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.
Note: each week we will be exploring the connections (both in print and on OpsLens TV) between seemingly disconnected events that occurred this week in military history, in addition to our daily military history posts. (Originally published at OpsLens.com)
During this week in 1944, the Allies were in the final preparation stages for what Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower called “the Great Crusade” – the invasion of Normandy. An elaborate deception campaign successfully tricked the Germans into thinking that Gen. George Patton was about to lead the fictional First U.S. Army Group, consisting of inflatable tanks and equipment, across the English Channel to Pas De Calais.
To eliminate Germany’s ability to quickly redeploy its divisions spread across France once they learned that Patton’s invasion at Calais was a hoax, Eisenhower launched Operation CHATANOOGA CHOO CHOO – a series of massive air attacks against Axis rail infrastructure by the Eighth and Ninth Air Forces, along with the Royal Air Force warplanes and French resistance fighters. Over the next few days, the French skies were full of bombers which hammered the German railroads, marshaling yards, and vital bridges while fighter-bombers attacked rolling stock and hundreds of irreplaceable locomotives.
The attacks devastated Nazi Germany’s logistics, essentially sending much of their transportation in northern France “back to the Stone Age.” The air and deception campaigns prove to be so successful that it took several weeks to move units from Calais to defensive positions – far too late to stop the invasion force.
The man credited with coining the statement of bombing a country back to the Stone Age was, at the time, commanding the Eighth Air Force’s 305th Bomb Wing. Before Gen. Curtis LeMay became famous for his campaign of incendiary attacks against Japan and instrumental leadership of Strategic Air Command and as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Cold War, he was a fearless B-17 commander that personally led his formations, created new defensive tactics, and flew in the lead even when the general was not needed in the air.
Featured image: “… to the shores of Tripoli…” Lt. Presley O’Bannon leading Marines during the Battle of Derna, inspiring the famous opening line to the Marine Corps Hymn. (painting by Col. Charles Waterhouse, USMC art collection)
1805: Following an extremely difficult march across a 500-to-700-mile stretch of North African desert, a force of eight U.S. Marines, two Navy midshipmen, and band of Arab and Greek mercenaries commanded by U.S. Army officer William Eaton have reached the fortress at Derna (modern-day Libya) during the First Barbary War.
Supported by three warships (USS Nautilus, USS Hornet, and USS Argus), Eaton personally leads the two-and-a-half-hour assault on the fortress. One Marine is killed in action and another mortally wounded in the first U.S. land battle on foreign soil. The Battle of Derna also marks the first time the U.S. flag is raised over foreign soil.
Legend states that newly installed, pro-American pasha Hamet Karamanli was so impressed with Marine 1st Lt. Presley O’Bannon’s leadership and heroics that he presents O’Bannon with a Mameluke sword. U.S. Marine officers today still carry the Mameluke sword, whereas Marine NCOs carry the traditional Naval infantry saber.
1813: Brig. Gen. Zebulon Pike’s 1,800-man American infantry force lands west of the Canadian town of York (present-day Toronto). Supported by a 14-ship naval flotilla, the Americans inflict heavy losses on the outnumbered British regulars, Canadian militia, and Ojibwe warriors. The fort’s magazine explodes during the battle, killing 38 Americans (including Pike) and wounding over 200. York is burned after the town’s capture, enraging the British and inspiring them to retaliate by burning Washington, D.C. the next year.
1865: The overcrowded Mississippi River steamboat Sultana, carrying 2,400 Union soldiers just released from Confederate prison, explodes and sinks just north of Memphis. At least 1,500 soldiers perish in the greatest maritime disaster in U.S. history.
1953: As armistice negotiations begin, Gen. Mark Clark – the commander of UN forces in Korea – informs Communist pilots through shortwave radio broadcasts in Russian, Chinese, and Korean that defecting MiG-15 pilots would receive political asylum and $50,000 (the first defecting pilot would be awarded $100,000) to fly an operational jet to South Korea. The Russian MiG-15 was considered to be superior to any Allied fighter at the time and had inflicted heavy casualties on Allied airmen.
Although no pilot would take up the offer until September, Operation MOOLAH had the indirect effect of grounding MiG-15 sorties for several days – perhaps as Communist Party leaders investigated the loyalty of their pilots. And following Clark’s broadcasts, there would be no more sightings of Russian pilots or aircraft, which were considerably better pilots than their Chinese or North Korean MiG counterparts.