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SCUBAPRO Sunday – Salvage Divers of the USS Cole, the Untold Story of the Navy Divers Who Recovered the Fallen, Help Save the Ship

Sunday, October 17th, 2021

Detachment Alpha of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 aboard the USNS Catawba with the USS Cole and the MV Blue Marlin in the background. Photo courtesy of Mike Shields.

On the morning of Oct. 13, 2000, Chief Warrant Officer Frank Perna and his team of US Navy divers were sipping cappuccinos at an open-air coffee shop, enjoying a beautiful Italian morning in the Port of Bari, when the distinct ringtone of Perna’s cell phone cut the casual banter and light mood.

The divers, deployed with Detachment Alpha of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 aboard the USNS Mohawk, turned their attention to their officer in charge as he picked up the phone and listened intently. Mike Shields, now a retired master chief master diver, could tell the call was serious.

“I understand,” Perna said into the phone before hanging up. “We will be ready.”

Less than 24 hours earlier, the USS Cole, a US Navy guided-missile destroyer, was docked in Yemen’s Aden harbor for a planned refueling when al Qaeda suicide bombers in a small boat packed with at least 400 pounds of explosives steered their craft into the Cole’s left side. The blast ripped a 1,600-square-foot hole in its hull, killing 17 American sailors and wounding 39.

Aqueous Film Forming Foam flame retardant floats on top of the water, preventing any fuel from igniting near the damaged left-side hull of the USS Cole in October 2000. Photo courtesy of Mike Shields.

A skilled diver with extensive experience in underwater salvage and recovery operations, Perna had worked on several high-profile dive operations. He participated in salvage and recovery operations for Trans World Airlines Flight 800 and the USS Arthur W. Radford after its collision at sea with a Saudi Arabian container vessel.

Perna looked up at his team, who stared back with anticipation.

“The USS Cole was damaged from an explosion while in port,” he told them. “We are going to Yemen to assist the crew in recovery and salvage of the ship.”

The 12 men who composed Detachment Alpha launched into planning and preparing for a daunting mission: They would locate missing sailors, assist in stabilizing the ship, recover evidence, and perform structural inspections of the Cole after a terrorist attack.

“We immediately started pulling resources and gear to support several different diving and salvage scenarios,” Shields told Coffee or Die Magazine recently. “Because we were going to be somewhat isolated in Yemen, we knew everything we brought had to serve several purposes.”

The USS Cole (DDG-67) is towed by the Navy tug vessel USNS Catawba to a staging point in the Yemeni harbor of Aden to await transportation by the Norwegian-owned, semi-submersible heavy-lift ship MV Blue Marlin. US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Don L. Maes.

The next day, the hand-picked team of Navy divers landed in Yemen with all the necessary dive systems to support the numerous planned and unplanned tasks of diving into and under a critically damaged ship. They loaded their gear onto two flatbed trucks and departed the airport with a sketchy Yemeni military escort. As they passed through several military checkpoints, Perna and his team began to feel the gravity of the situation.

When they arrived at the port, most of the team went to work setting up gear and readying a dive site near the ship while Perna and his senior leaders went to assess the damage. The sight shocked them. The ship was blackened by the explosion, listing slightly to the left, and without electrical power. The only light was from the green glow of the pier lights.

“Our first glimpse of the ship that night will be forever fixed in our minds,” Perna told Coffee or Die.

As Shields took in the damage and saw the Cole’s battle-weary crew members sleeping on mattresses scattered randomly on the ship’s weather decks, his shock turned into determination.

Sailors from the USS Cole rest on the helicopter deck in Yemen, Oct. 13, 2000, the day after a suicide bomber attacked the ship in the port of Aden, Yemen. US Navy photo by Jim Watson.

“Get in the water,” he thought. “Get the Cole back.”

On the morning of Oct. 15, 2000, the divers began the first phase of their mission. Several sailors were still missing in the flooded spaces below, and the men of Alpha Detachment had to get them out and repair or salvage what they could as soon as possible.

With flooding in the ship still posing a significant threat to electrical and engineering spaces, time was not on Alpha’s side. They determined which areas of the ship to search, identified a centralized location to set up a dive station, and planned how to safely enter the spaces they needed to reach. They boarded the Cole, set up gear, and began diving from inside the flooded spaces.

With the utmost care and respect, the Navy divers recovered missing Cole sailors. When a sailor was recovered, the divers paused their work to observe a moment of silence and honor the dead. They draped a flag over each fallen soul and escorted them down the pier to be taken back home.

“It’s a very heavy feeling in your heart to see one of your own covered in the flag,” Perna said. “It’s hard to check your emotions and refocus attention back to the task at hand, but you’ve got to push it back down because we’re doing a dangerous job.”

Gunner’s mate Petty Officer 2nd Class Don Schappert prepares to enter the lower levels of the flooded engine room assisted by hull maintenance technician Petty Officer 2nd Class Brett Husbeck. Photo courtesy of Mike Shields.

In addition to recovering the fallen, Alpha had to stop the flooding into the only engine room that was still operational. Reaching the damaged area required navigating through 50 feet of razor-sharp mangled steel, reduced visibility, and a thick layer of engine fuel building on the surface of the water. To get in and out of the water, the Navy divers had to travel through a layer of oil that they worried might catch fire if something sparked. The team deployed a fire retardant over the surface as a preventive measure.

Shields, who was familiar with the layout of the Cole from conducting routine maintenance on the ship the previous year, was one of two divers who suited up, went below the surface through an auxiliary shaft, and made their way slowly to the engine room. They couldn’t see anything and kept bumping into loose gear and debris floating around the spaces.

Making things even worse, the divers’ life-giving tether lines of air, communication, and light power — their “umbilicals” — were constantly hanging up or snagging on unknown obstructions. With every valuable foot gained, the divers had to stop to free themselves.

“We were blindly feeling around for landmarks that would take us to where we thought the flooding was coming from,” Shields recalled.

Using memories of what the engine room would have looked like, Shields and his dive buddy felt around and found landmarks to orient themselves by, eventually finding the cause of the flooding. They filled it with a 3-inch braided ship’s mooring line covered in a thick layer of electrical putty.

“We filled in the crack and effectively stopped all flooding,” Shields said.

Stopping the flooding saved the ship from sinking and prevented what could have been a total loss.

Mike Shields descends into a flooded engine room through a ventilation shaft on the USS Cole in October 2000. Photo courtesy of Mike Shields.

The next day, the Cole’s diesel generator stopped running, and members of the dive team had to locate and secure the damaged piping and reroute pressure through alternate channels back to the generators. Navigating underwater in the damaged area again proved challenging. Bulkheads were blown inward, all non-watertight doors had broken from their hinges, filing cabinets lay scattered across the deck, and visibility was reduced to less than 3 inches.

The Navy divers spent a lot of time rerouting valves controlling pressure, fuel, oil, or air to their secondary and tertiary systems to help offset the ship’s left-side listing. With the major flooding stopped and the Cole stable, the team focused on reviewing and assessing the massive opening the blast had ripped in the left side of the ship’s hull.

“It was nothing less than devastating,” Perna said. “The most disturbing sight was the extensive damage inside the ship. The blast from the explosion had torn 30-35 feet into the center of the ship.”

The explosion was so powerful that the deck had blown upward and fused onto the bulkhead where an office once sat. Crew members who’d been eating on the mess decks reported that the blast’s power created a visible wave that traveled across the deck.

The divers created a staging area just aft of the blast area on the Cole’s left side so they could easily access the outside space and assist the FBI and several other agencies in gathering information and documenting evidence for future investigations.

Hull maintenance technician Petty Officer 2nd Class Brett Husbeck, left, and engineman Petty Officer 2nd Class Mike Shields, right, conduct dive operations in a flooded engine on the USS Cole. Photo courtesy of Mike Shields.

Outfitted with thick rubber wetsuits, dive knives, and iconic yellow Kirby Morgan MK 21 diving helmets, divers splashed into the hot Persian Gulf water and entered the blast area.

“Everything was surreal about diving on board and into a ship with an extensive hole in the side of its hull,” Perna said. “The fact that you can dive inside the ship, turn around, and see the sunlight cascading into the enormous space is beyond explanation.”

On Oct. 17, 2000, Navy divers prepared to search the flooded main engine room, which suffered extensive damage in the blast and was essentially a total loss. Confirming primary and secondary routes with engineers and the crew, Perna and his team devised a plan to move through the ship’s ventilation-shaft system to access the previously unreachable space.

Before entering the cramped shaft, divers wrapped fire hoses around their umbilicals for protection, modified their gear to slim down their profiles, and slipped into wetsuits to protect themselves from the environmental hazards of fuel, oil, and razor-blade-like steel. The divers inched their way to the main engine room, a feat Perna and Shields likened to John McClane crawling through the ventilation shafts of Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard.

Damage to the USS Cole. Photo courtesy of Mike Shields.

Watching closed-circuit video systems, engineers from the Cole and the USS Donald Cook guided the Navy divers as they moved through sheared bulkheads, buckled decks, broken pipes, and wires that created an immense “spider web” of destruction. Metal shavings sparkled as the divers’ lights scanned the engine room.

“We could feel the change in densities between fuel and water,” Perna recalled. “Everything fouled our umbilicals in the engine room. Pieces of broken equipment fell from the overhead as we disturbed their delicate balance.”

In that unforgiving, stifling space, the men of Detachment Alpha recovered three more missing sailors.

Over the following 10 days, from Oct. 18 through Oct. 28, the Navy divers recovered personal items from the flooded spaces and sifted through the fine sand on the seafloor for anything that might have belonged to the fallen. They searched every flooded compartment, including areas deemed too dangerous to enter safely, recovering all remaining missing sailors and assisting FBI investigators in collecting evidence. The divers inspected every inch of the blast area, looking for evidence of the explosive device. The FBI was keenly interested in anything that might help its investigation to identify the terrorists or the composition of the bomb.

A diver descends a ladder in the flooded engine room. Photo courtesy of Mike Shields.

The Navy divers also worked to mend damaged areas of the Cole and helped prepare the ship for its journey back to the United States. They relieved pressure in the main structural supports by drilling holes at the ends of the significant cracks, alleviating stress and preventing the damage from spreading. Once the necessary repairs were made, the team prepped the ship for a journey out to sea.

The challenge was to keep the ship from listing over to the left side. The Cole’s crew worried that the repairs made to stop the flooding might be damaged once in the open ocean.

“We had the idea to hedge our bets and have some contingencies in place if something happened,” Shields said.

The USS Cole is towed from the port of Aden, Yemen. Photo courtesy of the US Navy.

They ran several hydraulic pumps to the critical spaces and had discharge lines over the side in case a space started to fill with water.

On Oct. 29, the USS Cole slowly moved away from the pier with a small crew aboard to monitor the ship. Supported by tugboats and a tow line from the USNS Catawba, the Cole made the journey from the coast of Yemen to the MV Blue Marlin, a 700-foot-long Norwegian heavy-lift transport ship 23 miles out at sea.

When the Cole reached the Blue Marlin, the Blue Marlin partially submerged its lower deck and floated it under the damaged Cole. Once in place, the ship slowly rose to the surface, gently lifting the Cole from the ocean and resting the mighty ship on the Blue Marlin’s deck.

The MV Blue Marlin transports the USS Cole from Yemen following the attack on the ship in 2000. Photo courtesy of the US Navy.

With the Cole on the Blue Marlin, Shields and his divers checked the ship for flooding once more and found that their work had held. Shields gave the thumbs-up to higher, climbed the side railing, and dove into the ocean, swimming back to his team on the Catawba.

The entire docking evolution took nearly 24 hours to complete. With the Cole securely aboard the Blue Marlin’s deck, they made the trip back to the United States.

The Navy divers’ contributions were instrumental, Perna said. In a small amount of time, the team got the diesel generator back online, rerouted the ship’s air system, set up and operated emergency dewatering equipment, and provided air recharging service to the FBI and explosive ordnance disposal divers.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Cole arrives for a scheduled port visit to Souda Bay, Greece, July 19, 2012. The Cole, home-ported at Naval Station Norfolk, is on a scheduled deployment and is operating in the US 6th Fleet area of responsibility. US Navy photo by Paul Farley.

“No one person can accomplish them alone,” Perna said. “I was grateful to have such a fine and experienced diving and salvage team. I am indebted to and extremely proud of the divers in Detachment Alpha who made it all possible.”

The Detachment Alpha divers safely conducted 37 dives with more than 76 hours of subsurface work during the Cole operation. The ship was fully restored to service within 18 months of the attack in Yemen. The men of Detachment Alpha played a vital role in the operation that ensured the USS Cole’s ability to sail freely today.

A US sailor visits the USS Cole Memorial on the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the ship. Seventeen sailors were killed, and another 39 were wounded in the attack. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Wolpert.

The Men of Detachment Alpha:

CWO3 Frank Perna
ENCS (MDV/SG) Lyle Becker
BMC (SW/DV) David Hunter
ETC (SG/DV) Terry Breaux
HMC (DV) Don Adams
HT2 (DV) Don Husbeck
GM2 (SS/DV) Roger Ziliak
STG2 (SW/DV) Donald Schappert
IS3 (DV) Greg Sutherland
EN2 (DV) Mike Shields
BM2 (DV) Mike Allison
GM3 (DV) Sean Baker

This is reposted with permission from Jayme Pastoric

Ben Baker: MACV-SOG’s “Q” – The Legendary Special Forces Logistics Wizard

Sunday, October 17th, 2021

Conrad “Ben” Baker served as chief of the Counter Insurgency Support Office and created some of America’s most innovative combat equipment.

SCUBAPRO Sunday – US Navy Birthday

Sunday, October 10th, 2021

On 13, OCTOBER 1775 the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution creating official establishment the Continental Navy. They voted to outfit two sailing vessels, armed with ten carriage guns, as well as swivel guns, and manned by crews of eighty, and to send them out on a cruise for three months to intercept transports carrying munitions and stores meant for the British army in America. Dudley Saltonstall, Abraham Whipple, Nicholas Biddle, and John Burroughs Hopkins were named commanders of the new service by Congress. The 24-gun frigates Alfred and Columbus, 14-gun brigs Andrew Doria and Cabot, and three schooners, the Hornet, Wasp, and Fly, were the Navy’s first ships. Commissions were also given to five first lieutenants, including future American hero John Paul Jones, five second lieutenants, and three third lieutenants. Throughout the War of Independence, the Continental Navy sent to sea more than fifty armed vessels. The Navy’s squadrons and cruisers seized enemy supplies and carried correspondence and diplomats to Europe, returning with needed munitions. They took nearly 200 British vessels as prizes, and some of the British Isles themselves, contributing to the demoralization of the enemy and forcing the British to divert warships to protect convoys and thier  trade routes. But with the end of the American Revolutionary War, the Continental Navy was disbanded. Then with threats to American merchant shipping by Barbary pirates from four North African States, in the Mediterranean, President George Washington signed the Naval Act of 1794 the act authorizing the construction of the Navy’s first six frigates ? Congress passed a resolution to establish a national Navy that could protect U.S. commercial vessels from attacks by the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean and nearby Atlantic waters.

Value of History in the Army

Thursday, October 7th, 2021

WASHINGTON, D.C.— The study and use of history is a critical tool in the Army profession. It helps to inform current decision making, inspires Soldiers to serve, and builds morale and esprit in units.

“History helps us learn from the past, see the present and be ready for the future” said General Paul E. Funk II, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC). “You have to understand your historical roots to become an effective leader.”

At this year’s Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting from October 11-13 at the Washington Convention Center, the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) will host a Kiosk promoting the value of history in the Army.  Preparing Soldiers at all levels to be historically minded is a significant role for CMH, an organization within TRADOC.

The Executive Director of CMH, Charles R. Bowery, Jr. points out, “All ranks in the Army, from the most junior trainee to the Chief of Staff, benefit from historical awareness in different ways. Every Soldier should understand that they are serving something bigger than themselves.”

A true understanding of history goes well beyond simply knowing key dates and events. The lessons of history develop critical thinking skills in Soldiers as they understand the reason why and how events unfolded in the past and their connection to today. It develops a more informed use of actionable history in current staff planning and decision making.

According to Dr. Peter G. Knight, Chief of Field and International History Programs at CMH, “We frequently respond to requests for information about historical events to help develop viable courses of action for Army leaders.” Knight recommends all Soldiers can use existing programs within the Army to improve their historical perspective. “There are professional military education courses and leader developmental programs like staff rides that can hone critical thinking skills.”

Staff rides are a unique and persuasive method of teaching the lessons of the past to the present day leaders. They can bring events to life and provide a greater understanding of tactics, leadership, strategy, communications and the psychology of Soldiers in battle. The staff at CMH develop and lead staff rides for U.S. Army organizations and provide detailed staff ride pamphlets online for free downloads.

Beyond decision making, history is also a key part of many aspects of a Soldiers career from understanding the rich heritage of his or her unit to accessing VA benefits as they transition to civilian life. Knight says, “A unit history program not only helps build esprit de corps, but it helps ensure unit awards and unit campaign participation credit are up to date.”

History also builds morale and helps to inspire men and women to serve by providing examples of those who exemplify Army values. “It connects Soldiers to their unit through activations, lineage and honors, unit decorations, and unit heritage” Knight said.

Leader support for the Army History Program will improve the understanding of history and its essential application in all units. Key elements of the program include assigning unit history officers, including Command Historians as part of staff functions and the use of Military History Detachments. Knight says “If you ever asked your staff if a certain situation has happened before or how did we handle a situation in the past, then you need a unit historical program.”

Other ways to expand historical mindedness is accessing the publications and research resources on the CMH website. Bowery also points out that “The Chief of Staff’s professional reading list is the best place to start. CMH and Army University Press also have thousands of free publications that Soldiers can access.”

The value and benefits of using history in the Army are significant factors to the success of units and individual Soldiers careers. The Center of Military History is a valuable resource with multiple tools that are available to all Army units and personnel.

“The Center of Military History can do all sorts of things for a leader development program, they can provide staff rides, they can provide lessons learned, and they can be the historical reference you need.” GEN Funk said.

By Francis Reynolds

Additional Resources:


The Battle of Mogadishu

Sunday, October 3rd, 2021

Everyday marks an anniversary of a significant event in American military history, but today stands out among them.

On this date in 1993, US service members were engaged in what is now known as the Battle of Mogadishu. A joint organization was formed named ” TF Ranger” to deploy to Mogadishu, Somalia in support of a UN-led humanitarian mission. Already having conducted operations for some time, on 3 October they raided the city’s Olympic Hotel in order to capture key leaders of the Aidid Militia.

Unfortunately, during the exfil portion of the raid, a battle ensued which claimed the lives of 18 Americans and wounded another 73. Additionally, CW3 Michael Durant was captured by the Aideed militia. Fortunately, Durant was later repatriated and went on to retire from the 160th.

Of the men killed that day, two would be awarded the Medal of Honor, Delta Operators Gary Gordon and Randy Shughart, for their selfless efforts to protect Durant after his aircraft, callsign Super 64, was shot down.

Recently, the US Army reevaluated the awards presented to the participants of that battle and amongst the Ranger element, upgraded 60 veteran’s awards including 58 Silver Stars and two Distinguished Flying Crosses. The order of battle included other organizations and their Soldiers will soon receive similar upgrades.

If you are unfamiliar with the events, one of the best accounts of the battle is contained in the book, “Blackhawk Down” by author Mark Bowden. Much of the information was serialized prior to the book’s publication in the Philadelphia Enquirer. Later this was made into a movie bearing the same name.

Please take a moment to remember these men and their sacrifice.

Additionally, the 75th Ranger Regiment was created on this day in 1984, with the stand up of its 3rd Battalion. Almost four decades later, the Ranger Regiment boasts boasts five battalions of some of the most elite warriors on the face of our planet.

SCUBAPRO Sunday – General Wingate a Forefather of Modern Guerilla Warfare

Sunday, September 26th, 2021

Major General Orde Wingate has memorials in England, Israel, and Ethiopia. Though he was unorthodox, erratic, and difficult to work with, many admired his eccentricities. Wingate, who ate raw onions for their health benefits and who cleaned himself with a hairbrush of sorts, also believed, quite openly, in his superiority. This, along with his sometimes-disheveled looks and foul body odor, alienated more than a few of his commanders and colleagues. He was also known for being in his tent completely naked and running staff briefings. The most well-known of his contributions is his creation of the Chindits battalions for deep-penetration missions into the Burmese jungles behind Japanese lines. The missions’ effectiveness is a matter of debate, but Wingate’s exploits have secured him a place as a legend, if a very odd one. Wingate was born on February 26, 1903, in India to a British army officer. He had six siblings, so they were with him for most of his childhood. The family moved to England before 1916, and Wingate attended formal education in England.

In 1921, he was accepted to Woolwich Military Academy, where he studied infantry and artillery tactics. He was known to be rude, obstinate, and intolerant. He excelled in horseback riding at the Military School of Equitation. Because of this skill, he was promoted to the cavalry. Throughout his early career, Wingate always tested people. It was often because he rubbed people up the wrong way and didn’t conform to the “old boys’ network” that the officer class of the British Army consisted of in those days. In 1928, he was sent to Sudan to keep an eye on possible uprisings against British colonial rule and map it. Wingate traveled to Sudan by bicycle and then took a boat from Yugoslavia to Cairo, Egypt. He reached Khartoum and was eventually transferred to the Sudanese Defense Force. Most officers would’ve considered this a black mark on their career, but he thrived in Sudan and the harsh environment, considering it a challenge and a way to “toughen up.” He served in the East Arab Army and commanded units patrolling Ethiopia’s border, preventing the trade in black slaves and ivory. He enjoyed being out on the trail. He was unpopular with other officers due to his abrasive personality.

Next, Wingate went to the British Mandate for Palestine (today’s Israel). There, he was decidedly pro-Jewish in a majority Arab country and in an army where many of the officers did not like the natives, either Arab or Jew. He proceeded to get involved in the Jewish communities, their leaders, and Zionist movements. Wingate believed that it was his religious obligation to support the creation of a Jewish state. He pushed the boundaries of his duties, and some say he exceeded them, helping militant Jewish groups with money, arms and intelligence. With the reluctant support of General Archibald Wavell, Wingate aided militant Jewish groups in attacks against Arab militants during the Arab uprisings of the late 1930s.

To fight the Palestinian Arab guerrilla forces in the area, Wingate suggested to Major General Archibald Wavell (commander of British troops in the area at the time) the idea of commando units of British and Jewish troops to counter raids, saboteur operations and find the villages where the guerrillas sought refuge. Wavell approved, and Wingate formed the Special Night Squads from volunteers in the British Army and Haganah, the Jewish paramilitary force that was the precursor to the Israeli Defense Force. For his actions in Palestine, Wingate was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and became a hero in the Jewish community. He is still remembered in Israel to this day for his huge role in training Haganah forces. After England was drawn into World War II, he was sent to Ethiopia to organize a guerrilla force around the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie. The Italians had conquered the country of the latter in 1936-37. The “Gideon Force” was a group of irregular troops that shared Wingate’s vision for the irregular forces and fought with him in Palestine.

Like many “different” individuals throughout the history of military service, Wingate inspired either complete disdain or total loyalty, and most of his loyal followers followed him to Ethiopia and beyond. Gideon Force, made up of British, Ethiopian, and Sudanese soldiers, soon ran the Italians ragged, and in a war that they were ill-equipped to fight, forced the Italian forces of 2,000 men to surrender to their 20,000 in 1941. Emperor Haile Selassie was another man who admired Wingate and looked upon him favorably. In February 1941, Wingate created his new command. Requested by the new commander-in-chief of Middle East Command, Wavell, to fight the Italians in Ethiopia, Wingate traveled to Sudan and formed the Gideon Force. The Gideon Force was named after the biblical Judge who defeated a large army with a small army.

Wingate’s Gideon Force, numbering about 1,700, moved behind enemy lines and attacked supply lines while working with local militias to attack Italian forts. Operation Gideon Force was successful in the end, due to the surrender of 20,000 Italian troops. Wingate accompanied Emperor Haile Selassie on his return to Addis in May 1941. He was awarded his second unit citation for his exemplary service. In both Palestine and Ethiopia/Sudan, Wingate’s relationships with local communities and populations were seen by other officers as highly inappropriate. This, combined with his official reports in which he often railed against other officers and the higher command, hurt his chances at promotion and led to him being moved frequently.

Also, there was the issue of his eccentricity, which included wearing a wreath of raw onion and garlic around his neck, which he would frequently chew into and greet guests to his command tent while entirely naked. Wavell established an affinity for Wingate and his creativity, and when he became commander of the South East Asian Theatre, he helped Wingate secure a command. Reports of Ethiopia reached Winston Churchill, searching for innovative and creative ways to take the war to the enemy. This allowed him to get an audience with Churchill, who was impressed by the idea and asked that he come up with a plan. Wingate arrived in India in March of 1942 to become a colonel for the British shortly before India’s Japanese takeover. Wingate commanded the Indian 77th Infantry Brigade and trained them in the art of jungle warfare. With this training, he learned to camp in the jungle during the monsoon season, which led to hundreds of men getting sick. Wingate believed exercise and mental strength would boost one’s resistance to infection. However, his eccentricity directly led to poor managerial decision-making.

Wingate was ordered to form a group of guerrilla-style fighters to take the battle behind Japanese lines to disrupt communications, gain intelligence, and force the Japanese to divert troops that might be needed in more strategic areas. To create the “Chindits,” Wingate copied the Burmese word for a mythical, fearless lion. The first Chindit mission in February 1943 was a failure. The Chindits made trouble for the Japanese behind their lines in Burma, but poor logistics and underestimating how mobile the Japanese were forced the Chindits back to India in March. They had pushed too far into Japanese territory, and when they attempted to retreat, the Japanese surrounded them. Wingate split-off his men into smaller groups and arranged them to expedite their return. Through the war’s remainder, the Wingate Troop’s survivors trickled back to India. The loss of one-third of the men raised the morale of the other troops. They were encouraged by this, and it boosted confidence further. Wingate was given another opportunity to the situation.

Wingate was given overall command of six whole brigades and the mission. Two were dropped via gliders during World War II into Burma behind enemy lines in March. Those men cleared landing strips so other aircraft could land. Though many officers argued that the mission took the most battle-hardened troops away from the front line of battle, as the Japanese tried to push into India, they were constantly distracted by the Chindits, which delayed their advance. The Japanese attempted to isolate the small force, using three infantry divisions to chase a force of perhaps 8,000 men (the force increased in size to about 12,000 in 1944). In 1944, the Chindits penetrated deep into Burma and found strong points deep in the jungle, from which to strike out and harass the Japanese. This strategy was so successful that the Japanese decided to eliminate the threat from the Indian border. This resulted in significant battles at Imphal and Kohima, some of the most brutal fighting in that theater. Throughout the process, the Chindits harassed the Japanese column, weakening them for the decisive battles.

The Japanese commander, Mutaguchi Renya, said that he would have likely achieved a Japanese victory had he not been forced to put up a fight against the Chindits. Wingate’s force definitely contributed to Burma’s victory, even though their achievements may have been overstated. When his plane crashed on March 24, 1944, Major General Wingate was on his way to inspect his troops in the Burmese jungle. Three British officers, as well as the American pilots, died in the incident. Their remains were archived in India. Following their deceased relatives’ wishes, they were subsequently interred in the United States at Arlington National Cemetery. The Chindits continued under other commanders until the end of the war, using Wingate’s tactics, who is still considered one of the most innovative tactical strategists of the 20th century. Wingate is regarded for his unorthodox approaches to unconventional warfare and as a very unusual man. But he was also one of the best wartime leaders and innovators of WWII.

ARMAX Journal

Saturday, September 18th, 2021

Armax is the peak international publication promoting the scholarship of contemporary arms. As a core discipline within the field of arms and armour studies, the study of contemporary arms engages with a broad range of academic areas including history (particularly contemporary, military, science, and technology history), war and conflict studies; ballistics; design and technology studies; museum studies; and forensic science.

Armax is a multidisciplinary journal publishing research from scholars around the world. In addition to full-length research articles and shorter research notes, Armax publishes book reviews, conference reports, obituaries, and other material relevant to the contemporary arms studies community. Armax is published by Helios House Press on behalf of the Cody Firearms Museum, with two issues annually.  All research submissions are double-blind peer reviewed.

To subscribe, visit www.armaxjournal.org.

Silent Warrior Foundation Presents: Memories of the Tragedy at Desert One

Wednesday, September 8th, 2021

The Silent Warrior Foundation recently held their Whiskey & War Stories event honoring Operation Eagle Claw, the 1980 raid into Iran to rescue American Hostages. Part of the project is to capture history and they’ve done a great job with these short interview videos.

In this initial video Delta Operator Nick Nickel (CSM, Ret.) discusses his observations of the collision at Desert One.