January 18, 1943 The Greatest Thing since Sliced Bread

Ohio farmer Roscoe Filburne was ordered to destroy the surplus and pay a fine, even though his “surplus” was being consumed on the farm by the Filburne family and their chickens

The first automatic bread slicer was invented by Otto Frederick Rohwedder of Davenport, Iowa, in 1912. The idea was not at all popular among bakers, who feared that pre-sliced bread would go stale faster, leading to spoiled inventory and dissatisfied customers.
st-_louis_electrical_bread_slicer_1930The project almost ended in a fire in 1917, when the prototype was destroyed along with the blueprints. Rohwedder soldiered on, by 1927 he had scraped up enough financing to rebuild his bread slicer.

Frank Bench, a personal friend of the inventor, was the first to install the machine. The first pre-sliced loaf was sold in July of the following year. Customers loved the convenience and Bench’s bread sales shot through the roof.sliced-bread-wonder

Sliced bread became a national hit when the Continental Baking Company, then owner of the “Wonder Bread” brand, began using a modified version of Rowhedder’s machine in 1930. Sliced bread was here to stay. Sort of.

The United States had been in WWII for two years in 1943, when Claude Wickard, head of the War Foods Administration as well as Secretary of Agriculture, had the hare brained idea of banning sliced bread.

Mr. Wickard was no stranger to hare brained ideas; it is he who lends his name to the landmark Supreme Court case Wickard v. Filburne. Speaking of hare brained ideas. The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938 limited the area that farmers could devote to wheat production, in an effort to stabilize the price of wheat on the national market. An Ohio farmer named Roscoe Filburne was producing more than his allotment. The federal government ordered him to destroy the surplus and pay a fine, even though his “surplus” was being consumed on the farm by the Filburne family and their chickens.

constitutionArticle 1, Section 8 of the Constitution includes the “Commerce Clause”, permitting the Congress “To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”. That’s it. The Federal District Court sided with the farmer, but the Federal government appealed to the US Supreme Court, arguing that, by withholding his surplus from the interstate wheat market, Filburne was effecting that market, and therefore fell under federal government jurisdiction under the commerce clause.

The United States Supreme Court, apparently afraid of President Roosevelt and his aggressive and illegal “court packing” scheme, ruled against the farmer. Ever since, what you don’t do can be argued in a court of law to affect interstate commerce, putting what you didn’t do under the jurisdiction of the federal government. Get it? Neither do I, but I digress.

Back to Mr. Wickard, who enacted his ban against sliced bread and put it into effect on January 18, 1943. The push-back, as you might guess, was immediate and vehement. One woman wrote to the New York Times: “I should like to let you know how important sliced bread is to the morale and saneness of a household. My husband and four children are all in a rush during and after breakfast. Without ready-sliced bread I must do the slicing for toast—two pieces for each one—that’s ten. For their lunches I must cut by hand at least twenty slices, for two sandwiches apiece. Afterward I make my own toast. Twenty-two slices of bread to be cut in a hurry!”

The stated reasons for the ban never did make sense. At various times, Wickard claimed that it was to conserve wax paper, wheat and steel, but one reason was goofier than the one before. According to the War Production Board, most bakeries had plenty of wax paper supplies on hand, even if they didn’t buy any. Furthermore, the federal sliced-breadgovernment had a billion bushels of wheat stockpiled at the time, about two years’ supply, and the amount of steel saved by not making bread slicers has got to be marginal, at best.

The ban was rescinded on March 8, 1943, and pre-sliced bread was once again available to the federal government and its subjects. There’s no telling who first used the expression “the greatest thing since sliced bread”, but a reasonable guess may be made as to why.

Advertisements

January 17, 1994 Death of a Troop Ship

SS America had the largest total of any Navy troop ship in service during WWII, and included USO entertainers, Red Cross workers, and prisoners of war

The Federal Government passed the Merchant Marine act of 1936, “to further the development and maintenance of an adequate and well-balanced American merchant marine”.

The act served multiple purposes.  Among them was the modernizing what was at that time a largely WWI vintage merchant marine fleet, and serving as the basis for a naval auxiliary that could be activated in time of war or national emergency.ss_america_under_construction

Two years later, the first keel laid under the Merchant Marine act was the SS America, built by the United States Line and operated as a passenger liner until America entered WWII in 1941.

Naval interiors of the age tended to be stodgy and overwrought. SS America has the almost unique distinction of having its interiors designed entirely by women, as naval architect William Francis Gibbs turned to the all-female team of Miriam Smyth, Ann Urquhart & Dorothy Marckwald. “It is not without reason”, according to team leader “Dot” Marckwald, “the majority of the passengers are women, and no man could ever know as much about their comfort problems and taste reactions as another woman.”ss-america-lounge-from-balcony

SS America was christened by Eleanor Roosevelt and launched on August 31, 1939, the day before Adolf Hitler invaded Poland.

She would serve as a passenger liner for the two years remaining for US neutrality, with American flags painted on both sides of her hull.  At night she’d sail while fully illuminated.

Where there are government subsidies, there are strings. For SS America, those strings ss-america-flaggedwere pulled on May 28, 1941, while the liner was at Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. The ship had been called into service by the United States Navy, and ordered to return to Newport News.

Re-christened the USS West Point, she served as a transport for the remainder of the war, carrying in excess of 350,000 troops and other passengers by 1946. Hers was the largest total of any Navy troop ship in service during WWII, and included USO entertainers, Red Cross workers, and prisoners of war. As America, she had even carried two Nazi spies as part of her crew, until their discharge on America’s return to Virginia. The two spies, Franz Joseph Stigler and Erwin Wilheim Siegler, were members of the Duquesne spy ring, reporting allied movements in the Panama Canal Zone until they and 31 of their cohorts were found out late in 1941.

ss-united-states-ss-americaDuring her service to the United States Navy, West Point was awarded the American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal.

Returned to civilian service in 1946 and re-christened America, the ship remained a favorite for cruise ship vacationers through most of the fifties. By 1964, the competition from larger, faster ships and the airlines had put the best years behind the aging liner. Sold and then sold again, she had come full circle by 1978, when new owners tried to capitalize on the old ship’s mystique. She was in terrible condition and her refit nowhere near complete when America set sail on her first cruise on June 30, 1978. There was rusted metal, oil soaked rags and backed up sewage. There were filthy mattresses and soiled linens, and so many complaints that the ship turned back after barely clearing the Statue of Liberty.

Impounded for non-payment of debts and receiving an inspection score of 6 out of a possible 100 points by the Public Health Service, the US District Court ordered America to be sold at auction.

One new owner after another bought the hulk during the eighties, only to default. First it was going to be a prison ship, and then sold and renamed Alferdoss, which means “paradise” in Arabic. She was anything but at this point. The next buyer intended to scrap her, only to become the latest in a long line of financial defaults.

Sold yet again in 1993 and renamed the American Star, the new owners planned to convert her to a five-star hotel ship off Phuket, Thailand. A planned 100 day tow began on New Year’s Eve of 1993, but the lines broke. On January 17, 1994, the former SS America was wreck-ss-americaadrift in foul seas, running aground in the Canary Islands the following day.

Discussions of salvage operations were soon squashed, as the ship broke in two in the pounding surf.

The National WWII Museum in New Orleans reports on its website that the men and women who fought and won the great conflict are now passing at a rate of 550 per day.  The Frank Buckles of their era, the last living American veteran of WWI, is expected to pass some time in the 2030s.  How many, I wonder, might think back and remember passage on the most successful troop transport of their day.

By the spring of 2013, the only time you could tell there’s a wreck on the beach, was at low tide.

 

 

 

January 16, 2003 Columbia

231,000 feet over the California coast and traveling 23 times the speed of sound, external temperatures rose to 3,000°F, when hot gases penetrated the interior of the wing

The idea of a reusable Space Transportation System (STS) was floated as early as the 1960s, as a way to cut down on the cost of space travel. The final design was a reusable, winged “spaceplane”, a disposable external tank and reusable solid fuel rocket boosters. The ‘Space Truck’ program was approved in 1972, the prime contract awarded to North American Aviation (later Rockwell International), with the first orbiter completed in 1976.

Early Approach and Landing Tests were conducted with the first prototype, dubbed “Enterprise”, in 1977. A total of 16 tests, all atmospheric, were conducted from February to October of that year, the lessons learned applied to the first spaceworthy vehicle in NASA’s orbital fleet.

columbia_sts1
STS-1, the 1st Space shuttle mission, launched aboard Columbia on 4/12/81

STS-1, the first mission of the “Space Shuttle” program launched aboard “Columbia” from the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida. It was April 12, 1981, the 20th anniversary of the first human spaceflight, aboard the Russian Vostok 1. It was the first, and to-date only, manned maiden test flight of a new spacecraft system in the US space program.

This first flight of Columbia would be commanded by Gemini and Apollo veteran John Young, and piloted by Robert Crippen. It was the first of 135 missions in the Space Shuttle program, the first of only two to take off with its external hydrogen fuel tank painted white. From STS-3 on, the external tank would be left unpainted to save weight.

There were initially four fully functional orbiters in the STS program: Columbia was joined after the first five missions by “Challenger”, then “Discovery”, and finally “Atlantis”. A fifth orbiter, “Endeavor”, was built in 1991 to replace Challenger, which broke apart 73 seconds after lift-off on January 28, 1986, killing all seven of its crew.

All told, Columbia flew 28 missions with 160 crew members, traveling 125,204,911 miles in 4,808 orbits around the planet.

FILE NASA PORTRAIT OF COLUMBIA MISSION CREW STS-107 launched from the Kennedy Space Center aboard the Space Shuttle Columbia on January 16, 2003.  A piece of insulating foam broke away from the external fuel tank eighty seconds after launch, striking Columbia’s left wing and leaving a small hole in the carbon composite tiles along the leading edge.  Three previous Space Shuttle missions had experienced similar damage and, while some engineers thought this one could be more serious, they were unable to pinpoint the precise location or extent of the damage.  NASA managers believed that, even if there had been major damage, little could be done about it.

These carbon tiles are all that stands between the orbiter and the searing heat of re-entry. Columbia’s 300 days, 17 hours, forty minutes and 22 seconds in space came to an end on the morning of February 1, 2003, as it broke up in the outer atmosphere. 231,000 feet over the California coast and traveling 23 times the speed of sound, external temperatures rose to 3,000°F, when hot gases penetrated the interior of the wing. The first debris began falling to the ground near Lubbock, Texas, at 8:58am. The last communication from the crew came one minute later. Columbia disintegrated in the skies over East Texas at 9:00am eastern standard time.

Debris and crew remains were found in over 2,000 locations across Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas. The only survivors of the disaster was a canister full of worms, taken into space for study.

petr-ginz-drawingPayload Specialist Colonel Ilan Ramon, born Ilan Wolferman, was an Israeli fighter pilot and the first Israeli astronaut to join the NASA space program. Colonel Ramon’s mother is an Auschwitz survivor, his grandfather and several family members killed in the Nazi death camps. In their memory, Ramon carried a copy of “Moon Landscape”, a drawing by 14 year old holocaust victim Petr Ginz, depicting what the boy thought earth might look like from the moon. Today, there are close to 84,000 pieces of Columbia and assorted debris, stored in the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. To the best of my knowledge, that drawing by a 14 year old boy who never made it out of Auschwitz, is not among them.

January 15, 1919 Great Molasses Flood

“Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage … Here and there struggled a form—whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was … Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings—men and women—suffered likewise”

File photo of Bolt of Jamaica competing in the men's 100 metres semi-final heat event during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in MoscowRoger Bannister became the first human to run a sub-four minute mile on May 6, 1954, with an official time of 3 minutes 59.4 seconds. The Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is recorded as the fastest man who ever lived. At the 2009 World Track and Field Championships, Bolt ran 100 meters at an average 23.35 mph from a standing start, and the 20 meters between the 60 & 80 markers at an average 27.79 mph.

I suppose it would come as a rude shock to both of those guys, that they are literally slower than cold molasses, in January.

In 1919, the Purity Distilling Company operated a large molasses storage tank at 529 Commercial Street, in the North End of Boston. Fifty feet tall and ninety feet wide, the tank held 2.32 million gallons, about 14,000 tons of the sweet stuff, awaiting transfer to the Purity plant in Cambridge.

It had been cold earlier in the month, but on January 15, it was a balmy 46°, up from the bitter low of 2° of the day before.

If you’d been there at about 12:30, the first sound you might have heard was a rumble, like the sound of a distant train. The next sound was like that of a machine gun, as rivets popped and the two sides of the metal tower split apart.

The collapse hurled a wall of molasses 40′ high down the street at 35 miles per hour,bostonmolassesdisaster smashing the elevated train tracks on Atlantic Ave and hurling entire buildings from their foundations. Horses, wagons, and dogs were caught up with broken buildings and scores of people as the brown flood sped across the North End. Twenty municipal workers were eating lunch in a nearby city building when they were swept away, parts of the building thrown fifty yards. Part of the tank wall fell on a nearby fire house, crushing the building and burying three firemen alive.

In the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton described the physical properties of fluids. Water, a “Newtonian” fluid, retains a constant viscosity (flow) between 32° and 212°, fahrenheit. We all know what it is to swim in water, but a “non-Newtonian” fluid such as molasses, acts very differently. Non Newtonian fluids change viscosity and “shear”, in response to pressure. You do not propel yourself through non-Newtonian fluid, the stuff will swallow you, whole. Not even Michael Phelps is swimming out of all that gunk.

The Boston Post reported “Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage … Here and there struggled a form—whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was … Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings—men and women—suffered likewise”.

molasses-plaqueIn 1983, a Smithsonian Magazine article described the experience of one child: “Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn’t answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his four sisters staring at him”.

All told, the molasses flood of 1919 killed 21 people, and injured another 150. 116 cadets from the Massachusetts Nautical School, now Mass Maritime Academy, were the first rescuers on-scene. They were soon followed by Boston Police, Red Cross, Army and Navy personnel. Some Red Cross nurses literally dove into the mess to rescue victims, while doctors and surgeons set up a makeshift hospital and worked around the clock.

It was four days before the search was called off for additional victims. The total cleanup was estimated at 87,000 man-hours.

It was probably a combination of factors that caused the tank to rupture. Construction was poor from the beginning. Locals knew they could come down and collect household molasses from the drippings down the outside of the thing, which was leaking so badly that it was painted brown to hide the leaks.

This was only the 6th or 7th time the tank had been filled to capacity, and the rising temperatures almost surely helped to build up gas pressure inside the structure. The Volstead Act, better known as Prohibition, was being passed in Washington the following day, to take effect the following year. I’m sure that distillers were producing as much hooch as they could while it was still legal. molly-molasses

Today, the site of the Great Molasses Flood is occupied by a recreational complex called Langone Park, featuring a Little League ball field, a playground, and bocce courts. The Boston Duck Tours DUKW’s regularly visit the place with their amphibious vehicles, especially the dark brown one. The one with the name “Molly Molasses”, painted on its side.

January 14, 1699 Witches

On January 14, 1699, Massachusetts observed a day of fasting for wrongly persecuting the “witches” of the earlier period

In 1692, a series of “witch trials” took place in the area now occupied by Danvers, Ipswich, Andover and Salem, Massachusetts.

The familiar version of the story begins with a slave named Tituba, often described as being black or of mixed race, though court documents from her trial describe her as “Indian woman, servant.”  5 men and 14 women were hanged as witches on Gallows Hill, as many as 17 more dying in the tiny, freezing stone compartments that passed for jail cells. One man, 81 year old Giles Cory, was “pressed” to death over two full days, as rocks were heaped on his chest to extract his “confession”.  Knowing that his possessions were forfeit to his tormentors should he confess, his only response was “more weight”.

Courts of “Oyer and Terminer” (to hear and determine) were disbanded by Governor Sir salem-witch-trialsWilliam Phipps, somewhere around the time when his own wife was accused of witchcraft.  This is the story as it’s commonly told, but the real origin of the late 17th century witchcraft hysteria started in Boston, four years earlier.

The conflict which took place in Ireland between 1641 and 1653 pitted native Irish Catholics against English and Scottish Protestant colonists, and their supporters.  Over 500,000 Irish were killed by the English and another 300,000 sold as slaves during this period, while Ireland’s population fell from 1,500,000 to 600,000 in a single decade. By the mid 1600s, the Irish constituted most of the slaves sold to the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Montserrat.  About 70% of the entire population of Montserrat at this time, were Irish slaves.

Goodwife Ann “Goody” Glover and her family were among these white slaves, shipped to Barbados in the 1650s during the Irish Confederate Wars.  Her husband was apparently killed in Barbados for refusing to renounce his Catholic faith, while Ann either escaped or was released, depending on which version of the story you believe.  By 1680, Ann and her daughter landed in Massachusetts, where the pair worked as housekeepers for the Boston family of John Goodwin.

In 1688, 13 year old Martha, one of the Goodwin girls, accused the younger Glover of stealing fabric.  Ann’s daughter ran out in tears, which earned Martha a rebuke from Ann Glover.  Four of the five Goodwin children soon began to writhe and carry on in a manner which would become familiar four years later.  Their doctor concluded that “nothing but a hellish Witchcraft could be the origin of these maladies.”

There was no small amount of anti-Catholic bigotry in the trial that followed. Cotton Mather, the socially and politically influential New England Puritan minister called Glover “a scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholick and obstinate in idolatry.”

During interrogation, Glover supposedly told Mather that she prayed to a “host of spirits”, possibly representing Catholic saints.  Mather argued that small doll-like figures found in her home represented these spirits, which were, in fact, demons.

Glover’s Gaelic was far better than her English, and the two “Gaelic speakers” hired to translate probably made some of it up as they went along.  Most damning was Ann’s inability to complete the Lord’s Prayer.  As a Catholic, she was either unable or unwilling to complete the prayer with the Protestant doxology, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen”, which doesn’t exist in the Catholic recitation.

That proved to be the final straw.  The court convicted Goodwife Ann Glover of witchcraft and sentenced her to be hanged, the sentence carried out before a jeering crowd on November 16th, 1688.  She was the last person be hanged for witchcraft in the city of Boston.

salemwitchhangedRobert Calef, a Boston merchant who knew her, said “Goody Glover was a despised, crazy, poor old woman, an Irish Catholick who was tried for afflicting the Goodwin children. Her behavior at her trial was like that of one distracted. They did her cruel. The proof against her was wholly deficient. The jury brought her guilty. She was hung. She died a Catholick.”  After the hanging, a contemporary wrote that the crowd wanted to destroy her cat as well, “but Mr. Calef would not permit it”.

A decade after the Glover execution, Cotton Mather was still carrying on against “idolatrous Roman Catholicks.”

Goody Glover’s execution would be overshadowed by the witchcraft hysteria unfolding farther up Massachusetts’ North Shore, four years later.

Sometime in the 1830s, the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne added the “W” to his name, distancing himself from his twice-great grandfather and Salem witch trial judge, John Hathorne.  None of it did a lick of good for the poor collection of oddballs and outcasts whoOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA would not survive the witchcraft hysteria of 1692.

On January 14, 1699, Massachusetts observed a day of fasting for wrongly persecuting the “witches” of the earlier period.  The state formally apologized for the whole mess 258 years later, in 1957.  In 1988, 300 years to the day after her hanging, Boston City Council proclaimed November 16 as “Goody Glover Day”.   Apparently, we can’t be too hasty about these things.

January 13, 1842 Last Man Standing

That afternoon, one mangled soldier rode into Jalalabad on a wounded horse. He was Dr. William Brydon. When asked where the army was, Brydon replied “I am the Army”

The British East India Company was a British joint stock company, chartered by Queen Elizabeth in 1600 with a trade monopoly in Southeast Asia and India. It was the first of several such companies established by European powers, followed closely by the East India Companies of the Dutch, Danish, Portuguese, French and Swedish, and associated with the valuable trade in such commodities as cotton, silk, indigo, salt, saltpeter, tea and opium.

These organizations were much more than what we associate with the word “company”. In their day they could raise their own armies, enforce the law up to and including trial and execution of accused wrong doers, and largely functioned outside the control of the governments that formed them. By the early 19th century, the British East India Company ruled over large areas of India with its own private armies.

Firmly entrenched by the 1830s and wary of Russian encroachment south through Afghanistan, the British tried without success to form an alliance with the Emir of Afghanistan, Dost Mohammad Khan.

Lord Auckland’s “Simla Manifesto” of October 1838 laid out a justification for British intervention in Afghanistan, based on the need for a trustworthy ally on India’s western frontier. The pro-British, Shuja Shah Durrani was installed as ruler, backed up by an army of 21,000 British and Indian troops under the command of Lieutenant General John Keane, 1st Baron Keane, veteran of the Peninsular War, and the battle of New Orleans.

Most of these troops returned to India the following year, as Dost Mohammad unsuccessfully attacked the British and their Afghan protégé, only to be defeated and exiled to India in late 1840.

wazir_akbar_khan
Prince Akhbar Khan

By 1841, disaffected Afghan tribesmen were flocking to support Dost Mohammad’s son, Akbar Khan, against what they saw as an occupying force. There were warning signs of the deteriorating situation as the spring of 1841 turned to summer, and British freedom of movement around Kabul became increasingly restricted. The British government in India was dismayed at the cost of keeping the Kabul Garrison, when they cut off funds, ending the stream of bribes that all but kept the tribes in check.

It was around this time that Sir William Elphinstone stepped in as commander of the Kabul Garrison. Described by fellow General William Nott as “the most incompetent soldier who ever became General”, Elphinstone found himself in charge of 4,500 Indian and British troops, along with 12,500 camp followers: families, servants and civilian workers.

On November 2 1841, Akbar Khan proclaimed a general revolt. Several British officers were murdered along with their families, servants and staff. Afghan leaders invited Civil servant Sir William Hay MacNaghten for tea in December to discuss the situation; only to seize and murder them as the delegation dismounted their horses.

On January 1, Elphinstone agreed to hand over all powder, his newest muskets and most of his cannon, in exchange for “safe passage” out of Kabul, guaranteed by Akbar Khan along with the protection of the sick, wounded and infirm left behind. 16,000 soldiers and civilians moved out on January 6, heading for Jalalabad, 90 miles away.

Akbar Khan’s safe passage lasted as long as it took the column to get out in the open, when Afghans moved in firing at the retreating troops while setting fire to garrison buildings containing those left behind. At one point Akbar Khan met with Elphinstone, claiming ignorance of any betrayal. He claimed that he had been unable to provide the promised escort because they had left earlier than expected, and then asked Elphinstone to wait while he went ahead and negotiated safe passage with local tribesmen.

The delay accomplished nothing more than to allow Akbar Khan time to set up the next ambush. By the evening of the 9th, the column was only 25 miles outside of Kabul. 3,000 people were dead, mostly killed in the fighting or frozen to death, while a few had taken

last-stand
The Last Stand of Jan. 13, 1842

their own lives. By January 12, the column was reduced to only 200 soldiers and 2,000 camp followers

The last stand took place on a snow-covered hill near the village of Gandamak, on the morning of January 13, 1842. 20 officers and 45 British soldiers were surrounded, with an average of two rounds apiece. That afternoon, one mangled soldier rode into Jalalabad on a wounded horse. He was Dr. William Brydon. Brydon had part of his skull sheared off by an Afghan sword. He was only alive because of a Blackwood’s Magazine, stuffed into his hat to fight off the cold of the Hindu Kush. When asked where the army was, Brydon replied “I am the Army”.

In the end, 115 captured officers, soldiers, wives and children lived long enough to be released. Around 2,000 Sepoys and Indian camp followers eventually made their way back to India. According to legend, Brydon’s horse lay down on arrival in Jalalabad, and never got up again.

January 12, 1968 The Strangest Dogfight

Theirs was a secret war, waged in the mists of the Annamite Mountains. Two months later, North Vietnamese commandos attacked and destroyed Site 85, inflicting the largest loss of US Air Force personnel of the war in Vietnam

To the extent that most of us think about aerial combat, at least the non-pilots among us, I think we envision some variation of the dog fights between Snoopy and the Red Baron. Two aircraft, bobbing and weaving through the sky, each attempting to get the other in his sights.

red-baron
Manfred von Richtofen

In the real world, Manfred von Richthofen, the most prolific ace of WWI with 80 confirmed kills, was killed by a single bullet fired from the ground, while pursuing Canadian pilot Wilfred May behind Allied lines. The Red Baron landed his red Fokker tri-plane in a beet field and died moments later, and was buried with full military honors, by his enemies.

Possibly the strangest dogfight of WWII took place on August 17, 1943, between two German long-range “Condor” maritime patrol bombers, and an American B-24D Liberator bomber in the skies over the Atlantic Ocean.

Twenty-eight ton, four-engine bombers were never meant for diving attacks and multiple-G banking turns. It must have looked like a motocross race between cement mixers.

Stripped of armor to increase range and carrying a full load of depth charges, the American anti-submarine bomber with its 10-man crew dove out of the clouds at 1,000 feet, throttles open and machine guns firing. The first Condor never came out of that diving turn, while machine gun fire from the second tore into the American bomber. Rear-gunners returned fire, as Liberator pilot Hugh Maxwell Jr. crash landed in the water, his aircraft breaking into three pieces.the-ark

Maxwell had named his B-24 “The Ark”, explaining that “it had a lot of strange animals aboard, and I hoped it would bring us through the deluge”. It must have worked, seven out of ten crew members lived to be plucked from the water. The second Condor made it back to Bordeaux, where it crashed and burned on landing.

Surviving Liberator crew members were rescued by the British destroyer Highlander, along with three Germans from that first Condor. It was all the Highlander crew could do, to keep the soaking wet combatants apart on the decks of the destroyer.

On the first night of the Gulf War in 1991, an Iraqi Mirage fighter intercepted an American EF-111, an unarmed F-111 bomber modified for radar-jamming patrol. Flying at 200′ and equipped with sophisticated terrain-following radar, the bomber was able to climb up and over hilltops, while the French-made Mirage fighter had no such systems. The last that was seen of that Iraqi fighter, was when he plowed his aircraft into that same hillside.

f-15eLater in the same conflict, an Iraqi Hughes 500 helicopter was taken out by bombs dropped from an American Air Force F-15E bomber. At least one Iraqi PC-7 Turboprop pilot got spooked, bailing out of a perfectly good aircraft before a shot was fired in his direction.

The strangest dogfight in history took place on January 12, 1968, when four Soviet-made Antonov AN-2 Colt biplanes took off from their base in North Vietnam, headed west toward Laos.

Only 125 nautical miles from Hanoi, Phou Pha Thi mountain had long been used as a staging base for CIA directed Hmong guerilla fighters and Thai security forces. Lima Site 85 was the American radar facility, perched atop the 5,800′ mountain.

CIA-operated “Air America” captain Ted Moore was flying a UH-1D Huey helicopter at the

phou_pha_thi
Lima site 85, atop 5,800 Phou Pha Thi Mountain

time, carrying a load of ammunition to Phou Pha Thi. Moore arrived to see two North Vietnamese biplanes, dropping 122mm mortar shells through holes in the floor and strafing the mountaintop with 57mm rockets. “It looked like WWI,” he later recalled. Moore gave chase, positioning his helicopter above one biplane, as flight mechanic Glenn Woods fired an AK-47 rifle down from above.

Moore and Woods dropped back to the second biplane, as the first crashed into a ridge west of the North Vietnamese border. Moments later, the second crashed into a mountainside, as the other two slipped back into North Vietnamese air space. The entire chase had taken about 20 minutes.

Theirs was a secret war, waged in the mists of the Annamite Mountains. Two months later, North Vietnamese commandos attacked and destroyed Site 85, inflicting the largest loss of US Air Force personnel of the war in Vietnam.

On July 27, 2007, Air America veterans Marius Burke and Boyd Mesecher presented the CIA with “An Air Combat First”, an oil on canvas painting by Keith Woodcock, depicting the shoot-down. The event was attended by members of the Air America Board, pilot Ted Moore, wife of flight mechanic Glenn Woods Sawang Reed, CIA paramilitary veteran Bill Lair; and the painting’s donors. Presumably, the painting hangs at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. A testament to the only time in the history of the Vietnam war, that an enemy fixed-wing aircraft was shot down, by a helicopter.