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MIGHTY HISTORY

WATCH: What’s it like inside the War College in Pennsylvania?

Located in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, the US Army War College began in response to the many military failures that occurred throughout the Spanish-American War. It was established on November 27, 1901, by the Secretary of War, Elihu Root, to provide more effective training for officers. Root also established the Army General Staff. Their job was to train all who enlisted to eventually become members of the Army General Staff themselves. 

The Army General Staff’s other roles were perhaps even more important. They included advising the President of the United States, providing intellectual direction to the Army, devising plans and acquiring information. 

Advanced military training is serious business

The War College’s first class graduated six captains and three majors of the Army and Marine Corps on November 1, 1904. It was the first advanced educational training provided outside of West Point. These officers studied current military issues. They also took a deep dive into more complex topics like military science, national defense and command philosophy. Unlike other study tracks, this was hands-on, since most of what they learned was of direct interest to the General Staff.

Shifting goals for a shifting world

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A student training for the ACFT 3.0, a revised and updated program with a more inclusive scoring assessment. (The Army War College, Facebook)

After its first several years, some big changes occurred at the Army War College. First, the General Staff officially parted ways with the Army War College when the National Defense Act passed in 1916. Then, with World War I going on, the college closed its door for two years. When it reopened in the fall of 1919, its goals had shifted quite a bit. 

Instead of specific training to become members of the General Staff, the Army War College was now a place to engage in the academic study of war. Its curriculum shifted to things like responsible command, the impact of political, economic and social factors on national defense, and history. It was a truly great educational system — one which produced distinguished graduates such as Generals Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton and Omar Bradley. 

To stay ahead of the pack, you have to evolve

The Army War College had to close its doors again in the 1940s during World War II. It reopened in 1950, once again with a lot of changes. This time, it was imperative to address the Army’s need for more officers with advanced education. Also, the college relocated for a year to Fort Leavenworth. However, in 1951, it went back to Carlisle, though this time at Carlisle Barracks. Its new curriculum began focusing on what went wrong during World War II as well as understanding the more complex environment of the Cold War. 

It wasn’t until the 1990s and the rise of the information revolution that the Army War College once again evolved. This new age meant different kinds of war strategies, thus transforming the military school from preparing officers to become Army staff to a full-on graduate school providing Master’s degrees in Strategic Studies. 

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Resident student Army Lt. Col. Elizabeth Martin is promoted to Col. by U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Harry Harris with the help of her husband Col. Aaron Martin. (US Army War College, Facebook)

This is the state of the Army War College today. It provides a highly advanced two-year Master’s program that prepares students to become senior-level leaders in the military and U.S. government. And as the world keeps changing, there’s no doubt the Army War College will keep changing with it.

Related: This legendary triple ace wrote an amazing letter on modern Air Force leadership

MIGHTY HISTORY

America is still obsessed with its ex-girlfriends

Britain isn’t our only “special relationship.” The United States has had many passionate affairs over the years. Just like in a real relationship, when things are good, they’re really good — even when the U.S. isn’t such a great partner when it comes to things like human rights.


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When the relationship goes bad, no one is more outraged than the United States. Nobody holds a grudge quite like the American government. But instead of moving on and just finding a new boo, we keep sneaking away to spend time with our exes, dropping by in the middle of the night and badmouthing them to everyone else while telling Israel and Palestine how to manage their divorce.

I guess it all depends on how you define “special.”

Russia

This is the one partner we just can’t say goodbye to. It’s been so long since the breakup that there aren’t any Americans left who remember just how good our relations with Russia really were. Russia traded with the colonies during the Revolution, kept the British out of the U.S. Civil War, and even sold us Alaska. Then one day, Russia just… changed.

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We didn’t recognize Russia anymore. Suddenly, Russia wanted to be called the “Soviet Union” and our love faded. After a brief spat (aka “invasion”), we sat back and watched our friend deteriorate on a drug called “Communism” until rival drug dealers (trying to push something called “fascism”) tried to kill them. Like some geopolitical Buford Pusser, we stopped rolling with the punches and began to clean up this town. But all we did was clear out the competition. Soon, other friends got hooked on the Communism and our friendship with Russia broke down.

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This could only be more American if the Rock was wearing an Old Navy flag tee.

We then threatened to kill each other every day for 40 years. Obsessively, we made movies, television shows, and books about how awful our rival could be. Like a Danzig song, we opined about how one day we would emerge victorious against the devil woman, the evil empire that broke our hearts.

Every time Russia tried to reach out to others, go to work, or invade Afghanistan, we were there telling everyone how awful they are — or cutting their brake lines. Our public shouting matches got so bad that people either chose sides or walked away from both of us.

One day, Russia just quit the habit. Russia started coming around again and things were looking good. Russia was Russia again. But then Russia found a new man.

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Mr. Steal Your Girl.

Iran

If Russia was our longest breakup, Iran was our most tumultuous. Just a scant few decades after we split with Russia, we found new love with their beautiful, exotic, oil-rich neighbor down the way. The Shah wasn’t the best ruler, but he was smarter than the Tsar. Iran, with its beautiful dark hair, secular government, and vast oil wealth, was more than just a rebound. It was a partner – it shared our love for champagne, defense contracts, and it even liked our friend, Israel.

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And Iran didn’t even mind that we spied on our ex from its house.

Then it happened. One day everything was beautiful and the next thing you know, Iran’s taking hostages. We haven’t forgotten for a single moment. And as much as we publicly berated its behavior, just a few years after the breakup, we were right back in bed together, trading arms for hostages.

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TFW you get caught sleeping with your ex.

Now we’re constantly threatening to come back and kill it. In return, Iran hassles all our friends and undermines us to our allies… but we’re still not afraid to hop back into bed once in a while. For old times’ sake.

Cuba

Our love for Cuba is almost as old as our country itself. Cuba is our first love. We practically grew up together. We even wanted to marry Cuba for the longest time — and when that didn’t work out, we were still very close. Cuba is the girl next door. Then one day, Cuba fell in love with our other ex.

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A blatant violation of bro code.

The next thing you know, Cuba has a gun to our head and we’re locked in a love triangle that nearly destroyed the entire planet.

Nowadays, Cuba is still in love with our ex and we resent them for it, even if the two aren’t together anymore. Cuba is constantly talking trash about us in our own neighborhood. Although we almost buried the hatchet a couple of years ago, those old feelings bring out the mistrust in us and we end up right back to where we started.

France

File this one under “frenemies.” No one took care of us like France did. We even named our favorite drink after the French. But as hot and heavy as the love was during the days of the Revolution, things quickly soured. France started getting pushy and domineering and, fresh from our break up with England, we just weren’t ready to get back into something so fast.

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But we never forget our anniversary.

So, instead of taking on the rest of the world together, we opted to just be friends… friends who constantly criticize each other to everyone else. But then France got in over its head a few times and we had to come help them out – and we never let them forget about it.

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We still have feelings for each other.

Sure, we’re demanding, but France is too independent, just like us after the American Revolution. And every time France opts not to go to war alongside the U.S., we get upset and brand them cowards and cheese-eating surrender monkeys.

Vietnam

They were our darling for such a short time. A sort-of rebound from our days with Russia, Vietnam was fighting the addiction to Communism that consumed so many of our friends. We tried to help Vietnam get off the stuff, but to no avail. It was a terrible breakup, one that Americans still can’t forget.

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Memories.

The U.S. spent the next few decades struggling with the memories of Vietnam and what happened between us. We couldn’t forget her and we soon began making movies, television, books, and music about Vietnam. We constantly looked in to see what Vietnam was doing, but it was still hooked on the Communism.

And we were so close.

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Related: Why the US Navy is going to Vietnam for the first time since 1975

Now that a few years have passed, we just dropped in. We just happened to be in the neighborhood and we thought about Vietnam — we wanted to say hi, share some memories, and maybe see what Vietnam was up to these days.

Give us a call. Keep in touch. You look so good. I’m happy we did this.

Afghanistan

It’s pretty much over between us and Afghanistan.

 

 

Coming Soon:

United Kingdom

Iraq

Saudi Arabia

Taiwan

NATO

Literally all of Africa

Not Israel

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 times the Army destroyed Japanese troops in the Pacific

The general narrative of World War II credits the Marines and Navy for the victory in the Pacific and the Army and U.S. Army Air Corps for victory in Europe. In reality, there are actually a few Marine veterans of fighting in Europe and a massive number of Army veterans who fought in the Pacific.

Here are six times that U.S. soldiers took the fight to the Japanese and and laid waste.


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U.S. Army artillerymen fire a 155mm rifled field gun on Guadalcanal on Dec. 7, 1942.

(U.S. Marine Corps)

1. Battle of Guadalcanal

Yes, that Battle of Guadalcanal. In fact, Army forces on the island actually outnumbered Marine forces. Each branch had two divisions on the ground, but the Army had an additional regiment. The 1st Marine Division made the initial landings on August 7, 1942, but Army troops were pouring onto the island by October.

It was Army troops who first received the “Banzai” attacks against Henderson Field in late October, holding the Japanese back despite armor, artillery, air, and naval support pitted against the U.S. troops. On November 4, the soldiers took part in pushing 1,500 Japanese troops against the sea.

In December, the 1st Marine Division pulled out, and an Army general took over command on the island. He sent his forces against the Japanese headquarters on Mount Austen and it was Army soldiers who fought from mid-December to January 2 to find and destroy that headquarters. In the following months, it was predominantly Army troops who eradicated Japanese opposition on the island, fighting which resulted in three Army Medals of Honor.

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The 32nd Infantry Division, a National Guard unit made up of soldiers from Michigan and Wisconsin, fought side-by-side with Australian forces to take key positions on Papua, New Guinea from November 1942 to January 2, 1943.

(U.S. Army National Guard illustration by Michael Gnatek)

2. Papuan Campaign

As the Battle of Guadalcanal raged, U.S. and Australian Army units led the fight in Papua, New Guinea, against Japanese forces there. As with Guadalcanal, a key strategic objective was the island’s airfield, but this time, the Japanese were on the attack and the Allies on defense. Unfortunately for the Japanese, their losses to the U.S. Navy at the Battle of the Coral Sea and Midway forced them to attack overland through treacherous mountain passes.

The combined force pushed Japanese foes back and then went on the offensive, attacking at Milne Bay and across the Japanese lines in late August, forcing them into general retreat on September 4. The Army launched a clearance operation on October 4, resupplying units by air as they pushed deeper into formerly Japanese territory. The final Japanese forces proved stubborn, and the Army was forced to fight desperately to take each bunker.

Finally, from mid-December the mid-January, Allied forces led by U.S. Army units brought in fresh tanks and troops, and they launched an innovative combined-arms campaign to break the Japanese backs. In one section where tanks couldn’t operate, two Army infantrymen earned posthumous Medals of Honor for heroism while clearing Japanese positions. The last resistance fell by January 22.

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The second battalion of U.S. paratroopers is dropped near Nadzab, New Guinea, Sept. 5, 1943.

(U.S. Army)

3. Capture of Nadzab, New Guinea

While Australian troops did the bulk of the fighting on New Guinea and western New Britain in 1943, U.S. Army paratroopers were tapped to take a key airfield in the city of Nadzab on September 5, 1943.

This was the first American airborne operation of the Pacific. Army Air Corps bombers strafed the drop zones and dropped fragmentation bombs before the paratroopers jumped into a well-timed smokescreen. From there, the paratroopers fought all day, receiving resupply from the air and assaulting one Japanese position after another.

It worked. Australian forces were able to use the airfield for their own operations the very next day, and it was grown into a major air base that supported Australian operations for the rest of the war.

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U.S. Army troops navigate the mountains of Attu Island in Alaska in May, 1943.

(Australian Army)

4. Aleutian Campaign

In June, 1942, Japanese forces took two of the Aleutian Islands that are part of Alaska. While their forces lacked the numbers to truly threaten Alaska proper, they were still a problem as they threatened U.S. cities and raided trade and supply routes.

Army soldiers assaulted the beaches on Attu on May 11, 1943, with air and naval support. Despite desperate Japanese defenses, the island fell in a matter of weeks with nearly every Japanese soldier killed by May 30.

On August 15, the Army launched an even larger landing with Canadian support on the island of Kiska, but the Japanese forces had withdrawn in thick fog before the allies arrived. This Japanese withdrawal opened a northern route to attack towards the Japanese home islands, forcing Japan to send some forces north, away from where soldiers and Marines were killing them on other fronts.

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U.S. Army soldiers fight at Bougainville in the Pacific Theater of World War II, Feb. 29, 1943.

(U.S. Army)

5. Island hopping towards The Philippines

During the island hopping campaign back across the Pacific in 1944, the Army actually played a huge role. The Army almost single-handedly took three beaches simultaneously on April 22 on New Guinea, capturing key airfields there within days. On May 18, they took Wakde Island and its airfield. Nine days later, they hit Biak Island, a fierce fight that continued until August 20 as the Japanese repeatedly reinforced the island.

These island assaults also tied up Japanese naval assets, reducing the pressure on Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz’s forces until Japan decided to protect the Marianas at all costs, withdrawing their fleet from fighting Army units ashore and sending it North to the Mariana Islands where the Navy achieved one of its greatest victories at the Battle of the Philippine Sea.

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U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division soldiers at Baleta Pass on Luzon Island in the Philippines in 1945.

(U.S. Army)

6. Recapturing The Philippines

On October 20, 1944, the Army landed four divisions at once in an effort to retake Leyte, one of the major islands in the Philippines. The Army’s efforts were mostly aimed at retaking the Philippines, but it was hoped that, as the Army put pressure on Imperial Japanese land forces, it would force the Japanese Navy into another decisive engagement which Nimitz would, hopefully, win.

What resulted was a fierce land and sea battle October 23 to 26, during which Army forces were fighting bitterly for every yard of ground with limited naval support as the fleets fought each other tooth and nail. It was touch and go for a bit, but the U.S. was eventually victorious on land and at sea, liberating the Philippines and effectively eradicating the bulk of remaining Japanese naval forces.

After this large offensive, the Army took part in the capture of the Ryukyu Islands, including Okinawa, but it was predominantly a Marine show. The Army was slated for a huge role during the invasion of the Japanese home islands, but the surrender of Japan following the dropping of two atomic bombs and the entrance of Russia into the Pacific Theater ended the war and the necessity of another amphibious assault.

popular

The first US casualty of the Gulf War was a downed pilot

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Scott Speicher was flying his F/A-18 Hornet 100 miles west of Baghdad on Jan. 17, 1991. It was just minutes into the first night of Operation Desert Storm, the U.S.-led coalition’s offensive to expel the Iraqi Army from Kuwait. Speicher’s plane was shot down that night – but by what?

He was the first American combat casualty in the war.


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Speicher was listed as missing in action, presumed taken prisoner by the Iraqi Army, after being briefly listed as killed. The Pentagon didn’t actually know. The military didn’t even really know how Speicher’s Hornet had been taken down. The Navy’s initial conclusion was that Speicher was taken down by a land-based surface-to-air missile and maintained that throughout the next decade. But other American pilots operating in the area that night reported the presence of an Iraqi MiG-25.

That Foxbat’s pilot was Lt. Zuhair Dawoud, who managed to evade a large formation of attacking American planes, singling out Speicher’s Hornet and firing a R-40D missile that exploded directly beneath Speicher’s cockpit. With the plane shredded, Speicher bailed out as Dawoud turned to find another target. Speicher did not survive long.

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3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines patrol the Haditha Triad in Iraq’s Anbar Province. It was the 3/3 Marines who found Speicher’s remains.

 

The pilots in the air that night knew Speicher was taken down by the MiG-25 Foxbat. His aircraft crashed 48 miles south of Qadessiya, where the wreckage remained. According to “War Is Boring,” the Hornet’s digital recorder was recovered from Iraq in 1995 and confirmed the missile hit. The CIA would not confirm Speicher’s death until 2001, and even then his body had still not been recovered.

Even after the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, the U.S. military was not able to determine Speicher’s fate. Eventually, they found that he was never captured by the Iraqis but rather was buried by Bedouins who found his body after the shootdown. Marines occupying Anbar Province in 2008 found his remains and sent them back to the U.S. They were positively identified by his jawbone.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The worst single-day loss for the 101st Airborne was a plane crash in Canada

Arrow Air Lines flight 1285 was carrying 248 members of the unit back home to Fort Campbell from Egypt when it suddenly crashed after a layover in Canada.

There were no survivors from the Screaming Eagles or from the flight crew. The Canadian Aviation Safety Board would also become a casualty of the accident.


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Wreckage from an Arrow Air DC-8 commercial aircraft is stored in a Gander Airport hangar for analysis by members of the Canadian Air Safety Board. (Wikimedia Commons)

And the crash was ruled an accident. The flight was chartered by the U.S. government to take members of the 101st back to their home base of Fort Campbell, Kentucky after a six-month deployment as part of a multinational peacekeeping force in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The plane would make two stops before landing in Kentucky, the West German capital of Bonn and Canada’s Gander Airfield in the province of Newfoundland.

It had no issues taking off from both Cairo and Bonn, but shortly after its takeoff at Gander airfield, the plane had trouble getting aloft. The plane began to rapidly descend, hitting trees and breaking up until it smashed into an empty building. Full of jet fuel, the plane exploded.

There were no survivors. It remains the deadliest plane crash in Canadian history and the Army’s single deadliest peacetime crash.

When the Canadian Aviation Safety Board (CASB) investigated, they found the pilots had not asked for the plane to be de-iced, even though icy conditions existed and the wings could have been iced over.

“… shortly after lift-off, the aircraft experienced an increase in drag and reduction in lift which resulted in a stall at low altitude from which recovery was not possible. The most probable cause of the stall was determined to be ice contamination on the leading edge and upper surface of the wing.”

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Mourners looks on as members of the 101st Airborne Division carry a casket containing the remains of members of the 3rd Bn., 502nd Inf., 101st Airborne Div., into a hangar for a memorial service. (Wikimedia Commons)

At least, that was the majority opinion of the CASB. Four dissenting members of the board announced their own conclusion that there was no evidence of ice on the wings. They also cited witness reports of glowing red and/or exploding pieces of the fuselage during the takeoff attempt. Combined with other evidence they say ice can’t explain, they were apt to believe the cause was a terrorist attack.

To make matters worse, the terror group Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for the crash as a terror attack that same day. American and Canadian intelligence agencies denied their claim as an attempt to bolster recruiting numbers. At least one member of the CASB maintains it was a terror attack caused by an onboard explosive.

The two opinions of the CASB satisfied no one, especially the government of Canada, who liquidated the agency and replaced it with a new agency, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

In reality, the crash was caused by numerous factors, and terrorists were not one of those factors. The first is that ice could have been present on the plane, but went unnoticed by both pilots and ground crew. This kind of thin but significant ice would later cause another crash in 1989, that of Air Ontario flight 1363. That crash led to a change in Canada’s deicing procedures.

Another cause was human error. The pilots did not check the functionality of the cockpit voice recorder, so not much is known about what was going on in the cockpit prior to the crash, but officials believed the pilots may have misjudged how heavy the plane was, due to the amount of material each soldier carried aboard.

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US Army Lieutenant Colonel Sidney McMannis (Obscured) and Command Sergeant Major Raymond Rodriquez (Foreground) place a wreath on the memorial for Task Force 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division Soldiers. (Wikimedia Commons)

While not the only determining factor, combined with other possibilities, the misjudged weight would be more than enough to keep the plane from achieving proper lift, and thus causing it to crash.

Today there are memorials to the men and women who died in the Gander plane crash, both at the crash site in Newfoundland and on Fort Campbell.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s how World War II pilots flew the famous C-47 Skytrain

The C-47 Skytrain is arguably one of the greatest planes of all time. When you look at the complete picture surrounding this aircraft — how many were built, how many still fly, and the effect they had on a war — one could argue that the C-47 is the best transport ever built (not to slight other fantastic planes, like the C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster III, and the C-5 Galaxy).

But what’s a plane without a pilot? For every C-47 built, the US needed an able aviator — and there were many built. So, the US developed a massive pipeline to continually train pilots and keep those birds flying.

It make look like a docile floater from afar, but flying a C-47 is a lot harder than you might think. Sure, you’re not pulling Gs and trying to blow away some Nazi in a dogfight. In fact, by comparison, flying materiel from point A to point B looks simple, but cargo planes have their own problems that make piloting them very hard work.

And by very hard work, we mean if you screw up, you’ll crash and burn.


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C-47s performing a simple job — easy flying, right? Wrong. There was a lot that pilots had to keep in mind.

(U.S. Air Force)

Why is that? Well, the big reason is because transport planes haul cargo, which comes with its own hazards. When you load up a plane, it affects the center of gravity and, if the load shifts, the plane can end up in a very bad situation.

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This is what happens when it goes wrong – this particular C-47 was hit by flak, but you could crash and burn from shifting cargo or just by messing up.

(Imperial War Museum)

The United States Army Air Force used films to give the thousands of trainees the information needed to fly the over 8,000 C-47s produced by Douglas — and this number doesn’t include at least 5,000 built by the Soviet Union under license.

Learn how to handle operations in the cockpit of a C-47 by watching the video below!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mln9T6OW3A4

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

These were the daring WWII female pilots known as the ‘Night Witches’

Throughout the 1930s pilots around the world were continually trying to push the limits of anything that had been done before in the air. While the likes of Charles Lindbergh and Amelia Earhart are more familiar names in the Western World, the Soviets had their own equivalents such as Mikhail Gromov who, in 1937 along with his two man crew, managed to break the world distance record for non-stop flight, flying 6,306 miles from Moscow to California via a rather dangerous North Pole route. Hailed as heroes upon their return, Premier Joseph Stalin decided the Soviet Union should follow this up in 1938 by having a group of women pilots attempt to set the distance record for non-stop flight for a female crew. The selected trio, who each already held one or more world records for female aviators, were Polina Osipenko, Valentina Grizodubova, and Marina Raskova.


And so it was that on Sept. 24, 1938 the three ladies took off from an airfield in Shchcyolkovo near Moscow, in a Tupolev ANT-37, which normally had a range of about 5,000 km or 3,100 miles. Their destination was Komsomolsk-on-Amur over 3600 miles away. Unfortunately for them almost immediately upon departing they encountered a number of issues including a thick layer of clouds and icing conditions which forced them to climb above said clouds, in the process losing all sight of the ground for the duration. Not long after this, their radio stopped working. Without a clear view of the ground for almost the entire flight, Raskova used the stars, a compass, and their airspeed to roughly determine their position as they flew. When the clouds finally broke, they found themselves flying over Tugur Bay in the Sea of Okhotsk, about 500 km or 300 miles directly north of their intended destination.

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1938 photo of Marina Raskova.

(Public Domain)

Low on fuel, they desperately attempted to find an alternate place to land, but the engines died first. With some form of a crash landing inevitable and a navigator no longer having anything to do, Grizodubova ordered Raskova to parachute out of the plane from about 6,500 feet with the hope that it would increase her odds of survival. Of course, decreasing her odds slightly, she chose to leave her emergency survival kit for the other two women, reportedly only taking two chocolate bars with her for rations to trek through Siberia with. When Raskova safely hit the ground, she noted the direction the plane was gliding and began hiking after it.

As for the pilot and co-pilot still aboard, they were forced to make a gear up, dead-stick landing in a frozen swamp near the upper part of the Amgun River, in the end successfully executing what is termed in pilot-speak as a “good landing”- in that all occupants survived and were able to walk away from the wreckage.

As for Raskova, she hiked for a full ten days before finally locating the downed aircraft and her comrades. Not long before she arrived, a search crew located the plane. While this was a good thing for the women, unfortunately two of the search planes collided overhead and killed all 15 aboard as the horrified pilots watched from below. A few days later, the women were picked up via boat.

When they arrived back in Moscow, their harrowing journey, which managed 3,671.44 miles in 26 hours and 29 minutes (though in truth they had flown some 6,450 km or 4,007 miles total), had indeed set the distance record for a straight line, non-stop all-woman crew. That, along with how they handled themselves in such adverse conditions saw them lauded as heroes across the Union, including quite literally being given the “Hero of the Soviet Union” award, among other honors.

Fast-forwarding about three years later in June of 1941, Germany decided to invade. During Operation Barbarossa, almost 4 million troops were thrown at the Soviet Union, and in one fell swoop the Axis managed to destroy approximately 66 airfields and about 80% of the military aircraft in the Soviet Union at the time.

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German troops at the Soviet state border marker, June 22, 1941.

(Public Domain)

With an abundance of pilots and few planes, you might think this was not exactly an ideal environment for female pilots of the era to be given a job- especially not in combat- but two factors saw Stalin convinced establishing all female squadrons was something they should do. First, Raskova wouldn’t stop berating Stalin about it, noting both in the air and on the ground that forgoing using half your populace when the enemy was almost at the doorsteps of Moscow was foolish. Another factor was that among the planes still available were a large number of Polikarpov Po-2’s- an open cockpit two seat 1928 biplane made of wood and fabric, mostly meant for flight training and crop dusting.

Slow and plodding, the Polikarpov cruised along at a breakneck pace of about 68 mph (109 km/hr) and a never exceed if you don’t want your wings to fall off speed of 94 mph (151 km/hr). Combine that with a maximum climb rate of a mere 500 feet per minute (152 meters) while traveling at a speed not that much faster than Usian Bolt while ascending, and these weren’t exactly planes male pilots were itching to fly to the front in…

For reference here, the Luftwaffe were flying such planes as the Focke-Wulf Fw 190 Würger, which had an engine possessing about 25 times the horsepower as the Polikarpov, cruised along at 280 mph (450 km/hr), with maximum speeds of 426 mph (685 km/hr), and could climb in excess of 3,000 ft/min. That’s not to mention this plane came equipped with dual 13 mm MG 131 machine guns. The pilots of the Polikarpov Po-2’s, on the other hand, were given hand pistols as their air to air combat weapon… No doubt when in a dog fight, they also were instructed to make “pew pew pew” sounds to increase the effectiveness of their arsenal.

If all that wasn’t bad enough, should one get shot down or the fabric of the aircraft catch fire, which occasionally happened when tracer bullets ripped through them, as weight was at a premium, the pilots weren’t given parachutes… On top of that, the planes themselves did not come equipped with radios or any other such equipment. A map, a compass, a pistol, and their wits were what the stick and rudder Po-2 pilots brought with them on their combat missions.

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A damaged and abandoned Po-2 forced to land in Ukraine, and subsequently captured by German troops, 1941.

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Now, you might at this point be wondering what possible use these pilots could serve flying these planes into combat other than reducing the Soviet population by a couple hundred pilots. Well, the one marginally potent weapon the planes did come equipped with was bombs- up to six of them, weighing approximately 110 lbs each (50 kg).

Planes few wanted to fly sitting on the ground and Raskova refusing to shut up about it, Stalin ordered her to form three all female squadrons, though the 588th Bomber Regiment, who would come to use the Polikarpov Po-2’s, was the only one to remain exclusively staffed by women throughout the war.

As for the young ladies who volunteered to fly in these death traps, they ranged from about 17 years old to their early 20s. And while you might think the name they’d soon be given would be something along the lines of “Target Practice”, their incredible effectiveness and near non-stop bombardment of the Germans at the front starting on June 8, 1942 and continuing all the way to Berlin, earned them another nickname — The Night Witches.

So just how effective were they? For the approximately four years they were active, they flew close to an astounding 30,000 missions, with an average of about 250 missions each. To put this in perspective, airmen aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress in 1944 had a 1 in 4 chance of surviving to the 25 mission mark for their rotation. But in the case of the Night Witch bombers, some flew near or greater that number in under a week. One, who we’ll discuss shortly, almost managed that number of missions in a single night. Despite the incredible number of missions they flew, over the course of the war, of the 261 women that flew in the 588th, only 32 died, and a handful of those not from combat, but tuberculosis.

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A Polikarpov Po-2, the aircraft type used by the regiment.

(CC BY-SA 3.0)

This bring us to Nadezhda Popova, who managed the record of 18 missions in a single night when she helped chase the Axis as they retreated from Poland. Popova, who started flying at aged 15, was a flight instructor by 18, and decided to join up not long after her brother, Leonid, was killed in the early stages of the conflict. She states, “I saw the German aircraft flying along our roads filled with people who were leaving their homes, firing at them with their machine guns. Seeing this gave me feelings inside that made me want to fight them.”

The Nazis would soon come to regret making an enemy of Popova, who shortly was about to go all John Wick on them for killing her brother. But before that, unfortunately for her, when she tried to enlist, she was turned away, with Popova later stating of this, “No one in the armed services wanted to give women the freedom to die.”

Nevertheless, given her credentials, when the 588th was formed when she was 19 years old, they had a place for her. She would go on to fly an incredible 852 missions during the war, despite, as she stated in an interview in 2009, “Almost every time, we had to sail through a wall of enemy fire. In winter, when you’d look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying…. It was a miracle we didn’t lose more aircraft. Our planes were the slowest in the air force. They often came back riddled with bullets…”

On that note, after returning from one mission where she was tasked with dropping supplies to ground troops who were bottled up in Malaya Zemlya, she found 42 bullet holes in her plane, one in her helmet, and a couple in her map. It was then that she joked with her navigator, “Katya, my dear, we will live long!”

In truth, Popova, who became a squadron commander, survived the war, among other honors receiving the Hero of the Soviet Union, the Order of Lenin, and was a three time Order of the Red Banner recipient (awarded for extreme heroism and courage demonstrated in battle), twice awarded the Order of the Patriotic War 1st class… and the list goes on and on- badass. She was a badass basically.

As for her life after, she married an airmen, Semyon Kharlamov, who she met after the two had separately been shot down on Aug. 2, 1942. While she couldn’t see his face as it was covered in bandages, they hit it off as they joked around together during their trek back to safety. They got hitched almost immediately on war’s end. For work after, she continued her pre-war career as a flight instructor, ultimately living to the ripe old age of 91 years old, dying on July 8, 2013.

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Nadezhda Popova.

(Public Domain)

Going back to the squadron as a whole, given their extreme vulnerability in the air, you might at this point be wondering how these women not only almost all survived, but proved to be so incredibly effective?

Well, given their slow speed, the fact that in a dogfight they’d quickly be made into Swiss cheese by enemy planes, and the fact that they needed to deploy their paltry payloads at extremely low altitudes to actually accurately hit a target, meaning ground based crew could likewise easily turn the pilots of these craft into wreckage riders, flying missions in daylight with any regularity wasn’t really an option if one liked to keep breathing.

Thus, in an era before incredibly accurate terrain mapping and GPS systems to help avoid said terrain, these women voluntarily hopped inside their antiquated pieces of equipment and ascended to the heavens in darkness- the darker the better.

Stealth was their only way of surviving, and they used it to their advantage at every opportunity. Navigating in darkness towards their assigned enemy targets, usually hugging the ground as much as possible until getting close to their targets to avoid being spotted by enemy aircraft, once they located their targets, the women would employ a number of strategies to actually get close enough to deliver their deadly payloads. These included doing things like flying in groups and intentionally having one or two of the planes up high attract the attention and fire from those on the ground, while others would idle their engine and try to slip in closely undetected. Another strategy was to do what is generally considered in aviation 101 as a great way to die, especially in the often frigid environments these women were flying in- cut their engines completely in flight and at relatively low altitudes.

They’d then silently descend onto their targets until almost literally right over the heads of the enemy and finally drop their bombs, kick the engine back to life (hopefully) and get back to base as fast as possible to be loaded back up and sent out again and again to the front line.

Describing this, the chief of staff for the 588th, Irina Rakobolskaya, noted, “One girl managed to fly seven times to the front line and back in her plane. She would return, shaking, and they would hang new bombs, refuel her plane, and she’d go off to bomb the target again.”

Popova would state of this strategy, “We flew in sequence, one after another, and during the night, we never let them rest… the Germans made up stories. They spread the rumor that we had been injected with some unknown chemicals that enabled us to see so clearly at night…. This was nonsense, of course. What we did have were clever, educated, very talented girls…”

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Popova with Russian president Medvedev in 2009.

(President of the Russian Federation, CC BY 4.0)

Effective, one German soldier would later state in an interview after the war of the Night Witches, they were “precise, merciless and came from nowhere.”

Dedicated to delivering their payloads no matter what, one former 588th member stated that occasionally the bombs would get stuck when trying to drop them just over the target. The solution was simply to have one of the two women in the plane scramble out on the wing and kick it loose, often while under heavy enemy fire- all leading author Kate Quin to note, “You women are crazy. You’re incredibly brave, but my god you’re crazy.”

A sentiment Popova would later echo in her waning years, stating, “I sometimes stare into the blackness and close my eyes. I can still imagine myself as a young girl up there in my little bomber and I ask myself, Nadia, how did you do it?”

Moving on to the nickname the Germans gave them and which they would so proudly embrace once they learned of it, it is widely speculated that this was because of the wooshing sound the planes made as they glided down through the air, like the sound a witch flying on her broomstick. However, there is no primary documentation backing this speculation up at all, despite it being almost universally repeated. And, for our part, we’re just guessing not a single German soldier ever actually had heard the wooshing sound of a witch flying on a broomstick to compare. So allow us to suggest our own alternate hypothesis- that it wasn’t so much the sound that was the inspiration, but, instead, the name “The Night Witches” was actually because these were women, flying at night, on aircraft made of wood, not unlike a witch flying on a broomstick.

Whatever the case, in the end, for their heroism, almost 1 in 10 of the women of the 588th were honored with the Hero of the Soviet Union award. For reference here, while that award was given out almost 13,000 times over the entire life of the Soviet Union, the badass ladies of the 588th accounted for approximately 1/4 of all women who ever received it.

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

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MIGHTY HISTORY

The secret Cold War mission that helped America find the Titanic

Can you imagine having found one of the most famous shipwrecks in history and not being able to talk about it? Robert Ballard can. Ballard was the lead oceanographer for a fact-finding, top-secret Navy mission in 1985 and he helped discover the Titanic. 

But how did the Navy find it? And why did it take so long for anyone to talk about it?

Well, the answer to the second question is simple. No one talked about it because the mission was top-secret. Scant details managed to make their way to the surface in the mid-1990s, but the Navy neither confirmed nor denied. So there wasn’t anything concrete to go on, and most people chalked up the idea that the Navy discovered the Titanic as a conspiracy theory.

Then James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster Titanic hit the silver screen, and there was a renewed interest in what kind of role the Navy played in the shipwreck’s discovery. Despite the renewed interest, the Navy kept a tight lid on any PR about the shipwreck.  

Mum’s the word

The year was 1985, and America was deeply entrenched in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. A secret investigation was launched to explore two wrecked nuclear subs. The Navy wanted to get a closer look at the technology left aboard the USS Thresher and the USS Scorpion. Rumor had it that the USS Scorpion had been shot down by the Soviets, and part of the mission was to find out if that was true or not. Equally concerning was the fact that both of the ships were powered by nuclear reactors, and the Navy wanted to make sure there was no impact on the marine environment. 

Ballard had a suspicion that the Titanic might be near the wrecked nuclear subs, so he asked the Navy for something unusual. He wanted to look for the ill-fated 1912 vessel while he and his crew were exploring the submarines. 

Initially, the Navy said no way but then changed their minds, only if Ballard completed the Navy mission first. If there was “still time left over,” then Ballard could look for the Titanic.

Good thing there was some extra time, otherwise, the shipwreck might never have been discovered. Naturally, Ballard was super excited about his find – until the Navy said that he couldn’t say anything. Big Brass got nervous about the publicity around the shipwreck. So they clammed up and didn’t say anything about their big find for twenty years. 

MIGHTY HISTORY

This might be the bloodiest day in modern military history

On August 22, 1914, France launched 15 ill-fated assaults against German lines from France to Belgium, resulting in battles which, combined, cost 27,000 French lives and an unknown number of German deaths in a single day of fighting. On that day, there were more fatalities than the British experienced in the first day of the Battle of the Somme and more than the U.S. suffered in the Battle of Antietam in the Civil War.


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(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)

 

The Battle of the Frontiers, as it would come to be known, began in August, 1914, but historians disagree about the exact date on which it started in earnest. Basically, the French forces mobilized in early August to arrest Germany’s quick progress westward, setting off a series of smaller clashes as the armies maneuvered for position.

By August 22, France’s armies were in position and the command wanted to push forward, always advancing. A general assault was ordered, and French forces pressed against their German counterparts in fifteen distinct locations. French forces attempted to use old-war tactics in a new, industrialized state of war, and it didn’t go better for France than for anyone else in World War I.

French troops tried to force wedges between German armies that had machine guns in defensive positions, tried to conduct bayonet charges against enemies behind cover, and kept sending wave after wave of troops when the first few attacks didn’t work.

Possibly the fiercest of the fighting came at Rossignole when the French 3rd Colonial Infantry Division ran into the entire German 6th Army Corps. The French forces fought bravely with officers leading from the front, but outnumbered and in dire straits, the division was whittled down to virtually nothing.

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(Imperial War Museum)

 

Of the division’s three generals, two were killed and one was injured and captured. The commanding general, thought to have gone mad during the battle, simply waded into the worst of the fighting until he was shot dead. Some of the division’s units lost all but a handful of their officers, and the more conservative estimates for French soldiers killed at Rossignole say up to 7,000 perished. Some estimates are 50 percent higher.

But while Rossignole was fierce, Charleroi to the north was nearly as contested and featured much larger groups of men, resulting in even more casualties. France’s 15 divisions at the Charleroi were reinforced by three from Britain, and higher headquarters thought it was a sufficient force to pit against a suspected 18 German divisions.

But the French commander on the ground thought the Germans had twice as many men or more. He protested his orders, but was sent forward anyway on August 21. The French force and their British allies attacked a German force of 38 divisions which held key bridges and other features that the French needed to take to be successful.

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(Wellcome Collection, CC BY 4.0)

 

Because of the French belief at the time that it was always better to be on offense, they sent division after division into the meat grinder. Thousands more Frenchmen, as well as large numbers of British and German troops, were lost in the bitter fighting.

By the time the sun set on August 22, approximately 27,000 French troops had died along with tens of thousands more British and German troops, making it more costly fighting than the first day of the Battle of the Somme, where Britain lost almost 20,000 soldiers. And, like the Somme, the full battle would rage for weeks more.

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In all, the Battles of the Frontiers resulted in over half a million casualties in a single month of fighting. The painful lessons learned would all too slowly cause both sides to rethink their tactics and strategy, but years of trench fighting and pointless cavalry charges and bayonet assaults against machine guns would be needed before truly modern tactics were adopted across the board.

Unfortunately for those who sacrificed their lives for France in that bloody month, the large collection of smaller battles are mostly forgotten when held up next to gargantuan fights, like the Battle of the Somme, where over a million men were killed, wounded, and captured in just under five months of fighting.

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One of the bloodiest battles in history. (French National Library, Public Domain)

 

Of course, there are some ancient battles where larger numbers of troops were reported killed in a day or a few days of fighting, but the numbers are not always considered reliable. One day of battle, which may have been even larger and more deadly than August 22, 1914, was the day in 216 B.C. when Carthage and Rome fought the Battle of Cannae. There, Hannibal managed to encircle a much larger Roman force and kill nearly all of its troops.

Carthage reportedly lost as many as 6,000 men while the Romans, if the reports are accurate, lost over 50,000, who were either killed or committed suicide on the battlefield.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Former Delta Force members jump in honor of Normandy Paratroopers

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

How I always got stuck right next to Barticus in every cramped-quarters situation I’ll never know… but I always did! Barticus was the biggest pipe-hitter in my squadron, therefore took up the most room and always left me squashed. But for the value of the man as a hard-fighting warrior, well… I just resigned to remaining squashed.

And squashed I was on an MC-130 Combat Talon aircraft climbing passed 20,000 feet toward… well, it really didn’t matter much past 18,000 feet because we all had to go to breathing pure oxygen though a supply mask. It was night and the stress was piled on. Oh, how I hated jumping, on oxygen, from that height, at night… and oh, how Barticus knew that.


As my stress mounted I began to tolerate less the cramped conditions and the mass of Barticus pressing against me. I started to squirm and fidget more and more. Finally Barticus called to me his baritone voice muffled by the mask:

“George!”

“Yeah, what man?”

“Have I ever told you, that I find you very attractive?”

That’s all it took and I was laughing out loud and coughing into my mask, but I was also chilled out and doing much better. A really good friend knows how to push your buttons sure, but they also know how to hit your funny bone and calm you down.

Barticus made his way into an opportunity of a lifetime recently to jump near the town Sainte-Mère-Église, Normandy, France on the 6th of June in honor of the men who jumped there 75 years ago. There but for the grace of God go I — oh, how I wish I could make that jump too; such an honor!

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(Barticus W. Ricardo [left] and the author Geo kit up for an assault in South America)

I asked Barticus to please get me a photo of the famous Sainte-Mère-Église paratrooper Private John Marvin Steele’s effigy that the people of the town hung at the base of the bell tower of the church where he “landed”. John’s parachute snagged an outcrop of the church’s architecture and left John hanging for many hours with an injured foot until some German soldiers hiding inside the bell tower cut him loose.

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(Two aspects of Private Steele’s effigy where it hangs still today from the base of the bell tower)

Traditionally, U.S. military organizations have taken veterans back to Sainte-Mère-Église for another jump back onto the Drop Zone (DZ) that they landed on so many years ago. These days it is highly unlikely that there are still veterans of the campaign who are in conducive physical condition to foot that bill.

Our young generations of fighting men, active duty and retired like Barticus and his crew, will continue to make that jump every year on the day of the anniversary of the invasion of Normandy, as long as there is still ground in Normandy to land on.

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(The church at Sainte-Mère-Église feature an effigy of paratrooper Private John Marvin Steele who descended into the town and became suspended when his parachute snagged an outcropping of the church structure.)


MIGHTY HISTORY

Why this Coast Guard cutter was one of the most legendary ships in the service

We opened fire. . . The battle was a warm one while it lasted. . . While the fight was on, there was nothing to see but Spanish ships burning and sinking.
Ship’s Bugler Harry Neithercott, U.S. Revenue Cutter Service McCulloch, Battle of Manila Bay, 1898

The quote above by an eyewitness to the Spanish-American War’s Battle of Manila Bay attests to the fury of this naval conflict as well as the damage inflicted by U.S. warships, including the revenue cutter McCulloch.


The cutter McCulloch was commissioned on Dec. 12, 1897, under the command of U.S. Revenue Cutter Service Capt. Daniel Hodgsdon. Built in Philadelphia, the McCulloch was named for two-time Treasury Secretary Hugh McCulloch. At 220 feet in length and 1,300 tons displacement, the ship was the largest revenue cutter built up to that time. A “cruising” cutter for high seas deployments, it boasted a main armament of one 15-inch bow-mounted torpedo tube and four 3-inch guns, and had an advanced composite hull design with steel planking sheathed with wood.

Before the Spanish-American War commenced, McCulloch made history by steaming from the East Coast to its first station at San Francisco the long way around the globe. This was the first cutter to sail the Mediterranean and transit the Suez Canal. It was also the first to pass through the Red Sea and Indian Ocean, and the first revenue cutter to visit the Far East. Upon arrival at Singapore on April 8, 1898, two weeks before the United States declared war with Spain; orders directed McCulloch to report to Commodore George Dewey and the U.S. Navy’s Asiatic Squadron in Hong Kong. As was common with foreign warships in the Far East at the time, McCulloch hired several Japanese and Chinese men to serve as stewards and in the engine room.

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Water color illustration of the McCulloch in combat during the Battle of Manila Bay. Notice the inaccurate hull color of white rather than the navy gray worn at the time of the battle.

(U.S. Coast Guard collection)

On April 27, the squadron stood out of Mirs Bay, China, approaching the Philippines three days later. Dewey’s squadron consisted of cruisers Olympia, Boston, Baltimore and Raleigh; and gunboats Concord and Petrel. McCulloch steamed at the rear of the squadron to protect the storeships Nanshan and Zafire. In the midnight darkness of April 30, Olympia had approached Manila Bay followed by the squadron and McCulloch with the storeships. Just as McCulloch passed El Fraile Rock at the entrance to Manila Bay, built-up soot in the cutter’s smokestack caught fire and lit-up the night. Soon, a Spanish battery on El Fraile opened fire on McCulloch, but USS Boston and McCulloch returned fire and silenced the Spanish gun. During the engagement, McCulloch’s chief engineer, Frank Randall, worked feverishly to quell the blaze and died from the heat and overexertion.

As he entered Manila Bay, Dewey slowed the squadron to four knots. He did this to time his opening salvos to daybreak. He ordered McCulloch to guard the storeships, protect U.S. warships from surprise attack and tow any disabled warships out of enemy range. A little past 5 a.m., the battle commenced with Dewey’s famous command, “You may fire when ready [Capt.] Gridley.” Eyewitnesses to the battle recalled that McCulloch found no need to tow U.S warships out of the battleline. When its duty to protect the storeships and rescue damaged warships had ceased, McCulloch joined the fight firing some of the final rounds of the battle.

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Chief engineer Frank Randall of the McCulloch died of a heart attack trying to put out a smokestack fire. His was the only death associated with the Battle of Manila Bay and he was buried at sea.

In the Battle of Manila Bay, Dewey’s warships destroyed the Spanish forces as Manila Bay. Before surrendering, the Spanish had lost their entire fleet including 400 officers and men. No American warship was seriously damaged, eight Americans were wounded and chief engineer Randall the only loss of life. Due to the cutter’s superior speed, Dewey dispatched McCulloch to the closest cable facility at Hong Kong bearing news of the victory and the surrender of Spanish forces. In a message to the secretary of the Navy, Dewey commended Hodgsdon for the efficiency and readiness of the cutter.

In January 1899, over a year after departing the East Coast, McCulloch finally arrived at its new homeport of San Francisco. From San Francisco, McCulloch patrolled the West Coast from Oregon to the Mexican border. During part of this time, the ship sailed under the command of famed cutter captain “Hell Roaring” Mike Healy. Beginning in 1906, the crew undertook the annual Bering Sea patrol duty. During these 20,000-mile cruises, McCulloch became well known for humanitarian relief and its mission as a floating court trying legal cases in towns along the Alaskan coast. McCulloch also enforced fur seal regulations patrolling the waters around the Pribilof Islands and seizing poaching vessels of all nationalities. After returning to San Francisco in 1912, McCulloch resumed patrol operations along the West Coast.

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Members of McCulloch’s crew pose with a Spanish shore gun disabled during Battle of Manila Bay.

(U.S. Navy photo)

The 20-year-old cutter joined the fight a second time on April 6, 1917, when the U.S. entered World War I. At 6 p.m., McCulloch received telephone instructions from the division commander to put into effect Mobilization Plan Number One. By 7:25, the cutter received a similar “ALCUT (all cutters)” message from Coast Guard Headquarters. In response, the McCulloch transmitted to the local Navy commander a coded radiogram reading “Commanding Officer, U.S.S. OREGON. Mobilization orders received. Report MCCULLOCH for duty under your command.” McCulloch was one of nearly 50 Coast Guard cutters that would serve under the direction of the U.S. Navy.

On June 13, 1917, still a year before the war’s end, McCulloch was lost in an accident. The cutter collided in dense fog with the Pacific Steamship Company steamer Governor and slowly sank off Point Conception, California, with the loss of one crew member. Fast forward to the summer of 2016, when National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) remotely operated underwater vehicles identified a ship lying in deep water off the California coast. The outline and size of the image closely resembled that of the McCulloch. In October 2016, a joint NOAA-U.S. Coast Guard underwater survey positively identified the wreck as the famous cutter. The discovery was announced to the public in mid-June of 2017, 100 years after its final plunge.

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McCulloch was one of five ships lost during World War I. In 1917, the ship sank after a collision in the fog off the coast of California.

(San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park)

During the ship’s 20-year career, McCulloch performed the missions of search and rescue, ice operations, law enforcement, environmental protection, humanitarian relief, and maritime defense. The ship recorded many firsts, such as the first cutter to steam through the Mediterranean and Red seas, transit the Suez Canal, and visit the Far East by way of the Indian Ocean. In addition, its West Coast cruising territory extended from the Arctic and Alaska to southern California. Cutter McCulloch and the men who sailed it remain a part of the legend and the lore of the long blue line.

This article originally appeared on the Coast Guard Compass. Follow @USCG on Twitter.

Articles

This is why grunt gear isn’t for the average man

Throughout military history, the gear our ground troops wear has depended on different aspects, for instance: the available technology, budget, and the weather (for the most part).


The needs of the mission and the environment determine what gear our infantrymen haul on their backs, around their waists, and even what they stuff into their many cargo pockets.

But the endgame of the mission always remains the same — win the war at all cost.

Related: These were the terrifying dangers of being a ‘Tunnel Rat’ in Vietnam

Today, the modern battlefield of Iraq and Afghanistan has prompted our military to change what our troops take with them. “SAPI” plates (Small Arms Protective Insert) were added to help protect the service members vital organs from small arms fire.

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All that gear adds up. (Photo: U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intriago)

Travel back in time where medieval Knights wore several layers and different types of heavy body armor to protect themselves from sharp swinging swords to the accurately shot arrows. These fearless men would spend countless hours training while cloaked in their protective garments, acclimating their bodies for war.

Fast forward to the rice patties of Vietnam where Marines, Sailors, Airmen, and Soldiers bravely left the wire typically sporting only their thin layered green t-shirts due to the constant humidity of the jungle while still toting pounds of extras.

Also Read: That time American POWs refused a CIA rescue mission in Vietnam

One 155-pound TV show host wanted to experience just how heavy the gear of an American GI in Vietnam was. So after donning the full Vietnam War style combat load — complete with ammo, an M-16 rifle, an individual medical bag, and 2 quarts of water — the TV show host’s total weight amounted to just under 235 solid pounds of gear. It was an 80-pound difference.

Check out the Smithsonian Channel‘s video below to see this TV show host play grunt for an afternoon.

(Smithsonian Channel, YouTube)
hauntedbattlefields

4 Veteran ghosts still on duty

Counting down the last days of a deployment while standing post is a feeling universally felt by service members past and present. However, not all are able to move onto greener pastures. Unlucky souls that are caught in the gears of war repeat their last moments on an infinite loop; no changing of the guard, no end to the task at hand, no relief.

Their names have been lost, but their actions continue to ripple through the fabric of time. These fallen souls share a fate I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy — eternal enlistment.


Top 10 creepiest military stories

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The crew of the USS Hornet

USS Hornet CV-12 is an aircraft carrier that participated in naval combat during World War II. While she was deployed with Task Force 58, she participated in the battles for New Guinea, Palau, Truk, and other engagements in the Pacific theater. The ship also saw service in the Vietnam War, and the Apollo program by recovering Apollo 11 and 12 astronauts when they returned from the moon. The Hornet was retired and decommissioned in 1970.

This ship has seen a lot of combat, accidents, and suicides during her time at sea. So much so that sightings of the paranormal are commonly reported by the staff caretakers and guests.

Sailors in dress whites are reported to have been seen walking down passageways into empty rooms. The mess hall dishwashing area has dents on the bulkhead belonging to an angry cook. It is said that a poltergeist phenomenon involving the throwing of objects is experienced here. Panicked voices can be heard saying ‘run’ in the lower decks, and it is speculated that they’re the souls who did not manage to escape impacts from combat.

The ship was opened to the public as the USS Hornet Museum in Alameda, California, in 1998. Ghost tours can be booked on their website.

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This is exactly how stupid I imagine this ghost to look.

(Warner Bros.)

The Jody of Warren Air Force Base

Established in 1867, F.E. Warren Air Force Base was originally named Fort D. A. Russell in Wyoming. It’s named after Civil War Brigadier General David A. Russell. The base was erected to protect the workers constructing the transcontinental railroad and has had a gloomy history ever since.

Troops stationed here report seeing cavalrymen in full dress uniforms walking around the base. Others report screaming from unknown sources thought to be of a Native American woman who was sexually assaulted and murdered by two cavalrymen at White Crow Creek. Some apparitions are less jarring like a lone soldier standing at attention next to buildings in the same dated uniform.

The most famous ghost is “Gus.”

During the early days of the fort, Quarters 80 was home to a young officer. He was away a lot of the time on military maneuvers. One day he came home early, only to find a soldier entertaining his wife in an upstairs bedroom. With his escape route blocked by the angry husband, the soldier took an alternate route by leaping out of the second story window and accidentally hanging himself on the clothesline. Since then, Gus has been notorious for moving objects around in the house, opening cabinets and re-arranging furniture. Maybe it’s true what some say he is doing: looking for his trousers. – Airman Alex Martinez, 90th Space Wing Public Affairs
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This wasn’t even my shift.

(National Museum of Civil War Medicine)

The sentry forever on firewatch at the Jefferson Barracks

The base was operational for over 100 years and had many sightings of Civil War era troops still guarding the base. The Jefferson Barracks Military Post is located in Lemay, Missouri. It was active from 1826 through 1946, and it is currently used by the Army and Air National Guard.

One recurring phantom is of a guard standing duty with a bullet hole in his head. He was allegedly shot during an enemy raid attempting to steal munitions. It is said that he appears to confront troops standing duty as well. If I was standing duty for the rest of my undeath, I might also be in a permanent foul mood too.

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To be honest, all squad bays look creepy

(Greg Vincent)

Suicide recruits at the Parris Island rifle range barracks

As a recruit who trained at Parris Island with platoon 1064 Alpha Company, I confirm the eerie ambiance of the barracks at the rifle range. Now, I didn’t see anything there, at least I don’t think so. Once I thought I saw a shadow move, but I just chalked that up to sleep deprivation and some hazing physical training. Besides, I wouldn’t have told anyone if I did see something paranormal, not because I didn’t want people to think I was crazy, but because they would assume I was trying to get intentionally kicked out of boot camp like a coward.

However, some of my friends did say that they heard footsteps outside, but when they checked, there was no one there. Others said they heard voices or crying from the bathrooms. We did know suicides have happened in the barracks and that is the reason why drill instructors ease up on you while you’re there — another reason might be the fact that you get handed live rounds and it’s not the right moment to haze train you.

I heard someone mention that they saw a ghost on fire watch with blotch cammies (camouflage). We were issued digital cammies, and that’s what immediately stood out. When approached, he vanished. I was more concerned with finishing my food at the time.

The strangest thing that happened to me at the rifle range was not paranormal at all. We had a cease-fire one day because a bald eagle decided to land in the middle of the range. One PMI suggested throwing a rock to motivate it to move and was passionately reminded by a very loud PA system that it is a felony to throw anything at the national bird.

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