The Original Thunderbolt

The Original Thunderbolt

The Original Thunderbolt


Yes, we call the A-10 the Warthog, but that’s just a pet name. Officially it is the A-10 Thunderbolt II. The plane in the photo is its original namesake. The P47 Thunderbolt which was one of the largest and heaviest single-engine fighter planes that ever got off the ground.

How heavy? Well, put it like this. Fully loaded a single P47 could carry almost half of what the bigger B-17 could carry as far as the ordinance. That’s almost 2,500 pounds of explosive goodness. And versatile! She could serve as short to medium range escort for the bombers, was very effective at high altitude air to air and excelled at the ground attack role.

Though a very large part of US military in WWII it was used by France, Russia, Britain, Mexico, and Brazil! It sure did get around. With over 15,000 units manufactured during the war, it is no wonder that it found so many homes.

How effective was the Thunderbolt in WWII? Estimates credit the numerous P47 squadrons with the destruction of 86,000 German railway cars, 9,000 locomotives, 6,000 armored fighting vehicles, and 68,000 trucks. That does not count the enemy aircraft or infantry that found itself on the business end of its eight Browning .50 cal machine guns, bombs and possibly ten rockets. She was a tank with wings.

The best story about the P47 though has to be its nickname, the “Jug”. Apparently when it first sent to Britain its profile bore a striking resemblance to the milk jugs in use at the time. So the name Jug stuck. What do you think? Better or worse than Warthog?


Wednesday Words & Phrases: Skimming off the Top and Slush Fund


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How lucky was I to find the exact pic that was needed for this?

Skimming off the Top and Slush Fund

We are doing two phrases this week because they are related.

In the British Navy, boiled meat was one of the mainstays of the diet. As a by-product of the boiling process, there would a layer of salty fat called slush that would collect at the top of the pot. The ship’s cook would usually skim that oily residue off the top and then the next time they were in port he would sell it to soap makers.

The money for the sale would go into the “slush fund” which the cook would use to buy extras for the crew such as additional rum or better food.

So yep, the cook would skim off the top in order to create a slush fund.



Counting on the Continental Currency

Counting on the Continental Currency

Counting on the Continental Currency

On June 22, 1775, the Continental Congress issued the first Continental currency in the form of $2 million in bills of credit. At the time paper money was almost a rarity as most people preferred hard currency. Actual coins made of silver and gold. Unfortunately, there was not enough of the hard specie, as it was called, in the colonies to pay for the war.

The paper money was backed only by the promise of future tax revenues and fluctuated badly from the start. The value rising and falling based on the performance of the Continental Army against the British. It did not take long for the up and down to become simply a down as rampant inflation, lack of faith in the currency and the British penchant for counterfeiting (Read more about that here! Or in the hardcover annual here.) made the paper not even worth the paper it was printed on.

By 1781 the exchange rate was $225 to $1. ($225 in Continental currency for $1 of hard specie.) This was at a time when the average Continental Army private made $5 a month in Continental scrip. If they were paid at all. Most men had received little if any pay since 1778.


Joseph Plumb Martin, a soldier from Connecticut, relays in his memoirs a story where to earn a little extra (having not been paid in many months) he assisted in a roundup of runaway slaves that had fled to the service of British after the siege at Yorktown in 1781 had ended. “… the fortune I acquired was small, only one dollar; I received what was then called its equivalent, in paper money, if money it might be called, it amounted to twelve hundred (nominal) dollars, all of which I afterwards paid for one single quart of rum; to such a miserable state had all paper stuff, called-money- depreciated.”

Twelve hundred dollars for a quart of rum, and we thought prices were high today. The struggle to pay for the war is an epic tale for another time. It almost came to pass that counting on currency was almost a disaster.

Medals of the Forgotten War

Medals of the Forgotten War

Medals of the Forgotten War


Above are medals that were presented to an American soldier during that the Korean War. Starting from the top left the medals are:

Bronze Star

Army Commendation Medal

Purple Heart

Army Good Conduct Medal

National Defense Medal

Korean Service Medal

Quite a selection.

Being sandwiched between WWII and the Vietnam War it truly seemed to earn its sobriquet of The Forgotten War, unless you were one who served or had family that did. In fact, it can probably be said that if not for the television show M*A*S*H, it would still be mostly forgotten. Which is sad when you consider that over 36,000 American soldiers gave their lives in just shy of three years. Of course, that pales in comparison to the approx 140,000 South Korean soldiers that died. In comparison though to the just under 7,000 deaths of American soldiers during the 13+ years of the War on Terror, it sort of makes you wonder it is still so forgotten.

The Korean War was the first major confrontation in the post-WWII world and pit the forces of the United Nations (28 nations participated in the war in various roles, 17 with combat troops) against North Korea, China, the Soviet Union and their allies (6 other nations). Quite a scrum, which could have easily swung out of control to become World War 3, the fact that it didn’t is sort of miraculous. In fact maybe instead of the Forgotten War, we should start calling it the Close Call War. Regardless of the name, one thing can be said. There are plenty of medals to go around.

Wednesday Words & Phrases: Mayonnaise

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Wait, mayonnaise has a military origin? I know hard to believe but this incredible spread does indeed spring from the battlefield.

In 1756 The French army was finally successful in removing the British forces from Port Mahon on the island of Minorca. The siege and blockade, led by the French Duc de Richelieu, was so successful in cutting off supplies to the British garrison that when the French finally took control of the port there was not much there.

The Duc’s chef was tasked with coming up with a victory banquet and even came up with a new sauce to go on the salad course. This sauce became known as Mahonaise after the port.

No siege, no mayo. Amazing how things work.

Another Side of General Washington

General Washington

Another Side of General Washington

Hanging in the visitor center at Colonial Williamsburg is this 1799 portrait of General Washington that was pained by Charles Willson Peale. This painting is breathtaking in person and truly presents the General as a figure larger than life.

One of the most amazing things about Washington was how down to earth he was. Even during the Revolution, his legend was well on the way to mythic proportion. There were times when his words alone spurred his men to fight. His promises were enough to keep the army together. Even when there was no food, no pay, and no prospect of victory.

The time though that he proved the most worthy of being a myth and legend was the time when he showed his officers how human he was.


The British were defeated at Yorktown, but the war would continue for several more years and the Continental Army had to stay in the field. Many officers and soldiers had not been paid for six years and dissatisfaction was mounting. In January 1783 a group of officers asked Congress to consider the back wages it owed the army. Congress refused. Tensions between the army and Congress worsened to the point that calls came to march on the Congress and collect the payments by force.

In Newburgh, NY, the officers gathered to plan the coup. Faced with the disgruntled offers and a recalcitrant Congress, George Washington called his officers to a meeting. He explained that Congress was doing what they could, he promised to do everything possible to have the issues resolved. Washington was loved and admired by his men but not even he could divert them from the course they were on, mutiny seemed inevitable.

Sensing he was losing the room, Washington started reading a letter from a Congressman that supported the officers. A few words in Washington had to pause and put on a pair of reading glasses to continue. Apologizing for the delay Washington said, “I have already grown gray in the service of my country. I am now going blind.” The officers saw the personal sacrifice of their commander. This one simple remark reached into the hearts and minds of the assembled men and placed their struggle into perspective. Instead of preparing for a military coup, the men asked Washington to do all he could and the war continued.

A gesture, as simple as putting a pair of glasses, saved the Revolution from becoming a dictatorship. If not for that one personal, and embarrassing moment for Washington, who knows how the story would have ended.

PBY-5A Catalina The Eye in the Sky

PBY-5A Catalina The Eye in the Sky

PBY-5A Catalina The Eye in the Sky

Being a flying boat has some advantages and during WWII the PBY-5A Catalina put them to good use. She was versatile and served a number of roles. This model does a good job of showing her off but they really need to be seen in person to be appreciated.

Around 3,300 were built for the war and they served in almost every theater. She was first introduced in 1936 and remained in service with the US Navy until 1957 but the Brazilian navy kept them in service until 1979. Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and even the Soviet Union all used them during their lifetime. Today some still fly and act as firefighting platforms all over the world.

The Catalina had a crew of ten and had two 1,200 horsepower engines. She could reach 195 miles per hour and had a range of about 2,520 miles. Armed with machine guns and capable of carrying 4,000lbs of bombs she could always manage to hold her own.

Her biggest role was as a submarine hunter in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic theater. They would escort convoys and when called upon would take the fight straight to the enemy subs. As patrol craft, few planes are in her league.  They helped the Royal Navy track the Bismark in 1941, leading the sinking of the massive ship. The helped spoil a surprise Japanese landing in Malaya on December 7, 1941, and most notably took part in the Battle of Midway, spotting the location of the Japanese carriers in the early hours of the battle. Scenes like these were repeated many times during the war where the Catalina’s always seemed to be on point.


The Sound of Drums

.The Sound of Drums

The Sound of Drums

Since the beginning of warfare leaders needed to be able to communicate with their troops from a distance. To get their commands heared through the din of battle. during the roar of battle. In many places in the world, the drum has always been one of the most favored methods of battlefield communication.

Drums would be used to men where to gather, and when to attack. When to leave the battlefield and when to curfew had fallen on the camp. From a distance, units could communicate with other to coordinate. Drums would also help the soldiers keep their pace when marching.

Since our military heritage is drawn mainly from European tradition, it is interesting to note that prior to the Crusades, drums were not used in European armies. In fact, when facing off against the forces of Islam, who made heavy use of large kettledrums to command the troops, they found that their horses reacted poorly to the noise to which they had never heard. Early battles were heavily affected by the enemies drums until they grew accustomed.

Returning armies worked the drums into their operations. By the time that the European powers came to the American continent, they found themselves up against indigenous people that had been using drums for communication for thousands of years.

Drums, bugles and other musical instruments found their way into the US military. They only started to fade from use during the Civil War when the telegraph began taking its place in the command and control realm. Eventually, the radio would provide the most direct communication method and the drums fell silent as a battlefield tool.

Wednesday Words & Phrases: Bikini

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What did you think I was going to use for a pic? The bikini, the glorious two-piece bathing suit that took the world by storm. The name comes from a French engineer and clothing designer, Louis Reard who names it after the Bikini Atoll, where a number atomic bomb tests were held in the late 1940s.

It was known as “an anatomic bomb” as it took the world by storm. Because it showed so much skin it was banned in many, many places until eventually, Hollywood made it a little more commonplace and by the 1960’s more acceptable.

The greatest irony is that because the bikini exposes the thighs and shoulders of women, they are not allowed to be worn by people from the Bikini Atoll or the surrounding islands as they are deemed indecent.



White Phosphorus AKA Willie Pete

White Phosphorus AKA Willie Pete

White Phosphorus AKA Willie Pete

White Phosphorus is one of the more versatile and devastating type of munitions that has even been used in war. It burns hot and bright. Military uses range from the creation of smoke screens and tracer rounds to anti-personnel weapons. Due to the heat it gives off it can burn and ignite cloth, ammunition, fuel. Basically anything that is combustible. Once it starts burning it will continue to burn until it has used up all the air or all the available fuel.

The use of the compound can be traced back to WWI. The picture above was taken in a field hospital during the Vietnam War and shows the effect it can have on the human body. it is deployed through either aircraft bombings or artillery shells. Back in the day those delivery methods were not as accurate as they are now. Sometimes accidents happened, as is the case for the poor soul above.

Once the shell or bomb explodes the burning phosphorous “splashes” causing white-hot pieces of shrapnel to cover the immediate area. The shrapnel then ignites whatever it touches. In this case it ignited the uniform and burned to the skin  in a matter of seconds. The most effective way to deal with these kinds of wounds is to remove the burning material from the skin. That usually means removing the skin that it was attached to. Doing so quickly could prevent more serious and life threatening damage. Failing to do so would lead to an agonizing death.

Known by the slang term “Willie Pete” or sometimes just WP, it has been as controversial as it has been effective. Currently the use of the compound in war is heavily regulated by international treaty. And we all know how that usually works out…


People, Places and Things from US Military History

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