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More than just a green plug

On this day, 75 years ago, 9 August 1945, a 509th Composite Group Boeing Block 36 Silverplate B-29-36-MO Superfortress SN 44-27297, Victor 77, dubbed Bockscar by her normal crew, piloted by the 393d Bombardment Squadron’s commander, MAJ Charles W. Sweeney, dropped the “Fat Man” A-bomb with a blast yield equivalent to 21 kilotons of TNT over the city of Nagasaki, which had two large Mitsubishi plants, with the aim point of the device plotted roughly between the two factories.

It was the plane’s fourth combat mission.

In the West Point Museum is Fat Man’s safety fuze for the atom bomb.

Bockscar took off with this green “Safe” fuze in place and, while in flight, the bombardier, CPT. (later COL) Kermit K. Beahan, removed the green fuze and plugged in a red “Armed” fuze. (Photo via West Point Museum) 

This is the sole remaining part of the Nagasaki bomb while Bockscar itself is preserved at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. 

The green plug for the 13-kiloton “Little Boy,” the Hiroshima device, is at the Truman Library and Museum.

A planned third and fourth “Fat man” bombs were not needed.

The road to Daegu

This original color photo shows the crew of an M-24 Chaffee light tank along the Naktong River front in largely DPRK-occupied South Korea. Note the sign to Daegu.

NARA FILE#: 111-C-6061

On the ground is PFC Rudolph Dotts, Egg Harbor City, N.J. gunner (center), armed with an M3 Grease Gun. On the hull with an M1 Carbine is PVT Maynard Linaweaver, Lundsburg, Kansas, cannoneer of the tank’s M6 75mm gun. On top, ready on the M2 .50-cal heavy machine gun, is PFC Hugh Goodwin, Decatur, Miss., tank commander.

All are members of the 24th Reconnaissance Company, 24th “Victory” Infantry Division. The date is likely August to September 1950, as the unit was inside the battered Pusan (Busan) Perimeter, holding the western portion of the line.

Of note, the DPRK forces opposing the 24th had hundreds of Soviet-supplied T-34/85 tanks, which had both stronger armor than the M-24 and a superior main gun.

Cutaway General Officer’s Model

U.S. Armament Corp— who has been making superb licensed “reissue” Colt 1903 Hammerless Pocket Pistol (Model M) .32ACPs in the guise of the classic RIA General Officer‘s variant– just posted these images of a cutaway specimen.

It is nice to see makers still cranking out these classic guns “for the love of the game” so to speak.

Lucky Legs and her big fish, 75 Years ago

North American B-25 Mitchell #43-3981 “Lucky Legs” of the 47th Bombardment Squadron, 41st Bombardment Group, 7th Air Force, prepares to take off from Ryuku Retto, Okinawa for a mission against Sasebo Harbor on Kyushu in the Japanese Home Islands, 28 July 1945. Lucky is carrying a Mark 13/44 GT-1 (glide torpedo), a weapon the particular plane used for the first time, in this mission.

[Source: USAF Photo via Mark Allen Collection]

While primarily a Navy-dropped weapon, the Mark 13 was used by the Army in a few instances, such as the 41st BG’s B-25s, and by B-26 Marauder units at Midway and in the Aleutian Islands, the Southwest Pacific, North Africa, and the Mediterranean, with limited success.

Mark 13 Torpedo on display in the World War II Gallery at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Notably, the fish does not have her “pickle barrel” wooden drop nose attached. (U.S. Air Force photo)

With that being said, the Mark 13 was probably the most common air-dropped anti-ship torpedo in history, with more than 17,000 made, and had the distinction of being the U.S. Navy’s final such weapon used in combat, by Skyraiders from USS Princeton against the Hwachon Dam in Korea. Notably, late-war PT-boats also used the weapon as it was lighter than their older Mark 8s. Some 13-feet long and 22.4-inches in diameter (wider than a tube-launched torp) the Mark 13 weighed about 2,200-pounds, including 600 of Torpex high explosives. Once dropped, it could make 33.5 knots to 6,300 yards.

From “U.S. Naval Weapons” by Norman Friedman via Navweaps:

“A review of war experience showed a total of 1,287 attacks [this count only includes those launched by carrier-borne aircraft, other US Navy aircraft launched another 150 torpedoes – TD], of which 40 percent (514) resulted in hits, including 50 percent hits on battleships and carriers (322 attacks, including Midway), 31 percent on destroyers (179 attacks), and 41 percent (out of 445 attacks) on merchant ships.”

More info on the Mark 13, below:

For the record, the 47th BS inactivated 27 January 1946 at Manila and has remained that way while the parent 41st BG endured into the Cold War as an F-4 unit, the 41st TG, until it was inactivated in 1970 at Incirlik. Ironically, the F-4, a tactical fighter, could carry more ordinance than the B-25 of WWII fame.

Super Bazooka Joe, 70 years ago today

After the first primitive tanks arrived on the battlefields of Western Europe in the Great War, the U.S. Army and Marines kept an eye out for something more portable and compact than a field gun to poke holes in those “land dreadnoughts.” While Dr. Robert H. Goddard, grandfather of American rocketry, was working on a man-portable anti-tank device in 1918, peace broke out and his research stopped.

This meant that the closest answer the interwar military came up with to zap panzers was the M3 37mm anti-tank gun. While over 23,000 of these were made, they were still bulky, at 912-pounds, and could only penetrate 2.1-inches of plate at 1,000 yards, which was fine for 1930s tanks but didn’t cut the mustard with more significant armored vehicles.

Developments in small arms by early 1942 led to the M9 rifle grenade, a 1.2-pound bottle rocket that could be fired from the M1 Garand or M1903 Springfield and its 4-ounce hollow charge could make a splash against pillboxes but, like the 37mm gun, proved less impressive against better tanks.

The next step up was the 12-pound 2.36-inch (60mm) Rocket Launcher, M1, which went down in the books as the first “bazooka” in late 1942.

American engineers emerge from the woods and move out of defensive positions after fighting in the vicinity of Bastogne, Belgium, in December 1944. Note the M1 Garand, M1 Carbine, and M9 Bazookas, along with a liberal sprinkling of grenades and spare ammo. (Photo: U.S. Army)

Unpopular due to their notoriously bum rockets, the device was upgraded to the M1A1 and finally to the M9 bazooka, with the latter weighing 17.8-pounds when ready to fire its slightly better M6A3 rocket. About the best American man-portable anti-tank weapon of WWII, capable of penetrating about 4-inches of armor, it was still ineffective against medium or heavy tanks of the day such as the Panther and Tiger.

Meanwhile, the 88mm German RPzB 54 Panzerschreck, designed to knock out Soviet beasts en mass, was a much better device. Dubbed the ofenrohr (stovepipe) by the Landsers that used it, the RPzB 54 could slice through as much as 9-inches of armor.

Captured German Panzerchrek compared to U.S. Bazooka M9, 1945

Nonetheless, when Task Force Smith got wheels up from Japan to Korea in July 1950 to stop the onslaught of North Korean aggression over their less well-equipped neighbor to the south of the 38th Parallel, the Joes still carried the M9A1 into battle. When pitted against Soviet-supplied T-34-85 tanks at Daejeon, vehicles which had nearly 4-inches of armor in spots, those 60mm spitball shooters were wishful thinking.

Luckily at the time, at Rock Island Arsenal, a supply of the brand new and very Panzerschreck-like 90mm 3.5-inch M20A1B1 rocket launcher, dubbed the “Superbazooka,” were on hand. Loaded on aircraft in Illinois on 12 July 1950, they were sped directly to the warzone.

As noted by the RIA Museum, this “marked the first time equipment was shipped from the Arsenal, directly to troops in the field utilizing air transport.”

Just six days after the emergency batch of Superbazookas left RIA, they were used in combat by elements of the 24th Infantry Division who knocked out eight T-34s on 18 July– 70 years ago today. Capable of penetrating up to 11-inches of armor, the Joes went from being hunted by tanks to being tank hunters, a tactic the winding and hilly Korean countryside favored.

The Superbazooka, coupled with more powerful follow-on U.S. MBTs like the M26 Pershing and M46 Patton tanks and effective close-in air-support, effectively ended the reign of the T-34-85 in Korea.

By the time the North Koreans were forced to withdraw from the south in September, some 239 T-34s and 74 SU-76 assault guns had been lost or abandoned. After October 1950, tanks became scarce in the DPRK Army and remained that way for the rest of the war.

The Superbazooka even appeared in Army recruiting posters during the Korean War

The Army and Marines kept the M20 around through the 1960s until it was replaced by the even more compact M72 66mm rocket. It hung out in National Guard armories even longer.

Hell, even Elvis toted one.

The M20 was used overseas extensively, with some being collected in the 1990s by NATO forces in the former Yugoslavia. A Spanish-made clone, the 88.9mm Instalaza M65, updated with an improved ignition method and new ammunition types, saw action in the Falklands and remaining in service with the Spaniards until just recently. They are a hit on the surplus market, and I just happen to have one of my own, in well-used condition.

T-34s not included

After SPIW, ACR, and OCIW, is NGSW the charm?

Despite past programs such as SPIW, ACR, and OCIW that left the U.S. Army still fielding successive generations of Eugene Stoner’s AR platform at the end of the day, today’s NGSW program could be different. The new Next Generation Squad Weapon program is moving right along and its competitors read like a who’s who of modern rifle, ammo, and optics makers.

Names like Beretta, Heckler & Koch, Leupold, Sig Sauer, Vortex, and Olin-Winchester are enumerated among the current vendors of what could end up as the most revolutionary small arms award of the 21st Century thus far.

The current field

More in my column at

Sure, you know NVG, but how about ENVG?

Back in the Korean War, the coolest bit of kit was the M3 Carbine, a select-fire M1 with a mounted Snooperscope infrared optic on it. Only about 2,100 were made.

Australian soldier takes aim with his M3 Carbine during the Korean war. Note the extensive infrared spotting system

Fast forward to the 1960s and the first generation of “starlight” scopes, such as the AN/PVS-1 and the quickly followed and better-known AN/PVS-2. Bulky at 6-pounds and with an image intensifier tube that suffered from “bloom out” and graininess, it was better than nothing.

An infantryman armed with an M16A1 rifle and AN/PVS-2 Starlight scope for use at night.

Then came the 2nd and 3rd Gen night vision goggles that have brought us to the current planned AN/PSQ-20 Enhanced Night Vision Goggle (ENVG).

From PEO Soldier:

The AN/PSQ-20 Enhanced Night Vision Goggle (ENVG) provides increased capability by incorporating image intensification (I2) and long-wave infrared sensors into a single helmet-mounted passive device. The ENVG combines the visual detail in low-light conditions that is provided by image intensification with the thermal sensor’s ability to see through fog, dust, rain, sleet, and other battlefield obscurants. This thermal capability, useful during the day as well as in no-light conditions, gives the ENVG a big advantage over night-vision devices equipped with I2 only. The ENVG also allows Soldiers to rapidly detect and engage targets because it permits the use of existing rifle-mounted aiming lights.

Best yet, they only weigh 2-pounds including batteries, which are common AAs.

The Enhanced Night Vision Goggle Binocular ENVG-B

L3 Harris started delivering the ENVG-B (bino) late last year to Fort Riley.

And the 3rd Squadron, 89th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, have been conducting field testing of the new goon gear at Fort Polk for the past month.

Sherman was right, 1945 revisit

Here we see a P-47N Thunderbolt of the 7th AAF’s 19th Fighter Squadron, 318th Fighter Group, at Ie Shima Airfield on Ryukyu Retto, Okinawa on 7 July 1945, with an M2 machine-gun-armed M3 half-track on anti-paratrooper/banzai defense.

Photo 65093AC

Notably, the “Jug” (S/N 44-88104) is named “Sherman Was Right” (which was apparently a popular name for AAF fighters in both theaters of the war).


The reference is likely an ode to the Union General’s 1879 ” war is Hell!” speech to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy.

Of course, you could also argue that sections of Sherman’s well known, “War is a Terrible Thing” rant from the eve of the Civil War referencing the South’s slim likelihood of victory in the coming fracas between the states as a direct allegory to Japan’s own chances of winning the Pacific War.

That quote, below:

“You people of the South don’t know what you are doing. This country will be drenched in blood, and God only knows how it will end. It is all folly, madness, a crime against civilization!

You people speak so lightly of war; you don’t know what you’re talking about. War is a terrible thing! You mistake, too, the people of the North. They are a peaceable people but an earnest people, and they will fight, too. They are not going to let this country be destroyed without a mighty effort to save it.

Besides, where are your men and appliances of war to contend against them? The North can make a steam engine, locomotive, or railway car; hardly a yard of cloth or pair of shoes can you make. You are rushing into war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on Earth — right at your doors. You are bound to fail.

Only in your spirit and determination are you prepared for war. In all else you are totally unprepared, with a bad cause to start with. At first you will make headway, but as your limited resources begin to fail, shut out from the markets of Europe as you will be, your cause will begin to wane. If your people will but stop and think, they must see in the end that you will surely fail.”

~William Tecumseh Sherman, December 24, 1860.”

Guns of the U.S. Army, 1775-2020

While you may know of today’s standard U.S. Army infantry rifles, and those of the 20th Century, how about those present at Lexington and Concord or the line of Springfield muskets from 1795 through 1865? What came after?

For all this and more, check out the easy 2,000-word primer I did for this last weekend at

Packing a Wallops, 75 Years Ago Today

The first research sounding rocket launched from Wallops Island, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, was an experimental 17-foot Tiamat JB-3 “Jet-Bomb” on July 4, 1945. A Scout launch vehicle, it took off from an angled rack from the beach and used a 7-chamber custom booster developed by Hughes to get it off the ground. Tiamat went on to equip a few modified A-26 Invaders in 1946, sans booster, as an early air-to-air missile.

Since then, Wallops has been steady in the rocket-launching biz. Today, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility is NASA’s only owned and operated launch range.

As detailed by NASA: 

Since 1945, NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility has launched more than 15,000 rockets from Wallops Island for science studies, technology development, and as targets for the U.S. military.

Wallops roots are based on this country’s need for missile research during World War II. The Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Va. was tasked with supporting this research. A place was needed on the water, near Langley and near a military facility. Wallops Island fit the bill. The first test rocket was launched on June 27, 1945. The first research rocket, a Tiamat, was launched several days later on July 4.

Today, Wallops still launches Antares rockets with Cygnus resupply pods to the International Space Station, among other bottle rockets.

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