How seagulls brought down a B-52 bomber

Air Force B-52 bomber
A B-52 lands at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, May 14, 2019.

  • On May 18, 2016, a B-52H bomber was forced to abort its takeoff before bursting into flames.
  • An Air Force investigation found the incident was caused by birds, and it wasn’t the first time.
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Let’s face it, seagulls are pretty damn annoying in the best of times. Now, we have an even better reason to dislike “sky rats.”

On May 18, 2016, a B-52H Stratofortress with the 5th Bomb Wing was forced to abort its takeoff run. According to a report by NBCNews.com, the plane later burst into flames and was a total loss. The reason behind the destroyed plane was finally uncovered by an Air Force investigation.

According to the investigation report, seagulls killed a BUFF – and it’s not the first time the military’s lost a plane to birds.

The accident report released by Global Strike Command noted that the crew observed the birds during their takeoff run, and the co-pilot felt some thumps – apparent bird strikes.

Then, “the [mishap pilot] and [mishap co-pilot] observed engine indications for numbers 5, 6, and 7 ‘quickly spooling back’ from the required takeoff setting. The MP also observed high oil pressure indications on the number 8 engine and a noticeable left-to-right yawing motion. Accelerating through approximately 142 knots, the [mishap pilot] simultaneously announced and initiated aborted takeoff emergency procedures.”

Air Force B-52 Anderson Guam
A B-52H at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam, February 8, 2021.

The crew then tried to deploy a drag chute. The chute – and the plane’s brakes – both failed, though, and that caused the B-52 to go off the runway. The crew carried out emergency shutdown procedures and then got out of the plane. One suffered minor injuries, but the other six on board were not injured.

Bird strikes on takeoff have happened before. One of the most notorious bird strike incidents took place in September 1995 when a Boeing E-3B Sentry was hit by two Canada geese on takeoff from Elmendorf Air Force Base in Alaska. The plane crashed after briefly going airborne, killing all 24 personnel on board.

Another one took place in 2012, when Air Force Two absorbed a bird strike, according to a report by the London Daily Mail.

According to the Air Force Safety Center’s Bird/wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard Division, the Air Force has recorded 108,670 bird or wildlife strikes from the start of Fiscal Year 1985 to the end of Fiscal Year 2014.

The BASH Division also noted that from the start of Fiscal Year 1993 to the end of Fiscal Year 2014, there were 34 Class A mishaps, which included 16 destroyed aircraft and 29 fatalities.

In short, those fine feathered friends are anything but friendly when it comes to sharing the skies with the Air Force.

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6 foreign special-operations units the US relies on to do what it can’t

A German Special Forces soldier lines his sites on a target 500 meters away, and awaits direction from an International Special Training Centre instructor to engage the target in 2006.
A German Special Forces soldier lines his sites on a target 500 meters away, and awaits direction to engage.

  • As good as the US military’s special-operations forces are, they can’t do everything.
  • US special operators often rely on other forces for support and to carry out missions.
  • These 6 are the cream of the foreign crop.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The US has some of the best special operations units in the world, but they can’t do everything on their own.

The American military relies on allied special operators from places like Britain, Iraq, and Israel to collect intelligence and kill enemy insurgents and soldiers.

Here are 6 of those special-operations commands.

A quick note on the photos: Many allied militaries are even more loathe to show the faces of their special operators than the US. The photos we’ve used here are, according to the photographers, of the discussed special operations forces, but we cannot independently verify that the individuals photographed are actually members of the respective clandestine force.

1. SAS and SBS

A British Special Forces member from the 22nd Special Air Service at Hereford, England, uses binoculars to locate a target down range.
A member from the 22nd Special Air Service at Hereford, England.

These could obviously be two separate entries, but we’re combining them here because they’re both British units that often operate side-by-side with US forces, just with different missions and pedigrees.

The Special Air Service pulls from the British Army and focuses on counter-terrorism and reconnaissance. The Special Boat Service does maritime counter-terrorism and amphibious warfare (but will absolutely stack bodies on land, too).

Both forces have deployed with US operators around the world, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan where they were part of secretive task forces that hunted top Taliban members, ISIS, and Iraqi insurgents.

2. Sayeret Matkal

The Sayeret Matkal does all sorts of hush-hush missions for Israel, everything from intelligence gathering to direct action to hostage rescue.
The Sayeret Matkal does all sorts of hush-hush missions for Israel, everything from intelligence-gathering to direct-action.

Israel’s Sayeret Matkal has generated rumors and conjecture for decades, and it’s easy to see why when you look at their few public successes.

They rescued 103 Jewish hostages under gunpoint in Uganda after a plane hijacking. They hunted down the killers who attacked Israel’s 1972 Munich Olympic team, killing 11 coaches and athletes. The commandos in the unit are skilled in deception, direct action, and intelligence gathering.

The US is closely allied with Israel and Sayeret Matkal is extremely good at gathering intelligence, which is often shared with the US.

One of their most public recent successes came when they led a daring mission to install listening devices in ISIS buildings, learning of a plan to hide bombs in the battery wells of laptops.

3. French Special Operations Command

French army special forces
A French army special-forces team during a hostage-rescue demonstration, June 1, 2018.

French special operations units are even more close-mouthed than the overall spec-ops community, but they have an army unit dedicated to intelligence gathering and anti-terrorism, a navy unit filled with assault forces and underwater demolitions experts, and an air force unit specializing in calling in air strikes and rescuing isolated personnel behind enemy lines.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has said that France deployed its special operators to Syria in April where they helped defeat ISIS.

4. Kommando Spezialkräfte

A German Special Forces soldier lines his sites on a target 500 meters away, and awaits direction from an International Special Training Centre instructor to engage the target in 2006.
A German Special Forces soldier lines his sites on a target 500 meters away, and awaits direction to engage.

Germany’s Kommando Spezialkrafte is a unit of elite commandos split into four companies with five platoons each, and each platoon specializes in a specific mission types, from airborne operations to sniper to polar. A support company provides medical, maintenance, and logistics support.

The commandos have reportedly deployed to Syria in recent years to fight ISIS. And while Germany is fairly tight-lipped about the unit, they have confirmed that the unit was deployed to Iraq for a few years in the early 2000s. On these missions, they help US-led coalitions achieve success.

5. Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service

Iraqi Counter Terrorism Force
Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Service forces during an exercise at their academy at the Baghdad Airport Complex, July 23, 2015.

The Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service was created by the US and, oddly, does not fall within the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, making this one of the few special operations units that isn’t part of the traditional military.

It has three special-operations forces brigades and, in recent years, has largely focused on eliminating ISIS-controlled territory and the surviving forces.

The operators have also fought against other groups like Al Qaeda-Iraq. The unit was originally formed in 2003, meaning it has only existed while Iraq was at war with insurgents, so the force has operated almost exclusively within Iraq’s borders.

It earned high marks in 2014 when its troops maintained good order and fought effectively against ISIS while many of the security forces were falling apart.

6. Afghan National Army Commando Corps

An Afghan National Army Special Operations Commando instructor assesses Commando recruits in training as they perform security duties during a training exercise in Camp Commando, Kabul, Afghanistan, May 6, 2018.
An Afghan National Army Special Operations Commando instructor assesses recruits during an exercise in Camp Commando in Kabul, May 6, 2018.

Afghanistan’s National Army Commando Corps is one of the great bright spots in its growing military.

While it’s had growing pains and the Taliban has infiltrated it at some times, it has a reputation for professionalism and skill and has led the way on top-level operations. It’s even capable of the rapid nighttime raids that US forces became famous for when they were in the lead in that country.

The Afghan president ordered the size of the unit be doubled between 2018 and 2020 because the soldiers, all expert marksmen and commandos, have a reputation for getting results.

Afghanistan also has the Ktah Khas, a counter-terrorism unit known for daring raids like their 2016 rescue of 59 prisoners in a Taliban hideout.

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The 7 craziest commando missions of World War II

St. Nazaire HMS Campbeltown
The HMS Campbeltown on the lip of the Normandie dock after crashing into it, March 28, 1942.

World War II was an exciting time for special operations and commandos.

The advent of airborne operations gave them a whole new angle of approach, and the sheer scale of the war guaranteed that they’d have plenty of chances to use their skills.

But even accounting for those things, operators on both sides of the war distinguished themselves with daring missions.

Here are seven of the craziest:

1. A costly canoe raid against German ships

The “Cockleshell Heroes” were a group of British Royal Marines assigned the task of launching from a submarine and canoeing miles up the River Gironde to place limpet mines against the hull of German ships. The mission hit problems almost immediately as canoes were lost to tide and river obstacles.

Only two of the original five made it to the Bordeaux-Bassens docks. The four men who crewed the canoes placed mines on a few ships, which damaged some commercial vessels. While the material damage was limited, it boosted British morale and forced the Germans to devote more resources to defense in a way similar to the US Army Air Force’s Doolittle Raid.

2. The failed attempt to kill Erwin Rommel

Operation Flipper had the lofty goal of crippling an Italian headquarters and intelligence office as well as killing Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.

The mission was beset by bad weather and the assault force that hit the German officer’s headquarters was smaller than planned.

Still, the British commandos broke into the headquarters building only to learn that Rommel had been delayed in Rome by his own weather problems.

Only two raiders survived, but even Rommel admitted that it was a “brilliant operation.” He had the senior officer, British Lt. Col. Geoffrey Keyes, killed and buried with full honors and photos sent to the family.

3. Norwegian resistance destroys Germany’s nuclear stockpile, twice

A first attempt on the Norsk Hydro Plant, where radioactive heavy water was processed and stored, failed but the survivors and their reinforcements hit the plant on February 28, 1943, despite suffering from starvation and exhaustion. They were able to blow the storage facilities, setting German nuclear research back by at least months.

Months later, a new stockpile of German heavy water was being transported on a ferry when the Norwegian Resistance attacked once again, sinking the ferry and ending Germany’s last best chance at a nuclear reactor or bomb. One man, Knut Haukelid, participated in both raids.

4. German paratroopers take the world’s strongest fort

In 1940, the Belgian Fort Eben-Emael was arguably the world’s strongest fort.

Constructed from 1932-1935, it was heavily armed and guarded by upward of 800 soldiers. But Germany had to destroy or negate it to get the blitzkrieg into Belgium.

They did it in a single morning with 85 paratroopers. The men landed on the fort in gliders and quickly took hold of large sections of it, destroying or capturing the guns aimed at the countryside.

When the rest of the German army arrived, the remaining defenders surrendered.

5. Benito Mussolini is rescued from a mountaintop retreat by German paratroopers

In July 1943, Italian defeats turned the country against Benito Mussolini and he was exiled to a series of locations.

A German commander was able to track the dictator to Gran Sasso, a mountaintop ski resort accessible only by cable car or glider. At 6,300 feet, it was too high even for an airborne assault.

German Capt. Otto Skorzeny led the glider assault. The paratroopers brought along an Italian general in the hopes that he would prevent a shootout. It worked.

The Italian guards decided not to fight when the gliders crashed into the mountains and the paratroopers stormed out. Skorzeny and Mussolini departed on a small, high-altitude plane.

6. British commandos steal a German radar station

The insane plan for Operation Biting called for five groups of British paras to land in German-occupied France, capture a German radar station, and then make off with key pieces of the technology.

The men landed under cover of darkness and quickly captured the building. They even managed to grab two technicians with intimate knowledge of the advanced German radar.

Paratroopers who missed their drop zone arrived late to destroy a German pillbox, a situation that almost ended with the withdrawing commandos being killed.

Luckily, the men arrived in time to destroy the pillbox as it swept fire on the other commandos. The British escaped with their prize.

7. The British turn an entire ship into a bomb

Dubbed the “Greatest Raid of Them All,” the St. Nazaire Raid targeted the only German-held dry dock for heavy ships on the Atlantic that was accessible without passing German defenses. But the dry dock was heavily armed and far upriver.

The British sent a small flotilla of vessels led by the converted HMS Campbeltown. Sixteen were small motorboats, 12 of which were destroyed without reaching shore. But the Campbeltown managed to ram the gates of the dry dock.

The Germans captured 215 of the 600 attackers and killed 169 more, but explosives hidden in the Campbeltown exploded the next morning, crippling the facilities.

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5 military weapons that are way older than you think

Navy destroyer Dewey Tomahawk
US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey fires a Tomahawk missile in the Pacific Ocean, August 17, 2018.

Modern wars are defined by a number of technologies like guided missiles, helicopters, and submarines.

Except all three of those military technologies have been in service for hundreds of years.

Here’s the story behind five modern weapons that have been in service for hundreds of years.

1. Submarines

Seawolf-class
US Navy Seawolf-class fast-attack submarine USS Connecticut in Japan.

The ink had barely dried on the US Declaration of Independence when an American launched the first submarine attack in history.

Ezra Lee piloted the submarine, dubbed the Turtle, against the HMS Eagle but failed to sink it.

The Turtle was sent against a number of other ships but never claimed a kill before sinking in 1776.

2. Drones

us mq-9 reaper drone
A US Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone at Creech Air Force Base, May 19, 2016.

The first drone missions were conducted in World War II and President John F. Kennedy’s older brother was killed in one.

These early drones were modified bombers taken into the air by a pilot who then bailed out. The plane would then be remotely operated by a pilot in another bomber.

The drones were all suicide vehicles that would be steered into enemy targets. The program had its roots in a World War I program that created the first guided missiles.

3. Guided missiles

Navy cruiser Tomahawk missile
US Navy guided-missile cruiser USS Cape St. George launches a Tomahawk Land Attack Missile in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, March 23, 2003.

That’s right, the first guided missiles were tested in World War I.

Orville Wright and Charles F. Kettering invented the Kettering Bug, a modified plane that used gyroscopes to monitor and adjust its flight to a pre-designated target.

Once the Kettering reached its target, its wings would fall off, the engine would stop, and the craft would fall to the ground with a 180-pound explosive. But the missile had a lot issues and the war ended before it saw combat.

4. Hand grenades

Army National Guard soldier hand grenade
A New Jersey National Guard soldier throws a practice hand grenade during training at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, September 20, 2019.

When grenades became a staple of World War I trench warfare, it was actually a revival of the weapon.

They had already made a big splash in the 700s when soldiers in the Byzantine Empire figured out they could pack Greek Fire into stone, glass, and ceramic jars.

5. Helicopters

Air Force UH-1P Huey helicopter Cambodia
Two US Air Force Bell UH-1P helicopters fly into Cambodia in 1970

An iconic weapon of the Vietnam War actually saw combat in World War II.

The first helicopter rescue was in Burma in Word War II and the Germans flew a number of helicopter designs.

The British had flying cars that used helicopter-type rotor blades to stay in the air.

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7 times the military lost nukes – and 4 times it never found them

US nuclear weapons
An ICBM launch-control facility outside Minot, North Dakota.

The military makes a big deal out of when a rifle goes missing, not to mention when a nuke disappears.

In spite of the fact the program is designed to be “zero defect,” here are seven examples of doomsday devices wandering off (including a few where they never came back):

1. 1956: B-47 disappears with two nuclear capsules

B 47
A B-47.

The first story on the list is also one of the most mysterious since no signs of the wreckage, weapons, or crew have ever been found.

A B-47 Stratojet with two nuclear weapons took off from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida on March 10, 1956 headed to Morocco. It was scheduled for two midair refuelings but failed to appear for the second. An international search team found nothing. The US military eventually called off the search.

2. 1958: Damaged bomber jettisons nuke near Tybee Island, Georgia

On February 5, 1958 B-47 bombers left Florida with nuclear weapons on a training mission simulating the bombing of a Russian city and the evasion of interceptors afterwards. Over the coast of Georgia a bomber and interceptor collided.

The interceptor pilot ejected, and the bomber crew attempted to land with the bomb but failed. They jettisoned the bomb over the ocean before landing safely.

Since the plutonium pits were changed for lead pits used during training, the missing bomb has only a subcritical mass of uranium-235 and cannot cause a nuclear detonation.

3. 1961: Two nuclear bombs nearly turn North Carolina into a bay

Air Force B-52 bomber
A US Air Force B-52 bomber in 1957.

On January 24, 1961, a B-52 carrying two Mark 39 bombs, each 253 times as strong as the Little Boy bomb that dropped on Hiroshima, broke apart in a storm and dropped both of its bombs.

One survivor of the crash, the pilot, was able to alert the Air Force to the incident. The first bomb was found hanging by a parachute from a tree, standing with the nose of the weapon against the ground. It had gone through six of the seven necessary steps to detonate. Luckily, it’s safe/arm switch, known for failing, had stayed in the proper position and the bomb landed safely.

“You might now have a very large Bay of North Carolina if that thing had gone off,” Jack Revelle, who was in charge of locating and removing the weapons, said. The other bomb’s switch did move to the “Arm” position but, for reasons no one knows, it still failed to detonate, saving tens of thousands of lives.

4. 1965: Loss of Navy plane, pilot, and B43 nuclear bomb

A Navy A-4 Skyhawk was being moved aboard the USS Ticonderoga during a military exercise December 5, 1965 when it rolled off its elevator with a pilot and a B43 nuclear weapon loaded. The plane sank quickly into waters 16,000 feet deep.

The status of the weapon is still unknown. The pressures at that depth may be enough to detonate the weapon and the waters were so deep that it would’ve been hard to detect. If the weapon is still intact, it would be nearly impossible to find as very few vessels can make it down that far.

5. 1966: B-52 crashes into KC-135, four thermonuclear bombs are released over Spain

US Air Force nuclear H bomb radioactive contamination Spain
A US soldier looks through material found after a B-52 bomber collided with a tanker plane during aerial refueling, January 17, 1966.

On January 17, 1966 a B-52 was approaching a KC-135 for refueling when the bomber struck the tanker, igniting a fireball that killed the crew of the KC-135 and three men on the B-52.

The plane and its four B28 thermonuclear bombs fell near a small fishing village in Spain, Palomares. Three were recovered in the first 24 hours after the crash. One had landed safely while two had experienced detonations of their conventional explosives. The explosions ignited and scattered the plutonium in the missiles, contaminating two square kilometers.

The fourth bomb was sighted plunging into the ocean by a fisherman. Despite the eyewitness account, it took the Navy nearly 100 days to locate and retrieve the weapon.

6. 1968: B-52 crashes and a weapon is lost under the Arctic ice

Like the Palomares crash, the January 21 crash of a B-52 resulted in four B28 bombs being released. This time it was over Greenland and at least three of the bombs broke apart.

Investigators recovered most of these components before realizing they had found nothing of the fourth bomb. A blackened patch of ice was identified with parachute shroud lines frozen within it.

Recovery crew speculated that either the primary or secondary stage of the bomb began burning after the crash and melted the ice. The rest of the bomb then plunged through the Arctic water and sank. The weapon is still missing, presumed irrecoverable.

7. 1968: The sinking of the USS Scorpion

USS Scorpion
USS Scorpion.

The USS Scorpion, a nuclear-powered attack submarine, was declared presumed lost on June 5, 1968. The loss was especially troubling for the Navy since the boat had been following a Russian research group just before its disappearance.

At the time it was lost, the Scorpion was carrying two Mark 45 antisubmarine torpedoes (ASTOR). The wreckage would not be found until October 1968. The USS Scorpion is still on the floor of the Atlantic under 3,000 meters of water and the cause of the sinking remains unknown. The torpedo room appears to be intact with the two nuclear torpedoes in position, but the Navy can’t tell for sure.

Recovery of the torpedoes would be extremely challenging, so the Navy monitors radiation levels in the area instead. So far, there has been no signs of leakage from torpedoes or the reactor.

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4 of the US military’s biggest tank battles were during the same war

Army Abrams tanks Iraq Desert Storm
M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks during Operation Desert Storm, February 15, 1991.

  • Every branch of the US military was involved in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
  • Between the Army and the Marine Corps, that war had some of the largest tank battles the US has ever fought.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the US military was at its finest, liberating Kuwaiti civilians from the forces of an evil dictator.

In every way, every branch of the military and every American ally was on display, showing they could handle anything the enemy might throw at them and coming out on top.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the ranks of US military armor.

Between the Army and the Marine Corps, the battles fought during Operation Desert Storm were some of the largest tank battles the United States ever fought – and among the largest in world history.

1. The Battle of Kuwait International Airport

iraqi tank desert storm gulf war
A Iraqi tank destroyed during the Gulf War.

The biggest tank battle in United States Marine Corps history is also the fastest. It’s also one of the most forgotten battles in history, despite the massive size of the forces involved.

On February 25, 1991, the 1st Marine Division and 2nd Marine Division, along with the Army’s 2nd Armored Division’s Tiger Brigade, Army Special Forces, and – later – the 4th Marine Division’s 4th Tank Battalion met 14 Iraqi divisions and a field artillery brigade.

The 1st Marines had broken through the Iraqi lines and into Kuwait City, on its way to the airport drove through them and ahead, fighting skirmishes along the way and destroying at least 100 enemy tanks. The 2nd Marine Division would approach from the other side.

One tank unit, Bravo Company, 4th Tank Battalion woke in the morning to find 35 Iraqi Republican Guard tanks moving to hit them from the front. Outnumbered 3-to-1, the Marines of Bravo Company snapped to, destroying all of them in about 90 seconds. This battle came to be known as the “Reveille Engagement.”

2. The Battle of 73 Easting

m1 abrams tank desert storm gulf war iraq
An Abrams tank in the desert during Desert Storm.

A young Army officer named H.R. McMaster (yes, that H.R. McMaster) was leading a group of nine M1A1 Abrams tanks through the desert at the start of the Desert Storm ground war.

Soon, his tanks came over a hill – and right into the path of an entire Iraqi tank division.

When outnumbered by hundreds, many officers would withdraw or surrender. McMaster plowed through. His troop destroyed 28 Iraqi tanks, 16 personnel carriers and 30 trucks in 23 minutes.

They called in other tank troops as they fought and were soon joined by more Americans, more than 840 armored vehicles in all. With the Iraqis knocked out, the Americans were free to engage behind the lines and onward into Kuwait.

3. Battle of Norfolk

T72 battle tank russia destroyed
An Iraqi T-72 main battle tank destroyed in a Coalition attack during Operation Desert Storm.

What happens when American and British Armor meet the Iraqi Republican Guard inside Iraq? Some 1,100 Iraqi tanks destroyed, along with hundreds of artillery pieces and armored personnel carriers and thousands of Iraqi prisoners.

With 12 divisions on the battlefield, this was the second largest tank battle in US history and the largest of the Gulf War.

Two hours after the Battle of 73 Easting, coalition forces advanced to Objective Norfolk, an intersection on Iraqi supply lines and an important hub for moving material. Defending Norfolk was the Tawakalna Division of the Iraqi Republican Guard, which had just been bloodied at 73 Easting.

By the time the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division controlled Norfolk, the Tawakalna Division ceased to exist.

4. Battle of Medina Ridge

us army gulf war tank
A US soldier on top of a tank destroyed during the Gulf War.

For two hours, the US Army’s 1st Armored Division and the 2nd Brigade of the Iraqi Republican Guard Medina Luminous Division slugged it out at one of the Iraqi desert’s few landmarks. Around 348 M1A1 Abrams tanks met hundreds of enemy tanks in one of the toughest battles of the war.

The Iraqis, positioned behind the ridgeline, could only be seen directly when US tanks crested the hill. Which would have been an effective defense if it weren’t for the Army’s Apache helicopters and the Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt IIs constantly strafing them.

The Iraqis arguably put up the stiffest defense of the war at Medina Ridge, but the loss was still lopsided – four US tanks were destroyed while the Iraqis lost 186.

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15 common phrases civilians stole from the US military

Marine Corps vehicle radio convoy Pendleton
A Marine motor transport operator talks to vehicle commanders during convoy training at Camp Pendleton, California, January 16, 2019.

1. ‘Balls to the walls’ (also, ‘Going balls out’)

common

Meaning: To go as fast as one possibly can.

From military aviation where pilots would need to get their aircraft flying as fast as possible. Their control levers had balls on the end. Pushing the accelerator all the way out (“balls out”), would put the ball of the lever against the firewall in the cockpit (“balls to the wall”).

When a pilot really needed to zoom away, they’d also push the control stick all the way forward, sending it into a dive. Obviously, this would put the ball of the control stick all the way out from the pilot and against the firewall.

2. ‘Bite the bullet’

Meaning: To endure pain or discomfort without crying out

Fighters on both sides of the American Civil War used the term “bite the bullet,” but it appears they may have stolen it from the British.

British Army Capt. Francis Grose published the book, “Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” in 1811 and used “chew the bullet” to explain how proud soldiers stayed silent while being whipped.

3. ‘Boots on the ground’

Air Force boots shoes
US airmen at a change of command ceremony, August 17, 2019.

Meaning: Ground troops engaged in an operation

Credited to Army Gen. Volney Warner, “boots on the ground” is used to mean troops in a combat area or potential combat area.

After the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the term saw wide use and has ceased to refer exclusively to military operations. It can now be used to refer to any persons sent out to walk the ground in an area. It’s been employed in reference to police officers as well as political canvassers.

4. ‘Bought the farm’

Meaning: To die

Thought to date back to 1950s jet pilots, the phrase quickly spread to civilian circles. There is no clear agreement on exactly how the phrase came about.

It could be from war widows being able to pay off the family farm with life insurance payments, or farmers paying off their farms with the damage payout they’d receive when a pilot crashed on their land, or the pilots who wanted to buy a farm after they retired being said to “buy the farm early” when they died.

5. ‘Caught a lot of flak’

Meaning: To be criticized, especially harshly

Flak is actually an acronym for German air defense cannons. The Germans called the guns Fliegerabwehrkanonen. Flieger means flyer, abwehr means defense, and kanonen means cannon.

Airmen in World War II would have to fly through dangerous clouds of shrapnel created by flak. The phrase progressed in meaning until it became equated with abusive criticism.

6. ‘FUBAR’/’SNAFU’/’TARFU’

Meaning: Everything about the current situation sucks

All three words are acronyms. FUBAR stands for “F—ed up beyond all recognition,” SNAFU is “Situation normal, all f—ed up,” and TARFU is “Things are really f—ed up.” FUBAR and SNAFU have made it into the civilian lexicon, though the F-word in each is often changed to “fouled” to keep from offending listeners.

The Army actually used SNAFU for the name of a cartoon character in World War II propaganda and instructional videos. Pvt. Snafu and his brothers Tarfu and Fubar were voiced by Mel Blanc of Bugs Bunny and Porky the Pig fame.

7. ‘Geronimo’

Usage: Yelled when jumping off of something

“Geronimo” is yelled by jumpers leaping from a great height, but it has military origins.

Paratroopers with the original test platoon at Fort Benning, Georgia yelled the name of the famous Native American chief on their first mass jump. The exclamation became part of airborne culture and the battalion adopted it as their motto.

8. ‘Got your six’

Meaning: Watching your back

Military members commonly describe direction using the hours of a clock. Whichever direction the vehicle, unit, or individual is moving is the 12 o’clock position, so the six o’clock position is to the rear.

“Got your six” and the related “watch your six” come from service members telling each other that their rear is covered or that they need to watch out for an enemy attacking from behind.

9. ‘In the trenches’

trenches

Meaning: Stuck in a drawn out, tough fight.

Troops defending a position will dig trenches to use as cover during an enemy attack, reducing the chance they’ll be injured by shrapnel or enemy rounds.

In World War I, most of the war occurred along a series of trenches that would flip ownership as one army attacked another. So, someone engaged in fierce fighting, even metaphorical fighting, is “in the trenches.”

10. ‘No man’s land’

Meaning: Dangerous ground or a topic that it is dangerous to discuss

“No man’s land” was widely used by soldiers to describe the area between opposing armies in their trenches in World War I. It was then morphed to describe any area that it was dangerous to stray into or even topics of conversation that could anger another speaker.

However, this is one case where civilians borrowed a military phrase that the military had stolen from civilians. “No man’s land” was popularized in the trenches of the Great War, but it dates back to the 14th-century England when it was used on maps to denote a burial ground.

11. ‘Nuclear option’

Meaning: A choice to destroy everything rather than give in on a debate or contest

Used most publicly while discussing fillibusters in the Senate, the nuclear option has its roots in – what else – nuclear warfare.

In the Cold War, military leaders would give the commander-in-chief options for the deployment and use of nuclear weapons from nuclear artillery to thermonuclear bombs.

In the era of brinksmanship, use of nuclear weapons by the Soviets or the US would likely have ended in widespread destruction across both nations.

12. ‘On the double’

Army Special Forces Green Berets
Candidates at the US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School carry a telephone pole on a ruck march as part of Special Forces Assessment and Selection, March 12, 2020.

Meaning: Quickly, as fast as possible

Anyone who has run in a military formation will recognize the background of “on the double.”

“Quick time” is the standard marching pace for troops, and “double time” is twice that pace, meaning the service member is running. Doing something “on the double” is moving at twice the normal speed while completing the task.

13. ‘On the frontlines’

Meaning: In the thick of a fight, argument, or movement

Like nuclear option, this one is pretty apparent. The front line of a military force is made up of the military units closest to a potential or current fight.

Troops on the frontline spend most days defending against or attacking enemy forces. People who are “on the frontlines” of other struggles like political movements or court trials are fighting against the other side every day.

This is similar in usage and origin to “in the trenches” above.

14. ‘Roger that’

Meaning: Yes

This one is pretty common knowledge, though not all civilians may know why the military says, “Roger that,” rather than “yes.” Under the old NATO phonetic alphabet, the letter R was pronounced, “Roger” on the radio.

Radio operators would say, “Roger,” to mean that a message had been properly received. The meaning evolved until “roger” meant “yes.” Today, the NATO phonetic alphabet says, “Romeo,” in place of R, but “roger” is still used to mean a message was received.

15. ‘Screw the pooch’

US Army soldiers RPG rocket propelled grenade
US soldiers conduct foreign weapons training at Ft. Benning, Georgia, October 25, 2017.

Meaning: To bungle something badly

“Screw the pooch” was originally an even racier phrase, f-ck the dog. It meant to loaf around or procrastinate. However, by 1962 it was also being used to mean that a person had bungled something.

Now, it is more commonly used with the latter definition.

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Watch an interview with the last living witness to the Lincoln assassination

Abraham Lincoln Ford's Theater John Wilkes Booth assassination
An illustration of John Wilkes Booth preparing to shoot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater, April 14, 1865.

  • President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on the night of April 14, 1865.
  • Samuel J. Seymour, then just 5 years old, was among the witnesses inside Ford’s Theater.
  • Ninety-one years later, Seymour recounted his experience that night to a TV audience.
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Samuel J. Seymour was away from his home for the first time at just 5 years old. He was with his father on a business trip to Washington, DC, a city filled to the brim with soldiers and other men with guns. He was nervous and scared at the sight of so many firearms.

To put him at ease, his nurse decided to take him to a play, and President Abraham Lincoln himself would be there.

It was an event he would never forget, as he recounted it to a TV audience and celebrity contestants Bill Cullen, Jayne Meadows, Henry Morgan, and Lucille Ball some 90-plus years later.

“It wasn’t a pleasant thing,” Seymour told Meadows when describing his night at Ford’s Theater on a 1956 episode of “I’ve Got A Secret.” “I was scared to death.”

When Lincoln arrived, he smiled and greeted the crowd from a flag-draped booth in the balcony. The President’s smile and the mood of the theater relaxed the young boy. Until a shot rang out. Strangely, the 5-year-old Seymour was very concerned about the man who appeared to have fallen from the balcony of the theater in the middle of the performance. He had no idea someone had been shot, let alone that it was President Lincoln.

“Pandemonium” then swept through the theater, Seymour recalled, as his nurse hurried the boy out of the theater. He heard calls of “Lincoln’s shot! The President is dead!”

The man, of course, was Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Booth waited until the play’s funniest line when the shot would be masked by the sound of laughter. Booth calmly walked into the President’s booth, barred the door, and fired a single shot into the President, who was laughing at the line.

Union Army Maj. Henry Rathbone, who accompanied Lincoln that night with their wives, fought Booth for his single-shot derringer and was stabbed for his effort. His constant wrangling with Booth caused the assassin’s boot spur to get tangled in the flag as he jumped from the President’s box. This is why Booth landed awkwardly on his leg.

Many in the crowd were confused. Not everyone heard the shot, and many thought it was still part of the play. Little Samuel Seymour didn’t understand it either.

“I saw Lincoln slumped forward in his seat,” the old man said. “That night I was shot 50 times, at least, in my dreams – and I sometimes relive the horror of Lincoln’s assassination, dozing in my rocker as an old codger like me is bound to do.”

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How Dwight D. Eisenhower ‘lost’ a B-17 bomber in a bet with a British general

b-17 b 17 E big ass
A B-17 bomber.

  • In late 1942 and early 1943, the Allies were scrambling to defeat the Germans in North Africa.
  • Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted his forces to move faster, leading to an unusual deal with British Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery.
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The liberation of Sfax, Tunisia on April 10, 1943 was a joyous occasion for nearly everyone involved.

The Allies gained an important Mediterranean port, the Tunisians in the city were liberated, and British Lt. Gen. Bernard Montgomery won a B-17 bomber from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

That last one may need some explanation.

Rommel retreats to the Mareth line

Gen. Bernard "Monty" Montgomery addresses British troops
Gen. Bernard Montgomery addressing British troops.

Montgomery had been fighting German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel for months in North Africa. Though the campaign was slowly succeeding, Rommel and his Italian allies were inflicting heavy casualties on the British.

Britain wanted to increase forces in North Africa to keep Rommel off-balance. Meanwhile, the other Allied nations wanted to capture North Africa so they could begin invading Italy from the south.

So in late October 1942, Montgomery launched Operation Lightfoot. British tanks and other forces moved under cover of massive artillery barrages through minefields against dug-in German positions. By November 2, Rommel was in a rapid withdrawal east, sacrificing troops by the hundreds to try and keep his lines of retreat open.

This put the German units in disarray when Operation Torch was launched on Nov. 8. More than 73,000 troops landed along the north coast of Africa in a deliberate attempt to squeeze the Axis east.

It worked, but Germany and Italy still held Tunisia and conducted their own surge, landing nearly 250,000 troops in and around the ports at Mareth and Sfax. They would settle into a defense along the Mareth Line.

The bet is made

Patton hewitt ww2 world war ii north africa
Maj. Gen. George S. Patton, left, aboard USS Augusta off North Africa in 1942.

The battles in North Africa raged back and forth as German reinforcements tried to hold the line.

The Allied forces were slowly gaining ground, with Maj. Gen. George S. Patton and Montgomery both attempting to be the first to capture key cities, but Eisenhower wanted them to move faster.

Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Bedell Smith, was visiting Montgomery at his headquarters in the spring of 1943.

Exact accounts of the conversation vary, but Montgomery asked about getting a B-17 for his personal use. Smith told Montgomery that if Montgomery captured Sfax by April 15, Eisenhower would give him whatever he wanted.

Smith reportedly meant it as a joke wager, but the notorious gambler Montgomery was serious.

Sfax falls and Montgomery gets his B-17

B 17C with RAF colors
A B-17 with RAF colors.

On April 10 – five days ahead of the deadline – Montgomery captured Sfax and immediately asked for payment.

Eisenhower honored the bet and sent Montgomery a B-17 bomber and crew even though the bombers were needed for the war effort.

The event caused a strain between Eisenhower and Montgomery as well as between Eisenhower and Patton.

Patton was incensed that a British general had a personal B-17 while he was struggling for rides or moving in convoys. Eisenhower was angry that Montgomery would actually accept a B-17 when they were needed to actually bomb targets.

Eisenhower mentioned it to Montgomery’s boss, Sir Alan Brooke, who berated Montgomery for crass stupidity. The plane was written off after a crash-landing a month later and never replaced.

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23 terms only fighter pilots understand

US Air Force F-35 pilot cockpit
An F-35 student pilot climbs into an F-35 at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, July 7, 2017.

If you’ve ever hung out with military aviators (or watched movies like “Top Gun” or “Iron Eagle”) you know they tend to use a lot of strange lingo when they talk, even when they’re out of the cockpit. Trying to hold a conversation with them can be tough – until now.

WATM presents this handy list of fighter speak that will help keep that social interaction going, which is important because fighter guys have a lot of wisdom to put out and it would be a shame if it got lost in translation.

So here’s the gouge . . . er, here you go:

1. ‘Angels’

Altitude in thousand of feet. (“Angels 3” is 3,000 feet.)

2. ‘Cherubs’

Altitude in hundreds of feet. (“Cherubs 3” is 300 feet.)

3. ‘Bandit’

A known bad guy.

4. ‘Bogey’

An unknown radar contact.

5. ‘Bent’

If a piece of gear is inop it is “bent.” (“Giantkiller, be advised my radar is bent.”)

Air Force fighter pilot
A US airman photographs himself and a three-ship formation of F-15Es, August 3, 2006.

6. ‘Bingo’

Low fuel status or direction to head for the divert field. (“Lobo is bingo fuel,” or “Ghostrider, your signal is bingo.”)

7. ‘Blind’

Wingman not in sight.

8. ‘Delta’

Change to a later time, either minutes or hours depending on the context. (“Delta 10 on your recovery time” means the jet is now scheduled to land 10 minutes later.)

9. ‘Firewall’

Push the throttles to their forward limit. (“I had that bitch firewalled, and I still couldn’t get away from that SAM ring.”)

10. ‘Buster’

Direction to go as fast as possible. (“Diamondback, your signal is buster to mother.”)

Air Force F-22 Alaska
A US Air Force pilot climbs aboard an F-22 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, March 24, 2016.

11. ‘Bug’

Exit a dogfight rapidly. (“Gucci is on the bug.”)

12. ‘Fragged’

An indication that the airplane is loaded weapons-wise according to the mission order. (“Devil 201 is on station as fragged.”)

13. ‘Grape’

A pilot who’s an easy kill in a dogfight.

14. ‘Naked’

Radar warning gear without indication of a missile threat.

15. ‘Punch out’

To eject from an airplane.

f22
A pilot gets situated in his F-22 at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida.

16. ‘RTB’

Return to base. (“Big Eye, Eagle 301 is RTB.”)

17. ‘Spiked’

Um, not that “spike.” The real “spiked” is an indication of a missile threat on the radar warning receiver. (“Rooster has an SA-6 spike at three o’clock.”)

18. ‘Tally’

Enemy in sight (as opposed to “visual,” which means friendly in sight). (“Nuke is tally two bandits, four o’clock low.”)

19. ‘Texaco’

Either a label for the tanker or direction to go to the tanker. (“Gypsy, Texaco is at your one o’clock for three miles, level,” or “Gypsy, your signal is Texaco.”)

20. ‘Nose hot/cold’

Usually used around the tanker pattern, an indication that the radar is or isn’t transmitting.

US Air Force Greece
A US Air Force pilot prepares for a mission at Andravida Air Base in Greece, April 1, 2019.

21. ‘Vapes’

The condensation cloud created when an airplane pulls a lot of Gs. (“Man, I came into the break and was vaping like a big dog.”)

22. ‘Visual’

Wingman (or other friendly) in sight (as opposed to “tally,” which means enemy in sight). (“Weezer, you got me?” “Roger, Weezer is visual.”)

23. ‘Winchester’

Out of weapons. (“Tomcat 102 is winchester and RTB.”)

Bonus 1: ‘G-LOC’

“G-induced loss of consciousness.” (Not good when at the controls of a fighter traveling at high speed at low altitude.)

Bonus 2. ‘The Funky Chicken’

“The Funky Chicken” is what aviators call the involuntary movements that happen during G-LOC.

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