Why the commander of the Army's Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you'd expect - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

Military history is chock-full of concepts that, at one point, needed to be made, seemed good on paper, were eventually implemented, but, somehow, never really became a thing. In retrospect, it’s easy to point fingers at the short-lived Balloon Corps fielded by the Union Army during the American Civil War and say it was silly.

At the time, however, it served a valuable niche. There was a definite need for air superiority, and using hot air balloons to get a height advantage gave Northern scouts an edge. The Balloon Corps actually played a valuable role in yielding Union success at Antietam, Yorktown, and the various battles along the Potomac River.

The balloons themselves weren’t bizarre. The Chief Aeronaut and Commander of the Union Army Balloon Corps, Professor Thaddeus S.C. Lowe, on the other hand… was basically a cartoon mad scientist who somehow wound up in the service of the Union Army.


Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

He didn’t invent balloon travel. He just gave it a lot of style.

(National Archives)

A few things to note about Professor Lowe first: He wasn’t ever actually an officer in the U.S. Army. He held the position and received the pay of a Colonel (payment that he received in the form of ‘s worth of gold per day — about half of what a colonel made then), but he was one of the very few civilians to lead troops.

Lowe, technically, wasn’t an actual professor, either. In fact, he never even got past the fourth grade. He used the title during his charlatan days. He simply liked how it sounded on a traveling magician he knew growing up, so he adopted it, too.

What he lacked in the actual pedigree, however, he made up for with knowledge. He was, by all accounts, a self-taught man. He picked up medicine to please his grandmother’s wishes, laid the groundwork in most meteorological studies we still use today, and held 40 various patents. His was notable work was in pioneering balloon travel.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

I mean, I’m no aeronaut but I’m pretty sure you’d learn you’re flying into the south when you start hearing the banjos down below.

Lowe first tinkered with hot air balloons in hopes of eventually making a transatlantic voyage. The Smithsonian Institute became aware of his plans and even vouched for his research (referring to him as “Professor Lowe,” giving a degree of authenticity to his self-appointed title).

His first test flight from Pennsylvania to New Jersey aboard the Great Western ended when high winds ripped apart the aircraft. His second test in the smaller Enterprise went more successfully, but still went horribly wrong. The original plan was to fly from Cincinnati to Washington D.C., but high winds again flung him down south. His balloon landed in Unionville, South Carolina.

This second test happened just days after the Battle of Fort Sumter; the Civil War was now in full swing. Lowe was detained and arrested by Confederate troops who believed he was a spy for the North. They saw his balloon as a reconnaissance tool and saw him as a strategic threat. He reasoned with the Southerners, explaining that he was only a man of science in a failed experiment. Though true at the time, this sparked an idea in Lowe to actually use his balloons just as the Confederates had feared.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

They were even known to have been given fire bombs to lob down below if they drifted too far from their allies. Because why not?

(National Archives)

Professor Lowe equipped his balloons with telegraph sets and wire that ran down to the ground. He tested it above the White House for President Lincoln and sent the first ever aerial message to him. This impressed the President enough to give Lowe his first shot at military ballooning at the First Battle of Bull Run. It went, in a word, terribly.

His balloon landed behind enemy lines and he was quickly captured. As if this story weren’t yet goofy enough, his wife and mother of his ten children, Leontine Lowe, got word of his capture. So, she did what any loving wife would do, she dressed up as an old hag and hid him and his gear in a pile of sheets, like a cartoon prison break.

Professor Lowe managed to gather some valuable information before his capture and gave it back to Washington. For his work, he was given command over the Balloon Corps. Despite his early failures, his and his men’s work provided the Union with valuable information from their eyes-in-the-sky. From high above the mountains, they could telegraph down troop movements and exact locations near instantaneously.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

The moral of the story? Stay weird, my friends. Stay weird.

(Library of Congress)

Lowe’s military career was ended abruptly when he contracted malaria near the end of the war. His replacement, Captain Comstock, just didn’t understand the true insanity that was required to fly a giant hot air balloon into battle and, without a fearless leader, the Balloon Corps came to a close.

It took years for Lowe to recover, but he eventually moved out to California. There, he messed around with using hydrogen gas to cool things inside of an enclosed space. This was, essentially, the prototype of the more efficient refrigerator and compact ice machines we use today. He’d outfit several steamboats with these devices and transport fresh beef into cities without using preservative salts.

He was also the first to summit what is now known as Mt. Lowe, a relatively easy to hike mountain overlooking Pasadena, California, and earned naming rights to the mountain because, apparently, no one had ever bothered to try before.

Articles

The Army is close to fielding a weapon sight straight out of science fiction

In the next 18 months or so, the Army expects to field two new systems to dismounted Soldiers that will allow for more rapid acquisition of targets, even those hidden by darkness, smoke, or fog.


First out of the gate will be the Enhanced Night Vision Goggle III, expected to be fielded sometime between April and June of 2018. Shortly after, the Army hopes to field the Family of Weapons Sights – Individual, between January and March of 2019.

The FWS-I and ENVG III are unique in that the FWS-I, which would be mounted on a Soldier’s weapon, wirelessly transmits its sight picture to the ENVG III, which a Soldier wears on his helmet.

Additionally, the ENVG combines thermal imaging with more common night vision image intensification technology, which is recognizable by the green image it creates.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Photo from US Army

Under starlight, targets may blend in with the background. But with the thermal capability overlaid on night vision, targets can’t hide in smoke or fog. They “really pop out with that contrast,” said Dean Kissinger, an electronics engineer who is currently assigned to Program Product Manger Soldier Maneuver Sensors at Program Executive Office Soldier.

Lt. Col. Anthony Douglas, who serves as product manager for Soldier Maneuver Sensors at PEO Soldier, said the two sensors have benefits beyond helping dismounted Soldiers better visualize targets. By paring the two systems wirelessly — allowing what the weapon-mounted sight is seeing to be beamed directly to the Soldier’s eye — these systems also help the Soldier acquire a target faster.

Rapid Target Acquisition

“The capability gap that we were tasked with [closing] by developing this was the rapid target acquisition capability,” Douglas said. “We are allowing the Soldier to actually see what is on their weapons sight, saving them time from having to bring the weapon to his eye.”

Master Sgt. Lashon Wilson, the senior enlisted advisor for product manager Soldier Maneuver Sensors, explained how the system will work and make it easier for a Soldier to acquire a target.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Photo Credit: PEO Soldier

“This weapon-mounted system talks wirelessly to the smart battery pack that is on the Soldier’s head, that then transmits a signal to the ENVG III, which now displays a reticle onto the Soldier’s optic,” Wilson explained. “So now what this does is, while the Soldier is on patrol and he has his ENVG III on and he is looking, he has a greater field of view of what is going on in the battlefield.”

Soldiers wearing the ENVG III, which is mounted on their helmet, can choose to see both night-vision imagery and thermal imaging as well in their goggle. But they can also choose to see the image coming off the FWS-I that is mounted on their rifle.

A variety of modes allows Soldiers to see in their goggles only the image from the ENVG III itself, only the image from the FWS-I, or a combination of the two. Using a “picture-in-picture” mode, for instance, the image from their FWS-I is displayed at the bottom right of the image that is coming from the goggle.

In another mode, however, if the FWS-I on the rifle and the ENVG III on the Soldier’s helmet are both pointed in the same direction and seeing essentially the same thing, then the image from the FWS-I can project a reticle into the goggle. The Soldier can see the full image of what his goggle normally sees, but a circle representing the reticle from the FWS-I is overlaid onto that image, letting the Soldier know where his rifle is pointed. What this means is the Soldier doesn’t need to actually shoulder his weapon to acquire a target. That saves time for the Soldier in acquiring that target.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Army photo by Jalen Brown

“We are saving him three to five seconds, and increasing their situational awareness on the battlefield,” Douglas said.

Additionally, because the reticle is projected onto what the Soldier is already seeing in his goggle — a much wider view of his environment than what he would see if he looked through his rifle scope — he is able to acquire a target while maintaining situational awareness of what else is going on around him.

Steep Learning Curve

At Fort Belvoir, members of the press were allowed to shoot an M-4 rifle that was equipped with the FWS-I, while wearing a helmet equipped with the ENVG III.

Several man-shaped targets were spaced out in the firing lane, each equipped with thermal blankets to simulate body heat. A pair of fog machines simulated battlefield smoke to make it difficult to acquire those targets using only day optics. Using night vision goggles alone, some of the targets could not be seen. But when combined with the thermal imaging capabilities built into the ENVG III and FWS-I, those targets were easily visible.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Army photo by Jalen Brown

Using the system proved a bit challenging, however. When looking through the goggle, which was at one point displaying the image transmitted from the rifle-mounted FWS-I, it was hard to tell if it was the helmet that was crooked, the ENVG III that was crooked, or the shooter’s own head that wasn’t on quite straight.

“The gun is tilted,” Wilson confirmed. He served as a trainer for members of the press who were allowed to shoot.

Maj. Kevin Smith, who serves as the assistant product manager for FWS-I, said there is a “steep learning curve,” for the system.

“We just got through with the tests with the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Carson, Colorado, back in June,” he said. “We only spent about 40 hours of in-classroom training. But we also spent about a week on the range or so. That’s where the Soldiers were really starting to get it and understand it and feel it, on the range.”

Smith said one such training event was held at Fort Carson, and two were held at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
USMC photo by Cpl. AaronJames B. Vinculado

“Once they get comfortable with it, they really love it,” Smith said. “One Soldier, a noncommissioned officer who didn’t like it at first, later on during the last test we did, asked me when are we getting this fielded. He said he wanted it now. They want to take them to war and they want to use them.”

A Family of Sights

The soon-to-field FWS-I is meant for the M4 and M16 rifles, and can mount on those rifles in front of day sights that have already been bore-sighted, Kissinger said. What this means is that Soldiers can pop the FWS-I onto and off of their rifle without having to remove their day sights first.

The FWS-I will also work with the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, the M141 Bunker Defeat Munition, and the M136 AT4 Light Anti-Tank Weapon.

Kissinger said the FWS-I actually provides capability to both light and medium weapons. In the past, there had been sights fielded for both types of weapons. Now that FWS-I provides capability to both, he said, there will be less variations in weapons sights, and a smaller logistics trail.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Army photo by Sgt. Jeffrey Alexander

More capability is also coming to this “family” of weapons sights, Douglas said. There will be a crew-served variant and a sniper variant as well. Both are still under development, he said.

Both the FWS-I and the ENVG III are currently in low-rate initial production. The Army hopes to buy 36,000 of the FWS-I, and about 64,000 of the ENVG III, Smith said. He also said that the new gear is targeted squarely at dismounted Soldiers with infantry brigade combat teams and special operations forces.

For now, he said, he expects it will be squad leaders and two team leaders within a squad that might first see the FWS-I.

“This is a day or night capability,” Douglas said. “We’re talking about dismounted Soldiers who would use this. For our mounted soldiers, those on the Stryker or Bradleys … they do not operate without their thermal on all the time. So we are giving the dismounted Soldier the same capability the mounted Soldiers have.”

MIGHTY HISTORY

This Confederate rivalry allowed 30,000 Union troops to escape

During the Civil War, a rivalry between two Confederate generals led to 30,000 pinned-down Union troops escaping encirclement in 1864, allowing them to go on and capture Atlanta, rallying Union morale, and ensuring a Republican victory in the elections and a Union victory in the war.


Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

The USS Hartford and Admiral Farragut forces their way past Confederate defenses at New Orleans in 1862,

(Julian Oliver Davidson)

The year 1864 was possibly the most important of the war. The presidential elections that year were framed as a referendum on the war. Supporters of a continued Union advance against the South were backing the Republicans as those who wished to create a negotiated peace backed George McClellan and the Democrats.

The Confederates, meanwhile, knew about the divisions and were doing everything they could to convince common Northerners that the war wasn’t worth the costs. Gen. Robert E. Lee invaded Maryland, privateers attacked Union shipping on the high seas, and commanders elsewhere redoubled their efforts to bleed the Union for every yard lost.

Amidst all of this, two capable Confederate generals in Louisiana were constantly arguing with one another. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith was the commander of Confederate troops in the Trans-Mississippi in 1863 and 1864, and one of his subordinates was Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor, son of former U.S. President Zachary Taylor and brother-in-law of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Both were described as having skill at tactics and strategy, but Smith was a cautious West Point graduate while Taylor was Yale-educated man with hot blood, constantly angling to take the fight to the Union.

In 1864, the Union was still trying to cement their control over the waterways in the south, completing their Anaconda Plan to choke off the South from external or internal resupply. To that end, massive numbers of troops were sent up the Red River that forms the border between Louisiana and Arkansas.

Smith wanted to slow the Union advance with defensive engagements punctuated by the occasional counterattack, while Taylor was itching to push his way back to the Gulf of Mexico and eventually re-take New Orleans.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

The Battle of Irish Bend Louisiana

(William Hall, Harper’s Weekly)

So, when Taylor saw Union Forces overextend themselves while moving up the Red River, he sent his forces to smash into their weak points, winning victories at the Battles of Mansfield and then Pleasant Hill. Union commanders, worried that they would soon find themselves separated from one another and encircled, fought their way south and finally holed up in Alexandria, Louisiana.

This was what Taylor had been waiting for. His enemy was in a weak position, outnumbered, and with no place to run. But Taylor didn’t quite have the forces necessary to finish the fight — all he needed was a little help from Smith.

Instead, Smith took the bulk of Taylor’s forces and re-deployed them to Arkansas where they helped harry an enemy that was already in retreat. The Union forces at Alexandria saw the sudden gap in the lines and broke out, making their way back east. 30,000 Union troops were now free to continue fighting.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

The Battle of Atlanta

This allowed them to arrive in the East just in time to join in important advances there, including Gen. William T. Sherman’s infamous push south. Sherman started his fight to Atlanta in May 1864 with 110,000 men split into three armies. If he hadn’t gotten the 30,000 from the Red River, he’d have been forced to decide whether to wait or advance with only 80,000 troops and two armies.

Follow that to the actual assault on Atlanta and following siege. While Union forces were able to get to Atlanta with relative ease — the last serious Confederate attempt to prevent a siege took place on July 22 and only 35,000 of the 100,000 Union troops actually engaged in the battle — the siege itself was a close-fought thing.

The siege ran from late-July to late-September, barely wrapping up in time for Northern newspaper reports to buoy Union morale and support for the war, leading to Lincoln’s strong re-election numbers. But Sherman relied on his numerical strength to win the fight. He used two of his armies to pin down Confederate troops or to draw their attention while his third army sneaked by to attack their rear or snip away supply lines.

With only two armies (or with three undersized armies), none of that would’ve worked. Instead, Sherman would have had to maintain a conventional siege against repeated and determined counterattacks, likely delaying the fall of Atlanta or even preventing it. The removal of 30,000 troops really might have tipped the scales against him and, therefore, against Lincoln.

Luckily, Sherman never had to face that possibility. Instead, he had plenty of troops to capture Atlanta, was able to split his forces after, marching east to the sea with the bulk of his men while the rest cut west across the South —all because two Confederate generals in Louisiana couldn’t work together.

As for them, Taylor was eventually recognized by the Confederate Congress for what successes he had achieved receiving promotion while Smith remained in the Trans-Mississippi, angry, until the end of the war.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why Elvis’ time in the Army scared the hell out of the communists

A sense of dread washed over the youth in 1958 when The King of Rock and Roll got his draft papers. Elvis Presley was told by Uncle Sam that he’d have to join in the Army and, graciously, he accepted his fate. The higher-ups knew exactly who they had standing in formation, but Presley didn’t accept any special treatment — he chose to just be a regular guy.

His service to the United States Army wasn’t particularly special. He got orders to West Germany, crawled in the exact same muck as the rest of the Joes, and was essentially no different than any other cavalry scout in his unit. He honorably served his two-year obligation before returning to the life of a rockstar.

But that’s just what happened on our side of the Iron Curtain. The East Germans and the Soviet Union were on the verge of going to war because the guy who sang Jailhouse Rock was on their doorstep.


Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

Because obviously Elvis’ dance moves were the only reason people would ever consider escaping a communist dictatorship. Obviously.

(Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.)

The idea that a man of Presley’s fame and fortune would give it all up for patriotism didn’t make any sense to the communists. He was the perfect embodiment of all things Western and he just happened to show up at their doorstep. Something, in their mind, had to be up.

Their conclusion was that the United States had Elvis singing and dancing so close to the border in order to cause young communists to leap the border to go see him in concert.

To the East German defense minister, Willi Stoph, Elvis and his rock music were “means of seduction to make the youth ripe for atomic war.” The East Germany Communist Party leader, Walter Ulbricht, even said in an address to the people that it was “not enough to reject the capitalist decadence with words, to … speak out against the ecstatic ‘singing’ of someone like Presley. We have to offer something better.”

Lipsi – der ddr-tanz / the gdr-dance

www.youtube.com

The communists needed a secret weapon of their own to counter Elvis’ sultry hip movements. So, they came up with the Lipsi, a dance that was, uh… Let’s just say the communist-approved version of the waltz that was aimed towards youngsters never caught on because, well…

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

Keep in mind, he was, basically, just a private being told to move rocks because his commander told him so.

(National Archives)

Then came another public relations nightmare for the Soviets. Elvis was voluntold into a working party responsible for moving the Steinfurth WWI Memorial off-post and back into the neighboring community. Presley and his platoon simply relocated the memorial, but were heavily photographed throughout — because he was Elvis.

The West Germans were enamored because The King was honoring their people’s legacy. The Soviets feared that his “good will” would draw East German youth away from communism. The Soviets insisted that Presley’s involvement was part of a greater, sinister plot and doubled down on their anti-Elvis stance.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

All hail the King, baby!

(National Archives)

After the monument was rededicated and the Lipsi failed to take off, the East German youth actually started to listen to the music of the guy that the government feared. The communists’ overreaction to Elvis only generated intrigue, and more and more people wanted to check out his music. The anti-Elvis sentiment snowballed and compounded until, eventually, all dancing done without a partner was strictly forbidden. Why? Because it could lead to everyone doing pelvic thrusts like a savage capitalist.

No, seriously. That’s not a joke. Rock-and-roll dancing was akin to sexualized barbarism to the communists, and people were beaten, arrested, and sentenced to prison for partaking. Riots ensued when the East German youth were screaming, “long live Elvis Presley!” And when protesters had their homes raided, the intruders would routinely find pictures of Presley stashed away.

Sgt. Presley would eventually leave West Germany and transition back to civilian life, but not before inadvertently creating some new fans along the way.

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17 photos that show how great-grandpa got ready for WWI

Basic training sucks, but it follows a predictable pattern. A bunch of kids show up, someone shaves their heads, and they learn to shoot rifles.


But it turns out that training can be so, so much better than that. In World War I, it included mascots, tarantulas, and snowmen.

Check out these 18 photos to learn about what it was like to prepare for war 100 years ago:

1. If the old photos in the National Archives are any indication, almost no one made it to a training camp without a train ride.

 

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
New York recruits heading to training write messages on the sides of their train. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

2. Inprocessing and uniform issue would look about the same as in the modern military. Everyone learns to wear the uniform properly and how to shave well enough to satisfy the cadre.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

3. Training camps were often tent cities or rushed construction, so pests and sanitation problems were constant.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
A U.S. Marine at Marine Corps Training Activity San Juan, Cuba, shows off the tarantula he found. Tarantulas commonly crawled into the Marines’ boots at night. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

 

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
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4. Unsurprisingly, training camps included a lot of trench warfare. America was a late entrant to the war and knew the kind of combat it would face.

 

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Soldiers make their way through training trenches in Camp Fuston at Fort Riley, Kansas. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

5. Somehow, even training units had mascots in the Great War. This small monkey was commonly fed from a bottle.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
A World War I soldier plays with the unit mascot at Camp Wadsworth near Spartansburg, South Carolina. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

6. Seriously. Unit mascots were everywhere. One training company even boasted three mascots including a bear and a monkey.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
A World War I soldier lets the regimental mascot climb on him. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

7. Troops in camp built a snowman of the German kaiser in New York.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Troops at Camp Upton on Long Island, New York, pose with their snowman of the kaiser. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

8. A lot of things were named for the enemy in the camps, including these bayonet targets.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

9. This grave is for another dummy named kaiser. He was interred after the unit dug trenches in training.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Soldiers in a training camp at Plattsburg, New York, show off the grave they created for a dummy of the German kaiser during training on trench construction. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

10. World War I saw a deluge of new technologies that affected warfare. These shavers were preparing for a class in aerial photography.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Soldiers training at the U.S. Army School of Aerial Photography in New York shave before their class. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

11. Uniform maintenance was often up to the individual soldier, so learning to mend shirts was as important as learning to shoot photos from planes.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Soldiers from the 56th Infantry Regiment mend their own clothes at Camp McArthur near Waco, Texas. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

12. Local organizations showed their support for the troops through donations and morale events.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Soldiers training at Camp Lewis, Washington, grab apples from the Seattle Auto-Mobile Club of Seattle. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

13. Some were better than others. Free apples are fine, but free tobacco is divine.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
A thirty-car train carrying 11 million sacks of tobacco leaves Durham, North Carolina, en route to France where it will be rationed to troops. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

14. Nothing is better than payday, even if the pay is a couple of dollars.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Troops are paid at Camp Devens, Massachusetts. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

15. Someone get these men some smart phones or something. Three-person newspaper reading is not suitable entertainment for our troops.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
A father, son, and uncle share a newspaper on a visitor’s day during training camp. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

16. Once the troops were properly trained, they were shipped off to England and France. Their bags, on the other hand, were shipped home.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Soldiers finished with stateside training pose next to the large pile of luggage destined for their homes as they ship overseas. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

17. Again, trains everywhere back then. Everywhere.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Engineers ready to ship out write motivational messages on the side of their train car just before they leave the Atlanta, Georgia, area for France. (Photo: National Archives and Records Administration)

MIGHTY HISTORY

That time the US military made an ‘atomic cannon’

As a wise man once said, “They say that the best weapon is the one that you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree! I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once.”

Adhering closely to this mantra, the M65 was indeed only fired once and then simply used as a deterrent in the early days of the Cold War. Why was this weapon so special? Well, it helps that it fired 280mm nuclear tipped artillery with blast power approximately that of Little Boy dropped on Hiroshima.


Designed by engineer Robert M. Schwartz in 1949, the shells, in addition to being larger than anything the US military had ever produced before, had to have a case some 4000 times stronger than that of the aforementioned bomb dropped on Hiroshima in order for the nuke to survive the extreme forces it would be subjected to when the weapon was fired. While you might think designing such an round would be insanely difficult, if not wholly impossible, Schwartz reportedly had a working rough design ready in just 15 days. The resulting W9 was essentially an 850 pound, 11 by 55 inch shell with a gun type nuclear tip capable of producing a 15 kiloton blast.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

Photograph of a mock-up of the Little Boy nuclear weapon dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in August 1945.

Of course, there was also the problem of the U.S. not then having a cannon capable of firing these W9 shells. Schwartz solved this too, drawing inspiration for the ultimate design of the M65 from German WW2-era railway cannons like the Krupp K5. He also designed the M65 such that it could be transported via roads, hugely increasing the weapon’s utility over railway cannons.

That said, to say the M65 was cumbersome is a massive understatement. Weighing around 83 tons tons, it was rather difficult to move, requiring two trucks packing 375 horsepower engines, one truck on each end of the cannon, with the drivers needing to be in constant communication as they drove. The top speed on this setup was a breakneck 35 mph, if the road was straight and reasonably flat.

Its mobility was also limited by the length of the vehicle- about 80 feet- with one soldier, Jim Michalko, recalling that after getting the cannon stuck in a narrow street during transport in Germany, they ended up having to destroy several buildings in order to make necessary turns.

Despite these issues, a well-trained crew of around 5 people could have the cannon ready to fire in around 15 minutes, with the weapon capable of hitting any target within roughly 20 miles with pinpoint accuracy. It likewise only took around 15 minutes to get the cannon back on the road, ready to nuke another target.

As alluded to earlier, the M65 is known to have only been fired once, as part of Operation Upshot–Knothole, a series of nuclear weapons tests conducted at the Nevada National Security Site in 1953.

In the one and only time a nuclear bomb has been shot from a cannon, during the Grable test at Frenchman Flat, the nuke flew 10 kilometres (roughly 7 miles) through the air, where it exploded about 500 feet above the ground.

The resulting explosion incinerated everything within about a mile of desert, excepting of course a lead lined fridge that was thrown free, and released a shockwave of searing hot air that tore apart lightly armoured vehicles positioned at set distances from the target area- all while several thousand soldiers, hundreds of military officials, several members of congress and then Secretary of Defence, Charles Wilson, looked on in awe from a mere 10 miles away.

Footage of this test was quickly circulated by the military as a show of force to the Soviets, and twenty M65 cannons were ordered to be created, all of which were shipped to Europe and South Korea where they spent around a decade being moved to various classified locations.

However, with the combined advent of tactical nuclear missiles and smaller nuclear shells that could fit in more widely used 155mm and 203mm cannons, the M65, which debuted with a bang in 1953, quietly went the way of Dodo by 1963.

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

MIGHTY HISTORY

This is why the US Army had a Camel Corps

Camels have been used as beasts of burden for millennia and the creature is, in many ways, vastly more suited to the task than even the sturdiest of equids. For example, a typical camel can carry in excess of 300 kilos (661 lbs) of supplies without issue, more than twice the weight an average horse or mule could carry with similar distances/speeds. In addition, camels are also largely indifferent to relatively extreme heat, can go for days without needing to take in additional water, and can happily chow down on many desert plants horses and mules wouldn’t eat if they were starving (meaning more of what they can carry can be cargo instead of food for the animals). When not under heavy load, camels can also run as fast as 40 mph in short bursts as well as sustain a speed of around 25 mph for even as much as an hour. They are also extremely sure footed and can travel in weather conditions that would make wagon use impractical.


For this reason a small, but nonetheless dedicated group within the American military in the mid 19th century was positively obsessed with the idea of using camels as pack animals, and even potentially as cavalry.

It’s noted that the largest proponent of camel power at the time was the then Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis — yes, THAT, Jefferson Davis. Davis particularly thought the camel would be useful in southern states where the army was having trouble transporting supplies owing to the desert-like conditions in some of the regions.

To solve the problem, Davis continually pushed for importing camels, including in a report to congress he wrote in 1854 where he stated, “I again invite attention to the advantages to be anticipated from the use of camels… for military and other purposes, and for reasons set forth in my last annual report, recommend that an appropriation be made to introduce a small number of the several varieties of this animal, to test their adaptation to our country…”

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Camel at Drum Barracks, San Pedro, California (1863 or earlier)

Finally, in early 1855, Congress listened, setting a $30,000 (about $800,000 today) budget for just such an experiment. One Major Henry C. Wayne was then tasked with travelling all the way across the world to buy several dozen camels to bring back to America, with Wayne setting out on this trip on June 4, 1855.

Besides going to places like Egypt and other such regions known for their camel stock, Wayne also took a detour through Europe where he grilled various camel aficionados and zoological experts on how to best take care of the animal.

After several months, Wayne returned to America with a few dozen camels and a fair amount of arrogance about his new endeavor. On that note, only about four months after taking a crash course in camel care, Wayne proudly boasted that Americans would “manage camels not only as well, but better than Arabs as they will do it with more humanity and with far greater intelligence.” Of course, when initial efforts on that front demonstrated a little more experience was needed, various Arab immigrants who had experience managing the beasts were hired to head up the task.

The newly formed United States Camel Corps quickly proved its worth, such as early on managing to carry supplies from San Antonio, Texas to Camp Verde, Arizona during a severe rainstorm that made using wagons practically impossible. In another expedition, the man in charge of the trip, Edward Fitzgerald Beale, afterwards reported back that just one camel was worth four of the best mules on that trip.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Gwinn Heap’s illustration for Jefferson Davis’ (at that time Secretary of War) report to the U.S. Congress in 1857. The drawingu00a0illustrated the journey of the camels to the United States.

Robert E. Lee would later state after another expedition where conditions saw some of the mules die along the journey, the camels “endurance, docility and sagacity will not fail to attract attention of the Secretary of War, and but for whose reliable services the reconnaissance would have failed.”

Despite the glowing reviews, there were various complaints such as the camel’s legendary reputation for stubbornness and frequent temper tantrums and that horses were nervous around them. Of course, horses could be trained to put up with camels. The real issue seems to have been the human factor- soldiers just preferred to deal with more familiar horses and mules, despite the disadvantages compared to camels in certain situations. As Gen. David Twigg matter of factly stated: “I prefer mules for packing.”

Later, just as big of an issue was the fact that it was Jefferson Davis who championed the idea in the first place. As you might imagine, during and after the Civil War, ideas he’d previously prominently pushed for were not always viewed in the best light in the North.

Unsurprisingly from all this, the Camel Corps idea was quietly dropped within a year of the end of the Civil War and later, largely forgotten by history. However, some of the imported camels, including thousands imported by businesses around this same time that were rendered mostly useless with the establishment of the transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s, were simply set free, with sightings of wild camel still a thing in the South going all the way up to around the mid-20th century.

Bonus Facts:

  • Male Arabian camels begin courtship via more or less inflating a portion of his soft palate called a dulla with air to the point that it protrudes up to a foot out of his mouth. The result is something that looks somewhat akin to an inflated scrotum hanging out of its mouth. On top of this, they use their spit to then make a low gurgling sound, with the result being the camel also appearing to foam at the mouth at the same time. If this isn’t sexy enough for the lady camels, they also rub their necks (where they have poll glands that produce a foul, brown goo) anywhere they can and even pee on their own tails to increase their lady-attracting stench.
  • Even though today Camels can only naturally be found in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, Camels are actually thought to have originated in the Americas around 40 million years ago. It’s thought that they migrated to Asia shortly before the last Ice Age, though there were still Camels in North America as recently as 15,000 years ago.
  • America isn’t the only place that imported camels. Australia also imported up to 20,000 camels from India in the 19th century to help with exploring the country, much of which is desert. Ultimately many camels were set free and, unlike in the US, the camel population in Australia flourished. Today, Australia is estimated to have one of the largest feral camel populations in the world (estimated at 750,000 camels in 2009), which has since been deemed something of an environmental problem. As such, the government has set up a program to cull the camels, with around a couple hundred thousand being killed in the last several years in an attempt to control the population.

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

Articles

Turkey claims US will disarm Kurdish allies after ISIS defeat

The US has told Turkey that it will take back weapons supplied to the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria after the Islamic State group is defeated, Turkish defense sources said.


The United States has told Turkey that it will take back weapons it supplied to the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria after the Islamic State group is defeated, Turkish defense sources said.

President Donald Trump approved arming fighters from the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units in May – which is part of the Syrian Democratic Forces – drawing strong condemnation from Turkey.

Ankara said on June 22nd that US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis promised to provide his Turkish counterpart with a monthly list of weapons handed to the YPG, with the first such inventory already sent.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
General Mattis. Photo courtesy of the DoD

In a letter to Turkish Defense Minister Fikri Isik, Mattis said that a detailed record of all equipment provided to the YPG was being kept and that all the weapons would be taken back after Islamic State was defeated, according to Turkish defense.

Mattis also said that Arab fighters would form 80 percent of the forces which will recapture Raqqa, the Islamic State’s main urban base in Syria.

Once the mainly Sunni Arab city is taken, it will be held by Arab forces, the defence sources said he told Isik.

Washington and Ankara are bitterly at odds over US support for the YPG, a Syrian armed faction that acts as the main ground force in the Pentagon’s plan to defeat the Islamic State group but that Turkey deems a front for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
A Turkish ACV-15 operated by Free Syrian Army. Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Turkey’s concerns about the YPG were significant enough for Ankara to launch its own military operation inside Syria in August 2016, dubbed Euphrates Shield.

The operation had the dual goals of targeting IS and the Kurdish militia, particularly to prevent the YPG from controlling a contiguous strip of territory along the Syria- Turkey border.

The SDF – an Arab-Kurdish alliance formed in 2015 – spent seven months tightening the noose on Raqqa city before finally entering it last week.

An estimated 300,000 civilians were believed to have been living under IS rule in Raqqa, including 80,000 displaced from other parts of Syria.

Thousands have fled in recent months, and the UN humanitarian office estimates about 160,000 people remain in the city.

MIGHTY HISTORY

Why ancient German women yelled at male warriors in combat

At the 58 BC Battle of Vosges, Julius Caesar was surrounded. He had to force the Germanic army under Ariovistus into combat because the German was content to starve the Romans out. Cut off from supplies, Caesar’s legions may not last long enough to attack later. So, outnumbered and surrounded, Caesar struck.

He marched his entire force toward the weakest part of the Germanic army: its camp. When the legions arrived, the Germanic women were in the army’s wagon train, shouting, screaming, and wailing… at the Germanic men.


Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Julius Caesar meets Ariovistus before the Battle of Vosges.

The Gallic Wars were an important moment in the history of Rome. It saw Julius Caesar’s rise in power and prestige as well as an important military and territorial expansion of the Roman Republic. But to the Romans’ well-organized and disciplined fighting force, the wailing Germanic women must have been an altogether strange experience.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

Germanic women were forced to defend the wagon trains after many battles against the Romans.

If a tribe was caught up in a fight while migrating or moving for any reason, women would not be left behind. Germanic women would yell at their fighting men, sometimes with their children on hand to witness the fighting. The women encouraged their children to yell and, with bare breasts, shouted reminders at the men that they must be victorious in combat or their families would be captured and enslaved… or worse, slaughtered wholesale.

Their shouts encouraged their men to fight harder, as women were considered holy spirits. Letting them fall into enemy hands was the ultimate failure.

The Roman Senator and historian Tacitus wrote in his work, Germania:

A specially powerful incitement to valor is that the squadrons and divisions are not made up at random by the mustering of chance-comers, but are each composed of men of one family or clan. Close by them, too, are their nearest and dearest, so that they can hear the shrieks of their women-folk and the wailing of their children. These are the witnesses whom each man reverences most highly, whose praise he most desires. It is to their mothers and wives that they go to have their wounds treated, and the women are not afraid to count and compare the gashes. They also carry supplies of food to the combatants and encourage them.

It stands on record that armies already wavering and on the point of collapse have been rallied by the women, pleading heroically with their men, thrusting forward their bared bosoms, and making them realize the imminent prospect of enslavement — a fate which the Germans fear more desperately for their women than for themselves. Indeed, you can secure a surer hold on these nations if you compel them to include among a consignment of hostages some girls of noble family. More than this, they believe that there resides in women an element of holiness and a gift of prophecy; and so they do not scorn to ask their advice, or lightly disregard their replies.The women were more than just morale builders, though. They provided aid and comfort to their men after the battle was over, of course. And they would bring supplies and food to their male warriors in the middle of the fight.

If the battle didn’t go well, however, Germanic women could take on an entirely new role. They might kill any male members of the tribe who attempted retreat. They could even kill their children and then commit suicide rather than submit to enslavement by another tribe or army.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

Women were captured en masse at the Battle of Aquaq Sextiae.

Vosges wasn’t the first time the Roman Republic encountered this phenomenon. At the 102 BC Battle of Aquae Sextiae a Roman army that was outnumbered by Germans 3-to-1 emerged victorious, according to the Roman historian Plutarch. He notes that 300 of the women captured that day killed themselves and their children rather than be taken back to Rome.

For the Germans at the Battle of Vosges, the situation wasn’t as desperate. They were all well-rested and their march from the Rhine River didn’t take a heavy toll on their strength. But the Romans were formidable and, thanks to a sudden moment of quick thinking by one of Caesar’s cavalry officers, they were able to drive the Germans back across the Rhine. When Caesar returned from Rome after the conquest of Gaul, he came back with a million slaves.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Air strikes in Yemen kill dozens, including children

Dozens of people, many of them children, were killed in Saudi-led coalition air strikes on Aug 9 in Yemen’s Saada province, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and local medical sources said.

The ICRC said one strike targeted a bus driving children in Dahyan market, in northern Saada. Hospitals in the area received dozens of dead and wounded, the ICRC said.


The Western-backed coalition, which is fighting Iranian-backed Huthi rebels in Yemen, said in a statement that it targeted missile launchers used to attack the southern Saudi industrial city of Jizan, and accused the Huthis of using children as human shields.

“Today’s attack in Saada was a legitimate military operation… and was carried out in accordance with international humanitarian law,” the Arabic-language statement said.

It was unclear how many children were killed and how many air strikes were carried out in the area, in northern Yemen, near the border with Saudi Arabia.

The Huthi rebels’ health ministry said at least 43 people were killed, and 61 were wounded. The ICRC said most of the victims were under 10 years old.

“Scores killed, even more injured, most under the age of 10,” Johannes Bruwer, head of delegation for the ICRC in Yemen, said in a twitter post.

Saudi Arabia and Sunni Muslim allies have been fighting in Yemen for more than three years against the Huthis, who control much of north Yemen including the capital Sanaa and drove the government into exile in 2014.

Almost 10,000 people — a vast majority of them civilians – have been killed since the Huthis took control of the north in 2014, when they forced President Abd-Rabbu Mansur Hadi into exile in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

What’s made the Abrams tank so lethal for 40 years

The legendary M1 Abrams tank has been on the testing ranges and battlefields for 40 years, saving dozens or even hundreds of crews who were able to unleash hellish fury on their enemies while surviving dozens of blows from enemy tanks’ main guns.

It’s all thanks to American and British engineering that has stood the test of time.


Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

An MBT-70 fires an anti-tank missile in testing.

(Mark Holloway, CC BY 2.0)

That’s right, British engineering was a key ingredient in creating this dominant war machine.

The need for the M1 program came about because of the failure of the MBT-70 program, a joint U.S.-German program to develop a replacement for the M-60 Patton, a capable but aging tank that wouldn’t be able to hold the line against Soviet armor forever.

The MBT-70 would have had a low profile, good armor, and a massive 152mm main gun that could fire anti-tank missiles. It was fast, hitting 43 mph in testing, which would’ve made it the fastest tank in the world at the time. And it had a weird feature where the driver’s seat was located in the turret but automatically rotated to always face the direction of travel.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

An MBT-70 prototype at the United States Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

(Mark Pellegrini, CC BY-SA 2.5)

But for all its bells and whistles, the MBT-70 had a lot of problems. It was too heavy to use most of the armored infrastructure then available in Europe, including recovery vehicles and bridges. It cost more than originally planned, too. But worst of all, its caseless ammo had a tendency to swell, making it unusable in combat and potentially even starting fires inside the vehicle.

The project was ultimately canceled due to costs, but some of the technical specs and designs were carried over into the XM1 project, which would churn out its first M1 Abrams in 1978. The M1 shared the low-profile of the MBT-70 as well as blowout compartments for ammunition and a shallow turret.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

An M1 Abrams taking part in Getica Saber 17.

(U.S. Army Spc. Kelsey M VanFleet)

The Abrams was even faster than its speedy predecessor. On paper, it was slated to peak at 45mph, but in capable tankers’ hands, it was a little faster. Originally, its gun was shrunk down to 105mm, but later models were upgraded to 120mm — still a far cry from the 152mm of the MBT-70. But with sabot rounds controversially made from depleted uranium, it still had enough power to punch through nearly anything. Even modern explosive reactive armor has trouble with sabot.

But the the most revolutionary upgrades that the Abrams brought to the table are in the armor and engines. The armor is Chobham armor that Britain quietly revealed to the U.S. while it was developing the Abrams. It is, essentially, a layered sandwich of reactive plates encased in metal with elastic layers underneath. It provides great protection against high-explosive rounds, kinetic energy penetrators, and armor-piercing rounds.

The initial Abrams was so popular with tankers that they gave rave reviews in 1982 to a visiting writer and bragged that the tank would “remain contemporary” for at least 10 years. 30 years after that article was published, the notion seems cute.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

An M1 Abrams tank fires in Strong Europe Tank Challenge 2018.

(U.S. Army Christoph Koppers)

But the Abrams hasn’t survived for so long because it was awesome rolling off the line. The tank has been upgraded every few years since its debut. It has received not only a new gun, but improved optics and a better powertrain. And those are just the upgrades implemented before the 1990 Gulf War.

Since then, everything from the ammo to the armor to the electronics have been upgraded. It can power its computers without running the high-consumption turbines, its formerly vulnerable gas tanks are now better protected and it has defenses against IEDs and large anti-tank mines.

It has even gotten reactive armor with the TUSK — the Tank Urban Survival Kit. This is basically a bunch of bombs strapped to the outside of the tank that deflect enemy blasts and penetrators.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

Iraqi soldiers practice M1 Abrams night driving.

(U.S. Army Sgt. Paul Sale)

The newest Abrams variant, the M1A2 SEP V3, actually improves the tank so much that it’s still at the top of a lot of “Best Tank” lists, even among experts, mostly thanks to sustainability and reliability upgrades, but also thanks to a new round designed to defeat enemy reactive armor.

But the planned SEP V4 will introduce more upgrades including a new, multi-purpose round with a laser rangefinder and the ability to be programmed for different targets just before it’s fired.

The Army is looking at finally, possibly, moving on from the M1 Abrams after the SEP V4 upgrades. The argument is that there are new tank designs, like the Russian T-14 or Chinese Type 99, that the Abrams cannot stay ahead of, and so a new design from the ground up should be fielded. If so, let’s hope that design is good enough to last over 40 years, too.

MIGHTY TRENDING

The spectacular naval origin of the phrase, ‘son of a gun’

These days, Americans are less likely to exclaim “son of a gun” than the more-explicit “son of a b*tch,” but there was a time when “son of a gun” itself was not used in mixed company — and that time was more than 200 years after the age of sail.


It seems the Royal Navy, while not keen on having women aboard its ships, sometimes overlooked the practice. Different times throughout its history saw sailors of the Royal Navy either bring either their wives or lovers aboard ships that might be out at sea for a while. While it wasn’t officially tolerated, there are instances of a ship’s company turning a blind eye to it.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
At this point, it’s important that everyone knows I’m talking about prostitutes.

 

Everyone aboard a ship was counted in the ship’s log back in those days. The log was a detailed account of who was working, who came aboard, who left, who died, etc. It also kept track of who was born aboard one of the King or Queen’s ships. It was uncommon, but it did happen. Women had to get around the world just like anyone else. The Royal Navy kept this count, just like any other ship.

But say there was one of the aforementioned female guests aboard a ship. If that woman just happened to give birth aboard ship, that child would have to be kept in the log. If a child was born with uncertain paternity — that is to say, there were too many possibilities as to who the father could be — the newborn still had to be counted in the log.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect
Like an old-timey recording of the Maury Show.

 

If this was the case, the child’s name was recorded as the “son of a gun” — the son of a seaman below decks. Eventually, the common use of the phrase began to refer to any child born aboard a ship, even those of officers accompanied by their wives. Then, it began to refer to any child of a military man, not just the bastard children of sailors.

Some 200-plus years later, it’s used to lovingly refer to a mischievous person or as an expression of awe or esteem. To use an expletive or insult in the same vein, we’ve moved on as a society. Who knows where language will go next?

MIGHTY CULTURE

British Army is swapping English breakfasts for avocado toast

The British Army diet is getting a millennial makeover.

While full English breakfasts have long been a staple for troops, this could soon be replaced by everyone’s favorite brunch: avocado on toast.

Alongside a healthy smoothie, the new millennial-friendly breakfast option is being introduced in a bid to tackle obesity amongst troops, the Express reported.

Indeed, Lieutenant-Colonel Ben Watts was recently quoted as saying that 57% of soldiers are overweight and 12% fall into the obese category — however, it’s worth noting that BMI tests often class extremely muscular people as overweight as well.


Watts even said that the growing rate of obesity in the army is a “national security threat” because fewer troops are fit to be sent into battle.

And so the healthier “warrior breakfast” options are reportedly being trialed with units of 4 Infantry Brigade at Catterick in North Yorkshire.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

It’s been devised by defense contractor Aramark in collaboration with HQ Regional Command, the Express reported, and will see soldiers offered a light pre-breakfast of yogurt, fruit, and smoothies to start their day, and then avocado on toast as a refuel meal after their morning training sessions.

A spokesperson for the army explained to INSIDER that they take a “holistic approach” to wellbeing, educating recruits in nutrition, diet, and exercise in order to maintain a healthy weight. Troops have to pass regular fitness tests too.

The new breakfast forms part of a “Healthy Living Pilot,” which aims to lead to improvements in the areas of nutrition, alcohol, smoking, work-life balance, and mental health, with the ultimate goal of increasing retention of personnel in the military.

But what will the soldiers make of the changes?

A source who spent time as a reserve soldier in the British Army told INSIDER: “Smoothies and avocado would be a pretty drastic turn from army breakfasts as I knew them, which were mostly focused on filling you up — and not costing too much.

“My first breakfast on a British Army base was: sausage, bacon, bread, hash browns, beans, and porridge. There were apples and bananas, but it is fair to say the troops were not that enthusiastic about them.”

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

(Photo by Chris Tweten)

Another source from inside the army, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed that the new menu likely wouldn’t go down well with all the recruits.

“It’s an interesting thought and would certainly be welcome in the Officers’ Mess, not so sure about the soldiers though!” he said.

He also explained that one reason obesity is an issue in the army is that the food provided isn’t particularly appealing, which means troops often end up purchasing more delicious — but less nutritious — options.

“One of the main reasons for poor health and obesity is the government’s decision to outsource chefs and cooking to contractors like Aramark,” he said.

“The ‘core meal,’ which they are obliged by the MoD [Ministry of Defence] to provide is a balanced meal but is deliberately bland and uninspiring.

“Soldiers can opt for the more expensive alternative options which are more appetizing but are regularly unhealthy, such as burgers, pizzas, chips, baked beans, etc.”

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

Soldiers are able to order more appetizing but less nutritious meals such as pizza.

(Photo by ivan Torres)

The army spokesperson added that caterers are required to provide food to suit a wide range of dietary requirements, including healthy options.

There’s also been a change in how food is paid for.

“Soldiers now have to pay for their food as well,” our source continued. “The old system had it deducted at source from pay.

“Many soldiers are bad at managing their finances and then end up with no money to pay for food so have to eat rations, which are designed to dump loads of calories into your system to keep you going for high-intensity exercises!”

Breakfast is a little different though — for the “core option,” soldiers can currently eat a cooked breakfast comprising six items including two proteins, but cereal and milk are also deemed one of the six. This means that even if you only want a bowl of cereal, you’re wasting money by not getting a fried egg, a sausage, and beans on fried bread alongside it, according to our source.

He also explained that many of the soldiers and officers choose not to go to breakfast at all because they’d rather sleep longer and they don’t actually want to eat a big meal before doing a high-intensity exercise circuit as part of their physical training.

Why the commander of the Army’s Balloon Corps was just as crazy as you’d expect

Would soldiers be more likely to go to breakfast if it was a light smoothie?

(Flickr/Nomadic Lass)

“Officers used to be able to order soldiers to have breakfast but we cannot order people to spend their own money.”

Perhaps with lighter options on offer to start their day, more soldiers would decide to eat before training.

Rhiannon Lambert, a registered nutritionist and founder of Rhitrition clinic on London’s Harley Street, said she welcomes the healthier changes to the army diet.

“Regardless of the growing rates of obesity, the army deserves to have a nourishing and fulfilling breakfast that’s going to aid them in their productivity and overall health,” Lambert told INSIDER.

“Focusing on changing their dietary plan owed to obesity is something that should be seen as a positive thing in helping the health of our troops rather than focusing on the question of weight and numbers.”

However, Lambert pointed out that avocado toast isn’t actually the perfect healthy meal many people believe it to be.

“Avocado on toast isn’t actually that balanced as it doesn’t have enough protein in,” Lambert explained. “I would recommend adding a protein source on the top such as nuts, seeds, beans, eggs, or hummus.

“And of course, everyone is completely unique, and lifestyle and activity levels should dictate the diet.”

This article originally appeared on Insider. Follow @thisisinsider on Twitter.

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