How Western Union helped the US enter World War I - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

At the height of World War I, British intelligence provided the United States with a secret telegram sent from German Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman to the government of Mexico. The telegram promised the Mexicans a military alliance if the United States entered the war against Germany. The Germans promised Mexico it would help them recover the American territories of Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico it lost in the Mexican-American War.

The interception of the telegram was one of the earliest big wins for signals intelligence. Maybe the Kaiser shouldn’t have sent it via Western Union.


How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

“Hopefully no one breaks this code STOP It would mean we lose the war STOP We’re paying by the word STOP”

The note from Zimmerman was sent to the German ambassador to Mexico, Heinrich von Eckardt, letting him know that the German high command intended to resume its policy of unrestricted submarine warfare in the coming days. This strategy, while effective at keeping the British Isles from getting its necessary supplies also had the adverse effect of killing innocent civilians from neutral countries – countries like the United States.

On May 7, 1915, this policy resulted in the sinking of the luxury liner RMS Lusitania, killing some 1,128 people. And 128 of those people were American civilians bound for England. The incident was illegal under international law and sparked widespread anti-German outrage in the U.S. You know relations are strained when Americans rename their food to sound less German.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

“Sauerkraut” is still “Liberty Cabbage” to me.

The note read:

We intend to begin on the first of February unrestricted submarine warfare. We shall endeavor in spite of this to keep the United States of America neutral. In the event of this not succeeding, we make Mexico a proposal of alliance on the following basis: make war together, make peace together, generous financial support and an understanding on our part that Mexico is to reconquer the lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The settlement in detail is left to you. You will inform the President of the above most secretly as soon as the outbreak of war with the United States of America is certain, and add the suggestion that he should, on his own initiative, invite Japan to immediate adherence and at the same time mediate between Japan and ourselves. Please call the President’s attention to the fact that the ruthless employment of our submarines now offers the prospect of compelling England in a few months to make peace.
Signed, ZIMMERMANN

This wasn’t even the first time the Germans tried to incite the Mexicans against the U.S. There were at least five other occasions when the German Empire funded or assisted efforts to create tensions in North America. President Wilson even had to send U.S. troops to occupy Veracruz during his administration. What the Germans didn’t take into account was the fact that Mexico was already in the middle of its own civil war, Mexico didn’t stand a chance against the U.S., even then, there was already a peace agreement in place, and Mexico knew Germany couldn’t actually support it in any meaningful way.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

“Mexico: We are with you. But not like… there. We have to be here. But good luck in your war with the US.”

The British sent the telegram to the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, who eventually got it to President Wilson. Wilson promptly gave it to the American media. When delivered to the American people, who were already anti-Mexican and anti-German, the result was explosive. To make matters worse, Zimmerman admitted the telegram was genuine in a speech to the Reichstag, and the Germans soon sunk two American merchant ships with u-boats. Three months later, in the face of American public opinion, Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

That time Chile used a US Navy hand-me-down to bail out Canada

Ships are often handed down from one nation’s navy to another. More often than not, the countries responsible for passing ships along are leading naval powers, like the United States, France, or the United Kingdom. Usually, the ships that get handed down are warships, but recently, the U.S. Navy gave up a replenishment oiler, which ended up going halfway across the world — and then came back.


The Henry J. Kaiser-class oiler, USNS Andrew J. Higgins (T-AO 190), named after the man who designed the famous “Higgins boat,” entered service in 1987. In 1996, after less than a decade of service, she was laid up in reserve for 12 years, part of the post-Cold War drawdown, before the George W. Bush administration offered her to Chile.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

USNS Andrew J.Higgins (T-AO 190) during her service with the United States Navy.

(US Navy)

Originally, there were plans to build 18 Henry J. Kaiser-class oilers. Two of these, the planned Benjamin Isherwood (T-AO 191) and Henry Eckford (T-AO 192), were halted when nearly complete. Of the remaining 16 vessels, 15 still serve in the United States Navy. In 2010, the USNS Andrew J. Higgins was renamed the Almirante Montt as she was commissioned into the Chilean Navy.

These oilers can hold up to 180,000 barrels of fuel — that’s a lot when you consider that each barrel holds 42 gallons. They have a top speed of 20 knots, a range of 6,000 nautical miles, and have a crew of 86 merchant mariners and 23 Navy personnel. And, to make sure they can keep all that oil, it can be equipped with two Mk 15 Phalanx close-in weapon systems and also pack a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

The Almirante Montt refuels the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Boone (FFG 28) in 2011, shortly after entering Chilean service.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communications Specialist 1st Class Steve Smith)

Chile maintains a rather prominent navy in South America. For a while, it operated a pair of Brooklyn-class light cruisers alongside a Swedish cruiser. These days, their Navy centers on a mix of former British and Dutch frigates, as well as German-designed submarines.

The Almirante Montt has not exclusively stayed south of the equator. In 2014, Canada got rid of its Protecteur-class replenishment oilers before their replacements could enter service. So, they signed a deal with Chile. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, this Chilean oiler went north to keep the Royal Canadian Navy’s at-sea refueling skills sharp.

MIGHTY CULTURE

Never miss the drop zone when the Unit Cartoonist is watching

Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.

(Feature cartoon: Delta’s Marinus Pope is grilled for missing his intended touch down point by a significantly wide margin East by Northeast [E/NE]. His reconnaissance brothers approached me about roasting him for all eternity in the Unit Cartoon Book; an ask I joyfully accepted.)

My Special Mission Unit did a lot of parachute training, almost exclusively jumping from very high altitudes pulling out our parachutes at low altitudes, a technique called High Altitude Low Opening (HALO) drops. The technique leverages the high altitude to help cover the presence of the delivery airframe, and the low opening to keep the view of parachutes in the sky at a minimum.


To this day, I have a clinical fear of heights. That kept me away from trying out for elite units for the longest time, but after two years in a regular infantry unit, I was heading to airborne with or even without a parachute.

A modification of the HALO drop is the High Altitude High Opening (HAHO). In this scenario, paratroops exit at ~18,000 feet and pull immediately. Now the troops are under a parachute at nearly 17,000 feet!

At that altitude, a parachutist can travel a staggering lateral distance, even as far as from one end of a state to the other. (A point of humor: in addition to the HALO and HAHO capability we invented a faux elitist group of jumpers called OSNO men; Outer Space No Opening)

Under such conditions a man will descend under (parachute) canopy for an extended period of time — upwards of nearly an hour — and as you might already imagine, the higher the altitude, the greater the propensity for navigational errors.

Once I had a canopy malfunction at 17,000 feet, causing me to lose position in the group formation and drift so far away from my Drop Zone (DZ), that one of our ground support crew had to jump in a truck and race to where I hit the ground to pick me up. My impact was many (MANY) miles off target. I recall free-falling over a near-solid cloud cover and watching my shadow race across the top of the cloud bank toward me at great speed until it met me just as I penetrated the cloud top. Just me and my shadow I say, though I did not know it at the time; I had never heard of or experienced the phenomenon, and rather thought it was another jumper on a collision course toward me. I braced the bejesus out of myself for impact.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

Anyhoo… I came down in a cornfield, which was odd, in that there were no cornfields in the state that my jump aircraft took off from. A fine American patriot came screaming up in a really large, really old all-metal Impala:

“I seen ya coming’ down in that-there parachute. Me, I ain’t nevah see anything like it ’round this cornah of Nebraska!”

“Nebraska?!?” Yeah, that was not a good day; that wasn’t where I started from in Colorado.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

Did I mention the time I collided with a fellow jumper at night at 24,000 feet? Yeah — pretty much hated it! It was already stressful enough, as we were all breathing pure oxygen through a pilot’s face mask since there was not sufficient breathable oxygen at that extreme altitude. In the collision, my oxygen supply valve had been shocked shut, leaving me with only the rarified atmospheric gas I could suck through the seal of my mask.

Drastic circumstances call for drastic measures, and I did what any other warrior would do — I passed out. Since I was not conscious, I don’t know exactly what happened in the next 16,000 feet or so, but I estimate that I fell flat and stable. When I was low enough for breath-worthy air, I came to, only to find a brother was falling right with me some three feet away staring me in the face intently, ready to pull my reserve for me if I failed to snap back to reality. A glance at my altimeter strenuously urged me to pull my ripcord immediately.

Another thing that happened during the time I was “away” from my fall, was that it had begun to lighten up on the horizon as the sun crept in. The aurora made it able for me to see the details of the men around me and the ground below. It all looked so so so much like a cartoon… but I had my sense about me and saved my own life; oh, but that doesn’t count for a medal.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
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7 surprising facts about Bob Hope

Bob Hope, legendary comedian and star of radio, stage, and screen — not to mention a man who once played third billing to Siamese twins and trained seals — had a really, really soft spot for U.S. troops, especially those who deployed to combat zones. It’s an amazing thing, especially considering that he was British.


For more than 50 years, the “One-Man Morale Machine” spent time away from his family and his comfortable Hollywood life to visit American troops during peacetime and at war. He performed on Navy ships and Army bases, often close enough to hear the sounds of combat. To him, that didn’t matter.

 

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
Bob Hope and his USO troupe arrived in Sicily three days after Gen. Patton and the Seventh Army took the key town of Messina.

“Imagine those guys thanking me,” he once said. “Look what they’re doing for me. And for you.”

Today, Bob Hope’s legacy lives on in the Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation, whose mission it is to support any organization that seeks to bring hope to anyone. For veterans, the foundation supports the EasterSeals of Southern California through the EasterSeals Bob Hope Veterans Support Program, which helps veterans gain meaningful employment after their service to our nation ends.

No joke: It’s not a handout for veterans, it’s a real hand up. Check it out: it may be just what you or a loved one needs. In the meantime, learn a little bit about the legend himself.

1. Bob Hope was British

Hope was born Leslie Townes Hope in 1903 in Well Hall, Eltham, County of London, England. In 1908, the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, passing through Ellis Island on the way.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

2. He has a lot of medals. A whole lot.

Among them are the Congressional Gold Medal, Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Air Force Order of the Sword, Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Pontifical Equestrian Order of St. Gregory the Great, and Pontifical Equestrian Order of Saint Sylvester Pope and Martyr.

There are more honors. A lot more, including Admiralty in the Great Navy of the State of Nebraska. It’s a thing.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
Bob Hope receives the Congressional Gold Medal from President Kennedy.
(Library of Congress)

 

3. He was a Harlem Globetrotter.

Along with Henry Kissinger, Nelson Mandela, Pope Francis, and a few others, he was named an honorary member of the team.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

4. He did the “Russian Reversal” joke 30 years before Yakov Smirnoff

You knew he was a visionary. So did Yakov Smirnoff, who pretty much made his whole career on the, “In Soviet Russia, TV watches YOU” series of jokes. This is now known as a “Russian Reversal” and was first used by Hope at the 30th Academy Awards in 1958.

5. You can thank Bob Hope for ‘The Brady Bunch’

A struggling biology student in Southern California got a part-time gig writing jokes for Hope to earn extra money. Sherwood Schwartz would later go on to create Gilligan’s Island and The Brady Bunch. Schwartz described his rise in Hollywood as an accident his whole life.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

 

6. He spent 48 Christmases with American troops overseas.

From 1941-1990, Hope spent most of his Christmases with U.S. troops rather than at his home in Toluca Lake, California. His daughter Linda described Christmas at the Hope house:

Dad was gone. Holidays for the Hope kids took on a new meaning.
“I remember saying, ‘Why does Dad always have to be away? All these other families have their dads home for Christmas,” Linda said. But she is quick to add that Mom would put it in proper perspective for her.
“She said, ‘No, not all have them are home for Christmas. Think of boys and girls who don’t have their dads for years and years because they are serving overseas. Remember the boys and girls whose fathers may never come back.'”

7. Bob Hope played golf with Tiger Woods.

When Tiger was two years old, he squared off against Hope on The Mike Douglas Show in a putting contest in 1978. Actor Jimmy Stewart was looking on.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
MIGHTY TACTICAL

The 10 most ridiculously awesome artillery weapons ever used

The king of battle, in all its thunderous glory, has struck fear into the hearts of enemies for centuries. Throughout the history of warfare, different varieties of artillery weapons have been used on battlefields to great effect and have ranged from ancient and medieval siege weapons to railway guns, naval artillery, and even atomic weapons.

But which artillery pieces stand out from their peers as the most ridiculous and the most awesome? We have a few suggestions.


How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

A 36-inch mortar in use by the US during World War II for test-firing bombs was later converted to be used as a siege mortar, but it was never used in combat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Little David

The Little David mortar has a name that can be deceiving because it is considered, along with the British Mallet’s Mortar, to be the largest-caliber gun ever made. As the United States prepared its battle plans to invade Japan during World War II, the US Army began a project to build a weapon capable of annihilating coastal and heavily fortified defenses. Little David had a 36-inch (914mm) caliber mortar and could fire 3,650 pound shells through a 22-foot muzzle at a distance of 6 miles.

Two artillery M26A1 tractors including the “Dragon Wagon” helped transport Little David to its required firing position. The behemoth mortar didn’t see combat action before Japan surrendered after two atomic bombs exploded over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, ending the war and the Little David mortar.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

Counterweight trebuchets at Château de Castelnaud. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Trebuchet

When one thinks of a medieval siege weapon, the trebuchet is at the top of the list. These compound machines use the mechanical leverage of a lever to launch 200-pound stones with a sling, which were capable of destroying the empire’s most prized fortifications. The ancient war machine was believed to be invented in China in 300 BC and was largely used by the French in Europe. These destructive weapons didn’t just hurl stones, darts, or wooden stakes through the air. Casks of burning tar, dead animals, pots of Greek Fire, and disease-infested corpses were some of the other forms of damaging projectiles seen throughout history that made both a psychological and biological impact on the enemy.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

Reproductions of ancient Greek artillery, including catapults such as the polybolos (to the left in the foreground) and a large, early crossbow known as the gastraphetes (mounted on the wall in the background). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Ballista

A ballista was an ancient missile (bolts) and stone throwing weapon system that was effective against guards defending their castles or fortifications during large-scale sieges. The ballista arrived on the battlefield with the Greeks in the 4th century BC, and the Roman Empire evolved the machines to be highly capable against both troops and walls.

With an effective range of 300 meters, the iron-clad darts or sharpened wooden projectiles easily pierced body armor and impaled determined defenders, both killing their fight and psychologically damaging their morale. Procopius, a Byzantine Greek scholar, described how during the 6th century ballistas were sometimes placed in siege towers, which increased their lethality against defenses.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

Soldiers used the “Grasshopper Crossbow” while in the trenches during World War I before better advancements made them obsolete. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

L’Arbalète la Sauterelle Type A D’Imphy

Before French and British forces employed the 2-inch Medium Trench Mortar or the Stokes Mortar upon German infantry during World War I, the allies used a grenade-throwing crossbow with an effective range of 125 meters. Elie André Broca was a French artillery officer, doctor, science professor, and inventor who manufactured his weapon system under the name L’Arbalète la Sauterelle Type A D’Imphy, more commonly known as Sauterelle, or “The Grasshopper Crossbow.”

Hand grenades exposed the thrower to sniper fire and pot-shots from infantrymen, while the Grasshopper Crossbow enabled allied soldiers to launch French F1 hand grenades and British Mills bombs from behind the cover of their trenches. The crossbow weighed 64 pounds and required one to two operators to use a hand crank similar to how bolts are loaded on modern crossbows. An experienced operator could hurl four bombs per minute.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

The Davy Crockett required a three-man crew to operate and could be used in place of a turret on the back of a jeep. Photo courtesy of armyhistory.org.

M28/M29 Davy Crockett

Code named Little Feller I, presidential advisor and Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy sat surrounded by US Army generals and engineers while 396 spectators watched nearby as the smallest nuclear explosion ever recorded was detonated on July 17, 1962. Kennedy peered through his protective lenses as a dust cloud appeared after the nuclear detonation occurred 2.17 miles in the distance.

In the midst of the Cold War, the US military frequently tested new capabilities at the Nevada Test Site. One of these mechanisms was the M28/M39 Davy Crockett recoilless rifle weapon system. A three-man crew operated the weapon the same way a typical mortar crew would operate in the field, except instead of a mortar shell, the Davy Crockett fired a nuclear projectile carrying the W54 nuclear warhead, which had the explosive equivalent of 10 to 20 tons of TNT. The nuclear capability was carried by small teams on the ground while deployed to Europe and provided a nuclear security blanket in case war with the Soviet Union ever broke out.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

History’s first atomic artillery shell fired from the Army’s new 280mm artillery gun. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

M65 Atomic Cannon: “Atomic Annie”

The M65 Atomic Cannon, better known as “Atomic Annie,” was a towed artillery piece that fired the W-9 15-kiloton atomic 280mm Projectile T124. The 47-ton weapon system had a remarkably fast emplacement rate, taking only 12 minutes to ready and fire and 15 minutes to make ready for traveling to the next target. The maximum range of Atomic Annie was between 20 and 35 miles, and it was operational between 1953 and 1963. The only nuclear detonation occurred at the Nevada Proving Ground during Operation Upshot Knothole on May 25, 1953. The device traveled a distance of 7 miles and detonated 524 feet above the ground. The testing was captured on video for archival records. Atomic Annie was never used during combat operations.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

The rear 18-inch turret of HMS Furious. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

BL 18-inch Mk I naval gun

The largest and heaviest weapon ever used by the British was the BL 18-inch Mk I naval gun. The initial design was geared toward arming the HMS Furious to make it capable of providing naval support to smaller vessels in the Baltic Narrows during the invasion of Germany in World War I. However, the warship lacked defenses and was considered a liability rather than an asset. During test trials of the 18-inch/40 (45.7 cm) turret gun, the ship couldn’t handle the overpressure when the gun fired. In theory, having a large naval weapon was a necessity, but since it didn’t pass the required tests, the HMS Furious was converted into an aircraft carrier.

The Royal Navy recognized they had a capability but had no sure way to apply it. On Sept. 28, 1918, the HMS General Wolfe changed these perceptions when it fired on a railroad bridge at Snaaskerke at a distance of 36,000 yards — the longest range any Royal Navy vessel has ever engaged enemy personnel up to that point in history.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

Giant artillery shell that hit the Adria building on Aug. 18, 1944, during the Warsaw Uprising. Heavy shells like this were fired by siege weapons. Photo courtesy of SPWW1944.

Karl-Gerät

The Karl-Gerät was another siege weapon in the Nazi Germany inventory and was deemed the largest self-propelled gun in the history of warfare. The 273,374-pound super weapon could be moved across Europe during World War II through the use of European rail networks. When the weapon reached its destination, it was detached from its special transportation car and set up facing its target — usually a city or town. The Karl was used during the Battle of Sevastopol and along both the eastern and western fronts. It had its fair share of mechanical and technical problems but still crippled buildings in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Warsaw Uprising. The historic Battle of the Bulge might have turned out different if the Karl wasn’t strafed and damaged by allied aircraft orbiting above.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

The Dictator was used during the American Civil War. Photo courtesy of ironbrigader.com.

The Dictator

During the American Civil War, the Union built a makeshift railroad battery of their own that tipped the scales at 17,120 pounds. They called it the “Dictator,” and it was used during the 1864 Siege of Petersburg. The Dictator was secured on a reinforced railway car and could fire 200-pound shells at a 45-degree angle up to 4,235 yards.

“This 13 inch mortar was used principally against what was known as the ‘Chesterfield Battery,’ which from the left bank of [the] river, completely enfiladed our batteries on the right; all our direct fire seemed to have no effect,” according to a 1st Connecticut historian. “From this mortar was the only fire that seemed to hold the battery in check.”

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

Adolf Hitler, second from right, and Albert Speer, far right, in front of the 800mm Gustav railway gun in 1943. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Schwerer Gustav

The Nazi regime had several advanced weapons within its arsenal, and Adolf Hitler’s own Schwerer Gustav, a super weapon and railway gun, was the largest weapon ever built. The Nazis first used the cannon during the Battle of Sevastopol in 1942. The Schwerer Gustav required a crew of 2,000 people to operate and took four days of maintenance before the enormous railway gun could be used. More than 300 800mm shells decimated the Crimean city and, although it was originally created to destroy the Maginot Line — a defensive fortification deemed impregnable — the Schwerer Gustav was ultimately never needed after a successful Blitzkrieg campaign.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.


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Can helmets stop bullets? Watch to find out.

Early on in your military career, you learn that the equipment you’re issued is very cheaply made. The Kevlar helmets everyone gets are no exception. This invariably leads troops toward the same, common question: “Can this thing really stop a bullet?”

Dr. Matt Carriker, a veterinarian and YouTuber, had the same thought, and he decided to put the helmets to the test. Of course, the helmets our troops wear are thoroughly tested before being issued, but we have to wonder where they drew the line between cost efficiency and bulletproofing.

Now, we’ve all heard of cases where these helmets have saved lives of our troops in-country, so it’s safe to say that the protective gear can stop 7.62x39mm bullets, but what about other rounds? That’s exactly what Dr. Carriker decided to test.


 

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
It’s still a good idea to wear your PPE. (U.S. Marine Corps)
 

Demolition Ranch is a YouTube channel that is, if nothing else, known for putting our favorite firearms through insane tests to see how they perform. He’s even done a reliability test for a Hi-Point Model JCP. Now, if you know anything about firearms, then you know Hi-Point is notorious for their cheaply made firearms.

But he also does bulletproof tests to see how just about anything, including Legos, airplane windows, and even a solid bar of silver, stand up against firearms. In this test, he decided to examine how effective our standard issue helmets are at stopping rounds from lever-action rifles.

 

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
This Hi-Point was put through hell and, unsurprisingly, still functioned. (Demolition Ranch)

 

For the sake of thoroughness, Dr. Carriker uses an arsenal that spans of the gamut of calibers. His collection includes a .22 LR, .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Magnum, .30-30 Winchester, and, finally, a .45-70 Xtreme Penetrator. He starts small and steps up to see exactly what deals some damage.

 

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
Look at these beauties. (Demolition Ranch)

 

Of course, because this is Demolition Ranch we’re talking about, he eventually moves on to test his AK-47 and Barrett M107A1 .50 BMG against these helmets. Why? Because, America and science!

 

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
Rest in peace, helmets. (Demolition Ranch)

 

Now, just to be clear, we know these helmets aren’t designed to stop bullets entirely — they’re mostly designed to protect your brain from shrapnel and keep your skull from smacking against hard surfaces. Even if they’re not meant to bring bullet to a dead stop, wearing one is better than nothing, so be sure to put yours on and keep your watermelon intact!

Check out the video below to see helmets get put to the ultimate test!

 

Articles

Former Navy Commander: What the US should have built instead of the F-35

Lockheed Martin announced the F-35 program in 2001. Since then, hundreds of billions of dollars and 15 years of testing have brought the program to where it is today — on the verge of becoming the world’s premier fighter/bomber and the future of the US Air Force, Marines, and Navy.


But while the idea of launching a single, advanced, stealthy plane for all three service branches seemed good on paper, and ultimately won approval from US military planners at the highest level, it was never the only option.

Also read: The Pentagon wants a half-billion more dollars for the F-35

Former US Navy Commander and aviator Chris Harmer, also a senior naval analyst for the Middle East Security Project at the Institute for the Study of War, told Business Insider that the F-35 only really holds a single advantage over the Cold War-era legacy aircraft it’s set to replace — stealth.

“The F-35 is very capable in a very specific way. The only thing it does that legacy can’t do is stealth,” said Harmer.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
Lockheed Martin photo

Indeed the F-35’s low observability and integrated stealth design are central to the plane’s mission and tactics. Throughout its development, the F-35 notoriously lost to older legacy fighters in up-close dogfights. Combat-aviation expert Justin Bronk told Business Insider flat-out that the F-35 could “never in a million years” win a dogfight with an advanced Russian or British plane.

However, defense officials never planned for the F-35 to revolutionize dogfighting, but rather aerial combat as a whole. The F-35, nearly impossible for enemy aircraft to spot, can simply shoot down foes from long distance before they’re ever close enough to really dogfight.

But according to Harmer, who has spent much of his life around carrier-based aircraft, the F-35’s advantages begin and end with stealth. Harmer suggests that instead of building the F-35, the US simply should have updated existing aircraft, like the F-15, F-16, and F-18.

These platforms — proven, legacy aircraft — could easily be retrofit with the advanced avionics and helmet for targeting that set the F-35 apart.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
An air-to-air view of two F-15 Eagle aircraft armed with AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles. | McDonnell Douglas photo

“For a fraction of the cost for F-35 development, we could have updated legacy aircraft and gotten a significant portion of the F-35 capabilities.” said Harmer. The F-18 for example, has already undergone extensive reworkings, and the F-18 Super Hornet, which is 25% larger than the original F-18, has a smaller radar cross section than its predecessor and is one of the US’s cheaper planes to buy and operate.

However, an F-15, the Air Force’s best air-dominance fighter, with fifth-generation avionics and targeting capability, still lacks the integrated stealth design of an F-35. Stealth must be worked into the geometry of the plane and simply won’t do as an afterthought. In today’s contested battle spaces, a legacy fighter, no matter how you update it, still lights up brightly and clearly on an enemy radar and is therefore less survivable to the pilots — something US military planners have refused to accept.

“The only advantage of the F-35 is to go into highly contested airspace,” said Harmer, adding that the US has “literally never done that.” Additionally, the US already has another fifth-generation aircraft with an even better stealth in its inventory — the F-22. In fact, when the US does discuss operations in the world’s most contested airspaces, it’s the F-22 they talk about sending.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
The US already has a super-stealthy fighter — the F-22. | US Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Corey Hook

“There are other, less expensive ways to address highly contested airspace — cruise missiles, standoff weapons, radar jamming,” Harmer added.

But the F-35 ship has sailed. Despite a very troublesome development, the program is now at or very near readiness with all three branches.

“As a practical matter, the F-35 is a done deal; we’ve incurred the ‘sunk cost’ of the R D, and neither the USAF or USMC has any intentions of buying any more legacy airframes.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a daring mission behind enemy lines turned into a disaster for the US’s secretive Vietnam-era special operators

Two US Air Force Bell UH-1P helicopters from the 20th Special Operations Squadron fly into Cambodia, around 1970 US Air Force/Capt. Billie D Tedford

Fifty-four years ago, a group of American and indigenous commandos fought for their very lives in a small, far away valley in one of the boldest special operations missions of the Vietnam War.

Codenamed Oscar-8, the target was the forward headquarters of the North Vietnamese Army’s 559th Transportation Group and its commander, Gen. Vo Bam, located alongside the Ho Chi Minh trail complex, which ran from North Vietnam to South Vietnam and passed through Laos and Cambodia.

U.S. commanders had intelligence that Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, North Vietnam’s top general, was visiting the area. A plan was quickly hatched to kill or capture Giap. U.S. commanders gave the mission to a highly secretive special operations unit.

The secret warriors of a secret war

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
A Studies and Observations Group (SOG) team reconnoiters the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. (SOG)

Military Assistance Command Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a highly classified unit that conducted covert operations across the fence in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and North Vietnam.

Successive U.S. administrations claimed American troops didn’t operate outside of South Vietnam, so SOG was a tightly kept secret.

It was a standard operating procedure for any commandos who went across the border never to carry anything that could identify them as U.S. servicemembers. Their weapons didn’t have serial numbers, and their uniforms didn’t have names or ranks.

SOG was composed primarily of Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Reconnaissance Marines, and Air Commandos. They advised and led local forces, from South Vietnamese SEALs to Montagnard tribesmen who had lived there for hundreds of years.

During the Vietnam War, about 3.2 million service members deployed to Southeast Asia in combat or support roles. Of them, 20,000 were Green Berets, and out of those, only 2,000 served in SOG, with only 400 to 600 running recon and direct-action missions across the fence.

Although only the best served in SOG, luck and constant vigilance were necessary to survive. Many seasoned operators died because their luck ran out or because they became complacent.

A bold mission

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
A CH-46 helicopter prepares to pick up a load of supplies at Khe Sanh in South Vietnam, February 22, 1968. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

Oscar-8 was a bowl-shaped area in Laos, only about 11 miles from the U.S. Marine base at Khe Sahn in northern South Vietnam. The area was about 600 yards long and 2 miles wide and surrounded by thick jungle.

The mission was given to a “Hatchet Force,” a company-size element that specialized in large-scale raids and ambushes. It was composed of a few Special Forces operators and several dozen local Nung mercenary troops, totaling about 100 commandos.

Several B-52 Stratofortress bombers would work the target before the SOG commandos landed.

The Hatchet Force’s mission was to sweep the target area after the B-52 bombers had flattened it, do a battle damage assessment, kill any survivors and destroy any equipment, and capture or kill Giap. The plan was to insert at 7 a.m., one hour after the B-52 run, and be out by 3 p.m.

To support them, SOG headquarters put on standby several Air Force, Marine, and even Navy fixed- and rotary-wing squadrons.

All in all, there were three CH-46 Sea Knights helicopters to ferry in the Hatchet Force, four UH-1 Huey gunships for close air support, two A-1E Skyraider aircraft for close air support, four F-4C Phantom fighter jets for close air support, two H-34 choppers for combat search and rescue, and two forward observer aircraft to coordinate tactical air support.

Disaster at Oscar-8

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
A UH-1 Huey gunship flown by the Green Hornets in support of SOG missions. (Courtesy photo)

As the sun began rising, nine B-52 bombers dropped 945 unguided high-explosive bombs, more than 236 tons of munitions, on the North Vietnamese headquarters and the adjoining positions.

Minutes after the B-52s finishing refurbishing the area, a forward air controller flying overhead spotted North Vietnamese troops coming out of the jungle and putting out the fires.

The enemy numbers continued to swell, and it quickly became clear to the seasoned SOG operators who were coordinating the fight from above that the North Vietnamese had largely managed to escape the onslaught from above.

Sgt. Maj. Billy Waugh, a legendary Special Forces operator and later a CIA paramilitary officer, radioed headquarters and advised aborting the inbound Hatchet Force, which was due to touch down 15 minutes after the last B-52 bomber had bombed the target. He was too late.

The first two CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters full of men were shot down, as were two UH-1 Huey gunships that were providing close air support. An H-34 chopper attempting a rescue was also shot down.

The SOG force was immediately pinned down and had to take shelter in the bomb craters that pockmarked the area. Only the Hatchet Force’s firepower saved them from being overrun by the vastly numerically superior enemy.

Meanwhile, a pair of F-4 Phantom jets came in low to cover the survivors, but they also took heavy anti-aircraft fire, and one fighter was shot down, the pilot going down with his plane.

A pair of A-1E Skyraiders then came in to provide close air support, but they too received overwhelming anti-aircraft fire, and one of them crashed.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
A Green Hornet gunner firing on a target with an M134 mini-gun. (Courtesy photo)

There were about 45 SOG commandos taking cover inside two craters under heavy fire from the enemy on the ground. The American team leader requested napalm and cluster bombs to be dropped within 100 feet of their perimeter.

Meanwhile, another Hatchet Force was quickly assembled to act as a quick reaction force, while aircraft bound for North Vietnam on unrelated were redirected over Oscar-8 to keep the battered SOG commandos alive.

The North Vietnamese continued to fend off or shoot down any aircraft that tried to exfiltrate the SOG commandos, which prevented the quick-reaction force from inserting. But two days of concentrated air attacks against the NVA allowed the Hatchet Force to stay alive, and the commandos were eventually able to exfiltrate.

Twenty-three men from SOG and its supporting air units and about 50 of the indigenous fighters were wounded or killed, went missing, or were captured during the operation.

In addition, two CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters, one UH-1 gunship, one H-34 transport chopper, one F-4 Phantom jet, and one A-1E Skyraider were shot down.

During the fight, one seriously wounded American, Sgt. First Class Charles Wilklow, was captured by the North Vietnamese, who used him as bait for a rescue force for four days. Wilklow not only managed to survive his wounds but also escaped, getting picked up by a combat search and rescue chopper five days after the battle began.

Oscar-8 was a disaster for SOG. The Hatchet Force failed to achieve any of the mission’s goals, and if it weren’t for the sheer will and grit of the commandos and the aircrews, it would have been a lot worse.

Indeed, the operation highlights the dangers SOG operators faced on every mission. With the odds always against them, it’s miraculous that their successes outweighed their failures.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.

popular

This 80-year-old minuteman took on a column of British troops by himself

Every red-blooded American knows the story of the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” that was fired there. But shortly after, one of the most incredible stories of heroism in the entire war – maybe even American history – happened just a few miles away.


Samuel Whittemore served in the Queen Dragoons, dominating both the French and Indians during the French and Indian War and the earlier King George’s War. Born in England in 1695, he was still beating down Frenchmen at age 64. In the American west, he battled native warriors in the Indian Wars of 1763, fought after the French withdrawal.

When those wars ended, the battle-hardened dragoon officer decided to stay in the new land for which he fought so many times. Whittemore settled in the Massachusetts Colony, and like many there, soon came to believe in American Independence.

So when the shots started firing at Lexington and Concord in 1775, the old veteran was firmly for the American cause. From his home in Menotomy, Massachusetts, he watched a column of 1,400 British reinforcements make their way to the fighting. Then he heard two columns of British were retreating toward Menotomy – and they were burning homes along the way.

 

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
Pictured: How Redcoats win hearts and minds.

Whittemore, now 80 years old, grabbed all his weapons – dueling pistols, an old captured French cutlass, powder horn, musketballs, and rifle – in a Rambo-like Revolutionary War montage of potential destruction. He then marched out to a position overlooking the road from Lexington.

He stared down the 47th Regiment of Foot as other minutemen started to open up on the British troops. Whittemore waited until the Brits were directly in front of him, then took on the entire regiment, all by himself.

The patriot capped three Redcoats with his firearms at point blank range, but not having time to reload he drew his sword and started slashing at the oncoming bayonets instead. One soldier shot Whittemore in the face, finally bringing the old man down… and yet he still tried to get back up.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
It took a lot more than one Redcoat to bring him down. (Revolutionary War Archives)

 

Redcoats swarmed the minuteman. A swift buttstroke and multiple bayonet stabs convinced them the old man was dead and the British continued on, leaving Whittemore bleeding in the road. Their fight through Menotomy cost them 40 dead and 80 wounded. When the smoke cleared, the townspeople went to collect Whittemore’s body.

What they found was the old veteran reloading his musket, getting ready to go again. They carried him to a local tavern where doctors were tending to the wounded. Believing the old dragoon captain suffered mortal wounds, doctors didn’t tend them, they had him sent home to die with his family.

Except he didn’t die then, either. Death was afraid to come for Samuel Whittemore for another 18 years. He died at age 98 in February 1793, the oldest colonial Revolutionary War combatant and recipient of the best memorial marker of all time.

 

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
The Whittemore marker in Arlington, Mass.

Articles

Medal of Honor recipient and former POW dies at 85

Air Force Col. Leo K. Thorsness, an F-105 pilot awarded the Medal of Honor for multiple feats of bravery in an aerial engagement who was later shot down and held as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton for six years, died May 2 at the age of 85.


His death was announced by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, which did not disclose the cause of death.

Thorsness was deployed to Vietnam as a Wild Weasel, an aircrew that deliberately baited enemy missile and radar sites with their own jets. Once the site gave itself away by tracking the American plane or firing on it, the Weasels or accompanying aircraft would bomb the site.

Thorsness was leading a flight of four F-105s on April 19, 1967, when the dangerous mission went sideways. Thorsness and his electronic warfare operator had taken out two sites when another member of the flight was hit by an enemy missile.

The two-man crew was able to eject, but the pair was descending into hostile territory. Thorsness flew circles so that he could pinpoint where they landed to facilitate a rescue, but spotted an enemy MiG as he maneuvered.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
Then-Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, at left, poses with his electronic warfare operator, Capt. Harold Johnson, next to their F-105 Fighter-Bomber. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Rescue crews were en route and Thorsness quickly attacked and killed the first MiG before flying to the tanker for fuel. Immediately after he refueled, he heard that the helicopter crews attempting the rescue were being threatened by a flight of four MiGs, and Thorsness flew through enemy anti-aircraft fire to reach the fight.

Thorsness and his EWO were on their own when they initiated the attack against the four MiGs. Thorsness quickly downed one and engaged the other three in aerial combat for 50 minutes, outnumbered and low on ammo but flying fiercely enough to drive them off.

Once again low on fuel, Thorsness headed back to the tanker but learned that another plane was lower than his. He gave up his fueling spot to allow the other to dock and so ran out of gas, forcing him to glide his aircraft back to friendly lines.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I
Then-Maj. Leo K. Thorsness, second from left, stands with other Wild Weasels. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Only 11 days later, Thorsness and his EWO were shot down during a mission and became prisoners of the Hanoi Hilton. Thorsness was kept for years with another famous POW, Arizona Senator John McCain, a Navy pilot at the time.

Thorsness spent six years in the prison, three of them under nearly constant and brutal torture before international pressure relieved the conditions somewhat. His Medal of Honor was approved during that time, but it wasn’t announced until after his 1973 release for fear that the North Vietnamese would torture him worse if they knew about the medal.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

SEAL boss to depart after 2 years; officials say there’s no indication he was forced out

The Navy admiral who has led the service’s most elite special operators during a string of high-profile scandals will leave his post in September, Military.com has confirmed.


Rear Adm. Collin Green will wrap up his term as head of Naval Special Warfare Command after two years in the position. The move, first reported by The Intercept last weekend, follows several high-profile controversies involving the command that, in part, prompted a full review of U.S. Special Operations Command’s ethics and culture.

A Navy official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the flag officer’s move, said “there is no indication he has been asked to leave early.”

“He’s leaving at the two-year point, which is a normal command tour,” the official said. “It’s premature to say he’s retiring.”

It’s not immediately clear in what position Green would serve next or who would replace him. The Intercept reported that Rear Adm. H. Wyman Howard III, a Naval Academy grad serving as head of Special Operations Command Central, will be nominated to replace Green.

Howard previously served as a commander with SEAL Team 6, which carries out some of the military’s most covert missions. The Intercept reported in 2017 that Howard gave his operators hand-made hatchets and told them ahead of missions and deployments to “bloody the hatchet.”

Green has led the Navy SEALs since September 2017 after assuming command from Rear Adm. Tim Szymanski, who spent two years in the position. Of the last four flag officers who led the command, three left after two years.

Szymanski’s predecessor, Rear Adm. Brian Losey, led the command for more than three years.

The Intercept reported that Green’s tour had been set to last three years, but “the stress from his reform efforts, as well as personal issues, have taken a toll.”

Green sent a letter to his commanders in July telling them “we have a problem,” and ordering leaders to help restore discipline in the ranks. The two-star followed it up the next month with a memo to the force announcing a return to routine inspections, discipline trackers, and strict enforcement of all Navy grooming and uniform standards.

The four-page memo said the problems in the command would be met with “urgent, effective and active leadership.”

“This drift ends now,” Green wrote.

The Navy SEALs have made headlines over murder charges, allegations of rape and drinking in the war zone, and lengthy legal battles.

Some of those incidents caught the attention of President Donald Trump, who at one point ordered Green’s command to “Get back to business!” after the admiral considered stripping a former SEAL of his coveted trident pin.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

An Army astronaut may be first prosecuted for space crime

The legal community is getting geared up for what might be the first trial involving criminal activity in space as a decorated Army officer and astronaut faces accusations of identity theft after she accessed a bank account belonging to her former spouse while on the International Space Station. If formal charges are filed, it would be the first prosecution of a space crime.

(Yeah, we were hoping that the first space crime would include theft of a rocket or mounting a laser on the Moon, too. But this is the world we live in.)


The World’s First Space Crime? IN SPACE! (Real Law Review)

www.youtube.com

First, a quick rundown of the facts: Lt. Col. Anne McClain acknowledges that she used the login credentials of her former spouse, fellow Army veteran Summer Worden, to access their shared finances from the ISS. Technically, that act could constitute identity theft, but McClain says her actions were a continuation of how the couple managed finances while married.

The two women are going through a divorce that also includes a contentious custody dispute.

You may know McClain’s name from the planned all-female spacewalk in March 2019 that was canceled because there was only one spacesuit that would fit the two women scheduled for the spacewalk. Fellow astronaut Nick Hague took McClain’s place on the spacewalk, and Saturday Night Live did a fake interview with McClain the same week.

When it comes to the law that pertains to McClain in space, it does get a little murky. According to attorney Devin Stone, a practicing lawyer who runs the YouTube channel LegalEagle took a look at what laws could be brought to bear on McClain if it’s deemed that she committed a crime.

Well, for that, Stone points to the Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies of 1967. (It’s more commonly known as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967.)

Article VI of that treaty says that governments are responsible for ensuring that all activities undertaken by their representatives or nationals conform to the rules of the treaty. The treaty also charges national bodies with creating the laws necessary for controlling their nationals’ conduct in space.

And Article VIII of the same treaty says that each state that is a party to the treaty will retain jurisdiction and control of any object that state launches into space as well as any personnel it sends into space.

How Western Union helped the US enter World War I

(NASA/Roscosmos)

And, as Stone points out in the video above, the ISS is controlled by another agreement signed in 1998 that further defines criminal jurisdiction aboard the ISS. Basically, Article 22 of that agreement states that any governments that are part of the ISS program retain criminal jurisdiction of their nationals while that national is aboard the ISS.

So, those articles together mean that McClain was subject to all applicable U.S. laws while in orbit. And presenting the digital credentials of another person in order to gain access to their financial information is identity theft.

If a U.S. attorney brings charges against McClain, it would be under Title 18 U.S. Code § 1028 Fraud and related activity in connection with identification documents, authentication features, and information. The maximum punishment for a single offense under that law is 30 years, but McClain’s actions, as reported in the press, would constitute a relatively minor offense under the code.

If McClain did not remove any money and only presented one set of false identifying documents—if she just logged in with Worden’s username and password, but didn’t create a false signature or present other false credentials—then the maximum punishment for each false login would be five years imprisonment.

And even then, the law allows for judges to assign a lower sentence, especially if there are mitigating factors or if the defendant has no prior criminal history.

But there are still some potential hiccups in a potential prosecution of McClain. As Stone discusses in his video, a murder investigation in Antartica was derailed after competing investigations and jurisdictional claims prevented a proper inquiry into the crime. The rules governing space jurisdiction has a strong parallel in the treaties and laws governing conduct in Antartic research stations.

Hopefully, for McClain and the Army’s reputation, no charges are filed. But if charges are filed, someone gets to become the first space lawyer to argue a space crime in space court. (Okay, it would just be normal federal court, but still.)

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Watch this cockpit footage of an A-10 flying over Miami Beach

Filmed on May 26, 2018, the following footage shows Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Mike Schriever, a pilot in the 303rd Fighter Squadron, flying an A-10 Thunderbolt II alongside his wingman, Air Force 1st Lieutenant Tanner Rindels, over Miami Beach, Florida during the 2nd annual Salute to American Heroes Air and Sea Show, a two-day event showcases military fighter jets and other aircraft and equipment from all branches of the United States military in observance of Memorial Day.

The clip shows the two A-10s maneuvering close to an HC-130 “King” involved in a HAAR (Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling) mission with two HH-60G Pave Hawks from the 920th Rescue Wing at Patrick Air Force Base in Cocoa Beach, Florida.


Dubbed Warthog, Hog or just Hawg, the A-10 Thunderbolt II, the “airplane built around the GAU-8 Avenger 30-mm hydraulically driven seven-barrel Gatling-type cannon” to fight the Soviet tanks in the European battlefields during the Cold War, is considered one of the most durable and lethal combat plane in the CAS (Close Air Support) mission. Interestingly, on May 25, 2018, the day before the video was shot, the U.S. Air Force released the official request for proposals for an A-10 Thunderbolt Advanced-Wing Continuation Kit (“ATTACK”) program under which it could buy as many as 112 sets of new wings for the service’s remaining, so-called “thin wing” A-10 Warthog attack aircraft.

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