Pound for pound, these were the deadliest boats of World War II
They were made of wood, carried no heavy guns, and would sink at the drop of a hat. But they were fast, hard to hit, and could kill nearly anything afloat. Pound for pound, the deadliest boats of World War II weren't the carriers or the legendary battleships, they were the humble patrol torpedo boats.
America invested heavily in capital ships in the inter-war years, concentrating on battleships and carriers that could project power across the deep oceans. Combined with destroyers and cruisers to protect them, this resulted in fleets that could move thousands of miles across the ocean and pummel enemy shores. It was a good, solid investment.
But these large ships were expensive and relatively slow, and building them required lots of metal and manpower. There was still an open niche for a fast attack craft like the Italian motor torpedo boats that had famously sunk the SMS Szent Istvan in World War I.Boat builders who had made their name in racing lined up to compete for Navy contracts. They held demonstrations and sea trials in 1940 and 1941, culminating in the "Pinewood Derbies" of July 1941.
These were essentially races between different boats with either weapons or copper weights installed to mimic combat armament, allowing the Navy to see what designs were fastest, most nimble, and could survive the quick turns with a combat load.
Not all the vessels made it through. Some experienced hull and deck failures, but others zipped through the course at up to 46 miles per hour. A few boats impressed the Navy, especially what would become the ELCO Patrol Torpedo Boat. Higgins and Hulkins also showed off impressive designs, and all three contractors were given orders for Navy boats.
The Navy standardized the overall designs and armament, though the contractors took some liberties, especially Higgins. They were all to be approximately 50 tons, made of mahogany, and carry two .50-cal. machine guns. Many got up to four torpedo tubes and a 20mm anti-aircraft gun, while a few even got mortars or rockets.
They were powered by aviation fuel and three powerful engines
All of this combined to create a light, powerful craft that was fast as hell. Two gunners on a PT boat at Pearl Harbor were credited with the first Japanese kill by the U.S. in World War II when they downed an enemy plane.
The little boats would distinguish themselves over and over again, even though there were only 29 in the Navy at the start of the war. Gen. Douglas MacArthur slipped out of the Philippines on a two-day trip through the enemy fleet with Lt. John D. Bulkeley on a PT boat. Bulkeley would earn a Medal of Honor for his actions.
The boats launched constant attacks against Japanese ships, hitting them with Mk. 8 torpedoes. The Coast Guard used 83-foot designs for their submarine hunters and patrol boats, many of which saw service at D-Day where they served as the "Matchstick Fleet" that rescued drowning soldiers.
Also at D-Day, similar landing craft made by Higgins were modified to fire rockets at the shore to suppress shore positions.
Lieutenant John F. Kennedy, USNR (standing at right). PT-109 was commanded by Kennedy with one executive officer and 10 enlisted men on the night it was struck by the Japanese destroyer.
But it was during island hopping across the Pacific where the torpedo boats really earned their fame. As Japan's fleet took heavy losses in 1942 and 1943, it relied on its army to try and hold islands against the U.S. advance, and the Navy's "Mosquito Fleet" was sent to prey on the ships of the "Tokyo Express."
Japan's destroyers and similar vessels could slaughter torpedo boats when they could hit them, but the U.S. patrols generally operated at night and would hit the larger ships with their deadly torpedoes, using their speed to escape danger. It wasn't perfect, though, as Lt. j.g. John F. Kennedy would learn when PT-109 was rammed by a Japanese destroyer, forcing Kennedy and 11 survivors to swim through shark-infested water for hours.
The patrol boats served across the world, from the Pacific to the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, and thousands of sailors from the Coast Guard and Navy served on these small vessels, downing tens of thousands of tons of enemy shipping.
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This is how Viagra was used to entice warlords in Afghanistan
In a foreign policy world full of different carrots and sticks, the CIA used an interesting incentive to dangle from a pole of enticements: Viagra.Where money and guns have been the traditional tools of clandestine diplomacy, the New York Times' CIA sources say the big blue pill was renowned by aging Afghan warlords who have multiple wives to satisfy.
The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.
Four blue pills. Viagra.
"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.
The enticement worked. The officer, who described the encounter, returned four days later to an enthusiastic reception. The grinning chief offered up a bonanza of information about Taliban movements and supply routes -- followed by a request for more pills.
For U.S. intelligence officials, this is how some crucial battles in Afghanistan are fought and won. While the CIA has a long history of buying information with cash, the growing Taliban insurgency has prompted the use of novel incentives and creative bargaining to gain support in some of the country's roughest neighborhoods, according to officials directly involved in such operations.
In their efforts to win over notoriously fickle warlords and chieftains, the officials say, the agency's operatives have used a variety of personal services. These include pocketknives and tools, medicine or surgeries for ailing family members, toys and school equipment, tooth extractions, travel visas, and, occasionally, pharmaceutical enhancements for aging patriarchs with slumping libidos, the officials said.
"Whatever it takes to make friends and influence people -- whether it's building a school or handing out Viagra," said one longtime agency operative and veteran of several Afghanistan tours. Like other field officers interviewed for this article, he spoke on the condition of anonymity when describing tactics and operations that are largely classified.
Officials say these inducements are necessary in Afghanistan, a country where warlords and tribal leaders expect to be paid for their cooperation, and where, for some, switching sides can be as easy as changing tunics. If the Americans don't offer incentives, there are others who will, including Taliban commanders, drug dealers and even Iranian agents in the region.
Carrying identification into battle isn't something new, but that doesn't mean Americans haven't put our own unique spin on it.
Ancient Spartan warriors each designed their own shields so that if they fell in battle, the shield could be retrieved and given to family, which sounds really touching, except imagine having to create a shield from scratch? Sounds like a lot of work that no one has time to do.
Then, the Roman Legionnaires started wearing thin lead disks in pouches around their necks called signalculum. These discs are the first recorded history of what we now know as a dog tag. The disc included the name of the Legionnaire and the legion to which he was a part.
More recently, identification tags were issued to members of the Chinese military in the middle 19th century. These tags were wooden, worn at the belt, and included the servicemember's age, birthplace, unit, and enlistment date.
A look back at the history of dog tags
During the Civil War, some soldiers pinned identification information onto their uniforms with their names and home addresses. Others wrote identifying info on their rucksacks or scratched it into their belt buckles. Seeing a demand for battlefield identification tags, manufacturers began advertising and marketing to soldiers and service members' families. These identification tags were often pins in the shape of a branch of service and were engraved with the service member's name and unit. Machine stamped tags were made from brass or lead and usually had an eagle or a shield on one side, with a list of battles on the other side. However, these tags had to be purchased by the service member or their family, which meant that not everyone had them.
It wasn't until the early 1900s that tags became a standard part of the American military uniform. In 1906, General Order No. 204 was issued from the War Department, which mandated an aluminum tag be worn at all times. GO 204 stated that the tag could be worn around the neck, underneath clothing, by a cord or throng passed through a small hole in the tab and detailed the tag's place as part of the standard-issue military uniform. Tags were issued for free to enlisted personnel and at a cost to officers.
I have this one:
By 1916, the Army changed the regulation to include the issuance of two tags – one to stay with a service member and one that would be sent to the person in charge of record keeping. Two years later, the Army adopted the service member system, which we know today as the DoD ID. That didn't last too long, though. Today's tags have social security numbers on them instead of DoD identification numbers.
In WWII, the circular discs were replaced with the oval shape still in use today. And that's where most historians think that the tags got their moniker since the tag looks like a dog collar tag.
What’s on the tag?
Over the years, the information stamped on the tag has changed, and each branch of the military puts different information on them, even now. What's remained consistent is the name of the service member, religion, and blood type.
During WWII, there were only three religious options a service member could choose – P for Protestant, C for Catholic and H for Hebrew (Jewish). Now, current options are also basically endless, ranging from NRP (No Religious Preference) to D for Druid. There's no list of approved/official religions.
Marine Corps dog tags also include the size of the gas mask that the Marine wears. Current tags still utilize the historic two-tag system, with one long chain that can be worn around the neck and a tag interlinked with a smaller chain. The dog tags we know today are largely unchanged since the Vietnam War, but there are some talks in place about changing the information shown on a tag, including adding additional tags for soldier data, medical information, and carry records.
New dog tags are expected to contain microchip technology that will also hold a service member's medical and dental records. That's a far cry from the ancient Spartan shields, for sure.
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