Aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky was designing bombers for the Russian Empire when World War I broke out. Nowadays, the company he founded in the United States makes the “choppers” that transport U.S. presidents. This is the story of how the “father of the helicopter” crossed the Atlantic and made it big — before designing the first aircraft to make regular flights across the major oceans.
Logan NyeBy Ivan Gutterman, Kristyna Foltynova & Grant Podelco
American tankers were slightly late to the armored game, historically. Britain first rolled out the tank in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, before America even joined the war. In fact, America wasn’t even able to get its first tank, the M1917, to production in time to fight in World War I.
But America came roaring back in World War II with pioneers of armored doctrine, including the first American tank officer, George S. Patton. Since then, tanks have had a respected place in the pantheon of American combat arms. Today, tankers drive the M1 Abrams tanks into battle. Here’s what makes them so lethal.
Abrams tanks are highly mobile, capable of propelling themselves at speeds of over 40 mph despite their approximately 68 short tons of weight. That weight goes even higher if the tank is equipped with protection kits like the Tank Urban Survival Kit (TUSK).
Once it gets within range of its target, the Abrams crew can fire their 120mm smoothbore cannon, the M256A1. The cannon can use a variety of ammunition including high-explosive, anti-tank (HEAT) ammo; canister rounds that are basically tank-sized shotgun shells; and sabot rounds, depleted uranium darts that shoot through armor and turn into a fast-moving cloud of razor-sharp, white-hot bits of metal inside the enemy tank.
Marines with 1st Tank Battalion fire the M1A1 Abrams tank during the 11th Annual Tank Gunnery Competition at Range 500, Feb. 20, 2016. The competition was divided into six segments to test the skills of the tank crewmen. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Ali Azimi)
These tank rounds make short work of most enemy tanks, but they’re also heavy. Loaders have to move them from storage racks to the gun by hand, and each round weighs between 40 and 51 pounds.
A pallet full of 120mm rounds sit waiting to be loaded and fired from the M1A2 tanks during gunnery. Considering that just one 120mm round weighs roughly 50 pounds, an entire 14-tank company is a force to be reckoned with. (Photo: U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Leah Kilpatrick)
While Abrams can survive open warfare, crews prefer to hide and maneuver their tanks into better position as often as possible to protect the tank from enemy infantry, armor, and air assets. Covering the tank in local camouflage is a good first step, and using the terrain to mask movement is important as well.
Concealment is tricky in a tank, but it increases survivability and allows the tanks to conduct ambushes.
Army and Marine Corps logistics officers have to work hard to ensure the heavy tanks can always be deployed where they are needed. While Abrams can be airlifted, its much cheaper to ship them by boat.
When it would be dangerous or too expensive to drive the tanks to their objective, they can be loaded onto trains or special trucks for delivery.
But the most impressive way to deliver an Abrams is still definitely driving it off a plane.
The tanks can operate in most environments, everything from snow-covered plains…
An M1A2 Abrams Tanks belonging to 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade, 4th Infantry Division fires off a round Jan. 26, 2017 in Trzebien, Poland. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Corinna Baltos)
…to scrub-covered plains…
Marines with Company A, 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, fire a M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank during their annual training at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., July 19, 2016. Marines fired the tanks to adjust their battle sight zero before the main event of their annual training. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Gabrielle Quire)
…to sandy deserts.
An M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank fires suppressive rounds at targets during Hammer Strike, a brigade level live-fire exercise conducted by the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, at the Udairi Range Complex near Camp Buehring, Kuwait. (Photo: U.S. Army Sgt. Christopher Johnston)
To make sure they can always get to the target, tank units sometimes bring specially equipped engineers with them. The Assault Breacher Vehicle is built on the M1 chassis but features a number of tools for breaking through enemy obstacles rather than a large number of offensive weapons.
The front of the breacher is a plow that can cut through enemy berms, creating a path for tanks.
An Assault Breacher Vehicle drives through a lane in a berm during breaching exercises aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Dec. 8, 2016. Marines with 2nd Tank Battalion along with 2nd CEB worked together to conduct breaching exercises in which they provided support fire while Assault Breacher Vehicles eliminated tank pits and created a lane in which tanks may safely travel, aboard Camp Lejeune, Dec. 8-10, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Preston McDonald)
The main purpose of the plow is to scoop up and either detonate or remove enemy mines. Mines that don’t go off are channeles to the sides of the path, creating a clear lane for following tanks.
An Assault Breacher Vehicle uses its mine plow in order to scan the surrounding area for potential threats during breaching exercises aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Dec. 8, 2016. Marines with 2nd ank Battalion along with 2nd CEB worked together to conduct breaching exercises in which they provided support fire while Assault Breacher Vehicles eliminated tank pits and created a lane in which tanks may safely travel, aboard Camp Lejeune, Dec. 8-10, 2016. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Preston McDonald)
The breacher vehicles can quickly create a lane through IEDs by firing one of their Mine-Clearing Line Charges, a rocket-towed rope of explosive cord that explodes approximately 7,000 pounds of C4, triggering IEDs and mines.
The M1 Abrams is still a titan of the battlefield, allowing tankers to be some of the most lethal soldiers and Marines in any conflict.
Marines from Company C, 1st Tank Battalion, prepare their tank for the day’s attack on Range 210 Dec. 11, 2012, during Steel Knight 13. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. D. J. Wu)
The Air Force and the Navy have their own little rivalry going.
Granted, United States Navy pilots are pretty good in many respects, and so are the planes, but the Air Force claims they’ve got air superiority. So when they need to buy a plane from the Navy, it’s… awkward — especially when it involves bombers, something that should be the purview of the Air Force.
Here are six of the most…notable acquisitions the Air Force ended up making from the Navy.
1. Douglas A-24 Banshee
While better known as the SBD Dauntless, the Army Air Force bought a number of these planes. Aviation historian Joe Baugher noted that some were intended to help defend the Philippines, but the outbreak of World War II saw them diverted to New Guinea. Others saw action in the Aleutians and Gilbert Islands.
2. Curtiss A-25 Shrike/Helldiver
The Army Air Force got the SB2C — the notorious “Son of a [Bleep] Second Class” — during World War II. Joe Baugher noted that the Army Air Force never even bothered using them in combat, either exporting them to the Royal Australian Air Force or handing them over to the Marine Corps for use from land bases.
3. Douglas B-66 Destroyer
When the Air Force was looking for a replacement for the A-26/B-26 Invader as a tactical bomber, they settled on a version of the Navy’s A3D Skywarrior. However, the Air Force planned to use it very differently, and so a lot of changes were made, according to Joe Baugher.
The B-66 turned out to be an ideal electronic-warfare platform. One was famous under the call-sign “Bat 21,” leading to one of the most famous — and costly — search and rescue efforts in history.
4. Lockheed RB-69A Neptune
The Air Force was looking for some planes for electronic intelligence missions around the Soviet Union and China when they settled on taking seven P-2 Neptune maritime patrol planes from the Navy, and designating them as RB-69As.
Aviation historian Joe Baugher reveals that the exact origin and ultimate fate of these planes is a mystery, probably intentionally so, given the top-secret nature of intelligence-gathering flights over China and Russia.
5. Douglas A-1 Skyraider
Joe Baugher reported that the Air Force found this classic warbird to be so suitable for the counter-insurgency mission in 1962, they took 150 A-1Es from Navy surplus. The planes were modified for dual controls.
In fact, the Air Force wanted the plane as early as 1949, but harsh inter-service rivalry (including controversy stemming from the “Revolt of the Admirals”) meant the Air Force had to wait to get this plane. It was a fixture on search-and-rescue missions during the Vietnam War.
6. Vought A-7 Corsair
This is probably one of the most successful purchases of a Navy bomber by the Air Force. As was the case with the Air Force basing the B-66 off the A3D, they made changes to the A-7.
Most notable was giving it the M61 Vulcan and a thousand rounds of ammo. Yes, the Air Force gave the A-7 the means to give bad guys the BRRRRRT! The A-7s saw action over Panama in 1989, and were even used to train F-117 pilots. The A-7D was retired in the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War.
Air Force pararescuemen are among the elite when it comes to special operations. Their main task is to rescue pilots who have been shot down behind enemy lines. It’s never been an easy task, but at least the tech has improved since World War II. Back then, a pilot had to walk back to friendly lines – a very long walk.
Amphibious planes, like the PBY Catalina and HU-16 made rescue possible, but you needed enough water – or a strip of land – for them to land and take off. The same went for other planes, even the L-5, the military designation for the Piper Cub.
Insert the helicopter. They first appeared in a small capacity during the Korean War before they really came of age during Vietnam, proving to be the search-and-rescue asset America needed.
Here’s a look some legendary choppers that carried out that mission.
1. Sikorsky HH-3 Jolly Green Giant
The first helicopter to become a legend for search and rescue was the Sikorsky HH-3. The H-3 airframe was first designed for the Navy to carry out anti-submarine warfare, and was called the Sea King. But the size of the chopper lead the Air Force to buy some as heavy transports. They were eventually equipped with 7.62mm Miniguns and used to rescue pilots, with some seeing service in Desert Storm and the last ones serving until 1995.
According to an Air Force fact sheet, the HH-3 has a top speed of 177 miles per hour, and could carry up to 25 passengers or 15 litters, plus a crew of four and two attendants.
2. Sikorsky HH-53 Super Jolly/Pave Low
The Air Force didn’t stop with the Jolly Green. Eventually, the even larger HH-53 was procured, and called the Super Jolly Green Giant. They also took part in search-and-rescue missions during the Vietnam War, but after that war, the HH-53s were upgraded into the Pave Low configuration, making them capable of operating at night and bad weather. They also became used as special operations transports. The last Pave Lows were retired in 2008.
According to an Air Force fact sheet, the latest version of the Pave Low has a top speed of 165 miles per hour, an un-refueled range of 690 miles, and a crew of six.
3. Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk
The Air Force though, was looking for more search-and-rescue assets – mostly because they only bought 41 of the Super Jolly Green Giants. The HH-60G is primarily tasked with the combat search and rescue role, and it usually carries .50-caliber machine guns to protect itself. Like the Pave Low, the Pave Hawk can carry out missions at night or day. The HH-60G is currently serving.
An Air Force fact sheet notes that a total of 99 Pave Hawks serve in the active Air Force, the Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve. The Pave Hawk has a top speed of 184 miles per hour, an unrefueled range of 504 nautical miles, and can carry a crew of four.
4. Sikorsky HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter
The H-60 airframe has been a mainstay of all five armed services, so much so that the replacement for the HH-60G is another H-60. In this case, the HH-60W is a modified version of the Army’s UH-60M Blackhawk.
According to materialsprovided by Sikorsky, a division of Lockheed Martin, the HH-60W has a combat radius of 195 nautical miles, and is equipped with new displays to reduce the air crew’s workload, and to help the pararescue jumpers do their job more efficiently. The Air Force plans to buy 112 HH-60Ws to replace the 99 HH-60Gs currently in service.
In short, when a pilot goes down, the assets are now there to pull him out, and to keep him from becoming a guest in a 21st century Hanoi Hilton.
Logan NyeBy Ivan Gutterman, Kristyna Foltynova & Grant Podelco
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare was a pioneer of Navy aviation, establishing the Navy’s first night fighter squadron, earning a Medal of Honor and ace-in-a-day status, and probably saving American carrier USS Lexington before his tragic death during a night battle in November, 1943.
The senior Edward O’Hare was murdered by the Al Capone gang while driving home.
O’Hare was the son of a St. Louis, Missouri, businessman with ties to Al Capone’s gang. His father put in a good word to get the younger O’Hare into the U.S. Naval Academy, which led to his being trained as an aviator.
During his training, his father turned against Capone after the events of the Valentine’s Day Massacre and passed financial documents to the IRS. Capone was eventually convicted, but put a hit out on O’Hare’s father. Then-Ensign O’Hare took a break from training to attend his father’s funeral, but went on to earn his wings 18 months before the Pearl Harbor attacks. He earned a reputation as a skilled aviator before America entered World War II.
Edward O’Hare as a pilot during World War II as a lieutenant. He rose to the rank of lieutenant commander and helped create night aviation procedures for the Navy before his death during the war.
His first engagement came near the Pacific island of Rabaul while his wing was temporarily assigned to the USS Lexington. A patrolling submarine spotted waves of Japanese “Betty” bombers heading for the Lexington’s task force on February 20, 1942. Fighters took to the air, and O’Hare and his wingman were the last pair to get airborne.
While the first fighters to take off dealt with the first wave of bombers, a second wave closed in and the O’Hare pair were the only fighters in position to attack. They did a quick test fire of their weapons. O’Hare had four working guns, but his wingman couldn’t fire.
And so O’hare was left facing either eight or nine attacking bombers — accounts differ — with only his F4F Wildcat protecting the carrier. He had just a few minutes to interrupt the enemy attack.
The USS Lexington was America’s second carrier and a legend in World War II. But it likely would have been destroyed early in the war if it weren’t for Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. O’Hare.
O’Hare zipped into position and focused his first attack on two bombers trailing on the right side of the enemy formation, downing both with quick, accurate bursts from his four .50-cal. Browning machine guns against their engines and fuel tanks. By the time he had downed the second bomber, he had overtaken the formation so he wheeled back around and came up the left side.
This time, he hit the rearmost plane with shots to the starboard engine that sent it wheeling toward the sea. O’Hare attacked again, slaughtering a fourth plane and crew with shots through the left wing and cockpit.
It had been only moments, and approximately half of the enemy formation had hit the water or was on its way. But that still left about four bombers heading to Lady Lex. So, O’Hare went in for a third attack pass as the fight drew into range of the Lex’s guns.
He sent a burst into the trail plane and then sent more rounds at the lead plane of the formation, knocking one of its engines off.
The kills had come so fast and furious that officers on the Lexington would later report seeing three fireballs heading for the ocean at once.
Between O’Hare and shipboard gunners, only two of the Japanese “Bettys” were still alive to drop their bombs, and none of the bombs managed to damage the carrier at all. O’Hare would claim six kills from the engagement, but he would only get credited with five. Either way, that took him from zero kills to fighter ace in a single engagement. This made him the Navy’s second fighter ace and its first ace-in-a-day as the service’s air arm was young and relatively small in World War I.
F6F Hellcats were strong successors to the F4F Wildcat and they allowed naval pilots to become more lethal against Japanese forces.
But that couldn’t keep O’Hare engaged, and he returned to combat in 1943, this time flying the Wildcat’s stronger successor, the F6F Hellcat. In just a few months during the latter half of 1943, O’Hare earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses, one for an attack on Japanese forces on Marcus Island where he and his flight destroyed all aircraft on the ground and approximately 80 percent of ground installations, and another for an attack against Wake Island installations where the flight downed three enemies in the air and destroyed planes and installations on the ground.
But the American forces were vulnerable deep in the Pacific, and O’Hare was tasked with finding a way to stop Japanese dusk attacks had allowed damage to the USS Independence. His proposal to create three-plane teams with two Hellcats and a radar-equipped Avenger was quickly adopted. The carriers would detect enemy planes first and vector the fighter in until the Avenger could detect the targets.
In this 1951 photo, the plane closest to the camera is an Avenger, the plane that O’Hare paired with F6F Hellcats in order to make them more effective at dusk and in the early night. The rest of the planes on the deck are F8F Bearcats, successors to the Hellcat.
Right as the Hellcats returned to the Avenger, though, a Japanese plane slipped in behind them and sent a burst through O’Hare’s plane. The tail gunner in the Avenger downed the attacker, but O’Hare and his plane slipped away into the dark and crashed into the water.
All HandsBy Ivan Gutterman, Kristyna Foltynova & Grant Podelco
The explosion was sudden, violent, deafening, so intense that 8,500 tons of steel lifted out of the water and crashed back down. The very metal of the ship shimmered and rippled in front of their eyes, remembered survivors. The force of it threw retired Master Chief Sonar Technician Paul Abney out of his chair and sent a shipmate flying over his head. Then, everything went black.
At first, Abney thought the noise came from simultaneous explosions in a movie he was watching in the chiefs mess. Others thought there had been a kitchen explosion. The ship was also taking on some 200,000 gallons of fuel, and most Sailors assumed something had gone horribly, fatally wrong.
But the explosion had been on the port side of the ship, the opposite side of the fuel tank. It wasn’t just an explosion. It wasn’t an accident. It was an attack. It was terrorism, and a gaping 40-by-60-foot hole had been ripped into USS Cole (DDG 67), sending her listing by about 15 degrees.
When the ship had arrived in Aden, Yemen, that morning, Thursday, Oct. 12, 2000, something felt off. (Some Sailors had gut feelings of doom for much of the cruise.) The port itself was eerie, with rusting, hulking wrecks of Iraqi tankers abandoned almost a decade before, following Desert Storm. A small civilian craft lay on its starboard side, half submerged.
“I didn’t have good feelings when we pulled into Aden,” retired Master Chief Hospital Corpsman James Parlier, the ship’s command master chief, explained. “Those things started sending up red flags, not so much I expected an attack, but things didn’t seem right. You can just be more on guard, but we were given an order to go in on Force Protection Bravo. … Even if we were at a higher force protection, there’s no way we would have found the explosives in that boat alongside the ship.”
The crew had undergone anti-terrorist force protection training only days prior, but it hadn’t focused on waterborne attacks, or the dangers lurking in Yemen specifically. And, as Abney pointed out, under existing rules of engagement, Sailors couldn’t fire on anyone before being attacked. “In this case, the attack was a huge blast.”
The Yemeni pilot who directed the Cole to a concrete pier seemed jumpy and anxious to get off the ship, recalled Abney and Parlier. He insisted that the ship pull straight in, her bow pointed toward the port. The Cole’s captain, by contrast, wanted the bow facing out to sea so they could leave quickly. The captain prevailed, but then tugboats meant to guide the destroyer rushed in so quickly that gunners’ mates had to point their rifles and tell them to back off.
A small boat then pulled up alongside the ship. Abney photographed the seemingly ubiquitous garbage barge, but there was no way to know the destruction it would wreak at 11:18 a.m.
“It was a deafening sound,” said Abney. “But I recall more just feeling it than hearing it. The pressure of it knocked me back in my chair. Along with it, all the lights went out. The next thing I can recall from the blast is just this putrid, kind of acrid smoke. It was very hard to breathe.”
Even getting down to the ground didn’t help, he continued. When he felt his way to where the door should have been, it was blocked. The galley exit was obstructed as well. Along with several injured, dead and dying chiefs, Abney was trapped. He and a shipmate began banging on the bulkhead, hoping, praying someone would hear them before they all suffocated from the smoke.
“I had a crew member grab me by the right arm in a death grip and said, ‘Master Chief, you’ve got to help me. I’m dying,'” remembered Abney. “I ended up stepping on one of the other crew members. … It was pitch black and it was basically feeling my way around.”
After one of the Sailors cut into the mess and freed the chiefs, Abney went looking for help for his shipmates. He was stunned at the destruction he found throughout the ship. “The deck came up and was pushed all the way into the bulkhead. … There were people that were crushed up against this bulkhead.
“There were people that were still trapped in the machinery, caught in various different things. … There were two shipmates that were triaged and were laying in the (passageway). One, I think was already deceased and the second was struggling for breath and later did not make it. … Just to see this crew member struggling for breath and the amount of trauma that it took to put his eye out of socket, it really hit me then that we were in bad shape.”
Parlier was hard at work triaging the patients. He had missed the blast’s epicenter by minutes. Had he been in his office, instead of in a meeting, he would most likely have been killed instantly. With the electricity out on most of the ship, and the phones dead, Parlier wasn’t initially sure if the Cole’s regular doc was alive. He quickly provided some battlefield training to crew members on how to move the wounded – there weren’t enough accessible stretchers – and how to provide some rudimentary medical care. There were a lot of shrapnel wounds, broken bones, blast injuries.
One 19-year-old Sailor, Parlier remembered, “was in horrific condition. The crew didn’t know what to do with him. We put him on a door, basically, and put him back out aft. We took him out on the fantail on the flight deck. … I tried to do CPR on him, but he was … in really, really bad shape. He was the first guy I’ve ever lost in my life, and I had to make a call because we had over 25 casualties on the fantail and flight deck alone, people screaming.” Ultimately, 17 Sailors died. Most were in the chiefs mess with Abney or in the galley, lined up for chow.
With the assistance of the U.S. ambassador and some local authorities, corpsmen managed to evacuate the seriously wounded to a Yemeni hospital within that critical first hour. Able-bodied Sailors accompanied them as walking blood banks and body guards. American doctors in country on a mission trip also rushed to the hospital, which Parlier said was crucial in saving lives. From there, wounded Sailors were life-flighted to Navy hospitals in Djibouti and Sigonella, Italy, before receiving more complex treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Many of the deceased Sailors remained on the ship, however, inaccessible and officially classified as missing. (The Navy would continue recovering remains for years following the attack.) In temperatures that climbed well above 100 degrees, their bodies quickly decayed, making the situation unbearable for the Sailors left aboard the ship. The stench, exacerbated by rotting food, was choking, while flies swarmed the ship. Still worse was knowing that shipmates and good friends – in one case a fiance – lay trapped below and no one could do anything.
It’s not like being on a carrier. When you’re on a small boy, you know almost everybody on the ship. … These crew members were like your kids. It was pretty devastating. … It would be like someone bombing your home. You worked with these kids every day. The Navy environment isn’t like any other work environment. … You’re eating three meals a day with these folks. … Twenty four hours a day, you’re running across the same people, and you kind of get to know their different quirks and personalities and what makes them tick.” – STCM Paul Abney
In those first terrible days after the attack, as they fought to keep the Cole afloat, shutting down sections of the ship, jerry rigging pumps, forming bucket brigades, survivors didn’t have latrines, showers, drinking water, hot food or even MREs. Although the embassy arranged food delivery from an Aden hotel, many of the Sailors, including Parlier, didn’t trust it. They made do with snacks and sodas until help arrived.
That help first came from the British Royal Navy frigate HMS Marlborough (F233), which arrived the next day, bearing potable water, followed over the next few days by USS Donald Cook (DDG 75), USS Haws (FFG 53) and other ships as part of Operation Determined Response.
“There wasn’t a dry eye,” remembered Parlier of that first glimpse of an American flag. “There were tears in Sailors’ eyes because we knew our shipmates had come to help us.” The best part? Chefs on the Haws cooked up a big batch of chili mac for Cole Sailors. “We had our first hot meal in days and, man, that chili mac, it just raised the spirits of the crew.”
As the U.S. assets poured into Aden – the ships, Marines to guard the ship, SEALs, divers, recovery teams for the remains, engineers, investigators – each asset provided a layer of protection and security for the Cole crew. They had been alone in a hostile country, their major weapons systems disabled. It had been impossible to know who to trust. For example, at one point, as the Yemeni army set up a large perimeter around the wounded ship, its guns were actually pointed at the wounded destroyer.
“You felt pretty darn vulnerable,” Parlier said. “You didn’t know what was going to happen next. … At one point, we were low crawling because there were inbound boats. We didn’t know if they were armed or not. The .50 caliber accidentally went off. You’re on pins and needles. … We always thought there was another attack coming.”
“It was sad” to leave his ship behind, said Parlier, who was evacuated to Norfolk, Virginia, via Oman and Germany with the rest of the crew. “I was proud of her. … I was saddened. I would have never thought in my life that I would have to go through something like that.”
At the time, the Navy wasn’t sure the Cole, transported to Pascagoula, Mississippi, via the heavy lift ship MV Blue Marlin, could be salvaged. Officials argued that there were better uses of money, but the crew disagreed. They thought decommissioning it would send a terrible message to the enemy.
Today, Parlier is thrilled that the Cole is back, stronger than ever, still defending the nation. “She needed to be put back in the water to show [the terrorists] that we weren’t going to be defeated and we were going to stand steadfast as Americans.”
A memorial on board honors the fallen Sailors, but, Parlier added, “she’s not a museum. She’s an American warship and she’s out there just like other destroyers, serving and doing their job, doing what they’re trained to do so I can be safe at home.”
Editor’s note: Read about how Cole crewmembers used their training to save their ship and learn more about Abney and Parlier by clicking here.
When you think of amphibious operations, you probably think of troops storming beaches at Normandy or one of the many of coral atolls in the Pacific. Troops would ride landing craft to dislodge the enemy from their positions — often speeding directly into the teeth of fierce enemy defenses to do so. It was a very bloody way to take islands or to secure a foothold on Europe.
These days, it’s unlikely that American troops will face such a situation. This is because amphibious landings have changed — specifically, the landing craft have changed. The old-style Higgins boats are out and Air-Cushion Landing Craft, better known as LCACs, are in.
To describe it simply, the LCAC is a hovercraft. This technology vastly expands the amount of coastline that American troops can hit. According to a US Navy fact sheet, the landing craft you’d see in Saving Private Ryan or The Pacific could hit 15 percent of the coastlines around the world. The LCAC can target 70 percent — that’s a 350% increase in eligible landing zones.
The beach above would likely have been passed over had it not been for the LCAC — here, it was just an exercise.
(DOD photo bySSGT Jerry Morrison, USAF)
But for as capable as the LCAC may be, it can’t travel across open ocean to find its beach. And for as versatile as they are, they’re also quite large, which means they need to be transported somehow. For this, the US Navy uses well decks on larger ships. These decks, which are hangar-like spaces that rest on the waterline, were originally designed to make loading conventional landing craft easier, but they also work well for LCACs.
A LCAC enters USS Wasp (LHD 1).
In fact, these decks make LCACs very versatile crafts. When they’re not transporting troops from ship to shore, they can be used to transfer cargo between ships with well decks.
Watch the video below to see the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bon Homme Richard (LHD 6) carry out a cargo transfer with a San Antonio-class amphibious ship!
Rainbow Division Soldiers Help End WWI during Meuse-Argonne Offensive
(N.Y. State Military History Museum)
For this story, it’s important to remember that World War I ended without Allied troops reaching German soil (something that Gen. John Pershing and Marshal of France Ferdinand Foch protested as they believed it would lay the seeds for another war). So, the final clashes took place on French soil, and there was a surge in fighting in the last days as Allied powers attempted to put as much pain on Germany as possible.
Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur had already been nominated for his fifth and sixth Silver Stars, both of which he would later receive. He had suffered injuries in a poison gas attack, survived artillery bombardments and machine gun attacks, and led his men to victory in key terrain.
Then-Brig. Gen. Douglas MacArthur in World War I.
(N.Y. State Military History Museum)
On November 6, he was in Wadlaincourt with his men, taking the fight to Germany even though few brigade commanders would’ve risked being that close to the guns.
And the 1st Infantry Division didn’t know he was there. So when 1st Infantry soldiers saw MacArthur, clad in his grey cape and cap, they thought it was a German officer they were looking at. As Raymond S. Tompkins wrote in 1919 in The Story of the Rainbow Division:
All [the platoon leaders] saw in the gathering dusk was an important looking officer walking around, attired in what looked like a gray cape and a visored cap with a soft crown, not unlike those the Crown Prince wore in his pictures.
Yeah, coincidentally, MacArthur’s common outfit on the front just happened to be similar to the Crown Prince of Germany’s. While none of his own men would mistake the general for anyone else, he was not yet famous enough to be recognized by average members of other units.
And, the German Crown Prince had, in fact, led troops in combat in 1918 on Germany’s Western Front. So it is, perhaps, not so surprising that the mistake could happen on a fast-moving and chaotic front.
The Crown Prince of Germany Rupprecht did lead German troops in the field against his nation’s enemies.
(U.S. National Archives and Records Administration)
And so the patrol arrested him, and MacArthur protested his innocence and identity, but the platoon leader wasn’t going to take the word of a probable German officer over his own eyes, so he vowed to take the man to a unit headquarters for identification.
Obviously, the 84th Infantry Brigade headquarters was nearby, since MacArthur was typically found close to his place of duty. So the 1st Infantry Division patrol took him there, to his own headquarters, for identification. Perhaps in a failure of imagination, his headquarters immediately identified him. They really missed a chance at a great prank, there.
It turned out well for them, though. The Armistice negotiations would begin days later on November 8, 1918, and was signed in the wee hours of November 11. MacArthur was made the division commander of the 42nd Infantry Division. He and his men were welcomed back to the U.S. as heroes, and it doesn’t appear that MacArthur held any personal grudges against the 1st Infantry for his short detainment.
When you hear the term ‘vigilante,’ you think of someone who self-righteously takes it upon themselves to deliver violence to the bad guys. But there was one vigilante that made its mark not by bringing death and destruction to those who’ve earned it, but by spying.
The North American A-5 Vigilante was originally designed to be a nuclear-attack plane that would eject a nuclear bomb, attached to a pair of fuel tanks, out of the plane’s rear. The plane could also carry some bombs on the wings, but it’s intended purpose was to deliver a nuke from high altitude at Mach 2.
An RA-5C lands on USS Saratoga (CV 60). Only 156 A-5s of all variants were built, most as the RA-5C.
Well, that plan didn’t pan out — the program was marred with complications. First of all, the bomb and fuel tanks would sometimes come out when the Vigilante was launched from an aircraft carrier’s catapult. If you were to make a list of things you didn’t want to happen, accidentally dumping a live nuke on a carrier deck would rank pretty damn high.
Other times, the system simply wouldn’t eject the bomb as expected or the bomb/fuel tank package wouldn’t stay stable. Meanwhile, the ballistic missile submarine was coming into its own, provingto be a far more reliable nuclear delivery system.
Now, most projects characterized bythese kinds of problems would be in for a world of hurt, but the A-5’s speed and high-altitude performance instead gave it a second life — as a reconnaissance plane.
While it is flying sedately now, the RA-5C was capable of going very fast and very high.
The RA-5C became the definitive version. It dispensed with the bomb and the weapons bay was used for fuel tanks. Catapult launches, though, still sometimes meant the tanks got left behind, starting a fire. But this plane used cameras, infrared sensors, and electronic warfare sensors to monitor enemy activities.
A total of 156 A-5s were built over the production run. Of those, 91 were built as RA-5Cs — 49 other models were later converted to that variant. The plane left service in 1979. Though some consider it a disappointment — the A-3 Skywarrior family of planes outlasted it by over a decade — but none can deny that it was an excellent reconnaissance aircraft.
Learn more about this vigilante turned spy in the video below!
Logan NyeBy Ivan Gutterman, Kristyna Foltynova & Grant Podelco
With the new Godzilla movie coming out this Friday (May 31), we thought it would be a good time to remind everyone that we only have the iconic movie monster—or the more than dozen other kaiju of the Godzilla universe—thanks to the survival of a particular Japanese platoon sergeant who was taken prisoner by Chinese forces in World War II.
Godzilla: King of the Monsters Final Trailer (2019) | Movieclips Trailers
While we don’t typically advocate the success of Japanese soldiers in World War II (they were fighting America, after all), I think most of us can agree that Ishiro Honda’s survival was a lucky get. He was an up-and-coming director in Japan in the 1930s who was working for a popular director and film instructor at the time, Kajiro Yamamoto.
But in 1937, the Imperial Japanese Army came calling, and Honda was drafted as an infantryman who served multiple tours in his country’s invasion of China, a republic and ally of America in World War II. Most biographies of Honda paint him as a reluctant member of that military, serving only because it was demanded of him, not because he believed in Imperial Japan’s invasions or fascist ideology.
In between combat tours in China, he continued to make movies, predominantly in Tokyo. One movie that he cited as an inspiration during the war was the propaganda film The War at Sea from Hawaii to Malaya, which he thought had great special effects.
But the reluctant warrior eventually fell to the realities of the prolonged war. After all, Chinese citizens fighting for their survival didn’t particularly care if the guys firing at them were reluctant or not. And in 1945, Chinese troops were able to capture Honda.
Ishiro Honda holds a Godzilla model while filming his iconic movie.
He would spend the next six months in confinement, learning of the atomic bombings and the Japanese surrender from a Chinese prison. He returned to Japan in 1946 and traveled through Hiroshima, one of the cities that suffered a direct hit from an atomic bomb.
For anyone who didn’t catch that, Gojira was Godzilla, and Honda’s success creating and directing the movie would change his career. It set a new record for Japanese film budgets at the time, and it was an international hit translated into multiple languages and even re-shot and re-cut in America with a Hollywood star at the time, Raymond Burr.
A still image from the trailer for Mosura, the Japanese film centered on the giant moth Mothra.
The former Japanese soldier did not rest and bask in the praise, though, he catapulted from Godzilla to other large monster movies, helping to create and popularize the kaiju film genre characterized by massive monsters, helping create the movies and characters such as Rodan and Mothra, both of whom will appear in the new Godzilla: King of the Monsters on Friday. He also created King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1962.
Orvelin ValleBy Ivan Gutterman, Kristyna Foltynova & Grant Podelco
When you hear the word “jetpack,” you picture someone zooming through the sky like the Rocketeer. But DARPA and Arizona State University’s version of the jetpack is a complete let down.
“We’re not able to fly with our jetpack,” said graduate engineer Jason Kerestes, in a video from Arizona State University. “We have instantaneous thrust and we can pretty much trigger it to allow for faster movement and agile motions.”
The pack is designed to enable troops to run a mile in four minutes, but it doesn’t look like they’re quite there yet. At 3:07 of the video, the engineers say to a runner that his time improvement with the jetpack was only three seconds.
Jim GrantBy Ivan Gutterman, Kristyna Foltynova & Grant Podelco
When Eugene Stoner first introduced his aluminum and plastic Armalite rifle that would later become the basis for the M16 and M4, he scarcely could have imagined his little black rifle would still be in the hands of infantrymen more than 50 years later. Yet, after dozens of conflicts, Stoner’s lightweight automatic rifle persists — though it’s been modernized along the way.
The M16 evolved into the M16A1 all the way through M16A4 before being retired to non-frontline units. But along the way a shorter, handier carbine version was introduced. The earliest version of the M4 that featured most of the telltale aspects of the design was the CAR-15 SMG. Despite being labeled a submachine gun, the CAR-15 SMG still used the 5.56mm cartridge.
The SMG featured an overly-complex (yet functional) collapsible stock, shortened barrel and fixed carry handle. The biggest difference between early versions of the M16 and modern variations is modularity. Older models needed either modification, or special components to attach accessories like tac lights, lasers or optics. Yet underneath the anodized aluminum shell of every M4, lies the original M16.
Why does this matter? Because it shows that the M4 (in one form or another) is here to stay. It may evolve and grow, but the rifle itself will likely only leave U.S. service when something truly revolutionary emerges. Not a different rifle, nor a different caliber, but a different method of launching projectiles than smokeless powder altogether.
Imagine the cost and logistical nightmare of replacing all M4 rifles in service with all branches of the military. The price would be staggering. And that’s largely why the Army balked at replacing the M4 several years ago — too expensive, and not enough of a “leap” in technology to justify the cost.
The only way Congress would green light a true replacement weapon system is if something arrived that instantly made all modern firearms obsolete.
What would that weapon be? It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what that might look like, but it’s reasonably simple to determine what it wouldn’t do – launch solid projectiles.
First on the chopping block – solid or liquid-fueled rockets. Sounds obvious, but inventor Robert Mainhardt successfully built a series guns that fired small rockets known as microjets back in the late 1950s. While the rifles (really launchers) had many issues, the core problem that could never be solved is the lack of velocity close to the muzzle.
Whereas gunpowder-propelled bullets are at their peak velocity at the muzzle of the barrel, rockets accelerate much more slowly. So at close range the rounds would be ineffective. Add to this the complex nature of the round’s construction and the limited magazine capacity due to projectile size, and any weapon utilizing these rounds is objectively inferior to the M4.
What about magnets? The concept of a railgun isn’t new and has been around since the World War I, and the German air force even designed anti-aircraft batteries of railguns in WWII – but these never even reached prototype status. The biggest issue has been power supply, the large magnets required to launch projectiles at hypersonic speeds consume insane amounts of energy.
One of two electromagnetic railgun prototypes on display aboard joint high speed vessel USS Millinocket (JHSV 3) in port at Naval Base San Diego. The railguns are being displayed in San Diego as part of the Electromagnetic Launch Symposium, which brought together representatives from the U.S. and allied navies, industry and academia to discuss directed energy technologies. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kristopher Kirsop/Released)
Modern physicists and engineers have successfully developed methods of magnetic propulsion that don’t require as much power, and have made railguns feasible. So feasible that railguns are currently being developed by the US Navy with one slated to deploy on a vessel this year.
For the uninitiated, the advantage of these guns over traditional cannons or guided missiles has to do with the incredible velocities of the projectiles themselves. When the Army worked alongside the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Electromagnetics, they found that railguns could fire a 4-pound tungsten rod at nearly two miles per second, or 6,840 mph. At this velocity, the round not only defeats the armor of a main battle tank like the M1 Abrams, it passes clean through both sides.
Sounds great, but currently the technology isn’t capable of being scaled down for use by individual soldiers. Also, the amount of power required still isn’t man-portable with current battery technology. Though even if it were, railguns are currently single-shot weapons, making them inferior to the M4 in close combat or urban fighting.
So what is the likely replacement for the M4? As crazy as it sounds, a directed energy weapon. Think more Star Trek than Star Wars – weaponized lasers would offer an enormous advantages over solid projectile firearms and cannons.
One of the largest benefits of a laser weapon would be velocity. With your beam traveling at the speed of sound and being relatively unaffected by gravity. So hitting a distant target wouldn’t require adjusting for wind or drop. But that’s impossible, right?
The Afloat Forward Staging Base (Interim) USS Ponce (ASB(I) 15) conducts an operational demonstration of the Office of Naval Research (ONR)-sponsored Laser Weapon System (LaWS) while deployed to the Arabian Gulf. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)
Actually, the United States and Israel have been developing and deploying a Tactical High Energy Laser for more than a decade. Israel’s IDF even used the THEL to shoot down 28 incoming Katyusha rockets in 2000. Like the railgun, the THEL is currently far too massive and consumes too much power to be man-portable. But, the same thing was said about computers only a few decades ago. Who knows, maybe the M5A2 laser carbine is only a decade away.
Until then, the US military is stuck with upgrading, tweaking and tuning the M4 carbine. It might not be bleeding edge tech, but the old warhorse still accurately slings lead further than most soldiers can see, and it doesn’t weigh a ton.
Logan NyeBy Ivan Gutterman, Kristyna Foltynova & Grant Podelco
Veterans Day falls on Nov. 11 every year for a reason. That’s the anniversary of the 1918 signing and implementation of the armistice agreement that ended World War I.
Originally, the holiday celebrated just the sacrifices of those who served in The Great War, but the American version of the holiday grew to include a celebration of all veterans, and the name was changed from Armistice Day to Veterans Day.
But for troops in 1918, Armistice Day was a mixed bag. Some engaged in a boisterous, days-long party, but others couldn’t believe it was over and continued fighting out of shock and disbelief.
The city filled with marchers, many waving brand new Union Jack flags. Drinking was mostly limited to the hotels and restaurants, but the crowds pushed their way to 10 Downing Street and yelled for speeches from the Prime Minister.
But on the front lines, American and Allied soldiers were much less exuberant. While some units, such as the 64th Infantry Regiment featured in the top photo, began celebrating that very day. Others, like the artillerymen near U.S. Army Col. Thomas Gowenlock, just kept fighting.
I drove over to the bank of the Meuse River to see the finish. The shelling was heavy and, as I walked down the road, it grew steadily worse. It seemed to me that every battery in the world was trying to burn up its guns. At last eleven o’clock came — but the firing continued. The men on both sides had decided to give each other all they had — their farewell to arms. It was a very natural impulse after their years of war, but unfortunately many fell after eleven o’clock that day.
The fighting continued for most of the day, only ending as night fell. Around warming fires, the soldiers tried to grapple with peace.
As night came, the quietness, unearthly in its penetration, began to eat into their souls. The men sat around log fires, the first they had ever had at the front. They were trying to reassure themselves that there were no enemy batteries spying on them from the next hill and no German bombing planes approaching to blast them out of existence. They talked in low tones. They were nervous.