atomic weapon, and the Soviets were looking for any clues that would give them an edge in duplicating the effort. The spy ring uncovered by the young cipher clerk extended all the way to Los Angeles.

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Gouzenko later wrote a book about the experience.

The documents Gouzenko provided were of so much value, many of them were still classified as of 2014. The young cipher clerk divulged all of the Soviet Union’s most sensitive military and intelligence codebooks, and even implicated MI5’s former chief Sir Roger Hollis as a Soviet agent. Worldwide, Soviet espionage activities suffered in the immediate aftermath. This was not only due to increased suspicion against their onetime allies and to root out suspected moles but also because the Soviets began to overhaul their own methods.

Soviet installations were suddenly crippled by new safety and reporting procedures, extensive screening processes for overseas stations that were more attractive than the Soviet Union. Even one of Stalin’s assassins who was reportedly supposed to kill Gouzenko had been in Canada so long, he didn’t want to leave. Rather than kill the traitor, he defected too, giving up information on all of the Soviet death squads in the country.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Jeep: The necessity of innovation

Long before the development of JEEP prototypes, soldiers nicknamed a tractor that hauled guns as a JEEP because that’s all they had available to move equipment and soldiers. As the U.S. prepared to enter WWII, we were faced with a super slow logistics issue – mules, horses, and traditional battlefield movements were just too slow for the modern battlefield. Since U.S. military planners knew that eventually, the U.S. was going to have to get involved with WWII, they quickly realized that the only way to ensure a victory would be to revisit their approach to troop and equipment movement.


We had no guns or equipment 

The Army was ill-equipped to handle entering a global conflict, thanks in part to neglect, budget constrictions and typical Washington bureaucracy. Remember that for our role in WWI, we had to borrow howitzers from the French because we were so underfunded and had no arsenal or weapons stockpiles. It was just about the same setting for WWII, only with a greater sense of impending doom.

Horses and mules were just too slow 

Just like planners in WWI recognized that light infantry fire wasn’t going to win a trench war, planners in WWII quickly saw that the reliance on horses and mules to transport equipment was antiquated and slow.

WWI showed strategists that four-wheel trucks and motorized transports were not only faster at moving across the battlefield but could move troops and weaponry in and out with greater consistency. This not only could save lives, but it could save morale, too. After all, who wants to be stranded in the middle of a field somewhere?

A committee is formed

In true Army fashion, a committee was formed to study the “need” for light motorized transport vehicles that could support infantry and cavalry troops. The Army concluded that there were no vehicles available on the civilian market that could hold up in combat – nothing was durable and rugged enough to handle the terrain or the weight load of the equipment that needed to be moved.

The Army hoped to find a small go-anywhere recon scout car that might help deliver battlefield messages, transmit orders, and function as a weapons carrier. But the commission failed to locate a vehicle that could support the needs of the Army, so they turned to the civilian sector to see if any American companies could design this kind of vehicle from scratch.

In June 1940, 134 bid invitations were sent to companies that might be able to design the kind of vehicle that would suit the Army’s needs. The bid was on a short deadline, though, since we were fighting a war, and gave the companies just one month to come up with something. That’s tough even by today’s standards but almost impossible in 1940 before the computerization of draft work. Because of the short deadline, just two companies responded to the Army’s call – American Bantam and Willys-Overland. These were the only two companies still selling four-cylinder vehicles, and they both specialized in selling cars smaller than the (then) American standard size car. Both companies were relatively small and on the brink of bankruptcy, proving the old adage, “Necessity breeds innovation.”

Bantam gets the contract for a few weeks 

The drawings submitted by Willys-Overland weren’t nearly as comprehensive as the plans provided by Bantam Car Company. So Bantam was awarded the contract, and an order for 70 vehicles was placed. However, Bantam was such a small company that the Army worried it wouldn’t be able to meet the military’s needs once the war effort ramped up. So, while they loved the concept that Bantam presented, the Army ultimately sought out Ford Motor Company and reinvented Willys-Overland to rejoin the mission.

Both companies, Ford and Willy-Overland, watched the Bantam car’s testing and were allowed to examine the vehicle and the blueprints. Then, both designed their own vehicle based on Bantam’s designs.

Testing took forever but one company emerged 

All three companies submitted new designs, and their vehicles were tested over and over, with little tweaks made along the way. By the end of the trials, each company has a finalized design to submit for bidding. Ford called its vehicle the GP, Willys-Overland called theirs the Willys MA, and Bantam came up with the very original name of the BRC-40 and the MK II. In all, thousands of prototypes were built, tested, and discarded.

The prototypes shared the same military designations for a truck, ¼ ton, 4×4. No one knows precisely where the word “JEEP” comes from, but since all of the Army vehicles are General Purpose, and since soldiers love a good acronym, it’s more than likely that someone along the way slurred the GP into what we now know as JEEP.

In 1941, on being interviewed by a journalist about the type of vehicle he was driving, a soldier replied that it was a JEEP and the name stuck. Willys-Overland, whose vehicle the soldier happened to be driving, quickly trademarked the name. During the war, JEEPS were modified to operate in desert conditions, plow snow, and function as a fire truck, ambulance, and tractor. They were capable of laying cable, operating as generators, and could be reconfigured to become a small railroad engine. JEEPS were small enough to be loaded onto aircraft, could fit in gliders, and were a significant part of the D-Day invasion.

As we know them now, JEEPS are as much a part of military culture as they are part of regular driving vehicles. Who knew that their predecessors could have been reconfigured to be so useful for wartime battlefield operations?

MIGHTY HISTORY

Germany had laughably bad stealth aircraft in World War I

During World War I, Germany set out to make the first stealth aircraft and successfully did so, creating multiple invisible planes in 1912 that later saw combat deployment in World War I.

Unfortunately for the pilots, though the planes were invisible from the ground, they were often the single-most visible objects in the sky — particularly so when engulfed in flames.


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A German plane with see through wings and fuselage. These were found to be nearly invisible from the ground, but easy to spot when sun glanced off the reflective surfaces.

The problem is easy to understand. German engineers wanted the ultimate camouflage, and they went searching for a see-through material that could withstand the rigors of flight. They settled on a translucent cellon acetate, a cellulose product with qualities similar to movie film.

The canvas on early planes was swapped out with this clear material. The engine, pilot, and frame were all still visible, but the target was nearly invisible when viewed from the ground given that the planes were flying at 900 feet or higher. Even at lower altitudes, they were difficult to see and target.

From the sky, however, pilots ran into a very real problem.

The material was highly reflective of direct sunlight. So, when an enemy was approaching from a variety of angles, the sunlight would reflect off the wings and light up the plane like a beacon for anyone paying even minor attention to their surroundings.

Without radar, planes were already essentially invisible at night. So, stealth was supposed to revolutionize the daytime environment — see the issue here? The stealth technology was all but useless if the sun caused it to backfire completely.

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A Fokker 2 plane equipped with invisible skin.

For their part, the Germans knew that they had a problematic technology on their hands, and they largely shelved the invention, returning to a canvas body for most of their planes.

Still, the cellon planes were deployed during World War I and their combat record was even worse than you might expect. That’s largely because it was applied to possibly the worst candidate for cellon imaginable: a massive bomber of the Riesenflugzeug family.

A bomber would likely be the most valuable plane to turn invisible, but cellon shrinks and expands based on humidity and temperature, things that often vary in flight. Because the bomber was massive, that shrinking and expanding greatly affected the way the bomber flew.

The problem was that the plane already ran hot; four large engines mounted on the fuselage filled it with heat. Add to this an intense amount of sunlight passing through the clear fuselage and the result was a plane that was nearly unpilotable.

Something worth mentioning, though it didn’t end up affecting the bomber, is that cellon is highly flammable. So, if anything had gone wrong, it would’ve been a Hindenburg-style conflagration.

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A German Riesenflugzeug bomber with transparent panels. Pilots flew from the third deck at the front and had to deal with the horrendous heat and the shifting control surfaces.

The plane took two flights during the war. During the first, the shifting cellon made the plane controls impossible to work. The pilot tried to land the plane but couldn’t tell just how far the plane extended beneath him. He crashed and the plane was badly damaged.

The second flight went much worse — the plane’s wings just fell off. One crew member was killed.

Cellon stealth was not the wave of the future they wanted it to be — not that it would’ve helped Germany much. By World War II, radar was the new rage, and cellon wouldn’t have helped much, even given perfect conditions.

But that would’ve been great. Convincing the Nazis to fly planes made of highly flammable materials that changed size and shape during flight and sometimes just lost their wings would’ve been the a joy for the Allies.

“Hey, Luftwaffe, congrats on the invisible planes. Please, send as many pilots in as many planes as you can.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This old fort is supposedly haunted by a condemned Confederate bride

Civil War POW camps were some of the most terrible, squalid places of the entire war. Massachusetts’ Fort Warren was an exception, however. It was used to house Confederate political prisoners and other high-value persons. Among those held here was Alexander Stephens, the Confederate Vice-President, as well as Confederate diplomats and even the Confederacy’s Postmaster General.

Also, the black, ghostly spirit of a dead Confederate bride.


Legend has it that Melanie Lanier, the devoted wife of a captured Confederate troop, discovered his location via a letter he mailed her from the island prison. She immediately moved from Georgia to just outside Boston, Massachusetts, in the first step of an attempt to free her husband from the fortress.

One night, she boarded a boat that would take her to George’s Island – where the infamous prison camp and fortress were located. With the boat, she took a pickaxe, a pistol, and a length of rope in order to free her husband. She sat in the boat just offshore, waiting to hear any kind of signal from her beloved. That’s when she heard a common southern song, the signal that her husband was ready for action. But tragedy would soon strike.

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As she and her husband made their way off the island and back to the waiting boat, she was surprised by a Union guard. She was able to subdue the sentry at first, using her pistol. But the guard only went along with the plot for so long. He attempted to overpower the woman and snatch the pistol away. In the scuffle, the gun went off, shooting her husband and killing him. She was overcome by the sentry and captured. Sent to the gallows, she requested to die in women’s clothing. All that could be found for her was a black mourner’s dress.

Melanie Lanier died by hanging not long after the botched escape attempt. Her body is said to be buried on George’s Island with others who died there. But unlike the others, Melanie is said to still be seen around the island at times, still clad in black and mourning her husband.

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While many have claimed to see Fort Warren’s “Lady in Black” over the years, some doubt she existed at all. Such an escape attempt would have certainly ended up in Northern newspapers at the time, but no evidence of Lanier could be found. Furthermore, there’s another apocryphal story that could also be just as true. After World War II, the U.S. government was selling off all of its military possessions, and Fort Warren was one of those sales. Some say that in order to keep the historic fort from falling to a developer’s bulldozer, Edward Rowe Snow made up the story of the Lady in Black to make the island seem like much less of a steal.

It was later turned over to the National Parks Service.

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