Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger

During Desert Storm, a massive portion of America’s firepower came from two floating relics, battleships of another time and age that would have to be pulled off of mothballs to take part in the war. These ships, however, provided a massive show of fire and fury that would convince Iraqi leaders that they were the source of an amphibious invasion, allowing for the Coalition’s massive victory.


Desert Shield was the 1990 military operation to prevent further aggressive acts by Iraq after it invaded Kuwait. As 1990 closed and 1991 opened, it became clear that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would not pull his forces out voluntarily, and so the massive force created to break his armies prepared for combat.

One part of that force buildup was a pair of Iowa-class battleships, the USS Wisconsin and USS Missouri. The ships had been mothballed, but they were pulled out of retirement to provide naval artillery against the Iraqi forces. Their 16-inch guns could hurl armor-piercing shells weighing up to 2,700 pounds, but they more commonly fired 1,900-pound shells with massive bursting charges, creating craters 50-feet wide.

The battleship USS Wisconsin has impressive 16-inch guns.

When the ships were first deployed against Iraq, they conducted standard naval artillery support and also flew drones and OV-10 Bronco spotters over the battlefield to track Iraqi troop positions. But military planners would rely on them for a lethal light show that could prevent hundreds of thousands of friendly deaths.

See, the U.S. had called on lots of allies to help get Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, but Iraq had one of the largest armored corps in the world at the time. So the balance of forces was in the Coalition’s favor, but it would likely have to suffer massive losses if it pushed Iraq out solely by strength of arms.

Military planners came up with a clever trick: Launch a three-pronged assault.

There would be an amphibious assault that would look like the main invasion but was actually a diversion, a primarily infantry assault that would tie up enemy troops and secure some objectives, and a massive “left-hook” led by armored units that would strike at Baghdad.

But that meant that the first prong, the amphibious diversionary one, had to look like the real assault even though most infantry and armored units would be miles away.

So the military called on the massive battleships.

They asked for weeks of shore bombardment by the battleships’ guns as well as Tomahawk missile strikes in Baghdad and across Iraq. All of this would culminate in a withering barrage during the invasion that would demoralize and overstimulate the defenders on the beach.

As Iraqi forces suffered a dense bombardment by the Wisconsin and Missouri, they would send up damage report after damage report. And when troops started landing on the beaches, Iraq would be convinced that a true amphibious landing was underway.

And so the battleships eagerly acquiesced and attacked Iraqi targets, leading to the footage at the top. The ships were returned to retirement after the war and would go on to become museum ships. Check out the video, and if you happen to be around Pearl Harbor or Norfolk, Virginia, be sure to check out these awesome ships.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the Battle of Hue City was so intense

The Vietnam War is one of the most controversial conflicts embarked upon by the United States. The Marines that retook the city of Hue City are the gold standard of urban warfare. Battalions of Americans, South Vietnamese, and the Viet Cong faced off fighting for every inch of the city. Essentially fighting with one hand tied behind their back, they triumphed over an overwhelming, well trained enemy. The battle was close, it was up to who wanted victory more – the communists or the Marines.

Communists massacred civilians

Not only were government and military officials massacred, but so were innocent civilians, including women and children, who were tortured, executed or buried alive.

Olga Dror, The New York Times

The battle for Hue City happened during the Tet Offensive, a nationwide coordinated assault on U.S. and allied controlled areas. During the initial days of the attack, communists massacred as many as 5,700 civilians. The victims are buried in mass graves when the city fell into enemy hands. The Viet Cong occupied the city for close to month before the Marine Corps liberated the city.

Supporters of the failed Struggle Movement escaped from the city in two years before the battle. Those same people would turn on their neighbors when they returned with the communists. With their help, the communists gathered intelligence of the city and selected people for death.

Politics attempted to restrict the Marines

Due to the historic aspect of many of the buildings in Hue, the usage of heavy weapons was significantly restricted during the initial days of fighting on both sides of the river. As friendly casualties mounted, and as initial estimates of the size of the enemy force in the Hue City area was significantly increased, fire restrictions were ultimately lifted. In our respectful opinion, our ability to successfully complete the mission was, initially, severely impacted by the rules of engagement.

Lessons Learned, Charlie 1/5, Operation Hue City, 31 January 1968 to 5 March 1968

To the uninitiated in Rules of Engagement, they’re a set of rules established by high command that dictate what weapons and tactics may be used. Anyone in violation of that can be charged with a war crime. In the example of the Battle of Hue City, also known as the Siege of Hue, the Marine Corps is forbidden to damage the buildings. That is absurd. This is war. The reasoning is that the city was the home to the Nguyen Dynasty, the last dynasty in Vietnam until 1883, and historically significant to Vietnamese culture.

Any commander worth his salt knows that the life one Marine, let alone an American, is worth ten thousand times the value of a structure. The Vietnam War was often hindered by policy makers micromanaging the boots on the ground. You wanted a war? Let the Marines fight it and shut up.

House to House, Street to Street

…Even with proper support of heavy weapons, which was ultimately provided to the Marines, we faced “hard corps” North Vietnamese Army troops who fought from prepared positions, moved to secondary positions, fought again, and finally, very reluctantly, died. In the capture of each room, each floor, each rooftop, each building, each street, it was ultimately the Marine rifleman who won the battle.

Lessons Learned, Charlie 1/5, Operation Hue City, 31 January 1968 to 5 March 1968

The fighting was so intense that Alpha company lost their Commanding Officer and many of their lieutenants. Charlie Company lost every single officer for the exception of two. The ferocity of combat and the escalating casualty rates saw PFC’s as platoon commanders in the thick of the fighting. Combat promotions were a common sight on the battlefield.

The Marine Corps’ sent three battalions to face off against 15 to 18 NVA battalions for domination of Hue. Initially supported by small arms and the South Vietnamese Army and Marines, it took everything to defeat the determined Viet Cong. The combined allied casualites at the conclusion of the battle climbed to over 3,800. The enemy sustained over 5,000 dead and an unknown amount of wounded.

The Marines adapted their tactics and with heroic determination drove the NVA and Vietcong from Hue despite being spread too thin and fire support being largely restricted  – Richard Camp’s (Col. Ret). Death in the Citadel: U.S. Marines in the Battle for Hue City, 31 January to 2 March 1968 (2017)

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 close call moments with war correspondents caught on film

War correspondents put their lives on the line to document the evolution of conflict wherever it unfolds. This dangerous profession built on the ethos of truth has claimed many brave souls the world over. Between 1992 and 2018, 299 journalists have died in the midst of firefights, 170 died on dangerous assignments, and 849 were assassinated — too commonly by their own governments.

We as warfighters are groomed for the trials of combat with training, weapons, and a band of brothers. However, these civilians dance with death untrained, unarmed, and relatively alone. It is difficult for civilians to earn the respect of seasoned veterans, but these reporters do not have that problem. This list is of the lucky ones, the ones who went all in at the roulette wheel of life and broke even.

When you dance with the devil, you don’t get to choose when the song ends.


CNN: CNN reporter caught in firefight

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Ben Wedeman is caught in the middle of a counter attack

Ben Wedeman from CNN was reporting in Qawalish, Libya during the Libyan Civil War. The conflict started on Feb. 15, 2011, and ended with the assassination of Muammar Al Gathafi in the city of Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011. It was a full-scale civil war between Muammar Gaddafi’s government and the anti-Gaddafi forces sparked by protests.

The footage seen here is from a rebel offensive in an attempt to reclaim al-Qawalish. Rebel forces closed in on Brega, supported by NATO air and sea strikes aimed at government targets. Gaddafi’s forces engaged the rebel counterattack with a flanking maneuver pinning Ben Wedeman in the crossfire. The bombardments mentioned in the video are from NATO hitting targets in the vicinity of Brega, Gharyan, Sirte, Tripoli, Waddan, and Zliten during this time as well.

Watch as Sky News crew survives Islamic State suicide bomb explosion in Mosul

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Sam Kiley survives a VBIED attack

A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) has enormous destructive potential and is the preferred weapon of the Islamic State. In March 2017, the third phase of the battle for Mosul, Iraq was underway. Fierce house to house fighting had turned the city into a graveyard of twisted metal. Up to this point, more than 3,500 civilians had been killed since the beginning of the assault on western Mosul.

Inclement weather slowed the advance of Iraqi troops, but they could take solace that the major districts in the city were now under their control. However, these victories did not mean safety. ISIS was determined to keep the city, and deployed their suicide bombers. Sam Kiley narrowly survived a VBIED attack because, luckily, someone parked a bulldozer next to his vehicle.

Fox News journalists attacked by Georgians

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Steve Harrigan is attacked by the defeated Georgian army

Between Aug. 7 and Aug. 12, 2008 The Russo-Georgian War took place between Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia, and Abkhazia. Russian troops marched on the city of Gori, Georgia after the capture of Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital. In these 5 short days, over 1,500 civilians were killed before a ceasefire was called. Georgian troops, frustrated with the outcome of the conflict, continued to shoot at Russians and any civilians in their path.

Fox News’ Steve Harrigan is at the wrong place but luckily gets out at the right time.

Ukraine: Fleeing artillery fire during ceasefire

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Ian Pannell caught between artillery fire during ceasefire

On Feb. 20, 2014, Russia invaded Ukraine. Russian soldiers without insignias captured strategic locations and infrastructure in the Ukrainian territory of Crimea. Russia then annexed Crimea after a corrupted vote to join the Russian Federation. Friction and intense fighting evolved from the mixed reaction to the new Russian presence.

A year later, on Feb. 14, 2015, the second Minsk ceasefire came into effect between Russia and Ukraine.

The following were the terms that were agreed upon:

1. Immediate and full bilateral ceasefire
2. Withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides
3. Effective monitoring and verification regime for the ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons
4. From day one of the withdrawal begin a dialogue on the holding of local elections
5. Pardon and amnesty by banning any prosecution of figures involved in the Donetsk and Luhansk conflict
6. Release of all hostages and other illegally detained people
7. Unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid to the needy, internationally supervised
8. Restoration of full social and economic links with affected areas
9. Full Ukrainian government control will be restored over the state border, throughout the conflict zone
10. Withdrawal of all foreign armed groups, weapons, and mercenaries from Ukrainian territory
11. Constitutional reform in Ukraine, with adoption of a new constitution by the end of 2015

No provision has been fully upheld in the Minsk II treaty. Thus, to this day the region is plagued by conflict and the growing threat of the former Soviet Union returning under Vladimir Putin.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only army Genghis Khan and the Mongols were hesitant to fight against

In reading the history books, one might come to believe the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan was an unstoppable machine that rolled over everything and everyone in its path. Largely, they would be right to think so. 

Until the Great Khan’s death in 1227, there weren’t a lot of things that would give the Mongol Hordes any kind of pause, and a killer hangover would usually top the list. By the time Khan died, he ruled an empire that spanned from the Pacific Ocean to the Caspian Sea in the west. 

There was a military leader that the Mongols did not want to fight, and it comes from an unlikely and less often remembered place. He was Jalal ad Din Mingburnu, the last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire.

Genghis Khan

Khan conquered two-thirds of what is today China and after their defeat, sent a caravan of traders into the Khwarezmian Empire, in modern-day Turkey, Iran, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. The Mongols were looking to establish trade relations. Khan had no desire to actually invade the empire. But the caravan was attacked and looted by a local governor before it could reach its destination. The governor refused to pay restitution for the caravan.

Still, unlike the Khan of the history books, the Mongols sent three emissaries to resolve the situation diplomatically. Shah Ala ad-Din Muhammad, ruler of the Khwarazmian Empire, had them put to death, along with the survivors of the caravan. 

This is where the old Genghis Khan you read about shows up. He assembled the largest Mongol Army ever created, a force of 100,000 men to reduce the Shah’s empire to rubble. And that’s pretty much what happened. The Mongols leveled all the major cities and tried to destroy any historical mentions of the Khwarezmian Empire.

The Shah and his sons escaped to the Caspian Sea, where he named his son, Jalal ad Din Mingburunu, as his successor to what was left of the empire. It was Jalal ad-Din who was eventually able to defeat the Mongols. 

Khan, now in his 60s, warned his sons Jochi, Jebe, and Tolui not to mess up when fighting Jalal ad-Din. The young ruler was everything the Great Khan feared he would be.

Now in command of the Khwarazmian army, Jalal ad-Din made his way to the former capital at Samarkand. Along the way, he encountered a Mongol cavalry with just his 300-man bodyguard to fight them. The young ruler, only 21 years old, handed the Mongols their first defeat. 

He gathered what was left of the army at the old capital and made his way to Nesa, where he relieved the city of a Mongol siege and headed to the new capital at Ghazni, where he defeated the Mongols once more. 

Jalal ad-Din’s general soon got into a scuffle about how to divide the spoils of war and the divide led to 30,000 men abandoning the young king. Khan, now in awe of the young man’s ability, heard about the split and decided it would be the only chance he had to defeat the Khwarazmian. He assembled a force that would overwhelm what was left of the Khwarazmian army. 

At the 1221 Battle of Indus, Jalal ad-Din was on his way to exile in India, but Khan caught up to him as he was fording the river. The Khwarazmians stood to fight, but were simply overwhelmed. Jalal was forced to swim across the Indus River to escape alive. 

He spent three years in India but soon returned at the head of another army. Jalal ad-Din spent the rest of his life harassing the Mongol forces but was never able to re-establish his empire. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time soldiers got away with robbing the Army paymaster

The story behind what came to be known as the Wham Paymaster robbery began on the morning of May 11, 1889, when a U.S. Army paymaster called Major Joseph Washington Wham was charged with transporting a lockbox containing the salaries of several hundred soldiers across the Arizona desert from Fort Grant to Fort Thomas located some 50 miles away. All in all the lockbox contained $28,345.10 in gold and silver coins worth the equivalent of about $784,000 today.

Tasked with protecting the contents of the lockbox, Paymaster Wham’s convoy included 9 Buffalo Soldiers of the 24th Infantry and two privates of the 10th Cavalry. At this point it’s probably worth mentioning for anyone unfamiliar with the term “Buffalo Soldiers” that all of the soldiers protecting Wham and his convoy were black.


This is important as a few hours after setting off the convoy was attacked by as many as 20 bandits who shot at the convoy while screaming racial slurs at the soldiers guarding it. More particularly, it’s thought that one of the ways those who robbed the convoy justified it from a moral standpoint was simply that it was no real crime in their minds to take money from black soldiers. (More on this in a bit.)

Whatever the case, during the ensuing 30 minute firefight, 8 of the soldiers guarding the convoy were shot, two of them multiple times. Of note are the actions of one Sergeant Benjamin Brown who shrugged off a bullet wound to the gut to stand out in the open firing at the bandits with his trusty revolver.

After being shot twice more (once through each arm), a fellow soldier braved the bullets to carry Brown to safety. Unwilling to halt his one-man assault, Brown continued firing on the bandits while being carried away.

Another Buffalo Soldier, Corporal Isaiah Mayes, similarly ignored the hailstorm of bullets, two of which hit him in the legs, to quite literally at times crawl to get help two miles away at a nearby ranch.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger
Major Joseph W. Wham

Unfortunately, with nearly everyone in the convoy seriously injured, they were forced to retreat away from the wagons, at which point heavy gun fire kept them pinned down while some of the bandits ran in, used an axe to open the lockbox, and stole the contents.

While the bandits succeeded in their goal, Paymaster Wham was astounded by the bravery of the soldiers (all of whom miraculously survived despite many being shot as noted). In fact, according to one of the witnesses to the event, Harriet Holladay, Sergeant Brown “had a bullet hole clean through his middle but he acted as if it didn’t bother him at all.”

Because of their uncanny bravery and dedication to protecting government property with their own lives, Wham immediately recommend 9 of the Buffalo soldiers for the Medal of Honor. Both Brown and Mayes were subsequently awarded that medal, while 8 other soldiers Wham singled out for their bravery were instead awarded certificates of merit.

As for the money, nobody is exactly sure what happened to it because nobody was ever convicted of the crime in question, despite that many among the robbers were recognized during the gunfight as they brazenly did not wear masks. It’s speculated that they didn’t bother with masks because they felt morally justified in the robbery and were all upstanding, church-going members of a nearby town, Pima, with the robbery seemingly organized by the mayor himself, Gilbert Webb.

Webb had come on hard times and was on the verge of bankruptcy. As he was a major employer in the town, and the town itself had come on hard times, he seems to have gotten the bright idea to simply take the money from the U.S. government to solve his and the town’s problems.

As to why he and others in the extremely religious town thought this was a perfectly moral thing to do, well, the town was largely made up of Mormons who felt very strongly (and not really unjustified in this case) that the U.S. government had been oppressing them for years, and so taking money from Uncle Sam was no real crime.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger
Isaiah Mays

On top of this, the individuals guarding the money were all black outside of Wham, as were many of the soldiers that were to be the recipients of the money once it was delivered. Thus in their view, to quote a contemporary article written on subject during the aftermath about the general sentiment of some in the town, “The n**ger soldiers would just waste the money on liquor, gambling, and whores, so why not take it and use it to the benefit of a community that really needed some cash…”

And so it was that when seven suspected members of the robbers were tried for the robbery, community members were seemingly stepping over themselves to give them an alibi (with 165 witnesses testifying in all).

On top of that, the original judge, William H. Barnes, had to be removed from the case when it was discovered he was not only a friend of one of the accused, but also was actively intimidating witnesses for the prosecution. This all ultimately resulted in U.S. President Benjamin Harrison himself stepping in and appointing a new judge, Richard E. Sloan.

In the end, despite many of those called in defense of the robbers completely contradicting themselves, eye witness testimony identifying a few of the men, and that some of them, including Mayor Gilbert Webb, were found in possession of stolen gold coins, all were ultimately acquitted for the crime. Deputy William Breakenridge summed up the reason- “the Government had a good case against them, but they had too many friends willing to swear to an alibi, and there were too many on the jury who thought it no harm to rob the Government.”

It should be noted, however, that several of the accused, including Mayor Webb, would later in their lives be convicted of other theft-related crimes, including Webb having to flee town when he was indicted for stealing $160 ($4400 today) from the Pima school district. (We should also probably mention that Webb actually left his former home in Utah to settle in Pima because he was under charges for grand larceny…)

In the years that have passed since the famed robbery, numerous legends have arisen about where exactly the money ended up, including several that posit that the money is still buried somewhere out there in the Arizona desert. However, given none of those who committed the robbery were convicted and it would seem much of the money was used by Mayor Webb to pay off debts around town, as well as forgive the debts of some of the men who helped him in the robbery, this seems extremely unlikely.

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

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This Spitfire flaw gave the Nazis an edge in aerial dogfights

The Supermarine Spitfire ranks up there with the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, the Messerschmitt Bf-109, and the P-51 Mustang as one of the most iconic planes of World War II. But all aircraft have their flaws — even when they’re at the top of their game.


The Zero’s flaw is well-known. It had no armor to speak of, making it very vulnerable to even the F4F Wildcat when tactics like the Thach Weave were implemented across the U.S. military.

The Spitfire’s problem was in its engine.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger
A Spitfire Mk. 1A flies in 1937. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

The Rolls Royce Merlin was a great motor, but the real problem was how the Spitfire got the fuel to the engine. The Spitfire used a carburetor, which is fine for straight and level flight, but when does a dogfight involve staying straight and level?

The Spitfire’s carburetor would, in the course of maneuvering, cause the engine to cut out for a lack of fuel. When it returned to straight and level flight, the Spitfire would have an over-rich fuel mixture, which ran the risk of flooding the engine. It would also create a huge cloud of black smoke, that the Nazis quickly realized as a tell-tale sign of a sitting duck.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger
This screenshot of a scene from the 1969 movie The Battle of Britain shows the black cloud of smoke that comes after a Spitfire’s fuel mixture is over-rich. (Youtube Screenshot)

So, what did work? The fuel-injection system used by the Nazis in the Me-109. This gave the Nazis a slight edge in the actual dogfights. This could have been a disaster for the Brits, but when their pilots bailed out, they were often doing so over home territory, and a new Spitfire was waiting for them. German pilots who lost dogfights over England were POWs.

The problem, though, proved to be very fixable. Beatrice Schilling, an engineer, managed to come up with a workaround for the over-rich problem that removed the black cloud of smoke and prevented the engine from flooding. That stop-gap helped the RAF stay competitive until a more permanent fix came in 1942.

MIGHTY HISTORY

These Jewish assassins targeted former Nazis to avenge the Holocaust

The reprisals against German members of the Nazi party didn’t end after the Nuremberg Trials. It was a well-known fact that many high-ranking members of the party survived World War II, the trials, and the Red Army’s wrath. The Jewish people that were left did their best to seek justice, but none were as dedicated as the Nokmim – “The Avengers.”


Without a doubt, the most famous of the Nazi hunters after World War II was Simon Wiesenthal, who ferreted out some 1,100 Nazi war criminals. Wiesenthal was a survivor at the Mauthausen death camp when it was liberated by American troops in 1945. As soon as his health was restored, he began to work in the War Crimes Section of the United States Army, gathering evidence to convict German war criminals.

The operative words here being evidence, convict, and war criminals.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger
You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

The Nokmim, as they were called, were not about to let anyone who committed those crimes against their people just walk free for lack of what a court determined was sufficient evidence. Wiesenthal would get the biggest names who escaped justice – those like Adolf Eichmann. The Nokmim would get the SS men, the prison guards, the Gestapo foot soldiers whose names might not be in history books.

As former anti-Nazi partisans who had fought in an underground movement for years before the war’s end, they were no strangers to killing.

“We had seen concentration camps,” Vitka Kovner told the Yad Vashem Magazine of her time fighting Nazis in occupied Lithuania. “And after what we witnessed there, we decided that even though the war was over, we had to take revenge for the spilling of Jewish blood.”

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger
Vitka Kovner-Kempner (far right) was a resistance fighter in the Vilna ghetto in modern-day Lithuania.
(Jewish Women’s Archive)

With that goal in mind, they acted. Former Nazi SS officers and enlisted men were found hanged by apparent suicides for years after the war’s end. Brakes on cars would suddenly become inoperative, causing deadly accidents. Former Nazis would be found in ditches, victims of apparent hit-and-runs. One was even found in his hospital bed before minor surgery with kerosene in his bloodstream.

One extreme plan even involved killing six million Germans as retribution for the Holocaust using a specially-designed, odorless, colorless poison, but had to settle for poisoning the bread at a prison camp for former SS men using arsenic. That plan may have killed up to 300 of the convicts.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger
Some of the leaders of the Nakmim movement would later lead brigades in Israel’s 1948 Independence War.

But the group was comprised of more than just partisans. It may have even included British Army volunteers of Jewish descent who could move freely through the postwar world. No one knows who exactly was part of the group, but it was clear that their reach extended worldwide.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The man who saved North Carolina from nukes speaks out

Jack ReVelle, an Air Force munitions expert during the Cold War, recently went to a sound booth to record an interview with his daughter where the pair discussed one of the most harrowing moments of Jack’s life: That time he was called to North Carolina to defuse two hydrogen bombs that had plummeted to earth with a combined potential explosive power equivalent to 500 Hiroshima bombs.


Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger

A Mark 39 nuclear bomb rests with its nose buried in the mud near Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1961 after a B-52 broke up in mid-air.

(U.S. Air Force)

In 1961, a B-52 bomber was flying over the great state of North Carolina when it began to break apart. Its entire right wing failed and the plane began falling towards earth. The order was given to abandon the plane, and eight crewmembers attempted to escape. Five survived.

But two other objects joined the crew in the air with parachutes. Two Mark 39 nuclear bombs, one with a successfully deployed parachute and one with a failed chute, fell from the sky. The Air Force sent a team out relatively quietly to find and defuse the nukes. Jack ReVelle told his daughter about getting the mission:

“One night, I get a phone call from my squadron commander. And instead of using all the code words that we had rehearsed, he says, ‘Jack, I got a real one for you.’ You don’t often have two hydrogen bombs falling out of aircraft onto U.S. property.”
Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger

Air Force technicians dig through the mud near Goldsboro, North Carolina, in 1961 after a B-52 broke up in mid-air.

(U.S. Air Force)

There was precious little preparation done for such an insane mission, and the airmen found themselves scrambling to get everything they needed to do the mission:

“Ten – we call them the Terrible 10. I knew all of them very well. But nobody was cracking jokes like they usually did. And the first couple of days there, they didn’t even have food for us – nothing. It was snowing. It was raining. It was frozen. That’s why we worked in shifts, sometimes on our hands and knees.”

The first bomb was quickly found hanging from a tree. The parachute had kept its descent reasonable, and it had stuck vertically in the ground, buried only partially in the dirt. The team found that three of its four safeguards had either failed or triggered. Only one safety, the actual safe/arm switch, had prevented a nuclear explosion.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger

Air Force explosive ordnance disposal technicians remove components of a Mark 39 nuclear bomb from the deep hole that the bomb buried itself in.

(U.S. Air Force)

But the second bomb, the one with an improperly deployed parachute, had hit the ground at 700 mph and plunged 18 feet into the ground. It was Jack and his men’s job to dig in, find as many of the 92 detonators as they could, and recover the warhead.

Most of the detonators were found and recovered, one at a time. But the team got a horrendous surprise when they found the safe/arm switch:

“And as we started digging down, trying to find the second bomb, one of my sergeants says, “hey, Lieutenant, I found the arm safe switch.” And I said, “great.” He says, “no, not great. It’s on arm.” But we all knew what we were there for and the hazards that we were facing. So, we pulled it up out of the mud and brought it up over this wooden rickety ladder that we had, to the surface of the ground, in a safe condition.”

Yeah, the switch had been the only thing that prevented the first bomb from detonating. It had failed on the second bomb. As they recovered the rest of it, they found no safeguards that had properly survived. The bomb should’ve exploded. Engineers wrote in a classified report in 1969 that a single electrical jolt could’ve triggered a weapon. The lead on the study, Parker F. Jones, recommended that Mark 39 bombs no longer be used in an airborne role since they almost gave us Goldsboro Bay.

But Jack and his team were able, through painstaking work, to recover most of the bomb, including the nuclear core. If even one of them had gone off, it could have killed approximately 28,000 people. 60,000 live there today and would, obviously, not be able to live there if the bombs had irradiated the whole area in 1961.

Jack ReVelle’s interview is available on StoryCorps and NPR.

(This article was updated on Feb. 4, 2019. The article originally stated that seven of the eight steps needed to detonate a Mark 39 bomb had been taken and cited a Stanford paper from 2018. But the Stanford paper cites a Guardian article for that claim, and the Guardian article only supports that three of the four major safeguards had failed. This post was changed to reflect this more solid information.)

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Russia used children to spy on a US embassy

On Aug. 4, 1945, a group of Russian school children from the Vladimir Lenin All-Pioneer Organization presented a two-foot, wooden replica of the Great Seal of the United States to Averell Harriman, the U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union.


Harriman believed the Great Seal was a friendly gesture and hung it up in the library of the Spaso House in Moscow.

Little did the ambassador know, the Great Seal was a one-of-a-kind listening device.

Related: This WW2 pilot acquired a massive advantage after crashing

The Soviets embedded a high-frequency “bug” in the decorative seal, which allowed them to eavesdrop on some very confidential conversations.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger
The listening device inside the Great Seal. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Austin Mills)

This unique bug wasn’t battery powered or composed of any electrical circuitry. Instead, the device was activated by radio signal pointed in its direction from a surveillance van parked outside the embassy. Sound waves from the conversations caused vibrations in a membrane built inside the carvings of the Great Seal, which then bounced the signal back to the surveillance van.

The device’s simple construction dramatically increased its lifespan and made it nearly impossible to detect. The Great Seal decorated the U.S. Ambassador’s wall for years until it was discovered during a security sweep in 1952. After officials found the bug, it was dubbed, “The Thing.”

Also Read: This paratrooper just took his first jump in 31 years

Its discovery was kept secret for several more years until the U2 spyplane situation occurred in 1960.

As the Soviets were in the middle of accusing the U.S. of spying, U.S. Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. whipped out “The Thing” during a proceeding with the Russians — undeniable proof of Soviet foul play.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger

Check out Simple History‘s video below to get the complete, animated breakdown of how sneaky Russians used school child to spy on the US.

(Simple History | YouTube)
MIGHTY HISTORY

This Islander helped recover the bodies of fallen Marines he’d hidden from the Japanese 60 years earlier

On August 18, 1942, U.S. Marine Corps Raiders assaulted Japanese positions on Makin Island (today known as Butaritari). The Raiders were a WWII-era elite unit trained for special amphibious light infantry combat. Their mission was to destroy Japanese installations and gather intelligence as well as divert attention from the landings on Guadalcanal. This small raid on a Japanese seaplane base was among the first American offensive operations of the Pacific War. It didn’t end well, and many of their bodies weren’t found for years.


 

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger

 

The Raiders met strong resistance but killed a number of Japanese defenders, destroyed two ships, and took out two planes attempting to land in a nearby lagoon. All went well until it came time to be extracted via submarine. Mechanical problems and an unexpectedly strong surf kept 11 of the 18 extraction boats from beating the surf. Eventually, more would make it to the submarine but the raid would end with 18 Marines killed in action and 12 more missing. The raid failed to return any meaningful intel but it was a successful test of coastal raider tactics.

The Americans had to leave in such a hurry they were unable to take the bodies of the dead with them. They asked the Butaritari men on the island to bury the bodies of the dead so the Japanese couldn’t find them. Locals wound up burying the Marines after the U.S. withdrawal.

In 2000, U.S. Department of Defense search teams came looking for the bodies of the Marines because they received a tip from one of the then-teenagers who found the bodies on a coral island so long ago. Now an old man, he showed the search team where to look.

Survivors from the raid. Bodies of many others weren't recovered for years

Fifty-eight years after the last living Marines were extracted from the atoll by submarine, the graves of the fallen were found. The graves were dug with respect and were intact according to the burial customs of the Butaritari. They were still clothed, complete with helmets, rifles, grenades, and dog tags. Marines in full dress blues arrived via C-130 and carried the flag-draped coffins from an island airstrip to accompany the remains as they were repatriated to the United States.

 

As the Marines carried the 19 Raiders aboard, the old Butaritari man who pointed out the gravesite began to sing the Marine Corps Hymn. The man didn’t speak English or even understand what he was saying, but the Marines taught him the song as a boy and he remembered it 60 years later.

 

The first enlisted Marine to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II was Clyde Thomason, who was killed at Makin Island. Thomason was repatriated with the others in 2000 while 11 of his fellow Marines remain missing.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger

MIGHTY HISTORY

What would happen if the Hanukkah story took place today

In 168 BCE, the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes IV set to quash Judaism among his subjects. Matthias the Kohein and his five sons fled to the hills and assembled a rag tag group of revolutionaries known as the Maccabees. The Maccabees fought the seemingly endless mercenary army until they reached Jerusalem and reclaimed the Temple Mount.


Three years to the day of Antiochus’ rampage against the Jews, the Maccabees held the dedication. The Festival of Lights as we know it came from this celebration and when the tiny jar of oil managed to keep the menorah lit for eight days.

As a fun thought experiment, and because I love AlternateHistoryHub, lets re-imagine and contextualize the Maccabean Revolt with today’s weaponry, training, and armies. To keep the completely fictional and arbitrary scenario fair, Matthias the Kohein and his sons are the Shayetet 13 – the Israeli equivalent to the Navy SEALs. They serve as both instructors and fighters for the rest of the revolt: made up of IDF personnel — because being a “normal” civilian isn’t exactly a thing in modern Israel.

The modern equivalent of the Seleucid Empire is a bit of a gray area. They hired many Syrian mercenaries, but they weren’t exactly modern Syria. Though it spanned across Turkey to India, its culture, customs, and religions were Hellenic. Since Greece and Israel are allies in real life, this seems to help avoid any pitfalls.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger
Also pretend like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a while away because much of the revolution took place in the West Bank. (Image via MyJewishLearning.com)

As anyone who is aware of Israeli war history knows, Israel has a strong and constantly-tested military. While it has a 176,500 strong standing military, the number of fit military service troops is around 3,00,000. Their current defense budget if $18.6 billion annually and their Merkava main battle tanks are one of the most devastating in the world. All of that on top of a nuclear-triad option.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger
And since this is a large scale revolt under the guidance of a Spec Ops group that is on par with our SEALs, they would use everything at their disposal. (Image via IDF Blog)

As for the Hellenic Armed Forces, their peacetime strength is around 113,500 troops with a total 4,000,000 fit for service troops. Their current defense spending budget is around $9.3 billion and they are the largest importer of conventional weapons in Europe and they have the highest G.D.P percentage towards military spending in the EU.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger
As far as military might, they each fall around the same skill and fire power. After all, Spartan blood runs deep in the Greeks. (Image via Reddit)

Just by pure numbers alone, Israel would take the fight. That’s not even including the home-field advantage of an insurgency. Even if the Greeks were to hire entire mercenary companies to fight for them, an average mercenary company only has roughly 10k personnel and would eat most of their already dwarfed budget. In $366 billion dollar industry, the modern equivalent Seleucid Empire would just not have the funds to match the Maccabean Forces.

Just as they did over two thousand years ago, the Maccabees would reach the Temple Mount and rededicate it by lighting the golden menorah.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time engineers at China Lake MacGyvered a laser-guided missile

Laser-guided bombs had proven to be a winner during the Vietnam War. There was just one minor problem: Their range was relatively short. This was actually a big deal for pilots, who had to deal with surface-to-air missiles and anti-aircraft guns trying to shoot them down.

Some geeks at the Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, though, had a thought. They took a typical GBU-16 Paveway II laser guided-bomb, which was centered on the Mk 83 1,000-pound general purpose bomb. Now, a 1,000-pound bomb might seem small compared to the 2,000-pound bombs many planes carry today, but in World War II, the 1,000-pound bomb was good enough to sink carriers.


But what these geeks did was add a rocket motor from the AGM-45 Shrike, an anti-radar missile used to shut down enemy air defenses, to the back of the Paveway. The result was a weapon that gave the A-6 Intruder one heck of a punch. It certainly worked out better for Navy pilots than that JATO rocket did for a Chevy Impala driver who may or may not have existed.

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger

The Skipper’s primary component is, for all intents and purposes, a GBU-16 laser-guided bomb. Engineers at China Lake stuck a Shrike’s rocket motor on the back, and got a weapon that could hit a target 14 nautical miles away.

(US Navy photo)

The missile took some time to win over the brass, but they eventually gave it a designation – the AGM-123 – and a name: Skipper. Over 2,500 were purchased. The Skipper got its name because of the way the guidance fins on the Paveway worked: They tended to make very sharp turns, so it would appear like the missile was skipping like a stone across a pond.

The Skipper was primarily intended to take out enemy ships from beyond the range of their defenses. They had their moment in the sun during Operation Preying Mantis, the American retaliation in the wake of the mining of the guided-missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG 58).

Awesome footage of the last time US battleships fired in anger

The Iranian frigate Sahand was on the receiving end of two Skippers and a bunch of other weapons during Operation Preying Mantis.

(US Navy photo)

Four Skippers were used against the Iranian frigate Sahand, which was eventually sunk. The Skipper also saw some action during Operation Desert Storm. It had an effective range of almost 14 nautical miles, although its rocket could propel it up to 30 nautical miles. The real limitation came not from its improvised nature, but from the range of laser designators currently in service.

The Skipper was retired in the post-Cold War drawdowns of the 1990s, which also claimed the plane that wielded it most of the time, the A-6 Intruder. Still, for a while, it gave the Navy a very powerful and precise punch.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The United States worst military defeat came at the hands of native tribes

In the earliest days of the American republic, the United States military was as disorganized as the rest of the American government under the Articles of Confederation. When that document was replaced by the U.S. Constitution in 1789, the government became more organized but the military still needed some work. 

The Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution awarded all lands east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes to the new American government, but the areas were still not as developed as the original 13 colonies. Still, Americans were determined to expand westward. 

Though Britain ceded its claims to the land, no one consulted the countless native tribes that still lived in the area. Native leaders did not recognize American sovereignty over the region but the U.S. government needed to sell the land to pay its Revolutionary War debts – and settlers were willing to buy. 

White settlers clashed with the natives in sporadic violence, forcing the U.S. government to step in, but the American Army was not the army that won the revolution. There were few professional soldiers available to fight the natives. When Gen. Joshua Harmar first moved on the natives in Ohio and Kentucky, where they were chewed up and spit out by the Miami and Shawnee tribes. 

Illustration from Theodore Roosevelt’s article on St. Clair’s Defeat, featured in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, February 1896.

Harmar’s failure forced now-President George Washington to get more aggressive in the new territory. Washington dispatched Gen. Arthur St. Clair at the head of 2,000 men, some on six-month enlistments and some Kentucky militia to quell the native violence. 

Arthur St. Clair
Portrait of Arthur St. Clair

Aside from the lack of organization of both the Army and the U.S. government, St. Clair’s army had a lot going against it from the start. Being comprised of short-term enlistees and militiamen, they were poorly trained and poorly equipped. Supply issues cause a shortage of food and horses, and what the army did have was not the kind of quality it needed. St. Clair suffered from gout, and the army’s bad fortunes caused a series of desertions and delays. 

But, as the saying goes, you go to war with the army you have, not the army you’d like to have.

Which, in this case, turned out to be a terrible mistake, maybe the army’s worst-ever mistake in its nearly 250-year history.

St. Clair’s objective was the Miami settlement of Kekionga, which served as a sort of capital for the tribe. He moved out in October of 1791 on his way Kekionga and the natives harassed his army the entire way. But they never really made it to attack the natives, the natives came to them.

miami leader turtle
A 13 foot, bronze statue of Miami leader Little Turtle (Photo by Mark Christal, Flickr)

By Nov. 3, 1791, the tribes in the area had amassed a force of more than 1,000 warriors and they attacked at the worst possible time for the Americans. They had just broken for an evening meal, and many were without weapons. Even so, the militiamen immediately fell apart and fled. 

The regulars stayed, grabbed their weapons and formed battle lines, knowing their organization was all that could save them from certain death. As Miami leader Little Turtle began to focus on the U.S. regulars, the American artillery attempted to get into the fight. The artillery was quickly taken out by native snipers. 

In a desperate attempt to win a last-second rout, some of the regular troops attempted a bayonet charge, only to be fooled into following the native warriors into the woods. Once in the woods, the soldiers were trapped and killed by the indians. 

After two hours, it was all over. St. Clair ordered a retreat and one last bayonet charge was run. This time, the charging Americans never stopped, instead making a break for the nearest American fort. They were pursued for miles before the native tribesmen turned around and headed back for the camp.

The Americans suffered a staggering 97% casualty rate, a quarter of the entire U.S. Army was wiped out in one engagement. It was the worst military defeat the United States ever suffered.

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