The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

The Civil War ironclad USS Indianola was rushed into the war, guarding Cincinnati in 1862 before she was even complete. But at the start of 1863, she was cutting through Confederate defenses on the Red River to support Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks’ campaign there. But when a crisis hit, Union Navy officers had to figure out how to prevent it from falling into Confederate hands.


The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

(US Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Indianola was part of the Mississippi River Squadron tasked with severing Confederate logistics and defenses on that river and the surrounding waters. But in early 1863, the Confederacy still held 240 miles of water from Vicksburg, Mississippi, down to the Gulf of Mexico. The fiery Rear Adm. David D. Porter sent ships down the Red River to disrupt Confederate shipping at the end of January.

For a few weeks, the Union ships captured Confederate ones and typically seized any supplies and paroled the crews. But the Union vessels took damage in engagement after engagement and were not able to seize as much fuel as they needed to continue operations so, on February 13, Porter sent the Indianola with two coal barges past the Confederate guns at Vicksburg to reinforce and refuel those ships already downriver.

For a few days, the Indianola stayed downriver and chased off Confederate vessels, but it was headed back upriver on February 24 when a group of Confederate rams hunted it down as darkness fell.

The Indianola was already heavy thanks to its armor, and it maneuvered slowly in the river with the two coal barges attached, so the Confederate rams were able to slam into it quickly and then pour fire into its portholes. The Union sailors fired their artillery as quickly as they could, but their fire was largely ineffective in the poor moonlight.

Lt. Cmdr. George Brown exposed himself to enemy fire repeatedly in his efforts to save the ship and repel the Confederate attack. He fired his revolver against the Confederate sailors, and he was seen ordering his engineers and defenders even when incoming fire was bouncing around him.

The Union ship quickly began to sink, but the commander and crew worked to destroy the signal books and get the vessel to deep water before surrendering it so the rebels could not recapture it. But, in an effort to save himself and his crew, Brown surrendered the ship a bit too soon, and the Confederates were able to take it in tow.

It sank soon after, but the Confederates were able to tow it to a sandbar before it did so, leaving most of the ship exposed and giving the Confederacy a solid chance to raise it and turn it against the Union forces. Rear Adm. Porter was loathing to risk sending more ships past Vicksburg’s guns to prevent the salvage, but he really didn’t want to face the Indianola in rebel hands.

So, he looked around for some cash, bought up some scrap wood and iron, and quickly constructed a fake ironside warship built on top of an old flatboat. It had smokestacks complete with thick smoke, fake artillery positions with blackened wood cannons, as well as typical structures like the pilothouse. In all, it cost .63, about 0 in 2018 dollars.

As a little cheeky addition, “Deluded People Cave In” was painted on the paddle wheel housings.

On the night of February 25, Porter had the Black Terror, as the ship was dubbed, released into the current with no crew. It was quickly spotted by a Confederate ship that raced downriver ahead of it to warn other rebels of the approach of a Union “ironclad.” When it reached the Indianola, the order was given to scuttle and destroy the ship rather than risk its recapture.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

(US Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Confederate salvage team spiked the guns and threw them in the river, they burned the hull down to the waterline, and set off all the powder. Almost nothing remained of the Indianola when the Black Terror came down the river. But, of course, the Black Terror just kept drifting, eventually running aground two miles downriver.

The Southerners, already confused by the lack of Union fire, were made even more suspicious when there was no sign of crew activity after the Black Terror ran aground. So, a small team rowed out to the vessel and discovered that they had been tricked.

Despite the fact that the second ironsides attack was a fake and the first was defeated, the bulk of the Confederate fleet still withdrew from the river. The land defenses at Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and a few others, held the line until the following year when land offensives captured them, cementing Union control of the river and choking off what remained of Confederate resupply. After the capture of Vicksburg, the Union recovered the wreck of the Indianola.

And a large contributor to the success was an .63 expenditure on scrap wood and iron.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 ways the wars in Vietnam and Afghanistan are the same

It’s no secret that America is pretty good at getting themselves involved in wars throughout the world. Historically, we haven’t been the best at coming up with an exit strategy for some of those conflicts, though.


The Vietnam War is considered one of the most politically charged military campaigns in our nation’s history as young men were drafted into service to fight against the spread of communism.

After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the U.S. embarked on an offensive to break up a network comprised of men that take the worship of the religion of Islam into extremism.

Related: This is what it was like fighting alongside Afghan troops

Although these campaigns took place in separate decades against very different adversaries, the similarities from the perspective of the ground forces are impeccable. History repeats itself. Here are four ways in which these two conflicts are the same.

4. For the most part, we didn’t trust our allies

In both wars, American forces were teamed up with local troops to help combat their common enemy. Many Vietnam and Afghanistan War vets have noted that their “friendly” counterparts often appeared distant and were known to have even protected the enemy at times.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy
A PF soldier patrol with a Marine unit during the Vietnam War.

3. We fought against an unmarked enemy

Many of the fighters the U.S. went up against in both campaigns were able to disappear as fast as they appeared. This ghostly advantage wasn’t the result of some magical vanishing act, but rather an ability to blend back into the local population — right out in the open.

Since most of the “disappearing act” fighters are from small guerilla militias or surrounding clans, they never wore any distinguishable uniforms, adding to their advantage.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy
Are these guys Taliban or friendly members of a local militia?

2. The enemy could live below ground

The Viet Cong commonly used their well-engineered tunnels while the Taliban make use of caves in the mountains of Afghanistan.

These livable structures can house enemy combatants for extend periods of time and conceal deadly weapons.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy
Two U.S. Marines search a Viet Cong tunnel. (Image from Flickr)

Also Read: Here was the major problem with the South Vietnamese army

1. Our maps became outdated quickly

When enemy structures are mainly constructed from local vegetation and mud, they can be broken down just as fast as they’re built.

This characteristic makes them incredibly difficult to keep them documented. Map records and mission planning changed constantly.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy
An occupied mud home in Afghanistan.

Humor

This famous bridge adds an Army LMTV to its list of kills

Right off North Carolina Highway 147 in Durham sits a relic of older railroad overpass regulations. The 78-year old bridge that runs along South Gregson Street has a clearance of only 11 feet 8 inches. It has become known across the internet as “The Can-Opener Bridge” because of the astounding number of overconfident truck drivers who think they can squeeze their vehicle under it. Recently, the bridge claimed its 130th victim: an Army LMTV.


Local truck drivers know to avoid the overpass, so nearly every vehicle that gets clipped is either a rental or from out-of-state. The costs of raising the railroad tracks would be astronomical and the city’s main sewer line runs underneath, meaning lowering the road is impossible.

Thankfully, to date, there have been no fatalities and only three minor injuries. The city of Durham is content to plaster the area with a ridiculous amount of warnings to drivers, including a traffic light and gigantic, flashing sign that triggers if a height sensor is tripped. But all of these cautions don’t deter idiots drivers who aren’t willing to take a short detour.

To be completely honest, I don’t think they even want to fix it because it’s too funny.

 

So, what’s a city to do that has a hilarious problem that only affects morons who obviously don’t know their vehicle and fail to acknowledge the many signals? Put up a 24/7 webcam and create an internet attraction, obviously!

The most recent addition to the bridge’s long list of victims is a U.S. Army LMTV from an undisclosed unit. Many sites have erroneously claimed that the truck was carrying some “top secret device that needed to be covered” when it hit the bridge. In actuality, it was just a regular ol’ weapon mount that’s kept covered as not to freak out civilians. The driver of the vehicle has also not been named, but the Private (or soon-to-be-Private) is definitely never going to live this one down.

 

 
MIGHTY TACTICAL

US aircraft carriers aren’t that easy to kill, here’s why

Aircraft carriers are symbols of American military might, and, recently, a Chinese military professor caused a stir by calling for China to sink two of them to crush America’s resolve.

That’s certainly easier said than done.

The US military conducted a “Sink Exercise” test in 2005, using the decommissioned USS America for target practice to test the defensive capabilities of US carriers in order to guide the development of future supercarriers. The ship was bombarded repeatedly and hammered in a variety of attacks.


The carrier withstood four weeks of intense bombardment before it was finally sunk, according to The War Zone.

These leviathans of the seas are beacons of American power for a reason. China could knock one of the US’ 11 carriers out of the fight, but sinking one of these 100,000-ton warships is another thing entirely. That’s not to say it can’t be done. It’s just no simple task, experts told Business Insider.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) transits the Pacific Ocean.

(U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Kenneth Abbate)

“It wouldn’t be impossible to hit an aircraft carrier, but unless they hit it with a nuke, an aircraft carrier should be able to take on substantial damage,” said retired Capt. Talbot Manvel, who previously served as an aircraft engineer and was involved in the design of the new Ford-class carriers.

At 1,100 feet long, carriers are floating nuclear power plants, fuel tankers, bomb arsenals, and an airfield stacked atop each other like a layered cake. They are then surrounded by cruisers and destroyers to defend them from missiles, fighters, and torpedoes — even if that means sacrificing themselves.

China can bring a lot of firepower to a fight.

The Chinese military has a lot of different weapons it could throw at a US carrier in a war.

China has its “carrier killer” anti-ship ballistic missiles, such as the DF-21D and the DF-26, which are capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads, as well as a variety of anti-ship cruise missiles and torpedoes.

China would likely use missiles to suppress the carrier, using ballistic missiles to damage the air wing’s planes and wreck the flight deck, where planes launch and land. Weapons like cruise missiles, which can strike with precision, would likely be aimed at the hangar bay, superstructure, and maybe some of the airplanes, Bryan Clark, a former US Navy officer and defense expert at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA), told Business Insider.

These targets are all far above the carrier’s waterline and are meant to knock the carrier out of the fight.

“If they really wanted to sink the carrier, they might have to turn to a torpedo attack,” he added. “Torpedo defense is hard, not really perfected, and so [torpedoes] actually end up being the more worrying threat.”

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) transits the South China Sea.

(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Jasen Morenogarcia)

US carriers are behemoths that are built to take a hit.

Displacing more than 100,000 tons, the US Navy’s Nimitz-class aircraft carriers are among the largest warships ever built. Their ability to take a beating “is a function of both their size and the compartmentalization of the carrier,” Clark explained.

“In the case of the USS America, the size alone resulted in it being pretty survivable,” he said before calling attention to some other aspects of the powerful ships.

Each carrier has a number of main spaces, which the crew would try to seal off should the carrier take a hit below the waterline, say from a torpedo. The ship is so incredibly large that it would take a number of these compartments filling up with water for the ship to sink.

The type of steel used on the ships also makes them difficult to penetrate, Manvel said. “It has an underbottom and side protection of several layers of steel.” There are also “voids that allow for warhead gas expansion.”

The extra armoring is also designed to keep damage from detonating the ship’s weapons magazines, where bombs and missiles are stored.

Additionally, the US Navy pays attention to how it moves weapons around the ship, keeping these bombs and missiles as protected as possible. And steps have been taken to reduce the number of hot surfaces that could ignite.

There are also a lot of redundant systems, which means that critical systems can be rerouted, making it hard to take out essentials, such as the propulsion system, which would leave the ship dead in the water if destroyed. As long as the ship can move, it can retreat if necessary.

“Given enough time and weapons, you can sink a carrier. But, if you have defenses, people doing damage control, and propulsion, the carrier can take damage and drive away to eventually come back,” Clark told BI.

US carriers “can take a lick and keep on ticking,” Manvel, who taught at the US Naval Academy, said.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) launches a rolling airframe missile (RAM).

(US Navy)

US carriers and their escort ships are armed to the teeth.

Carriers and their escort ships are armed with sonar and torpedoes to prevent the stealthy boats from getting close enough for a torpedo attack. And the battle group is also armed with electronic countermeasures and kinetic interceptors for missile defense. They also have various close-in weapons systems to strike at incoming threats as a last resort.

Submarines are their gravest threat to sinking. Russian subs, for instance, are often armed with 1,000-pound torpedoes that were designed to destroy carrier groups, and it’s conceivable that enough fired at once and on target could sink a carrier.

For just this reason, the US has put a lot of effort into anti-submarine warfare, so US carrier strike groups have “the ability to put weapons on submarine contacts very quickly,” Clark told BI. Escort ships can launch torpedoes or rocket-fired torpedoes, and SH-60 helicopters can drop torpedoes or sonobuoys to track submarines.

The US has also put a greater emphasis on electronic warfare to prevent US carriers from being actively targeted by enemy missiles. The Chinese could “launch a weapon, but it may not be accurately targeted enough to actually hit” a moving carrier from 1,000 miles away, Clark further explained.

There is also a keen interest in improved missile-defense capabilities. “There are lots of ways to shoot it down with kinetic interceptors, like the SM-6, SM-2, Rolling Airframe Missile,” he added.

Of course, there is also the air wing, which could include up to sixty fighters, as well as a number of jammers, helicopters, and early-warning aircraft. “We have a pretty robust air wing that can go hundreds of miles out to provide a buffer for incoming stuff. It would take a lot to get through that,” Manvel said.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

Ships with the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group transit the Philippine Sea during dual carrier operations.

(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaila V. Peters)

American carriers are never alone in hostile waters.

“It’s important to put the carrier where it is least at risk … surrounded by the battle group,” Manvel said.

US aircraft carriers are surrounded by smaller ships, known as escorts. They sail in carrier strike groups consisting of at least one carrier, one cruiser, and one or two destroyers and are capable of unleashing a lot of firepower when needed.

They are exceptionally well defended. “You have to launch hundreds of weapons at the carrier strike group to even get a few of them through,” Clark explained. That doesn’t mean a strike group can’t be overwhelmed, though.

There’s a good chance China has the ability to do that. At a recent talk at The Heritage Foundation, Clark explained that China could hurl around 600 missiles downrange at a carrier group, which could, on a good day, down roughly 75% of the incoming Chinese weapons.

This, however, creates a dilemma for the Chinese military. The People’s Liberation Army has to make the hard decision on how many weapons it will throw away just to knock a carrier out for a few weeks, assuming it has merely been damaged and not sunk.

“Those weapons are gone. They don’t have them for some other part of the fight,” Clark said. “Maybe that is worth it to them. Maybe it’s not.”

And it’s likely in a war that the US would destroy these missile batteries with bombers and long-range missiles before it sends a carrier into their range.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam (CG 54) pulls alongside the Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), during a fueling at sea.

(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaila Peters)

To strike a killing blow, China has to get close, really close.

China has decent torpedoes, and their submarines are increasingly capable. But whether or not they are good enough to slip past the defenses of a carrier strike group to deliver the kill shot to a US carrier is debatable.

In 2006, a Chinese Song-class submarine reportedly managed to skirt the defenses of the USS Kitty Hawk strike group, surfacing within firing range of the carrier as it sailed through the East China Sea, according to a report by The Washington Times, some details of which have been called into question. The incident reportedly caused the US Navy to reevaluate its approach to Chinese subs.

The US Navy can put a lot of fire on a submarine very quickly, and because submarines tend to be rather slow with limited defenses, the enemy submarine could retreat only once it was spotted.

“Once a submarine has been detected and you start throwing weapons at it, it pretty much has to leave because it is too slow to evade, it doesn’t have a lot of self-defense, and it doesn’t have the sensors necessary to stand and fight,” Clark told BI.

The big question is: Will the US Navy strike group be able to spot an enemy submarine before it manages to get a shot off?

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

MIGHTY CULTURE

How the Vietnam draft actually worked

Winning the lottery has likely never crossed your mind to be anything short of a celebration of newfound riches. Yet, for American men born before 1958, finding your number selected at random on television didn’t generally translate to wealth.

Ever wondered how the Vietnam draft actually worked? We’re combing through the history pages to find out just how birthdates and the Selective Service System mattered throughout the 20th century.


The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

Your grandfather, father and I

Coming of age doesn’t come close to holding the same meaning as it did for the nearly 72 million “baby boomers” born into the Vietnam era draft. Requirements for registration varied over the decades, ranging from eligible age ranges beginning at 21 and eventually lowering to age 18.

Uncle Sam had called upon its fighting-age citizens as far back as anyone alive could recall, as both World Wars and the Korean War utilized draftees. The Selective Service Act of 1917 reframed the process, outlawing clauses like purchasing and expanding upon deferments. Military service was something that, voluntary or not, living generations had in common.

Low was high and high was low

When the lottery took effect, men were assigned a number between 1 and 366. (365 days per year plus one to account for leap year birthdays.) In 1969, a September 14birthday was assigned a number 001. Group 001 birthdays would be the first group to be called upon. May 5 birthdays were assigned number 364 or would have been the 364group to be required to report. Even if called upon, screenings for physical limitations, felony convictions or other legal grounds resulted in candidate rejection.

This method was determined to be a “more fair and equitable process” of selecting eligible candidates for service. Local draft boards, who determined eligibility and filled previous quotas for induction, had been criticized for selecting poor or minority classes over-educated or affluent candidates.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

Grade “A” American prime candidates

In addition to a selection group, eligible males were also assigned a rating. These classifications were used between 1948 and 1976 and are available to view on the Selective Service System’s website.

1-A- eligible for military service.

1A-O- Conscientious Objector. Several letter assignments are utilized for various circumstances a conscientious objector may fall under.

4-G- Sole surviving son in a family where parent or sibling died as a result of capture or holds POW-MIA status.

3-A- Hardship deferment. Hardship would cause undue hardship upon the family.

Requests for reclassification, deferments, and postponements for educational purposes or hardships required candidates to fill out and submit a form to the Selective Service.

Dodging or just “getting out of dodge”

Options for refusing service during Vietnam varied. Frequently called “draft dodgers” referred to those who not just objected, but literally dodged induction. Not showing up, fleeing to Canada, going AWOL while in service or acts such as burning draft cards were all cards played to avoid Vietnam.

Failing to report held consequences ranging from fines, ineligibility of certain benefits, to imprisonment. In what has widely been viewed as a controversial decision, President Jimmy Carter pardoned hundreds of thousands of “draft dodgers” eliminating the statuses like “deserter” from countless files.

Researching the history of “the draft” in American history dates back to that of the Civil War. While spanning back generations and several wars, the Vietnam era draft is still viewed as the most controversial and widely discussed period in its history.

In case you’re wondering, The Selective Service System’s website still exists, as men are still required to register even today.

MIGHTY MILSPOUSE

Here are the 2 veteran-supporting bills President Trump just signed into law

President Donald Trump signed legislation Saturday that will broaden options for troubled veterans in the legal system and expand a home renovations grant program for disabled and blind veterans.

The new Veteran Treatment Court Coordination Act directs the Justice Department to support the development and establishment of veterans treatment courts at the state, local and tribal levels.


At more than 400 veterans treatment courts across the U.S., vets with substance abuse issues or mental health conditions who commit nonviolent crimes may enter court-supervised medical treatment and get access to veteran-centric services and benefits in lieu of going to jail.

The law will encourage the development of a grant program to expand these courts across all 50 states.

“We’ve wanted this for a long time. They’ve been trying to get it for a long time, and now we have it,” Trump said after signing the bill, proposed in the House by Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and in the Senate by Martha McSally, R-Ariz.

“With this new law, thousands more veterans across the country facing the criminal justice system will have an alternative to jail time, ensuring they get the treatment they need,” Crist said in a statement following the signing ceremony.

“These courts have turned veterans’ lives around in Arizona, and now they will be able to do the same for veterans across our nation,” McSally said, also in a prepared statement.

The first veterans treatment court was established in early 2008 in Buffalo, New York. After noticing an increase in the number of veterans appearing in the city’s drug and mental health treatment legal programs, Judge Robert Russell brought in veterans and Department of Veterans Affairs advisers to help create the specialty court.

Since 2011, the Justice Department has supported the development of veterans treatment courts, providing more than million to states and localities.

Trump on Saturday also signed a law that will give more veterans access to VA grants to renovate their homes to accommodate their disabilities.

The Ryan Kules and Paul Benne Specially Adaptive Housing Act of 2019 expands the program to include blind veterans and raise the maximum funding veterans can receive from ,000 to ,000. The bill also will let eligible veterans access the funds six times, instead of three, and gives them access to the full amount every 10 years — a provision that will let them change residences as their needs change.

At the start of the president’s press conference Saturday, Trump sowed some confusion about which bills he had just signed, referencing two he often mentions in stump speeches: the VA Mission Act, which he consistently refers to as “VA Choice,” and the VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, which became law in 2018 and 2017, respectively.

“Before we begin, I’ve just signed two bills that are great for our vets. Our vets are special. We passed Choice, as you know — Veterans Choice — and Veterans Accountability,” Trump said before extolling the benefits of those laws.

“We passed Choice … they’ve been trying to get that passed for decades and decades and decades, and no president has ever been able to do it. And we got it done so veterans have Choice,” he said. “And now you have accountability — that if you don’t love your vets, if you’re in the VA and you don’t love the vets or take care of the vets, you can actually get fired if you don’t do your job.”

The president then went on to talk about the treatment courts and adaptive housing laws before moving on to other subjects.

Trump consistently refers to the VA Mission Act as VA Choice — the program established in 2014 by President Barack Obama to widen veterans’ access to health care treatment from non-VA providers.

The legislation, the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act, was created in response to a nationwide scandal over delays veterans encountered when making medical appointments — for months and sometimes years — and secret waiting lists kept by some VA facilities to hide the scope of the problem.

The VA Mission Act, signed by Trump in 2018, replaced the Veterans Choice Program and gave more veterans access to private health care paid for by the VA.

The legislation also broadened the VA’s caregiver program to include disabled veterans who served before Sept. 11, 2001 — an expansion that will begin in October — and ordered the department to inventory its 1,100 facilities with an eye to closing or selling outdated or excess buildings.

At the end of Saturday’s press conference, a reporter asked why Trump “keeps saying [he] passed ‘Veterans Choice,'” when it was “passed in 2014.”

Trump told the reporter she was “finished,” and he abruptly ended the press conference.

This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @militarydotcom on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Siege of Bastogne was the defining moment for the 101st Airborne

One battle truly showed the world the fire that burns in the hearts of these soldiers. Put up against unfathomable odds and pushed to their absolute limit, the 101st stood their ground and turned the tides of war. This was the Siege of Bastogne.

There’s no unit in the United States Army that can boast an impressive relationship with destiny like the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division. The invasion of Normandy, the Battle of Hamburger Hill, the left-hook of the Persian Gulf War, and Operation Dragon Strike in Afghanistan would each make for a pretty feather in the cap of any unit — but it’s the 101st who heroically fought at all of them.


It had been six months since the invasion of Normandy. U.S. troops had mostly pushed the Germans out of France and back to the Ardennes Forest. The same soldiers who landed on D-Day found themselves still fighting, day-in and day-out. The tempo of war had pushed them much further than originally anticipated and supplies were running low.

It wasn’t a secret that the only hope for the Allies was the tiny shipping village of Antwerp, Belgium. Without it, any continued assault against the Germans would end immediately. Knowing this, the Germans devised a plan that would effectively cut the Allies off from Antwerp in one massive blitzkrieg through the Ardennes. If they could cut the Americans off from each other and their supplies, they’d be forced into a peace treaty in favor of the Axis. And the only thing stopping them was the collection of battle-weary soldiers sparsely populating the forest.

On December 16, 1944, after two hours of constantly artillery bombardment, the Germans sent in 200,000 fresh troops. So far, everything was going in the Axis’ favor, from the weather to the landscape to the element of surprise. The only thing the Americans could do was to hold up in Bastogne and St. Vith.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy
Since Bastogne had large open farmlands around it, this wasn’t much… But it was something.
(U.S. Army)

Two days later, on December 18, the soldiers of the 101st were completely surrounded in the town of Bastogne. They had little ammunition, barely any food, and most soldiers didn’t even have cold-weather gear. Reinforcements were inbound, but it would take a week for Patton to arrive. Most of the senior leadership was elsewhere, leaving the task of holding ground entirely on the shoulders of the troops.

A night-time raid by the Germans on the Division Service Area took out almost the entirety of the 101st medical company. By the time of the morning of December 19, Americans were outnumbered five to one — and so the Germans moved in.

On paper, this was a completely uphill battle. The only thing Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe could do was have his men form a 360-degree perimeter around the 333rd Artillery Battalion’s guns. Ultimately, this tightly controlled circle was the advantage they needed.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy
The funniest part of this battle was that the Germans spent hours trying to decipher the hidden meaning behind McAuliffe’s message. It was just a politely worded, “f*ck you.”
(U.S. Army)
 

As the Germans prodded, trying to find a hole in Allied defenses, troops were be able to communicate with each other and quickly adjust, fortifying areas to meet their attackers. When the Germans pivoted and believed they’d found a new approach, the protected artillery guns opened fire. They’d regroup and try another approach, only to be met by American troops once again. This pattern continued on through the battle.

The fighting was intense but McAuliffe’s defense held like a charm. On December 22, General von Lüttwitz, the German commander, gave the Americans their demands:

“There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.”

McAuliffe’s response, in its entirety, was as follows:

To the German Commander. NUTS! The American Commander.

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy

“This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.” – Churchill

(U.S. Army)

This riled the Germans up even more. The Germans put all of their efforts into trying to wrest Bastogne from the 101st Airborne — at the expense of securing Antwerp. The American line was broken several times by panzers, but artillery shells would effectively pluck German armor out long enough for Allied infantrymen to retake their position.

On December 23, the skies finally opened up and the 101st started to bring in reinforcements and supplies via airdrop. It’s not an understatement to say that they were only holding on by the skin of their teeth. American P-47 Thunderbolts came to the rescue, relieving artillery who’d almost entirely run out of ammo. The panzers, which had been painted green and brown for summertime, stuck out like a sore thumb against the snow. The narrow passageways the tanks had to travel meant the tanks couldn’t escape the wrath of the Thunderbolts.

Throughout it all, the Battered Bastards of Bastogne endued. Patton arrived on December 26th, finally evening the odds and breaking off the Ardennes Offensive. But all of that couldn’t have been done without the ferocity of the Screaming Eagles holding down Bastogne.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Soviet spies who stole NASA’s Space Shuttle

What do you think are major spy targets? Troop movements? Strategic plans? New weapon designs?

Sure, those are all great choices, but what about space shuttles and planetary probes?

The Union saved an ironclad by deploying a $9 trash decoy
Look closely and you’ll notice that both of these things are Soviet AF. (Illustration from Soviet Military Power 1985, courtesy U.S. Armed Forces)

Rivals have always kept a close eye on America’s space program, especially after the U.S. edged ahead of the Soviets in the ’60s by first copying their manned orbit of the earth in 1962 and then beating them to the Moon in 1969.

For the Soviet Union, this presented a dire threat.


After all, while NASA and the Soviet’s Federal Space Agency — now reorganized as a corporation and known as Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities — were both scientific enterprises, both did a little moonlighting for spy agencies and provided a lot of important technical know-how to spooks.

So, if NASA succeeded in its rumored attempt, beginning in 1972, to create a “Space Shuttle” that could cut the cost of placing items in orbit from ,000 per pound to only , it was a safe bet that a new constellation of American spy satellites would suddenly bloom across the night sky. Vladimir Smirnov, head of the Military-Industrial Commission, even implied to his bosses that the Space Shuttle might be used as a space bomber against Moscow.

The Russians needed their own version of the craft — and quickly — if they were to remain competitive in space. But they burned up four years in bureaucratic squabbling.

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In 1976, senior Soviet leadership finally signed the decree authorizing the program, and the Soviet-designed “Spiral” space plane was quickly removed from contention. Russia specifically wanted a weapon with all the same capabilities as the Shuttle, including the imagined ability to bomb enemy capitals.

Luckily for them, the U.S. put a lot of their shuttle data on its new-fangled internet, which was never designed to be a secure system and was already compromised by the Soviets. The VPK — an acronym using the Russian name of the Military-Industrial Commission — and the KGB scooped up all the documents they could find, then distributed them across the Soviet space program.

Unlike the American program, which was a civilian program expected to provide a space-bound Lyft to Department of Defense payloads every once in a while, the Soviet program was explicitly military and was aimed at copying the supposed military applications of the U.S. craft.

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“Space Shuttle Door Gunner” isn’t as cool when they have them, too.
(U.S. Department of Defense photo by Master Sgt. Dave Casey)

“It is no secret to anyone in our sector … that the Energia-Buran system was ordered from us by the military,” said Yuri Semenov, who worked on the boosters for the Soviet craft. “It was said at meetings on various levels that American shuttles, even on the first revolution, could perform a lateral maneuver and turn to be over Moscow, possibly with dangerous cargo. Parity is needed, we needed the same type of rocket-space system.”

What resulted from all of this was a craft known as the Buran, Russian for ‘blizzard,’ that looked almost identical to the Space Shuttle.

But it actually had some nifty capabilities not found on the American version. For one, the Buran could conduct automated flights with no human occupants. In fact, it did so in its one and only flight in space in 1988.

Second, the Buran used Energia boosters, liquid-fueled boosters that were safer and more powerful — but more costly — than American solid-propellant boosters.

The only Buran that ever flew was destroyed in Kazakhstan during an earthquake in 2002. Some prototypes remain as static displays while others rust and rot away in abandoned hangars.

For those who believe that “history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme,” China’s current Mars and lunar programs have taken massive strides in recent years, starting right after a Chinese-American scientist on America’s programs mysteriously resigned, returned to China, and began working on the Chinese programs.

Probably a coincidence.

Articles

Someone coined a term for the English spoken by military veterans

Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book “The Right Stuff” documented the United States’ postwar love affair with high-speed, high-powered aircraft, rocketry, and the test pilots who flew them. Wolfe used an interesting term to describe how military personnel and veterans speak English, “Army Creole.”


Army Creole, according to Wolfe, was a “language in which there were about ten nouns, five verbs, and one adjective.” In the book, the word “fuck” is used for all of these.

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Also, the movie is really good too. (Warner Bros.)

The original Army Creole as described by Wolfe was a manner of speech similar to actual creole. The term now refers to the military-veteran propensity toward including swear words as intensifiers and the sometimes overwhelming use of acronyms.

Accoring to Wolfe, no one was more proficient in Army Creole than Mercury 7 astronaut Deke Slayton, who made people cringe whenever he got near a microphone, for fear he was “going to Army Creole the nationwide TV and scorch the brains of half the people of the U.S.A.”

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Slayton was actually very well-spoken in front of the mic.

The unique name given to the dialect is not to be confused with Seaspeak, the official, universal language of mariners the world over. Developed in 1983, shipping experts and linguists devised a communication system, defining the rules for speaking on the ship’s radio.

In 1988, the International Maritime Organization made seaspeak official.

MIGHTY MOVIES

10 things the movies get wrong about war

The first war film ever, D.W. Griffith’s silent picture, “The Fugitive” was made over a century ago. The intensity and drama of war films caught on quickly, and the best ones have been huge hits at the box office. As thrilling as they are, even movies portrayed as historically accurate rarely get the details of war just right. We can’t blame them entirely; war movies would be a lot less thrilling and suspenseful if they skipped all the theatrics. Here’s the scoop about what movie directors get wrong, and what war is really like.

The sound effects

In the movies, battles start with the sound of gunfire, before bullets come flying past. That’s not a thing. Rifles are actually supersonic, so the bullets arrive before the sound does. Soldiers do hear a whistling sound as the bullets pass by, but the actual sound of the gun firing arrives after the fact.

The actual sounds are pretty far off, too. The sound of mortars firing is something like the sound of a tennis ball launcher in most war films, but it’s infinitely louder in real life. The blast is so powerful it can be felt, shaking the ground and causing intense vibrations. That’s one reason veterans are prone to tinnitus, or ringing in the ears. It’s THAT loud.

The uniforms 

Some movies do a better job of this than others, but more often than not, a detail or two of the dress code is missed. Military dress uniforms are incredibly precise, so anyone other than a veteran would be hard-pressed to get every nuance right. Untucked lapels on a Marine service alpha uniform is a small one, but some movies dress actors in the wrong uniforms entirely. Come on, directors. You can do better.

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How crowded battlefields are

Ever seen a movie with soldiers all in one place, hashing it out in close combat? That’s rarely how it works. No one arranges a battle on a conveniently located open field where everyone meets up to shoot each other, with helicopters and planes joining in at random. In a real war, dispersing troops is critical. Distance is kept between military personnel to prevent the enemy from wiping out a massive chunk of your forces all at once.

How aerial attacks work

Most movies make it seem like planes swoop down nearly to the ground before attacking. It’s dramatic for sure, but it’s not realistic. Low-level flying is only used in specific scenarios. For the most part, planes fly as high as possible to maximize safety and ensure adequate maneuverability. More space, more chances to get out of there if necessary. Low-level flying does happen, but generally, pilots try to drop to low altitudes as briefly as possible.

Camouflage

While movie soldiers do wear camo, they rarely use it well. When used correctly, camouflage can make soldiers and even vehicles seemingly vanish. The movies just skip that part because it’s a lot less fun to watch a battlefield with nothing but sand and a few tumbleweeds on it.

Confusion

In movies, the characters always know what’s going on. The details of the battle are clear. The enemy starts shooting, and the hero instantly knows where the gunfire is coming from, how large the enemy forces are, and how to retaliate. In a real battle, it’s much more confusing. No one is familiar with the area, so someone is studying a map while someone else is trying to figure out what’s happening and what to do next. It’s confusing! Radios aren’t usually as clear as they are in the movies, either. It might take four tries to hear the order coming in.

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How much shooting actually occurs

A shot rings out in the night. There’s a moment of stillness, and then utter chaos breaks loose. Shots fly everywhere. It’s a gunfire free for all. There’s a cut and dry good side and a bad side, and they shoot at each other with abandon until one (usually the good side) reigns victorious.

Real battles are much more calculated. There’s rarely indiscriminate shooting. Most soldiers never fire their weapons, and if they do it’s usually under the direction of a senior ranking officer. Everyone’s heard the phrase “all is fair in love and war”, but that’s not quite the case. War has rules. You can’t just shoot whomever you want.

Endless ammo

Ammo doesn’t last forever, so automatic fire doesn’t happen nearly as often as the movies would lead you to believe. Military rifles are more than capable of the task, but automatic fire is rarely used in real battles. That would be both expensive and unnecessary.

How bad it really gets

Movies hype up the drama but tone down the horror. They do show some blood, injuries and casualties, but they keep the gore in check to avoid completely scarring the audience. People go to the movies to be entertained, not legitimately traumatized. Real war can be much more horrific. The gore, suffering, and emotional trauma exceeds what the movie industry dares to sell.

The darkly peaceful aftermath

It’s a classic scene. The battle is over. The field is quiet and still, and dead men lie silently amongst weapons and shredded, muddied flags. That would be a more peaceful end than what really happens. The chaos isn’t over after the battle is won. The wounded are in severe pain as medics rush to treat them. Soldiers scramble to collect weapons and usable ammunition. The scattered flags? Not a thing. The victorious would never leave their own flags behind, and enemy flags are often kept as trophies.

That said, while the reality of war is pretty dark, let’s remember that many members of our armed forces never fight in combat, never fire their weapon and return home safely. To end on a lighter, helpful note, here’s a quick pro-tip: You know all those overpriced phone cases that claim to offer “military-grade protection?” Much like the glamourous battle scenes from Hollywood, it’s not real. There’s no official military-grade certification. It’s just a well-disguised excuse to jack up the price. But you won’t fall for it, because you know the real story.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Paratroopers conduct simulated combat test of new tech

Fort Bragg-based paratroopers recently concluded an intensive training exercise requiring them to test what may be the U.S. Army’s next step in Mission-Command technology.

Paratroopers of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, in cooperation with the Joint Modernization Command, recently executed Network Integration Exercise 18.2 from late October to early November 2018.


“The best way to test a paratrooper and his or her equipment is to replicate the demanding crucible of ground combat,” said Col. Arthur Sellers, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team. “NIE provided the brigade an excellent environment to evaluate the Army’s future Mission Command Systems and associated technologies, with the purpose of creating shared understanding and enabling the BCT to be more lethal”.

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A paratrooper assigned to the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division launches a PUMA Unmanned Aerial Surveillance Vehicle during the recently concluded Network Integration Exercise at El Paso, Texas.

(Photo by Sgt. Cody Parsons)


Network Integration Exercise, spearheaded by JMC, examines concepts and capabilities addressing three of the six Army modernization priorities — soldier lethality, long-range precision fires, and the future network.

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Paratroopers with the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division operate a tethered drone during the Network Integration Exercise 18.2 in El Paso, Texas, Oct. 30, 2018.

(Photo by Pfc. Andrew Garcia)

“Our main objectives are to facilitate the execution of operationally realistic warfighting assessments for over two weeks and assess multi-domain operations while obtaining feedback from paratroopers on the ground,” said Rodger Lemons, Chief of Strategic Plans at the JMC.

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Paratroopers from the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division conduct a security check, Nov. 2, 2018, during Network Integration Exercise 18.2 at El Paso, Texas.

(Photo by Cpl. Deven Waller)

The exercise’s keystone concept focused on equipping 3rd Brigade paratroopers and units with emerging technology and equipment while setting them through a series of combat scenarios. Those using the equipment were then encouraged to provide candid criticism of the shortfalls and benefits of the technology.

“Paratroopers on the ground are able to give developers immediate feedback,” said Lieutenant General Bruce T. Crawford, the Army’s chief information officer. “This allows the Army to move away from the monolithic programs of record and move into a more iterative approach that allows us to keep up with technological advancements.”

We are pushing towards a culture of innovation and the role these Paratroopers are playing is a game changer, continued Crawford.

This article originally appeared on the United States Army. Follow @USArmy on Twitter.

Articles

This is the true story of the pier master at Dunkirk

Chritsopher Nolan’s new “Dunkirk” movie features Sir Kenneth Branagh as the cool-under-fire Commander Bolton, but his character is largely based on a real British officer who underwent greater hardships to save British and French forces and was tragically lost at sea during the evacuation.


Operation Dynamo, as the evacuation of Dunkirk was known, was a desperate play by the British to salvage as much of their expeditionary force as they could after Hitler’s war machine tore through allied forces and nations in Europe faster than nearly anyone anticipated.

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The German blitzkrieg took many by surprise. Here, the Fort Eben-Emael in Belgium, thought to be one of the world’s best fortresses and practically impregnable, sits occupied after a single morning of fighting thanks to a daring German paratrooper attack on May 10, 1940. (Photo: Public Domain)

The original goal was to get 45,000 men out in two days before the defensive line at Dunkirk, the last Allied-held territory in the area, collapsed. A Canadian member of the Royal Navy, Cmdr. James Campbell Clouston, was assigned to getting as many men as possible off the “East Mole.”

The East Mole was actually one of two breakwaters used to protect the beach and channel from ocean currents. It was about a mile long and just wide enough for four men. It was a clear target for German planes to attack and provided little opportunity for cover. But, it was an efficient way to get large numbers of men off.

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British troops board the destroyer HMS Vanquisher during low tide by using scaling ladders to climb down from the Mole (at left). (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

Clouston quickly got the Mole operating as the top method of evacuating troops. He ordered evacuating troops to move in groups of 50 to cut down on the chaos on the span and positioned as many ships as possible along the length for simultaneous boarding.

On the first day that Clouston and other members of a commanding party under Capt. William Tennant were operating on the beach, the number of troops evacuated rose from 7,669 to 18,527. Many of these men made it out thanks to Clouston’s efforts on the Mole, which was averaging 1,000 evacuations per hour.

But German air raids targeting the Mole began to take real effect. The third of three air raids on May 29, 1940, three ships were lost including the destroyer HMS Grenade, which had been providing defensive support of the operation as well as embarking evacuating troops.

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170802-DLN-The Royal Navy’s HMS_Grenade_(H86) which was later sunk by a dive bomber while evacuating troops at Dunkirk. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)

Panic broke out on the Mole after a bomb blew a hole in a section. Troops attempted to rush off, but Clouston ordered a lieutenant to draw his revolver and restore order. The troops on the Mole were quickly corralled onto a trawler and sent away.

A panicked junior officer drove to a resort northeast of Dunkirk and called an officer in England to erroneously report that the harbor was blocked by one of the sunken ships. Evacuations slowed as most vessels headed to other places instead the East Mole.

But word got out that the Moles were still in operation, and the pace picked up. One of the best days for the Mole came on June 1 when, despite a devastating air raid, over 47,000 men made it onto ships from the pier.

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That night, six days into what was supposed to be a 48-hour operation, Clouston was recalled to Dover to take part in a planning meeting for a massive lift on June 2. After the meeting ended, Clouston was headed back to Dunkirk in the pre-dawn hours in a small motorboat when he was attacked by German bombers. His boat quickly sank.

Clouston waved off the assistance of a second boat. Survivors said that he was worried the Germans would spot it and attack while the boat was stationary. He attempted to swim to another vessel a couple of miles away but was lost at sea.

In the end, a total 338,226 men were evacuated through June 4. Almost 240,000 of them made it off from the harbor and the Mole.

MIGHTY TRENDING

US Navy is ‘under cyber siege’ from Chinese hackers; hemorrhaging national secrets

An internal US Navy review concluded that the service and its various industry partners are “under cyber siege” from Chinese hackers who are building Beijing’s military capabilities while eroding the US’s advantage, The Wall Street Journal reported March 12, 2019.

Chinese hackers have repeatedly hit the Navy, defense contractors, and even universities that partner with the service.

“We are under siege,” a senior Navy official told The Journal. “People think it’s much like a deadly virus — if we don’t do anything, we could die.”


Are Cyber Attacks Acts of War?

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Breaches have been “numerous,” according to the review. While China is identified as the primary threat, hackers from Russia and Iran have also been causing their share of trouble.

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Sailors stand watch in the Fleet Operations Center at the headquarters of US Fleet Cyber Command/US 10th Fleet, Dec. 14, 2017.

(US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Samuel Souvannason)

Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer launched the recently concluded review in October 2018, warning that “attacks on our networks are not new, but attempts to steal critical information are increasing in both severity and sophistication.”

“We must act decisively to fully understand both the nature of these attacks and how to prevent further loss of vital military information,” he added.

In one high-profile incident lin 2018, Chinese government hackers stole important data on US Navy undersea-warfare programs from an unidentified contractor. Among the stolen information were plans for a new supersonic anti-ship missile, The Washington Post reported in June 2018, citing US officials.

That and a second breach led Navy leadership to order the review.

The Journal described the findings of the internal Navy cybersecurity review as “dire,” adding that the report “depicts a branch of the armed forces under relentless cyberattack by foreign adversaries and struggling in its response to the scale and sophistication of the problem.”

The Navy and the Pentagon reportedly “have only a limited understanding of the actual totality of losses that are occurring,” meaning the situation could be even worse than the Navy fears.

Last week, The Journal reported that Chinese hackers have targeted more than two dozen universities in the US and elsewhere in an attempt to steal military secrets, particularly those related to maritime technology.

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(US Navy Photo)

The Navy is not the only US military service branch in China’s crosshairs.

Adm. Philip Davidson, head of US Indo-Pacific Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in April 2018 that Beijing is snatching anything not nailed down — “stealing technology in just about every domain and trying to use it to their advantage,” Stars and Stripes reported.

A US defense official previously told The Journal that China was targeting America’s “weak underbelly,” saying that cybersecurity breaches are “an asymmetric way to engage the United States without ever having to fire a round.”

China has repeatedly denied engaging in cyberattacks against the US or other countries.

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

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