A famous Russian composer re-arranged the Star-Spangled Banner - We Are The Mighty
MUSIC

A famous Russian composer re-arranged the Star-Spangled Banner

When Igor Stravinsky was born, it was the Russian Empire who had a “special relationship” with the United States, not Great Britain. By the time he emigrated to Switzerland, the Russian Empire was the Soviet Union and Stravinsky was a global nomad. The talented composer had a knack for arranging and re-arranging the national anthems of his adoptive countries. Russia, Switzerland, and France all had Stravinsky versions of their national anthems.

It was while living in the United States in 1941 that Stravinsky decided to make a contribution toward “fostering and preserving the spirit of patriotism” in America. He re-arranged the national anthem of the United States, most notably to make it easier to sing.


Stravinsky moved to the U.S. in 1939 at the outset of World War II. The U.S. didn’t adopt the Star-Spangled Banner as its official national anthem until 1931, just in time to give Stravinsky a new home and a new anthem to arrange. During both World Wars, orchestras were encouraged to play the song and audiences were encouraged to sing along. There could be stiff penalties for noncompliance — especially for foreigners.

But Stravinsky didn’t need to be pushed to play the anthem. He was more concerned about the structure of the anthem.

He opened his first show at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Calif. in 1940 with the traditional, well-known version. This version was arranged by Walter Damrosch, a New York musician and composer. The problem with that version is in its harmonization, according to the Marine Corps Band at the time. But concerns about harmony were pushed aside and Damrosch’s version became the norm across the country.

But not for Stravinsky. He heard a number of re-harmonizations of the tune in his time and decided to arrange his own. He even wrote to President Roosevelt about his intentions in editing the music.

Mr. President:

Searching about for a vehicle through which I might best express my gratitude at the prospect of becoming an American Citizen, I chose to harmonize and orchestrate as a national chorale your beautiful sacred anthem the Star-Spangled Banner. It is a desire to do my bit in these grievous times toward fostering and preserving the spirit of patriotism in this country that inspires me to tender this my humble work to you as President of this Great Republic and to the American People. Believe me.

Faithfully yours,
Igor Strawinsky

Playing his arrangement in the Boston Symphony Hall at the height of World War II in 1944 was another story.

Legend has it the Boston Police Department wasn’t thrilled with the changes to the national anthem and that the composer was breaking a Massachusetts law by “tampering with national property” and that he was to be arrested. Though the arrest never happened, the police did cite a state law about how the anthem should be played. The police misapplied the law, however. The law was made against using the Star-Spanged Banner “as dance music, as an exit march, or as a part of a medley of any kind.”

Instead of being fined or arrested, he simply removed the song from his set list.

Stravinsky would play his rearrangement for years after World War II ended, right up until his death in 1971. At his last show at the Hollywood Bowl in 1966, he closed with his version of the anthem, his own exit march. No one fined him.

Articles

This U.S. Army artillery unit savaged 41 Iraqi battalions in 72 hours

During Desert Storm the 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment provided artillery support to the 24th Infantry Division throughout the invasion of Iraq. During one phase of the war they took out 41 Iraqi battalion, two air defense sites, and a tank company in less than 72 hours.


Soldiers with the 3rd Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment fire their Multiple Launch Rocket Systems during certification. Photo: US Army Sgt. 1st Class Jacob McDonald

3-27 entered Desert Storm with a new weapon that had never seen combat, the Multiple Launch Rocket System. Nearby soldiers took notice, to put it mildly, as the rockets screamed past the sound barrier on their way out of the launcher and then roared away from the firing point. A first sergeant from the 3-27 told The Fayetteville Observer that the first launch created panic in the American camp. Soldiers that had never seen an MLRS dove into cover and tried to dig hasty foxholes.

“It scared the pure hell out of everybody,” Sgt. Maj. Jon H. Cone said. But the Americans quickly came to love the MLRS.

“After that first time, it was showtime,” Cone said.

Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Carlos R. Davis

Like everyone else during the invasion, the 24th Infantry Division wanted to push deeper and seize more territory than anyone else. That meant their artillery support would be racing across the sand as well. 3-27 came through and actually spent a lot of time running ahead of the maneuver units, looking for enemy artillery and quickly engaging when any showed.

During a particularly daring move, the battalion’s Alpha battery moved through enemy lines and conducted a raid from inside enemy territory, engaging artillery and infantry while other U.S. forces advanced.

The largest single attack by the 3-27 was the assault on Objective Orange, two Iraqi airfields that sat right next to each other. 3-27 and other artillery units were assigned to destroy the Iraqi Army’s 2,000 soldiers, ten tanks, and two artillery battalions at the airfield so the infantry could assault it more easily.

The launchers timed their rockets to all reach the objective within seconds of each other, and used rockets that would drop bomblets on the unsuspecting Iraqi troops.

Photo: US Air Force Senior Airman Duane Duimstra

A prisoner of war who survived the assault later told U.S. forces that the Iraqis were manning their guns when the rockets came in. When the rockets began exploding in mid-air, they cheered in the belief that the attack had failed. Instead, the bomblets formed a “steel rain” that killed most troops in the area and destroyed all exposed equipment.

By the time the infantry got to the airfields, the survivors were ready to surrender.

The battalion was awarded a Valorous Unit Citation after the war for extreme bravery under fire.

(h/t to The Fayetteville Observer‘s Drew Brooks and to “Steel Rain” by Staff Sgt. Charles W. Bissett)

MIGHTY TRENDING

China’s new carriers will be hamstrung by this disappointing jet

China is touting its improved aircraft carrier capabilities, but one of the biggest obstacles to having the world’s second-most powerful carrier fleet remains its troubled carrier-based fighter — the J-15 Flying Shark.

Striving to build a blue-water navy suitable for global operations, China expects to have four operational carrier battle groups within the next decade. China already has one active carrier, another undergoing sea trials, and another one in development. Experts speculate that while the first two appear to be limited in their combat capabilities, the third carrier could be a “huge step forward.”


In several state media publications, China cheered its carrier-based fighter jet force for achieving “breakthroughs” since its establishment a little over five years ago. Chinese media said Navy pilots have qualified to take off and land the J-15 fighter on the Liaoning, China’s first and only active aircraft carrier. “An elite team among the pilots also has carried out night landings, widely considered the riskiest carrier-based action, and have become capable of performing round-the-clock, all-weather operations,” the China Daily reported Wednesday.

The Global Times ran a video Thursday of Chinese J-15s conducting night operations from the deck of the Liaoning carrier.

The J-15 is far from the most suitable aircraft for carrier operations though. Not only is the plane considered too big and too heavy, with an unarmed take-off weight of 17.5 tonnes as compared to the US F/A-18 Super Hornet’s 14.6 tonnes, but it can be rather unreliable. Problems with the aircraft, especially the flight control systems, are believed to be behind several fatal training accidents, the Asia Times reported.

The weight issues really come into play on a ship like the Liaoning, which uses a ski jump-assisted short take-off but arrested recovery (STOBAR) launch system. This system — as opposed to steam or electromagnetic catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery (CATOBAR) launch systems used on US carriers — strains the aircraft and tends to force reductions in operational range, payload size, and sortie frequency.

The J-15, a reverse engineered version of a Soviet-era prototype, is rumored to be getting a new engine, which could boost its capabilities, but a new carrier-based fighter will eventually be necessary. China is reportedly considering replacing the fourth-generation fighter jets with a lighter and more capable aircraft. Nonetheless, Chinese military experts expect the J-15 to “remain the backbone of China’s carrier battle groups in the future,” according to the South China Morning Post.

The J-15 Flying Shark.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the J-15 is the lack of them. As production and deployment rates are low, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army reportedly has only 30-40 of these fighters. The Liaoning needs 24 to form a full combat-ready fighter squadron, and the soon-to-be-commissioned second carrier will need roughly the same amount to stand up a fighter wing.

“As a big power, China needs more carrier-based warplanes to support its naval ambitions, especially with its first home-grown aircraft carrier entering the final phase of sea trials and likely to go into service next year,” Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert, told SCMP.

As China works to build up its naval fleet and expand its capabilities, especially those of its carriers, China will need to overcome challenges, such as number of trained pilots, power and propulsion issues, launch system problems, and limited experience with carrier operations.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY HISTORY

How a Congressman’s press conference killed 800 US sailors

Loose lips sink ships, the old saying goes. Nothing could be more true. And the combination of an international audience with highly classified intelligence along with a complete lack of understanding for what’s important and what’s not can be disastrous. It should come to no surprise for anyone reading that a Congressman learned this the hard way.

Back then, at least, it was enough to cost him the next election.


This f*cking guy.

In the early days of World War II, the Japanese didn’t really understand Allied submarine technology. Most importantly, they had no idea American and British submarines could dive so deep. When fighting Allied subs, the Japanese set their depth charge fuses to explode at a depth roughly equivalent to what their submarines could handle, which was a lot more shallow than American and British subs could dive. As a result, the survival rate of Allied submarines encountering Japanese ships was amazingly high.

For the first year or so of the war, the Americans enjoyed this advantage in the Pacific. Japanese anti-submarine warfare was never sophisticated enough to realize its fatal flaws, and American sailors’ lives were saved as a result. Then Kentucky Congressman Andrew J. May made a visit to the Pacific Theater and changed all that.

Droppin’ charges, droppin’ bodies

The Balao-class submarines of the time could dive to depths of some 400 feet, much deeper than the depth Japanese ships set their depth charges to explode. Congressman May was informed of this during his visit, along with a ton of other sensitive war-related information. Upon returning from his junket in the war zone, May held a press conference where he revealed this fact to the world, informing the press wires that American sailors were surviving in incredible numbers because the charges were set too shallow. The press reported his quotes, and eventually, it got back to the Japanese.

Who promptly changed their depth charge fuses.

A depth charge-damaged submarine.

Vice-Admiral Charles Lockwood was understandably livid when he heard the news, not just because a Congressman had leaked sensitive information to the press for seemingly no reason, but because he knew what the tactical outcome of the reveal would be. And Admiral Lockwood was right. When the Japanese changed their fuses, it began to take its toll on American submarines, which might have normally survived such an attack. He estimated the slip cost ten submarines and 800 crewmen killed in action.

“I hear Congressman May said the Jap depth charges are not set deep enough,” Lockwood reportedly told the press. “He would be pleased to know that the Japs set them deeper now.”

When the time came for May’s re-election campaign after the war in 1946, the reveal (which became known as The May Incident) along with corruption allegations became too much for the Kentucky voters, and May lost his seat in the House of Representatives. May served nine months in a federal prison for corruption.

Humor

The 13 funniest memes for the week of June 15th

Looks like troops will stop doing drills in South Korea and actually be pulled out of there. Great. Now every unit is going to get some Joe who was just stationed there that’ll constantly complain about how “South Korea was so much better” than their new unit — despite constantly talking sh*t while there.

It’s always the same lower-enlisted troop. You know the type. They’ll show up just barely in time for First Sergeant to call “fall in,” they’ll be hungover and smell like cigarettes at every formation, and it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll defend their sh*tty actions with a limp, “well, in my last unit…”

Have fun with that, NCOs. No one will blame you for tree-line counseling those fools.


(Meme via Amuse)

(Meme via Disgruntled Vets)

Mindless detail where you can joke with your buddies or being stuck in a training meeting, listening to how the good idea fairy will reshape the unit?

Tough call.

NCOs’ eyes are like the dinosaurs’. They can’t see you unless you move.

I learned it from Jurassic Park, so it has to be true.

(Meme via Valhalla Wear)

(Meme via ASMDDS)

(Meme via Gunner Boy)

(Meme via Military Memes)

(Meme via Army as F*ck)

There’s a massive difference between being a “five-jump chump” and having your mustard stain.

Which basically cuts out every staff officer who wanted to impress the commander.

(Meme via the Salty Soldier)

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

(Meme via Pop Smoke)

MIGHTY TRENDING

This is how Navy SEALs swim out of a submerged submarine

During our recent tour of the USS John Warner nuclear-powered submarine, we got a chance to see a small compartment known as a “lockout trunk.”


“This is actually how we would get SEALs off the ship submerged,” Senior Chief Mark Eichenlaub told Business Insider.

“So you would stick a platoon of SEALs in here, 14 guys … you fill this chamber with water until you match the outer sea pressure. Once the pressure in and outside the ship match, the hatch will lift off open, and they can swim out of a fully filled chamber into open ocean.”

Once the chamber is filled with water, matching the pressure inside and out, “there’s an internal locking mechanism that would open” the top hatch where SEALs swim out, Senior Chief Darryl Wood told Business Insider.

The SEALs can then swim to retrieve what is known as a special-forces operations box, which would be filled with weapons and needed gear, from the tower.

A member of SEAL Delivery Vehicle Team Two prepares to launch one of the team’s SEAL Delivery Vehicles from the back of the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Philadelphia on a training exercise. (Navy photo by Chief Photographer’s Mate Andrew McKaskle.)

In addition to getting SEALs off the ship, lockout trunks can be used for the entire crew to escape in case the submarine is downed.

This video gives a close-up look at the lockout trunk:

(Business Insider | YouTube)
MIGHTY TRENDING

How this general’s goof shows a level of humility all troops should strive toward

President Donald Trump gave the State of the Union address on February 5, 2019, to the 116th United States Congress. His speech covered many topics, ranging from bipartisanship to infrastructure reform and veterans affairs to current military operations.

One thing most people skimmed over throughout the night happened during a quick camera pan over the United States Defense Chiefs. Many people were quick to point out that they remained emotionless throughout the entire event because, by military regulation, a service member cannot show political affiliation while in uniform in an official capacity, but that’s not what I’m talking about.

There was a glaringly obvious goof, once you know what you’re looking for. Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, Chief of the National Guard Bureau, was apparently one of the only ones to catch the mistake on his own uniform. His ribbon rack was put on upside-down.


The accident was made known when he called himself out on Twitter. His ribbon rack, while properly squared away, was in the opposite order of precedence — meaning the rack was organized properly, but placed onto the uniform the wrong way.

The awards of ribbon racks are to be ordered from least prestigious (in the lower right) to the most prestigious (in the upper left). A little life hack for any troops still making their dress uniforms is to place them in the order that it says on your ERB/ORB. As for Gen. Lengyel, his Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon was placed far above his Defense Distinguished Service Medal.

Is this a huge mistake? Not really. But how Gen. Lengyel reacted is worthy of recognition and is an example that all troops should admire.

You took the classiest route possible to address a minor problem. Good job, sir.

(U.S. National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Erich B. Smith)

Everyone makes mistakes, from the lowest airman late to formation to the Chief of the National Guard Bureau at the State of the Union. It’s what you do afterward that really matters. You should take the hit on the chin like an adult and get back into the fight.

You own up to your shortcomings and strive to be better next time. Realistically, Gen. Lengyel isn’t going to be doing push-ups until his supervisor gets tired or sent to mop the rain off the flight line. Chances are high that his uniform was prepared by an aide who’s probably beating themselves up for this far more than their NCOs are smoking them.

If this uniform was mistakenly set up by an aide, I say commend that person as well. Gen. Lengyel came out of this debacle looking like far more of a true leader than if he sat there quietly the entire evening. Give them a coin with the stern warning to never mess that up again.

Articles

Everyone should see these powerful images of wounded vets

Professional photographer David Jay knows a picture is worth a thousand words.


To comprehend the news he would hear about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Jay visited Walter Reed Hospital to meet with wounded veterans. The visit had such a profound effect on him that he spent 3 years photographing wounded servicemen and women capturing an unadulterated look at their traumatic wounds for his series “Unknown Soldier.”

“We hear about ‘this number of men were killed’ and ‘this many were injured,'” Jay said in a recent interview with NPR. “And we think of them — maybe they got shot — or we don’t really picture what these injured men look like.”

The images are so visually powerful they have been acquired by the Library of Congress to be used as part its Iraq and Afghanistan wars visual documentation.

“You can imagine how many times each of these men and women have heard a parent tell their child, ‘Don’t look. Don’t stare at him. That’s rude.’ I take these pictures so that we can look; we can see what we’re not supposed to see. And we need to see them because we created them.”

Jay gave WATM permission to use some of his photos below, but you can see his full gallery here.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Henline. Bobby’s transport was incinerated by a roadside bomb in Iraq. He was the lone survivor.

Army Spc. Jerral Hancock. Jerral was driving a tank in Iraq. A roadside bomb pierced the armor, breaching the interior. It is believed that Jerral was trapped under the wreckage for half an hour.

Robert was hit by incoming artillery, sustaining burns over 60% of his body

Maj. Matt Smith, US Army. On June 8, 2013 in Paktika Province, Afghanistan, Matt was shot along with five others by a member of the Afghan National Army. The bullet severed his femoral artery, resulting in the amputation of his leg.

Marine Cpl. Michael Fox. On November 15, 2011 Michael was on foot patrol in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan when he was injured by an improvised explosive device.

1st Lt. Nicholas John Vogt, U.S. Army. On November 12, 2011, he was severely injured by an IED while on a foot-patrol in Panjwaii, Afghanistan.

“The only thing that I want to pass on is this: Losing limbs is like losing a good friend,” Vogt said. “We wish we could still be with them, but it wasn’t ‘in the cards’. Then we get up, remember the good times, and thank God for whatever we have left.”

Cpl. Christian Brown, USMC

On Dec. 13, 2011, Christian was leading his squad on foot patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. Both of his legs were blown off- one above the knee, the other below the hip. Just four days prior, under heavy enemy fire, Christian had carried a mortally wounded Marine almost 1,000 feet to a hovering helicopter — an act of bravery for which he was awarded the Silver Star.

Spc. Marissa Strock. She was injured when her vehicle was struck by an IED buried in the road. She was 20 years old.

Staff Sgt. Shilo Harris. Shilo was severely burned on February 19th, 2007 by a roadside bomb estimated at 700 lbs. He lost three men out of a crew of five. Only Shilo and his driver survived the blast.

To view the entire Unknown Soldier collection by David Jay, visit his website here.

NOW: Here’s What An Army Medic Does In The Critical Minutes After A Soldier Is Wounded 

OR: This veteran artist has some inspiring words for wounded warriors 

MIGHTY TRENDING

Japan proves that its equipment can shoot down Chinese missiles

A Japanese warship, using a US ship-based anti-missile system, successfully intercepted and destroyed an incoming ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean on Sept. 11, 2018, the Missile Defense Agency revealed in an official statement.

An upgraded Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force Atago-class guided-missile destroyer detected and tracked a simple, separating ballistic missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. Responding to the threat, the ship’s onboard Aegis Weapon System tracked it and launched a Standard Missile-3 Block IB Threat Upgrade missile that intercepted it mid-flight.


“This success provides confidence in the future capability for Japan to defeat the developing threats in the region,” Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, director of the Missile Defense Agency, said in a statement apparently referencing Beijing’s arsenal of ballistic missiles and Pyongyang’s program, which the regime suspended after the Trump-Kim talks and which has involved test-firing ballistic missiles over Japan.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force “is developing and testing several new variants of missiles and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses,” the Pentagon explained in its 2018 report on Chinese military power.

U.S. President Donald Trump met with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un on June 12, 2018, in Singapore.

“We are committed to assisting the government of Japan in upgrading its national missile defense capability against emerging threats,” Greaves said, according to Reuters.

The latest intercept will enhance the overall capabilities of Japan’s Atago-class destroyers, which have been limited to air defense while the Kongo-class guided-missile destroyers have employed ballistic missile defense systems, Tom Karako, a missile defense expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote on Twitter after news of the successful test.

The US and Japan are jointly developing another interceptor missile — the SM-3 Block IIA, but testing has been a little hit or miss lately. The system has been tested three times since the start of 2017, and it has only had one successful intercept.

The Missile Defense Agency called Sept. 10, 2018’s test a “significant milestone in the growing cooperation between Japan and the U.S. in the area of missile defense.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

Articles

13 of the best military morale patches

Morale patches are patches troops wear on their uniforms designed to be a funny inside joke, applicable only to their unit or military career field. They are usually worn during deployments, but the wear of morale patches is at the discretion of the unit’s commander.


The patches often (not always) make fun of a depressing, boring or otherwise specific part of the job.

These patches have been around since the military began to wear patches. They are collected and traded by people, both military and civilians, who come across them. Some are more popular than others, but they are usually a lot of fun.

The “Morale Stops Here” patch is pretty popular and is actually repeated by units the world over. It’s really funny the first time you see it.

This is an old one, a throwback to the Air Force’s Strategic Air Command days. “To forgive is not SAC policy” is widely attributed to famed SAC commander Curtis LeMay.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, CSAR stands for Combat Search And Rescue.

Having the Kool-Aid Man as your unofficial mascot is funny enough, but making his hand the lightning-shooting gauntlet in the old SAC emblem is clever.

The JSTARS (or Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System) have a descriptive patch here – as they operate out of trailers at Al-Udeid Air Base, Qatar (in the military, being deployed here is also known as “doing the Deid”).

This is a U.S. Navy patch from Vietnam. The “yacht” is a junk – a historically widespread type of ship used in China and around Southeast Asia. The Tonkin Gulf is where the Vietnam War (or more specifically, the U.S. involvement in it) really ignited.

More from Vietnam. By the end of the 1960’s, the rift between those who served in Vietnam and the perception of the war back home hit its peak.

As the Cold War intensified and the threat of nuclear war seemed more and more unavoidable, the young enlisted and officers whose role in the annihilation of Earth’s population probably felt more than a little stressed.

The tradition continued, well into Desert Storm. If you have morale patches that make others laugh or are highly prized, please post in the comments.

MIGHTY TRENDING

A ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse will take place on Sunday — here’s how to see it

Some parts of the world will see the sun turn into a “ring of fire” on Sunday.

The event, known as an annular solar eclipse, occurs when the moon is at the farthest point from Earth in its orbit and passes between our planet and the sun. The moon partially covers the sun, but its small size in the sky means the sun’s outer rim remains visible, making it look like a bright ring.


People in parts of China, Central African Republic, Congo, Ethiopia, India, and Pakistan will be able to watch the full annular solar eclipse. The event will begin for those in Central Africa — the first location to see the eclipse — on Sunday, June 21 at 4:47 a.m. local time. It will end for the last areas to see it — parts of China — at 8:32 a.m. local time. (That’s at 12:47 a.m. and 4:32 a.m. ET if you watch remotely from the US.)

A partial annular eclipse will also be visible in southern and eastern Europe and northern Australia.

If you are able to catch the solar eclipse in person, make sure to wear proper eye protection, since staring directly at the sun causes eye damage.

If, however, the eclipse won’t be visible in the sky where you live, you can catch it online. TimeandDate is presenting a livestream on Youtube that can watch below.

Annular Solar Eclipse 2020

www.youtube.com

The moon will cover about 99.4% of the sun

The name annular eclipse comes from the Latin word “annulus,” which means ring.

A “ring of fire” eclipse happens once a year. Solar eclipses generally take place about two weeks before or after a lunar eclipse. One lunar eclipse occurred on June 5, and another will happen on July 5.

During this annular eclipse, it will take the moon several minutes to pass in front of the sun, but the full eclipse will only last for about one second.

At the maximum point of the eclipse, the moon will cover about 99.4% of the sun, according to NASA.

This week, the agency released a video of an annular eclipse as seen from western Australia in May 2013 to show what viewers can expect.

A Ring of Fire Sunrise Solar Eclipse

www.youtube.com

Next year’s annular solar eclipse will come on June 10, 2021 and be visible in Canada, Northern Europe, Russia, and the Antartic.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.

MIGHTY CULTURE

A sailor’s worst nightmare: Surviving a sinking ship

With millions of boats and ships plying the waves, it’s easy to forget that mankind isn’t made to survive in the ocean — and the dangers inherent to the sea are compounded when you’re trapped a few decks below the waterline in a huge iron bubble filled with ammunition and fuel that’s on fire as it sinks into icy waters.


A ship goes down, circa 1943.

(John Atherton, CC BY-SA 2.5)

For sailors, attempting to save their vessel and then, if necessary, abandoning it while trying to survive is a real process that they must be prepared to complete. Based on testimony from those who have survived torpedo hits and other attacks that doom a ship, the experience is even more nightmarish than most would imagine.

First, there’s the attack or the crash. For many in war, they see the threat too late to do anything about it. German U-boat Capt. K.G.E. von Spiegel described an attack in his memoirs:

“The steamer appeared to be close to us and looked colossal. I saw the captain walking on his bridge, a small whistle in his mouth. I saw the crew cleaning the deck forward, and I saw, with surprise and a slight shudder, long rows of wooden partitions right along all decks, from which gleamed the shining black and brown backs of horses. ‘Oh heavens, horses! What a pity, those lovely beasts!’ ….

“The death-bringing shot was a true one, and the torpedo ran towards the doomed ship at high speed. I could follow its course exactly by the light streak of bubbles which was left in its wake….

“I saw that the bubble-track of the torpedo had been discovered on the bridge of the steamer, as frightened arms pointed towards the water and the captain put his hands in front of his eyes and waited resignedly. Then a frightful explosion followed, and we were all thrown against one another by the concussion, and then, like Vulcan, huge and majestic, a column of water two hundred metres high and fifty metres broad, terrible in its beauty and power, shot up to the heavens.”

For men not on the deck, the end of the ship can come as even more of a surprise.

Dr. Lewis Haynes, chief medical officer on the USS Indianapolis, described his experience when his ship was torpedoed:

“I awoke. I was in the air. I saw a bright light before I felt the concussion of the explosion that threw me up in the air almost to the overhead. A torpedo had detonated under my room. I hit the edge of the bunk, hit the deck, and stood up. Then the second explosion knocked me down again. As I landed on the deck I thought, ‘I’ve got to get the hell out of here!’ I grabbed my life jacket and started to go out the door. My room was already on fire.”

The German battleship Admiral Graf Spee in flames after being scuttled in the River Plate Estuary off Montevideo, Uruguay.

(Imperial War Museums)

For men on sinking ships, fire is a real hazard despite the water rushing to fill the ship. The water is the greatest threat to the ship floating for the moment, but fire can quickly kill all life aboard and cause explosions or melt bulkheads, disabling pumps or allowing even more water in.

Damage control parties move through the ship, attempting to patch holes, pump out flooded compartments, and douse fires. But if they can’t get the damage under control, the ship’s captain has to make one of the hardest decisions: to abandon ship.

Sometimes, it’s the only way to save the crew, giving them the chance to fight another day or to return to their families, but it consigns thousands of tons of American steel and aluminum to the sea, along with the remains of any sailors already dead or too injured or trapped to escape.

The rest of the crew heads for the lifeboats, helping each other through listing decks and smoke-filled compartments that are often without power and light.

But there’s not always room enough for everyone in the lifeboat. This is extremely dangerous, even when the water is warm. The water is often filled with oil and diesel, and the sinking ship is drawing literal tons of water towards itself, creating a situation where even the strongest swimmer can get slowly pulled under and drown.

The HMS Legion, at left, rescues survivors from the slowly sinking HMS Ark Royal near the coast of Gibraltar.

(Royal Navy photo by Lt. S.J. Beadell)

From Dr. Haynes’ account of the Indianapolis sinking:

“I slowly walked down the side of the ship. Another kid came and said he didn’t have a jacket. I had an extra jacket and he put it on. We both jumped into the water which was covered with fuel oil. I wasn’t alone in the water. The hull was covered with people climbing down.

“I didn’t want to get sucked down with the ship so I kicked my feet to get away. And then the ship rose up high. I thought it was going to come down and crush me. The ship kept leaning out away from me, the aft end rising up and leaning over as it stood up on its nose. The ship was still going forward at probably 3 or 4 knots. When it finally sank, it was over a hundred yards from me. Most of the survivors were strung out anywhere from half a mile to a mile behind the ship.

“Suddenly, the ship was gone and it was very quiet. It had only been 12 minutes since the torpedoes hit. We started to gather together. Being in the water wasn’t an unpleasant experience except that the black fuel oil got in your nose and eyes. We all looked the same, black oil all over — white eyes and red mouths. You couldn’t tell the doctor from the boot seamen. Soon everyone had swallowed fuel oil and gotten sick. Then everyone began vomiting.”

USS Indianapolis survivors are moved to the hospital in August 1945.

(U.S. Navy)

Best case scenario, the sailors are now safely in the water, attempting to tend to wounds and keep people afloat while awaiting rescue. But, they may still be under attack or could be captured by enemy forces. In the case of the Indianapolis, the crew was returning from the top-secret mission to deliver the atomic bomb to Allied forces for use against Japan.

No one knew where the ship was, and the men were left at sea for four days in shark-infested waters. The crew had 1,195 members when it went down in 1945. 300 men are thought to have gone down with the ship, and nearly 600 more died in the water while waiting for rescue. Only 316 survived.

MIGHTY HISTORY

The Nazis designed a crazy, one-man, spherical tank

During World War II, Nazi engineers designed and built a number of revolutionary super or “wonder weapons” (wunderwaffe), including a wide array of aircraft, guns, and ships. Among these weapons is a mysterious small, round tank named the Kugelpanzer (literally meaning “spherical tank”). This odd little tank was never seen in the European theater, and very little is definitively known about its purpose.

What is known is that it was made in Germany and shipped to Japan, and then later captured by the Soviets in 1945, probably in Manchuria. Today, the only one known to exist can be found in the Kubinka Tank Museum in the Odintsovsky District, Moscow Oblast, Russia.


Powered by a single cylinder, two-stroke engine, Kugelpanzer has a slit in the front (presumably a driver’s view port), and a small arm and wheel in the rear (perhaps for stability and/or maneuvering). Its hull is only 5 mm (.2 in.) thick, and it isn’t fully clear what type of metal comprises its armor (no metal samples are currently allowed to be taken from it).

Popular theories of its purpose include reconnaissance, as a mobile observation post for managing artillery fire, and as a cable-laying vehicle; however, there is little evidence to support any of these hypotheses, since there has never been any documentation found that explains the vehicle or its design.

The Kugelpanzer.

Given the dearth of evidence, as you would expect, speculation is rampant, and one intriguing theory even posits that it was commissioned by the Japanese as part of their kamikaze strategy of suicide missions.

By August 1944, the ailing Japanese military had been at war in the Pacific for 7 long years, beginning with the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937. During this period, rather than being captured, and wanting to get in one last lick, some Japanese pilots had begun the practice of crashing their mostly disabled planes into enemy positions (and killing themselves in the process).

Through most of the Pacific War, this was an informal, voluntary act; however, as the war was winding down, the desperate Japanese command (who were running out of qualified pilots and whose aircraft at this point in the war were outdated) decided that they would get the most out of their unskilled personnel and obsolete machinery by incorporating planned suicide missions into their battle strategies. As such, in the fall of 1944, Japanese forces began a series of kamikaze strikes. (Click here for more on the origin of the kamikaze and how pilots were chosen for this duty.)

In addition to improvised devices, such as simply strapping bombs onto existing aircraft, the Japanese military began manufacturing specialized equipment. These included the aircraft Ohka (“cherry blossom”), as well as suicide boats, such as Shinyo (“sea quake”). Even tiny submarines were made, including a modified torpedo named Kaiten (“returning to heaven,”) and Kairyu (“sea dragon”), a two-manned craft.

A Japanese Ohka Model 11 replica at the Yasukuni ShrineYūshūkan war museum.

Given this mindset of many Japanese military leaders, it has been theorized by some that the Kugelpanzer was a part of this plan, with a few key points often put forth to support this theory. First, like all of the other suicide machines, it was small and designed to be operated with a limited (1-2 man) crew; second, it wasn’t equipped with any apparent offensive weaponry, though it has been speculated that it was meant to have a machine gun mounted in the front; and third, its hull was rather flimsy (5 mm thick) when compared to that of other armored vehicles, but on par with that of at least one other suicide craft.

For instance, the Type 97 Chi-Ha, said to be the “most widely produced Japanese medium tank of World War II,” had 26 mm thick armor on the sides of the turret and 33 mm thick armor on its gun shield. On the other hand, the Long Lance torpedo from which the Kaiten manned torpedo was developed had a comparably thin shell at 3.2 mm (.13 in.) thick – much closer to the width of the Kugelpanzer outer housing, than the strong armor of the Type 97 tank.

For further reference, the thickness of a common World War II helmet (the M1) was at .035 to .037 inches (just under 1 mm), sufficient to (at least sometimes) stop a .45 caliber bullet. So, essentially, the 5 mm thick walls of the tank would have been sturdy enough to relatively reliably stop many types of enemy bullets from getting in, but thin enough to give way easily from a blast within, to do maximum damage. At least, so this particularly theory goes.

Whatever its intended use, the Kugelpanzer certainly has gone down as one of the more unique weapons developed during WWII.

Bonus Facts:

  • The aforementioned Japanese one manned torpedo-like submarines called kaitens were just modified torpedoes that allowed the person inside to control them. They also featured a self destruct mechanism if the person failed in their mission. This was necessary as there was no way for the person inside to get out of the torpedo once sealed in. Early models did include a mechanism to escape once the torpedo was aimed correctly, but not a single soldier seems to have ever used this feature, so it was quickly abandoned. Each person who died as a kaiten pilot would earn their family ¥10000 (about 0 today). Kaitens were ultimately not very successful primary because they could not be deployed very deeply and were stored on the outside of the submarines. This isn’t so much a problem for the kaitens as it was for the submarines carrying them who would have to stay very near the surface. This resulted in an average of about eight submarines carrying kaitens being destroyed for every two ships destroyed by the kaitens. Each kaiten was about 50 feet long; could reach a maximum speed of about 30 miles per hour; and contained a warhead at the nose.
  • The Japanese were not alone in making suicide attacks a part of their 20th century battle strategy. During the Sino-Japanese War, Chinese soldiers of the “Dare to Die Corps” effectively detonated suicide bombs at the Battle of Taierzhuang (1938), the Defense of the Sihang Warehouse (1937) and the Battle of Shanghai (1937).

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