World War I
World War I involved all the great powers of the world. More than 10 million men died in WWI and it was the hope of many that this would be the war that would end all wars. Instead, it turned out to be the pre-empt that set the stage, for WWII. The United States Enters WWI Even as early was WWI, the United States was known worldwide for its resources. The US did not get involved in the war initially due to the distance, desire to remain more isolated and the fact the war did not seem to have a great impact on them in any way. Public opinion, however, was influenced by two separate incidences. The first was the sinking of Britain’s ocean liner, the RMS Lusitania, which the United States viewed as a neutral ship. The Lusitania was carrying 159 Americans on board when it was sunk by a German U-boat. The second incident involved the British’s interception of a German message that had been coded and sent to Mexico. Basically, the message enticed Mexico with the promise of parcels of U.S. land if Mexico would join forces against the United States. Britain, however, intercepted the message and after they successfully translated it, they shared the contents with the United States. As a result, on April 6, 1917, war on Germany was declared by the United States of America.
Trench warfare was used during this Great War along with the implementation of new tactical weapons and strategies. The trenches provided additional safety for the men, but also served against them due to the widespread diseases and wound infections that often proved fatal. When orders were launched to “take the enemy”, it mandated they leave this war haven and cross open field in an attempt to overtake the enemy and their trenches. Trench war fare was responsible for the loss of millions of lives in WW I.
Though mainly used as spotters and bombers, WWI bi planes proved to be a valuable asset to the war. These planes of this era were the first to have special guns mounted on them for air-to-air combat, which in WWI was referred to as “dog fights”. The Fokker, the Sopwith Camel and the SPAD are just a few of the aircraft that gained famed for their participation in the war.
Tanks were also involved in World War I, being implemented in the war with the hope of breaking the stale mate created by trench warfare. As the war progressed, tank performance was analyzed, and as a result, tactical application and tank design also progressed. Despite some of the initial problems experienced by the tanks, their overall performance in WWI was impressive.
Battleships were also utilized throughout WWI; however, their participation is best described as marginal in regards to what was happening on land. The United States held the strongest naval fleet followed by Britain, France and Germany. WWI German U-boats, in their attempt to sink any ship they encountered with an enemy flag, generated a new wave of warfare.
During WWI, soldier’s dog tags were made by hand, and with the introduction of trench war, trench art – handmade by the soldiers – began to emerge. The 1911 pistol was developed during this period and saw military action in WWI and has subsequently – due to its continued popularity throughout military history – become one of the most popular hand guns among collectors. World War I did not prove to be the war that ended all wars, but it did prove to be a catalyst in military advancements and laid the ground work for future military action in warfare. More on World War I
World War II
World War II was a global conflict involving most of the worlds’ nations and over 100 million military personnel worldwide. The war, divided into the Allies and the Axis, is known as the deadliest conflict in the history of the human race. The war began on September 1, 1939 when Germany and Slovakia attacked Poland. By September 3rd, France, Britain and other countries from the commonwealth openly declared war on Germany. For the next six years a war like no other, involving all the major powers of the world, would ensue throughout various theaters.
The United States Enters WWII
The United States became involved in WWII after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The bombing was in retaliation for the United States refusing to trade items Japan desperately needed to assist them in their war with China. The attack at Pearl Harbor claimed over 2,000 lives. A total of eight battleships were either damaged or destroyed severely impacting the Pacific Fleet. It was the only battle that took place on American soil. The United States entered the war and began fighting on two fronts – Europe and the Pacific. In addition to the bombing at Pearl Harbor, several other encounters throughout the war would more than earn their place in the history books. The Battle of the Bulge, Battle of Normandy and the Battle of Iwo Jima are just a few of the historical conflicts that remain at the forefront of WWII battles.
America’s Home Front
Young men in the United States signed up by the thousands for military duty. Patriotism was at an all-time high. The war was in the fore front of everyone’s mind. All citizens became involved in the war at some level. Military themed posters were distributed throughout the United States encouraging the conservation of the resources needed by the military to fight a successful war. Rubber, oil, gasoline, coffee and many other day-to-day items were being curtailed and food was being rationed. Automobile production ceased beginning in February of 1943 in order to use the manufacturing plants to produce items needed for the war. Women entered the work force to assist with making these much needed items.
Battleships, Tanks and Aircraft
The United States and several other countries had several fleets of battleships involved in the various theaters of the war. Battleships proved to be a dominant force throughout the World War II. However, by the end of the war the advancement of the aircraft carrier with offensive weapons and air guided missiles, the construction of battleships had all but come to an end. A huge demand for aircraft existed during WWII. Countries continued massive production runs and were constantly evaluating performance and safety with practicality and firepower making adjustments to meet and exceed the air power of the enemy. Several aircraft rightfully earned their place as being synonymous with WWII. The B17 Flying Fortress, the P51 Mustang, the P40 Warhawk and the British Spitfire just to name a few. Advancements made throughout this time period were staggering and set the pace for future prototypes and continued advancement in military aircraft. Tanks and military vehicles played a large role in World War II. Variations of both continued to roll off the assembly line due to the continual changes required in design to meet the ever changing demands of the opponent.
Tanks were initially used as a means of infantry support but by the end of the war, tanks had become the dominant force on the battlefield. Military vehicles were used throughout the war for transporting troops, carrying infantry, artillery and anti-aircraft weaponry. Halftracks were popular due to their versatility. They were equipped with regular wheels on the front of the vehicle, which allowed for easier steering, but the back of the halftrack had caterpillar tracks. These would help with propelling the vehicle merging the benefits of the cross-country abilities of the tank with the easier handling of a wheeled vehicle.
World War II holds a tremendous amount of history in the advancement of military weapons and tactics. These advancements were spawned through necessity, but even the simpler aspects of WWII hold a tremendous amount of respect. Trench art continued to be a favorite past time of the men in World War II and the once hand dittoed dog tags were now being produced by machine. World War II, along with its many memories and memorabilia, was a time like no other – before or since. To this day, World War II memorabilia continues to be highly sought after by collectors of all levels. The uniqueness and rarity of the item is only super seceded by the amount of respect and patriotism that penetrated the hearts and souls of all Americans during World War II. More on World War II
Korean War – The Forgotten War
Unrest on the Korean Peninsula
The war in Korea began in late June of 1950, but tensions between North and South Korea began long before that day. Conflict between these two regions can be traced back to the end of World War II. Though Japan ruled the Korea from 1910 through the end of WWII, when Japan surrendered in 1945, administrators in America separated Korea using the 38th parallel as the dividing line. This division clearly defined the occupation of the United States troop’s south of the parallel and the Soviet troop’s occupation north of the parallel. In 1948, an attempt to hold free elections throughout the peninsula failed, further deepening the torn relationship between the North and the South. Eventually, the North would become communist ruled and the South would become capitalist ruled. Despite continued efforts to reunify these two sides, tensions continued to increase at the 38th parallel and on June 25, 1950, South Korea was invaded by Northern forces.
US Battles in the Korean War
The United States was involved in a number of great battles during the Korean War including the battle of Khe Sanh, the Battle of Inchon and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. At the Battle of Khe Sanh, North Korean Forces attempted to take control of a number of hill masses in an effort to eventually capture Taegu. Though the North Koreans initially pushed the UN forces back, North Korea was unable to secure their gains. The UN forces continued to hold their ground, fight strong holding off the North Korean advancements. The UN counter attack to the Battle of Khe Sanh was the Battle of Inchon, where ground forces – which included the US Marine Corps – were headed up by General Douglas MacArthur of the US Army. Despite the difficult terrain they encountered, MacArthur’s approach was both aggressive and successful, driving the North Koreans out of the area. The Korean War’s Battle at the Chosin Reservoir challenged even the strongest of the strong. Adverse weather conditions of sub-zero temps, however, did not deter the UN troops. Despite being surrounded and greatly numbered by the Chinese troops, the UN forces were able to successfully break through and inflict significant casualties on the Chinese.
Naval and Air Power
The Korean War conflicts were not just limited to ground attacks; naval battles ensued throughout the war as did air strikes. Allied superiority in naval power occurred after UN firepower successfully blew up North Korea’s naval torpedo boats. Afterwards, Allied ships, along with the British Commonwealth, upheld a firm block on North Korea. The role of the naval ships did not stop there. In addition, these ships provided key air support for the troops on the ground. Air power played a crucial role in the Korean War. The US Air Force, Navy and Marines were able to successfully drive the North Korean Air Force from the skies implementing their superior training and excellent aircraft. The challenge resurfaced with the introduction of the Chinese MiG-15. However, this led to the design and introduction of the F-86 Sabre and US troops once again prevailed.
Tanks and Vehicles from the Korean War
Many of the World War II tanks were used throughout the Korean War. Advancements continued, however, in an effort to continually meet and exceed the armament of the enemy. The United States used several tanks throughout the Korean War including the Chaffee, the Patton and the Sherman Tank. The DUKW, an amphibious vehicle first used in WWII, was used extensively during the Korean War, transporting troops across land and sea.
A number of the fighters and bombers from World War II were also implemented during the Korean War. Variants of these aircrafts continued to be produced in a continued effort to improve upon the efficiency, safety and maneuverability of the aircraft. The B-17 Flying Fortress, the P51 Mustang and the F4U Corsair are just a few of the aircraft whose reputation continued on and earned them a place in the history books.
Highlights from the War
After the initial invasion on June 25, 1950, three years of battles ensued with troops pushing back-and-forth across the 38th parallel. Strategies from WWI and WWII were used – swift attacks by the infantry that were followed with air bombing raids. However, by July of 1951 the war had become a stationary trench war. With China joining forces with the North and material aid from the Soviet Union, American officials were hard at work to create some type of armistice. Finally, on July 27, 1953, the Korean War came to an end. Despite the signed armistice and the 5 million soldiers and civilians who were killed during this war, the 38th parallel still serves as a dividing line between the North and the South. Minor outbursts continue along this area even to present day. Despite the continued conflicts in this area the Korean War is still referred to as “The Forgotten War”. More on the Korean War
The Vietnam War took place during the Cold War era, begining in November of 1955. The two opposing sides consisted of the communist Allies who supported North Vietnam and the United States, along with other countries who were against communists and supported South Vietnam. The United States became involved in the war in an effort to ward off a communistic overthrow of South Vietnam. U.S. involvement during the war escalated in the early 60s. The first combat units were deployed in 1965 within a year of the North Vietnamese firing on two U.S. naval ships located in international waters. The United States relied highly on their air superiority and immense amount of available firepower when conducting their search and destroy missions in Vietnam. These missions not only involved ground forces, but also heavy artillery and airstrikes. Great controversy surrounded the Vietnam War and the United States’ involvement in it. Many U.S. citizens were in opposition of this conflict, feeling there was no way to win.
Other controversy has since focused on the widespread use of chemicals. Their use was implemented to defoliate large areas of the countryside to expose otherwise, well hidden enemy camps. No one knew the long term implications to applying the chemicals, which to this day, contribute to an ever changing landscape and is at the base of many of the diseases and birth defects being experienced by those who were exposed to them. The Vietnam War came to an end on April 30, 1975, but not before a high number of casualties were inflicted on both sides. The United States troops lost over 58,000 soldiers during the Vietnam War with an additional estimate of 1,700 still MIA. In all, anti-communist forces lost over 315,000 military and over 2 million South civilians. The Communist forces suffered over one million losses and also an estimated 2 million civilians. To this day, the Vietnam War serves as a reminder for the United States in what “not-to-do” when engaging in foreign conflicts. More on the Vietnam War
The Gulf War
The Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm, began on August 2, 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. The United Nations authorized coalition forces from a number of nations, led by the United States, to respond to this invasion. This invasion also led to immediate economic sanctions against Iraq. The United States began immediate deployment of military forces to Saudi Arabia and several other nations followed suit.
After the Invasion
It wasn’t long after the Kuwait invasion that Saddam Hussein began to verbally attack the United States and their support of Saudi Arabia. The US quickly launched a defensive operation known as ‘Operation Desert Shield’, which went into effect on August 7, 1990. On August 9th, things took a different turn when Hussein declared Kuwait the 19th province of Iraq, assigning his cousin, Ali Hassan Al-Majid, to the position of military-governor of Kuwait. The United States had already dispatched two groups of naval ships (built around both the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and the USS Independence). These forces were in place and ready in the Persian Gulf by August 8th. Soon after, the US deployed both the USS Missouri and the USS Wisconsin battleships to the region, along with 48 USAF F15s. Once they arrived, they began 24 hour surveillance over the Saudi Arabia-Kuwait-Iraq border(s) in an effort to thwart any additional military advances by Iraq.
Battles of the Gulf War
On January 17, 1991, a widespread aerial bombing operation began. Over 100,000 sorties were flown by the coalition and 88,500 tons of bombs were dropped. The coalition’s goal was to destroy the Iraqi air force and their anti-aircraft facilities. Most of the sorties were launched out of Saudi Arabia, but six came from coalition aircraft carriers located in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea. Missions followed in an attempt to also destroy Iraq’s command and communication facilities. The third phase targeted actual military targets in Iraq and Kuwait such as scud missile launchers, naval forces and facilities dedicated to weapons research. In over 100,000 sorties, the coalition forces lost only 75 aircraft – only 44 of the 75 were a result of Iraqi action. Iraq responded by firing scud missiles into Israel. Over the course of the war (seven weeks), they would send a total of 42 Scud missiles into Israel. US President Bush was able to persuade Israel to refrain from responding to these bombings noting that it could prompt Arab nations to withdraw from the coalition – or worse, join Iraq. Fear of Syria and Jordan joining Iraq against Israel was also noted a distinct possibility should Israel use their air space to attack Iraq. In return, the coalition vowed to use Patriot missiles in Israel’s defense if they refrained from retaliation. Several battles and intense ground campaigns also ensued throughout this brief war which ended with the liberation of Kuwait on February 27,1991 – six months, three weeks and five days after the war began. The Gulf War was the first time in history that live newsfeeds from the front lines were able to be seen on television – earning the nickname ‘Video Game War’. More on the Gulf War
Prior to the US Invasion
Prior to invading Iraq in March of 2003, the UN Security Council had passed a resolution requiring Iraq to give their full cooperation to UN weapon inspectors, who would be investigating claims that Iraq still housed weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Though the UN Monitoring Verifications and Inspection Commission did not uncover any hidden WMD, they were unable to verify the accuracy of a declaration by Iraq as far as what specific weapons they possessed. It was determined by the survey group that Iraq had discontinued both their chemical and biological programs ten years earlier, but it was the intention of Iraq to resume production should the sanctions be lifted. During this time, some US officials accused Saddam Hussein, then president of Iraq, of harboring and giving support to the al-Queda. Additional accusations stated Iraq was financially supporting the families of Palestinian bombers. Four days prior to the attack, the US instructed the inspectors – work unfinished – to leave Iraq.
US Troops Attack Iraq
On March 20, 2003, a United States coalition entered into Iraq launching a surprise attack without first declaring war. The invasion was comprised of 250,000 US military troops, with support from an estimated 45,000 British forces, close to 2,000 Australian forces and about 200 Polish forces. By May 1st of that same year, President Bush declared the invasion a success. He stood on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln and announced that major combat operations had ceased and the US, along with her allies, was successful in removing an ally of al Qaida. Despite the encouraging news, fighting continued within various pockets of resistance and Saddam Hussein still remained at large. President Bush gave no specific date for withdrawal of US troops.
Iraq 2005 – 2008
By 2005, the US was assisting with a sequence of elections. The Iraqis voted along cultural and sectarian lines, which further reinforced the widening societal differences that had already occurred under the leadership of Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration was greatly disappointed though when the Iraqis votes were overwhelmingly conservative and religious. As a result, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who was Iraqi’s most powerful Shiite cleric, won the majority of votes in both elections and took control of the government. This further angered the Sunni Arab insurgency and created new concerns for the US government. From the beginning, the war in Iraq had a devastating effect over much of the Middle East. Some felt Iran gained the most from this situation, being ruled by Shiite Persians and having a close connection with Iraq’s Shiite leaders. During the summer of 2007, violence erupted in Iraq – both in the central and western regions, which included Baghdad. Further escalation of fighting continued and resulted in President Bush’s decision to increase the number of troops in Iraq. In June of the following summer, officials from the US Department of Defense felt both security as well as economic indicators began to display signs of improvement. They listed the gains as significant, but fragile. Public opinion favored withdrawal of troops once the forces in Iraq began to take control and member nations of the Coalition began withdrawing their troops. By late 2008, both the US and Iraqi governments accepted the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement, which was to remain in effect until January 1, 2012. Iraq’s Parliament also set forth a Strategic Framework Agreement with the United States showing intent to ensure cooperation in constitutional rights, education, energy development and a number of other areas.
The War Ends
By late February of 2009, President Obama (newly elected US president) announced a plan to withdraw combat forces. The evacuation would take place over an 18 month period with an estimated 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq to assisting with advising and training of Iraq’s security forces. They would further provide intelligence and surveillance. On December 15, 2011, the war in Iraq was officially declared over. Three days later, on December 18, the last of the US troops were evacuated from the Iraqi territory. More on the Iraq War
After the September 11th attack on the United States, President George W. Bush issued an ultimatum to the rulers of Afghanistan. He demanded they hand over to the terrorists responsible for the attack. Afghanistan’s Taliban – Islamic fundamentalists ruling the area – refused to surrender terrorist leader Osama bin-Laden. As a result, within a month of the assault on the US, air-strikes commenced. The goal of the United States was to extricate the Taliban from power, locate Osama bin-Laden and destroy his organization known as Al-Qaeda. The US received additional support from British forces, other soldiers and Afghans who opposed the Taliban.
The Taliban Flees Kabul
In November of 2001, Taliban forces left the capital city of Kabul and fled to the mountainous area on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. As a result, the United States was able to assist Afghanistan in installing a new government with Hamid Karzai as President. The Taliban slowly gained strength and forces found it difficult to fight them given the remote caves and mountainous regions they inhabited. Many felt their efforts were futile. As a result, in December of 2009 President Obama unveiled a new strategy – rapidly deploy 30,000 additional troops in an effort to break the momentum of the Taliban. Progress was slow and additional obstacles remained. The support of the Afghan government was being slowly eroded by fraudulent accusations against the followers of the re-elected President Karzai. In addition, efforts to uproot the Taliban appeared futile. However, in May of 2011, after the assassination of Osama bin-Laden by US Navy SEAL Team 6, President Obama announced his intentions to hasten the withdrawal of American troops.
Pressure Mounts to Withdraw US Troops
Pressure to pull US troops out of Afghanistan mounted as the result of three separate incidents in early 2012. The Afghans first became enraged with the discovery of a video tape showing four US Marines urinating on Taliban insurgent corpses. Next, it was discovered that copies of the Koran, the central religious text of Islam, had been burned in a trash incinerator on a US base. Despite a spokesperson declaring it an accident, the incident sparked violent riots, leaving 30 people dead. Among the dead were two American officers. The third incident involved a US soldier who reportedly went from house to house murdering 16 Afghans and burning some of the bodies – many of whom were women and children. As a result, President Karzai ordered the US troops to withdraw from Afghan villages and return to military bases.
Final Plans for Withdrawal
A number of Americans are in favor of the President hastening the withdrawal of US troops. Currently, military and political leaders are against any changes being made to the schedule, which targets December, 2014 for the last of the current 90,000 US troops to leave Afghanistan, a date which will mark the end of the US involvement in the war in Afghanistan. More on the Afghanistan War