This is why the M1911 was America's favorite pistol - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

From the punitive expedition to Mexico before World War I to the mountains of Korea, American service members relied on one iconic pistol above any other, the Colt M1911. In fact, some special operators still carry modified and reworked versions of the same sidearm today.


The famous pistol came, like many of the best weapons, from an urgent battlefield necessity. Soldiers and Marines fighting the Spanish in the Phillippines during the Spanish-American War ended up in combat with a rebel group that had been active in the islands for years, the Moro.

 

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
A U.S. Marine with the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s maritime raid force fires an M1911 .45-caliber pistol at a range in Jordan June 9, 2013. (Photo: U.S. Department of Defense)

 

The Moro fighters were known as fanatics and used opiates to keep going even if they were hit. The troops engaged in combat with them found out quickly that their pistols, .38-caliber weapons, often needed a few hits to bring down a fighter. This gave attacking Moro fighters time to get an extra couple knife swings or trigger pulls in before they were killed.

Soldiers reached back to their last sidearm, the Colt Model 1873 Revolver which fired a .45-caliber round. The .45 got the job done, and the Army put out a call for a modern weapon that fired it, preferably with semi-automatic technology and smokeless powder.

After a long competition, the winner was a Colt pistol from famed designer John Browning. It was a semi-automatic weapon that fired the desired .45-caliber cartridge packed with smokeless powder, allowing troops to defend themselves with lots of firepower on demand without giving away their position.

The Army designated the weapon the M1911 for the year it was adopted and got it out to the field. The gun got a trial with the Punitive Expedition to Mexico in 1916 where it performed admirably, but it cemented its place in troops’ hearts in 1917 when the American Doughboys carried it with them to Europe.

In World War I, the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps carried the weapon. Army Cpl. Alvin C. York was part of an attack through German lines to destroy or capture some enemy machine guns. The initial attack was successful but everything went sideways and York was the highest ranking of the survivors.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
Army Sgt. Alvin C. York was awarded the Medal of Honor for killing dozens of Germans and capturing 132 of them as a corporal after an American assault was partially broken up. (Photo: U.S. Army)

 

In a famous move, York managed to kill many of the Germans and capture 132 of them nearly on his own. During the engagement, he killed six Germans in six shots with his M1911 and it was that pistol that he pointed at the German commander’s head when he demanded and received their surrender.

Army Lt. Frank Luke, Jr., another Medal of Honor recipient, used the pistol after he was shot down in an attempt to fight off the German infantry trying to take him prisoner. While Luke was eventually killed, he took seven of the infantrymen with him.

Love for the M1911 spread to America’s allies. Great Britain, for instance, bought the guns for the Navy and the Flying Corps. In World War II, the Colt M1911 was once again the pistol of choice and Americans were lucky enough to get it as standard issue.

 

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
(Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua W. Brown)

 

Through Korea and Vietnam, the M1911 was the standard sidearm and a favorite of troops who cited its stopping power, ergonomics, and reliability.

But the weapon’s .45-caliber ammunition made it less operable with NATO allies and when the U.S. encouraged standardizing weapons and ammo across the alliance, it was sent to the chopping block. In 1992, the military branches transitioned to the Beretta M9 and its smaller 9mm ammunition.

But some M1911s are still floating around as special operations units reworked the M1911A1 variant introduced in 1926, allowing them to use the .45-caliber ammunition.

In fact, the Marine Corps ordered 12,000 new M45A1s from Colt. The M45A1 is basically a modernized M1911 that, of course, fires the .45-caliber round. But the 1911’s days might be numbered as Marine special operations troops are scheduled to ditch their .45s and pick up Glocks over the next several years.

MIGHTY HISTORY

British troops in World War I used miracle moss for bandages

World War I wounds were horrific, as an opening in the skin created easy access for all the nasty diseases that swam through the trenches and crawled through the mud of No Man’s Land. A bullet wound, shrapnel puncture, or even a few scratches from barbed wire could get infected quickly. And so Britain looked to history and other countries for potential methods of quickly producing a higher quality material for bandages. A surprising solution was found in peat moss, the layer of plants that grow on top of many bogs and peat fields. So, they wanted to pack their wounds with plants that grew from decay-filled ground. Seems legit.


This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
British troops march into Tsingtao after capturing it from German troops in 1914.​
(British Government)

But there’s actually a long history of packing wounds with plants, especially moss. Ancient Irish warriors used mosses, as did French and German soldiers in the 1890s. Germany was even using moss bandages during World War I, and Britain decided to copy their foes.

So what made moss so great a bandage material? A few things. First, there weren’t conflicting needs for moss. While cotton was also a great material, belligerent countries needed cotton cloth for uniforms and gun cotton for ammunition, so there wasn’t enough to go around.

Next, some species of moss were actually more absorbent than cotton. Spaghnum moss, by weight, can hold twice as much liquid as cotton can, meaning that a similarly sized bandage can sop up a lot more blood while protecting the wound. This is thanks to how moss grows, basically creating cells and allowing them to die in order to create reservoirs for storing water. Those tiny reservoirs can hold blood as well, drying out the wound and allowing it to clot faster.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

Sphagnum moss was a valuable bandage material in World War I.

(Katja Schulz, CC BY 2.0)

Even better, some species of moss have special cell walls with an electrical charge that, long story short, makes them naturally antiseptic. These bandages kill bacteria without the need for any fancy chemical solutions or coatings. They were also naturally resistant to mildew.

But, then why wasn’t Britain already using this miracle material? Because it was crazy hard to collect. When the British decided to start using the moss as a bandage material, British and Canadian organizers started hosting events just to go walk the peat bogs and collect the material. One man even made the news for walking over 1,000 miles to collect the goods. And these workers were nearly always volunteers.

But the bandages did make a difference on the front, outperforming cotton bandages to the point that America, the only combatant still flush with cotton, traded gas masks components to get its hands on the moss because the plant-based bandages were better.

When the war ended, there were obviously much fewer volunteers willing to walk through the elements for no pay or willing to assemble the final bandages, so they fell out of favor. But some medical manufacturers continued to make the bandages and sell them. They were rare, though.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
The Sphagnum Moss Sanitary Napkins were for when you wanted to take ‘all natural’ way too far.
(Smithsonian Museum)

For some reason, U.S. manufacturers experimented with using moss-based materials for feminine hygiene products. For some reason, women weren’t super into it, and the product largely disappeared. If you are into it, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History actually has a box of them in their collections.

Just go full National Treasure and you, too, can enjoy the benefits of sphagnum moss bandages. That was the most popular moss for bandages in World War I, so they’re even the most relevant historically.

Now, scientists in Europe are looking for ways to cultivate plants like sphagnum moss without damaging the peat bogs that they grow on most easily, preferably by getting them to grow in controlled conditions on farms. Trampling peat bogs is labor intensive and very harmful to the environment, releasing lots of carbon from the soil into the atmosphere. Growing moss somewhere else might make it commercially viable without threatening the environment.

So, in World War III, you might get to use moss-filled bandages, just like great-great-great grandpa in The Great War.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Jimmy Carter saved Canada from nuclear destruction

In 1952, an accident at Canada’s Chalk River Laboratories near Deep River, Ontario caused a partial meltdown in an experimental nuclear reactor. Hydrogen explosions followed and hundreds of thousands of gallons of radioactive water flooded the core, heavily damaging the reactor.  When the Canadian government turned to U.S. nuclear experts for help, “Father of the Nuclear Navy” Rear Admiral Hyman Rickover sent his protégé – Lieutenant James Earl “Jimmy” Carter – to lead a team of maintainers into the reactor core to shut it down.


 

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
Jimmy Carter in his 1947 class portrait from the U.S. Naval Academy yearbook.

The admiral was famous for the demands he put on the people who worked for him. His unorthodox methods almost kept him from making flag rank, but President Truman intervened on his behalf. It was a good call: the Navy’s 300 nuclear warships have never had a single nuclear incident.

Rickover’s team had access to the latest in nuclear energy technology because they were developing nuclear-powered ships for the U.S. Navy (the first nuclear submarine, the Nautilus, was completed in 1955). The Navy knew the technology the Canadians were using and how best to fix it.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
The Chalk River Labs site.

Rickover volunteered Carter to the Canadians to take the failing reactor apart so it could be replaced, a testament to the extraordinary faith and training the U.S. Navy places in its sailors – and to the good judgment of Adm. Rickover. First, the reactor had to be shut down, then it could be disassembled and replaced.

Carter, then 28 years old, had been in the Navy for six years. He was assigned to the Naval Reactors Branch of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in Washington, D.C. Rickover’s demanding perfectionism was as instilled in Carter as it is today’s nuclear sailors.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

Rickover (left) served 61 years on active duty and saw Carter get elected President.

In his book “Reflections at Ninety,” Carter recalls preparing for the task. The team built a replica of the reactor on a nearby tennis court to practice their next move and track the work they’d already finished. Every pipe, bolt, and nut was rebuilt exactly as it was in the damaged reactor area.

Lieutenant Carter divided himself and his 23 guys into teams of three. Each worked 90-second shifts cleaning and repairing the reactor as per what they practiced on the tennis court. A minute and a half was the maximum time the human body could handle the amount of radiation in the area.

By today’s standards, it was still way too much radiation – Carter and his men were exposed to levels a thousand times higher than what is now considered safe. He and his team absorbed a year’s worth of radiation in that 90 seconds. The basement where they helped replace the reactor was so contaminated, Carter’s urine was radioactive for six months after the incident.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
The USS Jimmy Carter (U.S. Navy photo)

It makes sense that the ship named after President Carter would be a Seawolf-class nuclear submarine, as Carter helped develop the nuclear Navy and was the only U.S. President to be qualified for submarine duty. The USS Jimmy Carter was commissioned in February 2005.

The effects of this exposure eventually caught up to him. Carter developed cancerous tumors on his liver and brain at age 91 but was screened as cancer-free a year later.

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5 things you didn’t know about the Berlin Wall

This week in history, East German soldiers closed the borders between East and West Berlin. What started as a makeshift wall in 1961, pieced together with barbed wire, soldiers and tanks, eventually morphed into a 15-foot high symbol of division that blotted the landscape. However, the citizens of Berlin proved time and again where there’s a will, there’s a way. In its 28-year history, over 5,000 people risked life and limb to successfully across the border. For today’s history lesson, let’s take a look at a few more things you probably didn’t know about the Berlin Wall.


The wall was built to keep people in

At the height of the Cold War, Germany was politically divided. East Germany represented life under Communism, and West Germany held the promise of democracy. Consequently, between 1949 and 1961, over 2 million East Germans fled from East to West.

By August 1961, it is estimated that East Germany was losing approximately 2,000 of its citizens every day. Many of whom were skilled laborers in professionals, and their exodus was wreaking havoc on East Germany’s economy. To stop the bleeding, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev advised East Germany to cut off access between the two sides. So, on August 13, 1961, East Germany closed the border between East and West Berlin.

The streets were torn up to build the wall

Initially, a hasty perimeter was set up, and the wall in the city center was made of men and armored vehicles. On the morning of August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic (GDR) soldiers laid down barbed wire and ripped up the street known as Friedrich-Ebert Strasse, to build a makeshift wall. More armed guards kept watch, ready to shoot anyone who tried to cross as the wall was erected.

Over time the Berlin wall was shored up, reaching up to 15 feet high in some spots, and barbed wire and pipes perched atop the wall made climbing over impossible.

Checkpoint Charlie was the most famous checkpoint, but do you know why?

Along the Berlin Wall, there were a few checkpoints where those with the proper documentation were able to cross between sides. Among them was Checkpoint Friedrichstrasse — more commonly known as Checkpoint Charlie. The U.S. Army maintained Checkpoint Charlie, and it was the only checkpoint where foreigners and allied forces were allowed to cross into East Germany.

Checkpoint Charlie also gained notoriety because it was the preferred crossing for prisoner swaps. The most notable prisoner swap occurred in 1962, on Glienicke Bridge, which stood only a short distance from Checkpoint Charlie. During this exchange American U-2 spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers was traded for Rudolf Abel, a Soviet spy convicted of espionage.

Checkpoint Charlie has often been depicted in film and books as well, perhaps most notably in the James Bond classic Octopussy and The Spy Who Came In From The Cold by John le Carré.

You can own a piece of the wall

On November 9, 1989, East Germany announced relaxed travel restrictions to West Germany, and thousands gathered to demand passage. As East German guards opened the borders, the demonstrations reached a fever pitch. Berliners climbed the wall, defaced it with graffiti, and began chipping away at it, some keeping fragments as souvenirs. While East German guards began dismantling the wall on August 10, 1989, Germany was not officially united until 1990.

Today pieces of the Berlin Wall are available for sale on eBay. You can own a piece of history for .99 plus shipping and handling.

More than 100 people died trying to cross the wall

According to the Centre for Contemporary History Potsdam and the Berlin Wall Foundation, more than 140 people were killed or died at the wall between 1961 – 1989. While many were shot by armed guards, many more perished in an assortment of suicides after failed attempts, freak accidents, and drownings. Perhaps the most bizarre death was the last one to be recorded on August 3, 1989, when Winfried Freudenberg died in a failed attempt to cross the border in a hot air balloon.

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time Uncle Sam brought the Vietnamese bombs for Christmas

By 1972, American efforts in Vietnam were being drawn down. In Paris, North Vietnamese negotiators were unwilling to settle for peace as they felt victory was within their grasp. President Nixon had other ideas.


The Air Force was going to bring the communists to their knees.

This led to the development of a new plan, Operation Linebacker II. Linebacker II would not be limited in its objectives like its predecessor. The new objective was the strategic destruction of North Vietnamese infrastructure. Some 200 B-52s, along with numerous types of tactical aircraft, prepared to strike at the heartland of North Vietnam – Hanoi and Haiphong.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
Bomb Damage Assessments after Linebacker II.

Arrayed against the Americans was one of the most formidable air defense networks ever conceived.

The North Vietnamese had over 100 MiG fighters ready to launch at a moment’s notice. They also had over 20 SAM sites in the vicinity of the target area, along with all manner of anti-aircraft artillery and a vast radar network.

Dec. 18, 1972, aircrews took to the skies, intent on destroying their enemy.

A veritable clash of the titans ensued. Massive SA-2 missiles, the size of telephone poles, soared into the sky after the intruding bombers — oftentimes in four-to-six missile salvos. At one point, bomber crews tracked 40 missiles in the air at one time.

Despite the frenetic fire from the North Vietnamese, only three B-52s were lost on the first night along with a single F-111 on a mission against Radio Hanoi.

The B-52 crews also got in on the action. Not only did they drop tens of thousands of pounds of bombs on enemy targets, but SSgt. Samuel Turner, a tail gunner on one of the B-52s, shot down an attacking MiG-21 — the first since the Korean War and the first for a B-52.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
The tail gunner’s station inside a B-52D Stratofortress. The four rear-facing Browning .50 caliber machine guns were below the gunner and aimed remotely, similar to the configuration of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress in WWII.

Just as the B-52s were entering the threat area, Turner’s radar screen lit up with two bogeys at 6 o’clock low. One MiG came in hot pursuit, closing fast on the bomber from behind. When his instruments indicated the bogey was in range Turner let loose a long burst from his quad .50s. A terrific explosion lit up the night and Turner’s radar now showed only one threat. After seeing his wingman obliterated, the second MiG disengaged.

After a successful second night of bombing, in which no American aircraft were lost, disaster struck on the third night.

Using the same tactics for the third night in a row, the bombers flew into a maelstrom. Six B-52s were sent earthward along with a Navy fighter. Reeling from the loss but intent to carry on the mission, the Air Force quickly revamped its tactics.

The fourth day of missions saw the loss of two B-52s and another Navy fighter, but the Americans were putting their experience to good use. For the next three days, the Air Force bombers pounded North Vietnamese targets without the loss of any B-52s. Each bomber demolished entire grid squares.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
B-52s pounding North Vietnamese targets during Linebacker II.

On the seventh night, Christmas Eve, the Americans got an early Christmas present and another morale boost. A1C Albert Moore became the second B-52 tail gunner to score a kill on an enemy fighter. He is also the last known aerial gunner in history to accomplish such a feat.

In similar fashion to the MiG that attacked Turner’s B-52, a lone bogey charged the bomber from 6 o’clock low. The eighteen-year-old Moore steadied himself, called out his target, and let loose a burst.

He missed.

He fired another burst. This, too, failed to connect with the encroaching fighter.

Desperate to protect his crew and with scant few seconds remaining before the MiG began firing itself Moore unleashed a torrent of bullets from his guns. Unable to see the MiG directly, he watched as its radar signature grew to three times normal size and disappear.

A fellow tail gunner saw the action and confirmed that Moore had destroyed the enemy aircraft.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

On Christmas Day, the Americans took a tactical pause to evaluate their efforts, give their weary crews some rest, and signal to the North Vietnamese that it was time to come back to the negotiating table.

The North Vietnamese instead restocked their supply of SAMs and prepared to do battle once again.

Undeterred, the bomber crews came back with a vengeance. Employing new tactics and hitting more targets, they wore the North Vietnamese down.

In the days after Christmas, four more B-52s were shot down, but the pressure on the North Vietnamese was intensifying. Their defenses were crumbling.

After the losses on Dec. 20, the Air Force had called for more attacks against SAM sites and radar stations. Both bombers and fighters struck with deadly precision, crippling the North’s ability to defend itself.

By the final day of bombings on Dec. 29, the communists were only able to muster 23 SA-2 attacks throughout the entire mission.

From Dec. 18 to Dec. 29, American aircraft flew over 1,500 sorties, dropped over 15,000 tons of bombs, and succeeded in bringing the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table. The 11 Days War, as it came to be known, was just the success the United States had been looking for in the war in Vietnam. The only question on many veterans’ minds at that point, though, was why hadn’t they employed strategic air power sooner?

MIGHTY HISTORY

German POWs hit the gridiron for the Barbwire Bowl Classic

Throughout the course of World War II German prisoners of war were commonly sent to the U.S. mainland, to be incarcerated in POW camps. This incarceration did not immediately end upon the conclusion of the war, and during this period enemy POWs underwent time in reeducation camps as they awaited repatriation to Germany. In January of 1946, 44 German POWs would get the opportunity to participate in a uniquely American autumn tradition, competition on the gridiron.


POW camps were a mainstay throughout the U.S. mainland in WWII. Upon conclusion of the war, prisoners were not immediately repatriated to Germany; rather many remaining incarcerated until they could be sent home. Many of these camps were located throughout the South and Midwestern states, but California had a handful of these camps as well.

One, located in Stockton, California would host an event that would become known as the Barbwire Bowl Classic, in which 44 German prisoners of war volunteered to participate in a game that would have thousands of spectators and gain national attention.

The commanding officer of the Stockton Ordnance Depot Colonel Kenneth Barager proposed a football game between POWs located at the stockade and POWs located at a smaller camp known as the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds, commanded by John M. Kiernan Jr. Barager hoped that this experience would spread football to Europe upon the POWs returning home. So, after posting an announcement asking for volunteers, those men that showed up were shown an instructional film and demonstration about American football, issued equipment provided by local area football teams, and began their preparation for the big game.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

Kiernan’s Krushers

(http://warfarehistorynetwork.com)

The teams were coached by two former collegiate players. Sgt. Ed Tipton, a former player for the University of Texas would lead one squad, initially naming them Stockton Tech, but later changing their name to the Barager Bears. The other side was led by Sgt. Johnny Polczynski who played his college days at Marquette. Polczynski would call his team the Fairground Aggies, later changing their name to Kiernan’s Krushers.

The game was played on January 13, 1946 in front of an estimated 2,000 to 5,000 fans. Both teams struggled in the contest as they didn’t completely understand the rules. The teams had trouble throwing the ball, so they primarily stuck to the wing formation and T-formation, in an attempt to establish a rushing attack. A couple of fights apparently broke out, and the culprits were sent to the locker rooms for the remainder of the game.

In the 3rd quarter the Krushers QB Hubert Lüngen scored the games first points on a sneak play. The extra point was no good. The game would come down to the wire in the 4th quarter, with the Bears mounting some offense, driving all the way down to the ten-yard line before being stopped on 4th down. The final score was 6-0 in favor of Kiernan’s Krushers.

After the game the teams changed back into their military uniforms and were treated to a banquet at the Officer’s Club, and were sent back to their POW camps with plenty of leftovers. The teams decided to hold a rematch 4 weeks later, but this time Barager’s Bears would win 30-0.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The hero who gave her life protecting others during hijacking

On Sept. 5, 1986, New York-bound Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked by armed terrorists at Karachi airport in Pakistan in what would become one of the bloodiest hijackings of the 80s.

During the 17-hour ordeal, Neerja Bhanot would help the cockpit crew escape and ground the plane, hide the passports of passengers to protect their identities and nationalities, and open the emergency door to help others escape.

Bhanot would give her life saving and protecting the passengers on board that day. She was just shy of 23 years old.


Just after 0600, four gunmen sped onto the tarmac in an airport security van and entered the plane, firing their weapons. Flight attendant Sherene Pavan hailed the cockpit crew and pressed the hijack code as the hijackers grabbed Bhanot and held a gun to her head, demanding to be taken to the captain.

Upon arrival in the cockpit, they saw that the crew received the warning and evacuated by means of a safety hatch in the cockpit.

Inside the plane, 29 year-old American Rajesh Kumar was pulled out of his seat, shot, and kicked out of the plane.

“This changed everything. It showed they were ruthless killers,” said Sunshine Vesuwala, a surviving flight attendant.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

Passenger and plane details.

(Wikipedia)

The hijackers wanted a pilot to fly the plane to where other members of their militant group were imprisoned. As negotiators communicated with them from outside the aircraft, the terrorists began looking for more Americans on board.

This is when Bhanot and the other flight attendants began hiding the passports of the travelers to protect their identities. As the hours dragged on, the power of the aircraft began to dwindle. When the lights finally went out, the terrorists began to fire into the aircraft, killing the on-board mechanic Meherjee Kharas.

Bhanot and other members of the crew took the opportunity to open at least three doors and help passengers escape.

Bhanot was shot helping the hostages out of the plane and was evacuated by her colleagues, but she died at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital.

22 people were killed in the attack, including two Americans, and another 150 were injured. The combined efforts of the 16 flight attendants likely saved hundreds of lives that day, and for two more days after the attack, the crew continued to care for minor passengers until they could be reunited with their families.

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The experimental rifle that almost changed World War II

In 1928, the Army asked itself how it could make its rifles, and therefore its riflemen, more lethal in case all those building tensions in Europe and Asia eventually boiled over and triggered a new world war. After years of study and design, they came up with a rifle design that some leaders thought would be capable of tipping battles, but it never saw combat.


This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
Pedersen rifle patent

 

It started in 1928 when the Army created a “Caliber Board” to determine what the most lethal size would be for a rifle round. Their eventual conclusion would be familiar to anyone who carried an M16 or M4. While .30-caliber and larger rounds were great for hunting animals, they passed too quickly and easily through humans. The board decided that a smaller round, preferably .276 inches or smaller, would be best.

This decision was no surprise to John Douglas Pedersen, a well-known weapon designer with an experimental rifle chambered for .276-caliber that featured a delayed-blowback mechanism and a 10-round clip.

This allowed the weapon to fire reliably, and it allowed infantrymen and cavalrymen to maintain a high rate of fire. A demonstration of the weapon pleased senior Army leaders, and they asked when they could take prototypes to the field for testing.

But the Pedersen did have some drawbacks. The weapon was very precisely machined, and even small errors could throw off its operation. Also, its rounds had to receive a thin coating of wax to guarantee that they’d properly feed through the weapon. Finally, its clips could only be fed in one direction into the rifle, meaning riflemen reloading under fire would have to be careful to get it right.

So, other weapon designers thought they had a chance to win the Army’s business. Other .276-caliber designs entered competition, including the Garand.

The Garand could take a beating, was easier to manufacture, and didn’t need lubricated rounds. The Pedersen was still the frontrunner in many eyes, but the Garand posed a real threat to it.

 

Shooting a .276 Pedersen PB Rifle

An even greater blow to the Pedersen was coming. As the move to a .276-caliber continued, the Army Ordnance Department was putting up fierce resistance. The department didn’t want to have to set up the whole new supply chain, get the new tools, or prepare the new stockpiles of ammunition required to support the switch.

The Ordnance Department argued, successfully, to Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur that the change would be expensive and present logistics challenges. MacArthur ordered that any new rifle had to use the .30-caliber ammunition already in use by the Army.

Most of the competitors, including Pedersen, didn’t think they could re-configure their weapons quickly to accept the larger ammunition, but the Garand team could. They quickly swapped in new parts, and entered a .30-caliber Garand and it won the competition, going on to become the M1 Garand of World War II legend.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
A U.S. Marine with his trusty M1 Garand in World War II. (U.S. Marine Corps)

 

But it’s easy to imagine an alternate history where the Pedersen or the .276-Garand went into production instead. The .30-caliber ammunition and older weapons would’ve still seen action, sent forward with Free French, British, and Russian forces under the Cash-and-Carry system and then Lend-Lease.

Meanwhile, American troops would’ve carried a slightly lighter rifle and much lighter rounds, giving them the ability to more quickly draw their weapons and the ability to sustain a higher rate of fire with the same strain on individual soldiers and the logistics chain.

And, best of all, more lethality per hit. The .30-caliber rounds, the same size as 7.62mm, are more likely to pass through a target at the ranges in which most battles are fought. But .276-caliber rounds are more likely to tumble a time or two after hitting a target, dispersing their energy in the target’s flesh and causing massive internal bleeding.

So, if the 1928 Ordnance Board and the modern minds behind 5.56mm and the potential 6.8mm weapons were right, each successful rifle hit by American soldiers was more likely to cause death or extreme wounding.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This museum in Hawaii was built by Pearl Harbor survivors

With the help of Pearl Harbor survivors, Janet Glen Tomlinson created Home of the Brave Tours Museum, a one-of-a-kind WWII Military Base Tour along with the largest private collection of 1940’s memorabilia in the Pacific. As curators of this extensive collection, the Tomlinsons have received numerous awards and accolades for their work in educating the public about the rich heritage, sacrifices and traditions of the United States military.


The Home of the Brave Museum is a one-of-a-kind treasure trove of artifacts, stories, and memories of our American Military that fought to save our country and liberate the world during our darkest hours. The extensive collection exists to preserve wartime legacies, as well as to honor the sacrifice and victory of our nation’s great servicemen and women.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

Their goal is to maintain the extensive collection and expand the property into an interactive learning center to further promote awareness, gratitude, and documentation of America’s military heritage for public interest and educational purposes.

Also read: A previously ‘unknown’ sailor killed at Pearl Harbor is returned home 75 years later

Last year, the revenue needed to operate the museum was cut off due to the termination of their exclusive military base tour. This was due to security concerns from Homeland Security increased competition from larger tour operators who offer larger commission structures to the sales agents selling and promoting Pearl Harbor Tours. The five star “mom pop” tour operation just couldn’t compete with the “big boys.”

The Foundation offers exciting and engaging ways to delve into America’s military legacy as well as educational (hand-on history) and entertainment opportunities for school groups, senior centers, local, military, and island visitors.

The Home of the Brave Museum is asking for help. Visit this site to give your support.

“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” – President Harry S. Truman

MIGHTY TRENDING

How losing Vietnam was actually a victory for 5 other countries

On Jan. 27, 1973, President Richard Nixon signed the Paris Peace Accords, formally ending U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. On Apr. 30, 1975, the country of South Vietnam formally came to an end as North Vietnamese tanks rolled across bases and airfields and into the southern capital of Saigon.

While many look back and see the war as a waste of money, manpower and materiel given the outcome, there are more than 475 million people who would disagree.


This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

The foundation of that figure of 475 million is the current population of Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. It doesn’t mention the relatives of those populations who are no longer alive and didn’t live under the constant threat of global Communism because of the line in the sand drawn by American forces in Vietnam.

World War II-era Navy veteran, Georgetown University professor, and former member of the National Security Council under four presidential administrations, William Lloyd Stearman, wrote about the accomplishments of the United States in the Vietnam War in a recent Wall Street Journal opinion piece. In it, he argues that the Vietnam War was not only winnable, the North Vietnamese were constantly surprised that the Americans didn’t cut off the Ho Chi Minh Trail by invading Laos – a move the NVA thought was inevitable – and thus, win the war for the South.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
The U.S. didn’t want to widen the war, but if the NVA was already in Laos. It was already wider.

While the 96-year-old Stearman spends much of the article rehashing the causes for the outcome of the Vietnam War, the important aspects he adds to the discussion are what the United States and her allies actually achieved through their involvement there, rather than dwelling on what we lost. He argues that without the intervention of the U.S. in Vietnam, the West would have been forced into harder choices in more difficult areas as Communist insurgencies rocked other countries in the region. Quoting Singapore’s visionary leader Lee Kuan Yew, who wrote about this subject in his memoirs:

In 1965, when the U.S. military moved massively into South Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines faced internal threats from armed insurgencies and the communist underground was still active in Singapore. Indonesia [was] in the throes of a failed communist coup. America’s action enabled noncommunist Southeast Asia to put their own houses in order. By 1975, they were in better shape to stand up to the communists. Had there been no U.S. intervention, the will of these countries to resist them would have melted and Southeast Asia would most likely gone communist.”

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
Lee Kuan Yew is famous for taking Singapore “from third world to first world” in a single generation.
(Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. troop buildup in South Vietnam in 1965 spurred Britain to reinforce Malaysia. That same year, Indonesian forces were inspired by anti-Communist action and troop build-ups in the region and successfully fought off a Chinese-led Communist insurgency there. If the insurgency in Indonesia were successful, it would have spread to the Philippines and forced the U.S. to come to the Philippines to fight the Communists, rather than in North Vietnam.

That situation, Stearman argues, would have been far worse and far more costly than the fighting in Vietnam.

Feature image: U.S. Army

MIGHTY HISTORY

Watch sailors fight off World War II kamikaze attacks in amazing 4K

By 1944, the tides of the war in the Pacific had turned against the Japanese Empire. The United States and its allies repelled the Imperial Japanese Navy in critical battles like Midway, Milne Bay, and Guadalcanal. The stage was set for the U.S. to retake the Philippines in 1944, but the Japanese were getting desperate. Low on ships, manpower, and material, they turned to the one thing they had in abundance — zeal for the Emperor.


That zeal led to the surprise kamikaze attacks that have come to define the war in its closing days. The amazing video producers at AARP are dedicated to keeping the memory of veterans of every American war alive and their latest offering is the story of Phil Hollywood aboard the USS Melvin at the Surigao Strait in incredible 4K video.

The Melvin was a Fletcher-class destroyer, part of the U.S. 7th Fleet Support Force moving to help the Allied landing at Leyte. But first, they had to get through the 47-mile Surigao Strait. Waiting for them was a fleet of Japanese battleships ready to halt their advance and stymie the allied landing — and the famous return of General Douglas MacArthur to his beloved Philippine Islands.

Phil Hollywood was a young sailor who enlisted after Pearl Harbor at age 17. He was aboard the Melvin at Surigao and talked to AARP about his role as a Fire Controlman 2nd Class during what would become the last battleship-to-battleship combat in the history or warfare. The Melvin was his first assignment, a ship made of, essentially, engines, hull, and guys with guns.

“It was everything I ever wanted in a fighting ship,” he said. “Facing the enemy was everything. I didn’t think of anything else.”
This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

Former U.S. Navy FC2 Phil Hollywood, a World War II Pacific veteran, looking at photos of destroyers from that era.

(AARP)

The Melvin was supposed to be looking for flights of Japanese planes via radar and alert the main landing area at Leyte. It was not safe to be on a destroyer in the Pacific during World War II, even by the standards of that war. Some 77 destroyers were lost in the war and 17 of those were from kamikaze attacks. Hollywood’s battle station was at the top of the director, moving guns on target.

“There were moments I was afraid, not sure if I was going to live or die,” he told AARP. “But one thing’s for certain, I wanted to fight and save our ship. The patriotism was raging in my blood.”
This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

World War II veteran Philip Hollywood enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 years old. He was just 19 when he took part in one of history’s greatest naval battles.

(AARP/Phil Hollywood)

Hollywood recalled what it was like to face the kamikaze pilots in battle. The pilots were not well trained. For many, it was their first and last flights, and the planes were loaded up with weapons so traditional flight profiles weren’t really able to be used by the enemy pilots. It was a frightening experience. It seemed like no matter how much they threw at the pilots, they kept coming.

“During a kamikaze attack, being in the main battery directory, we were on telescopes,” he recalled. “It looked like he was coming down our throats. I was frightened, my heart was pounding, one looked like it was gonna hit us. We kept hitting him and hitting him… until I could see the flex of his wings breaking up.”

That was the moment he looked death in the face. Luckily, the plane crashed into the ocean. For Hollywood, it was both a sigh of relief and a moment to think about. Maybe the first thought other than avenging Pearl Harbor – which says a lot for the salty combat sailor Hollywood was by this time.

“It was a new experience,” he said. “Trying to kill an opponent who only wanted to kill you and not survive. Anyone at that time who says they weren’t scared… I don’t think they’re telling the truth.”
This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol

The Destroyer USS Melvin.

The Battle of Surigao Strait was really a part of the greater Battle of Leyte Gulf, the largest naval battle in military history. It put 300 American ships against some 68 Japanese ships. The Japanese had always believed that one great naval battle could knock the United States out of the war and win it for Japan. This was a must-win battle for both sides, and it showed. The fighting at every level was intense but only one side could come out on top, and it wasn’t the Japanese.

Surigao was just the beginning of the greater battle, and sailors like FC2 Phil Hollywood and the crew of the Melvin started off the biggest naval battle of all time, a battle that would rage on for three full days.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The French Foreign Legion in World War II was filled with Nazis

The French Foreign Legion is one of France’s elite fighting forces, filled with men who are ready and willing to do extreme violence on France’s behalf. When 1930s Germany started looking at its neighbors with greedy eyes, it knew that it had to do something about the Legion.

Germany saw its opportunity in the large number of Legion noncommissioned officers who were German by birth. The Nazis hatched a plan to send droves of men to the Legion. These men would then convince German noncommissioned officers to betray the Legion. The spies would also collect lists of Jewish legionnaires and other groups targeted by the Third Reich for extermination.

Somewhere around 80 percent of French Foreign Legion NCOs were German, so this was no idle threat. The Legion quickly caught on to the Nazis’ plan and began screening German recruits carefully.

 

Still, many Nazi agents got in before the heightened scrutiny began. Legion leaders, knowing they were compromised, began sending suspect Legionnaires to low-risk postings like road construction. At the same time, Legionnaires who might be targeted by the Nazis were sent to far-flung outposts in North Africa.

 

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
Free French Foreign Legionnaires attack an enemy strongpoint in Africa in 1942. Photo: Public domain

The level of German sympathies in the Legion was bad enough that France debated whether or not to deploy Legion units from their headquarters in Algeria to France ahead of the possible German invasion. They settled on recruiting new Legionnaires from anti-Nazi populations, such as political refugees from Germany and French reservists, and brought loyal Legionnaires from North Africa to train them.

Nine new regiments were raised but most lacked the standards and experience of the true French Foreign Legion. Most of these units were sent to the front before the Germans invaded and they fought bitterly to resist the blitzkrieg when it was launched. When war broke out, the Legion also took the preventative measure of arresting German Legionnaires suspected of being Nazi spies.

The Legion has a long and proud history of fighting well past when other units would have surrendered, and the Legion units fighting in France upheld that tradition. Most continued fighting even after taking losses of 75 percent or more, only ceasing when ordered by their commanders after the Armistice was signed.

The 11th Foreign Infantry Regiment, knowing it would likely be wiped out, even burned its colors to prevent their capture before launching a series of delaying actions to buy other units time to retreat.

After the Armistice was signed, Germany demanded that their spies be allowed to leave the Legion. The true Legionnaires were happy to see them go.

This is why the M1911 was America’s favorite pistol
French Foreign Legionnaires assigned to Indochina pose under a plane wing. Photo: Public Domain

Those spies took lists of people considered “undesirable” with them, and the Legion quickly had to make false papers to protect them from arrest by the Nazis. Many were shipped under new names to remote outposts where the Nazis were unlikely to look for them.

Unfortunately, about 2,000 men were found out by the Nazis. Most were sent to a new German unit, the 361st Motorised Infantry Regiment, and forced to fight for Germany.

At the same time, Legion units split into three groups. Some of the newer units, filled with recruits who had joined “for the duration of the war,” were disbanded. Others joined the Free French Forces under Gen. Charles de Gaulle and continued to resist the Germans. A few units, mostly those in areas already controlled by the Germans, joined the Vichy French forces and fought against the allies.

In one battle in Syria, this actually resulted in men from the Free French Foreign Legion fighting those from the Vichy French Legion. Following the Legion’s mantra, “The Legion is our Fatherland,” the treated prisoners and wounded from the opposing Legion with special care.

Ultimately, the Free French Foreign Legion won and continued supporting the Allies well into the invasion of Germany.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the hot-rod F-15 the Air Force used to set 8 world records

McDonnell Douglas, the manufacturer of the F-15 Eagle, knew it had a winner on its hands with the plane. It was the first U.S. fighter with greater engine thrust than weight, allowing it to accelerate vertically like a rocket. And it was highly maneuverable, so it could out fly its likely adversary in the Foxbat and other MiG jets.


F 15 Streak Eagle Record Flights

youtu.be

But McDonnell Douglas and the U.S. Air Force wanted to prove that the F-15 was superior to anything Russia had before pilots clashed in actual combat. After all, if your enemy knows their likely to lose in a real battle, they’ll hopefully just stay home.

So they took a pre-production version of the F-15 and stripped everything unnecessary off of it, to include the bulk of its paint. It had an Air Force graphic on the fuselage, but the standard gray, anti-corrosion paint was removed to save even that little bit of weight. Their goal was to set all of the major time-to-climb records for planes.

If time-to-climb sounds like a niche record to compete on, it’s actually super important to air combat. Speed, max altitude, and acceleration are all important as well. But speed in a climb determines which plane in a dogfight is likely to get above the other while they’re maneuvering. And altitude equates to extra energy and speed in a fight, because the higher pilot works with gravity instead of against it while attacking.

And so, in just two weeks in late January to February 1975, Air Force pilots took the “Streak Eagle” on a series of flights where they broke eight world time-to-climb records. Five of the records had been held by another McDonnell Douglas aircraft, the F-4 Phantom. But three of them had been held by the Russian MiG-25 Foxbat until the Eagle came calling for them.

The first record was shattered on Jan. 16, 1975. Maj. Robert Smith took off from North Dakota in freezing weather. Smith conducted a 5G pull-up and rocketed up past 3,000 meters, over 9,840 feet. He hit his mark in 27.57 seconds, shattering the old 34.5 record.

That afternoon, another major broke the 6,000-meter, 9,000-meter, and 12,000-meter records. Another pilot destroyed the 15,000-meter record by 37.5 seconds, breaching the altitude in just 77.05 seconds.

And yes, all three pilots were flying the same Streak Eagle. They went on to beat the Foxbat’s records for 20,000 meters, 25,000 meters, and 30,000 meters in the following two weeks. The 30,000-meter record was beaten in just under 3.5 minutes. That 30,000 meters number equates to 98,425 feet, and the pilot coasted to 103,000 feet before beginning his descent.

The Streak Eagle used in all of these record-setting flights is now in the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.


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