That time a warship pretended to be an island - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

That time a warship pretended to be an island

Sometimes in life, the guy with the drunken, so-crazy-it-just-might-work ideas hits one out of the park and saves the day. This is clearly what happened in 1942 aboard the HNLMS Abraham Crijnssen, the last Dutch warship standing after the Battle of the Java Sea.


Originally planning to escape to Australia with three other warships, the then-stranded minesweeper had to make the voyage alone and unprotected. The slow-moving vessel could only get up to about 15 knots and had very few guns, boasting only a single 3-inch gun and two Oerlikon 20 mm canons — making it a sitting duck for the Japanese bombers that circled above.

Related: 37 awesome photos of life on a US Navy carrier

Knowing their only chance of survival was to make it to the Allies Down Under, the Crijnssen‘s 45 crew members frantically brainstormed ways to make the retreat undetected. The winning idea? What if the warship pretended to be an island?

 

That time a warship pretended to be an island
The Abraham Cristessen in all its jungle finery Photo: Wikipedia

You can almost hear crazy-idea guy anticipating his shipmates’ reluctance: “Now guys, just hear me out…” But lucky for him, the Abraham Crijnessen was strapped for time, resources and alternative means of escape, automatically making the island idea the best idea. Now it was time to put the plan into action.

The crew went ashore to nearby islands and cut down as many trees as they could lug back onto the deck. Then the timber was arranged to look like a jungle canopy, covering as much square footage as possible. Any leftover parts of the ship were painted to look like rocks and cliff faces — these guys weren’t messing around.

That time a warship pretended to be an island
Check out that boat-shaped island. Oh wait… Photo: Wikipedia

Now, a camoflauged ship in deep trouble is better than a completely exposed ship. But there was still the problem of the Japanese noticing a mysterious moving island and wondering what would happen if they shot at it. Because of this, the crew figured the best means of convincing the Axis powers that they were an island was to truly be an island: by not moving at all during daylight hours.

While the sun was up they would anchor the ship near other islands, then cover as much ocean as they could once night fell — praying the Japanese wouldn’t notice a disappearing and reappearing island amongst the nearly 18,000 existing islands in Indonesia. And, as luck would have it, they didn’t.

The Crijnssen managed to go undetected by Japanese planes and avoid the destroyer that sank the other Dutch warships, surviving the eight-day journey to Australia and reuniting with Allied forces.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The history of the Battle of Gettysburg in 4 minutes

The Battle of Gettysburg is arguably one of the most important of the American Civil War. It was this battle that marked the end of Confederate attempts to take the offensive. Although there were many important battles throughout the bloody war, such as the Battle of Antietam, Gettysburg’s importance cannot be over-emphasized.


The Battle of Gettysburg was immense. As the Civil War Trust notes, over 165,000 troops engaged in combat across both sides. There was a total of 51,112 casualties (7,058 killed, 33,264 wounded, and 10,790 missing or captured). The Gettysburg National Military Park spans almost 4,000 acres — and the battle likely raged far further than the park grounds.

That time a warship pretended to be an island
This map shows the impressive scale of the Battle of Gettysburg. (Wikimedia Commons graphic by Hal Jespersen)

Even Hollywood couldn’t cover it all. The 1993 film, Gettysburg, backed by an all-star cast (Sam Elliot, Martin Sheen, Tom Berenger, and Jeff Daniels among them), ran for four hours and 14 minutes in theaters. The director’s cut added another 17 minutes. Even with more than four and a half hours to tell the tale, they still couldn’t cover the entire battle — omitting cavalry actions east of the main battle and the fighting around Culp’s Hill.

If you’ve got the time to kill, it’s not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon/evening, but we know many of you places to go and things to do. Thankfully, the Civil War Trust has the CliffsNotes version.

The four-minute video below briefly covers the highlights of this crucial Civil War battle, covering everything from the first day’s holding action by Buford’s cavalry division to Chamberlain’s stand at Little Round Top on the second day. And, of course, you can’t cover the Battle of Gettysburg without discussing the “high tide” of the Confederacy, Pickett’s Charge, on the third and final day of the battle.

 

(Civil War Trust | YouTube)
Articles

This bridge is one of the most underrated engineering feats of WWII

Throughout history, bridges have been one of the most targeted structures on the battlefield, as opposing forces do everything in their power to blow them up and cut off incoming supply lines.


After a bridge is destroyed, a new one needs to be established, or occupying forces can risk losing their resupply sources permanently.

In World War II, Japanese, Italians, and German armies used explosive motorboats as a technique to take down allied bridges. Enemy troops in scuba gear would point these motorboats in the direction of the bridge’s supporting structures and bail out right before the vessel strikes and detonates.

The explosive motorboats in action. (Images via Giphy)Because of the effectiveness of the explosive motorboats, allied forces needed to create a portable bridge that could be quickly set up and could handle the massive stress of getting blown up.

The resolution came from an unlikely source — the mind of a British civil servant named Donald Bailey.

That time a warship pretended to be an island
Donald Bailey carefully examines one of his bridge designs. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

Related: Why WWII soldiers nicknamed the Sherman tank ‘death trap’

While returning home after working at an experimental bridge, an idea popped into Bailey’s mind. He began sketching out the new architectural idea on the back of an envelope — something that later became the “Bailey Bridge.”

This new creation could support large armored tanks across 200 feet of water and set up quickly just by using some wrenches and a few engineers.

“The Bailey bridge is a very fabricated bridge, and it can be broken down into parts, trucked to a site, and then reassembled in a big hurry,” military historian William Atwater explains.

Also Read: This forgotten soldier survived 4-months in Dunkirk by himself

After being successfully set up under fire during the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy, President Dwight D. Eisenhower reportedly claimed the bridge was one of the pieces of equipment that most contributed to the victory in Europe.

Check out Lightning War 1941’s video below to see how this quickly fabricated bridge helped change the course of the war.

YouTube, LightningWar1941
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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Oldest Navy Pearl Harbor salvage diver dies

In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the battleships USS California (BB 44), USS West Virginia (BB 48), and USS Nevada (BB 36) were severely damaged while the battleships USS Arizona (BB 39) and USS Oklahoma (BB 37) were sunk.


Four of those ships would eventually be salvaged, three of which returned to service, thanks to the efforts of brave Navy divers.

According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, the oldest living diver to have worked on that immense project, 103-year-old Ken Hartle, died on Jan. 24. He had been a ship-fitter when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and as a result, was unable to join the Navy until 1943 when his skills were necessary to repair ships that had suffered battle damage.

He later volunteered to be a Navy diver.

That time a warship pretended to be an island
The USS West Virginia during salvage operations. Photo: US Navy

According to the Naval History and Heritage Command website, Navy divers carried out over 4,000 dives, covering 16,000 hours to salvage the ships at Pearl Harbor. The operations were not without risk. The Union-Tribune report listed a number of dangers Hartle and fellow divers faced, including getting trapped in wreckage, the “bends,” and attacks from sea creatures — all while wearing uninsulated canvas suits and using 200-pound copper helmets and having breathable air pumped down to them.

Hartle was nothing if not a survivor. During his life, the Union-Tribune reported that he was kicked by a mule at age 3, stabbed in the neck during a brawl at age 9, survived a rattlesnake bite, a scorpion sting, a car accident that threw him several hundred feet, six bypass surgeries, two bouts with cancer, and a fall while trimming trees at age 97.

That time a warship pretended to be an island
Cmdr. Daniel M. Colman, commanding officer of the Pearl Harbor-based Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One (MDSU) 1, address attendees during a change of command ceremony at the USS Utah Memorial on Ford Island. Colman was being relieved by Cmdr. John B. Moulton. The MDSU-1 mission is to provide combat ready, expeditionary, rapidly deployable Mobile Diving and Salvage Detachments (MDSD) to conduct harbor clearance, salvage, underwater search and recovery, and underwater emergency repairs in any environment. The suit to Colman’s left is similar to one used by Ken Hartle, who died Jan. 24 at the age of 103, during salvage operations at Pearl Harbor in World War II. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist David Rush)

A memorial service for Hartle will be held on Mar. 4.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Navy’s short-lived compressed air cannons wrecked the Spanish in Cuba

In June 1898, Spanish soldiers on duty in Santiago, Cuba were shocked and surprised when the city began exploding around them. No one heard the crack of offshore cannons, but sure enough, there was an American ship out in the water, firing at the town.

In the dark and without warning, the high-explosive shot from the ship was a psychological victory for the Americans. Spanish soldiers in Cuba would have to be on high alert, as the United States could strike without warning. 

The ship offshore of Santiago that night was the USS Vesuvius. The stealthy rounds it was able to fire at the city came not from a cannon filed with gunpowder and somehow silenced, but rather it was fired by compressed air. 

When we think of a compressed air gun these days, many of us probably think of airsoft players running around the woods somewhere. But at the end of the 19th century, compressed air cannons were a major technological innovation for naval warfare. 

Most often known as Dynamite Cannons, the compressed air guns of the Vesuvius and other ships usd multiple tanks of compressed air to fire high explosive rounds. The technological advancement was a necessity due to the new high-explosive rounds used by the Navy and elsewhere.  

That time a warship pretended to be an island
Photograph of U.S.S. Vesuvius, barrels of dynamite guns. (LOC Photo, Public Domain)

Early high explosive rounds were notoriously unstable. Though they could be carried aboard ships, firing one of these rounds using a traditional gunpowder charge would cause the shell to explode right as it left the muzzle of the gun. It needed a more gradual acceleration to keep the shell from exploding right away. Enter compressed air. 

The compressed air not only had the advantage of not killing the gun crews and tearing a hole in the ship, it allowed for ships like Vesuvius to slip into enemy water undetected and get off a few rounds without the enemy knowing it just fired its deck guns. Another advantage was, like the Spanish soldiers in Santiago experienced, the sheer terror of being shelled from the sea without any advance warning. 

On top of all that, the shells were lightweight and the compression could be reloaded aboard the ship at sea. They did have drawbacks, however. The compressed air that allowed the guns to fire off rounds without sound or the explosive death of the men who fired them meant that it had a lower muzzle velocity. As a result, the guns had to fire at a high angle which decreased their accuracy. 

The Americans were also able to use field artillery with the same technology. These field guns were also used on Santiago, this time by land-based forces. Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his volunteers fielded a Sims-Dudley Dynamite Gun when capturing the city, but the future president was unimpressed, despite the improved accuracy of the field model.

That time a warship pretended to be an island
Sims-Dudley 4 Inch Dynamite Gun on Field Mount (Wikipedia)

Other models of Dynamite Gun could be placed on shore batteries, use steam to refill the pneumatic firing charges, or affixed to submarines. Like their seaborne cousins, the land-based models had drawbacks of their own. Some of the steam-driven cannons required 200 tons of equipment to use, fire and reload. 

Improvements in the development of high explosives and high explosive rounds led to the quick demise of the Dynamite Guns and their use in land or sea combat. When the Army and Navy could go back to more traditional gunpowder charges, they did so almost immediately and compressed air guns became a footnote in history.

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How this Marine inched his way to knock out a Japanese machine gunner

On May 1, 1945, the 5th Marine Regiment arrived at the Shuri line in Okinawa, Japan, to support the war-torn 27th Army Infantry Division. As the Marines patrolled the dangerous area, a Japanese machine gunner opened fire on the incoming grunts, killing three and wounding a few others.


After taking cover, Sgt. Romus “R.V.” Burgin decided that he needed to take action and bring the fight to the enemy.

“I was with some of those Marines out there for two and a half years, and whenever somebody gets hit it’s just like your family,” Burgin states in an interview. “That’s when I decided he needed knocking out right quick.”

Related: This is how the first Asian-American Marine officer saved 8,000 men

At that moment, the Japanese machine gunner was completely hidden, and Burgin needed to locate the threat immediately. He knew what direction the incoming fire came from but he needed to acquire a proper distance to call in for support.

Burgin stepped out into the open and proceeded in the direction of the shooter, hoping to spot the enemy gunner’s muzzle flash — and making himself a target.

After a few steps, the brave Marine’s plan began to work, drawing the enemy’s fire once again. Burgin dodged the incoming fire, two rounds ripped through his dungarees — but the quick-footed Marine was safe.

Little did the Japanese gunner know, he’d just given away his position. Burgin spotted his target and called in the enemy’s coordinates for a mortar strike.

Also Read: 9 things you should know before becoming a Marine infantry officer

After the first round missed, the Marine made a slight adjustment and scored a direct hit with the second attempt.

“I got a direct hit with the second round. Machine gun went forward and the [enemy] went backwards,” he said.

Check out the American Heroes Channel‘s video to see this outstanding Marine take out an enemy gunner for yourself.

(American Heroes Channel, YouTube)
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. (US Navy Photo by Civilian Public Affairs Officer Max Lonzanida)

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.


Feature image: National archives

MIGHTY HISTORY

The United States tried to make a flying Jeep

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Army was testing out a number of ideas to help support troops. Some of these ideas, like the XV-5 Vertifan, were decades ahead of their time. Others, though, fell by the wayside as alternate technologies emerged and proved better able to do the job. One of these forgotten experiments was something called the XV-8 Fleep.

At the time, the Army looking for a new way to resupply troops. The Army was also in the middle of restructuring their forces, further dispersing units to better mitigate the effects of a potential nuclear attack. They needed a new, fast way to get materiel from one unit to the next. Something small, nimble, and durable — like a Jeep, which was already a military icon.

“Fleep,” as you’ve probably noticed by now, is a portmanteau of ‘flying’ and ‘Jeep.’ That’s right. The idea sounds silly to us now, but at the time, it made complete sense to the Ryan Aeronautic Company.


The XV-8 performed well enough in testing that the United States Army considered a production run, according to a 1965 report. The Fleep could be flown easily by an average pilot with either fixed-wing or rotary-wing experience. According to AeroFiles.com, it had a top speed of 67 miles per hour and a range of 120 miles. The Army concluded it could haul roughly 1,000 pounds of cargo.

That time a warship pretended to be an island

The XV-8 was to be a versatile platform, fulfilling a number of missions for the Army.

(Jeff Quitney)

By comparison, the top speed of the UH-1D Huey, which was quickly becoming a workhorse in the Vietnam War in 1965, was 137 miles per hour and it had a range of 317 miles. The UH-1D could carry up to 3,116 pounds of cargo.

The numbers here tell a grim tale for the Fleep — the Huey significantly outperformed the Fleep in every comparable metric.

That time a warship pretended to be an island

The Fleep wasn’t a bad plane, but the UH-1 simply blew it away in terms of performance.

(Jeff Quitney)

That’s, ultimately, was why the XV-8 failed to make the cut. Helicopter technology had improved so much in such a short time that, by the time the Fleep saw the light of day, it didn’t stand a chance.

Thankfully, there’s some footage left behind as a relic of this aeronautical oddity. Watch the Fleep take to the skies in the video below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQjbrd1suvY

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how one man tried to end slavery all by himself

I do not see how a barbarous community and a civilized community can constitute one state. I think we must get rid of slavery, or we must get rid of freedom.

That’s Ralph Waldo Emerson, speaking out against escalating violence in America in the 1850s.


Following the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, the settling of Kansas had devolved into open territorial warfare between anti-slavery “free staters” and pro-slavery “border ruffians.” Representatives were physically assaulting senators on the Senate floor. Average American civilians were perpetrating acts of savagery toward one another that fell short of “domestic terrorism” only because, 80 years into the American experiment, there wasn’t yet a national moral consensus definitive enough to terrorize.

But a reckoning was imminent. As Emerson foretold, the U.S. would have to reject slavery or allow the notion of freedom it so exalted to perish as a consequence.

John Brown stepped into the 1850s a man accustomed to both the opportunity and the volatility of American life. He’d lived in eight different towns across five different states, sired over 20 children with two wives, founded a post office, built a school and started at least three different tanneries. He’d made and lost fortunes, gone bankrupt, become an authority on wool production, and travelled overseas to London to do business.

He had, with the bluntest application of will, done whatever it took to drink the nectar of life and liberty that American democracy promised.

That time a warship pretended to be an island
No, John Brown will NOT be attending your next committee meeting.

Brown believed in the core concept of America, if not the frustrating political mechanics of governing it. Brown loved America. But eventually he, and the radical forces he came to represent, could no longer tolerate the hypocrisy of living free in a society that countenanced slavery.  His trajectory as an abolitionist militant began with this vow:

Here, before God, in the presence of these witnesses, from this time, I consecrate my life to the destruction of slavery!

Unlike notable abolitionists Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, Brown distrusted politics. He rejected advocacy. He was animated by a righteous certainty that American slaves must take their freedom for themselves. Brown wanted to empower slaves in the bluntest way possible, with guns and an incitement to violence against their masters. Brown was the Civil War’s harbinger — come two years ahead of the horsemen.

After the failure of his famous raid on the federal armory in Harper’s Ferry–where his small force had been put down by a detachment of U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee–after the slaves of West Virginia had failed to rise up with him, Brown was captured and sentenced to die a traitor’s death. But before he did, he made this final statement:

I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood. I had, as I now think, vainly flattered myself that without very much bloodshed it might be done.

Pundits like to bat around the phrase “the price of freedom” as if the blood of innocents was ever the currency that human progress accepts. But pundits aren’t the authors of humanity’s rise, heroes are. Innocent blood may be spilled in the course of human struggle, but progress is purchased by the blood of the willing. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

How this 1862 battle lengthened the Civil War by 2 years

In 1862, the Union Army was in striking distance of Richmond and the Union commander hoped to wrap up the entire war with just a few more engagements, but surprising aggression by the Army of Northern Virginia’s new commander would cause a Union defeat, leading to two more years of warfare.


That time a warship pretended to be an island

Union Gen. George B. McClellan had been making his way towards Richmond as part of the Peninsula Campaign in 1862, but Gen. Robert E. Lee attacked and managed to turn the skittish McClellan south.

(James F. Gibson, Library of Congress)

In May 1862, the Union’s top officer was Gen. George B. McClellan, a railroad man turned military officer. While he had many drawbacks, his organizational skills were top notch and he had managed to fight way into position just miles east of Richmond, the political and industrial heart of the Confederacy. If he could capture the city, the Confederacy would fall apart or be forced to withdraw south to Atlanta or another city while losing massive amounts of manufacturing power.

And, the Confederacy had just fought a stalemate at the Battle of Seven Pines. Both sides claimed victory, but the Confederate commander was wounded and the Southern president promoted Gen. Robert E. Lee to the position. Lee was known for caution at this point in the war, and McClellan decided to take time to wait for good weather and reinforcements before pressing his attack home.

It was a hallmark of McClellan’s actions during the war, and it gave Lee time to order a large network of trenches dug, allowing him to defend the city with a small force while preparing the larger portion of his army for a much more aggressive move. Lee didn’t want to just defend Richmond, he wanted to attack the Union force’s supply lines, forcing a retreat.

That time a warship pretended to be an island

A sketch and watercolors depiction of the Battle of White Oak Swamp, one of the Sevens Days Battles.

(Alfred Waud, Library of Congress)

The Union Army in the field was much larger than the Confederates’, 100,000 facing 65,000. But the Union Army was fighting far from home and needed over 600 tons of supplies per day, almost all of it shipped by rail and packtrain from northern cities.

On June 26, with Stonewall Jackson drawing close with an additional 20,000 Confederates, Lee struck, starting what would become known as The Battle of Seven Days or the Seven Days Battles. The forces fought five major engagements and number of smaller skirmishes over that fateful week.

Lee began his assault when the Union Army was sitting astride the Chickahominy River with a third of it on the northern side and two-thirds on the southern side. That meant that Lee could attack the northern side and potentially even destroy the railroad there before the rest of the Union forces could get into position to fight him.

But day one, known as the Battle of Mechanicsville, went badly for the Confederacy. Lee committed his forces before Jackson had arrived, and Jackson was delayed by poor navigation and exhaustion from the long march and previous battles.

On day two, Jackson once again ran into trouble and Union forces were able to regroup, forming a united front against the Confederate forces. But McClellan still didn’t press home his numerical advantage, withdrawing under the assumption that the aggressive Lee outnumbered him.

On June 28 and 29, the Confederate forces were able to launch successful attacks against the retreating Union forces, but they were unable to land a crippling blow. And so, McClellan was able to reach a great defensive position on July 1. From Malvern Hill, he could defend against any number of Confederate attacks.

In the end, the Confederacy lost approximately 20,000 men while the Union lost 15,000.

That time a warship pretended to be an island

McClellan’s failure to capture Richmond in 1862 caused the Civil War to drag on for two more years.

(Kurz Allison, Library of Congress)

But while Lee had failed at his goal of landing a significant blow against Union forces, but he had succeeded in his larger goal. McClellan had been mere miles from Richmond and on the offensive, but one week later he was driven south, begging for more troops and supplies before he would attack again. Instead, he let Lee rebuild his forces and move north, achieving another victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run and opening the door for Lee’s first invasion of the North.

Lee, previously known for his caution, had gone on the offensive despite being outnumbered, and it had saved the capital and its industry. McClellan would later lose his command, partially because of the failure to attack Richmond and his failure to attack off of Malvern Hill.

Lincoln would have to go search for his own Lee, his own aggressive general to carry the attack against the enemy, to force the initiative. It took Lincoln another few years to get him into position, but this would eventually be Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, a man known at the time for his alcohol consumption and his butchery, but now possibly known best for receiving Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House, propelling Grant to a successful 1868 presidential run.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Det: Secret soldiers and unsung heroes of the troubles

Every country’s military has their own version of Special Forces. However, none of them are quite like the 14th Intelligence Detachment, ‘The Det,’ which was formed as part of the British Army Special Forces during a time known as The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The Det was tasked with mounting surveillance and intelligence gathering operations against the Irish Republican Army and their allies.

They worked in the shadows. No one knew who they were or what they did. They received no acknowledgement or fanfare. The world will never know who they were. But, this dedicated force of highly-trained plain-clothes operatives worked to gather the intelligence needed for the British Army and others to maintain their peacekeeping role between the IRA and the unionist paramilitary forces.


The Det was formed after the British Army’s intelligence unit, the Military Reaction Force, was compromised. The MRF was compromised when IRA double-agents were discovered and then interrogated. They spilled details about a covert MRF operation out of Four Squares laundry in Belfast. This led to an IRA ambush of a MRF laundry van, which killed one undercover soldier.

With the MRF compromised, the Det was set up in 1973. The Det was open to all members of the armed services and to both genders. For the first time, women were allowed to be a part of the UK Special Forces. Each candidate had to pass a rigorous selection process. Members of the Det were expected to have excellent observational abilities, stamina and the ability to think under stress, as well as a sense of self-confidence and self-reliance as the majority of surveillance and intelligence gathering operations were solo missions.

The IRA treated the conflict like guerilla warfare for national independence. They used street fighting, sensational bombings and sniper attacks, which led to the British government classifying their aggressions as terrorism. The Det’s main focus during this time was utilizing their unique talents and training to gather information on the members of the IRA so that the British Army and the Royal Ulster Constabulary could then intervene.

That time a warship pretended to be an island

The skills and training of the members of the Det included the disciplines of surveillance, planting bugs and covert video cameras, and close quarters combat. They were also experts in the use of pistols, sub machine guns, carbines and assault rifles. They were also trained in unarmed combat, as well as techniques to disarm and neutralize knife or gun-wielding assailants. It was important for each member to be adept in these skills in order to be able to protect themselves while undercover.

Along with this specialized training, the Det was also equipped with unique equipment much of which could be considered ahead of its time. This included a fleet of ordinary looking saloon cars called ‘Q’ cars. These vehicles were specially equipped with covert radios, video and still cameras, concealed weapons packs, brake lights which could be switched on and off, and engine cut off switches to prevent hijacking. All of these worked to aid in the surveillance missions of the operators. The Det also had their own flight of Army Air Corps Gazelles, which were referred to as ‘The Bat Flight.’ The Gazelles carried sophisticated surveillance gear which was uniquely suited to the operations of ‘The Det.’

From the time of its inception until the end of The Troubles the Det performed numerous operations, mostly following and observing suspected terrorists. These painstakingly planned intelligence operations often led to the arrest of the suspected terrorists and/or the discovery of weapons caches. Occasionally the members of the Det would find themselves in a firefight with terrorists, this was usually due to their cover being blown. Unfortunately, several Det operators tragically lost their lives in Northern Ireland.

The highly-trained members of the Det did not do what they did for glory. They didn’t do it for the accolades, as there were none offered. These elite members put themselves in danger because they believed in what they were working for. They wanted to do their part to protect their country and those they loved. They believed in justice. They believed in the greater good. They knew going into it that no one would ever know what they did or the sacrifices they made in the name of Queen and country. But, they went in anyway. They didn’t see themselves as heroic. But, the elite members of the Det can truly be considered the unsung heroes of The Troubles.

The Det has now been absorbed into the British Army’s Special Reconnaissance Regiment, with a mission to fight the global war on terrorism.

Articles

That time the Navy considered flying Harriers off Iowa-class battleships

When you look at the Iowa-class battleships, in a way, you are looking at the ultimate in a surface combat platform. They are huge – about 45,000 tons — they carry nine 16-inch guns and have an array of other weapons, too, from Tomahawk cruise missiles to Phalanx close-in weapon systems.


That time a warship pretended to be an island

Looking at them, could you imagine diluting that surface-combat firepower for some Harriers? Well, the U.S. Navy did.

According to the 13th Edition of “The Naval Institute Guide to the Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet,” the Navy kicked around the idea of turning the Iowa and her three sisters into a combination battleship-carrier. The after turret would be removed, and the space would be turned into a flight deck. WarisBoring.com noted that the plan called for as many as 20 AV-8B Harriers to be carried on the ship.

There was also a consideration for adding vertical launch systems for Tomahawks and Standard surface-to-air missiles.

That time a warship pretended to be an island
USS Wisconsin fires her main battery during Desert Storm. (US Navy photo)

It wasn’t as if the battleships hadn’t operated planes before, as in World War II the battleships operated floatplanes – usually for gunfire spotting. The Iowas kept their planes in an on-board hanger in the aft section of the ship.

That section was later used to land helicopters when they were in service during the 1980s. The New Jersey even operated a UCAV, the QH-50 Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter, while blasting Viet Cong and North Vietnamese positions during her one deployment in the Vietnam War.

That time a warship pretended to be an island
Photo by Cpl. Garry J. Welch/U.S. Marine Corps

That said, the project never went forward. One big reason was at the end of the Cold War, the Iowa-class ships were quick to go on the chopping block — even as the USS Missouri and USS Wisconsin provided outstanding fire support to the Marines during Operation Desert Storm.

Another can be ascribed to history. Late in World War II, Japan was desperate for carriers. And when they tried to convert the battleships Ise and Hyuga to carrier, the effort wasn’t successful.

That time a warship pretended to be an island
HIJMS Ise – a failed battleship/carrier hybrid. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

It is open to debate whether 20 Harriers would have been a fair trade for a third of an Iowa’s 16-inch firepower. What isn’t open for debate is that the Iowa-class fast battleship has never truly been replaced a quarter-century after their decommissioning.

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