A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation - the Blue Angels - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

You might think intense physical training and serious mental workouts only apply to Special Ops teams in the military. The truth is that the Blue Angels training schedule is just as intense and just as serious as any Special Ops team out there. In this video, we get a rare behind the scenes glimpse at what it takes to become the rock stars of aviation.

From Recruit to Pilot

In this series, we get to see just what it’s like to go from recruit to Blue Angel pilot. During the first show of the season, the recruits wear their old khaki uniforms and talk among the crowd gathered to watch the show. For these officers, this is their first experience of what life will be like as a Blue Angel.

History of the Blue Angels

The US Blue Angels collectively represent almost a quarter-century of aviation exploration. Way back in 1946, Admiral Chester Nimitz (who helped play a serious role in the Navy’s involvement during WWII) got it in his mind that the only way the public would understand aviation would be to bring it out front and center. And by highlighting Navy pilots, Nimitz thought for sure that he’d help boost unit morale, too.

Turns out he was right.

blue angels

Since the 1940s, the Blue Angels have been captivating and entertaining audiences with daredevil airshows that feature death-defying acrobatics. Within a decade, this elite flying team had refined its approach and perfected the six-aircraft Delta Formation – the same one that’s in use today. But that doesn’t mean just anyone can become a Blue Angel.

The pilots’ maneuvers are all based on combat tactics, and the show is designed with a crowd in mind. Shows might be fun to watch, but that doesn’t mean getting the title of Blue Angel is easy.

Rookies are put to task with seriously difficult tests, and most liken the experience to “relearning hot to fly.” That means in addition to flying with precision, these aircraft pilots also have to successfully execute tight maneuvers over and over again and do them perfectly without error – or run the risk of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But for those who are committed and dedicated to the training, the payoff is immense. Ten weeks of intense training prepares pilots with the right skills to perform their first airshow.

On the ground at the first show, recruits will watch, pay attention, and imagine what it’ll be like for them once they’ve completed their training.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why there are shipwrecks underneath the farms of Kansas

As you may or may not know, the U.S. state of Kansas isn’t exactly a coastal state. The body of water it does have access to is the Mississippi River System and its tributaries, namely the Missouri River. It turns out the mighty river system that once provided a vital artery for American commerce is still hiding a few hidden surprises, namely steamboat shipwrecks in farm fields, far from where any ships should reasonably belong.


A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

This is way more dangerous than you think.

(Arabia Steamboat Museum)

Anyone reading at this point is likely wondering how on Earth shipwrecked steamboats are under farmers’ fields instead of at the bottom of the Missouri River. Just outside of Kansas City lies the wreck of the steamboat Great White Arabia, a ship that sunk in the Missouri in 1856. Rumors circulated for decades that just such a ship was somewhere under Kansas City, but this was written off as local legend. The locals believed it was filled with barrels of Kentucky bourbon. The truth is the ship was still there, but instead of bourbon, it was filled with champagne.

The champagne, along with all its other cargo, furniture, and provisions, were perfectly preserved by the dirt and silt beneath which it was buried. In 1987, a team of locals from Kansas City decided to see if the rumors were true and began to research where it might be – and how it got there.

They found it within a year.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

(Arabia Steamboat Museum)

It turns out that Steamboat travel along the Mississippi River and the rivers that make up the Mighty Mississipi was incredibly dangerous. Hundreds of steamboats were sunk in its powerful waters and along with their hulls, so went the lives of passengers, crews, and whatever else the boats were carrying. The Great White Arabia was carrying 220 tons of cargo and 130 passengers when it went down. The boat was hit by an errant log in the river, the most common reason for boats sinking at the time, and went down in minutes. The passengers survived. This time.

The crew who worked on unearthing the Great White Arabia has discovered another wreck, the Malta. The reason both ships ended up at the bottom of cornfields instead of the rivers is due to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It turns out the Missouri River hasn’t always been in the same place. The Army actually altered the shape of the river at the end of the 1800s. It made the river narrower, thus speeding up the river’s current and making travel times much shorter. When it moved the river, ships that were once sunk suddenly found themselves buried.

For more information about Kansas’ farm shipwrecks, check out the Arabia Steamboat Museum, which houses the ship’s perfectly preserved cargo.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The destroyer that took on WWII kamikazes is coming to the big screen

During the Battle of Okinawa, one United States Navy ship went up against unbelievable odds — and survived to tell the incredible tale. The Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer USS Laffey (DD 724) faced off against a horde of Japanese pilots — some of whom, now known as kamikazes, were willing to crash into American vessels and sacrifice their lives to complete their mission.

Now, the Laffey’s story is coming to the big screen.

Mel Gibson, acclaimed actor and director of the Academy Award-nominated film Hacksaw Ridge, is currently working on Destroyer, a film based on the Wukovits’ book, Hell from the Heavens: The Epic Story of the USS Laffey and World War II’s Greatest Kamikaze Attack. The film will be centered around the 90 minutes of chaos experienced by the crew of the Laffey on April 16, 1945. In the span of roughly an hour and a half, the Laffey was hit by four bombs and struck by as many as eight kamikazes.


A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

USS Laffey (DD 724) during World War II, packing six dual-purpose five-inch guns and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.

(U.S. Navy)

USS Laffey’s story didn’t start and end with those fateful 90 minutes, however. After Okinawa, she was repaired and went on to see action in the Korean War. After Korea, she served until 1975, when she was decommissioned and stricken from the Naval Register of Vessels. Unlike many of her sister ships that went directly to the scrapyard, she was preserved as a museum and declared a National Historic Landmark in 1986.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

USS Laffey (DD 724, right) next to USS Hank (DD 702), a sister ship named after William Hank, the commanding officer of the first USS Laffey (DD 459).

(U.S. Navy)

Laffey’s commanding officer, Commander Frederick J. Becton, was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions that April day in 1945. Becton was a well-decorated troop in World War II. He received the Silver Star four times, including once for heroism on D-Day and twice more for actions in the Philippines while commanding the Laffey.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

The first USS Laffey (DD 459), a Benson-class destroyer, pulling alongside another ship in 1942.

(U.S. Navy)

A previous USS Laffey, a Benson-class destroyer with the hull number DD 459, saw action in the Battle of Cape Esperance, but became a legend during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal in the early morning hours of Friday, November 13, 1942. The destroyer closed to within 20 feet of the Japanese battleship Hiei and wounded Vice Admiral Hiroaki Abe before being sunk by enemy fire. The sinking of the Laffey cost many US lives, but left the Japanese without command in a pivotal moment.

It seems as though the name ‘Laffey’ is destined to fight the odds.

Check out the video below to see director Mel Gibson’s excitement as he discusses the near-impossible bravery of the USS Laffey at Okinawa.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

Epic tale of Rhodesian Commandos gets a reprint

It has been 32 years ever since Chris Cocks first published his acclaimed book narrating his experiences with the elite Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI). Now, five editions later, he is reprinting his masterpiece.

But it’s not just a reprint. Cocks has gone in and re-wrote the book to make it even better.


“Over the last three decades, the book has undergone around five editions with various publishers, some good, some not so good,” said Cocks “I decided, therefore, to re-write the book and take out a lot of fluff and waffle, and then self-publish.”

The Rhodesian Bush War (1964-1980) was a small but intense Cold War conflict. The Rhodesian government was faced by a Communist insurgency that had shrewdly sold itself in the international community as a liberation front aiming to end White-rule in the Southern African country.

Formed in 1961, the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) was an airborne all-white unit focused on direct action operations. (Most units in the Rhodesian military were mixed, usually Black soldiers led by White officers; the RLI and the Rhodesian Special Air Service (SAS) were some of the few all-White outfits.) Three years later, in 1964, the unit was retitled to 3 Commando, The Rhodesian Light Infantry, to better reflect its Special Operations role.

The unit was broken down to four Commandos of 100 men each and a headquarters company. The majority of the RLI troopers were Rhodesian regulars or reserves. There was, however, a significant foreign presence (Americans, French, Germans, British, Australians, New Zealanders).

“As a 20-year-old lance-corporal, I found myself in command of a troop (a platoon),” he recalls. “As a junior NCO, I never lost a man in combat, but I think that was luck. But I’m still proud of that.”

The airborne capabilities of the unit paired with its lethality made the RLI the bane of the communist insurgents. It is estimated that as part of Fire Force missions, which were introduced in 1974, the RLI killed 12,000 insurgents. At some point during the Bush War, the operational tempo was so high, that RLI troopers were conducting three combat jumps a day. Rapid deployment of troops was key to the Fire Force concept. Jumps, thus, were made at 300-500 feet without reserve parachutes. Indeed, they were flying so low that as the last jumper of the stick exited the aircraft, the first hit the ground. To this day, an RLI trooper holds the world record for most operational jumps with an astounding 73.

Chris Cocks’ book provides an original account of the Rhodesian Bush War. Several pictures breathe life into the men and their feats. The illustrations on the Fire Force are elucidating. Perhaps what sets Cocks’ book apart from similar narratives is its dual nature: a lover of narrative history will gain as much as a student of military history. (I’ve personally used Cocks’ book as a primary source for a paper that was published in the West Point’s military history journal.)

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

The cover of the latest edition.

Dr. Paul L. Moorcraft, a British journalist and academic who has written extensively on the Rhodesian Bush War, said that “Cocks’s work is one of the very few books which adequately describes the horrors of war in Africa … Fire Force is the best book on the Rhodesian War that I have read… it is a remarkable account that bears comparison with other classics on war … a tour de force.”

Cocks first wrote the book in the mid-1980s. He sought to understand why so many had died (over 50,000 dead on both sides) and why Zimbabwe had fallen to Communism. “Essentially, we lost not only the war, but our country,” said Cocks. “For what? I needed to record that, somehow. To be honest, I just started writing, with no particular end point in mind. It all came tumbling out.”

This is a book worth reading. You can purchase it on Amazon.

This article originally appeared on SOFREP. Follow @sofrepofficial on Twitter.


MIGHTY HISTORY

See Eisenhower tour the graveyard of D-Day 20 years later

Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander for the Allied Expeditionary Force during World War II and NATO soon after, toured the graveyard over Omaha Beach in France in 1966. He was with Walter Cronkite at the end of a trip where the two men toured Eisenhower’s headquarters for the invasion and saw the spots in which thousands of men died in service to their country.


A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Dwight D. Eisenhower as a major general in World War II.

(Imperial War Museum)

One of the things that’s striking about the video, embedded below, is just how keenly aware Eisenhower is of what sacrifices were made at his order. He shares with Cronkite the fears he had for the invasion and gives us a window into his own life at the time.

During the D-Day invasion, as American, British, and Canadian troops were fighting to take the beaches of Normandy, Eisenhower’s own son was graduating from West Point. The younger Eisenhower would later ship to Europe. survive the war, and go on to have four children and enjoy a full life. Eisenhower talks about his grandchildren, showing a clear appreciation of how lucky he and his wife were to get their son back from a war that took so many others.

And this appreciation of life, and of the contributions made by young GIs, existed throughout the visit according to a news article about the video and the CBS news production that created it.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Allied forces unload supplies and troops onto the beaches of Normandy.

(U.S. Marines)

“The thing that pulled us out,” Eisenhower told Cronkite, “was the bravery and courage and initiative of the American G.I.”

That bravery, courage, and initiative carried the day — then the week, month, and, eventually, the war. But it also cost the lives of tens of thousands of U.S. and Allied troops. 9,000 of them were buried on the cliff overlooking Omaha Beach where Cronkite and Eisenhower spoke.

The video of their discussion is below. You can also see the 60-minute CBS program here, or hear an audio essay from Cronkite about the experience here.

www.youtube.com

MIGHTY HISTORY

Unleash the hounds: Spartan warrior dogs

If you thought your K-9 was a badass, you’re probably right. But maybe not quite as badass as these 4 Spartan Warrior dogs.


A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

cdn.pixabay.com

1. The spear assault dogs

While you might think of dogs in combat and warfare as a relatively new concept, their origin traces back to mid-seventh century B.C., when the Ephesians waged war on Magnesia. Sounds like something out of the Bible until you realize that instead of animals walking onto an ark two-by-two under a rainbow, every horseman was accompanied by a spearman and a war dog who broke enemy ranks in order to lead a bloodbath by spear assault.

Good times.


A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

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2. The PSYWARFARE dogs

Dogs were also instrumental in psychological warfare.

At the battle of Pelusium, Cambysesus II preyed on the Egyptians’ reverence of animals by putting dogs on his front line. Kill a bad guy, sure, but nobody wants to harm a puppy. The tactic worked. Dogs were frequently used as messengers and lookouts as they were less likely to be harmed. The Egyptians mummified dogs because of their respect for the creatures.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

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3. The Molossian

War dogs were both celebrated and feared. The Molossian was the desired breed, which is a relative of the modern day mastiff. Greek poet Oppian wrote, “Impetuous and of steadfast valour, who attack even bearded bulls and rush upon monstrous boars and destroy them….They are not swift, but they have abundant spirit and genuine strength unspeakable and dauntless courage.” Who can forget Hercules from Sandlot? The Beast was feared, and for good reason.

In his work, Cynegetica (“The Chase,”) Nemesiani, who was basically the Cesar Millan of his day, had this helpful hint for how to identify which of the pups would be the strongest:

“You should get a series of flames made in a wide circuit with the smoke of the fire to mark a convenient round space, so that you may stand unharmed in the middle of the circle: to this all the puppies, to this the whole crowd as yet unseparated must be brought: the mother will provide the test of her progeny, saving the valuable young ones by her selection and from their alarming peril. For when she sees her offspring shut in by flames, at once with a leap she clears the blazing boundaries of the fire-zone, snatches the first in her jaws and carries it to the kennel; next another, next another in turn: so does the intelligent mother distinguish her nobler progeny by her love of merit.”

That’s not intense at all. Totally how we pick out German Shepherds.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

c1.staticflickr.com

4. The Agassians

They may not have been much to look at, but plenty of scholars would pick the British Aggasians over the Molossians in a head to head battle.

Poet Oppian described them as: “There is a strong breed of hunting dog, small in size but no less worthy of great praise. These the wild tribes of Britons with their tattooed backs rear and call by the name of Agassian. Their size is like that of worthless and greedy domestic table dogs; squat, emaciated, shaggy, dull of eye, but endowed with feet armed with powerful claws and a mouth sharp with close-set venomous tearing teeth. It is by virtue of its nose, however, that the Agassian is most exalted, and for tracking it is the best there is; for it is very adept at discovering the tracks of things that walk upon the ground, and skilled too at marking the airborne scent.”

Sure, our K-9s might be able to detect bombs, drugs and humans and are probably smarter than the Greek war dogs, but nothing looks as badass as a dog with a wolf collar, something the war dogs used to wear to prevent fatal wolf bites. We think these should be standard issue for all 31Ks and their dogs, too.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

upload.wikimedia.org

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Triple Nickles: The all-Black airborne smokejumping unit that parachuted into forest fires

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor wasn’t the only time the Japanese struck U.S. soil during World War II. In response to the Doolittle Raid — the successful penetration of Japanese airspace and the bombing of strategic targets in Tokyo from the allies — the Japanese executed their revenge. The date of the launch was chosen for the birthday of former emperor Meiji, Nov. 3, 1944.

However, instead of using airplanes, the Japanese used fusen bakudan, or balloon bombs, that each carried four incendiaries and a 33-pound, highly explosive anti-personnel fragmentation device. The Fu-Go balloon bombs traveled 7,500 miles along the Pacific Ocean jet stream at altitudes between 20,000 and 40,000 feet. Witnesses described these large, white balloons as “giant jellyfish” floating in the sky. Their main objective was to start forest fires, create security doubts among the civilian populace, and cause upheaval.


The all-black Triple Nickles battalion was ultimately responsible for combating the slow-moving, round balloon bombs, which had no escort or protection and had been spotted by the U.S. Navy patrol off the coast of California only two days after their initial launch. The patrol alerted the FBI, and investigations were conducted to find the origin of these mysterious flammable balloons traveling over the Pacific Northwest and into Canada.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

A Japanese Fu-Go balloon with its payload of charges suspended below. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions suffered heavy casualties in the European Theater (ETO) during the Battle of the Bulge and the courageous siege of Bastogne; they were in a desperate need for replacements. The 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, or the “Triple Nickles” as they became known, trained to fulfill this capacity. However, as with other all-black units of the time, African-American soldiers weren’t treated equally. “We were relegated to serving in menial units such as truck drivers, port companies (loading ships), mess halls (waiting on tables) and guard duty,” wrote Walter Morris, a Triple Nickle veteran.

Although no Triple Nickles completed a combat jump or deployed to Europe, these trendsetters provided another example of how an elite all-black unit could be employed in a combat or peacetime environment. The Triple Nickles participated in a top-secret project fighting forest fires as the U.S. military’s first smoke jumping paratroopers over the Pacific Northwest.

The Triple Nickles, a name derived from the parachute regiment’s designation, was created in the winter of 1943 and consisted of 17 of the original 20-man platoon from the 92nd Infantry (Buffalo) Division. These men were hand-selected to create the first “colored test platoon.” A few months into 1944 saw newly minted paratroopers who completed training jumps at Fort Benning, Georgia. The first all-black parachute infantry battalion in history had formed but were still brand-new and lacked manpower. The paratroopers honed their skills and became experts in small-unit tactics.

The Inspiring Story of the Triple Nickles

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Several went to the best schools the U.S. Army had to offer. Some became riggers and jump masters while others learned the metrics in communications, the skills to navigate difficult terrain as pathfinders, and the intricacies in demolitions.

They were the cream of the crop — college graduates, professional athletes, men of high character and extraordinary intellect. One Triple Nickle veteran, “Tiger” Ted Lowry, entered the ring to face world champion boxing legend Joe Louis, who came to Lowry’s base in 1943. He was accompanied by Sugar Ray Robinson — who Muhammad Ali coined as “the king, the master, my idol” — when the duo toured military camps to entertain soldiers. “Stay in the middle of the ring,” Robinson advised Lowry, “don’t let him get you on the ropes.” Lowry already had 70 fights to his name and somehow survived the three-round exhibition with one of the greatest boxers in history.

“You can’t imagine what that did for my ego,” Lowry reflected. “I had just been in the ring with the champion of the world, the greatest fighter in the world, and he was unable to knock me down. My confidence was inflated.” His fighting days halted when he joined the Triple Nickles but resumed when he faced Rocky Marciano, the Brockton, Massachusetts, undefeated heavyweight champion. Not only did he stun Marciano, but he shocked crowds of hometown Italian-Americans by going the distance twice with the Brockton Blockbuster, the only fighter ever to do so.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

The men of the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment march in the New York City Victory Parade on January 12, 1946. Maj. Gen. Jim Gavin ensured the “Triple Nickles” not only marched in the parade, but wore the insignia of the 82nd Airborne Division. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

When World War II was nearing a close and as the Germans were losing ground, the Triple Nickles’ focus shifted from Europe to the homefront. The Triple Nickles were the size of a “reinforced company” but expected to reach battalion size by 1945. The threat from the Japanese balloon bombs was imminent, and they were diverted to Pendleton, Oregon, and Chico, California, under secret orders to the 9th Services Command.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) received help from the U.S. Army when 400 paratroopers from the Triple Nickles were tasked with the difficult job. They turned in their rifles, hand grenades, and rucksacks. In that equipment’s place they donned football helmets with wire face masks, equipped 50 feet of nylon rope for lowering themselves from trees, and packed firefighting tools such as axes and handsaws on their person for parachute jumps.

The smoke jumping program was in its sixth firefighting season, but the war dwindled their resources, and the Triple Nickles provided a welcome skillset. Pilots flying C-47s needed no additional training and had prior results in properly managing smokejumper assets in remote regions where fires were often inaccessible by roads. The response and defensive strategy against the Japanese balloon bombs was a little-known secret called Operation Firefly.

Later reports suggested that the Japanese launched over 9,000 helium balloons. Damage from these balloons was rare but noteworthy. One balloon exploded after it hit high-tension power lines that were connected to a plutonium plant in Hanford, Washington. It caused a temporary blackout to the community, and the plutonium plant was ironically responsible for developing the fuel for the atomic bomb dropped over Nagasaki, Japan.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Triple Nickle member Jesse Mayes prepares to jump from a C-47. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Vincent “Bud” Whitehead, a U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, used to track and chase the balloons in the air from his plane. In March 1945, a balloon had landed on the ground but didn’t ignite. “They sent a bus up with all of this specially trained personnel, gloves, full contamination suits, masks,” Whitehead said in an interview with the Voices of the Manhattan Project. “I had been walking around on that stuff and they had not told me! They were afraid of bacterial warfare.” Biological and bacterial warfare fears were not exaggerated because it was later revealed that the Japanese had scrapped an operation at the end of the war for weaponizing the bubonic plague.

Another notable tragedy that involved these balloon bombs was the devastation of almost an entire family while they picnicked near the Gearhart Mountain in Bly, Oregon. On May 5, 1945, Reverend Archie Mitchell, his pregnant wife, Elsie, and five children from their Sunday School class were victims of the balloon’s lethality. The children went to investigate the strange object that had floated to the ground, but they got too close and were killed when the balloon did what it was designed to do. Archie Mitchell was the only survivor.

The Triple Nickles went to work to prevent additional American civilian casualties. First Lieutenant Edwin Willis, a brilliant planner and training specialist, put his paratroopers through a three-week crash course to learn proper firefighting knowledge and techniques. Willis received assistance and guidance from USFS smokejumpers and forest rangers as well.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Frank Derry, Parachute Instructor-Rigger, instructing prospective smoke jumper in the use of the “drop rig.” Simulates landing from chute caught in a snag or other obstacles by use of landing rope. Lolo National Forest, Montana. Photo by W.J. Mead, courtesy fo the National Archives and Records Administration.

This course included “demolitions training, tree climbing and techniques for descent if we landed in a tree, handling firefighting equipment, jumping into pocket-sized drop zones studded with rocks and tree stumps, survival in wooded areas, and extensive first-aid training for injuries — particularly broken bones,” said Morris.

Frank Derry, a master civilian parachutist, issued the Triple Nickles his “Derry-chute,” which was known for its maneuverability and steering capabilities. “Snag trees, those were the worst. I didn’t like those dudes at all,” Derry said, referring to the nuisances found in their path. “But landing in the trees was just as soft as landing, better than landing on the ground. The thick trees […] you just come into them like sitting down on a pillow, nothing to it.”

The Triple Nickles were also assisted by demolition experts from the 9th Services Command and USFS rangers. “Learning the touchy business of handling unexploded bombs, as well as how to isolate areas in which a bomb, or suspected bomb, was located,” Morris wrote. The incedinaries and chemicals were an additional pucker factor to their already challenging task.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Then-1st. Sgt. Walter Morris, right, prepares for his first jump with the 555th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Photo by Maj. Thomas Cieslak/3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, courtesy of the U.S. Army.

The Triple Nickles also learned to live off the land and avoid costly mistakes that could derail their mission. “They could walk up the hills like a cat on a snake walk,” Morris wrote, discussing the expertise of USFS rangers. “They taught us how to climb, use an axe, and what vegetation to eat. At the same time, we underwent an orientation program with Forest Service maps. And, above all, our morale and spirit of adventure never sagged in the face of this unusual mission.”

The Triple Nickles became fully operational smokejumpers, but the numbers on how many fires and fire jumps they completed have been skewed over the years. Chuck Sheley, the editor of Smokejumper Magazine, states they completed 460 to 470 jumps on an estimated 15 of 28 forest fires, while they drove or hiked into the other fires. The National 555th Parachute Infantry Association consensus estimates the Triple Nickles answered 36 fire calls with 1,200 individual jumps across seven Western states.

Private First Class Malvin Brown was the only casualty of the Triple Nickles. Brown was a critical component of the team because of his medical expertise. Any injuries, accidents, or potential concerns went through the fire medics. When 15 Triple Nickles paratroopers boarded their C-47 on the morning of Aug. 6, 1945, Brown wasn’t supposed to be there. However, he volunteered to replace another medic who was sick. Hours later he jumped into a fire in Umpqua National Forest in southern Oregon’s Cascade Range and landed in a tree. Moments later he slipped and fell more than 150 feet to the ground below. He died instantly.

Brown’s fellow smokejumpers changed their mission from fighting the fire to bringing home their teammate’s body. After an arduous search in rocky terrain, they located him and carried him more than 3 miles through the backcountry. Their first sign of civilization was a trail, but it took another 12 miles for them to find a road to get help.

The soldiers of the Triple Nickles weren’t respected while they were in service, but their contributions in a long lineage of elite all-black units are remembered as if they were legends. The Triple Nickles disbanded after World War II, but many of the soldiers continued to serve, including Lieutenant Colonel John Cannon, who was a combat medic during the Korean War. John E. Mann served as an Army Special Forces advisor in Vietnam and was awarded the Silver Star, three Bronze Stars, three Legions of Merit, and a Distinguished Flying Cross. Mann served in the military for 33 years and later authored four detective novels.

This article originally appeared on Coffee or Die. Follow @CoffeeOrDieMag on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is how the Iranian hostage crisis changed American history

The basic story goes like this.


On November 4, 1979, Iranian radicals stormed the American embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. The hostages were held for 444 days, and not released until minutes after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated as president.

However, as always, there is more to the story.

The storming of the embassy came about eight months after the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni seized power in Iran after the outser of the country’s leader, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi. But the Shah had taken power after a coup d’etat by royalist officers backed by the United States and Great Britain deposed prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953, resolving an ongoing power struggle between the two.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
The American Embassy in Iran being overrun in 1979 (Iranian Interior ministry photo)

While the Shah’s rule saw the Iranian economy improve significantly, he soon backed a secret police known as SAVAK. The growing repression, though, helped make the Shah more and more unpopular. By January 1979 he and his family left on a “vacation” and never returned.

After the Americans were taken hostage, Khomeni gave his approval to the capture of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Following that, the U.S. attempted a hostage rescue mission that failed. The crisis crippled then-President Jimmy Carter, who eventually lost to Ronald Reagan in a landslide.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
The burned out C-130 from the failed Operation Eagle Claw sits in the Iranian Desert. At far right is the destroyed helicopter. Photo: US Special Operations Command

Reagan’s administration would proceed to launch a major peace-time military buildup, and the eventual end of the Cold War.

This History Channel video discusses the hostage crisis and its impact on U.S. policy in the decade that saw the end of the Soviet Union.

YouTube, History

MIGHTY HISTORY

What superpower each branch of the Armed Forces would have

In every parking lot on every military installation is a bumper sticker that reads, “not all heroes wear capes!” It’s a great message and all, but it’s always fun to speculate what life would be like if each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces was a superhero.


So, in a completely tongue-in-cheek response to a nice and sweet bumper sticker, here’s what the superhero branches would be.

Army

Powers: Generic super strength, speed, and durability.

Weakness: Entirely bland.

The largest and most self-sustaining branch among the Armed Forces would also be the most run-of-the-mill superhero.

In comic books, nearly every protagonist who gets superpowers pretty much just checks off the standard hero boxes: super speed, super strength, super durability, etc. Now, this doesn’t make for a bad superhero, but it’s also not the most interesting. A perfect fit for the most average branch of the Armed Forces.

Related: 8 Marvel superheroes that served in the US Army

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Just like our boy, Captain America. (Marvel)

Air Force

Powers: Flight.

Weakness: They are a gigantic douche about it.

Every branch has their own form of aviation, but the Air Force is almost entirely defined by their ability to fly.

Sure, there are superheroes that can fly and shoot lasers like the BRRRT A-10, but no one is really impressed by their abilities — except the Air Force.

Related: 6 superheroes who were also Air Force officers

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
I recommend Airmen pick up a few Captain Marvel comics before the movie comes out. A huge part of it will be about her time in the Air Force. (Comic by Marvel)

Navy

Powers: Control over the seas.

Weakness: Everyone thinks they just talk to fish.

The Navy is far more powerful than anyone gives them credit for. Too bad the rest of the Armed Forces mock them for the beach volleyball scene in Top Gun.

This is not unlike D.C. Comics’ Aquaman.

The average moviegoer probably thinks the peak of Aquaman’s power is having a conversation with a few fishy friends. Nobody ever mentions his super strength…

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
There are no Navy superheroes. There have been a few comics where Aquaman has worked with them, at least… (Warner Bros.)

Marine Corps

Powers: Shooting.

Weakness: Shooting is all he knows.

Every Marine proudly takes to their mean, drunk, fighting-machine stereotype. They are damn good at putting bullets and mortars in places they belong… but that’s about it.

Thankfully for the Marine Corps, there already is a hero that embraces the stereotype and proudly rocks his Eagle, Globe, and Anchor. That’s right: The Green Lantern.

Oh, yeah. And The Punisher.

Related: 7 superheroes who served in the Marine Corps

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Admit it, Marines. A whole lot of you guys have a Punisher tattoo. (Marvel)

Coast Guard

Powers: Invisibility

Weakness: No one cares.

Coasties are a part of the Armed Forces. They’re not always attached to the Department of Defense, but they’re still brothers-in-arms. The Puddle Pirates are out there constantly fighting the good fight, but no one really gives a damn about them. If they are remembered, it’s by other vets mocking them for being essentially the Navy National Guard.

On the bright side, at least the Coast Guard has one superhero: Spectrum, whose superpowers vary greatly. One of which she, coincidentally, shares with the U.S. Coast Guard – not being noticed.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
To be fair, it’ll be a long while before she gets her own solo series. (Marvel)

MIGHTY HISTORY

The ridiculous way British sailors were ordered to stop U-boats in WW1

In the opening days of WW1, Unterseeboots, better known simply as U-boats, proved to be a potent and constant threat to Allied ships, with one U-boat identified as SM U-9 infamously killing nearly 1,500 British sailors in less than an hour by sinking three armoured British cruisers on Sept. 22, 1914. That same U-boat would go on to sink over a dozen British ships during its naval career, with targets ranging from small fishing boats caught in open water to the Edgar-class protected cruiser, HMS Hawke.


A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

The Edgar-class protected cruiser, HMS Hawke.

The reason for the U-boat success in the early going of the war was, in part, due to the fact that when they were submerged they were undetectable by technology of the day.

Another factor that played into German hands is that the Allies, especially the British, consistently downplayed the danger posed by submarines and their value in combat. In fact, at first British Naval brass simply refused to acknowledge that U-boats were sinking ships. For example, the aforementioned actions of U-boat SM U-9 were initially attributed to mines.

In short, British Naval officers had little faith in the potential of submarines and wrote them off as a mere fascination that had no real potential in combat beyond novelty. Thus, they did little at first to try to come up with viable ways to combat them.

Things got real, however, when U-boats like SM U-9 began targeting British supply ships, almost bringing the country to its knees when it found itself unable to secure even basic provisions for its citizens and factories.

A solution was needed. But how to take out a target that is capable of disappearing at will?

It was quickly noted that one weakness of the U-boat was that it needed to use its periscope to mark its target before attacking. This presented a brief, but exploitable window of opportunity to attack the craft in some way. But how?

Up until the introduction of depth charges in 1916, while mines and large nets were utilized to protect certain areas with some minor effect, the conclusion of the Admiralty Submarine Attack Committee was that the best thing to do was simply for ships to either run away from or try to ram the U-boats when the periscope was spotted.

Naturally, beyond risking damage to your own vessel, getting closer to the thing that’s about to shoot you with an otherwise somewhat unreliably accurate torpedo isn’t ideal, nor is necessarily trying to run away when you’re already a marked target. However, it is at least noted that with the periscope up, U-boats couldn’t go faster than about 6 knots and, as stated, torpedoes of the age weren’t terribly accurate or reliable so the more distance you could get between you and the U-boat the better. In the end, these two methods weren’t totally ineffective, but a better solution was still needed.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

German submarine, U-9, on return Wilhelmshaven, Germany.

(Illustration by Willy Stöwer)

This all got the wheels turning among the military think tanks, with the result being some rather humorous proposals as to how to solve the U-boat problem, with particular emphasis put on somehow taking out the periscope. After all, without the periscope, the U-boat’s only way to target a foe would be to completely surface, making it a relatively easy target for more traditional and accurate weaponry. With proper escorts for the supply ships, this could easily solve the U-boat problem.

But how to take out the periscope?

A suggestion by the British Board of Invention and Research was to train seagulls to fly at the periscopes, which would both make the presence of the periscope more apparent and potentially obscure the vision of the person looking through the periscope long enough to take action… To do this, it was suggested that they feed seagulls in certain regions they wanted protected through periscope like devices.

Next up, there was a suggestion to simply put a type of paint in the water with the hopes that it would get on the periscope lens, blinding the operator.

Going back to animals, a sea lion trainer called Joseph Woodward was hired to look into the possibility of training sea lions to detect U-boats and then hopefully alert the British of their presence. Unfortunately it isn’t known whether this method was effective, though the Royal Society does note that the training of at least some sea lions was performed. We presume given that the program wasn’t expanded beyond trials that it wasn’t terribly effective or perhaps not practical.

As you might imagine, none of these methods went anywhere. But this brings us to the rather absurd method that does seem to have been put into practice.

In the early days of the war, sailors were put on small patrol boats, all equipped with the latest and greatest in anti-submarine technology — large hammers and bags.

They were thus instructed that if they saw a periscope popping up to the surface, they were to try to get close to it, then have one person place a bag over the periscope while another got their Whack-A-Mole on in an attempt to destroy it, hopefully all before any target could be identified and a torpedo launched.

Exactly how effective this tactic is isn’t clear but we do know that it was popular enough for at least one senior officer aboard the HMS Exmouth to enlist the help of burly blacksmiths with extra large hammers to patrol with sailors aboard the smaller boats. With their amazing hammering abilities, both in strength and blow accuracy, presumably it was hoped they’d do a better job than your average sailor at quickly taking out a periscope.

Of course, as more sophisticated technologies were developed, this tactic, sadly, became obsolete. But never forget for a brief, but glorious time in history, there was a guy who could claim his job was to hunt submarines with a giant hammer, no doubt giving a cry of “For Asgard!!!” before smiting his foe.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

The US is obligated by treaty to defend these 67 countries

There are Americans who are sick and tired of the United States playing “policeman to the world.” There’s good news and bad news for these people. The good news is that the U.S. isn’t actually the world’s policeman. The bad news is that they’re actually the world’s policeman, fire department, emergency medical technicians, doctors, nurses, and any other global-scale first responder analogy you can think of.

The U.S. military is basically the Avengers.


A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

“Avengers Assemble.”

While the United States doesn’t respond to every trouble spot on the planet they sure respond to a lot of them. Of the 195 officially recognized countries in the world, the United States has military members deployed to 150. So if there is a trouble spot, there’s a very good chance that U.S. troops could go handle a large percentage of them. Luckily, Earth’s mightiest heroes are usually reserved for bigger problems, like keeping North Korea in check, punishing ISIS, and trying to bring food to hungry people.

But some of those countries are actually protected by the United States military, even if that protection isn’t specifically promised. For example, the U.S. military has long been considered a pillar of Saudi Arabia’s stability, because Saudi Arabia’s military can’t invade and win against a much-smaller neighbor, even when 20 other countries are helping them.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Seriously, the Salvation Army could have invaded Yemen and won by now.

But despite how terrible the Saudis are at things like strategy, tactics, and planning, they will never have to worry about being overcome by Iranian interference or military force because they have a substantial force they can rely on to protect their homefront: the United States military. And they aren’t alone.

Treaty obligations tie the U.S. to come to the defense of 67 different countries around the world, going well beyond the 29-member NATO alliance. The U.S. has bilateral defense agreements with six different countries, as well as every individual member of the Organization of American States and the ANZUS agreement.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

While the United States is no longer required to defend New Zealand and West Germany doesn’t exist as West Germany anymore, the United States military still has a pretty big job on its hands. And even though relations with some of the members of the Organization of American States aren’t so hot with the U.S. right now, it’s still a way for Americans to find themselves fighting alongside the likes of Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela or helping defend countries with no military at all, like Costa Rica, Panama, or Haiti.

It might be worth noting that our Venezuelan allies have asked Russia to help with whatever it is they’re planning to do down there, rather than ask the United States. But along with Venezuela, the U.S. has promised to defend a full one-quarter of all the humans on the planet.

That’s a big job.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Air Force has ‘natural’ explanations for all these UFO sightings

From 1947 to 1970, the United States Air Force conducted investigations into the increasing number of unidentified flying object (UFO) sightings throughout the United States. The purpose of the investigations was to assess the nature of these sightings and determine if they posed any potential threat to the U.S.

Three successive projects were created to carry out these investigations: Sign, Grudge, and Blue Book.


Blue Book was the longest and most comprehensive, lasting from 1952 to 1970. A 1966 Air Force publication gave insight into how the program was conducted:

The program is conducted in three phases. The first phase includes receipt of UFO reports and initial investigation of the reports. The Air Force base nearest the location of a reported sighting is charged with the responsibility of investigating the sighting and forwarding the information to the Project Blue Book Office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
If the initial investigation does not reveal a positive identification or explanation, a second phase of more intensive analysis is conducted by the Project Blue Book Office. Each case is objectively and scientifically analyzed, and, if necessary, all of the scientific facilities available to the Air Force can be used to assist in arriving at an identification or explanation. All personnel associated with the investigation, analysis, and evaluation efforts of the project view each report with a scientific approach and an open mind.
The third phase of the program is dissemination of information concerning UFO sightings, evaluations, and statistics. This is accomplished by the Secretary of the Air Force, Office of Information.
—Project Blue Book, February 1, 1966, p. 1. (National Archives Identifier 595175)

After investigating a case, the Air Force placed it into one of three categories: Identified, Insufficient Data, or Unidentified.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Project Blue Book, February 1, 1966, p. 2.
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

Sightings resulting from identifiable causes fall into several broad categories:

  • human-created objects or phenomena including aircraft, balloons, satellites, searchlights, and flares;
  • astronomical phenomena, including meteors and meteorites, comets, and stars;
  • atmospheric effects, including clouds and assorted light phenomena; and
  • human psychology, including not only psychological frailty or illness but also fabrication (i.e., hoaxes).

The conclusions of Project Blue Book were:

(1) no unidentified flying object reported, investigated, and evaluated by the Air Force has ever given any indication of threat to our national security;
(2) there has been no evidence submitted to or discovered by the Air Force that sightings categorized as unidentified represent technological developments or principles beyond the range of present day scientific knowledge; and
(3) there has been no evidence indicating that sightings categorized as unidentified are extraterrestrial vehicles.
—Project Blue Book, February 1, 1966, p. 4. (Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

In 1967, the Air Force’s Foreign Technology Division (FTD), the organization overseeing Blue Book, briefed USAF Gen. William C. Garland on the project. The July 7 report stated that in the 20 years the FTD had reported and examined over 11,000 UFO sightings, they had no evidence that UFOs posed any threat to national security. Furthermore, their evidence “denies the existence of flying saucers from outer space, or any similar phenomenon popularly associated with UFOs.”

The FTD reiterated an expanded finding from Project Grudge:Evaluations of reports of UFOs to date demonstrate that these flying objects constitute no threat to the security of the United States. They also concluded that reports of UFOs were the result of misinterpretations of conventional objects, a mild form of mass hysteria of war nerves and individuals who fabricate such reports to perpetrate a hoax or to seek publicity.”

An independent review requested by FTD came to the same conclusion:

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Briefing by 1st Lt. William F. Marley, Jr. to General William C. Garland, July 7, 1967, p. 7
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

Looking to specific investigation files, we can see what a typical investigation was like, the kinds of documentation and information collected, the investigatory process, and how the Air Force arrived at its conclusions.

Datil, NM, 1950

Cpl. Lertis E. Stanfield, 3024th Air Police Squadron at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, reported seeing a strange object in the sky on the night of February 24/25, 1950. He had a camera with him at the time and took several pictures, including the following:

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force)

The details of the sighting were included in an investigation report:

Report of Investigation, 7 March 1950, p1. (National Archives Identifier 595175)Report of Investigation, 7 March 1950, p2. (National Archives Identifier 595175)Report of Investigation, 7 March 1950, p3. (National Archives Identifier 595175)


This was not the first time an unusual sighting had occurred at Holloman. In fact, it was part of a recurring pattern (and one that explains Stansfield’s possession of a camera at the time of the sighting).

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Report of Aerial Phenomena, Holloman Air Force Base, February 21, 1950, through April 31, 1951.
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

At the time, Project Grudge was unable to provide an explanation. However, a decade and a half later, a similar sighting over the Soviet Union provided Blue Book with an answer: a comet.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Project 10073 Form, ca. 1965
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

Several sightings of this kind were reported in the desert Southwest around this time. Despite the delay in reaching a conclusion, the similarity of the photographic evidence to known comet sightings led the Air Force to conclude it was dealing with a comet here too.

Redlands, CA, 1958

On December 13, 1958, a man in Redlands, California, snapped a photograph of a strangely shaped object in the sky.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Close-up photo of UFO in Redlands, CA, 1958.
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

The UFO worksheet described the sighting in detail:

UFO Worksheet, 16 December 1958 (National Archives Identifier 595175)UFO Worksheet, 16 December 1958 (National Archives Identifier 595175)


However, inconsistencies in the reporting led the Air Force to initially determine that the case was impossible to analyze accurately.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels
Correspondence, February 5, 1959.
(Records of Headquarters U.S. Air Force, National Archives)

A final report dated January 1959, elaborated on these inconsistencies but reached a conclusion nonetheless. The observer had photographed a lenticular cloud.

Report, January 30, 1959 (National Archives Identifier 595175)Report, January 30, 1959 (National Archives Identifier 595175)


All of these sighted were explained as initially misinterpreted natural occurrences. In the next post of the series, we’ll turn our attention to sightings ultimately identified as human-created objects and one sighting truly classified as a UFO.

MIGHTY HISTORY

6 of the ugliest planes that ever flew after World War II

Historically, there have been some beautiful aircraft. Not only have these sophisticated marvels of technology dominated the skies, they’ve looked very elegant doing so. Some aircraft, however, weren’t so lucky. We’re talking about planes that fell off the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down.

And before you call us shallow, we’re not just talking about looks — ugliness is more than skin-deep. Whether it’s a horrendous aesthetic, poor combat performance, or vastly unmet potential, these six fugly birds never had a chance at beauty.

To be brutally honest, if these planes were people, they’d likely end up being incels for one reason or another. So, let’s get to making some of the ugliest planes to take to the skies since World War II feel very, very bad about themselves.


A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Look at that big radar under the Avro Shackleton. Did the designers draw inspiration from a bullfrog?

(USAF photo by SSgt. Jose Lopez)

Avro Shackleton AEW.2

This was an airborne radar plane — but it doesn’t have the elegance of the E-3 Sentry. No, this is a slow, lumbering plane with a big bubble under its nose that makes it look like a bullfrog. It was supposed to be replaced by a version of the Nimrod maritime patrol plane, but that didn’t work out. Eventually, the Brits dumped this hideous plane in favor of E-3s.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

The plane designer who came up with this one certainly had a major mental malfunction.

(US Navy)

De Haviland Vampire

This early British fighter should be a lesson to designers: What once worked with props, aesthetically, may not work with jets. The twin-boom arrangement that worked for the two Allison propeller-driven engines just doesn’t make sense for a single jet engine. This Vampire probably should have lived up to its name and stayed out of the light of day.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

This English Electric Lightning is being hauled away by a Sikorsky HH-53C. When it was flyable, it wasn’t much prettier.

(USAF photo by MSgt. Samual A. Hotton)

English Electric Lightning

First off, the designers at English Electric got the engine arrangement sideways. They put one on top of the other. This beast first flew in 1954 and the RAF kept it around until 1988, but this plane only saw action with the Royal Saudi Air Force in 1970 during a border war with South Yemen. The only thing this plane had going for it was speed.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

The prettiest thing about the F-4 Phantom is its combat record. On the looks front, it looks like a flying brick — a brick that needs two engines to get airborne.

(USAF)

McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom

When it comes to performance, this classic plane is hard to beat, but in terms of looks, the nickname “Double Ugly” is very apt. The folks who probably found the Phantom the ugliest were those who had to face it in combat. Many MiGs met their end at the hands of this plane.

But let’s be honest, while this plane’s combat record is a thing of beauty, from the outside, it was an eyesore.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

Saab 21

This plane couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a prop plane or a jet plane. It first flew in 1943 and its career ended in 1954. The plane served with Sweden, but never really took off in the export market. If you can’t even decide on the propulsion system, what chance do you have of making the plane look remotely presentable?

What really sucks about this plane is that it had potential — which was wasted completely.

A year in the life of the rock stars of aviation – the Blue Angels

One of the low-lights of the F7U Cutlass’s career: This ramp strike didn’t just kill the pilot, it killed three other sailors.

(US Navy)

Vought F7U Cutlass

This plane didn’t look very good. The thing is, its looks were the least of its problems. It was very hard to fly — over a quarter of them were lost to accidents. It didn’t even make it eight years from first flight to retirement.

Here’s the ugliest part: 25 pilots died during this flying abomination’s far-too-long career.