Did friendly fire really kill Confederate Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson, or is this just a myth of the Civil War?
We all know the story (or should).
On May 2, 1863, Jackson was conducting a reconnaissance mission in the last stages of the Battle of Chancellorsville when he was accidentally shot by Confederate troops. He would die eight days later, after an operation to amputate his left arm.
Today, were someone to be wounded in the left arm and right hand, combat medics would rapidly be working on him to stabilize his condition. Once that was done, a MEDEVAC flight would get him to a combat hospital for further evaluation. Surgery on the arm might not even take place in a combat hospital – Jackson would likely have been transported to a place like Walter Reed for the actual surgery.
He might not lose the arm. He probably would not have died.
But this was 1863, and Jackson died. Why? According to one coroner in a History Channel video, the wounds Jackson received when he was accidentally shot by Confederate sentries while on a reconnaissance mission during the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 2, 1863, were not the direct cause of his death.
Instead, the blame may very well fall on the poor medical treatment he received after his wounds. The methods used to keep General Jackson under while his arm was amputated using the techniques of the time triggered the pneumonia that killed him, the coroner claims.
Is he right? Watch the video for yourself and let us know what you think!
For over 75 years, USDA scientists have been developing ways to protect the U.S. military around the world from powerful adversaries — mosquitoes and other biting arthropods that cause disease. Their work began in 1942 in a small USDA field laboratory in Orlando, where scientists made key discoveries about new chemicals for controlling these pests. At the time, the most effective repellents lasted only 2 hours, and the U.S. military needed a repellent that could protect for 10 hours. In 1952, testing in Orlando confirmed DEET was an effective repellent; it was soon adopted for use by the U.S. Army, became commercially available by 1957 — and is still used widely today.
Scientists at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s chief in-house research agency, have continued their search for better repellents ever since. They used the USDA database of 30,000 compounds to develop a model that used chemical structure data for predicting how long a repellent would keep pests away. This model predicted that some compounds would be more effective than DEET, and subsequent research confirmed some compounds did indeed repel pests more than three times longer than DEET.
In 2004, the Department of Defense initiated a partnership with USDA and others as part of the Deployed War-Fighter Protection (DWFP) program. Its’ mission: to develop and test management tools for pest and vector species that transmit diseases to deployed U.S. troops. ARS scientists in Gainesville, Florida; Beltsville, Maryland; and Oxford, Mississippi, have contributed discoveries about repellent as part of the DWFP research and accomplishments. ARS has also collaborated with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center since 2003 to optimize the arthropod bite protection of factory-produced permethrin-treated uniforms. Treating uniforms became standard practice in the 1950s, first with a miticide, and starting in 1991 with permethrin.
ARS National Program Leader Uli Bernier has been responsible for developing protocols to evaluate uniform protection against mosquitoes, and in 2015 conducted a study that led to the registration of etofenprox as an alternative clothing repellent. He recently staffed an ARS information table at the 5th USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo, where he said visitors wanted to learn more about a new pest-resistant tropical lightweight uniform on display. Visitors were also fascinated by a cage of mosquitoes used for research — but unlike USDA researchers, they were reluctant to place their hand in a cage full of mosquitoes!
This Military Appreciation Month, we pay special tribute to the efforts of our servicemen and women. USDA honors our military and will continue to support their work.
Then-Master Sgt. Benjamin F. Wilson was a veteran of World War II and a former officer when he led Company I of the 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, in an attack on a numerically superior group of enemy soldiers on June 5, 1951, during the Korean War.
When his men struggled to take the terrain, he rescued the lead element under hostile fire with grenades, led a bayonet charge that killed 27, and then protected his men from the enemy counterattack using his rifle and an entrenching tool.
Yeah, he fought off a counterattack by killing four enemy soldiers with a foldable shovel.
Company I’s attack on June 5 first faltered when dug-in enemy forces pinned down the advancing Americans using submachine guns and other weapons, according to Wilson’s Medal of Honor citation. That was the first time Wilson leapt into action to save his men.
He charged forward, firing his rifle and throwing grenades. His bold attack wiped out four enemy soldiers firing submachine guns, allowing Company I to continue the advance. The assault platoon moved up and established a base of fire.
So Wilson got a group of men together to press the attack with a bayonet assault. Wilson and the rest of the group killed 27 enemy soldiers and Company I began consolidating the gains it had so far. That was when the Koreans launched a counterattack.
The Americans were under severe pressure by the Korean assault, so Wilson again leaped into action. He initiated a one-man assault that killed seven and wounded two, shutting down the enemy’s drive.
When the Americans attempted another assault, it was decisively stopped by enemy fire. Wilson gave the order for the lead platoon to withdraw. But the withdrawal quickly went sideways with the commanding officer, platoon leader, and even Wilson suffering serious wounds.
That was when Wilson made his rifle/E-tool attack. He managed to kill three enemies with his rifle before it was wrested from his hands. That’s when he grabbed the E-tool and killed four more of the enemies.
His actions delayed the final Korean counterattack and allowed Wilson to evacuate the unit, but he suffered a second wound during that action.
During the Civil War, a rivalry between two Confederate generals led to 30,000 pinned-down Union troops escaping encirclement in 1864, allowing them to go on and capture Atlanta, rallying Union morale, and ensuring a Republican victory in the elections and a Union victory in the war.
The USS Hartford and Admiral Farragut forces their way past Confederate defenses at New Orleans in 1862,
(Julian Oliver Davidson)
The year 1864 was possibly the most important of the war. The presidential elections that year were framed as a referendum on the war. Supporters of a continued Union advance against the South were backing the Republicans as those who wished to create a negotiated peace backed George McClellan and the Democrats.
The Confederates, meanwhile, knew about the divisions and were doing everything they could to convince common Northerners that the war wasn’t worth the costs. Gen. Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland, privateers attacked Union shipping on the high seas, and commanders elsewhere redoubled their efforts to bleed the Union for every yard lost.
Amidst all of this, two capable Confederate generals in Louisiana were constantly arguing with one another. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith was the commander of Confederate troops in the Trans-Mississippi in 1863 and 1864, and one of his subordinates was Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor, son of former U.S. President Zachary Taylor and brother-in-law of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
Both were described as having skill at tactics and strategy, but Smith was a cautious West Point graduate while Taylor was Yale-educated man with hot blood, constantly angling to take the fight to the Union.
In 1864, the Union was still trying to cement their control over the waterways in the south, completing their Anaconda Plan to choke off the South from external or internal resupply. To that end, massive numbers of troops were sent up the Red River that forms the border between Louisiana and Arkansas.
Smith wanted to slow the Union advance with defensive engagements punctuated by the occasional counterattack, while Taylor was itching to push his way back to the Gulf of Mexico and eventually re-take New Orleans.
The Battle of Irish Bend Louisiana
(William Hall, Harper’s Weekly)
So, when Taylor saw Union Forces overextend themselves while moving up the Red River, he sent his forces to smash into their weak points, winning victories at the Battles of Mansfield and then Pleasant Hill. Union commanders, worried that they would soon find themselves separated from one another and encircled, fought their way south and finally holed up in Alexandria, Louisiana.
This was what Taylor had been waiting for. His enemy was in a weak position, outnumbered, and with no place to run. But Taylor didn’t quite have the forces necessary to finish the fight — all he needed was a little help from Smith.
Instead, Smith took the bulk of Taylor’s forces and re-deployed them to Arkansas where they helped harry an enemy that was already in retreat. The Union forces at Alexandria saw the sudden gap in the lines and broke out, making their way back east. 30,000 Union troops were now free to continue fighting.
Follow that to the actual assault on Atlanta and following siege. While Union forces were able to get to Atlanta with relative ease — the last serious Confederate attempt to prevent a siege took place on July 22 and only 35,000 of the 100,000 Union troops actually engaged in the battle — the siege itself was a close-fought thing.
The siege ran from late-July to late-September, barely wrapping up in time for Northern newspaper reports to buoy Union morale and support for the war, leading to Lincoln’s strong re-election numbers. But Sherman relied on his numerical strength to win the fight. He used two of his armies to pin down Confederate troops or to draw their attention while his third army sneaked by to attack their rear or snip away supply lines.
With only two armies (or with three undersized armies), none of that would’ve worked. Instead, Sherman would have had to maintain a conventional siege against repeated and determined counterattacks, likely delaying the fall of Atlanta or even preventing it. The removal of 30,000 troops really might have tipped the scales against him and, therefore, against Lincoln.
Luckily, Sherman never had to face that possibility. Instead, he had plenty of troops to capture Atlanta, was able to split his forces after, marching east to the sea with the bulk of his men while the rest cut west across the South —all because two Confederate generals in Louisiana couldn’t work together.
As for them, Taylor was eventually recognized by the Confederate Congress for what successes he had achieved receiving promotion while Smith remained in the Trans-Mississippi, angry, until the end of the war.
Entering the Imperial German Navy in 1911, Karl Dönitz, a Berlin native, served as a submarine commander in WWI as Hitler was coming into power. While underway on deployment in 1918, his UB-68 was badly damaged by British forces and eventually sunk, but Dönitz was captured and transported to a POW camp.
After nine months of captivity, Dönitz was released from custody back to German hands where he was appointed by General Admiral Erich Raeder to command and create a new German U-boat fleet.
Under his new position, he developed a U-boat patrolling strategy called “wolfpack” formations — meaning groups of submarines would maneuver in straight lines. Once the patrolling U-boats came in contact with enemy vessels, they would signal the wolfpack who would then charge forward and attack.
Admiral Karl Dönitz meets with Adolf Hitler (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
In 1943, Dönitz replaced General Admiral Raecher as Commander-in-Chief (the same man who originally assigned him) and with his naval warfare expertise began winning Hitler’s trust.
During his role as Commander-in-Chief, Dönitz was credited with sinking nearly 15 million tons of enemy shipping, coordinating reconnaissance missions, and allowing his U-boat commanders to strike at will when they believed they could inflict the most damage. At that same time, he commanded of 212 U-boats and had another 181 on standby used for training. His tactics proved to be superior to those of his enemys until the invention of microwave radar which managed to spot his German created U-boats sooner than before.
After Hitler died, his last will and testament named Dönitz as commander of the armed forces and the new Reich president. For the next 20 days, he served the last leader of Nazi Germany until the British once again captured him on May 23, 1945.
During the Nuremberg Trials, Dönitz was charged with multiple war crimes and sentenced to 10 years in Berlin’s Spandau prison. Upon his release, he published two books and continued to state he had no knowledge of any crimes committed by Hitler.
Every badass commando needs their own fighting knife. When the battle gets up-close and personal, all the rules are thrown out and it’s anything goes. When a suitable blade doesn’t exist, you get one made. On Nov. 4, 1940, John “Jack” Wilkinson-Latham, Charlie Rose, Lieutenant Colonel William Ewart “Dan” Fairbairn, and Major Eric Anthony “Bill” Sykes met at Wilkinson Sword Co. Ltd. to discuss the prospect of engineering a new combat fighting knife.
Each man brought desirable knowledge in practical concepts to the drawing board. Taking three decades of past experience as a peace officer and firearms instructor for the Shanghai Municipal Police (SMP) in China, then the most violent cop-beat in the world, Fairbairn had the required intangibles to show up for a conversation. He was one of the original members of the world’s first Special Weapons And Tactics (SWAT) teams and had expertise in forensic ballistics. These bullet points in Fairbairn’s life were what allied clandestine units eyeballed. “I was in police work in the Orient for 30 years [1907-1940],” he said. “We had a tough crowd to deal with there so you had to be prepared to beat every trick in the book.”
Dermot O’Neill teaches combatives learned from his days as an SMP officer.
A bloody fight in an alleyway hospitalized Fairbairn after he was ambushed by goons from a Chinese separatist gang. Covered in bandages after being stabbed over a dozen times and left for dead, he awoke to notice a plaque on the wall that read: “Professor Okada, Jiu-Jitsu and Bone-setting.” He had an epiphany to use Jiu-Jitsu and combine it with other martial arts such as boxing, judo, and wrestling. He called it Defendu and used it to better protect his officers in these types of melees.
Sykes, a special sergeant attached to the sniper unit, was highly respected by Fairbairn. Together they tussled with street thugs in riots and patrolled among the political unrest across the red light districts. In just 12.5 years, they were present during more than 2,000 riots and fights, 666 of which were shootings. They deescalated 200 of them, a remarkable record considering that a mob can turn into a violent riot fairly quickly. This anomaly exposed them to real-world tactics shaped from classroom theory to results-driven practices. The skill to incapacitate called for a specific level of training because killing was the last resort.
From 1927 to 1940, Fairbairn made connections with the 4th Marine Regiment stationed in China; those from the “China Marines” were exposed to his methods in how to kill with a blade. These connections would prove to be effective down the road in his role with the implementation of unarmed combat within the U.S. military and select special operations units.
A commando concealing his F-S knife in a sheath on his calf.
After retiring from the SMP, the pair returned to the United Kingdom in 1940 and were approached by the Secret Intelligence Service’s (SIS) “Section D” (for destruction) to set up a combatives program for the newly formed Commandos and Special Operations Executive (SOE). Since their November 1940 meeting, it took Rose, the top development engineer at Wilkinson Sword Co. Ltd. Experimental Workshop, 10 days to work out the kinks in the “First Pattern” of the F-S knives. The expedited process ensured a batch of 1,500 daggers would reach schoolhouses across England.
“In modern warfare, the job is more drastic,” said Fairbairn. “You’re interested only in disabling or killing your enemy. That’s why I teach what I call ‘Gutter Fighting.’ There’s no fair play; no rules except one; kill or be killed.” Their nimble design had a long, thin 6.5- to 7-inch blade; the grip was made from solid brass, and the grip handguard was nickel-plated.
Designed for combat applications, the double-edged stiletto could be worn and concealed on the calf of a commando. Its usage was common in the ETO (European Theater of Operations) but saw action among members of SOE’s Force 136, including James Alexander E. MacPherson, who carried it in the Far East.
This lightweight model was then introduced to Lieutenant Colonel Rex Applegate, a counterintelligence officer assigned to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) instructor cadre. Known for his instruction on “Point Shooting” with handguns and a visionary in combat application, he traveled to the U.K. to witness the commandos training firsthand. He and Fairbairn inspected the field reports of the dagger’s effectiveness on body armor, conducted additional training, and met up with Fairbairn’s then-compatriot Sykes. While Sykes remained in the U.K. instructing his “Silent Killing” course, Fairbairn and him had a disagreement that is rumored to have hurt their relationship.
Applegate and Fairbairn returned to the West to introduce their methods to the Americans at Camp Ritchie, then later at the 275-acre farmland training grounds called STS-3 (Special Training School), or Camp X, in Oshawa, Canada. Camp X opened on Dec. 6, 1941, a day before the attacks on Pearl Harbor. It became an instrumental link between British and American special operations forces who cross-trained before going to war. They eventually made a knife of their own called the Applegate-Fairbairn fighting knife.
The Shanghai connection didn’t stop there. Irishman Dermot “Pat” O’Neill served amongst the SMP, following in his father’s footsteps. As he rose through the ranks, O’Neill earned a fourth dan black belt. His influence was feared — a SWAT cop mingling in the same gyms as Judo students who were trained as spies for the Kempeitai, the Japanese version of the Gestapo. Adding to the heat already upon him was rampant corruption in the SMP, including the chief of detective squad, Lu Liankui. He was a Green Gang boss and disciple of the Ji Yunquing, one of the eight leaders of the Big Eight Mob. O’Neill expected retribution and bailed onto a fishing boat for Sydney; he soon received a telegram from Fairbairn requesting his presence in the United States.
The Fairbairn-Sykes commando knife is present on many modern-day unit insignias, including the U.S. Army Special Forces.
(Open source graphic.)
O’Neill weaved his way to Camp X, where Fairbairn utilized his expertise teaching OSS officers. Here he taught students how to sneak up on sentries and eliminate them. He ran the students through real-world scenarios because shooting paper targets on a range and performing hand-to-hand combat drills on dummies wasn’t going to cut it in war. Fairbairn put students through “indoor mystery ranges” (the “shoot houses” or “kill houses” today’s special operations soldiers are familiar with).
“Under varying degrees of light, darkness, and shadows, plus the introduction of sound effects, moving objects, and various alarming surprises,” Fairbairn explained, “an opportunity is afforded to test the moral fiber of the student and to develop his courage and capacity for self control.” The students referred to these tests as the “House of Horrors” for its authenticity.
Fairbairn’s web of connections brought helped spread the Fairbairn-Sykes combat fighting knife around the world, and it has a lineage in many different historical units. When O’Neill left the OSS, he later joined Lt. Col. Robert Frederick’s First Special Service Force (FSSF), commonly referred to as the Devil’s Brigade. The joint U.S.-Canada team learned quickly that O’Neill wasn’t there to teach them how to incapacitate an enemy — he was there to teach them how to kill.
Frederick developed his own knife called the V-42 stiletto. Inspired by the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife, Frederick issued his “Cross Dagger” to his commandos. Today, the lineage can be seen in the insignia of the British Special Air Service (SAS), Royal Marines, U.S. Army Special Forces, U.S. Army Rangers, Dutch Commando Corps, and the Australian 2nd Commando Regiment.
Nicknamed the “Desert Fox,” Gen. Erwin Rommel was a decorated officer who was awarded the Pour le Mérite for his outstanding service on the Italian Front. During World War II, the legendary military leader commanded the 7th Panzer Division as the Nazis invaded France, earning himself a reputation as a brilliant tank commander.
While his fame turned him into a propaganda tool, Rommel had another agenda — to kill Adolf Hitler.
On July 20th, 1944, a bomb was planted and exploded under Hitler’s East Prussia Headquarters — but the Führer survived the blast.
“A very small clique of ambitious, corrupt and at the same time irrational, criminally stupid officers have conspired to do away with me. It is a tiny group of criminal elements, which will now be mercilessly extinguished,” Hitler stated as he vowed revenge.
As Hitler’s Gestapo conducted intense interrogations of bomb plot suspects, one famous name managed to surface — Erwin Rommel.
Then, in Sept. 1944, British intelligence tapped into one of the conversations of captured German General Heinrich Eberbach which revealed: “Rommel said to me that the Führer has to be killed, there is nothing for it … that man has to go.”
Weeks later, two German generals arrived at Rommel’s home and explained his narrow options. He could either be tried in the people’s court which would lead to ultimate disgrace in the Third Reich or drink a small bottle of cyanide which they brought with them.
General Erwin Rommel died that same day, but the German people were told that their famous hero passed in a car wreck. At his funeral, the German people saluted him as his casket carried away.
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.
John Anderson was many things: a skilled seaman, a ship’s surgeon and charming drinking buddy. All three of these qualities would help him seize control of the island of Guam, briefly, before ceding it back to the Spanish governor.
He found himself on Guam after being convicted of breach of trust while serving aboard a ship in the Royal Navy. He escaped to the island, where he started a new life.
Once there, his only real behavioral issues came when in the port with fellow Englishmen. They would tip a few glasses and get proper drunk. He first first came to Guam in 1819 and liked it so much, he decided he would stay.
He eventually got married, had several children and began to work in the port of the Spanish-held island. One day he decided that maybe Spain shouldn’t control the island – maybe he could do a better job.
Anderson and his fellow Englishmen there hatched a scheme that would leave them in charge of Guam. He would simply get the governor stinking drunk and take it by force.
The plan began with ingratiating themselves to the ruling class of the island. Now going by the name Juan Anderson, he integrated himself and his colleagues into the inner circles of Guam’s most important people, eventually meeting the governor and earning his trust.
By 1831, Don Francisco Villalobos, Spanish Governor of the Mariana Islands, appointed Juan Anderson as the Port’s Adjutant, acting with full authority of the Captain of the Port. He was also granted the honorific title of “Don” himself.
One night, they sat to have drinks with the Spanish Governor of Guam, Pablo Perez. After getting Perez “as drunk as a boiled owl,” the English took control of the palace, along with all the weapons and ammunition on the island. With possession of the island in their hands they began to celebrate.
They also had to decide who would rule as the new governor, a decision to which no one could agree. So the English did what good Englishmen do, and had a drinking contest. The last man standing sober would win the governor’s palace. The winner was Anderson, the expert-level drinker.
But even Anderson was so drunk he couldn’t stand. With the Englismen passed out drunk, the Spanish calmly took back control of the situation, the palace, and the island. The English were subsequently tied up and arraigned for their treason, then sentenced to be placed on a raft and cast away at sea.
Once convicted, their sentence was carried out right away and the men drifted around the Pacific Ocean for several days before coming ashore at Tinian island. They made the best of their new home on Tinian, but longed to return to Guam.
The conspirators wrote a letter to the once-deposed Spanish governor pleading for forgiveness and expressing their regret for what they’d done. Governor Perez pardoned them with the condition that they swear allegiance to the Spanish government and the island of Guam and spend the rest of their lives as loyal citizens.
The 1980s “Tanker War” in the Persian Gulf, which saw Iraq and Iran attempt to disrupt each other’s oil shipments as part of the Iran-Iraq war, prompted the U.S. Navy to launch its largest surface action since World War II against Iranian naval targets.
By 1987, with the ground war at a stalemate, both Iran and Iraq ramped up their targeting of each other’s oil infrastructure. Hundreds of ships traversing the Gulf were damaged, and the U.S. Navy stepped up its patrols of the area. On May 17, an Iraqi warplane launched two Exocet missiles at the frigate USS Stark, badly damaging it and killing 37 American sailors. Iraq claimed it had mistaken the Stark for an Iranian tanker, and the United States accepted the apology.
When Kuwait requested its oil tankers be re-flagged as American vessels for protection against Iranian attacks, the U.S. initiated Operation Earnest Will and started escorting Kuwaiti shipping. The Iranians saw this protection of Iraqi/Kuwaiti oil shipments as a direct intervention by the U.S., and stepped up their sea mine program in the Gulf.
The guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts struck one of these mines on the April 14, 1988, nearly sinking it. Other mines found in the area confirmed it was Iranian, and the U.S. Navy started planning the reprisal Operation Praying Mantis. Several groups of frigates and destroyers supported by aircraft from the USS Enterprise were tasked for the response.
A U.S. Surface Action Group was ordered to destroy the guns and military facilities on the Sassen oil platform, which was being used to launch speed boat attacks on shipping in the Gulf. After an exchange of gunfire between the Sassen and U.S. ships and Cobra helicopters, the Iranians abandoned the platform and U.S. Marines occupied it before destroying it with explosives. A second SAG destroyed another nearby platform with naval gunfire.
The Iranians retaliated by sending Boghammar speedboats to attack shipping, including a U.S.-flagged ship, damaging several vessels. After American A-6 bombers used cluster munitions to sink one speedboat and damage several others, the conflict swiftly escalated, with Iran despatching several of its larger ships along with aircraft to confront the SAG’s. One Iranian F-4 fighter was damaged by a missile after it strayed too close and barely managed to make it back to base.
The Iranian fast-attack ship Joshan was sunk by missiles and gunfire after attacking U.S. ships with Harpoon missiles, which were diverted by chaff. The Iranian frigate Sahand was totally destroyed by laser-guided bombs and Harpoons launched from A-6s after it had fired surface to air missiles at them. A second Iranian frigate, the Sabahan, was left crippled and burning by a laser-guided bomb and had to be towed back to port.
The Iranians launched land-based Silkworm anti-ship missiles against several U.S. ships across the Gulf, but all of them missed their targets. Considering the retaliation a success, the U.S. disengaged their ships with the loss of only one helicopter which crashed that night in an accident, leaving 3 dead. Iranian casualties from their destroyed frigates, speedboats, and platforms were nearly a hundred.
There was to be a tragic aftermath to the mining of the Samuel B. Roberts, which had triggered the action. The cruiser USS Vincennes, which had been dispatched to escort the Roberts home, shot down Iranian Flight 655, killing all 290 crew and passengers, after believing the civilian airliner was an Iranian F-14 fighter on an attack run. The U.S. government did not formally apologize, but in 1996 agreed to pay $61 million in compensation to the families of the victims.
In 1945, the USS Indianapolis completed its top secret mission of delivering atomic bomb components to Tinian Island in the Pacific Theater of World War II. The heavy cruiser was sunk on its way to join a task force near Okinawa. Of the ship’s 1195 crewmembers, only 316 survived the sinking and the subsequent time adrift at sea in the middle of nowhere. Among the survivors was the captain of the Indianapolis, Charles B. McVay III.
McVay would be charged with negligence in the loss of the ship. Even though he was restored to active duty after his court-martial and retired a rear admiral, the guilt of the loss haunted him for the rest of his life. He committed suicide with his Navy revolver on his own front lawn with a toy sailor in his hand.
McVay did everything he could in the wake of the torpedoing of the Indianapolis. He sounded the alarm, giving the order to abandon ship and was one of the last men off. Many of the survivors of the sinking publicly stated he was not to blame for its loss. But this wasn’t enough for the family members of the ship’s crew, who hounded McVay year after year, blaming him for the loss of their sons.
The Navy was partly to blame. They didn’t warn Indianapolis that the submarine I-58 was operating along the area of the ship’s course to Okinawa. They also didn’t warn the ship to zigzag in its pattern to evade enemy submarines. When the Indianapolis radioed a distress signal, it was picked up by three Navy stations, who ignored the call because one was drunk, the other had a commander who didn’t want to be disturbed, and the last thought it was a trap.
Three and a half days later, the survivors were rescued from the open water, suffering from salt water poisoning, exposure, hypothermia, and the largest case of shark attacks ever recorded. It was truly a horrifying scene. The horror is what led to McVay’s court martial, one of very few commanders to face such a trial concerning the loss of a ship. Even though the Japanese commander of I-58, the man who actually destroyed the Indianapolis, told the U.S. Navy that standard Navy evasion techniques would not have worked – Indianapolis was doomed from the get-go. Even that didn’t satisfy McVay’s critics.
It wasn’t until sixth-grader Hunter Scott began a history project in school about the sinking of the Indianapolis. He poured through official Navy documents until he found the evidence he needed to conclusively prove that McVay wasn’t responsible for the loss of his ship. His project caught the attention of then-Congressman Joe Scarborough and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who helped pass a Congressional resolution exonerating McVay. It was signed by President Bill Clinton in 2000.
Hunter Scott, the onetime sixth-grader and eternal friend to the crew of the Indianapolis, is now a naval aviator. He attended the University of North Carolina on a Navy ROTC scholarship and joined active duty in 2007. He even spoke at the dedication of the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The fighting in the South Pacific during World War II was vicious. One of the big reasons was how evenly-matched the two sides were. One plane called the Black Cat, though, helped the Allies gain a big advantage – and was an omen of ill fortune for the Japanese navy.
According to the Pacific War Encyclopedia, that plane was a modified version of the Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina. This flying boat was a well-proven maritime patrol aircraft – sighting the German battleship Bismarck in time for the British aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal to launch the strikes that crippled the Nazi vessel in May, 1941.
The PBY had also detected the Japanese fleets at the Battle of Midway.
The Catalina had one very big asset: long range. It could fly over 3,000 miles, and was also capable of carrying two torpedoes or up to 4,000 pounds of bombs. The PBY drew first blood at Midway, putting a torpedo in the side of the tanker Akebono Maru. But the long legs came with a price in performance. The PBYs had a top speed of just under 200 mph – making them easy prey if a Japanese A6M Zero saw them.
The planes also were lightly armed, with three .30-caliber machine guns and two .50-caliber machine guns. In “Incredible Victory,” Walter Lord related about how two PBYs were shot up in the space of an hour during the run-up to the Battle of Midway by a Japanese patrol plane. One “sea story” related by Morison had it that one PBY once radioed, “Sighted enemy carrier. Please notify next of kin.”
Planner found, however, that flying PBY missions at night helped keep them alive. During the the Guadalcanal campaign, the first PBY-5As equipped with radar arrived and the first full squadron of “Black Cats” intended for night operations arrived later that year. According to Samuel Eliot Morison’s “The Struggle For Guadalcanal,” the “Black Cats” were a game-changer.
These Black Cats did a little bit of everything. They could carry bombs – often set for a delay so as to create a “mining” effect. In essence, it would be using the shockwave of the bomb to cause flooding and to damage equipment on the enemy vessel. They also attacked airfields, carried torpedoes, spotted naval gunfire during night-time bombardment raids, and of course, searched for enemy ships.
Morison wrote about how the crews of the “Black Cats” would have a tradition of gradually filling out the drawing of a cat. The second mission would add eyes, then following missions would add whiskers and other features.
Japan would try to catch the Black Cats – knowing that they not only packed a punch, but could bring in other Allied planes. Often, the planes, painted black, would fly at extremely low level, thwarting the Zeros sent to find them.
On July 31, 1917, the British guns in the Ypres salient roared to life, marking the opening of the Battle of Passchendaele. The battle would rage back and forth for over two months. Through the chaos, one amazing story emerged: A tank crew refused to give up or be captured and held out, on their own, stranded in No Man’s Land, for three days.
The reason was the unrelenting mud that created an incredibly difficult terrain for the crew.
Their story begins with 2nd Lt. Don Richardson, who was working in his family grocery business in Nottingham when the war broke out in 1914. He joined his local regiment, the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment – also known as the Sherwood Foresters – and shipped off the next year.
As Britain began incorporating tanks into its war plans, Richardson was promoted to captain and given command of a tank section. He named his own tank “Fray Bentos” after the canned meat sold in his family store.
The Fray Bentos was a British Mark IV tank. While these early incarnations of armored vehicles were slow moving behemoths capable of about four miles per hour at top speed, they were heavily armored and packed with weaponry.
The tank mounted two Ordnance QF 6-pounder guns, three Lewis guns, and had a crew of eight, each armed with their own personal weapons. On Aug. 22, 1917, the men in the Fray Bentos set off in support of an attack by the British 61st Division in the vicinity of St. Julien. Captain Richardson decided to walk alongside the tank during the advance.
After three weeks of near constant shelling and a heavy rainfall, the area literally became a muddy quagmire.
As the attack progressed, the tank took out a German machine gun position before encountering a fusillade of machine gun fire as it approached the objective. Richardson was hit in the leg and dove inside the tank.
The driver, Lt. George Hill, was then blown off his seat by a wound to the neck just as the tank got into what Sgt. Robert Missen said was “a very deep soft place” that they “went in sideways.” Richardson tried to regain control but he was too late and the Fray Bentos slid into a ditch. The Mark IV tank was prepared for such an instance however, and carried unditching beams on the roof to extract itself from these situations.
Missen and Lance Cpl. Braedy exited the tank to retrieve the unditching equipment but the Germans spotted them and unleashed a maelstrom of fire. Missen later recalled “I heard bullets hitting the tank and saw some Boche about 30 yards off firing at me, I got in again.”
Braedy wasn’t so lucky. In his attempt to attach the unditching gear, he was gunned down. His body sank into the relentless mud and was never found. The remaining men in the tank returned fire with their rifles and Lewis guns. They even managed to get some shots off from their cannons despite their awkward position.
Soon, the infantry attack stalled out ahead of the tank and British soldiers began falling back to their trenches. This left the men of the Fray Bentos completely alone and isolated in No Man’s Land. As Germans approached the tank using an old trench under the tank’s Lewis gun, the crew easily picked them off with their rifles through an opening in the cab.
Germans then tried to swarm over the tank and drop grenades inside to flush out or kill the occupants. The British tankers engaged them in close combat. One German soldier managed to get a grenade inside but one of the men retrieved it and threw it out before it exploded.
It wasn’t long before most of the crew had been wounded.
Their ordeal was far from over. For the next three days and two nights, they fought off the Germans. They even had to contend with British snipers targeting them, unsure if they were Germans trying to steal the tank.
As time wore on, the men drained the radiator and drank the filthy water in order to survive. Richardson decided it was time for them to make their escape. Missen would go first to alert the infantry to their impending return in the hopes of them not being killed by friendly fire. The rest of the crew dismantled the cannons, gathered their maps and weapons, and, despite painful wounds, prepared to crawl through the treacherous mud back to friendly lines.
Under the cover of darkness on the night of Aug. 24, more than 60 hours after they first embarked on their mission, the men exited the tank one-by-one and made their way back to British trenches. Once they encountered men from the 9th Battalion, the Black Watch, they handed over their machine guns and made their way towards the aid station.
The wounded men from Passchendaele.
Richardson was mentioned in dispatches and would later receive the Military Cross for his actions. He would return to action in a new tank, Fray Bentos II, and serve until the end of the war. Lieutenant Hill was also awarded the Military Cross for his actions during the fighting. Missen and one of the gunners, William Morrey, were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for their part in the action. The other surviving gunners, Ernest Hayton, Frederick Arthurs, Percy Budd, and James Binley, were all awarded the Military Medal.
The men of the Fray Bentos were the most decorated tank crew of the First World War.