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.
1861: The Departments of Northeastern Virginia, Washington, and Shenandoah are merged into one outfit: the Army of the Potomac. Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan, the only Union general with any victories under his belt so far, will be its first commander.
1942: (Featured image) In the Marshall Islands, the submarines USS Argonaut and USS Nautilus unload 211 Marine Raiders who board rubber boats and head for Makin Island. Lt. Col. Evan Carlson’s Raiders manage to make it ashore despite heavy surf and engine troubles, succeeding in wiping out most of the island’s Japanese defenders, but fail to accomplish their objectives of taking prisoners and gaining intelligence. The raid on Makin Island, along with the raid on Tulagi earlier in the month, are considered the first use of special operations during World War II.
That same day, B-17 bombers target Nazi-occupied Europe for the first time, hitting a railroad marshaling yard in Rouen, France. Piloting the lead bomber is Maj. Paul W. Tibbetts Jr., who will drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima nearly three years later.
1943: The Eighth Air Force conducts a massive raid against a Messerschmidt aircraft factory and ball bearing production facilities in Germany. Of the 376 B-17s that flew, 96 are shot down and another 95 are unable to be used again. The factory is destroyed, and ball bearing production is significantly reduced.
Meanwhile, as Axis troops evacuate the island, Lt. Gen. George Patton and his Seventh Army enter the Sicilian capital of Messina. Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery intended to relegate Patton’s maligned force to protecting the British Eighth Army’s flank and mop-up operations, but Patton’s “Race to Messina” proved the mettle of American combat troops and restored prestige to his troops after the North African campaign.
1917: U.S. Army Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing is named commander-in-chief of the American Expeditionary Force, which is destined for European combat the following year.
1942: The Northrop P-61 Black Widow night fighter makes its first flight. The twin-boom P-61 is the first aircraft to carry radar and the U.S. military’s first night fighter. The warplane saw service in both the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters, and is widely believed to be credited with the last “kill” of an enemy aircraft in World War II, when a Japanese “Tojo” fighter pilot flies into the water while maneuvering to evade a Black Widow. Another P-61 pilot performed aerobatics over the Cabanatuan prison camp to distract Japanese soldiers while Rangers infiltrated the camp and rescued 500 American prisoners of war.
1958: Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class William R. Charette selects which remains of unidentifiable service members from World War II will be interred at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from four identical caskets in a ceremony on the deck of the cruiser USS Canberra (CAG-2). Charette is the only enlisted sailor and recipient of the Medal of Honor still on active service. The “unknowns” were disinterred from cemeteries in Europe, Africa, Hawaii, and the Philippines.