When you think of “midget submarines” in the context of World War II, Japan’s spring to mind. It makes sense seeing as they played a role in the attack on Pearl Harbor — in fact, one such submarine was found beached near Oahu, exhumed, and then taken on tour to help the U.S. sell war bonds. But Germany and Italy also deployed midget submarines during the Second World War.
None of these subs racked up the huge kill counts of their full-sized counterparts. One of the big reasons for that was that these submarines just didn’t have a lot of speed (one of Germany’s most successful mini-subs could reach a top surface speed of seven knots). They also lacked endurance. That said, midget submarines came with a number of advantages: They were hard to locate, harder to kill, and didn’t require much in the way of materials, personnel, or fuel.
Captured German Seehund midget submarines lined up.
(British Ministry of Defense)
Germany’s most successful midget submarine was the Seehund, which had a blistering top speed of three knots while submerged. It could go about 300 miles and carried two torpedoes. This sub managed to sink a freighter off the coast of Great Yarmouth, but it rarely saw action — less than half of the 285 built saw active service.
Italy, on the other hand, can lay claim to some serious bragging rights for pulling off what was perhaps the most successful midget submarine attack of World War II. On December 18, 1941, three human torpedoes, essentially primitive versions of today’s swimmer delivery vehicles, infiltrated the British naval base in Alexandria, Egypt.
A human torpedo, similar to that used in the December 18, 1941 raid on Alexandria that damaged four Allied ships.
(Photo by Myrabella)
Italian frogmen, under the command of Luigi Durand de la Penne, used the human torpedoes to place mines on the battleships HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Valiant, as well as a British destroyer and a Norwegian tanker. The two battleships were damaged badly — enough to keep them out of action for months. De la Penne later has honored by the Italian Navy who named a destroyer after him.
Learn more about the German and Italian midget subs in the video below!
In January 2015, Logos announced that the company was issued a second grant to develop a prototype in partnership with Alta. The Logos-Alta team named their concept dirt bike SilentHawk and plan to have an operational prototype in 18 months. Here’s a concept rendering of what it looks like:
According to War Is Boring, the SilentHawk runs on a hybrid-electric drone engine and can use three different fuels – gasoline, diesel, and JP-8, a type of jet fuel. Since the combustion side isn’t silent, operators will have to switch to the electric battery when they want to be stealthy.
DARPA has been interested in silenced motorcycles as stealthy, quick, insertion and extraction vehicles for quite some time. According to Defense Industry Daily, Air Force teams have been shoving dirt bikes out of planes since 2010, and the Marine Corps has been training troops on third party vendors since 2012.
Zero Motorcycles toyed with the idea and developed the Zero MMX, but it didn’t work out. DARPA pulled their funding because the battery only lasted two hours.
U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command will begin a second round of testing in 2019 on a two-piece organizational clothing variant that offers flame resistance and moves the Navy one step closer to delivering sailors a safe, comfortable, no-cost alternative to the Improved Flame Resistant Variant (IFRV) coveralls, with the same travel flexibility as the Type III working uniform.
USFF conducted the initial wear test on two-piece variants from May through September of 2018 and collected feedback from nearly 200 wear-test participants across surface, aviation, and submarine communities about everything from colors and design, to comfort and options like buttons and hook-and-loop fasteners. The command also received feedback from more than 1,700 sailors in an online survey about colors and design.
An information graphic describing the modernized, two-piece, flame-resistant organizational clothing wear-test design components for sailors.
(U.S. photo illustration by Bobbie A. Camp)
Fleet survey responses indicated that sailors liked the functionality of the Type III but would like to see the design in traditional Navy uniform colors. More than 70 percent of E-6 and junior sailors surveyed liked the navy blue blouse and trouser while a khaki version was the preference for chiefs and officers.
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anthony Flynn, assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), demonstrates the operational de-blousing capability of the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
“Leaders are listening to the fleet when it comes to this design,” said USFF Fleet Master Chief Rick O’Rawe, a wear-test participant. “We have an obligation to keep our sailors safe in inherently dangerous environments, but we also want to be mindful of their time. This is going to be something that’s safe, easy to maintain, and doesn’t require half-masting of coveralls when it’s hot or having to change clothes every time you leave the ship. Never again should we have to pass the words ‘all hands shift into the uniform for entering port or getting underway.'”
Lt. Jamie Seibel, assigned to U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command, demonstrates the operational wearability of the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype (khaki variant) aboard the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG-72).
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
The updated design, which won’t require sailors to sew on components, will be tested by 100 officers and enlisted sailors to see how well it performs from wash-to-wear without ironing, and how it holds up to laundering. The two-piece variant will allow for de-blousing in extreme climates and challenging work environments. An undershirt will continue to be tested with a flame-resistant, moisture-wicking fabric in black.
A sailor assigned to the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Truxtun (DDG 103) demonstrates the operational wearability of the black Gortex parka and the flame-resistant, two-piece organizational clothing prototype navy blue variant.
(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stacy M. Atkins Ricks)
I have received so much feedback just from wearing the two-piece around the command every day,” said Yeoman 1st Class Kelly Pyron, a wear-test participant assigned to USFF. “The best part is that we’ll be able to transit from the ship and run errands in the two-piece; having one standard underway and in-port across the board will be much more convenient. I am excited to see the wear test moving into the next phase of evaluation.”
Once approved, the new prototype will serve as an alternative to the IFRV coverall for operational commands. The coverall may continue to be the prescribed clothing item for some sailors in applicable work environments.
Pyron expressed, “If a clothing item, that I will not have to buy, can make my life easier while keeping me safe, I’m all for it.”
If you look at the enlisted ranking system put in place by every branch of the United States Armed Forces, everything makes a good deal of sense. You start at the bottom — generally at E-1, but there are ways to get in at a higher pay grade — and work your way up to a certain point where you become an NCO. Officers have their own linear path, starting at O-1, and warrant officers are half way between the two.
But the Army has its very own conundrum with the E-4 ranks. Years ago, the hierarchy of ranks looked a little different: it went private first class, then corporal, then sergeant. Today, both specialist (the highest junior enlisted rank) and corporal (the lowest NCO rank) share the same pay grade. This means that, in a sense, being a specialist is just like being a corporal — only without the NCO benefits.
To understand the specialist rank we know it today, you’ll have to look back at the Army’s long-gone specialist ranks.
The same insignia that would later be used for private first class.
(U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Felicia Jagdatt)
In 1920, there was a consolidation that distilled 128 different rank insignia and titles into just seven. The results of this consolidation left us with something similar to what we use today — with a few key differences.
Since warfare involves much more than just general “infantrymen,” there was a need to identify the support soldiers, those who were specialists in their given field of expertise. Back then, it was assumed that all 5th-grade soldiers (corporals) fully understood what their job entails, but there needed to be a way to offer a little incentive to a privates to become known as a “private/specialist,” which was the name of the MOS at the time. That incentive came in the form of bonus pay — despite being paid more, a private/specialist was still officially of lower rank than a private first class.
The insignia of the private/specialist was a single chevron with a single rocker.
Think of the difference like today’s version of a master sergeant and a first sergeant. Same pay grade, same respect, but two very different positions and mentalities.
(U.S. Army Reserve photo by Master Sgt. Michel Sauret)
The next major overhaul came in 1942 when a need arose to differentiate between those who earned their rank because of how good they were at their job and those who earned it because of leadership abilities. And so the “technician” ranks were created, ranging from technician fifth grade (or “tech/5”) up to technician third grade (or “tech/3”).
They were distinguished from their peers by placing a ‘T’ under their chevrons. For all practical purposes, a technician third grade and a staff sergeant were on equal footing — same pay and same respect — but the staff sergeant was in a leadership position while the tech/3 was more of an instructor.
The joke used back then was “the NCOs may have been the backbone of the Army, but the specialists were the brains.”
The final shakeup came in 1955 when these two previous iterations of separating specialists in their given field from general leadership culminated an entirely new ranking system — the specialists. This took the original insignia of the 1920s private/specialist, inverted it, and added the Army Eagle to it. Promotions within the specialists meant adding another rocker to the top instead of a chevron.
A young private could prove themselves ready to enter the non-commissioned officers as a corporal — or they could focus on their MOS as a specialist. Between the years 1959 and 1968, it was entirely possible to make it all the way to E-9 as a specialist. Throughout the years, the highest achievable rank dwindled down and down until 1985, when only the Spec/4 remained.
Since all other grades of specialists were obsolete, the rank is now just called “specialist.” In essence, the rank holds the same meaning as it did in the 1920s — except now it’s more of a holdover rank before most E-4s make sergeant.
In July 1863, Confederate General Robert E. Lee hatched an audacious plan to invade the North, defeat the Union Army, and force an end to the war – with a Confederate victory. Everything – perhaps the entire Civil War – depended on the outcome at Gettysburg.
So maybe Lee should have stayed home to recover from his heart attack.
A study from the National Institute of Health’s Center for Biotechnology Information reviewed the general’s medical history in 1992. Despite his relatively good medical condition from 1864 to 1867, by the end of the decade, he suffered from exertional (stable) angina – chest pain from blocked arteries caused by activity. By 1870, his angina became unstable and he died at age 63.
“It often was stated that the loss of the war broke the heart of Lee, but in view of our modern day understanding, it probably is more accurate to say that advancing coronary atherosclerosis was the culprit,” the NIH said.
Harvard studies show the cardiac impact of six major risk factors: high total cholesterol, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and smoking. Anyone with two or more of these factors has a 69 percent chance of developing a cardiovascular disease – and 11 fewer years of life.
Lee had been suffering from what his doctors diagnosed as pericarditis since March 1863, which had a sudden onset and came with pain in his chest, back, and arms. It affected his ability to ride a horse and he was known to be anxious and depressed in the days and years after, both common conditions after heart attacks.
“It came on in paroxysms, was quite sharp,” he wrote. Doctors look at “my lungs, my heart, circulation, etc. and I believe they pronounced me tolerable sound.”
Pericarditis is an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart but the NIH study refutes that diagnosis because American doctors were unfamiliar with the idea of angina. The researchers proposed instead that Lee suffered from ischemic heart disease, which would keep blood and oxygen from getting to the muscles of the heart.
His heart disease may have affected his judgement in all areas of life, which would explain some of the inexplicable and uncharacteristic decisions he ordered that day, namely Pickett’s Charge.
Lee’s March 1863 episode was a heart attack, not Pericarditis. As the NIH diagnosis says, the loss at Gettysburg didn’t break Lee’s heart, it was broken when he got there.
If you listen to Francis Currey describe his life, he’ll tell you he’s an average man. Never mind that he’s been featured on a U.S. postage stamp and was a model for one of the most famous dolls in history — G.I. Joe.
Despite his protests, Currey is a genuine hero.
Awarded three Purple Hearts, he is also New York State’s only living Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, but he views those medals and the ensuing accolades with modesty.
“I got it, that’s all,” Currey once said of his Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor that he received in 1945.
Maybe not, but the five men Currey saved on Dec. 21, 1944, thought differently.
Currey was a 19-year-old Army sergeant when his platoon of 30 men was assigned to defend Malmedy, a small town in Belgium. His team had very few weapons, and most were small arms that had little effect on the German tanks. After prolonged fighting, his group was forced to withdraw to a nearby factory.
There, Currey found a bazooka and crossed the street to secure rockets, meanwhile enduring intense fire from enemy tanks and hostile infantrymen who had taken up a position at a house a short distance away. In the face of small arms, machine gun, and artillery fire, he knocked out a tank with one shot. Moving to another position, he observed three Germans in the doorway of an enemy-held house. He killed or wounded all of them with his automatic rifle.
Currey emerged from cover and advanced alone to within 50 yards of the house, intent on wrecking it with rockets from his bazooka. Covered by friendly fire, he stood erect and fired a shot which knocked down half of one wall. While in this forward position, he observed five Americans who had been pinned down for hours by fire from the house and three tanks.
Realizing that they could not escape until the enemy tank and infantry guns had been silenced, Currey crossed the street to a vehicle, where he procured an armful of antitank grenades. These he launched while under heavy enemy fire, driving the tankmen from the vehicles into the house. He then climbed onto a half-track truck in full view of the Germans and fired a machine gun at the house.
Once again changing his position, he manned another machine gun whose crew had been killed; under his covering fire, the five soldiers were able to retire to safety.
Deprived of tanks and with heavy infantry casualties, the Germans were forced to withdraw.
Through his extensive knowledge of weapons and by his heroic and repeated braving of murderous enemy fire, Currey was greatly responsible for inflicting heavy losses in men and material on the enemy, for rescuing his comrades — two of whom were wounded — and for stemming an attack which threatened his unit’s position.
Currey’s actions are credited with shortening the war by at least six weeks and saving countless American lives, because if the Germans had broken through that day, they would have gained a huge advantage.
For his bravery, Currey was awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony, Aug. 17, 1945, in Reims, France, with just over two weeks left before the end of the war. At the time, Currey was recovering from a wound that earned him his third Purple Heart — a gunshot he sustained while disarming a German soldier in Bavaria.
When the war in Europe ended, Currey became a counselor for veterans. He retired from the Department of Veterans Affairs in 1980 and currently lives in Albany County with his wife of more than 65 years, Wilma.
The Cold War was a prolonged state of tension between the U.S. and the USSR, lasting from the end of World War II until December 26, 1991, the day the Soviet Union fell. The two superpowers were rivals on all fronts: political, economic, military, athletics, and, of course, in myriad Hollywood storylines. But the world’s most iconic ideological struggle doesn’t have a medal to call its own.
American veterans of this era were prepared for a potentially catastrophic war at a moment’s notice. They patrolled the Berlin Wall, the Korean DMZ, the jungles of Vietnam, and flew long patrol missions around the Arctic Circle to deter Russian aggression. Despite no direct war between the U.S. and Russia, proxy wars in Korea and Vietnam served as battlefronts between capitalism and communism while Eastern Bloc and American troops did find themselves shooting at each other on occasion. This worldwide struggle went on every day for 46 years.
Traditionally, service medals are awarded for prolonged campaigns or for those who fulfilled specific service requirements. Two such current medals are the National Defense and Global War On Terror Service Medals. Those involved in the current campaign against ISIS were just authorized the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal for the two-year-old conflict in Iraq and Syria. Yet, When the Iron Curtain fell in 1991, American military veterans serving during this period received no authorized service medal, such as a Cold War Victory Medal or Cold War Service Medal. They are not authorized to wear the National Defense Service Medal, despite the high military tension during the time period.
There have been bills introduced in several separated Congresses to authorize a medal (the most recent being 2015 – that bill has been assigned to a committee) but none of them have made it very far. The reasons vary. The Cold War was not an actual “war” but a state of political conflict, according to a 2011 letter addressed to the Senate Armed Service Committee, written by then-Assistant Secretary of Defense for Legislative Affairs Elizabeth King. The letter also states that establishment of a Cold War Service Medal would duplicate recognition of service medals already authorized during the era.
Cost was also a factor according to King’s letter. The average cost of producing, administering, and mailing a Cold War Medal would be $30 per medal. The price would exceed $440 million for 35 million eligible personnel or their next of kin.
So instead of a medal, Cold War-era veterans can apply for a Cold War certificate. The certificate is available by request for all members of the armed forces and qualified federal government civilian personnel who honorably served the United States anytime during the Cold War, which is defined as September 2, 1945 to December 26, 1991. For those who served during gaps of “peace” and never in a declared combat zone or small-scale operation, this certificate is intended to recognize their service in the era.
Organizations like American Cold War Veterans and other groups have been fighting to authorize a medal for many years. There is a Cold War Medal, but it is not authorized for all and not even official for most of the military. The Cold War Victory Medal is an official medal of the National Guard in the states of Louisiana and Texas and in ribbon form only in Alaska. This medal serves as the unofficial medal for Cold War veterans, but cannot be worn on a military uniform. Since the Cold War Service Medal Act of 2015 has zero percent chance of being enacted (according to GovTrack), a Cold War medal will not soon be authorized.
Nicknamed the “Dragon Lady” and developed by Lockheed Martin, the U-2 spy plane was made famous in the 1960s when one was shot down conducting a reconnaissance mission over the Soviet Union.
Today, the surveillance jet continues its duty as it searches for threats in Afghanistan. Once the pilot detects a potential hazard to coalition forces, it locks onto the attacker’s location and sends the signal 7,000 miles away to Beale Air Force Base in California. Once the base receives the incoming traffic, the surveillance analysts decode the information and track the enemy movement.
As the analysts locate the threat, the surveillance team quickly intervenes and relays the vital information down to ground troops. With the highly sophisticated onboard radio system, the U-2 spy plane can then assist in choreographing with nearby fighter jets to initiate a strike tactic on enemy forces below before they manage to assault allied forces.
With its incredible versatility, the spy plane can conduct its mission from an altitude of 70,000 feet.
The naked eye can only see so far and it can’t track the really fast stuff. Radar makes up for that natural shortcoming and has become a necessity in warfare. In fact, it’s arguably the main reason that the British won the Battle of Britain.
Ever since the Battle of Britain, folks who wanted — or needed — to put bombs on target in enemy territory needed to disable enemy radar first. Blowing up enemy radar is no easy task as most military forces keep them well guarded. Thankfully, you don’t need to blow up the enemy radar — you just need to make sure it can’t see. During World War II, specialized units, like No. 100 Group of the Royal Air Force, flew a variety of planes modified with jammers with the sole purpose of disrupting radar.
A U.S. Navy EA-6B Prowler from the Electronic Attack Squadron-133 out of Woodby Island, Washington, takes off from Eielson Air Force Base (AFB), Alaska, in support of exercise Northern Edge 2002. (USAF photo)
After World War II, the United States military decided they needed two planes for the job: the EF-111 Raven and the EA-6B Prowler. The Prowler entered service in 1971, replacing the EKA-3B Skywarrior, which was better known as the “Whale.”
Although both the Raven and the Prowler were modified attack planes, the Prowler hardly resembled its original after modifications. The A-6 had a crew of two while the EA-6B Prowler had a crew of four. The Prowler carries up to five pods for the ALQ-99 electronic countermeasures system. The ALQ-99 carries out what is known as “soft kills” of enemy radars and missiles. A “soft kill” doesn’t do physical damage, but instead confuses targeted systems by sending false signals, jamming enemy systems with static, or even turning displays blank.
The EA-6B could also do the “hard-kill” work, using AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missiles. This plane is still in service today with the United States Marine Corps and ended a 44-years term with the United States Navy in 2015.
Once in a lifetime, there comes a motion picture which changes the whole history of motion pictures. A picture so stunning in its effect, so vast in its impact, that it profoundly affects the lives of all who see it. One such film is, yes, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. And while I lifted that copy (which was originally intended to be tongue-in-cheek) straight from the trailer, the film’s legacy has proven the trailer correct.
Even those who don’t think they’ve heard some of the most memorable lines from the movie likely have, whether they smell of elderberries or they’ve heard of the knights who say “ni.” Perhaps the most memorable scene, however, is the one where Arthur is forced to fight the Black Knight guarding a small footbridge, one who refuses to accept defeat.
The story that exposes all of the historical narratives and false legends about the chivalry and bravery of Medieval knights through vicious mockery turned history on its head even further in the encounter with the Black Knight. On the Wired podcast “Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy” Monty Python member John Cleese spoke about the inspiration for the Black Knight scene in a memory of his time at school, where he was taught by a two-time World War veteran.
“There was a lovely guy named ‘Jumper’ Gee who died at the age of 101, and who managed to fight in both World Wars—I never came across anyone else who did that. He was a good teacher of English and I liked him enormously, and he would go off on these wonderful excursions where they were nothing to do with the subject he was teaching, and he told this story about a wrestling match that had taken place in ancient Rome. … There was a particularly tough contest in progress, and one of the wrestlers, his arm broke—the difficulty of the embrace was so great that his arm broke under the pressure—and he submitted because of the appalling pain he was in. And the referee sort of disentangled them and said to the other guy, ‘You won,’ and the other guy was rather unresponsive, and the referee realized the other guy was dead. And this was an example to ‘Jumper’ Gee of the fact that if you didn’t give up you couldn’t lose, and I always thought this was a very dodgy conclusion…”
Pictured: The Eleans crowned and proclaimed victor the corpse of Arrhachion.
The story “Jumper” was trying to relate is that of Arrachion of Phigalia, an athlete in ancient Greece who was skilled at the pankration event. Pankration was an event similar to today’s Ultimate Fighting Championship, where the winner must force his opponent to submit, through some kind of brute force. Arrachion was fighting for the championship. One ancient historian described the hold that not only killed Arrachion but caused his opponent to submit to the then-deceased Arrachion’s own hold.
It seems Arrachion’s opponent choked the life from the great wrestler as Arrachion wrapped part of his body around his opponent’s foot. Arrachion yanked the man’s ankle from his leg as the undefeated wrestler died in his opponent’s chokehold, and his opponent was forced to tap out from the pain. Arrachion, now dead, remained undefeated.
He got a statue for his efforts, the stupid bastard.
At a little after two o’clock in the morning on Monday, January 19, 1942, an earthquake-like rumble tossed fifteen-year-old Gibb Gray from his bed. Furniture shook, glass and knickknacks rattled, and books fell from shelves as a thundering roar vibrated through the walls of the houses in Gibb’s Outer Banks village of Avon. Surprised and concerned, Gibb’s father rushed to the windows on the house’s east side and looked toward the ocean.
“There’s a fire out there!” he shouted to his family.
Clearly visible on the horizon, a great orange fireball had erupted. A towering column of black smoke blotted out the stars and further darkened the night sky.
Only seven miles away, a German U-boat had just torpedoed the 337-foot-long U.S. freighter, City of Atlanta, sinking the ship and killing all but three of the 47 men aboard. The same U-boat attacked two more ships just hours later.
Less than six weeks after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the hostilities of the Second World War had arrived on America’s East Coast and North Carolina’s beaches. This was not the first time that German U-boats had come to United States waters. During World War I, three U-boats sank ten ships off the Tar Heel coast in what primarily was considered a demonstration of German naval power. But by 1942, U-boats had become bigger, faster, and more deadly. Their presence in American waters was not intended for “show” but to help win World War II for Germany.
The abbreviated name “U-boat” comes from the German wordunterseeboot, meaning submarine or undersea boat. However, U-boats were not true submarines. They were warships that spent most of their time on the surface. They could submerge only for limited periods — mostly to attack or evade detection by enemy ships, and to avoid bad weather.
U-boats could only travel about sixty miles underwater before having to surface for fresh air. They often attacked ships while on the surface using deck-mounted guns. Typically, about 50 men operated a U-boat. The boats carried fifteen torpedoes, or self-propelled “bombs,” which ranged up to twenty-two feet long and could travel thirty miles per hour. Experts have described German U-boats as among the most effective and seaworthy warships ever designed.
Within hours of the U-boat attack near Avon, debris and oil began washing up on the beaches. This scene seemed to be repeated constantly. For the next six months, along the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, at least sixty-five different German U-boats attacked American and British merchant ships carrying vital supplies to the Allies in Europe — cargos of oil, gasoline, raw vegetables and citrus products, lumber and steel, aluminum for aircraft construction, rubber for tires, and cotton for clothing. By July of 1942, 397 ships had been sunk or damaged. More than 5,000 people had been killed.
The greatest concentration of U-boat attacks happened off North Carolina’s Outer Banks, where dozens of ships passed daily. So many ships were attacked that, in time, the waters near Cape Hatteras earned a nickname: “Torpedo Junction.” U.S. military and government authorities didn’t want people to worry, so news reports of enemy U-boats near the coast were classified, or held back from the public for national security reasons. For many years, most people had no idea how bad things really were. But families living on the Outer Banks knew—they were practically in the war.
“We’d hear these explosions most any time of the day or night and it would shake the houses and sometimes crack the walls,” remembered Blanche Jolliff, of Ocracoke village. Even though ships were being torpedoed by enemy U-boats almost every day, just a few miles away, coastal residents had no choice but to live as normally as possible.
“We sort of got used to hearing it,” Gibb Gray said. “The explosions were mostly in the distance, so we weren’t too scared. I remember we were walking to school one day, and the whole ground shook. We looked toward the ocean, just beyond the Cape Hatteras lighthouse, and there was another huge cloud of smoke. That was the oil tanker, Dixie Arrow.”
Some Outer Bankers came closer to the war than they would have preferred. Teenager Charles Stowe, of Hatteras, and his father were headed out to sea aboard their fishing boat one day when they nearly rammed a U-boat, which was rising to the surface directly in front of them. The elder Stowe’s eyesight was not very good. He told his son, who was steering their boat, to keep on going—he thought the vessel ahead was just another fishing boat.
“I said, ‘Dad, that is a German submarine!’ And it sure was,” Stowe recalled. “He finally listened to me, and we turned around and got out of there just in time.”
The war cut back on one favorite summer pastime for Outer Banks young people. “That summer we had to almost give up swimming in the ocean — it was just full of oil, you’d get it all over you,” Mrs. Ormond Fuller recalled of the oil spilled by torpedoed tankers.
Gibb Gray remembered the oil, too: “We’d step in it before we knew it, and we’d be five or six inches deep. We’d have to scrub our feet and legs with rags soaked in kerosene. It’s hard to get off, that oil.” It is estimated that 150 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea and on the beaches along the Outer Banks during 1942.
Some local residents thought Germans might try to sneak ashore. Others suspected strangers of being spies for the enemy.
“We were frightened to death. We locked our doors at night for the first time ever,” said Ocracoke’s Blanche Styron. Calvin O’Neal remembered strangers with unusual accents who stayed at an Ocracoke hotel during the war: “The rumor was they were spies, and the hotel owner’s daughter and I decided to be counterspies, and we tried our best to follow them around, but we never caught them doing anything suspicious.”
At Buxton, Maude White was the village postmistress and a secret coast watcher for the U.S. Navy. She was responsible for observing unusual activities and reporting them to the local Coast Guard. In 1942 one couple with German accents attracted attention by drawing maps and taking notes about the island. White became suspicious, and so did her daughter, who would follow the pair from a distance — riding her beach pony.
After being reported by White, the strangers were apprehended when they crossed Oregon Inlet on the ferry. Records fail to indicate whether or not the strangers really were spies, but White’s daughter became the inspiration for the heroine in author Nell Wise Wechter’s book Taffy of Torpedo Junction.
Slowly but surely, increased patrols by the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard, and planes of the Army Air Corps, began to prevent the U-boat attacks. Blimps from a station at Elizabeth City searched for U-boats from high above, while private yachts and sailboats with two-way radios were sent out into the ocean to patrol and harass German warships. The military set up top-secret submarine listening and tracking facilities at places like Ocracoke to detect passing U-boats.
Many people who lived along the coast during World War II remember having to turn off their house lights at night and having to put black tape over their car headlights, so that lights on shore would not help the Germans find their way in the darkness. Even so, the government did not order a general blackout until August 1942. By then, most of the attacks had ended.
On April 14, 1942, the first German U-boat fought by the American navy in U.S. waters was sunk sixteen miles southeast of Nags Head. Within the next couple of months, three more U-boats were sunk along the North Carolina coast: one by a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber, one by a U.S. Coast Guard patrol ship, and one by a U.S. Navy destroyer. North Carolina’s total of four sunken U-boats represents the most of any state.
By that July, the commander of Germany’s U-boats became discouraged. He redirected his remaining warships to the northern Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. Nevertheless, Germany considered its attacks against the United States a success, even if they failed to win the war. Gerhard Weinberg, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has since called the war zone off the U.S. coast in 1942 “the greatest single defeat ever suffered by American naval power.”
As the years have passed, most of the physical evidence of World War II U-boat encounters off North Carolina’s coast has vanished. Submerged off the state’s beaches are the remains of at least 60 ships and countless unexploded torpedoes, depth charges, and contact mines. Even today, small patches of blackened sand offer reminders of the massive oil spills of 1942. On Ocracoke Island and at Cape Hatteras, cemeteries contain the graves of six British sailors who perished in North Carolina’s waters.
In spite of those stats, most Americans don’t know about the time when war came so close.
Kevin P. Duffus is an author and documentary filmmaker specializing in North Carolina maritime history. He has lectured for the North Carolina Humanities Council on topics that included World War II along the state’s coast.
The Vietnam War went on for a long time, from 1955-1975. The war killed over 58,000 Americans and had a total death count of millions. For US soldiers, many of whom were drafted, one of the worst parts of the whole deal was that they knew their efforts were in vain. Why? No one likes to admit defeat, least of all America. At a certain point, it became clear the US couldn’t win the war.
Vietnam has never been an easy conversation
Talking about war has never been easy. Vietnam was the first war that was televised and reported on in real-time, so the public formed opinions as events unfolded. As anyone who’s spent time downrange can tell you, that’s not always a good thing. As the country navigated 20 years of war, the American people continued to feel its effects more and more. That’s no more true than in smaller communities like those in the West Virginian mountains.
The town of Wheeling, West Virginia’s population hovers just over 20,000 today. During the Vietnam Era, it was even smaller. The tight-knit community endured funeral after funeral of fallen Vietnam War soldiers. In late February 1967, Wheeling buried another one of their own, Marine Corporeal George Edward McRobbie. He was only 21 years old. By that time, two other Wheeling soldiers had already been laid to rest that year. And in 1967 alone, Wheeling lost 26 young men to the war.
West Virginians sure showed up in large mumbers for the Vietnam War
It wasn’t just Wheeling, either. More West Virginians served and fell in the Vietnam War per capita than any other state. In total, 36,578 West Virginians served, and most of them began as teenagers. Of those, 1,128 were killed. Throughout the 1960s in West Virginia, burying fathers, sons, husbands, and brothers was a common occurrence.
Among the West Virginians who served was a conscientious objector and medic Thomas W. Bennett from Morgantown. He was the only conscientious objector in the Vietnam War to earn the Medal of Honor.
In general, rural guys from West Virginia and even some women were ready to fight in the Vietnam War, draft, or no draft. Once in active combat, many of their assignments were things like walking points in the jungle, thanks to the fact that they already had experience tracking and with guns. This prior experience may be the key to understanding why West Virginia soldiers had such a high fatality rate per capita in the war. So many were put on the front lines in dangerous positions because they could handle it.
But the West Virginian youth eventually turned their backs on the war
As we all know, the news coverage of the war, particularly the brutal series of attacks by the North Vietnamese Tet Offensive, turned many citizens against the conflict. Unfortunately, the young soldiers often took the brunt of the criticism. By 1968, West Virginia high schoolers who had once been eager to serve their country no longer viewed the war as honorable and began to dread the potential of being drafted.
Regardless, the brave soldiers from West Virginia and throughout the country who served in Vietnam simply did what their country required of them.
It has nothing to do with oil-rig workers, but it has a lot to do with America’s biggest nuclear weapon; NASA has a plan to deflect asteroids that could end all life on earth. It starts with an enormous, experimental, developing launch vehicle and ends with a massive six-shooter of America’s largest nuclear weapons.
The “Cradle,” as it is called, is out to target any near-Earth object that might get too close. And the first test could come in 2029.
Behold the quintessential devil in these matters, the asteroid Apophis.
On Friday, Apr. 13, 2029, the 1,100-foot asteroid Apophis is going to pass just 19,000 miles away from the Earth. That may not seem very close, but in terms of space stuff, that’s a hair’s breadth away, uncomfortably close. Scientists are pretty sure it won’t hit Earth, but it will be close enough to knock out some satellites. What the close call does bring into question is this: what if there are other near-Earth objects out there that definitely will hit Earth?
That’s where NASA started wargaming with the cosmos. Assuming the asteroid has a mass of a million kilograms and was headed directly for Earth’s center mass, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration decided to figure out what it would take to deflect – not destroy – such a mass.
That’s where nukes come in to play, specifically these B83 nuclear weapons.
Anywhere from two to five years before the projected impact, NASA would send a probe to the asteroid’s surface to read the effects of a possible impact with the another object, test its possible trajectory, and determine the best method of rerouting the celestial projectile from Earth. When the best course of action was determined, the U.S. would launch a series of missiles aboard one of its spiffy new Ares V rockets. There would be three kinds: kinetic, nuclear and solar.
The solar option would be fired into the asteroid’s orbit with a parabolic collector membrane that would focus the sun’s energy onto the object, acting as a kind of thruster to disrupt its path or destroy it into smaller, less destructive versions of itself. The kinetic war head would have an inert warhead on it, and would be designed to literally push the object away using force. The nuclear option would send the largest warhead America has, a 1.2 megaton device in a B83 warhead that can produce a mushroom cloud taller than Mount Everest. They would be detonated close to the object but not right on it or into it.
The idea is to turn its surface into an expanding plasma to generate a force to deflect the asteroid.
There’s the boom.
The reason NASA can’t just outright destroy a near-Earth object was the discussion of a report from NASA and was explored in the early stages of developing this planetary defense.
“The Hollywood scenario solution of shooting several intercontinental ballistic missiles at the incoming rock is fraught with danger. It probably would not be sufficient to prevent impact, raising the additional hazard of radioactive materials from the blast being introduced into the atmosphere,” the report reads.
Hence, the plan is to give it a little push instead.