In 1953 a black leather-jacketed Marlon Brando slouched across the screen in The Wild One, his motorcycle jacket’s mixture of animal magnetism, brooding menace, and sexual provocation made it a must-have for hipsters, rebels, and fashionistas around the world. The movie opens with an iconic sequence, tiny blurs on the horizon and a low rumble turn into figures of 40 black leather-jacketed bikers who roar directly into the stationary, low-angled camera. The gang rides in a tightly-knit squadron formation, led by sideburned Johnny (Marlon Brando) Surly, sneering and rebellious, wearing the aforementioned black-leather jacket (with Johnny scrawled on the left chest), white T-shirt, denim jeans, boots and a Police issue hat and sunglasses of the era, the implication being that this badass biker had stolen them from an officer in some previous altercation.

While the leather jacket has its roots among World War I aviators, along the way, every generation and subculture — including motorcycle clubs, beats, punks, movie stars, and counterculturists - has made the leather jacket their own. Part of this mystique can be traced back to a specific unit of California Policemen whose uniform created a visual language that bordered on iconography - the California Highway Patrol. Created in 1929, the CHP had Statewide authority to enforce traffic laws on county and state highways, a responsibility that remains in effect today, along with many additional functions. During it’s first ten years the Patrol successfully grew into a highly respected, effective traffic safety force of 730 uniformed personnel. In 1947 the CHP became its own department and the span of responsibility increased.

The CHP's iconic uniform is traditionally khaki coloured with a campaign hat and blue-and-gold trouser stripe. Motorcycle officers, referred to as Motor Police, also wore the prerequisite attire of leather jackets when climate dictated, even in California in the winter it would be cold on bike all day and a leather jacket would be kept in their locker. The jackets were only allowed to be made by Police Dept approved makers and they always conformed to the same spec - albeit there were straight zip, and lancer zip variations. Each officer would go and order them personally from the approved jacket makers - just like officers in the military do. There is never a size label in CHPs jackets as they were custom-made for each officer. When we look at originals they come in a variation of shapes, sizes and quality - some are long and thin, some are short and wide for this reason. The Star Glove Co was one of the better makers, their jackets are always beautifully sewn and the hide choice is excellent. The one consistent factor in CHP jackets is that they were all adorned with the famous CHP gold 7 point badge, each point representing Character, Integrity, Knowledge, Judgement, Honour, Loyalty and Courtesy respectively. The leather jackets afforded the officers an effortless cool usually associated with rebels and not law enforcement. Soon, the CHP motorcycle cops had garnered the allure of the modern day cowboy or knight, riding metal steeds and saving the day. It wasn’t long before Hollywood latched onto this ambiguity of a cool looking cop, enforcing the law but dressed in the uniform of the rebel.

The early 70s represents a utopian Hollywood in which rebels didn't just infiltrate the backlots, they damn near took it over. The ascent of the hippie movement and the rise of the film-brat generation intertwined and overlapped considerably, a great example of this is 1973's masterful Electra Glide In Blue. Wrongly perceived as right wing upon its Cannes première, it arrived at a time when law enforcement battled President Nixon for bragging rights as the counterculture's top boogeyman. The movie revolves around a straight-arrow cop who uses the iconic image of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider as his target at the gun range. That audacious bit of provocation suggests that it be read as a moody answer to Easy Rider, but that description only scratches the surface of its iconoclastic genius. The main character is a sharply attired, diminutive Arizona motorcycle cop who longs to trade in his uniform for a detective's badge, and gets his chance when a recluse is killed on his watch. In his introduction to his sole directorial effort, producer-director-composer James William Guercio describes Electra Glide as a contemporary Western where the cowboys ride motorcycles instead of mustangs, in another parallel to Easy Rider. The leather jacket was a key device in conveying this to the audience. But the film arrived at a tumultuous time when the old divisions between cowboy and Indian, black hat and white hat, and villain and hero were becoming hopelessly blurred. In keeping with the zeitgeist, it's a thriller where solving the central crime seems somewhat irrelevant: Only thinly disguised as a cop movie, Electra is a profound and ultimately tragic meditation on identity, belonging, and the fickleness of the American Dream. It circles around genres only to dismantle and reassemble them in more truthful ways. The lead character's ironclad sense of morality alienates him from both his cop colleagues and the hippies who taunt him, Electra Glide occupies a strange, uncomfortable place in the cultural divide. Clean-cut fans of Westerns and cop movies were no doubt turned off by its ambiguity, deliberate pace, and lack of action, while hippies weren't about to embrace a movie about a heroic cop, no matter how artfully crafted. If had the hippies looked beyond Blake's uniform and haircut, they might have recognised a kindred spirit, a good-hearted and surprisingly open-minded outcast determined to live by his own moral code, no matter the consequences.

Magnum Force, the 1974 sequel to Dirty Harry arrived around the same time and similarly utilised the CHP's double entendre of cool. Director John Milius’ idea for a story wherein Harry’s commitment to police power would be tested by a cadre of rookie CHP bike cops who secretly assassinate mobsters, drug dealers, and murderers, along with people on the force who stand in their way was groundbreaking. While the script focuses on the blurred lines of morality in law enforcement, whatever it means to say thematically, on an aesthetic level the cop-as-rebel motif is reinforced throughout the movie. The vigilantes are all young, ex military, CHP Motorcycle cops, resplendent in black bike jackets and aviator shades, they look equal parts sharp and threatening, like steely automatons. Steeped in the iconography of the black leather jacket they make Eastwood’s character look positively dated. They walk the Brando Wild One line between outlaw and hero thanks to the ubiquitous uniform. This visual language was again utilised in the 1991 blockbuster Terminator 2, Robert Patrick's Terminator morphs into a CHP officer sporting the quintessential black motorcycle cop jacket and shades during the movie's chase scene.

We’ve captured this effortless cool in our ELMC Highway Star jacket. The jacket takes its silhouette and design features from the classic California Highway Patrol jackets of the 1940s. The flattering cut is neat and very easy to wear. No fuss details give it a lean look which fits any occasion. Buttoned tab cuffs, and matching tab side waist adjusters along with top yoked back give the garment the unmistakable 40s styling that makes this the 'dude' of all jackets. The garment is lined with custom-made EndZone Twill - a fabric we had exclusively produced - which is an extremely high quality luxurious hard-wearing material, that was originally conceived in the 1940s and used in the production of military flight jackets. It is a cotton-backed rayon fabric that has an incredibly dense weave construction giving it a super-slick handle which allows the garment to slide on and off the body effortlessly. The hide is an absolutely deliciously expensive 100% veg-tanned horsehide, in black, which we have had specially developed to exude all the character, handle and texture of those 1940s original garments. Trimmed with period vintage-style, leather thonged, metal zips, corozo buttons to cuffs and waist and a useful inside wallet pocket.Click HERE to view

Since 1940 the US Army Corps of Engineers had been applying themselves to developing camouflage for military applications. The process of its introduction into the US supply system was rushed however, brought about by an urgent request General D. MacArthur in July of 1942 for production of 150,000 jungle camouflage uniforms for use in the Pacific Theatre. The pattern chosen was actually designed by civilian Norvell Gillespie, a horticulturist and garden editor of Sunset, Better House and Gardens, and the San Francisco Chronicle. The M1942 green dapple or spot design, reversing to a tan/brown variation, began distribution to US military forces beginning in August of that year. Nicknamed “frogskin” by many GIs, the pattern consists of a five colour green dominant “jungle” camouflage pattern printed on one side, with a three colour brown dominant “beach” pattern printed on the opposite side. Produced in a variety of uniform styles as well as some articles of field equipment, the pattern was most widely utilised by the USMC in the Pacific Theatre (although it did see very limited usage by the US Army operating in the ETO). It was also used extensively during the Korean War

In 1948, John Hopkins, chief designer of camouflage at the US Army Engineer Research and Development Laboratory (ERDL) in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, designed a general purpose jungle camouflage consisting of mid-brown & grass green organic shapes with black branches on a lime green background, this pattern eventually became known as the ‘ERDL’ or ‘leaf’ pattern, although at the time it was quickly shelved. In 1953 eight camouflage uniforms (mostly hand-painted) were trialled in Panama. One pattern, called ‘flock’, was found to be very effective but was never issued. The trials did produced two additional camouflage patterns however that were immediately issued for use by military personnel. Both patterns saw widespread distribution but only as a reversible shelter half (1953) and a reversible helmet cover (1959), with a different pattern printed on each side. On one side the USMC "Standard" or “wine leaf” (sometimes called "vine leaf") pattern, consisting of large overlapping dark green, lime green & ochre leaf shapes with brown twigs on a pale green background and on the other, the brown Mitchell 'cloud' pattern.

Mitchell is often used to erroneously describe the "jungle" or 'leaf" side when it should only be applied to the "cloud" pattern. Helmet covers displaying the 'Standard' pattern are pervasive throughout photography from the Vietnam War, however clothing utilising this pattern was much rarer. Garments were either very rare experimental pieces or usually tailor made in Okinawa or locally in South Vietnam from half shelters or Asian made fabric copied from the US design.

Between 1954 and 1962 the US Marines provided a small advisory group to work with the South Vietnamese Marine Corps. Headquartered in Saigon and under the operational control of MACV Naval Advisory Group, early advisors deployed to Southeast Asia quickly realised their issued uniforms were inadequate for serving in the extremely warm and wet tropical climate there. They sought out more suitable clothing for use in conducting reconnaissance and ambush operations, this led to the procurement of commercially-produced items, as no US military equivalent was available at the time. Based on the original US M1942 jungle spot camouflage pattern, lighter weight hunting uniforms made by American and Asian retail companies - nicknamed "duck hunter" or "Beo-Gam" camouflage - were obtained privately by unit commanders and also supplied to indigenous units as part of the CIA-sponsored CIDG program.

In 1962, during this early period, the ERDL pattern was revived for testing and several hundred ERDL tropical combat uniforms were sent to Vietnam for evaluation by USARV in 1966. In 1967, ERDL camouflage tropical uniforms began seeing service with reconnaissance and Special Forces personnel. The uniforms were also highly favoured by the US Marines, and Australian and New Zealand special forces teams deployed there. The original ERDL pattern was predominantly green printed on a cotton poplin fabric with later versions were printed on a new "ripstop" poplin fabric. The green dominant design is often labeled a "lowlands" pattern, referring to its suitability as camouflage in the lush, lowland regions of Southeast Asia. A later predominantly brown version is usually referred to a "highlands" pattern, due to its application as camouflage in the rocky, mountainous regions. Printing of the ERDL pattern was often inconsistent, with rollers frequently experiencing slippages that resulted in overprinting of one or more colours, leaving a shadow-like or "blurred edge" outline to many of the shapes in the design.

Subsequently, the ERDL pattern would go on to eventually evolve into Woodland pattern, one of the most duplicated and modified camouflage patterns ever designed, seeing service with military forces around the world and continuing to be worn today.

"Olds Lead, this is Ford. Four SAMS coming up at your 6 o'clock. Don't break, they're not guiding. I'm right behind you Chief. I'm covering your tail!" Vice-Commander of the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, Col. Daniel James, called this out over the radio as his group of fighter aircraft entered the engagement unfolding in the skies over North Vietnam. At the time, James was leading the 'Ford Flight' of F-4's from the 8th TFW flying cover for the 'Olds Flight,' led by wing commander Col. Robin Olds, during Operation BOLO. Occurring on January 2, 1967, Operation BOLO was the largest single aerial fighter battle of the Vietnam War. During the battle, which lasted only 12 minutes, the 8 TFW destroyed seven North Vietnamese MiG-21's along with another two probable kills, all without the loss of a single aircraft. James' 'Ford Flight' entered the battle just as the lead flight began to engage with the enemy MiG-21's. While keeping an eye on the 'Olds Fight', James' group spotted two MiG's approaching from the front as another MiG snuck in behind the group targeting James' F-4 from the rear. James executed a horizontal barrel roll managing to reverse positions and get in behind his attacker. James launched and an AIM-9 missile that the MiG barely evaded, however, during the attempt to avoid James' salvo, the MiG's maneuver placed it in front of James' wingman who downed the aircraft with a missile strike of his own.

Daniel 'Chappie' James Jr. was born February 11, 1920, at Pensacola, Florida. He grew up in Pensacola and attended Booker T. Washington High School graduating in 1937. Later that year, James began studies at the Tuskegee Institute located at Tuskegee, Alabama. James earned a Bachelor's Degree in Physical Education in 1942, at the same time completing a government sponsored civilian pilot training program. James remained at Tuskegee as a civilian instructor pilot in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program until January 1943 when he entered the program as a cadet. James earned his pilots wings with the military and commission as a Second Lieutenant the following July. When James and his classmates graduated from Tuskegee they anxiously awaited their first assignments passing the time conducting familiarisation flights with P-39 Aircobra and P-40 Warhawk fighter planes at Tuskegee. He was particularly fond of the P-39. Standing at 6'4" and weighing more than 200 pounds, James was too big to fit in the cockpit of the P-39 while wearing a parachute. Not to be dissuaded, he went against regulation and flew the plane without a parachute carefully hiding that fact from the Army Air Corps. Inevitably one day after landing a P-39 following a training flight, James' secret was discovered, as despite flying without the bulky parachute he literally became stuck in the cockpit. No amount of twisting or turning was able to free him, and eventually he had to be cut out of the aircraft using a pair of metal sheers.

James' first assignment after Tuskegee was with the 332nd Fighter Group at Selfridge Field, Michigan. With a lingering desire to continue to fly the P-39, James was forced to transition to the P-40 and its larger cockpit after a direct order from his commanding officer to "Get out of that thing!" James remained within the continental United States for the duration of World War II serving at several different airfields across the country as an instructor training other pilots. His primary role supporting the war effort was to prepare other pilots for combat. James first saw combat during the Korean War after arriving in Korea in August 1950. Serving with the 18th Fighter Wing and flying the P-51 Mustang and later the F-80 Shooting Star, he flew a total of 101 combat missions over Korea. With the 18 FW, James flew operations from airfields at Taegu, Pyongyang, Suwon, Chinhae, Pusan, and also from air fields in Japan. While in Korea, James also served for a 30-day period with front line troops as a forward air controller, calling in air strikes to support ground forces operations. He was proud of his time with the ground forces, often boasting: "Got about three jeeps shot out from under me. Mostly by mortar fire. They could stick a mortar shell in your back pocket."

His luck in the air would also take a turn for the worse a few weeks after returning to the cockpit during a close support ground attack mission against North Korean gun emplacements. James' F-80 was hit by anti-aircraft fire, and he was forced to bail out of the stricken aircraft at 7,000 feet. James' parachute landed behind enemy lines, but luckily he was picked up by a roving Marine Corps tank unit and immediately returned to friendly lines. James was back at his air base before nightfall, and he climbed into another F-80 flying an additional mission the same day he was shot down. James remained in Korea until December 1950. Between the Korean War and Vietnam War, James served in a variety of staff and command positions in the United States and also during a three-year tour in England. James joined the 8 TFW in Thailand as deputy commander of operations in December 1966, assuming the role of vice-commander in June 1967. Known for his organisational skill, James was the perfect complement to the wing commander, Col. Robin Olds, who was known more for his operational aptitude. Both men were known for their strong work ethic, and they became the best of friends while working together in Thailand. They were well respected by the men of the 8 TFW for their propensity to not only work hard, but also to play hard during those brief times when mission requirements relaxed. James was well known for his singing voice, often displaying his talents singing fighter pilot songs for audiences at the base club.

During his time with the 8 TFW, James flew a total of 78 combat missions. During one mission flying the infamous Route Package IV, a flight route that fighter pilots dubbed "Downtown" due to it being the most heavily defended area of North Vietnam and included the communist capital city of Hanoi, James brought his F-4 back with 56 holes in the fuselage. After the conclusion of Operation BOLO, the 8 TFW adopted the nick-name, "Wolf Pack," and its commander was given the nick-name "Wolf," a tradition the 8th Fighter Wing continues today. As vice-commander during Operation BOLO, James effectively became the 8 FW's first "Wolf 2." Following his stint with the 8 TFW, James served as vice-commander of the 33rd TFW at Eglin AFB, Florida, until October 1969 when he assumed command of the 7272nd Training Wing at Wheelus Air Base in Libya. Shortly before James took command at Wheelus, a group of Libyan military officers perpetrated a coup d'état and ousted the existing government. Wheelus Air Field had been established by the United States following World War II. Initially, the U.S. government insisted that the new Libyan government honour existing agreements despite their protests, and several confrontations ensued as a result. During one such confrontation, a group of Libyan halftracks refused to halt for guards at the base gate and entered the installation. James arrived on scene and stood face to face with the new Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi stood in front of James with his hand resting on his holstered .45 attempting to stare him down. James barked at Gaddafi, "Move your hand away from that gun!" and Gaddafi relented. James later commented: "I told him to move his hand away. If he had pulled that gun he would have never cleared his holster!" After this incident, the Libyans never again attempted to enter Wheelus without permission. Determining that the strategic importance of Wheelus Air Field had waned, the U.S. willingly withdrew from the installation in June 1970 and James returned to the United States.

James received promotion to brigadier general in July 1970, serving in a variety of staff positions over the next 4 years. On September 1, 1975, James pinned on his fourth star becoming the first African-American to achieve the rank of full general in United States military history. James assumed command of NORAD and Aerospace Defense Command at Peterson AFB, Colorado, having responsibility for operational command of all U.S. and Canadian strategic aerospace defence forces. James' last position with the Air Force was as Special Assistant to the Air Force Chief of Staff at the Pentagon. He retired from the Air Force on Feb. 1, 1978. With a military career that spanned 35 years and three wars, James flew 189 combat missions during the Korean Vietnam wars combined. James rose from the rank of second lieutenant to full general earning the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Distinguished Service Medal with Oak Leaf Custer, and the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, among a variety of other military decorations. James was also awarded the George Washington Freedom Foundation Medal in 1967 and 1968. His citation for the 1970 Arnold Air Society Eugene M. Zucker Award for outstanding contributions to Air Force professionalism read: "...fighter pilot with a magnificent record, public speaker, and eloquent spokesman for the American Dream we so rarely achieve."

On February 25, 1978, just 3 weeks after retiring from the Air Force, Gen. Daniel 'Chappie' James Jr. passed away at the age of 58 years old as a result of a heart attack. His remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery. James' son, Daniel James III, also served in the Air Force and Air National Guard rising to the rank of lieutenant general and becoming the first African-American to take command as director of the Air National Guard before retiring in 2006.

Cherokee and Choctaw soldiers had both effectively used their native languages to send coded messages on the Western Front during the final months of World War I so in autumn 1940, a small group of Chippewas and Oneidas joined the Thirty-second US Army Infantry Division for the express purpose of radio communications. Soon afterward, an Iowa National Guard unit, the Nineteenth Infantry Division, brought several members of the Sac and Fox tribes into its ranks for the same purpose. Their training, and their use in manoeuvres in Louisiana, hinted at the successful utilisation of Indians as combat radiomen. The tactic seemed so promising that the Thirty-second requested the Indians' permanent assignment to the division, and the army expanded the program in 1941. With posts in the Philippines, where Spanish was commonly spoken, radiomen were needed who could transmit messages directly to the Filipino forces, to American units, and if needed, in code. Despite the army's early efforts and the proficiency demonstrated by Indian code talkers, the War Department never fully grasped the program's potential. No more than a few dozen Indians were trained for radio operations. In contrast, the Marine Corps developed the concept on such a broad level that it became an integral part of the branch's combat operations. Unlike the army, Marine solicitation of Indians did not commence until after Pearl Harbor. Moreover, the program resulted not from within the military but from a civilian source.

In February 1942, Philip Johnston approached Major James E. Jones, Force Communications Officer at Camp Elliot in San Diego, with a plan to use the Navajo language for battlefield radio transmissions. The son of a Protestant missionary, Johnston had lived among the Navajos for more than twenty years, and, during that time, gained fluency in the native language. He explained to Major Jones that the Navajos spoke a language unlike any other Indians and added that less than a dozen anthropologists had ever studied that part of Navajo culture. Even German scholars who visited Indian communities in the 1930s, including the Nazi propagandist Dr. Colin Ross, ignored the Navajo language. In essence, this peculiar language seemed safe from enemy understanding if incorporated into the Marine Corps' communication structure.

Johnston convinced Major Jones of the possible worth of his idea, and before the week's end, the Marine Corps extended Johnston the opportunity for a demonstration. On the morning of February 28, the former missionary's son and four Navajo's arrived at Camp Elliott. Major Jones gave them six messages normally communicated in military operations and instructed the group to assemble forty-five minutes later at division headquarters. With such a short time to devise a basic code, the Navajos worked feverishly. At 9:00 A.M. Johnston and the four Indians appeared before Jones, General Clayton B. Vogel, and others to conduct their demonstration. Within seconds, the six messages were transmitted in Navajo, received, decoded, and correctly relayed to Major Jones.

"It goes in, in Navajo? And it comes out in English?" questioned one rather surprised officer. In later tests, three code experts attached to the United States Navy failed to decipher "intercepted" transmissions; the system "seemed foolproof." Both Jones and Vogel were immensely impressed.

Over the following days, the merits of an Indian code-talking program gathered interest with General Vogel's staff. By mid-March, the Marine Corps authorised the recruitment of twenty-nine Navajos for communications work and formed the 382nd Platoon for the Indian specialists. Immediately, the boarding schools at Fort Defiance, Shiprock, and Fort Wingate received visits from marine personnel, and the original complement of code talkers was formed. In addition, Philip Johnston petitioned the Marine Corps for his own enlistment as training specialist at a noncommissioned rank. Though already in his forties, the Marine Corps accepted his offer and recommended the immediate recruitment of 200 Navajos to develop a code. Among the first recruits was Chester Nez. As a child growing up in Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools, Nez had his original Navajo name replaced with Chester, after President Chester A. Arthur. He was forbidden from speaking his native tongue — students who did so were beaten or had their mouths washed out with soap. In the spring of 1942, Nez and 28 other recruits assembled at Camp Pendleton in California, and went to work formulating their code. In an interview years after the war, Chester Nez said "All those years, telling you not to speak Navajo, and then to turn around and ask us for help with that same language.... It still kind of bothers me."

Over the course of 13 weeks, the code was developed, practiced, and committed to memory. It grew into a sprawling dictionary, tailored for precise communication in every conceivable battlefield situation. The code ranged from simple letters (“A” could be communicated as the Navajo words for ant, apple, or axe) to vehicles (Dive bomber = “chicken hawk,” submarine = “metal fish”) to direct or approximate translations of hundreds of verbs such as capture, escape, entrench, flank, halt, and target. Once the code was complete, the code talkers became invaluable communications assets. As the war went on, some 400 Navajos were recruited and trained in the code. They acted as coding machines, transmitting messages that would have taken a couple of hours in just a couple of minutes.

On the battlefields of the Pacific Theatre, the code proved to be uncrackable. Even when the Japanese managed to capture and torture Navajo Sergeant Joe Kieyoomia, they couldn’t crack it — though he spoke Navajo, he hadn’t been trained in the code, so the encrypted messages read as an indecipherable mess of words. The Navajo code talkers played crucial roles in every Marine offensive in the Pacific, from Guadalcanal in 1942 to Iwo Jima in 1945. Code talkers from more than a dozen other tribes such as the Seminole, Comanche, and Meskwaki were also deployed as code talkers in more limited numbers in Europe and North Africa.

Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima. In typical fashion, many of the code talkers returned home from the war to face discrimination and hardship, much of which was at the hands of the same US Government that 5 years previous had been desperate for their help. They were not even allowed to speak about the invaluable role they played until the code operation was declassified in 1968. In 2001, the original 29 creators of the Navajo code were honoured with the Congressional Gold Medal.

Chester Nez, the last of the original 29, died in 2014.

It's not widely known that Kelly's Heroes, one of my favourite war movies, is actually based upon a true incident. The caper was covered in a book called “Nazi Gold: The Sensational Story of the World’s Greatest Robbery – and the Greatest Criminal Cover-Up” by Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting. The heist was perpetrated by a combination of renegade Nazi and American officers. It was also listed as the “biggest” robbery ever in the Guinness Book of Records, in the 1960s.

In 1945, as Allied bombers continued their final pounding of Berlin, the panicking Nazis began moving the assets of the Reichsbank south for safekeeping. Vast trainloads of gold and currency were evacuated from the doomed capital of Hitler’s ‘Thousand-year Reich’. Nazi Gold is the real-life story of the theft of that fabulous treasure – worth some 2,500,000,000 at the time of the original investigation. It is also the story of a mystery and attempted whitewash in an American scandal that pre-dated Watergate by nearly 30 years. Investigators were impeded at every step as they struggled to uncover the truth and were left fearing for their lives. The authors’ quest led them to a murky, dangerous post-war world of racketeering, corruption and gang warfare. Their brilliant reporting, matching eyewitness testimony with declassified Top Secret documents from the US Archives, lays bare this monumental crime in a narrative which throngs with SS desperadoes, a red-headed queen of crime and American military governors living like Kings. Also revealed is the authors’ discovery of some of the missing treasure in the Bank of England.

The filming itself was surrounded by some interesting facts and amusing incidents, some of which are as far flung as the narrative itself. For example, it was during shooting in Yugoslavia 1969, that Donald Sutherland received word, via co-star Clint Eastwood, that his then-wife Shirley Douglas had been arrested for trying to buy hand-grenades (with a personal cheque) for the Black Panther Party from an undercover FBI agent. Sutherland recounts this story often, mentioning that when Eastwood got to the part about the personal cheque, he laughed so hard, he fell to his knees, and Sutherland had to help him up. Eastwood then put his arm around Sutherland and walked him down the hill that overlooked the Yugoslav countryside, assuring his friend with complete support of his predicament. Sutherland and Douglas, who are the parents of Kiefer and twin sister Rachel Sutherland, later divorced in 1970.

Clint Eastwood signed to do the film mainly because his friend and favourite director, Don Siegel, was set to direct it. However, Siegel ran into post-production problems while finishing up Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970) and had to withdraw from the project. Brian G. Hutton was then signed to direct. Eastwood, who had already signed a contract to do the film, couldn’t pull out. Mike Curb, who wrote the lyrics to the movie’s theme song “Burning Bridges,” served as lieutenant governor of California between 1978 and 1982. A record was made of Clint Eastwood singing “Burning Bridges” and was released as a 45-rpm disc on Certron Records, the B-side of “When I Loved Her” also sung by Eastwood was written by Kris Kristofferson.

The “Tiger” tanks used in the film were actually Russian T-34 tanks which had been specially modified to look like Tiger tanks. This is apparent when you look at the suspension of the tanks - T-34s used a modified Christie suspension, whereas the Tigers’ wheels were much more elaborate. The German Tiger tank commander, played by Karl-Otto Alberty, appears to be a parody – both in appearance and manner of speaking – of Marlon Brando’s portrayal of German Lt. Christian Diestl in The Young Lions 1958. The ‘key’ symbol on the Tiger tanks denotes that they are attached to the 1st SS Panzer Division “Leibstandarte (Body guard unit) Adolf Hitler.”

The blue “crosshair” shoulder patch indicates Kelly and his men are from the 35th Infantry Division. A National Guard Division, comprised of Guardsmen from Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas who were fighting in the area of Nancy, France, in late summer 1944, while Oddball’s division is the “Super Sixth”, the 6th Armored Division. Its also worth noting that Oddball carries a Luger P-08 “Parabellum” semiautomatic gun, which were in service only in Switzerland and Germany.

Approximately 20 minutes were cut from the movie by MGM and studio boss James T. Aubrey before theatrical release. MGM even changed the title of the movie. Originally it was called The Warriors, then in post production it was changed to Kelly’s Warriors and then into Kelly’s Heroes. Years after the film was completed Eastwood claimed that Hutton had intended more depth to the cast, but these were cut out in favour of more action and comedy. Some of the comedy even parodies Eastwood himself (not bad from actor who had only relatively recently had become a household name) in a scene in which Eastwood’s character of Kelly squares up against a German Tiger tank and the stand-off is played against Ennio Morricone’s score for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). The comedy is more than just slapstick. Taken in the context of when the film was made during the height of the Vietnam War much of the comedy is black in tone; Sutherland's proto-hippie character complete with Sixties vocabulary is a deliberate inclusion in order that the audience can make that link. This was made at the time of those other seminal Vietnam black comedies of M*A*S*H and Catch 22.

Made for a budget of $4 million in 1970 dollars, Kelly’s Heroes grossed $5.2 domestically, and unknown amounts in foreign sales, DVDs, etc. Inflation has increased six-fold since 1970, and though the movie was moderately successful financially, it stands out in popular culture lore as a landmark American movie.

It's well documented that The Great Escape helped to formulate the Eastman brand way back in the early 1980's but who knew it's enduring tale of wartime heroism would evolve into an icon of pop culture thanks to Steve McQueen and a reissued USAAF A-2 flight jacket. What was essentially a movie costume has now become the identikit look for style conscious men around the globe. Based upon a daring escape during WWII, the Hollywood story is way off from the truth, nonetheless, there are many interesting facts that surround the movie, mostly regarding it's biggest and most hard to handle star.

When Hilts (Steve McQueen) strings a wire across the road to obtain a motorcycle, McQueen himself played the German motorcyclist who hits the wire. During filming McQueen was up to his usual antics on a daily basis – one day, the police in the German town where the film was shot set up a speed trap. Several members of the cast and crew were caught, including Steve McQueen. The Chief of Police told McQueen “Herr McQueen, we have caught several of your comrades today, but you have won the prize [for the highest speeding].” McQueen was arrested and briefly jailed.

On-set McQueen was invited to view early rushes by the director John Sturges, and realising how thin his character looked, he angrily declined to film further scenes until his were re-written. That’s what gave him the infamous motorcycle chase – while insurers wouldn’t let McQueen perform the actual jump sequence, the actor, an accomplished motorcycle rider and all-round outdoorsman was allowed to play German riders in a few stunts including the climactic motorcycle chase. Sturges allowed McQueen to ride as one of the pursuing German soldiers, so that in the final sequence, through the magic of editing, he’s actually chasing himself. He also allowed McQueen to attempt the hair raising 60 foot jump across the border fence which ended in a crash, the jump was subsequently performed by his friend and professional rider Bud Ekins. Ekins was managing a Los Angeles-area motorcycle shop when recruited. It was the beginning of a new career for him, as he later doubled for McQueen in Bullitt (1968) and did much of the motorcycle riding on the television series CHiPs (1977).

In the stunt he roars across the countryside on his stolen BMW pursued by a hoard of manic Nazi motorcyclists intent on his death. With no possible escape, great or otherwise, our hero chooses a glorious finale. Winding the bike up to maximum revs, he makes an incredible jump across the 12-foot high barbed wire fence. Today, the thought of using a road bike in a film stunt would be unthinkable. But in 1963 the world was a very different place. In many ways it wasn’t so much which bike would Bud Ekins and Steve McQueen use for The Great Escape but simply that there was only one choice – and that was the fabulous, do-everything, Triumph TR6. A key factor for the film crew was that the TR6 was very much their bike and they knew it back to front – even though it was designed and built in England. Europeans always preferred the TR6’s lighter, more nimble sibling – the 500cc TR5, but the Yanks loved the instant power of the 650. In fact, the TR6 had come about entirely from the demand by Americans for ‘cubes’. They wanted engines at least as big as the Harleys of the day and so, in 1950, Triumph made the Thunderbird for them. Almost as soon as the Thunderbird arrived in the US, riders began racing it so Triumph encouraged them first with an all-alloy TR6 and later what was effectively a single carb version of the Bonneville – the ‘Great Escape’ bike.

During idle periods while the movie was in production, all cast and crew members – from stars Steve McQueen and James Garner to production assistants and obscure food service workers – were asked to take thin, five-inch strings of black rubber and knot them around other thin strings of black rubber of enormous length. The finished results of all this knotting were the coils and fences of barbed wire seen throughout the film.

Charles Bronson, who portrays the chief tunneller, brought his own expertise and experiences to the set: he had been a coal miner before turning to acting and gave director John Sturges advice on how to move the earth. As a result of his work in the coal mines, Bronson suffered from claustrophobia just as his character had. During production, Charles Bronson met and fell in love with David McCallum’s wife, Jill Ireland, and he jokingly told McCallum he was going to steal her away from him. In 1967, Ireland and McCallum divorced, and she married Bronson.

Several cast members were actual P.O.W.s during World War II. Donald Pleasence was held in a German camp, Hannes Messemer in a Russian camp and Til Kiwe and Hans Reiser were prisoners of the Americans. Donald Pleasence had actually been a Royal Air Force pilot in World War II, who was shot down, became a prisoner of war and was tortured by the Germans. When he kindly offered advice to the film’s director John Sturges, he was politely asked to keep his “opinions” to himself. Later, when another star from the film informed John Sturges that Pleasence had actually been a RAF Officer in a World War II German POW Stalag camp, Sturges requested his technical advice and input on historical accuracy from that point forward. Wally Floody, the real-life “Tunnel King” (he was transferred to another camp just before the escape), served as a consultant to the filmmakers, almost full-time, for more than a year.

Paul Brickhill, who wrote the book from which the film is based, was piloting a Spitfire aircraft that was shot down over Tunisia in March 1943. He was taken to Stalag Luft III in Germany, where he assisted in the escape preparations. The real-life escape preparations involved 600 men working for well over a year. The escape did have the desired effect of diverting German resources, including a doubling of the number of guards after the Gestapo took over the camp from the Luftwaffe. Some aspects of the escape remained classified during production and were not revealed until well after. The inclusion of chocolate, coffee and cigarettes in Red Cross packages is well documented, as is their use to bribe Nazi guards. Other materials useful for escaping had to be kept secret and were not included in the novel or screenplay. Also not revealed until many years later was the fact that the prisoners actually built a fourth tunnel called “George.”

The film was shot entirely on location in Europe, with a complete camp resembling Stalag Luft III built near Munich, Germany. Exteriors for the escape sequences were shot in the Rhine Country and areas near the North Sea, and Steve McQueen’s motorcycle scenes were filmed in Fussen (on the Austrian border) and the Alps. All interiors were filmed at the Bavaria Studio in Munich.

You can view the Eastman reproduction of McQueen's Reissue 'Escape" A-2 HERE

It’s absolutely crazy to think that the same 1968 Mustang GT Fastback driven in Bullitt by Steve McQueen himself, would end up in the hand’s of an unassuming New Jersey housewife… But that’s exactly what happened.

steve mcqueen bullitt mustang gt fastback

“After Bullitt wrapped, the hero car was sold to a studio executive in Los Angeles, who kept it briefly before selling it, coincidentally, to a police detective. The officer shipped the car to New York and kept it for about three and a half years before placing a for-sale ad in the back of Road & Track magazine in 1974. His $6,000 asking price was somewhat steep, but Robert Kiernan, a New Jersey insurance executive and Mustang fan, went out to look at it. He bought it for his wife to use as a daily driver.” –Vanity Fair


The original 1968 Mustang GT Fastback from Bullitt in Sean Kiernan’s secret barn in Nashville. Inset, the letter from Steve McQueen to Robert Kiernan, dated 1977. (via Vanity Fair) Courtesy of Ford/Historic Vehicle Association.


“The Kiernans used the car avidly for years, adding more than 30,000 miles to its odometer. But, as with many vehicular toys, mechanical and family issues eventually intervened. ‘The clutch went out in ’80 and I was born in ’81,’ said Sean Kiernan, Robert’s son, who grew up with the McQueen Mustang in his family’s garage. ‘So it kind of went into storage.’

The Kiernans have kept the car a secret, mainly to ward off rumormongers and gawkers. But that didn’t stop Steve McQueen from finding them in 1977. ‘Dad had owned the car for three years at that point. And he got a phone call from Steve asking about the car, how it was, if he’d changed anything on it. And McQueen said, ‘I would really like to buy it if there’s not too much involved with it. I’ll replace it with a similar, like kind of car. As long it’s not a crazy amount of money,’ Kiernan said. ‘But dad declined. He said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’


McQueen didn’t take no for an answer. ‘I think a week later, a letter to my dad arrived from McQueen and it had the Solar [McQueen’s production company] letterhead and stamp on it. And it said, basically, ‘I’d love to talk to you again about purchasing my car back, if not too much money is involved. Otherwise we’d better forget it.’ And dad never reached out, he did forget it. And that was kind of the end of that.”

This was a decent decision. The car is now valued at $3 million to $5 million.” – VANITY FAIR

Story and images via The Selvedge Yard

The story of Reckless is not only remarkable - it is unusual. And once you learn about her, you will see why the Marine Corps not only fell in love with her - but honoured her and promoted her every chance they got. And it wasn’t just the Marines that served with her in the trenches that honoured her - her last promotion to Staff Sergeant was by Gen. Randolph McC Pate - the Commandant of the entire Marine Corps. You can’t get higher than that in the Marines.

Reckless joined the Marines to carry ammunition to the front lines for the 75mm Recoilless Rifle Platoon of the 5th Marines - and she quickly earned the love and respect of all of the Marines that served with her. Lt. Eric Pedersen paid $250 of his own money to a young Korean boy, Kim Huk Moon, for her. The only reason Kim sold his beloved horse was so he could buy an artificial leg for his older sister, Chung Soon, who lost her leg in a land mine accident.

Kim’s loss was the Marines’ gain. It was not only Reckless’ heroics that endeared the Marines to her - it was her incredible antics off of the battlefield. You will not believe her antics when she was being ignored, or if she was hungry – let’s just say you never wanted to leave your food unattended. As legendary as she was for her heroics – her appetite became even more legendary. This horse had a mind of her own – not to mention, being very determined.

Reckless had a voracious appetite. She would eat anything and everything – but especially scrambled eggs and pancakes in the morning with her morning cup of coffee. She also loved cake, Hershey bars, candy from the C rations, and Coca Cola – even poker chips, blankets and hats when she was being ignored – or if she was trying to just prove a point.

One of Reckless’ finest hours came during the Battle of Outpost Vegas in March of 1953. At the time of this battle it was written that, “The savagery of the battle for the so-called Nevada Complex has never been equaled in Marine Corps history.” This particular battle “was to bring a cannonading and bombing seldom experienced in warfare … twenty-eight tons of bombs and hundreds of the largest shells turned the crest of Vegas into a smoking, death-pocked rubble.” And Reckless was in the middle of all of it.

Enemy soldiers could see her as she made her way across the deadly “no man’s land” rice paddies and up the steep 45-degree mountain trails that led to the firing sites. “It’s difficult to describe the elation and the boost in morale that little white-faced mare gave Marines as she outfoxed the enemy bringing vitally needed ammunition up the mountain,” Sgt. Maj. James E. Bobbitt recalled.

During this five-day battle, on one day alone she made 51 trips from the Ammunition Supply Point to the firing sites, 95% of the time by herself. She carried 386 rounds of ammunition (over 9,000 pounds - almost 5 tons of ammunition), walked over 35 miles through open rice paddies and up steep mountains with enemy fire coming in at the rate of 500 rounds per minute. And as she so often did, she would carry wounded soldiers down the mountain to safety, unload them, get reloaded with ammo, and off she would go back up to the guns. She also provided a shield for several Marines who were trapped trying to make their way up to the front line. Wounded twice, she didn’t let that stop or slow her down.

What she did in this battle not only earned her the respect of all that served with her, but it got her promoted to Sergeant. Her heroics defined the word “Marine.” She was BELOVED by the Marines. They took care of her better than they took care of themselves – throwing their flak jackets over her to protect her when incoming was heavy, risking their own safety.

Her Military Decorations include two Purple Hearts, Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation with star, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Navy Unit Commendation, and Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, all of which she wore proudly on her red and gold blanket, along with a French Fourragere that the 5th Marines earned in WW1.

There has never been a horse like Reckless, and her story deserves every honor and recognition she can receive.

She wasn't a horse - She was a Marine!


Bud Ekins is nothing short of a legend in motorcycling: he was one of the most accomplished off-road racers ever; an extremely successful Hollywood motorcycle stuntman who performed what is probably the most iconic motorcycle stunt in cinema history; and owned one of the largest curated collections of motorcycles in the world.

Born in Hollywood in 1930, and was a mischievous son to a working-class family. Ekins never completed eighth grade. He spent two years in reform school after a joy ride in a stolen car. Later, when not working in his father’s shop, he went hot rodding. Then the roar of his cousin’s Harley hooked him, his world changed instantly when he rode the motorcycle once as a teenager. He bought a used 1940 Triumph and rode it every day all over the undeveloped, untamed land that surrounded Los Angeles at the time. In 1949, his racing career began when he entered into the highly popular and competitive Big Bear Endurance Run. He got serious about racing after that, and by the mid-50s became the top desert racer in Southern California. He even won the district’s number one plate seven times, which is no small feat. He was so good that he was invited to participate in races internationally, where he had some of his most prestigious wins over his career. Two of Ekins’ greatest nemeses were Eddie Mulder and J.D. Williams. Ekins helped launch Mulder’s career when Mulder beat Ekins in the 1959 Mohave Hare Scramble at age 16, when Ekins was an internationally revered off-road racer. Following the Scramble, Ekins helped Mulder get factory sponsorship from Triumph, forging not only a new legend, but a lifelong friendship.

His most famous and possibly closest friend though was Steve McQueen. During the 60s, Ekins owned a Triumph dealership in Hollywood, which became the local hangout for many actors of the day including Lee Marvin, Clint Eastwood and Paul Newman among others. It was here he first met McQueen and the actors lifelong love affair with off-road racing began, thanks to Ekins. In 1962, McQueen was in Germany filming The Great Escape, and asked his friend to come out to do some motorcycle stunt work for him. Ekins had never done any stunt work for movies before, but decided to give it a shot. Together they devised what is now the most iconic motorcycle stunt in movie history: the impossible jump that McQueen’s character Virgil Hilts makes over a fence while trying to escape from a German army pursuers. Ekins was McQueen’s stunt double for the movie, and performed the legendary jump with ease, launching his career as a stuntman. His career as a Hollywood stuntman went on the span an amazing 30 years, performing stunts in such movies as Bullitt, Hell’s Angels ‘69, The Towering Inferno, Animal House, and The Blues Brothers. In a later interview he remembered, ‘I was just up at Bullitt as a utility driver. McQueen was going to do all of the driving, but the first time he got in the car he spun the son of a bitch out and nearly hit a camera. The stunt coordinator said “Get him out of there!” Then said “Ekins, get into McQueen’s clothes.” They cut and sprayed my hair. He had a different hairstyle. Jay Sebring cut it. He was killed in the Sharon Tate murders. He also used to cut Sinatra’s hair. My kids cut mine.’

During the 60s Ekins represented the United States at the ISDT International Six day Trial, a form of off-road motorcycle Olympics. It was as an enduro competitor that Ekins achieved his greatest international racing success. He received a gold medal at the 1962 International Six Days Trials in East Germany, and was part of the 1964 U.S. ISDT team with his brother, Dave Ekins, John Steen, Cliff Coleman and McQueen. He rode a 650cc Triumph TR6 Trophy alongside teammate Steve McQueen in the 1964 International Six Days Trial. In 1965, again on Triumphs, the team competed at the ISDT on the Isle of Man. Ekins won four gold medals and a silver during his seven years of competing in the ISDT during the 1960s.

Ekins helped pioneer the sport of desert racing in 1964 when he and his brother Dave rode a motorcycle almost the entire length of Mexico's Baja California peninsula in 39 hours and 48 minutes under gruelling conditions to set the Tijuana to La Paz, Mexico record. Their speed record provided a challenge for other off-road competitors with both, motorcycles and four wheeled vehicles. One of these challengers to Ekins' record run was Ed Pearlman, who decided to organise a yearly off-road race that became known as the Baja 1000. He also participated in many of the early off-road racing events including the Mint 400 and the Stardust 7-11 in Las Vegas. In addition to motorcycles, Ekins raced four wheeled off-road vehicles. He raced alongside Steve McQueen in the inaugural Baja 500 in 1969 and won overall. He worked with fellow Off-Road Hall of Fame Inductee, Vic Hickey for five years, helping him to build the Baja Boot racer and drove three races for Steve McQueen and Drino Miller, another Off-Road Hall of Fame Inductee.

After retiring in the late 90s, Ekins continued to own and run a vintage motorcycle shop in Hollywood. While running the shop, Ekins truly started collecting motorcycles. His goal was to own one of every brand of motorcycle to have ever been made in America. While he never completed his objective, his collection boasted over 150 motorcycles, and featured bikes from 54 American brands, most of which were made before World War I. He was inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, and his influence and legacy continues to thrive in today’s motorcycle community, culture, and heritage.

On August 7, 1942 at 0910 hrs the ramp of an American Landing Craft lowered into the surf of 'Red Beach' 6,000 yards east of Lunga Point on an obscure island in the Solomon Islands chain called Guadalcanal. The men of the 1st Marine Division who ran up the beach that morning had no idea they were beginning a bloody, six-month battle that would be the first United States victory on the ground in the Pacific theatre in the Second World War.

Deemed almost sufficiently trained for its first exposure to combat, the 1st Marine Division, after traveling via train to San Francisco, boarded the transport USS John Ericsson, which carried them to Camp Paekakariki outside Wellington, New Zealand. Upon arriving in Wellington in July, the Marines were scheduled for another six months of training, but those plans were quickly cancelled. It was there that the Marines learned they would take part in the first land offensive against the Japanese on Guadalcanal. An airfield there was 90 percent complete, and the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington, D.C., did not want the Japanese to finish it. The official history said, “They feared that the establishment of such a base might presage a thrust southeastward that would sever the line of communications between the United States and Australia, and plans were quickly changed to focus the counteroffensive on the seizure of Guadalcanal and Tulagi.” The invasion force was assembled in such haste that the Marines had only enough food for 60 days and enough ammunition for 10 days of heavy fighting.

The first three major land engagements on Guadalcanal would all involve the same objective of trail or road access to Lunga Airfield, the island’s airstrip. The division departed Wellington and steamed to the Solomon Islands for Operation Watchtower. At 4:30 am on August 7, 1942, the Marines were awakened on board ship, and a hot steak and eggs breakfast was offered to those who had the stomach for it. A fierce naval bombardment commenced, hitting Guadalcanal and the smaller nearby island of Tulagi, as well as two small islets, Gavutu and Tanambogo. The Marines’ landings that morning caught the enemy by surprise and with a small force; only after their airfield was complete did the Japanese plan to bring in large numbers of crack troops to Guadalcanal. The invasion force was split into two groups. The 1st and 5th Marine Regiments came ashore first at Red Beach. McKelvy’s 3rd Battalion, which included the four second lieutenants of K Company, was in the third wave to hit the beach. Colonel Merritt Edson and his Raider Parachute Battalions, with the 2nd Battalion of the 5th Marine Regiment, faced suicidal resistance on Tulagi and its two islets, a foreshadowing of the fierce fighting to come on Guadalcanal. But the Tulagi islet areas were secured by the second day.

After hitting the beach at Guadalcanal on August 7, the Marines of K Company, along with the rest of the 3rd Battalion, were ordered to seize a terrain feature known as the Grassy Knoll (aka Mt. Austen). At an elevation of 1,000 feet, it overlooked the airfield and part of Guadalcanal’s coast and was therefore an ideal tactical acquisition. The Marines soon found out it was three miles inland, rather than just one mile as their maps indicated.

The Marines, however, did manage to capture the Lunga Airstrip, along with its warehouses and construction equipment that was quickly deployed to finish building the airfield. After taking the airstrip, the Marines promptly renamed it Henderson Field in honour of Major Loftus Henderson, a Marine Corps aviator killed in the Battle of Midway. The warehouses contained Japanese food - canned crab, fish heads, and rice - that had been contaminated by worms. Third Battalion Doctor Ben Keyserling passed by the chow line, administering the malarial depressant Atabrine and advising the Marines not to pick the worms out of their rice. “It’s going to be the only protein you get, so leave them in there,” he said. Also captured were large amounts of Japanese whisky and saké. Lt. Col. McKelvy immediately ordered the alchol off limits to everyone except (no surprise) himself. His men remember him being a bit tipsy at times.

The Marines' good fortune did not last long. On the evening of August 8, Rear-Admiral Frank Fletcher decided to withdraw the three aircraft carriers that were providing air cover for Vandegrift's transports. Later that same night, a Japanese cruiser task force sank one Australian and three American cruisers in the waters near Guadalcanal. The naval battle would come to be known as the Battle of Salvo Island and it was the first of a series of clashes to decide the control of the sea around Guadalcanal. In the next six months the United States would lose two aircraft carriers, seven cruisers and 14 destroyers while the Japanese lost one aircraft carrier, two battleships, four cruisers and 11 destroyers. The transports fled the next day taking with them 3,000 Marines who had not had time to disembark and much of the division's ammunition and heavy artillery. Another 6,000 men of the 1st Marine Division were dug in on Tulagi Island 20 miles away. The 10,000 Marines on Guadalcanal were on their own.

The campaign was a race between the Marines and the U.S. Army and the Japanese Imperial Army to concentrate enough force to defeat each other. The difficulties of gathering those troops were compounded by the alien and hostile environment of the jungle on Guadalcanal. But the day before the first 12 Douglas Dauntless dive-bombers and 19 Grumman Wildcat fighters arrived, the Japanese launched their first counter-attack. On August 20, 1,000 soldiers led by Colonel Kiyono lchiki attacked Marine positions on the left flank at the mouth of the llu River. But the Japanese underestimated the American strength, a mistake they would repeat several times in the campaign. Thinking there were only about 2,000 Marines on the island, lchiki's men attacked in three waves and were mowed down by the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Marine Regiment. More than 800 Japanese were killed and lchiki committed suicide.

The Japanese brought more soldiers to Guadalcanal on destroyers that travelled only at night to avoid the planes on Henderson Field and by September 12 had assembled a force of 3,000 men. Major-General Kawaguchi attacked from the south across a hill that became known as Bloody Ridge because of the intense fighting on the slopes. Colonel Merritt 'Red Mike' Edson's elite Raider battalion and parachute battalion bent under the assault, suffering 40 dead and 103 wounded, but did not break. Kawaguchi was not so fortunate and lost 600 killed and 600 wounded in two nights vicious fighting. On October 9, the Japanese made a third and final attempt to drive the Marines into the sea when Lieutenant-General Harukichi Hyakutake gathered a new force of 20,000 men plus heavy artillery and planned to strike at the American centre and right simultaneously. but the terrible terrain made exact co-ordination between the two columns impossible and they attacked 24 hours apart.

That might not have been fatal except the Marines had received their own reinforcements in the weeks before the attack. More Marines and the U.S. Army's 164th Regiment brought American strength on Guadalcanal up to 23,000 soldiers. In addition, a second airstrip was built for fighter planes. Hyakutake attacked and was slaughtered on the American defences. On December 9, the battle and jungle weary 1st Marine Division was withdrawn and in its place were the Americal Division and the 25th Division, both army formations, and the 2nd Marine Division for a total of 50,000 men under Major-General Alexander Patch. Hyakutake had less than half that number and a critical shortage of supplies left his men weak and sick. In January of 1943, Patch fought his way down the length of the island, overrunning Hyakutake's headquarters on the 23rd of that month. The Japanese managed to evacuate 13,000 soldiers by night and the campaign ended on February 8, 1943. In total, the United States lost 5,600 casualties of which 1,500 were killed while the Japanese lost an estimated 24,000 dead.

The new Eastman 1st Marine Division t shirt celebrates the grit and courage of these men, an exact reproduction, researched, developed and manufactured in Japan by the best in the business. Constructed with a special thread called ‘Raffy’, which is a combination of American Supima cotton, Egyptian cotton and Turfan cotton, it replicates the look and feel of vintage fabric. Because these cottons all have different length staples, the thread has a distinctive texture that is similar to vintage fabric. This specialised thread is then woven on rare vintage circular knitting machines, so the body is a complete tube with no side seam, known as ‘body-size’ - just like the originals. Finally, the dying and sewing construction is impeccably matched to the original, rendering a recreation that is second-to-none.

Since I was 14 years old, when I first saw a photo of one in a magazine, I dreamt of riding and owning an XR - I mean a real one - the nasty, snorting, flat track race version. The Harley Davidson XR-750 is nothing short of a legend among motorcycles. The bike has more AMA wins that any bike in history, and it’s been called “the most successful race bike of all time.” Besides its well-known flat track dominance, the XR-750 was the favoured jump bike of Evel Knievel, and versions have competed successfully in road racing and hill climbing — where a nitrous-injected version of the engine was estimated to top 150 horsepower!

Prior to 1969 the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) rules for the AMA Grand National Championship were deliberately structured to favour side-valve engines rather than overhead-valve engines. The result of this was to favour American made bikes such as those from Harley-Davidson with their side-valve engines, and to disadvantage the overseas competition which was mainly from British motorcycles especially Triumph, BSA, and Norton. The AMA rules prior to 1969 allowed side-valve engines of up to 750cc capacity but OHV engines were limited to 500cc. With their 50% engine size advantage the odds were stacked in the favour of the side-valve bikes. The British motorcycle manufacturers put up with that for a while but by the late sixties their market in the USA for bikes around 500cc was shrinking and customer demand for bikes in the 650cc and 750cc classes was increasing. So the British worked to get the AMA to level the playing field and in 1969 the sought after rule change was enacted so that both side-valve and overhead-valve engines of up to 750cc were allowed in the AMA Grand National Championship. The effect of this on Harley-Davidson was to precipitate the need for a new OHV-engined racing bike that could successfully compete against the Brits and keep the Stars and Stripes at the forefront of AMA competition.

To create their new OHV racing motorcycle engine Harley-Davidson did not have to start from scratch because they already had an OHV V-twin racing engine based on the Sportster XLR, the problem being that engine was a 900cc (55 cu. in.) unit that would need to have its capacity reduced to 750cc. To accomplish this Harley-Davidson engineers decreased the engine's stroke from 3.81" to 2.983" and increased the bore from 3.0" to 3.2" bringing the engine in just under the 750cc maximum. That engine, based on the Harley-Davidson Sportster XLR, featured the four camshaft design originally created by Bill Harley back in 1929. This design provided an individual camshaft to operate each of the four valves, and although this might sound needlessly complicated, it had the advantage that each push-rod was kept at the best angle for the camshaft to operate the rocker arms and it enabled fine tweaking of the cam timing.

The cams were connected by gears to the crankshaft and formed a rugged and reliable system. This new engine with its compression ratio of 8.5:1 had iron cylinder heads, something which was to prove problematical with engine overheating leading to these engines being nicknamed “waffle irons”. Ignition was provided by a magneto mounted on the cam covers. The XR-750 Harley-Davidson flat track race bikes with the Iron Head engine raced in the 1970-1971 season. They were reasonably successful when the conditions were cool and the races were on the short side but were not competitive when conditions were hot and/or the races were long.

Although it has been tweaked and refined, today’s XR750 racers are very similar to the first “alloy” versions from 1972. Sharing direct lineage with earlier Harley production racers, the WR and the venerable KR750 both side-valve engine designs, the first XR750 appeared in 1970; the infamous “iron” XR. Starting in 1969 on dirt and 1970 on pavement, the new rules allowed a 750cc limit for all engine designs. Dick O’Brien and the Harley team began a crash course and came up with the new XR750, which in basic design was a destroked iron cylinder Sportster engine. The engine was housed in a proven KR-style swingarm chassis with Ceriani forks.The striking orange and black bodywork was the design of the Wixom Brothers. The engine made competitive horsepower, but the heat it produced led to self-destructive tendencies. Though the bike scored a respectable number of victories from 1970-’71, it also broke a lot. While stop-gap measures such as oil coolers and reduced compression helped, the factory knew what the trouble was and was concurrently building the improved “alloy” engine model. When it debuted in 1972, there were still teething problems to solve, but the basic package was a winner.

The factory produced small batches of the complete machine in 1972, 1975, 1978 and 1980. Since then, only the engine has been available, with the customer choosing an aftermarket frame from manufacturers such as Knight and C&J. The XR750 has met and defeated many foes over its 40+ years in competition. It is today facing renewed challenges from talented teams fielding machines from Kawasaki, Ducati and Triumph. The reason for Harley-Davidson’s domination is often speculated. In short, it is a purely American design for the purely American sport of half-mile and mile dirt track racing. Its tractor-type power from the 45 degree twin is the perfect tool for that purpose. Times may have changed around the XR750, but it is still out there accomplishing its intended goal; AMA Pro dirt track domination.

Beyond racing, the XR has also achieved notoriety as the chosen stunt bike of the legendary Evel Knievel. Robert Craig Knievel was an American daredevil and entertainer. He performed some of the most death-defying stunts on this 1972 Harley-Davidson XR-750. During his career, Knievel suffered 35 to 40 broken bones as a result of his daring stunts. In 1965, he starred in his own daredevil show bringing national attention to his stunts. His shows were televised nationwide. His show featured motorcycle "wheelies,” off-beat vehicles and jumps over rows of automobiles, trucks and buses. Knievel rode this motorcycle during some of his most spectacular jumps. His custom 1972 Harley-Davidson XR-750 was made of steel, aluminium and fibreglass, and weighed approximately 300 pounds. In 1975 he used it to jump 14 Greyhound buses.

The XR-750 was a bike that Harley-Davidson may not have wanted to create back in 1969 when they were between a rock and a hard place and they just plain had to. But in taking on that design challenge Harley-Davidson created one of the greatest bikes in the history of American motorcycling. It was and still is a bike that Bill Harley would have loved. Harley-Davidson recently brought out a new flat track dirt race bike, the XG750R. It looks like it should prove to be a worthy successor to its XR-750 godfather - but it certainly does have big boots to fill.

When soldiers of the 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division landed at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, photographer Robert Capa, in the employ of LIFE magazine, was among them. Perhaps the best known of all World War II combat photographers, the Hungarian-born Capa had made a name for himself well before climbing into a landing craft with men of Company E in the early morning hours of D-Day. He risked his life on more than one occasion during the Spanish Civil War and had taken what is considered the most eerily fascinating of all war photographs. The famous image reportedly depicts the death of Spanish Loyalist militiaman Frederico Borrell Garcia as he is struck in the chest by a Nationalist bullet on a barren Iberian hillside.

Capa was known to say, "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough." On D-Day, he came close once again. With Capa standing in the very stern, his landing craft mistakenly came ashore at the section of Omaha Beach dubbed "Easy Red." Then the ramp went down. "The flat bottom of our barge hit the earth of France," Capa remembered in his book Slightly Out of Focus. "The boatswain lowered the steel-covered barge front, and there, between the grotesque designs of steel obstacles sticking out of the water, was a thin line of land covered with smoke — our Europe, the 'Easy Red' beach. "My beautiful France looked sordid and uninviting, and a German machine gun, spitting bullets around the barge, fully spoiled my return. The men from my barge waded in the water. Waist-deep, with rifles ready to shoot, with the invasion obstacles and the smoking beach in the background gangplank to take my first real picture of the invasion. The boatswain, who was in an understandable hurry to get the hell out of there, mistook my picture-taking attitude for explicable hesitation, and helped me make up my mind with a well-aimed kick in the rear. The water was cold, and the beach still more than a hundred yards away. The bullets tore holes in the water around me, and I made for the nearest steel obstacle. A soldier got there at the same time, and for a few minutes we shared its cover. He took the waterproofing off his rifle and began to shoot without much aiming at the smoke-hidden beach. The sound of his rifle gave him enough courage to move forward, and he left the obstacle to me. It was a foot larger now, and I felt safe enough to take pictures of the other guys hiding just like I was."

Capa was squeezing off photographs as he headed for a disabled American tank. He remembered feeling "a new kind of fear shaking my body from toe to hair, and twisting my face." With great difficulty his trembling hands reloaded his camera. All the while he repeated a sentence that he had picked up during the Spanish Civil War: "Es una cosa muy seria" ("This is a very serious business"). After what seemed an eternity, Capa turned away from the beach killing zone and spotted an incoming LCI (landing craft, infantry). He headed for it. "I did not think and I didn't decide it," he later wrote. "I just stood up and ran toward the boat. I knew that I was running away. I tried to turn but couldn't face the beach and told myself, 'I am just going to dry my hands on that boat.'"

With his cameras held high to keep them from getting waterlogged, Capa was pulled aboard the LCI and was soon out of harm's way. He had used three rolls of film and exposed 106 frames. After reaching England, he sped by train to London and delivered his precious film for developing.A darkroom technician was almost as anxious to see the invasion images as Capa himself. In his haste, the technician dried the film too quickly. The excess heat melted the emulsion on all but 11 of the frames. Those that remained were blurred, surreal shots, which succinctly conveyed the chaos and confusion of the day and became known as the Magnificent Eleven.

Capa's D-Day photos have become classics. One of them, depicting a GI struggling through the churning surf of Omaha Beach, has survived as the definitive image of the Normandy invasion. He went on to photograph the Arab-Israeli war in 1948. He also photographed his friends Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso, as well as film star Ingrid Bergman, with whom he reportedly had a love affair. After that, having cheated death so many times, Capa vowed never to risk his life in wartime photography again. In 1954, however, he agreed to supply LIFE with some photos of the escalating conflict between the French and the Viet Minh in Indochina. That spring, while attempting to get as close to the fighting as possible, he stepped on a land mine and was killed at the age of 40. Robert Capa is one of many wartime photographers who have risked their lives and made the ultimate sacrifice to capture the essence of desperate combat on film. Frozen in time and etched in our collective memory, the D-Day photos speak volumes about courage and sacrifice

Steve McQueen was a well known motorcycle and car fanatic and a seasoned off-road racer. During some Baja races he was behind the wheel of a Super Jeep known as 'the Baja Boot', built by Vic Hickey of the now-defunct Con-Ferr Incorporated in Burbank, California. There was a feature on the Jeep and its assembly in the Sept. ’69 issue of Rod & Custom (where it was a finalist in the running as a ’69 Street Rod of the Year?!). They call it a Universal Jeep here, not a CJ5 but love it or hate it, this Jeep with chrome roll bar was cutting-edge back in 1969 for a street-driven 4x4, and probably used as a prerunner for desert races. This Jeep was rumored to been sold to Sonny Bono of Sonny and Cher fame and went to his house in Palm Springs. After Mr. Bono’s untimely death in 1998, the trail of ownership and current whereabouts of this classic seems to have gone cold.

Below is the original article from Rod and Custom with all of the Super Jeeps Tech Specs

125 mph, Streetable & Virtually Bombproof, It’s… Super Jeep!

Let’s not ponder the morality of stuffing the price of small house into a vehicle like a Jeep even though the result would put most muscle cars to shame on the road and do the same to nearly anything you care to name except a Baja Boot off the road. When you hire other folks, particularly specialists, to do your work for you and you want it done now and you crank in more running changes than a woman dealing with an architect, it’s going to cost, baby.

With a modicum of one’s own labor, the help of friends and neighbors, and a rational approach, almost anyone can come up with the equivalent of the example under discussion at less than half the cost. Either way you cut it, the result is desirable property.

Super Jeep came into being when a customer (who shall remain nameless) came to Con-Ferr Incorporated in Burbank, California, and told owner Pete Condos that he wanted the ultimate Jeep. It had to be fast, it had to be safe, it had to handle with the ease of a sports car, it had to look good, and above all else it had to be owner-proof. This last was the kicker; the customer is known for a weighty right foot and more guts than a packing plant. An additional request was that all parts be new, which, in the light of the construction techniques that followed, was hardly a necessity.

For openers, the customer purchased a basic V-6 Universal Jeep, the stripped variety that retails for around $3,000, and then said, “Go.” Condos trundled the thing over to his manufacturing plant, where it was dismantled totally to the bare frame. Plant foreman Chuck Atkinson took the latter item in charge and boxed every rail, including the crossmembers. Every juncture that was riveted he also arc welded, leaving the rivets in place for added security. At the rear, two fabricated plate spring perches were added outboard on each side and an extra shock mount was welded at each corner. A bracket to carry a Saginaw power steering unit was added to the left front. At each side on the rear a pair of three-leaf springs was installed, each carrying a pair of flat, unclipped overload or antibottoming leaves. Special fabricated boxed shackles held these at the rear. Springs at the front are standard but held with heavy plate shackles. Under these went the standard Jeep front axle equipped with Warn hubs.

Two spring units are used on each end of the rear axle. Three leaves are clipped, and two are used for overload. The ends of the dual springs are shackled to special boxes fabricated from plate.

At the rear is a Jeepster rear axle, used because it carries its third member in the center instead of being offset. The reason for this is that the entire powertrain was replaced by a high-performance 350 Chevy engine with a Turbo Hydramatic transmission. The long tailshaft extension and the Dana transfer case, which has its rear output shaft at the top, required that the rear axle carry a centrally located third member. Beginning to get the picture?

A bulletproof chassis needed to be coupled with the kind of total power that propels the Chevy Baja Boot. To further the hard-landing capability, vertical plates were welded across the tops of the axletubes to the third member cases to prevent axletube buckling. Double Koni shocks were mounted on all four corners. Wide-rimmed wheels with Inglewood Stagger Block tires completed the rolling gear.

Now came the trimming (and the running changes that we won’t detail here). Suffice it to say that the “take it off, put it back, take it off” routine sent the man-hour cost into an orbit that would confuse Houston Control. Con-Ferr’s wiring whiz, Dick Bowman, replaced all the stock conduits with quick-disconnect looms and an open fuse block so that if one circuit went out only that circuit would be affected and any part of the body could be removed without disrupting the whole system.

In its first, or competition, form, Super Jeep was equipped with a fiberglas sic hood and fender unit. Though light and strong, the owner decided that the steel stock pieces were what he wanted.

The body, which unbolts with ridiculous ease, had been sanded and repainted and given a whole gaggle of detail changes. The stock gas-fill port on the left was covered over. Hinges, clamps, and a glovebox door were chromed. A full set of Stewart Warner instruments was let into the dash. A central console was made up out of sheet stock to carry the Hurst shifter and special brackets and rails made from 1-inch-square tubing to carry the wiggy Solar Plastics bucket seats. These last, when properly upholstered, have to be the most comfortable, supportive seats ever to be put into an off-road vehicle. Running up from the Camaro Saginaw steering, the steering shaft terminates with a small foam padded wheel. This 13-inch item is all that’s necessary thanks to the power steering, and it imparts a sensitivity totally incongruous with the sheer beef of it all.

In place of the stock underseat fuel tank, two 15-gallon saddle tanks are stuffed up into the rear corners behind the wheels, and one big stainless steel 30-gallon tank rides under the body behind the rear axle. We don’t have any figures at hand, but it would seem reasonable to suspect that cruising range would be from 300 miles in rough country to 600 on the road—and you know there has to be a gas station somewhere in a radius that large.

Chuck Atkinson fits the 30-gallon main tank up into frame. Two other tanks ride in the rear body corners.

Due to the fact that the car was originally scheduled to be raced, not to mention for peace of mind, a full Con-Ferr rollcage was constructed. This is a stock item available from Con-Ferr and is, when mounted as intended, in accordance with the strict rules of the National Off Road Racing Association. Sharp-eyed, rules-conscious readers may spot something haywire about this particular installation, however. Chrome on a stress part, especially a roll bar, is looked upon with deep suspicion by tech inspectors and is subject to a thumbs-down unless accompanied by a certificate to the effect that it has been baked to alleviate any hydrogen embrittlement that may have occurred during the plating process. Not only is this cage chromed, but the man doing the plating cut it apart at the upper corners to get it into the plating tank and then put it back together with bolts and flanges with bolts placed in sheer! The customer accomplished this bit of instant turn-down all by himself over Condos’s kicking and squirming body. The result is great for kids to swing on but it would be laughed out of any responsible inspection lane on sight. Imitators be warned.

Originally a ’glass hood and fender assembly was installed for a significant reduction in weight, but an unfortunate prior experience with a hasty installation on another vehicle persuaded the customer to revert to the stock item. Not that the ’glass front end is a poor unit—it isn’t. It just needs proper holddowns due to its light weight.

The powerhouse: a 350 Hi Perf Chevy with upswept headers. The Hayden trans cooler keeps things cool in the Turbo Hydro.

As noted, underneath the hood lies a Hi Perf 350 Chevy V-8. Except for headers and a Carter AFB, iti s box-stock. The control words here are “Hi Perf”; this isn’t the little old lady’s 350 but a hulking, brutal torque producer that’ll pull stumps and still rev up a storm on demand. It sits in the hole as though it had been built just for that purpose. Up on the left side of the firewall is the Hayden trans-cooler, keeping the Turbo Hydro cool when the going gets rough. The header installation, thanks to the room available, has branches that sweep up and out, allowing welcome access to the plugs.

Looking back on the whole assembly operation, it was—except for the pressure and the cut-and-try necessary in such a total rebuild—remarkably simple once all the factors were known, very much reminiscent of building a roadster back in the days when good, fresh roadster bodies were available. The result, in terms of raw brutality, has to be the greatest virility symbol since the Cadillac-Allard.

73 years ago on April 8th, 1944 the fate of British troops in Burma was being decided over a small asphalt tennis court. This court lay on what was once a calm and scenic plateau, overlooking the District Commissioner of Naga Hills’ bungalow. But in the spring of 1944 the entire region exploded into battle.

The British, Indian and American troops in Burma and Eastern India had been steadily pushed back by the advancing Imperial Japanese Army, who had their eyes set on advancing into India itself. On the 4th of April, they launched a massive attack against the British positions on the Kohima Ridge. This ridge was barely a mile long, and only a few hundred yards deep. Despite its high slopes, the Japanese attacked in force, pushing the British into defensive positions as they laid siege. By the 6th, the British had lost access to their water supplies in the south and were desperately trying to hold on to what positions they left.

The District Commissioner’s Bungalow sat at the northern end of the British defensive line and was first attacked on the 8th of April. The Japanese suffered heavy losses but kept pressing forward. Finally, despite the best efforts of the British troops they broke through the line. Under covering fire from a BREN gun, the British troops were able to retreat to the highest point in the compound, the tennis court. The Battle of the Tennis Court had begun.

Even on this first day, the fighting was incredibly gruesome. The Japanese refused to stop their onslaught, and likewise the British refused to stop their defence. One British soldier from the Royal West Kent Regiment took cover in a trench, only to find it almost immediately overrun by Japanese troops, pushing him to the ground. He was pressed into both the mud, and his dead comrades around him while his enemies stood on top of him, and piled ammunition about him. Under the cover of darkness, he managed to escape across the small strip of land between the two sides. Once back in the British lines, he took up the fight and helped to continue the British defence.

Only yards away from one another the two sides kept up a constant barrage of fire. Between Easter Sunday, April 9th and April 10th, the Japanese launched infantry attacks almost every 30 minutes. The Japanese General Sato knew that his troops would soon have their supplies cut off by the monsoon rains. His men needed to achieve victory and secure a strong defence as soon as possible. The British, likewise, knew that they only had to hold out for a matter of weeks before they would be saved by the monsoons.

But this intense fighting took a toll on the British troops. A Company, of the 4th Battalion Royal West Kents, had been dug in behind the tennis court for three days. Their casualty count was high and their ammunition low. Stretcher bearers would sneak forward at night to pull wounded soldiers out of forward positions. But even after being saved, and taken to the field hospital, the men weren’t out of combat.

One of the greatest horrors of Kohima was that the British wounded had to be treated in clear view of Japanese positions. They had dug a deep trench for use as a hospital, from which the British troops could see the Japanese mortar teams firing on them and their comrades.

There was no good way to relieve the lack of ammunition for the British troops. But something had to be done, and one Sergeant from the Royal West Kents took up the job. On multiple occasions, he ran to the forward fighting positions carrying as much ammunition as he could. After it was distributed among the men, he would then sprint back to the supply depot. He repeated this for during much of the fighting on the ridge and under constant artillery and rifle fire from the Japanese. By the 13th, A company was relieved by B Company, with fresher troops and ammunition. But when they got into position by the court they realised how terrifying the battle had become. The Japanese troops had pushed to one side of the court, with British troops slightly up the hill on the other side.

As rifle ammunition became scarce, something very strange happened. Men started throwing grenades from one line into the other. Troops there that day described it as almost a snowball fight, but with small deadly explosives. Men would toss a grenade, and duck. If a grenade came into their own trench, they would either try to throw it back or run for cover, a difficult task in a small slit trench. But the British artillery had picked up the fight against the Japanese, and on the 14th and 15th, no attacks came, much to the surprise of the British troops there. But this brief respite wouldn’t last and on the 17th the Japanese launched their final assault of the battle. They took the British Field Supply Depot, and Kuki Piquet, both on hills just south of the tennis court and bungalow. The Allied forces were now trapped in the northeastern section of the Kohima ridge. The Japanese gains wouldn’t last. The British responded with Artillery and forced them back with the help of a relief column from the 2nd Division, which had been fighting through the jungle to reach Kohima. The tide had turned, and the British started pushing back. But at the tennis court, the Japanese were holding out.

An Indian unit, the 1st Battalion of the 1st Punjab Regiment, had taken up where the Royal West Kents left off. Arriving at the trenches on the 18th, they were almost immediately met with a grenade match, like the one on the 13th. Again the tennis court saw some of the toughest action of the entire battle. One man, Jemadar Mohammed Rafiq, earned a Military Cross while there. He had lost all three of his section commanders and organised a rifle section from the remnants. He then led a charge, killing 16 Japanese troops and taking their forward trenches. But this small advance didn’t last. The British and Indian troops at the tennis court were pushed back between the 18th and the 24th. By the 24th they had been replaced by D Company, Berkshire regiment. Over the next three weeks, the intense fighting for this small strip of land continued. The Japanese picked up their constant attacks, despite high casualties. The British couldn’t advance forward, or move during the day due to snipers. Finally, they were able to bring up Lee Grants Tanks, pulling, pushing, and driving them up the steep slopes until they were in position. The tanks started pushing forward, firing almost point blank range into the Japanese defences. On May 10th, the tennis court was cleared, and by the 13th, the bungalow as well. The Battle of the Tennis Court saw some of the hardest fighting of the entire Burma Campaign, with men only yards from one another. This infantry battle, fought in what was once a serene jungle resort saw over 4.600 British casualties, and 5,700 Japanese. Neither side was willing to give in, and the combined British and Indian defence there came to symbolise the British Empire’s refusal to give in to Japanese aggression. They held their ground for over a month, against constant infantry attacks, grenades, shelling, and lack of supplies.

Steve McQueen was born 87 years ago today and his cultural imprint is even more resonant today than when he was alive. He has become an icon for numerous reasons, one of which was his adventurous nature and love of outdoor pursuits. To say McQueen loved motorcycles would be an understatement of epic proportions. McQueen loved Harley's but didn't limit himself to just one manufacturer when it came to collecting bikes. He owned them all - Harley, Norton, Ace, Yamaha, Velocette, Excelsior, Henderson, New Imperial, matchless, Marsh mets, Yale, Sunbeam, Nimbus, Scott, Nera Car, Crouch, Pope, Emblem, Husqvarna, Triumph and Pierce.

However, his ideal bike of choice was Indian, which comprised the bulk of his 200 plus motorcycle collection. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of every motorcycle from every manufacturer. McQueen gravitated towards Indian for several reasons, the first was sentimentality, his first bike was a 1946 Indian Chief. He was also a fan of the bikes quality from the overall design to its innovative engineering. Indian had unfortunately lost out to Harley on a large US Military WWII contract and in 1953 filed for bankruptcy. Luckily McQueen not only had the means to purchase these rare machines but lured Indian mechanic Sammy Pierce out of retirement and put him on a retainer. Known as 'Mr Indian', Sammy owned the American Indian Motorcycle Shop in Monrovia, Southern California and was responsible for putting more old Indians back on the road than any other mechanic in the United States. He worked full time restoring and fixing McQueens antique bikes to their original condition.

Occasionally McQueen, Sammy and longtime friend Bud Ekins attended motorcycle rallies and conventions. They'd admire each others rides, shop for parts or find out who was willing to part with their bike for the right price. One such meet had famed rider Charles 'Red' Wolverton in attendance. Wolverton was a top racer and speed record setter in the 1920's and 30's. He was also one of the countrys leading motorcycle engineers and helped test and build bikes by Excelsior-Henderson and later Ace. McQueen had a long discussion with Wolverton and discovered he owned an antique motorcycle that Wolverton had ridden to victory in several races. Steve invited the old gentleman to his home in Santa Paula and even paid for his airline tickets so that he could ride that bike one last time. As much as he was known for his quick temper he was also big hearted and generous to those around him. Happy Birthday Steve!

“The only way I could have been made corporal was if all the other privates in the Marines dropped dead.”

Steve McQueen's legacy as the "King of Cool" began early in his acting career and carries on to this day. He loved racing, frequently got in trouble, had three wives, and donated to the California Junior Boys Republic. His childhood was tumultuous. His father left both he and his mother after six months, and McQueen lived with his grandparents until he was eight. His step-father beat him and his mother which drove McQueen to live on the streets for a time. He was later sent to the California Junior Boys Republic where he began to mature.

After drifting from job to job, working in a brothel, as a Merchant Mariner, oil rig worker, a carnie, and a towel boy in the Dominican Republic McQueen joined the Corps in 1947. He was promoted to Private First Class and served with an armoured unit, but he was demoted back to private seven times. His rebellious nature came to a head when he let a weekend pass turn into a two week tryst with his girlfriend. Shore patrol apprehended him, but he resisted and spent 41 days in the brig; the first 21 were spent living off of bread and water.

His time in the brig served to reform as he attempted to improve himself and embody Marine values. Later on his unit was performing a training exercise in the Arctic which turned disastrous. The ship McQueen, his unit, and their tanks had boarded hit a sandbank which threw several tanks and their crews into the water. Many drowned immediately, unable to get out of their tanks, but McQueen jumped in and saved the lives of five men.

In recognition of his actions, McQueen was chosen to partake in the Honour Guard protecting Harry S. Truman's yacht. McQueen stayed with the Marines until 1950 when he was honourably discharged. "The Marines gave me discipline I could live with. By the time I got out, I could deal with things on a more realistic level. All in all, despite my problems, I liked my time in the Marines," McQueen said.

After leaving the Marines, McQueen used money earned through the G.I. Bill to study acting at Sanford Meisner's Neighborhood Playhouse. He began entering races at the same time and brought home about $100 home per week in winnings. McQueen became steadily employed on the show "Wanted: Dead or Alive". Later on his Hollywood break came by way of Frank Sinatra who hired him for the part of Bill Ringa in "Never So Few", the rest as they say is history.

Another contemporary of McQueen who started out in the military was his friend Paul Newman. Born in a suburb of Cleveland in 1925. His family owned and operated a small, lucrative sporting goods store that provided a comfortable lifestyle. After Newman graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1943, he joined the Navy's V-12 program at Yale University in the hopes of becoming a pilot. His hopes were dashed, however, when it was discovered that he was colour blind. Instead of completing the program, Newman was shipped to basic training where he qualified to be a rear-seat radioman and gunner for torpedo bombers. In 1944, Newman was sent to Barber's Point where he operated in torpedo bomber squadrons designed to train replacement pilots. He was later stationed on an aircraft carrier as a turret gunner for an Avenger aircraft.

One of Newman's later posts was aboard the USS Bunker Hill which fought in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. In a stroke of fate, his pilot developed an ear infection and they were held back from flying in the Okinawa campaign. Because of this, he and his pilot avoided the destruction of their ship, and the deaths of the sailors aboard. Newman was discharged in 1946 in Washington. Hs military honours included the American Area Campaign medal, the Good Conduct medal, and the World War II Victory medal.

After he left the military, Newman used the GI Bill to enrol in Kenyon College in Gamier, Ohio. There he engaged in numerous activities including football and acting. He reportedly wasn't very interested in his studies, but did graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Drama and another in Economics. Afterwards he wandered through various jobs including acting in stock companies and running his family store. Eventually he attended the Yale School of Drama for one year before moving to New York and studying at the Actors Studio.

Newman started off in Broadway productions, moved to television, and eventually landed his first Hollywood role in "The Silver Chalice" in 1954. He went on to star in classics such as "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid," "The Towering Inferno," and "Mr. and Mrs. Bridge." His awards for acting included an Academy Award, two Golden Globes, and an Emmy Award.

While the East Bay Dragons are by no means a singular phenomenon, they are one of only a few African American-only motorcycle clubs to come out of 50's post war America. They're also the only MC that co-exist peacefully with the Oakland Hells Angels even though the HA are fiercely territorial with other clubs that claim the same space as them. Their president for life Tobie Gene Levingston professes a long-lasting friendship with Hells Angels patriarch Sonny Barger who has written a brief foreword for his friend’s memoir.

The way Tobie Gene Levingston remembers it, the 1950s were all about rock ‘n roll and cars - especially the cars. Cruising, customising, and painting took up a lot of free time. Levingston, the son of a sharecropper who had moved West with his family from Louisiana, cherished his Chevy enough to start a car club, inviting his brothers and friends into the fold. They called themselves the East Bay Dragons and even stuck plates with their logo in the rear windows. There was just one problem: the cars.

As Levingston recalled in his 2004 autobiography, Soul on Bikes, most families in the ‘50s couldn’t afford the luxury of having more than one vehicle. A member of a car club tinkering and drag-racing their home’s lone mode of transportation became less and less practical. So Levingston customised the club itself, turning it into an all-black, all-Harley-Davidson riding crew in 1959. After all, used motorcycles could be had for as little as $40, and were often “chopped,” or modified, to fit the rider’s preferences.

The Dragons weren’t the first African-American biker club. Many soldiers had returned from World War II needing an adrenaline rush, and bikes offered a reliable fix. Of course, getting hold of the vehicles wasn't always easy: several dealers refused to sell to minorities. Still, enough men got their hands on motorcycles that by the time the Dragons really got started, several California groups had already shown off their patches on the streets. But the Dragons were a departure from the rest: In contrast to the straight-laced riders who rode “full dressers,” or bikes with windshields and saddle bags, the Dragons mandated members ride bare-boned, American-made Harleys.

They also didn’t shy away from trouble. But it wasn't the police that worried Levingston. As he remembers it, African-Americans driving cars got more attention from the cops than those on two wheels. It was the territorial issues with other motorcycle clubs that sparked the biggest aggravation. A white group dubbed the Black Crows spread word that they intended to steal Dragon bikes. One bloody brawl later, that talk got quieter. The Dragons rode where they pleased, and if someone didn’t like it, that was their problem.

“We might be peaceful one minute, ass kickers the next,” Levingston wrote. “A pack of black riders would freak the living daylights out of the neighbouring towns, communities, and police departments. That was okay … Would a member help you fix your car or kick your ass? Try your luck and find out.”

Unlike the Chosen Few MC, which invited black and white riders alike, the Dragons kept their doors closed to other races. Levingston believed the community needed a place to exchange ideas and develop a bond. His car club once had a white member, who had been a little too liberal with his use of offensive language; Levingston recalls he moved away before he was enlightened with someone’s fists.

Despite the Dragons occupying the same Oakland real estate as the infamous Hell’s Angels, the clubs got along well. Levingston befriended Sonny Barger president of the Hells Angels; the two had a common rival in local police. Colour was of less significance than the fact they were all bikers, a label that was quickly becoming demonised in the media.

While Barger had been inside Folsom Prison on more than one occasion, Levingston was committed to keeping the Dragons out of a courtroom. He insisted all members be employed, and unlike some riders of the era, he refused to put the social club ahead of family. Once, when he caught wind of a bad element trying to get drugs to circulate within the group, he closed down the clubhouse until the offenders moved on. Other times, trouble found him: when the Black Panther Party made radical political waves in the 1960s, the two leather-wearing groups were often confused with one another.

Over the years, the Dragons have kept afloat with dues, organised dances, and other events—though the club could never avoid the violence of motorcycle culture entirely. One member was shot and killed as recently as 2011. But the Dragons live on: in 2014, the Oakland City Council recognised the Dragons for their 55 years of promoting charitable causes and having a “long and fond record of service in the community.” Levingston, now 80, is still club president.

As Europe was engulfed by war in 1939, the USA seemed self consciously estranged. Countless popular songs warned the government to devote themselves to helping the country's struggling farmers rather than the embattled Europeans. Six years later, America emerged from a global war as the worlds greatest superpower. Soon American values and products would permeate the world and in the process, America's archetypal clothing would undergo its own transformation.

Although historically there has been a longstanding tradition that Levi's supplied denim wear to the US Navy, this seems to have no basis in fact. The Levi's company itself believes its only government contract was fur lined parkas for Alaskan USAAF troops. Instead, Levi's main patriotic effect was to improve the morale of servicemen who, according to many letters home, slept with their precious jeans under their pillow, probably because if they were stolen there was only a remote possibility of being able to buy another pair.

Denim workwear had been just about as ubiquitous with the US military as it had been with the civilian population; denim Bell Bottoms were first approved for US Navy use in 1901. Although many companies, including Eloesser-Heynemann, produced Bell Bottoms in small numbers, Bell Bottom manufacture during WWII was dominated by traditional military suppliers such as the Polkton Manufacturing Company of Marshville, North Carolina. which produced Seafarer Bell Bottoms. Much of the denim for these pants was '818' or Jelt from Cone Mills. which at that time was also producing Levis's denim - perhaps the reason for the links between the Navy and Levi's. Cone subsequently received the Army-Navy E Award for its work towards the war effort.

Blue denim work clothing was adopted as standard by the US Army on 11 June 1919, replacing brown work clothing used before. The top was a jumper style pullover, the trousers had five pockets -- two front, two hip, and a watch pocket. In 1933 a one-piece work suit (coveralls) was adopted in blue denim for use by mechanics, drivers, machinists, and others in similar roles. This was in addition to and did not replace the two piece work uniform. The M1937 U.S. Army Indigo-Blue-Denim Uniform was the grandfather of all HBT fatigue uniforms. While the Axis countries had modernised their clothing needs the US lagged behind with only slight improvements from uniform designs that spanned during the 1920s and 1930s. Denim had been produced for military purposes starting in the late 19th century and since it was such a durable and comfortable fabric the military saw no need to update the technology. The Army did eventually replace the denim work uniform with the Herringbone Twill uniforms but what the Army didn't know was just how popular the denim styling would remain post WWII. This uniform was also issued to prisoners-of-war and you can find original examples with the obvious "PW" still painted on the back.

Meanwhile, a fast growing future rival of Levi's was becoming the biggest workwear manufacturer to supply America's armed forces. The Blue Bell Overall Company, of Greensboro, North Carolina and the Globe Superior corporation had merged in 1936, purchased the HD Bob Company in 1940 and then the Casey Jones Company of Baltimore, Maryland - owner of the then little used name 'Wrangler' - in 1943. In its factories all over the south, Blue Bell Inc produced over 24 million items of military clothing. Over in Kansas, the HD Lee Company also produced fatigues, jackets and flights suits for the US military - but maintained its advertising for its workwear and cowboy pants range, all of it aimed at civilians who quite possibly couldn't even get hold of the product.

The wartime cutbacks however did contribute to the development of modern Levi's jeans. The 'cinch' buckleback disappeared for ever; the distinctive arcuate stitching was replaced by the painted version, which normally disappeared after a number of washes. The stitching returned in 1947 along with a new silhouette creating the blueprint for the iconic contemporary 501 jean we know today. During WWII Levi's managing director Walter Haas had come under pressure from wartime authorities to compromise standards and reduce the weight of the denim used in the 501 and other jeans. He refused outright. However, in the social melting pot that left by a world war, Levi's was about to change from a Californian institution to an all-American one. And as an all-American institution, it's appeal would soon reach worldwide.

An article in a 1942 edition of Colliers Magazine pointed the way to the sportswear of the future, suggesting that more and more average Americans were waking up to denim. They found that it suited them and deemed it a sensible fabric in light of the new agricultural and industrial toil that needed to be finished if the fascists were to be beaten. Some seven years before this article hit the newsstands American kids began wearing jeans, but it was WWII that created a market for women's jeans and the course of women's style was forever altered. Post war, the evolution of denim took another turn, this time with the advent of Rock and Roll music and the World's first 'teenagers' it would become fashion rather than workwear and go on to signify rebellion and blue collar cool for the next 50 years.

One of my all time favourite movies, Twelve O'clock High, is despite being over 60 years old apparently still required viewing at US Military training schools and academies. While many movies have valuable leadership lessons, few are about the very nature of leadership itself. Twelve O’Clock High is different, revealing both the power and challenge of leadership.

No individual, once he or she has seen Twelve O’Clock High, will ever again believe that it is impossible to craft a serious war film without profane language and graphic violence. It has been done, it has been done very well. Nor does an audience need to see the blood, in order to understand what happens to men in war. Grim phrases like “You can see his brain,” “… took the back of his head right off,” and “…wiping frozen blood off the windshield,” create enough of an image to satisfy the interests of historical accuracy. This is not a bloody film, but it is a necessarily and highly violent one. The air-combat scenes are not merely historically correct: the shots pieced together to create the fictionalised version of a real mission were taken from United States Army Air Force and German Luftwaffe archives. This does not just make for a higher level of entertainment, and it is not merely an improvement upon stunt work. Men really died—were shot, crashed their planes, or were victims of explosion before they could bail out—in the black-and-white film work on your home television screen. Real bombs were filmed, and shown here, hitting real buildings with real people in them.

Director Henry King flourished enough in his career to attain the coveted veteran status, if not perhaps the label of “auteur”, his three films with actor Gregory Peck – Twelve O’Clock High, The Gunfighter and The Bravados – stand as his most well remembered works. Indeed, Twelve O’Clock High garnered some of the best reviews King had ever received and proved an enduringly popular war movie. Post World War Two films about the war were of course plentiful by the time of Twelve O’Clock High but few had approached the subject of war itself with as much ambiguity as King here attempted and also achieved success at the box office. Effective tales of combat heroism, the plight of the returning veteran and the inevitable stresses of war on individuals were common themes in films only tangentially questioning, if at all, the necessity of war rather than the terrible but necessary cost of it. King’s film is in retrospect a rarity, unusual for the fact that it examines wartime trauma but until the very end, it consciously chooses not to show any combat footage. Instead, it builds drama based on the anticipation of combat by measuring the pressures on officers and their fighting subordinates forced to test a new strategic means of warfare, one which brings with it a tremendous responsibility.

Twelve O’Clock High begins as an ex serviceman revisits an airfield and remembers its use during the war. The film subsequently tells the story of the early days of the USAAF presence in England, long before the D-Day invasion gave the allies a foothold on European soil. These squadrons are ordered to try a new, dangerous strategy – daylight saturation bombing raids – designed to cripple German industry and reduce its massive war machine. The generals push these men to see what can be endured: to determine how effective the strategy is and if more important raids into Germany itself could thus be assigned to the daylight bombers. With success and morale low, General Frank Savage (played by Gregory Peck) is sent in to replace the popular Colonel Davenport, a man seen to have become too close to his men. Savage seems a stern man who plans to reshape the unit into an effective fighting force, insisting on discipline and impersonality, at first having little but scant tolerance for the inter-personal bonds around him. The more he mixes with the men, earning their respect, the more he feels personally responsible for them. Against his wishes, he starts to care for them; a trait that jeopardises his effectiveness in the eyes of his superiors, ironically making him more like the commander he replaced.

A superb first half dissects the sense of demoralisation, with the group, already bowed under its reputation as a hard-luck outfit, initially wilting even further as Peck applies kill or cure remedies like segregating the worst misfits and malingerers as a crew known as 'The Leper Colony'. Latterly, with Peck beginning to crack under the emotional strain and go the same way as Merrill. But King's control, the electric tension, and the performances all hold firm. Twelve O’Clock High addresses the solitary burden and responsibility of command in wartime. Officers know that they must repeatedly order men to their possible deaths and the film examines the notion of how much responsibility for these individual lives they should take. In so doing, it ponders whether the course of the war thus held in balance with individual life can cause what the military term an officer’s “over-identification with his men”: that a certain solitariness and remove is thus necessary. However, it soon takes to task the assumption of military professionalism that officers can remain substantially removed from the lives they are nonetheless responsible for. Strictly speaking, compassion is thus militarily unacceptable in stressful situations and yet the human test posed is precisely that, proving that respect and empathy when combined with pride can overcome hurdles and make stress bearable and achievement possible. Peck gradually realises this over the course of the movie. He starts out wanting to instil in the men under him a sense of pride in their unit and its professional accomplishments, finally moving beyond pride into a genuine concern for the men. At its peak, this leads to identification as part of a natural human empathy. Yet this contradiction if not balanced can lead to a form of psychological breakdown: humanism can only be suppressed for so long, the movie suggests.

Twelve O'Clock High is most adept in charting the gradual way in which this ordinary human empathy transforms a cold officer into a man acutely concerned with the fate of the men under him, wishing even to replace them or at least risk his own life leading them. Indeed, it is the suppression of empathy that is presented in the film as a uniquely military form of stress that may erupt in psychosis and the so-termed “over-identification” to compensate. Although the military would consider this weakness, the filmmakers see such as a sign of human strength, a redeeming and humanising quality. In this way the movie artfully balances its view of the duties of command with a sly critique of military inhumanity and impersonality.

One of my favourite war movies is, like many of the best in this genre, actually an anti-war movie. Hell is for Heroes was released in 1962, based on a true event, it centres around a small squad of GIs in l944 who must maintain a position against a hugely superior German force until reinforcements can arrive. The only hope for maintaining their position is to use their wits and try to deceive the enemy as long as possible. This means creating the impression, through sound effects and other gimmicks, that their battalion is a large outfit. The script originated with writer Robert Pirosh who was a WWII veteran having been a Master Sergeant in the 35th Division, serving in the Battle of the Bulge, after which he was awarded the Bronze Star. While the incident in the movie was supposedly based on his war experiences, unfortunately even this did not prepare him for working with Steve McQueen. By all accounts McQueen arrived on set unhappy and stayed that way. Pirosh was supposed to direct but McQueen expressed his dislike of the script treatment and the studio sent the Pirosh packing.

Don Siegel replaced him, putting his stamp on the movie by insisting that it be bleakly anti-war, he took all of Pirosh’s black comedy out, but the studio forced him to include the Bob Newhart telephone monologue. The end result was a low-budget masterpiece, a strong antiwar statement by Siegel the director and McQueen the star playing an antisocial loner. Hell Is for Heroes shares a common thread with other Siegel films such as Madigan (1968) and Dirty Harry (1971), a recurring theme where the line between hero and antihero becomes so blurred as to be nearly irrelevant. In Don Siegel's moral universe, like in war, there are seldom absolutes and every issue is painted in varying shades of grey. The movie is directed with Siegel's typical toughness and narrative economy, perfectly suited for McQueen's gritty and air tight approach to acting.

Redding, California, in the summer, with temperatures reaching as high as ll7 degrees provided the filming location. Since the actors were fitted out in heavy GI battle dress, Siegel decided to do the principal filming at night, which was one of his best creative decisions. The night shooting adds greatly to the movie's bitter tone and desperate feel. McQueen's approach jarred with the directors throughout shooting, one scene called for the actor to break into tears as he is walking towards the camera. For take after take, he remained dry-eyed; the director tried blowing onion juice in his face, to no avail, and even resorted to slapping McQueen as hard as he could. Eventually, they compromised and used eye drops that ran down the actor's face for the shot.

Though McQueen is undoubtedly the movie's centrepiece in one of his best onscreen performances, expertly portraying the psychology of a human war machine, the supporting cast is also excellent, with Nick Adams as a homesick Polish expatriate, Fess Parker and L.Q. Jones as war-weary NCOs, and Bob Newhart (in his film debut) as a misfit private who serves as comic relief. The film's comic non sequitur involves Newhart finding a bugged phone line and carrying on a lengthy monologue for the benefit of the German eavesdroppers. Delivered in the typical halting fashion that had become a Newhart staple, the scene is in direct contrast to the rest of the film's grim trajectory. The directors skill is found in the emphasis of the tensions within the American platoon rather than the conflict with the offscreen Germans. The ending, which stresses the enormous human cost of a small tactical gain, is remarkably powerful, precisely because it's the first time that Siegel allows his audience any perspective on what they've been seeing.

While overshadowed by McQueen's other WWII dramas from the period (The Great Escape, 1963, and The War Lover, 1962), Hell Is for Heroes remains an intense and tightly constructed antiwar film with strong direction and solid performances all around. Siegel perhaps said it best himself: "I would never make a war picture unless it was strongly antiwar. No side wins a war. How hypocritical warring nations are. Both sides have their priests and ministers pray to the same God for victory. War is senseless and futile. It is true that hell is for heroes. It is equally true that for heroes there is only hell."

Using side-firing weapons on aircraft can be traced back to 1927, when a concept was demonstrated by fixing a .30 caliber machine gun to the side of a biplane and flying a simple manoeuvre known as a pylon turn. Named after the air racing term, it involved positioning an aircraft in a gentle bank and orbiting it around a fixed point as the gun fired continuously. Yet, when Army brass watched the demonstration, which showed promise, they dismissed it as strange and useless, ordering the idea shelved as they moved on to more familiar things. Another effort was made to garner interest in 1939, as just as war clouds loomed, but it too fell by the wayside. Ultimately, it would take an American commander in Queensland, Australia to force the Air Corps to realise the potential of the idea.

A-20 Havoc light Bomber

In 1943, with the U.S. deep in World War II, Army Air Corps Major Paul “Pappy” Gunn unknowingly laid the seeds of what would become the gunship, when he added four .50 caliber machine guns to the nose of his squadron’s A-20 Havoc light bombers. Using them as strafers, he soon realised that, though additional firepower helped, it remained barely adequate to achieve what he really needed them to do: sink Japanese shipping. Therefore, he sought out a more suitable airframe in B-25D Mitchell medium bombers, and mounted four .50s in the nose, two on either side of the fuselage and three behind the front nose wheel bay. As this arrangement was never part of the original design, all modifications had to be made in the field. Nevertheless, the improvements worked, and Gunn’s A-20s and B-25s soon flew into action in a big way.

B-25D Mitchell Medium Bomber

From March 2-4, the Battle of the Bismarck Sea raged as aircraft of the U.S. and Australia intercepted a Japanese convoy of eight transports carrying men and material to reinforce Lae, New Guinea.

Gunn’s A-20s and B-25s swept in at low level, hammering the hulls and decks of the transport ships and their naval escorts with bombs and tens of thousands of rounds. The attacks were relentless, and at the end of the battle all eight of the transports slipped beneath the waves, smouldering and peppered from bow to stern with bullet holes. The modifications worked, and the gunships success echoed back to designers who, months later, produced G and H models of the Mitchell sporting armaments up to 75mm.

A-26 Invader

Just as quick as it arrived though, the Mitchell ended its run as the premier gunship of the era with the arrival of a new kid on the block, one even more purpose built for task. The A-26 Invader. This light-attack, two-man aircraft, which debuted in 1944, unfortunately played second fiddle to the more famous Mitchell’s exploits until after the war’s end, when the ensuing years caused it to make a name for itself as the definitive gunship until the mid 1960s.

The Invader’s reputation started when Korea exploded into war in 1950. Armed with up to 14 .50 caliber guns (8 in the nose, 6 in the wings) along with its bombs and rockets, the Invader began tearing up enemy vehicles trains and positions, often at night. Crews developed new tactics like the Hunter-Killer, where the Hunter roved the countryside looking for headlights or any other sign of enemy activity. If spotted, Communist drivers would shut off their lights, unaware the departing aircraft had radioed to the Killer, which often caught them falling for the ploy and turning them back on. The result was often dozens of explosions and swirling torches licking at the sky. So good were the Invaders that no matter what tactics they used, many an enemy machine fell to them. By the end of the war, they were credited with 38,500 trucks, 406 locomotives and 3,700 railway cars dispatched, in addition to seven enemy aircraft destroyed on the ground.

Not much longer after, that they were carving out the jungle in a place where it would see its most lengthy service: Vietnam.

Supplied by the U.S. and now sporting French tri-colours, the A-26 was used heavily in the First Indochina War, and was involved, along with many other aircraft, in the futile effort to prevent the garrison at Dien Bien Phu from being overrun. And while the French left southeast Asia in disgrace, that in no way affected the A-26, which returned with the U.S. to Thailand in 1960 to assist the Laotian government fighting the Pathet Lao communists, then back to the new nation of South Vietnam in 1962 to begin its encore and final performance.

Meanwhile, at the same time back in the U.S., with the growing prospects of engaging in so-called ‘limited wars‘ like Vietnam, the Air Force created a panel to study ways of defending strategic hamlets and forts throughout the country using new techniques. Good as it was, the A-26 simply didn’t have the ability to provide the sustained suppressive fire needed to break off massed attacks that might last for hours. For this, the old concept of side firing guns on a loitering aircraft was again pulled from the shelf, and this time made into reality.

The program, designated as Project Tail Chaser, used a modified Convair C-131 twin-engine transport, with cameras placed in windows where guns would be. In several tests, the aircraft banked, flew the pylon turn and proved the concept feasible. But, before the next step of adding weapons could begin, a military project’s greatest enemy, lack of funds, reared its head and caused years of delays.


Finally, live-fire tests were conducted in the summer of 1964 using older C-47 twin-engine transports from Eglin Air Force Base, and the program picked up steam again. Under the command of Captain Ron Terry, Project Gunship 1 was created, and a low-hour C-47 airframe was pulled offline in Vietnam and refurbished with a new and deadly cargo: three six-barrelled .30 caliber miniguns.

Each minigun was capable of firing 6,000 rounds per minute. They were mounted in pods on the plane’s left side, two firing through portholes and one firing out the cargo door. In addition, 24,000 rounds were carried to feed the guns, which were aimed by the pilot looking through a sight fixed to his left. The trigger was a button on the control wheel that, when pressed, sent a swath of fire the size of a football field that could be held and adjusted as long as the pilot stayed in his turn.

The result, as its new crews found, was absolute carnage in tests, often leaving targets torn asunder in tiny pieces on the wind. Most of those on the ground who saw it at work were often rendered speechless. Confidence was high among all that this could be a game changer.

Two six-man crews and the plane, designated AC-47, were assigned to the 1st Air Commando Squadron, when action came on the night of December 23. A radio call crackled from the Tran Yenh Special Forces outpost for immediate fire support. Arriving just thirty seven minutes later, the crew could hear the urgency and desperation on the radio. The outpost was under a major Vietcong attack and was in danger of being overrun. Below the C-47, massive flares swayed, dropped by another C-47 acting as a flare ship. As the plane began dropping its own flares, the pilot radioed the outpost, asking if they wanted him to fire. Hearing only the motors of another C-47 overhead the radio operator replied “Ah… Yes.”

The AC-47 started its bank and a stream of fire leaped from the sky to the ground, surprising the defenders and annihilating the attackers, who never saw how the judgment rained down to tear a path through their ranks and the jungle itself. With such a high rate of fire and every fifth round a tracer, it seemed a massive red tornado started to swirl outside the camp’s perimeter, sweeping all before it into dust.

The AC-47 continued its slow trek in a great circle, as more tracers by the hundreds ricocheted skyward after hitting the ground, making it appear as if Hell itself was pushing its way to the surface and the earth was giving way. Nothing of flesh survived its onslaught. And when the firing stopped a few minutes later, a haze smelling of gunpowder settled over the night. The outpost was safe. Not even the plaintive cry of a wounded guerrilla was heard. 4,500 hundred rounds had been expended.

The saved men offered profuse thanks before a call came from another outpost known as Trung Hung, twenty miles away. A few minutes later, and new witnesses watched in amazement as the sky sent another red tongue to the earth to feed off the blood of more unsuspecting attackers.

Once the AC-47 returned to base, it wasn’t long before the destruction it had wrought that night began making rounds. In the days that followed, more requests came, and the bird cranked up and winged off to do its duty, never failing to break up an attack, no matter if it took hours.

It came to be during one of these night missions to protect a hamlet on the Mekong Delta in early 1965, another witness to its power, a Stars and Stripes reporter watched in awe and wrote how the stream of tracers reminded him of a dragon’s breath. After reading the story, the commanding officer of the wing said, “Well I’ll be damned, Puff the Magic Dragon,” referencing a children’s song made popular by the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary.

That was all it took, forever more, the solitary AC-47 and those that joined it later, carried the call sign ‘Puff.’ Even the Vietcong got in on the action, believing that the monster was real, and that shooting at it would only make it angry. It did.

On February 8, 1965, Puff located hundreds of Vietcong on a hillside firing at it and let loose, staying on station for four hours and firing over 20,000 rounds to leave the place bereft of trees and stalk. Maybe it was necessary to cover the body parts of the 300 plus enemy that had been gathering for an offensive.

Three years later, it was during in the siege of Khe Sanh in 1968 that the AC-47s, now expanded and operating countrywide using the call sign ‘Spooky’, gave its greatest and lengthiest service. Also it might be said, it proved to be the slow demise for the 47s used by the U.S. in the gunship role.

Khe Sanh was a remote Marine hilltop outpost in the northwest part of Vietnam. Situated near the Laotian border, the North Vietnamese had brought it under siege with the start of the Tet offensive on January 31st, 1968. President Johnson became so worried and obsessed with its fate that he demanded hourly updates on it as the mightiest warplanes in the U.S. inventory, including the B-52, unloaded thousands of tons of ordnance and literally changed the topography day-to-day around the site.

When dusk came, the NVA emerged from their deep tunnels and moved closer to the perimeter, only to have an AC-47 massacre them each time. This act was replayed countless times during the siege, and planes relieved each other making sure there was always a gunship orbiting the base. They stayed night after night for months on end until the siege was broken.

With this in mind, though the B52 may have been the airborne star of the event, an equal case could be made for the AC-47, who kept the enemy reeling when they were considered ‘danger close,’ and kept them from storming the base using one of their favourite weapons, Night.

After 1968, the AC-47s slowly began to be supplanted and replaced by both the Lockheed AC-130 Spectre (Project Gunship 2) and AC-119 Stinger (Project Gunship 3). Once numbers of these aircraft were in theatre, the AC-47s ranks grew smaller still until just a handful were serving into the 1970s, when they were withdrawn in favour of the Spectre. Variants of the AC-47 still serve today as gunships in South America, though without the miniguns that gave it its characteristic moniker.

From the American Revolution to the Korean War, thousands of U.S. soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors have been taken prisoner or gone missing. But it took the Vietnam War—and a sense of abandonment felt by wives and family members of Americans held captive—to bring forth what has evolved into United State's POW/MIA symbol.

The POW/MIA flag is inextricably tied to the National League of POW/MIA Families, which was born in June 1969 as the National League of Families of American Prisoners in Southeast Asia. Its mission was to spread awareness of the mistreatment of prisoners of war at the hands of their captors. It was the brainchild of Karen Butler, wife of Navy pilot Phillip Butler, who had been shot down over North Vietnam in April 1965, and Sybil Stockdale, whose husband, Navy Commander James Bond Stockdale, was the highest-ranking POW in North Vietnam. Stockdale had been held prisoner since September 1965, when his A-4 Skyhawk went down over North Vietnam.

In 1971, League member Mary Hoff came up with the idea of creating a flag as the group’s symbol. Her husband, Navy pilot Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hoff, had been missing in action since January 7, 1970. Mary Hoff called the country’s oldest and largest flag-maker, Annin Flagmakers of Verona, N.J. “Mary Hoff called out of the blue. I had no idea what the League of Families was when she called,” Norm Rivkees, then Annin’s vice president of sales, said. “She then explained everything and I went to our president, Randy Beard. There was no hesitation. He just said: ‘Absolutely. We would be honoured to create a flag.’”

Rivkees turned over the job of designing the flag to Annin’s small advertising agency, Hayden Advertising, where the task was assigned to graphic artist Newton F. Heisley. Heisley, who died in 2009, had served in World War II as a C-46 twin-engine transport pilot with the 433rd Troop Carrier Group. After coming home from the war with a Bronze Star, he received a degree in Fine Arts from Syracuse University and worked as a graphic artist at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette before going to work for Hayden. After getting the POW/MIA flag assignment, Heisley sat down at his drawing table and sketched three different designs. The one he chose had an image of a gaunt man in profile, with a guard tower and a strand of barbed wire in the background—the design that we recognise today. When Annin began producing the flag, Heisley was still tweaking its design. He planned to add colour to the black-and-white image, but those ideas were dropped.

Heisley modelled the flag’s silhouette on his 24-year-old son, who was on leave from the Marines and looking gaunt while getting over hepatitis. Heisley also penned the words that are stitched on the banner, “You are not forgotten.” As Heisley told the Colorado Springs Gazette in 1997, the flag “was intended for a small group. No one realised it was going to get national attention.”

It took nearly a decade, but the POW/MIA flag began getting attention in a big way in the early 1980s. In 1982 it became the only flag, other than the Stars and Stripes, to fly over the White House, after it was first displayed there on POW/MIA Recognition Day. In 1989 the flag was installed in the Capitol Rotunda. It also has the distinction, historians and flag experts believe, of being the only non-national flag that any federal government anywhere in the world has mandated to be flown regularly. That began with a 1990 law to recognise the POW/MIA flag and designate the third Friday of September as National POW/MIA Recognition Day.

If any good came out of American involvement in the Vietnam War, it was that both hawks and doves now agree that the troops of that war were treated poorly when they returned home. The early 1970s saw many protests against the war on college campuses and in the nation’s largest cities. Many antiwar activists lacked the maturity to distinguish between the government that “made” war and those sent to fight it. A student organisation that understood the difference was Voices in Vital America (VIVA), a Los Angeles–based group formed in the 1960s to counteract campus antiwar protests. In 1970 VIVA member Carol Bates Brown, who was in the California chapter, started an initiative to promote awareness of prisoners of war by making and selling metal POW bracelets engraved with the name, rank, service branch and date of loss. VIVA distributed nearly 5 million bracelets, selling them for $2.50 to $3 apiece and raising enough money to purchase untold millions of bumper stickers, buttons, brochures, matchbooks, newspaper ads and the like to draw attention to the missing service personnel.

One one such bracelet was inscribed “SFC Billy R. Laney, USA, 6-3-67, LAOS.” Billy Ray Laney was born on Aug. 21, 1939, in Blanch, Alabama. He married in 1958 and had three children. Laney joined the Navy in October 1956 and served until Aug. 2, 1960. The next day, he joined the Army. By February 1967 his principal duty was operations and intelligence specialist. Laney was a Special Forces member of an organisation set up by the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, and called the Studies and Observation Group. MACV-SOG, or simply SOG, was a covert operations group that incorporated units from all branches of the military, including Navy SEALs, Air Force special operations squadrons, Marine Corps reconnaissance units and Army Special Forces troops, the famed Green Berets. Laney was in the Command and Central Detachment, 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces.

In June 1967 Laney was part of a Strategic Air Command/SOG operation that targeted the North Vietnamese Army in an area code-named “Oscar-8,” a rugged, jungle-covered mountainous region in eastern Laos about 12 miles southeast of Khe Sanh. That area was the source of more than 1,500 National Security Agency radio intercepts in one 24-hour period. The rise in radio transmissions intended for Hanoi high command led SOG to believe NVA General Vo Nguyen Giap was paying a visit to Oscar. Oscar-8 was the absolute headquarters of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. It contained the largest supply warehouse for NVA outside Hanoi and was a critical transportation area. The objective of the Oscar-8 operation was to kill Giap and all other enemy forces along the way using the Strategic Air Command and SOG.

First, B-52s would drop 900 high-explosive bombs onto the target area. Within 15 minutes of the last bombing, Marine CH-46 helicopters would drop off an 80-man SOG commando unit, called a Hatchet Force, consisting of Americans and Nung tribesmen, to assess the situation and gather intelligence. “The actual defensive position and helicopter-landing zone consisted of a very large bomb crater,” according to a July 3 memo from the Marine Aircraft Group, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. “It would only accommodate a single aircraft, so the CH-46s had to go in one at a time.”

Laney landed on June 2 with SOG forces on the first transport copter, piloted by Major Richard E. Romine. But a mistake in timing authorised the insertion before a command helicopter could sweep the target zone for an initial assessment. Consequently, the commando unit found itself surrounded and under attack. “The B-52 bombing had done significant damage, but it clearly had not destroyed the NVA defences,” said an observer, who was at the target area in a fixed-wing aircraft when the Hatchet Force troops and chopper crews loaded at Khe Sanh.

That night Laney and the SOG force hunkered down and waited for a possible pickup. After a tactical airstrike at dawn on June 3, three CH-46s came to get the unit. Romine, the flight leader, flew the first Marine copter in. “Upon being reassured that the surrounding enemy was neutralised by airstrikes, I decided to make the entry into the landing zone after briefing my flight to take sufficient interval so that I could assess the situation prior to their approach into the zone,” he said in a July 3 report from the Marine Aircraft Group to the Marine Corps commandant.

The major managed to pick up eight Nungs but had trouble when he tried to lift out of the bomb crater landing zone. “Almost immediately the number two engine quit,” he reported. “I managed to make a controlled crash approximately 150 feet from my objective, sometime after being hit and before I crashed,” Romine added, “I broadcast a mayday and informed the flight to break off and not attempt the extraction at that time.”

The other rescue helicopters did not hear the transmission, however, “for reasons unknown to myself,” Romine reported. The No. 2 helicopter successfully retrieved a group of soldiers, mostly from a Nung platoon, but encountered automatic-weapons fire and was hit several times. The No. 3 helicopter, piloted by Captain Stephen P. Hanson, also attempted a troop pickup.

Hanson’s CH-46 loaded 15 passengers, including Laney and SOG sergeants Ronald J. Dexter and Charles F. Wilklow. As the chopper took off, however, Hanson unknowingly turned into the heaviest concentration of NVA forces. “We began to receive fire as soon as we lifted off,” Wilklow said, “and it became more intense.” The aircraft veered out of control, broke in half and landed about 4½ feet above the ground, suspended by jungle foliage.

The door gunner, Lance Cpl. Frank E. Cius, was able to get off a few hundred rounds from his machine gun before the impact, which knocked him on his back. Dexter, Wilklow and a couple of Nungs were in good enough shape to engage the North Vietnamese. Laney was wounded in the back before they got on the chopper, according to Wilklow. After the crash, “I noticed SFC Laney under a seat,” he said. “He had a badly broken ankle in addition to his previous wound. When I started to examine him, he said, ‘Please don’t touch me.’ I don’t recall seeing or hearing any more from him after that.”

Out of ammunition and shot in the leg, Wilklow crawled away from the wreckage, looking for Dexter, and passed out. Unknown to him, Dexter, Cius and nine of the Nungs had formed a perimeter about 200 meters from the downed aircraft. Enemy fire continued after the crash with heavy streams of bullets coming in the helicopter windows.

From the next morning, June 4th, until late in the afternoon, gunships and fixed-wing aircraft pummelled Oscar-8 in preparation for additional troop pickups and resupply attempts, which continued late into the day. Dexter, Cius and the Nungs had been forced away from the area, and reconnaissance overflights the next day failed to reveal any survivors at Oscar-8, so further extraction efforts were called off.

Billy Ray Laney was officially reported as missing in action on June 3. Other reports indicate that Dexter, Cius and the Nungs were captured on June 5th. Wilklow, who had crawled away from the landing zone with an injured leg, was also captured and wound up in an NVA base camp but escaped on the fourth day. The next day, against all odds, Wilklow was spotted by Waugh, on an airborne observation mission, and rescued.

“The raid on Oscar-8 had been a disaster,” wrote Robert Gillespie in his book Black Ops Vietnam: An Operational History of MACVSOG. “Seven aircraft had been shot down. Twenty-three Americans—SOG team members, USAF pilots and Marine helicopter crewmen—were lost, along with about 50 of the Nung raiders.”

By all accounts, including those from NVA personnel, Sergeant Dexter died in captivity on July 29, 1967. Marine Corporal Cius was released on March 5, 1973, during Operation Homecoming. He now lives in New York and is very active in veterans issues. Sergeant Wilklow’s son told me that his father died in July 1992 after a long fight with cancer.

On March 20, 1978, following a review of Laney’s missing person’s status, the Army made a determination to change his status from missing in action, June 3, 1967, to dead, as of March 20. Sergeant Laney’s remains were recovered later from the Laos crash site and positively identified through DNA testing in 1999, as were those of Captain Hanson, who also died on the ground in Laos. On Oct. 5, 2000, Laney’s remains were returned to Alabama, and there was a grand ceremony in Huntsville, where his widow and children and an assembly of country music stars, politicians, veterans and many others paid homage to him.

A memo was sent from MACV to the 5th Special Forces Group commanding officer, dated June 28, 1967—just 25 days after Oscar-8—informing him that the MIA Board had made a determination that Laney’s status be changed from MIA to KIA as a result of hostile action. This, for reasons unknown, was never done. In the interim, Laney’s wife and parents were provided with practically no information. His wife even received a Postal Authorisation Card in 1972 permitting her to send a Christmas package to her husband.

Even though the Oscar-8 operation has been labeled a failure by some, had this Special Forces operation succeeded in its objective to kill General Giap, it can be argued that North Vietnam’s military would have been totally disrupted. The war might have ended sooner, saving more than 38,000 American lives lost in the Vietnam conflict in the following six years.

On August 2nd, 1943, CBS War Correspondent Eric Sevareid and a small group of American diplomats and Chinese army officers climbed aboard a Curtiss C-46 Commando transport plane at a U.S. Army Air Forces base in Chabua, India. Sevareid wanted to report firsthand on an ongoing mission to get gasoline and other supplies to China in support of Chiang Kai-shek, whose forces were fighting the Japanese. The USAAF’s brand-new Air Transport Command had been struggling to run the most audacious and dangerous airlift operation ever attempted—flying “the Hump,” over the foothills of the Himalayas—and Sevareid wanted to report on the operation.

China had gone to war with Japan in 1937, but by the time the United States entered the Pacific War, Japan had sealed off China from any source of supply. Its ports had been conquered, and the last rail connection with the Soviet Union, a distant and pitiful lifeline, had been closed in 1941 by a Soviet-Japanese neutrality treaty. The infamous Burma Road lasted a while longer, but when the Japanese captured the port of Rangoon, the Burma Road was left with no supplies to carry.

Flying over Burma (today, Myanmar) - a 261,000-square-mile swath of mostly mountainous terrain the size of Texas—was the only way.

As the C-46 climbed high above the Patkoi Range, the aircraft that pilots had dubbed “the flying coffin” suddenly lost its left engine, and it soon became clear that the plane was going to crash. “I stood in the open door of that miserable Commando and declared, ‘Well, if nobody else is going to jump, I’ll jump,’” John Paton Davies, one of the American diplomats, later wrote. “Somebody had to break the ice.”

Sevareid followed Davies, but only after grabbing a bottle of Carew’s gin. He and 19 other men landed in the jungle—the C-46’s copilot did not survive—near a village that was home to a notorious tribe of headhunters, the Nagas, who, amazingly, hosted and fed them until help arrived 22 days later. Most likely because of the VIPs aboard the flight, intensive search-and-rescue efforts were mounted, including parachuting a flight surgeon to the marooned party. That was the beginning of serious search and rescue along the Hump routes. Before “the Sevareid flight,” crews and occasional passengers were pretty much on their own in the Burmese jungles and mountains.

On their 80-mile trek back to civilisation, a native guide explained the Hump to Sevareid in a way that perfectly encapsulated its astonishing expanse: “India there,” he said, pointing in one direction, and then, pointing in the other, “China there.”

The Second Sino-Japanese War occupied the attention of 1,250,000 Japanese troops stationed in Southeast Asia and China itself. It was a huge commitment by the Japanese, but they faced a Chinese force of more than three million. That Chinese army did little—the war had essentially become a stalemate—but was nonetheless a threat, and that meant those million and a quarter Japanese soldiers couldn’t be sent to Guadalcanal or anywhere else in the South Pacific. President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that Chiang Kai-shek, the supreme commander of most of China’s army—Mao Zedong led the rest—was his guy, and Chiang needed American support.

Roosevelt imagined a superpower role for China after the war, and he wanted to be on good terms with the generalissimo. Chiang kept demanding more supplies, and Roosevelt kept sending them, at least until he became increasingly disenchanted with the Chinese Nationalist dictator.

But was that really the reason for flying some 500 to 560 miles over the Hump? To supply the Chinese and keep them in the war, thus pinning down all those Japanese troops? That has been the popular explanation for decades, but it is far from the whole story.

The Hump was a myth in many ways. Even the description “over the Himalayas” stretches the truth, for none of the several Hump routes overflew mountains that were technically part of the Himalayas. Yes, some of them crossed the Patkai and Santung Ranges, which forced a minimum cruising altitude of 15,000 feet, especially when flying by instruments in poor visibility, and that left no margin in the event of an engine failure in a twin-engine C-46 Commando or Douglas C-47 Skytrain or even a four-engine Consolidated C-87/C-109 Liberator Express. The Himalayas, though, were part of what percolated the extreme weather and jetstream-strength winds that were the routes’ severest challenges.

The flood of memoirs, war stories, and reminiscences from members of the Hump Pilots Association (some 5,000 at its peak) was unequaled among such postwar alumni groups, and its annual conventions seemed to increase the significance of the feats they reported. “Every time we meet,” one former Hump pilot recalled, “the Himalaya Mountains get higher, the weather gets worse, and there are more Japanese fighters in the sky than there were in the whole fleet.”

The men who flew the Hump were near the bottom of the Army Air Force food chain; indeed, ATC, the abbreviation for Air Transport Command, was often said to mean “Allergic to Combat” or “Army of Terrified Copilots.” Those terrified copilots got little respect during the war but made sure the world heard about their exploits afterward. Inevitably, some of what they broadcast was myth and much was exaggeration. That said, they operated overloaded airplanes, some of them mechanically flawed and poorly maintained with no source of spares, and did it in the world’s worst instrument-flying weather.

Westerly winds sometimes reached 150 miles an hour (typically inflated by pilots in later years to 200 and even 250), and 115 miles an hour was not unusual. A trip in a C-47 from China back to India could see ground speeds of 30 miles an hour, according to some Hump reminiscences, and pilots cruising at 16,000 feet might find their aircraft carried uncontrollably to 28,000 feet, then suddenly back down to 6,000. The weather was at its worst from February to April, with fierce thunderstorms and heavy icing. May to September was monsoon season with even worse thunderstorms. October and November meant good weather, which brought out Japanese fighter planes, and December and January brought heavy winds, turbulence, and icing.

It didn’t help that Hump route charts were outdated and inaccurate, with many exaggerated height callouts. Some Hump pilots went to their graves believing they had seen a mysterious mountain taller than Everest—a peak of 32,000 feet looming far above them when they suddenly broke out of clouds into the clear. Sometimes the media were responsible for the exaggeration, for journalists everywhere knew that if they needed colourful copy, all they had to do was sign on for a Hump run.

IN THE EARLIEST DAYS OF THE HUMP, before Pearl Harbor, the route was flown not by the U.S. military but by an airline: CNAC, the China National Aviation Corporation, a cooperative endeavour between the Chinese government and Pan American Airways. Its pilots—mostly expatriate Americans and Brits flying Douglas DC-3s, some of them U.S.-provided—were the best mountain pilots in the Far East, and their skill and experience showed when the Army Air Force Ferry Command (ATC’s predecessor) began to fly the route in 1942. CNAC aircraft often carried more than double the tonnage that their Army Air Forces partners felt safe hauling aboard identical aircraft. The experienced CNAC pilots initially made flying the Hump look easy, but nobody yet realised that future operations would be flown by ill-trained newbies with no mountain- or weather-flying hours.

The Ferry Command’s early pilots were also skilful, though they lacked relevant experience flying over such terrain or in such weather. The first 100 were airline pilots who held AAF Reserve commissions. But when Hump tonnage began to build and a substantial fleet of cargo planes had arrived in India, the demand for pilots grew rapidly. AAF flight schools churned out as many as they could, but the best of them chose to fly fighters and fast medium bombers; for a new aviator in his early 20s, glory lay in combat, not in flying freight.

Despite the occasional presence of Japanese fighters, the Hump was officially declared a noncombat operation, with lower pay scales and more demanding rotation-home criteria. The Hump transports were easy but only occasional prey, since Japanese fighters would have to spend time, effort, and gas to find one airplane at a time. In October 1943, the Japanese stationed a swarm of Nakajima Ki-43 Oscars at Myitkyina (pronounced “Mitchinaw”) in northern Burma, tasked to interdict the Hump routes. This worked briefly—four Hump transports were downed—until Lieutenant General Claire Chennault, commander of the famous Flying Tigers, proposed launching a small group of up-gunned B-24s along one route. The Oscars found the Liberators and casually attacked, thinking they were unarmed C-87s, and eight of the Ki-43s were shot down.

Air Transport Command got the least capable flight students from the training classes; many arrived in India with minimal instrument–flying skills, some without multi-engine training. When possible, they were paired for training with airline pilots, many of whom were stunned by their lack of competence. By the end of 1942, 35 percent of the Hump operation’s new pilots showed up in India with just 27 weeks of flight training. During spring 1943, nearly a third of the AAF pilots force-fed to the China-Burma-India Theatre were only single-engine rated.

Even experienced crews got into trouble over the Hump. General Henry “Hap” Arnold was flying the Hump with a hand-picked crew aboard his personal Boeing B-17 in February 1943 when they turned a two-and-a-half-hour trip into a six-hour epic. Befuddled by lack of oxygen, the crew made enough navigation errors to put themselves over Japanese-held territory.

One small category of service pilots, however, were happy to log hours flying modified civilian airliners. After the war they would be at the head of the line leading to the door marked “Airline Captain,” even then a glamorous and well-paid job.

From its inception in early 1942 through the spring of 1943—the U.S.-run operation was what some likened to a civilian flying club run by its pilots. They decided when they would fly, what route they’d take, and how much cargo they’d carry. They were their own schedulers, dispatchers, and weather forecasters, and, not surprisingly, flights were often canceled because of bad weather or the threat of Japanese interception. That lasted until the arrival of Brigadier General Thomas Hardin, a former TWA vice president who took over the Hump command in August 1943. “From now on, there is no weather over the Hump,” he immediately decreed, telling the flying club pilots to suck it up or join the infantry.

Hardin flew the Hump, sometimes solo and regardless of the weather, in a worn-out North American B-25 medium bomber that he had somehow appropriated, and he arrived unannounced at the various ATC bases in India and China with his hair on fire, sacking and reassigning officers whenever he found laxity and incompetence. Hardin came to be feared and respected by the most aggressive of his pilots and hated by the malingerers. He asked more of his aircraft, maintainers, and crews than anyone had imagined was possible, and he was responsible for demanding and getting record tonnage delivered to China—first 10,000 tons a month, then almost 24,000.

Hardin was also responsible for a terrible Hump safety record; he admitted that setting new tonnage-delivered records was more important than bothersome safety procedures. During just one seven-month stretch during his tenure, there were 135 major accidents and 168 crew fatalities, half of them night-flying crashes. Hardin had initiated after-dark flying over the Hump, saying “airplanes don’t need to sleep.” At one point, every thousand tons flown into China cost three American lives. Hardin lasted just 13 months and was replaced by another brigadier general, William Tunner. Tunner would become famous as the orchestrator of the 1949 Berlin Airlift.

Under Hardin, Hump pilots were allowed to rotate home after logging 650 hours. A typical flight took about three hours in good weather, and some crews flew three missions a day in order to build hours as fast as they could, flying some 2,000 demanding hours a year—twice the amount that the Federal Aviation Administration today allows airline pilots to log annually. And, not surprisingly, tired crews crashed. Tunner changed the deal to 750 hours and a minimum of 10 months in theatre. Morale suffered some, since living in fetid accommodations at bases in India for almost a year was a cruel sentence, but safety improved.

Initially there was the indomitable Douglas C-47/C-53, the two military versions of the DC-3. Pilots called it “the rocking chair of the air” because it was so easy to operate, but the early-1930s design had limitations. It was difficult to load with bulky cargo, struggled to reach operational Hump altitudes, and carried a relatively small load.

Along came the Curtiss C-46 Commando, a whale of an airplane that carried 70 percent more cargo than a C-47 and boasted two of the finest and most powerful piston aircraft engines ever produced: 2,000-horsepower Pratt & Whitney R2800 radials. The C-46 could munch mountains for breakfast, but it was deeply flawed. Still under development as a pressurised airliner, the military Commando was hastily sent to India when it should remained in testing. At one point, a group of early C-46s was returned with a list of more than 700 major and minor glitches that needed correcting before further production.

The C-46’s biggest fault was tiny leaks in wing fuel tanks and lines. Such leaks weren’t unusual among complex multi–engine airplanes, but in the Commando, they were fatal. Curtiss had failed to vent the juncture between wing and fuselage, so the gasoline pooled there instead of quickly evaporating. Random fuel-pump sparks caused 20 percent of all Hump C-46s to explode in flight. (Wing roots weren’t vented until after the war.)

In an attempt to turn a bomber into a cargo plane for the Hump routes, Consolidated Aircraft put a flat floor in its B-24, removed the guns and bomb racks, and called the result the C-87 Liberator Express. But the B-24 had been designed to carry a stable load in a small area on the airplane’s center of gravity: bombs in fixed, vertical bomb racks. When Hump crews flew C-87s randomly loaded with a variety of cargoes, few ever found a sweet spot where the airplane felt comfortable, stable, and in trim.

The army also tried to turn the B-24 into a Hump tanker, dubbed the C-109, with big flexible bags full of gasoline in the hold. It was difficult to land at the 6,000-foot-high airfields in China and soon acquired the name Cee-One-Oh-Boom. One C-109 blew a tire on landing, exploded, and wiped out three other Liberator Expresses. In his book Flying the Hump, ex-China-Burma-India pilot Otha C. Spencer wrote, “All the pilots on the base wished [it] had wrecked the whole fleet.”

It was the arrival of the Douglas C-54 Skymaster in February 1944 that turned the Hump operation into the largest, most efficient airline in the world. The Skymaster was the militarised version of the DC-4, the first large, four-engine American airliner, and it had the cargo volume of a railroad boxcar. The C-54 didn’t have the high-altitude performance to fly the “High Hump” routes, but in May 1944 British and American forces captured the Japanese fighter strip at Myitkyina, thus eliminating any opportunity for the Japanese to interdict the less extreme “Low Hump” routes. The C-54 did quite nicely at 12,000 feet and carried far more cargo per trip than even the porky Curtiss Commando. It was also safer than its four-engine predecessor, the Liberator Express, and its tanker version, whose accident rate was 500 percent higher than the C-54’s.

By early 1943, U.S. brass hats, including AAF chief Hap Arnold, were beginning to doubt the value of the Hump operation. Arnold felt the airlift could certainly be ramped up to accomplish what it had set out to do, but he saw little point in spending lives, material, and effort simply to sustain the will of the Chinese. Many felt that Chiang was husbanding his acquired supplies for use against Mao, not the Japanese.

That was a turning point for the Hump operation. Under the cover of aiding China, the ATC program quickly changed course to become the major source of supplies for the Twentieth Air Force, which was planning to bomb Japan with its B-29s from Chinese airbases. China had now become a launch pad, no longer of interest as a postwar partner. But ultimately, the Twentieth flew just nine Boeing B-29 missions from China against the Home Islands before it moved to huge airfields in the Marianas. The postwar Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that those few missions “did little to hasten the Japanese surrender or justify the lavish expenditures poured out on their behalf through a fantastically uneconomic and barely workable supply system.” For every four gallons of avgas delivered to the Twentieth, Hump transports burned three and a half.

Still, during 1944 the Hump flights grew exponentially in terms of tonnage, organisation, and operational sophistication. They became quite simply the world’s biggest international airline—750 aircraft and more than 4,400 pilots. Between August 1944 and October 1945, the Hump delivered almost 500,000 tons of material from India to China. Chiang got less than 20,000 tons of it—three pounds of every 100 that crossed the Hump. The Twentieth Air Force got gasoline and ordnance; Chiang all too often got wine, decorative shrubbery for his house, Ping-Pong tables, office supplies, condoms, and such.

Roosevelt died in April 1945, and his successor, Harry Truman, shared little of his warmth toward Chiang; nor did Truman believe that Nationalist China would play an important postwar role. China quickly became a decidedly minor player in Allied strategy. The Hump operation showed that a substantial amount of cargo could be airlifted anywhere, under the worst flying conditions, as long as those in charge were willing to pay the price in men, aircraft, and money. What it didn’t prove was that such an undertaking was useful. As a logistics operation, the Hump flights were a failure. The cost in aircraft and crews was enormous. Loss estimates vary between 468 and 600-plus airplanes (the AAF did not record every crash), but the best one seems to be 590 aircraft lost with 1,314 crewmen. General George C. Marshall felt the Hump had negative value: “The over-the-Hump airline has been bleeding us white in transport airplanes….The effort over the mountains of Burma bids fair to cost us an extra winter in the main theatre of war.”

In the end, the Hump had much to do with establishing the United States as the world’s airline leader. The War Department bought over 1,000 C-54s, 3,000 C-46s, and 10,000 C-47s—and many of them were sold as surplus to become American airliners after hostilities ended. The United States began the postwar period with the airplanes, the pilots, and the air-transport management skills to build a worldwide airline system, all developed at least in part by flying the Hump.

The United States Coast Guard is the United States oldest and premier maritime agency. The history of the Service is very complicated because it is the amalgamation of five Federal agencies. These agencies, the Revenue Cutter Service, the Lighthouse Service, the Steamboat Inspection Service, the Bureau of Navigation, and the Lifesaving Service, were originally independent, but had overlapping authorities and were shuffled around the government. They sometimes received new names, and they were all finally united under the umbrella of the Coast Guard. The multiple missions and responsibilities of the modern Service are directly tied to this diverse heritage and the magnificent achievements of all of these agencies.

The Coast Guard, through its forefathers, is the oldest continuous seagoing service and has fought in almost every war since the Constitution became the law of the land in 1789. Following the War of Independence (1776-83), the Continental Navy was disbanded and from 1790 until 1794, when Congress authorised the construction of six frigates (of which only three were launched by 1797), the revenue cutters were the only national maritime service. The Acts establishing the Navy also empowered the President to use the revenue cutters to supplement the fleet when needed. Laws later clarified the relationship between the Coast Guard and the Navy.The Coast Guard has traditionally performed two roles in wartime. The first has been to augment the Navy with men and cutters. The second has been to undertake special missions, for which peacetime experiences have prepared the Service with unique skills.

Following the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, the Coast Guard carried out neutrality patrols as set out by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 5 September 1939. The Coast Guard's fleet of cutters and craft first began sailing into harm's way on the Atlantic after the establishment of the Neutrality Patrol in 1939 and then into real danger escorting convoys in 1941, all prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Direct action with the German Navy soon followed. The USS Alexander Hamilton, CG fell victim to a U-boat's torpedo in January, 1942, becoming the first US warship lost in combat in the Atlantic after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Cutters countered and quickly drew blood, sinking three U-boats off the East Coast in 1942. Coast Guardsmen on board the cutter Icarus, which sank U-352, gained the distinction of being the first U.S. servicemen to take German prisoners of war.

The cutters themselves, most of which had been constructed between the wars, were designed to have additional armament added in case of national emergency. The Navy added this additional armament beginning in 1940, including more and heavier guns, depth charge tracks, "Y" and "K" guns, additional anti-aircraft weaponry, and sonar equipment. After the start of the war, cutters were some of the first Allied vessels fitted with newly developed electronic gear, such as high-frequency radio direction finders, known as HF/DF or "huff-duff," and surface and air search radars.

On April 9, 1941, Greenland was incorporated into a hemispheric defence system. The Coast Guard was the primary military service responsible for these cold-weather operations, which continued throughout the war. On September 12 the cutter Northland took into "protective custody" the Norwegian trawler Buskoe and captured three German radiomen ashore. This was the United States' first naval capture of World War II. Although most of the 327s were initially assigned to duty in Greenland, but their exposed propellers were easily damaged by ice. Consequently they were assigned as convoy escorts on the North Atlantic. Later, they escorted convoys across the mid-Atlantic, past Gibraltar, and through the Mediterranean to North Africa. After their distinguished service in the Battle of the Atlantic, the surviving 327s were converted to amphibious force flagships and served during some of the most intense battles of the Pacific Theatre.

If any battle marked the turning point of World War II in the Pacific, most experts agree that the six-month land, sea and air battle for Guadalcanal was the one. American naval strategists drew a line in the sand at Guadalcanal because enemy aircraft flying from that island could cut-off Allied supply lines to Australia.

During the Guadalcanal offensive, the U.S. Coast Guard served an important role through its specialties in maritime transport, amphibious landing and small boat operations. On ‘the Canal,’ the Coast Guard worked seamlessly with its USN and USMC counterparts and, for the first time in its history, commanded and manned a U.S. Naval Operating Base, or NOB. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dwight Hodge Dexter commanded NOB “Cactus,” the code name for Guadalcanal’s naval base. At its peak, NOB Cactus included about thirty LCPs, also known as Higgins Boats, and a dozen bow-ramped tank lighters. About 50 officers and enlisted men manned the operation, which included an odd collection of coconut plantation buildings, homemade shacks and tents; and log-reinforced dugout shelters for surviving air raids, naval bombardment and artillery shelling.

On the morning of Aug. 7, 1942, exactly eight months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the first American amphibious operation of World War II was about to begin. The cloud cover of the previous days and circuitous voyage from Wellington, New Zealand, had hidden the invasion fleet’s movements from enemy aircraft and submarines, so Japanese forces on Guadalcanal received no forewarning of an impending attack. The fleet entered Sealark Channel near the landing beaches and front line warships began shore bombardment of enemy positions on the island. The waves of Marines coming ashore greatly outnumbered the combined strength of Japanese military forces and civilian construction personnel responsible for building the enemy’s new airfield. The Japanese beat a hasty retreat from their shore positions into the jungles of Guadalcanal. Within a day of the landings, the Americans had captured the partially completed airstrip and established a defensive perimeter around the airbase.

Dexter was a natural leader who was devoted to his crew. When the enlisted men on board troop transport Hunter Liggett heard that he would command Guadalcanal’s small boat operations, several volunteered to serve with him. On Aug. 8, 1942, Dexter came ashore with the first 24 Coast Guardsmen to serve at NOB Cactus. He set up his headquarters in the former manager’s house for the Lever Brothers coconut plantation, which was located within the Marine’s defensive perimeter at Kukum, east of Lunga Point. The white frame structure was in good condition considering the naval bombardment that had softened up the beaches the day before. Near Dexter’s headquarters, his men built a small tool shed for servicing their landing craft and machinery. They also built a signal tower out of coconut logs and a makeshift shelter located underneath it built of packing crates with a tent roof. This shelter housed Coast Guard heroes, including signalman Douglas Munro, later recipient of the Service’s only Congressional Medal of Honor, and Ray Evans, later recipient of the Navy Cross. The rest of Dexter’s men had similar shelters or tents, but all lived close to the log-reinforced bomb shelters.

NOB Cactus held a variety of titles. In the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the First Marine Division, Reinforced, the added word “Reinforced” refers to the Coast Guard unit. NOB Cactus also formed part of Transport Division 7 and it had the moniker of “Local Defense Force and Anti-Submarine Patrol, Guadalcanal-Gavutu.” These names indicate the variety of missions carried out by Dexter’s unit. NOB Cactus served primarily to run supplies and troops from transport ships to the beaches of Guadalcanal, but Dexter’s men and landing craft performed far more missions than merely supplying the troops. They provided an important radio and communications link between land forces and offshore vessels. They navigated the waters of Guadalcanal and islands as far distant as 60 miles to land Marines and retrieve them when necessary. They inserted reconnaissance teams led by British Colonial Forces officers behind enemy lines. In the aftermath of aerial dogfights above and naval battles on the surface of nearby Iron Bottom Sound, NOB watercraft took to open water to retrieve wounded Americans and Japanese prisoners. For a time, NOB personnel fitted their landing craft with depth charges and conducted nightly anti-submarine patrols. Coast Guard personnel also pitched-in to defend American positions by serving artillery pieces and providing infantry support. The men even trawled off the beaches, catching fresh fish to supplement the meagre menu of Marines at the local mess hall.

The men of NOB Cactus used the dugout bomb shelters frequently due to aerial bombing, naval shelling and artillery bombardment that took place on a regular basis. Under cover of darkness, Japanese naval units from their base at Rabaul, New Britain, regularly attacked Guadalcanal and its defending Allied warships. The men on the Canal also suffered through daily air attacks, which tore up the airfield and prevented transports from lingering off the beaches for any length of time. In fact, Dexter maintained a captured Japanese three-barrelled machine gun, referred to by a British observer as a “Chicago piano,” to defend against air attacks. During the initial stages of the campaign, enemy artillery and sniper fire also hounded the men at NOB Cactus. The Japanese had salvaged a deck gun from one of their grounded ships and mounted it in the jungle highlands commanding the airfield. Nicknamed “Pistol Pete” by the Americans, the Japanese used this gun to lob several rounds per day at American positions until an American air attack finally silenced the gun. After dark, the Japanese also sent aircraft over Guadalcanal to bomb the Marines and prevent them from enjoying more than a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Due to the constant shelling and bombing, the NOB Cactus crew aptly named their nearby lagoon, “Sleepless Lagoon.”

Dexter’s men and landing craft kept critically needed supplies flowing to the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal. U.S. Navy photo.

Dexter’s men and landing craft kept critically needed supplies flowing to the First Marine Division on Guadalcanal. During his command of NOB Cactus, Dexter made sure his men had plenty of food and supplies and trained them in air raid drills, digging foxholes and the use of slit trenches for cover. One of the men later wrote about Dexter, “I felt I could stand the bombings, shellings and artillery so long as he was there. He gave us the feeling of safety that only good officers can give to their men.”

In the condolence letter to Coast Guard Medal of Honor recipient Douglas Munro’s parents, Dexter referred to Munro as “one of my boys.”

Like many who served in the early part of the Guadalcanal campaign, Dexter contracted malaria. In November 1942, when the disease finally got the best of him, Dexter rotated back to the United States. He had earned the respect and admiration of those who served under him at NOB Cactus. Some of his men broke down and cried when he finally announced he was redeploying for home. The Navy awarded Dexter the Silver Star Medal for his command of NOB Cactus.

His medal citation aptly concludes, “By his courage in the face of great hardship and danger, he set an example which was an inspiration to all who served with him.”

When Dexter departed Guadalcanal, the battle had entered its fourth month, but by then the Americans had become experienced jungle fighters and secured their position on the island. The defeat of Japanese forces on the Canal appeared assured by late 1942 as elements of the U.S. Army relieved the malaria-ridden First Marine Division. In early 1943, commander of U.S. forces on Guadalcanal, US Army General Alexander Patch declared the island secured of all Japanese military forces.

Guadalcanal was a killing field that consumed thousands of men, hundreds of aircraft and dozens of front line warships. Even though the U.S. Navy had triumphed earlier in 1942 at the pivotal naval battle at Midway, the struggle for Guadalcanal proved the first true test of all branches of the American military against determined enemy forces within Japanese-held territory. After Guadalcanal, the Allies would remain on the offensive for the rest of the war and the Japanese would fight a lengthy retreat all the way back to their home islands.

Dexter returned to the States having lived through a lifetime’s worth of vivid and often horrific experiences. For the remainder of the war, he rose through the officer ranks at bases within the United States. His post-war assignments included a tour in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he had lived as a child. He also served as commander of the high-endurance cutter Dexter, which is unrelated to his family. In September 1959, he retired from the Service as a rear admiral, after a 35-year career. Dexter was a member of the long blue line and served in the Coast Guard with distinction both in combat and in peacetime.

A total of 18 manufacturers were officially contracted to make the type A-2 flight jacket, between 1931 and 1943. In that time, more than three quarters of a million pieces were produced between them, at a cost of nearly six and half million Dollars.

Most of these firms were from the arena of sporting goods and outerwear manufacturing. Their titles often conveyed the nature of their purveyance: Star Sportswear Mfg Co, Cable Raincoat Co, Poughkeepsie Leather Coat Co and so on. Such was the industrial might of the US, companies like this could be relied upon to supply all the necessary requirements for war materiel: the US had at its disposal the largest and most formidable industrial infrastructure in the world, and once mobilised, it was quite simply an unstoppable juggernaut of war production.

Indeed, such was the momentum of this immense war machine, that by the end of hostilities there was an over-run of production of all kinds of clothing and equipment, surplus stocks of which can still be found today which have never been used. Unfortunately, any surplus stock of A-2 jackets have long since been consumed, but nevertheless, they did exist.

Winning a government contract wasn't an easy undertaking, competition was hot. For every one of the 18 manufacturers who officially produced the A-2, dozens of other companies tendered bids who were not accepted. The process went like this: the government put a contract up for offer, manufacturers would tender bids over a given period. Materiel Command would then consider these bids based on a list of criteria that the manufacturers would be assessed on. Needless to say, cost was quite high on the list but other details such as condition of equipments, production capacity, reputation, experience of managers and so on, were also part of the selection process. Most were turned down for one reason or another, often to their severe displeasure, as of course, to be awarded a huge consider contract was extremely lucrative. Indeed, contracting officers would often receive letters of protest from rejected manufacturers. Sometimes, anonymous tip-offs of underhanded practices, or back hand dealings, would be reported in order to discredit the competition.

Squabbles also occurred directly between companies, one resulting in the fire bombing of the Werber Coat Co. The Aero Leather Clothing Company was accused and a court case ensued. This event might account for Werber's move from Beacon NY (the same Leather district as Aero) to Newburgh in the mid-30s, just after the fire, and also the gap in their otherwise regular list of contracts they were getting each year until then. (If one examines the manufacturers list, apart from the very first A-2 contract awarded to Security Aviation Togs, Werber was the sole contractor from 1933 to 1936, at which point Aero comes into the picture).

Many of the manufacturers were located in relatively close proximity to each other, particularly in the industrial districts in and around New York, which, needless to say, had some tough individuals at the helm. When tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of Dollars were at stake, the competition to secure a contract was intense. Understandably, during the peace time of the 1930s, the contracts awarded during this period were for lesser quantities than those that were to follow once the US entered the war. When one examines the data, the exponential increase in the late 30s as the slide toward conflict became inevitable. One can also see how certain companies were obviously favoured over time, as repeat contracts were awarded to them, and not to others.

Upon the award of the contract, the selected company would be sent a written specification, along with a set of detailed drawings, which described and illustrated every detail of the garment and how it should be assembled. In addition to this, they would be sent a formal contract and secrecy agreement for signing. However, even with such detailed instructions, each company interpreted them differently, albeit minutely, which resulted in slight differences after the various makers. The differences we refer to as the 'company house style'. Details such as pocket profiles, collar shape, seam allowances, vary to some degree or other between each maker, giving their garments their own unique subtle between and house style.

To ensure a standard of quality was maintained, each company was visited by an Army-Navy inspector from the Materiel Division whose responsibility was to check the garments before they were released for shipment. A-2's were made in 'lots' meaning a contract would be broken down into smaller groups. Jackets would be randomly plucked from each lot for inspection, and if they passed, they would be stamped in the lining with the inspectors personal numbered AN (Army Navy) stamp. Not all A-2s have an AN stamp for this reason.

It is evident from examining original samples that not too much emphasis was placed on things such as neatness of stitching, alignment and so on (even though this was part of the inspection criteria) or at least if it was, the inspectors were evidently lenient.

Generally however, the construction was good: these items were not for high street sale after all, they were work clothes, so quality control was focused more toward their meeting the functional requirement. The inspectors examination would be a pragmatic one, based on the overall serviceability and quality of the garment: Is the leather of the correct weight? Are all the fastenings in place and functioning? Are the the aligned sleeves correctly? Is the garment appropriately labelled and sized? Not so much emphasis was placed on aesthetic things such as matching grain in the leather, or a bit of uneven stitching, indeed original stitching samples indicate some jackets left a lot to be desired in this regard.

After the war, many of these manufacturers continued to net government contracts, as well as maintaining their original practice of supplying the civilian market. However, as time went on, most of them have either closed down, or evolved into other industries. With the passing of time and urban renewal, many of the manufacturers buildings are gone. In some cases, the whole district has been completely renewed, leaving no trace of buildings or even the road layout.

Scattered across the US, but mostly in the East, these 18 manufacturers produced in excess of 750,000 A-2 jackets - one of the most significant and influential garment designs to come out of the 20th century. Much more information on this subject can be found in the Eastman Type A-2 Flight Jacket Identification Manual available HERE.