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.
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.
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.
On Mar. 21, 1962 a B-58 Hustler from the U.S. Air Force erupted in flames as a large, bright red capsule shot out of it, carrying a passenger to safety. But the passenger wasn’t a pilot, and the plane wasn’t crashing. The event was a test of the B-58’s experimental ejection capsules and the occupant of the capsule was a bear.
The Air Force had been struggling to figure out a safe way for pilots to eject at supersonic speeds. Initially, they had tested new ejection seat designs by hiring people they recruited out of unemployment lines to act as test dummies.
The Air Force soon switched to using live animals for the tests, including six bears and a chimpanzee. At first, the bears and other animals tested ejection seats and capsules on rocket sleds. Once the Air Force was relatively sure of the design, they began flying the aircraft and ejecting the animals at altitude.
The animals were given drugs and rigged with sensors before being placed in the ejection capsules.
Most were fine, if a bit loopy, when they landed.
There was one fatality among the animals during testing. One bear had a brain condition that wasn’t detected prior to the flight and the physical strain during the ejection killed the animal. Two other bears suffered minor fractures and bruising during their flights.
Unfortunately, the Air Force needed to be sure that there were no hidden injuries before they returned to human subjects and ordered autopsies, which resulted in the deaths of the animals that had otherwise survived testing.
The S-72 from the 1970s can be seen as a sort of spiritual predecessor to today’s Future Vertical Lift program. It was all about creating a vehicle that could take off and land vertically like a normal helicopter but could also fly fast and far like a plane. But while the FVL’s top contenders are logical new versions of existing aircraft, the S-72 Rotor Systems Research Aircraft was a plane and a helicopter duct-taped together and filled with explosives.
Sikorsky S-72 Helicopter (RSRA) Rotor Systems Research Aircraft
The RSRA was a joint effort by the Army and NASA, and the Sikorsky Aircraft company was the primary developer. Sikorsky is the company behind the new SB-1 Defiant, and they’ve long searched to push the envelope when it comes to helicopter design.
You can actually see some elements of the SB-1 Defiant in the S-72. The S-72 was basically another Sikorsky helicopter, the S-67, with wings and turbofans added. It packed two TF34 engines, the same things that keep the A-10 in the air. Strapped to an S-72 with stubby wings, these engines could send the aircraft through the sky at 345 mph.
But the S-72 was also a helicopter with five rotor blades, so it could take off and land vertically. These blades were not propelled by the TF34s, though. Nope, those were powered by the original two T-58 turboshafts from the S-67.
But that’s a lot of engines to strap to one small aircraft. What if something goes wrong? What if you need to suddenly escape?
Well, that’s where your ejector seats come in. Yup, you could rocket yourself out of this bad boy in an explosive chair. And if you’re thinking, “Wait, didn’t you just say there are five rotor blades spinning above the pilots?” Then, congratulations on paying that much attention! But also, don’t worry, because Sikorsky strapped explosives to those rotor blades, and they would blow off before the pilots flew out.
It’s all pretty cool, if not exactly practical. The program eventually fell apart for the normal reasons. It was simply too expensive and technologically advanced for its time. It did fly multiple times, but always in either a full helicopter configuration or full jet configuration with the rotor blade removed. It never flew at 345 mph with that rotor blade flapping in the wind.
The S-72 configured for the X-Wing program.
Without getting too heavy into the physics in an article written for you to read on the bus or in bed or whatever, there’s a very real reason that high-speed flight with rotor blades spinning up top is tough. Helicopters have what are called advancing and retreating blades. The advancing blade is the one moving in the same direction as the aircraft, and the retreating blade is the one spinning to the rear.
The advancing blade would generate a lot more lift because it’s moving so much faster through the air, and this effect is increased the faster the helicopter is flying. Engineers have a few ways of getting around this problem, but it gets trickier the faster the helicopter flies. That’s part of why Chinooks top out at about 200 mph in level flight. So, a helicopter flying 345 mph would face a huge problem with “dissymmetry of lift.”
The S-72’s method around this was a system that would stop the blades and hold them in place as part of the X-Wing concept. Basically, the aircraft would’ve gotten a new rotor blade with four large blades instead of its normal five. When the aircraft was flying as a jet, the rotor blades would be locked in position and would generate lift like traditional wings. One S-72 was modified as the X-Wing version, but it never flew.
Meanwhile, if the SB-1 Defiant lives up to its design promises, Sikorsky thinks it will fly at almost 290 mph. If so, it will be the fastest production helicopter and still be 55 mph slower than the S-72 that preceded it.
The 1998 movie “Saving Private Ryan” is one of the all-time great war movies. While much of the movie is a fictional account, the premise behind Capt. Miller’s mission is based on a true story. That is the story of the Niland brothers — Edward, Preston, Robert, and Frederick — from Tonawanda, New York.
The two middle brothers inspiring the “Private Ryan” film, Preston and Robert, had enlisted prior to the beginning of the War. After America entered the war the oldest, Edward, and youngest, Frederick, known as Fritz to his friends, joined up in November 1942.
Edward became an enlisted pilot, with the rank of Technical Sergeant, of a B-25 Mitchell bomber flying in the Burma-India-China theatre.
Preston was commissioned into the infantry and assigned to Company C, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.
Robert and Fritz both became paratroopers. Robert served with Company D, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. Fritz joined Company H, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.
As fate would have it, three of the brothers found themselves preparing for the invasion of mainland Europe.
However, before the brothers could start their “Great Crusade” to liberate Europe, Edward was shot down somewhere over Burma. He was listed as Missing in Action, but this usually carried a presumption of death at the time, especially if he had fallen into the hands of the Japanese.
Then, in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Robert and Fritz joined over 23,000 Allied paratroopers in cracking Fortress Europe.
Although Fritz’s unit, 3rd Battalion, 501st PIR, was supposed to be the division reserve, the misdrops meant they were thrust into action in ad hoc groups. These forces were able to secure vital causeways, bridges, and locks allowing the 4th Infantry Division, and Niland brother Preston, to exit Utah beach later that day.
This wasn’t quite what happened in Private Ryan, but the movie still draws from these events.
Elsewhere, Robert Niland had landed outside of Ste. Mere-Eglise with the rest of the 505th as part of Mission Boston. After the 3rd Battalion was able to capture the town early in the morning, the 2nd Battalion linked up with it to establish a defensive perimeter.
When a strong German counter-attack came from the south, Robert Niland and the rest of D Company’s 3rd platoon were left to guard the northern approaches to the town in a small village called Neuville.
When two companies of Germans came at their position, they fought tenaciously to hold them off to buy time for their comrades to the south. When the position became untenable, Robert Niland, along with two other paratroopers, volunteered to stay behind and cover the platoon’s retreat toward Ste. Mere-Eglise.
While manning a machine gun in the face of the German onslaught, Robert Niland was killed in action.
That very same morning, Lt. Preston Niland led his men onto the shores of Utah beach as part of the seaborne invasion of Normandy. Though casualties were relatively light for the men of the 4th Infantry Division on Utah beach, the battles beyond would be much tougher.
Despite having made if off the beaches, the men of the 4th Infantry Division still had numerous gun batteries of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall to clear. The task of capturing the Crisbecq battery, which had already sunk the destroyer USS Corry, fell to Lt. Niland and his men.
On June 7, Niland led his men against the German position. During the heavy fighting Niland fell mortally wounded. The rest of his unit was repulsed. The battery would not fall until several days later to units of the 9th Infantry Division.
The Niland brothers’ parents received all three notifications in a very short amount of time. Their only condolence was a letter from Fritz informing them that “Dad’s Spanish-American War stories are going to have to take a backseat when I get home.”
Fritz was unaware of the fate of his brothers. If only the brothers could have known that their story would turn into Saving Private Ryan, one of the most classic war films in history.
When the War Department received word of the tragedy orders were dispatched to return Fritz Niland to the United States. That task fell to the regimental Chaplin, Father Francis Sampson. Sampson located Fritz, who had been searching for his brother in the 82nd and began to paperwork to send him home.
Returning to the United States in 1944, Fritz served for the remainder of the war as an MP in New York.
Then, in May 1945, the Nilands received some rather unexpected news. Edward was found alive in a Burmese POW camp when it was liberated by British forces.
He had survived bailing out of his plane, several days in the jungle, and nearly a year as a prisoner of the Japanese. During his captivity he had lost significant weight and returned to New York at a meager 80 pounds.
The other two Niland brothers, Preston and Robert, are buried side-by-side in the American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.
There was a plane designed during World War II and completed just after cessation of hostilities that served for 13 years but was never called upon to fly an operational mission: the B-36. According to some, this is a sign that it was so successful at deterrence that no foreign adversary wanted to tussle with it. But it’s not that clear cut.
The B-36 Peacemaker was massive, weighing in at 278,000 pounds without bombs or fuel, but could tip the scales at 410,000 pounds when it had its 86,000 pounds of bombs and a full fuel load. And those 86,000 pounds of bombs could be made up of conventional or nuclear weapons.
The design phase for the aircraft began in 1941 when American leaders asked for a plane that could take off in the states, fly into Germany and bomb Berlin, and then fly back home. But the first B-36 prototype rolled out of a hangar six days after the Japanese forces surrendered, ending World War II. Its maiden flight didn’t take place until August 8, 1946, almost a year after the end of the war.
The final design had a wing span of 230 feet and featured six engines and propellers. These propellers were mounted on the back of the wing, pushing the aircraft through the sky instead of pulling it. At that point in history, it was one of the largest planes to ever fly.
Over the following 16 years, the Army and then the Air Force devoted increasing amounts of time and money to studying and then experimenting with the concept. In 1951, they selected the B-36 Peacemaker, the only aircraft large enough to hold the test reactor and the necessary cockpit modifications to protect the crew.
One B-36 was modified into the NB-36, the nuclear-powered bomber. While it flew 47 test flights and had a powered reactor for most of them, it only ever flew using conventional fuel as scientists and engineers studied how the reactor worked in flight. Advances in conventional aircraft design made a nuclear-powered bomber largely irrelevant, and the program was shelved in 1958.
The larger plane would head towards its target and, if it was spotted by enemy radar or fighters, would release a fighter from its belly. The fighter pilot would engage the enemy forces, breaking them up or destroying them before returning to its parent bomber.
The B-36 would then receive the fighter into its belly again and continue toward the target. The advent of mid-air refueling made the concept obsolete, and it also ended the necessity of larger bombers with larger fuel tanks like the B-36. After all, a smaller bomber with more conservative tanks could take off, top up on fuel just outside of the enemy air defense ring, and then pierce the airspace.
So, the B-36 had a long and fairly storied career without once going on an operational mission against an enemy force. It gets a lot of credit for that, but it’s not actually the only aircraft to carry that distinction. The B-47 Stratojet and the B-58 Hustler were jet-powered aircraft with a similar mission to the piston-powered B-36.
They were all designed to fly from U.S. bases, drop big bomb loads, and then fly home. They were all nuclear-capable and they all went their entire careers without dropping a bomb on an enemy — but that alone doesn’t necessarily mean that they were or weren’t successful bombers.
While their strategic deterrence mission was important, they were unsuitable for a conventional bombing mission because they all had handling or speed issues that made leaders worried they would be too susceptible to being shot down. So, it’s not really that they were too good to need to drop bombs, it’s that they were too specialized for a specific deterrence to complete the operational missions.
The modern B-1 and B-2 stealth bombers, on the other hand, have both served as nuclear-deterrent bombers but had the handling, speed, and stealth necessary to survive while dropping bombs in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
In fact, the U.S. will likely turn to these modern successors to the B-36 in case of war with China, Russia or North Korean, not for their nuclear payloads but for their value at dropping conventional bombs (the B-1 has been modified to remove its nuclear capability to comply with treaties).
So, toast the success of the B-36 and its peers — but don’t forget the modern bombers that rose above the forebears.
You’ve probably heard of the term “backpack nuke” before — perhaps in the context of a video game like Call of Duty, or an action-packed television show like “24.”
But what you may or may not have realized is that backpack nukes are the farthest thing from fiction, and from the 1950s to the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 1989, they sat ready to be deployed by America’s black-ops nuclear hit squads — dubbed “Green Light Teams” — should the unthinkable happen and the Cold War turn hot.
Only members of the US military’s elite were selected to join GLTs, where they would be stationed near Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe, inside South Korea, and even near Iran in the late 1970s.
Navy SEALs, Force Reconnaissance Marines, Army Special Forces and more were all among the top recruits for the GLT program. If a candidate’s application to the GLT program was successful, they were sworn to secrecy, unable to tell even their own spouses of their mission. Had the Soviet Union heard of the existence of these teams, it would have likely created a similar program of its own as a counter, removing all value of possessing GLTs.
These operatives were trained in local languages and dialects, and told to dress like ordinary citizens, allowing them to blend in without anybody the wiser. The vast majority of their training, however, came in the form of instruction on how to use backpack nukes at the Atomic Demolitions Munitions School at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia.
There, GLT selectees were taught how to detonate nuclear weapons, and how to bury them or disguise them so that these weapons wouldn’t be discovered and defused before they could do their job.
The weapon of choice for each GLT was the B-54 Special Atomic Demolition Munition. The warhead used in each SADM was taken from a US Army program dubbed the “Davy Crockett Weapon System.” The Crockett was actually a recoilless rifle-fired projectile tipped with a W54 nuclear warhead with a yield of 10-20 tons of TNT.
The W54 was modified to detonate with a yield of anywhere between 10 tons of TNT to 1 kiloton, though in testing, it was proven to be able to achieve over 6 kilotons. Weighing just 51 pounds when nestled inside the SADM, it could be hefted onto an operative’s back and carried for long distances almost inconspicuously.
Should the combat environment or the mission change, GLTs could also parachute or swim their SADMs into enemy territory without fears of the backpack nuke prematurely blowing up. And when the nukes were in their detonation zones, they could be disguised as anything.
Citizens of Eastern Europe or North Korea could potentially walk by beer kegs, trash cans, or even mailboxes without being any the wiser that a primed SADM sat in side, ready to unleash unholy hell upon them. Operatives were also trained to bury their backpack nukes as deep as 9 ft underground to make them undiscoverable.
SADMs could be placed near lakes or rivers to create artificial dams as obstacles for advancing Soviet forces, or in cities,
Though the SADM came with a timing mechanism to allow for a delayed detonation sequence so operatives could escape the region, GLT operatives knew that should they be called into action, they were essentially running a suicide mission. They would still have to protect the device from being detected by enemy forces, and that would necessarily involve the GLT staying nearby, armed with submachine guns, grenades and pistols.
The US military was able to keep the existence of its GLTs a closely-guarded secret until near the end of the Cold War, when their mission was somewhat accidentally disclosed to the public. Upon finding out that a number of GLTs were positioned in West Germany, local officials immediately asked the US government to remove all SADMs from German sovereign territory.
By 1989, the SADMs were retired altogether and permanently deactivated, never having been used in combat. All active GLT operatives were brought in from the cold and returned to the US, and just a few short years later, the fall of the Soviet Union signaled the end of the Cold War – thankfully, with nary a nuke being detonated in anger by either side.
The announcement that Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is fighting brain cancer was stunning. The news was flooded with statements, most of which offered thoughts and prayers for McCain and his family, although many also noted that John McCain was a fighter.
However, this has not been the only time John McCain’s had to fight through a situation.
His lengthy time in captivity during the Vietnam War was notable, not only due to the fact he was awarded the Silver Star for his heroism, but also for his refusal to return home early.
McCain served as a chaplain among the POWs, per his Legion of Merit citation. McCain also cheated death when his plane was shot down on Oct. 26, 1967.
Prior to his Vietnam War service, he survived three mishaps, including a collision with power lines in an A-1 Skyraider. McCain had another close brush with death before his shootdown, when his jet was among those caught up in the massive fire on the carrier USS Forrestal (CV 59).
Despite suffering shrapnel wounds, he volunteered to transfer to the Essex-class carrier USS Oriskany (CV 34).
The cancer Senator McCain is fighting, a brain tumor known as glioblastoma, is a very aggressive form of cancer that was discovered after an operation to remove a blood clot near his eye.
As of this writing, Senator McCain is considering treatment options, but he is also still at work. When President Trump canceled a program to arm some Syrian rebels, McCain issued a statement condemning the decision, proving once again that you can’t keep a hero down.
Ah, the vaunted Blue Book, known throughout the U.S. Army for being the first drill guide for American land troops. It is more properly known as Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, and it was authored by Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, but it wasn’t actually the first drill manual for American troops.
Revolutionary War re-enactors.
(Lee Wright, CC BY-SA 2.0)
See, von Steuben came to the Americas in 1778, nearly three years after the battles of Lexington and Concord and over 19 months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. So, von Steuben was falling in on an American army that already existed. Clearly, someone had some idea of how to drill them before that, right?
Included in the short work was a two-page primer, Instructions for Young Officers, by British Maj. Gen. James Wolfe. Wolfe was a hero of the British empire and had distinguished himself against the French in Canada.
A 2006 re-printing of the text is available online as a PDF, and the first section is a sort of “by-the-numbers” breakdown of poising, cocking, presenting, firing, and then re-loading the “firelocks,” another word for the firearms of the day. If you think it’s odd that “aiming” wasn’t part of that process, good catch. But that wasn’t a big part of an infantryman’s job at the time.
Muskets and similar weapons had entered the hunting world hundreds of years before the American Revolution, but most weapons still weren’t horribly accurate. So rather than “aiming,” soldiers before and during the Revolution “presented” their weapons. Basically, they pointed the weapons in the direction of the enemy formation. Good enough for imperial work.
A 1740 Austrian drill manual shows rather than tells how troops would perform key actions.
But even before 1764, colonial forces were using a manual of arms that was likely more useful for many young militiamen than the king’s manual. The Austrian Infantry Drill from 1740 is made up almost entirely of illustrations that show rather than tell how troops should ride in formation, march, fix bayonets, etc.
In a surprising bit of honesty, it even shows troops maintaining the line as troops on either side collapse in combat. It is crazy optimistic in showing only three people having fallen during at least one full exchange of gunfire, but, still.
At a time when as much as 15 percent of the population was unable to read, these illustrations would have been quite valuable. For them, it wouldn’t matter that the descriptions were in a foreign language. They can tell from the pictures which illustrations were showing the fixing and unfixing of bayonets, shouldering and unshouldering arms, and so on.
The cover page of a printed “Blue Book,” Baron and Inspector General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben’s Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States.
For instance, chapter one of the book details what equipment was needed for soldiers, non-commissioned officers, and officers. Chapter two defines what leaders’ roles would be, and chapters three and four details what men were needed for an army company, regiment, and battalion.
It goes on from there, detailing how to recruit and train troops, how to employ a company in training and combat, and more. So, even militiamen who had taken advantage of older drill guides, like those from 1764 and 1740, would find plenty of value in von Steuben’s manual.
The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the bloodiest in American history with over 7,000 soldiers killed in three days of fighting.
(A single civilian, Mary Virginia Wade, was also killed.)
But if the modern military fought the battle, the costs could easily be much higher as today’s artillery, mortars, jets, and helicopters make every exchange more costly. And the increased range and firing rate of the M16 instead of Civil War rifles would make the missteps of generals even more catastrophic.
A squad designated marksman scans his sector while providing security. (Photo: U.S. Army)
When the two sides first clashed at Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, it was largely an accident. Union Brig. Gen. John Buford, the head of cavalry for the North, had sent men to scout the area around the city and they ran into a group of men commanded by Gen. Harry Heth heading into the city to find supplies.
While many Union leaders thought there were only a few rebels in the area, and many rebels thought the Union forces were just a militia group, Buford and a few others suspected the truth. The two major armies in the eastern theater had just stumbled into one another.
But Buford was a pioneer of mounted infantry tactics and ordered his subordinates to prepare for a pitched battle the following day. He spent the bulk of that night getting the lay of the land and planning his attack. But, if he had been in command of modern, mechanized infantry, he wouldn’t have needed to.
Instead, he would have sent his dismounts forward to search out the enemy encampments and would have brought his Strykers up with them. Meanwhile, any UAVs he could wrangle up would be flying ahead, searching out the enemy.
But Rebels with modern communication equipment would have reported the chance engagement in the city to their higher headquarters. Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, who knew that the Union was pursuing them north, would likely have sent out his own scouts and drones to search for enemy forces.
When each side learned that their enemy was nearby, heavily armed, and deployed near the vital strategic crossroads of Gettysburg, they would have surged all assets to take and hold the key ground.
Buford’s mechanized infantry would likely have taken the same heights that it did in 1863, but this time it would have positioned Strykers with TOW missiles behind cover and sent those armed with machine guns to cover the approaches to the heights. Most infantry squads would dismount and take up defensive positions on the heights.
Meanwhile, each side would begin calling up close air support and alerting the Air Force that they needed air battle interdiction immediately. Unfortunately, when the jets arrived, they would be too busy trying to establish air superiority to start hitting ground targets.
As the duel began to play out in the sky, artillery units on the ground would begin lobbing shells at precision targets and using rockets and howitzer barrages to saturate areas of known enemy activity.
This is what makes it unlikely that Mrs. Mary Wade would be the only civilian casualty of a modern Gettysburg.
The Union forces would likely congregate in a similar fishhook that first night as they did in the actual battle on the second day.
But here is where things would go wrong for the Union. When Maj. Gen. Daniel Sickles made his ill-fated move into the peach orchard, the Confederates would have been able to pin his men down with machine gun fire and then concentrate their artillery fire, wiping out Sickles and most of his men.
Down most of a corps and under fire, the Union would fall back to the heights once again and move forces to defend the flank where Sickles once was.
But Lee might once again make his great mistake of the battle. With a corps ground under his heel and the Union center losing men to guard the flank, he would order Maj. Gen. George Pickett, newly arrived on the battlefield in transports, to push against the seemingly weak Union center.
But as Pickett leads his men across the 1-mile of open ground to the Union center, his men would be cut down. The Union Strykers and Abrams would fire from behind cover and, while a few of them would be taken out by Confederate Javelins, TOWs, and other weapons, they would still wreak havoc.
Gunners on the ridge would open up with M2 .50-cals and M240Bs, walking the rounds on incoming Confederate infantry as they bounded into range. Union artillery would, once again, saturate the area. Fisters would identify command vehicles and pass their locations to helicopters and artillery crews for concentrated destruction.
Missiles would arc back and forth across the Gettysburg fields in the wee hours of July 1. The whole Battle of Gettysburg, fought over a three-day period in real life, would have played out on an advanced timeline with modern-day weapons of war.
But the outcome would likely be the same: Lee’s undersupplied, outnumbered troops would attempt to force the high ground against defenders who reached most of the important terrain first; a false sense of confidence after the Confederates took advantage of Sickles’ mistake would have led them to gamble much and lose it all.
In 1563 and 1564, Sweden built a massive warship that was the pinnacle of naval technology at the time.
Its creation ushered in a sea change in naval combat — despite the fact that the ship sank early in its first battle.
King Eric XIV of Sweden ordered that the ship Mars be constructed to put Sweden at the forefront of naval artillery. It was a five-deck ship with two decks dedicated to artillery, mostly cannons. Even the crow’s nests had guns.
All this came at a time when naval engagements were decided by seamanship and armed boardings —where a group of sailors from one ship crossed to the deck of an enemy ship and fought with swords and pistols.
Naval artillery in the early and mid-1500s was focused on killing enemy personnel or causing structural damage to the enemy ship, but no one had ever sunk a ship that way. Ships were usually sank by fire, sabotage by boarding crews, or by ramming.
But Eric XIV had a vision of the future and ordered his admiral to take the Mars as part of a huge fleet aimed at Denmark and Lubeck (part of modern Germany) and sink ships using its naval artillery.
And the admiral delivered… probably. A Danish chaplain said that the Mars cast a somber shadow over the whole Danish and German fleet when it arrived. He also said it later sank the Longbark, one of the largest ships in the enemy fleet, with naval gunnery.
If accurate, it was likely the first time a ship was sunk by naval artillery.
The 64-gun warship Vasa sits in museum. The ship was built in the tradition of the Mars, but wasn’t as well designed and floundered during its first voyage in 1628.
(Jorge Lascar, CC-BY 2.0)
But the Mars cast too large a shadow and, as a consequence, drew too many attackers. On the second day of the battle, enemy ships sent massive amounts of fireballs onto the Mars and disabled it before sending boarding parties onto it.
What happened next is unsure. A fire definitely occurred in the Mars‘ gunpowder stores, and that might have set the loaded cannons off. Regardless, the ship was destroyed in the following hours, left to sink in approximately 250 feet of water.
Luckily for archaeologists, it was 250 feet of the Baltic Sea, which lacks the large populations of shipworms that destroy wrecks in the rest of the world. And the cold water is relatively still, reducing erosion. According to researchers who spoke to National Geographic, the wreck might be the best preserved vessel of its kind.
The concept behind the Mars was proven in the years following its loss as navy after navy, including those of Denmark and Lubeck, constructed large ships reminiscent of the cannon-toting behemoth.
Every combat arms branch within the United States Army comes with a long legacy. And with that legacy comes an accompanying piece of flair for their respective dress uniforms. Infantrymen rock a baby blue fourragere on their right shoulder, cavalrymen still wear their spurs and stetsons, and even Army aviators sport their very own badges in accordance with their position in the unit.
But long before the blue cords and spurs, another combat arms branch had their own unique uniform accouterment — one that has since been lost to time. Artillerymen once had scarlet red piping that ran down the side of their pant legs. In fact, these stripes were once so iconic that it gave rise to a nickname for artillerymen: “redlegs.“
Due to wartime restrictions, artillerymen stopped wearing the red piping during WWI — and it never made a comeback.
If you ask any young artilleryman at Fort Sill why they’re called “redlegs,” they’ll probably just look at you funny.
(Department of Defense photo by Margo Wright)
This fact is especially tragic because artillerymen wearing red stripes is one of the oldest military traditions of its kind. The blue cord of the infantry can only be traced as far back as the Korean War and cavalry’s stetson wasn’t invented until 1865. Meanwhile, artillerymen were rocking that red piping as far back as the 1830s.
During the 1800s, the role of the artilleryman was much more complex than most other roles in the Army at the time. Not just any bum off the street could walk into a job that required precise calculations to load the proper amount of gunpowder and fire the cannon at the perfect angle to hit the intended target.
While cannons were way too massive to carry into many fights, seeing the arrival of artillerymen meant that the U.S. Army meant business. Just seeing that red piping as artillerymen arrived on the scene during the Civil War was enough to inspire friendly troops and strike fear into enemies. The role of the artillerymen was crucial in the battles of Buena Vista, Bull Run, Palo Alto, and San Juan Hill.
I guess the only real debate here is if you give it to ADA as well or exclusively to field artillery.
Today, the role of the artilleryman has been reduced greatly. It’s not uncommon for artillerymen who were deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq to have more stories about their time on dismounted foot patrols with the infantrymen than ones about removing grid squares from the face of the Earth — after all, counter insurgency mostly forbids that level of wanton destruction.
Don’t get me wrong. There are still many artilleryman who’ve conducted fire missions into actual combat, but that number grows smaller and smaller with each passing year.
As field artillery units grow less common, their heritage is put at risk. At the same time, it seems as though the Army is increasingly leaning onto its historic roots for uniform ideas — as seen with the reintroduction of Army Greens.
Bringing back the distinctive red piping for artillerymen’s dress blues wouldn’t be that drastic of a change — or even that expensive — but it would be fitting. Dress blues are meant to honor the legacy of the soldiers of the American Revolution and Union Armies. What better way to do that than with an homage to the classic?
During the seven months of the Guadalcanal campaign, 60,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers killed about 20,000 of the 31,000 Japanese troops on the island.
The main objective of the fighting was a tiny airstrip that the Japanese were building at the western end of Guadalcanal, a speck of land in the Solomon Islands. The airstrip, later named Henderson Field, would become an important launching point for Allied air attacks during the Pacific island hopping campaign.
Scholars and history enthusiasts can tell you why troops fought there, but only someone who was actually there can truly describe what it was like to storm the island. Hear, first-hand, a Marine’s experience at Guadalcanal:
Now check out these 7 interesting facts you didn’t know about the battle.
Every branch of the U.S. military fought in the battle
The Air Force didn’t yet exist, but the Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Marines all fought in the battle.
The Army provided infantry to assist the Marines in the landings and sent planes and pilots to operate out of Henderson Field. The Navy provided most logistics, shore bombardments, and aviation support. The Marines did much of the heavy lifting on the island itself, capturing and holding the ground while their aviators provided additional support.
The only Coast Guard Medal of Honor ever bestowed was for service at Guadalcanal
Signalman First Class Douglas Munro was one of the Coast Guardsmen operating landing craft for the Marines. After the initial invasion, the U.S. controlled the westernmost part of the island and the Japanese controlled the rest. A river ran between the two camps and neither force could get a foothold on the other side.
Maj. Gen. Roy S. Geiger poses with then-Capt. Joseph J. Foss who achieved 26 kills at Guadalcanal.
Guadalcanal was a “who’s who” of Marine legends in World War II
In addition to Chesty Puller, many Marine legends were at the island. Gunnery Sgt. John Basilone earned his Medal of Honor there. Master Gunnery Sgt. Leland Diamond drove off a Japanese cruiser with a mortar. Brig. Gen. Joe Foss earned a Medal of Honor and became a fighter Ace after downing 26 enemy aircraft around the island.
US Navy ships fight back against Japanese planes during the battle of Guadalcanal.
Guadalcanal was viciously fought at sea, in the air, and on land
Most battles are at least primarily fought in one domain. A ground battle is backed up by air power, or an air engagement has some defense from ships — but Guadalcanal was total war.
Ships clashed in the straits around the island and provided shore bombardments. Planes engaged in dogfights and strafed enemy troops and ships. U.S. Marines fought for every inch, but also used mortars and artillery to engage the Japanese Navy. There were three major land battles in the campaign, seven naval battles, and constant aerial dogfighting.
The first landings were helped by the weather
Japanese reconnaissance flew near the U.S. fleet as it approached the islands, but the Americans got a lucky break as storms limited visibility and the U.S. Navy wasn’t spotted until it was bombarding the beaches. Planes and naval artillery provided support as the Marines assaulted the surprised defenders.
Two of the carriers lost in the Pacific were lost during the Guadalcanal campaign
The Imperial Japanese Navy sunk ten aircraft carriers and escort carriers over the course of the war. One, the USS Wasp, was sunk near Guadalcanal on Sep. 15, 1942 by a Japanese sub. The sinking of the Wasp was captured on film.
The USS Hornet was sunk near the Santa Cruz islands, to the southeast of Guadalcanal. Hornet was lost during a major battle with a Japanese carrier fleet that was pulling back from Guadalcanal. The Japanese aircraft got the jump on the Americans as the engagement started, and the Hornet was irreparably damaged by two torpedoes, two crashed Japanese planes, and three bombs.
The USS Iowa and the USS Missouri transfer sailors ahead of the Japanese surrender ceremony.
The battle was a major turning point
While Midway and Iwo Jima get most of the glory as turning points where America got an upper hand on the Japanese, it was at Guadalcanal that Marine, Navy, and Army aviators took out elite Japanese air crews, allowing America to achieve air superiority more easily in future battles.
The island itself became a launching point for the American military to move north, crawling their way up to the Japanese homeland.
It’s hard being king; it’s even harder being the king who lost the American Colonies. King George III took over the throne at the age of 20. From his early life to the age of 82, King George would have a hard time finding vassals whom he could trust, field armies in back-to-back wars, meanwhile fighting a battle against mental illness. Across the British Empire he was a hero, a villain and an enigma. This is what it was like to be the last king of America.
King George was oved by commoners yet hated by nobles
A man of the people was King George’s biggest desire. There are stories in the Royal Archives that state that he would walk around Windsor and other towns surrounding London talking to commoners. Understandably, the peasants would not know how to react when the King of England burst through your front door and asked what they were doing…in their own home. People found it exciting that the King would take interest in their daily lives.
He was very proud of being born and educated in Britain. Most kings of the day, to include his grandfather and great grandfather were not. To be English culturally was immensely important to him and he used this badge of honor to win favor with the commoners. If he couldn’t make the aristocracy tow the line then he could force their hand by inspiring patriotism in the masses.
There were several attempts on his life by assassins and crazies. He took his assassinations in stride, he was used to being hated and loved equally.
When the arrival of the King was announced, the band, as usual, played ‘God save the King’. I was standing at the stage-door, opposite the royal box, to see His Majesty. The moment he entered the box, a man in the pit, next the orchestra, on the right hand, stood up on the bench, and discharged a pistol at our august Monarch, as he came to the front of the box.
Never shall I forget His Majesty’s coolness – the whole audience was in an uproar. The King, on hearing the report of the pistol, retired a pace or two, stopped, and stood firmly for an instant; then came forward to the very front of the box, put his opera-glass to his eye, and looked round the house, without the smallest appearance of alarm or discomposure. – Reminiscences of Michael Kelly (1826)
Earlier that day there was another assassination attempt when he was reviewing his troops at Hyde Park.
Another famous attempt was made by an unemployed maid who approached the King under the pretense of having him sign a petition and tried to kill him with a butter knife. She failed so miserably that the King said ‘The poor creature is mad; do not hurt her, she has not hurt me.’ The image of a compassionate monarch to the poor and sick is what he wanted to be remembered for. His popularity with the common folk did not help him push legislature in parliament, though. Influence through bribery, intimidation, and blackmail of the ruling class can only get you so far, even if you are the king.
His reign was mostly filled wars and rebellions
The 7 Years War, also known as the French and Indian War in American history, was the first global conflict spanning across five continents. At the conclusion of the War King George III ruled an empire five times larger than the Romans. That’s a lot of land to oversea and people to keep in line.
The King’s new Prime Minister George Grenville proposed taxing the Colonies because of the national debt. The Stamp Act that is so famous in America went unnoticed by news papers in England because it did not violate the Bill of Rights of 1688. In case you overslept in every U.S. History class ever, long story short we flipped sh*t over it and started a revolution. There were many factors that led to the rebellion but I digress. At the time King George didn’t think any of the Acts were a big deal at all.
Parliament was responsible for all of the taxes and Acts pressed upon the Colonies but the King was held responsible. Appointing ministers is the only constitutional power of the King. However, he was very involved with the matters of State. If he was supposed to be this benevolent monarch who loved his subjects, why didn’t he influence parliament for better treatment of the Americans? Why was there so much prejudice against Catholics and non-protestant religions? It’s fine to overreach to protect the rights of Englishmen at home but weren’t Colonists also Englishmen? Americans were just a cash cow to him.
After the U.S. Revolution, this English King did not have any love for the republics. Napoleon was rampaging throughout Europe and what better way to slap the French for aiding and abetting rebels? Crushing the French was a way to save face after the humiliating loss of the American Colonies.
King George loved science
King George III sent Captain James Cook to observe the Transit of Venus in the South Seas in 1768. On June 3, 1769 Cook confirmed the King’s calculations. He studied astronomy profusely and admired the dance of celestial bodies in the sky. Cook’s voyage confirmed the king’s theory of when and where it could be observed on earth. Cook’s voyage also had a secret purpose – to find and map out the coastline of Australia. Cook claimed the land in the name of King George III. Subsequently, scientists were dispatched to document the Pandora’s Box of plant and animals on the new island continent. He commissioned other explorers around the world to find, document, and bring home knowledge. King George III doesn’t go out to the world, he makes the world come to him.
Throughout the King’s reign he had difficulty controlling his nobles the vast, newly stitched Empire. The colonizers did not honor the King’s wishes and treated the native population with contempt. In America, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and other territories there were whispers of revolution gaining traction. His inability to control the ruling class was a motif throughout his lifetime.
When he wasn’t feverishly archiving everything that came across his desk, mechanizations and astronomy gripped his interest. His curiosity and patronage helped kick start the industrial revolution. Although enlightened as a man of science, he was still prejudice. Catholics were the usual suspects that caught the brunt of his wrath. Taxation without representation was not a uniquely American gripe, the Catholics shared it too.
He suffered from mental illness
‘The Mad King’ is another famous title due his suffering from uncontrollable fits between 1788-89 and again in 1801. In 1810 his deteriorating mental state became permanent until his death in 1820.
‘In the modern classification of mental illness, acute mania now appears to be the diagnosis that fits best with the available behavioral data.’ – Peter Garrad, professor of neurology at St. George’s University of London
Something is wrong with the King but scholars cannot agree on what exactly ailed him. Family troubles would trigger him the most. The Queen and her subjects would do their best to stop gossip from reaching the King’s ear out of fear it would make him ill again. Emilia, his favorite daughter, was having a love affair with a soldier twice her age. The news did not reach his ears until her death from tuberculosis resulting in, as expected, one of his most severe fits.
Uneasy is the head that wears the crown
King George III’s portrayed in American history as a tyrant, inflexible, and uncaring. To Englishmen of the day, they adored him – even though some of them tried to kill him. Naturally, he overestimated his support in the Colonies because at home the commoners worshipped him. Walking through someone’s door unannounced in London was quirky and relatable. In America, you would catch the 2nd amendment to the face. He allowed the nobles to rule parliament as a democratic monarchy. Americans wanted to rule themselves. Constant rebellion and scandals are enough to make anyone crazy. It is no wonder that in his spare time he dreamed of the far corners of the Empire and movement of planets. He owned the largest since Genghis Kahn and never got to see any of it.