“The Great War” was named for its size, not the experience of fighting it. Troops lived and slept in the mud and rubble, they fought through heavy machine gun fire and poison gas to roll back Imperial Germany’s occupation of France. About 2.8 million American men and women would serve overseas before the war ended. Here’s a quick peek at what life was like for them:
The Japanese Kamikaze pilots were known for their suicide attacks against American vessels. These pilots, hell-bent on getting revenge for their lost comrades while fighting a doomed battle against an angry and seemingly unstoppable Navy, would die crashing their planes into Allied ships.
But the Japanese actually weren’t alone in ordering pilots to use their planes as guided missiles. In fact, they weren’t even the first.
Soviet pilots conducted “taran” attacks, using their own planes as battering rams against German craft, on the first day of the German invasion. And Polish pilots used the tactic on the first day of World War II. Kamikaze attacks, meanwhile, began in 1944.
The first-known taran attack in World War II took place on Sept. 1, 1939. Polish pilots resisting the German invasion were shockingly effective despite flying outdated and outnumbered aircraft.
One pilot, Lt. Col. Leopold Pamula, had shot down two German bombers and fired on a third but found himself out of ammo. With the bombers headed towards an important city and the situation growing increasingly desperate, Pamula attempted an aerial ram in his P.11 and brought down the enemy bomber.
But here’s where it breaks from the tradition of Japanese Kamikaze attacks — and it might be why Kamikaze attacks have persisted in the historical consciousness while taran and similar attacks have not. Pamula then bailed out of his plane as the enemy bomber dropped towards the earth.
See, taran attacks followed three broad patterns according to a 1986 analysis by the RAND Corp. First, the pilot could aim for their propeller to strike the enemy control surfaces. Second, the pilot could conduct a very controlled crash of some portion of their plane against the enemy’s control surfaces.
Either of these methods, if everything went well, would doom the enemy aircraft without killing the pilot conducting the attack.
Only the third method, in which the pilot points their nose directly into the body of the enemy aircraft, was certain doom for the attacking pilot performing. In the other two methods, there was a chance that the plane would remain stable enough for the pilot to bail out afterward.
When German forces invaded the Soviet Union, the Soviets quickly adopted the taran just like their old Polish adversaries.
At 4:25 in the morning on June 22, 1941, scant hours into the invasion, Soviet Senior Lt. L. I. Ivanov rammed a German bomber, the first of 270 aerial tarans, according to a 1984 Soviet report. A 1974 report had estimated the total number of Soviet tarans in World War II at 430.
So, why don’t we hear the tales of Soviet and Polish pilots slamming their planes into enemy aircraft? The fact that some pilots to survived, as mentioned above, surely contributed. But there’s one other factor that likely has us remembering the taran as a semi-legitimate tactic while the kamikaze is remembered as a horror weapon.
Kamikaze attacks, while not the best decision militarily, were terrifying largely because a successful one could doom a carrier, a battleship, or a cruiser in one go. A successful taran attack, on the other hand, caused six members of an air crew to attempt to bail. A successful kamikaze attack meant that thousands of sailors had to try to escape a sinking prison as oil ignited on the ocean’s surface around them.
One of those is frightening, perhaps disquieting. The other is the stuff of nightmares.
The Second World War saw the creation, fielding, and use of some of the most powerful weapons. From massive battleships armed with guns that will never again be matched in size to the atom bomb, these weapons were built to cause shock and awe and bring about destruction like we’ve never seen. England’s legendary “earthquake bombs,” or seismic bombs, were one such invention.
Barnes Wallis was an engineering graduate of the University of London and an incredibly creative mind. Well known for his bouncing bomb of Dambusters fame, Wallis was an integral part of British and Allied war machine programs, churning out improvements in aircraft and munitions design. He came up with the concept of the earthquake bomb in the early years of the War.
These bombs arose out of a need to hit “hardened” targets — reinforced structures designed to withstand heavy bombardment — and underground installations. Before the deployment of the earthquake bomb, these targets were, in theory, impenetrable.
Wallis took their impregnability as a challenge.
At the time, area bombing was the prevailing method employed by Allied forces to hit German targets in the European Theater. Large cells of bombers would drop hundreds, if not thousands, of bombs with the hope that at least a few would hit their mark. This did little to destroy or even inflict damage upon hardened targets.
Instead, Wallis hypothesized that the ideal way to take out these structures and military installations was with an accurate, concentrated attack using a smaller number of extremely powerful munitions.
Speed and momentum would be the new bomb’s method of penetration. Extremely heavy and built with an armored casing and guiding fins, once dropped from its bomber, the munition would reach near-supersonic speeds as it hurtled toward the ground. This force would be more than enough to punch through the layers of thick concrete used by German military engineers to protect their facilities.
After boring through the ceiling of its target, the seismic bomb would fall as far as its momentum would take it. Only then would it detonate, giving whoever was inside or nearby a glimpse of utter hell. Aircrew who dropped these bombs reported that, at first, it looked as though the bomb merely punched a hole in the target. Within seconds, entire targets seemed to crumple in on themselves and fall into a sinkhole.
When the seismic bomb detonated deep within its target, the shock waves from the gargantuan warhead didn’t just obliterate anything nearby, it destabilized entire structures, shaking and moving the very earth beneath them, destroying and collapsing their foundations. Soon, a new term for these weapons would surface — “bunker busters.”
The Royal Air Force fielded two types of seismic bombs over the course of the Second World War — the Tallboy and the Grand Slam. Both were used against submarine pens, factories, and underground German bunkers to great effect. The US Army Air Force followed suit not too long after with similar bombs of their own. Tallboys were famously used to disable and sink the legendary Bismarck‘s sister battleship, the Tirpitz, in 1944.
There’s an old Yakov Smirnoff joke that goes something like, “in Soviet Russia, it’s freedom of speech. In America, it’s freedom after speech.” And if there was anyone who knew this first-hand, it was Smirnoff himself.
He and all other comedians who used to live under the Soviet regime could have faced jail time or death for any joke deemed “unfit.” In order for this to work, there would be absolutely no improvisation. All comedians would need to run each and every joke they planned on telling in a given year through the Ministry of Culture of the USSR.
Within the Ministry, there was an elaborate department dedicated to jokes and humor. The process of telling a timely joke without angering the committee was exhausting. Any joke that was actually funny against the communist ideology was banned. Even being remotely anti-communist meant the joke was banned.
Smirnoff told The Guardian one of his jokes that didn’t make it through and you can see how “humorous” of a place the Department of Jokes was.
“An ant falls in love and marries an elephant. They have an amazing honeymoon, a night of wild passion that is so passionate, in fact, that the elephant collapses and dies in the middle – the ant, however, is even less lucky. He is forced to spend the rest of his living days digging the elephant’s enormous grave.”
Apparently, that’s anti-communist and needed to be banned.
Because jokes were so generally unfunny, scarce, and hard to get approved, any joke that was both permitted and remotely humorous was immediately borrowed by every other Soviet comedian. Talk show hosts were heavily vetted before being allowed on air, so their works were free game and any joke they told would end up in every comedy club a week later.
This doesn’t mean that rebellious citizens didn’t tell their own jokes. Ukrainians held a deep resentment towards their Russian overlords so their jokes were more common — if not darker.
“A Soviet newspaper reports: Last night the Chernobyl Nuclear Power station fulfilled the Five Year Plan of heat energy generation… in 4 microseconds.”
The regime of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un remains a danger to the world, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said Jan. 26 in Honolulu, while emphasizing diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.
The goal remains the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, Mattis told reporters at U.S. Pacific Command‘s headquarters at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, with South Korea Minister of Defense Song Young-moo.
“The Kim regime is a threat to the entire world,” Mattis said. “It’s an international problem that requires an international solution.”
He noted three unanimous United Nations Security Council Resolutions on North Korea.
“Our response to this threat remains diplomacy-led, backed up with military options available to ensure that our diplomats are understood to be speaking from a position of strength,” the secretary explained.
U.S.-South Korea ‘ironclad and irreplaceable’ alliance
Mattis and Song reaffirmed the strength of their countries’ alliance and America’s pledge to defend South Korea and maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
The U.S.-South Korean alliance is “ironclad and irreplaceable,” Mattis said.
“Our combined militaries stand shoulder-to-shoulder ready to defend against any attack” on South Korea or the United States, he said.
Mattis praised South Korea’s “steadfast action upholding United Nations sanctions at sea,” noting South Korea has impounded two ships that were found violating the U.N. Resolutions using ship-to-ship transfer at cargo at sea.
South Korea “leads by example in carrying out the United Nations’ sanctions,” Mattis said, adding North Korea is reminded that “risking its economy to boost its rockets makes it less secure, not more.”
Enduring Pacific power
Mattis said Song is always welcome at the Pacific Command headquarters in Honolulu. This was the last stop of the secretary’s trip that also took him to Indonesia and Vietnam.
“Here in beautiful Hawaii we’re reminded that America is an enduring Pacific power — five of our states plus territories all touch on this shared ocean,” he said.
Reckless rhetoric, dangerous provocations
Mattis said the United States and South Korea welcome the Olympic Games talks between North Korea and South Korea, but at the same time, “remain steadfast with the international economic pressure campaign to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.”
The talks for the Olympics, Mattis explained, do not address the overarching problems with North Korea.
“Diplomacy should repose reason on Kim’s reckless rhetoric and dangerous provocations,” he said.
North Korea is sending athletes, including hockey players for a unified South Korea-North Korea team, to the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea. The games begin Feb. 9.
While the congressionally mandated close-air support tests between the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and A-10 Warthog wrapped up in July 2018, lawmakers may not be satisfied with the results as questions continue to swirl about how each performed.
“I personally wrote the specific provisions in the [Fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act] mandating a fly-off between the F-35 & A-10,” Rep. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, tweeted July 13, 2018. “It must be carried out per Congressional intent & direction.”
McSally, a former A-10 pilot whose home state includes Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, said she had reached out to Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein to “ensure an objective comparison.”
The requirement that the two aircraft go up against each other was included as a provision in the bill amid congressional concerns over plans to retire the A-10 and replace it with the F-35. McSally was one of the architects of the bill’s language.
The watchdog organization, which obtained the Air Force’s test schedule and spoke to unidentified sources relevant to the event, claimed that the limited flights also curbed the A-10’s strengths while downplaying the F-35’s troubled past and current program stumbles.
The JSF operational test team and other Initial Operational Test and Evaluation officials “faithfully executed” the F-35 vs. A-10 comparison test “in accordance with the IOTE test design approved in 2016,” and did so in compliance with 2017 NDAA requirements, said Army Lt. Col. Michelle L. Baldanza, spokeswoman for the Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOTE).
The testing happened from July 5 to 12, 2018, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, Baldanza said in an email.
“The [Joint Operational Test Team] will continue to schedule and fly the remaining comparison test design missions when additional A-10s become available,” she said.
She said the data points collected will add to the scope of the side-by-side comparison test.
The “matched-pair” fourth-generation A-10 and fifth-generation F-35A comparison test close-air support missions “are realistic scenarios involving a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), surface-to-air threats, some live and inert air-to-ground weapons employment, and varying target types,” which include “moving target vehicles and armored vehicles across different conditions,” such as day and night operations and low-to-medium threat levels, Baldanza said.
A-10 Thunderbolt II
(U.S. Air Force photo)
“The challenging scenarios are designed to reveal the strengths and limitations of each aircraft,” she said, referring to radars, sensors, infrared signatures, fuel levels, loiter time, weapons capability, electronic warfare and datalinks.
“Each test design scenario is repeated by both aircraft types while allowing them to employ per their best/preferred tactics and actual/simulated weapons loads,” Baldanza said. “Therefore, references to individual scenarios or specific weapons loadouts will not reflect the full scope of the comparison test evaluation.”
DOTE will analyze the flight test data collected and results will be compiled in an IOTE report as well as DOTE’s “Beyond Low-Rate Initial Production” report.
The reports will offer comparative analyses of “differences, strengths, and weaknesses of the F-35A versus the A-10 across the prescribed comparison test mission types [and/or] scenarios,” the DoD said.
For these reasons, the Air Force has consistently avoided calling the highly anticipated test a “fly-off.” Aviation enthusiasts and pilots have also said putting the two aircraft side-by-side remains an apples-to-oranges comparison.
In addition to a variety of rockets, missiles and bombs fastened to hardpoints under its wings, the A-10 most notably employs its GAU-8/A 30mm gun system, which produces an iconic sound that ground troops never forget.
“There’s just nothing that matches the devastation that that gun can bring,” A-10 pilot “Geronimo” said in the 2014 mini-documentary “Grunts in the Sky: The A-10 in Afghanistan.” The nearly four-year-old footage was made public in January 2018.
“The ground troops that I work with — when they think close-air support, they think A-10s,” Staff Sgt. Joseph Hauser, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller then based at Forward Operating Base Ghazni in Afghanistan, said in the footage.
Those qualities are what will get the fighter through the door before it performs a CAS-type role, officials say.
“In a contested CAS scenario, a JTAC would absolutely want to call this airplane in, and we practice just that,” said Capt. Dojo Olson, the Air Force’s F-35A Heritage Flight Team commander and a pilot with the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.
Olson spoke with Military.com during the Royal International Air Tattoo airshow here at RAF Fairford, England.
“We practice close-air support, and we practice contested close-air support, or providing close-air support in a battlespace that is not just totally permissive to fourth-generation airplanes,” he said.
“We foresee future combat environments where even in close-air support, even in counterinsurgency operations, there will be air defense systems,” added Steve Over, F-35 international business development director. “And you need to have sensors that will be able to find the target.”
He added that the F-35A model also has a Gatling gun — the GAU-22/A four-barrel 25mm gun, made by General Dynamics. “But more than likely it’s going to be using other precision-guided munitions” such as small-diameter or laser-guided bombs, he said.
“You can provide [CAS] from a precision-strike platform from tens of thousands of feet in the air, so there’s a lot of different types of” the mission, he said. “Getting up close and personal like an A-10? Of course, the airplanes … they’re apples and oranges.”
This article originally appeared on Military.com. Follow @military.com on Twitter.
Most people associate astronauts and rockets with places like Houston and the east coast of Florida. After all, NASA’s current headquarters is in Houston, and Florida houses both Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral. But the US has another important, yet much lesser-known “Rocket City” that you probably never heard of!
In 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed off on the country’s first space program: NASA. NASA’s first home was not in Houston, though. It was just outside of Huntsville, Alabama, at Redstone Arsenal, a former military base which they renamed Marshall Space Center. Because no astronaut has ever uttered, “Huntsville, we have a problem,” this rocket city has largely stayed under the radar.
Operation Paperclip Goes to Alabama
Immediately following World War II in 1945, the US government secretly brought a group of about 1,600 German scientists into the country so that Russia could not get their hands on them. This top-secret program, called Operation Paperclip, helped put the US space program ahead of the rest of the world.
Perhaps the most important of the German scientists in the group was Dr. Wernher von Braun. He worked directly with Hitler to develop rockets for Germany before Operation Paperclip moved him to “Rocket City,” Alabama. His expertise as an aerospace engineer was exactly what the US government wanted for its space program. They had their eyes on the prize of leading the world in all things outer space, so they conveniently set aside the fact that von Braun was a Nazi sympathizer.
Neil Armstrong Can Thank Smuggled German Scientists for His Fame
A team of both American and German scientists worked under von Braun’s leadership at Redstone Arsenal, later NASA’s Marshall Space Center. Together, they developed a rocket that would eventually bring humans into outer space. In the late 1960s, the team had tested a whopping 32 of their Saturn launch vehicle designs. Not a single one failed, which meant it didn’t take long before one of them was ready for takeoff.
On July 16, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins took off in a Saturn V rocket headed for the moon, where they arrived 240,000 miles and four days later. Armstrong and Aldrin made history by being the first humans to walk on the moon’s surface, while Collins stayed patiently in orbit, waiting for his moon-walking peers. This was all thanks to von Braun and his brilliant team of scientists’ work at the Marshall Space Center. Good thinking by the US government to smuggle those Germans over, after all.
“Rocket City” is Also Alabama’s Claim to Fame
No big deal, but the Saturn V remains the largest and most powerful rocket ever built. No wonder Huntsville, Alabama, got the nickname “Rocket City.” There are only three Saturn V’s in existence today, and one of them still towers over Huntsville at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. Tons of high-tech companies also call Huntsville home, including Boeing, Siemens, and many other firms working in the field of aerospace technology.
A Vice News journalist took the Army’s new combat fitness test, scoring a 502 out of 600 while talking to the team that is implementing the new test about how it works, what it tells them about soldier performance, and how it will affect the Army in the future.
What It Takes To Pass The Army’s Combat Fitness Test
Alzo Slade, the journalist, completed all six events in the new test, including the maximum deadlift, standing power throw, hand-release push-ups, sprint drag carry, leg tucks, and two-mile run.
Alzo deadlifted 300 pounds, threw the medicine ball 11.2 meters, did 42 hand-release push-ups, completed the sprint drag carry in 1:52, completed 13 leg tucks, and completed his two-mile run in 19:16.
Except for the two-mile run, that puts Alzo far ahead of the minimums. He more than doubled the deadlift requirement, over tripled the requirement for the push-ups, and did 13 times the minimum for leg tucks. Combined, this meant that Alzo qualified for the most physically demanding jobs. If you watch the video and see Alzo, it won’t come as a huge surprise. He looks pretty fit.
New York National Guard soldiers take the Army Combat Fitness Test on March 9, 2019.
(U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Katie Sullivan)
But of course, any discussion of the Army’s new PT test includes the question, “Why?” The Army has tried to replace its test over and over. And the reasons for the Army Combat Fitness Test will sound similar to those for previous, failed PT test replacement efforts.
The push-ups, sit-ups, and two-mile-run of the old PT test was simply not a good predictor of physical performance in combat, the Army’s most important physical arena. It allowed long rests between events and tested a limited number of muscle groups.
But the new test, if implemented, has six events in 50 minutes. The lion’s share of that time goes to the two-mile run, but soldiers will also be required to lift weights, throw weights, and complete a complex shuttle run that tests complex movements. This is more like a Crossfit workout.
And while that can sound intimidating, remember that a journalist coming in off the street earned a 502 on the current score tables. You can outscore a civilian journalist, right?
Submachine guns were a staple of combat in the early 20th century. Their light weight and sleek profiles meant that they could be used in many close-quarters situations and their high rate of fire gave them a stopping power to be feared. By the 1980s, however, submachine guns were rarely seen in regular line units.
Now, this isn’t to say that the entire class of firearm is faulty or that there isn’t a use for them. In fact, many special operations units and police SWAT teams use submachine guns for their ease of control and for the very reason they’re discouraged by conventional units: a lesser stopping power compared to automatic rifles.
Created as a mix between a machine pistol and a carbine, the Italian Beretta M1918 and the German MP 18 were game-changers in the trenches of WWI. The American Thompson M1921 (better known as the “Tommy Gun”) wasn’t ready in time for the war, but served as a basis for every SMG that came after it.
In WWII, the Tommy Gun gave American troops a lot of firepower in a small package. Paratroopers could easily carry them on planes, tankers could keep them handy in case anyone got too close, and infantrymen could maneuver through cities with them with ease. It was often copied but never outdone. It and its sister weapon, the M3/M3A1 “Grease Gun,” were mainstays throughout the Korean War and into the early parts of the Vietnam War.
(Photo by SSgt. Walter F. Kleine)
The submachine gun, however, wasn’t able to hold up long in the jungles of Vietnam when the M16’s durability, range, and 5.56mm ammunition outperformed it in nearly every way. This, however, wasn’t its death rattle.
The SMG’s maneuverability in close quarters didn’t go unnoticed by law enforcement — primarily by SWAT teams. Additionally, SMGs are often chambered in 9mm or .45 ACP, meaning that targets struck by rounds are more often incapacitated than killed. In the hands of law enforcement, an armed assailant could then be taken into custody.
Though modern rifles have made the SMG unpopular in warfare, it still serves a valuable purpose in the right hands.
Tanks with the 7th, 9th, and 10th Armored Divisions helped the infantry hold the lines as the Germans attacked, and tanks operating under Patton’s Third Army spearheaded to effort to save the 101st Airborne Division. The tank that led that rescue effort survived the war and was rediscovered in 2008.
2. Battle of Norfolk
Fourteen coalition and Iraqi divisions fought each other at the Battle of Norfolk, the last battle of the Persian Gulf War. Four U.S. and British divisions plus elements of two more destroyed Iraqis fighting in eight divisions, including the elite Tawakalna Republican Guard Division.
The battle opened with a massive artillery and rocket bombardment that fired almost 20,000 artillery and rocket rounds, destroying 22 Iraqi battalions and hundreds of artillery pieces. Tanks and Apache helicopters moved forward, slaughtering their way through Iraqi resistance. The Tawakalna Republican Guard Division and ten other Iraqi divisions were destroyed in the fighting. The U.S. lost six men.
3. Battle of Arracourt
The Battle of Arracourt from Sep. 18 to 29, 1944, was the largest tank battle the U.S. had conducted up to that point in history and saw the American forces brilliantly destroy two Panzer Brigades and additional units from two Panzer divisions.
The Battle of Sidi Bou Zid took place within the Battle of Kasserine Pass. German Gen. Heinz Zeigler led over 200 tanks, including two veteran Panzer divisions. Meanwhile, the American forces were a single understrength division with only 7 of its 13 maneuver battalions. Worse, many of the units were still using the technologically inferior M3 General Grant tanks.
The U.S. units were quickly pushed back and then surrounded on a series of hilltops. After days of hard fighting, the U.S. retreated and left the cutoff forces. American units lost over 2,500 men and had 103 tanks destroyed.
5. Battle of Medina Ridge
Over 100 U.S. tanks raced towards about 100 Iraqi tanks that were dug into defensive positions at the Battle of Medina Ridge in Apr. 1991. The fights was one-sided as the Americans had air support and tanks that could fire from nearly twice as far as the Iraqis. After only 40 minutes, most of the Iraqi tanks were burning in their holes while the Americans continued their advance.
6. Battle of 73 Easting
Then-Capt. H.R. McMaster (now a lieutenant general) was leading his troop of nine M1 tanks in an armed reconnaissance when he crested a hill and found himself facing an elite Iraqi division. He decided he was too close to the enemy tanks to withdraw and call in the rest of the armored cavalry regiment, so his tanks attacked their way through it instead.
The Americans cut a five-kilometer-wide swath through the Iraqi division and then their brothers in Ghost, Killer, and Iron Troops joined the fight. By the time the U.S. stopped firing to ask for the Iraqis’ surrender, 1,000 Iraqi soldiers had been killed and 85 tanks, 40 armored vehicles, 30 other vehicles, and two artillery batteries had been destroyed. Most of the Iraqis quickly surrendered.
When America entered World War I, it brought more radical changes than just fresh troops and a huge manufacturing base. It also introduced novel tactics in the fight against venereal disease — the war for infantrymen’s penises.
Specifically, “go and don’t bring back venereal diseases.”
(The Museum of New Zealand)
See, while World War I was a bone-crunching and horrible war, those who rotated off the front were still willing to stand at attention for a little morale improvement. Unfortunately, troops wouldn’t always report it if their li’l Joes encountered some biological warfare on the battlefield.
All euphemisms aside, lots of troops were sleeping with lots of women whenever they got the chance, leading to an outbreak of sexually transmitted diseases. Because of social stigmas, many troops wouldn’t report it when they contracted one of the STDs, further propelling the problem.
As American troops and their physicians made their way to the front, leaders had to decide how to prevent the same issue among U.S. ranks. While the European powers had embraced a program of abstinence, the U.S. Army created a four-pronged attack on venereal disease.
Alcohol wasn’t popular in the U.S. before or after the war. Remember, America entered World War I just three years before it enacted Prohibition.
(United Committee on War Temperance)
The first two prongs were social: First, the U.S. cracked down on access to alcohol and prostitutes in the ranks. While this, obviously, eliminated American forces from most of the fun trenches of France, it would also serve to cut down on how often the soldiers were exposed to venereal disease. Then, authorities launched an education campaign, ostensibly to help men “Just Say No” to diseased genitals.
Oddly enough, this second prong, “education,” was actually controversial. Birth control education was actually illegal in America during World War I and had been since 1873. In fact, a high-profile arrest in 1916 occurred when a woman opened America’s first birth control clinic.
The next prong represented the biggest shift from Europe abstinence program. The U.S. distributed “prophylactics,” or condoms. Condoms help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and infections, especially gonorrhea and chlamydia, which were big threats in France at the times. Condoms also cut down on the transmission of syphilis, another widespread disease.
It wasn’t just prostitutes that American G.I.s were able to attract, either. Remember that Britain and France had been at war for almost three years when America came along, and huge numbers of their military-age males were already dead. Plenty of women looking for boyfriends and husbands had few options beyond traveling soldiers.
(Imperial War Museum)
This was also illegal in World War I in some parts of the country and would remain so until 1965 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law banning birth control — but hey, troops get certain exemptions. When you bend the rules to ask a guy to kill for you, you should probably loosen the rules about teaching him how to get laid without contracting disease or conceiving a baby.
These three prongs helped but, of course, even if the troops never got drunk with a prostitute and used a new condom every time they had sex, some guys would still get unlucky and contract a disease or two. So, prong four of the plan was an emphasis on medical care. Report the disease when you’re sick, come to the clinic, and get diagnosed and treated.
All of these efforts were buffed by other programs advocated by Army doctors, like the “furnishing of healthy social conditions and of opportunities for diversion….” Basically, keep the troops too busy with the YMCA and and other social organizations that they wouldn’t get so bored they’d slip out of camp to look for prostitutes.
This was the treatment for gonorrhea in those days, an injection into the urethra. We can’t understand why troops might’ve avoided seeing the doctor.
Yeah, get the drip-drop and don’t report to the docs, you’re going to the stocks.
And the policies worked, to an extent. Of course some guys got sick and passed the disease along before getting treatment, but disease levels were lower in the U.S. camps than in British and French ones.
Front and back cover on a War Department pamphlet advocating veterans engage in a war against venereal disease back in the U.S.
So the allies followed suit, distributing condoms and providing distractions. Again, no plan was perfect, and there were limits to what medicine was capable of at the time, so not all troops who got sick were guaranteed recovery with treatment.
The efforts to protect troops from STDs in World War I were repeated in World War II — and led to the slow expansion of birth control and disease prevention at home. Troops were sent home with books about venereal disease, but these typically advocated abstinence in place of the condoms and medical treatment provided in the trenches.