Atlantic convoy operations could be terrifying for any Merchant Mariners and Navy sailors assigned to cross the treacherous waters, but the desperation of SC 107 in 1942 is on a whole other order of magnitude. The 42 ships were spotted Oct. 30, 1942, and spent the next week struggling to survive as half their number were consumed by 16 U-boats.
The HMS Edinburgh survives extreme torpedo damage from a German sub attack.
(Imperial War Museum)
SC 107 was filled with ships sailing from the Canadian city of Sydney in Nova Scotia to the United Kingdom. It was a slow convoy, filled with ships thought capable of sustaining 7 knots but incapable of holding the 9 knots of faster convoys on the same route.
These would normally be heavily guarded, but Canada and America had shifted as many ships as possible to North Africa to support landings there. So the convoy was lightly guarded with just a destroyer and three corvettes assigned to travel all the way across with it. On October 30, U-boat pack Violet, Veilchen, spotted the juicy, underdefended target.
The pack was deployed in a patrol line with 13 boats ready for combat, and those boats were able to summon three more that would join the hunt from the west. These 16 German combatants prepared to slaughter their way through the Allied convoy.
Allied bombers helped sink two German U-boats at the start of the fight over SC 107, but the convoy soon moved out of their range.
(U.S. Air Force)
The German radio traffic tipped off the convoy that it was about to come under attack, and its escort deployed to protect it. Luckily, this first contact came within range of the Western Local Escort, ships assigned to protect convoys near the Canadian and American coasts as the convoys were still forming and starting east.
So the thin escort was buttressed by the British destroyer HMS Walker and Canadian destroyer HMS Columbia. This made for three destroyers and a few smaller escorts. They worked together with land-based planes and bombers to smack the submarines down, hard. Two German U-boats were sunk, and another sub attack was interrupted. On October 31, two submarines were driven off.
But, by November 1, the Western Local ships were at the edge of their range and had to turn back. The convoy was, so far, unharmed. But it was 42 ships protected by only five ships, only one of which was a destroyer. And 13 German boats were out for blood.
German submarines were equipped with deck guns that allowed them to slaughter undefended convoys, but they used their massive torpedoes to kill convoys when surface combatants were in the water.
(Imperial War Museums)
The escorts spent the first hours performing desperate passes around the convoy to keep the U-boats at bay, but after midnight the subs made their move. They attacked the escort ships. One U-boat made it past the escorts and hit a ship with a torpedo. First blood opened the floodgates. After the first ship was finished off, another seven were hit and destroyed by simultaneous attacks from multiple U-boats.
On November 3, 10 submarines made attempted attacks, resulting in the sinking of one tanker. As night fell, the subs hit four more ships and sank them, including the “commodore ship,” where the top merchant mariner of the fleet sailed and commanded.
The USS Schenck was one of the destroyers sent to protect SC 107 from further attacks on November 4.
One of the ships hit was a large ammo ship filled with munitions. Approximately 30 minutes after it was attacked, the fires resulted in a massive explosion that shook the waters, damaged nearby ships, and likely sank the German boat U-132.
Now near Iceland, ships laden with rescued survivors broke north for Iceland to disembark those still alive while the rest of the convoy continued east. The U.S. Navy dispatched two destroyers to guard the convoy, but SC 107 would lose one more ship in the closing hours of November 4.
The next day, November 5, the convoy reached the range of anti-submarine planes and those, combined with the increased naval escort, finally drove off the German vessels. But 15 ships were already sunk and more damaged. Even counting the probable loss of U-132, Germany sacrificed three submarines in this pursuit.
The tables were, slowly, shifting in the Atlantic, though. The technological and industrial might of the U.S. was allowing more and more vessels to hit the waters with radar and sonar that would find the U-boats wherever they hid. Six months after SC 107, the naval clashes of Black May would signal the fall of the wolfpacks.
Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit is cool. But it’s not real.
The Tactical Assault Light Operators Suit was supposed to be a real version to protect America’s special operations forces when going into harm’s way.
The TALOS suit “was chartered to explore and catalyze a revolutionary integration of advanced technology to provide comprehensive ballistic protection, peerless tactical capabilities and ultimately to enhance the strategic effectiveness of the SOF operator of the future,” Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel III, Socom’s commander, said at the National Defense Industries Association’s Special Operations/Low-intensity Conflict Symposium here yesterday.
The joint acquisition task force for the suit was established in November 2013 and banked on breakthrough technology — or technologies — to protect special operators, Votel said. Socom, he said, put together an unprecedented group from industry, academia and government to develop the prototype.
A Holistic System
Future prototype suits have exoskeletons that augment the power of the operators, Votel explained. They will also feature helmets with heads-up display technology. Other future prototypes will feature cooling/heating systems and medical sensors to monitor an operator’s vital signs.
“It’s a holistic system with open systems architecture, so if a new technology rises we can swap it in,” said a joint task force member speaking on background during a recent interview at Socom at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. “Survivability is our number-one tenet. We have to look not only at the integration of current systems for personal protective equipment, but also to augment the guy’s motion.”
This is serious science with risks and serious trade-offs, and the task force’s main effort this year was to “get as many smart people working on it as possible,” the task force member said.
A rapid prototyping event was held in Tampa from April to June 2014. “The idea of the event was to bring industry , Interagency [and] academia together with special operators to accelerate the development of the technology and accelerate the brainstorming of the ideas for the suit and the project,” said a task force member.
It worked. More than 200 people from a wide range of disciplines answered the open call. “Putting those people in one room enabled cross polinization and an incredible collaborative teamwork atmosphere,” the task force member said.
But the rapid prototyping event was more than simply charting the way ahead of theorizing on how the various parts would fit together, the task force member said. There were 3D computer modeling designers participating, he added.
“People could explore concepts by seeing what it would look like, how it would fit, how it would affect other aspects of the design,” an engineer said. “Usually in [Defense Department] contracting you don’t get that kind of immediate feedback. We could actually have a physical model of what we were thinking about.”
The team went from cutting designs from foam to sculpting it from clay to 3D printing the prototypes. “We were able to try a group of different ideas with the experts in the room,” a task force member said.
The suit sadly didn’t materialize as planned.
Going into the rapid prototyping event, the task force members had ideas of what the problems were going to be and the event confirmed them. “It also pointed to ways we can surmount those challenges and pointed out challenges we really didn’t think would be that tough,” the engineer of the group said.
An untethered power source was a big problem, officials said. The power will be needed to operate the exoskeleton, cool or heat the operator and fuel all the sensors in the suit. “Identifying an untethered power source for extended duration is one leap of technology,” one official said. “It’s something that doesn’t exist in that man-portable size technology. If someone has an arc reactor in their basement, I know how they can make a lot of money.”
The task force looked at novel materials and materials used in different configurations. “If you could make armor that was super, super light and is a leap in technology, that buys down some of our other problems,” an official said. “We wouldn’t need as much power, for example.
“We’re looking to get those leaps of technologies,” he continued. “Those leaps of capabilities to the guys so they can do their jobs better than they do now.”
Suit Sensor Challenges
Another challenge is with the suit’s sensors, officials said. One problem deals with latency — the time between when a sensor detects something and when it is transmitted to the brain. Night-vision goggles are immediate — there is zero-difference from when the sensor picks it up and it hits the eye.
“When I move my head, the picture is with me all the time,” the engineer said. “The problem with current visual solutions right now is when I move my head, it lags and takes a second to catch up.”
Today, even the best prototype sensor solution still creates nausea after being under it for 30 minutes.
The task force never forgets they are developing this suit for real people, for comrades in arms, and they have constant interaction with operators, officials said. “The last thing you want to do is build a suit that nobody wants to get inside,” said one task force member.
The task force has given various pieces of technology to operators to test. Recently, operators tested various heads-up displays. They also had user assessment of the first-year exoskeletons. “We had operators from all components strap them on and run through an obstacle course,” one task force member said. “We also did functional movement tests. It gives the operators the chance to come and tell us what they liked and disliked about the prototypes.”
TALOS has a number of civilian uses as well, officials said. Firefighters may find the initial prototype passive load bearing exoskeleton suits handy, as would other people working in extreme environments. The results of tests will be seen not only in the special operations community, but in improved ballistic protection for all service members.
On the wall of the task force building is a countdown calendar. The day of the interview, the number read 877 — the days left before the Mark 5 first prototype suit must be ready for testing.
“We know why we’re doing this,” one member of the task force said. “This is life-saving technology. There are challenges, but the juice is definitely worth the squeeze.” The suit design was eventually declared a bust in 2019. Will a new version be attempted one day? Who knows, but it would be cool if it was!
After World War I, there was a consensus that the airplane had a place in warfare, but the different missions they would be used for was still a matter of debate. Colonel Billy Mitchell, a World War I air commander, believed that control of the air would matter a lot in future warfare.
According to a biography at the website of the National Museum of the Air Force, Mitchell spent time after the war arguing his case – often alienating many senior officers in the process. So, despite the fact that Mitchell had led over 1,400 planes during the Battle of St. Mihiel, won control of the air, and devastated German forces, not many people were willing to listen to the air warrior.
In one case, Mitchell considered the effect air power could have on the huge, lumbering ships of enemy navies. Many higher ups blocked his proposed tests to prove his theory but he got the chance to show what air power could do to ships partially due to the Washington Naval Treaty of 1921, which called for the United States to scrap or otherwise dispose of large portions of the United States Navy.
The Navy had tried to block Mitchell with a rigged test involving the old battleship USS Indiana (BB 1), but Congress found out about the way the Navy rigged it, and ordered new tests.
So the Navy agreed to let planes drop bombs on the obsolete battleships USS Virginia (BB 13), USS New Jersey (BB 16), USS Alabama (BB 8), and Ostfriesland.
The first of these ships to face Mitchell’s bombers was the Ostfriesland on July 20, 1921. According to an official U.S. Navy history, Mitchell’s planes dropped a number of smaller bombs – scoring some hits. The real damage was being done by near-misses, which started flooding. The next day, further attacks were made with bigger bombs, and the Osfriesland sank after a number of near-misses.
The next attack was on the old battleship USS Alabama on September 25, 1921. A series of bombs scored hits, but while one 1,000 pound bomb and one 2,000 pound bomb did a lot of damage, the real killing effect came from five near-misses, which caused Alabama to sink. On Sept. 5, 1923, Mitchell’s bombers would sink the battleships USS Virginia and USS New Jersey.
The results, though, didn’t completely sway high-ranking officials. When Mitchell made intemperate remarks after the loss of the Navy dirigible Shenandoah, he was court-martialed and dismissed from the Army. He would die in 1936, five years before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Below is video from Mitchell’s 1921 and 1923 tests. Take a look and see a preview of what planes would do to ships in World War II.
The most comprehensive study yet made of veteran suicide concludes that on average 20 veterans a day are taking their own lives.
The average daily tally is two less than the VA previously estimated, but is based on a more thorough review of Defense Department records, records from each state and data from the Centers for Disease Control, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“One veteran suicide is one too many, and this collaborative effort provides both updated and comprehensive data that allows us to make better-informed decisions on how to prevent this national tragedy,” said Dr. David J. Shulkin, VA Under Secretary for Health. “We as a nation must focus on bringing the number of veteran suicides to zero.”
The VA said in a statement that the report will be released at the end of July.
The study found that veterans accounted for 18 percent of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults in 2014 — a decrease from 22 percent in 2010.
Veteran suicides increased at a rate higher than adult civilians between 2001 and 2014. The civilian rate grew by 23 percent while veteran suicides increased 32 percent over the same period. “After controlling for age and gender, this makes the risk of suicide 21 percent greater for veterans,” the VA said.
The study also found that the suicide rates among veterans — male and female — who use VA services increased, though not at the rate among veterans who did not use the services.
Overall, the suicide rate since 2001 among all veterans using VA services grew by 8.8 percent versus 38.6 percent for those who did not. For male veterans, the rate increased 11 percent and 35 percent, respectively. For female vets, the rates increased 4.6 percent and 98 percent, according to the study.
In its last study, the VA noted that its figures probably were underestimated, in part because it relied on state records that were not always complete or accurate. Another shortcoming with the earlier report is that it used information from only 21 states.
“The ability of death certificates to fully capture female Veterans was particularly low; only 67 percent of true female Veterans were identified,” the report stated. “Younger or unmarried Veterans and those with lower levels of education were also more likely to be missed on the death certificate.”
The increasing rate of female suicides prompted Congress to pass the Female Veterans Suicide Act, which President Obama signed into law last month.
The VA’s announcement does not offer an explanation why older veterans are more likely to commit suicide, though Dr. Tom Berger, a Navy corpsman in Vietnam and now executive director of the Veterans Health Council at Vietnam Veterans of America, previously told Military.com that sometimes veterans reach an age where they’re not as active with work or other commitments that may have been coping mechanisms for post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health issues.
The VA said in its announcement on Thursday that over 1.6 million veterans received mental health treatment from the department, including at more than 150 medical centers, 820 community-based outpatient clinics and 300 Vet Centers. Veterans also enter VA health care through theVeterans Crisis Line, VA staff on college and university campuses, or other outreach points.
The VA anticipates having 1,000 locations where veterans can receive mental health care by the end of 2016.
Efforts to address the high suicide rates among veterans also include predictive modeling — using clinical signs of suicide — to determine which vets may be at highest risk, the VA said in its statement. This system will enable providers to intervene early in the cases of most at-risk veterans.
The VA is also expanding telemental health care by establishing four new regional telemental health hubs across the VA health care system, hiring more than 60 new crisis intervention responders for the Veterans Crisis Line, and building new partnerships between VA programs and community-based programs.
Who doesn’t love a bit of candy to lighten the mood? Today, troops opening up an MRE might find a bag of Skittles or some sweets in there to help boost morale a little bit. This isn’t anything new; troops have had some kind of candy in rations since WWII.
While the soldiers who were preparing to jump into the fight on D-Day likely had a few of their favorite chocolate bars on them, they had another specialty chocolate bar, one made exclusively made for the troops. It was called the U.S. Army Field Ration D and it tasted about as appetizing as the name suggests — a little bit better than a boiled potato.
Still better than the Veggie MRE.
(U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jesse B. Awalt)
The Field Ration D, or “D-Bar,” was the brain child of Col. Paul Logan and the Hershey Chocolate Corporation. The idea was to stuff enough calories, vitamins, and nutrients inside of an easy-to-carry chocolate bar so that troops always had an emergency field ration if they needed it. It weighed 4 oz., packed 600 calories, and was mixed with raw oat flour to ensure that it wouldn’t melt easily.
The packaging of Field Ration D was made with aluminum wrapper, cardboard dipped in wax, and cellophane. There was no way that bugs, weather, or gas could reach the bar and contaminate it. There was also a safety measure put in place by Col. Logan to ensure troops didn’t just eat their emergency ration for a sweet fix — he reportedly asked Hershey to not focus on the taste.
The D-Bar was so full of cacao fat and oat flour that it could survive any condition, but it also made the bar extremely bitter. Since it was made to endure nearly any conditions, it was solid as a rock. Not exactly appetizing.
To make matters worse, if any troop didn’t read the tiny warning to eat the bar slowly, over a thirty minute time period, their bowels would suffer. This unfortunate side-effect earned it the nickname, “Hitler’s secret weapon.”
Word of how awful the D-Bar was (and its unofficial moniker) made it back to Hershey. They offered another chocolate bar instead — the Tropical Bar. Apparently, this was even worse and earned the name “Dysentery Bar,” because troops who already had dysentery were the only ones who could tolerate it.
In the end, the top brass at the Pentagon lavished Hershey with numerous awards for their “help” in WWII while the troops exchanged the D-Bars and Tropical Bars to unsuspecting civilians for better food.
To watch the bravest man on YouTube actually eat one of these, check out the video below by Steve1989 at MRE Info.
One American officer made the bold proclamation that “a braver man than Colonel McIntosh never lived.” Few could argue with this assessment when evaluating the deeds of James Simmons McIntosh.
Born in Georgia in 1787, James Simmons McIntosh came from a long line of soldiers. His great-uncle, General Lachlan McIntosh, served with Washington at Valley Forge. His father, John McIntosh, was the American commander who taunted the British to “come and take it” when they demanded the surrender of Fort Morris in 1778. It was only appropriate that James enter the army when of age.
He received an appointment to the First United States Rifle Regiment as a lieutenant at the age of 25 in November 1812. Like his forefathers, he had a chance to fight the British, and fought at the Battle of Scajaquada Creek in August 1814. McIntosh received a serious wound and was left for dead on the field of battle. An American burial party discovered McIntosh still breathing and transferred him to New York to recover. The House of Representatives of Georgia later presented Lieutenant McIntosh with a dress sword for his “gallantry and intrepidity” in the war that he carried until his death.
Left for Dead: The Battle of Palo Alto
At the conclusion of the war, he opted to stay in the army for the next 30 years. McIntosh rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel of the Fifth United States Infantry Regiment by 1839. In October 1845, he reported to General Zachary Taylor in Corpus Christi, Texas, when war clouds loomed over Mexico. He played a leading part in Taylor’s operations when war broke out in 1846. On May 8, 1846, at the Battle of Palo Alto, his regiment held the extreme right of Taylor’s line and beat back a fierce Mexican lancer charge to save the army’s baggage train.
The Mexican army fell back to a strong defensive position situated at Resaca del la Palma after their defeat at Palo Alto. McIntosh and his regiment were ordered to conduct a frontal assault on the left of the entrenched Mexican line the next day by General Taylor. McIntosh rode forward as Mexican bullets cut through the air. He was one of the first Americans to set foot inside the Mexican position, but had to dismount due to the uneven terrain.
In the chaos of the assault, McIntosh was waylaid by six Mexican infantrymen before he could unholster his pistol. One of the six assailants bayoneted McIntosh’s arm, breaking the bone. As he fell to the ground, two other soldiers attempted to skewer him with their bayonets. McIntosh grabbed the barrel of one of the Mexican muskets with his bare hand and stopped the infantryman’s bayonet within inches from his face. While preoccupied with warding off this attack, the other Mexican infantryman drove his bayonet into McIntosh’s mouth, forcing his front teeth inward, and piercing the back of his neck.
The Mexican infantrymen left the American colonel for dead. McIntosh found the strength to lift his mangled body from the ground and stagger in the direction of the American line. His shattered arm dangled at his side, and his face and neck were a bloody mess. Lieutenant James Duncan of the Second Artillery noticed McIntosh staggering across a small pool of water, and ordered his men to assist the colonel.
Duncan asked if he could do anything for McIntosh. The veteran colonel somehow managed to get off the words, “Yes! Give me some water, and show me to my regiment!”
He collapsed soon after and was transported back to Point Isabel, Texas, to recover. Most American newspapers reported he had died during the battle. In twelve months, the old Spartan recuperated from his ghastly wounds and headed back to join Winfield Scott’s army on its march against Mexico City. McIntosh again assumed command of his beloved Fifth United States Infantry Regiment. He distinguished himself in command of the regiment at the Battles of Contreras and Churubusco.
A Final Stand: The Battle of El Molino del Rey
On the night of Sept. 7, 1847, General William Worth called together the senior officers of his command and broke the news to them that General Scott had ordered a forlorn assault on the strongly fortified Mexican position at El Molino del Rey. That night these officers, including McIntosh, poured over a battle map under candlelight in preparation. Most of those present would be dead before noon the next day.
At dawn on Sept. 8, 1847, three American columns of 3,447 men were arrayed shoulder to shoulder for the assault on El Molino del Rey. With his superior ill, McIntosh took command of the Second Brigade. He was ordered to concentrate his brigade’s assault on the center of the Mexican defenses anchored by the strongly fortified Casa Mata. In his usual manner, he made his way out in front of his men conspicuously mounted on his horse and carried the sword presented to him by the citizens of Georgia.
The Mexican defenders sat motionless until the McIntosh’s men advanced to within 100 yards of the Mexican position. The American infantrymen were nearly swept to pieces over the open ground. They pushed through the storm of bullets and made it to within 25 yards of the Mexican position.
McIntosh remained mounted through the hail of bullets to inspire his men to continue forward. A musket ball suddenly hit him in the thigh, causing him to crash to the ground. While lying wounded, another ball tore through his knee and painfully lodged into his groin. Lieutenant Ralph W. Kirkham of his staff ordered two American infantrymen to carry the wounded colonel to the rear. They grabbed McIntosh by his coat and began to drag him to the rear.
McIntosh refused to be dragged any further until he received word that a second American assault broke through the Mexican position. He kept probing those nearby, “Is that fort taken yet?” The Americans suffered 20 percent casualties that day, making it the bloodiest day of the U.S-Mexican War for the United States.
McIntosh lingered in a makeshift hospital for over a month. His most recent wounds healed well, and it appeared for a time that the resilient colonel would recover. His health took a turn for the worse when his old War of 1812 wound broke open and became infected. He died on Sept. 26, 1847, and was buried in a nearby Mexican cemetery.
Members of his native Georgia raised enough money to cover the expenses of bringing his remains back home for reburial. His sword and uniform, pierced by eight bullet holes, were placed upon his coffin during his funeral. He was reburied in the Colonial Park Cemetery on March 18, 1848, resting in immortality alongside those members of his family that fought so valiantly in the service of their county.
North Korea attempted to fire a missile April 16, the day after the anniversary of its founding, but it blew up within seconds.
While North Korea’s missile program may be the shadowiest on earth, it’s possible U.S. cyber warriors were the reason for the failed launch.
A recent New York Times report uncovered a secret operation to derail North Korea’s nuclear-missile program that has been raging for at least three years.
Essentially, the report attributes North Korea’s high rate of failure with Russian-designed missiles to the U.S. meddling in the country’s missile software and networks.
Though North Korea’s missile infrastructure lacks the competence of Russia’s, the Soviet-era missile on which North Korea based its missile had a 13% failure rate, while the North Korean version failed a whopping 88% of the time, according to the report.
While the missile failure on April 16 could have just been due to poor workmanship, U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland seemed to leave room for speculation about espionage, telling Fox News: “We can’t talk about secret intelligence and things that might have been done, covert operations, so I really have no comment.”
On April 17, Vice President Mike Pence visited the demilitarized zone between the Koreas, saying that “all options are on the table to achieve the objectives and ensure the stability of the people of this country,” and that “the era of strategic patience” with North Korea “is over.”
To those in the know, the campaign against North Korea came as no surprise. Ken Geers, a cybersecurity expert for Comodo with experience in the National Security Agency, told Business Insider that cyberoperations like the one against North Korea were the norm.
While the U.S. hacking another country’s missile program may be shocking to some, “within military intelligence spaces, this is what they do,” Geers said. “If you think that war is possible with a given state, you’re going to be trying to prepare the battle space for conflict. In the internet age, that means hacking.”
North Korea’s internal networks are fiercely insulated and not connected to the internet, however, which poses a challenge for hackers in the United States. But Geers said it was “absolutely not the case” that hacking requires computers connected to the internet.
A recent report in The New Yorker on Russian hacking detailed one case in which Russia gained access to a NATO computer network in 1996 by providing bugged thumb drives to shops near a NATO base in Kabul, Afghanistan. NATO operators bought the thumb drives, used them on the network, and just like that, the Russians were in.
“That’s where SIGINT (signals intelligence) or COMINT (communications intelligence) comes into collaboration with HUMINT (human intelligence),” Geers said.
“Imagine you’re the president. North Korea is a human-rights abuser and an exporter of dangerous technology,” Geers said. “Responsible governments really need to think about ways to handle North Korea, and one of the options is regime change.”
The test-fire of Pukguksong-2 in February 2017. (KCNA/Handout via Reuters)
“North Korea can do a Sony attack or attack the White House, but that’s because that’s the nature of cyberspace,” Geers said. “But if war came, you’d see Cyber Command wipe out most other countries pretty quickly.”
The Air Force has confirmed that an American pilot from the California Air National Guard was killed during a familiarization flight with a Ukrainian pilot in a Su-27UB fighter aircraft on October 16 during the Clear Skies 2018 exercise, an event orchestrated to allow Ukraine to better incorporate its forces with eight NATO militaries.
The U.S. service member involved in the crash was a member of the 144th Fighter Wing, California Air National Guard, Fresno, California. The Airman was taking part in a single-aircraft familiarization flight with a Ukrainian counterpart. No other aircraft were involved in the incident. The identity of the service member is being withheld for 24 hours pending next of kin notification.
The Ukrainian pilot was also killed in the crash.
“This is a sad day for the United States and Ukraine,” Maj. Gen. Clay Garrison, California ANG commander and Clear Skies exercise director, said in a statement. “Our deepest condolences go out to the family, friends, and fellow Airmen of both the U.S. Airman and Ukrainian aviator who were killed in the incident.”
A Su-27B aircraft flies during Open Skies 2018 in Ukraine.
(U.S. Air National Guard)
The aircraft crash took place at 5 p.m. local time in Ukraine, and appears to have involved a Su-27UB, a two-seater combat trainer/fighter jet. A statement from the Ukrainian General Staff gave the first indication of what had occurred.
“We regret to inform that, according to the rescue team, the bodies of two pilots have been discovered: one is a serviceman of the Ukrainian Air Force, the other is a member of the US National Guard,” it said.
The exercise focused on air sovereignty, air interdiction, air-to-ground integration, air mobility operations, aeromedical evacuation, cyberdefense, and personnel recovery. It takes place as Ukraine is increasing its military capabilities and continuing hostilities from a Russian-backed separatist movement has claimed lives in its eastern regions.
For people living on remote islands across the Pacific, Christmas is the sound of C-130s roaring overhead as boxes of food, clothing, toys, and more parachuted from the holds drop down from the sky.
Here’s what it looked like this year.
The patch of Operation Christmas Drop 2018 rests on the flight suit of a pilot from the 374th Airlift Wing as he and his crew delivers Coastal Humanitarian Air Drops to the island of Nama, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Dec. 10, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Gilmore)
Operation Christmas Drop, which began during the holiday season in 1952 as a spur-of-the-moment decision by a B-29 Superfortress crew, is the Department of Defense’s longest-running humanitarian airlift operation.
U.S. Air Force 1st. Lt. Emery Gumapas, a pilot assigned to the 36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, looks out the flight deck window of a C-130J Super Hercules aircraft during Operation Christmas Drop 2018 en route to the island of Nama, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Dec. 10, 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Matthew Gilmore)
Now in its 67th year, the OCD mission is supported by the US Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard, as well as members of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force. It serves over 50 remote islands in the Pacific.
Three villages await Operation Christmas Drop on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia, Dec. 10, 2018. A C-130J Super Hercules from the 36th Airlift Squadron, Yokota Air Base, Japan, delivered more than 1000 pounds of agricultural equipment, food, clothing, educational and medical supplies to the inhabitants of Fais during Operation Christmas Drop 2018.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
The first drop all those years ago began with a B-29 crew dropping supplies to waving locals on Kapingamarangi island. The program now helps tens of thousands of people living on 56 islands across an area of 1.8 million square nautical miles annually.
A C-130J Super Hercules with the 36th Airlift Squadron drops three Low-Cost Low-Altitude bundles filled with humanitarian aid supplies during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 10, 2018, on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
US military C-130J Super Hercules aircrews conduct low-cost, low-altitude drops, with parachuted packages touching down on land or at sea, the latter sometimes being necessary to avoid unintended damage to the environment or property.
Islanders carry a box of humanitarian supplies from the air-drop site to their village center during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 10, 2018, on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
“My father experienced this drop when he was a little kid back in ’77, I believe, and in that drop, he got his first pair of shoes,” airman Brandon Phillip recently said. “I get to give back to my dad’s island while serving my country. It just makes it all special.”
Island children wait and watch while their village chiefs sort and divide humanitarian supplies for equal distribution during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 10, 2018, on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
The islanders use every part of the delivery, including the parachutes and parachute cords. They reportedly use the parachutes to make boat sails.
Island children wait and watch while their village chiefs sort and divide humanitarian supplies for equal distribution during Operation Christmas Drop, Dec. 10, 2018, on Fais Island, Federated States of Micronesia.
(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Donald Hudson)
“This is what Christmas is for,” Bruce Best, who has been part of the OCD mission for four decades, told Stars and Stripes. “When they hear the rumble of the plane engines, that’s Christmas.”
On August 18, 1942, U.S. Marine Corps Raiders assaulted Japanese positions on Makin Island (today known as Butaritari). The Raiders were a WWII-era elite unit trained for special amphibious light infantry combat. Their mission was to destroy Japanese installations and gather intelligence as well as divert attention from the landings on Guadalcanal. This small raid on a Japanese seaplane base was among the first American offensive operations of the Pacific War. It didn’t end well, and many of their bodies weren’t found for years.
The Raiders met strong resistance but killed a number of Japanese defenders, destroyed two ships, and took out two planes attempting to land in a nearby lagoon. All went well until it came time to be extracted via submarine. Mechanical problems and an unexpectedly strong surf kept 11 of the 18 extraction boats from beating the surf. Eventually, more would make it to the submarine but the raid would end with 18 Marines killed in action and 12 more missing. The raid failed to return any meaningful intel but it was a successful test of coastal raider tactics.
The Americans had to leave in such a hurry they were unable to take the bodies of the dead with them. They asked the Butaritari men on the island to bury the bodies of the dead so the Japanese couldn’t find them. Locals wound up burying the Marines after the U.S. withdrawal.
In 2000, U.S. Department of Defense search teams came looking for the bodies of the Marines because they received a tip from one of the then-teenagers who found the bodies on a coral island so long ago. Now an old man, he showed the search team where to look.
Fifty-eight years after the last living Marines were extracted from the atoll by submarine, the graves of the fallen were found. The graves were dug with respect and were intact according to the burial customs of the Butaritari. They were still clothed, complete with helmets, rifles, grenades, and dog tags. Marines in full dress blues arrived via C-130 and carried the flag-draped coffins from an island airstrip to accompany the remains as they were repatriated to the United States.
As the Marines carried the 19 Raiders aboard, the old Butaritari man who pointed out the gravesite began to sing the Marine Corps Hymn. The man didn’t speak English or even understand what he was saying, but the Marines taught him the song as a boy and he remembered it 60 years later.
The first enlisted Marine to receive the Medal of Honor during World War II was Clyde Thomason, who was killed at Makin Island. Thomason was repatriated with the others in 2000 while 11 of his fellow Marines remain missing.
In 1839, England went to war with China because it was upset that Chinese officials had shut down its drug trafficking racket and confiscated its dope.
Stating the historical record so plainly is shocking — but it’s true, and the consequences of that act are still being felt today.
The Qing Dynasty, founded by Manchurian clans in 1644, expanded China’s borders to their farthest reach, conquering Tibet, Taiwan and the Uighur Empire. However, the Qing then turned inward and isolationist, refusing to accept Western ambassadors because they were unwilling to proclaim the Qing Dynasty as supreme above their own heads of state.
Foreigners — even on trade ships — were prohibited entry into Chinese territory.
The exception to the rule was in Canton, the southeastern region centered on modern-day Guangdong Province, which adjoins Hong Kong and Macao. Foreigners were allowed to trade in the Thirteen Factories district in the city of Guangzhou, with payments made exclusively in silver.
The British gave the East India Company a monopoly on trade with China, and soon ships based in colonial India were vigorously exchanging silver for tea and porcelain. But the British had a limited supply of silver.
Starting in in the mid-1700s, the British began trading opium grown in India in exchange for silver from Chinese merchants. Opium — an addictive drug that today is refined into heroin — was illegal in England, but was used in Chinese traditional medicine.
However, recreational use was illegal and not widespread. That changed as the British began shipping in tons of the drug using a combination of commercial loopholes and outright smuggling to get around the ban.
Chinese officials taking their own cut abetted the practice. American ships carrying Turkish-grown opium joined in the narcotics bonanza in the early 1800s. Consumption of opium in China skyrocketed, as did profits.
The Daoguang Emperor became alarmed by the millions of drug addicts — and the flow of silver leaving China. As is often the case, the actions of a stubborn idealist brought the conflict to a head. In 1839 the newly appointed Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu instituted laws banning opium throughout China.
He arrested 1,700 dealers, and seized the crates of the drug already in Chinese harbors and even on ships at sea. He then had them all destroyed. That amounted to 2.6 million pounds of opium thrown into the ocean. Lin even wrote a poem apologizing to the sea gods for the pollution.
Angry British traders got the British government to promise compensation for the lost drugs, but the treasury couldn’t afford it. War would resolve the debt.
But the first shots were fired when the Chinese objected to the British attacking one of their own merchant ships.
Chinese authorities had indicated they would allow trade to resume in non-opium goods. Lin Zexu even sent a letter to Queen Victoria pointing out that as England had a ban on the opium trade, they were justified in instituting one too.
It never reached her, but eventually did appear in the Sunday Times.
Instead, the Royal Navy established a blockade around Pearl Bay to protest the restriction of free trade … in drugs. Two British ships carrying cotton sought to run the blockade in November 1839. When the Royal Navy fired a warning shot at the second, The Royal Saxon, the Chinese sent a squadron of war junks and fire-rafts to escort the merchant.
HMS Volage‘s Captain, unwilling to tolerate the Chinese “intimidation,” fired a broadside at the Chinese ships. HMS Hyacinth joined in. One of the Chinese ships exploded and three more were sunk. Their return fire wounded one British sailor.
Seven months later, a full-scale expeditionary force of 44 British ships launched an invasion of Canton. The British had steam ships, heavy cannon, Congreve rockets and infantry equipped with rifles capable of accurate long range fire. Chinese state troops — “bannermen” — were still equipped with matchlocks accurate only up to 50 yards and a rate of fire of one round per minute.
Antiquated Chinese warships were swiftly destroyed by the Royal Navy. British ships sailed up the Zhujiang and Yangtze rivers, occupying Shanghai along the way and seizing tax-collection barges, strangling the Qing government’s finances. Chinese armies suffered defeat after defeat.
When the Qing sued for peace in 1842, the British could set their own terms. The Treaty of Nanjing stipulated that Hong Kong would become a British territory, and that China would be forced to establish five treaty ports in which British traders could trade anything they wanted with anybody they wanted to. A later treaty forced the Chinese to formally recognize the British as equals and grant their traders favored status.
More war, more opium
Imperialism was on the upswing by the mid-1800s. France muscled into the treaty port business as well in 1843. The British soon wanted even more concessions from China — unrestricted trade at any port, embassies in Beijing and an end to bans on selling opium in the Chinese mainland.
One tactic the British used to further their influence was registering the ships of Chinese traders they dealt with as British ships.
The pretext for the second Opium War is comical in its absurdity. In October 1856, Chinese authorities seized a former pirate ship, the Arrow, with a Chinese crew and with an expired British registration. The captain told British authorities that the Chinese police had taken down the flag of a British ship.
The British demanded the Chinese governor release the crew. When only nine of the 14 returned, the British began a bombardment of the Chinese forts around Canton and eventually blasted open the city walls.
British Liberals, under William Gladstone, were upset at the rapid escalation and protested fighting a new war for the sake of the opium trade in parliament. However, they lost seats in an election to the Tories under Lord Palmerston. He secured the support needed to prosecute the war.
China was in no position to fight back, as it was then embroiled in the devastating Taiping Rebellion, a peasant uprising led by a failed civil-service examinee claiming to be the brother of Jesus Christ. The rebels had nearly seized Beijing and still controlled much of the country.
Once again, the Royal Navy demolished its Chinese opponents, sinking 23 junks in the opening engagement near Hong Kong and seizing Guangzhou. Over the next three years, British ships worked their way up the river, capturing several Chinese forts through a combination of naval bombardment and amphibious assault.
France joined in the war — its excuse was the execution of a French missionary who had defied the ban on foreigners in Guangxi province. Even the United States became briefly involved after a Chinese fort took pot shots at long distance at an American ship.
In the Battle of the Pearl River Forts, a U.S. Navy a force of three ships and 287 sailors and marines took four forts by storm, capturing 176 cannons and fighting off a counterattack of 3,000 Chinese infantry. The United States remained officially neutral.
Russia did not join in the fighting, but used the war to pressure China into ceding a large chunk of its northeastern territory, including the present-day city of Vladivostok.
When foreign envoys drew up the next treaty in 1858 the terms, were even more crushing to the Qing Dynasty’s authority. Ten more cities were designated as treaty ports, foreigners would have free access to the Yangtze river and the Chinese mainland, and Beijing would open embassies to England, France and Russia.
The Xianfeng Emperor at first agreed to the treaty, but then changed his mind, sending Mongolian general Sengge Rinchen to man the Taku Forts on the waterway leading to Beijing. The Chinese repelled a British attempt to take the forts by sea in June 1859, sinking four British ships. A year later, an overland assault by 11,000 British and 6,700 French troops succeeded.
When a British diplomatic mission came to insist on adherence to the treaty, the Chinese took the envoy hostage, and tortured many in the delegation to death. The British High Commissioner of Chinese Affairs, Lord Elgar, decided to assert dominance and sent the army into Beijing.
British and French rifles gunned down 10,000 charging Mongolian cavalrymen at the Battle of Eight Mile Bridge, leaving Beijing defenseless. Emperor Xianfeng fled. In order to wound the Emperor’s “pride as well as his feeling” in the words of Lord Elgar, British and French troops looted and destroyed the historic Summer Palace.
The new revised treaty imposed on China legalized both Christianity and opium, and added Tianjin — the major city close to Beijing — to the list of treaty ports. It allowed British ships to transport Chinese indentured laborers to the United States, and fined the Chinese government eight million silver dollars in indemnities.
The Western presence in China became so ubiquitous, and so widely detested, that an anti-Western popular revolt, the Boxer Rebellion, broke out in 1899. The hapless Qing Dynasty, under the stewardship of Dowager Empress Cixi, first tried to clamp down on the violence before throwing its support behind it — just in time for a multi-national military force of U.S., Russian, German, Austrian, Italian, French, Japanese and British troops to arrive and put down the rebellion.
It then spent an entire year looting Beijing, Tianjin and the surrounding countryside in reprisal.
‘Century of Humiliation’
It’s hard to over-emphasize the impact of the Opium Wars on modern China. Domestically, it’s led to the ultimate collapse of the centuries-old Qing Dynasty, and with it more than two millennia of dynastic rule. It convinced China that it had to modernize and industrialize.
Today, the First Opium War is taught in Chinese schools as being the beginning of the “Century of Humiliation” — the end of that “century” coming in 1949 with the reunification of China under Mao. While Americans are routinely assured they are exceptional and the greatest country on Earth by their politicians, Chinese schools teach students that their country was humiliated by greedy and technologically superior Western imperialists.
The Opium Wars made it clear China had fallen gravely behind the West — not just militarily, but economically and politically. Every Chinese government since — even the ill-fated Qing Dynasty, which began the “Self-Strengthening Movement” after the Second Opium War — has made modernization an explicit goal, citing the need to catch up with the West.
The Japanese, observing events in China, instituted the same discourse and modernized more rapidly than China did during the Meiji Restoration.
Mainland Chinese citizens still frequently measure China in comparison to Western countries. Economic and quality of life issues are by far their main concern. But state media also holds military parity as a goal.
I once saw a news program on Chinese public television boasting about China’s new aircraft carrier Liaoning— before comparing it to an American carrier. “They’re saying ours is still a lot smaller,” a high school student pointed out to me. “And we have only one.”
Through most of Chinese history, China’s main threat came from nomadic horse-riding tribes along its long northern border. Even in the Cold War, hostility with the Soviet Union made its Mongolian border a security hot spot. But the Opium Wars — and even worse, the Japanese invasion in 1937 — demonstrated how China was vulnerable to naval power along its Pacific coast.
China’s aggressive naval expansion in the South China Sea can be seen as the acts of a nation that has succumbed repeatedly to naval invasions — and wishes to claims dominance of its side of the Pacific in the 21st century.
The history with opium also has led China to adopt a particularly harsh anti-narcotics policy with the death penalty applicable even to mid-level traffickers. Drug-trafficking and organized crime remain a problem, however. The explosion of celebrity culture in China has also led to punitive crackdowns on those caught partaking in “decadent lifestyles,” leading to prominent campaigns of public shaming.
For example, in 2014 police arrested Jaycee Chan, son of Jackie Chan, for possessing 100 grams of marijuana. His father stated he wouldn’t plead for his son to avoid imprisonment.
Past history does not always determine future actions. Chinese sentiments toward the United Kingdom today are generally positive despite the Opium Wars. The escalating military confrontation over the South China Sea is a reality of our times, but that doesn’t mean China’s leaders will forever be committed to a strategy of expansion and confrontation.
Nonetheless, fostering better relations requires that we understand how China’s current foreign policy has it roots in past encounters with the West.