“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?

World War II changed the world and laid the foundation for the American car-crazy phenomenon that exploded in the 1950s - Hot Rodding. Once the hostilities in Europe and Asia had ceased, those lucky enough to make it back wanted to enjoy living the way they couldn't while serving Uncle Sam. Finally home, ex-GIs couldn't get enough of cool cars, all-American burgers and fries, and the girl next door who had grown up since they left. Building a hot rod or custom car was a method of self-expression, and for many, the cars provided the means for the social life they desired.

Many GIs also found it hard to let go of the adrenaline rush of enemy action. Something inside them yearned for a little bit of that thrill, but without the potential wartime consequences. Getting behind the wheel of a cool hot rod or custom car fulfilled those conscious and unconscious desires. And with many coming back from the war with some money saved and a job waiting, they had the means to acquire what they wanted.

The timeline for hot rods and custom cars starts before World War II. Teens itching to tinker with cars and go fast were racing cheap Ford Model T's on Southern California's dry lakes and street racing in Los Angeles even in the 1920s. The Harper, Muroc, and El Mirage dry lakes -- all 50 or so miles north of Los Angeles -- saw racing activity from the '20s up to World War II. Racing at El Mirage continues today.

Speed junkies could jump in their hopped-up, chopped-down Model Ts and be at one of the dry lakes in less than three hours. Or, if the need was urgent, they could find a deserted back road or open field. At the lakes, the cars were timed with handheld stopwatches and placed in a class determined by the resultant time. The vast majority of the cars being run were four-cylinder Ford Model Ts or their successor, the four-cylinder Model A. The cars were cheap, plentiful, lightweight, and easy to work on. They responded to simple "hop ups" like higher compression, ignition and timing adjustments, additional carburettors and more radical cam grinds.

The drill was fairly simple: Buy the nicest roadster you could find (because roadsters were the lightest); strip off everything not needed to go fast, like the fenders, headlights, hood, and top; find some cheap used tires to replace your bald ones or to mount over your existing tires for a little extra tread; and go racing. Paul Chappel's Speed Shop on San Fernando Road in Los Angeles and Bell Auto Supply in neighbouring Bell were the first stores in the country devoted exclusively to supplying speed parts for those who wanted to run with the fast pack. Performance parts included high-compression heads, exotic overhead-cam conversions, and radical cams (also called "sticks").

The Ford flathead V-8 was born in 1932 and with it a new opportunity to go fast. Though slow to be accepted by hot rodders, more 65- and 85- horsepower flathead V-8s found their way into junkyards as the '30s progressed and thus began the transformation from four-bangers to flatheads. Also released in 1932 were the lightweight '32 Ford or "Deuce" frame and roadster body. The combination was unbeatable in terms of performance potential and looks. To this day, a flathead-powered Deuce roadster is the quintessential hot rod. That engine and frame combination would also provide an excellent foundation for many types of bodies, or sometimes hardly any body at all.

As interest in racing grew, kids began to try out their "gow jobs" more often on public streets. What was mostly good, clean fun could get ugly -- and it often did. "Speed contests," as the police called them, were occurring with greater frequency and more dire consequences. Casualties were described in detail in local newspapers, branding the hot rodder as a social menace requiring increasing control or, better yet, elimination. More hot rodders were finding the dry lakes a safer, less public alternative to racing on the streets. But this "detour" was having its own problems. Multiple casualties were reportedly occurring during the middle of the night on the dark racing courses of the dry lakes. Hot rodders ran unmonitored, without thinking that a like-minded racer could be coming from the other direction. The result was sometimes catastrophic.

Help was on the way, though. In 1937, the Southern California Timing Association was formed. The SCTA formalised classes, developed more sophisticated timing systems, and made racing safer and more organised. Then, in 1941, a monthly publication called Throttle Magazine was created to track racing results, feature some of the better cars, and report on new safety and speed issues. The scene was starting to gel, but after Pearl Harbor was bombed on December 7, 1941, and the U.S. became involved in World War II, hot rodding would have to wait.

As the 1940s began, the hot rod and custom car fad continued to trickle down to car enthusiasts throughout the Los Angeles area. Now it involved older used cars that were transformed into "mystery cars" through sometimes minor, sometimes major body modifications. But it remained a relatively small and localised fad before many of the participants in this trend were called into service in WWII. Two things happened to spread the gospel of hot rods and custom cars during World War II. First, many servicemen were filtered through California on their journey to the Pacific. There, they witnessed firsthand America's car-culture capital, with its unique customs and stripped down hot rods ripping through the streets. It must have left quite an impression on many.

Second, many GIs from Southern California spread information and pictures of hot cars to any soldier with time to spare. The racing and cruising activities must have seemed cool and exciting to any young soldier. Simple exposure must have been enough to spark the interest of young soldiers. So once the seed was planted, it had to be nurtured, and for that we can thank Robert "Pete" Petersen and Hot Rod magazine, which came on to the scene in 1948. After the war, the economy boomed. Young veterans had a bulletproof attitude after facing the horrors of combat, and they now found themselves with excesses of time and money, along with mechanical skills learned in the service. The postwar energy helped hot rodding grow more than it ever had in Southern California, and Hot Rod spread the word nationwide.

Hot Rod picked up where Throttle left off, the latter never returning after its one-year run in 1941. The fledgling magazine touched on all aspects of the car-enthusiast arena, covering hot rods, custom cars, drag racing, and even circle-track racing. Hot Rod also informed readers about the latest speed equipment, and taught them how to perform engine and body modifications. Hot Rod was in a good position to promote safety, and to help organise early drag racing and car shows, all of which helped promote and organise hot rodding itself. Speed-parts manufacturers and custom and performance shops had a place to advertise. It was a win-win situation for all involved.

As the end of the 1940s approached, hot rods and custom cars were poised to become not just a trend but a lifestyle. Postwar adolescents were discovering the freedom and social significance of driving a unique automobile on the streets of Downtown, USA. Picture this - It's a summertime Saturday night in the 1950s, and the Southern California suburbs are hopping with hot rods. In the San Fernando Valley just north of L.A., ex-GIs are bent over their crude roadsters doing last-minute checks before heading out at midnight to one of the dry lake beds east of Los Angeles.

Their goal is to be first in line for the heads-up racing that starts at dawn. Soon they'll aim their headlights for the excitement of speed and the camaraderie that goes with running the straight, dusty courses. But first, a few of them conduct impromptu light-to-light races down San Fernando Road to check out the clutch and size up the competition. Over in the bedroom communities of Lakewood, Lynwood, and Compton a few miles west of L.A., cruisers in their late teens and early 20s are "drive-in hopping." It's a ritual that takes off from The Clock drive-in in Bellflower, then heads down Pacific Coast Highway to The Clock on Sepulveda in Culver City, over to Tiny Naylor's in Hollywood, onto the freeway to Toluca Lake and Bob's Big Boy, over to Bob's in Pasadena, a straight shot west to Nixon's on Whittier Boulevard, and finally back to The Clock in Bellflower.

Occasionally, street racing accidents end up on the front page of the Orange County Register in grisly detail. There is safer, organised racing in Orange County, too. It's the abandoned airstrip, which is considered the first organised drag racing venue in the country -- Santa Ana Dragstrip.

It's the golden age of the hot rod and custom car, and Southern California is the place to be. Decades from now, these scenes will be relived and recreated thousands of times. Hot rods and customs from this period will be revered, copied, and restored to preserve for all time this magical era in automotive history.

The 1930's fatigue uniform of the US Army consisted of blue denim pants, shirt and 'Daisy Mae' - a floppy brimmed hat nicknamed after a character in the popular hillbilly cartoon strip 'L'il Abner'. In 1938 this was changed to medium weight sage green cotton cloth woven in a herringbone twill (HBT) pattern. The blue denim remained the fatigue issue until 1941 however. The green of the original HBTs was found to fade quickly in use to an unsuitably light shade. In the Pacific this problem was sometimes remedied by vat-dyeing them en masse to a darker, even blackish colour. In 1943 the HBT manufacture colour was changed to the darker green OD7 shade.

Most GI's felt that the HBTs were hot and rather slow to dry, but generally pretty good. In North Africa and Europe HBT's were commonly worn as combat clothing alone and over brown woollen uniform for extra protection , camouflage and warmth. One 32nd Division Pacific veteran summed up the question of uniforms with the pithy and convincing comment, 'I don't believe there is any clothing or equipment adequate for jungle fighting'.

The HBT shirts all featured flapped breast pockets and exposed blackened steel '13 star' (or sometimes plain plastic) buttons. The M1942, the first of four patterns, had a two button waistband with buttoning cuffs and rear 'take up' straps; the pleated breast pockets had clip cornered flaps. The more common M1943 HBT shirt had larger breast pockets but lost the buttoning cuffs and two button waistband; it was made in a darker green than the first pattern,. The first version of the M1943 shirt had unpleated pockets, while the next had a pinched sort of pleat. The rarely seen last pattern HBT shirt (M1945) was made with smaller pockets with clipped bottom corners and squared flaps. At the end of the war a new thinner cotton poplin fabric was just beginning to be issued.

Rank was rarely displayed on fatigues, though NCO stripes were sometimes inked onto HBT sleeves. According to Capt Edmund G Love, a 27th Division historian, this formation at one time had a coded unit and rank symbols stencilled on the rear of the HBT combat uniform in black - a system copied from the US Marines. The division was identified by an outline parallelogram, enclosing unit symbols - eg a T, a 'bar sinister' and a Irish harp shape for the 105th, 106th and 165th Infantry Regiments respectively. Left of this, numbers indicated some ranks (8 for sergeant, 15 for captain) and right of it company letters were stencilled. Given the actual conditions of combat and the frequency with which HBTs had to be replaced, it is doubtful this complex system was maintained for long. Even in the six Marine divisions, which in 1943-45 seem to have had a throughly worked out system of back stencils, it is comparatively rare to see them in combat photographs.

An HBT one piece jumpsuit work uniform had been designed in 1938 based on the B1 Air Corps Mechanics coveralls. In 1941, the M1938 was produced in HBT and featured a full buttoning front, an integral belt and a bi swing gusseted back; it had two breast pockets and rear and sideseam pockets. It was intended to be worn loose over other clothing, and the sideseam pockets opened to allow the wearer to reach inside. It was commonly worn by tank crewmen and mechanics but sometimes by other front line troops. It could be cumbersome to take off and proved incomfortably hot. A 1943 version was simplified and made in the darker OD colour.

Both HBTs and issue wool shirts commonly featured an extra length of material inside the buttoned closure, intended to be folded across to protect the skin against chemical agents; this 'gas flap' was sometimes cut out by the user. Trouser flys were also made with an extra interior flap of material for the same reason. In the Normandy landings of 1944 chemically impregnated HBTs and woollens were worn by landing troops as a precaution against chemical warfare.

The first pattern HBT trousers had a sideseam and two rear pockets of a very civilian style. The second pattern (M1943) had thigh cargo pockets and sideseam pockets but no rear pockets. The last pattern of the M1943 trousers had pleated thigh cargo pockets.

HBT fabric was also used for the first widespread use of camouflage by American military forces in 1942. Prior to this point, the US Army Corps of Engineers had been applying themselves to developing camouflage for military applications as early as 1940. Nevertheless, the process of its introduction into the US supply system was rushed, brought about by an urgent request General D. MacArthur in July of 1942 for production of 150,000 jungle camouflage uniforms for use in the Pacific Theatre. The pattern chosen was actually designed by civilian Norvell Gillespie (horticulturist and garden editor of Sunset, Better House and Gardens, and the San Francisco Chronicle). The green dapple or spot design, reversing to a tan/brown variation, began distribution to US military forces beginning in August of that year. Nicknamed 'frogskin' by many GIs, the pattern consists of a five colour green dominant 'jungle' camouflage pattern printed on one side, with a three colour brown dominant “beach” pattern printed on the opposite side. Produced in a variety of uniform styles as well as some articles of field equipment, the pattern was most widely utilised and made famous by the US Marine Corps in the Pacific Theatre.

'Frogskin' fatigues were also issued to a limited number of Army units in the European Theatre of Operations, most notably the 2nd Armored Division. The Germans already had a highly evolved set of different camouflage uniforms which resulted in some confusion and friendly fire incidents in the ETO. The frogskin camouflage garments were withdrawn from use in the ETO because of these incidents. Consequently, the production of frogskin uniforms and field gear was limited.

The first style of frogskin combat camouflage uniform was issued as a one-piece jungle jumpsuit. It had built in suspenders to help keep the suit up under load. It is rare to find these specimens with the suspenders intact as many were cut off in the field as they were felt to be a nuisance and very warm. The one-piece jungle jumpsuit fell rapidly out of favour by Marines as it was way too hot to wear in the Pacific and made evacuating bodily functions a major operation, leaving the Marine quite vulnerable.

Note that step number one in authenticating frogskin camouflage is the presence of Herringbone Twill in the Army pattern, not in the USMC pattern. The USMC pattern of Herringbone Twill is HBT in a true chevron pattern. The material repeats rows of chevrons. This type of HBT was used on the green USMC utilities from WWII. The Army pattern of which all frogskin uniforms were made has a non-slanting row interfering alternately with the chevrons.

R & D went back to the drawing board following the failure of the one piece suit and then issued the P42 combat shirt and pants. The design was simple. The shirt and pants featured frogskin Herringbone Twill. The shirt had a front bottom right top opening pocket with brown button closure. The right chest featured a patch pocket with USMC Eagle Globe Anchor stamp and no button closure. It had midline snap closures and was reversible frogskin with a green pattern opposite a beach brown pattern. The pants were also reversible and had domed snap pockets or metal buttons. The pocket configuration was front right slash and rear left patch. Once broken in, the camo uniform wore like a comfortable pair of pajamas.

Because P42s were used in all the legendary campaigns such as Tarawa, Bougainville, Peleliu and New Guinea among others, they are the most sought after of the basic frogskin uniforms. The P42s are associated with all the early victorious battles that were publicised in the newsreels.

Late in the war, P44 combat shirts and pants were issued. They were quite different than the P42s. P44 shirts had large buttoned vertical slash pockets just to the side of the midline button closures. The trousers had large three or four button side snap flaps. One pocket connected to the other pocket in the seat of the trouser, creating a pouch in which garments like a poncho could be carried. Drawstrings on the ankle cuffs were found in the 1st pattern P44s. Because these P44s arrived late in the war, it is much more common to find mint unissued specimens than the P42s. Frogskin camouflage is representative of some of the most celebrated battles in US history. Consequently, artifacts are heavily sought after and command high prices.

At sunset on February 23, 1942, Commander Kozo Nishino of the Imperial Japanese Navy and his I-17 submarine lurked 1,000 yards off the California coast. It was less than three months since the attack on Pearl Harbor. Los Angeles residents were tense to say the least, soon after dark, the I-17 surfaced and began firing armour piercing shells at the Bankline Oil Company refinery in Ellwood, a small oilfield community 12 miles north of Santa Barbara. Commander Nishino targeted oil storage tanks, piers and other facilities he had toured before the start of World War II. Several of the shells struck while others passed over Wheeler’s Inn, whose owner reported the attack.

“We heard a whistling noise and a thump as a projectile hit near the house,” recalled another witness. “I thought something was going wrong with the refiners.”

The shelling continued for 20 minutes before I-17 escaped into the darkness. It was the first Axis attack on the continental United States of the war. “Shell California! Enemy U-boat sends many shots into oilfields near Santa Barbara, entire area is blacked out,” declared the February 24 front page of the Chicago Tribune.

Although there were no injuries and minimal damage (a wrecked derrick and pump house), the barrage led to a public panic that soon intensified. Witnesses claimed seeing offshore enemy “signal lights.” Many newspapers began referring to the attack as the “Bombardment of Ellwood.”

sub attacks oilfield

Commander Nishino sailed on to new combat assignments in the Aleutians – unaware of the strange result of his attack on Ellwood’s oil refinery. Despite missing their targets, dropping into the sea, on the beach, and into nearby cliffs, the Japanese artillery shells brought dramatic result not least an “Avenge Ellwood” fund-raising campaign was created in early 1943 for a war bond drive whipping up local fervour and also bringing about Japanese- American internment in California.

The attack not only fuelled West Coast invasion fears, but also soon led to the largest mass UFO sightings in U.S. history. In the early morning hours of February 25, 1942, the sleep of two million Americans, in the vicinity of Los Angeles, California, was interrupted by the sound of air raid sirens and anti aircraft fire. Groggy residents awakened by the high pitched warnings and the almost ceaseless firings of artillery were rewarded with a light show that made the night into day.

Thousands of U.S. Army anti-aircraft searchlights flooded the skies searching for attacking aircraft. They rapidly crisscrossed the black void desperately hoping their beams would pierce the black veil and disclose the enemy planes. Only days after the surprise Japanese attack, Los Angeles was not prepared for another sneak attack as the events of the morning would reveal.

Air raid wardens stopped cars and insisted lights be extinguished and home window shades drawn. Neighbourhoods and streets were now darkened, denying the enemy easily lit targets. Overhead, silently, a glowing object was moving slowing as air craft batteries focused by spotlights began took aim.

Katie, a young woman that had volunteered to be an air raid warden received a phone call from her district supervisor. The supervisor notified her of the alert and then asked if she had seen an object in the sky that was very close to her home. Without hesitation she went to the window and looked into the sky. "It was huge! It was just enormous! And it was practically right over my house. I had never seen anything like it in my life!" she said. "It was just hovering there in the sky and hardly moving at all." "It was a lovely pale orange and about the most beautiful thing you've ever seen. I could see it perfectly because it was very close. It was big!"

Katie added that the anti-aircraft searchlights had completely surrounded the object. "They sent fighter planes up and I watched them in groups approach it and then turn away. There were shooting at it but it didn't seem to matter." Katie states that U.S. fighter planes did attack the object. "It was like the Fourth of July but much louder. They were firing like crazy but they couldn't touch it." "I'll never forget what a magnificent sight it was. Just marvellous. And what a gorgeous colour!", said Katie.

With lights off, residents were now able to witness what was to be known as the "Battle of Los Angeles". It was a scene often depicted in future Hollywood science fiction movies. The "War of the Worlds" seems eerily familiar as U.S. military personnel bombard the space invaders with hundreds of artillery shells, bathed in brilliant light from an array of searchlights. The 37th Coast Artillery Brigade's antiaircraft batteries began firing at 3:08 a.m. and ceased at 4:14 a.m. In total nearly 2000 12.8 pound artillery shells were fired into the night sky at an undisclosed and seemingly indestructible object. The all clear siren was heard at 7:21 a.m. and the citizenry exhaled a collective sigh of relief. They had survived! The question as yet unanswered, who or what had attacked?

Newspaper reports were scarce. Government and military officials often gave conflicting statements to the press. Local resident witnesses were not interviewed or the information they gave not deemed credible by the news agencies. The only mention of the event in the Los Angeles Times was a brief article of page one which started with the headline: "Chilly Throng Watches Shells Bursting in Sky". The article written by Marvin Miles went on to describe "explosions stabbing the darkness like tiny bursting stars" and "searchlight beams poking long crisscross fingers across the night sky" and so on. The article did not mention an unknown object or enemy planes.

Initial reports cited witnesses seeing formations of warplanes overhead resulting in dogfights between enemy and U.S. fighter planes. Still others reported seeing flares falling from the sky. A naval intelligence warning indicated an attack was expected within the next 10 hours. Various radar stations picked up an unidentified object 120 miles west of Los Angeles. Immediately following the blackout the information centre was inundated with phone calls from patriotic citizens reporting enemy planes in the sky.

A Coast Artillery colonel spotted 25 planes at 12,000 feet over Los Angeles and others saw a balloon carrying red flares hovering over Santa Monica. The military stated that no U.S. aircraft were in the air. Stories of dogfights were erroneous. Officials explained that because of its limited number of aerial assets, the planes had remained grounded, until identified enemy planes could be located and verified.

The Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox announced at a February 25 press conference that there was no evidence of enemy planes and that the raid was simply a "false alarm". The Fourth Air Force believed that there had been no enemy planes over Los Angeles. Finally the Army issued the War Department report which indicated that between one and five unidentified objects had flown over L.A. These objects were believed to be Japanese. However, at the conclusion of World War II, the Japanese claimed that they did not send aircraft and did not attack Los Angeles or Southern California in February 1942!

Non-military witnesses, some using binoculars, describe a large orange object that moved slowly over the coast between Santa Monica and Long Beach. The object traveled the twenty miles in approximately 30 minutes and then disappeared. An employee of the Los Angeles Herald Express said that he was certain many of the artillery shells had hit their target - but had had no effect. The photograph below seemingly shows the unknown object, caught in the web of searchlights.

The incident has ended up with conspiracy theories attached. Was it a flying saucer attack? Was it a weather balloon? Was it a false flag operation designed to inspire support for the war effort? According to a 1980s investigation, it was just itchy trigger fingers and ‘war nerves’. The incident went on to inspire Steven Spielberg’s first war film, 1941 and demonstrates the power of mass hysteria and media manipulation.

“Jabara, you’re shooting at me!” screamed Lieutenant Dick Frailey in a desperate attempt to get Major James Jabara, the third ranking American ace of the Korean War, to break off his attack. But his frantic radio transmission came too late. Jabara had opened up with his .50-caliber machine guns from a range of 3,000 feet and then followed up his initial trigger squeeze with eight more bursts. His bullets smashed into the left wing, engine and canopy of Frailey’s North American F-86 Sabre. Several rounds passed between Frailey’s arm and chest, ripping through his instrument panel.

Frailey’s engine started to smoke, and his jet rolled over into a dive. He managed to temporarily recover control of the fatally damaged plane and point it toward the Yellow Sea, where he thought he might have a better chance of being rescued.

With 64 missions over Korea under his belt, Frailey was an ex­perienced combat veteran. Ironically, he was flying Jabara’s usual aircraft on this mission and often flew as his wingman.

Frailey had purchased an expensive camera on a recent trip to Japan, intent on becoming the first American pilot to take a still photograph (other than gun camera footage) of a MiG-15 in flight. “I don’t want to eject,” Frailey announced to his flight mates. “I’ve got my new camera with me.” Jabara replied, “Screw the camera, I’ll buy you a new one.”

Frailey had difficulty getting out of his seat in the course of bailing out, but he managed to deploy his parachute just before his feet hit the water. His chute promptly landed on top of him, and he escaped from the web of tangled shroud lines only to discover that one of Jabara’s bullets had punctured his one-man life raft. To make matters worse, he had ejected within range of Communist shore artillery. Fortu­nately for Frailey, a U.S. Air Force Grumman SA-16 amphibian pilot braved the ensuing barrage and plucked him from the water.

The Air Force tried to keep the incident secret because it reflected poorly on Jabara, a celebrated war hero. Moreover, Air Force officials didn’t want the public to know about one of the factors that had contributed to this case of mistaken identity: American pilots frequently violated the rules of engagement prohibiting flight into Chinese airspace. Frailey’s flight leader had taken his four Sabres north of the Yalu River on a MiG sweep. Jabara saw the flight’s contrails tracking from the north across the border to the south and assumed they were a formation of MiGs. His pursuit curve put him on Frailey’s tail.

Jabara was known for his aggressiveness. During one World War II mission on May 28, 1944, his flight of four North American P-51D Mustangs was escorting Allied bombers to targets deep in the heart of Germany when 50 Messerschmitt Me-109s swarmed the bomber formation. Undaunted by the overwhelming odds, Jabara plunged into the furball with reckless abandon. A Luftwaffe pilot shot off Jabara’s canopy during the ensuing melee, yet the Mustang pilot re­mained unfazed. He continued his attack and managed to claim a probable victory despite the fact that he was flying a “convertible” at that point.

“Jabara was the ultimate warrior when it came to going to the sound of the guns without orders,” recalled Lt. Gen. Earl Brown, a Sabre pilot who flew 125 combat missions with the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing in Korea. “He would go wherever the guns were sounding, looking for some; if you’re with him in a bar fight, he’s just looking for a guy to punch—but if you’re not careful, he might, in his excitement, punch you.”

Many of the top aces in Korea, including Jabara, seemingly suffered from an affliction known as “MiG Madness.” They obsessed over their MiG tallies and worked themselves into a frenzy whenever they saw another aircraft airborne. In the heat of the moment, they sometimes saw what they wanted to see. Hal Fischer, the 25th ranking Korean War ace, wrote about another friendly fire incident in which he observed his wing commander, a man with a “visual problem and a great desire for shooting down MiGs,” fire on two Sabres heading south across the Yalu despite repeated calls over the radio explaining that they were friendly aircraft.

No official Air Force record chronicles the number of friendly fire incidents, but plenty of anecdotal evidence exists to suggest it occurred more than one would expect. On a few occasions, pilots who returned from a mission claiming a kill had their celebrations cut short when their gun camera footage clearly showed an F-86’s identification markings. A senior officer in the 4th Wing, for example, was transferred after a review of his gun camera film from a mission on June 22, 1951, conclusively showed that he had shot down Lieutenant Howard Miller, a pilot in the wing’s 336th Squadron.

In addition to fostering friendly fire incidents, MiG Madness sometimes caused pilots to take unnecessary chances in combat, and consequently resulted in the death of many talented aviators. MiG Madness claimed the life of Major George Davis, then the leading American ace of the war (12 victories), on February 10, 1952. “George’s main goal in life was to shoot down MiGs,” reminisced squadron mate Charlie Mitson. Just prior to Davis’ death, Mitson remembered him “dwelling on his score a lot.” The ace’s quest to build his victory total undoubtedly clouded his judgment during that last fateful mission.

Davis was leading 18 F-86s with orders to screen out any MiGs that attempted to intercept U.N. fighter-bombers attacking targets at Kunu-ri. Perhaps out of boredom, Davis broke away from the formation and took a four-ship flight up to the Yalu looking for action. His decision to embark on a MiG-hunting lark is pretty remarkable, especially since he was the mission commander for the Sabre screen. Moreover, MiGs frequently flew in large formations (often in trains of 60 to 80 aircraft), so Davis should have expected to be outnumbered if his flight encountered any enemy jets.

Sometime later Davis spotted 10 MiGs heading southeast at high speed. Unfortunately for the mission commander, his element leader (No. 3 in the formation) had run out of oxygen and returned to base with his wingman (No. 4). Davis decided to bounce the MiGs even though he and his wingman were outnumbered 5-to-1. He waded into the enemy formation, blasting away. The MiGs scattered, but one hesitated just long enough for Davis to rack up his 13th kill.

A slashing attack at that juncture would have guaranteed an escape option, but Davis was not satisfied with just one victory. He elected to immediately pursue another MiG, which meant he would have to sacrifice his energy advantage. Davis expertly maneuvered his jet behind the fleeing enemy plane and squeezed the trigger. Thick black smoke immediately poured from the MiG’s engine, and the jet entered a steep dive. The Communist pilot never recovered from the hit, and Davis claimed his 14th and final victory.

But Davis had bled away his speed while maneuvering to achieve his two kills in rapid succession, and as a result he was a sitting duck. At 32,000 feet a slow-moving F-86’s turning performance is marginal. Even so, the Sabre ace was attempting to turn to engage a third MiG when a fourth drilled his cockpit with cannon fire. Davis’ jet spun out of control. His wingman repeatedly yelled for him to bail out, but there was no answer, and the F-86 smashed into a Korean mountain.

The Air Force posthumously promoted Davis to lieutenant colonel and awarded him the Medal of Honor for his “indomitable fighting spirit, heroic aggressiveness, and superb courage in engaging the enemy against formidable odds.” His citation observed: “Rather than maintain his superior speed and evade the enemy fire being concentrated on him, he elected to reduce his speed and sought out still a third MiG-15. During this latest attack his aircraft sustained a direct hit, went out of control, then crashed into a mountain 30 miles south of the Yalu River.”

Davis’ refusal to break off his attack even after scoring a kill may have been motivated by a desire to achieve greater public notoriety. The American press treated the first aces of the jet age as knights of the air. They became household names, rivaling in popularity even sports stars of the day. The media piled praise on Sabre pilots in part because they were achieving tangible victories over the Communists during a period when the ground war stagnated.

The Communists chose to challenge American air power principally in “MiG Alley,” the northwestern quarter of North Korea bounded on the west by the Korea Bay and on the east by a line running roughly between the Sui-ho Reservoir and the town of Huichon. MiGs could launch from the Antung complex of airfields in Chinese Manchuria and be ready to fight within a few minutes, whereas Sabre pilots needed to fly a considerable distance just to make it to MiG Alley, let alone fight there. Basically, MiG Alley was at the edge of the F-86’s endurance. Sabre pilots often had less than 20 minutes’ on-station time before they had to return to base.

In an effort to stretch their time on station, many pilots would fly past “bingo” (the minimum fuel required for a safe return to base). To get home, they had to shut down the Sabre’s engine and glide part of the way. The F-86 could glide 69 miles from an altitude of 30,000 feet. The idea was to hopefully arrive over home base with enough fuel to restart the engine and land. But the Sabre’s engine did not always cooperate. The practice was so widespread that one squadron commander noted his unit made a dozen dead-stick landings each week in 1951-52. Squadron, group and wing leaders generally did not punish pilots for flying past bingo fuel. Instead they tended to celebrate it as a sign of an aggressive fighter pilot who pushed the flight envelope.

Captain Robinson “Robbie” Risner, a Korean War ace with eight victories, was one of those celebrated aggressive pilots. On October 22, 1952, he chased four MiGs across the Yalu while escorting a flight of fighter-bombers. Risner finally caught the tail-end Charlie deep inside Man­churia and fired a burst that shattered the MiG’s canopy. The enemy pilot, trying to escape, performed a split-S and managed to pull out of the maneuver 10 feet from the ground. The MiG was so low at that point that Risner saw its jet engine exhaust kick up dust from a dry riverbed. “He was not in very good shape,” recalled Risner, “but he was a great pilot—and he was fighting like a cornered rat!” The MiG pilot pulled his throttle to idle and put out his speed brake in an effort to get the Sabre to overshoot. Risner rolled over the top of the MiG and came down on the other side next to his wingtip. “We were both at idle with our speed brakes out, just coasting,” Risner recalled. “He looked over at me, raised his hand, and shook his fist. I thought, ‘This is like a movie. This can’t be happening!’ He had on a leather helmet, and I could see the stitching in it.” The MiG valiantly evaded his pursuer all the way back to Ta-tung-kou airfield, 35 miles into China. Risner and his wingman, Lieutenant Joe Logan, doggedly pursued him even as the enemy jet flew at 300 knots between two of the airfield’s hangars. Risner eventually got in an opportune shot and peppered the enemy with bullets until he blasted off part of the MiG’s wing. The MiG crashed alongside the runway.

During the high-speed pass between the hangars, Chinese anti-aircraft artillery punctured Lieutenant Logan’s fuel tank. Jet fuel was pouring out of his Sabre, and Risner told him to shut down his engine to save gas and then attempted to push Logan’s aircraft to safety using the nose of his F-86. He had to back off after two attempts, though, because venting fuel and hydraulic fluid from Logan’s crippled jet covered his canopy. Logan bailed out near Cho-do and drowned after becoming entangled in his parachute risers. On his way home, Risner’s F-86 ran out of gas, but he managed to glide back to base and make a successful dead-stick landing.

Many senior Air Force leaders not only condoned but encouraged pilots like Risner to break the rule that prohibited pursuit of MiGs into China. In fact, the top pilots routinely crossed the border. They did so both in hot pursuit and as part of preplanned missions that flagrantly broke the rules. Two-thirds of the 39 American jet aces crossed the Yalu, including the three leading aces. Eight of 11 pilots who scored 10 or more kills admitted after the war that they had crossed into Manchuria. General John Roberts remarked, “There were a lot of airplanes shot down in Korea by guys who…[did] not necessarily play by the rules.”

Sabre pilots were encouraged by the lax attitude of senior leaders, whom they expected would wink at border violations. For the most part their assumption was correct. After watching a radar display that showed two F-86 pilots twice circling a Chinese airfield 100 miles beyond the border, General Frank Everest, commander of the Fifth Air Force from June 1951 to May 1952, pretended to angrily storm into the postflight debrief and threaten the two pilots with court-martial. He then stomped out of the room and slammed the door. Moments later, he poked his head back in the room and said, “And furthermore, if you are going to violate the Manchurian border, for Dog’s sake turn off the damn IFF [identification friend or foe].” Likewise, General Glenn Barcus, the Fifth Air Force commander after Everest, told pilots during one premission brief to “Screw the Yalu!”

Many commanders not only permitted and encouraged border violations but also engaged in the practice themselves. Lieutenant Michael DeArmond, a young F-86 pilot, recalled one commander telling the squadron before a mission that any pilot caught north of the border would face court-martial. On that same mission, the commander led a flight of four Sabres deep into Manchuria and shot down a MiG. Wanting to keep the rules of engagement violation a secret, the officer quizzed DeArmond on the location of the shootdown. DeArmond answered, “Somewhere around the mouth of the Yalu.” The colonel responded, “Son, you have a bright future in the Air Force.”

Colonel Francis Gabreski, the top American ace in the European theater during World War II, chased a MiG over the main runway at Antung. After shooting down the Soviet pilot, Gabreski interrupted his flak-dodging maneuver to execute a victory roll over the Chinese airfield. Gabreski admitted to Colonel David Jones, a Fifth Air Force staff officer and later Air Force chief of staff, that his unit frequently crossed into China. When Colonel Jones expressed his dismay, Gabreski suggested that the colonel or his general was free to fly up to the Yalu and write down tail numbers. Furthermore, he declared that if the Fifth Air Force wanted “to kick ass” for the border violations, they should start with his own. Colonel Harrison Thyng, commander of the 4th Fighter-Interceptor Wing, or­dered a pilot to buzz Antung at an altitude of 10 to 15 feet at Mach .9. He reasoned that the sonic boom would infuriate the MiG pilots and entice them to rise to the bait.

Sabre pilots shied away from strafing MiGs on the ground, perhaps because two unlucky F-80 Shooting Star pilots were court-martialed after they became lost and shot up a Soviet airfield in October 1950. Even so, MiGs did not have to get too far off the ground before American airmen would shoot at them. Georgy Lobov, the first Soviet MiG commander of the war, complained, “Americans were constantly crossing the border.” Lobov’s unit, the 64th Fighter Aviation Corps, lost 26 aircraft over their own airfields during the first six months of 1952. American planes would often circle at high altitude over the mouth of the Yalu and swoop down on Communist pilots after seeing dust swirling on their airfields, an indication that MiGs were taking off. The Soviets were so frustrated by the aerial blockade that they simply kept their jets on the ground when Sabres were re­ported overhead.

Sabre gun camera footage sometimes showed MiG-15s with their landing gear extended, with other enemy planes plainly visible in the background, parked on the tarmac of Chinese airfields. Understandably, this type of incriminating evidence tended to get “lost” or destroyed.

Air Force officials mostly turned a blind eye to flights into Manchuria. But they did haphazardly and inconsistently enforce the restriction. Captain Joe McConnell, the highest-scoring American ace of the conflict, was grounded for two weeks for repeatedly crossing the border. The 51st Wing commander, Colonel John Mitchell, intervened and forced McConnell’s superior to allow him to fly again. Usually Air Force leaders cracked down only after an embarrassing incident occurred that they could not ignore.

On January 23, 1953, cannon fire from a MiG broke the right arm of Lt. Col. Edwin Heller, commander of the 16th Fighter Squadron, during a sortie over Manchuria. Bullets also severed his Sabre’s control stick and disabled its ejection system. Heller’s F-86 went into an uncontrollable dive from 40,000 feet. He struggled to disconnect his seatbelt, stood up in his seat and started trying to claw his way through an eight-inch hole in the canopy—at which point the 650-mph wind stream sucked him right through the opening. Among other injuries he suffered during the bailout, Heller’s left leg was fractured when it struck the horizontal stabilizer. Peasants captured the downed pilot, who endured 28 months in Chinese captivity.

Heller’s shootdown over Chinese territory resulted in diplomatic protests that jeopardised ongoing peace talks. At about the same time, Swiss observers traveling through Manchuria to Panmunjon for the peace talks witnessed a dogfight well north of the Yalu. Their complaints finally forced senior Air Force officials to take action.

Captain Dolph Overton, an ace with possibly the hottest streak in Air Force history, became the scapegoat. Overton shot down five MiGs in just four days (January 21-24, 1953). During a visit to an Air Force radar site on Cho-do, he had learned where MiGs orbited while waiting to land, how long they stayed airborne and how they made their approach to landing. Overton positioned his jet above the MiGs’ landing pattern, flying a racetrack pattern with minimal manoeuvring to lessen the possibility that the sun’s glint off his Sabre’s wings would give away his position. Then he waited to pounce on his prey. He turned off his IFF, hoping to fool enemy radar operators into thinking his aircraft was just another MiG getting ready to land.

Overton also tried to keep his jet between the sun and the MiGs in order to arrive at their 6 o’clock position undetected. All of his kills were achieved at close range without the use of the radar-ranging feature of the Sabre’s gunsight. “They never seemed to see us or recognize us until too late,” he boasted.

The day after his fifth kill, Overton was called into Colonel Mitchell’s office. He responded truthfully when asked, “Were you over the river yesterday?” Under pressure from higher headquarters, Mitchell grounded the ace. He also gave Overton a terrible efficiency report for his “inability to follow orders,” took away his captain’s bars and sent him home without decorations and without official recognition of his five victories. The Air Force eventually did bless Overton’s claims, but it took almost a year (normally victory claims were processed, reviewed and confirmed within a month).

Mitchell’s actions were an extreme example of hypocrisy. The wing commander had not only condoned flights across the border, he had personally participated in them. Overton’s treatment was particularly unfair because on the day in question he was flying as the No. 4 aircraft in a four-ship flight—in other words, he was just a wingman. Overton remarked, “I know that shit flows downhill, but it seemed to me that this was a long way down.” Within a year he resigned his commission and left the service. The squadron was grounded for a short period, but no other pilot was individually punished—possibly because the ground crews threatened to mutiny after learning of Overton’s fate.

Not all top pilots violated the rules of engagement in search of MiGs. In the foreword to MiG Alley to Mu Chia Pass: Memoirs of a Korean War Ace, which chronicles the air exploits of nine-victory ace Cecil Foster, Overton wrote: “Sometimes the MiGs just did not leave China. You cannot shoot a plane down if it does not fly when you are flying or does not fly into your combat zone. During those inactive times, some pilots ventured across the Yalu River into China hoping to engage in enemy activity. Cecil Foster never crossed the Yalu illegally.” Just the fact that Overton celebrates Foster’s disciplined adherence to the rules as a way to testify to his character suggests that the practice of crossing into Manchuria was widespread and routine. “[Our pilots] were coming back with blackened gun ports after every mission,” recalled one officer. “That meant they were shooting at MiGs every time they were up there. That couldn’t happen unless they were on the wrong side of the border.”

The punitive actions taken against Overton failed to deter other F-86 pilots from continuing to break the rules of engagement. On April 7, 1953, Hal Fischer, a double ace, spotted four MiGs crossing the border into Korea. The enemy jets turned around and escaped back into China, but Fischer gave chase anyway. He cleared his wingman to return home without him after the latter reported that he was low on fuel. Flying alone, Fischer continued to press the attack even after three more MiGs appeared. Official Soviet records describe what happened next: “At 1640 upon approach to Danu airfield, Senior Lieutenant Berelidze’s pair attacked one F-86 which was pursuing Senior Lieutenant Ugryumov at an altitude of 1,000-1,500 meters. Senior Lieutenant Berelidze shot down one F-86 from a distance of 400 meters at a 14 quartering angle. The pilot: Captain Harold Edward Fischer, service number A02204126, Flight Commander, 39th Air Squadron, 51st Wing, was taken prisoner.” The Chinese held Fischer in solitary confinement until June 1955. He had more than two years to reflect on his bout of MiG Madness.

Undoubtedly, the aggressiveness of the leading American Korean War aces in pursuit of MiGs propelled them to the top of the pecking order and helped secure air superiority for U.N. forces. For that, they should be honoured. But tales of friendly fire, rule-breaking and recklessness blemish the stellar combat records of these legendary airmen.

For some time now William Hamper has been a regular Eastman and Buzz Rickson's customer. His working pseudonym for the past 38 years has been Billy Childish - one of the few remaining bastions of British originality and talent today. A cult figure in America, Europe and Japan, he is by far the most prolific painter, poet, and song-writer of his generation. In a twenty year period he has published over 40 collections of critically acclaimed poetry, recorded over 100 full-length independent LP’s and produced over 2000 paintings.

Born in 1959 in Chatham, Kent, he left Secondary education at 16 an undiagnosed dyslexic. Refused an interview at the local art school he entered the Naval Dockyard at Chatham as an apprentice stonemason. During the following six months he produced some six hundred drawings. On the basis of this work he was accepted into St Martin’s School of Art to study painting. However, his acceptance was short-lived and before completing the course he was expelled for his outspokenness and unorthodox working methods. With no qualifications and no job prospects Childish then spent some 12 years developing his own highly personal writing style and producing his art independently.

Since then he has had solo and group exhibitions internationally including New York, London, Seoul and Berlin. He was included in British Art Show 5, which toured throughout four cities - Edinburgh, Southampton, Cardiff, and Birmingham. In 2010, he was the subject of major concurrent survey exhibitions at the ICA in London and White Columns in New York, and in 2011 he became Artist in Residence at the Chatham Historic Dockyard where he currently works.

As fan's of Billy's work across all genres it was a pleasure to speak to him recently regarding his work and patronage of eastman products.

To define you as eclectic in your influences and projects would be a huge understatement, in your view does creativity have to be approached in a wide variety of media?

No, I just happen to get bored if I do anything every day. As a kid I wanted to be painter as I didn’t fancy a ‘real’ job. Music came along in 77 and I was happy to be included. But we were never with an agency or big label – our tours were 2 weeks tops in the back of a transit round Germany etc. Writing, again, I just write when I feel like it, but within that I am very disciplined and can apply myself with quite an intense focus - but then I need a break and to do something else. This suits me but isn't a 'have to' for everyone else.

Would you define one particular facet of your work as more important to you than the others?

Yes, painting is nearest my basic nature.

You've been an Eastman and Buzz Rickson's customer for some time now, what initially attracted you to the brands?

I found out about Eastman from a friend who recommended I take a look. As a boy I used to buy old military jackets and hats and wore some of that stuff as a punk in 77. As a teenager through to the 90’s I bought most my cloths in Oxfam, as I hated regular fashion. I then began to notice people who made stuff with the same attention to detail as the old gear I liked. I found out about the Buzz Rickson from Eastman Leather. Really you vote with your money & patronage, and I vote for people who care about what they do, be it art, cooking, or any type of making. If your going to engage in materialism make it good materialism, not careless stuff often made by underpaid children in the 3rd world without piss breaks. Of course there can be compromise, but I really try to engage in life with love and prefer people who do the same.

You have a strong sense of style that is clearly motivated by the context of the clothing you wear as much as the aesthetic, can you explain why this is important?

In a strange way it's not that important to me. I often don’t remember what I've put on in the morning - or look like - unless I'm confronted with myself in a shop window. All of my eclectic choices are based on liking the colours in the weave and weft, or a button. I've always been like this; when I was seven I used to wear an old fedora that I brought for 3d from a local jumble sale. I liked it because it was of the old world and coloured green.
I was one of the few punks to wear shorts (8th army) and sometimes an old homburg hat. To understand where I'm coming from I'd have to say I have a childlike relationship with stuff. There is no mandate other than some stuff fires my imagination and things that are real and cared about allow my imagination fuller reign.

Your style could almost be described as a reaction to the burgeoning subcultures during your formative years in the 1970's - glam, punk and so on. Is this a conscious move to relocate yourself in a different era?

I've covered this a bit, but for sure I liked all the old soldiers who worked in the dockyard when I was 16. I was an apprentice stone mason in the yard 1976 and it was normal to wear an old WWII beret and work duffel coats from back then. (my overalls were WW11 RAF,). I certainly felt more affinity with the old boys than my contemporaries.

You made a fantastic Super 8 film based on the British retreat from Mons in WWI, can you tell us more about the motivation behind this?

I was a RE cadet when I was 12 and have always liked a bit of serge. I've been a member of a living history group, The Great War Society for many years, and in 2004 we did an 80 mile march in full kit to mark the 90th anniversary of the retreat from Mons – also raising money for the British Legion (as a punk one of our venues in 1977 was the British Legion Hall in Chatham). For the march I decided to borrow my mates old super 8 camera he bought at the Rochester flea market and bought 10 reels of out-of-date Russian super 8 stock on the cheap. I was run ragged as I was also on road duty on my old bike, but I got some shots in and luckily it all came good. I recorded the soundtrack on an old cassette recorder and dubbed that on and we had a little story.

You seem to approach all of your creative projects in a specifically old fashioned manner, the phrase, 'if a jobs worth doing, its worth doing well' springs to mind, is this something you adhere to?

That’s nearly true. But I'm no stickler – I never had a lesson in anything and really found my own way copying mates (and the masters). I'm fast and a bit of a bodger – but I bodge with love and now have somehow learned to do some of this stuff with ease and grace. What I admire in others is their care and ability to measure (I couldn’t really manage to be a stone mason as I've got no maths. I'm dyslexic, left school at 16 was not allowed in the school choir as they said I was tone deaf, and I was thrown out of art school. So I'm a bit of a contradiction.

Can you tell us what you're working on at the moment?

I'm just finishing a new LP – we still record on analogue and have always made our releases on vinyl. I have a solo show of paintings opening in New York this September. I've made a hand coloured etching edition to tie in with this and as a fund raiser for the Whitchapel Gallery in London. There's a new bronze edition about to come out through L-13 (skull and femur) + some affordable prints of paintings. I've also been writing a novel about 77 /78 punk rock – 7 drafts and 4 years in now - and have numerous other side projects I'm messing with as well.

Billy's latest exhibition entitled 'Flowers, nudes and Birch trees' is currently showing at Lehmann Maupin in New York from
September 10 - October 31 2015

His latest collection of poetry titled '
In the Teeth of Deamons' was published this year by Tangerine Press, Tooting

In the years during and preceding the Second World War the U. S. Navy developed and issued a multitude of different styles of cold weather gear and clothing. Winter jackets, commonly referred to as “Deck Jackets,” became the most cherished clothing articles of sailors during WWII and among collectors today. Most of the deck jackets used in WWII evolved from a dark blue, waterproof, zip-front design that was very similar in appearance to the U. S. Army’s Winter Combat Jacket (Tanker Jacket). In 1943, the second version of this Deck Jacket design was introduced, featuring a new-style front closure that was both an improvement over the zipper closure and a distinguishing characteristic of this jacket style that would later be considered a design classic.

This new Deck Jacket took into account the lessons learned from several years of warfare at sea. By the time America was actually at war and fighting in 1942, it was concluded that Navy personal who found themselves on shore or beach landing operations needed to be instantly and obviously recognized as U. S. Navy personnel when viewed mixed-in with various Army troops. Likewise, the USN had such different working uniforms from the U. S. Army that it was also feared GI’s unfamiliar with the Navy clothing might mistake USN personnel on the beach as enemy troops, many of whom were themselves also blue-clad navy forces manning the coastal defences that U. S. forces were assaulting. This potentially deadly dilemma was rectified in late 1942, whereby the newer-production zip-front Deck Jackets leaving the factories had the upper back area boldly stenciled with the identification text “U. S. NAVY” in block letters using an opaque, semi-reflective, silver-coloured silk screening ink.

The revised Deck Jacket of 1943 was exclusively produced with the silver stencilling across the back, unlike the earlier jackets it replaced. It retained the waterproof, celluloid plastic interlining (sandwiched between the outer shell and Melton wool inner lining) of the earlier jacket style, but the most recognisable improvement incorporated in the 1943 Deck Jacket was the new style frontal closing method. The earlier jackets closed via a metal zipper. During very cold weather conditions, any collected water spray on the zipper would immediately freeze, making the zippers very difficult, if not impossible to operate. Likewise, deck personnel wore heavy gloves in cold weather, the wearing of which often made operating the zipper slide unduly hard, and if the zippers were ice-caked with frozen spray, more often than not they would simply fail completely. The solution to this problem was found in the typical fireman’s coats of the era. Naturally, firemen wore heavy gloves and were often coated in water from head to toe, and in winter, this water froze to their coats, yet they could fasten or unfasten their coats without great difficulty. The fireman’s coats, however, fastened not with zippers but with a metal hook-style clasp fastener that pivoted on a hinge pin and folded around and through a metal bracket. It was this same fastener design that the U. S. Navy incorporated into the 1943 Deck Jackets.

There are a few variation in the production of this "hook" type as well, the vast majority of original issued jackets includes the "D" patch pockets and single hook at the bottom of the jacket, however similar "hook" types without the "D" pockets exist and some have double hook enclosure at the bottom. This is no surprise as the patterns are usually modified to suit the situation and varies from one manufacturer to another.

This new Deck Jacket became synonymous with WWII U. S. Navy operations around the world and has since become a prized collectors item.

The 80th was the first USAAF fighter group to be stationed in Burma since the Japanese ran out the famous Flying Tigers in 1942. The 80th fighter group was unmistakably a vital element in the victory in Burma. During its two years in combat, this group, which called itself the "Burma Banshees", kept the supply lines open to China. These planes and pilots fought a forgotten campaign over the ‘Hump’ of the Himalayas and into Burma from late 1943 through the end of the war, engaging Japanese Army aircraft over isolated jungles and unmapped green hell in support of General Stilwell’s Chinese Troops and General Merrill’s Marauders.

The 80th had a motto, "Angels on our Wings," because its primary mission was to escort and conduct combat air patrols for transports but the group's nickname, the "Burma Banshees," sent a message to its Japanese enemies - when they heard the wailing sound of a Banshee's machine, death and destruction were coming their way. Their distinctive ghost skull was nice contrast to the more traditional shark jaws often seen on Warhawks in U.S. and British service.

The 80th Pursuit Group was born in the wake of Pearl Harbor shortly after America's entry into World War II. It was commissioned on January 13, 1942 along with dozens of other fighting units under a special order of Congress. Less than a month later, on February 9, 1942, the 80th was activated at Selfridge Field, Michigan, with the 88th, 89th, and 90th Pursuit Squadrons. The first several months of the 80th's history were quite uneventful. Its ranks, almost totally enlisted, performed administrative and organisational functions while waiting for planes and pilots. During this period, on May 12, 1942, the Department of the Army changed the designation of the group and its squadrons from "pursuit" to "fighter." In July of 1942, the pilots arrived and began training, first in the P-47 Thunderbolt and later in the Curtis P-40. By 1943 they were ready for combat.

On May 10, the 80th shipped out of New York harbor headed for Karachi, India. From there the journey continued over land. From September, 1943, until March, 1944, the 80th established its base of operations in the Assam Valley just outside of northern Burma. Since its main purpose was the defence of supply routes to China, the majority of missions flown were patrols in support of the cargo airlift between Assam and Kunming, China. The 80th also provided offensive strikes in the Huwang Valley of northern Burma to protect allied engineers building the Ledo Road, a land supply route through the Burmese Jungle. The official mission of the 80th Fighter Group was soon extended to include offensive strikes in northern Burma to prevent the establishment of enemy bases from which Allied airlift planes might be attacked. Therefore, in the months that followed, the group launched several attacks on Myitkyina Airdrome in an effort to reduce Japanese attacks on the Hump cargo planes. Myitkyina, the only all-weather strip in northern Burma, was the principal Japanese base for the defence of Burma from the north. Japanese opposition was not the only enemy. In the dense jungles temperatures sometimes soared to 140 degrees and the humidity hovered near 100 percent. Crews worked in swarms of beetles, flies, and gnats. At night, sleeping required the use of mosquito netting. Supplies came by ship from half way around the world and were nearly impossible to obtain. Finally, disease and fungi claimed more troops than opposing enemy fire.

By the time the 80th Fighter Group left Myitkyina it had compiled an impressive combat record. The Banshees launched 18,873 planes on 4,719 missions, destroyed more than 200 bridges and destroyed 80 enemy planes in the air or on the ground. It received the Distinguished Unit Citation for a most remarkable defence of a critical Indian oil refinery. This fighter group kept the supply lines open and helped Allied bombers and ground troops defeat a Japanese onslaught that at one point in this war seemed unstoppable. By the spring of 1945, targets were becoming scarce as the war was drawing to a close. Shortly after the end of the war in September, the 80th returned to the United States and was deactivated on November 3, 1945.

West Coast artist Bruce Minney was born October 2, 1928 making him an impressionable teenager during the years of WWII. In 1946 he was accepted to the prestigious California School of Arts and Crafts. However, after graduation work as a firefighter left him unfulfilled artistically so in 1955 he packed up his family and moved to the mecca of advertising, paperback and pulp publishing – New York City.

In the days of Mad Men, men's adventure magazines thrived. With titles like Stag, Male, For Men Only, and Man's Illustrated their crazy covers and even crazier stories were distinctly American. Minney spent 20 years working as an illustrator for men's adventure magazines painting beautiful scantily clad women, gorillas, lions, tigers, bears, elephants, alligators, headhunters, Nazis, airplanes, aircraft carriers, tanks, guns, and many explosions. His style evoked boys own adventure and spoke to men on a base level. As the 1960s wore on and US involvement in Vietnam increased and magazines like Penthouse became more explicit, circulations for the men’s adventure magazines dropped and jobs were harder to come by. One of the last men’s adventure magazine illustration Bruce did was for National Lampoon in November 1970. The illustration is a brutal, acerbic parody in the men’s adventure style set in Vietnam.

He worked another 20 years painting covers for all kinds of paperbacks, over 400 in total, including western (The Lone Ranger), historical romance, action, military (Hornblower), biography, and Gothic horror. He truly was the man who painted everything.

His populist hyperrealist style, while similar to that of Mort Knustler and others, has been embraced and preserved, and is now highly collectable. The winner of numerous awards and the shaper of men and boys for a generation or better, he died on August 5, 2013.

On May 12th 1940, five obsolete Fairey Battle light bombers of No.12 Squadron RAF took off from their base near Amifontaine in France. Under the command of Flying Officer Donald Garland, the five Battles attacked a strategically vital bridge over the Albert Canal in Belgium. Braving their way through intense anti-aircraft fire and decimated by German fighters immediately after releasing their bombs, the horrifically outperformed British aircraft were still able to deliver their bombs on target. Only one Battle returned to base. Of the crew of the lead aircraft, both Flying Officer Garland as pilot and Sergeant Thomas Gray as his observer were awarded their nation’s highest decoration for bravery – the Victoria Cross. But with them throughout, sharing the danger as he kept up a constant stream of fire from his single Vickers K machine gun, was 20 year old air gunner Leading Aircraftsman Lawrence Reynolds. He died with his crew. As he was deemed not to be in a position of leadership or influence, he was the only one of the three not to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

The vital role played by the air gunner has often been tragically left in the shadow of that of the pilot. Gunners required far less training and were therefore cheaper and easier to replace, and were not given powers of captaincy within the crew of an aircraft. Whilst there were many roles within multi-crew aircraft which also necessitated manning a machine gun, such as navigator, observer, radio operator or bombardier, it is the purpose of this article to examine only the air gunner: the brave individual whose sole job was to keep enemy fighters at bay.

It is easier to appreciate the gunner’s role within his crew by examining the crew itself: taking a typical USAAF bomber such as the B17, ten men were required to operate the aircraft. This consisted of two pilots, a navigator and a bombardier, all of whom were commissioned officers. A flight engineer and a radio operator flew alongside four dedicated gunners; these last six crew members were all non-commissioned. Aside from the two pilots, every crew member had at least one machine gun position immediately to hand in the event of attack by enemy aircraft.

For those conscripted into the armed forces in the Second World War, flying seemed like an attractive alternative to the infantry to many. With this in mind, applicants for officer aircrew roles within the USAAF were required to have completed a minimum of two years’ college education, although this was reduced to an entrance examination once casualties began to mount. Gunners were not expected to have as much of an academic background and therefore tended – although it certainly was not a rule – to come from less affluent backgrounds.

After basic training, those selected to become gunners would attend one of the USAAF gunnery schools. This consisted of six weeks of studying the operation and maintenance of both gun and turret, ballistics, enemy vehicle recognition and most importantly, live firing. Gunners trained to fire at land, sea and air targets as, although their primary role was no doubt the defense of their aircraft, there were also obvious offensive capabilities against land and sea targets inherent in their new role. For the USAAF, this same gunnery course formed part of the training for navigators, bombardiers, radio operators and flight engineers. At peak output, the USAAF was training 600 gunners every five weeks.

Comparisons can be drawn to the system employed in Germany for training gunners within the Luftwaffe. In the early days of the Second World War, new recruits were first assigned to a Flieger-Ersatzabteilung, or Aircrew Replacement Battalion, where after uniform issue and medical exams, the traditional core military skills of drill, physical training and weapons handling were also accompanied by basic navigation and radio operation. At the end of six months of training, recruits were streamed with those considered suitable being selected for pilot training. The remainder received a further two months training at an Aircrew Development Regiment, being instructed in further navigation and radio operation as well as technical training and gunnery. Later in the war, the streaming process was undertaken far earlier and potential gunners found themselves at the Aircrew Development Regiment almost immediately.

Those who were then selected to specialize as gunners, often accompanied by a number of individuals who had failed to make the grade during pilot training, were now sent to the Luftwaffe’s five month course on air gunnery. This involved familiarity with weapons ranging from handguns up to air-to-air machine gunnery in aircraft. The latter was initially with gun cameras but then progressed onto towed targets with real ammunition. Airborne training was often conducted concurrently with other branches, with students and instructors of several specializations all crammed into a single training aircraft. Upon completion of training, gunners were sent to their front line squadrons.

Across many roles of every air force gunners suffered horrific casualties, notable in the statistics of RAF Bomber Command in Western Europe, through Soviet light bomber gunners on the Eastern Front to the gunners of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s carrier borne torpedo and dive bombers. Not afforded the rank or pay of their commissioned comrades, gunners took all of the same risks. All crews were fiercely and rightly proud of their vital air gunners.

The Eastman reproduction Air Corps Gunnery School t shirt is available now in the T SHIRT section

While the story of the Women's Air Service Pilots (WASPs) in the United States is relatively well known, much less well known is the story of the Russian 588th Night Bomber Regiment. Made up of only women, the regiment, unofficially known as “Stalin’s Falcons,” were given a much more chilling moniker by the Germans: Nachthexen, or “The Night Witches.”

The year was 1941 and Hitler had invaded the Soviet Union. By November the German army was just 19 miles from Moscow. Leningrad was under siege and 3 million Russians had been taken prisoner. The Soviet air force was grounded.

In the summer of 1941 Marina Raskova, a record breaking aviatrix was called upon to organise a regiment of women pilots to fly night combat missions of harassment bombing. From mechanics to navigators, pilots and officers, the 588th regiment was composed entirely of women. The 588th was so successful and deadly that the Germans came to fear them and Luftwaffe pilots were promised an Iron Cross for shooting down a Night Witch!. The women, most of them barely 20 years old, started training in Engels, a small town north of Stalingrad. The 588th flew its first bombing mission on June 8, 1942. It consisted of three planes; their target was the headquarters of a German division. The raid was successful but one plane was lost.

The 588th flew thousands of combat bombing missions. They fought non-stop for months, sometimes flying 15 to 18 missions on the same night. They flew obsolete Polikarpov Po-2 wooden bi planes that were otherwise used as trainers. They could only carry two bombs that weighed less than a ton altogether. Most of the women who survived the war had, by the end, flown almost a thousand missions each.

Nadya Popova recalls those missions and comments that it was a miracle the Witches didn't suffer more losses. Their planes were the slowest ones in the air force and often came back riddled with bullets, but they kept flying. In August of 1942 Nadya and her navigator crashed in the Caucasus. They were found alive a few days later.

Years after the war, Nadya commented that she used to sometimes look up into the dark night sky, remembering when she was a young girl crouched at the controls of her bomber, and she would say to herself, "Nadya, how did you do it?"

There was a great deal of resistance to the idea of women combat pilots from their male counterparts. The women had to fight both enemy aircraft as well as the resentment of their male colleagues. In spite of the never-ending fatigue , the loss of friends, and sexual harassment from their suspicious male counterparts, the women kept on flying. Eventually the Soviets formed three regiments of women combat pilots -- the 586th, the 587th and the 588th.

The 586th also trained at Engels, first in the two-seat Yak-7 trainers and later on in the Yak-1 fighters. The women proved themselves to be as good as the men. The most outstanding pilots were Raisa Belyaeva and Valeria Khomyakova. The later was allowed to fly solo in the Yak-1 after just 52 minutes of dual instruction. She earned the grade of "excellent" during one trial flight but on a subsequent flight crash-landed on the frozen Volga River when she switched to an empty fuel tank. All of the women had their hands full, learning so much information in such a short amount of time.

The female mechanics also had their hands full with the demanding task of keeping the planes flying. The winter of 1942 was brutally cold, with temperatures plunging as low as -54F and countless snow storms. One night in March of that year the women were called upon to save the aircraft from being blown over by gale-force winds. Several women would literally lie on the wings and horizontal stabilisers of each plane, using the weight of their bodies to keep the planes from blowing away. When the wind subsided, the women looked like snowmen, but the planes were intact. Their respite was brief however. By noon the storm had resumed, and again the women rushed to the airfield to save the planes. The storm finally blew itself out around midnight, and the exhausted women, soaked to the skin and half frozen, could finally rest.

The Night Witches practiced what is known as harassment bombing. Their targets were encampments, supply depots, rear base areas, etc. Their constant raids made rest for the troops difficult and left them feeling very insecure.

The top speed of the Po-2 biplane was 94 mph ((82 knots). This is slower than even most World War I fighters and left them very vulnerable to enemy night fighters. But the Night Witches learned their craft well. The Po-2 was very slow, but it was also extremely maneuverable. When a German Me-109 tried to intercept it, the Night Witches would throw their Po-2 biplanes into a tight turn at an airspeed that was below the stalling speed of the Me-109. This forced the German pilot to make a wider circle and come back for another try, only to be met by the same tactic, time after time. Many of the Witches flew so low to the ground that they were hidden by hedgerows! Completely frustrated, the German pilots would finally simply give up and leave the Po-2 biplanes alone.

The stall speed of an Me-109 E,F and G models was about 120 mph ((104 knots). This made the top speed of the Po-2 biplanes slower than the stalling speed of the German fighters. The Focke-Wulf, also used in the Eastern front, had a high stalling speed as well, so it suffered the same fate.

The Witches developed the technique of flying close to their intended targets, then cutting their engines. Silently they would glide to their targets and release their bombs. Then they would restart their engines and fly away. The first warning the Germans had of an impending raid was the sound of the wind whistling against the wing bracing wires of the Po-2s, and by then it was too late.

The Po-2 would often pass undetected by the radar of the German fighters due to the unreflective nature of the canvas surfaces and also because they flew so low to the ground. Planes equipped with infrared heat seekers fared no better at detecting them due to the small heat emission from their puny little 110-hp engines.

Searchlights, however presented a big problem. The Germans at Stalingrad developed what the Russians called a "flak circus". They would arrange flak guns and searchlights (hidden during the day) in concentric circles around probable targets. Planes flying in pairs in a straight-line flight path across the perimeter were often ripped to shreds by the flak guns. So the Night Witches of the 588th developed their own technique to deal with the problem. They flew in groups of three. Two would go in and deliberately attract the attention of the Germans. When all the searchlights were pointed at them, the two pilots would suddenly separate, flying in opposite directions and maneuvering wildly to shake off the searchlight operators who were trying to follow them. In the meantime the third pilot would fly in through the dark path cleared by her two teammates and hit the target virtually unopposed. She would then get out, rejoin the other two, and they would switch places until all three had delivered their payloads. As Nadya Popova noted, it took nerves of steel to be a decoy and willingly attract enemy fire, but it worked very well.

After the war, a number of the women continued to fly, some as test pilots. Others retired to a quiet life or returned to work, either in factories or on farms. In spite of the danger and their heavy losses, most of the women later described their combat experience as the most exciting time of their lives. They endured loss of family and homes in their absence, met and lost lovers and husbands, and were often wounded or killed in action.

A fitting tribute was made to the dedication of this unit's airwomen by the male Free French pilots of the Normandie-Niemen Fighter Regiment who often fought alongside the Night Witches:
Even if it were possible to gather and place at your feet all the flowers on earth, this would not constitute sufficient tribute to your valour.

Formed by Ralph Bagnold in 1940, the Long Range Desert Group played a major part in the Allies victory in North Africa during World War Two, acting as their forward eyes and ears. The LRDG had two specific roles in the war in North Africa. They were to get behind enemy lines and act as scouts and gather intelligence to feed back to British military headquarters.

Often cited as the forerunner to the Special Air Service (SAS), the LRDG and SAS were in fact separate units operating alongside each other. The Special Air Service formed in July 1941 by David Sterling and originally called "L" Detachment, Special Air Service Brigade—the "L" designation and Air Service name being a tie-in to a British disinformation campaign, trying to deceive the Axis into thinking there was a paratrooper regiment with numerous units operating in the area (the real SAS would 'prove' to the Axis that the fake one existed). It was conceived as a commando force to operate behind enemy lines in the North Africa Campaign. Due to their expert navigation skills. members of the LRDG were often seconded to the SAS for specific missions.

LRDG roadwatch

Initially the LRDG was known as the Long Range Patrol Group. After receiving the agreement of General Wavell to create such a unit, Bagnold was given 150 New Zealand volunteers, most of whom had a farming background. Bagnold believed that they would be more adept at maintaining vehicles in a difficult environment should mechanical problems occur.

The LRDG had three main patrols of forty men each. Each patrol was equipped with ten Lewis machine guns, four Boyes anti-tank rifles, anti-aircraft guns, Bren guns and Thompson sub-machine guns. Communication with base was maintained with the use of wireless sets. Their vehicle of choice was a Chevrolet 30-cwt truck. The first batch of these vehicles was obtained from the Egyptian Army or bought in Cairo. Each vehicle commander was allowed to modify his vehicle as he saw fit. The normal range for the Chevrolet was 1,100 miles and it could carry three weeks supply of food and water. In many senses it was the perfect desert vehicle.

On September 13th, 1940, the LRDG set up its first base at the Siwa Oasis. To get to this base, they had to drive about 160 miles across the Egyptian Sand Seas. Just two days later, the unit had its first experience of combat when a patrol led by Captain Mitford attacked an Italian petrol dump and emergency landing fields along the Palificata. Another patrol led by Captain Clayton crossed into French held Chad and persuaded the French forces there to join the Free French Forces. The two patrols met at Gilf Kebir, where they could re-supply, and travelled back to Cairo. By the time they returned, both patrols had covered about 4000 miles and had achieved a great deal.


Buoyed by such success, the War Office agreed that the LRDG could double in size to 300 men. The unit was officially now called the Long Range Desert Group and Bagnold was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Volunteers were heavily vetted for such difficult work, but Bagnold found the extra 150 men he wanted. They came from the British, Indian and Rhodesian armies. Their primary targets were enemy held oases. The attackers went in quickly and disappeared just as quickly. Evidence points to the fact that the Italian commanders in North Africa were bemused by what happened to them and even Bagnold recognised that “the Italian army was halted for months”.

The LRDG returned to Chad and, combining with the Free French there, fought the Italian in the region of the Murzuk Oasis. They also succeeded in capturing Kufra, which in 1941 became the headquarters for the unit. Bagnold later wrote that the temperature frequently exceeded 50 degrees C, which, he claimed, his men found tolerable as it was dry heat. His main iisue was not being able to eat properly during sandstorms, which lasted for several days. Because of the hostility of the environment, few other Allied units got to the Kufra region. To all intents, the LRDG commanders there were de facto full commanders of an area the size of northern Europe.


One of the main keys to their success was their choice of vehicles. The LRDG vehicles were mainly two wheel drive, chosen because they were lighter and used less fuel than four wheel drive. They were stripped of all non-essentials, including doors, windscreens and roofs. They were fitted with a bigger radiator, a condenser system, built up leaf springs for the harsh terrain, wide, low pressure desert tyres, sand mats and channels, plus map containers and a sun compass devised by Bagnold. Wireless trucks had special compartments built into the bodywork to house wireless equipment. Initially the LRDG patrols were equipped with one CMP Ford 15 cwt F15 truck for the commander, while the rest of the patrol used up to 10 Chevrolet 30 cwt WB trucks.From March 1941 the 30 cwt Chevrolets were replaced by the CMP Ford 30 cwt F30, although in some ways this was a retrograde step; because they were four wheel drive and heavier than the Chevrolets, they used twice as much fuel, which in turn reduced the range of a patrol. From March 1942 the Fords were progressively replaced by 200 Canadian Chevrolet 1533 X2 30 cwts which had been specially ordered for the LRDG. From July 1942 Willys Jeeps began to be issued for the patrol commander and patrol sergeant.


In May 1943 the LRDG was sent to Lebanon to retrain in mountain warfare. However, following the Italian armistice they were sent to Leros, one of the Dodeconese Island, to serve as normal infantry. They later took part in the Battle of Leros, where the commanding officer John Richard Easonsmith was killed and replaced by Davis Lloyd Owen. After the battle the last New Zealanders, two officers and approximately 46 men, were withdrawn from the LRDG and returned to their division.


In December 1943, the LRDG re-organised into two squadrons of eight patrols. Each patrol contained one officer and 10 other ranks. Major Moir Stormouth Darling was given command of the British Squadron and Major Kenneth Henry Lazarus the Rhodesian Squadron. Patrols were then parachuted north of Rome to obtain information about German troop movements, and also carried out raids on the Dalmatian Islands and Corfu.

In August 1944, British Squadron patrols were parachuted into Yugoslavia. One patrol destroyed two 40 feet (12 m) spans of a large railway bridge, which caused widespread disruption to the movement of German troops and supplies. The commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Owen and a team of 36 men were parachuted into Albania in September 1944. Their mission was to follow the German retreat and assist Albania Resistance groups in attacking them. In October 1944, two British Squadron patrols were parachuted into the Florina area of Greece. Here they mined a road used by the retreating Germans, destroying three vehicles and blocking the road. Firing on the stranded convoy from an adjacent hillside, they directed RAF aircraft in to destroy the rest of the convoy.

After the end of the war in Europe, the leaders of the LRDG made a request to the War Office for the unit to be transferred to the Far East to conduct operations against the Japanese Empire. The request was declined and the LRDG was disbanded in August 1945.


The Rough Wear Clothing Company was founded in 1910 by Hyman Kirschenbaum under the name “Sportsman’s Apparel Company” in New York City, New York.

In 1919 the company name was changed to Rough Wear Clothing Company which only  manufactured a line of sheep-lined and leather clothing. In 1923 the company moved to New Brunswick, New Jersey, and in 1928 moved again to Middletown, PA locating on Wilson Street in the former A. S. Kreider Shoe Factory, where they operated .

At that time two hundred people were employed, ninety-five of whom were in the stitching room. Many of the hides that were used were of domestic origin, although a large percentage of hides were received from France and Sweden, but raw material also arrived from South America, South Africa, and Australia.

In March 1930 Hyman Kirschenbaum, founder and president, died, and the business was willed to his daughter Eleanor and his son Isaac Kirschenbaum took over as president.

In 1931 the company was reorganised,  Isaac Kirschenbaum was president and treasurer; H. Sander, vice president; S. Krell, secretary; and M. Schlessinger was named director. Michael (“Mike” to all his friends) Jacobs joined the firm, working in the office. The Middletown factory was well known. Their fleece-lined jackets were in demand-the employees took pride in their work. In 1934 they made the sheep-lined and leather coats and jackets for Admiral Richard Byrd’s expedition to “Little America.”


In 1935 Mike Jacobs transferred to the New York office and went on the road. In 1938 Mike and Eleanor Kirschenbaum were married and the following year Mike returned to Middletown as vice president of the company. He had started at the very bottom, but through hard work he now found himself near the very top of this thriving business.

In the 1940s, Rough Wear made custom motorcycle jackets for the New York Police Department, and during the World War II, under contract to the US Government, the factory manufactured over half a million leather jackets and flying suits for the Air Force and the Quartermaster Corps. During these years the company produced about 12,000 garments a week.

They were issue a total of 5 contracts for type A-2 flight jackets between 1940 and 1942 producing over 119,000 of the iconic garments in total using horsehide, cowhide and goatskin. The average cost per jacket at this time was $8.25.

You can find the Eastman reproduction of Rough Wear contract AC-27752 in the Original Makers section of the webshop.

A-2 RW 27752 WH mont-1

The factory, along with a few other manufacturers, also received contracts for B-15 flight jackets, made entirely of EndZone Twill. It is not known why only a few contracts were issued with this spec, but most probably it was due to the relatively high cost of the fabric, that prevented greater use of it.

EndZone Twill was constructed from cotton and rayon mix - 100% cotton in the warp, and 100% rayon in the weft, giving the fabric a unique appearance of being shiny one side, and dull on the other. This was an extremely dense and hardwearing cloth which derived its name from the jersey worn by American Football players.

The Rough Wear Company went to manufacture leather garments for motorcycle riding and sports and during the 1970s started making clothing for the fashion market, after 70 years in business the prestigious company closed its doors in 1982.


In the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, a small detachment of British Airborne troops stormed the German defence forces and paved the way for the Allied invasion of Europe. Pegasus Bridge was the first engagement of D-Day, the turning point of World War II. This daring mission was so crucial that, had it been unsuccessful, the entire Normandy invasion might have failed.

D-day - the Allies’ “Great Crusade” was set to begin at 06:00 on 6th June 1944. Troops, vehicles and equipment would be landed on the beaches of Normandy and then push forward to the local townships such as Ouistreham and Caen.

The British 6th Airborne Division would land near the village of Ranville and seize the two remaining intact road bridges over the River Orne (Pegasus Bridge) and River Dives (Horsa Bridge) in addition to protecting the flank of the invasion forces. The Airborne Infantry had clear orders to hold the bridges against German attack until relieved by units moving up from Sword Beach.

Initially it was planned that 5th Parachute Brigade would take and hold the bridges, however Divisional Commander, Major-General Gale decided the only way to take the bridges would be by a Glider Assault. He subsequently asked Brigadier Hugh Kindlsey from 6th Air Landing Brigade to nominate his best company.


“D” Company, 2nd Airborne Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, under the command of Major John Howard were selected. Howard put the company through intense training, including exercise attacks against like for like bridges in Exeter, city fight training in the bombed out centres of cities and even going so far as to acclimatise the unit to Night Operations by changing their daily routines.

General Gale tested the Company in two exercises and it soon became apparent that they would not be able to complete the objectives on their own. Major Howard was asked to select two more platoons from the Battalion to complement the roster. A Platoon of Royal Engineers would also be attached to deal with any Explosive Charges that may have been set on the Bridges.

6 Airspeed Horsa Gliders would ferry the Company to the target area, towed by Halifax Bombers. On 5th June, they made final preparations for the operation, with personal weapons and ammunition being issued. This also included the PIAT (Projector Infantry Anti-Tank) and the No. 82 Gammon Bomb, both of which would become very useful during the mission. Each platoon was also issued a radio and 2 Inch Mortar. Just before boarding the gliders, codewords were also issued; ‘Ham’ Indicated the Canal Bridge (Pegasus Bridge) had been captured intact and ‘Jam’ for the River Bridge (Horsa). Capture and Destruction of the Canal Bridge would be signalled with ‘Jack’ and ‘Lard’ if a similar fate befell the River Bridge.


At 22:56, the Gliders and their Halifax Bomber Tugs, took off from RAF Tarrant Rushton. Horsa 1 Carried Major Howard and Lieutenant Brotheridge’s Platoon, Number two bore Lieutenant Wood’s Platoon, Number 3 Lieutenant Smith’s Platoon. These first three would be heading for the canal bridge. Number 4 carried Captain Priday and Lieutenant Hooper’s Platoon, Number 5 Carried Lieutenant Fox’s platoon and the final glider had Lieutenant Sweeney’s platoon. These three would make for the River Bridge.

The Gliders began landing at approximately 00:16 with the Number One glider coming down in the barbed wire defences of the Canal Bridge. The other gliders followed at one minute intervals, Number Two glider, broke in half on landing and came to rest near a large pond. Sadly one man was thrown in and drowned, weighed down by his equipment.


Brotheridge and Smith’s platoons moved for the Bridge while Lieutenant Wood’s made for the Trench system on the North East Side. By fortunate circumstance the defenders were not on ‘full alert’ and only two sentries were on the bridge. One fled, while the other fired a flare gun to alert nearby defenders before being shot by the British Infantry. Alerted by the flare, German Machine gunners opened fire on the Bridge wounding Lieutenant Brotheridge as he threw a Grenade at them.

The grenade silenced a Machine Gun position and further German MG's were knocked out by Bren Gun fire. Brotheridge’s platoon then advanced across the Bridge and took up defensive positions, followed by Lieutenant Smith and his platoon exchanging fire with German Defenders. Smith was wounded by a Grenade while crossing. Brotheridge and Smith’s platoons then began the task of clearing the last German defenders from the trenches and bunkers which they completed by 00:21. Sadly this was too late for Brotheridge to receive treatment and he died from his wounds.

Lieutenant Wood’s platoon cleared the German Defenders on the East Bank, whereupon Wood’s was also hit and wounded. All three platoon commanders at the Canal Bridge were now dead or wounded.

At the River Bridge, the Number 5 glider landed first, 300m from the bridge. Lieutenant Fox’s platoon was immediately pinned by German Machine Guns which they silenced with a direct hit from their Mortar. Number 6 Glider landed next 700m short of the Bridge. Lt Sweeney left one section behind to secure the west bank then took the rest of his platoon to the East bank to set up and support Lt Fox’s platoon. Glider Number 4 was reported missing, it had landed at the wrong bridge, over 6 Miles away. Captain Priday and Lieutenant Hooper’s platoon were fighting their way back to the correct bridges but had a long way to go.

Lieutenants Fox and Sweeney reported to Major Howard that the River Bridge had been secured. Major Howard then broadcast the ‘Ham’ and ‘Jam’ Codewords to Command.

Reinforcements from the 7th Parachute Battalion landed shortly thereafter at 00:50. They formed up and moved to their defensive positions at 01:10 to be greeted by the Regimental Commander of the German forces stationed to guard the Bridges. His motorcycle escort was quickly dispatched and the halftrack he was travelling in forced off the road by the British defenders. Major Schmidt and his driver were subsequently taken prisoner.

Soon after this the Germans launched their first counter attack to retake the Bridges. Fortunately for the British defenders 21st Panzer Division, stationed nearby, were still awaiting Hitler’s personal permission to advance. Hitler of course, was still being in bed with none of his staff wanting to wake him, nevertheless, the 192nd PanzerGrenadier Regiment supported by the 1st Panzerjaegar Company launched an attack. As the first Mark 4 Panzers approached however, the lead vehicle was hit by a PIAT round, which detonated it’s on board ammunition completely destroying it. The other Tanks subsequently retreated and the 192nd aborted their attack.

Not be deterred the Germans resumed their attack at 03:00 with Self Propelled Artillery, Anti-Aircraft guns and Mortars in an attempt to displace the Airborne. The British Defenders were forced back but formed a new defence line through which the 192ndcouldn’t breach.

German patrol boats were next to attempt to break the deadlock, moving down the canal from Caen and using their 20mm Cannons. Number two Platoon’s PIAT team shot and hit the lead boat’s wheel house causing it to crash, the second boat disengaged and retreated.

Clearly showing their desperation a single Luftwaffe Fighter-Bomber attempted to destroy the bridge having avoided the Allied Air Patrols. It dropped a single bomb which hit the Canal Bridge but failed to explode.

The 192nd Panzer Grenadiers continued to attack and harass the British defenders, and brought them to within breaking point. However the stubborn defenders continued to thwart them, destroying 13 of 17 German tanks and blocking the road with one wrecked vehicle; destroyed by a single Gammon bomb!

By now it was midday, Hitler was awake and 21st Panzer Division was finally given orders to move on the beaches. Unfortunately for them, the RAF and the 2nd Tactical Air Force were waiting for them and caused heavy losses in their advance towards the beaches. Elements did manage to engage British paratroopers at Ranville, before withdrawing.

At 13:30, it was practically all over, 1st Commando Brigade arrived to provide relief, and they were followed in the evening by 2nd Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

Major Howard was awarded the Distinguished Service Order presented by Field Marshall Montgomery himself. Lieutenants Smith and Sweeney each received the Military Cross, Sergeant Thornton and Lance Corporal Stacey each received the Military Medal. Lieutenant Botheridge was posthumously mentioned in dispatches. Finally, Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory praised the pilots involved saying the operation included some of the most outstanding flying achievements of the war. 8 Glider Pilots were awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal.

It’s amazing to note that losses were extremely light, certainly when compared with other Airborne Operations like those the Germans embarked on at Crete, or the British Airborne’s experience during Operation Market Garden. Of the 181 Men involved in Operation Deadstick, only two were killed, Lieutenant Botheridge who succumbed to his wounds and Lance Corporal Fred Greenhalgh who drowned after being thrown from Number 2 Glider.

The Caen Canal Bridge was renamed 'Pegasus Bridge' in reference to the Pegasus emblem worn by the 6th Airborne Division in memory of this action. The River Orne Bridge was renamed 'Horsa Bridge' after the gliders that carried the men who landed here.

life_hells_angels_bill ray glare

Ever since World War II, California had been strangely plagued by wild men on motorcycles. They usually travelled in groups of ten to thirty, booming along the highways and stopping here are there to get drunk and raise hell. In 1947, hundreds of them ran amok in the town of Hollister and got enough press to inspire Hollywood to make The Wild One. The film had a massive effect on thousands of young California motorcycle riders.

The California climate was perfect for motorcycles, as well as surfboards, swimming pools and convertibles. Most of the bikers were harmless weekend types, members of the American Motorcycle Association, and no more dangerous than skiers or scuba divers. But a few belonged to what the others called "outlaw clubs," and these were the ones who - especially on weekends and holidays - were likely to turn up almost anywhere in the state, looking for action. The most notorious of these outlaw groups were the Hells Angels, headquartered in San Bernardino, just east of Los Angeles, and with branches all over the state. According to a 1965 statement by the Attorney General of California, they were easily identified:

'The emblem of the Hells Angels, termed "colors," consists of an embroidered patch of a winged skull wearing a motorcycle helmet. Just below the wing of the emblem are the letters "MC." Over this is a band bearing the words "Hell's Angels." Below the emblem is another patch bearing the local chapter name, which is usually an abbreviation for the city or locality. These patches are sewn on the back of a usually sleeveless denim jacket. In addition, members have been observed wearing various types of Luftwaffe insignia and reproductions of German iron crosses.* (*Purely for decorative and shock effect. The Hell's Angels are apolitical and no more racist than other ignorant young thugs.) Many affect beards and their hair is usually long and unkempt. Some wear a single earring in a pierced ear lobe. Frequently they have been observed to wear metal belts made of a length of polished motorcycle drive chain which can be unhooked and used as a flexible bludgeon... Probably the most universal common denominator in identification of Hell's Angels is generally their filthy condition. Investigating officers consistently report these people, both club members and their female associates, seem badly in need of a bath. Fingerprints are a very effective means of identification because a high percentage of Hell's Angels have criminal records. In addition to the patches on the back of Hell's Angel's jackets, the "One Percenters" wear a patch reading "1%-er." Another badge worn by some members bears the number "13." It is reported to represent the 13th letter of the alphabet, "M," which in turn stands for marijuana and indicates the wearer thereof is a user of the drug.'


What originally started out as a 1965 article for The Nation titled 'The Motorcycle Gangs: Losers and Outsiders', became the book 'Hell's Angels - A Strange and Terrible Saga', an offbeat look into the world of the most famous outlaw biker gang of all time written by one of the most famous outlaw journalists of his time, Hunter S Thompson.

Thompson was often a key character in his own novels, he was a drug-taking, gun-toting, left-wing political activist which to many an impressionable teenage-mind was a man to be revered and imitated. To quote Thompson himself, “fiction is based on reality unless you're a fairy-tale artist, you have to get your knowledge of life from somewhere. You have to know the material you're writing about before you alter it.” Hunter certainly lived up to his own hype and documented it faithfully, especially in his earlier works.


Thompson wears his influences on his sleeve, at times referencing writers such as Joseph Conrad, Jack Kerouac, Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald. There are two overt references to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing in this novel, the first relating to a shop owner who chose not to entertain the Hells Angels’ custom at one of their rallies, he is described as looking out across the sound mournfully in a scene cherry-picked from the ‘The Great Gatsby’ and the death of Mother Miles stating that “This was not going to be any Jay Gatsby funeral” because The Angels would be attending en masse.


Adhering to his own brand of Gonzo journalism, Hunter spent a year with the Angels in the aim of gaining vivid insight into their life and what makes them tick. The book starts off with Hunter giving a brief outline of the Angels lifestyle, meeting various members of the group in a relaxed social atmosphere and offering insights into a few individual lives. Far from being the weary outsider that The Hells Angels rising notoriety acquired and to who they quickly became suspicious of, Thompson was a semi-active member of the group, he would welcome them to his apartment at all hours of the day and night much to his neighbours dismay and eventually leading to him being evicted.

“One of the worst incidents of that era caused no complaints at all: this was a sort of good-natured firepower demonstration, which occured one Sunday morning about three-thirty. For reasons that were never made clear, I blew out my back windows with five blasts of a 12 gauge shotgun, followed moments later by six rounds from a .44 Magnum. It was a prolonged outburst of heavy firing, drunken laughter, and crashing glass. Yet the neighbors reacted with total silence.”

The book is put together in a singular way, a collection of articles, quotations from poems, police reports, film and literature recall the style of a detective novel where events are pieced together after the fact, though this was not the case here as Thompson sent off the novel as individual articles over the year. Thompson would often run what he had written past The Angels as not to offend them. However there is a change after the Ginsberg speech in which Thompson speaks of the Angels in less than flattering terms denouncing them as ‘mutants’, ‘prototypes’ and ‘toads’ a far cry from the early romanticising of The Angels in the early part of the book.  This, Thompson states, is because he has become disillusioned with them, that they have started to believe their own hype. Thompson ends on the opinion that the Angels are not outlaws as they would have us believe but natural born losers who have nothing to gain from society and as a result nothing to lose.


The book features notable cameos from Ken Kesey (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest) and Allen Ginsberg (Howl) and is laudable in its painstaking description of the Angels wild drug taking adventures. The Angels took everything in excess whether it be beer, wine, pills, weed, LSD, or their obsessive dedication to their bikes. And Thompson himself was known for his life-long use of all of the above. According to one article, Hunter would daily consume the following for breakfast, “orange juice, coffee, hash pipe, Dunhill cigarettes, a half-pint tumbler of Chivas Regal on ice and a small black bowl filled with cocaine.”

'Hell’s Angels' is Thompson’s most vital work, his first published book and a giant leap from writing various sports articles, propelling him to notoriety and infamy. The book set forth the dogma which he would live fully throughout his life, until his characteristically uncompromising death at the barrel of his own revolver in 2005. Thompson’s contribution to journalism was great, influencing such writers as Rolling Stone’s Lester Bangs and Cameron Crowe.

Thompson is at his best when he is angry, whether it be ranting about gun-control, Hippies who lacked the cultural conviction of their earlier counterparts or Richard Nixon, in his writing he was always eloquent and acerbic. Thompson’s most endearing quality is his inability to shirk the issue or compromise and this comes across in his writing. He was upfront with the Angels about being a journalist and his straight-talking eventually led to him suffering a stomping at their hands, which rounds off his time as an honorary outlaw.


UDTs (Underwater Demolition Team) had their genesis following the U.S. Marine invasion of Tarawa. The invasion beaches were ringed with underwater coral formations hidden from the Marines. Landing craft slammed into the coral and took deadly fire from the Japanese. Many Marines drowned as they attempted to reach shore more than half a mile away.

It was obvious that submerged fortifications could prove disastrous for troops, landing craft and an entire military operation. In this same time period, plans were being finalised for the invasion of Normandy where it was known the coast was heavily fortified with underwater mines and obstacles designed to gut a landing craft. A new strategy was needed.

The idea of Frogmen was certainly not a new one. The British SBS had been founded in 1940 with all members trained as divers while Italians were well known for their underwater commandoes in WWI nicknamed “Uomini Rana”, Italian for “frog men”. The name stemmed from the unique, frog-like kicking style used by the commandoes.

The first major U.S. amphibious operation of WWII was launched in November 1942 when 400,000 men landed off of 890 ships in North Africa. This landing met with limited resistance as the British were already fighting the Germans. However, the military minds realised that there might be a need for operations to clear beaches in the future. Admiral Turner approached LCMR Draper Kauffman about the development of Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs). At that time, Kauffman was in charge of the Mine Disposal School in Washington.

Kauffman was a graduate of the Naval Academy in 1933. He was captured by the Germans in Europe and later escaped. His first major assignment in the Pacific was to disassemble a 500 lb bomb that had hit Schofield Barracks during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He later set up the Navy’s first bomb disposal school. Kauffman mulled over the idea of UDTs for quite a while and finally decided the best way to rid the beaches of obstacles was to send in men trained in handling explosives, thereby blasting the beaches clear for the landing crafts. He began to look for volunteers in the Navy Construction Battalion or CBs (later remained the See Bees) who were used to handling explosives. He later sought out Navy and Marine personnel who were rugged and had previous swimming experience. It was understood that all UDT members were volunteers and they could resign at any time.


The men were brought together in the summer of 1943 at Fort Pierce in Florida for six weeks of training. Additional training in Hawaii followed this. The theory was that a man is capable of about 10 times as much physical output as is normally assumed. Gruelling exercises were conducted in the ocean and the swamps with the alligators and snakes. The focus was on demolishing the obstacles that were expected at Normandy. Training was extensive and exhausting. Timing and teamwork were critical for each mission.

Many of the team members were from the West Coast and were seasoned watermen and surfers. One former WWII UDT member told of his occasional encounter with sharks in the ocean during training. “One day while swimming in very deep water, I happened to look up to see a six or seven foot shark coming along. I reached for my knife and it wasn’t there. For some reason I had forgotten it. I tried to act calm, saying over and over again that most sharks never bother anyone. Boy was I relieved when it disappeared into nowhere. I never forgot my knife again!”


He went on to describe how they would practice cruising in toward shore on rubber rafts loaded with explosives and then blowing up a reef. “Let me tell you, that when two or three tons of TNT goes off, it makes Old Faithful look like a pot of boiling water!” As a result of their training, the men were soon at home in the mud, noise, water and exhaustion.

The UDTs always functioned in small teams. Their apparel consisted of a pair of swimming trunks, fins, mask, a lead line to measure depths, coral shoes to walk on the sharp coral, a slate for taking notes, a life ring and a Hagansen pack. This explosive pack was for destroying a selected obstacle with limited shrapnel, hopefully protecting the diver. Later, when diving in colder oceans such as at Iwo Jima, the only insulation was a layer of grease applied to their skin.

This group worked hard but was never called upon. Then came Tarawa. From then on, the demand for UDTs exploded. Various training programs were developed at different bases, each with a different focus. Some teams trained extensively in reef and obstacle explosives while other became experts in reconnaissance, where they would sneak ashore and determine resistance levels of the enemy prior to an invasion.

UDT Marine Sign

This second group was not without their sense of humour. It has been said that UDTs would come ashore and doodle the famous “Kilroy was here” symbol on structures found ashore. I asked one of our WWII veteran frogmen about it and while he denied knowledge of that story, he replied that his friend in another UDT unit was known for posting small signs on the beach stating, “Army, USO that way”, with an arrow pointing up the beach! The teams also discovered that due to the slowing of bullets underwater, they could catch them in their bare hands. Many were brought back as souvenirs.

The UDTs were later involved in most of the subsequent battles of the Pacific as well as Europe, and Normandy. They were key to the success of Kwajalein, Tinian, Guam, Peleliu, Saipan, Philippines, Borneo, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, among others. Their mark on the success of WWII can never be overstated. On Guam, they removed over 930 obstacles in six days. A very small piece of the Navy, they never numbered more than 32 units and 3000 men. Thanks to the success of the UDTs, the Navy took the skills and team concept of an exceptionally well-trained small unit and developed the highly regarded Navy Seal program.

Before the Naval Demolition Project was established there were other units formed that developed legacy capabilities to accomplish what we now know as Naval Special Warfare. Two were formed at ATB Little Creek, Norfolk, Va., in August 1942 almost simultaneously. Each was to perform specific missions in Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, and yet it is doubtful that either knew about the other or their assigned tasks.


The Amphibious Scouts and Raiders (Joint) were formed to reconnoiter prospective landing beaches and also to lead assault forces to the correct beach under cover of darkness. The unit was led by Army 1st Lt. Lloyd Peddicord as commanding officer and Navy Ensign John Bell as executive officer. Navy chief petty officers and sailors came from the boat pool at ATB Solomons, and Army personnel came from the 3rd and 9th Infantry Divisions. These two groups were gathered at ATB Little Creek in late August, where they trained until embarking for Operation Torch in November. The Scout and Raider school was relocated to ATB Fort Pierce in February 1943, and in July it became an all Navy school reorganised to accomplish a training program code-named “Amphibious Roger.” Roger men were being trained for deployment to the Sino-American Cooperative Organisation (SACO) in China, where they became known as “Rice Paddy sailors.” Scout and Raider units and capabilities did not survive the postwar period.

During the same period, a specialised naval demolition team was formed with two naval Reserve officers and 17 enlisted men. All were U.S. Navy trained salvage divers. Their crash course at ATB Little Creek during August and September 1942 included demolitions, commando tactics, cable cutting, and rubber-boat training. Their single mission was to demolish a heavily cabled boom blocking the Wadi Sebou River so that USS Dallas(DD 199) could proceed up the river and train her guns on the Port Lyautey airdrome in preparation for attack by embarked Army Rangers. This was a hair-raising story of determination and success; however, the group was disbanded once it returned from Africa. Because they were Navy divers and because they were given training in demolitions, they have often been referred to as underwater demolition men, but they were not. Of interest, every man in this group was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions in this mission.


Post WWII, the UDTs operated on the coasts of North Korea during the Korean War, with their efforts initially focused on demolitions and mine disposal. Additionally, they accompanied SOK commandos on raids in the North to demolish railroad tunnels and bridges. The higher-ranking officers of the UDT frowned upon this activity because it was a non-traditional use of the Naval forces, which took them too far from the water line. Due to the nature of the war, the UDT maintained a low operational profile. Some of the better-known missions include the transport of spies into North Korea, and the destruction of North Korean fishing nets.

The Korean War was a period of transition for the men of the UDT. They tested their previous limits and defined new parameters for their special style of warfare. These new techniques and expanded horizons positioned the UDT well to assume an even broader role as the storms of war began brewing to the south in Vietnam.

The Navy entered the Vietnam War in 1958, when the UDTs delivered a small watercraft far up the Mekong River into Laos. In 1961, Naval advisers started training the South Vietnamese UDT. These men were called the Liên Đoàn Người Nhái (LDNN), roughly translated as the "soldiers that fight under the sea."

Later, the UDTs supported the Amphibious Ready Groups operating on South Vietnam's rivers. UDTs manned riverine patrol craft and went ashore to demolish obstacles and enemy bunkers. These Detachments operated throughout South Vietnam, from the Mekong Delta (Sea Float), The Parrot Beak and French canal AO's through I Corps and the Song Cui Dai Estuary south of Danang.


In the mid-1950s, the Navy saw how the UDT's mission had expanded to a broad range of "unconventional warfare", but also that this clashed with the UDT's traditional focus on swimming and diving operations. It was therefore decided to create a new type of unit that would build on the UDT's elite qualities and water-borne expertise, but would add land combat skills, including parachute training and guerrilla/counterinsurgency operations.These new teams would come to be known as the SEALs (which stood for SEa, Air, and Land). Initially there was a lag in the unit's creation until President John F Kennedy took office. Kennedy recognised the need for unconventional warfare, and supported the use of special operations forces against guerrilla activity. The Navy moved forward to establish its new wing and in January 1962, SEAL Team One was commissioned. The SEALs quickly earned a reputation for valor and stealth in Vietnam, where they conducted clandestine raids in perilous territory. Since then, teams of SEALs have taken on shadowy missions in strife-torn regions around the world, stalking high-profile targets such as Panama's Manuel Noriega and Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and playing integral roles in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


In autumn 1940, a small group of Native American Chippewas and Oneidas joined the Thirty-second Infantry Division for the express purpose of radio communications. Soon afterward, an Iowa National Guard unit, the Nineteenth Infantry Division, brought several members of the Sac and Fox tribes into its ranks for the same purpose. Their training, and their use in maneuvers in Louisiana, hinted at the successful utilisation of Indians as combat radiomen.

The tactic seemed so promising that the Thirty-second requested the Indians' permanent assignment to the division, and the army expanded the program in 1941. With posts in the Philippines, where Spanish was commonly spoken, radiomen were needed who could transmit messages directly to the Filipino forces, to American units, and if needed, in code.

The War Department found among the Pueblo Indians the necessary linguistic abilities, actively recruited them into the New Mexico National Guard, mobilised the outfit, and shipped the unit to the islands. Optimism prevailed within the Signal Corps, and, in spring 1942, thirty Comanches entered the Signal Corps and were dispatched to the European Theatre.

Despite the army's early efforts and the proficiency demonstrated by Indian code talkers, the War Department never fully grasped the program's potential. No more than a few dozen Indians were trained for radio operations. In contrast, the US Marine Corps developed the concept on such a broad level that it became an integral part of the branch's combat operations. Unlike the army, Marine solicitation of Indians did not commence until after Pearl Harbor. Moreover, the program resulted not from within the military but from a civilian source.


In February 1942, Philip Johnston approached Major James E Jones, Force Communications Officer at Camp Elliot in San Diego, with a plan to use the Navajo language for battlefield radio transmissions. Johnston had lived among the Navajos for more than 20 years and during that time had become fluent in their language. He explained that Navajo spoke a language unlike any other Indians and added less than a dozen anthropologists had ever studied that part of Navajo culture. Even German scholars who visited Indian communities in the 1930's, including Nazi propagandist Dr Colin Ross, ignored the Navajo language. In essence, this peculiar language seemed safe from enemy understanding if incorporated into the Marine Corps' communication structure.

Johnston convinced Major Jones of the possible worth of his idea, and before the week's end, the Marine Corps extended Johnston the opportunity for a demonstration. On the morning of February 28, the former missionary's son and four Navajos arrived at Camp Elliot.

Major Jones gave them six messages normally communicated in military operations and instructed the group to assemble forty-five minutes later at division headquarters. With such a short time to devise a basic code, the Navajos worked feverishly. At 9:00 A.M. Johnston and the four Indians appeared before Jones, General Clayton B. Vogel, and others to conduct their demonstration. Within seconds, the six messages were transmitted in Navajo, received, decoded, and correctly relayed to Major Jones.

"It goes in, in Navajo? And it comes out in English?" questioned one rather surprised officer. In later tests, three code experts attached to the United States Navy failed to decipher "intercepted" transmissions; the system "seemed foolproof." Both Jones and Vogel were immensely impressed.


Over the following days, the merits of an Indian code-talking program gathered interest with General Vogel's staff. By mid-March, the Marine Corps authorised the recruitment of twenty-nine Navajos for communications work and formed the 382nd Platoon for the Indian specialists. Immediately, the boarding schools at Fort Defiance, Shiprock, and Fort Wingate received visits from marine personnel, and the original complement of code talkers was formed. In addition, Philip Johnston petitioned the Marine Corps for his own enlistment as training specialist at a noncommissioned rank. Though already in his forties, the Marine Corps accepted his offer.

The Indian recruits received basic training and advanced infantry training in San Diego before they were informed of their particular task. To a man, the Indians responded enthusiastically and began the construction of a code. Once the first 29 were trained, two remained behind to become instructors for future Navajo code talkers and the other 27 were sent to Guadalcanal to be the first to use the new code in combat.


In jungle combat in the Pacific, the Navajos' innate strength, ingenuity, scouting and tracking ability, habitual Spartan lifestyle, and utter disregard for hardships stood them in remarkably good stead. At first utilised usually only at the company-battalion level, the Navajos became virtually indispensable as their capability and reliability were recognised.

Frequently, and especially when a Marine regiment was fighting alongside an Army unit, the Navajos' physical resemblance to the Japanese led to confusion that resulted in several Navajos almost becoming casualties of 'friendly fire' by their fellow-Americans. Many Navajos actually were captured and taken for interrogation. One such Navajo, William McCabe, was looking for something to eat while waiting on a Guadalcanal beach for his transport ship. 'I got lost among the big chow dump,' he recalled, 'All of a sudden I heard somebody say, `Halt,' and I kept walking. `Hey, you! Halt, or I'm gonna shoot!'. . . . There was a big rifle all cocked and ready to shoot. I'm just from my outfit, I was coming here to get something to eat. And he said, `I think you're a Jap. Just come with me." After that incident, McCabe was accompanied by a non-Navajo at all times.

On the eve of the First Marine Division's departure for the island of Okinawa, which was expected to be the bloodiest landing of the Pacific War thus far, the Navajos performed a sacred ceremonial dance that invoked their deities' blessings and protection for themselves and their fellow Americans. They prayed that their enemies' resistance might prove weak and ineffectual. Some of their non-Indian buddies, standing on the sidelines, scoffed at the whole idea. When Ernie Pyle, the famed Scripps-Howard war correspondent, reported the story afterward, he noted that the landings on Okinawa beach had indeed proved much easier than had been anticipated and noted that several of the Navajos were quick to point this out to the skeptics in their units.


Farther inland, however, Japanese resistance stiffened, almost slowing the American advance to a halt. As might be expected, a Navajo was asked by another Marine with whom he shared a foxhole what he thought of his prayers now. 'This,' the Navajo replied, 'is completely different. We only prayed for help during the landings.'

Eventually, Navajo code talkers served with all six Marine divisions in the Pacific and with Marine Raider and parachute units as well. Praise for their work became lavish and virtually endless as they participated in major Marine assaults on the Solomons, the Marianas, Peleliu, and Iwo Jima.

Commenting on the Marines' Iwo Jima landing, Major Howard Conner, the Fifth Marine Division's Signal Officer, said that 'The entire operation was directed by Navajo code. . . . During the two days that followed the initial landings I had six Navajo radio nets working around the clock. . . . They sent and received over 800 messages without an error. Were it not for the Navajo Code Talkers, the Marines never would have taken Iwo Jima.'

On an August evening in 1945, the Navajos were, quite naturally, among the first to receive the news that everyone had been waiting to hear. After the atomic bombings of Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki three days later, Emperor Hirohito had urged the Japanese nation to 'endure the unendurable' of surrender. The war was over.


In all, 421 Navajos had completed wartime training at Camp Pendleton's code talker school, and most had been assigned to combat units overseas. Following Japan's formal surrender aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, several code talkers volunteered for duty with U.S. occupation forces in Japan. Others were sent to China for duty with American Marines there. One code talker, Willson Price, remained in the Marine Corps for thirty years, finally retiring in 1972.


While United Nations forces struggled to hold onto the Pusan perimeter in the late summer of 1950, the U.S. 1st Provisional Marine Brigade was rushed into action to reinforce U.S. Army and Republic of Korea (ROK) troops defending that precarious pocket in the southeast corner of South Korea. The undermanned 5th U.S. Marine Regiment and its support units had barely arrived at Pusan when they were moved in borrowed Army trucks to stop a North Korean assault near Chindong-ni, on the perimeter's western edge. Brigade commander Brigadier General Edward A. Craig knew little about the terrain his Marines would have to cross, so he climbed into a Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter and lifted off to scout the route, give directions to the lead battalion, pick a spot for his command post and meet with his Army superiors. Returning from the meeting with Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker, the Eighth Army commander, Craig stopped three more times to confer with his unit commanders. That crucial trip aboard a chopper from Marine Observation Squadron 6 (VMO-6) on August 3, 1950, was a harbinger of the increasingly vital role rotary wing aircraft would play in three years of tough fighting in Korea.

"Fortunately, Marine helicopters attached to VMO-6 were always available for observation, communication and control," Craig recalled. "These aircraft made my day. Without them I do not believe we would have had the success we did." The VMO-6 choppers soon were pressed into service to deliver water and other critically needed supplies to grunts struggling over hilly terrain. And they often carried out wounded Marines on return flights.

While the Marines were inaugurating the use of the underpowered Sikorsky helicopters in command-and-control, light resupply and medical evacuation roles, the Navy was flying those same choppers from aircraft carriers and a few large warships operating in the Sea of Japan. The Navy helicopters were used at first to pluck downed fliers from the sea and undertake short logistical missions between ships. But they quickly took on added duties such as gunfire spotting for the warships. Later in the conflict they became key elements in the prolonged effort to clear coastal waters of mines.

U.S. Air Force Air Rescue Service units would soon be flying similar helicopters, designated as H-5s, from land bases to pick up downed pilots, often behind enemy lines. Within months, Air Force helicopters joined the Marine choppers in rushing badly wounded leathernecks from frontline aid stations to field hospitals and later to a Navy hospital ship offshore, sharply reducing delays in providing lifesaving medical care.

A1/H-5G/pho 7

Early in 1951, Army helicopters also began to fly medevac missions, sparing seriously wounded soldiers punishing ambulance trips over Korea's wretched roads. Between their rescues of downed airmen and isolated ground troops and flying ambulance missions, U.S. helicopters were credited with saving tens of thousands of lives during the war. "Few technical innovations were equal in importance to the growing use of the helicopter for medical evacuations," one Army history declared. With the arrival of larger, more capable helicopters later in the conflict, the Marines and Army would demonstrate the usefulness of vertical lift aircraft in the tactical movement of troops and supplies — a role that would become the hallmark of another Asian war a decade later.

Korea was not actually the first time rotary wing aircraft had been used in combat. The Marines had tested — and rejected as unsuitable — the Pitcairn OP-1 autogyro, a hybrid aircraft with a four-blade rotor, for liaison and medevac missions in 1932, while fighting guerrillas in Nicaragua. The Army bought its first helicopter, a Vought-Sikorsky XR-4, on January 10, 1941, and operated a few improved models of that aircraft in Europe and Asia during the later stages of World War II. The first recorded use of a U.S. helicopter in combat came in May 1944, when an Army chopper rescued four downed airmen behind enemy lines in Burma.


The Navy bought four of the improved Sikorsky aircraft in 1942 for evaluation but soon handed the responsibility for helicopter development and pilot training to the Coast Guard. The Navy resumed its own helicopter programs after WWII ended, forming Experimental Squadron 3 (VX-3) on December 28, 1945. Pilots and support personnel from that unit staffed Helicopter Utility squadrons HU-1 and HU-2 as training and fleet support squadrons.

Postwar atomic bomb tests forced the Marines to reconsider their traditional form of amphibious landings. As a result, Marine Helicopter Developmental Squadron 1 (HMX-1) was created on December 1, 1947, to test the use of rotary wing aircraft to move troops from ship to shore. When North Korean forces invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, four HO3S-1 helicopters and 37 Marines were transferred from HMX-1 to VMO-6, which departed for Korea in July aboard the escort carrier Badoeng Strait.

The squadron's four helicopters and eight Stinson OY-1 (the U.S. Navy designation for the L-5) fixed-wing spotter planes flew into the Pusan perimeter on August 2, as the Provisional Brigade's ground troops were arriving. The helicopters quickly proved their worth, helping General Craig and his battalion commanders overcome their lack of familiarity with their operating area. "Helicopters were a life saver in this connection, as they provided the means for even commanders of small units to get into the air quickly from almost any point and identify roads, villages and key points prior to moving their troops," Craig recalled.

The helicopters added pilot rescue to their duties on August 3 when an HO3S carrying Craig diverted to pick up a Marine Vought F4U-4 Corsair pilot who had been shot down during a close air support mission. Marine choppers would assume that role scores of times in the coming months. Major Robert J. Keller, a commander of VMF-214, the famous "Black Sheep" fighter squadron, said later, "The helicopters have done a wonderful service in rescuing downed pilots under the very guns of the enemy."

As the choppers' roles diversified, their crews implemented a variety of field modifications. When asked to carry casualties to the rear, the Marines found that a stretcher would not fit inside the HO3S's small cabin. So they removed the rear window on one side and stuffed the wounded man's litter in headfirst, leaving his feet exposed to the weather. On occasion, innovative helicopter crews also supported the infantry by laying field telephone wires between units, putting down lines over rugged terrain within minutes that would have taken men on foot days to cross.

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Equipped with only the most basic instruments, the helicopters were not actually certified for night flying. But with so many lives at stake, Marines soon found themselves evacuating casualties after sundown. Pilots from the other services also defied the ban on night flying. In the end, chopper crews would conduct hundreds of dangerous nighttime medevac missions.

To meet the increasing demands for their services, additional Marine helicopters and pilots were sent from Japan in August. General Craig called for larger helicopters that could carry heavier loads, and Marine headquarters responded within a year. VMO-6 helicopters had no immediate role in the 1st Marine Division's daring amphibious landing at Inchon on September 15, but choppers got into the action the next day when one of the squadron's helos flying off an LST (landing ship, tank) rescued a Corsair pilot who had ditched in the harbor. Many of the rescue missions proved dangerous, and VMO-6's helicopter units suffered their own losses. Two choppers were shot down, and one pilot was killed while trying to rescue other fliers during the advance from Inchon to Seoul.

The choppers played key roles during the Marines' advance to the Chosin Reservoir and their fighting withdrawal from the massive Chinese offensive, maintaining contact among the widely separated units. And they also continued flying medi­cal supplies and critical materiel in and carrying casualties out of small landing spots in the narrow valleys of North Korea. Two more choppers were shot up and another pilot killed during that precarious withdrawal.


Late in 1950, as the numbers of HO3Ss were shrinking due to losses, VMO-6 started transitioning to Bell HTL-4s, the helicopters made famous by the M*A*S*H TV show's opening scene. The Bells could carry two casualties in litters strapped on each side, twice the load that could be carried by HO3Ss.

Helicopters of the Third Air Rescue Group were given credit for picking up 846 pilots and aircrew from behind enemy lines during the conflict. Add to that 8,373 soldiers and airmen lifted from battlefields and air taxied to the frontline MASH and thats quite a feat.


Although the first extensive use of helicopters in combat was handicapped by the limited capabilities of the early aircraft and the need to develop procedures under wartime pressure, they were widely hailed as tools that would be vital in future conflicts. On the basis of his experiences in Korea, Eighth Army commander Lt. Gen. Maxwell Taylor said: "The cargo helicopter, employed in mass, can extend the tactical mobility of the Army far beyond its normal capability. I hope that the United States Army will make ample provisions for the full exploitation of the helicopter in the future."


By the time the United States went to war again in Vietnam, a decade later, helicopters had made the transition from useful novelty to a symbol of the American way of fighting.