Military History

historical-article-alex-vraciu-the-indestructible-aceU.S. Navy fighter pilot Alex Vraciu downed 19 Japanese airplanes, but in the process lost three Hellcats, earning him a reputation as “Grumman’s best customer.”

By Barrett Tillman @ Aviation History Magazine

Lieutenant (j.g.) Alexander Vraciu was one frustrated fighter pilot. On June 19, 1944—the biggest day of air combat in the Pacific War—his Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat struggled to keep pace with the rest of Fighter Squadron 16. The “Fighting Airedales” had scrambled from the aircraft carrier Lexington (CV-16) in response to the second Japa­nese attack of the morning against Task Force 58, whose 15 carriers outnumbered the nine Japa­nese flattops.

Vraciu was already a double ace with 12 victories, and he was positioned to increase his score in a sky full of targets. But his Pratt & Whitney engine was stuck in low blower, depriving him of maximum speed and climb. He watched in frustration as his squadron mates pulled away to intercept incoming enemy bombers.

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historical-article-the-destruction-of-c-forceBy Bob Gordon @ Military History Magazine

Just after dawn on Christmas Day 1941 wounded Canadian Pvt. Sid Vale lay in his bed in Hong Kong’s St. Stephen’s College, then in use as an Allied military field hospital. Immobilized by his injuries, he could only shudder at the screams of a nurse being raped by Japanese soldiers in the next room. Minutes earlier the invading soldiers had marched off two British medical officers—hospital commander Lt. Col. George Black and adjutant Captain Peter Witney—who had rushed to head off the Japanese beneath a Red Cross flag at the building entrance. The men’s bayoneted, mutilated corpses turned up the next day on the ground floor of the hospital. A third officer, Sgt. William Parkin, was shot as he sought to flee.

Surging into the first-floor ward, the intruders had summarily executed nearly two-dozen patients in their beds before gang raping four Chinese nurses, three of whom they later killed. Japanese soldiers then serially raped the remaining three nurses in another room. By the time the atrocities ended at St. Stephen’s that horrific Christmas morning, upward of 70 patients and staff members had been killed, several tortured beforehand. Many of the victims were Canadians, members of a 1,975-strong force hurriedly dispatched to bolster the Crown colony’s defenses. They had arrived less than a month before war broke out in the Pacific, and those who were not killed in the defense of Hong Kong were condemned to the living hell of Japanese prison camps.

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historical-article-col-robert-l-scott-gods-pilotSon of the South Bob Scott was a rebel with a cause: helping the United States defeat the Japanese.

By Barrett Tillman @ Aviation History Magazine

In 1943 General Henry H. Arnold’s secretary buzzed his inner sanctum, informing the U.S. Army Air Forces chief, “Colonel Scott is here, sir.” “Hap” Arnold, who lived in a frequent boil, replied, “Oh, you mean God’s personal pilot?”

Colonel Robert L. Scott Jr., fighter ace and bestselling author of God Is My Co-pilot, was in trouble…again. He had just offered to strafe John L. Lewis, the mine workers’ union boss who had continually violated the wartime “no strike” pledge after Pearl Harbor. Called upon Arnold’s thick carpet, Scott said, “General, I was only expressing my personal opinion.”

Arnold came out of his chair, red-faced, finger jabbing. “Damn it, Scott! When you wear that uniform you don’t have a personal opinion!”

At McDill Field in Florida, Scott’s younger brother Roland was going through B-26 Ma­rauder training. His copilot noted the news reports and said, “Well, your brother’s never going to be a general now!”

Long after, Bob Scott quipped, “I think that’s when General Arnold began looking for a way to send me back to combat where I could get killed.”

Combat pilot, bestselling author, big game hunter, versatile chef and incomparable raconteur—Scott was all those and more. Reared in Macon, Ga., he was also among the last cavaliers of the Old South. He made his final flight west from Georgia on February 27, 2006.

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historical-article-forgotten-casualty-cuban-missile-crisisHow the shootdown of a U-2 spyplane over Cuba by a Soviet surface-to-air missile nearly led to nuclear war

By Michael J. Tougias @ Aviation History Magazine

On Friday, October 26, 1962, one day before “Black Saturday,” the most terrifying day of the Cuban Missile Crisis, CIA Director John McCone gave President John F. Kennedy more bad news about the Soviet military build-up on the island. He explained that the Soviets were spending an estimated $1 billion on their military installations and that “rapid construction activity” was contin­uing. More alarming was the discovery of a Soviet FROG-7 missile launch system (also referred to as a Luna-M), a tactical nuclear weapon that could be used against an American invasion or the U.S. outpost at Guantanamo Bay.

This information prompted Strategic Air Command (SAC) to authorize a Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance flight over Cuba for October 27. U.S. Air Force U-2s and Navy Vought RF-8 Crusaders had been used extensively in the prior days to photograph medium-range ballistic missile sites, SA-2 surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites and a variety of Soviet military installations and troop barracks. While the Crusaders were used for the low-level surveillance and close-up photographs, the high-flying U-2s could cover a much broader area with their high-resolution cameras.

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historical-article-saburo-sakaiLegendary Zero pilot Saburo Sakai was Japan’s most recognized ace, but few knew the man behind the legend 

By Barrett Tillman @ Aviation History Magazine

Saburo Sakai is probably Japan’s best-known pilot of World War II, with the possible exception of Captain Mitsuo Fuchida of Pearl Harbor infamy. In a seven-year combat career, Sakai survived horrible injuries and impossible odds, and almost got a chance to kill Lyndon Baines Johnson. The fact that Sakai never made a combat launch from an aircraft carrier in no way detracts from his significance as a naval aviator and Japan’s third-ranking fighter ace.

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historical-article-speaking-in-tonguesNear an abandoned French farm in 1918 field telephones crackled with orders in a language that baffled German eavesdroppers—and the code talkers were born

By Richard Selcer @ Historynet.com

During World War II the United States used American Indian code talkers to thwart enemy decoding of battlefield radio and telephone traffic. The exploits of these men—almost all of whom were Navajos serving with the Marines the Pacific—are justly famous, thanks to several popular written histories and the 2002 film Windtalkers.

Yet few people realize that U.S. reliance on code talkers during wartime did not originate with Navajos on some jungle-covered South Sea island. It was, instead, on the shell-pocked Western Front battlefields of World War I that American Indians—mostly Choctaws in Army uniforms—were first tasked with transmitting crucial military communications in languages the enemy could not decipher.

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historical-article-pacific-trampsThe story of the B-17s that arrived over Hawaii during the Japanese attack has been told many times, but what happened to them?

By Steve Birdsall @ Aviation History Magazine

On December 7, 1941, 12 unarmed B-17s on their way to reinforce the Philippines arrived over Oahu to find Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field under attack.

Six, led by Major Truman Landon, were from the 19th Bomb Group’s 38th Reconnaissance Squadron. Two of them, Landon’s 41-2413 and 41-2408 piloted by Lieutenant Karl Barthelmess, were brand-new B-17Es. The other four were obsolescent B-17Cs that would never see combat again. Following were six B-17Es from the 88th Reconnaissance Squadron, 7th Bomb Group, led by Captain Richard Carmichael in 41-2429.

Carmichael decided to fly northeast, “just off the ground,” and try Bellows Field. At Bellows he encountered more chaos, and at Kaneohe and Wheeler too. With little choice left he turned into the wind, lowered the landing gear and flaps and, in a near stall, dragged the Flying Fortress onto the runway of the short auxiliary strip at Haleiwa. Lieutenant Harold Chaffin had landed there five minutes earlier in 41-2430. Lieutenants Robert Thacker in 41-2432, Harry Brandon in 41-2433 and David Rawls in 41-2434 braved Japanese and friendly fire to land at Hickam. Lieutenant Robert Ramsey, Brandon’s copilot, recalled “getting shooted at, muchly, by both countries.” Lieutenant Frank Bostrom in 41-2416 landed on a golf course at Kahuku. One B-17C was destroyed on landing and another dam­­­­­­aged beyond repair, but all eight B-17Es and two B-17Cs were safely down by the time the Navy issued orders to “cease firing on B-17s at­­tempt­­­­ing to land at Hickam.”

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historical-article-last-train-homeAfter World War II, fallen American service personnel rode the rails to their resting places

By James I. Murrie and Naomi Jeffery Petersen @ American History Magazine

ON THE CALENDAR, World War II ended with Japan’s surrender on September 2, 1945. For millions of American military personnel who made it through the hostilities, the duration dragged on into 1946. However, for the families of more than 279,000 Americans who died overseas, the war continued until loved ones reached their final resting places. Often this was through a U.S. Army program repatriating deceased servicemen and women aboard mortuary trains that in their day were front-page news but now are forgotten.

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historical-article-screaming-bird-of-preyAlthough obsolescent even before World War II began, the Ju-87 Stuka terrorized ground troops and found a late-war niche as a tank-buster.

By Stephan Wilkinson @ Historynet.com

Never has a warplane so obsolete, vulnerable and technologically basic wrought so much damage to its enemies as did the Junkers Ju-87 Stuka. Even as Germany invaded Poland and triggered World War II, its Ministry of Aviation (ministerium, or RLM) was hard at work on a replace- Reichsluftfahrtment for its dive bomber, and the early Ju-87B was intended to be the last model made. No surprise, since typically an air force begins development of the next-generation aircraft the instant the current machine goes into service. But hard as they tried, the Germans never came up with a Stuka successor, so the angular, archaic “little bomber,” as the Luftwaffe called it, was the airplane that on September 1, 1939, dropped the first bombs of the war, and on May 4, 1945, flew the final Luftwaffe ground-assault mission. The very last propaganda film made by the Luftwaffe showed Stukas attacking Soviet tanks on the outskirts of Berlin, smoke streaming from their big antitank cannons. That’s 5½ years of nonstop combat by an airplane adjudged by some to be too primitive, too slow and too vulnerable before the war even began.

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historical-article-type-xxi-u-boatBy Steven Trent Smith @ Historynet.com

At the end of the war, American technical teams fanned out across Germany in search of Nazi Wunderwaffen, or Wonder Weapons: guided missiles, jet aircraft, super-heavy tanks. Of most interest to the U.S. Navy was a submarine capable of operating submerged continuously for days on end—the Type XXI U-boat. Americans had known of its existence for nearly two years, after the British had passed along sketchy intelligence about a “fast submarine.” They knew even more in January 1945, when Allied forces captured plans for the U-boat at a steel plant in Strasbourg, France.

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