The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Britain formed a number of commando units in World War II that operated from Burma to India to Europe and even north of the Arctic Circle in Norway. The No. 14 (Arctic) Commando trained specifically to sink German ships, destroy infrastructure, and interrupt operations in order to cripple Axis efforts in the Atlantic.


The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Austro-Hungarian ski patrol on the Italian front.
(Imperial War Museum)

 

The unit was formed after the success of Operation Gunnerside, a British-Norwegian commando operation that saw the destruction of equipment at a Nazi-held heavy water plant, ultimately delaying German creation of a nuclear bomb or reactor (The Germans were already leaning towards the reactor over the bomb and had limited material to pursue either).

But Gunnerside had also shown a shortage of suitable transportation and experienced personnel, so British leadership allowed members of the 12 Commando unit to form the ‘Fynn Force’ as well as to create an all new commando unit, 14 Commando, in 1942.

Troops were recruited from units with experience in cold climates, especially those who already knew how to ski and canoe. Yes, canoe. The unit was to be split into two, each specialized for certain operations. One group would specialize in transiting via skis, and the other would row in canoes.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Commandos carry the wounded to landing ships.
(Imperial War Museum)

 

Canadians were in high demand for the unit, but British and Norwegian sailors and commandos joined as well. It was a job that required steady nerves. Most missions proposed for the Arctic commandos were obvious suicide missions. One raid scheduled for the winter of 1942-1943 called for a group of skiers to parachute in and destroy a viaduct critical for iron ore transportation.

The unit commander voted against the mission on the basis that the party would almost certainly not be able to escape, but was overruled because of the value of success even if the commandos were lost. Luckily for them, weather made the mission impossible.

But No. 14 Commando would get its chance to fight just south of Arctic Circle. Eight men were sent on a canoe raid against German ships in Operation Checkmate.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
The “Cockleshell Heroes,” another group of canoe raiders who sunk ships with explosives.
(Royal Marine Museum)

 

They went forward on a motorboat and then split up. Four men stayed with the boat while four men went forward in two canoes. The men in the canoes were able to plant a limpet mine against the hull of ships, sinking a German minesweeper before they escaped.

But the mission fell apart there. The men on the motorboat had been forced to move from the rendezvous point, and the quartets were forced to escape and evade separately. Neither group made it out. They were captured during a massive search involving German forces and Norwegian civilians.

Thanks to the new order from Hitler to kill all captured commandos, issued just months before in October 1942, all eight were sentenced to die. Seven were executed after forced labor in concentration camps while the other died of typhus.

The rest of No. 14 Commando was later absorbed into other units after the organization was disbanded.

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This lone Soviet tank was ready to fight the entire Nazi invasion of Russia

On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany broke its non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union, invading the Russian-held area of Poland. Nazi tanks streamed across the border between the two occupiers, arriving in the Lithuanian town of Raseiniai the next day.


The resistance there almost threw a wrench in the entire Nazi war plan.

As the Nazis advanced on the town, Soviet mechanized divisions moved to defend it. The local tank garrisons happened to be equipped with Kliment-Voroshilov tanks, an advanced armored vehicle invulnerable to almost anything the German infantry could throw at them.

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A Kliment-Voroshilov Tank, taken out by German infantry.

 

Anti-tank weapons were useless. The Nazis tried everything to disable the KV tanks — other tanks, artillery, anti-aircraft guns, but nothing worked. Even the vaunted sticky bomb couldn’t stop them.

According to the Russian Daily newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets, German tanks and infantry advanced on the city but suddenly, well behind enemy lines, one Soviet KV tank drove into the middle of road and stopped — for a full day.

As this day wore on, the KV started tearing up Nazi anti-tank weapons and heavy machine guns as “armor piercing” rounds bounced right off the tank’s skin. The Russians even took out 12 trucks. German engineers threw satchel charges at the tank, with little effect.

 

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
German guns, destroyed by the lone KV at Raseiniai. Photo from the personal archive of Maxim Kolomiets.

 

According to MK, Nazi battle group commander Colonel Erhard Raus wrote in his account of the action that an 88-mm anti-aircraft gun couldn’t even put a dent in the KV tank’s armor.

“… It turned out that the crew and the tank commander had nerves of steel. They calmly watched the approach of anti-aircraft guns, without interfering with it, as long as it didn’t not pose any threat to the tank. In addition, the closer the anti-aircraft gun, the easier it is to destroy. A critical time in the duel of nerves, when settlement began to prepare the gun to fire. While gunners, nervous, bridged and loaded the gun, the tank tower turned and fired the first shot! Every shot hit the target. The heavily damaged antiaircraft gun fell into the ditch.”

The KV harassed the attacking Germans throughout the night and by morning, the full force of the German infantry attacked the lone KV tank. The tank struck down as many as possible with its machine guns, but it wasn’t enough. The troops were finally able to throw grenades down the tank’s hatches and kill the crew.

Pitched fighting at Raseiniai lasted three days. The lone Soviet tank delayed them by a full day, taking on two full Nazi mechanized divisions.

 

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Russians have tried for years to postulate why the lone tank stopped and didn’t even try to maneuver. The most likely reason is that the tank ran out of gas. Red Army supply lines to Lithuania weren’t very good to begin with and a Nazi invasion sure wouldn’t have helped.

For 22 hours, the KV blocked the road, preventing the Germans from advancing into greater Russia, destroying or killing every Nazi man and machine in sight.

The Eastern Front of World War II is remembered by history for its brutality. Prisoners and war dead between the German Wehrmacht and the Soviet Red Army were treated with shocking disregard by any standard on both sides. The Nazis considered the Russians subhuman — theirs was a war of extermination.

In this instance, however, the German troops removed the Russian tank crew from their KV and buried them in the nearby woods with full military honors. Colonel Raus recounted in his memoirs:

“I am deeply shocked by this heroism, we buried them with full military honors. They fought to the last breath … “

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Why the Battle of Wizna is called the ‘Polish Thermopylae’

Ever since the Greeks met the Persians at Thermopylae, it has been the iconic standard of a small force pinning down a much larger army for the greater good. Though the movie 300 would have us believe that the number of Greeks defending the pass was just 300, the actual number of defenders was more like 7,000. 

Still, a great victory, even though the odds were slightly better. The Polish Army at the beginning of World War II in Europe had much larger odds to contend with, given their circumstances. Though it lasted little more than a month, the stories of Poland’s stalwart defenders are so numerous, despite being outnumbered, outclassed and outgunned by the German Wehrmacht and being invaded from almost all sides. 

The Battle of Wizna is one of those astonishing stories. 

In the first week after German forces invaded Poland, they came across a small fortified Polish position near the town of Wizna. Though reinforced, the position was manned by only 700 soldiers armed with just two 76mm anti-tank guns, 42 MGs and 2 anti-tank rifles. Coming at them was 42,200 infantry, 350 tanks and 657 artillery pieces from the German 10th Panzer Division. 

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Wikimedia Commons

Though massively outnumbered, its commander, Capt. Władysław Raginis, knew he had to delay the Germans to prevent the encirclement of Independent Operational Group Narew and allow for time to prepare for the defense of Warsaw. Raginis swore he would hold the position as long as he was still alive, a promise he kept. 

The Pole occupied a series of 12 bunkers arranged along the line of Narew River. Though the position was small, it was an important hub given its position along major roads and waterways. The Germans could not go around it nor could they simply blast it to bits with artillery. When the assault began, the Germans were able to force the Poles to escape from the field trenches around the fort or retreat over a nearby bridge that was burned to keep it from the Germans. 

The Germans paid a high price for that action and the Poles were now left to the series of bunkers with no relief in sight. Time and again the Germans assaulted the bunkers as engineers systematically destroyed parts of the fortifications. For three days, the Poles held on, taking a heavy toll on their attackers. Each bunker that fell to the enemy only came as a result of heavy fighting. 

After three days, only two bunkers were still standing. Most of the Poles were wounded and they’d lost most of their heavy weapons keeping the Germans at bay. The Wehrmacht commander, Heinz Guderian then gave Raginis an ultimatum: either surrender the fortifications or he would start shooting Polish prisoners of war. A cease-fire came only after a German envoy approached under a flag of truce. 

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Captain Raginis, the King Leonidas of this story (Wikimedia Commons)

Considering his situation, Raginis – Poland’s King Leonidas – decided that his wounded and tired men should surrender to the Germans rather than be killed to a man, or risk losing the Polish POWs. Being nearly completely out of ammo, they surrendered – all except Raginis. 

True to his promise of holding the bunker as long as he was alive, Capt. Raginis placed a grenade under his chin and pulled the pin. 

No one really knows what happened to the Poles taken prisoner by Guderian that day. Only 70 defenders of Wizna survived. Guderian wrote in his diary that 900 Germans died at Wizna, along with 10 tanks and even one aircraft being destroyed.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Ruins of one of the bunkers, now a memorial site (Wikimedia Commons)

Today, just one of the ruined bunkers still remains on the site and the heroic stand of the Polish at Wizna is well-known in Poland. For his part, Capt. Władysław Raginis is still a national hero in Poland. 

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This is the ironic reason the Spitfire beat the Bf 109

Every student of history knows that the British won the Battle of Britain in August and September of 1940, and that the Spitfire played a key role. But why was that the case?


The answer is stunningly ironic, and it requires us to look at what both the Spitfire and the Bf 109 were supposed to do.

(Yes, I said Bf 109. Believe it or not, calling Willy Messerschmidt’s signature design a Me 109 isn’t accurate. Messerschmidt worked for the Bavarian Aircraft Works, or Bayerische Flugzeugwerke. Now, Messerschmidt bought the company in 1938, but planes designed before the purchase, like the Bf 109, kept the old designation.)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

So, with that out of the way, let’s look at the Bf 109 and Spitfire.

Both planes were really designed to fulfill the same mission profile: that of a short-range interceptor.

The Spitfire Mk VB had a top speed of 370 miles per hour, could climb 2,600 feet per minute, and had a combat radius of 470 miles. The Bf 109G had a top speed of 398 miles per hour, a range of 621 miles with a drop tank, and could climb 3,345 feet per minute.

In 1940, the Germans needed a plane to escort their bombers, and the Bf 109 was their only option. They tried the Bf 110, a twin-engine plane with long range and heavy firepower. The problem was, the Bf 110 was easily killed by the more maneuverable Spitfires, so the Bf 109 found itself pressed into service.

But even with a drop tank, the Bf 109 just didn’t have the endurance to be a good bomber escort.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
A Spitfire Mk. 1A flies in 1937. (Photo: Royal Air Force)

The Spitfire was also plagued with short endurance, but during the Battle of Britain — and even over Dunkirk earlier in the summer of 1940 — it was fulfilling its role as a short-range interceptor.

In essence, it was doing what it was designed to do. The Bf 109 was also a short-range interceptor…but it was pressed into service as a bomber escort, and it just couldn’t hack it.

When the United States entered the war, one thing they were truly successful at was coming up with the perfect escort fighter, the P-51 Mustang. You could say they had learned from Nazi Germany’s mistake.

MIGHTY HISTORY

4 outstanding things you didn’t know about Sgt. York

Known as one of America’s greatest war heroes, Alvin York was a profoundly religious man who found himself plenty conflicted when he learned he’d been drafted into the U.S. Army. Although very worried at the prospect of taking another man’s life, the Tennessee native chose to honor his military obligation and shipped off.

Although York saved many lives, killed many enemy troops, and earned the Medal of Honor, he gained true nationwide notoriety after Sergeant York, a film about his life, debuted in cinemas.

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‘Sergeant York’ starring Gary Cooper
(Warner Brother Pictures)

Not only did the 1941 classic secure York a spot in the history books, it preserved his story and legacy for generations to come. The movie does a great job of showing us the highlights of his wartime heroics, but there are a few things about this humble hero that you probably didn’t know.


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Alvin York (as played by Gary Cooper) at a local “Blind Tiger.’

(Warner Brothers Pictures)

Blind Tigers

Before shipping out to the frontlines to fight, York was considered somewhat of a troublemaker. Although he was known for his marksmanship as a youngster, he was also known to drink and gamble at various bars, known as “Blind Tigers.”

He wasn’t good with money

In his youth, York only attended nine months of a subscription school. In his hometown, education wasn’t a priority and he found work as a semi-skilled laborer at a nearby railroad. This lack of education is likely the reason for his poor money-managing skills.

York was known for spending money as he earned it and giving what he had away to those he felt needed it more.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

York’s personal diary.

(SgtYork.org)

York kept a detailed diary

York frequently made entries about his time during World War I, and, in great detail, wrote about what it was like being pinned down by the enemy in attempts to capture a narrow-gauge railroad. The Medal of Honor recipient’s diary gives us a glimpse directly into his mind as he explored a range of subjects, from his emotional childhood through to the perils of war.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Representative Cordell Hull, Sergeant Alvin C. York, Senator Kenneth McKellar, and Senator George E. Chamberlain

He avoided profiting off his fame

After York’s deployment ended, he returned home and his story was published in the Saturday Evening Post — which had an audience of approximately two-million readers. He met with members of Congress who gave him a standing ovation.

As York’s name became more famous, he received offers for his movies rights — and he denied them all.

It took many years for Sgt. York to allow for the film’s production, Finally, it was released in 1941. York used his earnings to finance a bible school.

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This is what made ancient Roman gladiators so fierce

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  The sport of gladiator fighting in the arenas of ancient Rome was just as popular as boxing and MMA are today. Gladiator combat was slightly more gangsta, though, seeing as how those warriors fought to the death during brutal tournaments.

Some historians believe the gladiator games started as ceremonial offerings for the funerals of wealthy aristocrats. At the height of the sport, the fighters were mostly made up of prisoners of war, slaves, and sentenced criminals, but they could even be pitted against animals like tigers or crocodiles.

The Coliseum in Rome was even home to aquatic battles, when the arena was flooded and fighters attacked from boats.

They lived in privately-owned schools that doubled as their training and prison grounds. Reportedly, after Spartacus led an uprising in 73 B.C., the empire began to regulate the gladiator schools to prevent further rebellions.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Gladiators from the Zliten mosaic.

During the games, each gladiator fought with various weapons and levels of armor.

A “Secutor” was a heavily armored fighter who competed using a short sword. A “Retiarius” battled his foes wearing light armor, a trident, and occasionally a weighted net. The “Vremea” wore a helmet with a stylized fish on the crest.

The gladiators ate a high energy diet consisting of barley, beans, oatmeal, dry fruit, and ash, which was believed to fortify the body. Very few of them fought in more than 10 battles or made it past the age of 30 before getting killed.

The Roman empire housed more than 400-arenas and displayed over 8,000 gladiator deaths per year. Learn more about their fighting in the video at the top.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

This historic film shows the Lone Survivor raid of World War II

If you’ve read the book Lone Survivor, written by former SEAL Marcus Luttrell, or seen the 2014 movie adaptation of the same name, then you’re very familiar with the incredible tale of survival and valor. But prior to Luttrell’s involvement to that 2005 operation, there was another well-known “love survivor” raid.

The tale of Torpedo Squadron Eight at the Battle of Midway has since become legend. All 15 of the squadron’s Douglas TBD Devastators that were sent out that day were shot down. Of the 30 crew aboard those planes, the only survivor was Ensign George Gay. The others were all killed in action.


Some people believe that this squadron’s sacrifice is what pulled down the Mitsubishi A6M Zeros that were providing combat air patrol for the Japanese carrier force, known as Kido Butai, thus opening the way for Douglass SBD Dauntless dive-bombers to deliver the bombs that left three Japanese carriers fatally damaged in the span of five minutes. This is, however, an over-simplified view.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Ensign George Gay (right) with a gunner from Torpedo Squadron Eight.

(US Navy )

It should be clear, though, that Torpedo Eight’s attack was the first in a chain of events that culminating in a Japanese loss so devastating the force could never recover. According to the book Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway, written by Anthony P. Tully and Jonathan B. Parshall, the attack by Torpedo Squadron Eight came in almost an hour before the dive-bombers arrived — around 9:18 AM. Their attack took no more than 17 minutes. Gay was perhaps the only pilot to get close enough to drop a torpedo against a Japanese carrier before he ditched his plane. He attempted to rescue his gunner, Robert K. Huntington, but was unsuccessful.

The reason Torpedo Squadron 8 attacked alone was because Hornet’s air group commander, Stanhope Ring, made an incorrect guess. Waldron, commander of Torpedo Squadron 8, and Ring had often disagreed on where the Japanese carriers might have gone. This time, Ring ended up missing the Japanese carriers — flying too far to the north. Waldron was dead on target, though.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

World War II’s answer to Michael Murphy is Lieutenant Commander John C. Waldron, who received a posthumous Navy Cross for Torpedo Eight’s attack.

(US Navy)

At 9:38am, Torpedo Squadron Six began their attack, launched from the USS Enterprise. This lasted until about 10:00. Torpedo Squadron Six’s attack came from a different angle than Torpedo Eight’s — four of that squadron’s planes returned to the Enterprise.

It was during Torpedo Six’s attack that Wade McCluskey, leading the Dauntless dive bombers from the Enterprise, would sight a Japanese destroyer trying to catch up with the rest of Kido Butai after trying to chase off the submarine USS Nautilus (SS 168). As McCluskey’s Dauntlesses arrived over Kido Butai, so did the Yorktown’s strike of 12 Devastators and 17 Dauntlesses, escorted by six F4F Wildcats.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Of the fifteen pilots in this photo, only one lived.

(US Navy)

The Devastators of Torpedo Three would be savaged by the Zeros, but the Dauntless dive-bombers would turn the tide of war in five minutes, largely because the torpedo squadrons had not only drawn fighters down, but their attacks forced the Japanese carriers to maneuver in ways that precluded the launching of their own planes.

Torpedo Eight’s attack, the first in this deadly series, had set the entire sequence in motion — a sequence that would forever cripple the Japanese Navy, leading to victory for the Allies at Midway.

Learn more about Torpedo Eight in the film below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MyrawK_MUF8

www.youtube.com

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Israel recently buried Ran Ronen, an ace few ever heard of

Early last month, Israel buried an ace who had seven kills — more than twice as many as John Glenn — and hundreds of operational missions under his belt. He was known as Ran Ronen.


According to a report by the Jerusalem Post, Ronen, whose real name was Ran Pekker, was buried on Dec. 4, 2016, following his death after a long struggle with blood cancer. Ronen was best known for flying the Mirage III and F-4 Phantom during the Six-Day War, the War of Attrition, and the Yom Kippur War.

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An Israeli Mirage III at a museum. Giora Epstein scored the first of his 17 kills, a Su-7, in a Mirage III. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Ronen notably gained publicity from the History Channel series Dogfights, providing interviews in two episodes, “Dogfights of the Middle East” and “Desert Aces.” In the former, he described his involvement in both escorting a defecting MiG-21 to Israel and his involvement in the attack on Ghardaka Air Base in Egypt. The latter episode, best known for relating Giora Epstein’s legendary 1-vs.-11 fight, featured Ronen’s encounter with a Jordanian Hawker Hunter.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
A U.S. Air Force McDonnell Douglas EF-4C Phantom II aircraft (s/n 63-7474) of the 67th Tactical Fighter Squadron, 18th Tactical Fighter Wing over North Vietnam in December 1972. | U.S. Air Force photo

Ronen later became a diplomat and founded the Zahala project for youth, according to a web site outlining the reasons he received the Moskowitz Prize for Zionism in 2008.

Below are the Dogfights episodes Ronen appears in. His missions are discussed from 13:12 to 32:12 in the first video, and in the first 12:30 in the second video.

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Vietnam vets meet the soldier who saved them from a VC ambush

Fifty-one years after saving a squad of U.S. Marines from walking into an ambush by Viet Cong, Don Medley walked into a surprise gathering organized to honor him.


Members of the squadron Medley saved May 12, 1966, gathered Friday at Stone Hearth restaurant in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, for a surprise dinner. Medley, a former U.S. Army Warrant Officer, had believed he and his wife, Dianne, were meeting one of the Marine veterans, Earl Davis, and his wife, Claudia, for dinner.

In reality, three other men Medley saved, along with their wives, were waiting to meet him. Those honoring him traveled from South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia and Tennessee.

“I told my wife that one day I’d like to meet some of the guys on the ground that I helped,” Medley said. “This is the day.”

Medley, of Hodgenville, appeared stunned and overwhelmed by the handshakes, hugs and greetings he received as he stood near the doorway of the room reserved for the occasion.

“Thank you, for my wife and kids,” one man said.

The words “thank you” repeatedly resounded in the room that held a dining table adorned with a centerpiece of white flowers highlighted with small U.S. flags. Placemats also were emblazoned with U.S. flags.

“This is such an honor for me,” Medley said, his voice wavering as he received gifts of gratitude. “It’s unbelievable.”

Like other members of Bravo Company of 1st Marine Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, Earl Davis had wondered over the years who the Cessna pilot who saved them was. After an article was published in Vietnam magazine last year, Medley’s identity became known.

Davis received contact information for Medley on Dec. 26. He decided to coordinate the surprise gathering.

During the gathering, Medley recounted the day he was flying his Cessna over a rice paddy and noticed Marines advancing toward a trench line holding enemy forces. He dropped a smoke grenade on which he had scrawled a brief message warning the Marines, but they continued to advance.

He soon noticed there were more enemies in a tree line, making the number much larger. He dropped a second smoke grenade warning them and included the words, “I’m calling Arty,” referring to notifying artillery. His message saved them, the men said.

“We’ve been looking for this guy for over 50 years,” Ray Maurer said. “I just broke up when I saw him.”

Maurer and his wife, Bernadette, made the trip from Georgia.

Carl Whipple of Tennessee attended the gathering with wife, Myrtle Ruth.

“We all wanted the opportunity to meet him,” he said.

Whipple described the experience as heartfelt and said it was “a God thing” that sent Medley to fly over the squad 51 years ago.

“We’re indebted,” he said.

Dan Ferrell of Missouri said the gathering was a much-needed opportunity to express his thanks to Medley.

“I’ve never been able to put this behind me,” said Ferrell, who has post-traumatic stress disorder.

Medley was presented with a watch that was set at 10:30, the approximate time he dropped the first smoke grenade. He also was given mementos including a framed collection of items, among which was a signed letter of thanks.

Choking up in the process, Davis read the letter during the presentation. Later, he said the emotion he felt at that time summed up what he was feeling and how special the occasion was.

“It means a whole hell of a lot,” he said.

Similarly, Medley visibly was moved during the gathering and said the items he received will be displayed with honor in his den.

“It’s overwhelming,” Medley said. “This vindicates my whole year in Vietnam.”

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This fake stealth fighter helped secure the real one

As we all know by now, the F-117 Nighthawk was America’s first combat-capable stealth aircraft. According to an Air Force fact sheet, it entered service in 1983, and was retired in 2008. It had a very effective career, serving in Operations Just Cause, Desert Storm, Allied Force, and Iraqi Freedom.


But one reason the F-117 was effective was because the Americans managed to keep it secret for the first five years it was in operation. As a result, many figured America’s stealth fighter would be named the F-19 – and in two techno-thrillers, the F-19 had major roles.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Photo: Air Force Master Sgt. Edward Snyder

It was best-known as the F-19 Ghostrider in Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising.” In that novel, the planes carry out a daring raid to destroy Soviet Il-76 “Mainstay” radar planes, enabling NATO to secure air superiority in the early stages of the war. One F-19 crew later takes out a Soviet theater commander.

Clancy’s F-19 was very different from the F-117. It had a crew of two, and was capable of breaking Mach 1. It also carried weapons externally, including Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, and had a radar. While some sources, like Combat Aircraft Since 1945, credited the F-117 Nighthawk with the ability to carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder, most sources claim that the F-117 has no air-to-air capability.

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A three-view graphic of what the F-19 was believed to look like. (Graphic from Wikimedia Commons)

The other appearance of the F-19 was in Dale Brown’s “Silver Tower.” This time, it had the right name, Nighthawk, but it also had a crew of two. Brown didn’t go into the detail of his F-19 that Clancy did in Red Storm Rising. Brown’s F-19s had one notable success, where they bluffed their way in to attack a Soviet base in Iran during Silver Tower. Both planes were shot down and their crews killed.

After the F-117’s public reveal, the speculative F-19s were largely forgotten. But the “F-19” speculation helped keep the F-117 secret – and that secrecy was critical to the battlefield success of America’s first stealth fighter.

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These presidents were all (distantly) related to each other

Power — even political power — doesn’t fall too far from the family tree when it comes to the U.S. presidency … then again, sometimes it comes several branches over. At least, that’s the case for many former U.S. presidents, including those that are as far as 10th cousins, twice removed, like George W. Bush and Barack Obama. (Is your head spinning?!) 

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Cousins!President of the United States Barack Obama with George W. Bush and Michelle Obama shortly after boarding Air Force One for the trip to South Africa on 9 December 2013.
Pete Souza

Take a look at this list of U.S. presidents and their relations to other former presidents for a new way to look at our leaders who have served as Commander in Chief.

Closely related

George W. and George H.W. Bush were father and son, respectively. No surprise there. They served as the 31st and 43rd presidents of the U.S.

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President George W. Bush and former President George H.W. Bush sit on stage at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing Friday, Aug. 8, 2008, during dedication ceremonies. Both are scheduled to attend opening ceremonies scheduled for later in the evening.
White House photo by Eric Draper.

Another father and son duo came in John Adams and John Quincey Adams who served as the second and sixth presidents, respectively. 

William Henry Harrison, ninth president, was the grandfather of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd president. 

Meanwhile, James Madison, fourth president, was second cousins with Zachary Taylor, the 12th president. 

FDR is related to 11 presidents

Next comes Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president, who was related to 11 — yes ELEVEN — other presidents. Five of them through blood and the remaining six by marriage. This was determined by a study done by multiple genealogists. (There is even controversy that he’s related to a 12th former president.)

They include:

  • Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president, FDR’s fifth cousin 
  • John Adams
  • John Quincy Adams
  • Ulysses Grant
  • Henry William Harrison
  • Benjamin Harrison
  • James Madison 
  • William Taft
  • Zachary Taylor
  • Martin Van Buren, third cousins, four-times removed
  • George Washington 

He was also reportedly related to Winston Churchill and Robert E. Lee. Woah!

Distantly related cousins

The search for distant relatives becomes deep when it comes to former U.S. presidents, practically unending. With generations between them and blood and marriage bonding many in office, the list of distant cousin only continues to grow.

  • James Madison and James K. Polk, second cousins once removed
  • Zachary Taylor and James K. Polk, second cousins once removed
  • Martin Van Buren and Theodore Roosevelt, third cousins three-times removed
  • John Adams and Calvin Coolidge, third cousins, five-times removed
  • James Madison and Barack Obama, third cousins, nine-times removed
  • John Tyler and William Henry Harrison, fourth cousins, once removed
  • Ulysses Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth cousins, once removed
  • John Adams and Millard Fillmore, fourth cousins, three-times removed
  • John Quincy Adams and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth cousins, three-times removed
  • Zachary Taylor and Franklin D. Roosevelt, fourth half-cousins, three-times removed
  • James Garfield and George H. W. Bush, fourth cousins, three-times removed
  • Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama, fourth cousins, three times removed
  • John Quincy Adams and Calvin Coolidge, fourth cousins, four-times removed
  • Franklin Pierce and Calvin Coolidge, fourth cousins, four-times removed
  • James Garfield and George W. Bush, fourth cousins, four-times removed
  • John Adams and William Howard Taft, fourth cousins, five-times removed
  • Franklin Pierce and Herbert Hoover, fourth cousins, five-times removed
  • Millard Fillmore and George H. W. Bush, fourth cousins, five-times removed
  • Millard Fillmore and George W. Bush, fourth cousins, six-times removed

And on on on and on, all the way up to 10th cousins, four-times removed. Are they still even related at that point?? 

This is an interesting look into the genealogy of the American president and how families long ago are even distantly related to modern U.S. presidents. 

Featured photo: Presidential portraits taken from Wikimedia Commons – Public Domain

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the Goodyear blimb hunted Nazi subs

Ah, football. Nothing’s sweeter than getting everyone together to drink beer, eat hot dogs, watch sports, and look at corporate slogans painted on a 250-foot weapon of war that floats over them just like it floated over Nazi and Japanese submarines before bombing them into Davy Jones’ depths.

Yeah, that’s right — the Goodyear Blimp used to be a bona fide badass.


The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

A K-class blimp flies during convoy escort duty.

(National Museum of Naval Aviation)

See, during World War II, America actually still had a pretty robust blimp program. While the rest of the world pretty much abandoned airships after the Hindenburg disaster, the U.S. was able to press forward since it had the bulk of the world’s accessible helium.

And press forward it did. While the more ambitious projects, like experimental, flying aircraft carriers, were shelved in the 1930s, America had 10 operating blimps in the U.S. Navy when Pearl Harbor was attacked, and they were quickly sent to patrol the U.S. coasts, watching for submarines.

The K-class blimps were 250-foot long sacks of helium that carried a control car with the crew inside. A fully staffed crew was 10 men, which included a pilot, gunners, and anti-submarine warriors.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Crew members load one of the four depth charges onto a K-class blimp.

(National Museum of Naval Aviation)

Yeah, blimps were there to kills subs. The K-class blimps, which accounted for 40 percent of the pre-war fleet and over 80 percent of airships built during the war, usually sported a .50-cal. or two for self-defense and four 350-pound depth charges. They could also be used to lay mines and carry cargo more quickly than their sea-bound brethren and could deploy paratroopers. In fact, the Marine Corps parachute schools in World War II included jumping out of blimps in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

The ability to spot and attack submarines while able to fly out of attack range made airships valuable on convoy duty, where they would hunt enemy subs and report the locations to escort ships. When appropriate, they’d drop their own depth charges against the subs, but re-arming required landing on a carrier, so it was best to not waste limited ammo.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

A crew member checks his .50-cal. machine gun during operations.​

(National Museum of Naval Aviation)

One of the airships’ most famous battles came on the coast of Florida when the K-74 spotted a German sub bearing down on two merchant ships during the night of July 18,1943. There were typically somewhere around 10 German subs off the coast of the U.S. at any time, but the War Department and Navy Department at the time tried to keep it quiet.

K-74 attempted a surprise attack, dropping depth charges right onto the sub from 250 feet in the air, interrupting its attack and saving the merchant ships. Unfortunately, the submarine crew spotted the attacking airship and lit the low-flying vessel up with the sub’s anti-aircraft guns while the airship dropped two depth charges.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

A blimp crashes during a nuclear test. Four K-class blimps were destroyed this way in the late 1950s.

(U.S. Department of Energy)

The consequences were immediate and severe for the blimp. The air envelope was severely damaged and set on fire by the German guns. The crew was able to extinguish the fire, but they could not maintain altitude and slowly settled into the sea. The commander stayed behind to dump classified gear and documents while the rest of the crew escaped in lifejackets.

The commander was separated from his men and rescued the next morning when he was luckily spotted by the crew of another airship.

The crew, all nine of them, climbed onto the airship envelope which floated in the water, and they were spotted the next morning as well. Unfortunately, a shark found them between when they were spotted by a sea plane and when a ship was able to rescue them. The shark attacked and killed one crew member, but the other eight escaped and survived.

It marked the only time an airship was destroyed by enemy fire. As for the submarine, it had received damage from the depth charge attack and was damaged again by a U.S. plane while escaping the east coast. It was forced to stay on the surface of the water en route to Germany for repairs and was spotted by British planes. Bombing runs by the Brits sealed its fate.

Airships were rarely allowed to directly attack submarines, and the attack by K-74 is one of the only documented times an airship directly damaged an enemy sub. In April 1945, K-72 dropped the newest weapon in its arsenal, an acoustic torpedo, into the water against German sub U-879. A destroyer documents a clear underwater explosion but no debris or wreckage was recovered and, so, no kill was awarded.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

An airship crew distributes life jackets while operating over the water.

(National Museum of Naval Aviation)

But the airships were valued anti-submarine tools, often called into hunts to maintain contact with enemy subs as surface vessels danced around to avoid torpedoes.

In fact, two blimps were involved in a disputed submarine battle claimed by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology and a Navy veteran. Hubbard and his crew of PC-815 claimed the destruction of two submarines in a May 1942 engagement where PC-815 dropped its own depth charges while calling for reinforcement. Two Navy blimps, K-39 and K-33, responded and assisted in the search.

Hubbard would later claim one sub killed and the other too damaged to return to port, but the crews of the other vessels disputed the claim and Hubbard did not collect any physical evidence of his kill.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

​Blimps served a number of functions off the coast of Europe, mostly convoy duty, mine sweeping, and cargo carrying.

The airships also engaged in less glamorous work, moving supplies and troops from position to position, out of range of enemy subs but vulnerable to air attack. They were sometimes used for fast trips across the ocean or for ferrying freight from England to other allied outposts like the Rock of Gibraltar.

Some arguments were made that the airships were one of the best options for minesweeping. They were used heavily for this activity off the coasts of Europe where the airships flew over the water, cataloging mine locations and reporting them to surface vessels which could avoid the fields until the Navy was ready to remove them.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations

Four K-Class blimps were tested near nuclear blasts to see how they stood up to the over pressurization from the atomic blast. They didn’t fare well.

(U.S. Department of Energy)

In one high-profile mission, airships were tasked with protecting President Franklin Roosevelt’s and Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s convoy to the Yalta Conference in 1945.

After the war, the over 150 airships in the fleet were slowly decommissioned and either retired or sent for other uses. Goodyear used one of the K-class in its commercial fleet, but it proved less than cost effective and was retired in just a year. Four airships were destroyed in nuclear tests and the last airship was retired in March 1959.

Articles

That time the Air Force landed bombers on tank treads

During the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force experimented with a seemingly crazy idea for dispersing the weight of their heaviest bomber across the tarmac of airports and bases. They would fit the bombers with tank tread-inspired landing gear.


The B-36 Peacemaker was the largest plane ever built by America. Originally designed before the Pearl Harbor attacks, the B-36 was supposed to be a cross-ocean bomber that could drop 10,000 pounds of ordnance on Berlin or Japan while taking off and landing in the U.S.

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Convair XB-36 takeoff during its first flight on March 29, 1950. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

When flying shorter routes, the plane could carry as much as 86,000 pounds.

The massive B-36 was slowly developed throughout World War II but was finished too late for the war. The first bomber rolled off the line six days after the Japanese surrender. But the plane’s capabilities, carrying 10,000 pounds of ordnance to targets thousands of miles away, made the plane perfect for a nuclear strike role in the Cold War.

There was one big problem, though. The B-36 was extremely heavy, about 419,000 pounds when fully armed. And all that weight initially sat on two smaller tires in the front and two larger ones under the wings.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Convair XB-36 in flight. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The weight on each tire was so great, the Peacemakers risked sinking into the concrete if they were parked for too long on most airstrips.

So the Air Force tried out a novel solution. They installed tank tread landing gear under the nose and both wings of the plane, allowing the weight to be spread over a much larger area.

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
Side view of Convair XB-36. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

The World War II commandos dedicated to Arctic operations
(Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Initial tests of the system were successful, but the Air Force scrapped it anyway. It focused on improving more airstrips rather than putting the bulky system on production B-36s. It did start buying the planes with four smaller wheels under each wing instead of the single large one, which also helped with the pressure per square inch on airfields.

The weight-to-surface-area problem would come up again with the B-47, the Peacemaker’s successor. B-47s dispersed during the Cuban Missile crisis sunk into the concrete of Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts and pilots had to hire a tow truck driver to pull them out of the holes they created.

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