There’s a German U-boat at the bottom of Lake Michigan

Nazi Germany navy U-boat submarine
A U-boat at the German naval base at Kiel, November 10, 1939.

  • At the end of World War I, much of the German navy was scuttled, but many U-boats survived.
  • Some U-boats were sent on tours to other countries, including one that was sent to the US.
  • Americans came to see UC-97 until June 1921, when the US Navy sank in Lake Michigan.
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Crewman aboard a ship owned by A and T Recovery on Lake Michigan dropped cameras into the deep to confirm what sonar was telling them – there was a German U-boat resting on the bottom of the Great Lake.

Luckily, the year was 1992, a full 73 years removed from the end of the Great War that saw German submarines force the United States to enter the war in Europe. How it got there has nothing to do with naval combat.

In the days before a true visual mass medium, the American people were restricted to photos in newspapers to get a view of what the war looked like.

World War I was the first real industrial war, marked for its brutality and large numbers of casualties, not to mention the advances in weapons technology that must have seemed like magic to the people who had never seen poison gas, automatic machine guns, and especially boats that moved underneath the waves, sinking giant battleships from the depths.

German U-boat submarine UC-97 in Toronto
German submarine UC-97 in Toronto, June 10, 1919.

So after years of hearing about evil German U-boats mercilessly sinking tons and tons of Allied shipping and killing thousands of sailors while silently slipping beneath the waves, one of those ships began touring the coastal cities of the United States – and people understandably wanted to see it.

The November 11, 1918 Armistice demanded that the German navy turn over its ships to the British but instead of doing that, the Germans scuttled the bulk of their fleet near the British base at Scapa Flow. The submarines, however, survived.

Seeing that there were so many U-boats and that German technology surrounding U-boats used some of the best technology at the time, the British offered them out to other nations, as long as the submarines were destroyed when their usefulness came to an end.

The United States accepted one, UC-97, and toured it around the country to raise money needed to pay off the enormous war debt incurred by the government of the United States.

When they successfully raised that money, the Navy continued touring the ships as a way to recruit new sailors. The UC-97 was sailed up the St. Lawrence Seaway into Lake Ontario and then Lake Erie.

It was the first submarine ever sailed into the Great Lakes.

Eventually, though, the novelty of the ship wore off, and after raising money, recruiting sailors, and giving all the tech she had on board, the boat just sat on the Chicago River. All the other subs taken by the US were sunk according to the treaty’s stipulations.

UC-97 couldn’t really move under her own power and was towed to the middle of Lake Michigan, where she was sunk for target practice by the USS Wilmette, forgotten by the Navy for decades after.

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Here’s what NASA says is the perfect length for a power nap

sleeping soldier
A Navy chief sleeps between exercises near Azusa, California.

Everyone gets that “2:30 feeling.”

Military personnel happen to get it at all times of day. Maybe you’re on mids. Maybe you’re in transit from Afghanistan to Japan. Or maybe you’re being punished for doing something stupid. It happens. But we don’t always have access to Five Hour Energy shots, and sometimes coffee isn’t cutting it.

The best thing to do is give in: have your battle cover you while you rack out for a few minutes.

Or maybe 15? A half-hour? A full hour? How long is the proper power nap? Thanks to NASA, we have the answer.

sleeping us soldiers afghanistan

There’s no shame in needing a little afternoon siesta. Anyone who swears by the power nap will tell you that nodding off for a few minutes can revive them for hours. Just don’t let the First Sergeant catch you.

But if you can get away with it on duty, you (and your coworkers) will be grateful to find you more productive and operating at a higher level. It’s a natural part of human circadian rhythm, you’re going to be intensely sleepy twice per day. You can’t stop it, none of us can.

NASA’s research showed that naps really can fully restore cognitive function at the same rate as a full night’s sleep.

The space agency found that pilots who slept in the cockpit for 26 minutes showed alertness improvements of up to 54% and job-performance improvements by 34%, compared to pilots who didn’t nap. But 26 minutes might be a little long.

sleeping soldiers
Paratroopers sleep after working overnight to prepare for an early morning combat jump in Italy.

“Napping leads to improvements in mood, alertness and performance [such as] reaction time, attention, and memory,” according to Kimberly Cote, Ph.D, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brock University, who co-authored a similar study with researcher Catherine Milner. “Longer naps will allow you to enter deeper sleep, which will contribute to the grogginess – also called sleep inertia – experienced upon awakening and disrupt nighttime sleep.”

Cote and NASA suggest taking power naps between 10 and 20 minutes long. You’ll get the most benefit from a sleep cycle without any of the grogginess associated with longer sleeping periods.

You don’t need to get through all five sleep stages, just the first two. Even just getting to stage 2 sleep for a few minutes will revive a napper enough to give him or her a new outlook on the day.

So get cozy and rack out for a few. It’s actually better for everyone.

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Here are the 3 most realistic gunfights Hollywood has ever produced

saving private ryan tom hanks
  • Hollywood presents a lot of misconceptions and downright errors about how firearms work and are used.
  • But sometimes the movies show things so well that even the pros use them as training demonstrations.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

It’s no secret that movies get a lot wrong about firearms and the ways they’re used in a fight.

From every 80’s protagonist refusing to shoulder their rifles when they fire, to the seemingly infinite magazine capacity in every hero’s gun, filmmakers have long prized what looks cool over what’s actually possible in their work, and to be honest, it’s hard to blame them.

After all, diving sideways while firing pistols from each hand does look pretty badass, even if it’s just about the dumbest thing someone could do in a firefight.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule when it comes to Hollywood’s depictions of firefights – movies that manage to offer a realistic representation of how armed conflicts actually play out while still giving the audience something to get excited about.

These movies may not be realistic from end to end, but each offers at least one firefight that was realistic enough to get even highly trained warfighters to inch up toward the edges of their seats.

1. Delta’s time to shine: ‘Sicario’

The border scene in 2015’s Sicario is worthy of study from multiple angles: As an exercise in film making, this scene puts on a clinic in tension building, and although some elements of the circumstances may not be entirely realistic, the way in which the ensuing firefight plays out offers a concise and brutal introduction to the capabilities boasted by the sorts of men that find their way onto an elite team like Delta.

Unlike the Chuck Norris depictions of Delta from the past, these men are short on words and heavy on action, using their skill sets to not only neutralize opponents, but to keep the situation as contained as possible.

The tense lead up and rapid conclusion leaves the viewer with the same sense of continued stress even after the shooting stops that anyone who has ever been in a fight can relate to, despite the operators themselves who are seemingly unphased.

As real special operators will often attest, it’s less about being unphased and more about getting the job done – but to the rest of us mere mortals, it looks pretty much the same.

2. The Gold Standard: ‘Saving Private Ryan’

When “Saving Private Ryan” premiered in 1998, I distinctly recall my parents returning home early from their long-planned date night.

My father, a Vietnam veteran that had long struggled with elements of his service had been excited about the new Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg wartime epic, but found the opening scene depicting the graphic reality of the Normandy invasion of World War II to be too realistic to handle.

My dad, who never spoke of his time deployed, chose to leave the theater and spent the rest of the evening sitting quietly in his room.

This list is, in spirit, a celebration of realism in cinema, but realism has a weight to it, and sometimes, that weight can feel too heavy to manage.

A number of veterans have echoed my father’s sentiments about the film (he did eventually watch it at home by himself), calling that opening sequence, often heralded as a masterpiece of film making, one of the hardest scenes they’ve ever managed to watch.

3. Val Kilmer helps train Green Berets: ‘Heat’

The dramatic 10-minute shootout in “Heat” has become legendary in Hollywood for good reason.

For six weeks, the film’s production team closed down parts of downtown Los Angeles every Saturday and Sunday to turn the city into a war zone, and the actors came prepared to do their parts. Production brought in real British SAS operatives to train the actors in real combat tactics at the nearby LA County Sheriff’s combat shooting ranges.

Legend has it that Val Kilmer took to the training so well that the shot of him laying down fire in multiple directions and reloading his weapon (without the scene cutting) has been shown at Fort Bragg as a part of training for American Green Berets.

Marines training at MCRD San Diego have also been shown this firefight from “Heat” as a depiction of how to effectively retreat under fire.

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3 times the US military brought back ‘obsolete’ weapons to take on new enemies

USS New Jersey battleship navy
The USS New Jersey with all guns blazing.

  • The US military regularly sends old hardware to its storage depots and boneyards.
  • But the Pentagon has also brought back old gear and designs to counter new and emerging threats.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

1. Battleships

Once thought to be the cornerstone of naval power, the advent of naval aviation and the rise of the aircraft carrier in WWII was the beginning of the end for the large-gunned ships of the line.

Though battleships saw continuous combat in WWII and Korea, the US Navy was left without an active battleship upon the decommissioning of the USS Wisconsin in March 1958; the first time since 1895.

Most military enthusiasts are familiar with the Reagan administration’s 600-ship Navy and the reactivation of the battleships USS Iowa, Missouri, New Jersey and Wisconsin.

USS New Jersey would be the first to fire her massive 16-inch guns at enemy targets again during the Lebanese Civil War from 1983-1984. USS Missouri and Wisconsin would return to combat in 1991 during the Gulf War. However, USS New Jersey was brought back into active service once before.

USS Wisconsin
USS Wisconsin firing its 16-inch guns during the Korean War.

Following the beginning of Operation Rolling Thunder in 1965, the loss of US aircraft over Vietnam increased exponentially.

The planes that took part in the sustained aerial bombardment campaign were exceptionally vulnerable to sophisticated Soviet-made surface-to-air weapon systems provided to the North Vietnamese.

In an effort to alleviate these air losses while still delivering ordnance payloads, USS New Jersey was brought out of mothballs in April 1968 and modernized for active service in Southeast Asia. The only active battleship in the world, New Jersey joined the gun line off the Vietnamese coast on September 25.

Five days later, she fired her first shots in over 16 years during an engagement against PAVN targets near the DMZ at the 17th parallel. She would go on to fire 14,891 5-inch shells and 5,688 16-inch shells during the war in support of ARVN, US and even Korean troops.

2. M14 rifle

M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle
Troops with the M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle.

An evolution of the famed M1 Garand of WWII and Korea, the M14 battle rifle became the standard-issue rifle for the US military in 1959.

Firing the 7.62 x 51 mm NATO round, the M14 was meant to streamline logistics efforts by replacing the M1 Garand, M1903 Springfield, M1917 Enfield, M1 carbine, M3 submachine gun, M1928/M1 Thompson submachine gun, and M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle.

While the M14 exhibited outstanding accuracy and stopping power in its semi-automatic setting, its full-power cartridge was deemed too powerful for the submachine gun role and its light weight made it difficult to control during automatic fire as a light machine gun.

m14
An infantry marksman provides security in the district of Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, July 30, 2012.

Though the M14 was replaced by the M16 as the standard-issue rifle in 1968, it found a new role as a precision rifle platform. It served as the basis of the M21 Sniper Weapon System introduced in 1968 and M25 Sniper Weapon System introduced in 1991.

Though both weapon systems have been largely replaced by the M24 Sniper Weapon System, the M14 lives on as the Mk14 Enhanced Battle Rifle. Introduced in 2002, the Mk14 is a truer reincarnation of the M14.

Where the M21 and M25 were restricted to semi-automatic fire, designated as Sniper Weapon Systems and saw more restricted issuance as a result, the Mk14 sees the return of selective fire, the designation as a battle rifle for both designated marksman and close combat roles, and issuance by the Army to two riflemen per infantry platoon deploying to Afghanistan.

3. Guns on fighter planes

Air Force F-35 cannon gun
An F-35A’s 25 mm cannon on a strafing run during training at the Utah Test and Training range, August 13, 2018.

With the advent of radar-guided and heat-seeking air-to-air missiles, like the AIM-7 Sparrow and AIM-9 Sidewinder, and the new threat of high-altitude, long-range Soviet bombers, US air combat doctrine called for the elimination of gun armament on fighter-interceptor aircraft.

Though dedicated attack and fighter aircraft like the A-4 Skyhawk, A-7 Corsair II and the F-8 Crusader retained 20mm cannons for ground attack and close-range aerial combat, interceptors like the F-86D Sabre, F-102 Delta Dagger and the F-4 Phantom II dispensed with any type of gun armament in favor of rockets and missiles.

The idea during the late ’50s and early ’60s was that these types of aircraft would engage in long-range combat without visual contact of their target and, even if they did get close enough to see the enemy that the new Sidewinder missile would be able to dispense with a hostile fighter with ease.

This idea proved to be fatal for pilots over the skies of Vietnam. For Phantom II pilots in particular, who escorted bomber flights over North Vietnam, the lack of a gun often left them without offensive options during a dogfight. Marine Corps general recalled, “Everyone in RF-4s wished we had a gun on the aircraft.”

As any “Top Gun” fan can tell you, the American air-to-air kill ratio in Korea was 12:1. According to the US Naval Institute, the Navy’s kill ratio in Vietnam was just 2.5:1. The drop in kill ratio was attributed to poor missile accuracy at just 10% and lack of dogfighting skills.

The latter resulted in the creation of TOPGUN while the former resulted in the addition of an external gun pod to the Phantom II. An internally mounted gun was incorporated on the later F-4E models.

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Why a US soldier once had to use a payphone to call in artillery support

M102 howitzers during Operation Urgent Fury grenada
M102 howitzers during Operation Urgent Fury.

  • In October 1983, the US launched Operation Urgent Fury, an invasion of the island of Grenada.
  • The US force was made up of highly capable units, including the Army’s Delta Force and Navy SEALs.
  • Despite those units’ skills, they were plagued by planning, intelligence, communication, and coordination issues.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In October 1983, the Caribbean nation of Grenada experienced a series of bloody coups over the course of a week, threatening US interests as well as US citizens on the island.

In a controversial move, President Ronald Reagan decided to launch Operation Urgent Fury, an invasion of the island nation (and the first real-world test of the all-volunteer force in combat).

The Grenadian forces were bolstered by Communist troops from the Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba, and Bulgaria.

The US rapid deployment force was more or less an all-star team of the 1st and 2nd Ranger Battalions, the 82nd Airborne, US Marines, Delta Force, and Navy SEALs.

Grenada 82nd airborne paratrooper PASGT protective vest
82nd Airborne soldiers in Grenada.

Despite the strength of the invasion force, planning, intelligence, communication and coordination issues plagued their interoperability (and led to Congress reorganizing the entire Department of Defense).

Army helicopters couldn’t refuel on Navy ships. There was zero intelligence information coming from the CIA. Army Rangers were landed on the island in the middle of the day.

The list of Urgent Fury mistakes is a long one, but one snafu was so huge it became legend.

The basic story is that a unit on the island was pinned down by Communist forces.

Interoperability and communications were so bad, they were unable to call for support from anywhere. A member of the unit pulled out his credit card and made a long-distance call by commercial phone lines to their home base, which patched it through to the Urgent Fury command, who passed the order down to the requested support.

The devil is in the details. The Navy SEALs Museum says the caller was from a group of Navy SEALs in the governor’s mansion. He called Fort Bragg for support from an AC-130 gunship overhead. The gunship’s support allowed the SEALs to stay in position until relieved by a force of Recon Marines the next day.

Some on the ground with the SEALs in Grenada said it was for naval fire support from nearby ships.

AC-130
An AC-130 gunship.

The story is recounted in Mark Adkins’ “Urgent Fury: the Battle for Grenada.” Another report says it was a US Army “trooper” (presumably meaning “paratrooper”) who called his wife to request air support from the Navy.

Screenwriter and Vietnam veteran James Carabatsos incorporated the event into his script for “Heartbreak Ridge” after reading about an account from members of the 82nd Airborne. In that version, paratroopers used a payphone and calling card to call Fort Bragg to request fire support.

In his 2011 memoir, “In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir,” former Vice President Dick Cheney recalls visiting the island as a congressman and listening to an Army officer tell the story.

“An army officer who had needed artillery support … could look out to sea and see naval vessels on the horizon, but he had no way to talk to them. So he used his personal credit card in a payphone, placed a call to Fort Bragg, asked Bragg to contact the Pentagon, had the Pentagon contact the Navy, who in turn told the commander off the coast to get this poor guy some artillery support. Clearly a new system was needed.”

The story has a happy ending from an American point of view.

These days, the US invasion is remembered by the Grenadian people as an overwhelmingly good thing, as bloody Communist revolutions ended with the elections following the invasion. Grenada marks the anniversary of the US intervention with a national holiday, its own Thanksgiving Day.

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5 facts about the Korean War, a war still technically being fought 71 years later

Korean War US Army
US soldiers during the Korean War.

June 25, 1950, saw troops from North Korea pouring across the 38th parallel into South Korea. This began a short, yet exceptionally bloody war.

There are those that refer to the Korean War as, “the forgotten war” as it did not receive the same kind of attention as did World War II or the Vietnam War. However, despite the lack of attention given to it, the Korean War was one of great loss for both sides involved – both civilian and military.

Even now, 70 years later, the Korean War is given less notice than other conflicts and wars in history. It is just as important and just as worthy of remembrance as anything else.

To honor those that fought, those that died, and those that were wounded in Korea between June 25, 1950, and July 27, 1953, here are five facts about the Korean War:

38th Parallel still divides the two countries

DMz DEMILITARIZED ZONE

The 38th Parallel was the boundary which divided the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the North and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the South.

Despite the original desires of the UN and the US to completely destroy communism and stop its spread, the Korean War ended in July 1953 with both sides signing an armistice which gave South Korea 1,500 extra square miles of territory, and also created a 2-mile wide demilitarized zone which still exists today.

It was the first military action of the Cold War

korean war us tanks
US Army tanks fire on enemy positions near Masan, South Korea, in August 1950.

After World War II ended, the world entered a time period known as the Cold War. The Cold War lasted from 1945 until 1990.

It was a period of geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the United States and their allies. The Korean War was the first military action following the end of WWII and the beginning of the Cold War.

American leaders viewed it as more than just a war against North Korea

korean war

North Korean troops invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. By July, US troops had joined the war on South Korea’s behalf.

This is partly due to the fact that President Harry Truman and the American military leaders believed that this was not simply a border dispute between two dictatorships, but could be the first step in a communist campaign to take over the world.

President Truman believed that, “If we let Korea down, the Soviets will keep right on going and swallow up one place after another.” They sent troops over to South Korea prepared for war against communism itself.

Gen. MacArthur was fired from his post

macarthur
Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

By the end of summer 1950, President Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the Asian theater, had set a new goal for the war in Korea. They set out to liberate North Korea from the communists.

However, as China caught wind of this, they threatened full-scale war unless the United States kept its troops away from the Yalu boundary. The Yalu River was the border between North Korea and communist China.

Full-scale war with China was the last thing President Truman wanted, as he and his advisers feared it would lead to a larger scale push by the Soviets across Europe. As President Truman worked tirelessly to prevent war with China, Gen. MacArthur began to do all he could to provoke it.

In March 1951, Gen. MacArthur sent a letter to House Republican leader, Joseph Martin, stating that, “There is no substitute for victory,” against international communism.

For President Truman this was the last straw, and on April 11 he fired Gen. MacArthur from his post for insubordination.

Millions of lives were lost:

Korean War North Korea tank
A North Korean soldier lies dead among knocked-out tanks in Indong, South Korea, August 13, 1950.

Between June 1950 and July 1953, approximately 5 million lives were lost. Somewhere around half of those were civilian casualties.

American troops saw approximately 40,000 soldiers die in action in Korea, and more than 100,000 were wounded.

These numbers made the Korean War known as an exceptionally bloody war, despite the fact that it was relatively short.

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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.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

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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