Why trench warfare wasn't as dumb of an idea as it seems - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

There is undoubtedly no worse place for troops to live and fight in than the trenches of old. Soldiers would dig fighting positions into the ground and, with no way to continually clear out the rodents, water, sewage, and bodies, the fortifications would become ripe with disease.

The sand around you was your home. The sandbags above the parapet were your only protection from snipers. The walls that surrounded you could collapse under enemy artillery fire and quickly become your coffin.

Despite all of these glaring faults, their purpose is clear when you look at the bigger picture.


Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
They could fight for months and not even take a single inch.
(Imperial War Museums)
 

Trenches have been used as early as the Roman Empire, but the scale at which they were used swelled drastically on the western front of the First World War. During WWI, trenches were built in three distinct rows: The main firing trench (used for direct combat), the support trench (used as a second line of defense and as a place for officers, medics, cooks, and other supporting troops), and the reserve trench (used for housing).

Soldiers knew in advance where they’d hold off the enemy and they’d begin building fighting positions there for cover. The enemy would show up, see the trenches, and quickly dig their own at a safe distance. Inevitably, both sides would find it impossible to dislodge the opposition and so they’d dig in deeper.

Many of the problems we associate with trenches today ran most rampant within British units, as they believed that the trenches would be temporary and the war would keep moving — it didn’t.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

That entire red line was almost entirely a trench system between both the Allied Powers and the Central Powers

(The History Department of the United States Military Academy)

Meanwhile, many French and German trench systems were built with the long-haul in mind. They better fortified their walls and created much more hospitable bunkers. They understood that the systems weren’t to be used to advance, but rather to stall the enemy. Each row within the trench systems was designed to make it as difficult as possible for the enemy to take it over.

If the enemy managed to make it across No Man’s Land (the expanse of ground between opposing forces’ fortifications), they’d come across fields of barbed wire that would slow their movement and alert sentries that heard the rustling. Then, they’d come into the first trench, which was typically dug into asymmetrical zigzags that not only minimized the effect of shrapnel, but also provided as small of a field of fire as possible for invaders.

The rows were designed to be able to be taken from the rear. While enemy forces swarmed the first trench, defenders could hop over top the next trench back and open fire. This defense mechanism sounds like it’s begging to be exploited, but that would require the enemy to flank around the trench line first. Both sides would prevent this from happening by creating hundreds of miles of trench systems. Often, there was no way around.

The trenches did exactly what they were built to do. They ensured the enemy couldn’t get past. With no viable option for advancement, militaries were able to send men elsewhere — who would then dig even more and offer little room for the enemy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The crazy tactic Finland used to root out and kill Soviet snipers

Not every infantry troop can be an expert in hunting snipers. For the Finns fighting off the Soviet Union during the 1939-1940 Winter War and it’s later version, the Continuation War, it could be even more difficult. They were given little training, little in the way of weapons, and pretty much little in the way of anything. 

Since the attack from the USSR came so suddenly and the need for reserves so great in the Karelian Peninsula, many Finnish troops just picked up their personal weapons and whatever cold weather gear they had laying around and went off to kill some Russians. 

For the most part, it worked. It worked much better than anyone would expect it to, anyway. The Finns were one of the most adaptive fighting forces anyone could have ever wanted fighting off a massive communist invasion. 

When they couldn’t kill tanks with their home-bought rifles, they used Molotov Cocktails, which did the trick just fine. When they couldn’t match the Soviets in a pitched battle, they just used snipers to kill as many as they could (which was a lot). 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Finnish soldier with a Molotov cocktail in the 1939–40 Winter War

When the Soviets brought out their own snipers, the Finns adapted to overcome that too. 

There’s no doubt that there were many places in World War II and the surrounding wars where the fighting was harsh and bitter. They fought two wars in the time spanning World War II, the Winter War, from 1939-1940 and the Continuation War, which started when the Germans launched Operation Barbarossa, invading the Soviet Union. 

It’s not cool to be an ally with Hitler’s Germany, but when your only enemy is the Soviet Union and you really want revenge on the communists, it’s the only ally around. 

The USSR fighting Finland wasn’t the bloodiest, but the pure hatred was there. Finns definitely tried to get into the heads of Russian soldiers by taking their frozen corpses and putting them on display to scare the incoming enemy. They used a similar tactic to take out Russian snipers.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
The Marcks Plan was the original German plan of attack for Operation Barbarossa, as depicted in a US Government study (March 1955).

A sniper is a difficult enemy to root out and kill. The whole purpose of a snipers is to move unseen and kill from a distance without being caught. Think about your average individual, pinned down by sniper fire. Will they know to look for the muzzle flash? Will they know to find disturbed snow or vegetation? Would they be able to estimate distance using the crack of the weapon? 

Probably not. Neither did a lot of the hastily trained Finns who were daring and brave, but new to infantry combat. This is where their ingenuity served them well once more. Instead of using a dead Soviet body, the Finns would construct a mannequin to attract the sniper’s bullet. That’s nothing new, soldiers had been doing that for decades.

What is new is the practice of getting a general location of the sniper’s position and then firing a Lahti-39 20mm anti-tank rifle into the vicinity. That’s the solution the Finnish soldiers came up with. 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Lahti L-39 20mm rifle pressed into service as an anti-aircraft gun to counter Soviet attack aircraft. Photo via imgur

The Finns couldn’t penetrate the armor of the Soviet T-34 tanks, but it was useful in lighting up a bunker, clearing tanks of pesky soldiers before dropping a Molotov Cocktail in them, and for taking down aircraft. If the 20mm Lahti can take down an aircraft and lesser tanks, imagine what it can do to a sniper, no matter how well it’s hidden.

Finland may not have won the the Winter War or the Continuation War, but the Soviet Union paid a heavy price for taking what little of Finland it captured. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This famous inventor designed drones before World War I

Nikola Tesla, the famed pioneer of electrical technology who rivaled even Thomas Edison, designed and displayed a working drone in 1898 — nearly 16 years before World War I — that he saw as a weapon that would end all wars.


Tesla’s drone was a 4-foot-long, remotely controlled boat that could be maneuvered via radio waves. He first displayed the craft during an 1898 demonstration in Madison Square Garden in New York.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Nikola Tesla’s remote control boat, patented in 1898. (Photo: Public Domain via the Nikola Tesla Museum, Belgrad)

At the show, crowds were shocked to see the boat respond to Tesla’s commands without any visible connection between the control box and the small craft. When Tesla patented the invention, he billed it as a tool of exploration, transportation, and war.

Tesla’s military plan was that the drone boat would give way to other drones, each more destructive than the last. Once nations could fight wars using robots without risking their troops, the potential for unlimited destruction was supposed to stay people’s hands and bring about a “permanent peace among nations.”

Unfortunately for Tesla, military interest in the weapon was muted, and his patent expired without any serious interest from the War or Navy Departments. Drones didn’t take off as a weapon until the end of the 1900s, and their ever-widening adoption has not ended warfare.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
The Kettering Bug followed a pre-programmed flight path to its target. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Museum)

The first drones didn’t even make use of remote control technology. America’s first drone-type weapon was the Kettering Bug aerial torpedo, a plane modified to follow a pre-set course and fly into its target with a large load of explosives in World War I.

Though the Kettering Bug was based on a remote-control target aircraft, the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane, the bug had no radio controls of its own.

The Army did attempt to use remote-control aircraft as bombs in World War II in Operation Aphrodite. Engineers modified B-24s with the addition of radio controls and thousands of pounds of explosive. These flying bombs, dubbed the B-8s, would be flown to altitude by two pilots who would bail out at 10,000 feet. From there, a bombardier in a “mother ship” B-24 would fly the plane remotely to its target.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
A BQ-8 takes off. (Photo: U.S. Army Air Force)

Aphrodite was a major failure with more damage done to England by malfunctioning B-8s than was done to Germany. Some B-8 pilots were killed by premature detonations including future-President John F. Kennedy’s older brother, Navy Lt. Joseph Kennedy.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 outstanding things you didn’t know about Sgt. York

Known as one of America’s greatest war heroes, Alvin York was a profoundly religious man who found himself plenty conflicted when he learned he’d been drafted into the U.S. Army. Although very worried at the prospect of taking another man’s life, the Tennessee native chose to honor his military obligation and shipped off.

Although York saved many lives, killed many enemy troops, and earned the Medal of Honor, he gained true nationwide notoriety after Sergeant York, a film about his life, debuted in cinemas.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
‘Sergeant York’ starring Gary Cooper
(Warner Brother Pictures)

Not only did the 1941 classic secure York a spot in the history books, it preserved his story and legacy for generations to come. The movie does a great job of showing us the highlights of his wartime heroics, but there are a few things about this humble hero that you probably didn’t know.


Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

Alvin York (as played by Gary Cooper) at a local “Blind Tiger.’

(Warner Brothers Pictures)

Blind Tigers

Before shipping out to the frontlines to fight, York was considered somewhat of a troublemaker. Although he was known for his marksmanship as a youngster, he was also known to drink and gamble at various bars, known as “Blind Tigers.”

He wasn’t good with money

In his youth, York only attended nine months of a subscription school. In his hometown, education wasn’t a priority and he found work as a semi-skilled laborer at a nearby railroad. This lack of education is likely the reason for his poor money-managing skills.

York was known for spending money as he earned it and giving what he had away to those he felt needed it more.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

York’s personal diary.

(SgtYork.org)

York kept a detailed diary

York frequently made entries about his time during World War I, and, in great detail, wrote about what it was like being pinned down by the enemy in attempts to capture a narrow-gauge railroad. The Medal of Honor recipient’s diary gives us a glimpse directly into his mind as he explored a range of subjects, from his emotional childhood through to the perils of war.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

Representative Cordell Hull, Sergeant Alvin C. York, Senator Kenneth McKellar, and Senator George E. Chamberlain

He avoided profiting off his fame

After York’s deployment ended, he returned home and his story was published in the Saturday Evening Post — which had an audience of approximately two-million readers. He met with members of Congress who gave him a standing ovation.

As York’s name became more famous, he received offers for his movies rights — and he denied them all.

It took many years for Sgt. York to allow for the film’s production, Finally, it was released in 1941. York used his earnings to finance a bible school.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Vietnam War’s ‘Unknown Soldier’ was identified and reinterred

It should not have been a case of mistaken identity. When Michael Blassie’s remains were first found by South Vietnamese soldiers, they found his ID card, wallet, dogs tags and personal photos along with it. Yet not long after, he morphed into an unknown soldier.

When his remains were finally turned over to a U.S. military mortuary and sent to Hawaii for confirmation, they were confirmed to be those of Lt. Michael Blassie. Somewhere along the way, however, someone determined that the projected height and age couldn’t be those of the missing Air Force pilot. 

They were reclassified as unknown, and stated that way until 1988, 16 years after he was killed. 

michael blassie, who was an unknown soldier for 16 years

Blassie was an Air Force A-37 Dragonfly pilot, serving with the 8th Special Operations Squadron in Vietnam. He was shot down by the North Vietnamese over An Loc in the Bình Phước Province of Vietnam. He was 24 years old and not found immediately. At the time, An Loc was controlled by enemy forces.

Blassie’s body was found at the crash site five months after he was shot down when a South Vietnamese Army patrol recovered it. From the scene, it was clear the pilot was American. With the personal effects already mentioned, came part of a uniform and a sidearm holster. Only scattered bone fragments remained of Blassie. 

The South Vietnamese turned his remains over to the Americans. But despite the evidence found at the crash site, and that only one crew member flew in the A-37B Dragonfly, the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii analyzed the remains and concluded that they were likely not Blassie

Based on the likely age and height of the remains alone, the lab couldn’t confirm it was Blassie. At the time, fingerprint and dental identification, along with forensic anthropology and radiology were used to determine identity. These methods are not always conclusive. Blassie was redesignated as “unknown, number X-26.” 

In 1984, his remains were laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns after lying in state in the U.S. Capitol. President Reagan presided over the funeral and awarded him the Medal of Honor. Reagan accepted the folded flag as the Vietnam Unknown’s next of kin. 

For four years, Blassie was guarded day and night by the tomb sentinels and visited by thousands of tourists in the DC area. But in the mid-1990s, news reports began to surface about the personal effects found with the remains, and word got back to the Blassie family that the “unknown” might be their loved one. They petitioned the government to perform more advanced tests.

the family of a formerly unknown soldier mourning
Jean Blassie (Right) and her son George Blassie, brother of USAF First Lieutenant Michael Blassie, gather at his gravesite in Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri. 1LT Blassie was shot down and killed in South Vietnam on May 11th, 1972.

By then, those tests included DNA testing, specifically mitochondrial DNA testing that could be compared with the DNA of his still-living mother and sister. When the tests were compared with X-26, they found a match. The unknown was unknown no more. 

By 1998, Michael Blassie was reinterred in Jefferson National Cemetery near his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri, the same cemetery in which his father was laid to rest. 

The Tomb of the Unknowns is still the final resting place of unknown troops who died in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. But without having a clue as to who they are, there can be no DNA to compare them. They will likely remain unknown. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US military once successfully used a psychic to locate a lost plane

During the Cold War, pretty much anything that would give the U.S. the upper hand vs. Communist Russia was considered worthy of research. Everything from catching satellites with airplanes to full airbases carved into Arctic ice. With this in mind, would it really surprise anyone that the CIA was concerned that a psychic gap existed between the U.S. and Soviet Union?


In 1972, the Agency started funding paranormal research in a program that would last more than 23 years. Called “remote viewing,” it was an ability some people supposedly posses enabling them to psychically “see” events, sites, or information from a great distance. The psychics were gathered to perform parapsychic intelligence and research operations.

A young airman named Rosemary Smith was given a map of Africa. She was told that sometime in the past a Soviet Tu-22 bomber outfitted as a spy plane crashed somewhere in Africa. U.S. intelligence services wanted to recover the top secret Russian codes and equipment the Tu-22 carried.

The plane went down in the Central African Republic. Despite orienting multiple satellites to locate the plane, the DoD kept coming up short. Using her remote viewing, the psychic pinpointed the wreckage, even though it was completely covered by the jungle canopy.

President Jimmy Carter admitted to U.S. media that that the CIA, without his knowledge, had consulted a psychic to find the missing plane. He told them the plane had been Russian, not American.

“The woman went into a trance and gave some latitude and longitude figures.” The former President said. “We focused our satellite cameras on that point and the plane was there.” When asked how he processed the news that a psychic located the plane, Carter replied: “With skepticism.”

The “Remote viewing” venture was part of the Stargate Project, a secret Army unit at Fort Meade, Maryland set up in 1978 in an effort to bridge the purported “psy gap.”

Overall, the project never gave the CIA any other real, meaningful information but was still funded until 1995 when the American public found out about the project from an episode of ABC’s news magazine show “Nightline.”

The finding of the Tu-22 is the only instance of a successful remote viewing. The project was the subject of the 2004 book and 2009 movie The Men Who Stare At Goats.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The fastest fighter jet in the world is over 50 years old

Fastest jet in the world? That’s easy. Most people know it’s the SR-71, the reconnaissance plane so fast it could outrun missiles. But the fastest fighter jet? Well, the Soviets created a fighter jet to chase down the SR-71 Blackbird, and it was so fast that it’s still the fastest fighter jet ever built. And it’s still in service today.


The MiG-25 Foxbat looks ungainly and boxy next to fourth and fifth-generation fighters. Its younger sibling, the MiG-29, is much sleeker, and the aggressive-looking F-35, F-22, and even the Su-57 make for way better wall posters than the Foxbat.

By comparison, the Foxbat looks almost like a box truck. If you’re feeling generous, you could compare it to something like an old Chrysler LeBaron, instead.

But only if that Chrysler Lebaron could sweep down a drag strip at speeds over 60 percent faster than its rivals.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

A two-seat trainer version of the MiG-25 flies over forested land.

(Leonid Faerberg (transport-photo.com), GFDL 1.2)

The story of the Foxbat is a fairly simple one. When Russia first understood the SR-71, it realized that the step from a reconnaissance plane that could fly three times the speed of sound to a bomber that could do so was large but hardly insurmountable. They had to plan on U.S. bombers that could outrun ground-launched missiles.

And so they got to work on a fighter that could move on the edge of space with the SR-71 and the planned XB-70 Valkyrie. While they knew it was unlikely they could create a fighter that could fly faster than a reconnaissance plane, there was a decent chance that it could outfly the bomber since the bomber would have to carry more weight.

Lacking the materials science to create light airframes like the SR-71, it did the next best thing and just made the engines so powerful that they could muscle through, carrying the nickel-steel alloy frame to record heights and speed. And the engineers at the Mikoyan and Gurevich Design Bureau (MiG is a shortening of that name), were some of the world’s best engine designers.

They came up with a twin-turbojet design that could propel the MiG-25 to Mach 2.8 in operational conditions and 3.2 if the pilots were willing to risk the engines. The plane quickly set world records for speed, time to climb, and top altitudes for a fighter.

And that scared the U.S. and the rest of NATO. Not only was the Foxbat ridiculously fast and powerful, but its design suggested that it was super maneuverable, a design characteristic that the West was moving toward.

But two events would completely change the calculus for the Foxbat. One made it a plane without a mission, and the other took away much of the fear for pilots who might be called to face it.

XB-70 Valkyrie Mid-air collision June 8, 1966

www.youtube.com

First, a catastrophic crash killed two pilots and destroyed the 0-million XB-70 Valkyrie test aircraft in a program that was already suffering cost problems. The program was canceled. Suddenly, there was little prospect of a Mach 3 bomber for the Foxbat to chase, meaning the most critical mission for Soviet planners was preventing American air superiority.

And then, a Soviet pilot defected to Japan with his MiG-25 in 1976, and NATO learned that the Foxbat was actually sort of horrible at air superiority.

When they disassembled, studied, re-assembled, and tested the plane, American engineers realized that it would almost always have a speed and altitude advantage against NATO planes, but it couldn’t capitalize on it. The Foxbat didn’t have a look-down, shoot-down radar system.

Without getting too into the technical weeds, the science of getting a radar that can see ahead of a fighter and beneath it without getting confused by ground clutter is actually sort of tough, and the Soviets hadn’t nailed it yet. So Foxbat pilots would be forced to descend to engage other fighters.

And once it was on a relatively even altitude with its adversaries, it would be relatively easy pickings. While it was undeniably fast, it was not actually super maneuverable. It was unlikely that a Foxbat could dodge missiles or win a dogfight. With a few changes to doctrine, planes like the F-4 Phantom could keep the Foxbat on the run or down it entirely.

Still, the Foxbat has continued in service in Post-Soviet Russia, and it’s still the fastest and highest-flying fighter jet in the world, carrying its full combat load so high that the pilot’s tears will boil off their faces. It just doesn’t matter because there’s nothing up there for the Foxbat to fight.

Articles

These 12 historical photos vividly show where the Navy’s term “salty” came from

“Salty” is a term from the United States Navy used to describe an experienced sailor – someone for whom the romanticized idea of ship life is gone and replaced with sea salt.

Recently WATM published photos from the 1898 Spanish-American War that were found during a U.S. Navy archive office renovation. One of our readers asked if we could find historical photos of the  U.S. Navy’s saltiest sailors throughout history, so we did.


Check these sea dogs out:

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
An older sailor with a young one, circa 1917.

 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Exchanging seas stories, circa 1900

 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Sailors aboard the USS Oregon, circa 1900

 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
These are U.S. Navy sailors from the Spanish-American War period. This photo was recently found in an archival building.

 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
The crew of the Holland, the Navy’s first commissioned Submarine in 1899

 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Sailors from the USS Hartford, circa 1876

 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Sailors aboard the USS Ohio circa 1870.

 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Sailors of the Union Navy during the Civil War, 1865

 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Confederate officers aboard the CSS Alabama, 1863

 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Admiral DD Porter, 1860

 

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
A Mexican-American War Era Navy Commander, circa 1850

MIGHTY HISTORY

These 10 trailblazers are behind the 19th Amendment

November 2020 is coming in fast, and we’re likely to see a similar pattern in voting turnout as seen in previous elections; of all eligible voters, females turnout in higher proportions than men. This trend has held steady since the 80s, helping the female voice to grow in volume and strength in American politics. This November marks an important milestone for female voters. It’s the 100th year women have had the right to vote!

The 19th amendment was passed by Congress on June 4th, 1919, and formally ratified over a year later on August 18th, 1920. While that breakthrough deserves celebration, it also deserves perspective. While women have had the right to vote for a century, it took nearly a century to win it. Even before the Civil War, reformers and suffragists were discussing the future of women’s rights, paving the way for the liberties we are proud to have today. The 10 amazing women below are just a few of the figures who dedicated their lives to our rights. When you cast your vote this year, don’t forget to say thanks!


Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906)

One of the most recognizable names in women’s rights history, Susan B. Anthony was raised by her Quaker parents to be confident, independent and dedicated to her beliefs. She was encouraged to believe that men and women should live equally and strive to rid the world of injustice, and she took that message to heart. She started out campaigning for married women to have property rights, before joining abolitionist leagues and speaking out against slavery.

So firmly did she believe in equal voting rights for men and women, however, that she refused to support any suffrage movements for African Americans that only included men. This created a divide between activists, but the two groups eventually joined forces to form the National Woman Suffrage Association with Elizabeth Cady Stanton as its president. Anthony later became the group’s second president, and she dedicated the rest of her life to the suffrage movement she helped to found.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)

Another early suffragette, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was a philosopher and a pioneer of the women’s rights movement. She married an abolitionist named Henry Brewester Stanton in 1840 and traveled with him to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. After being told women were not permitted, she was enraged. With the help of other reformers including Lucretia Mott, she planned the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls. It’s reported that 240 people attended, agreeing that women’s rights were non-negotiable and it was time to fight for equality. This was the true beginning of the women’s suffrage movement.

Like Susan B. Anthony, Stanton was against the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which granted Black men voting rights, but not women. While she passed away 18 years before the 19th Amendment was ratified, a statue of her, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott stands at the U.S. Capitol in honor of her achievements.

Lucy Stone (1818-1893)

Lucy Stone was tough as nails. She boldly refused to take her husband’s last name, stating that the age-old tradition “refused to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being” and “conferred on the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority.” She worked hard as a traveling lecturer against slavery and sexism, and unlike some activists, she supported the 15th Amendment.

Stone continued to fight for universal suffrage, however, assisting with the creation of the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1871, she and her husband founded a feminist newspaper called “The Woman’s Journal,” which remained in publication until 1931, nearly 40 years after her death!

Lucy Burns (1879-1966)

A fiery activist in both the British and American suffrage movements, Lucy Burns was a good friend of fellow activist Alice Paul. They were leaders in the formation of the National Woman’s Party, and Burns in particular was known for her passionate and aggressive tactics. She was among the suffragettes arrested for protesting at the White House, later being force-fed during a hunger strike.

By the time the 19th was ratified, Burns had suffered through a considerable amount of jail time and was understandably exhausted. She retired from activism, reportedly saying, “I don’t want to do anything more. I think we have done all this for women, and we have sacrificed everything we possessed for them, and now let them fight for it now. I am not going to fight anymore.” Her later years were devoted to the Catholic Church and the upbringing of her orphaned niece.

Alice Paul (1885-1977)

Building on the work of earlier activists, Alice Paul was even more bold in her approach to winning the vote. The Quaker suffragette spearheaded the most militant branch of the women’s suffrage movement, working alongside Emmaline Pankhurst in the Women’s Social and Political Union in London. Their tactics were far from “ladylike,” using civil disobedience to capture media attention and raise awareness. When she became the chair of NAWSA’s Congressional Committee, she organized a massive suffrage parade to clash with President Wilson’s inauguration- a mass publicity stunt that ignited further protests. In 1914, she moved on to start her own organization, the Congressional Union.

This soon evolved into the National Woman’s Party, which was responsible for many loud, highly-visible protests including a picket of the White House that lasted for months. As retaliation for this act of rebellion, she was imprisoned and force-fed for weeks, eventually winning the sympathy of the public…and the president. The pickets were one of the final moves leading to the ratification of the 19th amendment.

Paul also proposed an additional Equal Rights Amendment, but 100 years later, it still has yet to be ratified.

Ida B. Wells (1862-1931)

Ida B. Wells started out as a schoolteacher in Memphis. While she was there, she wrote for the city’s Black newspaper, The Free Speech, covering the racial injustice and violence in the South. Many were outraged and violently threatened her, destroying The Free Speech office in an angry mob. She moved north for her own safety, but never stopped campaigning for civil rights.

In addition to her anti-racism activism, she was determined to fight for women’s suffrage- even when she wasn’t welcome. Although most early suffragists supported racial equality, by the beginning of the 20th century that wasn’t always the case. Many white suffragists only joined the cause in hopes of giving “their” women the right to vote to maintain their hold on white supremacy. Many white suffragists didn’t want to march with Black people at all, but that didn’t stop Wells. She marched anyway, continuing to fight for civil rights for the rest of her days.

Frances E.W. Harper (1825–1911)

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper didn’t have the easiest upbringing, but that didn’t slow her down. She was orphaned at a young age and raised by her uncle, William Watkins. He was the founder of the Watkins Academy for Negro youth and an outspoken abolitionist, and Harper followed in his footsteps. She became a teacher at schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania, but couldn’t return to her hometown Maryland without risking her freedom. Her writing and lectures advocated for both women’s rights and anti-slavery groups. She was one of just a handful of Black women involved in the women’s rights movement in the late 19th century, founding the National Association of Colored Women Clubs. She was also one of the first Black women to become a published author in the United States.

Mary Church Terrell (1863-1954)

Mary Church Terrell was raised in Tennessee by remarkably successful parents. They were once enslaved, but they defied the odds and built extremely successful businesses. Her father became one of the South’s first Black millionaires! After she graduated from college, she worked as a teacher and became an activist, supporting women’s rights and Ida B. Wells’s anti-lynching campaign. She co-founded the National Association of Colored Women Clubs with Wells and acted as the organization’s first president.

Later, she picked alongside Alice Paul in front of the White House. She spoke prolifically on civil rights, trying to engage more Black women in the suffrage cause. She didn’t soften with age, either. When she was over 80 years old, she sued a D.C. restaurant after she was refused service, leading to the desegregation of Washington’s restaurants in the early 50s.

Carrie Chapman Catt (1859- 1947)

Susan B. Anthony had some big shoes to fill when she left her position as president of the NAWSA, but she left it in good hands. Carrie Chapman Catt was elected to take on the role, representing the less confrontational branch of the women’s rights movement. During her many years as an activist, she also contributed to the formation of the Women’s Peace Party and the International Woman Suffrage Association. Once the vote was finally one, she said, “Now that we have the vote let us remember we are no longer petitioners. We are not wards of the nation, but free and equal citizens. Let us do our part to keep it a true and triumphant democracy.”

She retired after the 19th Amendment was ratified, but not before establishing the League of Women Voters. She also co-authored a book called “Woman Suffrage and Politics: The Inner Story of the Suffrage Movement” in 1923.

Lucretia Mott (1793- 1880)

One of the earliest women’s rights activists, Lucretia Mott was a social reformer who sought to change the role of women in society entirely. Her Quaker roots instilled a fundamental belief in equality, inspiring her to attend early women’s rights and abolitionist meetings. When she and Elizabeth Cady Stanton arrived at the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London in 1840, she thought they had been invited as delegates.

Instead, she was taken to a segregated women’s section, furthering her resolve to bring about social change. She helped draft the Declaration of Sentiments during the historic Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, and she didn’t stop there.

When slavery was outlawed, she advocated giving former slaves of both genders the right to vote. She was later elected the first president of the American Equal Rights Convention, and she attempted to use the platform to conduct women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements at the same time. Her skill as a speaker helped further both movements, establishing her as one of the most memorable and accomplished female activists of the 19th century.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Stormin’ Norman’s Presser about Operation Desert Storm

In 1991, Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf knew that victory over Iraq was imminent. Operation Desert Storm lasted just 42 days. Once it ended, Schwarzkopf gave “The Mother of All News Conferences” across the street from his command headquarters in Saudi Arabia. The presser is lauded as being one of the most comprehensive and inviting news conferences ever given by a general of the US Army.

Military History

Gen. Schwarzkopf led the coalition forces during the Gulf War. But that wasn’t his first experience with combat. He was also a battalion commander during the Vietnam War. During Vietnam, Schwarzkopf earned three Silver Stars, two Purple Hearts, and the Legion of Merit. He also served as a commander during the Invasion of Grenada in 1983. 

Operation Desert Storm

In 1988, Schwarzkopf assumed CENTCOM command. Initially, he was tasked with defending Saudi Arabia from Iraqi aggression. So, he set out to create and strengthen diplomatic relations with both countries. However, talks failed.

So Schwarzkopf quickly realized something else would need to be done to ensure peace in the region. He planned and led Operation Desert Storm. ODS was an aggressive air campaign that was followed by a grueling 100-hour ground operation. This tactic helped the coalition forces achieve victory over Iraq. Kuwait was liberated and Schwarzkopf decided that the best thing to do would be to explain to the world’s press how the battle was won. Units activated for ODS included the 101st Airborne, 82nd Airborne, along with the 24th Mechanized Infantry Division and the 3rd Armored Cavalry. These units were positioned behind the Saudi Arabian task force. Forces were deployed to the region on August 7.

As soon as it was clear Operation Desert Storm was a success, Gen. Schwarzkopf led a presser where he made good on his promise to provide information on how he constructed his mission plan and what the strategy was behind it. During the hour-long press conference, Schwarzkopf gave the following rundown of the mission. 

“What we started out against were a couple hundred thousand Iraqis that were in the Kuwait theater of operation,” Schwarzkopf briefed.

Breaking it down battle by battle

By the middle of November, the decision to increase the number of ground troops was made, in part because of an increase in Iraqi forces to the area. 

“We made a very deliberate decision to align all of those forces within the boundary looking north toward Kuwait,” Schwarzkopf briefed, “… so it looked like they were all against directly on the Iraqi positions.”

Adding to that was a very active and very known naval presence in the Gulf. Schwarzkopf said one of the reasons he made sure that the naval presence was so widely known was because it was obvious that the Iraqis were concerned about a water-based attack.

The hour-long brief given by Gen. Schwarzkopf is considered one of the most detailed and comprehensive military news conferences because of the depth and detail that he provided during the presser. 

In his cadet picture from Bordentown Military Institute, a ten-year-old Schwarzkopf isn’t smiling. Apparently, he flat out refused and instead, frowned sternly.

“Some day when I become a general, I want people to know that I’m serious.”

“Someday when I become a general, I want people to know that I’m serious.”

For everyone attending the Mother of All Press Conferences, that message was received loud and clear. 

Gen. Schwarzkopf died in 2012.    

MIGHTY HISTORY

13 Presidents who narrowly escaped assassinations

Four out of 45 US presidents have been assassinated over the course of American history.


But many more chief executives escaped assassination attempts thanks to heroic bystanders, diligent guards, misfiring pistols, and crazy luck.

Even two presidents who were eventually assassinated escaped previous attempts on their lives.

On a hot August night in 1864, a sniper shot Lincoln’s hat off his head — missing his skull by inches — as he took a solo ride on his favorite horse “Old Abe,” according to 1864: Lincoln at the Gates of History. Lincoln was later shot and killed by Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, just five days after the surrender of Robert E. Lee.

Almost a century later, in 1960, retired postal worker Richard Paul Pavlick crammed his car with dynamite and plotted to ram the vehicle into Kennedy’s limo in Palm Beach, Florida, according to Smithsonian Magazine. He was motivated by his intense hatred of Catholics and the Kennedy family but backed off when he saw that the president was with his wife and young children. Pavlick was later arrested and institutionalized until 1966, three years after Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald while visiting Dallas, Texas.

But these 13 other presidents all experienced serious assassination threats and ultimately survived — and these are only the most dramatic, most-publicized instances. Undoubtedly, the Secret Service has thwarted many more over the years.

Here are 13 presidents who escaped attempts on their lives:

1. Andrew Jackson

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

On a misty January day in 1835, Richard Lawrence, an out-of-work house painter who believed he was the 15th-century English king Richard III, walked into the US Capitol Building.

President Andrew Jackson was leaving the funeral of a House representative when the English national confronted him in the East Portico, brandishing a pistol.

He raised the gun at Andrew Jackson and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.

“Let me alone! Let me alone!” Jackson yelled at Lawrence, according to Smithsonian Magazine. “I know where this came from.”

Lawrence discarded the weapon, produced a second pistol, and aimed the new gun at Jackson. It also misfired.

According to legend, Jackson subsequently flew at the man and thrashed him with his cane. Whether or not that’s true, Lawrence’s assassination attempt was unsuccessful. Smithsonian Magazine reported that National Anthem lyricist, Francis Scott Key, prosecuted his trial, where he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Lawrence spent the rest of his life institutionalized.

As Time reported, the chance that both perfectly functional pistols would misfire was about one in 125,000. Jackson’s survival may have depended on the dampness in the air that day.

2. Theodore Roosevelt

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

President Theodore Roosevelt was saved by the length of his speech after an assassin shot him in the chest with a .38-caliber revolver in 1912.

At the time, Roosevelt was running for the presidency on the Bull and Moose ticket. Saloon-owner John Schrank had begun stalking the former president after having an unusual dream.

According to Killing the President: Assassinations, Attempts, and Rumored Attempts on U.S. Commanders-in-Chief, Schrank wrote, “In a dream, I saw President McKinley sit up in his coffin pointing at a man in a monk’s attire in whom I recognized Theodore Roosevelt. The dead President said, ‘This is my murderer — avenge my death.'”

Fortunately, Roosevelt had his notes with him when he was shot on October 14 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin — 50 pages of them, folded in his breast pocket next to his metal glasses case. These objects slowed the bullet and saved Roosevelt’s life.

The ex-president continued to speak after letting his audience know he’d been shot, according to the Theodore Roosevelt Association:

“Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose. But fortunately I had my manuscript, so you see I was going to make a long speech, and there is a bullet — there is where the bullet went through — and it probably saved me from it going into my heart. The bullet is in me now, so that I cannot make a very long speech, but I will try my best.”

He finished the rest of his speech with a bullet in his ribs, where it remained until his death in 1919.

Also read: The 17 most bizarre jobs of American presidents

3. Herbert Hoover

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

In 1928, President Herbert Hoover was nearly killed while visiting the Andes.

Argentine anarchists attempted to blow up his train, but the would-be assassin was seized before he could plant the bombs on the tracks.

After learning of the thwarted plot, Hoover tore the front page story from the newspaper so his wife Lou Henry Hoover wouldn’t worry, according to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum. The 31st president is said to have quipped that while he was unconcerned, “It’s just as well that Lou shouldn’t see it.”

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

17 days before Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first presidential inauguration, the president-elect disembarked from his yacht and made a short speech in Miami, Florida on February 15, 1933. As the Chicago Tribune reported, Chicago mayor Anton Cermak then approached Roosevelt for a short chat afterward.

At that moment, anarchist Giuseppe Zangara opened fire. Roosevelt emerged from the attack unscathed, but Cermak was mortally wounded, along with onlooker Mabel Gill.

It’s unclear who Zangara intended to assassinate. He was arrested and went to the electric chair after ten days on death row.

Ten years later, Soviet officials claimed to have uncovered a Nazi plan to murder Roosevelt and other world leaders at the Tehran Conference, according to Eureka Summit: Agreement in Principle and the Big Three at Tehran, 1943.

5. Harry S. Truman

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
(Photo by Abbie Rowe)

According to the New York Times, Harry Truman’s daughter Margaret Truman Daniel alleged in her father’s biography that a Zionist gang had sent him and several other White House officials mail bombs in 1947. The alleged incident was never publicized and apparently ended with the Secret Service defusing the explosives.

The more famous attempt on Truman’s life came about on November 1, 1950. Puerto Rican nationalists Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola attempted to storm the Blair House, where Truman lived while the White House was being renovated, according to the Harry S. Truman Library.

Torresola and White House police officer Leslie Coffelt died in the attack. Truman commuted Collazo’s death sentence to life, which was then commuted to time served by Jimmy Carter in 1979.

6. Richard Nixon

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

Arthur Bremer, who ultimately shot and paralyzed Alabama governor George Wallace, first considered targeting President Richard Nixon, according to the Washington Post.

A more high-profile Nixon assassination attempt came about on February 22, 1974. According to the LA Weekly, Samuel Byck shot and killed a police officer at the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, raced through the security checkpoint, and broke onto a Delta flight to Atlanta. Hours earlier, he had mailed a tape to the Washington Post detailing his plan to hijack an airliner and crash it into the White House, in order to kill Nixon.

Once onboard the aircraft, he shot both pilots, killing one, after he was told that they could not take off. Police shot Byck through the plane’s window, and he killed himself before he could be arrested.

Related: Historians ranked the top 20 US Presidents of all time

7. Gerald Ford

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

President Gerald Ford survived two back-to-back assassination attempts in California during September of 1975.

At a packed park in Sacramento, California on September 5, Manson Family member Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme drew a gun after Ford reached into the crowd to shake her hand.

There was no round in the firing chamber, so the gun misfired and she was grabbed by Secret Service, as NBC reported. After receiving a life sentence, Fromme was released from prison in 2009, two years after Ford’s natural death.

Only a few days later, self-proclaimed radical Sara Jane Moore shot a revolver at Ford in San Francisco on September 22. The shot missed thanks to the efforts of ex-Marine and bystander Oliver Sipple, who grabbed Moore’s arm, according to the San Francisco Gate. Moore was paroled in 2007, a year after Ford died.

8. Jimmy Carter

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

On May 5, 1979, police arrested drifter Raymond Lee Harvey outside of the Civic Center Mall in LA, ten minutes before Jimmy Carter was scheduled to give a speech there.

He had a starter pistol, with several blank rounds, according to the Atlantic. Harvey claimed to be part of a cell that sought to assassinate Carter, but due to his history of mental illness, the men he named as co-conspirators were later released.

John Hinckley Jr., who would later attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan, also considered shooting Carter in 1980, but backed out, according to the Dayton Daily News.

9. Ronald Reagan

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

Ronald Reagan came close to losing his life in an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981.

As the New York Times reported, John Hinckley Jr. opened fire as the president walked to his limousine from the Washington Hilton around 2:30 p.m. Press Secretary James Brady suffered brain damage from the attack and eventually succumbed to his injuries years later, and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy and DC police officer Thomas Delahanty were also wounded.

Reagan was shot once in the chest and suffered serious internal bleeding and a punctured lung. He received emergency surgery at George Washington University Hospital, where he remained for several weeks.

After the attack, Reagan famously retained his sense of humor. He’s quoted as telling his wife, “Honey, I forgot to duck” and jokingly asking whether the surgeons due to operate on him were Republicans, according to Time.

Hinckley claimed to have carried out the attack to impress actress Jodie Foster, whom he was stalking. He was institutionalized and released in 2016, after being deemed to no longer pose a threat to others.

10. Bill Clinton

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

President Bill Clinton was the subject of several assassination plots during his stint in the White House.

Three alone occurred in 1994. Ronald Gene Barbour sought to kill the president on his daily jog through the National Mall, according to the New York Times.

Later that year, Frank Eugene Corder rammed a red and white single-engine airplane onto the White House lawn, in an attempt to kill Clinton, according to the New York Times. Corder died when the vehicle “crashed through the branches of a magnolia tree planted by Andrew Jackson and came to rest in a crumpled heap two stories below the Clintons’ unoccupied bedroom.”

A month later, in October, Francisco Martin Duran slipped a suicide note into his pocket and fired numerous shots at the north lawn, according to the Los Angeles Times. A group of tourists ultimately tackled Duran and he was arrested.

An assassination attempt later took place abroad, during Clinton’s visit to Manila in 1996. A bomb was discovered under a bridge that the president’s motorcade was scheduled to travel over. The bomb plot was apparently masterminded by Osama bin Laden, according to the Telegraph.

11. George W. Bush

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

Robert Pickett, an ex-IRS employee with a history of mental illness, fired several bullets at the White House in February 2001, before a Secret Service agent shot him in the knee, according to the New York Times. President George W. Bush was exercising in the residential area of the White House at the time. Pickett was treated in a Bureau of Prisons psychological institution for two years following the incident.

A few years later, in 2005, Bush had a closer call while traveling abroad.

Bush and then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili appeared at a 2006 rally in Tbilisi, Georgia. During the event, Georgian national Vladimir Arutyunian tied a red handkerchief around a live hand grenade and threw it at the presidents and other officials, according to the Washington Post.

However, the explosive didn’t detonate. The handkerchief had blocked the grenade’s safety lever. Arutyunian escaped from the rally, and later killed a Georgian agent during his arrest. He was sentenced to life in prison for the assassination attempt.

More: These photos show what our veteran presidents looked like in uniform

12. Barack Obama

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

While Barack Obama was still a presidential candidate in 2008, two white supremacists named Paul Schlesselman and Daniel Cowart conspired to murder 102 African American men — while driving around in a getaway car with the words “Honk if you love Hitler” scrawled on it.

Their conspiracy would culminate with the assassination of Obama. As CBS News reported, police uncovered the detailed plot and arrested the duo long before they were close to launching their cross-country murder spree.

Later, in 2011, Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez open fire on the White House after claiming that Obama was the anti-Christ, according to the Washington Post. He crashed his car while escaping, and was later arrested and sentenced to 27.5 years in jail. The Obamas were not in the White House at the time of the shooting.

In April 2013, a letter addressed to Obama tested positive for ricin, a deadly poison. James Everett Dutschke was sentenced to 25 years in jail for the ricin mailing plot, according to Politico.

Then, in 2015, CNN reported that three men — Abror Habibov, Abdurasul Juraboev, and Akhror Saidakhmetov — had been arrested after plotting to kill Obama and bomb Coney Island in their efforts to join ISIS.

13. Donald Trump

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

At a campaign rally in a Las Vegas Strip hotel-casino, Michael Steven Sandford attempted to grab a police officer’s gun. As he was taken into custody, the British national told officers that he was hoping to assassinate then-presidential candidate, Donald Trump.

The Guardian reported that Sandford has a history of mental illness, which Judge James Mahan acknowledged in his hearing, saying that Sandford needed help and wasn’t a “hardened criminal” — or even intent on assassinating Trump.

“I know saying sorry is not enough,” Sandford told the court, according to the Guardian. “I really do feel awful about what I did. I wish there was some way to make things better. I have cost taxpayers so much money. I feel terrible.”

On May 6, KYT 24 reported that Sandford had been deported to the UK, after being in US custody for about 11 months.

MIGHTY HISTORY

5 things you didn’t know about the first female Marines

Since 1775, male Marines have been involved in some of the most epic battles in military history. They’ve courageously fought in every climate and every place where they could take a gun, from the flag raising at Iwo Jima to kicking down doors in Fallujah.


One aspect the Corps’ history that tends to get overlooked is the impact females Marines have made, and they’re just getting started.

Related: This is the first African American to earn the Medal of Honor

1. The first female enlisted Marine joined in 1918

In 1918, Opha May Johnson was the first known female to enlist in the Marine Corps. After her, 305 brave women decided they to would swear the oath and join the beloved Corps, serving in the Reserves during World War I.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Opha May Johnson, the first enlisted female Marine.

2.  FDR was the president who created their Corps

In 1943, Congress allowed President Franklin Roosevelt to ink into law the creation of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.

An outstanding achievement.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
(President Franklin D. Roosevelt)

3. The first female enlisted Marine Reservist joined in 1943

After the Marine Corps’ Women’s Reserve was officially created, Lucille McClarren, from Nemacolin, Pennsylvania, was the first female to join the reserve unit. Before joining, Pvt. McClarren worked as a stenographer for the War Department in Washington, D.C.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems

4. They served in ancillary combat positions to support the fight

The new female Marines were limited to non-combat related roles and took up occupations in clerical positions. However, many of them worked their way into the fight and earned ancillary combat position like mechanics, radio operators, parachute riggers, and welders — just to name a few.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
Seven members of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve at Camp Lejeune. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Also Read: 4 female CrossFit athletes that would dominate combat quals

5. They paved the way for today’s Corps

Today, females have earned their right to work and fight alongside their male counterparts on the frontlines. They’ve displayed extreme dedication to the Marine Corps in various infantry roles and continue to prove that they are capable of much more than history has given them credit for.

Why trench warfare wasn’t as dumb of an idea as it seems
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Sienna De Santis and greets children during a patrol in Sangin Valley, Afghanistan. (DOD handout photo/ David Hernandez)

Check out the Marines’ video to witness the incredible impact females have had on the Corps’ history for yourself.

MIGHTY HISTORY

A fighter pilot shot his own fuel tanks mid-flight over Korea

In 1952, Lt. Col. A.J. D’Amario took off from an airstrip at Suwon, Korea in a F-80 Shooting Star jet fighter. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. He wasn’t going into combat and his plane was – he thought – in perfect working condition. He was wrong. 

D’Amario’s seemingly inconsequential flight was soon turned into a mid-air fight for his life that would see him turn his sidearm on his own plane before he could land safely. 

Writing on TailSpinTales, an aviation enthusiast blog, the then-retired Lt. Col. D’Amario recalled his 1952 flight at the height of the Korean War. He wasn’t going to see the enemy and his mission, as he put it, was “have fun boring holes in the sky for about an hour and a half.”

But almost immediately after takeoff, he could feel there was something wrong with his F-80 Shooting Star. The F-80 was the United States first operational jet fighter aircraft. It saw some action over Italy during World War II, but didn’t see extensive combat until years later in the Korean War. 

D’Amario writes that his F-80 felt heavy in the left wing and he quickly surmised that the left fuel tank was not feeding into the engine. Since he could neither land with the fuel (as prohibited by the tower) nor use the fuel, he was told to fly over to a bomber training field and drop the tank there before landing. 

U.S. Air Force P-80 Shooting Stars with drop tanks.
U.S. Air Force P-80 Shooting Stars with drop tanks.
(Lockheed)

So the pilot flew to the assigned bomber training field. But when the time came to drop the tank in a simulated bomb run, nothing happened. So D’Amario made another simulated bombing run. This time nothing still happened when he pressed the release button. So the pilot decided to give the bomb run one last shot.

This time, he was going to use the manual release for the drop tank. Nothing. On his fourth and final attempt to rid himself of the jammed fuel tank, he pressed what he called “the panic button.” This button was supposed to release everything attached to the wings of the airframe. It almost worked as advertised.

To D’Amario’s dismay, he did drop everything hanging off the Shooting Star’s fuselage. Except that left wing external fuel tank was still holding on strong. When he told the control tower that his tank wasn’t coming off, they advised him to give his coordinated, eject and wait for a rescue party. 

Fighter pilot D'Amario
D’Amario retired from the Air Force as a Lt. Col.
(U.S. Air Force)

“Well, pilots really hate to punch out of a perfectly flyable airplane and I figured I still had one option worth trying,” he wrote. 

Dropping to the lowest possible speed he could for an F-80, he opened his canopy at 220 miles per hour and drew his .45 sidearm. Knowing the fuel would not burn in its liquid form, he aimed his issued Colt 1911 pistol at an area of the tank where he knew the fuel would be liquified.

He fired the pistol at least four times in a desperate attempt to shoot himself down. He had a few solid hits, large enough to watch the liquid pouring out of the errant fuel tank. The airman at the stick of the Shooting Star decided to flay in a manner that would drain the excess fuel from his fuel tank.

With three solid holes and some fancy flying, the American drained the fuel as fast as they could. He flew in a series of so-called “fancy” maneuvers that would help drain the fuel out as fast as possible for another 30 minutes. 

That’s exactly what happened. He was finally cleared to land.

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