Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

On the morning of December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked and 2403 people lost their lives. America mourned, but she also planned and united in her commitment to retaliate. The Japanese had attacked hoping to force her hand in lifting sanctions.

Instead, they got war.


Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

U.S. Air Force

One month after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, a secret joint Army-Navy bombing initiative was put together. The plan was to bomb the industrial areas of Japan with B-25 bombers, led by then United States Army Air Forces Colonel James Doolittle. The task force to get them there was commanded by Vice Admiral William Halsey. The bombers would then take off the aircraft carrier Hornet, commanded by Captain Marc Mitscher. The 80 men who would fly to complete this dangerous mission all willingly volunteered for it.

They were ready.

Under the hope of complete secrecy, the Hornet made its way to Tokyo. The plan was to launch the bombers once they were within 400 miles of their target. During their journey, they encountered a small Japanese fishing boat when they were around 650 miles from the coast. Fearing that the boat had alerted Tokyo to their location, they launched a day early, on April 18, 1942 — 78 years ago this week. Everything within the planes that wasn’t deemed essential had been stripped to allow for the vital fuel to make it to China after the attack. With their new launching location, their safe return was at risk.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

Crew #16.

U.S. Air Force

The men did it anyway, with Col. Doolittle leading their way in the first plane over the skies.

Although the Japanese were alerted to the presence of the Americans, they were still surprised by the long range execution of the bombers. Doolittle’s Raiders, as they would come to be known, hit targets in Tokyo, Yokosuka, Yokohama, Kobe and Nagoya. They even managed to damage an aircraft carrier during their attack. Most of the airmen made it safely to China, aided by locals. The Japanese would go on to slaughter 250,000 of them for this kindness.

Although they were unable to complete their original plan, the Doolittle Raiders’ mission changed the narrative for the United States. It forced Japan to move resources to defend its coasts and gave the American military the boost it desperately needed.

Two months later the Battle of Midway would signal to the world that American victory was within reach.

MIGHTY HISTORY

VHA commemorates Black History Month

A look at the many “firsts” in Veterans health history


Today’s Veterans Health Administration (VHA) embodies the spirit of the many Black men and women who broke history and continue to inspire us today.

National home for disabled volunteer soldiers, the first to provide domiciliary and medical care to Black veterans

VHA’s first hospitals opened under its predecessor, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers. The hospitals were racially integrated from the very beginning. The first African American Veterans, who served with the U.S. Colored Troops during the Civil War, were admitted to the Central Branch (now Dayton VAMC) in Ohio in March 1867.

Dr. Howard Kenney, 1962

It was the first government-civilian institution to admit the nation’s first African American Veterans of the Union Army.

First racially segregated veterans hospital

After the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case decision, the practice of “separate, but equal” accommodations based on race took hold in American society. When the National Home opened its new Mountain Branch in Johnson City, Tennessee, in 1903, the staff segregated Veterans by race.

A Veterans hospital established exclusively for African American Veterans opened in Tuskegee, Alabama, in 1923, for those who served in World War I, caring for more than 300,000 Black Veterans

Pictured above is Dr. Henry Ward and staff at Tuskegee Hospital, 1924.

First African American hospital director

Dr. Joseph H. Ward, of Indianapolis, became the first director of the Tuskegee Veteran’s hospital in 1923. Dr. Ward served in that capacity at Tuskegee until 1936.

Dr. Howard Kenney, 1962

Racial segregation ends at VA

On July 29, 1954, VA announced that segregation of the races had officially ended at all hospitals.

First African American director to integrate VA hospitals

Dr. Howard Kenney was the first director to integrate the VA hospital system. On July 20, 1962, he became the first African American VA hospital director for the East Orange, NJ, facility.Long Description

Viola Johnson, director, Battle Creek VAMC, 1984

First African American VA regional medical director

After integrating executive leadership at VA hospitals in 1962, Dr. Howard Kenney went on to become the first African American appointed as a VA Regional Medical Director in 1969.

First African American nursing director

Vernice Ferguson was the first African American nurse appointed as VA’s Director of Nursing in 1980, and she held that position for 12 years, retiring in 1992.

Viola Johnson, director, Battle Creek VAMC, 1984

First African American woman hospital director

Viola Johnson became the first African American woman to lead a VAMC in 1984 when she assumed direction of the Battle Creek Michigan facility.

First VA hospital named for African American veteran

The first VA facility named after an African American was named after Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient PFC Ralph H. Johnson (Marines) in 1990.

First African American VA Secretary

Jesse Brown was the first African American VA Secretary. He served from 1993 to 1997.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This was the Union Army’s air force during the Civil War

If you thought that air warfare was reserved for a time after airplanes were invented, you thought wrong. During the American Civil War, the Union troops used hot air balloons to spy on Confederate troops.

The idea to use balloons was the brainchild of Salmon P. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, and Joseph Henry, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. They suggested that the military should create the balloon corps under the command of Thaddeus Lowe to do some “aerial reconnaissance” for the Union.


On June 17, 1861, Lowe demonstrated his balloon in front of President Abraham Lincoln. He went up to the lofty height of 500 feet and flew the balloon the short distance between the Washington Mall to where the National Air and Space Museum now stands. Lincoln had doubtless seen hot air balloons do such things at fairs for years; what made this journey special was that the balloon was hooked up to a cable that linked an air bound Lowe to the War Department.

In the first air-to-ground communication in America, Lowe sent the following telegram to Lincoln from his balloon: “The city, with its girdle of encampments, presents a superb scene…”

Soon after, Lincoln wrote to General Winfield Scott about Lowe’s abilities. However, when Lowe presented himself to the general, he found that Scott was less than impressed. Lincoln ultimately had to personally intervene to get the general to accept Lowe into the ranks.

In August 1861, the first army balloon was constructed and named The Union. The balloon depended on tapping into Washington D.C.’s natural gas lines, so it wasn’t able to go very far. However, the next month Lowe was able to take his balloon up to 1000 feet and spy on the Confederate troops residing at Fall’s Church, VA. With his direction, Union troops were able to accurately aim at enemy troops without actually seeing them. This was a military first, and the success resulted in the establishment of the Balloon Corps.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

The first order of business was to hire more aeronauts. Around October 1861, a number of balloons were tethered along the Potomac River. From their vantage point, the people manning the balloons were able to see any Confederate activity up to a day’s march away, giving the Union time to prepare a plan of defence.

After a short period of time, balloon technology advanced. Lowe himself invented a way to make gas portable: a wooden tank lined with copper, set up on a wagon that also carried water, iron, and sulfuric acid. Combined, these wagons produced hydrogen gas which lifted the balloons up. The army had twelve wagons built to aid the balloons in long-distance missions. Each of them weighed 1000 pounds.

Throughout 1862, Lowe continued to go on reconnaissance missions, noting on maps where Confederate troops were located. When he travelled at night, he would count campfires. It wasn’t all good news, though. The Confederate troops quickly caught on to what was happening and started shooting at the balloons with guns and cannons. Luckily for the people in the balloons, it was pretty difficult for soldiers on the ground to actually hit them—and it was easy for the soldiers in the balloon to gun down anyone who took a shot.

When shooting failed, the Confederates learned how to cloak their positions with camouflage and blackouts, making Lowe’s job more difficult. If Confederates made fewer fires, then Lowe’s estimates of their forces would be low, and the Union troops would underestimate the South’s strength. They would also paint fake cannons black and set them up around camp, so that if a balloon happened to fly over while it was still light, the North would think that they had too many resources to chance a fight. These fake cannons were called “Quaker guns” because they were, like the pacifist Quakers, completely harmless in war.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

Two of the hydrogen gas generators assigned to each balloon for inflating on the battlefield.

The South did set out to copy the balloons’ success at one point, but they lacked the technology and resources required to make their balloons practical. The first Confederate balloon was difficult to control, as it was made out of varnished cotton and kept aloft with hot air. The balloonist did manage to draw a map of Union positions around Yorktown despite the difficulties, however. A second attempt was less successful. A balloon made of silk (said to have been sewn from the gowns of Southern Belles) was tied to a tugboat and dragged along the James River before the tugboat crashed and Union troops took control of the balloon.

The Union Balloon Corps met its demise before the end of the Civil War. With a switch of command in 1863, funding was cut to the program which meant that the balloonist could no longer continue staying aloft. On top of that, Lowe himself was accused of “financial impropriety” and forced to resign. Lowe had become the driving force behind the entire campaign, and without him to advocate for the corps, it disbanded.

Bonus Facts:

  • In addition to the technology of balloons, the Civil War saw a significant use of telegraph machines on both sides. The Union sometimes handled upwards of 4500 telegrams a day reporting on Confederate movements. Both sides encrypted their messages with ciphers, and both sides learned how to tap telegraph machines. Sometimes, messages would become unreadable due to mistakes made on behalf of the people sending them. Robert E. Lee hated telegraphs and even ordered his officers not to send anything, lest the Union find out what the messages contained.
  • Before he was appointed Chief Aeronaut, Lowe was simply an aeronautic scientist. A week after the fall of Fort Sumter, which kicked off the Civil War, Lowe could be found on a nine hour balloon trip from Cincinnati, Ohio, to Union, South Carolina. When he landed, Confederate troops accused him of spying for the Union. They were eventually convinced of his innocence—something they regretted later—and Lowe returned to the North, where he learned that Mr. Henry wanted to talk to him.
  • Lowe continued to be passionate about flying. He also made the “railway into the clouds” in California, which took passengers to the summit of Echo Mountain. But one of his biggest legacies is that of his granddaughter, the remarkable Pancho Barnes, who also caught the flying bug.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This WWII ammo box had some choice words for Hitler inside

Graffiti is not a new concept in the military. From creative drawings on the inside of guard posts in Afghanistan, to the famous “Kilroy was here” of WWII, to stone carvings in the walls of Roman barracks in England, soldiers and folks supporting the military find ways to leave their personal mark. The Tooele Army Depot discovered one such mark on an old box of ammo from WWII.

Located in Tooele County, Utah, the depot first opened in 1942 to support WWII. Today, it is the DoD’s western region conventional ammunition hub. The depot stores, demilitarizes and distributes ammo to and from all four branches of the military.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders
The ammo box’s data card (Tooele Army Depot)

On March 18, the Tooele Army Depot Twitter account shared a surprising discovery. The tweet included photos of a .50-cal ammo box from WWII. On the bottom of the box was a handwritten message that read, “May the contents of this box of blow the s*** out of Hitler.” The tweet itself said, “Sorry for the salty language, but when that message was scribbled inside a box of .50 cal rounds 77 years ago, we were a nation at war. The demil furnace crew found the message while destroying rounds from #WWII. We are eager to see what else they find. #greatestgeneration.”

The ammo box was produced at the Ogden Arsenal in 1944 according to Tooele Army Depot Public Affairs Officer Jeremy Laird. In a later tweet, Tooele Army Depot announced that it planned to preserve the ammo box and put it on display.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the British paid respect to the Marines in the War of 1812

The War of 1812 isn’t remembered very much nowadays. Often considered America’s second war of independence, not much really changed on the map as a result of the war. But what’s more incredible than the story of the War of 1812 itself is the incredible number of small stories to which the war gives context.

The Battle of New Orleans, for example, was fought by pirates, American Indians, slaves, and civilians alongside the U.S. Army… after the war was over. Then there’s the outrageous fact that the biggest naval battles of the war happened on the Great Lakes, not at sea.

The event that few ever forget, however, is the British burning of Washington, D.C., when they put the Capitol and other government installations to the torch. British troops even had dinner at the White House before setting it ablaze. But there was one building in the DC area that was spared — and, potentially, for a very good reason.


It was the only time the American capital was ever occupied by a foreign country and the thought seems next to impossible these days. Some 4,000 British troops landed at the Chesapeake Bay and made their way eastward, toward Washington. The only thing standing in their way was 6,500 American militiamen and 420 U.S. Marines. The British routed the Americans so bad, the battle went down in history as “the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms.” Worse than that, it left the door to Washington open and the redcoats just walked right through it.

There was one bright silver lining to the Battle of Bladensburg, however. Navy Captain Joshua Barney and his 360 sailors and 120 Marines didn’t get the order from Gen. William H. Winder to retreat from the battlefield. Eventually, it was this force of just shy of 500 left to fight the entire British Army, often using their fists or the sailors’ arsenal of cutlasses. They would not be able to hold back the entire enemy force, but they made their stand last for two full hours.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

Marines making do at Bladensburg.

This stand gave many in Washington, including Congress, President James Madison, and his wife, Dolley, time to escape the city. Dolley Madison was able to take many of the White House’s most treasured artifacts with her.

A battle that was so mismanaged with a victory so lopsided lasted only a short few hours. That the most intense fighting was done against the United States Marines and the Navy did not go unnoticed by the British forces. Nonetheless, they pressed on to Washington.

The burning of the American capital was not just some sudden spark of victory-fueled euphoria. The Americans burned the capital of British North America, Canada, at York (modern-day Toronto) the previous year. Now, the British would get their revenge, torching the Capitol Building, the Library of Congress, the White House, and many, many other government buildings.

One of the few buildings that was spared in the melee was the Commandant of the Marine Corps’ house at the Marine Corps Barracks. The reason for this, according to Marine Corps legend, is that the British were impressed by the Marines’ performance at the Battle of Bladensburg and, thus, spared the house out of respect.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

The Home of the Commandants at Marine Barracks Washington is the oldest continuously used public building in Washington, DC.

This could be the reason, or even a secondary one, but some historians say it’s likely that the house was just overlooked in the chaos of the burning city. Still, an unscathed structure so close to the burning Navy Yard seems unlikely to go unnoticed, especially because the house looks everything like a military target and the British had all the time they needed to double check.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The last Union combat veteran of the Civil War lived to see the Cold War

In 1949, six men gathered in Indianapolis for the last meeting of the Grand Army of the Republic, a Civil War veterans organization. At its peak, it boasted 400,000 members with thousands of posts nationwide. By 1949, however, only 16 remained. And only six were able to make the trek to Indianapolis. One of those was 108-year-old James Hard, a veteran of the battles of First Bull Run, Antietam, and Chancellorsville.

In the next four years, all but one of those would have died, and with them, the firsthand memory of Civil War combat.


Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

The battle standard of James Hard’s Civil War infantry unit.

The only one of the six to outlive Hard would be Albert Woolson, the last known member of the Union Army and the last undisputed surviving member on any side of the Civil War. But Woolson never saw action as a member of a heavy artillery unit from Minnesota. Hard was the last surviving Union combat veteran of the Civil War.

Between 1900 and into World War II, the surviving number of American Civil War veterans began to dwindle at an exponential rate, much like what the U.S. is seeing with its World War II veterans today. The Grand Army of the Republic held marches, and a yearly meeting called the Encampment to celebrate those veterans who served and to make sure they held on to their hard-won rights.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

A 1912 Grand Army of the Republic parade marching through downtown Los Angeles.

James Hard was born in Rochester, New York around 1843. He lied about his age in 1861 to be able to join the Union Army. He joined the 37th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, also known as the Irish Rifles, in May 1861 and his service record verified his claim.

His unit was stationed around Washington, DC until Gen. Irvin McDowell used the 37th as a reserve unit in the battle of First Bull Run. McDowell had never led troops in combat and was soundly beaten. Its biggest loss came at Chancellorsville in 1863 when it lost more than 200 men to night fighting and a surprise attack during a flawed, unorganized retreat. A young James Hard was present for all of it.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

The last of America’s Union Army, gathered in an Indianapolis ballroom in 1949.

By the time the First World War came around GAR membership was still very strong, its encampment still bringing in numbers just shy of a half a million or so. By the time the United States entered World War II, however, the Civil War veterans time had passed, and with their memory went so many of their numbers. In 1942, just over 500 Civil War veterans were on the rolls of the Grand Army of the Republic.

At the outset of the Cold War and the Atomic Age, only 16 remained. They were too frail to walk in any parades and had to be accompanied to Indianapolis by their Veterans Administration nurses. They drove through the parade route in vehicles, machines that were a very new invention to them.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This World War I artillery was the longest-ranged gun ever

When the Germans wanted to shell Paris during World War I, they knew exactly what they were doing. The only problem was the Germans just couldn’t quite break through to get Paris in their artillery crosshairs. So they did what any German might do: build a gun that could hit Paris from where they were – 75 miles away.


The Paris Gun, as it was named, had the longest range of any artillery weapon in history.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

Here comes the boom.

Nobody really knows what the Paris Gun’s full capabilities were because all of them were destroyed by the retreating Germans. All that was ever captured were fixed-gun emplacements. And since all the men who might have fired one are dead, it’s just a design lost to history. What we do know is that the weapon was able to hurl 230-plus pounds of steel and explosives some 75 miles, over the World War I front lines and into the streets of Paris in just about three minutes. More interesting still is that the rounds flew 25 miles into the air, the highest point ever reached by a man-made object at that time.

The reason the gun wasn’t more popular among the Germans is that it did relatively little damage. It carried only 15 pounds of explosives, and only 20 rounds could be fired per day. Parisians didn’t even realize the shelling was coming from artillery at first – they thought they were being bombed by an ultra-high zeppelin. With some 360 rounds fired, the guns only killed 250 people, mostly civilians. It did not have the terrorizing effect the Germans hoped.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

Though one round did collapse the roof of a church during services. Not great PR when you’re trying not to be evil.

To make matters worse, the rounds ate away at the barrel of the gun as they fired, so rounds had to be used in a strict numerical order with ever-changing sizes as the crew fired. Once all the rounds were fired, the barrel had to be removed and sent back to Germany to be re-bored.

Allied forces never captured one of these record-setting artillery pieces, as the Germans either destroyed them as the Entente troops advanced or sent them all back to Germany after the Armistice of 1918. They were supposed to provide France with one of the weapons, as set in the Treaty of Versailles, but never did. No schematics, parts, or barrels survive. Only the static emplacements captured by the Americans in 1918.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 facts you should know about Ukraine

Ukraine has become a defining feature of the 2020 presidential election season. Here are some facts to help you better understand Ukraine’s role on the global stage:


Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

Traditional Ukrainian embroidered blouses.

(Source: Shutterstock)

Ukraine 101

Medieval Ukraine, known as “Kievan Rus,” was the birthplace of Slavic culture. Ukraine was formerly part of the Soviet Union and became an independent country in 1991. The country has long been known as the “breadbasket of Europe” due to its fertile soil. Although its economy has improved steadily since 2000, Ukraine continues to suffer from poverty and corruption. Ukraine is a close ally of the United States, and polls have shown a generally positive attitude toward the U.S. by Ukrainians.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

Ukrainian soldiers take cover during a mortar attack in eastern Ukraine.

(Source: Sergei L. Loiko)

Ukraine has been at war since 2014

Ukraine was rocked with instability in 2014 due to a political protest movement called “Euromaidan.” Russia seized this opportunity to invade Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula and claim it as Russian territory while also stirring up pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Crimea was conquered without bloodshed, and a large proportion of Crimea’s residents actually support the annexation. The insurrection in eastern Ukraine, however, quickly became violent.

Today the Ukrainian military continues to fight heavily armed, Russian-backed separatists and Russian military forces (although Russia publicly denies the latter) in eastern Ukraine. The conflict, which has claimed at least 13,000 lives and displaced over 1.4 million people, has since become a stalemate.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

Euromaidan protestors battle police in central Kyiv in 2014.

(Source: Reuters)

Euromaidan was a really big deal

In 2014, growing discontent against president Viktor Yanukovych erupted in a massive protest movement. The activists, who hoped for a Ukraine more oriented toward Western Europe, accused Yanukovych of being a puppet of Vladimir Putin trying to pull Ukraine closer into Russia’s orbit. The Euromaidan movement led to street battles between police and protesters and over 100 deaths.

Euromaidan eventually succeeded, however. Yanukovych abandoned the presidency and fled to Russia, where he remains to this day. (In 2019 a Ukrainian court convicted him, in absentia, of treason.) Euromaidan was historic because it reflected the will of many Ukrainians to choose a trajectory free of Russian domination, but it also aggravated simmering tensions within Ukraine’s population and triggered Russia’s armed interventions in Crimea and the eastern regions.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

Mural in Kyiv depicting a Ukrainian Cossack strangling Vladimir Putin, represented as a snake.

The Ukrainian population is deeply divided

Many Ukrainians, especially in western Ukraine, are staunch Ukrainian patriots. They take great pride in Ukrainian culture, history, and language and generally hold negative attitudes toward Russia.

More eastern regions of the country, however, have larger percentages of Ukrainians who speak Russian as a first language and consider themselves more Russian than Ukrainian. This is the root of the current war in eastern Ukraine, and the reason many Ukrainians in Crimea welcomed Russian annexation in 2014.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

(Source: WorldAtlas.com)

Choose your words carefully when referring to Ukraine

There are some semantics involved when speaking of Ukraine which cannot be divorced from the country’s complicated history and politics. Even the name “Ukraine” means “borderland” in Russian. The Ukrainian capital city has historically been transliterated as “Kiev,” the traditional Russian spelling, although the Ukrainian-language “Kyiv” is increasingly preferred.

Likewise, many English speakers incorrectly refer to the country as “the Ukraine,” a dated reference to the Soviet era when Ukraine was a Soviet republic (similar to saying “the Midwest” in relation to the United States). Both the Ukrainian government and many Ukrainians strongly discourage the term “the Ukraine.”

Even language itself is contentious: the majority of Ukrainians can speak both Ukrainian and Russian, but the use of either language can be seen as a political and social statement by the speaker.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

President Volodymyr Zelensky

(Source: Getty Images)

Ukraine’s current president is literally a comedian

Current president Volodymyr Zelensky, whose phone call with President Donald Trump in July 2019 has triggered controversy within the United States, was a comedian before being elected in a landslide in 2019. He is most famous for playing the lead role in “Servant of the People,” a hugely popular sitcom about a schoolteacher who is unexpectedly elected president of Ukraine.

The 41-year-old Zelensky ran for office as a reformer whose priorities include fighting corruption and negotiating an honorable end to the war. Zelensky also wants to maintain U.S. support, particularly American shipments of “lethal” aid such as anti-tank missiles, which Ukrainian troops need to counter the Russian-equipped rebels.

Although a longtime Ukrainian patriot, Zelensky’s first language is Russian, and he has been criticized for not being entirely fluent in Ukrainian.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The American story about the creator of this beloved 50-cal will blow your mind

The Barrett M82, known by members of the U.S. military as the M107 .50-caliber semi-automatic rifle, is one of the military’s most beloved weapons in use today. Its service history is as storied – and as American – as the history of its inventor, Ronnie Barrett.


Before his name became synonymous with American military supremacy, Barrett was a professional photographer in his home state of Tennessee. He never studied science or engineering in college – in fact, he didn’t go to college at all. He went to Murfreesboro High School before going out and starting a photography studio.

That all changed during the course of his usual work.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

And many, many U.S. and allied troops are better off for it.

In 1982, Barrett was snapping a photo of a river patrol gunboat during a military exercise on the Stones River near Nashville, Tenn. Mounted on that boat were two M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns. The size of the ammunition cartridge got Ronnie Barrett thinking. He was “wowed” by the Ma Deuce, but he wanted to know if the .50-caliber cartridge could be fired from a shoulder-mounted sniper rifle.

He was out on the water that day to snap promotional photos for the Browning Firearms Company, but he ended up starting a rival firm, one that would become as closely-linked with the U.S. military as Browning.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

The photo also won a first-place award from the Tennessee Professional Photographers Association. No joke.

(Photo by Ronnie Barrett)

Barrett went home and began work on a 3D sketch of what would soon become the Model 82A1 – M107. Within just seven years, Barrett was able to sell his powerful sniper rifle to the Swedish military and eventually the United States Marine Corps, then the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force.

Not bad at all for someone with no college education, but a whole lotta vision. Welcome to Ronnie Barrett’s America, folks.

Articles

The cover story that helped the CIA pull off one of the Cold War’s most epic heists

 


With the use of a massive ship and a cover story involving billionaire Howard Hughes, the CIA pulled off one of the most epic heists of the Cold War during the 1970s.

The story begins in 1968, with the sinking of a Soviet submarine. In September of that year, the nuclear-armed K-129 and all of its crew sank 16,500 feet to the bottom of the Pacific ocean. The Soviets conducted an unsuccessful search over the next two months — and that’s where the CIA comes in.

Via PRI:

After the Soviet Navy failed to pinpoint the location of the wreckage, the US Navy found it. So the CIA decided to raise it off the seabed. They called this mission “Project Azorian,” and its details have been an official secret for decades. It took three years for retired CIA employee David Sharp to get permission to publish in 2012 his account of the mission and his role.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders
The K-129

Onboard the sub were live nukes, secret documents, electronics, and cryptography equipment that could help the Americans crack Soviet codes, according to Maritime Reporter. But the CIA couldn’t just build a massive recovery ship emblazoned with “US Navy” on its side and get to work in the middle of the Pacific. The Soviets would be very suspicious.

Long before the CIA concocted the fake movie “Argo” to rescue hostages in Iran, it brilliantly bullsh–ted the Soviets with the help of an eccentric billionaire. The agency approached Howard Hughes, and recruited his help in providing the cover story: The ship, called the Glomar Explorer, would be conducting marine research “at extreme ocean depths and mining manganese nodules lying on the sea bottom. The ship would have the requisite stability and power to perform the task at hand,” according to the CIA’s account of the operation.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

The massive 618-foot-long ship took four years to build, and was incredibly complicated. Meanwhile, Hughes was talking up the mining effort in the press, enjoying headlines like “SECRET PLAN: HUGHES TO MINE OCEAN FLOOR.”

While Moscow had no idea what was going on, in August 1974 the Explorer wrapped its mechanical claw around the K-129 and began raising it up from its three-mile depth. Unfortunately, the operation did not go exactly as planned: As it neared 9,000 feet below the surface, the claw failed and a large part of K-129 broke apart and fell, according to PRI. But the CIA still managed to bring up the ship’s bow, with the bodies of six Russian sailors.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

The CIA could have given it another try (and planned on it) if it had time to build a new claw, except the secret operation was exposed in the press shortly after Hughes’ L.A. headquarters had a break-in. The thieves had stolen a number of secret documents, one of which linked Hughes, Glomar, and the CIA. The Los Angeles Times broke the story in 1975.

There’s are a few interesting post-scripts to the story. The bodies of the Russian sailors were buried at sea in a secret ceremony, video of which was later shared with the Soviets in 1992 as a gesture of goodwill. And the Glomar Explorer was later bought by TransOcean and converted for deepwater oil drilling, though it’s soon headed to the scrapyard after 40 years of service.

But perhaps most famously, the incident highlighted the CIA’s standard “Glomar Response,” an incredible non-answer that has annoyed everyone from average Joes to journalists alike: “We can neither confirm or deny the existence of such an operation.”

NOW: Researchers unveiled cloaking technology that the US military has been waiting for

MIGHTY HISTORY

There’s a German U-boat at the bottom of Lake Michigan

Crewman aboard a ship owned by A and T Recovery on Lake Michigan dropped cameras into the deep to confirm what sonar was telling them – there was a German U-boat resting on the bottom of the Great Lake. Luckily, the year was 1992, a full 73 years removed from the end of the Great War that saw German submarines force the United States to enter the war in Europe. How it got there has nothing to do with naval combat.


Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

Unlike how we got into World War I in the first place.

In the days before a true visual mass medium, the American people were restricted to photos in newspapers to get a view of what the war looked like. World War I was the first real industrial war, marked for its brutality and large numbers of casualties, not to mention the advances in weapons technology that must have seemed like magic to the people who had never seen poison gas, automatic machine guns, and especially boats that moved underneath the waves, sinking giant battleships from the depths.

So after years of hearing about evil German U-boats mercilessly sinking tons and tons of Allied shipping and killing thousands of sailors while silently slipping beneath the waves, one of those ships began touring the coastal cities of the United States – and people understandably wanted to see it.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

WWI-era submarines after being surrendered to the Allied powers.

The Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice demanded that the German navy turn over its ships to the British but instead of doing that, the Germans scuttled the bulk of their fleet near the British base at Scapa Flow. The submarines, however, survived. Seeing that there were so many U-boats and that German technology surrounding U-boats used some of the best technology at the time, the British offered them out to other nations, as long as the submarines were destroyed when their usefulness came to an end.

The United States accepted one, UC-97, and toured it around the country to raise money needed to pay off the enormous war debt incurred by the government of the United States. When they successfully raised that money, the Navy continued touring the ships as a way to recruit new sailors. The UC-97 was sailed up the St. Lawrence Seaway into Lake Ontario and then Lake Erie.

It was the first submarine ever sailed into the Great Lakes.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

UC-97 sails into New York Harbor in April 1919.

Eventually, though, the novelty of the ship wore off, and after raising money, recruiting sailors, and giving all the tech she had on board, the boat just sat on the Chicago River. All the other subs taken by the U.S. were sunk according to the treaty’s stipulations. UC-97 couldn’t really move under her own power and was towed to the middle of Lake Michigan, where she was sunk for target practice by the USS Wilmette, forgotten by the Navy for decades after.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How the Taliban went from international pariah to U.S. peace partner in Afghanistan

In the mid-1990s, U.S. oil company Unocal attempted to secure a gas-pipeline deal with the Taliban, which had seized control of the Afghan capital, Kabul, after a devastating civil war.


It was the United States’ first attempt to forge a partnership with the fundamentalist Taliban regime, which was not recognized by the international community.

Unocal even flew senior Taliban members to Texas in 1997 in an attempt to come to an agreement.

Zalmay Khalilzad, who had served as a State Department official when Ronald Reagan was president, worked as a consultant for the now-defunct company.

Khalilzad, who met with the Taliban members in the city of Houston, publicly voiced support for the radical Islamists at the time. The “Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran — it is closer to the Saudi model,” Khalilzad wrote in a 1996 op-ed for The Washington Post. “The group upholds a mix of traditional Pashtun values and an orthodox interpretation of Islam.”

Negotiations over the pipeline collapsed in 1998, when Al-Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa. By then, the terrorist group, led by Osama bin Laden, had relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan, where it was offered safe harbor by the Taliban.

Suddenly, the Taliban went from a potential U.S. economic partner to an international pariah that was hit by U.S. sanctions and air strikes.

Three years later, the United States invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban regime after Al-Qaeda carried out the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that killed nearly 3,000 people.

But now, after waging a deadly, nearly 19-year insurgency that has killed several thousand U.S. troops, the Taliban has regained its status as a potential U.S. partner.

On February 29, the United States and the Taliban signed an agreement aimed at ending the United States’ longest military action. The deal lays out a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in return for various security commitments from the insurgents and a pledge to hold talks over a political settlement with the Afghan government — which it so far has refused to do.

The deal — signed before a bevy of international officials and diplomats in Doha, Qatar — has given the Taliban what it has craved for years: international legitimacy and recognition.

Meanwhile, the agreement has undermined the internationally recognized government in Kabul, which was not a party to the accord.

The architect of the deal was Khalilzad, the U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan, who secured a deal following 18 months of grueling negotiations with the militants in Qatar. The Afghan-born Khalilzad had served as the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and Iraq in the intervening years since working as a Unocal adviser.

“There’s a 20-year bell curve, from 1998 to 2018, when the Taliban went from partner to peak pariah and now back to partner,” says Ted Callahan, a security expert on Afghanistan. But the “changes that have occurred have been less within the Taliban movement and more based on U.S. instrumentalism and war fatigue.”

The extremist group’s transformation to a potential U.S. ally was considered unthinkable until recently.

During its brutal rule from 1996 to 2001, the Taliban oppressed women, massacred ethnic and religious minorities, and harbored Al-Qaeda.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban has killed tens of thousands of Afghan civilians, fueled the illicit opium trade, and sheltered several terrorist groups.

“U.S. officials are selling the Taliban as a partner when it is anything but,” says Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at a Washington-based think tank, the Foundation for Defense Of Democracies, and editor of the Long War Journal. “This is a fiction made up by U.S. officials who are desperate for a deal that will cover the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Radicalized In Pakistan

The Taliban, which means “students” in Pashto, emerged in 1994 in northwestern Pakistan following the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

The predominantly ethnic Pashtun group first appeared in ultraconservative Islamic madrasahs, or religious schools, in Pakistan, where millions of Afghans had fled as refugees. Funded by Saudi Arabia, the madrasahs radicalized thousands of Afghans who joined the mujahedin, the U.S.-backed Islamist rebels who fought the Soviets.

The Taliban first appeared in the southern city of Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, in 1994, two years after the mujahedin seized power in the country. Infighting among mujahedin factions fueled a devastating civil war that killed more than 100,000 people in Kabul.

The Taliban promised to restore security and enforce its ultraconservative brand of Islam. It captured Kabul in 1996 and two years later controlled some 90 percent of the country.

Neighboring Pakistan is widely credited with forming the Taliban, an allegation it has long denied. Islamabad was among only three countries — including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — to recognize the Taliban regime when it ruled Afghanistan.

The Taliban was led by its spiritual leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, the reclusive, one-eyed cleric who was a mujahedin. Omar died of natural causes at a hospital in Pakistan in 2013, with the group’s leadership covering up his death for two years. He was believed to be leading the Afghan Taliban insurgency from within Pakistan.

War-weary Afghans initially welcomed the Taliban, which cracked down on corruption and lawlessness and brought stability across much of the country.

But the welcome was short-lived. The religious zealots enforced strict edicts based on their extreme interpretation of Shari’a law — banning TV and music, forcing men to pray and grow beards, making women cover themselves from head to toe, and preventing women and girls from working or going to school.

The Taliban amputated the hands of thieves, publicly flogged people for drinking alcohol, and stoned to death those who engage in adultery. Executions were common.

Besides its notorious treatment of women, the Taliban also attracted international condemnation when in 2001 it demolished the 1,500-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan, in central Afghanistan, a testament to the country’s pre-Islamic history and a treasured, unique world cultural monument.

‘We Were All Scared’

Orzala Nemat is a leading women’s rights activist in Afghanistan. Under Taliban rule, she risked her life by creating a network of underground girls schools across the country. Classes were held secretly in living rooms, tents, and abandoned buildings. The teachers were often older girls or educated women.

Girls attending the classes would often come in twos to avoid suspicion and carry a Koran, Islam’s holy book, in case they were stopped by the Taliban.

“We were all scared,” says Nemat, who now heads a leading Kabul think tank. “They would probably flog us, put us in prison, and punish us [if we were caught].”

Under the Taliban, Isaq Ahmadi earned a living by playing soccer for one of the dozen teams created and funded by various Taliban leaders in Kabul. While the Taliban banned many sports and other forms of public entertainment, soccer and cricket thrived.

“It was a very difficult and dark time,” he says. “There were no jobs, food shortages, and no public services.”

During Taliban rule, the United Nations said 7.5 million Afghans faced starvation. Even then, the Taliban restricted the presence of aid groups in Afghanistan.

The Taliban regime generated most of its money from Islamic taxes on citizens and handouts from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, its only allies. The Taliban failed to provide basic needs and Kabul lay in tatters after the brutal civil war of 1992-96.

U.S.-Led Invasion

The Taliban attracted the world’s attention after the September 11 attacks on the United States. The regime had harbored bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders responsible for the terrorist attacks. But the Taliban steadfastly refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders for prosecution and, in October 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan.

By December, the Taliban regime was toppled with help from the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. Most Taliban leaders, including Al-Qaeda founder bin Laden, evaded capture and resettled in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the southwestern city of Quetta, where its leadership is still based.

By 2005, the Taliban had reorganized and unleashed a deadly insurgency against foreign troops and the new democratically elected government in Kabul. Despite U.S.-led surges in troops and an escalation in air strikes, international and Afghan forces were unable to stop the Taliban from extending its influence in the vast countryside.

The Taliban enjoyed safe havens and backing from Pakistan, a claim Islamabad has denied. The insurgency was also funded by the billions of dollars the group made from the illicit opium trade.

Today, the militants control or contest more territory — around half of the country — than at any other time since 2001.

Meanwhile, the Kabul government is unpopular, corrupt, bitterly divided, and heavily dependent on foreign assistance. Government forces have suffered devastatingly high numbers of casualties against the Taliban.

Negotiating An End To War

In the fall of 2010, U.S. officials secretly met a young Taliban representative outside the southern German city of Munich. It was the first time the Taliban and the United States showed they were open to talks over a negotiated end to the war.

But in the intervening years, meaningful U.S.-Taliban talks failed to take off, hampered by mutual distrust, missed opportunities, protests by the Afghan government, and the deaths of two successive Taliban leaders.

For years, U.S. policy was to facilitate an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process between the Kabul government and the Taliban. But with the Taliban refusing to negotiate with state officials — whom they view as illegitimate — the peace process was deadlocked.

Controversially, U.S. policy changed in 2018 when Khalilzad was appointed as special envoy for peace and he opened direct negotiations with the Taliban in Qatar without the presence of the Afghan government. Eighteen months later, the sides signed the landmark deal aimed at ending the war.

“The U.S. has been sidelining the Afghan government for years, first by refusing to allow it to be involved with negotiations, then by signing the deal without the Afghan government as a partner,” Roggio says.

“The Taliban maintains the Afghan government is merely a ‘puppet’ of the U.S,” he adds. “The U.S. has done everything in its power to prove this point.”

Road Map For Afghanistan

The prospect of the Taliban returning to the fold as part of a future power-sharing agreement has fueled angst among Afghans, many of whom consider the militants to be terrorists and remember the strict, backward societal rules they enforced when they were in power.

More than 85 percent of Afghans have no sympathy for the Taliban, according to the Asia Foundation’s 2019 survey. Urban respondents (88.6 percent) were more inclined than rural respondents (83.9 percent) to have no sympathy for the militants.

But the Taliban’s adherence to ultraconservative Islam and the Pashtun tribal code has struck a chord with some currently living under the movement’s thumb in rural Afghanistan, which has borne the brunt of the war and where life has improved little. But those ideas are largely alien in major urban centers that have witnessed major social, economic, and democratic gains over the past 18 years.

“The main difference is that the Taliban of today, like Afghans generally, are more worldly in terms of their exposure to media, their increased engagement with various international actors and, at least for the leadership, the greater wealth they command, both individually and as a movement,” Callahan says.

But the Taliban’s “fundamental approach to governing, which is very maximalist and involves the imposition of a uniform moral order, stands in stark contrast to the more liberal norms that have evolved since 2001, mainly in urban areas.”

Since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, millions of girls have gone to school and continue to study, women have joined the workforce in meaningful numbers, and dozens of women are members of parliament and work in the government or diplomatic corps.

Afghanistan also has a thriving independent media scene in an area of the world where press freedoms are severely limited. Under the Taliban, all forms of independently reported news were banned.

There was only state-owned radio, the Taliban’s Voice of Sharia, which was dominated by calls to prayer and religious teachings.

The independent media have come under constant attack and pressure from the Taliban and Islamic State militants, which have killed dozens of reporters. The attacks have made Afghanistan one of the deadliest countries in the world for journalists.

The Taliban has been projecting itself as a more moderate force, pledging not to monopolize power in Afghanistan. But few believe that the militants have changed.

“There is little difference between the Taliban of 1994 and the Taliban of today,” Roggio says. “If anything, the group has become more sophisticated in its communications and negotiations. Its ideology has not changed. Its leadership has naturally changed with the deaths of its leaders [over the years], but this hasn’t changed how it operates.”

Red Lines

The Taliban has said it will protect women’s rights, but only if they don’t violate Islam or Afghan values, suggesting it will curtail some of the fragile freedoms gained by women in the past two decades.

Many Afghan women fear that their rights enshrined in the constitution will be given away as part of a peace settlement with the Taliban. The constitution guarantees the same rights to women as men, although in practice women still face heavy discrimination in society, particularly in rural areas.

But the Taliban has demanded a new constitution based on “Islamic principles,” prompting concern among Afghan rights campaigners. As an Islamic republic, Afghanistan’s laws and constitution are based on Islam, although there are more liberal and democratic elements within it.

Farahnaz Forotan launched an online campaign, #MyRedLine, in March 2018. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan women have joined the campaign to speak about the freedoms and rights they are not willing to give up in the name of peace with the Taliban.

Forotan, a journalist, says she wanted to let Afghan decision-makers know that peace cannot be achieved at the expense of the rights and freedoms of the country’s women.

“Almost everything has changed from that time,” she says, referring to Taliban rule. “We have made a lot of progress. We have a civil society, an independent press, and freedoms. People are more aware of their social and political rights.”

Many Afghans support a negotiated end to the decades-old war in Afghanistan, but not at any price.

“I support the peace process with the Taliban, but only if women’s freedoms are safeguarded,” says Ekram, a high-school student from the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif, a relatively peaceful and prosperous region near the border with Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

“Under no circumstances do we want a peace deal that sacrifices our freedoms and democracy,” Ekram says. “That wouldn’t be peace at all.”

This article originally appeared on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Follow @RFERL on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Pacific battle was the worst 37 minutes in US Navy history

It was arguably worse than any 37 minutes of any other U.S. Navy defeat, including Pearl Harbor. At the Battle of Savo Island, Japan sank three American ships and killed over 1,000 U.S. sailors in addition to dooming an Australian ship and killing 84 Australian sailors while suffering 129 killed of their own.


Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

The Australian HMAS Canberra burns off Guadalcanal after the Battle of Savo Island.

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

While more people, 2,403, were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack, those losses were inflicted over about 2 hours and 27 minutes. And three ships were permanently lost at Pearl Harbor while four would be lost as a result of Savo Island. It would later earn the battle and the area the nickname “Ironbottom Sound.”

On Aug. 7, 1942, the U.S. fleet was guarding landing forces at Guadalcanal. Australian Coastwatchers spotted Japanese planes bearing down on the landing forces, and the Navy redeployed its screening ships and carrier aircraft to meet the Japanese threat. The landings were saved, and U.S. Adm. William Halsey later said, “The Coastwatchers saved Guadalcanal and Guadalcanal saved the Pacific.”

But the threat to the fleet wasn’t over. Japan needed the airbase it was building on Guadalcanal, and every new pair of American boots that landed on the island was a direct threat to the empire. So Japan slipped new ships through the St. George Channel and approached Savo Island where the U.S. was blocking access to the Guadalcanal landings.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

Japanese Vice Adm. Gunichi Mikawa

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

The next day, August 8, Japanese ships hid near Bougainville Island and launched reconnaissance planes which quickly spotted the American fleet at the Solomons. The American fleet was split into three locations, and the Japanese commander, Vice Adm. Gunichi Mikawa, was hopeful that he could destroy one group before the other two could assist it. He targeted the ships at Savo Island.

His fleet slipped out in the wee hours of August 9 and launched their attack.

Now, it should be said that the American fleet had received some warning that Japanese ships were still in the area. A submarine and reconnaissance planes caught sight of the Japanese fleet, but their warnings came late and were misunderstood in the larger intelligence picture. Worse, when the commander of the screening force took his ship to report to his boss, he didn’t leave anyone officially in charge in his stead.

The fleet was ill-positioned to respond to an attack, and it was bearing down on them.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

The USS Quincy is illuminated by Japanese searchlights during the Battle of Savo Island on August 9, 1942.

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

The Japanese attack began at 1:42 a.m. The lookouts in the Japanese masts had already found and fixed a number of ships and fed the data to their fire control stations. Just as the first Japanese flares were about to burst into light, the American destroyer Patterson spotted them and sounded the alarm, “Warning! Warning! Strange ships entering harbor.” The Patterson pursued the Japanese column, getting some hits but failing to launch its torpedoes.

But the Japanese guns were already trained on their targets, and the fleet had made it past the outer pickets, allowing it to attack from vectors and spots America hadn’t anticipated. Japanese ships pumped rounds into American vessels from just a few thousand yards. They dropped torpedoes in the water, hitting American and Australian ships before the ships’ crews could even make it to their guns.

The captain of the Australian HMS Canberra was killed in this first salvo, and his ship was rendered dead in the water.

The USS Chicago was hit with a torpedo, losing nearly its entire bow while the gunners continued to send disciplined fire at two targets in the dark, one of which might have been a Japanese ship.

The Japanese ships began to pull away from this fight at 1:44, just two minutes after they had opened fire. They had suffered no serious hits or damage and had crippled two cruisers and damaged a destroyer. The fight so far had been hidden from the rest of the American fleet, and Japan turned itself toward the Northern Force.

The turn was ill-managed, and the rest of the fleet now knew a fight was happening, if not the details. So Japan could not count on the same success it had managed in the opening five minutes. But the Northern Force still didn’t know the details of the fight, and had no idea that the Japanese were now in two columns about to attack.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

The USS Vincennes charged bravely into the Battle of Savo Island, but it was quickly targeted by Japanese forces and pummeled by two columns of assailants.

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

The disorganized Japanese turn still left them well-positioned to launch their torpedoes and fire their guns.

The USS Vincennes, a heavy cruiser, sailed into the fray looking for a fight, finding it about 1:50. Remember, this is still only eight minutes after Japan fired its first rounds and torpedoes. And it did not go well for the Vincennes. It was still hard to tell which ships were friendly and which were foe. A gun team asked permission to fire on a Japanese searchlight, but the brass thought it might be an American ship.

Japanese cruisers slammed the Vincennes‘ port side with shells, breaking through the hull, setting an aircraft on fire, and creating fires belowdecks that interrupted firefighting equipment and threatened to set off the ship’s supply of depth charges, bombs, and other ordnance. More shells hit the bridge and main ship, and then torpedoes ripped through the port side followed just minutes later by a hit to starboard.

By 2:03, the ship was in flames and going down. The crew fled to the sea.

Around the same time Vincennes was bravely entering the fray, the cruiser USS Astoria spotted a Japanese ship and ordered its men to general quarters. But the first Japanese shells were already flying toward it, exploding as the men were still rushing to stations.

The Astoria commander made it to the bridge and was worried that his men were in an accidental fight with friendly forces. He ordered his ship to cease firing for vital minutes. It didn’t resume firing until 1:54.

The Japanese heavy cruiser Chokai kept sending rounds at the Astoria until the fifth salvo hit home, piercing the Astoria’s superstructure, midships, and then the bridge itself. The Astoria would hit the Chokai once before it was too damaged to keep fighting.

Meanwhile, the heavy cruiser USS Quincy was also under fire and would get the worst of it. Its commander also worried that it was suffering friendly fire, and the commander ordered his guns silent, and the ship lit up to identify itself. Japanese shells tore through an aircraft hanger and set a plane on fire. It was too hot for the crew to push overboard, and Japanese ships leaped on the chance to fire on a lit up target.

Here’s the story behind the WWII legends the Doolittle Raiders

The Japanese heavy cruiser Kako in 1926. It was the only Japanese ship lost as a result of the raid on Savo Island, sank on August 10 as the Japanese fleet left the engagement area.

(U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command)

Shells landed just short of the Quincy, then just long, and then began raining down on it. Japanese torpedoes set off the forward magazine. The ship’s captain, Capt. Samuel Moore, ordered the surviving gunners to “Give ’em Hell,” just moments before the bridge was hit by an exploding shell. As he lay dying, Moore ordered the ship beached, but another officer realized it was already lost and ordered it abandoned.

As the Quincy, Vincennes, and Astoria began sinking, the Japanese fleet called off the attack, beginning its withdrawal at 2:15. It had suffered no serious damage, could see that at least three U.S. ships were sinking, had rendered the Australian ship Canberra dead in the water (it would be scuttled the next morning), and had ensured the deaths of just over 1,000 American and Australian sailors.

The battle had raged from approximately 1:40 as Japan positioned itself to 2:15 as Japan withdraw. Depending on exactly which incidents mark the start and end, it lasted somewhere between 30 and 50 minutes.

America did achieve on a parting shot, though. While the Japanese fleet was able to avoid the air screen sent to find it August 9-10, the U.S. submarine S-38 spotted them on August 10, and managed to bring down the Japanese Kako with a torpedo.


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