World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday

In 1939, Congress authorized the construction of the USS Wisconsin. The build began at the Philadelphia Naval Yard in 1941. The United States was still doing everything she could to avoid being involved in the war in Europe, but preparing nonetheless. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor eleven months later would change everything.

The world was now at war for the second time and the USS Wisconsin would join the fight.
World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday

In 1943 on the second anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack, the USS Wisconsin launched. She was commissioned on April 16, 1944. She left Norfolk, VA, and began her work. A few months later, the USS Wisconsin earned her first star in battle by supporting carriers during Leyte Operation: Luzon Attacks. She would go on to prove her seaworthiness by surviving a typhoon that took out three ships.

In January of 1945 while heavily armed, she escorted fast carriers who completed air strikes against Formosa, Luzon. By supporting these strikes, she earned her second battle star. Shortly after that she was assigned to the 5th Fleet. She went on to assist in the strike against Tokyo, which was a cover for the eventual invasion of Iwo Jima.
World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday

Under the cover of terrible weather, the USS Wisconsin supported landing operations for Iwo Jima, earning her third battle star. She would earn her fourth in an operation against Okinawa. Following that, she showed her might by keeping the enemy at bay with her powerful weapons and taking down three enemy planes. The USS Wisconsin earned a fifth star after operations against Japan. After putting in over 100,000 miles at sea since joining the fleet, she dropped her anchor in Tokyo Bay. She was vital to the support of the Pacific naval operations for World War II and earned her rest. She was inactivated in 1948 and decommissioned. It wouldn’t last long.

The USS Wisconsin rejoined the fleet in 1951 to assist in the Korean War operations. Following that war, she was placed out of commission yet again in 1958, and sat idle for 28 years until she was needed once more. She would go on to support operations in the Gulf War in 1991. Throughout her six months there, she played an absolute vital role in restoring Kuwait. She was decommissioned for the third and final time — she definitely earned her retirement.

The USS Wisconsin now sits in Norfolk, VA open to the public as a museum.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the US Army had a Camel Corps

Camels have been used as beasts of burden for millennia and the creature is, in many ways, vastly more suited to the task than even the sturdiest of equids. For example, a typical camel can carry in excess of 300 kilos (661 lbs) of supplies without issue, more than twice the weight an average horse or mule could carry with similar distances/speeds. In addition, camels are also largely indifferent to relatively extreme heat, can go for days without needing to take in additional water, and can happily chow down on many desert plants horses and mules wouldn’t eat if they were starving (meaning more of what they can carry can be cargo instead of food for the animals). When not under heavy load, camels can also run as fast as 40 mph in short bursts as well as sustain a speed of around 25 mph for even as much as an hour. They are also extremely sure footed and can travel in weather conditions that would make wagon use impractical.


For this reason a small, but nonetheless dedicated group within the American military in the mid 19th century was positively obsessed with the idea of using camels as pack animals, and even potentially as cavalry.

It’s noted that the largest proponent of camel power at the time was the then Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis — yes, THAT, Jefferson Davis. Davis particularly thought the camel would be useful in southern states where the army was having trouble transporting supplies owing to the desert-like conditions in some of the regions.

To solve the problem, Davis continually pushed for importing camels, including in a report to congress he wrote in 1854 where he stated, “I again invite attention to the advantages to be anticipated from the use of camels… for military and other purposes, and for reasons set forth in my last annual report, recommend that an appropriation be made to introduce a small number of the several varieties of this animal, to test their adaptation to our country…”

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
Camel at Drum Barracks, San Pedro, California (1863 or earlier)

Finally, in early 1855, Congress listened, setting a $30,000 (about $800,000 today) budget for just such an experiment. One Major Henry C. Wayne was then tasked with travelling all the way across the world to buy several dozen camels to bring back to America, with Wayne setting out on this trip on June 4, 1855.

Besides going to places like Egypt and other such regions known for their camel stock, Wayne also took a detour through Europe where he grilled various camel aficionados and zoological experts on how to best take care of the animal.

After several months, Wayne returned to America with a few dozen camels and a fair amount of arrogance about his new endeavor. On that note, only about four months after taking a crash course in camel care, Wayne proudly boasted that Americans would “manage camels not only as well, but better than Arabs as they will do it with more humanity and with far greater intelligence.” Of course, when initial efforts on that front demonstrated a little more experience was needed, various Arab immigrants who had experience managing the beasts were hired to head up the task.

The newly formed United States Camel Corps quickly proved its worth, such as early on managing to carry supplies from San Antonio, Texas to Camp Verde, Arizona during a severe rainstorm that made using wagons practically impossible. In another expedition, the man in charge of the trip, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, afterwards reported back that just one camel was worth four of the best mules on that trip.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
Gwinn Heap’s illustration for Jefferson Davis’ (at that time Secretary of War) report to the U.S. Congress in 1857. The drawingu00a0illustrated the journey of the camels to the United States.

Robert E. Lee would later state after another expedition where conditions saw some of the mules die along the journey, the camels “endurance, docility and sagacity will not fail to attract attention of the Secretary of War, and but for whose reliable services the reconnaissance would have failed.”

Despite the glowing reviews, there were various complaints such as the camel’s legendary reputation for stubbornness and frequent temper tantrums and that horses were nervous around them. Of course, horses could be trained to put up with camels. The real issue seems to have been the human factor- soldiers just preferred to deal with more familiar horses and mules, despite the disadvantages compared to camels in certain situations. As Gen. David Twigg matter of factly stated: “I prefer mules for packing.”

Later, just as big of an issue was the fact that it was Jefferson Davis who championed the idea in the first place. As you might imagine, during and after the Civil War, ideas he’d previously prominently pushed for were not always viewed in the best light in the North.

Unsurprisingly from all this, the Camel Corps idea was quietly dropped within a year of the end of the Civil War and later, largely forgotten by history. However, some of the imported camels, including thousands imported by businesses around this same time that were rendered mostly useless with the establishment of the transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s, were simply set free, with sightings of wild camel still a thing in the South going all the way up to around the mid-20th century.

Bonus Facts:

  • Male Arabian camels begin courtship via more or less inflating a portion of his soft palate called a dulla with air to the point that it protrudes up to a foot out of his mouth. The result is something that looks somewhat akin to an inflated scrotum hanging out of its mouth. On top of this, they use their spit to then make a low gurgling sound, with the result being the camel also appearing to foam at the mouth at the same time. If this isn’t sexy enough for the lady camels, they also rub their necks (where they have poll glands that produce a foul, brown goo) anywhere they can and even pee on their own tails to increase their lady-attracting stench.
  • Even though today Camels can only naturally be found in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, Camels are actually thought to have originated in the Americas around 40 million years ago. It’s thought that they migrated to Asia shortly before the last Ice Age, though there were still Camels in North America as recently as 15,000 years ago.
  • America isn’t the only place that imported camels. Australia also imported up to 20,000 camels from India in the 19th century to help with exploring the country, much of which is desert. Ultimately many camels were set free and, unlike in the US, the camel population in Australia flourished. Today, Australia is estimated to have one of the largest feral camel populations in the world (estimated at 750,000 camels in 2009), which has since been deemed something of an environmental problem. As such, the government has set up a program to cull the camels, with around a couple hundred thousand being killed in the last several years in an attempt to control the population.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the Tokyo Raiders didn’t bomb the Japanese emperor

In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was very angry and very eager to kick some ass — hence the decision to carry out the Doolittle raid. America wanted to take the fight to the enemy, and we wanted to do so as soon as possible. Enter the Tokyo Raiders. 


We all know the story: Then-Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle recruited volunteer crews to fly 16 North American B-25 Mitchell medium bombers off the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet (CV 8). Of the 80 men aboard the planes, three died in crashes or while bailing out, eight were captured (three of which were executed, one died as a POW), and the rest made their way back to friendly lines. Doolittle was awarded the Medal of Honor.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday

A 1979 aerial view of the Imperial Palace.

(Photo by Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism)

As depicted in the movie Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo (based on the book of the same title by Ted Lawson), each of the raiders were allowed to pick their own targets. Several requested one particular target, but Doolittle denied the request each time. The target in question: The Imperial Palace.

Now, with America in a fight for survival, why would Doolittle deny that request? There’s good reason. Although history tells us that Hirohito made the decision to surrender in the wake of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a traditional bombing wouldn’t have had the same effect. No, Doolittle and the Tokyo raiders had a very practical reason to not hit the Imperial Palace.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday

Emperor Hirohito during a Japanese Army parade.

During World War II, the Japanese people viewed their emperor as a god — and it had been that way ever since Jimmu took the throne over 26 centuries prior. Hitting the Palace — and harming the Emperor — would have been very bad news for American troops. That didn’t stop some of the raiders, however, from buzzing the Palace.

The raid had frightful consequences for the Chinese civilians caught under Japan’s rule — over 250,000 were killed by the Japanese in retaliation. American POWs held by Japan were also in for a rough time. The raid also prompted Japan to move to take Midway Island — leading to the Battle of Midway, which turned the tides in the Pacific in favor of the Allied Forces.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The first POW captured by the U.S. was at Pearl Harbor

The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was meant to be supported by five midget submarines. These submersibles were less than 80 feet long, crewed by two men, and carried just two torpedoes. Ensign Kazuo Sakamaki was the commander of midget submarine HA-19. The midget sub, also crewed by Warrant Officer Kiyoshi Inagaki, piggybacked across the Pacific on the Japanese submarine I-24. However, while none of the midget submarines at Pearl Harbor were successful in the attacks, HA-19 suffered a particularly bad streak of luck.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
Ensign Sakamaki’s naval photo

Before the midget sub even launched, there was an issue. A short distance from Pearl Harbor, the crew discovered that one of the torpedoes had been crushed during the trans-Pacific voyage. Although a replacement torpedo was loaded, the trouble continued. During final checks, Sakamaki found that the sub’s gyro had failed. Despite his best efforts, Inagaki was unable to repair it. This meant that the two men would have to navigate by memory and come up to periscope depth to check their progress intermittently. This would increase their risk of being spotted as they entered the harbor.

When HA-19 finally launched, the sub nosedived and almost ended its journey then and there. After adjusting their ballast, Sakamaki and Inagaki righted their vessel and headed for the harbor…or so they thought. Navigating from memory, they ended up sailing adjacent to the harbor entrance and back out into open water. The nosedive and navigational error cost them hours. When they finally reached the harbor entrance, they found it guarded by a blockade of U.S. destroyers. Sakamaki decided to run the gauntlet and force their way into the harbor.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
HA-19 washed ashore the day after the attack (U.S. Navy)

USS Ward (DD-139) had already sunk one midget sub that had attempted to enter the harbor earlier. Upon sighting HA-19, Ward dropped a pattern of depth charges that knocked Sakamaki and Inagaki unconscious. By the time they came to, the aerial attack on Pearl Harbor was underway. HA-19 made a second run for the harbor entrance but ran aground on a coral reef. This time, USS Helm (DD-388) spotted the midget sub and engaged it with her deck gun. Although HA-19 was freed by the shelling, its hull was compromised. Seawater mixed with the sub’s batteries and caused gas to leak from them. Fighting the gas leak and electrical shocks, Sakamaki and Inagaki also had to continuously adjust their ballast to account for the incoming seawater.

The two Japanese sailors then discovered that their torpedo housing was damaged and couldn’t fire. They devised a bold plan to ram the nearest ship, climb on board, and fight to the death on deck. After stripping down to their suicide outfits of their underwear, undershirts, and headbands, the two men sailed for the harbor entrance one last time. They were spotted and hit by more depth charges. This time, the sub’s steering was damaged. Both men were knocked unconscious again and HA-19 drifted at the mercy of the currents.

When Sakamaki and Inagaki awoke, HA-19 was completely disabled and had run aground again. They lit the fuse on the sub’s scuttling charge and swam for shore. Inagaki drowned during his escape and his body was recovered a few days later. Sakamaki, weary and wounded, almost met the same fate as he floundered towards land.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
POW #1 (U.S. War Department)

Two soldiers from Bellows Field, Lt. P. C. Plybon and Sgt. D. M. Auki spotted Sakamaki in the water. At first, they thought that the nearly nude Japanese sailor was a sea turtle coming ashore. When they saw his arms flailing though, they knew it was a person and rushed to help. At this point, Sakamaki realized that the scuttling charge had not gone off, but was too exhausted to swim back to the sub. Instead, he continued to the beach. Auki quickly realized that Sakamaki was Japanese and took him prisoner. Sakamaki became Prisoner of War Number 1 for the United States in WWII.

Upon his capture, Sakamaki’s only request was that he be allowed to commit suicide to make up for the shame of not dying in battle. Naturally, this request was denied and he was held for the entirety of the war. HA-19 was recovered and used on a war bond tour before it was placed at the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, TX. After the war, Sakamaki was returned to Japan. He got married and worked for Toyota for most of his life. Sakamaki was reunited with HA-19 in 1991 when he accepted an invitation to speak at the National Museum of the Pacific War. He passed away in 1999.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
Sakamaki visits HA-19 (National Museum of the Pacific War)

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is what we know about the dirtbag arrested for allegedly trying to poison Mattis

Earlier this week, two letters arrived at the Pentagon. One was addressed to Secretary of Defense James Mattis and the other to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson. Each letter contained a 5×8 card with something scribbled onto it (what was written has not yet been released publicly) and a castor bean — the base for the deadly toxin, ricin.

Though not officially linked, similar letters containing ricin also arrived at the White House and two offices of Senator Ted Cruz. The letters sent to the Pentagon were detected and set off alarms during routine screening procedures and the area was quickly quarantined. Unfortunately for those at Ted Cruz’s Houston office, two people were hospitalized.

U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman for Salt Lake City, Melody Rydalch, told the Military Times that they have made an arrest in connection with the ricin-laced packages. While the investigation is still ongoing, based entirely on his past record, we feel confident in saying that this guy was a massive piece of sh*t.


Authorities have arrested William Clyde Allen III in Logan, Utah, with Federal charges expected to be levied on Friday. According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, he has confessed to the purchasing of castor beans to make the toxin ricin and to sending the letters.

As reported by the Military Times, he is a U.S. Navy veteran, having served four years as a damage control fireman apprentice. He spent 17 months on a combat support ship, USS Supply, and 15 months on the support ship, USS Detroit.

His military records show that his last obtained pay grade was E-2, meaning that he was demoted at least twice before leaving the service. His medals also indicate that he had done nothing of interest.

After his military service ended, he had many run-ins with the law. In 2004, he plead guilty to two cases of neglect and child-sexual abuse against two girls. He did not have to file as a sexual predator in accordance with his plea deal. He was then arrested for aggravated assault in 2008 and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.

He also engaged in a lengthy harassment campaign against and the eventual doxxing of a female veteran that was bad enough to warrant a spotlight by Counter Domestic Terrorism. He made countless death threats against her and her two children, made several fictitious reports to the CIA and FBI, and would share her personal information, including her home address, to social media. In 2017, the Air Force notified Logan police that Allen called in a bomb threat.

Reportedly, his social media accounts were also filled with right-wing conspiracy theories and included several instructional videos on how to create various dangerous materials, including cyanide.

The December 17th, 2017 article on him by Counter Domestic Terrorism concludes with the cryptic caption on a screen-capture of his “how to manufacture cyanide” video, posing the question, “why would he want to make Cyanide?”

Well, now we know.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How to protect a ship’s crew from a weapon of mass destruction

Ships at sea have long had to contend with efforts to sink them. Traditionally, this was done by busting holes in the hull to let water in. Another way of putting a ship on the bottom of the ocean floor is to set the ship on fire (which would often cause explosions, blowing holes in the hull).

The two act in combination at times — just look at the saga of USS Liscome Bay (CVE 56) for one such case.


These days, however, threats to ships have become much more diverse and, in a sense, non-conventional. Chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons have emerged as threats to seafaring vessels.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday

Marines train for a chemical weapons attack on civilians. While chemical weapons have often been used on land, they can also be used against ships.

(DoD photo by Senior Airman Daniel Owen, U.S. Air Force)

Nuclear weapons are obvious threats. If a ship is in very close proximity to the detonation of such a weapon, it’d quickly be reduced to radioactive dust. Further out, the blast wave and extreme heat would cause fires and do serious damage. Don’t take my word for it, check out Operation Crossroads. In a test, two nuclear blasts sank a number of retired ships, including the Japanese battleship Nagato and the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV 3) that had survived many battles in World War II.

Chemical, biological, and radiological threats, though, are a bit more insidious. They don’t do direct damage to the warship, but can kill or incapacitate the crew. A warship without a crew faces some serious trouble. Thankfully, there’s a way to detect and mitigate such threats.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday

The Baker shot from Operation Crossroads — with the Japanese battleship Nagato on the left.

(US Navy)

Currently, a Finnish company known as Environics is developing gear that monitors for CBRN threats. Once the alarms sound, the ship’s crew can then seal off the ship into a citadel. Afterwards, the decontamination process can begin.

While the use of chemical and biological weapons has been banned by international treaties, recent events in Syria show that, sometimes, political agreements don’t hold weight. Thankfully, systems like those from Environics will crews potentially in danger a way to protect themselves.

Articles

This Komet was the fastest combat plane of World War II

The P-51 may have been the plane that won the skies over Europe, and the Me-262 and Gloster Meteor may have been the first operational jet fighters on the sides of the Axis and Allies.


But those planes weren’t the fastest. That honor goes to the Me 163 “Komet.”

The Me 163 was short (about 19.5 feet long), with a wingspan of about 30 feet and looks like a miniature version of the B-2 Spirit. It was armed with two Mk 108 30mm cannon intended to rip apart Allied planes and it had a top speed of almost 600 miles per hour.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
Me 163 at the Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So, why isn’t it more well-known? Well, for starters, the way the plane got its speed — by using a rocket engine — tended to burn up a lot of fuel. That gave it a little over seven minutes of powered flight. The short flight time meant the Me 163 really didn’t have much range — about 25 miles.

After the fuel ran out, the Me 163 was an armed, fast glider. When it landed, it had to be towed. That meant it was a sitting duck until help arrived, and Allied pilots would just wait for the plane to start gliding down before putting a burst into it.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
A P-47’s gun-camera footage shows a Me 163 just prior to being shot down. (USAF photo)

According to MilitaryFactory.com, despite operating for about 10 months, the Me 163 just didn’t get a lot of kills – anywhere from nine to 16, depending on the estimate. That’s less than one pera month. Furthermore, only one fighter group ever operated the plane, which was also hobbled by a shortage of rocket fuel.

AcePilots.com notes that the Me 163 was also dangerous to fly. The rocket fuel ingredients were very nasty – and when they leaked through the suit, it did bad things to the pilot. It wasn’t unheard of for Me 163s to just explode on landing as residual amounts of fuel would mix.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
This Me 163 in Australian hands shows what a Komet looked like after landing. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

For all intents and purposes, the Me 163 was a manned, reusable surface-to-air missile that could make two attacks. Eventually, the Nazis decided to just use an expendable rocket instead of a manned plane for these types of missions.

Articles

How the WW2 bomber Memphis Belle got its wings back

For the first time in 14 years, one of the most iconic planes in American history has earned its wings.


Restorers have reattached the wings to the B-17F Memphis Belle, under restoration at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Wednesday, the museum provided a behind-the-scenes look as aircraft workers reattached more pieces to the bomber’s wings in preparation for a public unveiling next year.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
(Photo: NASA)

“It’s amazing,” said Casey Simmons, a restorer who has labored on the project since 2008 . “I don’t know if there’s words that really say it because you’re little and you build this kit as a little model (airplane) and now you’re actually doing the real thing.

“My favorite part about working on it is just the fact that I get to work on it,” added Casey, 36, of Dayton. “It’s the Memphis Belle. It’s one of the most famous planes. Everything about it, it doesn’t seem like a job. It’s what I’d be doing in my free time if I got to do whatever I wanted to do.”

Related: This Spitfire shot down near Dunkirk just flew again

The Army Air Forces plane is set to make its debut among fabled aircraft inside the World War II gallery at the museum on May 17, 2018, the date that marks the 75th anniversary of the 25th and final wartime mission of the storied bomber that battled Nazi Germany.

The final crew and the bomber gained fame on a nationwide wartime bond tour, which stopped in Dayton, and for a 1944 movie “Memphis Belle” that documented its combat exploits over Europe.

“The big significance of the Belle is it’s an icon and it represents those heavy bomber crews that helped win the war against Germany,” said Jeff Duford, a museum curator.

The Memphis Belle will sit as the centerpiece of a large-scale exhibit on strategic bombing. Archival footage of the historic plane’s missions retrieved from the National Archives, crew artifacts flown in combat and interactive screens will tell the tale of thousands of bombers and their crews in the bloody aerial battles that killed more airman than any war American airmen have fought in.

Crews have roughly 13,000 hours of work left, said Greg Hassler, restoration supervisor. The museum was not able to provide a cost estimate or how many hours workers and volunteers labored so far to bring the Belle back to its former end of combat luster.

Also read: This is why the F-4 Phantom II had so many fans

Restorers have labored to meticulously off and on to scrape paint, bend metal and fabricate parts since the Boeing built-bomber arrived in 2005 hauled in on a truck from near Memphis, Tenn.

“You get lots of parts and boxes and things that aren’t marked and it’s trying to figure out where things go (you) look at the drawings and it’s like a puzzle,” Simmons said.

The plane will be repainted to reflect how it looked at the end of its combat bombing runs and before flying across the nation on the war bond tour, Duford said. The paint on the plane today is not the original markings, he said.

“The skin all over the the fuselage is engraved with the names when it went on its war bond tour so you want to try and keep all that as much as you can because if you replace that, that’s history gone,” Simmons said.

The reborn Belle will have a woman in a red dress on one side of the plane and in a blue dress on the other side of the nose to reflect the original look. A row of swastikas added for the war bond tour will be removed because they weren’t on the bomber immediately after it finished its days in combat, Duford said

The wings were last attached in 2003, officials said.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The surprising and resourceful ways people caught in the middle of World War II reused US military parachutes

Parachutes, manufactured and packed en masse during World War II to accompany Allied aviators on missions, had a very important job to do: open.

Lucky for me, my grandfather’s did. He was a 23-year-old US Army Air Corps pilot shot down over France a month before D-Day. He bailed out over central France, after his seven crewmates and moments before their B-24 Liberator exploded in the sky.


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Chest packs like the above were among the most common American parachutes.

Leo Kerns Collection/National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force

They all hit the ground on better terms than their plane, thanks to their parachutes (and, in a longer story, they all survived their respective journeys through occupied France, thanks largely to French patriots and resistants who helped them).

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The author’s grandfather, then-2nd Lt. Murray Simon, top right, and his crew.

801st/492nd Bomb Group/Carpetbagger Association

I never met my grandfather, but I have his “Caterpillar Club” membership and the packing log of the parachute that saved his life.

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Katie Sanders

And last May, I traveled to his crash site in Mably, France, for a beautiful 75th anniversary commemoration event. A Frenchman came up to me and explained that he’d been a baby in a village near the crash site during the war, and that his mother recovered one of the airman’s parachutes and made it into a swaddle and carrier for him.

He recalled converting the material into a hammock — a swing he played in even after the war, when shortages and hardship from the devastation of the battles, air raids, and Nazi occupation persisted throughout Europe. This is one of many examples of how people made use of the life-saving silk, canvas, and nylon canopy contraptions falling from the sky during World War II everywhere from France and Yugoslavia to Japan and the Philippines.

Here are more ways parachutes’ function and form extended beyond the time they hit the ground.

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This nightgown, or “peignoir” — is made from parachute silk.

National WWII Museum

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A silk shirt embroidered with dragon and floral designs.

National WWII Museum

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A woven purse made from US Navy parachute material in the Pacific.

National WWII Museum

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A woven purse made from US Navy parachute material in the Pacific.

National WWII Museum

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A woven skirt made from parachute material from the US Navy.

National WWII Museum

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This parachute silk became a light and airy quilt, with knots of yarn knitted throughout.

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This silk camouflage parachute pajama sets came from the 17th Airborne Division.

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These silk camouflage parachute boxer shorts came from the 17th Airborne Division.

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Hilda Galloway and Robert Ellsworth Wickham at their wedding on October 14, 1945. Ellsworth Wickham flew 22 missions, including one bail out over France in January 1945. He gave pieces of his parachute to the doctors and nurses who helped him after he jumped.

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Galloway’s wedding dress.

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An American sergeant in the China-India-Burma Theater sent a white US reserve parachute to his mother, who sewed the nylon into a communion dress for his younger sister in 1944.

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Albert Williamson was a radio operator/gunner with the 384th BG/545th Bomb Squadron. On December 15, 1945 he married his longtime sweetheart, Ruth Glendinning, who walked down the aisle in this gown her cousin sewed using a parachute Williamson brought home.

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i.insider.com

So began a wave of wedding wear constructed from chutes brought back from war, including ones that fellow American women and men had sewn on the homefront and that had saved their and their enemies’ lives.

There was the commodity in and of itself, along with the meaning and specialness behind it. Used and surplus World War II parachutes were “a wonderful gift to pass along,” Kiser says.

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

Articles

America’s first-ever tank unit saw heavy combat in World War I

America’s first tank unit, known as the “Treat ’em Rough Boys,” rushed through training and arrived in Europe in time to lead armored thrusts through Imperial German forces, assisting in the capture of thousands of Germans and miles of heavily contested territory.


World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
Army Col. George S. Patton just after World War I. (Photo: U.S. Army)

The tankers were vital to the elimination of the famous St. Mihiel salient, a massive German-held bulge in the lines near the pre-war German-French border.

American forces joined the war late, participating in their first battle on Nov. 20, 1917, over three years after the war began and less than a year before it ended.

America had never attempted to create a tank before its entry into World War I. So while American G.I.s and other troops were well-supplied and fresh, most weren’t combat veterans and none had any tank experience.

Into this gap rode cavalry captain George S. Patton. He lobbied American Expeditionary Force Commander Gen. John J. Pershing to allow him to establish a tank school and take command of it if the U.S. decided to create a tank unit.

Patton also pointed out that he was possibly the only American to ever launch an armored car attack, a feat he had completed in 1916 under Pershing’s command in Mexico.

Pershing agreed and allowed Patton to set up the school in Langres, France. Patton quickly began taking volunteers into the school and establishing American doctrine and units.

The first-ever American tank unit consisted of the light tank units organized by Patton and heavy tanks with crews trained by England.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
America’s first heavy tank battalions were not ready and equipped in time for the St. Mihiel offensive but took part in later battles. (Photo: U.S. Army)

When it came time for the AEF to lead its first major operation, the St. Mihiel salient was the obvious target. Other allied forces had already pacified other potential targets, and the salient at St. Mihiel had severely limited French lines of communication and supply between the front and Paris since Germany had established it in 1914.

The tanks led the charge into the salient on Sept. 12 with two American light tank battalions, the 326th and the 327th, backed up by approximately three battalions worth of French light tanks and two companies worth of French-crewed heavy tanks.

Infantry units moved into battle just behind the tanks, allowing the tracked vehicles to crush barbed wire and open the way.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
American engineers returning from the front at the Battle of St. Mihiel. (National Archives, 1918)

Per Patton’s design, the tank companies were equipped with a mix of heavy guns to wipe out machine gun nests and other prepared defenses and machine guns to mow down infantry that got within their fields of fire. This mix allowed for rapid advancement except where the Germans had dug their trenches too deep and wide for the Renaults to easily cross.

The American infantry attacked the remaining resistance after the tanks passed and then took over German positions.

The light tanks, which could move at speeds faster than advancing infantry, sometimes pressed ahead and found themselves waiting for the infantry to catch up. At the village of Thiacourt, an important crossroads within the salient, tank units surrounded the village and cut off all entrances and exits while waiting for their boot-bound brethren.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
Army Lt. Col. George S. Patton with a Renault tank. He became America’s first-ever tank officer the previous year as a captain. (Photo: U.S. Army)

While the tanks received great credit in American newspapers for their success in the AEF’s first independent operation, the real story of St. Mihiel was that it was an enormously successful combined arms operations with massive amounts of artillery support, about 3,000 guns, the largest air force assembled to that date (approximately 1,500 planes), and large infantry assaults making huge contributions to victory.

Plus, the Germans had received ample warning of the AEF’s pending attack and had decided not to seriously contest it. Instead, they pulled many of their units back to the Hindenburg line to the east and left only 75,000 men defending the salient against the over 260,000-man attack.

One of the prisoners, a German major and count, reportedly was even waiting with his staff and packed bags to be captured.

Of course, the first American armored offensive was not without its hiccups. The French-made Renault tanks got bogged down in deep mud. While German artillery was only able to knock out three American-crewed tanks, another 40 were lost to mud, mechanical breakdowns, and a lack of fuel at the front.

Patton continued refining American tank deployments, ordering that U.S. tanks carry fuel drums strapped to the back of the tank. At the suggestion of an unknown private, he also began equipping one tank per company as a recovery and repair tank, leading to the dedicated recovery vehicles in use today.

The tank corps went on to fight in the Meuse-Argonne offensive through the end of the war, this time with their heavy tanks there to support the infantry alongside their light armored friends. All of the tanks continued to face greater losses from terrain and mechanical breakdown than they did from enemy forces.

The greatest enemy threat to the tanks was artillery and mines, but the Germans learned to place engineering barriers such as large trenches to slow down the advance, and early anti-tank rifles took a small toll.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Levitow is the Air Force’s lowest ranking Medal of Honor recipient

In the Air Force, few names ring as many bells as John L. Levitow. He’s had awards named after him, as well as dorm halls and roads. Levitow’s name is about as close to U.S. Air Force royalty as you’ll get.


Oddly, even though his name is emblazoned across every corner of every Air Force base in the world, many airmen have scant knowledge of Levitow’s actions. Many are more well informed of his mysterious separation than of his heroic actions. The legend of his separation is still shared by many higher-ups during various briefings as a cautionary tale, but I digress.

As the Air Force leads the way into the future, it’s important to remember who paved the way and how exactly they did it. This is how John L. Levitow became the lowest ranking Medal of Honor recipient in Air Force history.

Related: This hero was so deadly, they called him “Black Death”

Loadmaster

Airman First Class Levitow cross-trained into the Loadmaster career field after a couple of years in the Air Force. This cross-train is what ultimately placed Levitow on board the Spooky 71, an AC-47 gunship, during that fateful night.

 

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
The man, the myth, the legend.

A legend born

On Feb. 24, 1969, Levitow was aboard the Spooky 71 AC-47 gunship flying missions in South Vietnam. During the flight, a mortar round struck the side of the aircraft, ripping holes all across the plane, including an approximately two-foot puncture in the wing.

After impact, Levitow, while suffering from over 40 fragment wounds, helped a fellow wounded airman away from the now-open cargo door. As he moved his comrade to relative safety, he spotted a Mark 24 flare that was seconds from igniting.

Mind you, the Mark 24 flare is a three-foot metal tube weighing roughly 27 pounds that, once ignited, generates the light of 2,000,000 candlepower and burns at 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

Levitow dragged himself towards the flare, which was rolling to and fro as the Spooky 71 pilots fought to regain control, hurled himself atop of it, pushed the flare towards the cargo door, and flung it out into the Vietnam sky just before ignition.

This really happened. It is not an exaggeration or poorly documented folk tale. Levitow literally placed his body atop a flare powerful enough to turn the Spooky 71 into a crisp with no real idea of how long he had until the flare ignited. This is one of the most selfless acts ever documented.

After the amazing feats he accomplished that night, he would return to Vietnam after recuperating to fly another 20 missions.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday

Awarded the Medal of Honor

Levitow was awarded the nation’s highest military honor on May 14, 1970 by President Richard Nixon. Levitow separated from the Air Force in 1970.

Also Read: This is why Killmonger is the most operator villain in the MCU

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
On May 14, 1970, Armed Forces Day, John L. Levitow was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon

(White House photo)

Following his separation, Levitow worked diligently with the veteran community, showing up to events that honored or featured veterans. On Nov. 8, 2000, John Lee Levitow passed away after a year-and-a-half battle with an unspecified cancer. He was 55 years young.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
u200b

(Photo by Airman 1st Class Stacy Hughes)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

This was the most decorated American warship ever

There’s a good chance that if you were to take a guess as to which warship was the most decorated ship in US Navy history, you’d probably get it wrong. In fact, you’d probably be shocked to learn that this vessel never once fired a shot in anger, despite being armed at all times throughout its career. If you’re confused now, that’s good… that’s exactly the way the Navy wanted it, at least while the USS Parche was still in active service during the Cold War and beyond.

When construction began on the Parche in 1970, nobody, not even the Mississippi shipbuilders toiling away at bringing the vessel to life, had any idea about what their project would eventually become. Indeed, Parche was just another hunter/killer nuclear submarine, designed to tail and destroy enemy surface and underwater combatants with its deadly loadout of torpedoes. Ordered as part of the Sturgeon class, it was commissioned in 1974 and served for two years in the Atlantic Fleet in its originally-intended role.

In 1976, Parche was moved to the Pacific fleet and modified for the first time. Not much is publicly known about this initial retrofit, but the submarine’s service exploits fell out of the public eye very quickly. As it turns out, the Navy selected Parche to support the National Underwater Reconnaissance Office — a highly secretive joint partnership between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Navy.


World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
USS Parche underway near San Diego
(US Navy photo by PHC Jones)

Over the next few years, Parche’s mission set rapidly evolved from functioning as a typical run-of-the-mill attack submarine, to a ghost-like spy submarine, outfitted with monitoring gear, reconnaissance, and surveillance systems. The submarine force is often known as the “silent service” due to the fact that submarines work best when undetected. NURO and the Navy took this a step further with crews assigned to the Parche, swearing them to absolute secrecy, owing to the nature of their command’s job.

By the end of the 1970s, Parche had already made multiple trips into the Sea of Okhotsk, along with the USS Halibut and the USS Seawolf, to wiretap Soviet communications cables as part of Operation Ivy Bells. These wiretaps, undetected until a National Security Agency leak in the mid-80s, proved to be extremely invaluable in picking up Soviet military intelligence. The Parche also assisted with recovering the fragments of Soviet anti-shipping rockets, so that the Navy could analyze them and develop countermeasures to safeguard its own vessels.

Parche, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, underwent a number of additional overhauls that beefed up its surveillance apparatus, adding cameras and an elongated hull to make room for more gear and a larger crew complement, among other things. Like the USS Seawolf, the Parche was given a set of “skegs,” or underwater skids, earlier on. These skegs allowed it to sit on the ocean floor while divers moved in and out of the hull of the submarine on wiretap and debris recovery missions.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday
The preserved sail of the USS Parche in Portland, Oregon, bearing its awards.
(Clemens Vasters)

By the early 2000s, Parche had gotten too old for its missions. The Sturgeon-class was already almost fully retired from the Navy, having been replaced by the Los Angeles and Seawolf classes of hunter/killer nuclear boats. Eventually, in 2004, the decision was made to pull the aging spy submarine, euphemistically referred to as a “special projects platform,” from active service for its long-overdue retirement.

After around 30 years of service, Parche was decommissioned and scrapped, though her sail with its markings was removed and placed on display in Bremerton, Washington. Today, the USS Jimmy Carter, a Seawolf-class submarine, serves the same purpose and operates under the same conditions that Parche did, functioning as America’s premier spy sub.

Even though Parche’s exploits will remain hidden from public sight for decades to come, one only has to look at the marks that denote 9 Presidential Unit Citations, 10 Navy Unit Commendations and 13 Navy Expeditionary Medals, to know that Parche served her country faithfully in the most daring of circumstances throughout her hushed-up career.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

US Air Force may have a spy drone that’s secretly been flying for years

An in-depth report by Guy Norris in Aviation Week presents new evidence that a secretive, stealthy reconnaissance drone is now in operation with the US Air Force — and has been flying since 2010.

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), thought to be called the RQ-180, is a large stealth craft used for reconnaissance missions, filling the role left open by the retirement of the SR-71 in 1999. There are no publicly available images of the UAV and an Air Force spokesperson said they were not aware of the drone. It is thought to be modeled after Northrop-Grumman’s X-47B, Foreign Policy reported in 2013, and to have a relatively large wingspan and a trailing edge, similar to the B-21 Raider.


The RQ-180 likely began flying at the Groom Lake testing facility at Area 51, where the government’s secretive U-2 testing was carried out in the 1950s. Aviation Week points to Aug. 3, 2010, as the first flight date for the aircraft.

World War II battleship Wisconsin celebrates 76th birthday

The B-21 Raider, from which the RQ-180 reconnaissance drone is thought to have borrowed its trailing edge design.

(US Air Force photo)

In 2014, testing appears to have been moved to Edwards Air Force Base in California, with a long-range test flight — possibly to the North Pole — reportedly taking place in early 2017. Insider reached out to Edwards Air Force Base regarding the test flight, but did not receive a response by press time.

At Beale Air Force Base, also in California, the 427th Reconnaissance Squadron was recently re-commissioned and is now overseeing the operation of the drones, Aviation Week reports. A spokesperson from Beale AFB told Insider that they were not aware of the squadron. However, a press release from April on Beale AFB’s web site celebrates the presence of the 427th Squadron at the ribbon cutting of Beale’s new Common Mission Control Center, which will help provide ISR data in “highly contested areas.”

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An SR-71B trainer over the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in 1994.

(US Air Force photo by Judson Brohmer)

According to Aviation Week, there are now at least seven of these UAVs currently in operation, performing a penetrating intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role. “R” is the designation for a reconnaissance aircraft and “Q” means it is remotely piloted.

The US Air Force declined to comment to Aviation Week. Insider was told by the Air Force press officer on duty that the press desk was not aware of the program.

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

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