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Tuesday, October 28, 2014


Steve Cole's thoughts on surprising and little known parts of military history.

1. During World War II, the US Army created the Army Special Training Program. Over 160,000 smart young men (IQs over 120) were sent to college at Army expense to learn engineering, languages, medicine, or dentistry. They wore uniforms, took 24 hours of classes a week, and were paid as privates. They were supposed to earn a four-year degree and an officer's commission in 18 months. (The program was, in part, intended to keep land grant colleges from going bankrupt for a lack of students.) In early 1944, the Army decided that the program would take too long, was a luxury they could not afford, and that manpower was desperately needed, so most of these men were transferred straight to the infantry and were added to new divisions being formed. This worked out well since the infantry usually got only the men no other branch of the Army wanted.

2. Everybody has heard of ULTRA, the British code-breaking program that read the Nazi's radio messages. What few know is that the Germans broke the US diplomatic code, which the US military attache in London used to radio home all of the British war plans from November 1941 to July 1942. This German breakthrough was based on the Italian theft of the US code from the US embassy in Rome. (The Italians refused to give the code to the Germans but told them enough about the messages that the Germans could break it for themselves.) This leak (as bad as ULTRA) stopped when an Australian commando team raided an Italian base and brought home proof that the Italians had broken the US "black" code. It was changed immediately.

3. In the final days of July, 1945, the Japanese had assembled 60 twin-engine bombers and 600 commandos for Operation Sword. This was to be a one-way suicide mission to attack the US bases for B29 bombers in Guam, Saipan, and Tinian. The theory was to crash land on the bases, at which point the commandos would rush out with machine-guns, grenades, and firebombs to cause as much damage as they could. The mission was continually delayed (by weather or by US attacks on their base) with one of the final dates set for a time when the Enola Gay was sitting on the runway with the Little Boy atomic bomb inside.

4. Lieutenant Akamutsu was Japan's King of Aces, with 250 confirmed kills of US aircraft. A functional alcoholic, Akamatsu flew every mission while drunk. Maybe Ulysses Grant really was onto something?

5. Captain Bligh was not a seagoing tyrant, but an effective British naval officer dealing with a crew that was lazy and wanted to stay in Tahiti where the weather and girls were warm. When the mutiny happened, most of the crew sided with Bligh. The mutineers set him and 18 others adrift in a boat, which Bligh navigated 6,700 miles to safety over 47 days. Exonerated by a court, Bligh served with distinction, commanding 11 other ships and retiring as a three-star admiral.