Category Archives: Air and Naval Weapons

D-Day Jump Plane Gets a new coat of paint

Thanks to the 19th Air Support Operations Squadron, an Air Force unit that provides Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (the guys that call the bombs in) to deployed Army units, a historic C-47 (military DC-3) that was donated to the Ft. Campbell-based BG Don Pratt Memorial Museum about 20 years ago is getting a fresh coat of paint.

The story and photo come from the post paper, the Ft. Campbell Courier, which has a lot more quotes and information about the plane and its restoration. We thought we’d pull the paragraphs about this particular airplane’s history. The high point of its career was carrying elements of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment from Upottery, England to Normandy, where they exited at “J+30” or about 0115 on D-Day.

The C-47 was built in 1942 by the Douglas Aircraft Company in Long Beach, Calif. and was later assigned to the 92nd Troop Carrier Squadron, 439th Troop Carrier Group, 53rd Troop Carrier Wing, 9th Troop Carrier Command at Baer Field, Indianapolis, Ind. In February 1944, the aircraft was flown to Europe and initially stationed in Baldertaon, England.  Eventually the aircraft was moved to Upottery, England.

The 42-100828 participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. Piloted by 2nd Lt. Porter A Smith, the aircraft was part of a 45-plane serial and had the mission of dropping paratroopers from the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment into Drop Zone “C.” The paratroopers on board made up Chalk 53 and were likely from Headquarters Company or D Company, 506th PIR.

In September 1944, 42-100828 and her unit were relocated to Juvincourt, France. Flown by 2nd Lt. Lawrence O. Slagle, the aircraft was used in Operation DRAGOON in mid-August 1944 and towed gliders from England to Holland on Sept. 18, 1944 as part of Operation MARKET-GARDEN. The aircraft also dropped CG-4A gliders filled with medical supplies, fuel and ammunition to the 101st Airborne Division during the Defense of Bastogne, Belgium in December 1944. The aircraft also participated in the airborne invasion of Germany code-named Operation VARSITY in March 1945.

After World War II, the aircraft remained in Europe until the early 1990s. While in Europe the aircraft was stationed in France, Italy, Belgium and Germany with the U.S. Air Force. In November 1950, 42-100828 was transferred to Norway under the Mutual Defense Aid Program. In 1956 Norway transferred the plane to Denmark. While in Denmark, the aircraft was leased by the Danes to Twickenham Film Studios to use in the film “A Bridge Too Far.”

The aircraft made her last flight with the Danish Air Force in July 1982 and was taken out of service and placed in storage. The aircraft was sold into civilian service in the early 1990s and flown to Fort Campbell where it was donated to the BG Don F. Pratt Memorial Museum.

via Volunteer restoration – The Fort Campbell Courier: News.

While it’s nice that this very historic airplane will be preserved (well, to the extent that an outdoor static display is preserved; most of them ultimately wind up ruined by the elements and consigned to scrapyards), it’s a pity that it was taken out of flying service.

Surprisingly, D-Day veteran C-47s are not extremely rare today, while most “warbird” aircraft have no combat record. The reasons are multiple, but include:

  • the sheer number of planes used on D-Day;
  • the lasting military and commercial utility of the C-47, which kept them flying in service  for decades (the last ones in airline service in the USA, in Alaska, were actually shut down after 9/11 in a typically boneheaded action by the TSA).  So a lot of D-Day veterans had an economic purpose, unlike most combat planes;
  • the rapid obsolescence of propeller-driven bomber and fighter planes at war’s end, thanks to the emerging turbojet;
  • the harder use to which combat planes were put, making them wear out with fewer airplane and engine hours than a cargo plane flown mostly on airfield-to-airfield straight-line “milk runs”; and,
  • massive American warplane production which meant that there were new, fresh airframes available after the war for the smaller peacetime services, encouraging the scrapping of most combat planes.

If you want an airworthy C-47 with D-Day provenance, be prepared to pay in the neighborhood of $150,000 to $350,000, but that’s where the spending begins. Maintenance is expensive, and fuel even more so. The more authentic it is, the more difficult it will be to get the FAA to allow you to carry passengers on fund-raising hops or skydivers seeking a “vintage experience.” (This may be completely ruled out, if FAA lawyers get their way. They are currently trying to ban all passenger rides in vintage military aircraft, and will probably need to be smacked down by Congress).

The DC-3 wasn’t exactly a “weapon”. (At least, it wasn’t until the 1960s at the AC-47 gunship). But it was a very important ingredient in victory in World War II, and later in the Cold War. No other nation had a transport fully equivalent, except for Britain and Russia, which used Lend-Lease C-47s, and Japan (and Russia), which built them under license. (The German Ju53/3m served the same logistical role, but was an inferior aircraft in most practical measures except simplicity and ruggedness, where it had an edge. It too served for some years after the war in several countries, but was obsolete before the current warbird preservation movement would have ensured survival of any number. We think only three are still flying today, one in the US and two in Europe).

While the US had planes flying faster and higher, and hauling more, by war’s end,  a measure of the greatness of the DC-3 is that it is the only plane to be operated by all major combatants in World War II (the Germans used captured examples for clandestine missions).

We’ll close with a quote from the same story:

“It’s a part of history,” said Staff Sgt. Sonny Bumgardner, a logistics specialist with 19th ASOS. “It’s a very big part of history; Air Force history, Army history, Army Air Corps history. It’s nice. It’s at the intersection here where everyone sees it. Thousands of people see it every day. We don’t want it to look [bad].”

What word do you think Sonny actually said to the reporter? We have a guess!

Doolittle Tribute

In April, the National Museum of the US Air Force (which normal speakers of English call the Air Force Museum, a name the Air Force found to be not-unwieldy-enough), hosted a 70th-anniversary reunion of Doolittle Raiders. These are the guys who, in April 1942, took off from an aircraft carrier in stripped-down land-based bombers to shock Japan with a completely unexpected air raid. The few survivors, five very old men, were feted, and the occasion remembered with a thunderous formation fly-by of nineteen B25s, more than have flown together in a very long time (perhaps, since the making of the movie Catch-22 about 40 years ago). The raid, ironically, featured fewer planes, and no such formations: each bomber attacked an individual target as a single ship.

This video is from the flyby and actually puts you inside one of the bombers. Most people will never get to fly in such a machine. The single-engine fighters of World War II continue to appreciate financially, and are favored playthings of the very wealthy (or the subset that has the reflexes to fly a 2,000 horsepower airplane that sets one back $1-4 million). But the multi-engine bombers and transports,30 and 40 years ago war-surplus workhorses of air transport and missions like firefighting, are twice as expensive to operate with less than half the cachet. An airworthy B-25 can be had for as little as $250,000, less than a new four-seater plane; but the two thirsty engines suck vast quantities of expensive aviation fuel. (Even then, they don’t make their original rated power, because the 115-octane fuel they flew on in World War II hasn’t been made in many years and they have to run on low-lead 100-ocatane). So the operators of these planes, who brought them to Dayton, are doing it at great personal cost. (The Air Force Museum does not pay them to appear. Their reward is the spotlight for a short while, then they face a long, expensive flight home).

Jimmy Doolittle was already a famous man in 1942, winner of many air races that were, culturally, bigger then than NASCAR is now; but also a PhD in engineering, and one of the principal inventors, along with Sperry, of the science of flying on instruments, something that your every flight in a comfortable, pressurized airliner depends upon today. He was one of the few men that could be played by Spencer Tracy (as he was in the 1944 film about this raid, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo) and have his charisma attenuated rather than amplified by that great actor. As he stood in the wreckage of his plane (from which he and his crew had escaped by parachute, and returned to to salvage what they could), he despaired, and told a crewman that he would surely be court-martialed. The man replied, no, sir, they will give you the Medal of Honor and make you a general.

And so they did.

Militarily, as Doolittle recognized in his morning-after despair, the raid was a pointless pinprick, with few intended targets hit and none destroyed or disabled. But it had a profound impact on morale on both sides. Its importance to the Allies can’t be overstated: it was the first success of any significance against the seemingly invincible Japanese juggernaut. The Japanese, for their part, fully subscribed to the invincibility argument and were shocked and frightened by the attack; immediately, they began to divert forces to defense of the home islands. A man watching the skies over Tokyo or Kure was not on hand to fight the Marines in the Solomons. But more importantly, the Japanese and the Marine knew that America could land a punch and that Japan had to take it; that lesson paid big dividends.

The raiders themselves faced staggering hardships, which only began after their feat of navigation and flight across the Straits of Japan. Because they launched from an unexpected place, they had little hope of navigating to their planned Chinese destination fields. None of them landed safely, apart from two unlucky crews that landed in then-neutral Russia; some bailed out and some crash-landed, and some simply crashed, and died. Those captured by the Japanese were subjected to a brief version of the torture and mistreatment for which Japanese prison camps were to become notorious, then publicly beheaded. Most of the planes made it to China and Chinese villagers and underground members were instrumental in assisting the Americans to escape the Japanese; a terrible wrath was visited upon those villagers and anyone suspected, ever so uncertainly, of assisting an American. It was an indelible stain on the proud escutcheon of Japanese arms. (After the war, the responsible officers were found, tried, and hanged. It says something about the sort of man that treats a prisoner thus that, in a Japanese military that lost millions in desperate fighting for what they believed was national survival, the beheaders were still around at V-J Day).

The B-25 was a workhorse of the war, serving in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps air arms (the Air Force wasn’t independent until 1947) and in British, Free French, Free Dutch, and Russian service. After the war. the planes were gradually retired by an Air Force converting to jet propulsion. For a time they had commercial utility as executive transports or special-purpose working aircraft, but now those that survive are pampered pets.

An report on the event and some links to historic photographs can be had here; hat tip Donald Sensing at Sense of Events. Ted Lawson’s book, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, and the 1944 Van Johnson/Spencer Tracy movie version give a broadly accurate and very readable/watchable story of this World War II inflection point.

Eloi and Morlocks

Readers of classical science fiction (or the Classics Illustrated comic book versions, which we know dates us) will recognize the H.G. Wells reference (The Time Machine, for those whose educations are hollow in this area).

They were the two species that humans had evolved to in the distant future: Eloi were beautiful, cheerful, loving, artful and somewhat dim. They were sunlight worshippers who dwelt in harmony with nature on what appeared to be the planet’s natural bounty. Apart from the dim bit they were an altogether admirable race. Morlocks conversely were ugly, nasty, brutish, practical, and clever in a relentlessly functional way. They dwelt in holes in the ground, tending mysterious machines, and ventured topside only to gather Eloi, who, it turned out — prodigious spoiler follows, so skip to the next graf if you want to get the surprize direct from Wells — were so well supplied with the necessities of life because the Morlocks were charging them to the Livestock Feed account.

Having established the bifurcation of the English, if not human, race at some future date, events around the coming 2012 London Olympics suggest that the date may be upon us. First, let’s hear from the Eloi:

Residents near the proposed missile sites voiced their concern after being sent leaflets  by the Ministry of Defence.

Lynda Greenwood of Barn Hill, Epping Forest, said: “We don’t want it here. People will be up in arms. Using a site in this tiny hamlet to store missiles is dangerous. What’s to stop terrorists from targeting us to get rid of these missiles?”

Mrs Greenwood, 58, who helps her husband run a roofing business, added: “It puts us in danger. What are the authorities thinking?”

Flash Bristow, chairwoman of the Ferndale Area Residents’ Association in Leytonstone, which includes the Fred Wigg Tower in Montague Road, said: “To hear there’s going to be something capable of killing people that is going to be put on a block of flats a few minutes’ walk from my house is shocking.

“The tower is 16 storeys high and is opposite terraced houses and near three primary schools.

“I don’t see why they need to put missiles everywhere. It will make me feel far less safe to know there’s something lurking nearby.”

Wait — they’re anxious about missiles? What have missiles to do with the Olympics? That, alas, brings us to the Morlocks. Those being the terrorists who have no specific name nor motivation in police planning, but may resemble, say, the Mohammedan scholars who have threatened to disrupt the Olympics, the Middle Eastern gentlemen who are annoyed that MI5 and Special Branch keeps scarfiing up the suicide bombers they’ve spent fortunes of Saudi Riyals on, or for that matter the individuals of a Levantine cast who last turned an Olympics into a bloodbath, in Munich in 1972.

From the same paper, another timely story about the arrests of some Morlocks:

Zahid Iqbal, 30, Mohammed Sharfaraz Ahmed, 24, Umar Arshad, 23, and Syed Farhan Hussain, 21, were appearing at Westminster magistrates’ court charged with various terrorism offences.

They were plotting an attack on targets as yet unidentified, but had selected firearms and bombs as their methods. The police seized a variety of instruction books on actualizing one’s Islamic faith:  The al Qaeda Manual, 21 Techniques of Silent Killing, al Qaeda “Inspire” magazine , 44 Ways to Support Jihad, The Book Of Jihad, The Explosives Course 2, and others.

The authorities have gathered rather a lot of hardware and operators of same in anticipation of a visit by Morlocks. The London Evening Standard (this link also source of the first quote above) adds them up thusly:

[General Sir Nick Parker, in charge of Olympic security] said people were being consulted over the sites. General Parker said Typhoon fighter jets patrolling the skies would be the first line of defence followed by snipers in helicopters whose role would be to shoot the pilots of planes which failed to turn back from the stadium.

The surface-to-air missiles are being deployed as the third tier of defence aimed at slower or smaller aircraft. The Rapiers will be sited farther out and Starstreak High Velocity Missiles will be deployed in Bow and Waltham Forest just a few miles from the stadium.

The sheer numbers are impressive for the island nation today: 7,500 soldiers, 800 Royal Marines, over 12,000 police. British special operations forces will be deeply involved in Olympic security.

Now, not everyone is more concerned about the anti-Morlock forces than the Morlocks themselves. Some may object to the SAM sitings out of sheer insulated terror over “something that can kill people” (hint, lady: that tall building the rockets are on can kill people, with a little assist from a force called gravity). But a few understand the need for defense and temper their NIMBY tendencies:

Howard Shields, chairman of the Blackheath Society, said: “The leaflet talks about putting a ground-based air defence unit at the western end of Blackheath. We have to understand that security is a big general issue during Games.

“Our concern is that so much of the heath is already being used for other bits of the Olympics. We’re anxious this is not going to take another enormous chunk of the heath, and have been assured footprint is quite small.”

via Six jet attack missile sites across London during Olympic Games – London – News – Evening Standard.

It’s hard not to see one error here as being oversharing by the Ministry of Defence. The Ministry, though, was hoping to get a little more civic understanding of the need for a few emplacements of Rapier and Starstreak anti-aircraft missiles. But the pretty things inhabiting Mr Churchill’s “bright, sunlit uplands” don’t even want to think about what it takes to keep them from being Purina Morlock Chow.

Mr Wells, your dystopian future is ahead of schedule.

Historic Naval Guns to Guard Phoenix War Memorial

Schematic of one of Missouri's turrets with its 16-inch naval rifles. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Some of the biggest guns ever made were on battleships, and two of these immense naval rifles are going to anchor a new World War II memorial in Phoenix, Arizona.

The massive guns symbolically bookend the conflict, actually: a 14-inch naval rifle came from USS Arizona, sunk in the Pearl Harbor attack that plunged America into the war, and a 16-inch naval rifle came from USS Missouri BB-63, the ship on which Japanese and Allied representatives signed the Japanese surrender that ended the war.

It’s great that these weapons will be used in this manner, as eternal reminders of the course and cost of that immense war, and it’s even better that this use saves the from the Department of Defense’s previous plan — which was to melt them down.

The following is an excerpt from the Mohave Daily Star’s report:

At a special ceremony near the capitol, Arizona’s Secretary of State Ken Bennett, BNSF Railway and Phoenix Rotary 100 announced the arrival of a 14-inch gun barrel from the USS Arizona and a 16-inch gun barrel from the USS Missouri. The historic naval “rifles” will be incorporated into a complete World War II Memorial.

“Today is a special day in our effort to build a memorial that honors the sacrifice of our WWII veterans,” said Bennett. “We’re thrilled that BNSF has delivered such important elements of the monument to Phoenix.  Without the company’s help and commitment to honoring our veterans this project would not have been possible. But BNSF’s support shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone as the company has a long record of supporting veterans.  Whether it be taking on projects like these or the company’s commitment to consider hiring veterans before other applicants, BNSF exemplifies what it means to be a good corporate citizen.”

via Mohave Daily News > News > Local > Historic gun barrels to become part of World War II Memorial.

The 16-inch rifle was the largest weapon the US deployed, and one of the largest ever sent to sea (the record holders were the Japanese Yamato and Musashi’s Type 94, 460mm/18.1 inches). Larger guns were built and used on land (the Nazis had a 31.5 inch monster).

By all means visit the Mohave Daily News article, where the details on the near-scrapping of the historic guns and of the massive volunteer effort that moved the massive guns.

Some ask, why does an infantry/individual weapons blog like this periodically discuss air and naval weapons. Well, they’re weapons, they’re interesting and they’re historic, and they have a technology all their own. That makes them a legitimate target, as far as we’re concerned.

Spitfires to rise from the grave?

Spitfire MkIIA of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. Red tape covers the ports from which the eight .303 Brownings would fire. Image source: unknown, sorry.

Not many weapons define a battle and symbolize the defiance and triumph of a nation. But the Supermarine Spitfire, the iconic fighter of the Battle of Britain in the summer of 1940, is one of those weapons. Designed to carry a then-unheard of eight Browning .303 machine guns, and having a wing with an elliptical planform that was murder to manufacture but provided optimum lift over drag (not to mention, striking beauty), the Spitfire stands nearly alone in world history. It’s one of the few war machines ever to have inspired a theatrical film.

The machine was not only beautiful and historic, but pilots found it was perfectly balanced and a joy to fly. A German ace, asked what Hermann Göring could do for him, earned the fat Nazi’s lifelong enmity by flippantly asking for a squadron of Spitfires. (If anyone in the RAF ever asked for Messerschmitts, history didn’t record the quip).

But after the war, before they were “vintage,” Spitfires simply were “old,” and most of the thousands made — 21,000, in fact — wound up being melted down to become cooking pots in dreadful British kitchens, and cast pistons in dreadful British cars.  While many have been restored in recent years, and more are flying today than 10 years ago, there still aren’t three dozen airworthy examples. That could change.

The Telegraph newspaper is reporting that the very obsolescence that condemned so many Spitfires to the smelters may, paradoxically, have saved up to 20 of them. What’s more, the preserved Spits are the early Mk II model — many of today’s flying Spits are later marks, less associated with the desperate days of the war’s early years. The obsolete Spits, still in their shipping crates, were buried deep in bomb craters in Burma. A recent rapproachement between Britain and Burma has made it possible for the UK to recover, and possibly restore, the fighters.

The story begins with one man — a farmer.

David Cundall, 62, spent 15 years doggedly searching for the Mk II planes, an exercise that involved 12 trips to Burma and cost him more than £130,000.

When he finally managed to locate them in February, he was told [Prime Minister David] Cameron “loved” the project and would intervene to secure their repatriation.

Mr Cundall told the Daily Telegraph: “I’m only a small farmer, I’m not a multi-millionaire and it has been a struggle. It took me more than 15 years but I finally found them.

”Spitfires are beautiful aeroplanes and should not be rotting away in a foreign land. They saved our neck in the Battle of Britain and they should be preserved.”

via Spitfires buried in Burma during war to be returned to UK – Telegraph.

Spitfire MkIIA. One of the greatest and most historically significant war machines in all recorded history. Image: ©2006 Used by permission.

The Spitfire is so associated with the Battle of Britain in the mind’s eye that most people don’t know that the rival Hawker Hurricane, built to the same RAF specification with the same engine and armament, was the numerically-predominant fighter during the Battle of Britain.

Even the Luftwaffe opposition fell under the mystique of the elegant Spitfire, with Germans shot down by Hurricanes insisting that Spits had done it — something the irritated Hurricane pilots termed “Spitfire snobbery.”

Whether Mr Cundall’s planes are in good order or not is the big question. He thinks they will be:

“They were just buried there in transport crates,” Mr Cundall said. “They were waxed, wrapped in greased paper and their joints tarred. They will be in near perfect condition.”

But that’s what the team that recovered an abandoned Lockheed P-38 from a Greenland glacier thought, too. The machine was badly crushed; the restoration took many years and millions of dollars. Given that 67 years have elapsed since the Burma Spitfires were buried, it’s quite likely that water, that relentless promoter of corrosion, has gotten inside.

Still, the machines are going to be recovered; and even though Her Majesty’s Government has been instrumental in negotiating the recovery with the Burmese junta, they are not asserting any claim on the salvaged planes. With a little luck, Mr Cundall might get the £130,000 he’s spent on the project back  (an airworthy Spitfire is an expensive thing: from a low of one to a high of four million dollars).

Can Jet Fighters do Special Operations?

North Vietnamese MiG-17, obsolete on paper, made dangerous by small size and maneuverability.

By now, you should know that if we throw out a leading question like that, the answer’s probably “yes.” And since we stole some ideas from aeronautical engineering just yesterday, let’s look at an aviation special operation today. Just to add some spice, let’s look at an enemy one, and see if there’s anything we can learn from in there.

If you define special operations as operations that depend on stealth, guile, dash and imagination there are many special operations in the history of the worlds’ air forces. Some are justly famous: the 617 Squadron Dambusters. Some are, at least, known to students of that particular war: Operation Bolo in Vietnam, where (air-to-air) F-4 Phantom units under Col. Robin Olds deceived NVA fighter controllers by using formations and radio calls characteristic of (air-to-ground) F-105 Thunderchief units. The MiGs went up to harvest the bombers, and seven of them got harvested instead.

And then there’s the operations you never heard of, the ones you come to for. This one involves the same to air forces — US and DRV — in the same war, but if it had a name, it’s unknown, and the shoe of daring is on the other foot. The North Vietnamese use special-operations techniques to preserve their force and its capability under the onslaught of the American Operation Linebacker in 1972.

A MiG-21-F13 in North Vietnamese colors, retired to an American museum.

The American attacks were, basically, a war plan first proposed in 1965 and rejected out of hand by LBJ. (Indeed, when the Joint Chiefs raised the issue, LBJ, who wore a fraudulent Silver Star for nonexistent WWII heroism, abused them at length, and SecDef McNamara showered them with the sort of contempt only a Harvard man who knows deep down he’s wrong can generate). US air and naval air forces would drop the bridges and close the choke points in the Vietnamese rail network, and aircraft would mine North Vietnam’s crucial harbors. Losing rail and sea transport, and having road transport constricted,  wouldn’t completely choke North VIetnam’s war machine, but it would deprive it of air defense, which depended on large machines that had to come from abroad — radars, missiles and fighters. A first strike would disable the North Vietnamese Air Force on the ground.

The North Vietnamese and their Russian patrons had excellent sources in the US Government and had plenty of advance warning of the “sudden” attack. But with facilities like ports, airfields, and railway bridges to defend, there wasn’t that much they could do. At the end of Day One, the USAF confidently reported that the North Vietnamese Air Force wasn’t flying any more.

In Russia, an Mi-6 airlifts a MiG-15UTI trainer to prove the concept.

But the USAF was wrong, because the NVAF went into special-operations mode. Leveraging technology, daring, and secrecy, on the eve of the US raids many of the air force’s MiG-17 and MiG-21 fighters were airlifted — sling loaded — by Mi-6 helicopters.  Russia had developed this capability in order to disperse their air defense forces prior to any future nuclear war, and they didn’t mind sharing the concept with their Vietnamese satellite. The gigantic cargo helicopters took the jets to austere, improvised airfields — firm farm fields, stretches of straight road — whence they would launch against US sorties. To do this they depended on a capability that had been developed, but mostly abandoned, by the WWII German and then the US Air Forces — rocket assisted take-off. Once again, Russia maintained this capability to retain a fighter force in the event of almost certain wartime attacks on airfields — attacks like the ones that had opened the German attack on Russia in 1941. The strap-on, drop-off rocket pods let a runway-loving turbojet fighter blast off almost like a space rocket, using a minimum stretch of ground. The aircraft would then recover to Phuc Yen airfield.

Here the NVAF were doing some smart, asymmetrical things that leveraged their capabilities and the US’s limitations. US ROE did not allow helicopters to be engaged at night, granting invulnerability to the most vulnerable evolution in the NVA plan. The civilian side of dual-purpose Phuc Yen was likewise off limits to US target planners.

This MiG-21 is a later model, in the colors of East Germany, but the RATO takeoff is the same.

So how did it all pan out? Even though the NVAF were our enemies, this operation was so bold and imaginative that you almost want to hear about its success. Alas, it was just not enough to stem the tide of B-52 raids, carrier Alpha Strikes, relentless fighter-bomber activity (including all-weather and night attacks by A-6 and F-111 aircraft), and general American aerial and electronic superiority. With their ground-controlled intercept (GCI) stations bombed out, the NVAF found that the Americans too could find the enemy’s asymmetric pressure point. The mission extended the life of the NVAF a little — during the B-52 raids the North Viets launched 31 sorties, almost all MiG-21s, and effected eight air-to-air engagements. NVAF claims were two B-52s, four F-4s, and one unlucky RA-5C, an unarmed reconnaissance bird whose superior speed didn’t save him from a MiG-21. The NVA admitted loss of three MiG-21s.

US military analysts claim that the B-52s, which were indeed lost, were lost to SA-2 (V-750) Guideline SAMs, that the NVAF only bagged two F-4s, and initially credited the RA-5 to the missiles, but later corrected the record. So, regardless of which numbers are correct, the NVAF complicated things for the USAF but didn’t seriously restrict its courses of action. But, every jet dedicated to defending against those few remotely-launced MiG-21s was one that wasn’t bombing them.

One additional MiG tactic that was very effective was to maintain a distance from the B-52 cells but shadow them and call their position to ground control, which relayed it to anti-aircarft gun and missile units.

Ever wonder why… the Coast Guard has guns on their ships?

Ryou-Un Maru (l.) engaged by 25mm fire from USCGC Anacapa (r.). Image: Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard doesn’t fire a lot of shots in anger these days, although there are times in its history that it has done so. (Coasties served in Vietnam on riverine and littoral craft, and crewed many of the landing craft that landed troops on D-day, but nowadays they mostly deal with maritime safety and navigation). Thing is, sometimes you need that gun even for the maritime-safety mission, and when you need it, you better have it.

From the AP story at

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter unleashed cannon fire on the abandoned 164-foot Ryou-Un Maru on Thursday, ending a journey that began when last year’s tsunami dislodged it and set it adrift across the Pacific Ocean.

It sank into waters more than 6,000 feet deep in the Gulf of Alaska, about 180 miles west of the southeast Alaska coast, the Coast Guard said.

The crew pummeled the ghost ship with high explosive ammunition, and the Ryou-Un Maru soon burst into flames, took on water and began listing, officials said.

via Coast Guard cannon fire sinks Japanese ghost ship – Yahoo! News.

More at the link, of course. The New York Post has its own story, as does the Christian Science Monitor, the Guardian (UK), and many other media sites. Most of them don’t name the weapons the USCG used to sink the derelict, which had been awaiting scrapping in Hokkaido, Japan when it was set adrift by the tsunami that struck norther Japan in March, 2011. Like the Flying Dutchman of legend, the Ryou-Un Maru crossed the Pacific under the observation of mariners and coast guardsmen, until it was clear it was drifting, at about one nautical mile an hour, into heavily trafficked sea lanes.

In fact, most of the news stories didn’t identify the Coast Guard units participating, but went direct to the Coast Guard on the matter, so we can tell you there was an (unarmed) HC-130 from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak, and the USCGC Anacapa, WPB-1335, homeported in Petersburg, Alaska.

Mk38 Maritime Machine Cannon on a US Navy vessel.Same mount is used by the Coast Guard. Image: US Navy.

Anacapa is one of a class of 110-foot cutters, patrol boats really, named after coastal islands. It’s armed with a Mk38 25mm chain gun — the same “Bushmaster” chain gun that’s used in the Bradley IFV and the LAV-25, but in a maritime mounting — a Mk19 40mm automatic grenade launcher, and a number of M2HB .50 caliber machine guns and other small arms.

The captain made a training exercise out of the need to destroy the derelict Ryou-Un Maru, and the crew enthusiastically fired up the target… literally, as the API-T ammunition for the Chain Gun (so called because the bolt is driven by a chain) set fuel in the derelict’s bunkers afire. But the ship did not sink. The 25mm can be devastating against small, close-in threats, but it may not have been the right thing to sink an unmanned, unpowered, steel fishing boat.

Finally the 40mm was called on, and after a number of hits punctured its tired old hull, the long career of the Ryou-Un Maru came to an end and it slipped beneath the waves to rest eternally in 1000 feet of water.

Missile Defense, Japanese Style

Illustration of Japan's layered BMD System. Image: Japan's Ministry of Defense. (Double click to expand, but it's still not quite legible... that's JMOD's doing, not ours).

We still see people claiming that ballistic missile defense is impossible. That’s silly; it was impossible, or very very difficult, in 1962, but that was 50 years ago. Since then every aspect of interception technology has improved, but missile defense opponents still cling to their 1962 arguments that ultimately brought down the first US ABM (anti-ballistic missile) system over the next decade.

While the President seems eager to cancel missile defense research and deployment, not above a little groveling to appease the Russians, other nations that are directly threatened by intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic  missiles (IRBMs/ICBMs) in the hands of rogue regimes are less blithe about the prospects of being nuked, and are taking precautions. One of those nations is Japan, frequently the target of saber-rattling by the cannibal cabal running North Korea. In Popular Mechanics, Joe Pappalardo runs down the mechanics of how a Japanese defense would unfold against a Nork strike, or Nork loss of control of one of their missiles launched in Japan’s general direction.

At this point in our scenario, the Taepodong is aloft and the Japanese are nervous. What can they do about it?

Missile defense works in layers. The first layer is a fight in space, led by Japanese destroyers armed with SM-3 interceptors. These weapons deploy a kill vehicle into space that use the launching ship’s targeting data and long-wave infrared seeker to hunt down the missile as it streaks outside the Earth’s atmosphere. It kills the missile with a kamikaze plunge into its path. Japan says it will deploy three destroyers with SM-3s in response to the threat of a North Korean test.

Japan's PAC-3 anti-missile system. It also has an antiaircraft capability. Image: Japan MOD. (This one is legible if double-clicked).

If those interceptors miss the target—and they certainly might—then land-based interceptors are on hand to target the dummy payload or debris from the rocket’s stages as it reenters the atmosphere. These Patriot Advanced Capability-3 systems use millimeter wave guidance to track and collide with cruise and ballistic missiles. The Japanese have owned these systems since 2008. The PAC-3s for this test would launch from Air Self-Defense Force bases on three islands. The Japanese government is also considering rushing the deployment of PAC-3 systems in Okinawa, which was planned for 2014.

via The Weapons of a North Korea–Japan Missile Standoff – Popular Mechanics.

He also covers the Norks’ missile technology, and some of the sensitive ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) satellites that maintain a global vigil for, among other anomalies, missile launches.  Read the whole thing.

What he doesn’t mention is that the Japanese defensive systems are based upon US technology. However, experts seem to believe that the Japanese have added some tweaks of their own to the missile software, which they do share with their American counterparts. The Japanese Ministry of Defense has an informative page (in English) about Japanese ballistic missile defense systems and planning.

The US system that was under construction in 2009 also was to include ground-based interceptors on the American West Coast, whose readiness has been reduced over the last three years, and an airborne laser capability, development of which was canceled, despite successful tests, as a diplomatic lagniappe, part of the “reset” of relations with Russia.

The same advances in technology that make Standard SM-3 and Patriot Advanced Capability missiles more effective than the Sentry and Safeguard missiles cancelled 40 years ago, are worth examining for students of ground combat, because they are likely to lead, given Moore’s Law, to active defense technology that works against light rockets and rocket-propelled grenades in the short run and against “dumb” projectiles before too long. Can you hit a bullet with a bullet? In 2012, the answer is… “soon.”

Hopefully we will not need Pappalardo’s information to pry the facts out of news stories in the days ahead, as the Norks prepare to launch… something. But if we do, you’ve got it now.

Hat tip: the Professor.

Handlowali Polską? Trans.: “Did they sell out Poland?”

Poland is a nation with a distinct language, culture, and location, and an utter lack of defensible borders. As a result, European history features the periodic appearance, flowering, defeat, enslavement, relocation and sometimes erasure of the Polish state. No one is more aware of this than the Poles, many of whom are old enough to remember their last period of de facto slavery, under the Russians from 1945-89; and some of whom remember the enslavement before that, under the Nazis.

If you can know something of a nation by its enemies, the Poles, unwilling doormat and unruly subjects of kings, emperors, Reichsprotektors and commissars, must count among the greatest of the races of man.

No one in Poland is under any illusions about the intentions of Vladimir Putin vis-a-vis their nation, nor about the degree to which the West will sacrifice on their behalf. And they’re very attuned to being expended as a bargaining chip — which their top papers think that Barack Obama, breathlessly eager to ingratiate himself with Putin, is doing. (“Fact”) says (our translation):

At a meeting with Dimitry Medvedev, President Barack Obama — not knowing that the conversation could be overheard — begged the Russian president to “give him room” on the american missile defense system, which the Russians oppose.

Handlowali Polską? Zagadkowa rozmowa Obamy z Miedwiediewem tarcza antyrakietowa –

“Did they sell out Poland” was their headline before it was ours. And the Gazeta (“Gazette,” in the bad old days the “Workers’ Gazette”) had a similar report (our translation again):

At a meeting with Dimitry Medvedev, Barack Obama begged the Russian president to “give him room” on the decision about the American missile defense system in Europe, which the Russians oppose. Both didn’t know that the conversation was overheard — and the video was released by the American media.

Both reports were featured on the splash page, above the “fold” of the newspapers’ websites, the cyber equivalent of a Page 1 story. Fakt included a classic Obama image: strutting by a Polish guard of honor, nose in the air. It’s likely that the Poles (and Czechs, and Balts, etc…) didn’t trust this Administration very much already, but the work of American diplomats in the region just got a good bit harder, and any trust these nations had in the USA just evaporated.

While the Poles may not be buying it, US media figures like ABC News’s Jake Tapper were quick to type up the administration’s spin (and Tapper’s report also transcribes the Obama-Medvedev exchange). Part of Tapper’s job, after all, but the Poles aren’t buying what the White House is selling.  Nor are the other Eastern European allies, already experienced with Obama’s double-talk on defense.

The English words alone don’t convey the connotation of the Polish word choices. The Poles understand exactly what happened at the meeting — they are playing the role of Eduard Benes in 1938, and Obama is on his knees in the role of Chamberlain — if not that of Benedict Arnold.

We’re reminded of a Polish friend, whose would answer any Polish joke with a barrage of abstruse academic po-polski. “Did you get that? No? Well, how does it feel to be dumber than a Polack? Bwahahahaha!” If anyone at the EOB, Pentagon or Foggy Bottom thinks they’re trusted in Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava, Talinn, Vilnius… etc., etc.,

One by one, the rubes are waking up. The only ones left at the table are a subset of Americans. And if you’re dealt into the game, and you don’t know who the mark is… it’s you.

U.S. Coast Guard out of Counterterror?

This one’s been sitting in the browser tabs for a while, based on a February 25th story in USA Today. It took a while to percolate to the top of the stack, and it took a while to think about what we think about it. And Bottom Line Up Front: it’s probably the right thing for the Coast Guard and the Nation.

In an internal memo from Vice Admiral Robert Papp Jr., the Coast Guard commandant nominee says that starting in 2012, he would slash funding for programs in the agency’s homeland security plan that would include homeland security patrols and training exercises.

The memo, marked “sensitive — for internal Coast Guard use only,” was obtained by the Associated Press.

Papp’s outline is significant because it could mean major changes for the more than 200-year-old agency that took on a significant homeland security duties after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Obama’s 2011 proposed budget cuts for the Coast Guard already has caused outrage from some lawmakers.

According to Papp’s memo, he would scale back the Coast Guard’s counterterror priorities in favor of traditional search and rescue operations that save people in imminent danger on the water and maintaining the maritime transportation system.

In the memo, Papp said he wants to eliminate teams that are trained to respond to and prevent terror attacks. These teams also train other Coast Guard forces on counterterror operations.

Papp said the strike teams were created after the attacks “to fill a perceived void in national counterterrorism response capability.” He says in the memo that other federal agencies are better at this type of mission.


We agree. The Coast Guard rescue and safety mission, and the Coast Guard mission to maintain waterways and aids to navigation, are things no other service can do. And the thing is, concentrating on those missions does not take them out of the battle against seaborne terrorism. The mere fact that smart people are on the waterways and in the ports and harbors every day, knowing “what right looks like,” and alert to things that look wrong, is probably the very best thing they can do to prosecute the GWOT.

Anti-terror SWAT type teams are all very photogenic, and every agency and government boondoggle (even Amtrak) apparently has to have one, but the fact of the matter is that any first responder who has to deal with a major terror attack or hostage situation in the USA is going to get bigfooted by FBI. Whether that’s good or not, that’s the fact. And if it’s overseas, they’ll get bigfooted by JSOC. That’s just the way national CT doctrine rolls, and smart people roll with it, and don’t waste their resources trying to duplicate FBI-HRT or JSOC capabilities — you can’t match their decades of operational tribal knowledge, and you’d still get bigfooted even if you did.

Meanwhile, if you tried to get the FBI to maintain the channel buoys off Sandy Hook, you’d wind up with a freighter double-parked on East 18th St. or something worse. Horses for courses, people.

The US reacted spastically to 9/11, and it’s going to take years to roll back all of the ill-considered organizational bloat that resulted from not recognizing that we already had the organizations we needed in place. What we needed was to open channels of communication at lower levels. Instead we built castles of new sclerotic organizations with stovepipes paralleling the old, and we pushed some valuable agencies out of their own lanes into imitation counterterrorism. The disruption to the Coast Guard was mild compared to the pure waste of the Transportation Security Agency (3,000 payroll patriots hired at HQ alone, average salary there over $100k, times zero of them competent, equals zero contribution to national seucurity). You can similarly call out DHS (wait, hasn’t someone been covering homeland security pretty well since 1775 or so?), and DNI (yeah, we were too bureaucratic to catch 9/11, so let’s build another inside-the-beltway bureaucracy. That’ll work!). All these errors will have to be remediated, and the associated waste arrested, for us to return to the level of safety we had on the morning of 9/11 — because in fact, these new bureaucracies have left us less safe and worse off all round.

The only things that have been effective against terrorists are: intelligence-driven pre-emptive strikes against them, and increased vigilance by first responders and common citizens. The TSA hasn’t kept bombers off airplanes, but the flight attendants and passengers have beaten up and secured the bombers. An Army of Davids is out there.

The USCG is still the frontline of bright, talented people who are out and about in the stream of commercial traffic and pleasure boaters, saving lives, rescuing dumbasses, recovering the bodies of the ones that were too dumb to leave themselves any hope of rescue, and… and here is what their best contribution to the fight against terrorism is, and always was. Admiral Papp deserved better from USA Today, but then, so does everybody.