During the Cold War, U.S. aircraft designers produced some absolutely incredible warplanes. Looking back from an era of stealth technology and fifth-generation jets, some of these aircraft may seem primitive and a few are remembered for their flaws, but make no mistake: these machines were truly cutting edge in their day. Not only our freedom and security, but that of the rest of the world, depended on holding the edge over the communists. Because had it not been for a constant output of highly advanced and steadily improving fighters, attack planes, and interceptors, we might not have deterred a possible third world war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Below are just some of these amazing platforms that kept the Cold War cold.
By the time the United States Air Force became a standalone service in 1947, the dawning of the jet age was rapidly making our stockpiles of piston-engine aircraft left over from World War II obsolete. Republic Aviation produced over 15,000 P-47s from 1941-1945, and made constant improvements to the aircraft. By the time the United States invaded Normandy, the rugged fighter-bomber could either escort heavy bombers into Europe or devastate Axis ground targets with its eight M2 .50-cal. machineguns and 2,500 pounds of bombs. It was re-designated the F-47 in 1948 and would be retired from active duty Air Force service in 1949.
Today’s post is in honor of Staff Sgt. Roger C. Turner Jr., who was killed during an enemy mortar attack on this day in 2004 at Camp Anaconda, Iraq. The 37-year-old from Parkersburg, W. Va. was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.
1800: The frigate USS Constellation (the first of four so-named American warships) under the command of Capt. Thomas Truxtun defeats the French frigate La Vengeance under Capt. F.M. Pitot in a night battle lasting several hours. The engagement, fought during America’s Quasi War with France, is – according to Truxtun – “as sharp an action as ever was fought between two frigates.”
1862: Julia Ward Howe’s poem “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which begins “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord,” is published in the Atlantic Monthly. It will become a Union Army ballad. Today, the ballad is a martial hymn sung in American military chapels worldwide and by descendants of Union and Confederate soldiers alike.
1941: The 1st Marine Brigade is re-designated as the 1st Marine Division, and the 2d Marine Brigade becomes the 2d Marine Division — marking the first time Marine units are ever organized on the division level.
1942: (Featured image) Vice Adm. William Halsey Jr.’s Task Force 8 (USS Enterprise) hits Japanese facilities in the Marshall Islands, while Rear Adm. Jack Fletcher’s Task Force 17 (USS Yorktown) attacks the Gilberts. Aircraft and naval artillery inflict moderate damage to the Japanese garrisons and sink several smaller vessels. The Marshalls-Gilberts Raids mark the first American offensive operation against the Japanese during the war in the Pacific.
Today’s post is in honor of Staff Sgt. Christopher Bunda, who died on this day in 2004 when his boat capsized during a patrol on the Tigris River in Iraq. Bunda, 29, of Bremer, Wash. was assigned to 2d Battalion of the 3rd Infantry Regiment and was one of four U.S. soldiers joining the Iraqi police during a river patrol. During the search for Bunda and the Iraqi policemen — the other three Americans made it to shore safely — an OH-58D Kiowa helicopter hit a power line and crashed into the river, killing 1st Lt. Adam G. Mooney and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Patrick D. Dorff.
1787: Former Continental Army captain Daniel Shays leads a group of 2,000 American rebels on a raid against the Springfield (Mass.) armory, hoping to obtain rifles. 1,200 militia meet Shays’ force, turning the attackers away by firing grapeshot into their ranks and killing four. Shays is tried and sentenced to be hanged, but the veteran of the Boston, Bunker Hill, Lexington, and Saratoga battles – who was wounded during the war and served five years without pay – is pardoned and given a pension instead.
1856: Marines and seamen from the sloop-of-war USS Decatur land at Seattle to protect settlers from an Indian attack. The Battle of Seattle lasted seven hours and the Indians suffered severe casualties, while only two settlers died.
1939: In a basement of New York City’s Columbia University, scientists split the uranium atom for the first time. This newly discovered fission reaction will be harnessed and turned into atomic weapons in six years.
1946: (Featured image) In the skies over Florida’s Pinecastle Army Airfield (now the site of Orlando International Airport), Bell Aircraft Corporation’s first XS-1 supersonic research plane, 46-062, cuts loose from its B-29 mothership for the craft’s initial flight. In October of the following year, Capt. Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager will push 46-062 — now named Glamorous Glennis — past the sound barrier.
Today’s post is in honor of the crew of FROSH 10, a B-52C that crashed into a mountain in Maine during a training mission on this day in 1963. The airmen were testing terrain-following radar and flying at near-treetop levels when they encountered severe turbulence from the mountains, completely shearing off their rear stabilizer. While the pilot and navigator survived, Maj. Robert J. Morrison, Lt. Col Joe R. Simpson, Jr., Maj. William W. Gabriel, Maj. Robert J. Hill, Jr., Capt. Herbert L. Hansen, Capt. Charles G. Leuchter and Tech. Sgt. Michael F. O’Keefe of the 99th Bombardment Wing, Heavy perished.
1847: Col. Sterling Price (future major general in the Confederate Army) learns a force of nearly 2,000 Mexicans and Pueblo Indians is preparing to assault U.S.-held Santa Fe, in modern-day New Mexico. He assembles his 353 soldiers, militia, and volunteers and heads out to meet the enemy, which occupy houses and the heights overlooking Price’s position.
Despite the terrain disadvantage and five-to-one numerical odds, Price’s heavily outnumbered force routs the insurgents.”In a few minutes,” Price reported, “my troops had dislodged the enemy at all points, and they were flying in every direction.”
1944: As Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas’ VI Corps expand the beachhead at Anzio, Adolf Hitler orders his troops to defend the Gustav Line (situated between Anzio and Monte Cassino) to the last man. The nihilistic dictator’s order comes a year — to the day — after ordering Gen. Friedrich Paulus’ shattered Sixth Army to fight to the death at Stalingrad. Paulus and his men only hold out for another week.
Today’s post is in honor of Fireman Duane Hodges, who on this day in 1968, was killed by enemy fire while serving aboard USS Pueblo in the Sea of Japan. The 21-year-old sailor from Creswell, Ore. was posthumously awarded the Silver Star.
1870: Following the murder of a Montana rancher and his son, Col. Eugene Baker forms a band of infantry and cavalry, leaving Fort Ellis (near modern-day Bozeman) in search of the Blackfoot indians responsible for the attack. Coming across a Blackfoot encampment, Baker orders his men to attack the camp, not caring if it was the correct group or not.
The soldiers open fire, killing nearly 200 Blackfeet – mostly women and children. Those that survived the brutal attack were left to the sub-zero temperatures without shelter. The massacre sparks public outrage. President Ulysses S. Grant, wanting a “peace policy” with Native Americans, ends the Army’s hopes of taking over Indian affairs by appointing civilian ministers instead.
1945: With the Soviet Army approaching, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz orders the evacuation of German citizens and troops from East Prussia, Courland, and the Polish Corridor. Hundreds of merchant vessels and German warships transporting nearly a million civilians and 350,000 troops, making Operation “Hannibal” three times larger than the famous British evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940.
Today’s post is in honor of Cpl. Christopher G. Singer, who was killed during combat operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand province on this day in 2012. The 23-year-old from Temecula, Calif. was assigned to the 3rd Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force.
1903: The Militia Act of 1903 – also known as the “Dick Act” (Congressman and Maj. Gen. Charles Dick authored much of the legislation) – is passed, establishing federal standards and greater federal control over state militias, essentially creating the modern National Guard.
1918: 12 officers and 133 enlisted men from the 1st Aeronautical Company arrive for anti-submarine duty at Ponta Delgada, Azores. The unit was one of the first completely equipped American aviation units to serve overseas in World War I.
1954: (Featured image) First Lady Mamie Eisenhower christens USS Nautilus (SSN-571), the world’s first-ever nuclear submarine, at General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division in Groton, Conn. Nautilus then launches into the Thames River, and in just under a year will cast her lines and ship out under nuclear power. Her Submarine Thermal Reactor obliterated anti-submarine warfare tactics honed against World War II-era diesel-electric subs since nuclear subs no longer need to surface periodically, can dive deeper, and (if detected) could clear the search area in record time.
1961: Seven years to the day after the first nuclear sub is commissioned, USS George Washington (SSBN-598) completes her first operational voyage. The United States’ first ballistic missile submarine remained underwater for 66 days during her maiden deterrent patrol.
Today’s post is in honor of Lt. William T. Costen and Lt. Charles Turner, whose A-6 Intruder was shot down on this date in 1991 during Operation DESERT STORM. Costen (27, from St. Louis, Mo.) and Turner (29, of Richfield, Minn.) had just finished their mission of mining the naval base at Um Qasr and were returning to their aircraft carrier when their plane was hit. They were assigned to Attack Squadron 155 (VA-155), on board USS Ranger.
1911: During the San Francisco Air Meet, exhibition pilot Eugene B. Ely lands his Curtiss Pusher Model “D” aircraft on the armored cruiser USS Pennsylvania, which had been fitted with a special 119-foot-long wooden platform with makeshift tailhook system. Ely’s feat marks the first-ever airplane landing aboard a ship.
1945: In a speech to the House of Commons, British prime minister Winston Churchill recognizes the immense American sacrifice in the Battle of the Bulge. Possibly alluding to British general Bernard Montgomery’s reluctance to engage, resulting in only 1,400 British casualties compared to well over 100,000 Americans, Churchill states “U.S. troops have done almost all the fighting, suffering losses equal to those of both sides at the Battler of Gettysburg.”
Churchill adds, “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.”
1951: Following their return to action after the breakout from the Chosin Reservoir, the First Marine Division begins mopping-up guerillas in the Pohang area of South Korea.
Today’s post is in honor of Lt. Cmdr. Michael Scott Speicher, a Naval F/A-18 aviator who was shot down by an Iraqi MiG on this day in 1991, becoming the first American casualty of Operation DESERT STORM. For years the fate of the 33-year-old from Kansas City, Mo. was unknown until Marines managed to track down his remains in 2009, which had been buried by Bedouins after being shot down 100 miles west of Baghdad. Speicher served with Strike Fighter Squadron 81 (VFA-18), the “Sunliners,” flying out of USS Saratoga (CV-60).
1781: Continental Army forces — including infantry, cavalry, dragoons (horse-mounted infantry), and militia – under the command of Brig. Gen. Daniel Morgan, clash with a better-equipped, more-experienced force of British Army regulars and Loyalists under the command of Lt. Col. Banastre “Bloody Ban” Tarleton in a sprawling pastureland known as Hannah’s Cowpens in the South Carolina upcountry.
The Battle of Cowpens ends in a decisive victory for Morgan – who defeats Tarleton in a classic double-envelopment – and a near-irrevocable loss of men, equipment, and reputation for the infamous Tarleton and his “British Legion.”
1966: A nuclear-equipped B-52 bomber flying an Operation CHROME DOME airborne alert mission off the coast of Spain collides with a KC-135 Stratotanker during refueling, destroying both planes. Four B28 thermonuclear weapons fall from the sky; three landing near the village of Palomares and one sinks in the Mediterranean Sea in what is one of the worst nuclear disasters in U.S. military history.