On August 7, 1942 at 0910 hrs the ramp of an American Landing Craft lowered into the surf of 'Red Beach' 6,000 yards east of Lunga Point on an obscure island in the Solomon Islands chain called Guadalcanal. The men of the 1st Marine Division who ran up the beach that morning had no idea they were beginning a bloody, six-month battle that would be the first United States victory on the ground in the Pacific theatre in the Second World War.

Deemed almost sufficiently trained for its first exposure to combat, the 1st Marine Division, after traveling via train to San Francisco, boarded the transport USS John Ericsson, which carried them to Camp Paekakariki outside Wellington, New Zealand. Upon arriving in Wellington in July, the Marines were scheduled for another six months of training, but those plans were quickly cancelled. It was there that the Marines learned they would take part in the first land offensive against the Japanese on Guadalcanal. An airfield there was 90 percent complete, and the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C., did not want the Japanese to finish it. The official history said, “They feared that the establishment of such a base might presage a thrust southeastward that would sever the line of communications between the United States and Australia, and plans were quickly changed to focus the counteroffensive on the seizure of Guadalcanal and Tulagi.” The invasion force was assembled in such haste that the Marines had only enough food for 60 days and enough ammunition for 10 days of heavy fighting.

The first three major land engagements on Guadalcanal would all involve the same objective of trail or road access to Lunga Airfield, the island’s airstrip. The division departed Wellington and steamed to the Solomon Islands for Operation Watchtower. At 4:30 am on August 7, 1942, the Marines were awakened on board ship, and a hot steak and eggs breakfast was offered to those who had the stomach for it. A fierce naval bombardment commenced, hitting Guadalcanal and the smaller nearby island of Tulagi, as well as two small islets, Gavutu and Tanambogo. The Marines’ landings that morning caught the enemy by surprise and with a small force; only after their airfield was complete did the Japanese plan to bring in large numbers of crack troops to Guadalcanal. The invasion force was split into two groups. The 1st and 5th Marine Regiments came ashore first at Red Beach. McKelvy’s 3rd Battalion, which included the four second lieutenants of K Company, was in the third wave to hit the beach. Colonel Merritt Edson and his Raider Parachute Battalions, with the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment, faced suicidal resistance on Tulagi and its two islets, a foreshadowing of the fierce fighting to come on Guadalcanal. But the Tulagi islet areas were secured by the second day.


After hitting the beach at Guadalcanal on August 7, the Marines of K Company, along with the rest of the 3rd Battalion, were ordered to seize a terrain feature known as the Grassy Knoll (aka Mt. Austen). At an elevation of 1,000 feet, it overlooked the airfield and part of Guadalcanal’s coast and was therefore an ideal tactical acquisition. The Marines soon found out it was three miles inland, rather than just one mile as their maps indicated.

The Marines, however, did manage to capture the Lunga Airstrip, along with its warehouses and construction equipment that was quickly deployed to finish building the airfield. After taking the airstrip, the Marines promptly renamed it Henderson Field in honour of Major Loftus Henderson, a Marine Corps aviator killed in the Battle of Midway. The warehouses contained Japanese food - canned crab, fish heads, and rice - that had been contaminated by worms. Third Battalion Doctor Ben Keyserling passed by the chow line, administering the malarial depressant Atabrine and advising the Marines not to pick the worms out of their rice. “It’s going to be the only protein you get, so leave them in there,” he said. Also captured were large amounts of Japanese whisky and saké. Lt. Col. McKelvy immediately ordered the alchol off limits to everyone except (no surprise) himself. His men remember him being a bit tipsy at times.

The Marines' good fortune did not last long. On the evening of August 8, Rear-Admiral Frank Fletcher decided to withdraw the three aircraft carriers that were providing air cover for Vandegrift's transports. Later that same night, a Japanese cruiser task force sank one Australian and three American cruisers in the waters near Guadalcanal. The naval battle would come to be known as the Battle of Salvo Island and it was the first of a series of clashes to decide the control of the sea around Guadalcanal. In the next six months the United States would lose two aircraft carriers, seven cruisers and 14 destroyers while the Japanese lost one aircraft carrier, two battleships, four cruisers and 11 destroyers. The transports fled the next day taking with them 3,000 Marines who had not had time to disembark and much of the division's ammunition and heavy artillery. Another 6,000 men of the 1st Marine Division were dug in on Tulagi Island 20 miles away. The 10,000 Marines on Guadalcanal were on their own.

The campaign was a race between the Marines and the U.S. Army and the Japanese Imperial Army to concentrate enough force to defeat each other. The difficulties of gathering those troops were compounded by the alien and hostile environment of the jungle on Guadalcanal. But the day before the first 12 Douglas Dauntless dive-bombers and 19 Grumman Wildcat fighters arrived, the Japanese launched their first counter-attack. On August 20, 1,000 soldiers led by Colonel Kiyono lchiki attacked Marine positions on the left flank at the mouth of the llu River. But the Japanese underestimated the American strength, a mistake they would repeat several times in the campaign. Thinking there were only about 2,000 Marines on the island, lchiki's men attacked in three waves and were mowed down by the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Marine Regiment. More than 800 Japanese were killed and lchiki committed suicide.

The Japanese brought more soldiers to Guadalcanal on destroyers that travelled only at night to avoid the planes on Henderson Field and by September 12 had assembled a force of 3,000 men. Major-General Kawaguchi attacked from the south across a hill that became known as Bloody Ridge because of the intense fighting on the slopes. Colonel Merritt 'Red Mike' Edson's elite Raider battalion and parachute battalion bent under the assault, suffering 40 dead and 103 wounded, but did not break. Kawaguchi was not so fortunate and lost 600 killed and 600 wounded in two nights vicious fighting. On October 9, the Japanese made a third and final attempt to drive the Marines into the sea when Lieutenant-General Harukichi Hyakutake gathered a new force of 20,000 men plus heavy artillery and planned to strike at the American centre and right simultaneously. but the terrible terrain made exact co-ordination between the two columns impossible and they attacked 24 hours apart.

That might not have been fatal except the Marines had received their own reinforcements in the weeks before the attack. More Marines and the U.S. Army's 164th Regiment brought American strength on Guadalcanal up to 23,000 soldiers. In addition, a second airstrip was built for fighter planes. Hyakutake attacked and was slaughtered on the American defences. On December 9, the battle and jungle weary 1st Marine Division was withdrawn and in its place were the Americal Division and the 25th Division, both army formations, and the 2nd Marine Division for a total of 50,000 men under Major-General Alexander Patch. Hyakutake had less than half that number and a critical shortage of supplies left his men weak and sick. In January of 1943, Patch fought his way down the length of the island, overrunning Hyakutake's headquarters on the 23rd of that month. The Japanese managed to evacuate 13,000 soldiers by night and the campaign ended on February 8, 1943. In total, the United States lost 5,600 casualties of which 1,500 were killed while the Japanese lost an estimated 24,000 dead.


The new Eastman 1st Marine Division t shirt celebrates the grit and courage of these men, an exact reproduction, researched, developed and manufactured in Japan by the best in the business. Constructed with a special thread called ‘Raffy’, which is a combination of American Supima cotton, Egyptian cotton and Turfan cotton, it replicates the look and feel of vintage fabric. Because these cottons all have different length staples, the thread has a distinctive texture that is similar to vintage fabric. This specialised thread is then woven on rare vintage circular knitting machines, so the body is a complete tube with no side seam, known as ‘body-size’ - just like the originals. Finally, the dying and sewing construction is impeccably matched to the original, rendering a recreation that is second-to-none.


When soldiers of the 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, photographer Robert Capa, in the employ of LIFE magazine, was among them. Perhaps the best known of all World War II combat photographers, the Hungarian-born Capa had made a name for himself well before climbing into a landing craft with men of Company E in the early morning hours of D-Day. He risked his life on more than one occasion during the Spanish Civil War and had taken what is considered the most eerily fascinating of all war photographs. The famous image reportedly depicts the death of Spanish Loyalist militiaman Frederico Borrell Garcia as he is struck in the chest by a Nationalist bullet on a barren Iberian hillside.

Capa was known to say, "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough." On D-Day, he came close once again. With Capa standing in the very stern, his landing craft mistakenly came ashore at the section of Omaha Beach dubbed "Easy Red." Then the ramp went down. "The flat bottom of our barge hit the earth of France," Capa remembered in his book Slightly Out of Focus. "The boatswain lowered the steel-covered barge front, and there, between the grotesque designs of steel obstacles sticking out of the water, was a thin line of land covered with smoke — our Europe, the 'Easy Red' beach. "My beautiful France looked sordid and uninviting, and a German machine gun, spitting bullets around the barge, fully spoiled my return. The men from my barge waded in the water. Waist-deep, with rifles ready to shoot, with the invasion obstacles and the smoking beach in the background gangplank to take my first real picture of the invasion. The boatswain, who was in an understandable hurry to get the hell out of there, mistook my picture-taking attitude for explicable hesitation, and helped me make up my mind with a well-aimed kick in the rear. The water was cold, and the beach still more than a hundred yards away. The bullets tore holes in the water around me, and I made for the nearest steel obstacle. A soldier got there at the same time, and for a few minutes we shared its cover. He took the waterproofing off his rifle and began to shoot without much aiming at the smoke-hidden beach. The sound of his rifle gave him enough courage to move forward, and he left the obstacle to me. It was a foot larger now, and I felt safe enough to take pictures of the other guys hiding just like I was."

Capa was squeezing off photographs as he headed for a disabled American tank. He remembered feeling "a new kind of fear shaking my body from toe to hair, and twisting my face." With great difficulty his trembling hands reloaded his camera. All the while he repeated a sentence that he had picked up during the Spanish Civil War: "Es una cosa muy seria" ("This is a very serious business"). After what seemed an eternity, Capa turned away from the beach killing zone and spotted an incoming LCI (landing craft, infantry). He headed for it. "I did not think and I didn't decide it," he later wrote. "I just stood up and ran toward the boat. I knew that I was running away. I tried to turn but couldn't face the beach and told myself, 'I am just going to dry my hands on that boat.'"

With his cameras held high to keep them from getting waterlogged, Capa was pulled aboard the LCI and was soon out of harm's way. He had used three rolls of film and exposed 106 frames. After reaching England, he sped by train to London and delivered his precious film for developing.A darkroom technician was almost as anxious to see the invasion images as Capa himself. In his haste, the technician dried the film too quickly. The excess heat melted the emulsion on all but 11 of the frames. Those that remained were blurred, surreal shots, which succinctly conveyed the chaos and confusion of the day and became known as the Magnificent Eleven.

Capa's D-Day photos have become classics. One of them, depicting a GI struggling through the churning surf of Omaha Beach, has survived as the definitive image of the Normandy invasion. He went on to photograph the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. He also photographed his friends Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso, as well as film star Ingrid Bergman, with whom he reportedly had a love affair. After that, having cheated death so many times, Capa vowed never to risk his life in wartime photography again. In 1954, however, he agreed to supply LIFE with some photos of the escalating conflict between the French and the Viet Minh in Indochina. That spring, while attempting to get as close to the fighting as possible, he stepped on a land mine and was killed at the age of 40. Robert Capa is one of many wartime photographers who have risked their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice to capture the essence of desperate combat on film. Frozen in time and etched in our collective memory, the D-Day photos speak volumes about courage and sacrifice

Steve McQueen was a well known motorcycle and car fanatic and a seasoned off-road racer. During some Baja races he was behind the wheel of a Super Jeep known as 'the Baja Boot', built by Vic Hickey of the now-defunct Con-Ferr Incorporated in Burbank, California. There was a feature on the Jeep and its assembly in the Sept. ’69 issue of Rod & Custom (where it was a finalist in the running as a ’69 Street Rod of the Year?!). They call it a Universal Jeep here, not a CJ5 but love it or hate it, this Jeep with chrome roll bar was cutting-edge back in 1969 for a street-driven 4x4, and probably used as a prerunner for desert races. This Jeep was rumored to been sold to Sonny Bono of Sonny and Cher fame and went to his house in Palm Springs. After Mr. Bono’s untimely death in 1998, the trail of ownership and current whereabouts of this classic seems to have gone cold.


Below is the original article from Rod and Custom with all of the Super Jeeps Tech Specs

125 mph, Streetable & Virtually Bombproof, It’s… Super Jeep!

Let’s not ponder the morality of stuffing the price of small house into a vehicle like a Jeep even though the result would put most muscle cars to shame on the road and do the same to nearly anything you care to name except a Baja Boot off the road. When you hire other folks, particularly specialists, to do your work for you and you want it done now and you crank in more running changes than a woman dealing with an architect, it’s going to cost, baby.

With a modicum of one’s own labor, the help of friends and neighbors, and a rational approach, almost anyone can come up with the equivalent of the example under discussion at less than half the cost. Either way you cut it, the result is desirable property.

Super Jeep came into being when a customer (who shall remain nameless) came to Con-Ferr Incorporated in Burbank, California, and told owner Pete Condos that he wanted the ultimate Jeep. It had to be fast, it had to be safe, it had to handle with the ease of a sports car, it had to look good, and above all else it had to be owner-proof. This last was the kicker; the customer is known for a weighty right foot and more guts than a packing plant. An additional request was that all parts be new, which, in the light of the construction techniques that followed, was hardly a necessity.

For openers, the customer purchased a basic V-6 Universal Jeep, the stripped variety that retails for around $3,000, and then said, “Go.” Condos trundled the thing over to his manufacturing plant, where it was dismantled totally to the bare frame. Plant foreman Chuck Atkinson took the latter item in charge and boxed every rail, including the crossmembers. Every juncture that was riveted he also arc welded, leaving the rivets in place for added security. At the rear, two fabricated plate spring perches were added outboard on each side and an extra shock mount was welded at each corner. A bracket to carry a Saginaw power steering unit was added to the left front. At each side on the rear a pair of three-leaf springs was installed, each carrying a pair of flat, unclipped overload or antibottoming leaves. Special fabricated boxed shackles held these at the rear. Springs at the front are standard but held with heavy plate shackles. Under these went the standard Jeep front axle equipped with Warn hubs.

Two spring units are used on each end of the rear axle. Three leaves are clipped, and two are used for overload. The ends of the dual springs are shackled to special boxes fabricated from plate.

At the rear is a Jeepster rear axle, used because it carries its third member in the center instead of being offset. The reason for this is that the entire powertrain was replaced by a high-performance 350 Chevy engine with a Turbo Hydramatic transmission. The long tailshaft extension and the Dana transfer case, which has its rear output shaft at the top, required that the rear axle carry a centrally located third member. Beginning to get the picture?

A bulletproof chassis needed to be coupled with the kind of total power that propels the Chevy Baja Boot. To further the hard-landing capability, vertical plates were welded across the tops of the axletubes to the third member cases to prevent axletube buckling. Double Koni shocks were mounted on all four corners. Wide-rimmed wheels with Inglewood Stagger Block tires completed the rolling gear.

Now came the trimming (and the running changes that we won’t detail here). Suffice it to say that the “take it off, put it back, take it off” routine sent the man-hour cost into an orbit that would confuse Houston Control. Con-Ferr’s wiring whiz, Dick Bowman, replaced all the stock conduits with quick-disconnect looms and an open fuse block so that if one circuit went out only that circuit would be affected and any part of the body could be removed without disrupting the whole system.

In its first, or competition, form, Super Jeep was equipped with a fiberglas sic hood and fender unit. Though light and strong, the owner decided that the steel stock pieces were what he wanted.

The body, which unbolts with ridiculous ease, had been sanded and repainted and given a whole gaggle of detail changes. The stock gas-fill port on the left was covered over. Hinges, clamps, and a glovebox door were chromed. A full set of Stewart Warner instruments was let into the dash. A central console was made up out of sheet stock to carry the Hurst shifter and special brackets and rails made from 1-inch-square tubing to carry the wiggy Solar Plastics bucket seats. These last, when properly upholstered, have to be the most comfortable, supportive seats ever to be put into an off-road vehicle. Running up from the Camaro Saginaw steering, the steering shaft terminates with a small foam padded wheel. This 13-inch item is all that’s necessary thanks to the power steering, and it imparts a sensitivity totally incongruous with the sheer beef of it all.

In place of the stock underseat fuel tank, two 15-gallon saddle tanks are stuffed up into the rear corners behind the wheels, and one big stainless steel 30-gallon tank rides under the body behind the rear axle. We don’t have any figures at hand, but it would seem reasonable to suspect that cruising range would be from 300 miles in rough country to 600 on the road—and you know there has to be a gas station somewhere in a radius that large.

Chuck Atkinson fits the 30-gallon main tank up into frame. Two other tanks ride in the rear body corners.

Due to the fact that the car was originally scheduled to be raced, not to mention for peace of mind, a full Con-Ferr rollcage was constructed. This is a stock item available from Con-Ferr and is, when mounted as intended, in accordance with the strict rules of the National Off Road Racing Association. Sharp-eyed, rules-conscious readers may spot something haywire about this particular installation, however. Chrome on a stress part, especially a roll bar, is looked upon with deep suspicion by tech inspectors and is subject to a thumbs-down unless accompanied by a certificate to the effect that it has been baked to alleviate any hydrogen embrittlement that may have occurred during the plating process. Not only is this cage chromed, but the man doing the plating cut it apart at the upper corners to get it into the plating tank and then put it back together with bolts and flanges with bolts placed in sheer! The customer accomplished this bit of instant turn-down all by himself over Condos’s kicking and squirming body. The result is great for kids to swing on but it would be laughed out of any responsible inspection lane on sight. Imitators be warned.

Originally a ’glass hood and fender assembly was installed for a significant reduction in weight, but an unfortunate prior experience with a hasty installation on another vehicle persuaded the customer to revert to the stock item. Not that the ’glass front end is a poor unit—it isn’t. It just needs proper holddowns due to its light weight.

The powerhouse: a 350 Hi Perf Chevy with upswept headers. The Hayden trans cooler keeps things cool in the Turbo Hydro.

As noted, underneath the hood lies a Hi Perf 350 Chevy V-8. Except for headers and a Carter AFB, iti s box-stock. The control words here are “Hi Perf”; this isn’t the little old lady’s 350 but a hulking, brutal torque producer that’ll pull stumps and still rev up a storm on demand. It sits in the hole as though it had been built just for that purpose. Up on the left side of the firewall is the Hayden trans-cooler, keeping the Turbo Hydro cool when the going gets rough. The header installation, thanks to the room available, has branches that sweep up and out, allowing welcome access to the plugs.

Looking back on the whole assembly operation, it was—except for the pressure and the cut-and-try necessary in such a total rebuild—remarkably simple once all the factors were known, very much reminiscent of building a roadster back in the days when good, fresh roadster bodies were available. The result, in terms of raw brutality, has to be the greatest virility symbol since the Cadillac-Allard.


73 years ago on April 8th, 1944 the fate of British troops in Burma was being decided over a small asphalt tennis court. This court lay on what was once a calm and scenic plateau, overlooking the District Commissioner of Naga Hills’ bungalow. But in the spring of 1944 the entire region exploded into battle.

The British, Indian and American troops in Burma and Eastern India had been steadily pushed back by the advancing Imperial Japanese Army, who had their eyes set on advancing into India itself. On the 4th of April, they launched a massive attack against the British positions on the Kohima Ridge. This ridge was barely a mile long, and only a few hundred yards deep. Despite its high slopes, the Japanese attacked in force, pushing the British into defensive positions as they laid siege. By the 6th, the British had lost access to their water supplies in the south and were desperately trying to hold on to what positions they left.

The District Commissioner’s Bungalow sat at the northern end of the British defensive line and was first attacked on the 8th of April. The Japanese suffered heavy losses but kept pressing forward. Finally, despite the best efforts of the British troops they broke through the line. Under covering fire from a BREN gun, the British troops were able to retreat to the highest point in the compound, the tennis court. The Battle of the Tennis Court had begun.

Even on this first day, the fighting was incredibly gruesome. The Japanese refused to stop their onslaught, and likewise the British refused to stop their defence. One British soldier from the Royal West Kent Regiment took cover in a trench, only to find it almost immediately overrun by Japanese troops, pushing him to the ground. He was pressed into both the mud, and his dead comrades around him while his enemies stood on top of him, and piled ammunition about him. Under the cover of darkness, he managed to escape across the small strip of land between the two sides. Once back in the British lines, he took up the fight and helped to continue the British defence.

Only yards away from one another the two sides kept up a constant barrage of fire. Between Easter Sunday, April 9th and April 10th, the Japanese launched infantry attacks almost every 30 minutes. The Japanese General Sato knew that his troops would soon have their supplies cut off by the monsoon rains. His men needed to achieve victory and secure a strong defence as soon as possible. The British, likewise, knew that they only had to hold out for a matter of weeks before they would be saved by the monsoons.

But this intense fighting took a toll on the British troops. A Company, of the 4th Battalion Royal West Kents, had been dug in behind the tennis court for three days. Their casualty count was high and their ammunition low. Stretcher bearers would sneak forward at night to pull wounded soldiers out of forward positions. But even after being saved, and taken to the field hospital, the men weren’t out of combat.

One of the greatest horrors of Kohima was that the British wounded had to be treated in clear view of Japanese positions. They had dug a deep trench for use as a hospital, from which the British troops could see the Japanese mortar teams firing on them and their comrades.

There was no good way to relieve the lack of ammunition for the British troops. But something had to be done, and one Sergeant from the Royal West Kents took up the job. On multiple occasions, he ran to the forward fighting positions carrying as much ammunition as he could. After it was distributed among the men, he would then sprint back to the supply depot. He repeated this for during much of the fighting on the ridge and under constant artillery and rifle fire from the Japanese. By the 13th, A company was relieved by B Company, with fresher troops and ammunition. But when they got into position by the court they realised how terrifying the battle had become. The Japanese troops had pushed to one side of the court, with British troops slightly up the hill on the other side.

As rifle ammunition became scarce, something very strange happened. Men started throwing grenades from one line into the other. Troops there that day described it as almost a snowball fight, but with small deadly explosives. Men would toss a grenade, and duck. If a grenade came into their own trench, they would either try to throw it back or run for cover, a difficult task in a small slit trench. But the British artillery had picked up the fight against the Japanese, and on the 14th and 15th, no attacks came, much to the surprise of the British troops there. But this brief respite wouldn’t last and on the 17th the Japanese launched their final assault of the battle. They took the British Field Supply Depot, and Kuki Piquet, both on hills just south of the tennis court and bungalow. The Allied forces were now trapped in the northeastern section of the Kohima ridge. The Japanese gains wouldn’t last. The British responded with Artillery and forced them back with the help of a relief column from the 2nd Division, which had been fighting through the jungle to reach Kohima. The tide had turned, and the British started pushing back. But at the tennis court, the Japanese were holding out.

An Indian unit, the 1st Battalion of the 1st Punjab Regiment, had taken up where the Royal West Kents left off. Arriving at the trenches on the 18th, they were almost immediately met with a grenade match, like the one on the 13th. Again the tennis court saw some of the toughest action of the entire battle. One man, Jemadar Mohammed Rafiq, earned a Military Cross while there. He had lost all three of his section commanders and organised a rifle section from the remnants. He then led a charge, killing 16 Japanese troops and taking their forward trenches. But this small advance didn’t last. The British and Indian troops at the tennis court were pushed back between the 18th and the 24th. By the 24th they had been replaced by D Company, Berkshire regiment. Over the next three weeks, the intense fighting for this small strip of land continued. The Japanese picked up their constant attacks, despite high casualties. The British couldn’t advance forward, or move during the day due to snipers. Finally, they were able to bring up Lee Grants Tanks, pulling, pushing, and driving them up the steep slopes until they were in position. The tanks started pushing forward, firing almost point blank range into the Japanese defences. On May 10th, the tennis court was cleared, and by the 13th, the bungalow as well. The Battle of the Tennis Court saw some of the hardest fighting of the entire Burma Campaign, with men only yards from one another. This infantry battle, fought in what was once a serene jungle resort saw over 4.600 British casualties, and 5,700 Japanese. Neither side was willing to give in, and the combined British and Indian defence there came to symbolise the British Empire’s refusal to give in to Japanese aggression. They held their ground for over a month, against constant infantry attacks, grenades, shelling, and lack of supplies.

Steve McQueen was born 87 years ago today and his cultural imprint is even more resonant today than when he was alive. He has become an icon for numerous reasons, one of which was his adventurous nature and love of outdoor pursuits. To say McQueen loved motorcycles would be an understatement of epic proportions. McQueen loved Harley's but didn't limit himself to just one manufacturer when it came to collecting bikes. He owned them all - Harley, Norton, Ace, Yamaha, Velocette, Excelsior, Henderson, New Imperial, matchless, Marsh mets, Yale, Sunbeam, Nimbus, Scott, Nera Car, Crouch, Pope, Emblem, Husqvarna, Triumph and Pierce.

However, his ideal bike of choice was Indian, which comprised the bulk of his 200 plus motorcycle collection. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of every motorcycle from every manufacturer. McQueen gravitated towards Indian for several reasons, the first was sentimentality, his first bike was a 1946 Indian Chief. He was also a fan of the bikes quality from the overall design to its innovative engineering. Indian had unfortunately lost out to Harley on a large US Military WWII contract and in 1953 filed for bankruptcy. Luckily McQueen not only had the means to purchase these rare machines but lured Indian mechanic Sammy Pierce out of retirement and put him on a retainer. Known as 'Mr Indian', Sammy owned the American Indian Motorcycle Shop in Monrovia, Southern California and was responsible for putting more old Indians back on the road than any other mechanic in the United States. He worked full time restoring and fixing McQueens antique bikes to their original condition.

Occasionally McQueen, Sammy and longtime friend Bud Ekins attended motorcycle rallies and conventions. They'd admire each others rides, shop for parts or find out who was willing to part with their bike for the right price. One such meet had famed rider Charles 'Red' Wolverton in attendance. Wolverton was a top racer and speed record setter in the 1920's and 30's. He was also one of the countrys leading motorcycle engineers and helped test and build bikes by Excelsior-Henderson and later Ace. McQueen had a long discussion with Wolverton and discovered he owned an antique motorcycle that Wolverton had ridden to victory in several races. Steve invited the old gentleman to his home in Santa Paula and even paid for his airline tickets so that he could ride that bike one last time. As much as he was known for his quick temper he was also big hearted and generous to those around him. Happy Birthday Steve!

“The only way I could have been made corporal was if all the other privates in the Marines dropped dead.”

Steve McQueen's legacy as the "King of Cool" began early in his acting career and carries on to this day. He loved racing, frequently got in trouble, had three wives, and donated to the California Junior Boys Republic. His childhood was tumultuous. His father left both he and his mother after six months, and McQueen lived with his grandparents until he was eight. His step-father beat him and his mother which drove McQueen to live on the streets for a time. He was later sent to the California Junior Boys Republic where he began to mature.

After drifting from job to job, working in a brothel, as a Merchant Mariner, oil rig worker, a carnie, and a towel boy in the Dominican Republic McQueen joined the Corps in 1947. He was promoted to Private First Class and served with an armoured unit, but he was demoted back to private seven times. His rebellious nature came to a head when he let a weekend pass turn into a two week tryst with his girlfriend. Shore patrol apprehended him, but he resisted and spent 41 days in the brig; the first 21 were spent living off of bread and water.

His time in the brig served to reform as he attempted to improve himself and embody Marine values. Later on his unit was performing a training exercise in the Arctic which turned disastrous. The ship McQueen, his unit, and their tanks had boarded hit a sandbank which threw several tanks and their crews into the water. Many drowned immediately, unable to get out of their tanks, but McQueen jumped in and saved the lives of five men.

In recognition of his actions, McQueen was chosen to partake in the Honour Guard protecting Harry S. Truman's yacht. McQueen stayed with the Marines until 1950 when he was honourably discharged. "The Marines gave me discipline I could live with. By the time I got out, I could deal with things on a more realistic level. All in all, despite my problems, I liked my time in the Marines," McQueen said.

After leaving the Marines, McQueen used money earned through the G.I. Bill to study acting at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse. He began entering races at the same time and brought home about $100 home per week in winnings. McQueen became steadily employed on the show "Wanted: Dead or Alive". Later on his Hollywood break came by way of Frank Sinatra who hired him for the part of Bill Ringa in "Never So Few", the rest as they say is history.

Another contemporary of McQueen who started out in the military was his friend Paul Newman. Born in a suburb of Cleveland in 1925. His family owned and operated a small, lucrative sporting goods store that provided a comfortable lifestyle. After Newman graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1943, he joined the Navy's V-12 program at Yale University in the hopes of becoming a pilot. His hopes were dashed, however, when it was discovered that he was colour blind. Instead of completing the program, Newman was shipped to basic training where he qualified to be a rear-seat radioman and gunner for torpedo bombers. In 1944, Newman was sent to Barber's Point where he operated in torpedo bomber squadrons designed to train replacement pilots. He was later stationed on an aircraft carrier as a turret gunner for an Avenger aircraft.

One of Newman's later posts was aboard the USS Bunker Hill which fought in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. In a stroke of fate, his pilot developed an ear infection and they were held back from flying in the Okinawa campaign. Because of this, he and his pilot avoided the destruction of their ship, and the deaths of the sailors aboard. Newman was discharged in 1946 in Washington. Hs military honours included the American Area Campaign medal, the Good Conduct medal, and the World War II Victory medal.

After he left the military, Newman used the GI Bill to enrol in Kenyon College in Gamier, Ohio. There he engaged in numerous activities including football and acting. He reportedly wasn't very interested in his studies, but did graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Drama and another in Economics. Afterwards he wandered through various jobs including acting in stock companies and running his family store. Eventually he attended the Yale School of Drama for one year before moving to New York and studying at the Actors Studio.

Newman started off in Broadway productions, moved to television, and eventually landed his first Hollywood role in "The Silver Chalice" in 1954. He went on to star in classics such as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Towering Inferno," and "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge." His awards for acting included an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, and an Emmy Award.



As Europe was engulfed by war in 1939, the USA seemed self consciously estranged. Countless popular songs warned the government to devote themselves to helping the country's struggling farmers rather than the embattled Europeans. Six years later, America emerged from a global war as the worlds greatest superpower. Soon American values and products would permeate the world and in the process, America's archetypal clothing would undergo its own transformation.

Although historically there has been a longstanding tradition that Levi's supplied denim wear to the US Navy, this seems to have no basis in fact. The Levi's company itself believes its only government contract was fur lined parkas for Alaskan USAAF troops. Instead, Levi's main patriotic effect was to improve the morale of servicemen who, according to many letters home, slept with their precious jeans under their pillow, probably because if they were stolen there was only a remote possibility of being able to buy another pair.

Denim workwear had been just about as ubiquitous with the US military as it had been with the civilian population; denim Bell Bottoms were first approved for US Navy use in 1901. Although many companies, including Eloesser-Heynemann, produced Bell Bottoms in small numbers, Bell Bottom manufacture during WWII was dominated by traditional military suppliers such as the Polkton Manufacturing Company of Marshville, North Carolina. which produced Seafarer Bell Bottoms. Much of the denim for these pants was '818' or Jelt from Cone Mills. which at that time was also producing Levis's denim - perhaps the reason for the links between the Navy and Levi's. Cone subsequently received the Army-Navy E Award for its work towards the war effort.

Blue denim work clothing was adopted as standard by the US Army on 11 June 1919, replacing brown work clothing used before. The top was a jumper style pullover, the trousers had five pockets -- two front, two hip, and a watch pocket. In 1933 a one-piece work suit (coveralls) was adopted in blue denim for use by mechanics, drivers, machinists, and others in similar roles. This was in addition to and did not replace the two piece work uniform. The M1937 U.S. Army Indigo-Blue-Denim Uniform was the grandfather of all HBT fatigue uniforms. While the Axis countries had modernised their clothing needs the US lagged behind with only slight improvements from uniform designs that spanned during the 1920s and 1930s. Denim had been produced for military purposes starting in the late 19th century and since it was such a durable and comfortable fabric the military saw no need to update the technology. The Army did eventually replace the denim work uniform with the Herringbone Twill uniforms but what the Army didn't know was just how popular the denim styling would remain post WWII. This uniform was also issued to prisoners-of-war and you can find original examples with the obvious "PW" still painted on the back.

Meanwhile, a fast growing future rival of Levi's was becoming the biggest workwear manufacturer to supply America's armed forces. The Blue Bell Overall Company, of Greensboro, North Carolina and the Globe Superior corporation had merged in 1936, purchased the HD Bob Company in 1940 and then the Casey Jones Company of Baltimore, Maryland - owner of the then little used name 'Wrangler' - in 1943. In its factories all over the south, Blue Bell Inc produced over 24 million items of military clothing. Over in Kansas, the HD Lee Company also produced fatigues, jackets and flights suits for the US military - but maintained its advertising for its workwear and cowboy pants range, all of it aimed at civilians who quite possibly couldn't even get hold of the product.

The wartime cutbacks however did contribute to the development of modern Levi's jeans. The 'cinch' buckleback disappeared for ever; the distinctive arcuate stitching was replaced by the painted version, which normally disappeared after a number of washes. The stitching returned in 1947 along with a new silhouette creating the blueprint for the iconic contemporary 501 jean we know today. During WWII Levi's managing director Walter Haas had come under pressure from wartime authorities to compromise standards and reduce the weight of the denim used in the 501 and other jeans. He refused outright. However, in the social melting pot that left by a world war, Levi's was about to change from a Californian institution to an all-American one. And as an all-American institution, it's appeal would soon reach worldwide.

An article in a 1942 edition of Colliers Magazine pointed the way to the sportswear of the future, suggesting that more and more average Americans were waking up to denim. They found that it suited them and deemed it a sensible fabric in light of the new agricultural and industrial toil that needed to be finished if the fascists were to be beaten. Some seven years before this article hit the newsstands American kids began wearing jeans, but it was WWII that created a market for women's jeans and the course of women's style was forever altered. Post war, the evolution of denim took another turn, this time with the advent of Rock and Roll music and the World's first 'teenagers' it would become fashion rather than workwear and go on to signify rebellion and blue collar cool for the next 50 years.

One of my all time favourite movies, Twelve O'clock High, is despite being over 60 years old apparently still required viewing at US Military training schools and academies. While many movies have valuable leadership lessons, few are about the very nature of leadership itself. Twelve O’Clock High is different, revealing both the power and challenge of leadership.

No individual, once he or she has seen Twelve O’Clock High, will ever again believe that it is impossible to craft a serious war film without profane language and graphic violence. It has been done, it has been done very well. Nor does an audience need to see the blood, in order to understand what happens to men in war. Grim phrases like “You can see his brain,” “… took the back of his head right off,” and “…wiping frozen blood off the windshield,” create enough of an image to satisfy the interests of historical accuracy. This is not a bloody film, but it is a necessarily and highly violent one. The air-combat scenes are not merely historically correct: the shots pieced together to create the fictionalised version of a real mission were taken from United States Army Air Force and German Luftwaffe archives. This does not just make for a higher level of entertainment, and it is not merely an improvement upon stunt work. Men really died—were shot, crashed their planes, or were victims of explosion before they could bail out—in the black-and-white film work on your home television screen. Real bombs were filmed, and shown here, hitting real buildings with real people in them.

Director Henry King flourished enough in his career to attain the coveted veteran status, if not perhaps the label of “auteur”, his three films with actor Gregory Peck – Twelve O’Clock High, The Gunfighter and The Bravados – stand as his most well remembered works. Indeed, Twelve O’Clock High garnered some of the best reviews King had ever received and proved an enduringly popular war movie. Post World War Two films about the war were of course plentiful by the time of Twelve O’Clock High but few had approached the subject of war itself with as much ambiguity as King here attempted and also achieved success at the box office. Effective tales of combat heroism, the plight of the returning veteran and the inevitable stresses of war on individuals were common themes in films only tangentially questioning, if at all, the necessity of war rather than the terrible but necessary cost of it. King’s film is in retrospect a rarity, unusual for the fact that it examines wartime trauma but until the very end, it consciously chooses not to show any combat footage. Instead, it builds drama based on the anticipation of combat by measuring the pressures on officers and their fighting subordinates forced to test a new strategic means of warfare, one which brings with it a tremendous responsibility.

Twelve O’Clock High begins as an ex serviceman revisits an airfield and remembers its use during the war. The film subsequently tells the story of the early days of the USAAF presence in England, long before the D-Day invasion gave the allies a foothold on European soil. These squadrons are ordered to try a new, dangerous strategy – daylight saturation bombing raids – designed to cripple German industry and reduce its massive war machine. The generals push these men to see what can be endured: to determine how effective the strategy is and if more important raids into Germany itself could thus be assigned to the daylight bombers. With success and morale low, General Frank Savage (played by Gregory Peck) is sent in to replace the popular Colonel Davenport, a man seen to have become too close to his men. Savage seems a stern man who plans to reshape the unit into an effective fighting force, insisting on discipline and impersonality, at first having little but scant tolerance for the inter-personal bonds around him. The more he mixes with the men, earning their respect, the more he feels personally responsible for them. Against his wishes, he starts to care for them; a trait that jeopardises his effectiveness in the eyes of his superiors, ironically making him more like the commander he replaced.

A superb first half dissects the sense of demoralisation, with the group, already bowed under its reputation as a hard-luck outfit, initially wilting even further as Peck applies kill or cure remedies like segregating the worst misfits and malingerers as a crew known as 'The Leper Colony'. Latterly, with Peck beginning to crack under the emotional strain and go the same way as Merrill. But King's control, the electric tension, and the performances all hold firm. Twelve O’Clock High addresses the solitary burden and responsibility of command in wartime. Officers know that they must repeatedly order men to their possible deaths and the film examines the notion of how much responsibility for these individual lives they should take. In so doing, it ponders whether the course of the war thus held in balance with individual life can cause what the military term an officer’s “over-identification with his men”: that a certain solitariness and remove is thus necessary. However, it soon takes to task the assumption of military professionalism that officers can remain substantially removed from the lives they are nonetheless responsible for. Strictly speaking, compassion is thus militarily unacceptable in stressful situations and yet the human test posed is precisely that, proving that respect and empathy when combined with pride can overcome hurdles and make stress bearable and achievement possible. Peck gradually realises this over the course of the movie. He starts out wanting to instil in the men under him a sense of pride in their unit and its professional accomplishments, finally moving beyond pride into a genuine concern for the men. At its peak, this leads to identification as part of a natural human empathy. Yet this contradiction if not balanced can lead to a form of psychological breakdown: humanism can only be suppressed for so long, the movie suggests.

Twelve O'Clock High is most adept in charting the gradual way in which this ordinary human empathy transforms a cold officer into a man acutely concerned with the fate of the men under him, wishing even to replace them or at least risk his own life leading them. Indeed, it is the suppression of empathy that is presented in the film as a uniquely military form of stress that may erupt in psychosis and the so-termed “over-identification” to compensate. Although the military would consider this weakness, the filmmakers see such as a sign of human strength, a redeeming and humanising quality. In this way the movie artfully balances its view of the duties of command with a sly critique of military inhumanity and impersonality.

One of my favourite war movies is, like many of the best in this genre, actually an anti-war movie. Hell is for Heroes was released in 1962, based on a true event, it centres around a small squad of GIs in l944 who must maintain a position against a hugely superior German force until reinforcements can arrive. The only hope for maintaining their position is to use their wits and try to deceive the enemy as long as possible. This means creating the impression, through sound effects and other gimmicks, that their battalion is a large outfit. The script originated with writer Robert Pirosh who was a WWII veteran having been a Master Sergeant in the 35th Division, serving in the Battle of the Bulge, after which he was awarded the Bronze Star. While the incident in the movie was supposedly based on his war experiences, unfortunately even this did not prepare him for working with Steve McQueen. By all accounts McQueen arrived on set unhappy and stayed that way. Pirosh was supposed to direct but McQueen expressed his dislike of the script treatment and the studio sent the Pirosh packing.

Don Siegel replaced him, putting his stamp on the movie by insisting that it be bleakly anti-war, he took all of Pirosh’s black comedy out, but the studio forced him to include the Bob Newhart telephone monologue. The end result was a low-budget masterpiece, a strong antiwar statement by Siegel the director and McQueen the star playing an antisocial loner. Hell Is for Heroes shares a common thread with other Siegel films such as Madigan (1968) and Dirty Harry (1971), a recurring theme where the line between hero and antihero becomes so blurred as to be nearly irrelevant. In Don Siegel's moral universe, like in war, there are seldom absolutes and every issue is painted in varying shades of grey. The movie is directed with Siegel's typical toughness and narrative economy, perfectly suited for McQueen's gritty and air tight approach to acting.

Redding, California, in the summer, with temperatures reaching as high as ll7 degrees provided the filming location. Since the actors were fitted out in heavy GI battle dress, Siegel decided to do the principal filming at night, which was one of his best creative decisions. The night shooting adds greatly to the movie's bitter tone and desperate feel. McQueen's approach jarred with the directors throughout shooting, one scene called for the actor to break into tears as he is walking towards the camera. For take after take, he remained dry-eyed; the director tried blowing onion juice in his face, to no avail, and even resorted to slapping McQueen as hard as he could. Eventually, they compromised and used eye drops that ran down the actor's face for the shot.

Though McQueen is undoubtedly the movie's centrepiece in one of his best onscreen performances, expertly portraying the psychology of a human war machine, the supporting cast is also excellent, with Nick Adams as a homesick Polish expatriate, Fess Parker and L.Q. Jones as war-weary NCOs, and Bob Newhart (in his film debut) as a misfit private who serves as comic relief. The film's comic non sequitur involves Newhart finding a bugged phone line and carrying on a lengthy monologue for the benefit of the German eavesdroppers. Delivered in the typical halting fashion that had become a Newhart staple, the scene is in direct contrast to the rest of the film's grim trajectory. The directors skill is found in the emphasis of the tensions within the American platoon rather than the conflict with the offscreen Germans. The ending, which stresses the enormous human cost of a small tactical gain, is remarkably powerful, precisely because it's the first time that Siegel allows his audience any perspective on what they've been seeing.

While overshadowed by McQueen's other WWII dramas from the period (The Great Escape, 1963, and The War Lover, 1962), Hell Is for Heroes remains an intense and tightly constructed antiwar film with strong direction and solid performances all around. Siegel perhaps said it best himself: "I would never make a war picture unless it was strongly antiwar. No side wins a war. How hypocritical warring nations are. Both sides have their priests and ministers pray to the same God for victory. War is senseless and futile. It is true that hell is for heroes. It is equally true that for heroes there is only hell."

Using side-firing weapons on aircraft can be traced back to 1927, when a concept was demonstrated by fixing a .30 caliber machine gun to the side of a biplane and flying a simple manoeuvre known as a pylon turn. Named after the air racing term, it involved positioning an aircraft in a gentle bank and orbiting it around a fixed point as the gun fired continuously. Yet, when Army brass watched the demonstration, which showed promise, they dismissed it as strange and useless, ordering the idea shelved as they moved on to more familiar things. Another effort was made to garner interest in 1939, as just as war clouds loomed, but it too fell by the wayside. Ultimately, it would take an American commander in Queensland, Australia to force the Air Corps to realise the potential of the idea.

A-20 Havoc light Bomber

In 1943, with the U.S. deep in World War II, Army Air Corps Major Paul “Pappy” Gunn unknowingly laid the seeds of what would become the gunship, when he added four .50 caliber machine guns to the nose of his squadron’s A-20 Havoc light bombers. Using them as strafers, he soon realised that, though additional firepower helped, it remained barely adequate to achieve what he really needed them to do: sink Japanese shipping. Therefore, he sought out a more suitable airframe in B-25D Mitchell medium bombers, and mounted four .50s in the nose, two on either side of the fuselage and three behind the front nose wheel bay. As this arrangement was never part of the original design, all modifications had to be made in the field. Nevertheless, the improvements worked, and Gunn’s A-20s and B-25s soon flew into action in a big way.

B-25D Mitchell Medium Bomber

From March 2-4, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea raged as aircraft of the U.S. and Australia intercepted a Japanese convoy of eight transports carrying men and material to reinforce Lae, New Guinea.

Gunn’s A-20s and B-25s swept in at low level, hammering the hulls and decks of the transport ships and their naval escorts with bombs and tens of thousands of rounds. The attacks were relentless, and at the end of the battle all eight of the transports slipped beneath the waves, smouldering and peppered from bow to stern with bullet holes. The modifications worked, and the gunships success echoed back to designers who, months later, produced G and H models of the Mitchell sporting armaments up to 75mm.

A-26 Invader

Just as quick as it arrived though, the Mitchell ended its run as the premier gunship of the era with the arrival of a new kid on the block, one even more purpose built for task. The A-26 Invader. This light-attack, two-man aircraft, which debuted in 1944, unfortunately played second fiddle to the more famous Mitchell’s exploits until after the war’s end, when the ensuing years caused it to make a name for itself as the definitive gunship until the mid 1960s.

The Invader’s reputation started when Korea exploded into war in 1950. Armed with up to 14 .50 caliber guns (8 in the nose, 6 in the wings) along with its bombs and rockets, the Invader began tearing up enemy vehicles trains and positions, often at night. Crews developed new tactics like the Hunter-Killer, where the Hunter roved the countryside looking for headlights or any other sign of enemy activity. If spotted, Communist drivers would shut off their lights, unaware the departing aircraft had radioed to the Killer, which often caught them falling for the ploy and turning them back on. The result was often dozens of explosions and swirling torches licking at the sky. So good were the Invaders that no matter what tactics they used, many an enemy machine fell to them. By the end of the war, they were credited with 38,500 trucks, 406 locomotives and 3,700 railway cars dispatched, in addition to seven enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground.

Not much longer after, that they were carving out the jungle in a place where it would see its most lengthy service: Vietnam.

Supplied by the U.S. and now sporting French tri-colours, the A-26 was used heavily in the First Indochina War, and was involved, along with many other aircraft, in the futile effort to prevent the garrison at Dien Bien Phu from being overrun. And while the French left southeast Asia in disgrace, that in no way affected the A-26, which returned with the U.S. to Thailand in 1960 to assist the Laotian government fighting the Pathet Lao communists, then back to the new nation of South Vietnam in 1962 to begin its encore and final performance.

Meanwhile, at the same time back in the U.S., with the growing prospects of engaging in so-called ‘limited wars‘ like Vietnam, the Air Force created a panel to study ways of defending strategic hamlets and forts throughout the country using new techniques. Good as it was, the A-26 simply didn’t have the ability to provide the sustained suppressive fire needed to break off massed attacks that might last for hours. For this, the old concept of side firing guns on a loitering aircraft was again pulled from the shelf, and this time made into reality.

The program, designated as Project Tail Chaser, used a modified Convair C-131 twin-engine transport, with cameras placed in windows where guns would be. In several tests, the aircraft banked, flew the pylon turn and proved the concept feasible. But, before the next step of adding weapons could begin, a military project’s greatest enemy, lack of funds, reared its head and caused years of delays.

AC-47 SPOOKY GUNSHIP

Finally, live-fire tests were conducted in the summer of 1964 using older C-47 twin-engine transports from Eglin Air Force Base, and the program picked up steam again. Under the command of Captain Ron Terry, Project Gunship 1 was created, and a low-hour C-47 airframe was pulled offline in Vietnam and refurbished with a new and deadly cargo: three six-barrelled .30 caliber miniguns.

Each minigun was capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute. They were mounted in pods on the plane’s left side, two firing through portholes and one firing out the cargo door. In addition, 24,000 rounds were carried to feed the guns, which were aimed by the pilot looking through a sight fixed to his left. The trigger was a button on the control wheel that, when pressed, sent a swath of fire the size of a football field that could be held and adjusted as long as the pilot stayed in his turn.

The result, as its new crews found, was absolute carnage in tests, often leaving targets torn asunder in tiny pieces on the wind. Most of those on the ground who saw it at work were often rendered speechless. Confidence was high among all that this could be a game changer.

Two six-man crews and the plane, designated AC-47, were assigned to the 1st Air Commando Squadron, when action came on the night of December 23. A radio call crackled from the Tran Yenh Special Forces outpost for immediate fire support. Arriving just thirty seven minutes later, the crew could hear the urgency and desperation on the radio. The outpost was under a major Vietcong attack and was in danger of being overrun. Below the C-47, massive flares swayed, dropped by another C-47 acting as a flare ship. As the plane began dropping its own flares, the pilot radioed the outpost, asking if they wanted him to fire. Hearing only the motors of another C-47 overhead the radio operator replied “Ah… Yes.”

The AC-47 started its bank and a stream of fire leaped from the sky to the ground, surprising the defenders and annihilating the attackers, who never saw how the judgment rained down to tear a path through their ranks and the jungle itself. With such a high rate of fire and every fifth round a tracer, it seemed a massive red tornado started to swirl outside the camp’s perimeter, sweeping all before it into dust.

The AC-47 continued its slow trek in a great circle, as more tracers by the hundreds ricocheted skyward after hitting the ground, making it appear as if Hell itself was pushing its way to the surface and the earth was giving way. Nothing of flesh survived its onslaught. And when the firing stopped a few minutes later, a haze smelling of gunpowder settled over the night. The outpost was safe. Not even the plaintive cry of a wounded guerrilla was heard. 4,500 hundred rounds had been expended.

The saved men offered profuse thanks before a call came from another outpost known as Trung Hung, twenty miles away. A few minutes later, and new witnesses watched in amazement as the sky sent another red tongue to the earth to feed off the blood of more unsuspecting attackers.

Once the AC-47 returned to base, it wasn’t long before the destruction it had wrought that night began making rounds. In the days that followed, more requests came, and the bird cranked up and winged off to do its duty, never failing to break up an attack, no matter if it took hours.

It came to be during one of these night missions to protect a hamlet on the Mekong Delta in early 1965, another witness to its power, a Stars and Stripes reporter watched in awe and wrote how the stream of tracers reminded him of a dragon’s breath. After reading the story, the commanding officer of the wing said, “Well I’ll be damned, Puff the Magic Dragon,” referencing a children’s song made popular by the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary.

That was all it took, forever more, the solitary AC-47 and those that joined it later, carried the call sign ‘Puff.’ Even the Vietcong got in on the action, believing that the monster was real, and that shooting at it would only make it angry. It did.

On February 8, 1965, Puff located hundreds of Vietcong on a hillside firing at it and let loose, staying on station for four hours and firing over 20,000 rounds to leave the place bereft of trees and stalk. Maybe it was necessary to cover the body parts of the 300 plus enemy that had been gathering for an offensive.

Three years later, it was during in the siege of Khe Sanh in 1968 that the AC-47s, now expanded and operating countrywide using the call sign ‘Spooky’, gave its greatest and lengthiest service. Also it might be said, it proved to be the slow demise for the 47s used by the U.S. in the gunship role.

Khe Sanh was a remote Marine hilltop outpost in the northwest part of Vietnam. Situated near the Laotian border, the North Vietnamese had brought it under siege with the start of the Tet offensive on January 31st, 1968. President Johnson became so worried and obsessed with its fate that he demanded hourly updates on it as the mightiest warplanes in the U.S. inventory, including the B-52, unloaded thousands of tons of ordnance and literally changed the topography day-to-day around the site.

When dusk came, the NVA emerged from their deep tunnels and moved closer to the perimeter, only to have an AC-47 massacre them each time. This act was replayed countless times during the siege, and planes relieved each other making sure there was always a gunship orbiting the base. They stayed night after night for months on end until the siege was broken.

With this in mind, though the B52 may have been the airborne star of the event, an equal case could be made for the AC-47, who kept the enemy reeling when they were considered ‘danger close,’ and kept them from storming the base using one of their favourite weapons, Night.

After 1968, the AC-47s slowly began to be supplanted and replaced by both the Lockheed AC-130 Spectre (Project Gunship 2) and AC-119 Stinger (Project Gunship 3). Once numbers of these aircraft were in theatre, the AC-47s ranks grew smaller still until just a handful were serving into the 1970s, when they were withdrawn in favour of the Spectre. Variants of the AC-47 still serve today as gunships in South America, though without the miniguns that gave it its characteristic moniker.

From the American Revolution to the Korean War, thousands of U.S. soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors have been taken prisoner or gone missing. But it took the Vietnam War—and a sense of abandonment felt by wives and family members of Americans held captive—to bring forth what has evolved into United State's POW/MIA symbol.

The POW/MIA flag is inextricably tied to the National League of POW/MIA Families, which was born in June 1969 as the National League of Families of American Prisoners in Southeast Asia. Its mission was to spread awareness of the mistreatment of prisoners of war at the hands of their captors. It was the brainchild of Karen Butler, wife of Navy pilot Phillip Butler, who had been shot down over North Vietnam in April 1965, and Sybil Stockdale, whose husband, Navy Commander James Bond Stockdale, was the highest-ranking POW in North Vietnam. Stockdale had been held prisoner since September 1965, when his A-4 Skyhawk went down over North Vietnam.

In 1971, League member Mary Hoff came up with the idea of creating a flag as the group’s symbol. Her husband, Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hoff, had been missing in action since January 7, 1970. Mary Hoff called the country’s oldest and largest flag-maker, Annin Flagmakers of Verona, N.J. “Mary Hoff called out of the blue. I had no idea what the League of Families was when she called,” Norm Rivkees, then Annin’s vice president of sales, said. “She then explained everything and I went to our president, Randy Beard. There was no hesitation. He just said: ‘Absolutely. We would be honoured to create a flag.’”

Rivkees turned over the job of designing the flag to Annin’s small advertising agency, Hayden Advertising, where the task was assigned to graphic artist Newton F. Heisley. Heisley, who died in 2009, had served in World War II as a C-46 twin-engine transport pilot with the 433rd Troop Carrier Group. After coming home from the war with a Bronze Star, he received a degree in Fine Arts from Syracuse University and worked as a graphic artist at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette before going to work for Hayden. After getting the POW/MIA flag assignment, Heisley sat down at his drawing table and sketched three different designs. The one he chose had an image of a gaunt man in profile, with a guard tower and a strand of barbed wire in the background—the design that we recognise today. When Annin began producing the flag, Heisley was still tweaking its design. He planned to add colour to the black-and-white image, but those ideas were dropped.

Heisley modelled the flag’s silhouette on his 24-year-old son, who was on leave from the Marines and looking gaunt while getting over hepatitis. Heisley also penned the words that are stitched on the banner, “You are not forgotten.” As Heisley told the Colorado Springs Gazette in 1997, the flag “was intended for a small group. No one realised it was going to get national attention.”

It took nearly a decade, but the POW/MIA flag began getting attention in a big way in the early 1980s. In 1982 it became the only flag, other than the Stars and Stripes, to fly over the White House, after it was first displayed there on POW/MIA Recognition Day. In 1989 the flag was installed in the Capitol Rotunda. It also has the distinction, historians and flag experts believe, of being the only non-national flag that any federal government anywhere in the world has mandated to be flown regularly. That began with a 1990 law to recognise the POW/MIA flag and designate the third Friday of September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

If any good came out of American involvement in the Vietnam War, it was that both hawks and doves now agree that the troops of that war were treated poorly when they returned home. The early 1970s saw many protests against the war on college campuses and in the nation’s largest cities. Many antiwar activists lacked the maturity to distinguish between the government that “made” war and those sent to fight it. A student organisation that understood the difference was Voices in Vital America (VIVA), a Los Angeles–based group formed in the 1960s to counteract campus antiwar protests. In 1970 VIVA member Carol Bates Brown, who was in the California chapter, started an initiative to promote awareness of prisoners of war by making and selling metal POW bracelets engraved with the name, rank, service branch and date of loss. VIVA distributed nearly 5 million bracelets, selling them for $2.50 to $3 apiece and raising enough money to purchase untold millions of bumper stickers, buttons, brochures, matchbooks, newspaper ads and the like to draw attention to the missing service personnel.

One one such bracelet was inscribed “SFC Billy R. Laney, USA, 6-3-67, LAOS.” Billy Ray Laney was born on Aug. 21, 1939, in Blanch, Alabama. He married in 1958 and had three children. Laney joined the Navy in October 1956 and served until Aug. 2, 1960. The next day, he joined the Army. By February 1967 his principal duty was operations and intelligence specialist. Laney was a Special Forces member of an organisation set up by the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and called the Studies and Observation Group. MACV-SOG, or simply SOG, was a covert operations group that incorporated units from all branches of the military, including Navy SEALs, Air Force special operations squadrons, Marine Corps reconnaissance units and Army Special Forces troops, the famed Green Berets. Laney was in the Command and Central Detachment, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces.

In June 1967 Laney was part of a Strategic Air Command/SOG operation that targeted the North Vietnamese Army in an area code-named “Oscar-8,” a rugged, jungle-covered mountainous region in eastern Laos about 12 miles southeast of Khe Sanh. That area was the source of more than 1,500 National Security Agency radio intercepts in one 24-hour period. The rise in radio transmissions intended for Hanoi high command led SOG to believe NVA General Vo Nguyen Giap was paying a visit to Oscar. Oscar-8 was the absolute headquarters of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It contained the largest supply warehouse for NVA outside Hanoi and was a critical transportation area. The objective of the Oscar-8 operation was to kill Giap and all other enemy forces along the way using the Strategic Air Command and SOG.

First, B-52s would drop 900 high-explosive bombs onto the target area. Within 15 minutes of the last bombing, Marine CH-46 helicopters would drop off an 80-man SOG commando unit, called a Hatchet Force, consisting of Americans and Nung tribesmen, to assess the situation and gather intelligence. “The actual defensive position and helicopter-landing zone consisted of a very large bomb crater,” according to a July 3 memo from the Marine Aircraft Group, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. “It would only accommodate a single aircraft, so the CH-46s had to go in one at a time.”

Laney landed on June 2 with SOG forces on the first transport copter, piloted by Major Richard E. Romine. But a mistake in timing authorised the insertion before a command helicopter could sweep the target zone for an initial assessment. Consequently, the commando unit found itself surrounded and under attack. “The B-52 bombing had done significant damage, but it clearly had not destroyed the NVA defences,” said an observer, who was at the target area in a fixed-wing aircraft when the Hatchet Force troops and chopper crews loaded at Khe Sanh.

That night Laney and the SOG force hunkered down and waited for a possible pickup. After a tactical airstrike at dawn on June 3, three CH-46s came to get the unit. Romine, the flight leader, flew the first Marine copter in. “Upon being reassured that the surrounding enemy was neutralised by airstrikes, I decided to make the entry into the landing zone after briefing my flight to take sufficient interval so that I could assess the situation prior to their approach into the zone,” he said in a July 3 report from the Marine Aircraft Group to the Marine Corps commandant.

The major managed to pick up eight Nungs but had trouble when he tried to lift out of the bomb crater landing zone. “Almost immediately the number two engine quit,” he reported. “I managed to make a controlled crash approximately 150 feet from my objective, sometime after being hit and before I crashed,” Romine added, “I broadcast a mayday and informed the flight to break off and not attempt the extraction at that time.”

The other rescue helicopters did not hear the transmission, however, “for reasons unknown to myself,” Romine reported. The No. 2 helicopter successfully retrieved a group of soldiers, mostly from a Nung platoon, but encountered automatic-weapons fire and was hit several times. The No. 3 helicopter, piloted by Captain Stephen P. Hanson, also attempted a troop pickup.

Hanson’s CH-46 loaded 15 passengers, including Laney and SOG sergeants Ronald J. Dexter and Charles F. Wilklow. As the chopper took off, however, Hanson unknowingly turned into the heaviest concentration of NVA forces. “We began to receive fire as soon as we lifted off,” Wilklow said, “and it became more intense.” The aircraft veered out of control, broke in half and landed about 4½ feet above the ground, suspended by jungle foliage.

The door gunner, Lance Cpl. Frank E. Cius, was able to get off a few hundred rounds from his machine gun before the impact, which knocked him on his back. Dexter, Wilklow and a couple of Nungs were in good enough shape to engage the North Vietnamese. Laney was wounded in the back before they got on the chopper, according to Wilklow. After the crash, “I noticed SFC Laney under a seat,” he said. “He had a badly broken ankle in addition to his previous wound. When I started to examine him, he said, ‘Please don’t touch me.’ I don’t recall seeing or hearing any more from him after that.”

Out of ammunition and shot in the leg, Wilklow crawled away from the wreckage, looking for Dexter, and passed out. Unknown to him, Dexter, Cius and nine of the Nungs had formed a perimeter about 200 meters from the downed aircraft. Enemy fire continued after the crash with heavy streams of bullets coming in the helicopter windows.

From the next morning, June 4th, until late in the afternoon, gunships and fixed-wing aircraft pummelled Oscar-8 in preparation for additional troop pickups and resupply attempts, which continued late into the day. Dexter, Cius and the Nungs had been forced away from the area, and reconnaissance overflights the next day failed to reveal any survivors at Oscar-8, so further extraction efforts were called off.

Billy Ray Laney was officially reported as missing in action on June 3. Other reports indicate that Dexter, Cius and the Nungs were captured on June 5th. Wilklow, who had crawled away from the landing zone with an injured leg, was also captured and wound up in an NVA base camp but escaped on the fourth day. The next day, against all odds, Wilklow was spotted by Waugh, on an airborne observation mission, and rescued.

“The raid on Oscar-8 had been a disaster,” wrote Robert Gillespie in his book Black Ops Vietnam: An Operational History of MACVSOG. “Seven aircraft had been shot down. Twenty-three Americans—SOG team members, USAF pilots and Marine helicopter crewmen—were lost, along with about 50 of the Nung raiders.”

By all accounts, including those from NVA personnel, Sergeant Dexter died in captivity on July 29, 1967. Marine Corporal Cius was released on March 5, 1973, during Operation Homecoming. He now lives in New York and is very active in veterans issues. Sergeant Wilklow’s son told me that his father died in July 1992 after a long fight with cancer.

On March 20, 1978, following a review of Laney’s missing person’s status, the Army made a determination to change his status from missing in action, June 3, 1967, to dead, as of March 20. Sergeant Laney’s remains were recovered later from the Laos crash site and positively identified through DNA testing in 1999, as were those of Captain Hanson, who also died on the ground in Laos. On Oct. 5, 2000, Laney’s remains were returned to Alabama, and there was a grand ceremony in Huntsville, where his widow and children and an assembly of country music stars, politicians, veterans and many others paid homage to him.

A memo was sent from MACV to the 5th Special Forces Group commanding officer, dated June 28, 1967—just 25 days after Oscar-8—informing him that the MIA Board had made a determination that Laney’s status be changed from MIA to KIA as a result of hostile action. This, for reasons unknown, was never done. In the interim, Laney’s wife and parents were provided with practically no information. His wife even received a Postal Authorisation Card in 1972 permitting her to send a Christmas package to her husband.

Even though the Oscar-8 operation has been labeled a failure by some, had this Special Forces operation succeeded in its objective to kill General Giap, it can be argued that North Vietnam’s military would have been totally disrupted. The war might have ended sooner, saving more than 38,000 American lives lost in the Vietnam conflict in the following six years.

On August 2nd, 1943, CBS War Correspondent Eric Sevareid and a small group of American diplomats and Chinese army officers climbed aboard a Curtiss C-46 Commando transport plane at a U.S. Army Air Forces base in Chabua, India. Sevareid wanted to report firsthand on an ongoing mission to get gasoline and other supplies to China in support of Chiang Kai-shek, whose forces were fighting the Japanese. The USAAF’s brand-new Air Transport Command had been struggling to run the most audacious and dangerous airlift operation ever attempted—flying “the Hump,” over the foothills of the Himalayas—and Sevareid wanted to report on the operation.

China had gone to war with Japan in 1937, but by the time the United States entered the Pacific War, Japan had sealed off China from any source of supply. Its ports had been conquered, and the last rail connection with the Soviet Union, a distant and pitiful lifeline, had been closed in 1941 by a Soviet-Japanese neutrality treaty. The infamous Burma Road lasted a while longer, but when the Japanese captured the port of Rangoon, the Burma Road was left with no supplies to carry.

Flying over Burma (today, Myanmar) - a 261,000-square-mile swath of mostly mountainous terrain the size of Texas—was the only way.

As the C-46 climbed high above the Patkoi Range, the aircraft that pilots had dubbed “the flying coffin” suddenly lost its left engine, and it soon became clear that the plane was going to crash. “I stood in the open door of that miserable Commando and declared, ‘Well, if nobody else is going to jump, I’ll jump,’” John Paton Davies, one of the American diplomats, later wrote. “Somebody had to break the ice.”

Sevareid followed Davies, but only after grabbing a bottle of Carew’s gin. He and 19 other men landed in the jungle—the C-46’s copilot did not survive—near a village that was home to a notorious tribe of headhunters, the Nagas, who, amazingly, hosted and fed them until help arrived 22 days later. Most likely because of the VIPs aboard the flight, intensive search-and-rescue efforts were mounted, including parachuting a flight surgeon to the marooned party. That was the beginning of serious search and rescue along the Hump routes. Before “the Sevareid flight,” crews and occasional passengers were pretty much on their own in the Burmese jungles and mountains.

On their 80-mile trek back to civilisation, a native guide explained the Hump to Sevareid in a way that perfectly encapsulated its astonishing expanse: “India there,” he said, pointing in one direction, and then, pointing in the other, “China there.”

The Second Sino-Japanese War occupied the attention of 1,250,000 Japanese troops stationed in Southeast Asia and China itself. It was a huge commitment by the Japanese, but they faced a Chinese force of more than three million. That Chinese army did little—the war had essentially become a stalemate—but was nonetheless a threat, and that meant those million and a quarter Japanese soldiers couldn’t be sent to Guadalcanal or anywhere else in the South Pacific. President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that Chiang Kai-shek, the supreme commander of most of China’s army—Mao Zedong led the rest—was his guy, and Chiang needed American support.

Roosevelt imagined a superpower role for China after the war, and he wanted to be on good terms with the generalissimo. Chiang kept demanding more supplies, and Roosevelt kept sending them, at least until he became increasingly disenchanted with the Chinese Nationalist dictator.

But was that really the reason for flying some 500 to 560 miles over the Hump? To supply the Chinese and keep them in the war, thus pinning down all those Japanese troops? That has been the popular explanation for decades, but it is far from the whole story.

The Hump was a myth in many ways. Even the description “over the Himalayas” stretches the truth, for none of the several Hump routes overflew mountains that were technically part of the Himalayas. Yes, some of them crossed the Patkai and Santung Ranges, which forced a minimum cruising altitude of 15,000 feet, especially when flying by instruments in poor visibility, and that left no margin in the event of an engine failure in a twin-engine C-46 Commando or Douglas C-47 Skytrain or even a four-engine Consolidated C-87/C-109 Liberator Express. The Himalayas, though, were part of what percolated the extreme weather and jetstream-strength winds that were the routes’ severest challenges.

The flood of memoirs, war stories, and reminiscences from members of the Hump Pilots Association (some 5,000 at its peak) was unequaled among such postwar alumni groups, and its annual conventions seemed to increase the significance of the feats they reported. “Every time we meet,” one former Hump pilot recalled, “the Himalaya Mountains get higher, the weather gets worse, and there are more Japanese fighters in the sky than there were in the whole fleet.”

The men who flew the Hump were near the bottom of the Army Air Force food chain; indeed, ATC, the abbreviation for Air Transport Command, was often said to mean “Allergic to Combat” or “Army of Terrified Copilots.” Those terrified copilots got little respect during the war but made sure the world heard about their exploits afterward. Inevitably, some of what they broadcast was myth and much was exaggeration. That said, they operated overloaded airplanes, some of them mechanically flawed and poorly maintained with no source of spares, and did it in the world’s worst instrument-flying weather.

Westerly winds sometimes reached 150 miles an hour (typically inflated by pilots in later years to 200 and even 250), and 115 miles an hour was not unusual. A trip in a C-47 from China back to India could see ground speeds of 30 miles an hour, according to some Hump reminiscences, and pilots cruising at 16,000 feet might find their aircraft carried uncontrollably to 28,000 feet, then suddenly back down to 6,000. The weather was at its worst from February to April, with fierce thunderstorms and heavy icing. May to September was monsoon season with even worse thunderstorms. October and November meant good weather, which brought out Japanese fighter planes, and December and January brought heavy winds, turbulence, and icing.

It didn’t help that Hump route charts were outdated and inaccurate, with many exaggerated height callouts. Some Hump pilots went to their graves believing they had seen a mysterious mountain taller than Everest—a peak of 32,000 feet looming far above them when they suddenly broke out of clouds into the clear. Sometimes the media were responsible for the exaggeration, for journalists everywhere knew that if they needed colourful copy, all they had to do was sign on for a Hump run.

IN THE EARLIEST DAYS OF THE HUMP, before Pearl Harbor, the route was flown not by the U.S. military but by an airline: CNAC, the China National Aviation Corporation, a cooperative endeavour between the Chinese government and Pan American Airways. Its pilots—mostly expatriate Americans and Brits flying Douglas DC-3s, some of them U.S.-provided—were the best mountain pilots in the Far East, and their skill and experience showed when the Army Air Force Ferry Command (ATC’s predecessor) began to fly the route in 1942. CNAC aircraft often carried more than double the tonnage that their Army Air Forces partners felt safe hauling aboard identical aircraft. The experienced CNAC pilots initially made flying the Hump look easy, but nobody yet realised that future operations would be flown by ill-trained newbies with no mountain- or weather-flying hours.

The Ferry Command’s early pilots were also skilful, though they lacked relevant experience flying over such terrain or in such weather. The first 100 were airline pilots who held AAF Reserve commissions. But when Hump tonnage began to build and a substantial fleet of cargo planes had arrived in India, the demand for pilots grew rapidly. AAF flight schools churned out as many as they could, but the best of them chose to fly fighters and fast medium bombers; for a new aviator in his early 20s, glory lay in combat, not in flying freight.

Despite the occasional presence of Japanese fighters, the Hump was officially declared a noncombat operation, with lower pay scales and more demanding rotation-home criteria. The Hump transports were easy but only occasional prey, since Japanese fighters would have to spend time, effort, and gas to find one airplane at a time. In October 1943, the Japanese stationed a swarm of Nakajima Ki-43 Oscars at Myitkyina (pronounced “Mitchinaw”) in northern Burma, tasked to interdict the Hump routes. This worked briefly—four Hump transports were downed—until Lieutenant General Claire Chennault, commander of the famous Flying Tigers, proposed launching a small group of up-gunned B-24s along one route. The Oscars found the Liberators and casually attacked, thinking they were unarmed C-87s, and eight of the Ki-43s were shot down.

Air Transport Command got the least capable flight students from the training classes; many arrived in India with minimal instrument–flying skills, some without multi-engine training. When possible, they were paired for training with airline pilots, many of whom were stunned by their lack of competence. By the end of 1942, 35 percent of the Hump operation’s new pilots showed up in India with just 27 weeks of flight training. During spring 1943, nearly a third of the AAF pilots force-fed to the China-Burma-India Theatre were only single-engine rated.

Even experienced crews got into trouble over the Hump. General Henry “Hap” Arnold was flying the Hump with a hand-picked crew aboard his personal Boeing B-17 in February 1943 when they turned a two-and-a-half-hour trip into a six-hour epic. Befuddled by lack of oxygen, the crew made enough navigation errors to put themselves over Japanese-held territory.

One small category of service pilots, however, were happy to log hours flying modified civilian airliners. After the war they would be at the head of the line leading to the door marked “Airline Captain,” even then a glamorous and well-paid job.

From its inception in early 1942 through the spring of 1943—the U.S.-run operation was what some likened to a civilian flying club run by its pilots. They decided when they would fly, what route they’d take, and how much cargo they’d carry. They were their own schedulers, dispatchers, and weather forecasters, and, not surprisingly, flights were often canceled because of bad weather or the threat of Japanese interception. That lasted until the arrival of Brigadier General Thomas Hardin, a former TWA vice president who took over the Hump command in August 1943. “From now on, there is no weather over the Hump,” he immediately decreed, telling the flying club pilots to suck it up or join the infantry.

Hardin flew the Hump, sometimes solo and regardless of the weather, in a worn-out North American B-25 medium bomber that he had somehow appropriated, and he arrived unannounced at the various ATC bases in India and China with his hair on fire, sacking and reassigning officers whenever he found laxity and incompetence. Hardin came to be feared and respected by the most aggressive of his pilots and hated by the malingerers. He asked more of his aircraft, maintainers, and crews than anyone had imagined was possible, and he was responsible for demanding and getting record tonnage delivered to China—first 10,000 tons a month, then almost 24,000.

Hardin was also responsible for a terrible Hump safety record; he admitted that setting new tonnage-delivered records was more important than bothersome safety procedures. During just one seven-month stretch during his tenure, there were 135 major accidents and 168 crew fatalities, half of them night-flying crashes. Hardin had initiated after-dark flying over the Hump, saying “airplanes don’t need to sleep.” At one point, every thousand tons flown into China cost three American lives. Hardin lasted just 13 months and was replaced by another brigadier general, William Tunner. Tunner would become famous as the orchestrator of the 1949 Berlin Airlift.

Under Hardin, Hump pilots were allowed to rotate home after logging 650 hours. A typical flight took about three hours in good weather, and some crews flew three missions a day in order to build hours as fast as they could, flying some 2,000 demanding hours a year—twice the amount that the Federal Aviation Administration today allows airline pilots to log annually. And, not surprisingly, tired crews crashed. Tunner changed the deal to 750 hours and a minimum of 10 months in theatre. Morale suffered some, since living in fetid accommodations at bases in India for almost a year was a cruel sentence, but safety improved.

Initially there was the indomitable Douglas C-47/C-53, the two military versions of the DC-3. Pilots called it “the rocking chair of the air” because it was so easy to operate, but the early-1930s design had limitations. It was difficult to load with bulky cargo, struggled to reach operational Hump altitudes, and carried a relatively small load.

Along came the Curtiss C-46 Commando, a whale of an airplane that carried 70 percent more cargo than a C-47 and boasted two of the finest and most powerful piston aircraft engines ever produced: 2,000-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R2800 radials. The C-46 could munch mountains for breakfast, but it was deeply flawed. Still under development as a pressurised airliner, the military Commando was hastily sent to India when it should remained in testing. At one point, a group of early C-46s was returned with a list of more than 700 major and minor glitches that needed correcting before further production.

The C-46’s biggest fault was tiny leaks in wing fuel tanks and lines. Such leaks weren’t unusual among complex multi–engine airplanes, but in the Commando, they were fatal. Curtiss had failed to vent the juncture between wing and fuselage, so the gasoline pooled there instead of quickly evaporating. Random fuel-pump sparks caused 20 percent of all Hump C-46s to explode in flight. (Wing roots weren’t vented until after the war.)

In an attempt to turn a bomber into a cargo plane for the Hump routes, Consolidated Aircraft put a flat floor in its B-24, removed the guns and bomb racks, and called the result the C-87 Liberator Express. But the B-24 had been designed to carry a stable load in a small area on the airplane’s center of gravity: bombs in fixed, vertical bomb racks. When Hump crews flew C-87s randomly loaded with a variety of cargoes, few ever found a sweet spot where the airplane felt comfortable, stable, and in trim.

The army also tried to turn the B-24 into a Hump tanker, dubbed the C-109, with big flexible bags full of gasoline in the hold. It was difficult to land at the 6,000-foot-high airfields in China and soon acquired the name Cee-One-Oh-Boom. One C-109 blew a tire on landing, exploded, and wiped out three other Liberator Expresses. In his book Flying the Hump, ex-China-Burma-India pilot Otha C. Spencer wrote, “All the pilots on the base wished [it] had wrecked the whole fleet.”

It was the arrival of the Douglas C-54 Skymaster in February 1944 that turned the Hump operation into the largest, most efficient airline in the world. The Skymaster was the militarised version of the DC-4, the first large, four-engine American airliner, and it had the cargo volume of a railroad boxcar. The C-54 didn’t have the high-altitude performance to fly the “High Hump” routes, but in May 1944 British and American forces captured the Japanese fighter strip at Myitkyina, thus eliminating any opportunity for the Japanese to interdict the less extreme “Low Hump” routes. The C-54 did quite nicely at 12,000 feet and carried far more cargo per trip than even the porky Curtiss Commando. It was also safer than its four-engine predecessor, the Liberator Express, and its tanker version, whose accident rate was 500 percent higher than the C-54’s.

By early 1943, U.S. brass hats, including AAF chief Hap Arnold, were beginning to doubt the value of the Hump operation. Arnold felt the airlift could certainly be ramped up to accomplish what it had set out to do, but he saw little point in spending lives, material, and effort simply to sustain the will of the Chinese. Many felt that Chiang was husbanding his acquired supplies for use against Mao, not the Japanese.

That was a turning point for the Hump operation. Under the cover of aiding China, the ATC program quickly changed course to become the major source of supplies for the Twentieth Air Force, which was planning to bomb Japan with its B-29s from Chinese airbases. China had now become a launch pad, no longer of interest as a postwar partner. But ultimately, the Twentieth flew just nine Boeing B-29 missions from China against the Home Islands before it moved to huge airfields in the Marianas. The postwar Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that those few missions “did little to hasten the Japanese surrender or justify the lavish expenditures poured out on their behalf through a fantastically uneconomic and barely workable supply system.” For every four gallons of avgas delivered to the Twentieth, Hump transports burned three and a half.

Still, during 1944 the Hump flights grew exponentially in terms of tonnage, organisation, and operational sophistication. They became quite simply the world’s biggest international airline—750 aircraft and more than 4,400 pilots. Between August 1944 and October 1945, the Hump delivered almost 500,000 tons of material from India to China. Chiang got less than 20,000 tons of it—three pounds of every 100 that crossed the Hump. The Twentieth Air Force got gasoline and ordnance; Chiang all too often got wine, decorative shrubbery for his house, Ping-Pong tables, office supplies, condoms, and such.

Roosevelt died in April 1945, and his successor, Harry Truman, shared little of his warmth toward Chiang; nor did Truman believe that Nationalist China would play an important postwar role. China quickly became a decidedly minor player in Allied strategy. The Hump operation showed that a substantial amount of cargo could be airlifted anywhere, under the worst flying conditions, as long as those in charge were willing to pay the price in men, aircraft, and money. What it didn’t prove was that such an undertaking was useful. As a logistics operation, the Hump flights were a failure. The cost in aircraft and crews was enormous. Loss estimates vary between 468 and 600-plus airplanes (the AAF did not record every crash), but the best one seems to be 590 aircraft lost with 1,314 crewmen. General George C. Marshall felt the Hump had negative value: “The over-the-Hump airline has been bleeding us white in transport airplanes….The effort over the mountains of Burma bids fair to cost us an extra winter in the main theatre of war.”

In the end, the Hump had much to do with establishing the United States as the world’s airline leader. The War Department bought over 1,000 C-54s, 3,000 C-46s, and 10,000 C-47s—and many of them were sold as surplus to become American airliners after hostilities ended. The United States began the postwar period with the airplanes, the pilots, and the air-transport management skills to build a worldwide airline system, all developed at least in part by flying the Hump.

The United States Coast Guard is the United States oldest and premier maritime agency. The history of the Service is very complicated because it is the amalgamation of five Federal agencies. These agencies, the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation, and the Lifesaving Service, were originally independent, but had overlapping authorities and were shuffled around the government. They sometimes received new names, and they were all finally united under the umbrella of the Coast Guard. The multiple missions and responsibilities of the modern Service are directly tied to this diverse heritage and the magnificent achievements of all of these agencies.

The Coast Guard, through its forefathers, is the oldest continuous seagoing service and has fought in almost every war since the Constitution became the law of the land in 1789. Following the War of Independence (1776-83), the Continental Navy was disbanded and from 1790 until 1794, when Congress authorised the construction of six frigates (of which only three were launched by 1797), the revenue cutters were the only national maritime service. The Acts establishing the Navy also empowered the President to use the revenue cutters to supplement the fleet when needed. Laws later clarified the relationship between the Coast Guard and the Navy.The Coast Guard has traditionally performed two roles in wartime. The first has been to augment the Navy with men and cutters. The second has been to undertake special missions, for which peacetime experiences have prepared the Service with unique skills.

Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the Coast Guard carried out neutrality patrols as set out by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 5 September 1939. The Coast Guard's fleet of cutters and craft first began sailing into harm's way on the Atlantic after the establishment of the Neutrality Patrol in 1939 and then into real danger escorting convoys in 1941, all prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Direct action with the German Navy soon followed. The USS Alexander Hamilton, CG fell victim to a U-boat's torpedo in January, 1942, becoming the first US warship lost in combat in the Atlantic after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Cutters countered and quickly drew blood, sinking three U-boats off the East Coast in 1942. Coast Guardsmen on board the cutter Icarus, which sank U-352, gained the distinction of being the first U.S. servicemen to take German prisoners of war.

The cutters themselves, most of which had been constructed between the wars, were designed to have additional armament added in case of national emergency. The Navy added this additional armament beginning in 1940, including more and heavier guns, depth charge tracks, "Y" and "K" guns, additional anti-aircraft weaponry, and sonar equipment. After the start of the war, cutters were some of the first Allied vessels fitted with newly developed electronic gear, such as high-frequency radio direction finders, known as HF/DF or "huff-duff," and surface and air search radars.

On April 9, 1941, Greenland was incorporated into a hemispheric defence system. The Coast Guard was the primary military service responsible for these cold-weather operations, which continued throughout the war. On September 12 the cutter Northland took into "protective custody" the Norwegian trawler Buskoe and captured three German radiomen ashore. This was the United States' first naval capture of World War II. Although most of the 327s were initially assigned to duty in Greenland, but their exposed propellers were easily damaged by ice. Consequently they were assigned as convoy escorts on the North Atlantic. Later, they escorted convoys across the mid-Atlantic, past Gibraltar, and through the Mediterranean to North Africa. After their distinguished service in the Battle of the Atlantic, the surviving 327s were converted to amphibious force flagships and served during some of the most intense battles of the Pacific Theatre.

If any battle marked the turning point of World War II in the Pacific, most experts agree that the six-month land, sea and air battle for Guadalcanal was the one. American naval strategists drew a line in the sand at Guadalcanal because enemy aircraft flying from that island could cut-off Allied supply lines to Australia.

During the Guadalcanal offensive, the U.S. Coast Guard served an important role through its specialties in maritime transport, amphibious landing and small boat operations. On ‘the Canal,’ the Coast Guard worked seamlessly with its USN and USMC counterparts and, for the first time in its history, commanded and manned a U.S. Naval Operating Base, or NOB. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dwight Hodge Dexter commanded NOB “Cactus,” the code name for Guadalcanal’s naval base. At its peak, NOB Cactus included about thirty LCPs, also known as Higgins Boats, and a dozen bow-ramped tank lighters. About 50 officers and enlisted men manned the operation, which included an odd collection of coconut plantation buildings, homemade shacks and tents; and log-reinforced dugout shelters for surviving air raids, naval bombardment and artillery shelling.

On the morning of Aug. 7, 1942, exactly eight months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first American amphibious operation of World War II was about to begin. The cloud cover of the previous days and circuitous voyage from Wellington, New Zealand, had hidden the invasion fleet’s movements from enemy aircraft and submarines, so Japanese forces on Guadalcanal received no forewarning of an impending attack. The fleet entered Sealark Channel near the landing beaches and front line warships began shore bombardment of enemy positions on the island. The waves of Marines coming ashore greatly outnumbered the combined strength of Japanese military forces and civilian construction personnel responsible for building the enemy’s new airfield. The Japanese beat a hasty retreat from their shore positions into the jungles of Guadalcanal. Within a day of the landings, the Americans had captured the partially completed airstrip and established a defensive perimeter around the airbase.

Dexter was a natural leader who was devoted to his crew. When the enlisted men on board troop transport Hunter Liggett heard that he would command Guadalcanal’s small boat operations, several volunteered to serve with him. On Aug. 8, 1942, Dexter came ashore with the first 24 Coast Guardsmen to serve at NOB Cactus. He set up his headquarters in the former manager’s house for the Lever Brothers coconut plantation, which was located within the Marine’s defensive perimeter at Kukum, east of Lunga Point. The white frame structure was in good condition considering the naval bombardment that had softened up the beaches the day before. Near Dexter’s headquarters, his men built a small tool shed for servicing their landing craft and machinery. They also built a signal tower out of coconut logs and a makeshift shelter located underneath it built of packing crates with a tent roof. This shelter housed Coast Guard heroes, including signalman Douglas Munro, later recipient of the Service’s only Congressional Medal of Honor, and Ray Evans, later recipient of the Navy Cross. The rest of Dexter’s men had similar shelters or tents, but all lived close to the log-reinforced bomb shelters.

NOB Cactus held a variety of titles. In the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the First Marine Division, Reinforced, the added word “Reinforced” refers to the Coast Guard unit. NOB Cactus also formed part of Transport Division 7 and it had the moniker of “Local Defense Force and Anti-Submarine Patrol, Guadalcanal-Gavutu.” These names indicate the variety of missions carried out by Dexter’s unit. NOB Cactus served primarily to run supplies and troops from transport ships to the beaches of Guadalcanal, but Dexter’s men and landing craft performed far more missions than merely supplying the troops. They provided an important radio and communications link between land forces and offshore vessels. They navigated the waters of Guadalcanal and islands as far distant as 60 miles to land Marines and retrieve them when necessary. They inserted reconnaissance teams led by British Colonial Forces officers behind enemy lines. In the aftermath of aerial dogfights above and naval battles on the surface of nearby Iron Bottom Sound, NOB watercraft took to open water to retrieve wounded Americans and Japanese prisoners. For a time, NOB personnel fitted their landing craft with depth charges and conducted nightly anti-submarine patrols. Coast Guard personnel also pitched-in to defend American positions by serving artillery pieces and providing infantry support. The men even trawled off the beaches, catching fresh fish to supplement the meagre menu of Marines at the local mess hall.

The men of NOB Cactus used the dugout bomb shelters frequently due to aerial bombing, naval shelling and artillery bombardment that took place on a regular basis. Under cover of darkness, Japanese naval units from their base at Rabaul, New Britain, regularly attacked Guadalcanal and its defending Allied warships. The men on the Canal also suffered through daily air attacks, which tore up the airfield and prevented transports from lingering off the beaches for any length of time. In fact, Dexter maintained a captured Japanese three-barrelled machine gun, referred to by a British observer as a “Chicago piano,” to defend against air attacks. During the initial stages of the campaign, enemy artillery and sniper fire also hounded the men at NOB Cactus. The Japanese had salvaged a deck gun from one of their grounded ships and mounted it in the jungle highlands commanding the airfield. Nicknamed “Pistol Pete” by the Americans, the Japanese used this gun to lob several rounds per day at American positions until an American air attack finally silenced the gun. After dark, the Japanese also sent aircraft over Guadalcanal to bomb the Marines and prevent them from enjoying more than a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Due to the constant shelling and bombing, the NOB Cactus crew aptly named their nearby lagoon, “Sleepless Lagoon.”

Dexter’s men and landing craft kept critically needed supplies flowing to the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal. U.S. Navy photo.

Dexter’s men and landing craft kept critically needed supplies flowing to the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal. During his command of NOB Cactus, Dexter made sure his men had plenty of food and supplies and trained them in air raid drills, digging foxholes and the use of slit trenches for cover. One of the men later wrote about Dexter, “I felt I could stand the bombings, shellings and artillery so long as he was there. He gave us the feeling of safety that only good officers can give to their men.”

In the condolence letter to Coast Guard Medal of Honor recipient Douglas Munro’s parents, Dexter referred to Munro as “one of my boys.”

Like many who served in the early part of the Guadalcanal campaign, Dexter contracted malaria. In November 1942, when the disease finally got the best of him, Dexter rotated back to the United States. He had earned the respect and admiration of those who served under him at NOB Cactus. Some of his men broke down and cried when he finally announced he was redeploying for home. The Navy awarded Dexter the Silver Star Medal for his command of NOB Cactus.

His medal citation aptly concludes, “By his courage in the face of great hardship and danger, he set an example which was an inspiration to all who served with him.”

When Dexter departed Guadalcanal, the battle had entered its fourth month, but by then the Americans had become experienced jungle fighters and secured their position on the island. The defeat of Japanese forces on the Canal appeared assured by late 1942 as elements of the U.S. Army relieved the malaria-ridden First Marine Division. In early 1943, commander of U.S. forces on Guadalcanal, US Army General Alexander Patch declared the island secured of all Japanese military forces.

Guadalcanal was a killing field that consumed thousands of men, hundreds of aircraft and dozens of front line warships. Even though the U.S. Navy had triumphed earlier in 1942 at the pivotal naval battle at Midway, the struggle for Guadalcanal proved the first true test of all branches of the American military against determined enemy forces within Japanese-held territory. After Guadalcanal, the Allies would remain on the offensive for the rest of the war and the Japanese would fight a lengthy retreat all the way back to their home islands.

Dexter returned to the States having lived through a lifetime’s worth of vivid and often horrific experiences. For the remainder of the war, he rose through the officer ranks at bases within the United States. His post-war assignments included a tour in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he had lived as a child. He also served as commander of the high-endurance cutter Dexter, which is unrelated to his family. In September 1959, he retired from the Service as a rear admiral, after a 35-year career. Dexter was a member of the long blue line and served in the Coast Guard with distinction both in combat and in peacetime.


On November 21, 1970, at the U.S. Air Force base at Udorn, Thailand, helicopters carrying a force of 56 U.S Army Special Forces personnel led by Col. Arthur 'Bull' Simons took off into the blackness of the night sky. Those aboard had been training secretly for months and were ready to execute Operation Kingpin, the final phase of a daring plan–the rescue of American prisoners of war from the North Vietnamese prison camp at Son Tay. They were supported by 29 USAF aircraft and 92 flight crew on the direct raid and a total of 105 aircraft including supporting roles.

The US Intelligence committee had determined that the Son Tay camp was being enlarged to handle additional prisoners and confirmed that 55 American POWs were imprisoned there. Reconnaissance photographs also revealed the letters SAR (search and rescue), spelled out by what appeared to be the prisoners’ laundry, and an arrow with the number 8 next to it, indicating the distance the POWs had to travel to the fields where they worked.

Preparation for the mission was conducted in four phases and culminated in 170 rehearsals. The challenge was to ensure that Air Force search and rescue crews could operate with Army Special Forces. Brig Gen Leroy J. Manor (USAF) was selected as the overall mission commander, while Col Arthur Simons (USA) would lead the ground forces.

Simon ended up with a little more than 100 volunteers and they went to Eglin Air Force Base, FL. and they built a Son Tay prison, a makeshift camp that could be disassembled daily when the Russian Satellites flew overhead. They practiced this mission 171 times. They had to overcome a bunch of technical things: they had to refresh everybody in land-navigation, basic soldier skills, marksmanship, and hand-to-hand training.

Phase one included personnel selection and movement to training areas. Phase two stressed individual component training during which the Air Force practiced rendezvous, formation, and night mission profiles. During phase three, aerial and ground rescue operations were practiced. Both the Army and Air Force participants rehearsed day and night. Training was conducted first step-by-step and progressed to real-time pacing. The final phase was joint training and mission rehearsal during which procedures were fine-tuned and interoperability of forces assured. The final full rehearsal was conducted 6 November 1970 with the order to execute given on 21 November 1970.

During the planning phase, three alternative plans (green, red, and blue) were developed and practiced during phase three. Plan green was the contingency for loss of the ground force commander's helicopter. Plan red was called if the second support helicopter did not reach Son Tay. Plan blue was the contingency if the compound assault helicopter failed to make its objective. From different locations in Thailand, the forces converged at different points in North Vietnam. The overall plan was for the HC-130 to fly and orbit halfway to the objective while the force was in the area. The MC-130s would rendezvous with A-1Es and helicopters and lead them to the objective. Several problems arose due to the speed limitations of both the fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft, but the intensive training allowed these problems to be overcome. During movement to the objective area, the Navy conducted diversionary attacks on Haiphong Harbour.

During the conduct of the mission, Colonel Simons's helicopter landed at the wrong compound. The remaining force recognised the problem and executed plan green and proceeded to the objective. The raid was not successful in bringing home any American prisoners because they had been moved when the Son Tay River flooded. This forced the prisoners to be moved to a new camp 13 KMs away. Because of the proximity, when the Air Force aircraft were flying over, the American prisoners recognised the sound and thought that America was invading North Vietnam.

A North Vietnamese photo taken inside Son Tay prison after the raid shows the wreckage of the HH-3E helicopter that carried the Blue Boy Assault Team.

The raid succeeded at its technical objective of seizing control of the camp and 26 minutes after the first helicopter crash landed, all US Special Forces were recovered and flying home. One US soldier was wounded in the leg and one broke his ankle in the intentional crash landing. An unknown number of North Vietnamese soldiers were killed in the raid. It is believed that North Vietnamese General Tran BA Thanh was responsible for the failed Son Tay prison raid. He served as a ARVN officer on the South Vietnamese Prime Minister's staff during the war, providing invaluable intelligence to Hanoi.

Despite this, the mission was successful from the joint perspective. Unity of command, strong leadership, mass, and training were the deciding factors in removing the cultural barriers between the services, allowing them to function with speed and flexibility. Many people in the US, particularly congress, criticised it for being another failure. But it wasn't a failure, it saved hundreds of lives. It caused the consolidation of all POWs in Hanoi, permitting them to organise, communicate, and care for one another. Prior to the raid, the prisoners were scattered throughout North Vietnam in these little prisons, kept in isolation, deprived of food, and tortured. Almost immediately following the raid, they were collected into two main prison camps, they were allowed to commingle because hundreds of people in two places can't be separated. They were given food and the torture basically stopped, and the rate of prisoners dying, which was sometimes as often as several a week, stopped. The estimate is that hundreds of lives were saved.

To commemorate the raid, the US Special Operations Command presents the Bull Simons Award. The annual award, named in honour of Col. Arthur D. "Bull" Simons, is given to those embodying the spirit, values and skills of the legendary special forces operator.

Development of Search and Rescue and the creation of a dedicated elite unit that could make the difference between life and death , or freedom and captivity evolved through WWII, Korea and the French Indochina war. It was boosted by the reality of the first losses in Laos and Vietnam during the early stages of the war., when a modified intelligence gathering SC-47 was shot down near Xiang Khouangville (Laos) on 23 March 1961, followed in February 1962 by the loss of a C-123B Ranch Hand airplane in South Vietnam.

Until then, the Air Rescue Service (ARS) had been organised as peacetime rescue units with no proper combat trained crews or aircraft adapted to the highly dangerous missions. In the early years of the US involvement in South East Asia, the World was divided into five rescue regions, each relying on a rescue centre. In December 1961, three officers and two NCOs from PARC (Pacific Area Rescue Centre) were sent to establish a Search and Rescue Centre at Tan Son Nhut Air Base. With the rapid acceleration of the USAF involvement, they were officially established as rescue coordinators. Initially they depended mostly on the Army, Marines and the Vietnamese to fulfil their missions. Rivalry between the services and the fact that the USAF was no match for the Army with the MACV chain of command delayed the development of an Air Force Search and Rescue (SAR) structure in South East Asia. The semi covert aspect of the missions also slowed the introduction of SAR units.

By 1966 a full training programme and military hardware was in place. In February that year, the maroon 'Pararescue' beret was authorised by the Air Force Chief of Staff, General John P McConnell. It was the first time a beret had been approved in the Air Force. It was officially noted that :

'Pararescue personnel are highly trained specialists who perform extremely hazardous duties demanding the very highest degree of mental and physical discipline and thus deserve to wear the distinctive attire consisting of maroon beret, bloused trousers with combat boots and special badge, both on and off base.'

One such Parajumper was Airman First Class William Pitsenbarger. Born in 1944 in Piqua, Ohio, Pitsenbarger was an ambitious only child. He wanted to quit high school to join the U.S. Army Special Forces' "Green Berets," but his parents convinced him to stay in school. After graduating in 1962, Pitsenbarger joined the Air Force. After Air Force basic training, he volunteered for Pararescue work and embarked on a rigorous training program, which included U.S. Army parachute school, survival school, a rescue and survival medical course, and the U.S. Navy's scuba diving school. More Air Force rescue training and jungle survival school followed. His final training was in air crash rescue and firefighting, with assignment to the HH-43 Huskie helicopter.

Arriving in Vietnam in August 1965, Pitsenbarger completed more than 250 missions, including one in which he hung from an HH-43's cable to rescue a wounded South Vietnamese soldier from a burning minefield. This action earned him the Airman's Medal and the Republic of Vietnam's Medal of Military Merit and Gallantry Cross with Bronze Palm. Pitsenbarger was only 21 years old when he was killed in action. But in his short life and valorous Air Force career, he was an example of dedication, compassion and tenacity for all those with whom he served.

On April 11, 1966, in thick jungle near Saigon, an infantry company on 134 soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division (the "Big Red One") was surrounded by a Viet Cong battalion of approximately 500 troops. In a fierce firefight, the North Vietnamese surrounded and pinned down the Americans. As the battle went on, the number of U.S. casualties grew steadily. This would be Pitsenbargers final mission and his actions embodied the pararescueman's motto: "That Others May Live."

Detachment 6 of the USAF's 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron received an urgent call to evacuate the wounded. Army helicopters could not land in the battle zone because there were no clearings in the tall, dense "triple canopy" forest. The tallest trees rose 150 feet, and a second layer stood at about 100 feet, with a third layer below. Only U.S. Air Force HH-43 Huskie helicopters with cables and winches could hoist the injured from the jungle. Airman Pitsenbarger was the rescue and survival specialist aboard "Pedro 73," one of the two Huskies on the mission. The Huskies were to take turns hoisting litters with critically wounded patients through the forest canopy and delivering them to a nearby airfield. Pedro 73's crew, while under fire and hovering in a hole in the forest below the tallest trees and barely large enough for the Huskie, saw that the ground troops desperately needed help loading wounded into the litter. Pitsenbarger volunteered to be lowered to the ground to help. He descended a hundred feet into the firefight with a medical bag, a supply of splints, a rifle and a pistol.

On the ground, Pitsenbarger organised and speeded the evacuation, enabling the Huskies to rescue nine soldiers on several trips. Normally, pararescuemen return to the helicopter, but Pitsenbarger chose to stay and help the beleaguered troops. As the fight continued, Pedro 73 was badly damaged by ground fire and forced to withdraw. Rather than escape with the last Huskie, Pitsenbarger chose to stay on the ground and aid the wounded. Soon the firefight grew too intense for the helicopters to return. Near dusk, as the VC launched another assault, Pitsenbarger fought back with an M-16. Then, he was hit several times as he made his way toward another wounded man. Pitsenbarger was shot four times, once between the eyes, and died on the spot. The next day one of Pitsenbarger’s best friends, Henry J. O’Beirne of Huntsville, Ala., a former Air Force pararescueman who had served with him and been his bunkmate, recovered his body. ‘He was an ordinary man who did extraordinary things,’ said O’Beirne.

‘He was the bravest man I’ve ever seen, and I saw it all,’ said Martin L. Kroah, Jr., who served two tours in Vietnam, one as a Special Forces officer. Kroah, of Houston, said he remembered Pitsenbarger being lowered through the trees at a time when small-arms fire was' so intense that it was deafening, and all a person could do was get as close to the ground as possible and pray.’ Before long Kroah had been wounded five times and was flat on the ground. ‘On three different occasions I glimpsed movement, and it was Pits dragging somebody behind a tree trunk or a fallen tree, trying to give them first aid,’ he recalled. ‘It just seemed like he was everywhere. Everybody else was ducking, and he was crouched and crawling and dragging people by the collar and pack straps out of danger….I’m not certain of the number of dead and wounded exactly, but I’m certain that the death count would have been much higher had it not been for the heroic efforts of Airman Pitsenbarger.’ Kroah added that the battle was so fierce that his own Army medic was frozen with fear and unable to move and that one of his fire-team leaders, a combat veteran of World War II and the Korean War, curled into a fetal position and wept.

‘For Airman Pitsenbarger to expose himself on three separate occasions to this enemy fire was certainly above and beyond the call of duty of any man,’ said Kroah. ‘It took tremendous courage to expose himself to the possibility of almost certain death in order to save the life of someone he didn’t even know….He had a total disregard for his own safety and tremendous courage.’

For the next couple of hours Pitsenbarger crawled through the thick jungle looking for wounded soldiers. He would drag them to the middle of the company’s small perimeter, putting them behind trees and logs for shelter. At one point, said Charles Epperson, of Paris, Mo., Pitsenbarger saw two wounded soldiers outside the perimeter. ‘He said, ‘We’ve got to go get those people,’ and I said, ‘No way. I’m staying behind my tree.’ It was just unbelievable fire coming at us from all sides. But he took off to get those guys, and I could see him trying to get both of them and having a hard time, so I ran out there and helped him drag them inside our lines. He was an inspiration to me,’ said Epperson.

Fred Navarro, who was seriously wounded, said Pitsenbarger saved his life by covering him with the bodies of two dead GIs, shielding him from more bullets. ‘We were getting pounded so bad that I could only lie on the ground for cover. Pitsenbarger continued cutting pant legs, shirts, pulling off boots and generally taking care of the wounded. At the same time, he amazingly proceeded to return enemy fire whenever he could,’ said Navarro, of San Antonio, Texas.

F. David Peters, of Alliance, Ohio, had been in Vietnam only two weeks at the time of the incident. He recalled that he was terrified when he was told to help Pitsenbarger during the firefight. ‘I don’t remember how many wounded were taken out when we started taking small-arms fire,’ said Peters. ‘I remember him saying something to the [helicopter] pilot like, get out of here, I’ll get the next one out. His personal choice to get on the ground to help the wounded is undoubtedly one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen,’ said Peters.

Johnny W. Libs, a seasoned jungle fighter who was leading Company C that day, said he’d never seen a soldier who deserved the Medal of Honor more than Pitsenbarger. He recalled telling one of his machine-gunners, Phillip J. Hall, of Palmyra, Wis., that Pitsenbarger was out of his mind to leave his chopper for ‘this inferno on the ground. We knew we were in the fight of our lives and my knees were shaking, and I just couldn’t understand why anybody would put himself in this grave danger if he didn’t have to.’ Libs, of Evansville, Ind., also said that Pitsenbarger seemed to have no regard for his own safety. ‘We talk about him with reverence. I [had] never met him, but he’s just about the bravest man I have ever known. We were brave, too. We did our job. That’s what we were there for. He didn’t have to be there. He could have gotten out of there. There’s no doubt he saved lives that day.’

Hall said that Pitsenbarger’s descent into the firefight ‘was the most unselfish and courageous act I ever witnessed. I think of him often now,’ he added. ‘That thing never leaves my mind totally. He did actually give up his life for guys on the ground that he didn’t even know. And he didn’t have to be there. I know he made the conscious decision to stay there.’ Salem said that Pitsenbarger had volunteered to go to the ground because the soldiers were having trouble putting a wounded man into the wire basket to be lifted out. The helicopter pilot recalled telling Pitsenbarger that he could leave the chopper only if he agreed that, when given a signal, he would return to the aircraft. ‘As we were [getting in position], I said, ‘Pits, it’s hotter than hell down there; do you still want to go down?’ He said, ‘Yes sir, I know I can really help out.’ He made a hell of a difference. We ended up getting nine more out after he got on the ground. He is the bravest person I’ve ever known,’ Salem said.

For coordinating the successful rescues, caring for the wounded and sacrificing his life while aggressively defending his comrades, William H. Pitsenbarger received the Air Force Cross on June 30, 1966. After review, the original award was upgraded, and on Dec. 8, 2000, the Medal of Honor was presented to his family in a ceremony at the U.S. Air Force Museum. Airman Pitsenbarger is the 59th Medal of Honor recipient.



"Of all the branches of men in the Forces, there is none which shows more devotion and faces grimmer perils than the submariner.
Great deeds are done in the air and on the land; nevertheless, nothing surpasses your exploits." - Winston Churchill.

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur Wilson VC, the Controller of the Royal Navy, summed up the opinion of many in the Admiralty at the time when he said in 1901, "Submarines are underhand, unfair, and damned un-English. ... treat all submarines as pirates in wartime ... and hang all crews." In response, Lieutenant Commander (later Admiral Sir) Max Horton first flew the Jolly Roger on return to port after sinking the German cruiser SMS Hela and the destroyer SMS S-116 in 1914 while in command of HMS E-9. Decades later in 1982, returning from the Falklands conflict HMS Conqueror flew the Jolly Roger depicting one dagger for the SBS deployment to South Georgia and one torpedo for her sinking of the Argentinian Cruiser Belgrano.

During World War Two it became common practice for the submarines of the Royal Navy to fly the Jolly Roger on completion of a successful combat mission where some action had taken place, but as an indicator of bravado and stealth rather than of lawlessness. British submarines fought a deadly battle with their German counterparts during World War Two. The British submarines succeeded in sinking 12 German U-boats, for the loss of 4 of their own to U-boats. British submarine development between the wars owed much to the versatile E-boats built at the start of the Great War. The most notable types were the H and L classes that continued in service until well into the Second World War. The L Boats in particular were well liked by their crews and many successful submarine commanders were trained in them.

It took a certain type of personality to become a Submariner, something still true today. They were considered a different breed to the usual Royal Navy sailor. The 'Perisher' (as the Submarine Command Course is better known) is a 24-week course all officers must take prior to serving as an Executive Officer on board a Royal Navy Submarine. It has been run twice a year since 1917, usually starting on 2 July and 14 November each year. It is widely regarded as one of the toughest command courses in the world, with a historical failure rate of 25%. If at any point during the training a candidate is withdrawn from training he will be nominated for boat transfer and kept occupied until the transfer. His bag is packed for him and he is notified of the failure when the boat arrives. On departure he is presented with a bottle of whiskey. A failure on Perisher means that the unsuccessful candidate is not permitted to return to sea as a member of the Submarine Service (although they are still allowed to wear the dolphin badge). He is, however, permitted to remain in the Royal Navy, moving into the surface fleet. In more recent years, the United States Navy has sent some of its own submariner officers to undergo the 'Perisher', in order to foster and maintain closer links with the Royal Navy.

At some point during World War Two the Submarine Service became known as the 'Silent Service' mostly due to the fact that their missions were covert and went unreported, they were often deployed in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean and accompanying coastlines, sometimes not having enough depth to sneak away after an attack. Not all of their actions were combat based, often their missions would be to drop agents off and pick others up, rescue downed airmen from the clutches of the Axis or carry out intelligence surveys.

In 1939 the Allies primary maritime tasks were based on the assumption Britain and France will go to war against the European Axis powers of Germany and Italy. The Royal Navy will be responsible for the North Sea and most of the Atlantic, with the French contributing some forces. In the Mediterranean, defence will be shared between both these Navies. At the outbreak of War Britain had 58 submarines available, 47 of which could have been considered as up to date. As the war progressed, the Royal Navy and its few Allied-manned submarines neither had the target opportunities of the German U-boats in the Atlantic Ocean nor the US submarines in the Pacific, and certainly in the early years suffered heavy losses for comparatively few gains at least in Axis warships. But if account is taken of such vital activities as the heavy merchant ship sinking in the Mediterranean, certainly in the battle for North Africa, the many dangerous cloak-and-dagger operations so vital to Churchill's command to "set Europe alight", helping to cut Germany supply routes from Norway and Japanese ones to Burma, then the even more silent part of the "Silent Service" played a major role in clearing the seas of enemy ships. 73 British submarines were lost in the war, reflecting the difficulties of their operating areas and targets: the well protected German shipping around Northern Europe, the clear and shallow Mediterranean, Malacca Straits and Indian Ocean. A total of over 2000 men lost their lives in service to the country.


The lineage of the term Hell's Angels can be traced back many years, while the famous Californian motorcycle club can undoubtedly find its origination in combat veterans who went on to find camaraderie riding motorcycles together post WWII, the phrase actually originates in this context from a 1930 aviation war movie directed and produced by Howard Hughes. The Hollywood blockbuster starred Ben Lyon, James Hall and Jean Harlow, and centred on the combat pilots of World War I. Despite its initial poor performance at the box office, it eventually earned its production costs twice over. Controversy during the Hell's Angels production contributed to the film's notoriety, including the accidental deaths of several pilots, an inflated budget, a lawsuit against a competitor, and repeated postponements of the release date. Originally shot as a silent film, Hughes retooled the film over a lengthy period. Most of the film is in black and white, but there is one colour sequence—the only colour footage of Harlow's career. Hell's Angels is now hailed as one of the first sound blockbuster action films.

Hell's Angels received its premiere in Hollywood on May 24, 1930. All the stars and makers of the film attended, as well as Buster Keaton, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin with his girlfriend Georgia Hale. A program with leather cover was designed for the premiere by famed aviation illustrator Clayton Knight. Reviews were universal in acclaim for the flying scenes but the mundane plot and maudlin characterisations were also noted. The Hell's Angels screening revealed many traits of pre-code Hollywood. In addition to some fairly frank sexuality, there was a surprising amount of adult language (for the time) during the final dogfight sequence, e.g. "son of a bitch", "goddamn it", and "for Christ's sake", along with the words "ass", "hell", and a few uses of "God" in other scenes.

Harlow, Lyon and Hall received mixed reviews for their acting, Hughes was praised for his hard work on the filming and aircraft sequences. Mourdant Hall, reviewer for The New York Times, was especially critical about Harlow's performance, saying, "his film is absorbing and exciting. But while she is the centre of attraction, the picture is a most mediocre piece of work."

Probably the most well known usage of the phrase Hell's Angels in a factual military context can be seen in the USAAF 303rd Bombardment Group (Heavy), the group was activated on 3 February 1942 at Pendleton Field, Oregon and finally assembled later that year at Molesworth, England, flying its first combat mission on 17th November 1942 with a planned strike at the St. Nazaire submarine pens. Over the months and years that followed, lessons were learned, equipment was improved, and the tale of Hell's Angels "Might in Flight" evolved. First targets were usually airfields and marshalling yards in France and the Low Countries. Several targets in Paris were struck in 1943 and, although it was defended by about 250 flak guns, only one plane was lost in six attacks. The 303rd formations often encountered the 'Abbeville Kids', the yellow-nosed FW 190s flying out of the airfield just north of Abbeville, France. Their attacks were in retaliation to the 303rd's bombing of Abbeville on 10 July 1943. They didn't take kindly to our bombing and took great joy in finding a 303rd BG formation.

Soon, many German targets were hit and, to mention a few, Mannheim and Ludwigshafen were attacked 12 times with only five losses. The transport and industrial centre of Frankfurt was bombed nine times in 1943 and 1944, in which only three aircraft were lost. The 15 August 1944 attack on the Wiesbaden airfield cost the group nine bombers. Cologne rail lines and industry were the targets on 10 missions, including the famous glide bomb attack. The largest marshalling yard in Germany, located at Hamm, was hit six times and its flak defences accounted for two aircraft down. In the later stages of the war, the 303rd bombers struck industrial sites, transportation hubs, and oil refineries at Munich, Magdeburg, Hamburg, Gelsenkirchen, Merseburg, Leipzig, Essen, Schweinfurt. Bremen, Stuttgart, Kiel and Brunswick with increase in efficiency and decreasing losses.

As part of the joint USAAF-RAF objective to eradicate the "buzz bomb" threat, 303rd crews attacked 12 sites between 28 February and 30 August 1944 at altitudes of 12,000 and 14,000 feet. On 11 January 1944, leading the First Division, the 303rd hit Oschersleben, Germany, after most of the 8th Air Force and its fighter escort had aborted due to weather. The devastating strike was the beginning of the end for the German Air Force, but cost 10 aircraft (42 altogether in the First Division). For this valuable contribution to the war effort, the men of the Hell's Angels Group, both air and ground echelons, wear the badge of a Distinguished Unit Citation.

On 6 March 1944, the Group participated in one of the first strikes on Berlin. Later, they carried their bombs as far east as Poland, where one of the most compact bombing patterns of the war destroyed an industrial site. The 303rd was, of course, part of the aerial support on D-Day, 6 June 1944. On that date, the crews flew three separate missions between dawn and dusk in a ground support role rather than a strategic bombing force. Bombing almost around the clock occurred in June when 29 missions and 1000 sorties were flown. In tribute to one of the most famous Flying Fortresses of World War II, 'Hell's Angels' #41-24577, the 303rd Bombardment Group took its name. In the inventory since the Group's beginning, this aircraft was the first heavy bomber in the 8th Air Force to complete 25 missions.

While the 303rd's usage of 'Hell's Angels' is the most well known, the first noted use of the phrase was actually with the 3rd Pursuit Squadron of the American Volunteer Group (AVG). The AVG, more famously known 'The Flying Tigers' were a secret United States military operational entity, authorised and approved by then President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on 23 December 1940. As part of this covert operation, which had been requested by Claire Lee Chennault (a former USAAC pilot instructor and veteran of the 94th 'Hat in the Ring' squadron during WWI) on behalf of Chaing Kai-Shek and the Chinese government, who had been at war with the Empire of Japan since 1937. The AVG received 100 P-40 fighter aircraft, diverted from a shipment to England. The personnel were recruited from active branches of the War Department: the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Pilots, maintenance, communications, clerical and medical personnel were secretly recruited from active duty units. All documentation, equipment and personnel transfers were processed through and by the Central Aircraft Manufacturing Company (CAMCO), as approved by the US Government. Nothing could then be traced to the United States government, which was not yet in conflict with the Empire of Japan. Chaing Kai-Shek appointed Chennault Commander of the AVG.

The AVG was divided into four elements: a headquarters squadron and three fighter squadrons. Each squadron selected their respective name, which was the custom of the time for military aviation units. The First Pursuit Squadron (1PS) became the Adam & Eve's. The Second Pursuit Squadron (2PS) became the Panda Bears. Chuck Older, Ken Jernstedt, Tom Haywood and Ed Overend, all former USMC pilots, selected the name 'Hell's Angels' for the Third Pursuit Squadron (3PS). Each squadron designed their own squadron insignia. The 'Hell's Angels' opted for a red silhouette of a curvy woman with halo and wings outlined in white. Each Hell´s Angels pilot had his own 'Lady' painted on his individual aircraft and this same insignia is still used today by active United States Army, Marine Corps and Air Force squadrons. During the seven month combat operations of the AVG this unit acquired a record of 297 Japanese aircraft destroyed, as confirmed by British and Chinese Intelligence. Other sources have placed the total Japanese aircraft destruction, caused by the AVG, at well over 600 to 900, including aircraft destroyed on the ground during strafing operations. The AVG was disbanded on 4 July 1942, at which time few accepted returning into the US Army Air Force, most optioned to return to the US where they returned to active service or other war efforts. Chennault continued to command the 14th Air Force in the China Burma India Theatre (CBI). The 14th Air Force all referred to themselves as 'Flying Tigers', even though the real 'Flying Tigers' had been deactivated on 4 July 1942.

According to the lore of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club it was Arvid Olsen, the former Squadron Leader of the 3rd Pursuit Squadron that gave the idea of the name to the actual founders of the HAMC, in Fontana, California in the late 1940's. Although Olsen was never an actual member of the HAMC, he was known to associate with the founding members. The selection of HAMC colours, red on white, could be viewed a result of the association of Olsen with the HAMC founders, like the insignia of the 3PS "Hell's Angels". It is also worth noting that the Deathshead insignia of the HAMC, can also be traced to two USAAF insignia designs, the 85th Fighter Squadron and the 552nd Medium Bomber Squadron.

It's undoubtably true that the majority of motorcycle and car clubs of the late 1940's were started by WW2 veterans, illustrated by the military clothing worn in many of the periods photographs. Motorcycle and car clubs exploded during this time, especially in California. Various reasons can be attributed to being the catalyst for this - many veterans returned with new mechanical skills and applied this training to making their vehicles go faster and perform better, others missed the camaraderie they found in in the brotherhood of combat and some found it difficult integrating back into society, whatever the reasons, these clubs created a lifestyle and culture that still resonates today.


“The basic specifications for United States aircraft now flying in combat areas were laid down five years or more ago, an indication of the slow process of aeronautical design in peacetime. Germany had a definite plan for employment of its aircraft then under test. So did Japan. So, for different reasons, did the designers in England. A striking proof of their conviction is the Spitfire – a splendid fighter, admirable in all respects for the defence of France and, as it later proved, of England itself.”
US Office of War Information, 1942

When the Eighth Air Force began arriving in England in 1942, it was initially planned that what fighter units would be assigned to it would utilise the Lockheed P-38 Lightning for high-altitude, long-range fighter escort, while the Bell P-39 Airacobra would provide escort for the medium bombers that were coming.

The first P-39 unit to arrive in England was the 31st Fighter Group – the first unit to have taken the Airacobra operational the previous year – though they arrived before their aircraft. In the interim, they were equipped with the Spitfire Mk. V. By the time the similarly-equipped 52nd Fighter Group arrived, the RAF had been able to convince the Americans of the unsuitability of the P-39 for aerial combat in western Europe. As a result, both groups were equipped with Spitfire Mk. Vs.


During the summer of 1942, the 307th and 308th Fighter Squadrons of the 31st Fighter Group went to Biggin Hill and Kenley respectively for temporary attachment to RAF fighter wings where they could receive an introduction to combat. The 309th FS went to Westhampnett, and by August 5, all three units were operational. Their baptism of fire came on August 19, when they flew air support for the Dieppe Raid, losing eight Spitfires and seven damaged, with one pilot killed and another made prisoner; two Fw-190s were claimed destroyed, with three probables and two damaged. With this, the 31st was considered blooded, and was reunited as a group at Westhampnett, while the 2nd and 4th Fighter Squadrons of the 52nd Fighter Group took their places at Biggin Hill and Kenley.

Before either group could have more effect, they were transferred to the XII Air Force that September, as the North African invasion loomed; by late September, both units had left England to enter combat in the Mediterranean. During the opening day of Operation Torch, Major Harrison Thyng, CO of the 308th FS, shot down two Vichy D.520s to open the unit’s score in the Mediterranean Theatre. In December and January, the 52nd Fighter Group entered combat in defence of the port of Bone. On January 13, 1943, 1st Lt. Norman Bolle shot down 114-victory Lieutenant Wilhelm Crinius of II/JG-2. On February 4th, their luck was reversed when 12 Spitfires of the 4th FS escorting ground-strafing P-39s were hit by Kurt Buhligen and Erich Rudorffer of II/JG2, taking down 3 of the Spitfires for no losses. Throughout this period the Americans found themselves frequently outclassed by the flying of JG2 and JG77, sent to counter the North African invasion.

By March 21, the Americans had adopted the more aggressive tactics of the RAF’s Western Desert Air Force, and 36 Spitfires of the 31st FG ran across 17 Ju-87D-3s of III/St.G.3, escorted by Bf-109s and Fw-190s of JG77 and JG2. While the 307th FS held off the fighters, the 309th shot down 4 Stukas and claimed another 4 as probables, for one loss; the following day the 52nd FG claimed 5 Bf-109s, 2 Fw-190s and 2 Ju-88s for one loss – a crash-landing due to flak damage. The two Spitfire units had come into their own.

During April 1943, Captains Norman MacDonald and Arthur Vinson of the 52nd FG became the first USAAF Spitfire aces, though Vinson was lost immediately after shooting down his 7th victim. By the time of the Axis surrender in Africa on May 13, the 52nd FG claimed 86 victories and had added a third ace – Lt. Sylvan Field – while the 31st FG claimed 61, and two aces, Lt Col. Thyng and Major Frank Hill. Hill would become the top US Spitfire ace of the war with 7 victories. In August 1943, the 308th FS of the 31st FG – the group’s most successful squadron – became the first USAAF unit to operate the Spitfire Mk. VIII, the group having had some Mk. IXs in limited operation since the previous April, with enough in each squadron to provide a high cover flight for the Spitfires Mk. Vb. The new Spitfires first saw combat over Palermo, Sicily, on August 8, 1943, when 20 Bf-109s were encountered, of which 3 were shot down. On August 11, the 308th claimed two Fw-190s and a Macchi C.205. There would be additional combat over Italy in late September during the Salerno invasion, and then things quieted down.


By December 1943 the American groups were flying bomber escort in Southern Italy. In January, 1944, 1st Lt. Leland P. Molland, a recent arrival, made the first two of his eventual five scores in the Spitfire Mk. VIII, in combat with Fw-190s intercepting American B-25s escorted by the Spitfires.

The Anzio invasion on January 22, 1944, brought the Luftwaffe out in force once again, and the 31st FG scored against 18 Fw-190 fighter bombers over the beachhead. That evening, Spitfires of the 2nd FS, which had moved to Corsica with the rest of the 52nd FG, intercepted 50-60 He-111 torpedo bombers of KG26 bound from Marseilles to attack the invasion fleet off Anzio, and forced most of the German bombers to drop their torpedoes, while shooting down seven Heinkels and damaging three Ju-88s. The next day, the 4th FS intercepted six Do-217s equipped with Fritz-X bombs and shot down two, scattering the others.

Through the rest of January, both units engaged in numerous combats over the beachhead and as far inland as Rome. On February 6, 308th FS CO Maj. Virgil Fields was shot down and killed. Lt. Molland, who became an ace with his fifth kill in the fight in which Fields was lost, moved up to command the squadron.

By March 21st, the 308th had raised its total score to 62, with 1st Lt. Richard F. Hurd becoming the second highest-scoring US Spitfire ace with 6 victories. On March 11, 1944, the 31st FG had received their first P-51B Mustang. On March 24, the unit was taken off operations to handle full conversion to the Mustang, despite the feelings of many of the pilots that they were being asked to take an inferior airplane to their Spitfire Mk. VIIIs and IXs. On March 26, 1944, the 31st flew their last Spitfire mission, with four Spitfires Mk. VIII of the 308th FS finding 20 Fw-190G fighter bombers, of which they claimed one destroyed and three probables for the group’s last victories in the Spitfire.

The following month, the 52nd Fighter Group followed the 31st into the Mustang and on to the new 15th Air Force, with the last US Spitfire victories being 3 Bf-109Gs shot down of 6 that attacked the Spitfire IXs of the 5th FS of the 52nd FG during a bomber escort to Orvieto, Italy.

Uncle Sam’s Spitfires had written a little-known chapter in US fighter history. Though the USAAF used over 600 Spitfires during the war, the aircraft was never given a US designation, and little publicity was given to the exploits of the 31st and 52nd Fighter Groups – nothing like what they would get in the summer of 1944 during the wild air battles over Ploesti when they flew Mustangs. This is most likely a good example of the US military’s overall dislike of having to admit to using “NIH” (Not Invented Here) equipment.

During their time in Spitfires, the 31st FG claimed 194.5 confirmed, 39 probables and 124 damaged; the 52nd claimed 152.33 confirmed, 22 probables and 71 damaged. Thirteen pilots became aces on the Spitfire. Leland Molland went on to score another 6 victories in the summer of 1944 in the P-51 to bring his score to 11. Harrison Thyng added 5 more victories to his 5.5 as CO of the 4th FIW in Korea, while Royal N. Baker, who scored 3.5 in Spitfires added another 13 in Korea.

Article originally published on The Spitfire Site.

On this day 72 years ago the D-Day operations had been ongoing for 24 hours. When remembering the Allied actions of Operation Overlord, much of the focus is of course directed toward the initial invasion and beach assault itself on 6th June, however many days of heavy combat were to follow with ongoing strategic actions and firefights all over Normandy, some of which would become deciding factors of the war.

On Utah Beach most of the actions on D plus 1 were aimed at the destruction of scattered enemy groups which still held positions within the perimeter of the beachhead. There was no front line at the end of D Day, the airborne operations had pocketed sizeable enemy forces which had to be eliminated before communications and supply lines could be secured. This was the task accomplished on 7 June. By the end of that day the VII Corps beachhead had taken more definite shape.

The dawn of D plus 1 confronted the US Army 82d Airborne Division with the unsolved problems of the day before. The La Fiere bridge and Ste. Mere-Eglise remained the critical areas in the western sector. Until 0900 the division continued to be out of touch with higher headquarters. D Day had left all of the division units hard-pressed, and General Ridgway's primary concern was in the arrival of expected tank and infantry reinforcements. At the close of the day he had reported his position, his losses in men and materiel, and his need for artillery, antitank guns, ammunition, and medical supplies. He had stated that he was prepared to continue his mission when reinforcements came. But the communication was one-way and General Ridgway did not even know whether his messages got through.

More fruitful was a D-Day contact by patrol with the 4th Division. Late in the evening Lt. Col. W. F. Winton, assistant G-3, took a patrol northeast in the direction of Beuzeville-au-Plain. He contacted elements of the 12th Infantry and went on south to the division command post at Audouville-la-Hubert. At midnight he talked to General Barton, from whom he obtained for the first time information on the 4th Division. At 0800 the next morning he returned to his own command post with assurance of relief by the 8th Infantry and Colonel Raff's force, the advance elements of the seaborne Howell Force which had tried to break through to the 82d Division the night before.

Between the 82d Airborne Division's main body at Ste. Mere-Eglise and the 8th Infantry at Les Forges the enemy still had a large force, holding the ridge between Fauville and Turqueville and blocking the highway south of Ste. Mere-Eglise. Another enemy force was threatening the 82d Division from the north. The elimination of these enemy forces became the main preoccupation of both the 8th Infantry and the 505th Parachute Infantry on D plus 1.

The 8th Infantry attacked the Turqueville salient on the morning of 7 June, with the objective of establishing contact with the 82d Airborne Division at Ste. Mere-Eglise. The 1st Battalion's attack on Turqueville itself was the first to get under way late in the morning, and succeeded in eliminating the eastern tip of the enemy salient. Turqueville was held by a battalion of Georgians (79th), which initially put up a stiff fight but was finally talked into surrender. During the morning the 4th Division G-l, Lt. Col. Gorlan A. Bryant, Sgt. John Svonchek, and a driver had left the division command post intending to visit the 22d Infantry. They had made a wrong turn at Audouville and had driven west, into the enemy position near Ecoqueneauville, where they were taken prisoner. They were moved to a house south of Turqueville and held there along with twenty-three American parachutists. When it was learned that the enemy unit was Georgian, Sergeant Svonchek, who spoke Russian, persuaded some of them to surrender, and about seventy-five gave up. Then the German captain gave the cease fire order and surrendered at about the same time that the 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry, was closing in on Turqueville. Upon entering the town the battalion rounded up 174 prisoners.

Meanwhile, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 8th Infantry had attacked northward from their positions in the Les Forges area to link up with the 82d Airborne Division at Ste. Mere-Eglise. The 3rd Battalion advanced astride the highway while the 2nd Battalion attacked toward Ecoqueneauville. As the two battalions reached a creek bed in front of the enemy lines, they received heavy machine-gun and artillery fire from enemy positions along the ridge Fauville-Ecoqueneauville. The 3rd Battalion was held up and had one of the severest fights of these first few days, but as the 2nd Battalion took Ecoqueneauville both battalions continued their advance toward Ste. Mere-Eglise. South of the town, enemy interdiction of the road caused the 2nd Battalion to circle to the east and make an approach to the town from the northeast. But almost immediately after it had established contact with the 505th Parachute Infantry within the town, it was engaged by the enemy north of Ste. Mere-Eglise. The main German position was to the west of the highway. Colonel MacNeely (2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry) and Colonel Vandervoort (2d Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry) planned a coordinated attack. The 2nd Battalion of the 505th moved up astride the road and attacked, supported by tanks, while the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry, crossed the road behind the 505th Parachute Infantry and attacked on its left. By the end of the day the two battalions had killed or captured 300 Germans and cleared the enemy from his positions to the west of the highway.

Earlier in the afternoon an enemy armoured thrust from the north had been beaten back on the very edge of Ste. Mere-Eglise by an American tank force. This force had been dispatched by order of the Corps commander himself, who learned of the 82d Division's request for assistance upon his arrival at the Corps command post late in the morning after he had come ashore. At the 4th Division's command post, across the road, General Collins met one of General Ridgway's staff officers, who outlined General Ridgway's situation and repeated the 82d Division commander's desire for tanks to meet a threatened armoured attack. General Barton still had tanks of the 746th Tank Battalion in reserve at Reuville, and General Collins ordered these to be sent to General Ridgway under the officer's guidance.

On reaching Ste. Mere-Eglise the tank column turned north. After moving a few hundred yards it received heavy artillery and mortar fire from an enemy armoured column, consisting of five tanks and a few other vehicles, about 300 or 400 yards away. Lt. Houston Payne, in the leading American tank, shot at the first enemy tank, setting it afire, and then knocked out an antitank gun on the side of the road. As both American and enemy tanks were in column only the lead tanks had targets. Lieutenant Payne destroyed one more enemy tank before his ammunition was exhausted and then moved back to permit the second tank to come forward.

Seeking a way of attacking the flank of the enemy column, Lt. Col. C. G. Hupfer, the 746th Tank Battalion commander, had in the meantime reconnoitred to the east and north and found, to the right of the highway, a trail which led straight north about a mile and joined a secondary road which entered Neuville-au-Plain. Some of the American tanks drove north on this trail and entered Neuville-au-Plain. At a cost of 2 of their own they destroyed 2 enemy tanks, took 60 prisoners, freed 19 American parachutists, and forced the German armoured column to retreat northward. They stayed in Neuville-au-Plain until 2100 when they withdrew for lack of infantry support.

It is not clear whether the German armour which had supported the infantry attack along the highway had come from Neuville-au-Plain, but the two actions do not appear to have been coordinated. Whatever the enemy's intentions, Lieutenant Payne's engagement with the German armour and Colonel MacNeely's and Colonel Vandervoort's later attack west of the highway removed the enemy threat to the town and allowed the 82d Division units in Ste. Mere-Eglise to give more attention to developments along the Merderet.

Even before the German threat north of Ste. Mere-Eglise had been eliminated, the anxiety at the command post of the 82d Airborne Division had been relieved, and General Ridgway reported to Corps that the "situation is under control." Contact had been established with elements of the 8th Infantry south of Ste. Mere-Eglise and the 325th Glider Infantry had arrived and was ready for commitment against the enemy to the west. Shortly thereafter General Collins made his first personal contact with General Ridgway in the latter's command post west of Ste. Mere-Eglise.

The 325th Glider Infantry had arrived in two serials, one at 0700 and one at 0900. Although the landings were somewhat scattered, most of them were made in the Les Forges area. One serial received ground fire from enemy positions to the north and there was a total of 160 landing casualties. But the regiment was given some protection by the attacks of the 8th Infantry and it made a rapid assembly near the Les Forges crossroads.

The 325th Glider Infantry had the mission of proceeding to Chef-du-Pont as division reserve. But when Col. Harry L. Lewis (commanding officer) contacted division headquarters by radio at about 1000, he was instructed to use at least part of his force to eliminate the enemy force in the Carquebut area, where the Germans were threatening the security of the Chef-du-Pont bridge and causeway. The 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, had been unable to divert forces to counter this threat. At the same time Colonel Raff received orders to bring his seaborne force up to Chef-du-Pont and then to the 82d Airborne Division command post. While Colonel Raff carried out his orders, arriving at the division command post at noon, Colonel Lewis took his 3rd Battalion to the Carquebut area and sent the other two to Chef-du-Pont. He found Carquebut evacuated by the enemy and proceeded to rejoin the other two battalions. The 1st Battalion was then sent, under General Gavin's order, to La Fiere, and the 2nd Battalion to Ste. Mere-Eglise, where it was to be attached to the 505th Parachute Infantry for operation in the north on the 8th Infantry's left.

Meanwhile, the action at La Fiere bridge had been a continued stalemate. Enemy counterattacks were repulsed and the American position was slightly strengthened by reorganisation. But no progress had been made in establishing a bridgehead on the west bank. In the evening the 1st Battalion of the 505th, which during the day had fought of the enemy with heavy losses at La Fiere, was released to Regiment for the next day's operation. The 82d Airborne Division forces west of the Merderet remained isolated. In general, the situation of the 82d at the end of D plus 1 had been solidified, particularly around Ste. Mere-Eglise, although its D-Day mission was still unaccomplished.

In 1940, while Fighter Command took on the Luftwaffe over Britain and the Channel, the airmen of Bomber Command were flying missions over Fortress Europe. Hitler's plan for invading the UK, Operation Sealion, would require a landing force setting off from mainland Europe so the then relatively small RAF Bomber Command was given the task to do as much damage as possible to the naval forces that Hitler had gathered for the cross channel attack. At this point Bomber Command was only equipped with twin engined medium bombers that would very soon be regarded as obsolete. Yet, with fear of an invasion of Britain at its height, the task was regarded as at least as important as defending the skies above Britain – and the crews were sent out, night after night over Europe.

Most of these targets were very well defended and there was no shortage of bravery amongst the aircrew that had to face them. John Hannah joined the Royal Air Force aged 17 in 1939, and after training as a wireless operator was later promoted sergeant in 1940. He was attached to 83 Squadron (Hampden bombers) as a wireless operator and gunner.

With the Battle of Britain Spitfires continuing to maintain their vigil in the skies over Britain, the Fighter Command was stretched to the limit with their defensive tactics. On the night of 15 September 1940, 83 Squadron left their base shortly before 22.30 hrs with a force of 15 Hampden bombers. They were destined for a bombing raid on a concentration of German barges at the port of Antwerp, which were reported to be part of an armada of sea going vessels collected in preparation for the threatened invasion of Britain.

As the bombers approached their objective, they were caught in the piercing beams of light from the searchlights below, followed by intense anti-aircraft fire. Shortly after Hannah's plane had released its bombs it was hit with shrapnel and bullets. Almost at once the rear of the fuselage exploded into a blazing furnace of fire and searing heat, which quickly spread to the wireless operator's and gunner's cockpits. The rear gunner had no option but to bale out when the floor of his cockpit melted beneath his feet.

Undaunted, Hannah began to fight the fire. Surrounded with the flames he retrieved the plane's two hand fire extinguishers and rapidly dispersed the contents. When they were exhausted he beat at the flames with his flying log- book and as a last resort with his hands. Although his heavy flying suit restricted his movements, he continued to battle against the heat, but now there was an added danger as ammunition began to detonate within their cases. He quickly disposed of them by throwing them out through the hole in the fuselage.

Having successfully extinguished the flames Hannah painfully made his way to the pilot's seat to report that the fire was now under control. The pilot, Officer C.A. Conner, was shocked to see the extent of Hannah's burns to his face and hands. When it was realised that the other crew members had baled out, Hannah then assisted the pilot to navigate the plane back to base, where he was immediately transferred to a Service Hospital for emergency treatment. Hannah was informed of his award while still a patient in Rauceby hospital, Lincolnshire.

At Buckingham Palace on the 10 October 1940, Sergeant, John Hannah, attended an investiture for his award of the Victoria Cross. At the age of eighteen Hannah was the youngest recipient of this prestigious award for aerial operations. Pilot Officer C.A. Conner received the Distinguished Flying Cross. Sergeant D.A.E. Hayhurst, navigator and bomb- aimer, received the Distinguished Flying Medal for the part they played in the raid.

One of the lesser known photojournalists in Vietnam was actually the son of Hollywood royalty. Sean Flynn was the only child of the marriage of Errol Flynn and Lili Damita. After studying briefly at Duke University, Flynn abandoned a lukewarm film career to join a band of intrepid journalists documenting the civil wars in Vietnam and Cambodia. At first, Flynn drew international attention merely by virtue of being the even-more-handsome son of his movie-star father entering a combat zone. He and his colleagues' brazen lifestyle and daring work in the field became the stuff of legend and inspired a cast of colourful characters in war films and literature. More significant, their photos, shot within the frenzied theatre of combat, became pivotal in exposing Americans at home to the brutality and ambiguous profit of their military's involvement in the region.

In March 1966, Flynn was wounded in the knee while in the field. In mid-1966, he left Vietnam long enough to star in his last movie. He returned to Vietnam and made a parachute jump with the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne in December 1966. In 1967, he went to Israel to cover the Arab Isreali War. He returned to Vietnam in 1968, after the Tet Offensive, with plans to make a documentary about the war. He went to Cambodia in early 1970, when news broke of North Vietnamese advances into that country.

The 1970-75 conflict in Cambodia, a spillover of America's war against the North Vietnamese, pitched the US-backed government headed by Lon Nol against Khmer Rouge insurgents supported by the government in Hanoi. The war was eventually won by the Maoist-influenced Khmer Rouge forces, which then put in place a murderous four-year regime that caused the death of up to 2 million people.

On April 6, 1970, Flynn and a group of journalists left the city of Phnom Pehn to attend a government sponsored press conference in Saigon. Flynn and fellow photojournalist Dana Stone (who was on assignment for CBS news) chose to travel on motorcycles instead of the limousines that the majority of the other journalists were traveling in (the limousines had been previously used by tourists before the journalists took them over). Reporter Steve Bell, who was one of the last Westerners to see the two alive, later said that after the press conference, Flynn and Stone had gotten word that there was a checkpoint on Highway 1 manned by members of the Viet Cong. Eager to get a photograph of the Viet Cong, Flynn and Stone decided to set out on Highway 1 alone. Before they left, Bell snapped the last photo ever taken of Flynn and Stone. They were never seen or heard from again and their remains have never been found.

"Afterwards we all headed back to Phnom Penh, but they said they wanted to go forward. They had heard there was a checkpoint that was manned by the Viet Cong. It was thought that you could see the Viet Cong there," said Mr Bell, who took a photograph of the two men as they set off on what would be a final journey. "We headed back to Phnom Penh and no one ever saw them again... I think they were among the first to go missing. It had not reached the point where we knew quite how dangerous it was."


Although it is known that Flynn and Stone were captured at a checkpoint on Highway 1, their true fate is unclear. It has been suggested that they died in the hands of "hostile" forces. Citing various government sources, the current consensus is that Flynn and Stone were held captive for over a year before they were killed by Kymer Rouge in June 1971.

Flynn's mother spent an enormous amount of money searching for her son, with no success. In 1984 she had him declared legally dead. In March 2010, a British team searching for Flynn's body thought they had found it, when they uncovered the remains of a Western hostage allegedly executed by the Khmer Rouge.Tests results on the human remains found at the grave site in eastern Kampong Cham province, Cambodia, were released on June 30, 2010, and they were found not to be the remains of Sean Flynn. Lt. Col. Wayne Perry of the Joint POW / MIA Accounting Command said there was no match between DNA from the recovered remains and DNA samples they had on file from the Flynn family.

The story of Sean Flynn was immortalised by The Clash in the song "Sean Flynn" from the album Combat Rock. He also has a prominent role in Michael Herr's book about his experiences as a war correspondent, Dispatches.

Combat photographers and correspondents played a vital role during this time, changing public opinion and creating a groundswell of anti war sentiment. But their contribution was not without cost: at least 37 journalists were killed or went missing in Cambodia during the 1970-1975 war between the U.S.-backed military government and the North Vietnamese

The last US Navy propeller attack aircraft to disappear from the decks of the flat tops was the Douglas AD Skyraider. This aeroplane had a unique capability: even when it carried its full internal fuel of 2,280 pounds, a 2,200 lb torpedo, two 2,000 lb bombs, 12.5 inch rockets, two 20 mm guns and 240 pounds of ammunition, the Skyraider was still under its maximum gross weight of 25,000 pounds.

Entered in service just in time to take part in the Korean War, the Skyraiders in the improved A-1H version were quite slow; nevertheless in spite of performance not even comparable to those of the other assets in the Air Wing’s strike group, the propeller-driven attack aircraft managed to shoot down two MiG-17s during the early part of the Vietnam War.

In fact, some of the most unusual kills of the conflict did not come from the F-4s, F-105s, or F-8s but from the Korean War era piston-engine Skyraiders, thanks to the four M3 20 mm fixed forward-firing cannons capable of firing 800 rounds per minute, that fitted the A-1Hs.

The first of these victorious engagements took place on Jun. 20, 1965, when a flight of Skyraiders from the Strike Squadron 25 (VA-25) Fist of the Fleet, took off from the USS Midway (CVA-41) supporting the rescue of a downed USAF pilot in the northwest corner of North Vietnam were attacked by a flight of MiG-17s. The two enemy jets launched missiles and fired with their cannons against the two A-1Hs, but both Skyraiders’ pilots, Lt. Charles W. Hartman III, flying A-1H BuNo 137523, radio callsign “Canasta 573,” and Lt. Clinton B. Johnson, flying A-1H BuNo 139768, callsign “Canasta 577,” evaded them and manoeuvred to shoot down one of the MiGs with their 20 mm cannons.

Lt. Johnson described this engagement in Donald J. McCarthy, Jr. book 'MiG Killers' as follows: “I fired a short burst at the MiG and missed, but got the MiG pilot’s attention. He turned into us, making a head-on pass. Charlie and I fired simultaneously as he passed so close that Charlie thought I had hit his vertical stabiliser with the tip of my tail hook. Both of us fired all four guns. Charlie’s rounds appeared to go down the intake and into the wing root, and mine along the top of the fuselage and through the canopy. He never returned our fire, rolled, inverted, and hit a small hill, exploding and burning in a farm field.” The subsequent MiG kill of this engagement was shared by both Hartmann III and Johnson.

The second victory of the propeller-driven Skyraider against a North Vietnamese MiG-17 jet fighter, took place on Oct. 9, 1966 and involved four A-1Hs launched from the deck of the USS Intrepid (CV-11) in the Gulf of Tonkin flying as “Papoose flight.”

The flight was from the Strike Squadron 176 (VA-176) Thunderbolts and it was led by Lt. Cdr. Leo Cook, with Lt. Wiley as wingman, while the second section was led by Lt. Peter Russell with Lt. William T. Patton as wingman. It was during the RESCAP (the REScue Combat Air Patrol, a mission flown to protect the downed pilots from ground threats) flight, that the “Spads” (as the Skyraiders were dubbed by their pilots) were attacked by four MiG-17s. This engagement ended with one Fresco confirmed as being shot down, a second as probably shot down and a third heavily damaged.

According to McCarthy, the MiG-17 kill was awarded to “Papoose 409,” the A-1H BuNo 137543, flown by Lt. Patton who, after having gained a position of advantage on one of the MiGs, opened fire with his four guns, hitting the tail section of the enemy jet. Patton followed the MiG which descended through the cloud deck and when Papoose 409 emerged from the clouds he spotted the enemy pilot’s parachute.

The U.S. Navy Skyraiders last combat tour took place from July 1967 to 1968 onboard USS Coral Sea (CV-43), but this versatile propeller aircraft continued to fly with the U.S. Air Force and with the Vietnamese Air Force until the end of the conflict thanks to its unparalleled capabilities in close air support.

The star was a drunken hippy. One of the writers was an acid-fried biker. And the director was a paranoid control freak. But the really bad news was that all three of them were Dennis Hopper.

Hopper's subversive road movie burst onto the cinema screens of a confused America in 1969, the title was in itself a double entendre, the term Easy Rider was slang for a hooker's old man - 'not a pimp, but the dude who lives with her, because he's got the easy ride'. But it was also a telling and powerful reference to what was happening to America in the late Sixties, in the words of Hopper - 'Liberty had became a whore and the whole country took an easy ride.'

However, it isn't the sex, music or huge drug intake - both on and off-screen - that links Easy Rider inextricably to the late Sixties. What really marks the film out as a product of that fractured, uncertain age was that it got made at all. And, in particular, that it got made by Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda.

Certainly, when the pair announced their intention of making the ultimate biker movie, few sane people would have wagered on them finding the finance - let alone producing a film that not only became one of the biggest box-office hits of 1969 but also completely changed the way major studios treated their burgeoning baby-boomer generation. If the film's proposed subject matter - two doped-up philosophising hippies (Hopper and Fonda) use the proceeds from a drug deal to ride across America in search of 'freedom' - wasn't enough to put off potential investors then Hopper and Fonda's Hollywood reputations undoubtedly were.

Hopper was a Dean generation character actor who had been blacklisted following a bust-up with director Henry Hathaway. Kicked out of mainstream pictures, he was reduced to working with underground filmmakers like Roger Corman. It was while shooting Corman's The Trip that Hopper got to know Peter Fonda. The son of Hollywood legend Henry, Peter had thrown away a promising career in respectable cinema to appear in zero-budget exploitation movies like The Wild Angels.

Starring roles in The Trip did little to improve either man's standing. Far more helpful was their decision to hook up with satirical author and screenwriter Terry Southern. Southern's involvement provided them with a title, Easy Rider, and a backer in the shape of Bert Schneider. The latter was a fledgling film producer who had just hit the big time courtesy of his kit-form boy band The Monkees and was happy not only to provide money but to let Hopper and Fonda become director and producer respectively.

As it turned out, any problems the production may have had over finance were as nothing compared with the trauma of the Easy Rider shoot. During most productions, on-set drug-taking and a leading man breaking his ribs would constitute major concerns. In the case of Easy Rider, these seemed minor inconveniences when weighed against the bizarre antics of Hopper himself. A heavy drinker, famed for his to-the-edge performances and confrontational manner, the director's instability and paranoia resulted in clashes with everyone from Fonda downwards. When he wasn't picking fights, Hopper would fill his time forcing Fonda to relive memories of his mother's suicide and dragging actress Karen Black through the streets of New Orleans in search of inspiration.

Hopper justified his behaviour on the grounds that he wanted to make a special film. And he did. The massive commercial success of Easy Rider ensured that for a couple of years major studios were happy to throw money at any wild-eyed auteur capable of capturing some of that youth buck - a period that Hopper himself brought to the close with 1971's The Last Movie.

Peter Fonda later recalled, 'Easy Rider really was a trip. Back when I was making studio pictures like Tammy And The Doctor, I got a lot of fan mail - thousands of letters a week asking for my autography and my picture. When I did Easy Rider, I got letters from people saying, "What do I do?", "How do I speak to my father?", "How do I keep myself from committing suicide?", "How do I live?" Nobody was asking me for my picture and my autograph any more.'

Most importantly, the film represented a crossroads in the film industry, one where the old Hollywood system had become stagnant while young filmmakers were revitalising the medium with fresh, creative ideas that were having a real impact on the culture and their generation. The movie was responsible for launching Jack Nicholson's career at a time when he was about to give up acting for producing. And it certainly enabled Fonda and Hopper to pursue their own separate visions on film while maintaining creative control.

Unfortunately, the tensions that arose between Fonda and Hopper during the film's making erupted into an ongoing dispute over the "authorship" of the movie with Hopper claiming solo credit for the story idea and script in a lawsuit. Hopper, in turn, was later sued by Rip Torn for spreading lies about a physical confrontation the two had in a public restaurant, which may have been the reason Torn was replaced by Jack Nicholson in the film. To it's fans though, none of this matters much, the movie stands alone for its iconic soundtrack featuring songs by Steppenwolf, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and others, the innovative, freewheeling cinematography by Laszlo Kovacs, Nicholson's scene-stealing performance and the its fresh take on two young nonconformists looking for the real America.

Military footwear can be traced back over thousands of years, even as far back as the Roman Empire, and just like humans, the combat boot has evolved through generations of change and adaptation. Arguably one of the most important pieces of equipment or gear anyone in a combat situation may possess, the combat boot has come a long way from its humble beginnings.

Several important military traditions were given birth to during the historic break from England in 1770's. The U.S. was still young, and its military was tiny compared to England’s oppressive command. Smaller militias lent aid to the cause from all across the original colonies, most of which had their own distinct colours and apparel, alluding to the different military divisions we know today. The typical dress worn would be - a hunting shirt, breeches, leggings, wool jacket, hat, and whatever footwear was available. Since raw materials were expensive, and taxes high, many soldiers, and even civilians, were forced to improvise with their footwear. In the colder colonies, where shoes were necessary to fight against frostbite and hypothermia, ground troops used whatever materials they had on hand. Scraps of cloth or raw animal hide were popular choices, but on occasion blankets tied to the feet would prove better than going barefoot into battle.

Cavalry, ranking officers, and those that could afford them typically wore Hessian boots. Hessian boots originated in Germany, and were knee high with a short heel, tailored for riding on horseback. The boots typically had tassels on the front, and were later cut lower in the back to help with manoeuvrability white still offering protection for the knee. The boots were styled for a close fit and worn with knee high breeches. Due to the tightness of this boot, a boot hook was often necessary to properly put the boots on, which proved a lengthy process.

Standardised boots were hard to come by during the 19th century, and much of the military still wore whatever shoes they were able to afford. Infantry units wore calf high riding boots in a style similar to the Hessian Boot. Trooper boots that went up past the thigh offered the most protection, but were expensive and impractical for ground units on long marches. The beginning of government issued boots came about in the War of 1812. The War Department ordered as many pairs of ankle high boots that were available to the at the time, and outfitted the soldiers that would need them the most. The boots were typically sewn on straight lasts, a type of shoe mold that made each shoe completely symmetrical. Until they were properly broken in the boots proved uncomfortable, often leaving blisters. Sometimes called Brogan boots, they were usually made of calfskin or patent leather.

One of the first revolutions in military footwear came about in 1837 when a 'pegging' machine was invented, this made for the faster production of cheap boots and booties. The pegs, usually small pieces of wood or metal, were used to hold the shape of the boot, but deteriorated much faster than the hand-sewn method. By the time the American Civil War came, the government reverted back to the original design of hand sewn boots. The price for pegged boots decreased to just over $1.25, while hand sewn Cavalry boots were often purchased at three times that price. The idea of soles became more popular during this time, and most were hand sewn. The Hessian boot was replaced by a Wellington style M1851 Artillery Driver’s boot, which were outfitted to cavalry and artillery drivers. The heel was slightly shorter than the Hessian boot, and the toe was more squared. In an effort to improve durability, brass tacks were inserted in the sole.

Union soldiers had access to better quality materials, while their Confederate counterparts suffered with boots of sub-par quality. The soldiers fighting for the North were first issued hand-sewn boots, and pegged boots only as a last resort. Most boots worn by the Confederate Army were pegged, nailed, or riveted, and fashioned in a style similar to that of the British Military at the time. Some of the greedier manufacturers used poor materials in an effort to take advantage of the civil turmoil. Rumours of cardboard being used circulated, and some even sharpened the pegs or brass tacks in the soles to make them wear out more quickly.

With the evolution of explosives and artillery like grenades and machine guns, trench-style warfare became more common during the early and mid-1900’s. Given the wet, cold, and unsanitary nature of the trenches, military gear and equipment, boots in particular, had to hold up against extreme conditions.

The modern combat boot we know today began to take shape in WWI. Most boots made in the early 1900’s had a distinct left and right, as opposed to previous versions with each shoe being virtually interchangeable. In the early years of WWI, the Russet Marching shoe was the most widely accepted boot worn in the military. It was highly polishable and made of machine-sewn calfskin. The inner lining was made from feathers. While this boot proved far more advanced than previous issue boots, it did not hold up well on French terrain. A later version, modelled with specifications from France and Belgium, was made from vegetable retanned cow hide, and featured both a full and half-sole. Rows of hobnails and iron plates were affixed to the heel of every boot. The heel and sole were attached with screws, nails, and stitching, and despite their superior construction, still did not hold up against the rough conditions.

In 1917 the Trench Boot was born, offering vast improvements from the Russet Marching Shoe. While it offered better protection against the wet conditions, it was not waterproof, which lead to various diseases like trench foot. The look and styling was similar to the marching shoe, but the insole was composed of new materials like; canvas, cork, and cement. Due to the rigid nature of the soles, the boots were highly uncomfortable until broken in and the natural movement of the foot caused excessive damage. The Trench Boot offered little in the way of insulation, and many soldiers complained of cold feet. It became common practice to wear multiple pairs of socks, and order boots a few sizes above what one would normally wear. Several different variations were produced in an attempt to fix the early issues of waterproofing.

A year later, the 1918 Trench Boot, or “Perishing Boot” was released, offering improvements over earlier versions. Better quality materials, such as heavier leather and stronger canvas were used in an attempt to improve the longevity of use. The boot’s soles were attached in a similar fashion with screws and nails, but held three soles in total, as opposed to the previous issue’s one and a half. The metals used in hobnailing conducted the cold, and the thicker sole helped eliminate that problem. Iron toe cleats were added to the toe of each boot, offering extra protection, but making the boots bulkier.


During the initial stages of WWII, the standard issue US military boot was the M-42 'Service Shoe', an all leather toe cap boot with a two piece stitched sole, this style was eventually replaced by the rough-out boot, probably the most recognisable boot of the war. After the Normandy invasion the American military started updating their equipment, one of the items they replaced was the canvas gaiters and rough out ankle boot. They did this by basically making the rough out boot higher by adding a double buckle leather gaiter onto the top of the boot. The M-43 buckle boots where in general issue by the winter of 1944/45 and where worn by all branches of service including the Paratroopers, Armoured and Infantry in the Battle of the Bulge. They were titled 'Boots, Combat Service', and nicknamed “Double Buckle Boots.” While previous military boots like the Trench Boots only had laces, these boots went back to the older buckle style. These boots were made from synthesised rubber and other recycled materials, and had a leather fold-over cuff with two buckles. With only a single sole, they proved uncomfortable, but much easier to move around in than the Trench Boot. In times of shortage, some units, particularly Rangers, were issued Paratrooper Jump boots, which were quite distinct from all other boots at the time. The Paratrooper boots were highly sought after by regular troops who often purloined or "acquired" via alternative means.


Previous issue boots with minimal variation were used during the Korean War, but were not fit for purpose in Vietnam. Vastly different climates and temperatures rapidly deteriorated the soles and integrity of the Combat Service Boot, which was eventually replaced by the Jungle Boot.

The general idea behind Jungle Boots first came about in Panama and the latter part of WWII for Soldiers serving in the Pacific. While these boots consisted mainly of rubber and nylon, they did not hold up well. The government issued boot was typically the traditional all leather combat boot, or the Jungle Boot. The U.S. Department of War tasked the company Wellco with solving the troops various issues with moisture, insects, and sand. Wellco created and sold a prototype which held up better than their previous counterparts. The boot was composed of a black leather sole and canvas upper with an attached tongue, which helped to keep out insects and debris. It built upon earlier generations by using rubber and a canvas with a cotton blend, but added in the durability of leather. Water drains were added to help keep the feet dry and prevent bacteria from growing.

After in-combat testing and feedback, the Jungle Boot was adapted to better suit the soldiers’ needs. The canvas blend was replaced with a nylon canvas that dried faster. Steel plates were affixed to the soles of the boot, to protect the feet against punji stakes used to pierce the foot. Additional nylon webbing reinforced the boots’ uppers, increasing the durability. While these boots did not last as long as all leather combat boots, they did offer a vast improvement over the earlier versions. Soldiers were known to carry multiple sets of boots, and often wore their jungle boots only when absolutely necessary. These high tech jungle boots signalled the dawn of a new era, over the next 20 years combat boots would evolve into the lightweight protective boots worn today.

While impossible to predict the future, it’s a safe bet that combat boots will continue to grow and evolve alongside those that wear them. From the Roman Empire to the sands of present day Iraq, it’s easy to forget that something we see regularly can have such a rich history. With huge leaps in all aspects of technology, who’s to say which direction the design and features of future boots will take.


World War Two conjured up many extraordinary characters. But even among the most exalted company William Ash - the model for the Vergil Hilts character played by Steve McQueen in The Great Escape - stands out. Ash was an American who, while his country was still reluctant to enter the war, crossed into Canada to train as a pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force. He was posted to Britain and flew Spitfires with RAF 411 Squadron.

In March 1942 he was shot down over northern France but escaped from the wreckage of his plane and was given shelter by a number of courageous French women and men. He was captured in Paris by the Gestapo and condemned to death. His life was saved by the Luftwaffe who argued that as an airman, Ash was their prisoner. He spent the rest of the war in various Prisoner of War camps. But instead of being grateful for his salvation he became an obsessive "escapologist" - seeking to break free by whatever means came his way.

Ash always modestly denied the claim he was based on McQueen's character. For one thing he didn't ride a motorbike, he said. For another, he did not take part in the breakout from the Stalag Luft III camp, on which the movie is based. The reason he did not participate in that particular breakout was that he was locked up in the "cooler" - as the camp jail was called - as punishment for a previous escape attempt. In actuality, Ash was every bit as charismatic as the fictional Hilts with whom he shared many characteristics. Apart from being American, he was good looking, dashing and more than a bit of a rebel. He was also delightfully self-deprecating. He described some of his exploits in his writings, though he often underplayed his sufferings and achievements.

He had a tough upbringing in Depression-hit Texas where his father struggled to bring up a family on what he made from his job as a travelling salesman. Young Bill worked his way through university but could find no job at the end of it and spent months riding the rails as a hobo, seeking whatever work he could get. His experiences shaped his political views. He was too young to join the idealistic Americans fighting Franco's nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. But when World War Two broke out, he was determined to do his bit to combat fascism.

William Ash

It rankled with him that he did not do more fighting. He only managed to shoot down one German aircraft for certain before he was downed himself. He decided to use his incarceration to wage war on the enemy by other means. Most of his fellow inmates had little interest in escaping. Having survived the trauma of being shot down, the majority decided they had used up their store of luck and tried to pass the time behind the wire as best they could, often studying and acquiring new skills, while they waited for the war to end.

Bill Ash belonged to a hard core devoted to overcoming every obstacle the Germans put in their way to returning home and carrying on the fight. They often found it hard to analyse precisely their motivations. Some felt it was their duty. For others, focusing on a project was a way of combating the stultifying boredom. In Bill's case it boiled down, he said, to "an unwillingness to crawl in the face of oppression".

He lost count of his escape attempts, or the number of times he was condemned to a spell in the 'cooler', which meant solitary confinement and a bread and water diet. Some of the escape bids were opportunistic efforts like the time he wangled his way on to a work detail tasked with unloading a train then made a run for it when the guards' backs were turned.nOthers were complex, long-term schemes that required a huge amount of organisation, ingenuity and endurance. A little-known but extraordinarily ambitious project was the Latrine Tunnel Escape which took place in Oflag XXIB, a camp near the Polish town of Szubin.

Bill had a hand in devising the plan, which was not for the faint-hearted. It involved digging a tunnel more than 100 yards long from a starting point beneath a large lavatory block. Every day for three months teams of diggers would lower themselves through a trap door set into a toilet seat trying to avoid falling into the lake of raw sewage beneath. An entrance set into wall of the latrine pit led into a chamber where the tunnel began. Day after day they would scrape away at the sandy soil working by the light of margarine lamps. They lived in fear of cave-ins and asphyxiation and panic attacks brought on by claustrophobia. Tunnelling was in some ways the easy part. To stand any chance of making it out of Nazi-controlled territory they needed civilian-style clothing, money, and documents. Here they were helped by other prisoners who brought a wide variety of skills either acquired in peacetime or learned in the camp.


Eventually, one night early in March 1943, 35 men dressed in outfits fashioned from Air Force uniform and blankets and armed with convincingly forged identity cards crawled through the narrow tunnel and under the perimeter fence to freedom. One managed to get as far as the Swiss border before being recaptured. Two made it to the Baltic and were on their way in a rowing boat to neutral Sweden when they disappeared, presumed drowned. All the rest were recaptured within a few days. It was a bitter disappointment, but almost all carried on trying to escape. Bill finally succeeded a few days before the war ended, breaking out of a camp near Bremen just as the British Army arrived.

His experiences as a prisoner had a profound effect on his political outlook. After the war he stayed on in Britain and seemed set to follow some of his camp comrades - like Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer Tony Barber and TV presenter and historian Robert Kee - into a successful conventional career. He went to Oxford University and joined the BBC, which gave him a top administrative job in India. His increasingly radical views made it hard for him to conform, however. He rejected the Communist Party of Great Britain as being too compromised and helped found a breakaway group. He also lost his full-time job with the BBC, though he continued to do some work for the drama department.

Ash was a happy and gregarious man who never lost a touch of his boyhood innocence. His career as an escapologist showed him that in wartime people were capable of extraordinary selflessness. Why was it, he wondered, that this spirit could not be carried on into peacetime?