What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Midget submarines have gotten a lot of press in recent years. The 2010 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan by a North Korean Yono-class midget submarine showed that with today’s modern torpedoes, they can pack a punch.


Midget submarines have arguably had a longer combat career than their bigger cousins. The Turtle, a one-man midget sub, was used in an effort to attack British ships off New York during the Revolutionary War.

The hand-powered midget submarine CSS Hunley successfully sank the sloop USS Housatonic in 1864. Larger coastal and fleet submarines didn’t really achieve a lot of success until World War I.

But the midgets still stuck around.

Nearly all the major powers used them in World War II. The British, Germans, and Japanese all had varying degrees of success with them.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
Chief petty officers and chief petty officer selects from the submarine tender USS Frank Cable perform preservation maintenance on Japanese navy submarine HA-51, a World War II Type C three-man midget submarine, at the T. Snell Newman Visitor Center. Cable is undergoing upgrades at Guam Shipyard for a conversion to the Military Sealift Command. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Petty Officer Jennifer L. Walker)

The British X-boats managed to damage the German battleship Tirpitz. Japanese submarines had their high-water mark on May 29, 1942, when they damaged a British battleship and sank a merchant ship at Diego Suarez in Madagascar.

But Germany’s Seehund — or “Seal” — was probably the most successful. Built in 1944, the Seehund displaced 17 tons, carried two torpedoes, and had a crew of two. The vessel could go four knots underwater, and seven knots on the surface.

U-Boat.net notes that 137 of these midget subs were commissioned, which sank eight vessels and damaged three more in four months of operation.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
S 622, a German Seehund later taken into service by the French Navy. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Below is a video showing how a replica of one of these mini-submarines was made for a museum display. Take a look and see what went into making that replica — and what that display will teach future generations about what life on one of these vessels was like.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a prop-driven biplane took down a jet fighter in the Korean War

Military history is full of battles fought against unbelievable odds. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. The story of the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae is likely the most famous outnumbered fighters. Poland’s cavalry charge against Nazi armor at Krojanty is famed for its technological disadvantage. 

But whatever success the Poles and Spartans saw against their formidable foes came because of sheer will and determination, not because of any equalizing circumstances. Sometimes, that’s just what it takes. Sometimes, success means never giving up. With a little bit of luck, even the most unprepared, obsolete or foolhardy fighter can win the day.

Some of today’s most powerful weapons might make that kind of winning more difficult, but it can still be done. A North Korean discovered the power of dumb luck while flying over a United Nations base on a night raid. 

North Korea’s air force isn’t known for its technological superiority and it never has been. Even today, more people know the Korean People’s Air Force more for training with the power of imagination rather than anything else. 

Read: The 7 worst air forces in the world

Even when they’re fighting a real war with real enemies, they are still a couple of decades behind technological advancement. During the 1950-1953 Korean War, North Korea was still flying Polikarpov PO-2 biplanes to make bombing runs. This is a plane that was built in the 1920s and was used by the Soviet Union as a trainer until World War II.

biplane from korean war
The instructor Semeon Lykin and a group of pilots pose in front of a Polikarpov U-2 (or Po-2). (Franco Folini, Wikipedia)

During World War II, the Soviets began to use it for reconnaissance, resupply missions, and the occasional night bombing. It was one of the planes used by the all-women Soviet fighter group nicknamed the “Night Witches,” who would bomb German barracks with their engines shut off. 

The Soviet Union didn’t use it after World War II, because by then the world had moved on from biplanes and propellers to aluminum and jet engines. But North Korea found a use for them. It was on one of these night raids that a PO-2 Polikarpov managed to down a jet fighter over North Korea. 

Except the Polikarpov didn’t so much shoot down the jet fighter. The aging biplane was the instrument of the plane’s destruction, though. 

After one of the Polikarpovs’ feared night raids, an advanced Lockheed F-94 Starfire was dispatched with the mission of taking down the raiders. The Starfire was an all-weather, day and night interceptor fighter that was so advanced, it wasn’t even allowed to fly in North Korea, because the U.S. was worried one might get shot down and captured by the communist forces.

It was more dumb luck that allowed this Polikarpov to beat the Starfire. With a top speed of 94 miles per hour, the wood and canvas “fighter” was flying much too slow for the jet fighter, with a top speed of 640 miles per hour. 

Unable to lock onto the target with radar (either due to its slow speed or the fact that plywood doesn’t bounce back radar waves), the jet fighter had to slow down enough to hit the North Korean, which proved to be the Starfire’s undoing. 

The Starfire slowed to 100 miles per hour, which was lower than its stall speed. Once it dipped below that speed, its engine sputtered and stalled, causing the plane to crash. 

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Celebrate freedom with a real Revolutionary War cocktail

One of the reasons Prohibition failed in America is probably because America was founded on and was fueled by booze from the get-go. The Pilgrims stopped at Plymouth Rock because they ran out of beer. The U.S. Marine Corps was founded in a bar. There just isn’t a lot Americans won’t do to keep the party going a little longer. The best example of this is the legendary Revolutionary War leader Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys.


What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
That face when you decide to take a British fort just because you can.

 

Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys were the first to deliver a crushing defeat to the British during the American Revolution. They captured the guns at Fort Ticonderoga, along with two other forts in the area. Ticonderoga was the key to Lake Champlain, which denied the British entry from that point and became the staging area for patriot incursions into Canada. More importantly, the cannons seized at the fort were moved to Boston, where the British occupied much of the city since April 1775. Despite inflicting heavy casualties on the redcoats at places like the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Continental Army needed the help.

In November 1775, Ethan Allen and his Vermonters moved the forts supplies and guns overland to Boston, where General George Washington and his artillery commander Henry Knox used them to force the British to withdraw from Boston after holding it for almost a full year.

 

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
This is the fort they were looking for (Wikimedia Commons)

What prompts a gaggle of armed good-ol’ boys from Vermont to take on a heavily armed and fortified position of professional soldiers in the world’s largest, best-equipped, and seasoned army of veterans? Alcohol, of course. The night before Allen and the boys seized the fort, they all met at Remington’s Tavern in Castleton, Vermont. There, they sat down with Benedict Arnold who was sent by the Continental Congress to capture the fort and its guns. The Green Mountain Boys were there because they were going to take the fort anyway, sanctioned or not – so Arnold and his regulars might as well join in.

The liquid courage being poured at the tavern was what was common for the area during that time period: hard cider. Colonists planted apples in the new world primarily for the purpose of drinking it. The crop thrived here and kept people healthy, as it was often safer than the drinking water. In fact, cider was pretty much used as currency. But back then, drinking men needed more of a kick, so they added shots of rum to their cider, two shots of it to every pint of cider. They called the drink a “stone fence” because it felt like you were running down a hill into one.

For America…

 

After the ragtag group downed enough bravery, the two commanders led the crossing of Lake Champlain in the early morning hours, with 83 of the Green Mountain Boys. But dawn was coming fast, and Allen and Arnold worried that if they waited for the whole force, they might lose the element of surprise. So with just 83 Vermonters, they stormed Fort Ticonderoga, catching the garrison completely by surprise, capturing the guns for use elsewhere in the Revolution.

If they hadn’t captured them, the rebellion might have died in its cradle by diminishing hopes and expectations for the Continental Army’s chances. So down a few of these spiked ciders for Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys, who might have just saved the future U.S., fueled by liquid courage.

MIGHTY CULTURE

The Queen of England has a champion who fights for her

It sounds like a big job description: “Queen’s Champion and Standard Bearer of England.” Although these days, the title seems more ceremonial than functional, it still sounds like a big deal. Since the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, whomever holds the Manor of Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire, England, also has to fight for the monarch at their coronation, should a challenger arise in the middle of it.


What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Francis John Fane Marmion Dymoke is the current champion, but this is his father, the previous champion. A World War II veteran, he died in 2015.

The Dymokes have been the standard bearers for the reigning English monarch since the mid-14th Century, and would ride into Westminster Abbey in full shining armor, on a horse, in full plumage and regalia. To repeat, they ride a horse into Westminster in the middle of a coronation. They then throw a gauntlet – they literally throw a gauntlet – on the ground and announce that whomever dares challenge the King or Queen’s right to the throne must face him in combat. When no one does, the new monarch then drinks wine from a golden cup to honor his or her Champion.

The King or Queen could not fight in such combat unless it were someone their equal who would challenge them, and that usually meant a war.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Dope.

The tradition has taken a few different forms over the last few monarch coronations, and was left out of Queen Victoria’s coronation entirely.

And sadly, at Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, the Champion did not get to throw the gauntlet or threaten the crowd, but he did his duty to carry the Royal Standard in the procession. When Prince Charles (or at this rate, William) takes the throne, this is a tradition we in America would like to see revived to its full former glory.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The 5 most successful military operations in history

Napoleon at Jena. The Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu. Washington’s withdrawal from Long Island. What makes a military operation so perfectly complete that you can almost hear Shang Tsung himself say “Flawless Victory” in the back of your mind? A few criteria for the title of “successful” come to mind.


For one, it can’t be an overwhelming win between two countries, one being vastly superior to the other. Sure, the United States completely crushed Grenada but who gives a sh*t? So the odds need to be close to evenly matched. Secondly, a pyrrhic victory isn’t exactly what anyone would call a “success.” Yes, the British won at Bunker Hill, but they lost half of their men doing it. Also, if luck was critical to the outcome, that’s not planning. The British at Dunkirk planned only to get a tenth of those men off the beaches. Finally, there needs to be some kind of military necessity, so Putin’s “Little Green Men” don’t count.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

The Six-Day War: Israel vs. Everybody.

Okay, so maybe not everyone, just its aggressive Arab neighbors. In 1967, Israel was still very much the underdog in the Middle East. But living in a tough neighborhood means you need to grow a thicker skin and maybe learn how to fight dirty. Few events have gone into the creation of modern-day Israel as we know it like the Six-Day War. In the days before the war, as tensions mounted, Israel warned Egypt not to close off the Straits of Tiran to Israeli ships. Egypt did it anyway. So Israel launched a massive air campaign, destroying the Egyptian Air Force on the ground. When Jordan and Syria entered the war, they got their asses handed to them by an IDF with unchallenged air supremacy.

As the name suggests, the war lasted all of six days, with Israel taking the West Bank from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Operation August Storm: USSR vs. Imperial Japan

Sure it took almost the entirety of World War II to get Japan and Russia, virtual neighbors, to start fighting each other, but once they did, Stalin came through like the most clutch of clutch players. After curb-stomping the Nazi war machine, the Red Army was ready to get some vengeance for the Russo-Japanese War that embarrassed them so much before World War I. In order to bring a quick end to the Pacific War, the U.S. needed to ensure the Japanese forces outside of the home islands surrendered with the rest of Japan – and there were some 800,000 Japanese troops on the Chinese mainland, just waiting to kill Allied forces. What to do?

How about sending 1.5 million joint force Red Army troops fresh from wiping the floor with the Wehrmacht to encircle them along with 28,000 artillery pieces, 5,000 tanks, and 3,700 aircraft? That’s what happened on Aug. 9, 1945, when the Soviets split the Japanese Army in two and dismantled it over a period of days. By Aug. 22, the deed was done, and World War II was over.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

The Iliad: Horsing Around

I know I’m going way back into antiquity with this one, but it must have been great if people are still warning each other about Greeks bearing gifts. The level of deception, planning, and discipline it must have taken an ancient army to pull this off is incredible. After constructing the infamous Trojan Horse, the Greeks had to move their ships out of the horizon to make the Trojans believe they’d actually fled from their invasion. Then the Greeks inside the horse had to remain completely silent and cool for as long as it took for the Trojans to pull them into the city and for night to fall. The rest of the Greek Army had to land all over again, regroup, and be completely silent as thousands of them approached a sleeping city.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Desert Storm: Iraq vs. Everybody

How Iraq came to invade tiny Kuwait is pretty easy to figure out. A miscommunication between Saddam Hussein and U.S. ambassador April Glaspie left the Iraqi dictator believing the United States gave him the go-ahead to invade his neighbor. Boy was he wrong. In a logistical miracle that would make Eisenhower proud, in just a few weeks, the United States and its coalition partners somehow moved all the manpower and materiel necessary to defend Saudi Arabia while liberating Kuwait and trouncing the Iraqi Army while taking minimal losses.

Like the biblical story of the flood, the U.S. flooded Iraq with smart bombs for 40 days and 40 nights. After taking a pounding that might as well have been branded by Brazzers, the Iraqi Army withdrew in a ground war that lasted about 100 hours.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Operation Overlord: D-Day

Everyone knew that an invasion of Western Europe was coming, especially the Nazis. But Hitler’s problem was how to prepare for it. What’s so amazing about the planning for Overlord wasn’t just the sheer logistical mastery required – Ike had to think of everything from bullets to food, along with the temporary harbors to move that equipment onto the beach, not to mention planning for a supply line when he didn’t know how long it would be from one day to the next. What is so marvelous about D-Day is all the preparation and planning that also went into fooling the Nazis about where the invasion would hit.

Operation Quicksilver, the plan to build the Ghost Army of inflatable tanks and other gear, all commanded by legendary General George S. Patton. The plan to deceive the Nazis using a corpse thrown from an airplane with “secret plans” on his person, called Operation Mincemeat. It all came together so that on June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious landing to date, along with the largest airborne operation to date could combine with resistance movements and secret intelligence operations to free Europe from the evil grasp of an insane dictator and save an entire race of people.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the only Japanese recipient of the Medal of Honor during World War II

During World War II, 22 Asian Americans earned Medals of Honor, but, due to prejudices that lasted until decades after the fighting, only one received the award during the war: a young infantryman who fought in Italy and France before giving his life to save his comrades by eliminating machine gun nests and then throwing his body on an enemy grenade.


What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

100th Infantry Battalion soldiers receive grenade training in 1943.

(U.S. Army)

Pfc. Sadao Munemori trained in civilian life as a mechanic but, unable to find work, ended up joining the Army instead in February, 1942, just a couple of months after the Pearl Harbor attacks. Like most Asian Americans at the time — and nearly all Japanese Americans — he was sent to noncombat units to conduct menial duties.

But patriotic Japanese Americans like Munemori got a new chance in early 1943 when the Army formed the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a segregated combat unit for Asian Americans. Munemori was assigned to the 100th Infantry Battalion and shipped to Europe in April, 1944.

Munemori first saw combat in Italy, but he was then sent to France, where he took part in the historic rescue of the Lost Battalion. The 100th Battalion had already distinguished itself multiple times when the 1st Battalion, 141st Texas Regiment, found itself cut off with limited food and water.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

A painting illustrates the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Combat Team, breaking through the German lines to rescue the 1st Battalion, 141st Texas Regiment.

(U.S. Army)

The 100th was sent to rescue it, an order that remains controversial as it’s unclear whether the 100th was sent because of its already-impressive combat record or because the Japanese soldiers were considered expendable next to their white counterparts.

Either way, the 100th threw itself to the task, pushing forward for six days in a slow but unstoppable crawl. An apocryphal story claims that Hitler himself ordered that the trapped unit be be blocked off and exterminated. But, on October 30, the Japanese American soldiers breached the Axis perimeter and allowed the 1-141st to escape.

The 141st, who already knew about the 442nd’s combat prowess, was overjoyed to see the Japanese Americans attacking the German troops.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team stands in the snow while their citations for rescuing the “Lost Battalion” are read out.

(U.S. Army)

“To our great pleasure it was members of the 442nd Combat Team,” said Major Claude D. Roscoe of the 141st Regiment. “We were overjoyed to see these people for we knew them as the best fighting men in the ETO.”

Nearly every 442nd soldier involved in the rescue received a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, or both, and the 442nd received the Presidential Unit Citation for its actions. They rescued 211 Texans, but suffered 800 killed and wounded while doing so, earning them the name, “Go For Broke Battalion.”

In early 1945, the 442nd was sent back to Italy, where Munemori would make his last heroic sacrifice. On April 5, Munemori was part of an attack on mountain positions near Seravezza, Italy. German machine gun fire from higher altitude pinned down members of his unit and wounded his squad leader.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Pfc. Sadao Munemori was the only Japanese recipient of the Medal of Honor whose wartime recommendation for the Medal of Honor was originally approved. An additional 22 Asian Americans would be awarded the top medal in 1995 after a review of their actions.

(U.S. Army)

Munemori took over as squad leader, but twice ran through enemy fire on his own to get close to machine gun nests and destroy them with grenades. While making his way back from the second nest, enemy machine gun fire and grenades rained down around him.

He was still uninjured as he approached the shell crater that he and his men were using as cover, but an enemy grenade bounced off of his helmet and into the hole. Munemori dove onto the grenade and his body absorbed the blast. The other soldiers in the crater were still injured, but survived thanks to Munemori’s sacrifice.

He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor in early 1946, and was the only recipient whose recommendation during the war was approved. During a review of Distinguished Service Cross and Navy Cross awards in 1995, 22 other Asian Americans medal recipients were recommended for an upgrade to the Medal of Honor for actions in world War II. Three of these upgrades were awarded to members of the 100th Battalion for their role in rescuing the “Lost Battalion” in France.

Articles

That time the Air Force dropped a ‘waterfall of bombs’

When American intelligence detected the massive buildup of North Vietnamese troops that preceded the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh in 1968, Gen. William Westmoreland gave the base priority access to all American airpower in theater, leading to Operation Niagara and a “waterfall of bombs.”


Khe Sanh was the westernmost base in a strong of installations along the crucial Route 9 in late 1967. It was in the perfect position to block North Vietnamese Army forces and other fighters moving in from Laos or other NVA areas.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
NVA Troops with Chinese SAM launcher (U.S. Air Force Photo)

But Westmoreland believed that Khe Sanh was crucial to victory and worth heavy investment despite its relatively small size as home to one Marine regiment and 5,000 support troops. To ensure the Marines could hold out against anything, he ordered improvements to infrastructure on the base and the installation of thousands of remote sensors in the surrounding jungle.

By the first week of January 1968, sensors and reconnaissance data made it clear that the NVA was conducting a massive buildup in the area of the base. All indications were that the North Vietnamese wanted to recreate their success at Diem Bien Phu in 1954 when a prolonged siege led to the withdrawal of French forces.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
Second battle for Khe Sanh began on Jan. 20, 1968 when Marines from 3/26 attacked a North Vietnamese battalion between Hill 881 South Hill 881 North. Above, Marines stack mounds of expended 105mm casings after constant pounding of enemy forces. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

Artillery rounds were stockpiled at the base and intelligence was collected. The intel cells were able to get a good idea of where Communist forces were concentrating forces, artillery, and command elements. They were also able to track tunneling efforts by the North Vietnamese trying to get close to the base.

And the North Vietnamese were able to get close — in some cases within a few thousand meters.

On Jan. 21, 1968, the North Vietnamese launched a simultaneous attack against Khe Sanh itself and some of the surrounding hills. Their massed forces would eventually number 20,000, more than three times the number of the 6,000 defenders.

The U.S., with a mass of intelligence and stockpiled weapons, went on the offensive against the North Vietnamese. Artillery shells shot out of the base against pre-identified targets, and a waterfall of bombs started pouring from B-52s.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
A U.S. Air Force Boeing B-52F Stratofortress drops bombs over Vietnam. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The long-planned Operation Niagara II was underway. Over the following 77 days, strike aircraft from the Air Force flew 9,691 sorties and dropped 14,223 tons of bombs, those from the Marine Corps flew 7,098 missions and dropped 17,015 tons of bombs, while the U.S. Navy strike aircraft dropped 7,942 tons of bombs over 5,337 missions.

The heavy lifters were the Air Force B-52s who dropped 59,542 tons of bombs. The combined total of ordnance dropped around Khe Sanh by air was 98,721 tons, approximately 5,700 tons more than the total weight of the USS Enterprise.

Initially, the bombs were dropped relatively far from the base. The B-52s tried to stay three miles out, but the communists figured out the restrictions and moved their fighters in close, forcing the B-52s to operate closer to the base and making the ground pounders rely more heavily on strike aircraft and the AC-47 gunship.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
Night attack of a U.S. Air Force Douglas AC-47D Spooky gunship over the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) Team 21 compound at Pleiku in May 1969. This time lapse photo shows the tracer round trajectories. (Photo: U.S. Army Spec. 5 Thomas A. Zangla)

Of course, not everything went smoothly for the Marines and their support. An enemy artillery strike by the North Vietnamese managed to hit the ammo dump, destroying 90 percent of the stockpiled rounds in a single hit.

Marines patrolling the jungle were also hard-pressed time after time. One patrol, conducted by two squads from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 26th Marine Regiment, on Feb. 25, 1968, was almost completely wiped out and became known as the “Ghost Patrol.” One survivor was taken captive and reported dead for nearly five years before he was released in a prisoner transfer.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
F-100 strikes close to the lines, Khe Sanh, Vietnam, on March 15, 1968. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Moore)

While the leadership did entertain the idea of calling in tactical nukes of necessary, the efforts of the Marines on the ground — sometimes conducted by nearly starving troops after 11 weeks of rare resupplies — combined with the Herculean-levels of air support were enough to keep the North Vietnamese at bay.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is the only enlisted submariner to receive the Medal of Honor

The U.S. Navy submarine service was barely two decades old when the submarine USS O-5 began taking on water in the Panama Canal Zone in October 1923. A cargo ship slammed into the submarine without warning and the boat began taking on water. The crew began to abandon ship.

One lifelong sailor, Henry Breault, could have escaped, too, but he went down with a shipmate that couldn’t escape. The two were trapped in the sunken hull until the next day. For that heroism, President Calvin Coolidge presented Breault with the Medal of Honor.


He was the first member of the submarine service to receive the award and the only enlisted submariner to receive it for duties aboard a sub.

The USS O-5 was never a very lucky ship. Fifth in the line of 16 O-class submarines, she entered service six months too late for World War I. Before even leaving for Europe, an explosion killed her skipper and one of her officers. By Oct. 28, 1924, Breault and the USS O-5 were among a contingent of submarines moving to enter the Panama Canal. That’s when disaster struck.

Or more accurately, that’s when the United Fruit Company struck.

Either through human error or miscommunication (or likely a mix of both), the UFC’s SS Abangarez was moving to dock when it hit the USS O-5 on its starboard side, creating a 10-foot hole in its control room. The ship rolled to the left and then right before sinking bow first.

Most of the crew were rescued but five were missing, including Breault and Chief Electrician’s Mate Lawrence Brown. Breault had actually escaped the sinking boat when he realized Brown was still asleep down below. He went back into the submarine and closed the deck hatch behind him. The two ended up trapped in the torpedo room below the surface.

When divers discovered crewmen were alive inside, work began to get them out. The only way to do that was to lift the boat the full 42 feet above the waterline. Luckily for them, they happened to be in the Canal Zone, the home of some of the world’s heaviest lifting cranes. The crane barge Ajax, one of the largest in the world, made its way to the wreck as soon as possible.

After three failed attempts and a full 31 hours, the canal crews and sailors were able to lift the sub up high enough to open the torpedo room hatch and free their comrades.

Breault had been sailing since age 16 and was a sailor for the rest of his life, dying just two days before the Japanese hit Pearl Harbor on Dec. 5, 1941.

MIGHTY HISTORY

California once used children to fight a war on squirrels

The year is 1918, and American troops are facing the Germans in deadly trench warfare on the Western Front. That isn’t the only place war has taken hold, the Great War is raging all over the world, and California is no different. There, along the far, far Western front, California state horticulturist George H. Hecke called up California’s most precious natural resource: children.

Their enemy was a pest unlike any other the state had ever seen, and Hecke decided their time had come. The squirrels had to go.


What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

The new children’s crusade called for a seven-day operation whereby California schoolchildren would attack the vicious squirrel army (often depicted wearing the pointed “Hun” helmet worn by the German army at the time). When the students weren’t creating passive killing fields by spreading rodent poisons where squirrels were known to gather food the kiddos were encouraged to form “a company of soldiers in your class or in your school” to go out and meet the enemy head-on, hitting the furry huns where they lived. “Squirrel Week” was on.

“All the killing devices of modern warfare will be used in the effort to annihilate the squirrel army, including gas,” wrote the Lompoc Journal. “Don’t wait to be drafted.”

The U.S. government made every effort to link the anti-squirrel effort to the war effort, referring to the California Ground Squirrel as “the Kaiser’s aides” while showing the squirrels decked out in enemy uniforms, wearing the Iron Cross. The government even distributed recipes for barley coated with the deadly poison strychnine.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

The state had a point. Otospermophilus Beecheyi, also known as the California Ground Squirrel, was not only a pest to farms and stored food, but was also known to carry certain diseases, such as bubonic plague. More importantly, the rodent ate nearly 0 million in crops and stored food in California (using today’s dollar values), food which could otherwise go to the doughboys fighting the World War raging in Europe. Children were even asked to bring in squirrel tails to school to show off their confirmed kills.

The schoolchildren did not disappoint. In all, More than 104,000 squirrels met their furry maker during Squirrel Week 1918 – but that was just one battle. The war raged on as long as the War in Europe raged on. California children continued killing the squirrels for a long time after Squirrel Week. The effort did not have lasting consequences for the squirrels at large, however. Today the California Ground Squirrel’s conservation status is the lowest at “least concern.”

Least concern, or lulling us into a false sense of security before counter-attacking? You decide.

MIGHTY HISTORY

US hero Pappy Boyington was on ‘To Tell the Truth’

To Tell the Truth has made a bit of a comeback lately, airing on ABC and hosted by Anthony Anderson. But did you know the show’s earlier run featured one of the top heroes of the United States Marine Corps?


What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

We’re talking about Colonel Gregory Boyington, better known as “Pappy.” Boyington’s reputation as an ace is beyond question: He had 28 kills, making him the “ace of aces” for the United States Marine Corps. His exploits even hit the small screen in the 1970s with the TV series Baa Baa Black Sheep, starring Robert Conrad.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
Robert Conrad as Pappy Boyington (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Throughout his career, Boyington wasn’t exactly the most ideal officer, but he did have natural skills as a fighter pilot. Consequently, he was among those recruited to join the American Volunteer Group slated to fight for China against Japan in the Second Sino-Japanese War. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Boyington flew missions with the Flying Tigers, scoring six kills.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

According to a Marine Corps biography, his nickname came from the fact that at 31 — older than most of the pilots he commanded. Boyington would go on to lead VMF-214, a squadron that would be called “The Black Sheep,” given their motley nature. VMF-214 soon became a terror for the Japanese.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
Advancing platoons of Marines, including bazookamen, flamethrowers, automatic riflemen, and sharpshooters find low-flying Marine “Corsair” fighter-bombers flying to their aid. (Photo from Smithsonian)

While the pilot episode of Baa Baa Black Sheep featured Boyington’s squadron luring the Japanese by posing as unescorted bombers (shades of Operation Bolo, a masterpiece pulled off by Robin Olds, another World War II ace), Boyington did once actually taunt Japanese pilots into a fight over Kahili (near where Isoroku Yamamoto was shot down) — and the Black Sheep racked up 20 kills with no losses.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Boyington was shot down on Jan. 3, 1944. In typical fashion, he downed two enemy planes before they shot his Corsair down. He survived internment at the Otami prison camp, which also held Medal of Honor recipient Richard O’Kane, the CO of USS Tang (SS 306). After his appearance on the episode of To Tell The Truth (shown below), Boyington released his memoirs, entitled Baa Baa Black Sheep. He died in 1988.

(Kyle Cowden | YouTube)
MIGHTY CULTURE

Ross Perot pulled off one of the greatest Army-Navy Game pranks ever

College pranks leading up to a rivalry football game are par for the course, an expected ordinary event. But when Army meets Navy every year, the pranks are pulled by individuals trained to plan, lead, and meticulously execute military operations – and there is nothing ordinary about the students who attend the United States Military Academy or the U.S. Naval Academy.

This is especially true of one of Navy’s most famous alums, H. Ross Perot tolled Army in one of the greatest pranks in academy history.


What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

There was nothing ordinary about Ross Perot.

Perot died of leukemia in 2019 at age 89 but the self-made billionaire and businessman who may have changed the outcome of the 1992 election got his start at the Naval Academy, graduating with the Class of 1953. His prank, however, came before the 1975 Army-Navy Game, when Perot was not only out of the Navy, but already a billionaire. His company, Electronic Data Systems, had gone public seven years prior.

His billions might have been the key element in helping Perot troll – or rather toll – the entire West Point campus on the eve of the biggest game of the season. According to the 1989 book “The Long Gray Line” by Rick Atkinson, Perot had to somehow enlist the help of a West Point chaplain to even get started.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine

Money. Money is how he enlisted an inside man.

At zero dark thirty on the night before the 1975 Army-Navy Game, Perot, with the help of an Army chaplain, the U.S. Military Academy’s bell-ringer, and a Midshipman friend infiltrated the West Point campus and shattered the quiet of the Hudson Valley night.

They scaled the stairs of the West Point Chapel, locked the doors behind them and played “Anchors Aweigh” (Navy’s fight song, for the uninitiated) while singing at the top of their lungs. As barracks’ lights all over campus switched on and cadets flooded their ways to the chapel, Perot and company banged out the Marines’ Hymn on the bells as a follow-up.

Perot taunted the oncoming cadets before surrendering to the mob, who promptly handed the eccentric billionaire over to the waiting Military Police. Perot presumably accepted a slap on the wrist and Navy bested Army 30-6.

Ross Perot, we hardly knew ye.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a plain old Cessna became a military legend

When you see them at airports, you probably don’t give them a second thought. Cessna aircraft are very common and are, typically, privately owned. But what you may not know is that the United States military — and a fair number of allies — used basic Cessnas for nearly a quarter-century. In fact, these planes saw service in both the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Now, the Department of Defense didn’t call them Cessnas. Their official designation was the L-19 (later the O-1) Bird Dog. The Army ordered this plane in the wake of the 1947 divorce with the Air Force (and the establishment of the 1948 Key West Agreement). At the time, the Army was looking for a scout plane that could also serve as an artillery spotter.


The Cessna design was slated for introduction in December, 1950. Just six months before then, the Korean War broke out — and the artillery spotter, though effective in its primary mission, quickly proved capable of much more, handing a variety of missions ranging from medical evacuations to general liaison.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
One of the most famous O-1s — this plane made a landing on USS Midway (CV 41) as South Vietnam fell.
(US Navy)

The Army and Marine Corps bought over 3,200 of these planes. While the planes proved useful in Korea, it was in Vietnam that they would become legends. There, the Bird Dogs were used by forward air controllers, or FACs, to accurately spot for close-air support. The jets bringing that support to troops on the ground were very fast. Without the guidance provided by the Bird Dogs (who had a much more clear view), they stood a greater chance of missing the intended target — in the worst cases, this resulted in landing air strikes on American troops.

What we can learn from a replica World War II midget submarine
The rockets this Bird dog packs aren’t to kill the enemy – they just provide an aiming point.
(US Air Force)

In Vietnam, the Bird Dog also acquired some armament in the form of rocket pods. These weren’t to attack enemy forces, but instead served as a means to mark targets for jets carrying the heavy firepower. Over 500 Bird Dogs were lost in Vietnam.

In 1974, the Air Force retired this plane, but it was passed down to other countries, including South Vietnam.

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MIGHTY HISTORY

A rare look beyond the gates at Ellsworth AFB

Ellsworth Air Force Base just northeast of Rapid City, South Dakota includes a section called the Munitions Storage Area. You’re probably picturing your average weapons depot, right? Turns out, the reality is more explosive than you might think. The Ellsworth Munitions Storage Area has been nicknamed the “Bomb Dump,” and for good reason. 

Even bombs need to have a home somewhere

The 28th Munitions Squadron is in charge of every single explosive at the base as well as making sure that B1 launching equipment is always ready to go. That means no accidents can occur here or the whole thing could blow up. 

The outside world rarely gets to see this part of Ellsworth, which makes sense. Severely limiting access is necessary because it is such a dangerous place. How dangerous, you ask? Well, there are 678,500 pounds of net explosive weight. That’s why the Munitions Storage Area is far, far away from any populated areas of Ellsworth. 

ellsworth
A 122nd Fighter Wing munitions storage facility sits under a fresh coating of snow, Jan. 10, 2016, at the Indiana Air National Guard Base, Fort Wayne, Ind. The aging facility was originally constructed in 1991 and has served as munitions storage for both F-16 and A-10C aircraft. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. William Hopper)

Clumsy folks beware

Strictly speaking, munitions are anything that contain explosives. Small things like bullets, bomb bodies, and grenades are stored at the Ellsworth Munitions Storage Areas. However, so are a five-hundred-pound bomb body, a two-thousand-pound bomb body, and loaded cruise missiles. In other words, if you’re clumsy, this place is probably not for you.

To enter the Munitions Storage Area at Ellsworth, you have to pass through additional security beyond the gate. The Bomb Dump is so exclusive that many of the base’s employees have never even been inside of the 647 acres of the Munitions Storage Area. 

Talk about a no-risk area

If you do find yourself in this volatile area, first you’ll have to give up your cell phone, as their signals could accidentally set off sensitive explosives. After all, the risks here are no joke, and they’re not taking any risks. 

Inside, you’ll find 86 facilities. They are all neatly in a line and aptly named Long Row. The structures are built beside one another, but they don’t touch. Long Row was specifically designed for extra security, just in case there is a problem. For instance, if a bomb exploded in one of the buildings, the building beside it won’t sympathetically detonate. 

One bomb, two bomb, red bomb, blue bomb

The Munitions Storage Area also includes free-standing carts out in the open loaded with non-explosive bombs used for training. They are color-coded blue to indicate that they are trainers. 

On the Munitions Storage Area grounds, you’ll also find a bunch of “igloos” covered in earth. They were built in the 1950s with the idea that they would last quite a while. They sure are living up to their goals. 

A minimum of 24 inches of soil plus a concrete topper covers each igloo for protection from what’s inside: many different types of explosives. At least one of the igloos serves as munitions inspection, where every single explosive device that enters Ellsworth must pass through.

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