Sure, we all know about the F-16 Falcon, the F-15 Eagle, the Su-27 Flanker, the MiG-29 Fulcrum… all those modern planes.
But in the 1970s and the early 1980s, the mainstays of the tactical air forces on both sides of the Iron Curtain were the Phantom in the west and the Flogger in the east.
The F-4 Phantom was arguably a “Joint Strike Fighter” before JSFs were cool. The United States Air Force, United States Navy, United States Marine Corps, Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm, West German Air Force, and numerous other countries bought the F-4.
According to Globalsecurity.org, the F-4 could carry four AIM-7 Sparrows, four AIM-9 Sidewinders, and the F-4E had an internal cannon. The plane could carry over 12,000 pounds of ordnance.
Like the F-4, the MiG-23 was widely exported — and not just to Warsaw Pact militaries. It was also sold to Soviet allies across the world — from Cuba to North Korea. It could carry two AA-7 radar-guided missiles, four AA-8 infra-red guided missiles, and had a twin 23mm cannon.
Globalsecurity.org notes that the Flogger can carry up to 4,400 pounds of ordnance (other sources credit the Flogger with up to 6,600 pounds of ordnance).
Both planes have seen a lot of combat over their careers. That said, the MiG-23’s record has been a bit more spotty.
According to the Air Combat Information Group, at least 33 MiG-23s of the Syrian Air Force were shot down by the Israeli Air Force since the end of 1973. Of that total, 25 took place in the five-day air battle known as the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot. The total number of confirmed kills for the MiG-23s in service with the Syrian Air Force against the Israelis in that time period is five.
ACIG tallied six air-to-air kills by Israeli F-4s in that same timeframe (Joe Baugher noted 116 total air-to-air kills by the Israelis in the Phantom), with four confirmed air-to-air losses to the Syrians. That said, it should be noted that by the late 1970s, the F-4 had been shifted to ground-attack missions, as Israel had acquired F-15s and F-16s.
There is one other measure to judge the relative merits of the F-4 versus the MiG-23. The F-4 beats the MiG-23 in versatility. The MiG-23 primarily specialized in air-to-air combat. They had to create another version — the MiG-23BN and later the MiG-27 — to handle ground-attack missions.
In sharp contrast to the specialization of various Flogger designs, the F-4 handled air-to-air and ground-attack missions – often on the same sortie. To give one example, acepilots.com notes that before Randy “Duke” Cunningham engaged in the aerial action that resulted in three kills on May 10, 1972 – and for which he was awarded the Navy Cross – he dropped six Rockeye cluster bombs on warehouses near the Hai Dong rail yards.
In short, if the Cold War had turned hot during the 1970s, the F-4 Phantom would have probably proven itself to be the better airplane than the MiG-23 Flogger. If anything shows, it is the fact that hundreds of Phantoms still flew in front-line service in the early 21st Century.
Before the advent of stealth technology, the variable that mattered more than any other in terms of tactical aircraft survivability and lethality was speed. So in 1955 the U.S. Air Force issued a request for a high-altitude, long-range bomber that could go Mach 3 while carrying either a conventional or nuclear payload. After a few trips to the drawing board and some mods to the Air Force’s requirements, North American Aviation was awarded a developmental contract based on their submission.
Enter the B-70 Valkyrie, a revolutionary scream-machine that was nearly four times as fast as the legacy B-52s it was designed to replace. The Valkyrie was huge — 185 feet long and 30 feet tall with a maximum takeoff weight at a whopping 542,000 pounds. The bomber was powered by six General Electric J-93GE turbojet engines that could each deliver 30,000 pounds of thrust in full afterburner. But it’s massive size and power was belied by sleek lines that made it arguably the most aesthetically-pleasing aircraft ever built.
The B-70 had a crew of four — a pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and defense systems operator each seated in comfortable cocoons with clamshell doors. In the event of an emergency each cocoon could rocket away from the aircraft individually.
The Valkyrie used “compression lift” — a phenomenon that occurs when a conical body (the fuselage) under the center of a wing pushes air to the sides, which increases pressure and therefore lift — to travel upwards of 7,500 nautical miles supersonic. At takeoff the wingtips were straight, but a high speeds they’d angle down as much as 65 degrees to create the necessary compression.
The bomber had a number of unorthodox moving parts including movable canards on the nose and a ramp in front of the windscreen that would raise at high speed to create a more aerodynamic airframe (and it also gave the pilot very poor visibility in that regime).
Mach 3 creates a lot of air friction, and friction creates heat, so the Valkyrie was built with honeycomb stainless steel and (sparingly, like 9 percent) titanium, which was expensive and in short supply back in those days.
North American was funded to built a single test aircraft — designated the XB-70 — at a cost of $750 million. The inaugural test flight was delayed by maintenance and other technical issues by three years. All of the Valkyrie’s revolutionary subsystems came with their own problems — honeycomb structures broke, hydraulic systems hemorrhaged fluid, and control surfaces didn’t fit right.
At the same time the tactical world began to change. Better ICBMs made Air Force planners wonder whether they needed long-range bombers at all. And the introduction of the Soviet-made SA-2 surface-to-air missile rendered even the speedy B-70 vulnerable. Based on these factors as well as the projected cost of the Valkyrie, the Eisenhower administration grew sour on the program. The Air Force reduced the program funding to a single asset that would be used for experimental research testing only.
But the presidential election of 1960 changed the landscape. President Kennedy believed the Valkyrie was important in the arms race. The program budget was upped by $265 million and the test plan was reworked to include warfare capabilities and not just research.
A year later the Kennedy administration understood the Eisenhower administration’s issues with the airplane, and the Valkyrie was once again relegated to a research program — however the requirement was reworded with the caveat that if the Air Force requirement necessitated the need for the B-70 the program would be quickly modified to also test for combat operational capabilities.
The Valkyrie’s maiden flight occurred on May 11, 1964 out of Edwards Air Force Base. The plan was to take the airplane supersonic on the first flight, but a landing gear problem kept them subsonic. The XB-70 also had a minor hydraulic fire but managed to land safely.
North American XB-70A Valkyrie in flight. (Official USAF photo)
The airplane finally went supersonic on it’s third test flight and eventually broke a number of speed records including 70 sustained minutes of supersonic flight, 50 of them at greater than Mach 2.
But the test team also discovered that extended supersonic flight punished the airframe beyond its existing design limits, and they had to modify parts of the intake system and fuselage as the test plan went forward.
The first XB-70 reached Mach 3 only once — on it’s 18th test flight on October 14, 1965 — and that speed did substantial damage to the leading edge of one of the wings. (Luckily nothing was sucked into the intakes.) After that the airplane was limited to no greater than Mach 2.5.
A second XB-70 was built after comprehensive wind tunnel testing that yielded a modified design of the intake system, the hydraulics, and the wings. The new design made the airplane more stable, especially at high speeds. On May 19, 1966 the second Valkyrie flew Mach 3 for 33 minutes.
But test problems persisted. One flight forced test pilot Joe Cotton to jump a circuit breaker with a paper clip to get the landing gear to come down. (Basically, a $750 million airplane was saved with a 39 cent paperclip.)
Then one of the contractors pushed the notion of a “family photo,” an idea that proved to be the true beginning of the end for the Valkyrie. General Electric wanted to use a private Learjet to shoot both film and still photos of the XB-70 flying in formation with a T-38, F-4, F-104, and an F-5 — all GE-powered jets.
The requisite approvals were obtained, and on June 8, 1966 the four Air Force test jets launched to rendezvous with the XB-70 at the end of a test event. The five-jet formation flew around the Edwards AFB airspace for about 40 minutes without incident while the Learjet got the desired footage and photos. But as the formation was breaking up to return to base, disaster struck.
The F-104 drifted left until its left wing hit the XB-70’s right wing. At that point the Starfighter flipped over and rolled inverted over the top of the Valkyrie, striking the vertical stabilizers and left wing of the bomber. The F-104 exploded, destroying the Valkyrie’s rudders and damaging its left wing. With the loss of both rudders and damage to the wings, the Valkyrie entered an uncontrollable spin and crashed into the ground north of Barstow, California. NASA Chief Test Pilot Joe Walker (who was flying the F-104) and Carl Cross (the XB-70’s co-pilot who was on his first Valkyrie flight) were killed. Al White (XB-70 pilot) ejected, sustaining serious injuries, including one arm crushed by the closing clamshell-like escape crew capsule moments prior to ejection.
The investigation concluded that Walker was unable to properly perceive his motion relative to the Valkyrie, leading to his aircraft drifting into contact with the XB-70’s wing. The accident investigation also pointed to the wake vortex off the XB-70’s right wingtip as the reason for the F-104’s sudden roll over and into the bomber. There was also a lot of CYA and finger-pointing among Air Force leadership regarding who had actually approved the “family photo,” and ultimately the punishment for improperly vetting the event fell to the lowest levels of the chain of command.
Although the remaining Valkyrie continued to fly test events, the mishap crushed any chance of the airplane being used as an operational asset. On February 4, 1969 the XB-70 flew to Wright-Patterson AFB to be made into an exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force — the final flight for a powerful and visually stunning airplane the likes of which will never be seen again.
“Women have served in the defense of this land for years before our United States was born. They have contributed their talents, skills and courage to this endeavor for more than two centuries with an astounding record of achievement that stretches from Lexington and Concord to the Persian Gulf and beyond,” said retired Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, chief of staff of the Army, 1991-1995.
1. Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, Revolutionary War (1775 – 1783)
Mary Ludwig McCauley gained the nickname of “Molly Pitcher” in 1778 by carrying water to the men on the Revolutionary battlefield in Monmouth, New Jersey. She replaced her husband, Capt. John Hays, when he collapsed at his cannon. Since then, many women who carried water to men on the battlefield were called “Molly Pitchers.”
2. Clara Barton, Civil War nurse (1861 – 1865)
Clara Barton witnessed immense suffering on the Civil War battlefield and did much to alleviate it. She was on the scene ministering to those most in need, taking care of the wounded, dead, and dying.
Barton became a “professional angel” after the war. She lectured and worked on humanitarian causes relentlessly, and went on to become the first president of the American Association of the Red Cross. At the age of 77, she was still in the field taking care of Soldiers in military hospitals in Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
3. Susie King Taylor, Civil War (1861-1865)
Born a slave in Georgia in 1848, Susie Baker, who later became known as Susie King Taylor, gained her freedom in April 1862. Baker was initially appointed laundress of the 33rd U.S. Colored Troops, re-organized from the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. Due to her nursing skills and her ability to read and write, her responsibilities with the regiment began to multiply. More than a few African-American women may have provided service as the Union Army began forming regiments of all black men. After the war, Taylor helped to organize a branch of the Women’s Relief Corps.
4. Dr. Mary Walker, Union Army contract surgeon (1861-1865)
Dr. Mary Walker graduated from Syracuse Medical College in 1855 and later earned a second degree in 1862 from Hygeia Therapeutic College in New York. During the Civil War, she worked at first as a volunteer in Manassas and Fredericksburg, Virginia. Later she worked as a contract physician for the 52nd Ohio Infantry Regiment. Walker is the only woman ever granted the Medal of Honor.
5. Mary Catherine O’Rourke, Telephone operator and interpreter (1917-1918)
Mary Catherine O’ Rourke was one of 450 “Hello Girls” who served in the Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit during World War I. They were bilingual female switchboard operators recruited by Gen. John J. Pershing to improve communications on the Western Front.
The Signal Corps women were given the same status as nurses, and had 10 extra regulations placed on them to preserve their “status as women.” They had the rank of lieutenant, but had to buy their own uniforms.
Mary Catherine O’Rourke was in the fourth group of these women who shipped off to France during World War I. She studied French with instructors from the University of Grenoble. She was assigned to Paris and served as interpreter for Gen. John J. Pershing during months of negotiations at the Paris Peace Conference which resulted in the Treaty of Versailles.
6. Col. Oveta Culp Hobby, First WAC director (1942-1945)
Col. Oveta Culp Hobby was called upon to serve as the chief, Women’s Interest Section, Bureau of Public Affairs for the War Department. She served in this position for one year before becoming the first woman sworn into the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, or WAAC in 1942 and appointed as its director. The WAAC was converted to the Women’s Army Corps in July 1943 and Hobby was appointed to the rank of colonel in the Army of the United States as she continued to serve as director of the WAC.
After setting the stage for the creation of the WAC, Hobby built the corps to the strength of over 100,000 by April 1944. She established procedures and policies for recruitment, training, administration, discipline, assignment, and discharge for the WAC. She surmounted difficulties in arranging for the training, clothing, assignments, recognition, and acceptance of women in the Army. Hobby made it possible for women to serve in over 400 non-combat military jobs at posts throughout the United States, and in every overseas theater.
Hobby was later called upon by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to serve as the first secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1953-1955.
7. Col. Bettie J. Morden, WAC deputy director, 1971
Bettie J. Morden had a long, distinguished career in the Army that took many turns. She enlisted in the WAAC on Oct. 14, 1942. She receiving basic and administrative training at the First WAAC Training Center, Fort Des Moines, Iowa. She served throughout World War II at the Third WAAC Training Center, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, as an administrative noncommissioned officer of the Publications Office. Morden later served as a first sergeant with Headquarters Company on the South Post. After the war ended, Morden was discharged in November 1945.
In September 1949, she entered the WAC, U.S. Army Reserve, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in February 1950. In November 1966, she was assigned as executive officer, Office of the Director, WAC, at the Pentagon and was promoted to full colonel on June 9, 1970. She assumed the position of acting deputy director, WAC, on Feb 1, 1971. She retired on Dec. 31, 1972, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal.
In July 1973, Morden was elected president of the WAC Foundation, now the U.S. Army Women’s Museum Foundation, a private organization formed initially in 1969 to support the museum. Morden resigned from the presidency in June 2001.
8. Jacqueline Cochran, Pioneer female aviator (Pre-World War II to 1970)
After developing a successful line of cosmetics, Jacqueline Cochran took flying lesson in the 1930s so that she could use her travel and sales time more efficiently. She eventually became a test pilot. She helped design the first oxygen mask and became the first person to fly above 20,000 feet wearing one. She set three speed records and a world altitude record of 33,000 feet — all before 1940.
She was the first woman to fly a heavy bomber over the Atlantic. She volunteered for duty as a combat pilot in the European Theater during World War II, but her offer was rejected. She trained American women as transport pilots in England for the Air Transport Auxiliary of the Royal Air Force.
Upon return to the United States, she oversaw flight training for women and the merging of the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron into the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots in July 1943. She was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945 for her service in World War II.
After the war, she was commissioned in 1948. She became the first woman to break the sound barrier in an F-86 Sabre Jet in 1953 and went on to set a world speed record of 1,429 mph in 1964. She retired from the Air Force Reserve as a colonel in 1970.
9. Brig. Gen. Clara L. Adams-Ender, Army Nurse Corps (1961-1993)
In 1967, Brig. Gen. Adams-Ender became the first female in the Army to qualify for and be awarded the Expert Field Medical Badge. She was also the first woman to earn a master’s of military arts and science degree .at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
On Sept. 1, 1987, she was promoted to brigadier general and appointed the chief of the Army Nurse Corps.
In 1991, she was selected to be commanding general of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, and served in this capacity as well as that of deputy commanding general of the U.S. Military District of Washington until her retirement in 1993.
10. Command Sgt. Maj. Yzetta L. Nelson, First woman command sergeant major (1944-1970)
Yzetta L. Nelson joined the Women’s Army Corps in 1944. In 1966, she was promoted to the rank of sergeant major. On March 30, 1968, she became the first WAC promoted to the new rank of command sergeant major. She continued to serve in the WAC until her retirement in 1970.
11. Brig. Gen. Sherian G. Cadoria, First African-American female general (1961-1990)
Promoted to brigadier general in 1985, Sherian G. Cadoria was the highest-ranking black woman in the Army until she retired in 1990. She entered the Army in 1961, with a direct commission as a first lieutenant in the Women’s Army Corps. In the 1970s, she transferred to the Military Police Corps.
12. Sgt. Danyell E. Wilson, First black female sentinel at Tomb of Unknowns
Sgt. Danyell E. Wilson became the first African-American woman to earn the prestigious Tomb Guard Badge and become a sentinel at the Tomb of the Unknowns, Jan. 22, 1997.
Born in 1974 in Montgomery, Alabama, Wilson joined the Army in February 1993. She was a military police officer assigned to the MP Company, 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard). She completed testing and a rigorous eight-month trial period and became part of the Honor Guard Company of The Old Guard.
14. Sgt. Maj. Michele S. Jones, First command sergeant major of Army Reserve
In September 2003, Sgt. Maj. Michele S. Jones was selected by Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, Army Reserve chief, to become the ninth command sergeant major of the Army Reserve. She was the first woman to serve in that position and the first to be chosen as the senior NCO in any of the Army’s components. For some time, she was also the highest-ranking African-American in any of the military services.
Jones entered the Army in 1982. She attended basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and advanced individual training at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. She was the first woman to serve as class president at the United States Sergeants Major Academy.
15. Lt. Gen. Nadja West, Surgeon general of the U.S. Army
Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West is the 44th surgeon general of the United States Army and commanding general, U.S. Army Medical Command.
West is a graduate of the United States Military Academy with a bachelor of science in engineering. She earned a doctorate of medicine from George Washington University School of Medicine in the District of Columbia.
Her last assignment was as the Joint Staff surgeon at the Pentagon. In that capacity, she served as the chief medical advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and coordinated all health services issues to include operational medicine, force health protection, and readiness.
(Editor’s note: The above 15 are just a sampling of the many women who have contributed to shaping the U.S. Army.)
The Israeli pilots were given clearance to fire, and they started off with a Sparrow engagement. The first Sparrow shots missed, then the F-15s closed.
Moshe Melnik, in the second of the four F-15s, took on the enemy fighters. He selected his infra-red guided missiles for the attack. It wasn’t an American-made Sidewinder, though. The Israelis had their own dogfight missile, the Python 3. Melnik selected one, and fired.
The missile tracked in, taking out one of the Fishbeds. It was thirty seconds into the engagement.
Melnik had secured a place in history as the first pilot to shoot down an enemy plane with the F-15 Eagle. Since then, between small-scale engagements and major conflicts like the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot and Operation Desert Storm, the F-15 has dominated the skies, only yielding as the premiere air-to-air platform when the F-22 Raptor entered service.
Okay, the Raptor is pretty cool, too. (U.S. Air Force photo/Alejandro Pena)
Ironically, while Melnik would make history, he would not be considered the hero of the engagement where the F-15 scored its first kill. That honor would go to another Israeli pilot, Eitan Ben-Eliyahu.
Destroyers, in general, don’t get as much love as they deserve for their contribution to World War II. The USS Aylwin is not different, even though her crew managed to do what few others could, which was to take the fight to the sucker-punching Japanese Navy and naval air forces during and after its attack on Pearl Harbor.
Despite having only half the necessary crew and being commanded by an Ensign, the Aylwin was out on patrols immediately.
The Aylwin was moored at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, with other ships from her Pacific squadron. Like most ships, roughly half of its crew were out on liberty or leave when the Japanese arrived in Hawaii. She had only one boiler going, strong enough to power only a few of the ship’s systems. That’s when the Utah was hit by a torpedo.
Even with only half her crew and being under the command of Ensign Stanley B. Caplan – that’s an O-1 for you non-Navy folks – the Aylwin was returning fire within three minutes of the Japanese attacks. A few minutes after that, her remaining boilers were lit. And a few minutes after that, Aylwin was making her way into the channel and into the open sea. This destroyer wasn’t going to be a sitting duck if she could help it.
As she left the harbor, Aylwin maintained a deadly, continuous rate of fire that would have dissuaded even the most daring of pilots from pressing their attack on the destroyer. Pearl Harbor, at that moment however, was a target-rich environment for both sides. The skies were filled with Japanese planes, and the grounds and harbor area were littered with military targets, planes, ships, and more. Zero after Zero came after the U.S. ship but were chased away as Ensign Caplan and his men fired everything they had at their pursuers. The machine gunners on the decks of the Aylwin claimed to have downed at least three enemy fighters.
Caplan and company began an immediate combat patrol, looking for enemy submarines in the area, as were her standing orders in case of such an attack. An unknown explosion and an attempt to depth charge an enemy submarine were the most notable events of the next few days. For 36 hours, Ensign Caplan knew what it meant to be the captain. The ship and the rest of its crew joined the task force around the USS Lexington and headed to Wake Island by Dec. 12.
The Aylwin would survive the war mostly intact, but with 13 battle stars for her contributions to the fighting at Midway, Attu, and Okinawa, just to name a few.
Since World War II, flat-topped aircraft carriers have been the backbone of US power projection and military might at sea, but a new generation of long-range missiles being developed by the US’s adversaries could push these mechanical marvels off the frontlines.
The US’s massive aircraft carriers have a problem. The F-18s aboard US aircraft carriers have a range of about 500 nautical miles, as noted by Ben Ho Wan Beng at the US Naval Institute.
The incoming F-35Cs are expected to have a marginally better range of about 550 nautical miles.
Aircraft carriers, which have been the star of the show since their emergence during World War II, may therefore end up taking a back seat to smaller vessels.
The US Navy has long been working toward achieving “distributed lethality,” or a strategy that entails arming even the smallest ship with missiles capable of knocking out enemy defenses from far away. Engaging enemies with smaller ships also helps to keep extraordinarily valuable targets like carriers out of harm’s way.
So instead of putting a carrier in harm’s way, the Navy will most likely look to use longer-range platforms, like cruiser-destroyers that carry the Tomahawk land-attack cruise missile, which have a range of about 900 nautical miles.
In the end, a carrier strike group would no longer lead with the carrier.
Instead, destroyers firing Tomahawk missiles would initiate the attacks, softening up enemy anti-access/area-denial capabilities before the big carriers moved in closer to shore.
A Marine M1 Abrams in Fallujah, 10 Dec 2004 (USMC)
In July 2020, the Marine Corps’ three tank battalions began the process of deactivation as their M1 Abrams main battle tanks were hauled away. The 1st Tank Battalion at 29 Palms, 2nd Tank Battalion at Camp Lejeune and 4th Tank Battalion at Camp Pendleton are slated to be deactivated as part of an aggressive restructuring of the Corps called Force Design 2030. The plan calls for a more flexible force that can more effectively serve as the nation’s naval expeditionary force-in-readiness. The departure of the M1s marks the end of an era of Marine tankers.
Throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, tanks have played a key role in supporting the Marine Corps infantryman in the fight. Let’s take a look at some of the less famous tanks that were crewed by Devil Dogs. Please note that this list is about tanks. Marine vehicles like the M50 Ontos self-propelled gun and the LVT-5 amphibious armored fighting vehicle, which are not tanks, will not be included.
M1917s lined up for inspection in China (USMC)
1. M1917 Light Tank
Originally referred to as the “Six-ton Special Tractor”, the M1917 was America’s first mass-produced tank. Built under license as a near-copy of the French Renault FT-17, the tank was meant to accompany the American Expeditionary Force to France in WWI. However, production was not fast enough and the first tanks arrived in Europe just days before the armistice.
Armed with either a Browning .30-caliber machine gun or a French 37mm Puteaux one-pounder infantry cannon, the tanks were crewed by the Light Tank Platoon USMC out of Quantico. After extensive training with the tanks in the states, the platoon was sent to China for a tour of duty in 1927.
Officially assigned to protect the Peking-Tientsin railway, the Marine tankers saw no action in China. Instead, they performed limited maneuvers, went on good-will shows and publicity parades, and stood inspections. However, despite limited employment, the M1917 did set the foundation for the Marine Corps’ future amphibious armor doctrine that would be so crucial in the Pacific islands during WWII.
A Satan on Saipan (USMC)
2. M3A1 “Satan” Flame Tank
Japanese concrete bunkers proved to be imposing obstacles to Marines in the Pacific during WWII. Though flamethrowers were effective at neutralizing the bunkers, the short range of the weapon system meant that the operator had to get as close as possible to his target. As a result, the average life expectancy of a flamethrower operator on the battlefield was just five minutes.
Rather than expose Marines wearing what was essentially a bomb on their backs, the Corps began to experiment with the concept of flamethrowers mounted in armored vehicles in 1943. The first iteration saw the flamethrower mounted in the pistol port of an M3 Light Tank. However, this gave the flamethrower a limited field of fire and the weapon was placed in the bow turret instead.
Still based on the M3 Stuart Light Tank, the Satan was one of the first flamethrower tanks in the Marine Corps arsenal. With the flamethrower in the bow turret, the gunner held the fuel tanks between his knees. While it wasn’t exactly a comfort to have such a volatile piece of equipment in such a sensitive area, the operator was at least behind the armor of a tank, albeit light. Satan Flame Tanks saw action with the Marine Corps on Saipan and Tinian.
A ramped up M48 Patton tank in Vietnam (Jack Butcher)
3. Artillery Tanks
Improvise, adapt and overcome; Marines make do. The hard-chargers of the United States Marine Corps are famed for their ability to create clever solutions to otherwise impossible problems on the battlefield, and the tankers are no exception. In Korea and Vietnam, when dedicated indirect fire assets like mortars or artillery guns weren’t available, Marines moved earth and ramped their tanks up to rain fire down on their enemies.
The tanks were driven into the ramped pits on a sharp incline and their guns were raised so that they could fire longer distances between enemy lines. Of course, this method of fire delivery wasn’t terribly accurate. Rather, the tank artillery was used more fore area effect harassing fire. Still, the unconventional use of equipment by the Marines highlights their ingenuity.
That is a point that those who lament the loss of Marine Corps tanks can hold on to. Impressive as they are, the tanks are just equipment. The warfighter, the Marine, is the true lethal tool that makes America’s enemies reconsider a violent course of action. Tanks or no tanks, no one in their right mind wants to be in a fight with a United States Marine.
The Vietnam war gave us a lot of things: Zippos, M16s and the list goes on. Before it popped off, there hadn’t been a war like it; it was highly televised, deeply protested and involved heavy use of special operations units. From this war came tons of stories of heroism and courage in the face of extreme danger. One such story that stands out from the rest is that of U.S. Army Captain William Albracht.
Albracht graduated from Alleman Catholic High School in Illinois in 1966 and found himself in Vietnam just three years later. He wasn’t just a Green Beret captain, he was the youngest Green Beret captain in the entire country. He took command of a hilltop outpost known as Firebase Kate with a total of 27 American Soldiers and 156 Montagnard militiamen. This is where Captain Albracht earned his place in history and solidified his status as an American badass.
This is the story of the youngest Green Beret captain in Vietnam:
Landing Zone Kate, also referred to as Firebase White, was built in 1969 on a hilltop northwest of Quang Dug Province in Southern Vietnam. It was near the Cambodian border. It was also the first command for Captain Albracht, who was just 21 at the time.
The young captain saw the hilltop location as problematic, primarily because the North Vietnamese Army controlled the nearby road and could freely fire from Cambodia. To make matters worse, supplying the base was also a very tricky.
Supplies & discipline
Since the NVA controlled the road, supplies and personnel for LZ Kate could only be delivered via helicopter. Despite each delivery being protected by a wide range of aircraft, Captain Albracht felt it wasn’t enough support for their location.
On top of that, Sergeant Daniel Pierelli arrived ahead of Captain Albracht to find the troops located there playing volleyball and lounging around instead of preparing to defend the place. He and Captain Albracht made sure to address this before increasing patrols in an effort to gain more intelligence on the NVA. Unfortunately, fate had other plans.
Siege at LZ Kate
On the morning of October 29th, the NVA launched the first assault on the Firebase, outnumbering the defenders 40 to 1. For the next few days, the men there sustained heavy casualties from small-arms gunfire, mortars, rockets, and artillery.
The wounded included Captain Albracht, who sustained a shrapnel wound in his arm on October 29th while he directed a medevac helicopter. He was given the opportunity to leave, but instead decided to stay at Kate and continue to lead his men.
A great escape
Supplies dwindled fast, and the situation wasn’t getting any better. Eventually, on November 1st, Captain Albracht realized Kate could not be saved and decided they needed to escape. They destroyed their gun tubes, artillery ammo, and anything that could be considered intelligence before slipping away.
He, along with around 150 men, eventually arrived at another Special Forces camp, only losing one American soldier in the jungle. In the early hours of November 2nd, they linked up with SF Mike Force, their closest allies. To do so, Captain Albracht had to cross an open field three times, putting himself at risk of being spotted by the enemy, to ensure the safety of his men.
Due to his heroics, the men safely escaped.
Captain William Albracht
For his service and actions during the war, he earned three Silver Stars, three Purple Hearts, and five Bronze Stars. After the war, he continued serving his country in the Secret Service, guarding five presidents during his time. He then went on to manage security for the Ford Motor Company.
He returned home to Illinois in 2005 and, in 2012, he ran for Senator for Illinois’ 36th district. He co-wrote the book, Abandoned in Hell: The Fight for Vietnam’s Firebase Kate, and his story is featured in a documentary entitled Escape from Firebase Kate.
It’s not bravado, it’s not some Hollywood publicity stunt, and it sure as hell isn’t special effects. Arnold Schwarzenegger not only owns a tank, he knows how to drive it and operate it in every possible way. It wouldn’t have done him much good in the Army if he didn’t know how to use its weapons. But the tank he has is a special one – to him, anyway.
The Terminator’s tank is the same one he used to learn his tank skills while serving in the Austrian Army.
Schwarzenegger (left, duh) in his Army days.
Austria is one of few countries in Europe to have mandatory civil or military service upon graduating from high school at age 18. A young Arnold Schwarzenegger, never one to shirk his duties, did what he had to do. He joined up and became a tanker in the Austrian National Army in 1965. His tank is a 1951 M-47 Patton tank, designed for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps to take the place of the Pershing tank in the early days of the Cold War.
He’s owned his tank since 1991, paying ,000 to have it shipped from Austria.
The 50-ton behemoth uses a V-12 Chrysler twin turbo gas engine and cranks out 810 horsepower for a max speed of 30 miles per hour and a whopping 2.3 miles per gallon. But Schwarzenegger doesn’t use it to get around the streets of Southern California.
He uses it to keep kids in school.
Disadvantaged or at-risk students come to Schwarzenegger’s home to check out the tank and have fun with him in a series of after-school programs. The ones who stay in school get to drive the tank. With Arnold. And maybe even driving it over a few cars.
He even put a day in the tank up as an Omaze reward, offering donors to The After-School All-Stars Program the chance to crush stuff and “blow sh*t up” with him. Before that, the tank was housed at the Motts Military Museum in Ohio. In 2008, the then-Governor of California decided his role would soon include driving over a few jalopies to support youth enrollment. The program has been ongoing ever since.
Staff non-commissioned officers (SNCOs), particularly staff sergeants, are known to have a bite worse than their bark. In the military, it is necessary to have someone who can be the hammer when it calls for it. The good ones bring balance by reward and punishment to incentivize mission accomplishment. However, there are some SNCOs who are all stick and no carrot. At a time when the military retention rate exceeds expectations, it is more important now than ever to keep leaders who want to lead and phase out those that don’t.
Here are four of the best signs that we can think of that your Staff NCO has drifted into the latter:
They’re always angry
Staff Sergeant is on the warpath, again. For some reason, SNCOs are always angry. Maybe it’s all the years of seeing preventable dumb sh*t. They tend to ease up when they’ve been promoted to gunny or higher. Maybe it’s the pay jump from E6 to E7 or the change of role to company gunnery sergeant, where it’s more logistical than tactical. If your E6 gets promoted to E7 and is still a grouch, it’s time for them to start thinking about retirement.
They forgot where they came from
This is one of my biggest pet peeves. It always rubbed me the wrong way when a SNCO is committed to NJPing (Non-Judicial Punishment) a Marine for a mistake I well know they themselves have made. They took advantage of the ‘boys will be boys’ when they were young to get out of trouble but will crucify the lower enlisted at any chance. When a SNCO or officer gets in trouble, the whole command protects their own. It gets swept under the rug. Their platoons may not know the truth, but everyone at Battalion does.
When I was in operations, everyone’s records were at my fingertips. As the scheduling NCO, I had to know your record to decide what training to send you to next between major ops. I saw that they have plenty of dirt on them, too. So, when a SNCO is battling to destroy another troop’s career but that SNCO has no problem utilizing the ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ network to protect themselves, they need to GTFO.
They stay late at work on purpose
They won’t dismiss their troops, even when their counterparts in other platoons have already gone home. Just because they do not want to spend time with their family, that doesn’t mean the corporal with a brand new baby doesn’t want to spend time with his. These types of SNCOs maxed out their leave days. For some reason, they believe it’s a good thing and brag. It’s not. Go fishing or kick rocks, go relax.
It’s been over 25+ years
When your SNCO has been around since before Osama Bin Laden was on the run, it’s time to get out. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but still. Any SNCO that has been in longer than 25+ years that is angry all the time, exists only to punish and not train. They choose to be around the most amount of time possible to spread negativity, and anyone with that mentality has to go. The military is supposed to be a meritocracy, where leaders are supposed to inspire the troops and use their experience to lead the next generation of warfighters.
A SNCO exists to provide expertise and guidance to officers and facilitate training amongst the lower ranks. They’re the logistical side of the enlisted chevron to reduce bureaucracy and keep our military lethal. If a Staff Non-Commissioned Officer has lost sight of the mission over the course of 20+ years, it’s time to lead, follow, or get out of the way.
Vigilance Elite just released footage from a training session with Reeves for John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, and you can see that he’s training like an operator, not just an actor. In the video below, trainer and former Navy SEAL Shawn Ryan walks Reeves through room clearing with a rifle — in particular, negotiating the “fatal funnel.”
This kind of dedicated training is just one reason why Reeves is highly respected and his films are so fun. Check out the video for a bit of Reeves-worship…but stay for the refresher in case you ever get into a sh*t sandwich.
Keanu Reeves Tactical Training for John Wick 3 with Vigilance Elite .MP4
“My character’s always in shit sandwiches,” jokes Reeves.
Reeves maintains a professional, respectful demeanor throughout the process, which is exactly the kind of attitude that bridges the divide between military and civilian audiences. Reeves is believable as an assassin because he puts in the work to understand weapons and tactics; military audiences can spot a phony a mile away and it ruins the cinematic experience.
During the Civil War, the Medal of Honor didn’t carry the same weight it does among US troops these days. When it was first conceived in 1861, American troops getting medals for any reason was a new thing, even if it was for “personal valor.” More than 1,500 were awarded throughout the war. By 1917, however, the Medal of Honor achieved the status it was intended to carry in the first place, and 910 of those were rescinded to officially elevate the award. Since then, individual medals have been awarded, often long after the action for which they were won.
That’s how Alonzo Cushing was awarded his Medal of Honor for bravery before the enemy at the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg. It was presented to him by President Obama in 2014.
Every photo of Cushing looks like he is ready to personally end some Confederate lives.
Major Alonzo Cushing was a Union artillery officer who graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point just a few short weeks after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter. By the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, Cushing was still a lieutenant in experience, but earned the rank of brevet major for his role at the recent Battle of Chancellorsville, in Virginia. The heavy toll the Union took during that battle must have weighed heavily on Cushing because he gave no ground to the enemy as long as he could still stand. He was also a veteran of Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. By then, he knew how important his role was.
On the last day of the three-day Battle of Gettysburg, the artillery battery commander was wounded three separate times. First, shrapnel from an exploding shell tore through his shoulder. This was not enough to deter Cushing. Even after his second wound, which cut through his lower abdomen and literally spilled his guts, he stayed at his post, holding them in. It was the third injury that would silence him forever. He was ordered to fall to the rear. Instead, he ordered his guns to move closer and moved with them.
The Gettysburg Cyclorama, 1883.
(Paul Dominique Philippoteaux)
Cushing defied orders to abandon his position on Cemetery Ridge at the critical point in the battle. The massive bombardment of Cemetery Ridge that cut into Alonzo Cushing preceded a full frontal infantry assault that came to be known as “Pickett’s Charge.” The Confederate attack on the Union position at Cemetery Ridge was as close as the Confederate Army would ever get to defeating the Union, losing more than half the men who made the charge.
Also killed was Brevet Maj. Cushing. Because of his previous wounds, Cushing could no longer yell loud enough to be heard by the men under his command. His First Sergeant literally picked him up and repeated his orders to the men. As he gave orders, the 22-year-old Cushing was hit in the mouth by an enemy bullet and was killed. His gallantry in combat earned him the permanent rank of Lt. Col. and a burial at his beloved West Point’s cemetery.
If looks could kill, Cushing’s is an 1841 Howitzer.
Just as Cushing’s First Sergeant wrote to his family about his bravery in battle, the Wisconsin native became the subject of a letter-writing campaign more than 100-plus years later. Residents of Wisconsin were more concerned with recognizing one of their favorite sons for his valor. It wasn’t until 2014 that Congress was finally able to act and the President was able to concur.
“His part of our larger American story — one that continues today,” the President said. “The spirit, the courage, the determination that he demonstrated lives on in our brave men and women in uniform who this very day are serving and making sure that they are defending the freedoms that Alonzo helped to preserve. And it’s incumbent on all of us as Americans to uphold the values that they fight for, and to continue to honor their service long after they leave the battlefield – for decades, even centuries to come.”
President Barack Obama awards the Medal of Honor to 1st Lt. Alonzo H. Cushing for his gallantry during combat at Gettysburg July 3, 1863. Receiving the medal at the White House ceremony, Nov. 6, 2014, is Helen Loring Ensign, Cushing’s first cousin, twice removed.
Accepting Cushing’s Medal of Honor was a distant first cousin of the young officer. Also present was Secretary of the Army John M. McHugh and 94-year-old historian Margaret Zerwekh. It was Zerwekh’s constant lobbying that made Cushing’s award a reality.
At 151 years, it was the longest wait of any Medal of Honor Recipient to receive the award.
As a Kurdish refugee from Iraq in the 1980s, his family luckily made their way into Norway to escape the horrors inflicted by Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime.
After growing up and joining theNorwegian Armed Forces, the soldier, now in his early 30s,served in an elite mechanized-infantry unit and eventually completed a tour in Afghanistan.
However, it wasn’t until August 2014, when ISIS took control of Sinjar, Iraq, that Mike decided to join the Peshmerga — Iraqi-Kurdistan’s independent military force.
It was at Sinjar that stories of ISIS’ atrocities — from the execution of 5,000 Yazidi men, to the systematic raping and selling of women and children — first broke out in major news headlines.
“It did an impression on me,” Mike told Business Insider. “What was worse, though, was the lack of action from the world community, including my own government. I decided that I couldn’t sit idly by and watch these horrors unfold.”
Now, returning to the same country his parents escaped from decades ago, he fights the ISIS militia under the Peshmerga flag and motto: “Those who face death.”
But getting started wasn’t as easy as picking up a rifle and starting to shoot. Many of the Peshmerga fighters weren’t properly trained for combat – after coming straight from civilian life, the locals are typically issued a set of uniforms and a rifle before being told to man the front.
Teaching these fighters basic infantry skills, Mike and several other volunteers from Canada, the UK, Norway, and Australia have tried to instill whatever talents they’ve learned in their respective fields, such as medical training.
However, it’s not merely enough to believe in the Kurdish cause, or to have a particular set of skills, to join the Peshmerga. Due to several reasons, including pressure from several countries, Mike has been unwilling to assist those who want to join his cause.
“It would look bad if America’s veterans are the ones doing all the fighting on the ground, while US forces themselves are reluctant to send their own troops,” he stated. “Those who do successfully end up in Iraq are typically placed in inactive fronts, out of harm’s way, until they’re bored out of their minds and leave the country broke and disappointed.”
In the rare case that a soldier exhibits exceptional knowledge or skill, he offered an exception. “There are some good volunteers down here that are allowed to stay at active fronts, and in some rare cases, allowed to take part in offensive operations as well.”
The challenges don’t end there. As a volunteer in an all-volunteer unit, he receives no salary from the Kurdish or Iraqi government — instead, he relies solely on the donations from his followers on social media to finance his weapons and ammunition.
“I have great supporters and I’m able to buy gear, food, and fuel to my unit in addition to financing my stay here,” he described. “We have little support from the government and barely and logistics, but [we somehow make it through].”
His favorite weapon happens to be an old MG-42 machine gun that dates back to World War II; however, when it breaks down, which happens often, he resorts to his tried-and-true M-16. Interestingly, his first Advanced Combat Optical Gunsights (ACOG) scope on his rifle turned out of be a useless fake — with the help of his supporters, he has since replaced it with a functioning unit.
Considering the cost of his fight — $100 buys him 120 rounds for his rifle, while $65 buys him 50 bullets for his pistol — when his financial situation becomes dire, he relies on ammunition and heavy weapons taken from dead ISIS fighters.
Unbeknownst to many outside of Iraq, his supporter-financed work seems to be making a direct difference on the front lines.
One example of this included successfully driving back a major ISIS offensive near a dam in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city. After receiving intelligence that the jihadists were launching an attack at a friendly unit’s location, Mike and his unit decided to make the drive during the night to reinforce the local Peshmerga forces. Sure enough, in the early hours of the morning, ISIS militants came storming in at a full force.
“We fought for 8 hours straight and lost one man … but we fought them off and killed dozens or so,” explained Mike. “We were later told that ISIS would have probably broken through the lines if [we hadn’t been there].”
Like many wars, Mike has had his share of harrowing moments as well. Mike described the terrifying battle he experienced when ISIS launched one of their deadliest offensives in a year — the same battle that took the life of US Navy SEAL Charles Keating IV.
The fight was later described by the US-led Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) as “a big fight, one of the largest we’ve seen recently.”
“[ISIS was] able to break through the lines and seize a nearby town when panic broke out amongst some of the local forces. The units guarding our right flank abandoned their posts and tried to [convince] my unit into fleeing [with them] …”
“In a desperate [move] to make them return to their posts, I decided to run over to man one of their fortified positions by myself. To my disappointment, I ended up running several hundred meters to the position all alone … I stayed at that position for nearly 20 minutes and watched ISIS breaking through the lines with 50 vehicles and several hundred men.”
“I was expecting them to work their way down the line toward me and that I would have to face them alone — that was definitely not a good feeling. Luckily, reinforcements arrived [shortly afterward] and we were able to stop their advance at that fortified position.”
Other than the sporadic mortar fire and ISIS’ skirmishes, the biggest challenge for Mike and his unit seems to stem not from his unit’s equipment deficiencies or ISIS’ fighting capabilities, but from the bureaucratic red tape that surrounds his area of operations.
He explained to Business Insider that there existed a stalemate at the front, as his unit could only advance through a few villages and towns at a time before having to wait for the Iraqi Army to reinforce his position. During such down times, he says he resorts to killing time on his phone.
Mike’s deployments are typically three months long, down from his first six-month deployment. “[That first deployment] took a toll on me, both mentally and physically. I learned my lesson after that.”
After a rotation, he spends about a month of time back in Europe, primarily with his girlfriend, who is also frequently mentioned on his Instagram account.
“I can deal with the poor living condition, the lack of food and sleep, the constant threat from the enemy, but being away from my girlfriend for months at a time is definitely the biggest challenge,” Mike said.
But it’s not only his girlfriend that shares his concern.
“My whole family [is] aware that I’m volunteering … they’re not too fond of it. They’ve tried to talk me out of it several times, but my mind is set — I’m not coming home until Mosul is liberated.”
As far as goals go, the city of Mosul is where Mike and CJTF have their sights set. As one of the few ISIS strongholds that remain in Iraq, many months have been spent on formulating a plan to not only liberate the city from ISIS’ hands, but to prevent the jihadists from returning again.
“Taking part in the Mosul operation [has] been my goal since 2014 — but to be honest, I thought we would have taken it back by the end of last year,” he explained. “The fall of Ramadi postponed the operation, but I haven’t lost sight of my goal. Mosul has turned out to be my white whale.”
Although military officials have estimated that Mosul will be liberated by the end of the year, the future of the city remains uncertain. Sleeper cells in previously liberated cities still exist as a confirmed threat, and the likelihood of continuing sectarianism in Iraq poses a risk of alienating one of many groups in the region.
What’s also uncertain is Mike’s future once ISIS is ousted from the city.
“I would ideally [like to go] back to my old Army unit, but I’ve lost my security clearance due to my service with the Peshmerga,” he explained. “I’ll never be allowed to join the Norwegian Armed Forces again, but I’m sure I’ll do alright somehow.”
Until then, Mike continues to remain with his Peshmerga unit on the front lines, committed to ISIS’ ouster. He concluded the interview by offering a strong message against ISIS’ forces:
“Your mortar and rocket [attacks aren’t] impressing anyone,” Mike made clear. “Step up your game and come attack us head-on — you know where to find us.”
You can keep up with Mike’s travels on his Instagram account.